June 20, 2021 (Commemoration of Emanuel 9)

On June 17, 2015, Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Lee Simmons, Sharonda Coleman- Singleton, and Myra Thompson were murdered by a self-professed white supremacist while they were gathered for Bible study and prayer at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (often referred to as Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina. Pastors Pinckney and Simmons were both graduates of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. A resolution to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance for the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine was adopted by the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on August 8, 2019. Congregations of the ELCA are encouraged reaffirm their commitment to repenting of the sins of racism and white supremacy which continue to plague this church, to venerate the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine, and to mark this day of penitence with study and prayer.

Prayer of the Day

O God of creation, eternal majesty, you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm. By your strength pilot us, by your power preserve us, by your wisdom instruct us, and by your hand protect us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1 Samuel 17:32-49

  32David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”
  38Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
  41The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord‘s and he will give you into our hand.”
  48When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Psalm 9:9-20

9You, O Lord, will be a refuge for | the oppressed,
  a refuge in | time of trouble.
10Those who know your name will put their | trust in you,
  for you never forsake those who seek | you, O Lord.
11Sing praise to the Lord who | dwells in Zion;
  proclaim to the peoples the things | God has done.
12The avenger of blood will re- | member them
  and will not forget the cry of | the afflicted. 
13Be gracious to | me, O Lord;
  see the misery I suffer from those who hate me, you that lift me up from the | gates of death;
14so that I may tell of all your praises and rejoice in | your salvation
  in the gates of the cit- | y of Zion.
15The nations have fallen into the | pit they dug;
  in the snare they set, their own | foot is caught.
16The Lord is revealed in | acts of justice;
  the wicked are trapped in the works of | their own hands. 
17The nations go down | to the grave,
  all the peoples | that forget God.
18For the needy shall not always | be forgotten,
  nor shall the hope of the poor be tak- | en away.
19Rise up, O Lord, let not mortals have the | upper hand;
  let the nations be | judged before you.
20Put them in | fear, O Lord;
  let the nations know they | are but mortal. 

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, 
 “At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
  and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
  11We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

Mark 4:35-41

35When evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove

We have this morning an iconic story from the gospels—Jesus calming the sea. How many of us remember portrayals of this story in children’s bibles or paintings in churches or art museums? This story may not have Jesus’ walking on water, that second sea-crossing will come two chapters later, but the story is still striking in its drama and power. What is really going on here?

First, Jesus and the disciples are not just going fishing. There is, in fact, an agenda. They are headed to the other side, to gentile territory. Jesus is not content to proclaim the reign of God only in his home region and to his own people. Healing, restoration, love, and life are for all people. The journey across the sea shows that his vision for the reign of God is vast. Jesus himself is not afraid of difference, of going beyond his comfort zone. Crossing boundaries is essential to his ministry.

The trip is launched at the end of Jesus’ first sermon. Jesus is in the boat when the storm arises, unconcerned, and in a moment of high drama, the terrified disciples scream at their dozing leader, “Master do you not care? We are dying.” Unaware of the purpose of their journey, they betray their fear and abandonment. Jesus silences this lack of faith as well as the storm itself.

Jesus rebukes the wind, reminding us of several verses from the Book of Psalms, “at your rebuke the waters fled” and “He rebuked the Red Sea.” In this story, the lake is now the great sea, which means all that comes with that name: chaos, threat, danger. Jesus’ rebuke of the sea sounds like his rebukes of unclean spirits, the demons, elsewhere in the gospel. The sea listens to him, as the unclean spirits did. 

His questions to the disciples may make us squirm, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Is Jesus really saying that if we have enough faith we can somehow transcend our animal brain chemistry? One commentator proposed that Jesus’ question is actually an invitation to reflect on where God is in the midst of storms. Is God immanent (present in a personal way) or transcendent (mighty, distant, powerful)? Maybe Jesus was inviting the disciples to reflect on what it means to be alive on the other side of a situation they thought would kill them. 

What we as a congregation are doing today, what our national church did on Thursday, the anniversary of the Emanuel Nine deaths, might very well feel like being on a stormy sea. To look back at Dylann Roof’s horrific actions, to know that he was part of an ELCA Lutheran congregation spurs us into further uncomfortable examination. None of it feels good.

African American Author Rozella Haydee White remembers, “I was working for my denomination [the ELCA] at the national headquarters, one year after Dylann Roof murdered nine Black people at Mother Emmanuel AME…The massacre rocked me to my core. Not only did this tragic event happen on the heels of years of killings of Black and brown people, it was perpetuated by a young white man who was affiliated with my denomination. 

