Sermon for July 1, 2012

II Corinthians 8:7-15

Today I would like to focus on the capital campaign letter that went out to everybody awhile ago. Not the capital campaign letter that was prepared by our committee and was sent to all of our members last month. That was a great summary of a long term effort by the congregation. No, I wanted to call our attention today to the stewardship campaign letter that is our second lesson today. For this section of II Corinthians is a classic stewardship appeal letter, the pattern for the letters Christians have been receiving for centuries now.
A bit of background might be useful. The gospel lesson indicates how deeply the first Christians felt about care for the sick and healing ministries. The community of Mark used these remembrances of the life of Jesus to encourage them in their own urban ministry to the ill and the dying. First Century congregations sometimes looked more like shelters or hospitals than churches. According to Mark this healing ministry was based on faith, was offered to the rich and the outcast alike, involved caring for crowds, sometimes brought life in the face of death, and sometimes involved almost secret or deeply intimate rituals of caring.
But the ancient church had other ministries as well. They had what we would call an Emergency Relief Program which is what we are talking about in II Corinthians. The missionary Paul who writes this is of course spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. But there has been a famine in the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, probably caused by draught. (We’ve not had rain really in over four weeks.) In his travels, along the way, Paul is gathering funds for those in need. This letter is part of his ancient appeal for famine relief.
Perhaps it would be well for us to remember our own Emergency Relief Fund. Ten years ago we were gathering around $15,000 each year and giving it to those in need every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In the last few years we have been distributing around $35,000 each year. Funds come from the congregation’s budget, from individual members, from organizations, special friends of the congregation, and even other congregations. Volunteers do a great deal of the work. Hasan Mohr is our outreach worker who focuses on distributing the funds. The rest of the staff is involved in the administration of the program. Because we literally give money away for free, we always are short of funds. Our famine or current financial crisis has made great demands on this kind of ministry.
In the face of famine, the ancient church organized an emergency fund, and Paul is writing this letter on behalf of this effort. Notice how the letter, like all good fund appeal letters, starts out with a complement: You excel in everything – faith, speech, wisdom, love, and enthusiasm. Wow, what a great congregation!
But he reminds them that generosity is a special gift, and he hopes that these people will be generous with their support for the famine relief. Generosity is a special gift, and we are all grateful for the generosity that marks our congregational life.
Notice a few things about generous giving in this Christian appeal. It is not commanded. It cannot be forced. It has been from the very beginning something that touches the heart of the giver.
However, though generosity is a matter of the heart, Paul also lays out a challenge to give. There is a hint of a challenge gift, and a recollection of the earnest need for this fund appeal.
Notice too, how Paul’s ancient stewardship program is based on a sense of balance and fairness. Those who have more should give more. And those who have less should give less. It should be fair and balanced. And people are called to not only be generous but also to be wise about their own resources and needs.
Toward the end of the passage there is the sense that participating in famine relief provided ancient Christian congregations with a mutual aid society or mutual insurance program of sorts. Now the famine is in the east, but if it does come to Greece, then others will be able to help our congregation in its time of want.
But the deepest motivation for giving is not our generosity, nor a pressing need, nor a philosophical balance or even a sense of mutual aid, but the generosity of our Lord Jesus Christ, who sacrificed so much so that we might have so much. Everything in Paul get’s grounded in Jesus, and good stewardship to this day is the same way. Generosity continues to be a wonderful gift. It involves fairness and mutuality. And in the end, we give because we have first received. And we have received so much that goes beyond dollars and cents. Just as Jesus inspired healing ministry in Mark, his care for the poor and those who were suffering inspired the gift of generosity in the ancient church as it organized itself for emergency relief. And Jesus Christ still inspires mission in so many ways.

Please allow me two personal observations about Paul’s ancient stewardship work and our own. As a pastor who has written many stewardship appeals for a whole host of things, I had to chuckle over verses ten and eleven. He talks about the intention and the desire to give and be generous, but now is the time to make the actual gift. Willingness and eagerness are important, he seems to say, but the poor can’t eat our enthusiasm. Write the check.
As one who has raised money for a variety of causes, I would like to lift up one unusual aspect of our own Emergency Relief Program with which many have been generous.
Now we live in an era of many non-profits who all are involved in fundraising for many different causes. It is more likely today than ever that this fund raising is even done professionally. The means by which funds are now gathered are far more sophisticated than Paul’s letter which he quickly put together between other more important duties. But all of that fund raising for good causes is itself costly, and it is extremely rare these days to be able to give a gift that goes completely to the cause for which it is intended. That is an unusual thing. Usually a percentage, and sometimes a high percentage, is directed to the support of the organization.
But for over twenty-five years, St. Johns has been set up so that if you make a donation to emergency relief, all of that money goes to those in need. What makes that possible is congregational structure or one might even say organized religion. Salaries, fund development, appeals, expenses, accounting, and reporting all come from the general congregational budget. Sometimes that general budget needs attention, but St. Johns Emergency Relief Fund remains one of those few places to which you can give a gift that has 100% of the donation going to the intended cause of the donor.
And let us work to keep it that way by supporting both the Emergency Fund and our general causes with generosity not based on obligation but thanksgiving. A generosity that bears not only intentions but fruit, breeds fairness and mutuality, and is grounded in the amazing gifts we have already received from God. As Jeremiah says in the first lesson today: This steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your God’s faithfulness.

