Sunday, April 5, 2020

Year A, Palm Sunday, Matthew 21.1-11, Phillipians 2.5-11

https://youtu.be/PKsgGNwrvTA


Sermon:  The King they wanted, and the King we got
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
With these words on the lips of the crowds, Jesus entered into Jerusalem.
And make no mistake about it, to proclaim Jesus “the Son of David” was to praise him as the Messiah, God’s anointed, who would establish his Kingdom in Israel and reign from the palace in Jerusalem.
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
That the nation of Israel would be free from the Roman occupation—
That the nation of Israel would be at peace—
That the nation of Israel would once again experience the glory of David and Solomon’s Kingdom—
That the nation of Israel would prosper—
These were the hopes of those people welcoming Jesus as the Son of David.
A victorious King and a land flowing with milk and honey. 
And then Jesus came, humble and riding on a donkey.
A servant King.

There is an incredible irony in this story, and that parade welcoming Jesus as the Messiah.
And that is that the King they wanted was the king they actually had, not the one mounted on a donkey.
Rome ruled.
And during this time, the whole Mediterranean world was united under the rule of Rome, and enjoying what historians would later call the Pax Romana.  The peace of Rome.
It was a time of prosperity and peace almost unknown in the ancient world.
The Romans built a glorious empire.
Remnants of that Empire remain to this day.
There were palaces and ampitheaters.  And of course, the Coliseum. 
But actually two of the most impressive accomplishments of the Roman builders were the roads which united the Empire and paved the way for commerce, and the aqueducts that provided fresh water in abundance and made modern cities possible.
The Glory of Rome.
That’s what the people wanted. . .only they wanted it to be their own Kingdom.  Israel.  They longed for the glory of Rome, but the freedom of Israel.
 “Hosanna to the Son of David!
  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
And there was Jesus.
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
  did not regard equality with God
  as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
  taking the form of a slave,
  being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form,
  8he humbled himself
  and became obedient to the point of death—
  even death on a cross.
What we know now, that those crowds did not know then, is that Jesus did not come so that the people might prosper, but that they might be saved.
Fast forward two thousand years to today.
It was in 1992 that James Carvelle, Bill Clinton’s political strategist coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.”
What Carvelle and every politician since recognized is that what the people want is prosperity.
The people welcoming Jesus as the Son of David wanted prosperity.
The people who elected President Roosevelt during the Great Depression wanted prosperity.
The people who followed Hitler wanted prosperity.
The people who voted for Bill Clinton wanted prosperity.
And so it is in our day that every president is judged on the relative health of the economy.
We elect that person we believe will prosper the economy, and their re-election is dependent on whether the economy is thriving or not.
But what is more important?
                That we prosper?
                Or that we are saved?
That is one of the most important questions facing, not only us, but the whole world today.
The economy was great.
Just a few short weeks ago, the economy was great.
Our president, Donald Trump, like all the presidents before him was banking his hopes for re-election on the thriving economy, because, after all, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
And then COVID 19 transformed the world we lived in to a world we could never have imagined.
It is now illegal to gather.
Were I to hold worship services in public today I could be fined $5,000 and sent to prison for up to 364 days.
You could be as well.
We are taking precautions to stem the spread of this virus, and the cost is high.
Two fears dominate our world today:
·         The fear for our  health, and the health of our neighbors;
·         And the fear of an economic collapse.

What a choice.
What a choice we are faced with.
This dilemma is not playing out in Washington alone.
Every congregation across the nation faces this choice as the people of God.
We cannot gather together for worship.  We are trying our best to find other ways of being the Body of Christ, but it is not easy.
We are isolated, not only from each other, but from our families and friends.
And we long for better times.  We want to gather around the Lord’s Table for communion.  We want to sing the hymns of faith.  We want to pray together.  And we are worried about the future of the Church.  Can we weather this storm?  How will our finances fair? 
Our hearts yearn for life to return to normal.
How long will this last?  You’ve asked that question.  I’ve asked that question.  Everyone is asking that question.
The most soul searching question of all at this time is how many lives are we willing to risk for the sake of the economy? 
The second question is like it.  How much suffering are we willing to endure to save lives?
Jesus emptied himself,
  taking the form of a slave,
  being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form,
  8he humbled himself
  and became obedient to the point of death—
  even death on a cross.
The people longed for a King that would bring glory and prosperity to Israel.
What they got in Jesus was a savior.
One who was willing to suffer and die so that we might live. 
And it is this one who we call Lord.
Jesus said that we should take up our cross and follow him.
What does that mean?  For us?   Today?
It means that we be willing to love one another and to make sacrifices so that lives might be saved.
It means that we stay home and stay healthy.
It means for us as a church that for the present time we will not gather together to worship God, so that in time, all of us, might gather again.
That’s the bottom line.  If we rush back to worship some of you might die.  If we care for one another and accept this time of being apart hopefully all of you will live.
Tough times.  Tough choices.
There are two things that give me hope in the midst of my fears.
First, that healing was such a major part of Jesus ministry.  He cares about our health.  He touched people and made them well.  We need that now.
And second, that throughout history God has led his people through one ordeal after another.  Economies have collapsed.  Empires have fallen.  And lives have been forever changed.
But through it all, God remained faithful to his word, that nothing in all of creation can separate us from his love.
May this peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Year A, Lent 5, Ezekiel 37.1-14, John 11.1-45

