30 November 2006

This Week's Sign that Americans Might Just Be Too Stupid To Survive Each Other


Anti-shopping Christmas

Beloved and I have decided to keep our Christmas presents small and meaningful this year, and we've asked our families to do the same if possible. So here are a few websites for you to peruse as you consider the true nature of the holiday season:

Buy Nothing for Christmas
The Church of Immaculate Consumption
Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping

If I were more handy I'd make our presents myself, but a) I'm not a craft person per se and b) I'm pretty clueless as to what kind of crafts my loved ones could use anyway. So we'll just keep it small and simple this year and that, I think, will be enough. Some of our shopping is already complete and most will be complete in a week or so, I think.

A blessed Advent to you all - please think about what you're doing and who you're honoring as you do it!

29 November 2006

Running, Baby, Schedule, Life

I'll confess to a bit of a problem lately - I'm finding it harder and harder to get up in the morning, lace up my shoes, grab one last sip of coffee and head out the door for my easy 3-miler. I've decided that I'm going to start training seriously for the Lincoln Marathon on New Year's Day, so until then my goal is a steady 15 miles and two weight sessions per week. Even this has become hard to accomplish.

It could be due to overscheduling. I'm in this weekend's production of "A Sven & Ole Christmas" at our community theater, and though I always enjoy being part of a play, the time demands are great, especially when we draw close to opening night. The last evening I had at home with no events and no family was Thanksgiving Night, and I don't remember the last one prior to that. Sometime in October, I think. So I'm looking forward to the play this weekend, but a small part of me is also looking forward to some nights at home again.

We have an appointment this morning with our midwife. The doctor who was going to deliver Little Miss is having some health complications, so we're switching to the second person Beloved's nurse practicioner recommended.

I'm getting more and more excited about being a father the closer we get to the delivery day. Shoot - there's two months to go yet! But as I think about it, when you consider Beloved's miscarriage in March and the fast conception that followed, in some ways it seems like she's been pregnant far longer than 40 weeks already. Patience has never been one of my stronger virtues, but now I'm being stretched in ways I never imagined. Just think what it will be like when I have an infant with whom I need to be patient!

Zac Taylor, All Big XII Quarterback

Any regular reader of this blog knows I bleed Husker Scarlet. This year has been especially good for many of us Husker fans, due to one player more than any other: Zac Taylor. Most of us figured he'd never get the accolades he deserved for all he's done for the Huskers over the past two seasons, though of course we wished everyone could see what we see in Taylor's work ethic, leadership, poise and maturity.

Yesterday our wish came true: Zac Taylor was named the All Big XII Quarterback and the Big XII Offensive Player of the Year. We couldn't be happier.

Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald wrote a great article about it: take a read here.

Congratulations, Zac - we could be happier that you're earning the recognition you so richly deserve. Now go out and whip them Sooners!

26 November 2006

Sermon for Christ the King Sunday - 26 November 2006

Preaching Texts: Daniel 7.9-14; Revelation 1.4b-8, John 18.33-38 (Note: find verse 38 and make sure to read it - the pericope does not include verse 38).

“What is truth?” If you’d been in our house on Tuesday afternoon of this week, you’d have thought that the more important question was: “What is Christ the King Sunday?” Kristin is also preaching at Shalom this morning, and we nearly had an argument about what “Christ the King” means for us, if it means anything at all.

My beloved and I don’t often argue, but when we do, it’s usually because we have come to the place where our separate personalities can’t coexist peacefully. I am a dreamer, an artist, a philosopher-poet; my wife is a pragmatist, a realist, far more down-to-earth than I could ever be. We are who we are, and usually it makes for a delightful mix of perspectives on life and marriage. But when my poetry collides with her prose, she might as well be reading the news in English while I’m sounding out soliloquies in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. It’s like we aren’t even speaking the same language.

The main point of our argument was this: what do you say on Christ the King Sunday? Now for a poet like me, the possibilities are endless, especially considering our readings from Scripture this morning. The text from the book of Daniel is a poem, after all, one so loaded with imagery that any one sentence could be the inspiration for an entire sermon. But for a pragmatist like my beloved wife, these readings from scripture present far more problems than opportunities. For one thing, you cannot teach any of this stuff. What, precisely, is the scientific definition, including genus, family and species, of “an Ancient One, clothing white as snow, the hair of his head like pure wool, a throne of fiery flames and wheels of burning fire?” How is a realist supposed to preach on “a kingdom… not of this world?” For a realist, that dog won’t hunt at all.

So, here we are on Christ the King Sunday. The realists are wondering how we can talk about Jesus as King in an American context. Maybe, say the realists, we should talk about a comparison between ‘president’ and ‘king.’ Perhaps a historical lesson on the nature and qualities of a good king would be in order? Did you know, by the way, that Christ the King Sunday originated in the 1920s, when Pope Pius II established this liturgical holiday as a stand against rising nationalism and fascism in Italy?

These are the kind of things realists would like us to talk about today. Meanwhile, the poets are bored to tears. The dreamers want to play with the images of Jesus as the King of all Creation. The artists want to wrap their heads, brushes, and sculpting clay around the image of Jesus enthroned and coming with the clouds. The poets hear “the one who was, and who is, and who is to come,” and there’s a chill that runs up and down their spines. The musicians want fanfares and organ flourishes and lots of big, impressive hymns. But the realists can live on this kind of stuff – it’s like trying to live on cotton candy. The realists need meat and potatoes, good solid stuff that gets them ready for the work ahead of us. And thus the impasse continues.