“I was an outspoken leader in my denomination on issues of race and justice. I wrote about the massacre and how I felt being a Black member of a predominantly white denomination. I shared how my heart was broken after years of working toward racial justice and education, only to find that we were raising white young adults who had the power and desire to violently kill people who look like me.” 

The choppy sea we are traveling across, this reckoning with prejudice and systemic racism, did not start with Roof. They have a long history. Writer and farmer Wendell Berry invites his readers to imagine congregations full of slave owners and slaves from the point of view of the pulpit. 

“How, facing that mixture, and dependent on the white half of it for your livelihood, would you handle such a text as the Sermon on the Mount? …If a man wanted to remain a preacher he would have to honor that division in the minds of the congregation between earth and heaven, body and soul. His concern obviously had to be with things heavenly; unless he was a saint or a fool he would leave earthly things to the care of those who stood to benefit from them.” 

What was the result of this separation? Berry writes, “Thus the moral obligation was cleanly excerpted from the religion. The question of how best to live on earth, among one’s fellow creatures, was permitted to atrophy, and the churches devoted themselves exclusively and obsessively with the question of salvation.”

This is just one example of the church stepping out of conversations about earthly matters. Instead of dealing with the oppression to embodied Black people, the church made faith only with salvation, and salvation was only something that happened after our life on this earth. The church went further, in other instances, and actually helped foster the idea that white bodies are better than black or brown ones.

Have there been exceptions to this? Were there pastors and lay people who spoke out about slavery? Yes. Did Christians speak out about lynching of black bodies? Did people who proclaimed to follow Jesus protest the clan and other white supremacist groups. Of course and as we open up conversations about racism, we can turn to those prophetic figures. But they were not in the majority. 

There has always been so much fear about how life would change. What would our society look like if everyone really was treated equally? How would power shift if we acknowledged with actual resources the labor forced out of slaves and the land taken from indigenous people? What life would look like if we really did that work is a big unknown and for most people it is really frightening, maybe even more frightening than being out on the sea in a storm.

I have known for a long time that artists and theologians took this story and made the boat symbolic of the church, whose safety Jesus’ presence guarantees. The boat on the sea is the official symbol of the National Council of Churches. I thought, well that might work for Christians in countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith, but not here. But as our denomination and local congregation continue this work of reckoning with prejudice and racism, as we build relationships that can sustain conversations about prejudice and racism today, I find the symbol of the boat on the sea both helpful and hopeful. 

This miracle of Jesus calming the sea declares the claims God makes upon us. If we cannot sympathize with the disciples’ terror in the presence of a man who instantly calms a raging sea, perhaps we have become numb to the discomfort or danger that accompanies the notion of God’s visitation. 

In a 1928 Advent sermon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested that the tenderness of the Incarnation (God in human form) has left people unable to “feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.”  

Jesus quiets the forces that threaten chaos, makes the unclean clean, and restores the unacceptable to wholeness. These acts upend our cherished assumptions about order, security, autonomy, and fairness.  When God comes so near, we cannot hide. And we cannot push God away.

The fault with Jesus’ followers in the story of the stilling of the storm is the persistence of their fear. Jesus juxtaposes their fear with the desired response of faith.  Faith means a willingness to let God be God. The faith Jesus has in mind is both faith like his (enabling him to remain tranquil in the throes of a storm) and faith in him (relying upon his ability to save). Such faith cannot leave us unchanged. 

Such faith gives us tremendous hope.  We have all experienced, as individuals or as part of a community, times of tumult and grave tumult. We try to wake God up to take care of us.  At those times the text speaks to our condition. It pictures Jesus in the boat with the disciples, present with us and concerned for us even when we do not perceive his care.

Edward Hopper’s lyrics paint the picture for us: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me Over life’s tempestuous sea; Unkown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass come from thee.  Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”  

We do not know where he will pilot us, only that he will. We need this assurance, just as the disciples did, because we do not know what is on the other side of the sea. Mark’s story addressed a community of believers in Jesus Christ who, in the guise of the disciples, are challenged to trust Jesus more.  

They, the members of the early church, may also be challenged to “cross over” to the Gentile mission, despite the turmoil this Jesus movement stirred up in the early church. Remember that this storm and peace take place during a specific place: between Jesus’ ministry on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee and his first work in gentile territory.

