The wind is blowing…

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” So Jesus tells Nicodemus in the third chapter of John.

Boy, have we experienced some wind in Rochester this year! Some are still recovering from the epic windstorm in March, which caused many to lose power, several trees to fall, and huge waves on the lake. As I listened to the wind roar outside, I was studying this text from John, and, couldn’t help but wonder: is this how the Spirit moves also in us? Not only in our physical world, moving with the power to topple trees and rip apart roofs – but also in our hearts, moving with the power to topple old ways of being and rip apart wrongly-held ideas?

I think sometimes it does. Sometimes God needs to come through our lives and shift the “way we’ve always done it,” to help us think outside of our bubbles, to view the world differently, to listen to God and the needs of our community and the world and to consider how we might respond.

That’s what “transformational ministry” is all about: listening to God and the movement of the Spirit, and responding. It’s about claiming the purpose of the church to share the Good News of Jesus in our neighborhoods and the world. Churches around the ELCA are focusing in on transformational ministry, helping congregations to engage in the Three Great Listenings: listening to God, to one another, and to the world. But it doesn’t stop there – a part of transformational ministry is also to help congregations develop skills for leading their community into a healthier, vibrant, more sustainable future, for themselves and for the Church as a whole.

Bethlehem and St. Martin are taking a leap into transformational ministry, too. You may have noticed a large tree near the entry way for the sanctuary. The tree began with bare branches, just like the trees outside our window. As we made our way through Lent and now into the Easter season – the season in which we celebrate the new life Christ has won for us in his death and resurrection – we have seen our tree bud and blossom with hopes and dreams for ministry.

But just as our trees outside continue to grow and change as spring marches on, our tree is not done growing! You are invited to continue to add leaves to the tree as you feel moved (more is better!). The light green leaves are for telling us what you are already doing to serve your community outside of church (e.g. tutor at-risk kids, or volunteer at food pantry). Here we will see where your heart already lies. The dark green leaves are for sharing your deepest concerns and passions about the world, whether or not you are doing anything about it (e.g. health of the environment, people suffering from addictions, or refugees). This will show us how the Spirit is blowing anew in our hearts.

As we see our trees grow fuller with the Spirit’s movement in our individual lives, we will get a sense of how that same Spirit might be blowing in our congregational life, and how we might respond. Your input will be the basis for our council to set goals for the coming years, as we imagine how God is moving this congregation into the future.

I’m eager to see this growth, sisters and brothers in Christ! May we listen carefully to the movement of the Spirit, as we step forward in faith and mission together.

Wipe clean my heart: Preparation for Ash Wednesday

Like most babies, my little Isaac has chubby little baby rolls on his neck. They are, of course, adorable… until that horrifying moment when he stretches his head back and you realize that, stuck in that sweet baby fat, is some of the milk that had dribbled down his chin, mixed with some of the dirt from when we played outside with sister. Because of all that cute baby fat, the tenderness of the area, and his still stiff newborn body, this space tucked deep in his fat rolls is very difficult to clean, and because it remains mostly hidden, all that gunk eventually causes irritation on his soft skin. The area can’t heal until he lifts his chin, and it can be wiped clean.

It occurred to me that this is a helpful metaphor as we prepare this week for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The penitential season of Lent always begins with this service focused on confession of sins – a confession that continues through the six weeks of Lent until Easter. The Psalm appointed for the day is always Psalm 51, with its well-known line, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

I’ve long loved this image of seeking a clean heart, but seeing what happens in those hidden spaces of my sweet little boy’s baby fat really put a picture to it – for our hearts are just the same. We may not even notice what sins are stuck in those hidden places of our hearts, may not even notice that their presence there is causing irritation. We can’t see that the longer they remain, the more irritation they cause. Eventually it starts to affect us in external ways – in our relationships, our faith, our way of being in the world.

Until, one day, we finally lift our chins, look up to heaven, and ask God to “wash me through and through… cleanse me from my sin… Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.” With our chins lifted toward God in prayer, and that dirt and sin that would irritate our tender hearts revealed, God is able, finally, to wipe us clean. After we are wiped clean, we are able, finally, to heal, to love, to serve God in newness of life.

What gunk is stuck in the tender places of your heart? What sins are irritating you and keeping you from the fullness of life that God envisions for you? What do you need wiped clean?

Join us for Ash Wednesday worship this Wednesday, 7pm at Bethlehem. We will have the imposition of ashes as well as holy communion, as we prepare for the six week journey of Lent.

