June 6th Worship

Audio Recording

Sermon

I’m staring the summer season with a series of sermons looking at Women, God and the Bible. One of the few benefits of this pandemic is that it has focused our attention in ways that our “normal” life does not. Systemic racism, patriarchy, white privilege, inequality of health care access and delivery, gun violence – we have known these strains run through our culture. And I’d like to say we oppose them. But mostly, we’ve been able to ignore them. This last year has made it harder to pretend. The pandemic and the convergence of political and racial crisis have revealed what lies beneath the surface, beneath the myth of America the beautiful. It has given us a chance, again, to change, to open our eyes and see the world anew.

As you likely know, I watch British murder mysteries – cozies, as they’re called, where the sex and violence occur out of view, the detective is an amateur sleuth, and detection is the point, not excitement or suspense. One of these amateur detectives is Father Brown. In an episode, the police Inspector is trying to question a woman about the death of her husband, who was the Mayor. He says, “Mrs. Mayor,”… but she breaks in asking if he’d like to hear her husband’s favorite joke:  “A young boy and his father go out for a ride one day. There’s an accident and the car goes off a cliff. The boy is rushed to the hospital where the surgeon, who almost collapses from shock, says, “That’s my son on the operating table.”  

The Inspector looks confused and says, “That’s not funny. It doesn’t even make sense.”

Father Brown interprets, “The surgeon was a woman.”    

The Inspector looks annoyed. ‘Mrs Mayor’ looks down.

The assumptions we make, the gut reactions we have to gender roles convicts each of us. I think that’s fair to say. Judeo-Christian teaching, the Church, has, perhaps more than any other influence, formed the patriarchal system we are still struggling with. I hope to look at several biblical women in an effort to open our eyes, to rethink, reimagine what we read there, and look beyond the surface not only to see how it affects us or relates to our lives, but also how a new view might expand our image of God.

We are limited by language. In not being able to read ancient Hebrew or Greek we have to rely on translations – which are interpretations. To peal back a layer I want to go through today’s reading slowly. The same Hebrew word can often be translated several ways into English – the choices that have been made have been made by men. Intentionally or not, these translations have created even more patriarchy than the original text. Two important ones for today are adam and ishah. As I’ve said in other sermons, adam means the earth’s soil. Ha-adam in a literal translation means the earthling. It has grammatical gender, but not inherent biological gender. It’s like Spanish: la mesa = the table in English is an it, but in Spanish the table is a she. So it is with adam – the soil is a masculine noun, not necessarily a male. It can be a generic term for a mortal, or a human being. Isha is the word for woman and for wife. Why, I wonder is the woman called a wife in this story? It’s the same word in Hebrew that one sentence is Adam’s wife and in the next is the woman, spoken to by the snake. Wives in the culture of Israel were possessions. Men had control over them. I suspect that’s the reason. This prototypical woman, this life source Eve, this human who listened to what the serpent said needed to be controlled.

Genesis 1:27, in the afternoon of day 6:  So God created [ha-adam] in his own image, in the image of God he created, male and female he created them.

In the Bible’s first story, there is complete equality of males and females from God’s perspective. Females and males both bear the image of God and are both made from earth.

Chapter two’s version is an older tradition. 2: 7The Lord God formed ha-adam from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and ha-adam became a living being.

15The Lord God placed ha-adam in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it. 16Then the Lord God commanded ha-adam, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.”

Then God decides it’s not good for ha-adam to be alone. “I will make a helper” and God tries out animals to be this companion. The experiment serves to populate the world with living creatures but doesn’t quite meet God’s intentions. So back to the drawing board. Some medieval Jewish commentaries felt that the original human was androgynous. And since no other created animal form was a fit companion, God eventually chose to divide the earthling into two gendered beings.

God performs surgery removing one “side” to form a second person.

In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes tells a very similar story of how human beings originally were androgynous creatures with two faces, and four arms and legs. Threatened by the power of these humans, Zeus decided to weaken them by cutting them in two. These two halves were miserable, continuously longing for its other half.

The Hebrew word is translated as ‘rib’ only in this one instance. In all other uses the word refers to the side of a ship or hillside or mostly, as the side of building elements in the construction of the temple. That seems like a very evocative connection to Eve, but my point is that the English word ‘rib’ is not very well supported. It makes so much more sense for it to be ha-adam’s side – bone of bone and flesh of flesh. To be fully partnered. Equal mates. It’s a beautiful image of our human need for love and companionship and the longing to get back to the wholeness of our original self. Love calls together the separated halves of our original nature; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wounds of human loss. Each of us, then, is a ‘matching half’ of a whole…and we seek that half that matches us.

            Adam could do quite well without a rib. And a rib is not much of my being. But a side… ?  The beauty of this interpretation is that it opens up the idea the “bone of my bone” and “flesh of my flesh” going beyond what traditionally has been described as the love between a man and a woman. Partners and companions, completed wholes, can and do come in all shapes and forms.

25The ish [man] and isha were both naked, but they were not ashamed. Naked children, perfect in their lack of self-awareness; naive, unburdened, unbiased, innocent. 

3 1Now the serpent was more [crafty, shrewd, or sensible are the translators choices for this word] than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; 3but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, [this is her embellishment of the law] or else you will die.’” 4The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die, 5for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.”

6When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to the man who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

So, now we’ve gotten to it. The snake and the woman and forbidden fruit. Look at the expression on Eve’s face in the painting, and at Adam’s passivity. Who are you going to blame for this? Is it equal responsibility?

Again, close reading could dispel some misinformation.

First, it is not an apple – not explicitly an apple no matter what the felt boards of our childhood Sunday School or Children’s Bible pictures show. But think of Snow White. Who do you suppose the evil stepmother who tempts poor innocent Snow White with a polished, poisoned apple is modeled after?  Well, it’s not Eve! But of course it is – and a really bad reading of the text, which has subconsciously perpetuated the idea that this female prototype is devious and the cause of sin.

Second, did the serpent deceive the woman?  Not a bit. What he said is actually true, though not exactly what God told Adam. God might have had the bigger consequence in mind, but didn’t explain the reason. “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” The serpent, being sensible and crafty, said, “Surely you will not die, 5for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.”

The serpent spoke the truth, if not the whole truth. The fruit did not cause death. It wasn’t poisoned which an innocent understanding of the prohibition might assume. It was forbidden because – well why, do you think? Why did God not want his creatures to have eyes that see? Why did God not want them to know the difference between good and evil, for their right hand to know what their left hand was doing? Why was Eden to be a place of perennial innocence and moral ignorance? How would that have worked long term?

