This week I have been attending a preaching conference in St. Paul. One of the classes I took today talked about what an early church service in 150 A.D. would look like. It started out with people reading scripture until they were out of time. Then the presider, not a preacher, would invite people to follow what was laid out in scripture. This "sermon time" was followed by prayers, and then the sacraments both baptism and holy communion. Finally there would be an offering taken and this offering would be given out to the folks who needed help. Any members who couldn't make it would be visited by the deacons, so that they check in a see how the folks were doing. This service is none too different than what we have today. The professor, my worship professor from Luther Seminary Dirk Lange, reminded us that all the parts of worship should point back to the text(s). Worship was in a sense acting out the parts of our faith. They allowed our bodies as well as our minds to participate in this celebration of who God is. Each week for these early Christians was a celebration.
I think worship for many of us from week to week can feel pretty routine and anything but special. Last Sunday we talked about the Ten Commandments and more specifically the third commandment, which says remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy. Sabbath again is a churchy word for saying rest. Sunday is about Rest. The way we as Christians should rest is by spending some time with God, this is why we go to church on our traditional Sabbath day of Sunday. Resting allows us to realize that everything in our lives is not dependant on us but is in fact dependent on God. Sabbath or Rest days are to remind us that we can be free from our anxieties; free from the weight of the world on our shoulders; and free from the worry that we don’t ever measure up. This is why last week, I talked about worship as freedom. The very act of showing up on Sunday mornings should lift our spirits because of this fact that we are reminded we are free. That is why I put up balloons in the narathex because it reminded us that we should treat worship as a party or celebration. I found it interesting that Professor Lange was tying into this same thing by referencing how the early church held service. Worship is about celebrating the love, grace, and mercy of God. Yet why is it so hard for us to feel this excitement? So I am asking you this week, what could we do that would change the way that you would think about worship? What would it take for you to look forward to coming each and every week?
What is the history behind your name? What does your name mean? Does your name have some cultural or family meaning? I think it is pretty easy to just look at our names, and just shrug our shoulders with indifference. During my teen age years especially, I really hated my middle name of "Christopher". I thought it sounded awkward. It reminded me too much of Christopher Robin from the Winnie the Pooh books and cartoons. I thought I was way too grown up to deal with that "childish" name. When I used to ask my mom why they had decided on Christopher, she said it just fit. For many years that middle name seemed to dog me. I hated it so much that many times I refused to tell people my middle initial unless they would guess it. This view of my middle name changed when I became a college freshman. Suddenly my faith became an important part of my life. This is not to say that I still didn't think this middle name was clunky, but I accepted it as a reminder of the importance I placed on my Christians faith. One day, I took some time to look at what Christopher means and found out it comes from the Late Greek Name Chirstophors that means bearing Christ. Early Christians used it as a metaphorical name, expressing that they carried Christ in their hearts. As I have dived deeper in my faith I could see why my mom and dad thought this name suited me. Honestly as I look back, I have grown into my name, and I think it has shaped who I am. Now I see my middle name as a part of my identity and who I have become. I have bore Christ to a lot of folks, and it has shaped who I am and how I live my life.
In this week's text from Exodus 3:14, we learn God name, which is I am who I am. This is indeed classic God speak where God doesn't always gives us a straight forward answer. However, it does reveal a lot about who God is. With this name, God is informing us that God will be our God no matter what. God is not going to take off time to go on vacation; God isn't only going to be our God when circumstances are good; and God isn't going to abandon us for somebody else. We are reminded of this promise every time we remember our baptism. God claims us by name and that never goes way. God remembers God promise to us, even when we don't. This is the nature of who God is and why we can in turn go in our daily lives.
So what about you, have you grown into your name? Have you wanted to change your name? How do you feel knowing that God is with you every day? How does it feel to be named and claimed by God, even when you don't feel you deserve it? How do you live your life differently?
So what makes you laugh? Little babies giggling? Jokes by your favorite comedian? Life's little unexpected encounters? Or maybe another question I should ask is do you even laugh? I think many times the weight of the world seems to be on our shoulders and it is very hard for us to see the humor in much of anything. Laughter is important it is a good stress reliever for one. It helps breaks up the tension within us. Believe it or not it is biblical. This week when we look at Genesis Chapters 18-21, we find a story about a relationship that has gone south between Abraham and Sarah. The two of them were not speaking to each other because in essence they had tried to hurry a promise of God up with disastrous consequences. Some Holy visitors came to Abraham one day and told him that he had Sarah were going to see the fulfillment of God's promise for them to have a son, next year. Sarah laughed at this because she was too old to have a baby; her relationshp with Abraham was in tatters; and God promise had the scent of a wet sock to her. This laugh was not a good belly laugh, it was a cynical laugh. God called her on the laugh and said in effect that I, God, honor my promises. Then the impossible happened just like God promised. Sarah and Abraham had a little boy who they named Isaac, which means laughter. Sarah realized at this point that God does honor God's promises and that it is foolish to be carrying all this stress. She laughed and felt the release of the tension within her, all the pressure that had been consuming her. Sarah also learned that laughter leads to something even more important and that is trusting God. Believe it or not God wants the best for us. So why do we contiually keep all the stress and anxiety ontop of our shoulders? Why don't we trust God to help us with it? I think it comes back to control. As much as we think we can control our lives we can't. When we trust God, when we begin to laugh, we realize that we are not in control but God is. Then the pressure is off and we can breathe again. We can live to our true potential. So what do you need to give God control around? What do you need to laugh at instead of stress out about?