Sermon for June 24, 2012

Job 38:1-14, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, and Mark 4:35-41

This week I was talking one morning with Merle Zimmerman. We usually talk about plumbing and the building. But that morning he suggested that I blog something on “Why People Should Come to Church?” He was thinking that we should lift up the benefits of coming to church regularly. And I think that is a good idea. It also lends itself well to these three passages from the Bible this morning.

So why should you come to church? I think if you asked people who came to church regularly why they do so, they would say it’s because of the fellowship with others. Fellowship time at church is very important.  As people come to church for a long time, friendships develop. The friendships are nurtured by seeing each other regularly. And your church friends are not all your own age. Nor do they share your personal convictions, values, or political persuasions. Church brings you into belonging with a wide variety of people. And that is something that is very special about church, or a mosque or synagogue.

Part of the fellowship of church, however, has little to do with people. Part of why we come to church is to have fellowship with God. God becomes someone we meet and talk with on a regular basis. We sense the presence of God in our lives, and that fills us with a different spirit and attitude. Worship, through its music, prayer, and ritual, draws us close to God as we come into the divine presence .

Why should you come to church? For fellowship with God in music and worship and others in the gathering space. But there is more to it than that. In church, especially congregations like St. Johns we are not only worshipping God we are constructing a good. The ministries of this congregation for those in need are substantial and have grown significantly in these years. Your presence and support is needed in the construction of our mission. And caring for the common good is good for our own persons.

Why should you come to church? We find fellowship with others and with God as we work together on our mission. But there is something more, something we find in these pieces of the Bible before us this morning. For in church, Sunday after Sunday, we encounter the word of God in, with, and under the Bible. And these ancient words assist us in making sense out of life and meaning in times of confusion. Church helps us to form and then reform a faith that works in our complex lives.

Let’s see that in the three passages today. Sometimes we need a new attitude or an attitude adjustment. We’re kind of stuck, and we need to see something in a new or different way in order to just move along and get beyond whatever it is that is bothering us.

This is the situation in the first lesson this morning.  Job has suffered a great deal and by the 38th chapter there have been many suggestions as to why God lets all these bad things happen to Job. None of these explanations of Job’s friends and critics really works. They hardly ever do. But in chapter 38, the perspective shifts to God’s grand vision for Job, the hidden purposes behind Job’s life and all creation, the ordering of the universe so that it all eventually moves back to God in ways that are beyond our understanding. This chapter is about getting a bigger perspective, a new attitude.

In the midst of all the problems this world throws at us and itself, meaning is sometimes hard to come by. Sometimes as in the book of Job, when we come to church, we are moved beyond our ways of thinking, we sense a new idea, a new way to approach a problem, a new attitude, or an adjustment that needs to be made. And that formation in faith is one of the reasons we come to church and into the presence of the word.

Sometimes we don’t need an attitude adjustment. We need what the ancient Greeks called hortatory rhetoric, as in the second lesson today. Here in II Corinthians, attitudes are not being adjusted, in this hortatory pep talk, people who are facing difficulties, including Paul himself, are called to hang in there with endurance through the hardships, standing up for the right, and seeing even in defeat the seeds of victory.

In these long Greek sentences he is saying, “Hang in there. We’ve all been through tough times. Keep the faith, be patient, remember kindness in adversity, stay genuine and loving, tell the truth, and God will be with you.”

Every once in awhile, each one of us needs this ancient pep talk as we face the challenges of everyday life. We need to be called to the good through our struggles. And we need to hear again that God is on our side.  And that formation in faith is another reason why we come to church and hear the word of God: to be encouraged when the going is tough.

Sometimes when we come to church we do not need an attitude adjustment, and we don’t need a pep talk. We need a complete overhaul or makeover. The wheels have fallen off the vehicle of our life. It’s a complete mess, and there is not much I can do it seems to make it any better. I need not an attitude adjustment, not a pep talk, but a complete transformation of the soul.