Well, it would mean that humans would have much more in common with the creatures – with cattle, and birds of the air, and every animal of the field and forest. Nature is a-moral, operating on drives, instincts, the abilities and attributes of each species. There is a balance, that web of life that humans have pretty much fouled up for the detriment of all. It’s interesting that the original vocational plan was for humans to have dominion over all other creatures. But by the time God clothes Adam and Eve and sends them out, their vocations are limited to self preservation. Adam to work hard tending and tilling earth that will mostly provide thickets and thorns, Eve to work hard and be pregnant, providing sustenance for her expanding family.

So, maybe Eve spoiled the chance of that peaceable kingdom. It might have been an easier world, one with fewer extinctions and more equality – but maybe it was necessary.

As far as we know, gazelles and otters and hummingbirds are not made in God’s image. That seems to come with our creative prefrontal cortex that was given free will, and curiosity, and imagination. Maybe in Eden, the human creatures would not have been able to grow into the image designed for them, but would have remained as children, incomplete, passive like Adam.

In these earliest Hebrew stories, we discover that Yahweh God is on learning curve, too. Experimenting, adapting, learning about and from his glorious creatures. The woman was not an animal. She was curious. She was interested. She observed that the fruit was good for food, was attractive, and was desirable for making one wise.  She took some of it and ate it and she shared it with the man who was with her the whole time and said nothing. And their eyes opened, and they knew that they were naked, vulnerable, disobedient, shamed by their new understanding, visible through and through.

The woman isn’t called Eve until they leave the garden. Adam chooses it because it means life, and she alone has the capacity to bear and bring forth more earthlings.

And the man knew Eve, the woman, and she conceived and bore Cain and said, “I have created a man with Yahweh.” And she again bore – this time his brother Abel.”

The word for “create” used here is the same as the word used in the Bible for the creative power of God. Women in the Bible are said to “bear children,” not “create a man”; and creating a man “with” God puts female creative power right alongside that of God. It’s a statement of incredible strength and standing.

Eve’s creative force also may help us reclaim a female image for God that was banned in Israel’s history. Ashera, the female consort of Yahweh was a thing for centuries of early Hebrew scriptural tradition. But it was dangerous as a holdover from pagan fertility cults and a threat to monotheism. As a result, the God who comes to us as rock, fortress, shepherd, king, flame, light is not described in female guise. What does it say when the church has limited images, names and pronouns of God to those exclusively male?  What does that do to our understanding and imagination for God – all of us, not only females. When female is seen as second class or as too dangerous to develop as characters in their own right – when the power of creation is subverted into sinful activity? What is the social consequence of that?

I started with that riddle from Father Brown. I didn’t get the answer until Father Brown told me. I am just as wound up in patriarchy as you might be. The danger is that we’re so used to it, that we promote and perpetuate the system with our conditioned behavior that we despise with our rational brains and hearts. As with racism, it is deeply embedded into our cultural, social, historical, and educational ethos. And it is going to take more than a few weeks of sermons to help us see it for what it is: a limitation not only on women and men, but a dismissal of God – of the half of God who brought forth women in her divine image.

I’m still holding out hope for Mother Hen Lutheran Church.

May 30th Worship

Greetings! For today’s service we’ll be using the Matins liturgy from the hymnal. The service is led by Christy & Jeff Wetzig and Carolyn Saunders, along with music from Chris & Harry Johansen. The readings for today, along with Carolyn’s sermon, are printed below.


Audio Recording


Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

2 Kings 5:1-14

The Healing of Naaman

5 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.


Sermon

Isn’t it nice to be outside this morning?

Up here in the Northwoods, we truly appreciate nature and its beauty: green grass, spring flowers, the mesmerizing sound of a rippling stream, whistling wind in tall pines, birdsong, pollinators, gentle breezes.

As I was contemplating the lessons for today, another text came to mind: Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” In the beginning, truly a time of chaos, God was…

Both of today’s lessons tell of times of personal chaos.

In Matthew, Jesus learns that John the Baptizer has been beheaded. In an effort to find a quiet space, he gets into a boat. But thousands of people follow and soon he and the disciples are enveloped by people in need and it’s supper time. What to do? Jesus compels the disciples to get into the boat and take it over to the other side of the lake. After feeding, then dismissing the crowd, Jesus goes up a mountain still seeking a quiet place. When evening came, the boat was far from land and was being tormented by the wind and waves.

In the early morning, Jesus came walking toward them … not by land but on the water!

Can you imagine!  Being in a boat, tormented by wind, wet and cold … and now this! Truly a fear-filled moment! A ghost! … Scared to death!

And then, a voice … “Take heart, it is I. Have no fear!”

Pure, unadulterated chaos!

Naaman, the military commander of Aram — a man whom the King esteemed — had everything going for him. Except that one day, his nagging suspicion about the strange things happening to his body became a certainty. He had leprosy. As the terrible realization of his new reality began to sink in, he must have thought, “Anything but this. Please, let it be something else!” There was no known cure for leprosy; it was a slow moving, debilitating, painful and socially isolating disease. Even his wealth, his status, and his connections were not likely to be of any use.

There was a young girl (an Israelite) who had been taken captive. She was the servant of Naaman’s wife. By faith, she knew of a prophet in Samaria; he would be able to cure Naaman.

Just like any chaotic situation, the story twists and turns: Naaman talks to the King of Aram who agrees to send a letter to the King of Israel.

First twist: The letter was presented to the King whose response was less than helpful: “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?!”

Second twist: the prophet Elisha heard that the King of Israel had torn his clothes; he sent a message to the king: “Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

Naaman traveled to Elisha’s house.

Third twist: Elisha sent a messenger: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

Fourth twist: Naaman became angry because Elisha did not greet him in person, but instead sent a messenger … and why couldn’t he just immerse himself 7 times in the rivers of Damascus, anyway?

He left in a huff … Fifth twist: his servants approached him saying, “If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean?”

And so Naaman went into the Jordan … and as was prophesied by Elisha, his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Complete disorder and confusion … that’s CHAOS!

Friends, throughout life, you and I experience moments of complete disorder and confusion; it comes, it goes. But during these last 15 months, we have experienced a multi-faceted chaos … and it seemed like as the months passed by, the level of chaos kept rising.

No toilet paper to be purchased ~ loved ones diagnosed with Covid-19 ~ schools, libraries, restaurants, churches and other small businesses ~ all closed their doors.

No holiday gatherings with family or friends

The killing of George Floyd

The ensuing devastation to neighborhoods in the Twin Cities

Virtual workspace, family time, education, worship

The great mask controversy

Demeaning Partisan Politics

January 6 in Washington DC

To vaccinate or not

The list is endless … all adding to the chaos that had the power to kill our spirits.

In those times, we, like Peter and Naaman, were facing certain death…

Peter … as he was overwhelmed by the wind and waves and began to sink.

But he didn’t. In his moment of need, he called out to Jesus: “SAVE ME!” And Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him. Peter was restored to wholeness.

Naaman by letting his ego get in his way and nearly walking away from the healing that was being offered to him.