Jesus’ influence broadens across traditional geographic, ethnic, and religious divides. God will continue to issue the early church to follow Jesus’ example and see outsiders as equal members of the body of Christ. This is not a new vision. Jesus takes his cue from the creation story in Genesis Chapter One, when God the Father is described creating human beings, all of them, in God’s very own image. We call this the Imago Dei, the image of God. It sounds great but living it out for every person can sometimes stir up fear and unrest, maybe even lead to violence. At the very least, God’s vision leads to discomfort.

However, and this is the however to hear today, we can be sure that Jesus will never leave us. He gave us the Holy Spirit who is with us still. Our storm might be caused by examining the church’s history of racism and dreaming of a future where people and systems recognize the image of God in every single person.  The storm might toss us to and fro. Jesus is the one gives power to rebuke and who ultimately brings peace.  

A Litany of Remembrance for the Emanuel Nine 

We join with Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in remembering the slain nine—the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the Rev. Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, and Ethel Lee Lance—and those who survived.  

We remember.  

We remember that they lovingly welcomed the stranger into a Wednesday-night bible study—they sang, they prayed, they gathered to study the word of God.  

We remember.  

We pray for the continual presence of God’s peace; may it comfort and surround the families of the nine who were slain.   

We remember.  

We pray for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, its senior bishop and episcopal leaders, the community of Charleston, and all who continue to grieve—trusting that God will continue to unite us in the work to end racism and white supremacy, so that we may be witnesses of Christian unity.  

We remember.  

We remember the legacy of the Rev. Pinckney and his fight for racial justice for his parishioners and his community. Let us not only be moved by emotion but also be moved toward action.   

We remember.  

We call the United States to remember and confront its history of racial injustice. We must not forget the crimes committed against humanity in the name of Christ: the land theft from and genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of black bodies that built this nation.  

We remember.  

We call this country to remember the policies and practices that excluded Chinese immigrants and that forced the internment of Japanese Americans.  

We remember.  

We call this country to remember the exploitation of migrant farm workers from Latin and Central America and the separation of families at the U.S. southern border.  

We remember.  

We remember the faith leaders whose lives are a living witness to black liberation and womanist theology in the struggle for black freedom: Bishop Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, Sojourner Truth, Denmark Vesey, Jehu Jones, Daniel Payne, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, James Cone, and Katie Cannon.    

We remember.  

We remember the unarmed innocent black lives lost at the hands of law enforcement: Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and many others, known and unknown.  

We remember.  

We remember the innocent, unarmed black bodies that were racially profiled, shot, and killed because whiteness stood its ground: Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Ahmaud Arbery, Renisha McBride, and many others, known and unknown.  

We remember.  

As we remember, Living God, may we be re-membered as your body, connected to one another and empowered for the work you call us to do in the name of Jesus and by the power of his renewing Spirit. 

Amen. 

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Thanksgiving for Night Sky

Originally posted on tvprays.org

Last week I spent a few days at Luther Heights Bible Camp, between Stanley and Ketchum, with a friend. We were there to contribute, specifically to lead staff training sessions. But there are always gifts received while at camp and this time was no different. On our second night, we stepped out of the cabin around 11 PM and took a stroll. The night sky was gorgeous. I remembered the times I came home to my parents’ house, west of Custer, SD, on college breaks. Having left the eternally grey skies of Moorhead, MN behind for a week or more, I would get out of the car and immediately look up into the clear starlit sky. I felt so much joy and comfort. During college summers, one of my favorite parts of leading backpack trips in Montana for junior and senior high youth was sleeping under the stars the last night of the trip. After college, I spent a year in Syracuse, NY working in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. My three roommates and I had a poster with memorable quotes from life together. One of the first Meggan quotes that went up was “Look, you guys. The stars are beautiful tonight.” My roommates (from Buffalo, Los Angeles, and Oakland) thought my suggestion was quite amusing, but I also got them to look up. 

“God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.” (Genesis 1:16)

“’Is not God high in the heavens? See the highest stars, how lofty they are!’” (Job 22:12)

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;” (Psalm 8:3)

I do not know what it is about the night sky that I love so much, perhaps because it is not one thing. It is beautiful. It allows for discovery—finding different constellations. It encourages observation—waiting for a shooting star. It demands awe and wonder—the speed of light combined with the age of stars. 

Somehow, the night sky can also invite deeper conversations. Laying in sleeping bags with a bunch of campers, we could suddenly talk about anything and everything. We all seem so insignificant under the twinkling dome, and the world stands still long enough for any question. And of course, there is the comfort that comes knowing that loved ones far away might look up and see the same stars. 

Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for the darkness of the night sky and for the twinkling stars. Thanks for wonder and awe and beauty. Thank you for conversations with earthly companions and knowing, even amid the vastness, that we belong to you. Amen.

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June 13, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, you are the tree of life, offering shelter to all the world. Graft us into yourself and nurture our growth, that we may bear your truth and love to those in need, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

1 Samuel 15:34–16:13

34Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
16:1The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
  6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord‘s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lordsaid, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 20

1May the Lord answer you in the | day of trouble,
  the name of the God of Ja- | cob defend you;
2send you help from the | sanctuary
  and strengthen you | out of Zion;
3may the Lord remember | all your offerings
  and accept | your burnt sacrifice;
4grant you your | heart’s desire
  and prosper | all your plans. 
5We will shout for joy at your victory and unfurl our banners in the name | of our God;
  may the Lord grant all | your requests.
6Now I know that the Lord gives victory to | the anointed one;
  God will answer out of the holy heaven, gaining victory with a | strong right hand. 
7Some trust in chariots and | some in horses,
  but we rely on the name of the | Lord our God.
8They collapse | and fall down,
  but we will arise | and stand upright.
9O Lord, give victory | to the king
  and answer us | when we call. 

2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17

6So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
  [11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. ] 14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
  16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Mark 4:26-34

26[Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
  30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
  33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove

In her article, “Religion after Pandemic” Diana Butler Bass proposes that we are experiencing four different kinds of dislocation: temporal, historical, physical, and relational. She suggests that religious communities need to be about the work of relocation. What does she mean? Finding what has been lost, repairing what has been broken, and re-grounding people into their own lives and communities. 

What does dislocation and relocation have to do with our passage from Mark’s gospel this morning? Perhaps Jesus’ first Kingdom of God parable about the seeds can help us think about temporal relocation. 

But first, let us reflect on our own temporal dislocation. How often have you thought: What day is it? Or, what time is it? Did I miss an event? What month are we in? All of those examples are about temporal dislocation. 

On the one hand, there may be aspects of time that we want to retain from pandemic life. Some of us may have found the slower speeds of the last eighteen months life-giving. We found, as if it was lost, time for walks, phone conversations, game nights with family, or picnics. 

On the other hand, some of us, especially the more social, felt like time crept along at a snail’s pace. Still others, teachers and healthcare workers, were busier than ever pivoting and keeping up with information and now are in need of a week at the beach or a big party.

I am working with the assumption that all of us, to some extent, need some recalibrating this summer. Though maybe it will take on different forms. What a gift then to live in a geographical climate with seasons, including a long growing season. This is where we turn to Jesus’ agricultural parable about the seed growing.

The parable of the seed growing secretly relates events we all understand.  Someone scatters seed on the ground, goes to sleep and rises daily, the seed sprouts and grows and the planter does not know how.  

People plant seeds and wait for them to grow. We don’t need to know or worry about the science of germination and photosynthesis. Assuming the environmental conditions are right, we can go about our lives and let nature do its job. 

However, it is also true that seeds do not instantly transform into mature plants. They grow. Jesus knows that part of the joy and anxiety of planting involves observing that growth. Any child who has planted beans in plastic cups can speak with enthusiasm about the anticipation reflected in verse 28, “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.”  

A few weeks ago, we had two trees planted at Trinity, a Spring/Snow non-fruit bearing Crabapple and a Sensation Maple. We will bless them during today’s worship service. Like vegetables or flowers, the trees will grow and we will observe their growth together. The natural world gives us both a way to mark time, but also a way to participate. 

At least for the first month, our trees will be watered weekly. For those of you with gardens or rows of flowers, how often do you water? How often do you pull weeds? Maybe you celebrate when you see buds or blossoms. 

A shoot gradually develops into a plant over time. Jesus’ parable this morning includes no discussion of weeds, frost or pests hindering growth—only relentless, certain progress toward the harvest. His point? The kingdom of God is coming.

The parable underscores the certain emergence of the fullness of God’s rule in our lives and our world. The parable instructs us toward patience and hope. The agricultural representation of God’s reign reminds us that God alone will bring it to pass.  

What I love about the parable of the seeds is that it tell us about God’s time while simultaneously nodding to the fact that we live in a world shaped by earthly time. Both are good for God created them both. We can live in patience for the fullness of time, God’s time. But God also created the sun and moon and stars, which help us keep time. God rested on the sabbath and commanded us to keep in holy. Some time is for work, some for worship and holy rest. 