That complete transformation, makeover or overhaul is embedded in the lesson from Mark. Every phrase is a parable. Evening comes. It’s over. The crowd is left behind. It’s just you and me God. And we are called to go across to the other side.  We are called to a completely new place, over rough seas. The storms come. It is never easy to change anything let alone everything. The storms swamp the boat. It feels hopeless. But Jesus wakes up. God stirs within. He rebukes the waves. There is always a stern word in transformation. And somehow we make it to the other side, amazed but sensing the power of God through the transformations of this life and that final transformation to the other side of the lake of death. That stormy transformation in the boat going to the far shore is another reason why we come to church and hear the word of God.

Why should you come to church? Oh, to be with others, to be with God, to make a difference, and to grow in the word, getting attitude adjustments sometimes, getting pep talks now and then, and occasionally coming in for that complete overhaul of the soul.

Sermon for June 17, 2012

Ezekiel 17:22-24, II Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17, and Mark 4:26-34

Perhaps it is because I have been reading Ruth Konigsberg’s The Truth about Grief: the Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss regarding the growing grief industry in America. Or perhaps it is because every week, since Christmas, I have been driving down to the hospice center on Fish Hatchery Road to visit someone who has been there. We’ve had four people there since the beginning of the year, and Adeline died this week. Whether it’s the book on grief or the trips down Fish Hatchery Road, in either case I am naturally focused on the second lesson from II Corinthians which speaks of courage in the face of death, whether we are in the body or out of the body, here or at home in the Lord.

Through my weekly journeys to Fitchburg, I am impressed with the courage, dedication, commitment and grace of family members and care givers of the dying. If you have cared for someone who has died, I think you know what I mean. It is an intense, sometimes short, sometimes long, but always intense encounter with what matters about life, lifting to the surface both the best and the worst in all of us, punctuated by medical transitions and difficult decisions, as we try to make sense out of life betwixt and between everyday existence and existential significance. One cannot be a pastor for long without acquiring a deep admiration for those who are dying and those who accompany their dying loved ones.

A pastor’s accompaniment of the dying is different. There is not the intensity of the family. Sometimes one enters the drama in the very early acts before there are many family members around. Sometimes the death has already or is about to take place. But what the pastoral experience lacks in intensity, it makes up for in constancy.

Death is a constant part of every pastor’s life. I have presided at 140 funerals at St. Johns and about 400 funerals in my ministry. The last rites for Lutherans are something I usually say from memory now.  It’s easier than trying to fumble with my glasses and the fine print in the occasional service book. In the funerals themselves, for me, the real text or lesson has become not something read from a Bible but the life of the person. And over the years I have a sense that there are two important emotions regarding death: fear and confidence. And this is the main point of the second lesson in II Corinthians.

Let’s begin with fear in the face of death. Two fears are often present as death approaches. One fear is the fear of pain, the fear of suffering, the fear of ordeal. Some say we are not so much afraid of death as we are of dying.  We handle this fear of pain in two ways, and both are helpful. One is numbing medication. Palliative care is a good thing. Much suffering can be relieved at the end.

The second way that suffering and the pain of dying is relieved is found in this ancient lesson. There is a psycho-physical shift in focus, emotional awareness and spiritual being, so that even when we are at home in this body, our attention, our vision is not focused on the now but is focused on the not yet, on things to come, on our coming home, on our being with God.  This strong focus greets death rather than resists it, and allows us to move through pain. We sense death as a painful yet transitional passage. Medical care and focus on our being with the Lord move us through this fear of the pain of dying.

The second fear is in the second lesson as well in verse ten. Its ancient language speaks of a judgment seat of Christ or a day of reckoning for those who die.

Actually, I’m not sure what you want to do with divine judgment. We may not all agree on what that is. Heavens, we may not even be able to agree on whether it’s a good idea to have brats at the governor’s mansion, let alone matters of eternal judgment at the end of the ages.

But even if you think nothing happens after death, one way or another, we still find death to be a time when we chew on matters of the heart. We wrestle with the way we’ve lived our lives. We worry and have fears about the unresolved things. We face our regrets. We are sorry. And we want to make amends. Even if we don’t believe in some heavenly judgment seat, we still face our own assessments about the way life turned out. Regardless of our metaphysics, in death we face at least our own assessment or judgment on what has been done or accomplished in the body, both good and bad.

Facing these fearful life assessments requires honesty, sometimes a long talk with a friend who does not blame us, but who does not let us off the hook either. We need time with one who listens, who understands how it is, and yet doesn’t try to make us feel better. Facing this fear and anxiety requires recollection of what we intended, how we fell short, and what can yet be done with the time we have. Facing this fear and our own assessment of life requires trust that through it all we are in the hands of one who often turns our less than good intentions into what needed to be done, and who will be with us even through these darker hours of the soul.

The religious words for all of that are repentance, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and absolution, all of which help us face not only the physical pain of death but the emotional pain of life and death.