But he didn’t. His servants risked to get in his face. Even in his anger, Naaman listened … and immersed himself 7 times in the Jordan River. He was restored to wholeness.

And what about us? Can we be restored to wholeness?

The chaos of the last year is quieting down. There is a new horizon, perhaps one that didn’t exist before, one formed at the point where our vulnerability and trust in God have come together to create something new. The glimmer of light on the horizon shines a glimmer of hope in our hearts.

God asks only that we are open to the working of the Spirit. From the beginning, we have known that we could not survive this chaotic time without trusting God to lead us through. Unseen yet ever-present, God’s Spirit lifts us when we stumble, supports us when we are weak, guides us when we lose our way, gives us a nudge when we are hesitant.

We were wise enough to not let our egos get in the way. We took baby steps. Went to bed at night and got up in the morning. Day by day, in the midst of frustration and heartache, we trusted that life is worth living because God loves us AND God will love us into a new tomorrow.

When we find ourselves being tormented by the storms of life or facing an overwhelming situation, I invite you to look back on these 2 stories. They will remind us that the path to wholeness is full of obstacles and that crossing back is not necessarily a return to “normal”, the way things used to be. But if we humble ourselves before God, God will bring us, individually and corporately, to wholeness … and like Peter and Naaman, we, too, will find peace.

May 23rd Worship

Below is the worship bulletin for May 23rd, along with an audio recording!

Today’s sermon comes to you from me with help and words from Mary Hinkle Shore, a seminary professor of mine, and a devotion from Dan Dick, posted on the United Methodist web, shared by Carolyn.

Today is the day the church celebrates the Holy Spirit. It’s a bit difficult to do, of course, since we know virtually nothing about it. We can’t see it, smell it, hear it, taste, or touch it – hardly even imagine it. The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a wind, a flame, a love.  In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” 

As we have been made painfully aware between the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd, where there is breath, there is life, and the breath that enlivens Christ in the resurrection is his gift to those he loves. His risen life becomes their life. What was in John a gentle exhale, becomes in Acts the rush of violent wind with tongues as of fire coming to rest on the assembled followers of Jesus. All of the New Testament reports of the Spirit have two things in common: (1) they identify the Spirit as specific and specifically tied to the identity of the risen Christ, and (2) the Spirit’s work is to draw human beings into a relationship with God like that shared between the Father and Son.

In popular culture, “spiritual” is a generic term that describes any mystical experience or otherworldly sense. If I were to ask you what being spiritual means, I imagine I would get a wide variety of responses. Something akin to the blind men and the Elephant – the part we have in front of us, the elephant’s ear or tail or twisting trunk – our experience – is all we can claim to know. But in John, Acts, and Galatians, the Spirit that Jesus shares with his followers is his Spirit, his life. And as such, it is known.  I love verse 6 from today’s reading, “6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  It’s an exclamation of joy and recognition and deep belonging.

Abba is better translated as Daddy in our context, or Papa. It is a word of tenderness and intimacy. Paul must like it, too. It shows up again in his letter to the Romans.

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17)

Both the identity of the Spirit and the Spirit’s work are specific, known and shown. Christ’s living presence is knitting human community back together and bringing humanity back into a relationship of love and family commitment with God. In John, Jesus breathes on his disciples the Spirit so that they may continue his work.  In Acts 2, the gift of tongues is not an ecstatic display that leaves the people excluded from the spiritual experience of the few; but rather, the disciples speak in languages not their own precisely so native speakers of those languages may hear the good news of Jesus Christ addressed to them directly and come to be included in the family.

The work of Father, Son, Holy Spirit is to fulfill God’s vision and will to reconcile all inclined people into one beloved household.  We are family (whether we like it or not!) and as long as we live in God’s house we are expected to live up to the house rules. And what are they?  Well, gleaned from Old and New Testaments, here’s a list: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  Do nothing from selfish ambition but consider others more highly than we think of ourselves.  Rejoice in the Lord always, and whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable – think on these things. 

In Galatians, Paul posts more guidance on the fridge:

5:19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: adultery, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, sexually unprincipled behavior….. and things like these that destroy community and break relationships. By contrast, he writes, “22the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Paul’s message is not to be missed: “if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). We are, indeed, children of the living God. But transformation into the family resemblance of God and the Son by the Spirit doesn’t occur by accident. It can’t actually be legislated. That was Paul’s argument against the Law. It transforms us, calls us out, is evoked, drawn out of us by the Spirit -we put ourselves in the way by actively following in the footsteps of the Son. It’s not to earn our salvation, but to demonstrate it.

By the very nature of God, our experiences and gifts are varied. Paul says in another letter that there are many gifts but the same Spirit is giving them, that to each person is given the particular manifestation of the Spirit according to each of our unique natures. God comes to us, among us, in ways particular to our own constitution and character and that the Spirit works these gifts in us, using us for Christ’s work in the world.

So the Spirit of God using us through faith will not look the same; faith is not one thing, it is everything. Faith does not look a certain way or produce a generic fruit – it is mysterious, organic, living, maturing, wisening. It changes and grows, challenges and confounds us – each stage of our lives is the testing ground for the next. 

Perhaps for you, faith has worked itself into your being gradually, almost imperceptibly, like a steady drizzle softening hard ground; or perhaps you have been felled, stopped in your tracks like having your knees give way; or perhaps is has been for you an awakening – like the dazzle of sun after a spring shower awakens us to a world we know but have never seen in quite this way.

Our inheritance as a child of God is the Holy Spirit manifested, made real, in love. So what does the Spirit look like? It looks like love – love acted out toward the earth and creation – nurturing, stewarding, protecting – love acted out toward our families and neighbors and even our enemies and our own selves – love acted out toward the things and the people whom God, the Father, Abba, Papa, loves and entrusts to us. The Holy Spirit is the working of love for the sake of a story, a remembering, a witness, a relationship between God and you and all people. The Holy Spirit is certainly a mystery, but we celebrate it, when we claim our inheritance as a child of God and let it take us wherever the wind blows.

May 16th Worship

We’ve made changes to the look of this post – using the print bulletin for the in-person worship service. The sermon is printed below the bulletin.

Update – the audio recording didn’t work out, so there won’t be one this week. We hope to have it figured out for next week.
-Chris T.


Scripture

Today we hear again from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Last week we heard him scolding the church he had founded there. A controversy had arisen when a new group of Christian Jews came to town saying that converts needed to first meet the demands of Jewish tradition – namely that males must be circumcised – before they could be true Christians. Paul reminded them that all are equal in God’s gracious love, there is no place for exclusion in the mystical body of Christ. There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female – all are one. God had promised provision for the nations through Abraham long before the law was given. All that was required was to trust the promise. The mark of belonging was not circumcision, but faith.