It’s important to note that both the dreamers and the realists are right. After all, we are what God has made us to be – and God makes poets and pragmatists. Both are necessary parts of God’s creation. But sometimes there isn’t a lot of common ground between the two, and there aren’t many of us that can be both poets and pragmatists at the same time.

There is one thing, however, that we must absolutely recognize, today more than any other day. Christ the King Sunday is a day when we must acknowledge that Christ is the King of both the poets and the pragmatists. Christ the King Sunday is a day when we must remember that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human: the one being who bridges the gap between his Father the Creator and the world they have created together. Christ the King Sunday is the New Year’s Eve of our liturgical year, and both pragmatists and poets can recognize that we can all look forward in hope to the coming year and to the coming kingdom where Christ rules as Lord of poets and pragmatists and, as the visionary sees it in Revelation, Christ rules as the “faithful witness…firstborn of the dead…and ruler of the kings of the earth.”

But how do we get there from here? After all, Daniel and Revleation describe a king coming in glory, while our reading from John’s gospel shows us Jesus in conversation with Pontius Pilate just before Jesus was to be crucified. If being a king means having great power, it would seem that Jesus was no king: Pilate had the power, and Jesus was the one on trial. If being a king means being surrounded by majesty, it would seem that Jesus was no king: for what majesty is there in a death on a cross? For the Romans and most of the population of Jerusalem during that Passover celebration nearly 2,000 years ago, the death of Jesus of Nazareth passed with little or no fanfare. It may have been somewhat newsworthy, but in its day the death of Jesus was not the fulcrum upon which all of creation is now balanced. Whoever died on that day in Jerusalem, he certainly was no king when he went to the cross.

Yet today we celebrate the same Jesus as King. But how do we see our King? What have the poets and pragmatists said about Jesus through the years between his death and resurrection and our lives today? Well, we do a lot of things with Jesus. We thank him, depend on him, love him, serve him, and in some ways we do, in fact, worship him. But when we worship Jesus, we often worship him for those things he has done which we cannot and will not do for ourselves. We worship Jesus for the cross, for his sacrifice of himself as a sign of God’s unyielding determination to have mercy on a fallen creation.

These things are indeed worthy of worship. But Christ the King Sunday doesn’t stop at the cross. On Christ the King Sunday we acknowledge that Jesus Christ, the forsaken, crucified and risen Son of God will one day come again to judge us, living or dead, and that day will mark the end of the life we know and the realization of a kingdom God has been creating from the start. On Christ the King Sunday, we gather in the hope that the kingdom God is preparing for Jesus might come among us today – after all, do we not pray, “Thy kingdom come?” On Christ the King Sunday, we come to praise Christ, whether we are poets or pragmatists, because we believe that Christ is indeed the King of all creation.

Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” How I wish Pilate had known that when he looked at Jesus, he was looking at truth itself, face to face. Christ the King is God’s truth in living flesh, come to us to show us our sin and promise us redemption in his name. “Look!,” says the writer of Revelation, “He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” Poets will see Jesus and realize that all our artistry cannot hide the ugliness of sin that holds us in bondage. Pragmatists will see Jesus and realize that there is no amount of work that can overcome the mountain of sin under which we struggle. Every subject of the coming King will tremble before him; even Mary, Jesus’ mother, was assured by the prophet Simeon that “a sword shall pierce your heart, too.” But Christ the King comes with truth in order to heal the world; to forgive sins, to bring us out of darkness into light, to end our sorrow with one astounding promise: “You, my child, belong to me – and I will never let you go.”

I think that Kristin and I argued about today because it is so important to the both of us. We do, after all, believe with al our hearts that we belong to Jesus and he is our King. What that means to each of us might be very different, as it is probably different to all of you, also. Whatever your vision of Christ the King may be, the truth is that none of us have the words, art, poetry, deeds or vision to encompass everything about Jesus. We can’t describe the majesty of the Son of God, even though he once walked this earth as one of us. We can’t put in plain words the mystery of how his body and blood come to us in bread and wine. We can’t explain the tremendous gift this King gives when he makes us his own in water combined with His word. In the end, we can only join the angels and praise Christ the King with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.

The King is risen – Long live the King! We are his subjects, poets and pragmatists all, and we give thanks and praise that the coming kingdom is revealed in part to us today. Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigns! The Kingdom of this earth is become the Kingdom of our God, and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever and ever, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!




25 November 2006

Saturday fun meme: Word Up

Word Up

Yourself: hectic
Your spouse: pregnant
Your hair: curly
Your Mother: happy Grandma (more than a word, I know, but nothing sums it up in one)
Your Father: kinder-than-kind
Your Favorite Item: iPod
Your dream last night: CR-Z-AZY
Your Favorite Drink: coffee
Your Dream Car: 2007 VW Rabbit
Your Dream Home: log
The Room You Are In: Music/Office
Your Ex: happy Momma
Your fear: failure
Where you Want to be in Ten Years? home
Who you hung out with last night: family
What You're Not: sensitive
Muffins: banana-nut
One of Your Wish List Items: guitar amp
Time: afternoon
The Last Thing You Did: iPod update
What You Are Wearing: jeans
Your favorite weather: Minnesota autumn (yes, it requires the modifier)
Your Favorite Book: heroic
Last thing you ate?: hamburger
Your Life: frantic
Your mood: content
Your Best Friends: distant
What are you thinking about right now?: running
Your car: frustrating
What are you doing at the moment: typing (duh!)
Your summer: short
Relationship status: overjoyed
What is on your tv?: college football
What is the weather like: chilly
When is the last time you laughed: just now

Join in the fun! Comment and let me know if you've played along...