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=si6N4YZyxro


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
By the time you hear this sermon I’m not sure where we will be.  We recorded it 10 days ago so I’m not sure what will have happened already since then.
Life is at one and the same time on pause as we step back and spend our days social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus, and also a frantic whirlwind as changes are coming every day.
I pray that you are doing well, taking your precautions, and most of all remaining healthy.
Two weeks ago I talked about viewing this time as a time of solitude, not isolation.  Solitude in a spiritual sense of stepping back from the world to reflect, and most of all, to listen.  To listen to God, and in a new way, perhaps even to one another as we find different ways to connect.
So this is a time of solitude.  A different sort of Lenten journey for us.
Still, amid all the changes and closures and shortages caused by this outbreak there are those that question whether this is really a threat or not.
Let me share a couple of statistics from China that were current as of March 16th.
What they’ve experienced in China is that the COVID 19 virus is not seriously affecting young people.  For example, no children under the age of 10 have died.  And for those under the age of 40 the mortality rate is 0.02%.
But then it becomes more deadly as we age.
Those in their sixties have a mortality rate of 3.6%.
Those in their seventies have a mortality rate of 8%.
And 15% of those over eighty who contract the disease will die from it.
Again, those are the statistics from China as I write.
“Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2020) - "Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: 'https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus' [Online Resource]”
Put in perspective, if the virus were to spread through our little congregation of 20 to 30 people we could expect numerous deaths.
That’s why we are taking precautions. I don’t want to do any funerals for a while.
That’s why this service is being done remotely.
And that is why we must remain cautious and careful, limiting the contact with one another.
As we do this, I pray we can act in love, not fear.
That is, I’m going to stay home, not because I’m afraid of getting the disease from you, but rather because I love you and want to avoid possibly giving the disease to you.

In the midst of it all, we listen to God’s Word.
1Out | of the depths
  I cry to | you, O Lord;
2O Lord, | hear my voice!
  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my | supplication
6My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch | for the morning,
  more than those who keep watch | for the morning.
Of all the prayers we could offer at this time, perhaps the most critical would be for the health care professionals who are diligently working to care for the sick and to come up with a vaccine or cure.
Lord, help them.
The impact of this will be far reaching.
Businesses are being forced to close.
Children can’t go to school.
Churches across the nation have cancelled worship and all other activities.
And all of a sudden our telephones and computers have become our only safe source of connection with one another and the world in which we live.
Four weeks ago, I would have never imagined this scenario.  But here we are.
Today’s lessons speak to hope in the face of disease and death and the unraveling of a country.
Ezekiel wrote at the time of the exile.
He saw a vision of a valley of dry bones.  Those dry bones represented what was left of their country after it was destroyed by Babylon.
Nothing but dry bones.
But then he was instructed to declare the Word of the Lord and from those dry bones the nation would reemerge. 
And then we have the story of Lazarus, and Jesus calling him forth from the tomb.
Both of these passages in scripture point to one most important reality.  Hope is never lost for those who trust in God.
We need that kind of hope right now.
We live in a time of fear.
I find myself dealing with a variety of fears.
I’m concerned for my family, but not nearly as much as they are concerned for Karla and I, we being the elderly, now.
I’m concerned for you.  To put it bluntly, I’m concerned that when we are finally able to resume worship you will all be there.
But having said that I wonder about the impact of this on our little congregation.  Can we survive?  What will happen to us if this goes on for a long period?  If we lose members to the virus?  If the offerings dry up and we become bankrupt?
I’m concerned for our nation and the impact this is having, even beyond the health threat.
Businesses will close.
Life savings are dwindling.
People are hoarding stuff, creating a situation of the haves and the have not’s.
And I’m left wondering about our world.
I can sort of understand why people are stock piling toilet paper.  Sort of.  I mean, really folks, toilet paper?  Even in a worst case scenario there are other ways to clean yourself.
What I really can’t understand is why people are rushing out and buying guns.  I mean really, it’s not as though you can defend yourself by shooting the virus.  Have people gone mad???
Fears.
But then there is hope.
I hope because we have great people in the medical field, many of whom are working non-stop to find a solution.  This likely won’t be as bad as the flu in 1918 because we have made many advances in medicine since then.
I hope because we can do this.  We can wash our hands and live in solitude for a while to stave off the spread of the virus.
I hope because rather than destroying our congregation this may be a time of renewal.  When we can finally meet again we may find ourselves cherishing that opportunity more than ever.
I hope because often adversity brings out the best in people, not the worst.
But most of all I hope because God can bring forth life from dry bones and call us out of the grave.
We are fasting in the broadest sense of that word.
But the time is coming when we will be able to feast once again.
I don’t know how long that will be, and the guidance we are receiving from the government changes daily.
When we cancelled services, our understanding was that we might be able to resume meeting on Easter Sunday.
Now, it appears likely that it will be much longer.
How long until the threat passes we simply do not know.
But I remain hopeful because, as Jerry Kramer, the hall of fame football player and Sandpoint native, said:  “You can if you will.”
We can meet all of these challenges.
The only question is if we will.
We can wash our hands, for Pete’s sake.
We can avoid unnecessary personal contact for a season.
We can care for one another in new and safe ways.
We can be the people of God even when we cannot assemble here in this place.
The only question is will we?
And I have confidence in you and your spirit to do these things.
But more than that I have confidence in the Lord to watch over us and our comings and goings and to renew us by the power of his Spirit and to restore our good fortune.
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sabbath Blessing