In this part of his letter, Paul writes more about this freedom – beginning with his own transformation from a Pharisee, passionate about each detail of the law, to one awakened to the vision of promise and of hope rather than judgment and fear.

Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21

13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

These are Paul’s credentials. He admits to his former life of violence against the early followers of Jesus Christ. He says he was zealous for the traditions of his ancestors. But, as is true for many who keep traditions, he had been a stickler for the details of performance – the things you had to do to maintain the tradition – without remembering the “why.” The core of the law is love – love of God with heart, mind, body, soul – and love of our neighbor as ourselves – even if our neighbor is one of those people.

We pick up the reading again with Paul describing an example of the battle between tradition and transformation – this time in Peter’s behavior.

2:11 When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.


Sermon

As I’ve been thinking about this reading – and complaining to myself and our cats about how hard it is to preach on Paul – it occurred to me that there are several topics we circle around and can’t avoid if we try, like Paul, to come to terms with faith in Christ. Each one of them relies on a mix of personal experience, of communal practice and witness, and the ability or willingness to be inwardly honest, vulnerable, to open our minds and hearts to trust in things we can’t know.

Following a strict set of rules is a lot easier.

The first of these unavoidable topics might be the biggest leap – we’ve got to come to terms with the existence of God. If something in your experience and inner being accepts this, then we might venture a claim about the nature of God. I think we all have feelings or images that we individually associate with God. Is God kind and benevolent, or a critical judge your behavior, or a one-time creator who’s not that invested in daily life, or a wise and loving grandparent with a big lap and warm arms? Is exclusion or inclusion the ultimate purpose of God? And for all or for some? Those are some God questions to grapple with.

The next item on my short list of things that are hard to avoid is the birth of Jesus, and the messy configuration of incarnation. Paul wrote his letters before the gospels were written, and he doesn’t ever mention the incarnation or talk about personal stories or the parables of Jesus – he writes only about the consequence of belief in Jesus… about how it altered his life, and the claim that faith makes on one as a follower of Christ. But still, it seems obvious to say that a Christian has to believe that in some way, God is present in Jesus in a way that is not the normal way God is present in human lives. In Jesus, there is something more than the wonderful, but generic, sense of being created in the image of God. That “something more” is evident in the witness of his disciples and of those who recorded the stories and memories of his life and death. They clearly came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Third on the list is the resurrection. We have recently heard again the Easter stories – how first the women, and then all the disciples experienced something so transformative that they believed without doubt that Jesus had risen from the dead – present with them for a time afterwards – and then not, but entered into the ever-present- living-ness of God, as a continuing, though invisible, presence. The book of Acts records accounts, stories, of how ordinary people within the early gathering of the church were so charged, so changed by the Holy Spirit and the reality of the risen Christ, that they shared the story, they risked their lives because of this new insight, and they lived it out in ways that spread the gospel throughout Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria and beyond – to Jewish, Gentile, pagan, soldier, eunuch, slave…. This is the Jesus that Paul encountered on the road to Damascus.

We met Paul first – using his Jewish name, Saul – as he watched over the coats at the stoning of Steven and approved of the lawful right to kill those who claimed Jesus as Lord – Paul took up his mission as the defender of the Jewish faith and began a rigorous persecution of Christians. As we’ve heard this morning, he “was violently persecuting the church of God trying to destroy it.” He goes on, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” But Paul had a visitation. God intruded. The invisible presence of Jesus dropped him to the dust, and turned his world around. He changed from feared persecutor of the faith, to fearless promoter of the faith. And in his turning Paul saw all things with new eyes.

He brings us to the fourth point on my list of unbelievable things we have to reckon with as Christians: and that is Freedom. We heard about it last week, in the form of the specific example of circumcision. What are the indicators that you are one of those following the Way of Christ? How does belonging in this community show? The council at Jerusalem decided that the ancient, God-given, scriptural law of circumcision was not necessary. What is necessary is faith – and the marker of faith is the way one lives, the witness of daily life.

Now, no one is going to argue that point, but it is so open-ended, and, therefore, seems likely that it will quickly fall back into the law – because what defines the right or acceptable witness of daily life? What does it look like? What kind of things do we have to do? It doesn’t take our brains any time at all to format a little checklist – wouldn’t an indicator bar be helpful? Like those that show the strength of a password you choose. And then we’re back to trusting the laws and traditions and indicator bars, and not venturing into the wonderful mystery of freedom, the grace God promises. Peter – who took the lead in arguing against the burden of circumcision last week – is having problems getting his mind around the freedom of faith this week.

The conflict was over kosher and the works of the law.

At his time, there were 613 rules of behavior that had sprung up around the 10 commandments. These extra layers of law functioned to buffer the core of God’s law and to protect the faithful from straying into sin. If a good Jew followed all of those laws, they could expect favorable judgment from their community and from God. The works of the law governed every aspect of life from the food you could eat, the cooking methods and the manner in which you could eat it, to personal hygiene, cleanliness, and childbirth; from housekeeping to animal husbandry; from harvest practices to financial management and legal arbitration if you happen to be gouged by your neighbor’s bull.

The works of the law covered all your basic life questions and oriented one onto a straight path to God. Peter wasn’t so sure that all these helpful laws should be tossed out with the baptismal bath water. He waffled on the issue of kosher, but Paul sets him straight. We know from the gospels that Jesus didn’t put much stock in the works of the law or bother about eating with the right people. Jesus was more interested in loving God and loving your neighbor as you love yourself, and even loving your enemy – loving the law didn’t make his list. Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentile Christians implied that they were second-class citizens in the kingdom of God, that they could only become acceptable table companions if they learned not to bring hot dogs and jello to the pot luck. By leaving the table, Peter silently bore witness to fellowship based on Jewish law, rather than through God’s loving law of inclusion.

Paul writes, “… we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but only through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
It would be so much easier to understand this, if he wouldn’t use words like justify 5 times in the same sentence. “Justified” does not mean, “I can justify my behavior; let me explain my motivations and the extenuating circumstances that led me to act this way.” Justify means being put straight, getting your life in right order. We might know this use of the word from word processing on computers. There are little boxes on the menu bar that shift lines of writing so they all line up on the left side of the page. If you click another button or set a new tab, they will immediately shift and line up along the right side of the page. Those buttons justify the margins. They shift and align your words.

Paul says faith shifts and aligns our lives. We will act differently because we have been justified by Christ aligning us with God. If we believe that God is ultimately invested in a relationship of love with and for us; and if we believe that somehow Jesus was God incarnate, in the flesh; and if we believe that somehow God’s love is more powerful than death, and if we affirm that it’s not by our own doing or within our own power to make things right or even to live a life we’re proud of, the life we intend — but that those things, that power comes from God’s love claiming and freeing us as a gift of mercy — then, because of all that, we are made new, we are re-oriented; we are justified, re-aligned.
Priorities, values, relationships shift. They are put in a good order because we are acting out of faith in Christ. And it should… will… does show. Like Paul’s scolding of Peter, the actions of our lives should be consistent with our belief. As aspiring followers of Christ, we try to look beyond the first impulse of self (self- centeredness, ego) and see ourselves living within the grace of God – gifted and gifting. Through Christ, God intrudes in our lives to mend and straighten those relationships with God and neighbor and self.

