Stay Encouraged

Reading: Matthew 14:22-31a

Around our third week of this “Re-Shaped” worship series on themes of change, one of our Bible study participants asked just what all this conversation about change was pointing toward. “What are you preparing us for?” he asked. “Are you going to announce that you’re dropping out of ministry, that you and Javen are moving to Milaca, to buy and run the Dairy Queen there or something??” I assured the room that I had no ulterior motive; I knew of no other surprise that was going to drop. Furthermore, I’d never sell enough Dairy Queen to turn a profit—I’d eat way too much.

Continue reading “Stay Encouraged”

All There Will Be?

Ordination of Nathan Roberts. Scripture passage: Matthew 6:25-34

I don’t usually remember my dreams, but this one was too vivid to forget. I was at home, minding my own business, when the doorbell chimed. When I went to the door, a grocery delivery person stood there. He held out to me a white paper bag of apples someone had sent, like the kind you would get at an orchard or grocery store. Except the bag was only half full.

Who in the world would send me a bag of apples, and only half full? While I was trying to figure this out, I looked inside the bag. There, tucked beneath one of the apples, was a slip of torn notebook paper. I reached into the bag and pulled it out. Unfolding the slip, I read the one line on it, written there in pencil. “Maybe this is all there will be.” At that moment, my alarm went off and I was startled awake. What?? A half bag of apples, and “maybe this is all there will be.”

I had that dream more than ten years ago, during the fall budget season at the first congregation that I served. It came when we were trying to imagine how we might address a five-figure deficit in the church’s budget for the next year. I was swimming in these numbers, a sense of scarcity, and worries about the viability of the church when I went to bed. I woke up to a half-full bag of apples and those words: “maybe this is all there will be.”

Is there anyone here, with any history of church whatsoever, who has any experience with such worries for the future?? I’m certain that you’ve been there many times before, Nathan. How many times in the co-founding and functioning of Daylight School in Kenya did you look at the income numbers against the salary needs for teachers and food? How often have you navigated worries about the future in the operations of First Lutheran’s after-school ministry with community youth? Perhaps in your learning about White privilege and intercultural connections, perhaps in your teaching and leadership with others by these values, everything has gone without worry and without concern. But I’m guessing there have been many times when you’ve had some sleepless nights, and perhaps your own fever dreams. Anyone who is part of the tenuous project of progressive Christian community in twenty-first century America knows how many occasions there are for wonder about the future.

And yet, here is Jesus, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, speaking as though directly to our conditions and our worries. Okay, perhaps we’re not folks worried about our next meal, something to drink, or what to wear. In our best ministries (and following your lead, Nathan), we are in relationship with those who know these worries directly. But the ecclesial versions of such concerns are worries about offerings or expenses, about building repairs, community engagement, and “where are the young families at”? Jesus points to the birds of the air—see how God cares for such vast congregations, and they have no endowment funds! Consider the lilies and the grasses of the field, and how well they operate even without a functioning property committee! How much more, Jesus says, will God take care of our concerns if we release worry and entrust them to the One who knows our every need?

When we release worries over our churchy food, drink, clothing, and bodies, we have more energy then to do the work of Christ, to seek the kin-dom of God. I’m reminded of my friend Beth-Ann, who noticed something at her church’s Good Friday service earlier this month. She described to me how at the service, they carried in a giant heavy cross and in between prayers hammered three 9-inch nails part way into the cross. Then the congregation was invited to come to the cross one by one. Nearly the last of the 200+ people coming forward was a mom carrying a small boy. While they were close, this little boy tried to pull one of the big nails from the cross. Beth-Ann remarked how, “with so many people approaching the cross that little guy was the only one who tried to end the pain.” That’s what it looks like to seek the kin-dom of God, to try to end the pain when we encounter it in the world. That is the righteousness of God, and the loving justice we are called to in the church. In the worries I can imagine about the liturgy, the volunteers, and other worship concerns of that night, let us not forget to do what we can to pull out the crucifying nails.

Nathan, you have been called by God to such healing, compassionate ministry. You have been equipped for such service with training and experiences throughout your youth and adult years. Today you join colleagues and church worldwide, adopting the yoke of faithfulness to Christ and responsibility for this call. With us, you will continue to know the temptation to worry. So I commend to you the exhortation of Christ: “do not worry”, so that we can seek first the kin-dom of God and God’s righteousness. If it helps, when you reach the end of the day and are about to sleep, consider repeating what Pope John 23rd is reported to have prayed each night: “Dear God, I’ve done everything I can today. But it’s your Church, and I’m going to bed.”

There are still times in ministry when I’m more aware than ever that the bag of apples is only half full! And the slip of paper said, “Maybe this is all there will be”! But I am learning that there is another way to read that slip of paper. It begins by emphasizing the first word. Maybe this is all there will be. And maybe not. Because God is still speaking, still touching hearts, still moving us to believe in the hope of new life. Because the power of Christ is not dead in a grave, but risen from the tomb, and calling us to remove the nails as well. Because the Holy Spirit did not just blow in ancient times, but is among us in right-now times. Do not worry, Jesus tells us. Maybe this is all there will be. Or maybe this is just the beginning. I like them apples. Thanks be to God!