And so as II Corinthians says, we have confidence. We are always confident, the ancient writer proclaims. And we walk by faith. Yes, we have fear. But we have this faith, this confidence that God is with us through all that is good and evil.

So having stood in the valley of the shadow of death, we see life in a new way. According to Mark, we sense this life to be the life of a seed and that the seed will explode with new growth and new possibilities we cannot yet imagine. According to Isaiah, we sense in the big and little death moments of life that a small branch is broken, and then planted, so that something new will grow.

Now look at the closing verses of the second lesson. Having stood in the valley of the shadow of death, we no longer are able to treat people with a human point of view. Everyone: complete strangers, family, friends, associates, children, elderly, young adults, black, white, rich, poor, and everything in between, Republicans, Democrats, and whatever it is we are all becoming, Jews and Muslims, with Christians thrown in, all of that does not matter. In the end, each person, every one dies, is afraid of that, is called to confidence and account, and can sense the life that is to come. For in this matter of life and death and then new life, we are growing into something new. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away: See everything becomes new.

Announcements: June 14, 2012

Thanks to all who made our Ride the Drive event last week so successful! We learned to do evangelism on the fly!

Following worship and fellowship on June 17, the Capital Campaign Committee is planning an informal conversation on a special event for October 13.

The Congregational Council is meeting June 19, 7:00pm.

The first of five summer reflections is June 24:  What should we do with the book of Joshua? This particular book of the Bible with its violence, war, and atrocity, is one of the most difficult pieces of scripture to view as the Word of God. So we usually ignore it or turn it into a rather odd moral lesson or allegory. In her article Are You For Us, or For Our Adversaries?: A Feminist and Postcolonial Interrogation of Joshua 2-12 for the Contemporary Church, Interpretation (Vol. 66, No 2, April, 2012) Carolyn Sharp, who teaches Hebrew at Yale Divinity School, offers fresh insights into what she would call a resistive approach to scripture. Her insights are useful not only for the book of Joshua, but for interpreting life’s struggles.

All of the Women of St. Johns are invited to a Summer Retreat on Saturday August 4, at Dee Zimmerman’s from 9am through 2:30 pm. Pastor Ken and Judy Nolde will lead the reflections on the WELCA summer Bible Study Along the Way.  A sign-up sheet is in the Welcome Center.

The Good Shepherd Lutheran Golf Outing for Off the Square Club is set for August 13. Golfers please mark your calendars.

We’ve reserved the Shelter at Burrows Park for the Sunday after Labor Day, September 9. Worship at the shelter will begin at 10:00am that day and our potluck congregational picnic will follow worship.

 

Sermon for June 10, 2012

Genesis 3:8-15, 2 Corinthians 4:14-5:1 and Mark 3:20-35

There comes a time in your life when you are an adult. You move away from home, you start your own career, your own life, your own family, and then it’s time to go back home for a visit.

This going home for a visit is something that is wonderful in many ways. We see family and old friends. We visit places that were important to us. We ground ourselves again in our childhood and roots.

But to be honest, going home for a visit is hardly ever a simply wonderful thing. It’s usually complicated. Most of us have some tension if not downright difficulties in our families, and extended visits with relatives can be a challenge as well as a joy. We may have unpleasant memories as well as joyful ones. There is usually an unresolved issue or two.

Within our families we often have differences of opinion regarding such things child rearing, politics, economics and religion. Sometimes little things have festered over the years, or giant elephants are sitting silently in the living room while we munch on our turkey.  Unfairness, violence, or deep wounds may come to the surface. We may feel sad about how few of these meetings we may have left. We may be struggling with a broken relationship. We may feel guilty or angry because we wish our family was more like the ideal family. We may miss someone who has died. So going home, which at first sounds like a simple joy, can be a complicated thing for many adult children.

With all of its joy and challenge, the visit home usually ambles along, with an often scattered agenda, with its highs and lows, as we construct or renew our bonds of irritation and love in our family lives.

Now did you see that first phrase in the story of Jesus this morning? Jesus goes home.  What we have here is the memory of a home visit by an adult child. This visit home by Jesus lasts beyond our passage. It continues to chapter four verse thirty three, when Jesus goes across the lake to another community.

The visit home by the adult child is a fairly common thing in our time with the mobility that we have. But in the time of Jesus this is a rare thing. Hardly anyone ever moved away from home to start a career. Everybody stayed in the village. So things may be strained by cultural expectations which Jesus has not met.

Remembering this visit home by Jesus, the adult child of Mary and Joseph, helps us to understand how this passage hangs together. It’s not a smoothly flowing outline of thought. It flows like family chatter randomly moving to this and that.

