Announcements for July 31, 2012

—–The Outreach Committee is meeting Wednesday evening at 7:30pm.
—–Consider going to the Chazen Museum (it’s free) to catch the glass exhibit featuring the work of Harvey Littleton at the UW to discover a piece by Katie Vogel David and Pat’s daughter and her husband, John Littleton,  “Awakening.”  The exhibit showcases the variety of studio glass art by many artists and closes August 5. Katie and John live in North Carolina and were interviewed in the first segment of this video by the University of North Carolina on weekending in that state. http://video.unctv.org/video/2241034442
—–Sarah Miles work in San Francisco was the topic of this year’s Washington Island Theological Conference Pastor Ken attended at the end of June. She has done significant work in care for those in need and especially a Friday Food Pantry centered around the altar of the church. You can get a sense of it all at www.thefoodpantry.org. Especially take a look at the 2009 video which describes a single Friday in the life of the pantry.
—–The Good Shepherd Lutheran Golf Outing for Off the Square Club is set for August 13. Golfers please mark your calendars.
—–The next Senior Care Team meeting will be on Sunday, August 19th at 8:30am.
—–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

Sermon for July 29, 2012

II Kings 4:42-44, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21

I am not sure you saw that phrase in the second lesson today. It’s from Ephesians. Ephesians is not the major lesson for this day, but it is part of our series of readings from this ancient letter. The phrase I am thinking of is “filled with all the fullness of God.” It’s a phrase that summarizes the grand expansive vision of God in this ancient letter.

By the time Ephesians is written, the Christian vision of God active in Christ has gone global. God sent Jesus not only for the house of Israel and the Christian churches clustered around the Mediterranean Sea, but for the sake of all things, all creation, all nations and peoples, everything in the entire universe. This huge expansion of the idea of God and the intentions of God pushes the limits of understanding, and says to the church even today: your God is too small.

In the first century, these words are written when a culture is giving up on the old gods dedicated to particular groups, events, politics and causes, and were seeking instead a God who was beyond all the human conventions that consume us. Ephesians fills those who seek a deeper, wider, fuller vision of God with fresh winds of change. May we all be filled with the fullness of God.

Perhaps we especially need this deeper, wider, broader, vision of God today. For we have witnessed how all too easily God has become a wooden prop for one agenda, issue, cause or group after another, in the human desire to use God to accomplish much smaller visions. It seems that we have been busy making our God smaller and smaller, insisting on religion propping up our own way of thinking, rather than basking in the amazing size of Gods plan for all creation.

May you be filled with the fullness of God! It is about our attitude, our mind, and our heart. It is a call to grow spiritually. But the phrase, “May you be filled with the fullness of God,” also applies to the physical. The fullness of God in the first and last lesson is about feeding the hungry and the need to feed not only ourselves but those gathering on the hillside. Both II Kings and John make a connection between the bread of life and the bread on the table. Since the beginning, God’s people have been involved in feeding, in bringing the fullness of God to those whose hunger and thirst is physical and whose want is great. We know this especially not from Ephesians but from the material in Thessalonians.

And ever since these words on famine relief were written, Christian congregations like this one have striven to be places where people are both physically and spiritually nourished. If that spiritual nourishment is grounded in this Sunday assembly and in our conversations of mutual support through the week, then the physical nourishment is grounded in the Emergency Relief done every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and in the providing of shelter for those in need of a place to call home. Both kinds of nourishment are important.

The lessons today recall times when the needs of the hungry, poor and homeless seem overwhelming. In II Kings the situation is a great famine. In John a multitude is caught without food. These days an economic downturn has made our physical ministries more important than ever. Currently about one out of every six Americans struggles with hunger or food security. And that number has been growing. Fifty million Americans live in food insecure households, 33 million adults and 17 million children. In many ways, economic recessions are especially difficult for the poor, the unemployed, and the underemployed. It is very hard for many to get back on their feet.

This makes the work of emergency relief, food pantries, shelters, and meal programs more important than ever. Programs like ours cannot solve the problem. But they are very important and make a difference in many lives.

Global hunger is also on the rise. And World Hunger Relief has been an emphasis of the ELCA since its inception. I read this week, that just to keep pace with population; we will need to double our food production by the year 2050.