I started out saying that there were four unbelievable things to come to terms with in the life of faith. Freedom sounds like it shouldn’t be difficult. It sounds like recess, spring break, the long days of summer. However, the freedom Paul is talking about isn’t freedom to do whatever you feel like doing. It is freedom to let go of fear and checklists. It’s freedom to trust divine encouragement and inspiration more than your ability to forge ahead and make it happen. You can’t bring yourself up to a satisfactory level of redemption. For Paul it isn’t so much a works versus faith thing, but a matter of trusting God. Good works are still good. But, do those good deeds and noble actions redeem you, or does God? Does willing yourself to believe save you, or does God’s Spirit claim you? Paul sees that the law he loves and killed for, can’t and won’t save or give freedom from doubt and sin and death – it has no power to do that – and, in the end, it will actually enslave you.

It is God alone who can offer life and changed mindsets and a right course for living – because it has to come from within, from an inner passion for God, not from duty or obedience. It is Christ living within you that transforms your life. The good works we do are then for the sake of a world that needs good work, a world that in all of its diversity and oddity and wonder, is beloved by God. We don’t believe so that we will be saved, we believe that we are saved. God has already shifted the margins, justifying our lives through Jesus so that we are recipients of that gift of mercy and are truly free to live into it joyfully and generously. The freedom of a Christian is to not fear.

Sounds of Home – (W)rap

Tuesdays at 2pm
Welcome to the May 11th edition of Sounds of Home!

Song of Home

Sing a song by the fire, chant it sweet and low;
Sing of love, hope, desire, as the embers glow.
Harmony rich and warm, cadence loud and strong,
Melody full of charm, beautiful our song;
Sing of work, sing of friends, sing of those who roam;
But before singing ends, sing a song of home.

Sing a song with the earth, sing with meadows gay,
With the fields sing with mirth, merry roundelay.
Sing with hills in the sun, forests cool and dim,
When the long day is done, join the evening hymn;
Sing above ocean’s roar, with the spraying foam;
But before songs are o’er, sing a song of home.

Text: Ellen J. Lorenz
Music: Largo from New World Symphony by Antonín Dvořák


Bridget Lois Jensen being wrapped in “Until Spring,” an art piece she performed with Breath and Bone/Orts Performance. Photo by Alex Barber

Here’s a link to a video by Qualia Video Productions of the wrapping:
https://vimeo.com/88529092
fbclid=IwAR113CHoQGqmtqHNxrHa4nSzQwyDqjJcheWifqMbQY482m2HdQ4PMkdVyZk

May 9th Worship

Order of Service

PreludeChris Johansen, piano
IntroductionPastor Linda
Gathering SongGolden Light
S-7
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayer of the DayPastor Linda
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Baptism of Magnus James HansonPastor Linda
Psalm 84vs. 8-12Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
ScriptureGalatians 3: 1-9; 23-29Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
HymnMothering God, You Gave Me Birth
#735
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayers of IntercessionPastor Linda
Lord’s Prayer
Benediction
Pastor Linda
Closing HymnGo, My Children, with My Blessing
#543
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
DismissalPastor Linda
PostludeChris Johansen, piano

Audio Recording


Prelude

Chris Johansen

Welcome

Introduction

I’m taking things out of order today because we have a baptism!  Covid has postponed it, but today we welcome Magnus James Hanson into the family God, holding him – together with his mom, Karn; dad, Hans; and sister Kirsten – in prayer and celebration, rejoicing in the gift of his life and in the God of his being.

We are also celebrating Mother’s Day, giving thanks for those who bore us and those – biological or not – who have nurtured and fed us.

And, because the Church recognizes her in the historical, spiritual life of the church, we’re celebrating Julian of Norwich, who is commemorated each year on May 8th.

Julian was most likely a Benedictine nun living in an isolated cell attached to the Priory in Norwich England. When she was 30 years old, she contracted an illness so serious and came so near death they gave her last rites. But, she survived and at the end of her illness, she experienced several visions that she understood to have come from God – visions which declared love as the meaning of all life; love provided by Christ who is love for the purpose of love.

This is one of her visions: “And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.  In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But what is this to me? Truly, the Creator, the Keeper, the Lover.”

Julian died around the year 1416.

We’ll be hearing more from her presently.

We are also hearing today from Paul’s letter to the church he founded in Galatia. I mention this now, because it is pertinent both to Julian’s message of Love as the meaning and purpose of the spiritual life, and to baptism.

Paul’s letter is a polemic, a scolding of the newbie church for doubting the free, outright gift of love and divine embrace that’s found in Christ. Paul had belabored this point during his time among them, but then later heard that they were being swayed by misinformation from another group of missionaries who insisted that males must be circumcised first – that converts to Christianity must first succumb to the laws of Jewish inclusion as the people of God.  Circumcising a baby boy at eight days old was the sign of the covenant of belonging given to Moses. Paul rightly assumed that circumcision as a prerequisite to inclusion might be a stumbling block to faith for fully grown men. That topic is the occasion for his letter.

So, what is it that is being asked of us – what is being promised – when we bring our child to baptism? When we come to the Lord’s table in holy communion? When we profess that we are aspiring disciples of this one we call Christ, the living word of a living God? What are the rules of engagement, the parameters of inclusion, the laws governing faith and its benefits?

These are the questions for today.


Gathering Song – Golden Light

1.
Golden light of morning bright
The sky is now adorning;
As sleeping child in mother’s arm.
My God has shielded me from harm;
I thank Him for the morning.

2.
Golden light of morning bright
Is shed upon my labor;
As birds their morning songs employ,
I praise my God for life and joy
To me and to my neighbor.

3.
Golden light of morning bright
To me is life and gladness;
For I am happy every day
I walk upon God’s holy way,
In joy as well as sadness.

4.
Now I pray that God today
Will send to me His blessing;
My daily task I then fulfill,
According to His holy will,
His wondrous peace possessing.

5.
With the sun my course is run
Until it has descended;
Oh, may this fleeting life of mine,
Just like the sun, for others shine
Until life’s day is ended.


Text: N.F.S. Grundtvig


Prayer of the Day

In you, Father all-mighty we have our preservation and our bliss. In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother, and Saviour. In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvellous and plenteous grace. You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us. You are our maker, our lover, our keeper. Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.   Amen

~Julian of Norwich

Confession & Forgiveness

P: Trusting in the promise of God’s word, we admit the sin that confronts and confounds us.