In looking at this visit home, it helps to look at the number of the chapter of Mark. We are in chapter three.  We are still early in the story, but some significant things have happened in the first two chapters. Jesus has been baptized and has started his mission of healing and teaching throughout the region. He has had enough success with the healing ministry that large crowds are now following. He has a reputation. As is the case with anything significant, he has detractors and those who oppose him. The enemies of Jesus are beginning to follow him around. The Jesus movement has grown so that Jesus has begun some organization of this traveling medical ministry as he develops the disciples.

And now he comes home for a visit. You can feel the tension between Jesus and his family. In the first verses the family of Jesus is looking forward to a family meal, and their desire for family togetherness with their successful son is thwarted. You can feel their disappointment. Jesus’ crowd of friends makes the meal impossible. They can’t even sit down for a quiet dinner. When he does finally come home for a visit, he spends all his time with his friends and ignores his relatives.

To make matters worse, in these verses, the enemies of Jesus have shown up, and have been gossiping with the neighbors, trying to get the dirt on this new religious leader. They have cast doubts on the credibility of the mission of Jesus. You know, just those sly comments on the side that all of this could be of the Devil rather than God. Eventually this whole thing explodes in the last paragraph of the lesson today. That last paragraph is a full blown family argument, one of those hostile exchanges at the visit home that echoes down the decades or centuries of a family’s ongoing history.

One might say that this whole going back home thing does not go well for anyone. By the end of chapter four, it is time for Jesus to get back into the car or boat and head down the road or lake again.

The visit home in Mark 3 and 4 does not go well. Or does it? The conflict makes things difficult. It also is giving Jesus a creative edge.

Conflict sometimes does that. There are at least three levels of conflict here. There is the conflict between Jesus and his family. There is the conflict between Jesus and his enemies. There is the ultimate conflict between the forces of good and evil, God and Satan, behind the scenes, and which has been with us since the beginning in the Garden of Eden.

All of this tension is hard on everyone, but it does give Jesus’ ministry a creative edge. In these chapters he starts to teach better.

Now Jesus is famous for teaching in parables. Many of these parables, like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son are long and involved. Others are simple like the Lost Coin or the Splinter in the Neighbor’s Eye and the Log in One’s Own. These parables have echoed through our memories and shape our faith today.

But in Mark’s story there are no parables really until this visit home. In the first chapters it’s all about the healing. There is some teaching in a general way. But the sayings of Jesus are more like debating propositions and pronouncements. There are six or seven major healings in the first chapters, but not that many verses are devoted to the teaching. All of the healing is what draws the crowds. Teaching is playing the second fiddle. The only parable in these first three chapters is something about the need for new wineskins for new wine.

But here, in a familiar setting, getting back to his roots, facing all this conflict, Jesus’ teaching creativity takes off. He starts to use, really use, parables.  The parables are stories of conflict and growth. He tells them in the city streets in this lesson, and then continues down the road at the lakeside. He tells stories of a sower and seeds landing on different soils, of growing plants, of a mustard seed, of lamps under bushel baskets, and of kingdoms and households divided against themselves.  As he speaks in parables, the unforgettable teaching ministry of Jesus expands. People come to listen as well as to be healed.

And so it is with us. Like Jesus we may now and then come home. That may be a challenge for us. But whenever we face tension and conflict, and whenever we ground ourselves in our roots, we usually are able to see things in creative new ways.  Families with their joys and tensions and the places of our belonging bring to the surface creative edges we need to renew life and start new things.

 

Now, this was a big week in Wisconsin, and I know you do not want me to ignore the events of this week with my nose buried in the Bible.  Should I not be talking about current affairs at this important time in the history of our state?

Well, actually, we have been talking about that.  For our state, our beloved Wisconsin, especially these days, is a family. It is a family filled not only with shared joys of our beloved land and way of life, but also with conflict and tension. And as we come home to the affairs of our state, we do so with difficulty as we try to discern how things are going to go.

We have differences of opinion regarding such things as family life in Wisconsin, politics, economics, and the role of government. There are sometimes little things which have festered over the years, as well as giant elephants sitting silently in the room while we try to go about our daily lives.  Feelings of unfairness, verbal hostility and deep wounds have come to the surface.

We may feel a bit sad about how events have turned out. Or we may be happy.  But in either case, within the extended Wisconsin family, we are struggling with broken relationships and trust. We may feel guilty or angry because we wish our state was more like the ideal commonweal. We may miss a more civil time. So going home to Wisconsin, which at first sounds like a simple joy, has become a complicated thing for us all.

Everyone talks about all the conflict. And as we do so we would do well to remember some of these particular parables that come out of Jesus’ family time. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Abraham Lincoln used this line to shape his thought in times of civil conflict far greater than ours. As impossible as it sounds, we will need to repair the breach if we expect to move forward socially, politically, and economically in the months ahead. Otherwise we will fall apart and our most vulnerable people, our public servants, and as well as our businesses will decline.