This summer the Theological Conference of the Wisconsin Conference of Churches listened to Sarah Miles describe her food pantry program in an Episcopal Church in San Francisco. There were many things to learn here, but I was impressed with how the distribution of food on Fridays was done in the sanctuary as food was arranged like a farmer’s market around the altar, bringing into focus how the physical and spiritual feeding, how holy communion and serving those in need are so deeply connected, like they are in these lessons today. If you would like check out the utube video at www.thefoodpantry.org. It’s an inspiring scene.

Sarah Miles in her book, Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing and Raising the Dead, deeply links physical and spiritual feeding. Fed at the altar on Sunday, the community gathers food around the altar on Friday for distribution to those in need. In her mind, the miracle of feeding, practiced with consistency, leads to healing of the body and soul. The miracle of healing, which, practiced with consistency, leads to the raising of the dead: the impossible recovery of people from disparate situations and the recovery of our blown away hopes and dreams.

May you be filled with the fullness of God! What an important phrase for each one of us. For some this is a phrase about food insecurity and human want. For some of us this is a phrase that speaks to the deep spiritual hungers that we are facing. And for all of us, the compassion we ourselves have received from God calls us to rejoice in God’s boundless love for all creatures as we show compassion to those around us.

Sermon for July 15, 2012

Amos 7:7-15, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

God is active in the lives of all, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, workers in the field and factory, merchants, farmers and urban dwellers, government officials, men and women, all races and creeds, and all persuasions. There are no special qualifications to become an instrument of God, and often it seems, God chooses the most unlikely characters.

Amos is such an instrument of God. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born; God needed an honest truth teller to recall what was sacred. It seemed people had forgotten, and the country was going to hell in a hand basket.

It doesn’t take a religious professional to see what was sacred to the Hebrew God from the very beginning. Yes ritual was important to this God. Yes authority mattered to this God, but just look at those Ten Commandments.  It’s mostly about how we live, how we treat each other, how well we treat our neighbors, and about something called fairness, integrity, honesty, mercy and justice.

Fairness, integrity, honesty, mercy and justice: the kind of things we all understand. Amos was a farmer who lived up north: A dairy farmer or herdsman who made a living trimming trees. God called this tree trimmer to trim the vine of life. And so Amos began to say the people had lost their way, the nation was in danger, and God wanted all to return to those basic Mt. Sinai principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, mercy and justice. Amos was one of the first prophets in a long line of Hebrew prophets to speak so.

We have a very interesting thing in this lesson from the earliest of writing prophets. It is the parable of the plumb line. We know what a plumb line it. It is a weight on the end of a string used to set a beam so that it is straight and true. God wants lives that are true and straight. God wants a country that stands for justice with compassion and integrity. We get it.

But what we may not sense is that this parable thing is a new way of talking in the time of Amos. This salt of the earth prophet is not using eloquent rhetoric to call people to God. He is using objects from everyday life. The book of Amos has many parables. And after Amos, Jewish prophets continue to use parables to describe the sacred way. Some of the parables get long and involved. Jesus was a Jewish prophet who was a master of parables like the prodigal son and the Good Samaritan. That way of teaching begins in these chapters.

You can see Amos speaking of justice and fairness, economic, political and social integrity and honesty according the ways of God in farmer markets and on street corners up north in small towns. There among peasants exploited by the king his message resonates with truth. Let justice and righteousness roll down like an ever flowing stream.

But now, this farmer finds himself in a different part of the country. He is at Bethel, the place where the king goes to church. And the king has professional prophets like Amaziah who tell the king exactly what he wants to hear, who tell the king that he is the anointed of God, and who tell the king that his exploitation is just fine.

So there is more than a bit of tension here. Amos is calling the king and kingdom to repent. But Amaziah says that here, in this royal chapel, we don’t speak badly of the king. So, Amos, it’s time to move along. Earn your prophet’s keep elsewhere.

But Amos does not see this as a religious controversy between two different schools of prophets. He sees his message as coming out of his identity as a farmer, his identity as a herdsman. His message is grounded in his experience. He has seen the cruel injustice in the fields suffered by the overly taxed peasants and he will not keep silent even in the corridors of the royal chapel.

After the confrontation, as Amos leaves Bethel, in verses 16 and 17, which are not included in the standard lesson for the day, Amos calls Amaziah and his wife all sorts of salty names.