It is the start of the new fall programming year which means that with the narrative lectionary, a resource used to help congregations move through the stories of the Bible, we are now back in the book of Genesis. Some fun facts about this book of the Bible is that Genesis is the first book of the Bible; some scholars say that Moses was the one who wrote Genesis when the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness; and Gensis' name comes from the first two words of the opening sentence of the book. Genesis is about human's first relationships with God and with each other. What we learn in chapter 2 is that the intitial word to describe our relationship with God is trust. God trusted Adam to work in Eden. God didn't tell Adam how to do his job just what the parameters were and then God left him alone to do it. Adam trusted God had his best interests at heart and God trusted Adam to do the right thing. When God saw that Adam needed help God created a helper, a woman made from Adam's rib bone. They were equals and partners. So God vision for our relationships with each other is about trust and for partnership. How does that look in your life? Is your spouse really a partner in your relationship or are they not? How does that make you feel if they are not?
Another hard question to ponder is what does it mean to trust God in your life? I know for me it is a continual challenge because I want so much control. Trusting is giving up this control to follow where God leads, which I know for myself was a very scary thing. Why does this feel scary though? Is it because it is easier to say we trust God then to put it into action?
As important as it is to raise these questions it is more important to put them into action. So this week what can you do to show your partnership in one of your relationships? How can you talk to your spouse, or friend, or family member about how your relationship could get better? What would it be to trust God this week in your life? What would be different?
What do you with stuff that breaks? You throw it away because it can't function as well as new or whole items right? This is something that seems pretty common sense in our culture today. My plate breaks and I go buy a new one at Target. However God doesn't work this way. God uses us inspite of our brokeness or I would say because we are broken. I think many Christians believe that once we have faith, our life will be a bed of rose. Unfortunately this is not the case, we all experience the up and downs of life whether we have faith or not. However when we have faith, we are better able to navigate the challenges of our lives because we know we are not alone and that we have a God who walks with us every step of the way. Since we gone through these hard times, and have been beaten up by them but not defeated by them. We become a good resource for other who may be going through the same thing. God put us in other people's lives to help them see the hope that we have in our own broken lives. God uses us cracked vessels and pours God's Grace and Love into us and that changes us. The cracks start to emit light to the world around us, the cracks aren't a sign of our brokeness they are instead an opening to allow the light, love, and hope of God to radiate around us into the world for everyone to see. Is there somebody in your life today, that needs to see the light of Christ? Does somebody you know need some hope in the midst of their despair? If so sit down with them, listen to their story, and then share what God has done in your life, so that the know they are not alone and that there is hope.
One of the things I always remember about my early childhood is how much my dad liked taking the family down to Walk Disney World. I still remember my first time at the park as a young child, it seemed like heaven, moving from one magical ride to another. It was neat to see all these cool things and to see how happy all the family was. I was almost giddy asking my dad what we were going to do next after each ride. Each ride and each experience seemed to build off each other and in the end it was a very magical experience that I will always remember.
This week we talked about transitions, moving from one phase of life to another. It is a great week to talk about this because it is the first week of school. All the kids we know are heading back to school and beginning a new phase of their lives whether it be 4k or their senior year. It will be packed with memories and experiences. One of the things that is common for this time of year is nerviousness. The kids don't know what their new normal is going to look like and so the first days of school can seem very scary to them. I think that is a good metaphor for our lives. Going back to school is a transition time. It is a new beginning while at the same time acknowledging that the last year is gone. All of our lives are made of transitions like being singled to being married; from starting a job, to leaving a job; or living with your parents to owning your own place. If we are honest with ourselves, transitions can be very scary though because we don't know what the new normal will look like. We don't know what is going to happen next which causes our anxiety to peak. In this sense many of us tend to dread transitions. But what would happen knowing that God is with us, if we started to ask with enthusiasm "What is Next?" How would this shape each of these new experiences whether they be good or bad, knowing that God is with us? That when we feel the most nervious, God leans in more closely to comfort us. The Bible reminds us that God is constantly walking by our side day by day. SO the next time you are experiencing a transition, whether it be the first day of school or the last day of work, know that you are not a lone. Our heavenly Father is walking with you, cheering you on all the way. Knowing this what if you looked forward to see "What is Next?". How would that shape your transitions?