This calls for a return to civility, respect, and trust in our public discourse as we try to find and then build a center that works again, not only in Wisconsin, but also in our nation. As the Wisconsin Council of Churches suggests in the Call to Civility, there are no better places to practice, learn, and promote civil dialogue than in synagogues and churches in which people may disagree politically but still find ways to care for each other, respect each other, hurt with each other. As Jesus says, don’t hide your light under a bushel. Our light involves loving those with whom we disagree.

But this visit home for Jesus also reminds us that this is a creative time for our commonweal. Our conflict and our tension has not only been a source of great challenge. It is also the creative opportunity for some new wisdom to emerge, some new creative way to teach one another about the common good, fresh insight to break the juggernaut cased by special interests on all sides purchasing public opinion by means of media to reinforce the strident already old ideas on the edges. For we need a new way to talk, a new hope for the center, a new way to be together. As hard as it may seem to be, as tense as our home life is, let’s come home, Wisconsin. Amen.

Pastor Ken

Capital Campaign Letter for Pentecost

Dear St. John’s Family and Friends,

It was in the fall of 2008 that we began the journey toward “Renewing Our Heritage and Restoring for Mission.”  We had the ambitious goal of raising $2.1 million dollars to renovate our entire building in order to make it useful to our congregation and the community in the decades ahead.
That was almost four years ago and coincided with what many are calling the Great Recession.  You will probably agree, it was not a promising time to start a five year capital campaign.  Yet together we have accomplished much and have cause to celebrate.  So sit down, make yourself comfortable and let’s review the journey so far.
Our renovations.  We have completed almost two thirds of our planned renovation.  We have a light-filled gathering space with kitchen and nursery.  We have new handicap accessible restrooms. We have moved the church office to the second floor and refurbished both floors so that all of our congregational and community activities are now on the main level.   We’ve updated most of the building’s infrastructure (asbestos removal, heating and air handling, sprinkling system etc.)  And we have done some essential maintenance—though some remains like our old wood windows.
Our building partners.  The building is now used by Lutheran Social Service’s Off the Square Club daytimes and Porchlight, Inc’s homeless shelter for men every night.  On the main level, we have the three morning a week Emergency Fund program, we house offices for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, we provide space for the Backyard Mosaic Women’s Project and we host eight weekly support groups for individuals dealing with addictions.
Money spent to Renew and Restore.  As of the end of April we have spent $1,433,448. Here’s the breakout:
Construction drawings                       94,327
Phase 1 construction                    1,103,469
Restroom project                             102,426
Office/classroom move                      27,506
Tuck pointing                                       8,879
Interest on Oak Bank Loan                96,841

     Money received for Heritage and Mission.  Since the beginning of the capital campaign we have received  a total $932,466 dollars!   Almost half of that amount ($448,436) has come from the faithful payment of individual pledges made by members of this congregation including a $25,000 annual pledge from the St. John’s Foundation.
The unpledged money received totals $484,030 and significant amounts of that have come from outside the congregation which shows the value others place on the mission that takes place within our building.  Here’s what that looks like:
Transfer from Congregation Assets                          $200,000
Mission Investment Matching Grant                              75,000
Siebert Foundation Matching Grant                               50,000
Lutheran Social Services                                               28,962
Designated Gift from United Way                                  15,500
2008 from St. John’s Foundation                                   12,025
2010 “Raise the Roof Fundraiser”                                    8,217
Other Grants                                                                    6,600
Energy Rebates                                                               5,546
Unpledged gifts, (mostly from St. John’s)                      82,180

     So where do we stand?   Since our expenses came all at once while our pledges were spread over a five year period, the congregation in 2009 approved an interim loan from Oak Bank in the amount of $783,276.  Taking into account what has been paid so far, the pledges remaining to be paid, and the additional interest on the loan, we expect to owe $465,125 when the loan must be refinanced in September of 2014.
As we’re sure you’ll agree, we want to raise as much of that amount as possible before 2014 so we can minimize the amount of the re-negotiated loan and thus the amount of the required monthly payment from the operating budget.
What can we do?  The Capitol Campaign Committee has several ideas for your consideration.

  • We are planing a fund raiser for October 13, 2012.  First, we’ll celebrate our journey to this point by gathering over food and music. Then we’ll have a “Time and Talent” sale.  We ask that you mark your calendar and plan to bring a friend to join the celebration and that you consider what time or talent you can contribute to the sale.  Are you a quilter or a woodworker? Can you provide a special meal or the use of a cabin?  What else can you offer?
  • For those of you who have finished a three year pledge might you consider making it a five year pledge?  If you haven’t pledged are you in a position to do so now?
  • Might you be able to commit to making one monthly $5,100 loan payment?
  • Do you have other fundraising ideas?