Black Friday Five

So this is a "Black Friday" Five (aka Buy Nothing Day) in honor of the busiest shopping day of the year:

1. Would you ever/have you ever stood in line for something--tickets, good deals on electronics, Tickle Me Elmo?

2. Do you enjoy shopping as a recreational activity?

3. Your favorite place to browse without necessarily buying anything.

4. Gift cards: handy gifts for the loved one who has everything, or cold impersonal symbol of all that is wrong in our culture?

5. Discuss the spiritual and theological issues inherent in people coming to blows over a Playstation 3.
1. I stood on line in 199? for tickets to "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," but haven't repeated the experience since then to my knowledge, not even for any of the "Lord of the Rings" movies (circumstances prevented it all three times).
2. I enjoy shopping when:
a. I know I'm going to buy something,
b. I know I'm going to get it on sale, and
c. I know the item I'm buying is going to last for a long time.
Thus, I enjoy purchasing stuff like Dr. Marten's shoes or other 'quality' stuff that will be around for quite a while. I also enjoy clipping coupons and seeing how much I can save by using coupons for the stuff we regularly buy - my friend Mother Superior and I enjoy getting the 'coupon tithe!'
3. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Barnes & Noble/Borders/other bookstores for browsing. Give me a good cuppa joe and a thousand books and I could stay for weeks. I also enjoy browsing at REI, but I always walk out feeling a bit disappointed because I know it's going to be years before I can do the kind of trips that would justify the equipment they sell.
4. Gift cards are good if they're from a store where a loved one would enjoy shopping. Ergo, WalMart cards aren't a real thoughtful gift (does anyone "enjoy" shopping at WalMart?), but B&N cards could be (or Yankee Candle for Beloved, for instance.).
5. The spiritual and theological issues of coming to blows over a Playstation 3 can be summed up thusly: Some people are just nucking futs. (Kudos to LutheranChik for my new favorite phrase...)

21 November 2006

On Being Interrupted

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

I had a lot of plans for this month. I was going to spend three Tuesdays studying the Gospel of Luke in preparation for the new liturgical year that begins in Advent. I was going to get our Confirmation Retreat planned and ready to go. I was going to recruit a Youth Ministry Dream Team and finish reading the book I plan to give our council for next year’s devotions. I had a lot of plans for this month.

I’m writing this on the 20th of November. As of this moment, not one of those plans has come to fruition. I’ve read about half of the Gospel of Luke and haven’t even cracked a commentary yet. The Confirmation Retreat remains unplanned. The Youth Ministry Dream Team remains a dream, and my books remain unread. Why? Because other, more important things interrupted, and my plans changed to suit what was happening among God’s people here in Barrett this month.

Mary and Joseph probably had a lot of plans, too. I’ll bet that none of those plans included an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the birth of their firstborn in a city nearly 100 miles from their home, or flight to Egypt to escape a murderous rampage sent by King Herod in a fit of paranoia. I’m certain that Mary and Joseph did not plan on angels coming to announce that they were to give birth to and raise God’s only Son. But whatever Mary and Joseph may have planned, the Gospel of Luke tells us that other, more important things interrupted, and their plans were changed to suit what was happening among God’s people and most especially what was happening with the two of them and their baby boy, Jesus.

A wise seminary professor once told me that “pastoral ministry is what happens in the interruptions.” We can plan and study God’s Word and worship and learn what it means to follow Jesus, and we should do all of those things. We should, as the writer of Hebrews said in our readings last week, “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10.24-25a) But our plans can’t be the whole and sum of our faith and learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. At best, our plans prepare us for the moments of interruption; the moments when the good news may be tested by death, by sin, by illness, by the wounds we inflict upon each other. We learn to trust in God in good times so that we might more fully depend upon him in the times when the world is shattered and we have to cling to that which we most deeply trust.

In this life, interruptions will come. Some, like the interruption of Jesus that intruded on the lives of Mary and Joseph, are God working in us in ways we cannot predict or control. They are wondrous and awesome, but also moments of great perplexity and sometimes even fear. Some interruptions are simply life happening as it will; illness, death and other interruptions force us to take time for the momentary calling God has placed upon us to answer His summons in the interruption. But interruptions are holy times, times when God comes near and we are called simply to be in the moment and let God do what needs doing through us.

Advent is upon us – not Christmas, Advent, a time of preparation and planning. Take time this month to prepare yourself to be interrupted by the presence of God. Look around you, fellow saints, and find those places where God is calling you to be, and let your answer to that call, that holy interruption, be similar to Mary’s response: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.”

Yours in Christ’s restless peace,
Pastor Scott

20 November 2006

Belated Friday Five - Thankfulness

It's that time of year. In the U.S., college students will be on their way home, traffic on the highways will be at its highest point, cooking and baking will ensue. But before the gorging and napping begins, let's take a moment to give thanks.