As he slams the door behind him, he goes down the street to the public square where he tells his next parable in the marketplace. He picks up a basket of rotting fruit from one of the vendors, lifts it up in the air, and says this is what we have all become. He calls out: let us become again a people of fairness, integrity, honesty, mercy and justice.

Later prophets will continue this call: people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and a couple named Jesus and John the Baptist.

We have the early writings of the urban church in Mark this morning. That urban community remembered John the Baptist who stood up to the unjust king in his own time and was beheaded for it. Like Jesus, John the Baptist proclaimed the will of God. Like Jesus, John the Baptist had followers.   And it may well be the case that in the urban church of Mark, these followers of John and Jesus came together: seeing the spirit of one prophet in the work of the other, sensing that in John and Jesus the will of God could never be extinguished no matter how corrupt, how unjust, how horrid the empire. We do not know how Amos died. Prophets like Jesus and John sometimes lose their lives to tyrants.

We are fond of saying that we live in more complicated times. We do. But the principles of Amos, John the Baptist and Jesus are not that complicated. Fairness, integrity, honesty, mercy and justice, in business and commerce, in government and congregation, in dealings with family, neighbors, strangers, and friends: these things are not complicated. They are the simple stuff of life together. We still need these principles today. We need the plumb line for sometimes it seems the fruit of our democracy is over-ripe. It’s time to get back to the straight and true.

We need to move away from the sense of entitlements which marks so much of our life. We need to name the powers that manipulate media. We need fairness in wages. We need to care for the poor effectively. We need to stop killing people in far-away places. We need to balance our books. We need compassion for those who are down and out. We need to foster family and personal responsibility. We need to especially attend to the condition of women, children, and families. We need to become less dependent on government for everything. We need to value all families and households regardless of their shape and orientation. And none of those things are mutually exclusive. And all of those things are called for by these ancient prophets with their straight forward language and honest metaphors.

Some of us are better at some of those things we need than others. But God is active in the lives of all, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, workers in the field and factory, merchants, farmers and urban dwellers, government officials, men and women, all races and creeds, and all persuasions. There are no special qualifications to become an instrument of God, and often it seems, God chooses the most unlikely characters.

 

Sermon for July 8, 2012

Ezekiel 2:1-5, II Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13 

    “If only God would say something to me. I’ve been a Christian all my life. I’ve led a good life, prayed almost every day, went to church at least now and then, and believed in God, even when tempted to doubt. But God has never spoken to me,” he said. And at this point in his life, with several large problems looming on the horizon, and a lot of uncertainty, at this point in his life when he really could use that divine voice from heaven telling him what to do or at least what to look for, he was wondering, as we talked, why God seemed so silent.

I was fairly sure that this conversation was not going to end well for me. There was little I could say really. God is revealed in ways that will always remain a mystery, with ideas that sound crazy at first, to people you sometimes wonder about, and on a schedule that seems haphazard at best. And on the positive side, wondering about the silence of God is sometimes the first step in a spiritual journey.  There were no simple answers to his lament. I did not have the words that would satisfy this deep thirst.

But his lament is often echoed in the hearts of so many. Why is God so silent? Where is God, anyway? Why doesn’t God speak to me?

Perhaps God is speaking, but we are not listening for the sounds God makes. Just as when we do not hear the rustle of leaves or the laugh of a child or the unspoken love of a smile while we are concentrating on the loud noises that dominate our lives, so we might miss the delicate whispers of God.

But each of these lessons attunes us to listen for God’s voice, God’s will, God’s purpose in our lives by lifting up for us how God does speak.

Sometimes God speaks to and through us in, with, and under our resistance to something. This is the situation in Ezekiel this morning. Ezekiel is called to be a prophet and to carry a message that will be resisted and rejected. He is called by God to speak this word even though the people do not want to hear it. Ezekiel reminds us that God speaks to and through us as we encounter our own resistance and rejection and the resistance and rejection of others.