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  We look forward to hearing your ideas about how “together, we can do it ourselves” and work to retire the debt.  In this season of Pentecost may the Holy Spirit energize us to continue our mission as a “welcoming servant in the heart of the city.”

In gratitude, The Capitol Campaign Committee:  [Bob Block and Alice Gould, co-chairs, Bonnie Block, Pr. Cindy Crane, Pr. Ken Smith, Marcia & Marc Williamson, and Dee & Merle Zimmerman]

A Good Year for Learning Ministry

Even though Outreach and Caring Ministry is at the center of our congregation’s life, in a quiet way, this has been a very good year for learning ministry as well. We usually don’t think of learning ministry when we think of St. Johns. But this has been a good year for adult forums; for Thursday morning Bible Studies; for Lenten reflection with our first ever blog on First Century Christians; for a Sunday Learning Place with many engaged parents who give SLP a distinctive inter-generational feel as we work on the Spark curriculum of the ELCA; for children’s music as Kristie and the SLP leaders have more deeply engaged young people in song; for confirmation which involved quite a few discussions, several presentations, and a wonderful family retreat in the fall; for hosting a variety of community discussions on different topics; for a Senior Engagement Team that has gone through an interactive training process; and for women’s Bible Studies which will include an August Women’s retreat on Saturday, August 4.  As June approaches we are concluding a very good learning ministry year for people of every age at St. Johns.

 

Announcements: June 5

This Weekend: The Oakwood- Prairie Ridge Holy Communion Service will be this Friday, June 8 at 11:00am. On Sunday June 10: Kalec Halverson’s high school graduation will be recognized during worship, and the Senior Care Team will meet at 8:30am.

All of the Women of St. Johns are invited to a Summer Retreat on Saturday August 4, at Dee Zimmerman’s from 9am through 2:30 pm. Pastor Ken and Judy Nolde will lead discussions of the WELCA summer Bible Study Along the Way, written by Rev. Julie Kanart is an ELCA pastor from Port Townsend, Washington. In this reflection, we’ll meet some biblical travelers, enter in conversation with them, and explore our own journeys of faith. Please consider joining us for this special day, even if you are not a member of a circle. You can find more information on the summer study at www.gathermagazine.org. A sign-up sheet is in the Welcome Center.

Pastor’s Summer Reflections

     One of our strengths at St. Johns is our adult forum series each program year. It provides us all with opportunities to reflect on how our faith is lived. We all have grown through them. It looks like the coming fall schedule will continue to enrich and challenge us.
Because confirmation ministry happens at the same time as adult forum, I do not often get to participate in these presentations and discussions. I miss those opportunities for conversation and reflection.
So this summer, on five Sunday mornings, I would like to hold summer reflections on five different topics, books or papers from 10:45 until 11:30 am. Each session will be independent of the others. We’ll begin and end the summer reflections with the Bible. In the center we will consider a central issue of the faith. And on either wing, we will reflect on an important issue facing us.
June 24:  What should we do with the book of Joshua? This particular book of the Bible with its violence, war, and atrocity, is one of the most difficult pieces of scripture to view as the Word of God. So we usually ignore it or turn it into a rather odd moral lesson or allegory. In her article Are You For Us, or For Our Adversaries?: A Feminist and Postcolonial Interrogation of Joshua 2-12 for the Contemporary Church, Interpretation (Vol. 66, No 2, April, 2012) Carolyn Sharp, who teaches Hebrew at Yale Divinity School, offers fresh insights into what she would call a resistive approach to scripture. Her insights are useful not only for the book of Joshua, but for interpreting life’s struggles.
     July 1: Will our church and faith survive? In her most recent book, Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (Harperone, 2011), Dianna Butler Bass, who teaches at the University of California – Santa Barbara, takes a look at the sobering data regarding the state of the church in America even as spirituality is rising and offers hopeful insights for congregations like St. Johns.
     July 15: Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Thomas G. Long, one of the currently best preachers in the United States, who teaches at Chandler-Emory, has written a new highly readable book on this basic faith question, What Shall We Say?: Evil, Suffering and the Crisis of Faith (Eerdmans, 2011). We’ll discuss this fresh approach together.
     August 5: How do we grieve? Since coming to St. Johns, I’ve presided at 130 funerals. Grief is a part of our congregational and personal lives. Thoughts and theories on grief have been changing. We will spend some time sharing our thoughts on Ruth Davis Konigsberg’s book, The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss (2011) as well as some of the materials on grief used in our Senior Engagement Team training.
August 19: In or Of? In our final summer reflection, we’ll return to the scripture. This time to just one verse in Romans and consider the current controversy surrounding its translation. Are we saved by our faith in Jesus Christ? Or are we saved by the faith of Jesus Christ in God? We will get a bit into the ancient text and grammar of Romans, and reflect on the translation that would best portray St. Paul’s intent, looking at the work of the Authentic Paul School and the more conservative approach of Charles Talbert in his commentary on Romans. The translation of this one word informs how we view Jesus, how we approach our spiritual life, and how we communicate what it means to
Thanks for your partnership in the gospel. Pastor Ken