Sabbath Blessing
We welcome the Sabbath as a sacred time with a meal, a remembrance of creation, of the daily bread which sustains us in this life, and as a foretaste of the feast to come.  This meal traditionally takes place on the eve of the Sabbath.  For this celebration you will need three candles, a glass of wine (or grape juice), and a loaf of bread.  In honoring the Sabbath it is suggested that we share in a special meal, a feast, to celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.

All members of the household gather around the table.
The Lighting of the Candles
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for in the beginning you said “Let there be light!” and there was light.
            Light the first candle.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for you are the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.
            Light the second candle.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for with a powerful wind and tongues of fire your Spirit moves among us.  Amen
            Light the third candle.
This hymn or another may be sung. 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above all heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen”

The Cup of Blessing
The leader holds up the glass of wine (grape juice).
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for you bring forth the fruit of the vine.
With this cup we remember that you quenched our thirst in the wilderness; that your Son is the living water who offered his life for us; and that by your Spirit you have gathered us together and made us One.  Amen
The cup is shared with all present.

The Breaking of Bread
The loaf of bread is lifted up.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth the bread of the earth.
You feed us in the desert with manna from on high; you are the bread of life that satisfies all our hunger; you are the foretaste of the feast to come.
Bless us (me) now with your presence; surround us (me) with your love; and fill us (me) with your grace.  Amen
The bread is broken and shared with all present.

The Lesson for the Day
The Gospel for the Day, or a Psalm, or another passage of scripture is read.
The Lord’s Prayer.
The meal is eaten.

We give you thanks, O Lord our God, for this food which we have eaten.  May it sustain us throughout our journey until we rest in you.  Amen

Notes:
This Sabbath Blessing follows the model of the blessings offered over the Sabbath meal in Judaism; with the lighting of candles and the blessing of the wine and the bread.  Judaism is the foundation on which much of Christian practice is built.  Our scripture, our prayers, our life of worship, our honoring the Sabbath and even our understanding of Christ as the Messiah all have their roots within Judaism.  We gratefully acknowledge that. 

In offering these Sabbath blessings and the sharing of the wine and the bread, a Christian will be reminded of our celebration of communion.  The Sabbath meal, as well as the Seder meal, may well have shaped our weekly celebration of communion.  This, however, is not a communion service, per se, and should not be viewed as such.

It is a formal way to do what Christians have always done, namely gather for a meal and ask God’s blessing over the food, and share in a time of devotion.  It is to remember that the ‘breaking of bread’ with one another is a sacred act in and of itself that celebrates being part of the Christian family.

Within Judaism the Sabbath meal occurs at sundown on Friday evening, thus welcoming the beginning of the Sabbath.  We might gather for these prayers on Saturday night, or if your tradition is to have a special Sunday dinner, it is also appropriate to honor the Sabbath at that time.