I will be the first person to admit that my sense of direction is just plain awful. It seems like I always turn the wrong direction when given a choice. This reminds me of getting lost in Hammond, the town next door to us, when I first came to the church. I have lived in the Twin Cities for at 15 years when I became a pastor, so I got used to seeing churches built in the middle of neighborhoods. So here I was running around all the neighborhoods in Hammond looking for the Lutheran church. I think I went through did about every single neighborhood on the east side of town, when it finally dawned on me that in small town America that churchs tended to be on the main drag and guess where Trinity was...on the main drag. I thought I knew the best way to get there, it turned out that I didn't. I would have done better to use my car's GPS to find Trinity. This week, in service I talked about using a different kind of GPS, God Positioning System. How many of us feel lost in our lives right now? How many of us feel despair? How many of feel us there is no purpose? God's GPS allows us to find our direction and to evenutally our home. The way to get God's GPS started is to key in our destination. We do this by praying to God and asking God to help us with our feelings of being lost. When God's GPS plots the route for us, the next thing which is really hard to do is to put trust in the route that God has for us. How many times do we feel we know the better route than our car's GPS? God's GPS causes us to have trust that God wants the best for us and that God's way is the best way. Finally we need to act and begin to follow the route that is outlined to us on God's GPS. When we do this, our feelings of being lost and despair turn to feelings of hope and purpose. So have you engaged God's GPS? If not, Why not?
I just wanted to let you know I will be back writing my blog again. I was on vacation with my family these past two weeks, which is why I didn't post anything. Our family tradition each summer is to go to a state park and this year, we with went to two Minnesota State parks, Afton and Itasca. At Afton we stayed in their camper cabins, which are basically one room cabins with no running water. So each night before we went to bed we had to walk about 100 feet to the outhouse. It was very beautiful and peaceful, to gaze at the stars. There is no light pollution at the parks and I was amazed at how the sky glitters and shines. It got me thinking about how vast God made the universe. Yet in this vastness of space and time, God still makes it a point to walk with us each and every day. I hadn't felt that close to God in a long while. Walking with the stars and feeling that God was walking beside me as well. What do you need God to walk with you with right now? Is there a time you would like to share about when you felt the peace of God walking with you? Is so, leave it in the comments below.
The week, I had an article in the paper about how we need to love ourselves. Since everybody doesn't get the paper I was going to repost it here. Let me know what you think!
Do you love yourself? It seems like an odd question at first because we live in a time of the selfie, social media influencers, and where our opinions are king. Looking around the culture it appears that all we do is we love ourselves and nobody else. However, looking just past the trends that we see on Face Book, Twitter and Instagram we see some really hard statistics in recent literature that blows our initial impressions away. Looking at the numbers we see that suicide rates for different age groups have gone through the roof. We also can find out that we are the most depressed and anxiety prone generation that has ever existed in the history of the United States. To add insult to injury we are more polarized and social isolated than ever before. Why? I think it is because we really don’t love ourselves.
When he was asked what were the two biggest laws we should follow. Jesus said this in Matthew 22:37-39 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your should, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Why did Jesus tack on the “as yourself”? I think it is because Jesus knows that if we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love other people.
When I talk about loving yourself, I am not talking about the image of your self. I am talking about loving your whole self, warts and all. Do you constantly put yourself down or even worse allow a spouse or partner to do that? Do you give yourself credit for doing things well? Do you ever address your needs or are you always making sure everybody else in your life is taken care of?
God made you and God doesn’t make mistakes. You are a wonderful creation. Jesus reminds us of this fact that we need to love ourselves. God wants us to take care of ourselves; God wants us to know that we matter; and God wants us to empower us to work on those areas of our lives where we struggle. So do you love yourself? If you can’t say “Yes” to this question start thinking about the ways that God is calling you to love yourself. It is only when we truly love ourselves and strive to be a better person that we can begin to fulfill the second command of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves.
One of the things I have been preaching over and over again, is what would your perfect/dream day look like. To honest, I forget what book I was reading where it asked me this question. I thought it was a pretty crazy question to ask. I mean shouldn't I be trudging through my day because I had all of this work to do. After thinking about it for a while a light bulb came on in my brain. I can do my work but I can also do the things that are important to me as well. My exercise schedule has been all over the place for the last couple of months, but I imagine for my dream day that I do my exercise in the mornings. Then especially on the weekends and on my days off, I started putting this practice into place and wow I was starting to get regular exercise in. I started to apply this to other stuff that I have always put off until I "had more time". These things started to happen in my life as well. I started to feel like I was getting more things done...more things done that were really important to my spirit. These last couple of months, this practice of trying to have each day become my dream day has really improved my outlook on my life and my faith. Now I don't always get all the things I want to get done and not every day is a dream day but again, I feel more in touch with God; I feel I have more happiness and I actually look for to each day. So what does your dream day or perfect day look like? What can you do to implement that dream day starting today?
Pastor Paul. I hope you find these reflections insightful and help you in your faith journey!