Lenten Journey through the Catechism

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This year for Lent, we have committed to working through Luther’s Small Catechism. For such a small volume, this little gem is jam packed with food for reflection. We have provided each of you with your own copy (you can also download a free version on the device of your choice – search in Google Play or iTunes store for the Augsburg Fortress version). We have also provided you with your own copy of Free Indeed, a devotional based on the Catechism.

During the 6 weeks of Lent, you could commit simply to reading these two resources. This only takes a few minutes each day (perhaps, a few minutes more than you typically devote to your spiritual life outside of Sunday morning?). Below are some additional ideas:

  • Commit to memorizing the 10 Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, if you haven’t already. These are the foundational building blocks of our faith, and should be written on all of our hearts.
  • Commit to memorizing the explanations for these texts in the Small Catechism. (Remember when this was required for confirmation? Who still remembers?) The explanations are full of helpful language for talking about faith – language that brings life to our own hearts even as it equips us to bring God’s life to the world.
  • Commit to journaling for a few minutes each day. You could reflect on the day’s Free Indeed devotion, or choose whatever part of the Catechism you choose. Ask yourself each day the question Luther repeatedly asked: what does this mean for me, today, at this time in my life?
    • If you choose to do this, here are some tips: 1) Don’t try to be perfect. Streams of consciousness are fine! 2) Don’t write what you think you are supposed to write; write what is in your heart. 3) Begin and end each writing with prayer, simply asking God to guide your thoughts, and then thanking God for speaking to you.
  • Commit to coming to midweek gatherings. This year these are offered over the lunch hour for 45 minutes (or however much you can manage!), as well as our usual evening time. Together, we will dig into the Small Catechism and ask, what does this mean for us?

However you choose to engage in Lent this year, I pray that it is a fulfilling time in which you grow closer to God. Blessings on the journey!

Sermon: Ministry is risky, or should be (Feb. 19. 2017)

love your enemies

Text: Matthew 5:38-48; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us seems easy enough to get on board with… until we realize that doing that might put us in an unsafe, uncomfortable position. But Jesus never promised to make us comfortable – only to bring us comfort in the promise of love, grace, and forgiveness. It is these promises that make it possible to do the risky work of ministry.

Epiphany 7A (2.19.17)

Lent 2017: Free Indeed!

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door, thus sparking a major shift in the Christian Church and western culture as a whole. This year, 2017, we are remembering Luther’s legacy, and all the ways he helped us understand faith and our relationship with God in new ways – how he helped us to understand that in Christ, we are “Free Indeed!”

We’ll dig into this exploration during Lent this year, by studying Luther’s Small Catechism. Each week we will focus on a different part. To aid in this exploration, we are providing everyone with a Catechism, and a devotional entitled, “Free Indeed,” which will be used by congregations all around the ELCA this year. Be sure to pick yours up in the next couple weeks!

Here is our Lenten schedule:

Ash Wednesday, March 1 – Imposition of Ashes and Holy Communion at Bethlehem Lutheran Church (1767 Plank Rd, Webster)

Midweek Services (6pm soup supper, 7pm evening prayer):
Week 1 (Mar. 8, BLC) – 10 Commandments
Week 2 (Mar. 15, BLC) – the Apostles’ Creed
Week 3 (Mar. 22, St. Martin) – the Lord’s Prayer
Week 4 (Mar. 29, St. Martin) – Baptism
Week 5 (Apr. 5, St. Martin) – Communion

Holy Week Services:

Maundy Thursday, April 13, 7pm at St. Martin (813 Bay Rd. Webster)

Good Friday, April 14, 7pm at Bethlehem

EASTER SERVICES:

8:30am at Bethlehem, breakfast to follow

10:30am at St. Martin, breakfast at 9am

Sermon: Choosing life in the law (Feb. 12, 2017)

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Text: Matthew 5:21-37, Deuteronomy 30:15-20

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us some pretty tough interpretations of the law, interpretations that convict every last one of us. Yet a closer look shows us that following the law as Jesus describes it does, in fact, bring life, just as Moses told us it would in his sermon centuries before to the Israelites. “Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live!”

Epiphany 6A (2.12.17)

Sermon: Salt and light in a world of difference (Feb. 5, 2017)

 

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Text: Matthew 5:13-20

Jesus promises us that we already are salt and light in the world. Yet in such a divided world, where our differences seem more pronounced than ever, we sometimes have different ideas of what it looks like to be salt and light. Our challenge, as Christ-followers, is finding a way to embrace what unites us, even as we use our different viewpoints and skills to bring God’s love to the world in whatever way we are able.

Epiphany 5A (2.5.17)