            Silence for reflection and self-examination.

Most faithful God,

C: We confess that we have failed to walk in the way of your Son. We have shut our ears to your call to       
serve as Christ served us. We have shut our eyes to the suffering of your people and of your world.   
We have closed our minds to the possibilities of life and the mysteries of faith.
Call us out, gracious God, and grant us life.

P: God who is rich in mercy and love, gives us a new birth into a living hope through the waters of baptism. By the water and the Word God delivers us from sin and death and raises us to a new life in Jesus Christ. We are united with all the baptized into the one body of Christ, anointed with the gift of God’s Spirit, and joined together in God’s mission for the life of the world.


Baptism

Karn and Hans, called by the Holy Spirit, trusting in the love of God, do you desire to have your child baptized into Christ?  

             [We do]

In receiving this gift, you also accept responsibilities to help your little one as he grows and matures, and with him, to:
live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper,
to care for others and the world God made,
and to seek to know Christ through God’s living Word.

Do you promise to help Magnus grow in faith and live the Christian life as you are empowered to do so by God’s Spirit and supported through this community?

            [We do]

Sponsors and families (as you stand in for the community silenced by zoom), do you promise to nurture and support this family and Magnus, and to pray for him in his new life in Christ?

            [We do]

At the Font:

Blessed are you, holy God. You are the creator of the waters of the earth. You are the fire of rebirth. You poured out your Spirit on your people Israel. You breathe life into our dry bones. Your Son Jesus promised to send the Spirit to us that the world may know your peace and truth.

Pour out your Spirit, and breathe new life into this child being baptized today. By your Spirit adopt us all as your children, heirs through our savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Baptism:

Magnus James, I baptize you in the name of the Father,   and of the Son,     and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Loving Father, sustain Magnus with the gifts of your Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of curiosity and love of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.

Magnus, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked wit the cross of Christ forever. Amen.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life.”  Let your light shine, little one, so that others will be drawn to the love of God.

We welcome this brother into the body of Christ, the family of God, the mighty, holy mission of Love. Thanks be to God.


Psalm 84: 8-12

8 Lord God of hosts, | hear my prayer;
give ear, O | God of Jacob.

9 Behold our defend-|er, O God;
and look upon the face of | your anointed.

10 For one day in your courts is better than a | thousand elsewhere.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents | of the wicked.

11 For the Lord God is both sun and shield, bestowing | grace and glory;
no good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk | with integrity.

12 O | Lord of hosts,
happy are they who put their | trust in you!


Scripture Reading – Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29

1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4Did you experience so much for nothing? —if it really was for nothing. 5Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

6Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 9For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed. 23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The word of the Lord


Sermon

Paul is difficult to read – worse to listen to. For one thing he uses too many commas and clauses for most of us to keep up with. Even reading it to myself, I find it hard to stay with the main thought. And secondly, we can tell that he’s angry, but he argues with people and ideas we don’t have access to. So even if we follow the sentence structure, we are still likely to miss the point. Basically, in the first part of the reading, Paul is urging the Galatians not to fall back into the power of the law, but to experience God’s love as freedom and faith.

This was to say that Christ is the completion of the law – the finale, and that in Jesus, God’s love has come, full stop. The law is a teacher, a tutor, a disciplinarian for our relationships with one another so that we don’t trample the rights of the poor or powerless. But the law Jesus fulfills is that of God’s love for all that is, all that exists. It is a gracious embrace –

There once was a mother named God. God had three daughters – Faith, Prudence, and Elska.

Faith was a very trusting soul. She believed everything her mother told her – even when it didn’t seem like it could possibly be true. On more than one occasion, Faith could be heard to say, “Nothing is impossible for God.” And she was right. Faith was a simple person, loyal, believing the best of her friends, trusting people’s motives and her sisters’ love. Faith was, however, often disappointed in relationships out among the neighbors and found her fidelity ignored, taken advantage of, or not returned. God loved her eldest daughter and held Faith in high regard.

Her sister Prudence had a sharper edge. Prudence was a stickler for rules. She kept track of all the slights and infringements. Even as a youngster, Prudence could catch her mother’s inconsistencies and demanded to know which rule was really the rule. Prudence tended to be like Miss Marple – Agatha Christie’s spinster detective – who says, “I always believe the worst about people. What is so sad is that one is usually justified in doing so.”  Prudence knew the depths to which people would go to justify themselves and she had little compassion for those who disregarded the rules.

 To protect the vulnerable (like her older sister), Prudence made up new rules to give clarity to the old rules. These could not as easily be explained away as suggestions or good advice. Prudence didn’t like to leave room for interpretation.

 When she was involved in a project, however, everyone knew what was expected of them. They knew the parameters of their job and the consequences for slacking in their duties. She was an organizer. And perhaps unexpectedly, Prudence loved children – they were so teachable – she was a nanny for many years, filling in for absent parents, protecting, disciplining, teaching the proper ways of doing all things well.  Prudence was a strong woman and a force to be reckoned with, but beneath the unbending exterior Prudie was motivated by compassion and a strong sense of justice.

Elska was considerably younger than her two sisters, but she was far from an afterthought. In fact, it was almost as though she had always been there, a promise in God’s apron pocket. She was a free spirit. Elska threw herself into everything, loved everyone, and had a wild, unrestrained joy that seemed to attract people from the fringes. Elska didn’t pay much attention to Prudence’s warnings and fears. She was respectful, but unimpressed with the rules of proper behavior. She ignored traditions and social niceties, not to make Prudence mad, but because the rules no longer served the purpose they once held. Instead of helping people, these rules and traditions now kept people from loving and being loved, they kept people segregated into categories and aware of their divisions. Elska could drive Prudence crazy with just a word, and truth be told, it seemed as though she enjoyed doing that. 

Faith watched these interactions, shook her head and smiled. “Elska has life,” she thought, “and she has it abundantly, gloriously. Elska brings out the best in us – even in law-loving Prudie.”

And Faith was right.

God loved her daughters – each with their own gifts, each fulfilling a need, each serving a place in God’s household. But it was Elska’s love that completed the work begun by Faith and Prudence.

The work of Elska – the work of love – is what cuts across the barriers that divide and separate us.

“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

These closing lines from today’s reading stand as an enduring eliminator of those hierarchies that the law – sister Prudence  – establishes among us. When we use race, ethnicity, or status as an inherent reason to look down on others or when we think that anatomical, physiological, or genetic traits make some people more deserving of power, influence, and respect than others … this verse serves as a corrective.