Please tell us five things or people for which you are thankful this year.
First I'm thankful for my Beloved wife, Kristin. Lucky doesn't even begin to describe my fortune in marrying such a woman. She prefers 'blessed' and I suppose that's maybe a better way of looking at it.

Second, I'm thankful for Little Miss, our baby-to-be. The closer we come to the big day, the more joyfully I am anticipating being a father. At one time I was really worked up about the changes fatherhood would bring to my life. Not anymore. I'm even looking forward to changing her diapers. I hope Little Miss has a strong little finger, because this daddy's gonna be wrapped solidly around it.

Third, I'm thankful for my family and friends. (I know, this is starting to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech - "You love me, you really love me!") My mom has survived cancer, my dad has farmed for close to 40 years, my brothers are good friends and good people - I'm extremely fortunate to have them in my life. My in-laws are great, too; they love each other and they love the three people who've married into the family as if we were their own from the start. And what could I say about our friends? They open their homes and lives to us as if we were family; when the line between family & friend blurs like that, you've been blessed in ways you could never have imagined.

Fourth, I'm thankful for the opportunity to be a pastor. There are days when it's a frustrating profession. There are days when I'd just as soon chuck it all, find a job where I can just make widgets for 8 hours a day, and call it good. But those days are few & far between. The privilege of walking with the people who've called me as their pastor is great, and one emphasis I'm going to adopt in the coming year is showing more appreciation for that privilege.

Fifth, I'm thankful for young people. This Friday Five is belated because Beloved and I took kids from our congregations to our Synod Junior High Youth Gathering in Bemidji Friday & Saturday. Being with these kids overnight; singing worship songs with them and 600 of their peers; taking time to be in prayer together; learning more about the adults who also give their time to come along and be with them; these are great experiences for Beloved and me, and we wouldn't give them up for anything. By the way, I'm also thankful for caffeine - if it weren't for coffee & diet cola, I couldn't keep up with the kids anymore! :-)

So, there you have my thankfuls for the week. I'll post again before Turkey Day, but I pray you all have a blessed day of Thanksgiving all the same.

16 November 2006

Wonderful People, Great Baby Shower, This Week's Moment of Irony...

This past Saturday the congregation I serve as pastor threw a Baby Shower for Kristin, Little Miss and me. It was an absolutely wonderful event - 'my church' is a group of gracious, generous people. One of the out of town guests from Kristin's former church called us on the road back to the Cities to tell us how welcomed they felt and how appreciative they were of the people they met that day. I'm happy to say that this is a regular experience for many who come to our church.

Of course, a highlight for me was the presence of my parents, my brother and his wife and their son, my mother-in-law, Kristin's sister and her son and our sister-in-law from Eugene. Yes, it was a houseful of people. Yes, it was a little overwhelming. Yes, the kids got crabby once in a while. Yes, it was fabulous to have that family time - we both needed it very badly! Uncle Scott (aka "Uncle Butt" by my nephew who can't quite get out Scott yet) played the "flying game" until his shoulders were aching!

AND I got to see my friend Nate and his sons Bereket & Eshetu, who are growing like crazy and SO much fun to be around. Nate's such a great dad - and I wish we could have seen his wife Audrey, too, but she was home sick, unfortunately.

Here are some pictures of the great weekend:
Kristin and our new sister-in-law Wendy opening gifts at the shower.

Of course, our people know us well. We received dueling outfits for little miss' Saturday wear. It's going to be a race to see who can get up early and dress her first!
This week's moment of irony:
Nebraska is sponsored by adidas, Oregon by Nike, yet you'll notice that our Oregon cheerleader outfit is an adidas product - and the Nebraska one was made by Nike.

The grandmas-to-be and our friend Kathryn spent a few hours after the shower sorting clothes into sizes. Frankly, I don't have the words to say thank you deeply enough for this. When I saw the mound of clothes we had been given, I thought we'd need to begin plans for an addition to our house. These three were wonderful to do all that work for us. They also cut all the tags off the clothes - guess that means we better have a girl, huh?

12 November 2006

Sermon for 12 November 2006 - True Stewardship

Preaching Text: Mark 12.38-44

Stewardship – ugh! Money – ugh! Surely we can talk about something better than this? Yes, we can – let's talk about a woman in Jerusalem that we met just a few minutes ago. It’s redundant to say that she was a 'poor widow.' ALL widows were poor in Jerusalem. In all of the ancient near East, only Jewish law prohibited widows from inheriting anything from their husbands' estates. A husband who died young was a sign of sinfulness or being cursed, and sometimes women married men twenty years older than themselves. Widows had to rely on family or begging – they had no opportunity to care for themselves.

Now Jerusalem was a one-industry town: Temple business was the only business in Jerusalem. Thousands of faithful people gave money and sacrifices at the Temple every day. There were no checks or credit cards or even paper cash back then. If you gave lots of money, you gave lots of sacks of coins. They were big, they were heavy, and they were noisy.

In the middle of all that noise and bustle, Jesus pointed out a woman who gave an offering so small that if you saw it in the parking lot outside today you'd think twice about whether it was worth the effort to pick up. Why would Jesus notice this poor, nondescript widow? Make no mistake – Jesus was talking about stewardship here. Jesus just talked about it differently than we do.