The text for this blessing is all either in the public domain, or my own writing.  Permission is granted for its use.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Year A, Lent 4, Psalm 23, Chicken Noodle Soup




Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
Sometimes you just need a bowl of chicken noodle soup.  Or whatever other ‘comfort food’ that warms your soul.
Comfort food.
For me ‘comfort food’ is that which I associate with my mom.  And home.  And that place where I know I’m always welcome no matter what is happening in my life.
Chicken noodle soup has memories associated with it for me.
First and foremost I associate it with saltine crackers and 7-Up, the first foods I was able to have after being sick.  It was always an indication that my ordeal was approaching an end and I would soon be better.  And I remember my mom.
There are other foods I connect with my mom and heartwarming memories.
Banana bread.  A staple at our house.
Apple tarts.
Rhubarb delight.
Homemade cinnamon rolls with freshly ground whole wheat flour from the fields around their home in Joplin, MT.
At Christmas time it was the lefsa.
And of course, the cookies:  sandbakkels, and crumkakka.
And also, for me, rice cereal.  Mom would make the rice with milk, and we’d put butter (Norwegians put butter on everything) and cinnamon, and sugar on it.  It was an evening meal for us.  And I loved it.
All of these foods connect me to a time in my life when I still experienced the comfort of my mother’s bosom.  Wrapped in her care and love.
It was a simpler time.
A time when the great problems of my life melted away with a word of encouragement, the assurance that I was loved, all within a safe place that was home.
As the years passed by, the problems of my life didn’t melt away like that.  There were times of rejection out in that cold cruel world.  And there have been times of a desperate yearning to feel that love once again.
Ironically, now that I’m older I’m beginning to feel a lot of other connections with my mother.  Connections related to my health.
Bad knees.  Achy legs. Hypothyroidism. And on the list goes.
And I yearn for that warm cup of chicken noodle soup that makes the hurt go away.

1The Lord| is my shepherd;
  I shall not | be in want.
Words I need to hear.

2The Lord makes me lie down | in green pastures
  and leads me be- | side still waters.
3You restore my | soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways | for your name’s sake.
Images of a safe place,

4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they | comfort me. R
What a wonderful assurance that someone is there.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence | of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is | running over.
There you have it, the chicken noodle soup, a sign that the ordeal will soon be over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the | Lord forever. R
Home.
Psalm 23 is our spiritual chicken noodle soup.
Throughout our lives and at the time of our deaths we take comfort in these words.
Within this psalm, David has included three things:
                A memory.
                A prayer.
                And a hope.
A memory.
1The Lord| is my shepherd;
  I shall not | be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down | in green pastures
  and leads me be- | side still waters.
Faced with the uncertainty of trying times, we look back.  We remember.
That’s where the chicken noodle soup gets its power.
It evokes the memory for me that my present illness will soon be over.  It recalls my mom’s loving care. 
The bed my mom prepared for me.
The cup of soup on the bedside table.
The glass of 7-Up always present.
Healing powers.
Most of all, these memories form the foundation of hope.
We have hope for the future because we remember the way God has cared for us in the past.
I have faced many trials in my life.  And in spite of all my worries that each one might be my comeuppance, grace intervened.  God watched over me.  God delivered me.
I remember that.
I shall not be in want.

And in that light I pray:
3You restore my | soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways | for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they | comfort me. R
5You prepare a table before me in the presence | of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is | running over.
Now we are talking to God, not about God.
You restore me.
You guide me.
You are with me.
You comfort me.
You care for me.
And you anoint me with the healing oils.
And I am blessed beyond measure.

Our greatest fears surround death.
COVID 19 is among us.  And we don’t know what the future holds.  So we turn to God.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;

It is fear that too often drives us.  Some fears are rational.  COVID 19 is much more lethal than the flu.  We are learning that.  And for some there will not be enough 7-UP and chicken noodle soup to make them well.  And so fearing it, we take precautions.  Social distancing.
When I was sick as a child I was sent to my room.  It feels like that now.  “All y’all just go to your rooms.” 
Rational fears.
And then there are the irrational ones.  Like the “Oh, my God, I must run and buy every roll of toilet paper I can!” type of fear.  Kind of funny that we take comfort in, of all things, having a closet full of toilet paper.  Come on folks!
But whether our fears are rational or irrational we have this prayer.
You restore me.
You guide me.
You are with me.
You comfort me.
You care for me.
And you anoint me with the healing oils.
And I am blessed beyond measure.
Like our moms, God is present.  Loving.  Caring.  Healing.
And so we hope:
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the | Lord forever. R
Here there is a bit of a disconnect with my childhood home.  A big disconnect. 
My mom made it a point to teach us to fly.
Independence was a major value in our home  growing up.  We were to learn and grow, and then leave the nest.
I’ve joked many a time that mom gave us an 18 year nonrenewable lease. 
And yet even so, home was always there.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
This sentence comes from the opening of St. Augustine’s “Confessions”.  When I looked it up, one author called it the greatest sentence ever written.
It ranks right up there with the conclusion to Psalm 23:
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the | Lord forever. 
Faced with all the turmoil and uncertainty of life we are invited into the Lord’s rest.  Embraced by God’s goodness and mercy, we are at home once again.  Secure in the bosom of God.
Here the most powerful image and most blessed of experiences comes back to me.  That of a baby nursing at its mother’s breast.
What a way to enter into this world.
And perhaps that’s the way we will leave it.
Wrapped in the tender embrace of our God, our souls are soothed by God’s beating heart and nourished by God’s own flesh and blood.
Sometimes we need chicken noodle soup.
And sometimes, what we really need is to be held tight at our Mother’s breast once again.
Amen