 

Sermon for June 3, 2012

Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, and John 3:1-17

After the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, Lutherans use the next Sunday to lift up three different dimensions of God: God the creator, God the redeemer, and God the companion. Or as the ancient tradition says: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today, Trinity Sunday, we recall God the creator, God the redeemer, and God the companion. As we think about a triune God, we might recall three challenges to the Trinity, all of them good, but challenges nevertheless.

I.

We live in a time of inter-faith dialog, especially an emerging Christian, Jewish and Muslim conversation out of which is growing mutual respect and common understanding. This conversation is especially important if we expect to reduce the conflict that marks our contemporary life. One of the centers for that conversation is the Lubar Center, here in Madison at the UW, and I’ve been involved in some of these dialogues.

One notices in these conversations that many Muslims feel Christianity is not a truly monotheistic religion. There is one God. All three traditions say that. All three traditions, grounded in Abraham, call on people to worship one God. But Muslims are suspicious of this Trinity thing. Don’t we Christians really have three gods, and we just don’t admit it?

The Muslim question is important for us. On Trinity Sunday it might be best to recall first that we believe in one God. We would say that the creator is not a god but of God. We would say that Jesus is not a god, but of God. And we would say that the Spirit is not a god, but of God. The Trinity is a reminder of the manifestations of the one God in this world and our lives. God initiates. God redeems in times of trouble. God companions us through each chapter of life. Today we remember three realities of the one true God. We sense these dimensions of God, but cannot understand God completely.

As we recall these triune manifestations of God, we would do well to think on the good things God has initiated in our lives and world, what yet needs to be initiated, and caring for that which is created. We would do well to think on Jesus as the sign of God standing with us through times of trouble, redeeming us even from death. We would do well to think on the Holy Spirit, God as companion on life’s way.

II.

A second challenge to the Trinity is raised by those concerned about language and the impression it creates. All this talk about the Father and Son is challenging in this mission field we call Madison, Wisconsin. We can solve this in many different ways. We can ignore the issue and hope that it goes away. We can change our wording so that we have a more inclusive vision. We can try to educate people about how the words are not really grounded in gender identity.

But the challenge itself is a reminder that when we talk about we are dealing with human ideas and words, and that there are limits to our words, ideas, and understandings.

Whatever words we use to speak of God, the Trinity is a reminder of the manifestations of the one God in this world and our lives. God initiates. God redeems in times of trouble. God companions us through each chapter of life.

As we recall these triune manifestations of God, we would do well to think on the good things God has initiated in our lives and world, what needs to be initiated, and caring for that which is created. We would do well to think on Jesus as the sign of God standing with us through times of trouble, redeeming us even from death. We would do well to think on the Holy Spirit, God as companion on life’s way.

III.

A third challenge to the Trinity is contemporary godlessness. To many in our city, religion, especially organized religion, seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, especially to a younger generation, which according to all the data is a spiritual as ever, but just does not want to be part of a church with all its dogma, like the Holy Trinity. Religion, the church, and the Trinity really do not seem to matter so much anymore to the growing group of SBNR’s (spiritual but not religious).

There are many ways to approach this challenge as well. One road seldom taken, but perhaps the most fruitful for us might be to listen to and appreciate the non-theists among us. We might disagree with them, but they remind us that God is in the end not some object or being, that organized religion is not the sole possessor of the truth, and that all definitions of God are substantially limited.

As we talk and listen more in this mission field we call Madison, Wisconsin with its indigenous secularists, we may actually find common ground in what we would call a Trinitarian hope for humanity. For never have we had such a need for initiating a new way to live on this earth, a need to recover from the disasters we face, and a need for deeper companionship.

As we conduct that conversation, the Trinity is a reminder of the manifestations of the one God in this world and our lives. God initiates. God redeems in times of trouble. God companions us through each chapter of life.

As we recall these triune manifestations of God, we would do well to think on the good things God has initiated in our lives and world, what needs to be initiated, and caring for that which is created. We would do well to think on Jesus as the sign of God standing with us through times of trouble, redeeming us even from death. We would do well to think on the Holy Spirit, God as companion on life’s way.

 

Pastor Ken