Jesus wasn't manipulating the rich into giving more money to the Temple. Jesus was saying that only the widow understood the nature of creation and her place in it. Just before this moment in Mark’s gospel, Jesus was teaching about the first commandment – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Just after this moment in Mark’s gospel, Jesus told his listeners that the Temple, the center of Jewish faith and the supposed dwelling place of God on earth, was going to be destroyed. Jesus told his followers that in the midst of earthly uncertainties, the greatest commandment is to love God with everything you have – and Jesus said that the widow knew and lived that commandment better than anyone else that day.

Jesus could see how that commandment was obeyed by watching how the people gave their offerings. The widow could have given one coin – even by the strictest rules of percentage tithing she would be in the clear. The issue at stake was not the number of coins the people gave. The issue was the driving force behind their giving.

The wealthy people in this story gave some of their abundance. They gave their “extra;” amounts they would not miss, a portion that may have looked impressive but was only a part of their lives. The wealthy people gave out of fear, because they had a standing in the community that needed to be upheld. The wealthy people gave a tithe because it was the minimum that God had commanded – they met God’s requirements and didn’t concern themselves with anything beyond obeying the least of what God had commanded.

The widow, on the other hand, gave everything she had. The verse literally reads, “out of her poverty she has put in everything she had, all of her life.” The widow gave out of faith: she put those two coins in the plate with the absolute faith that God would provide for her daily needs. The widow didn’t worry about percentages or the minimum that God had commanded: she knew that she belonged to God and to God alone – 100 % was the only percentage she was trying to meet.

We talk about stewardship as if it were just money. But at its most basic, stewardship isn't about giving more to our church or to the synod or to charities that need our help. Stewardship is about knowing the things that are eternal and the things that are NOT. God’s love, Jesus’ mercy, the Holy Spirit’s power: those things are eternal. The things that are not? Our selves, our time, and our possessions. They are, as we always pray, signs of God’s gracious love – but they are only signs. To be sure, God gives the things that are eternal through things that are not. God gives salvation in Baptism, through water joined to God’s word. God gives life and nourishes faith through the Lord’s Supper, common bread and wine joined to God’s word. God teaches us how to be stewards of creation by reminding us that some of what we are given should be reserved for things greater than our own satisfaction and pleasure – thus the idea of a tithe offered to God for the sake of one another. But these things and our other possessions are only God’s temporary gifts, and we put ourselves in danger of idolatry when we think that any of them can be more than a living relationship with Jesus Christ Himself. The widow understood that God Himself was far greater and far more important than those two coins. Either everything belongs to God, or nothing does – there isn't any middle ground when it comes to Christian stewardship for creation.

Do you know why we use offering plates? We use plates because one person can’t carry everything you are to the altar. When it comes to our stewardship, your primary concern should not be how many coins you put into the plate each week. It IS important, but it is only part of a matter of greater importance: the life God has given you. The more important stewardship questions are these: How are you caring for that which has been entrusted to you? Your family? Your work? Your friends? There is no separation between sacred and secular – your whole life is a matter of stewardship, and God is invested deeply in all of it!

By way of example X & Y give an offering every week, and that’s good. What’s far better is that today, X & Y are bringing their child to be baptized into the body of Christ. X & Y understand the responsibility and blessing of being parents, that God is up to something in the life of their child, and they are called by God to assist in that adventure by bring B to be baptized and by bringing their child here to learn from God’s Word and God’s people. Is their financial offering important? Yes – but only so much as it is part of the far greater offering of their lives as parents to their child.

The same is true for all of you. Let your financial offering be what it is, and let me encourage you to consider a 10% tithe as a goal to be achieved and surpassed if possible. But let your life offering be the measure by which you judge your stewardship of what God has given to you. Come to church and hear God’s word. Begin and end each day in prayer. Trust that as you practice sacrifical giving, God will ensure that you have what you need to sustain your body and life. These are the marks of true stewardship; these are the marks of a life given to God.

It’s a lot to consider, a life offering, but Jesus won't leave us wondering how much we need to give. Jesus understands stewardship and how to provide for what God has given Him. The cross is THE example of stewardship. Out of humanity's need, out of Jesus' human poverty, He gave everything He had, his whole life. This is true stewardship –, to love God as God first loved us and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Thanks be to God for our Savior, Jesus Christ, for His teaching about stewardship, both in His service to others and in His sacrifice on the cross for you and me. Thanks be to God for each other – when we give our lives to God, we also give our lives to each other as brothers and sisters in this church. Thanks be to God for those times when we understand that the correct percentage giving for Christian stewardship is simple to figure – 100%, now and forever. Amen.

10 November 2006

Happy Birthday, Beloved Mama-To-Be!

Today is my Beloved's 31st birthday. I'm a lucky, lucky man - a "happy man wearing your wedding band," if you wish. Sweetheart, you're the light of my life and I'm so happy you're still able to put up with me. I hope we have many, many more chances to celebrate together.

All my love,

Friday Five: What's Red and Blue and Purple All Over?

Those of us who are in the United States have just been through quite a topsy-turvy election. During the campaign we heard a fair amount about red states and blue states, when in fact most of us live in some shade of purple. And so... a lighter look at those confounding colors:

1. Favorite red food

2. Tell us about the bluest body of water you've ever seen in person.

3. It's movie rental time: Blue Planet, The Color Purple, or Crimson Tide?

4. What has you seeing red these days?

5. What or who picks you up when you're feeling blue?
1. Tough question: there aren't a plethora of red foods in my diet. Seasonally, I'd have to say tomato soup, with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side. Since it's coming on winter here in the land of the Frozen Chosen, that's my red food for the day. For spring/summer, Beloved and I are genuinely fond of a nice deep bowl of salsa and tortilla chips, so that would be the other half of this seasonal buffet choice.