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Bridging the Solitude

At 9:30, March 15th, this video of todays worship will be available.

https://youtu.be/F-VEphe9MJY

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Well, these are difficult times.
We hope that the corona virus COVID 19 is short lived and that our health care system is able to rise to the challenge.
Mostly, we pray for those who will get the virus that they may find healing and hope.
We wonder.
Are we making a mountain out of a mole hill.
Are our fears unfounded.
I hope so.  I hope in the end that for the vast majority of people this ends up being no big deal.  But having said that, the concerns being raised by our health professionals are real, and the only way that we can prevent this from becoming a BIG deal is by taking the precautions now.
The goal is to slow the transmission of the virus so that our health care system is not overwhelmed and unable to respond to the need.  It’s hard to imagine, but if the transmission of the virus is not slowed down we might find ourselves in the situation where people need hospitalization but there is no room for them.
And so, we are doing our services remotely for the next few weeks or as long as the threat remains so that no one’s health is compromised by gathering for worship.
So thank you in advance for your understanding.  And especially, thank you to James and Judy for making this possible.
One housekeeping matter.
Some of you have asked about your offerings.
Please mail them in these weeks.  We will be checking the mail and making our weekly deposits.  It’s important that we can sustain our ministries during these times, even if we can’t gather for worship.
Thank you.

Jesus was tired.  It was the middle of the day when he and his disciples arrived at Jacob’s well.  And he was tired.
There at the well was a woman from the local town.
This would not have been common.  It was in the morning and evening that people came to draw water at the well.  This woman chose to come during the heat of the day.
It was “social distancing”.  She came on her own at an odd hour of the day to avoid the contact with the other women of the town.
“Just leave me alone.” Is the message her actions proclaimed.
But there at the well, she met Jesus, tired as he was.
“Give me a drink.”
Had this happened today, we’d would have had to inform Jesus that such interpersonal contact is  out of the question, a clear violation of health department rules for these times.
“Give me a drink.”
Jews did not ask such things of Samaritans.
There was a disconnect there.  Samaritans were looked down upon by Jews.  Perhaps quite similar to the rift that exists between Palestinians and Israelies today.
Or between us and the immigrants at our borders.
Or the racial divide that remains a powerful force in our country.
Or the gap between the have nots and the haves.
The point is that the last thing that woman expected to come out of Jesus mouth were those words.  “Give me a drink.”
And yet there he was, a Jewish man, asking of her, a Samaritan woman who was isolating from others, and perhaps also, running from her past, a drink.
It was a connection.  A point of contact between the two.  A bridge built where before there was a deep chasm that had divided them.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Our situation is different.
And yet the same.
“Social distancing” are the words of the day.
Our health, perhaps even our lives, depend on distancing ourselves from others to slow the spread of this disease.
There have been other times when this has been the case.
The plague decimated Europe during Luther’s day.
Influenza strikes every year, sometimes worse than others.  In 1918 600,000 people died.
One of my parishioners in Thompson Falls talked about that year.  Five of her siblings, one after another, died from the flu.
The threat of such pandemics frightens us and isolates us.
We are rightfully concerned.
Personally, it strikes home in numerous ways.
I’m concerned about you.  Most of us, me included, are in the high risk group.  I am concerned that if we do not distance ourselves from one another at this time, we might suffer as a result.
I’m concerned about my family.
Two things at home concern me.
Our daughter in law, Kersten, is the administrator of an assisted living facility.  Her residents are especially at risk. 
And Karla cares for a baby whose mother is a nurse.
Health care workers are at risk.