Go to Galilee

Today’s Scripture passage: Matthew 28:1-10

Reading this year through Matthew’s description of Jesus’ last week, I noticed for the first time how many references there are to earthquakes. As Jesus parades into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we hear that “the whole city was in turmoil”. “Turmoil” is the Greek word seio and means to “shake, move, or quake”. It’s the root word for “seismic”—Jerusalem was quaking at the approach of Jesus. The week holds more tremors too. At the moment when Jesus dies on the cross, Matthew says, “the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Now today, as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary approach the tomb of Christ, there is a “great earthquake”, another seismos. And finally, the guards “shook and became like dead men” in the presence of God’s angel—seio again.

Continue reading “Go to Galilee”

The Kin-dom of God

Today’s Scripture passage: Matthew 25:31-46

Decades ago, the mayor of Portland, Oregon—a man named Terry Schrunk—was being criticized for helping someone who was poor. He’d given money to a beggar on the side of the road, and another council member objected, saying: “How do you know that he’s not just going to spend that on booze?” To which the mayor replied, “How do you know that’s not Jesus Christ?”

Continue reading “The Kin-dom of God”

Building on Solid Rock

Edina Morningside and Linden Hills UCC

Today’s scripture reading: Matthew 7:1-12, 24-27

I remember one moment years ago here, when work was being done in 2018 to change the old narthex (wood paneling, no light, red carpet, and close quarters) into the well-lit, spacious, hospitable Gathering Space we have now. There was a very thick wall in the middle of that room, holding up the building’s weight. To remove the wall, we had to put a steel beam overhead to carry the weight, and connect it to other steel passing through the floor and walls downstairs. Below us, in the preschool classroom and nursery area, they jackhammered wide holes, and then dug by hand several feet down to the bedrock. (This was when one of our now-members came to worship for the first time, moving slowly with a cane past big open holes in the floor and up dusty stairwells, just trying to find the sanctuary through the plastic drapes.) It was quite a disruptive process, removing walls and going through floors, but they needed the strongest footings possible for the weight of this building, and only bedrock would do.

Continue reading “Building on Solid Rock”

Prayer for the Minnesota House of Representatives

O God of wisdom, your light blesses creation throughout this land of sky-tinted waters. As our elected representatives gather to conduct the people’s business of this day, bring to our imaginations every sacred part and person of this state—north to south, east to west, metro and greater Minnesota—all illumined by your light. Let the North Star of truth be revealed in the work of these leaders and their staff today.

Continue reading “Prayer for the Minnesota House of Representatives”

Voting Faith Over Fear

I almost never watch broadcast or cable TV, so I’m missing out on a slew of political advertisements. (Pity me!) It’s to be expected this time of year, but folks in our community who live in the suburbs especially are suffering from candidate attack ads on repeat. This is the consequence of an election finance system with almost no guardrails and plenty of incentive to tell lies loudly and often enough for smears to stick. It also corrodes our trust in the democratic process, by which people—all equally made in God’s image—ought to freely, fairly, and truthfully decide how we are governed.

Our systems of democracy are the basis of a free and open society. If we allow people to damage or destroy them, we risk being pulled around by a fear-based agenda rather than building a beloved community that includes everyone. God has not given us a spirit of fear, Scripture says, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Standing together against fear and division, supporting efforts to build up the common good, we can continue building a multiracial democracy that reflects divine creativity and works for everyone who calls Minnesota home.

I can’t turn off your TV for you, or do an exorcism to cleanse it, but I’ve learned at least one way to stop getting political mailers and phone calls. Those who vote early show up in election databases as having already voted, so campaigns don’t spend resources trying to reach you when they see that. You might consider voting early to turn down the volume on partisan messaging that’s flooding us right now. Whenever you vote, I ask you to choose faith over fear, and to remember Jesus’ call to love neighbors, strangers, and even enemies.

Seeds of Easter Faith

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: John 20:1-18 Sermon audio:

No matter how many times I’ve read and heard this gospel proclaimed, there are constantly new surprises to find. The line that catches me this year is, “Supposing him to be the gardener…” Why on earth would Mary Magdalene mistake her friend, teacher, and rabbi Jesus for the gardener? Was her eyesight blinded by the two angels, sitting where Christ’s body had been? Or is she closer to the truth than we might realize, supposing him to be the gardener?

Continue reading “Seeds of Easter Faith”

Caring for All in Education and Labor Disputes

Even being on vacation over the last week, I watched with concern the news about developing strikes among educators and school districts in the Twin Cities. Now we are in the fourth day of the Minneapolis teachers strike, with no sign yet of a breakthrough in negotiations. (Here’s a helpful news summary of the issues at stake.) I’m mindful of teachers I know, and of Minneapolis families with children at Edina Morningside Church who are adapting—yet again—to make sure kids are safely cared for throughout the workday.

Continue reading “Caring for All in Education and Labor Disputes”

Thanks Be to God?

Edina Morningside Community Church
Today’s scripture reading: Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14 Sermon audio:

Thanks be to God?? We often end Scripture readings with, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Thanks be to God.” But “thanks be to God”, for this?? Today’s scripture challenges that verse of Second Timothy which claims, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness….”(2 Tim 3:16). But I struggle to recognize as God the voice at the start of Genesis 22, who commands a father to kill his son in order to demonstrate ultimate devotion. Taking these verses on the level of fact would ask us to shelve a morality so fundamental that it shows up in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not murder.” We must question and challenge the divine command here, lest we encourage others to claim God-given license to commit murder. The God we know in Jesus Christ does not ask things like this, so we’re best to be on guard when the Bible starts to make it sound otherwise. Perhaps this story exists not for instruction, but “for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Sometimes instead of a roadmap to follow, the Bible gives us a warning of where not to go.

Continue reading “Thanks Be to God?”