2. The bluest body of water I've ever seen would have to be the Schwansee near Hohenschwangau, Germany. Hohenschwangau is most famous for its two castles, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein - the latter was the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. Beloved and I actually swam in the Schwansee for a while when we were touring Bavaria for our honeymoon in August 2004. The water was bluer than blue at a distance, but clear as glass when you were in it. We swam out about 100 feet from shore, far past being able to touch the bottom, and yet we could see our feet while we were treading water. Cold, too: the Schwansee is one of several Alps-fed lakes, so we were swimming in mountain snow runoff. Definitely a memory I'll cherish the rest of my life.

3. None: I'd choose THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER in a heartbeat. BUT I also liked Red Dragon, Red Dawn, Red Planet, The Thin Red Line, the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, Blue Velvet, Blue Thunder. Not a lot of Purple movies out there, and I haven't seen The Color Purple or Purple Rain.

4. What has me seeing red these days is living in Big 10+1 country. Growing up in Nebraska, I bleed Husker Scarlet & Cream, and missing out on all the regional broadcasts of Nebraska games so I can watch Ohio State pummel another Big 10+1 pansy into submission is VERY frustrating. My family is coming to visit this weekend and we are likely going to miss the Nebraska-Texas A&M game. GRRRR.

5. First thing I do when I'm feeling blue is tell my best friend and roommate. After Ike listens for a bit, he usually walks away in search of more cat food or a sunny spot to lay down - at that point I usually talk to my wife. :-) Music is always a great mood altering force for me, especially Storyhill, Rich Mullins, Stevie Ray Vaughan or Billy Joel. Sometimes I'll just go outside and work; must be living among these Norwegians - they think you can solve any problem by working harder! I find that making time for friends, good food, reading good literature, listening to good live music or other artistic endeavors generally tends to hold off blue periods as well; there's truth to the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Have a great weekend, everyone!

09 November 2006

Today's moment of irony

Page AA6 in today's Star Tribune contains an article about historic urban neighborhoods in Chicago disappearing due to zealous condominium developers. The same page devotes the same amount of space to three advertisements: one for a local fireplace installer, another for vinyl siding, a third for a home remodeling company. :-)

Minnesota Politics

One of the most endearing characteristics of living in Minnesota is the dedication we have to being part the democratic process. Forget the Vikings: the biggest draw in Minnesota come October is the political season. We take our lawmaking seriously around here, and lots of us are involved in one way or another.

A case in point might be Tuesday's midterm election. Voter turnout in Minnesota was estimated at 59 to 60 percent, at least 20 percent above the national average of 40 percent. We're Number One! :-) Seriously, though, it shows that a good number of Minnesotans understand that genuine citizenship includes the responsibility to make one's voice heard by going to the polls.

And what an election we had, too! The Twin Cities elected the first Muslim U.S. Congressman, Rep.-elect Keith Ellison; they also elected Michele Bachmann, a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran whose major push the last three years as a State Representative has been a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. We elected our first female U.S. Senator, Amy Klobuchar, though she is not the first female Senator from Minnesota (see Muriel Humphrey was appointed after her husband, Hubert H. Humphrey, died in office in 1978). Governor Tim Pawlenty survived the Republican bloodbath, though he may have done so simply because an opponent's running mate tripped over a question about E85 and said opponent, DFL Mike Hatch, had one of his patented foot-in-mouth moments. DFL State Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson did not win re-election, though, even with a Democratic tidal wave statewide.

It was good to see the Independence Party maintain its 'major party' status. I voted for Peter Hutchinson for governor and Robert Fitzgerald for U.S. Senator, because I agreed with their agenda AND their refusal to spend their time in debates demonizing their opponents.
Tony Jones had a nice bit on this, which really summed up my feelings as well:
First of all, [Hutchinson] ran no negative ads. Secondly, at each debate, he was winsome, even funny, and brought a great deal of civility to an otherwise ugly campaign. When the Republican and Democrat tied themselves in knots criticizing the other, Hutchinson would speak up, look at the audience, and ask, "Do you really think that either of these guys is capable of leading this state into the future?"And thirdly - I hope you're sitting down - Hutchinson actually answered the questions that were asked in the debates! While the other two took the old political tack of answer-the-question-you-want-to-answer, not-the-question-that-you're-asked, Hutchinson answered every question that was asked of him with actual policy proposals.
Add to the above sentiments my belief that we are in desperate need of at least one more major political party to further distill our political waters, and you know why I voted Independence in many races.

It will be nice to answer the phone again: after the DFLers called for the third time and the Republicans for the fourth to remind us to vote, we pretty much let the thing ring after Sunday night. Nice to have voicemail and caller ID.

You think Republicans nationwide are a little miffed with President Bush today? What a strange, strange week it's been.

One final rant. Some of you reading this might not have voted. As a result, you lost your right to complain about anything for the next four years. Nothing about poor education, lousy roads, taxes, war, or anything else. Shame on you. Thousands of men and women have spent their lives making sure you have the rights and opportunities you've taken for granted. Some of those thousands actually sacrificed their lives. More than half of this country refused to honor those sacrifices. I say again, shame on you. You've done your country and your fellow citizens a disservice. Get out and fill in that box next time.