So we wash our hands.
Thankfully, we haven’t been sick, though my drippy nose troubles me.  It shouldn’t.  Every year at this time my seasonal allergies creep up.  I’ve been told it’s because of the molds that are uncovered as the snow melts.  But a simple runny nose bothers us because of our fears it could be something far worse.
That’s our situation today.
Social distancing.
Staying away from one another.
“Give me a drink.”
With those words Jesus bridge the gap that divided him from that woman at Jacob’s well.
Jesus comes to us as well.
Even at a time when we must distance ourselves from others Jesus comes to us.
Our hope is that these broadcasts might be a way that Jesus comes to you through the word and in prayer.
Our hope is that we might connect with each other in important and significant ways even when we cannot hold hands.
Our hope is that in the midst of these most difficult times Jesus might offer us that “living water”.
It can happen.
Solitude is not necessarily isolation.
Solitude can be a time of deep intimate and spiritual connection.
And perhaps, this Lent, it is in solitude that we will meet Jesus and drink from his well.
And then, when we are able, we will awake from this Lenten fast and be able to celebrate together, once again.
My hopes are that this might happen for Easter.
I have even imagined that if it is still not safe to gather indoors, we might have an outdoor service instead. 
But whether our time of separation is short, or long, Jesus will be there with us at the well.

Finally, remember that you have a special calling at this time.  Yes, you.
One of the ways we can connect with Jesus during this time of Social Distancing, is by connecting with one another.  We are all just a phone call away.
I am happy to take phone calls from you, seven days a week.  Call.  I will make it a point to be making some calls as well to check in on you.
And call each other.
A funny story about that.
When I was growing up I called one of my friends who had been sick.  Michael cut the call short because he was afraid that I might get sick talking with him on the phone.
“Michael, germs cannot be transmitted over the phone.”
“Well why do they show people spraying their phones with Lysol on the commercials then?”
I went on to explain that it was to kill the germs on that phone, so that others in the household wouldn’t get sick.

The point is we can call one another.
We can pray for and with one another.
I’m even prepared to stretch the liturgical boundaries and do a remote communion service if this current situation carries on too long.
Take care of yourself.
Take care of others.
And hopefully we will all get through this without getting sick and suffering, and especially dying.
But through it all, just remember, that Jesus is with you.
Amen

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Year A, Lent 2, John 3:1-17, Fear and Faith