At this point we will all nod our heads and say, we know these things aren’t really important …. but if these distinctions don’t matter, why are we so invested in them?  Why do we work so hard at maintaining them? Why does it matter what status others enjoy, what work they do, what lifestyle they lead, what they look like, where they live, what color their skin?    Most of us do get confused on this point: we know that our worth – and the value of others – is in God’s eyes and that we all fall short of the glory of God, of what God desires for us and of us. And we trust in the words of Paul and other voices of scripture that God’s love is far greater than the sum of our failings…. but still we behave and believe as though all sorts of minor things matter more. We judge ourselves, and often we judge others, based on a host of value markers like education, income, industriousness, age, body size, table manners—whatever. Over and over again, we set up structures like those Paul was describing.

But, Paul says, “It’s over. Let it go.” Holding on to those distinctions as value markers is to risk becoming enslaved once again by the binary structures of Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female, in/out. Paul tells us that those distinctions exist only in the minds of humans, not in the mind of God.

Let that really sink in.  The distinctions we make are only ours – manmade, so to speak – and not God’s. God likely has other categories of value than the ones we consider noteworthy.  There’s no future in our hierarchies and certainly no freedom. We’ll forever be measuring where we stand and worrying about what the neighbors think. We’ll forever be looking in the mirror and finding flaws, looking at our neighbor and, by the necessity of our egos, finding even more flaws.  Paul states his insight in one of scripture’s most radical sentences, with implications so unsettling that throughout the ages people have tried to show why it should not be taken literally, but domesticated, tamed, brought back into the realm of the old law, handed back to Prudence to manage and order. Don’t let her have it!

“Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Paul implores.

And for those of us who call ourselves children of God through faith, letting the implications of that sentence find expression in our lives will require a radical openness to God’s relentless efforts to crack our shells and make us useful. Being one in Christ Jesus is a frightening, tradition blasting, gracious, beautiful gift of God.

And among the things that matter in the Christian life we pray for Magnus, this sentence, “there are no longer the old distinctions…for you are all  one   in Christ ” surely rides near the top. It is the work of Love for each and every child, love of which there is always more – like a mother’s love – a mother named God.


Hymn – Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth

1.
Mothering God, you gave me birth
in the bright morning of this world.
Creator, source of ev’ry breath,
you are my rain, my wind, my sun.

2.
Mothering Christ, you took my form,
offering me your food of light,
grain of new life, and grape of love,
your very body for my peace.

3.
Mothering Spirit, nurt’ring one,
in arms of patience hold me close,
so that in faith I root and grow
until I flow’r, until I know.

Text: Jean Janzen; based on Julian of Norwich
Music: Carolyn Jennings


Prayers of Intercession

text adapted from Barbara Bruneau, a retired Lutheran pastor in southern Minnesota, posted on RevGalBlogPals. Our response today is silence for prayer as you fill in the blanks.

Gracious God,

we thank you for this day, especially for the women in our lives who have borne us along…

We pray for this beloved and troubled world…

For those who have jumped but not yet landed…

For those who have committed to an action but have not yet reached the result…

For those whose life and health are in the hands of others…

For those who seem brave only because they have no other choice…

For those living in regions of pandemic or violence who are hoping to get through just one day without a friend or family member dying…

For those who wait… for health… for justice… for love… for an answer… for an ending…

For those who know that even a safe landing may be messy and painful…

God of the beginning and the end and the in-between, support us in our moments and days and years of being suspended in mid-air. Let us trust fully in the landing.  Amen

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen

Benediction


Hymn – Go, My Children, with My Blessing

1.
“Go, my children, with my blessing, never alone.
Waking, sleeping, I am with you, you are my own.
In my love’s baptismal river
I have made you mine forever.
Go, my children, with my blessing, you are my own.”

2.
“Go, my children, sins forgiven, at peace and pure.
Here you learned how much I love you, what I can cure.
Here you heard my dear Son’s story,
here you touched him, saw his glory.
Go, my children, sins forgiven, at peace and pure.”

3.
“Go, my children, fed and nourished, closer to me.
Grow in love and love by serving, joyful and free.
Here my Spirit’s power filled you,
here my tender comfort stilled you.
Go, my children, fed and nourished, joyful and free.”

Text: Jaroslav J. Vajda
Music: Welsh traditional; arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams


Dismissal

Go into this week with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And trust that the Spirit of God goes with you.  Amen


Postlude

Chris Johansen

Sounds of Home – Fire

Tuesdays at 2pm
Welcome to the May 4th edition of Sounds of Home!

Vive La Compagnie

Let ev’ry good fellow now join in a song,
Vive la compagnie!
Success to each other and pass it along,
Vive la compagnie!

Chorus (faster)
Vive la, vive la, vive l’amour,
Vive la, vive la, vive l’amour,
Vive l’amour, vive l’amour, vive la compagnie!

A friend on your left and a friend on your right,
Vive la compagnie!
In love and good fellowship let us unite,
Vive la compagnie! Chorus

Now wider and wider our circle expands,
Vive la compagnie!
We sing to our comrades in far away lands,
Vive la compagnie! Chorus

College Song


Like to lend your voice?

Our final episode is next week!
The theme is “wrap”

If you have a response to this theme – whether a story or memory, original piece of writing or poetry, music, radio drama, or one-liner – the sky’s the limit
we’re eager to hear from you!

To submit a response, 
please make an audio recording and email it to Molly
or send in a written response to be read aloud on the program.

Contact Molly at tulkmo01@luther.edu for information and submissions.
Submission deadline is Monday, May 10th.

May 2nd Worship

Order of Service

PreludeChris Johansen, piano
Opening PrayerRaleigh Johnson
Confession & ForgivenessLiz Dodge
Gathering SongMy Faith Looks Up to Thee
#759
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayer of the DayRaleigh Johnson
Psalm 105vs. 1-8Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
ScriptureActs 15: 1 – 18Liz Dodge
Reflection / Commentarywritten by Mary Hinkel ShoreLiz Dodge
CreedLiz Dodge
Prayers of IntercessionBarb Kass
Lord’s PrayerLiz Dodge
CommunionShawn Mai
Blessing / BenedictionLiz Dodge
Closing HymnThe Church’s One Foundation
#654
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
PostludeChris Johansen, piano

Audio Recording


Prelude

Chris Johansen

Welcome

Opening Prayer

Life-giving God, we are a blessed people.
In this moment of worship we pray that you might bless us anew.
Give us ears to hear the melodies of praise that fill the world around us.
And as we hear the songs, teach us to sing,
to dance with abandon,
to rejoice in the wonders of your grace.
Forgive us when we have passed by signs of your mercy.
From this moment forward,
open our eyes to the places where joy is springing up from parched ground.
Lead us by your Spirit in the pathways of your overflowing peace, hope, and joy.
Amen.


Confession & Forgiveness

P:  In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.                          

C: Amen

P: We confess our entanglements with justice, hurts, and greed – and God’s difficult,            
     blessed vision of a very different way. We seek the face of God, confessing our sin.

       Silence for reflection and self-examination.