And with that it's off to the 2008 presidential campaigns. Woo-Hoo!

05 November 2006

Sermon for 5 November 2006 - All Saints Sunday - "Unbound and Free"

Let’s pray: May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. We come to you, Lord, seeking truth. Your word is truth. Lead us into the truth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Take a minute and turn to your neighbor. Share with your neighbor about a person you consider to be a saint.

Who was it?

Why would you call that person a saint?

Why didn’t any of you nominate yourself?

I want to rewrite the common definition of “saint.” What are the two characteristics you often think of when it comes to saints? Here’s what I thought:

1) Saints perform miracles.

2) Saints are dead.

Why should that be the case? Wouldn’t you like to meet a living saint? Wouldn’t you like to BE a living saint? This is why I want to rewrite the common definition of “saint:” too many of us think we don’t qualify right off the start because we’re not doing miracles and we’re not dead. I’m going to rewrite that definition of sainthood and get the numbers of the club up to where they oughta be, and here’s how I’m going to do it.

  1. A saint is a person who knows that heaven is where you get fed, not fed upon.
  2. A saint is a person who knows that God won’t let sorrow and grief have the last word.
  3. A saint is a person who was once dead – but has been raised, unbound and set free by the word of Jesus Christ.

That’s my working definition of sainthood for today: how about we explore it a little deeper.

1. A saint is a person who knows that heaven is where you get fed, not fed upon. Look at what the prophet Isaiah has to say about God’s power. One day, Isaiah says, God will swallow up death forever. That’s not just a poetic way of saying God is powerful. In the mythologies of the people who lived around Israel in ancient times, death was a ravenous monster that devoured everything in its path. Death was the one thing no one could escape.

Are we so different today? We, too, can see that our greatest fear is death, which still consumes everything in its path. Yet we deny death and seek to escape it through any means necessary: cosmetic surgery, special diets, pills – you name it, we will swallow it to feed the need to escape the fact that we are dying. But a saint sees more clearly. A saint sees that what appears to be nourishment is actually a piranha in disguise: death is still sharp teeth and a ravenous appetite for consumption. But a saint also knows that there is One who promises genuine nourishment and actually delivers. A saint is one who knows that the feast provided by our God cannot be matched by anything this world may have to offer. A saint finds that feast wherever God’s word is proclaimed and the good news of Jesus Christ is joyfully evident among his followers. A saint knows that heaven is where you get fed through God’s Word and through living among other saints; and heaven can be as close as the neighbor to your right or your left. A saint is a person who knows that heaven is where you get fed, not fed upon.

2. A saint is a person who knows that God won’t let sorrow and grief have the last word. Some of you have been far too familiar with sorrow and grief this year. I know – I’ve been there with you. Some of you have let that sorrow and grief wash over you, pass through you, and now it is a distant memory. Some of you have held off your grief and sorrow for far too long, and it’s going to be even more painful when it finally does take hold of you. Some of you are going to be grief-stricken in the year to come: people you love will die, or cause you pain in ways you can’t even imagine yet. Some of you will be the ones causing the pain. Some of you will be the ones dying.

A saint knows that seasons change. A saint knows that years pass and things must come to an end. A saint knows that life is fleeting and precious. Notice that I never said a saint does not have sorrow or grief. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If anything, a saint has greater grief and sorrow, for a saint sees the loss more clearly and mourns all the more deeply. But at the same time, a saint knows a deeper joy, intensified by the knowledge that joy is a thing of a moment. A saint knows that true joy cannot be manufactured or created: it can only be experienced and savored in its time.

But a saint also trusts in a God who holds time in gentle hands. A saint knows within herself the words of the visionary: “God’s dwelling place is among humanity. God will dwell with us; we will be God’s peoples; God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away…Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” A saint believes that sorrow is a sign of God’s presence; for only that which is made in God’s image would be worthy of grief at its death. A saint is a person who believes in God’s power to bring order from chaos, light from darkness, life from death. A saint is a person who knows that God won’t let sorrow and grief have the last word.

3. A saint is a person who was once dead – but has been raised, unbound and set free by the word of Jesus Christ. In the movie Big Fish, the main character sees in the eyes of the local witch how he’s going to die. Once he knows the moment of his death, he’s free to live and risk and grow and be as powerful as he wants to be. When you know where and when you’ll finally meet your death, you’re free to really live.

I wonder, then, how Lazarus lived his life after Jesus raised him out of death. What did Lazarus do after he knew what death was like? Did he fear death when it came for him again? Did he live a life we might call saintly? We don’t even know if Lazarus was near the cross when Jesus died, but knowing that Lazarus, Mary and Martha were good friends with Jesus, we can probably assume that Lazarus was still involved somewhere. Did Lazarus live a life of deep joy, bold faith and confident grace? Would you have said that Lazarus was a saint?

We only know one thing for certain: Lazarus was dead. Four days dead, actually – long enough that they were reluctant to let Jesus into the tomb for fear of the stench. But Jesus wouldn’t have it: and so Lazarus was raised, unbound and set free because Jesus said so. Lazarus didn’t ask for this; Lazarus couldn’t have earned it; Lazarus couldn’t deny it: it just happened to him, and afterwards, Lazarus was free from the power and hold of death.