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Fear is gripping our world.
Fear.
COVID-19, the latest coronavirus.
We don’t know yet whether our fears are justified or overblown.  We simply do not know.
The fact is that we are vulnerable to certain illnesses, and the most vulnerable, elderly, children, and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk.
Part of what is going on is this is a new thing.  And we fear it because it’s new, and we don’t know much about it yet.  And perhaps our immune systems have little defense against it.
According to NBC news “the death toll in the U.S. from the coronavirus outbreak rose to 17 on Friday, with more than 330 cases confirmed across the country. Johns Hopkins University announced that more than 100,000 people have been infected worldwide.”
And as you are aware, western Washington is one of the epicenters of the outbreak.  Particularly Life Care of Kirkland nursing home. 
But, stop, for a second.
Reality check.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that during the 2019/2020 flu season there have been 34 to 49 million cases of the flu in the United States, and that there have been 20,000 to 52,000 flu related deaths.  https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm
So what that means is that approximately 10% of our population has had the flu this last year, and that of that, 1 in a thousand died.
The mortality rate for the corona virus appears to be higher than the flu, though we do not know for sure because the symptoms are so similar to the flu that without proper testing, it’s hard to determine if someone had the flu or the corona virus.
The point is that out of a population of 326 million people in the United States about 36,000 have died of the flu this last year or so, or one in 10,000.  Or to look at it locally, one or two people have likely died from the flu in Otis Orchards and Liberty Lake, and they were likely in a nursing home.  And so far, out of that 326 million people 1 in 20 million people have died from the corona virus.
In contrast, about a million people die of heart attacks each year, accounting for about 1/3 of all fatalities.  Or one in 326.
I have two reactions to these numbers.
The first is “Calm down.”  Chill out.
At this point your chances of dying from the corona virus or flu are about the same as dying from a motor vehicle accident.  Yet you all drove to church.
The second is that we can all be a bit smarter and more diligent. 
When we drive, we wear seat belts.  We don’t drive when intoxicated (or shouldn’t).  We stop at stop signs and obey the speed limits, more or less.  Our children are in car seats.  And so the list goes.
Well, the same sort of precautions are appropriate regarding infectious diseases like the corona virus and/or the flu.
Wash your hands.
Stay home when sick.
(On that one, one of the most absurd criticisms I ever received as a pastor was when one lady chastised me because she’d been sick with the flu for two weeks and I hadn’t visited her.  First of all she didn’t tell me she was sick, but second of all, it’s not a good idea to visit contagious people.)
There are other things we can do.
Cough into your elbow.
Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing.
Actually wash your hands.  I’m purposely mentioning that a second time.  I saw something the other day that said we should wash our hands as diligently as we would if we had just cut up a jalapeƱo pepper and are now going to take out our contacts. 
And take precautions when serving the public, as we do during communion here, and as much as possible use ‘best practices’. 
Those most vulnerable should avoid large crowds in confined spaces.
Oh, and did I mention that people should wash their hands.
The point is that the risks are low regarding dying from the corona virus or the flu, but don’t be dumb.
Just as you put on a seat belt when you get in the car, wash your hands.
The life you save may be your own, or someone you love. 
This point was brought home to me when I remembered that my son has what is called an IGA deficiency.  IGA stands for immunoglobulin-A, our body’s first line of defense against most bacteria and viruses.  He is more likely to get a cold, or the flu, or other because this immunoglobulin A is not present at a high enough level in his nose and mouth.  So he is at higher risk.
Now, let’s talk about fear.
And faith.
Death is the most primal fear we have.  I don’t want to die, at least not prematurely.  And so I am afraid of certain situations.
One example of that occurred the first Christmas Eve I was with you.  We had services at 7 pm, and it snowed and was nasty outside.  The roads were slick.
As we drove home with our family I became acutely aware that many of the people on the road late that night had probably been drinking.  It was then that I decided that we’d have our Christmas Eve services earlier. 
It’s all about fear, and avoiding risks.
We fear death.
But our lives are in God’s hands.
That’s the faith part.
God loves us.  God cares for us.  And our lives are in his hands.
So each year we go through an influenza season, yet the immune system which God gave us is usually sufficient to either prevent us from getting sick, or help us to get well if we do.
Yes, one in ten thousand will die from the flu this year, but 999 will live.
And secondly God gave us instincts and brains to avoid risks.  It’s up to us to trust these and act accordingly.
Have faith and live faithfully.
Trust in God and live trustworthy lives.
That said, we will all die one day.
And regardless how much we fear death, and how cautious we are, it will come.
Yet even then our lives are in the hands of a loving God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Time and time again the scripture invites us to a life free from fear.  “Fear not” is a phrase that repeats itself in many bible passages.
From Luke 12:32:
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Faith, not fear.
The thing is we shouldn’t let our fear of death prevent us from living life.
Again, we need not fear death, for our lives are in God’s hands, but neither should we court it through our own stupidity.
For me as a pastor this gets very concrete and personal.  I don’t want you to die, and especially don’t want my actions or lack thereof to be the cause of your dying, yet one day you will and should the responsibility for doing your funeral fall to me I will preach on the resurrection and eternal life that is ours because of the love of Christ.
We are to live, confident and trusting in the loving God who has given us life, and yet seeking to be wise ourselves in doing those things that will lead to a long and healthy life.
So back to the issue that is dominating the news and wreaking havoc with the stock market.  (That’s one of the things I’m most afraid of, quite frankly.)
The COVID-19 virus.
Don’t be overcome with fear, but live responsibly as you can so as not to cause harm to yourselves and others.
The challenge for our lives is to find the balancing point between trusting in God and acting responsibly.
I had a conversation online with my ELCA colleagues on Friday, expressing my concern regarding communion practices in the face of the risk of flu and the corona virus.
One pastor, convinced that there is no risk associated with the common cup, said: “I guess it boils down to whether or not you believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist...And whether or not you believe there is healing, life and wholeness there.”
I was a bit upset with that answer.
Yes I believe Jesus is present in the sacrament and, as Luther says, bringing life and salvation to us through it.
But that doesn’t protect us from the transmission of infectious diseases through careless administration of the bread and wine.
To put it bluntly, I know where my hands have been, and believe me, Body and Blood of Christ or not, you want me to wash first. 
Have faith in the God who loves you.
But act responsibly so as not to harm yourselves or others.
That’s the bottom line.
Amen

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Year A, Lent 1, Matthew 4.1-11


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Many years ago during my first call at Thompson Falls, MT, we were experiencing the struggles of a small congregation trying to support a full time pastor with all the financial obligations that go along with that. 
Those struggles resulted in significant conflict along the way.
It’s hard for a pastor in such situations.  The most difficult thing is that we often take far too much responsibility for what is happening.  When things are going well we pat ourselves upon the back. 
But when things are not going well it is tempting to think “I have failed.”
And with that feeling of having failed come shame, and guilt, even depression.
It was during one of those difficult times where we were struggling financially and conflict ensued that my Bishop, Mark Ramseth, offered one of the best pastoral words I’ve ever received.
The words were simple.
But the lesson was powerful and important.
“Dave,” he said, “this is not about you.”
The temptation, you see, is always to believe that everything that happens is somehow a referendum on me.
Here we are at Peace Lutheran.
We too, have our struggles.
And as your pastor, the temptation remains to think that it’s all about me.
That happens in both good and bad situations.
When we, against all odds, do very well financially, it is tempting to think that “I must be a fine pastor.”
But when finances are not so good, the temptation is to believe “I have failed as a pastor.”
When a new member comes to our congregation, I am tempted to think “Yes, I’m good at this!”
But when a family leaves the congregation it is so easy to feel personal rejection and failure.
And then the words of my bishop come back to me.
“Dave, this is not about you.”
For good, or for bad, this is not about you.