Most of us have rejected or resisted many things over the years.  With the gift of hindsight, we know that most of our rejection of things has been for good reason. All of us over the course of a lifetime have rejected many bad things. But as we think about this, we also realize that sometimes we have resisted or rejected the wrong thing. We did not hear or see or understand the best course of action, the way God intended.  To hear God again, it would be good for us to think about our inner resistance: those voices within us that challenge and change us. As we do so, we will realize that in our decision to say no, sometimes God may be calling us to think more carefully about something. Resistance may be the human soul working on something difficult and coming to a new conclusion. And as you wrestle with something you would resist, you are wrestling not only with evil but also with God so to speak. God is chatting with you about the direction you should take. God may be speaking by lifting up your resistance to something.

Sometimes God speaks to us through our rejection of something. Sometimes God speaks to and through us in the overlooked ordinary.

At first the second lesson this morning from the early church seems strange. It begins with amazing mystical events, levels of heaven, and out of body experiences.  Paul says all that spectacular revelation is good. After all, the buzz is usually about the astounding, the beyond life experience, the amazing revelation.

But in II Corinthians, the amazing beyond this life experience is not the way Paul finds God speaking to and through him. God speaks through Paul as an ordinary person through words we understand, and through the honest, everyday life events of a regular human being.

God in the overlooked ordinary things of life is a theme in the sixth chapter of Mark today. As Jesus returns home, he is perceived as an ordinary son of the village. He is viewed as the ordinary son of Joseph with brothers and sisters.  Oh, it’s just Jesus, going off on God again. He is taken for granted.  Yet this ordinary Jesus is the great healer and miracle worker of the gospel.

Toward the end of the lesson in Mark today, ordinary men, the disciples are able to do extra-ordinary things. The disciples who are common folk accomplish amazing healing.

God it seems, since that humble birth in a manger, is in the ordinary and common. God is in the details of everyday life: in the delight of a child, the affection of people for one another, the act of kindness, in stands made for justice, the care of a spouse for an ill partner, the decision to do the right thing, through acts of generosity, in compassion for the suffering and needy, through faithfulness to our family, friends, and vocation. When we recognize again how important the little things are in life, when we treasure these things, when we lift up the overlooked ordinary blessings, we can begin to hear again the subtle tones of God’s music usually drowned by the blatant strident voices dominating the world we have ourselves made.

Sometimes God speaks in the overlooked ordinary things. Sometimes God speaks to and through us as we consider our rejection of things. Sometimes God speaks to and through us in, with, and under affliction or in suffering.

In the second lesson today, in II Corinthians, Paul has an ailment of some sort. We do not know what it is. It is probably something physical. And he prays that the ailment will go away. It does not. It remains with him. He continues to suffer. And in his suffering he draws closer to the suffering God.

Now we must be careful here. Suffering is not a good thing. It is not a means to some spiritual end. God does not give us suffering to make us better. Suffering is bad. It hurts. And it is not a good thing. Our prayer, like Paul’s, should always be for the end of suffering.

And when it is our misfortune or the misfortune of others to suffer some malady or misfortune, we may discover that we are drawn closer to the suffering of God. For the Christian God is one who suffers, is crucified, dies, and is buried. And on the third day God rises from the dead.  In suffering we may discover that we are accompanied by the suffering one whose own journey through pain provides the pattern for new life.

When we are in this movement from despair to hope, from suffering to recovery, from death to life, God is not so much speaking to us, but holding our hand along the way. God is silent in such times because there is a lump in his throat and tears in her eyes, as God is with us along this painful way until this too has passed.

Until having walked this path of suffering together, we find ourselves more deeply connected to the suffering of others. God with us in suffering eventually moves us to see, hear, and feel the suffering of others. We find in our own suffering compassion for the suffering of others.

Sometimes God speaks to and through us as we consider our rejection of things. Sometimes God speaks in the overlooked ordinary. Sometimes God speaks to and through us in, with, and under affliction.

 

 

 

Announcements: July 6, 2012

The Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice is hosting Russ Feingold speaking on Sustaining a Movement for Justice on July 11 at 7 pm at First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The Oakwood Prairie Ridge Holy Communion Service is July 13, Friday, 11:00am.

Next Sunday, July 15 our summer pastor reflection series continues with Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Thomas G. Long who teaches at Chandler-Emory, has written a new book on this basic faith question, What Shall We Say?: Evil, Suffering and the Crisis of Faith We’ll discuss this fresh approach together.

The Congregational Council does not meet in the month of July.

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. Please mark your calendars.