What would you have done? How would you have lived if you were Lazarus? It’s not just a rhetorical question: I’m asking because you have been raised from the dead, just like Lazarus, and now you’re free – because in your baptism you have been united with Jesus in death and resurrection. Death has already come for you – and though it will come again, your resurrection in Jesus Christ will be more powerful.

Today we will confirm seven young people from our church. For the past two years they’ve been bound into confirmation classes; a living death, some might say, although I hope they’ve felt differently. I told them the day they started that this was not a certification course or some kind of degree program: I would see to it that they were confirmed once they started the journey. Today we set them free. But this is not graduation day: it is, rather, the next step in a journey of faith. Today they will affirm their baptism: they will say that yes, the death of baptism is a death with which they agree, for they have found life in Jesus Christ and wish to continue in that life.

Here we are, gathered on All Saints’ Sunday, and I wonder how you’ll live now that you are unbound and free of the power of death. Will you live as though you’ve already died? Will you deeply love your neighbor? Will generously give of your time and talents? Will you graciously support the work of the church? Will you grieve deeply and rejoice abundantly? Will you faithfully cling to God’s Word for life and salvation? Will you lovingly strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

Sainthood is not something any of us earn: sainthood is a gift God gives to us all in our baptism. Sainthood is not a brass ring to acquire: sainthood is a life to be lived.

  1. A saint is a person who knows that heaven is where you get fed, not fed upon.
  2. A saint is a person who knows that God won’t let sorrow and grief have the last word.
  3. A saint is a person who was once dead – but has been raised, unbound and set free by the word of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, you are saints, right here and now. Will you take your sainthood, the gift of new life in Jesus Christ, and live it well? Take it, I urge you, and live it for all it is worth. Let your life be a living witness to the power, joy, love and mercy of our Savior Jesus Christ. Let the love of God nourish your soul. Let the tender mercy of God gently wash away your tears when you mourn. Be God’s living saints, unbound and free. Amen.

03 November 2006

Update and A Toothy Friday Five

It's been a busy, busy week, so I haven't updated for a bit. Sunday's sermon was multimedia and interactive, so I'm still trying to figure out how to post it and give some indication of what was actually HEARD in church Sunday. Might not do it at all.

My big news for the week is threefold. First, I finally got a copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, our new ELCA hymnal. Saturday and Sunday I helped lead two six-hour introductory seminars for ELW; it made for a very full weekend, but a very enjoyable one also.

Second, Confirmation is this Sunday, and I'm really excited. Instead of asking our kids to write generic, boring faith statements about their favorite Bible verses and what they're going to do after they are confirmed ("Go to church whenever I want" is usually one answer, which translates into "Never," unfortunately - but that's a whole other rant), I put together a workbook with questions based on the Five Questions we ask all those who affirm their faith:
  • Do you intend to live among God's faithful people?
  • Do you intend to hear God's word and share in God's supper?
  • Do you intend to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed?
  • Do you intend to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus?
  • Do you intend to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
I reviewed and returned the booklets this week, and I was VERY pleased with the imaginative, honest answers our confirmands gave to these questions. They showed some mature, thoughtful consideration of what it means to be confirmed. A very small part of me is proud that they remembered what I taught them, but the far greater part of me thinks these are just kids who GET that being a Christian is more than just giving the right answers when Pastor Scott attacks with his Bible and Lutheran Handbook. And that's been the point all along, hasn't it?

Thirdly, I finally got my iPod this week. I've been saving for a few months, and with my savings and the $100 audible.com discount I pulled the trigger on a black 8GB iPod Nano. So far it's been on one run with me and I love it already - having podcasts to keep my mind occupied while I work my body is great.

So, that's the update from Barrett. And now, for the Revgalblogpals Friday Five:

We are in the throes of what will (hopefully) be the final set of braces in this family, and so my mind is on the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.

Please share your thoughts on the following:

1) The Tooth Fairy
Cute, but as a parent-to-be I'm wondering about this tradition for the first time. Where the hell does this come from, anyway? I don't really remember much of the Tooth Fairy from my own childhood, but that could be due to the fact that I lost many of my teeth in situations that didn't really warrant the Tooth Fairy's presence. An angry momma cow knocked out a few teeth when I was 8 or 9, and I remember at least three teeth being pulled at the dentist's office.

2) Flossing
Short answer: hate it hate it hate it.
Long answer: yeah, needs to be done, but for me it's an annoyance. I have a bracket holding my lower incisors in place that requires floss threaders; sometimes the hassle factor wins. Once a week for me is doing well. But Beloved hasn't complained about halitosis, so I must be doing okay, right?

3) Toothpaste Brands
Funny story: Consumer Reports recently chose one of the cheapest brands as their recommended product, since it worked just as well as the better-known name brands. I'm no loyalist. Beloved, however, balances the equation by requiring "sensitive teeth" toothpaste which is twice as expensive as the regular name brand stuff. So we're a push in our house.

4) Orthodontia for Adults
If you want to put up with braces as an adult, bully for you. I have an aunt who had braces not so long ago and she seemed to be pleased with the result. But at what point does the desire for perfect teeth become idolatry?

5) Whitening products
See above. I suppose seriously stained teeth are a problem for some, but like most cosmetic stuff, I think of Ecclesiastes more often than not: "All is vanity - a chase after the wind." But then, I'm a guy who goes to the dentist and immediately hears, "You're still drinking lots of coffee, huh?" So maybe I'm just stubborn.