Jesus was tempted.
As he began his ministry, following his baptism, he went into the desert to fast and pray.
There the tempter came to meet him.
Satisfy your hunger.
Throw yourself from the temple and watch the angels save you.
Worship me, and I will give you all the nations of the world.
“If you are the Son of God,” were the devil’s words.
If you are the Son of God. . .
                Then prove it.
Do these things and demonstrate it.

“If you are the Son of God”, with these words the Devil tempted Jesus to make it all about him.
That’s what I noticed during my studies this week.
That each of the temptations was for Jesus to make it about him.  His hunger.  His safety.  His success.
When I was growing up in Irene, SD people would gather occasionally for family reunions.  And one of the things that they often did as part of those family reunions was to have a worship service.
It was on one such occasion that I was attending the family reunion of one of my friends, Claire Fagerhaug, out on the farm.
Connie, Claire’s mother, gathered us kids together and formed a children’s choir.
The song she chose for us to sing was “He Could Have Called, Ten Thousand Angels.”
The chorus for that song is:
“He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world (the world) and set Him free
He could have called ten thousand angels
But He died alone (alone) for you and me.”
In other words, Jesus could have made it all about him, but instead, he died for you and me.
The point is, Jesus’ own life and ministry was not to be about him, but us.
The devil tempted Jesus to make it about him, but he wouldn’t bite.

Temptation.
Making it all about us.
Making it all about me.
That’s still the temptation.

For us as a congregation that can be a temptation.  A real temptation.
For a while my daughter Katie was involved in a mega-Church out in Puyallup, WA.
I was skeptical about this congregation, as I tend to be about all “Mega-Churches”, but I learned a lot from her involvement.
They did some things right.  I commend them.
One of the things they did right was with respect to their Sunday worship.
Everything they did on Sunday morning was not about them, as a congregation, or about the pastor.
Everything they did was focused on the first time visitor.
Their hospitality for the visitor began with parking attendants, people greeting newcomers, and the entire content of the service and sermon.
Their ministry was not about them, but about the “outsider” seeking a spiritual home.
One example of that is that the sermons were written in such a manner as to appeal to someone with no background in the Christian church, whatsoever.
So much so that one of the criticisms they received is that there is not much on Sunday for a mature Christian.  Their response is that they have Bible Studies and services every night of the week.  Mature Christians should be coming to them.  Sunday mornings are for the visitor.
We are not a mega-Church.
We are a small, struggling little congregation. 
It’s tempting to make it all about us.
We welcome new people because WE need more members.
We focus on our own financial needs and survival.
And we do things OUR way, because that’s the way we like it.
Or at least that’s the temptation.  To  make it about us.
“Dave, this is not about you.”
Those were the words of my bishop.
Jesus was tempted to make it all about him.
And we are tempted to make it all about us.

God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.
I love our mission statement.
Because it is not about us.  It’s about others.
The challenge for us as a congregation is to keep this mission in front of us and not fall prey to the temptation to make it about us.
If we make it about us as a congregation we will die.
If we welcome, love and serve others it will not matter what happens to us, because it is not about us.  What matters is whether we can make a difference in this world. 
Can we be the voice of the Gospel?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not an organizational principle for the development of congregations.  That is, the Gospel is not here to serve the Church.
Rather, the Church is here to serve the Gospel.
If you want to talk about success, then I’d put it this way:
The success of our congregation, or any congregation, is not whether they thrive numerically or financially, but whether they share the love of Christ with one another.

One of the often overlooked parts of the Gospel lesson for today is the last verse:
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Jesus resisted all the devil’s attempts to make it about him, and then the angels came and cared for him.
Likewise, if we resist the temptation to make our ministry about us, and reach out instead to others, God will take care of us.
The angels will wait on us.
Here is the irony.
Our needs will be met, but only in as much as we serve others.
If we are in it for ourselves, we will fail.
Jesus’ final rebuke of Satan was with these words:
“‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
It’s not about us.
It’s about loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as our self.
Amen