Holy God,

we have sinned against you and each other. We pray for your forgiveness and healing. The good we want to do, we often fail to do. The harmful actions and thoughts we do not want, we turn to again and again. Deliver us, Gracious God. Save us, save our neighbors, save all your creatures from our lack of imagination and courage. Gird us for the challenges of change needed, called for, overdue. Guide our way in your way.     Amen

P:  We who were once far off have been brought near to God through the cross of Christ.
     May we forgive one another as God in Christ has first forgiven us.    Amen


Gathering Song – My Faith Looks Up to Thee

1.
My faith looks up to thee,
thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray,
take all my guilt away,
oh, let me from this day
be wholly thine!

2.
May thy rich grace impart
strength to my fainting heart,
my zeal inspire;
as thou hast died for me,
oh, may my love to thee
pure, warm, and changeless be,
a living fire!

3.
While life’s dark maze I tread
and griefs around me spread,
be thou my guide;
bid darkness turn to day,
wipe sorrow’s tears away,
nor let me ever stray
from thee aside.

4.
When ends life’s transient dream,
when death’s cold, sullen stream
shall o’er me roll;
blest Savior, then, in love
fear and distrust remove;
oh, bear me safe above,
a ransomed soul!

Text: Ray Palmer
Music: Lowell Mason


Greeting

We gather in the triune name of sacred Love. May God’s peace be ever with you, Christ’s mercy near at hand, and may the Holy Spirit guide and encourage you in all circumstances and in every need.   Amen

Prayer of the Day

Lord of all,

In Jesus you have made us all sisters and brothers in Christ.  There is no distinction between Gentile and Jew.  There is no separation that can remove any from fellowship in Christ’s community.  Blind us to our differences so that in unity we may proclaim your truth to all, for the sake of Jesus Christ in whom there is harmony and peace.

Amen

                           

      


Psalm 105: 1-8

1 Give thanks to the Lord and call up-|on God’s name;
make known the deeds of the Lord a-|mong the peoples.

2 Sing to the | Lord, sing praises,
and speak of all God’s | marvelous works.

3 Glory in God’s | holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the | Lord rejoice.

4 Search for the strength | of the Lord;
continually | seek God’s face.

5 Remember the marvels | God has done,
the wonders and the judgments | of God’s mouth,

6 O offspring of Abra-|ham, God’s servant,
O children of Jacob, God’s | chosen ones.

7 The Lord | is our God,
whose judgments prevail in | all the world,

8 who has always been mindful | of the covenant,
the promise made for a thousand | generations


Scripture Reading – Acts 15: 1-18

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. 3So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”

6The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. 7After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 12The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. 14Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17so that all other peoples may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18known from long ago.


Commentary

by Mary Hinkel Shore

click here to open a new tab with the Commentary text


Statement of Faith

In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother, and Savior. 
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace.
         You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
         You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.     Amen

~ Julian of Norwich

Prayers of Intercession

God our strength:  Change us by your grace.

United in Christ who is always present and listening, let us pray to God:
For the Church, the Body of Christ,
that we might live the unity we receive
through the Holy Spirit.
God our strength:  Change us by your grace.

For the leaders of our churches
that they may be faithful to the unity
to which all Christians are called.
God our strength:  Change us by your grace.

For the nations of the world,
that they may find common ground and respect.
May that lead to peace with one another
and the reality of justice for all people.
God our strength:  Change us by your grace..

For all people,
that we may be good stewards of the earth
mindful of all creatures plants and fungi.
God our strength:  Change us by your grace..

For the people of our society,
that we may be transformed to live
as caring neighbors to each other.
God our strength:  Change us by your grace.

For the sick and suffering,
that they may be transformed
by your healing presence.
God our strength:  Change us by your grace..

For all families and households,
that their struggles and joys may find their fulfillment
in your love.
God our strength:  Change us by your grace..

For the dying,and for the grieving,
that they may be comforted by your presence.
God our strength:  Change us by your grace.

Lord, stand in our midst and grant us unity and peace.
Amen.


Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen


Communion


Benediction

As you go from here into the week ahead,

Keep your eyes open for God,
watch for His works;
be alert for signs of His presence.
For He is God—our God—
in charge of the whole earth.
And He remembers His Covenant—
for a thousand generations He’s been as good as His word.

So go with confidence and joy,
knowing that God goes with you. 
Amen


Hymn – The Church’s One Foundation

1.
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
she is his new creation by water and the word.
From heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

2.
Elect from ev’ry nation, yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation one Lord, one faith, one birth:
one holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses with ev’ry grace endued.

3.
Though with a scornful wonder this world sees her oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

4.
Through toil and tribulation and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.

5.
Yet she on earth hath union with God, the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
Oh, blessed heav’nly chorus! Lord, save us by your grace,
that we, like saints before us, may see you face to face.

Text: Samuel J. Stone
Music: Samuel S. Wesley


Postlude

Chris Johansen

Sounds of Home – Wash

Tuesdays at 2pm
Welcome to the April 27th edition of Sounds of Home!

Bertie Bubble

Bertie was a bubble who went floating in the air,
A very brilliant bubble for his colors they were rare,
He floated past the window, and he nearly hit the wall,
He floated through the kitchen, and he floated down the hall.

He was drifting on so nicely, when a wind blew through the door,
It shook poor Bertie Bubble, and it bounced him on the floor.
Of all the great misfortunes, this surely was the worst,
There was trouble for our bubble, when old Bertie burst.

Song found in The Book of Children’s Songtales
compiled by John M. Feierabend


Word Ladder:

Rock
Rack
Wack
Walk
Wall
Wail
Wait
Wast
Wash

Hjalmar’s word ladder poem:

I found a little ROCK — it was there, lying on its back,
So I put it on display on my rock collector’s RACK.
But it didn’t match the rest, it was really out of WACK.

So I took it back outside, had another little WALK,
Down along the garden WALL, where I heard some children talk.
Then one began to WAIL and ran off down the block.

The other, quoting Shakespeare, shouted, “Saucy minion, WAIT!
Thou WAST who broke that little egg upon my little pate!”
Then off he rushed to WASH his hair and cleanse its eggy state.


Like to lend your voice?
There are two opportunities remaining!
As the West Denmark community begins to gather in person once more, Sounds of Home will be signing off May 11th.


Our theme for May 4th is “fire”

If you have a response to this theme – whether a story or memory, original piece of writing or poetry, music, radio drama, or one-liner – the sky’s the limit –  or would like to guest host or lead a song to sing together, 
we’re eager to hear from you!

Or if you still have a thought for “wash”…  
We’d love to hear it, too!

To submit a response, 
please make an audio recording and email it to Molly
or send in a written response to be read aloud on the program.

Contact Molly at tulkmo01@luther.edu for information and submissions.
Submission deadline is Monday, May 3rd.


Our final theme for May 11th will be “wrap”

The submission deadline is Monday, May 10th!