I cannot prescribe for each one of you the best way to relocate yourselves temporally in this new time. Maybe you need just two minutes each day to drink your morning beverage and remind yourself what month and day it is. Or maybe you need to check in with a friend in another state each Saturday. Perhaps you need to journal a few lines of gratitude each Friday as the work week ends. Or you could need a walk on the Nampa Greenbelt to observe the changing seasons, or a drive through the country to watch the crops grow. 

The church has its own ways to mark time and help you relocate. Maybe singing the familiar hymns and sharing the Lord’s Supper will help you relocate yourself temporally. We will slowly be reading our way through several books of the Bible this summer: Mark’s Gospel, 2nd Corinthians, Ephesians, and also First and Second Samuel. Reading through any of these on your own could be a way to mark time and get just a little more grounded.

Remember that it is incredibly natural to feel a bit out of synch, temporally dislocated. Please continue to give yourself grace as you reach into the toolbox and experiment. Summer 2021 will hopefully offer ample opportunity for rest, reflection, and relocation. 

The good news, or great news, is that our parable confirms that we hope for a future promise that is based on both the past and present. Jesus has already described the beginning of his reign. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”  

Seeds have been planted and have germinated. They are growing, even now in our midst. Do we see them? A growing plant might look the same to us on consecutive days, yet it grows. We are called to discern signs of God’s fostering such growth in our midst. We will be better equipped to do this as we relocate ourselves in our present reality.

The final question we ask today is, do we have a role at all in God’s kingdom, in God’s time? Well, Jesus calls us to participate in his ministry. As Jesus’ disciples, we share in his ministry of proclaiming the reign of God. The fullness of our kingdom hope remains in the future, but we enact it, in part, in the present, through God’s power, following the contours of Jesus’ ministry as a model. This ministry attends to all aspects of human vitality, laid out in the visions of seeds planted and plants and shrubs growing.  

This is never clearer than in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  We are witnesses as the individual declares how he or she will live out the faith.  Together we welcome them into the Lord’s family saying, “We receive you as fellow members of the body of Christ, children of the same heavenly Father, and workers with us in the kingdom of God.”  

In one baptismal hymn we sing this welcome: “In the water and the witness, in the breaking of the bread, in the waiting arms of Jesus who is risen from the dead, God has made a new beginning from the ashes of our past; in the losing and the winning we hold fast.”  What will happen next? We cannot be sure. 

We come to the feast of bread and wine, marking time, and witness God’s gifts of life and forgiveness. We pray for God’s kingdom to come even as we know it is already here. Then we wait patiently, knowing that God is the one responsible for growing the kingdom. Because of this we have hope.

Prayers of Intercession

Let us come before the triune God in prayer.

A brief silence.Holy God, you plant the seeds of faith in every nation. Enliven your church, so that the good news of your grace may root and grow throughout the world. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Creator, even the trees, shrubs, and flowers delight in your goodness. From the depths of the soil to the highest mountain, bring forth new plants. Restore growth to places suffering drought. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Judge of nations, we pray for our leaders and those in power. Grant them the ability to regard those under their charge with humility, dedicating their lives in service to others. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Divine comforter, you show compassion to those in need and provide relief to those who call on you. Bless all who suffer, especially people trapped in cycles of poverty and homelessness. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Sovereign God, this house of worship belongs to you. We give thanks and pray for our church musician(s) (especially). We dedicate to you the joyful noise that comes from this place; the cries of children, the melody of voice and instruments, and the songs from our hearts. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Eternal God, we give thanks for our ancestors in the faith who are now at home with you (especially). We look forward to that day when we are reunited in your new creation. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We lift our prayers to you, O God, trusting in your abiding grace.Amen.

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Storytelling for City Council

A letter written to Nampa’s City Council, asking them to support a Conditional Use Permit for an affordable housing development. The Council denied the request for Copper Depot. Read the coverage of the 5-1 vote in our local newspaper.

May 27, 2021

Honorable Council Members,

My name is Meggan Manlove. I live at 11116 W. Mission Pointe Dr., Nampa. I am writing today in favor of the Conditional use Permit for Copper Depot.

I served for several years on the Mayor’s Bike/Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and I currently sit on the city’s Building and Site Design Standards Committee. I attended several open meetings for the Nampa Comprehensive Plan. The Plan supports Copper Depot because it promotes infill development and workforce housing. 

I know you are in a tough spot. I am one of the citizens who followed the entire legislative session, including the passing of HB 389 in just three days! On city staffer Matt Jamison’s recommendation, I listened to the recording of your special council meeting May 14. I know what is at stake. A development like Copper Depot does not pay for itself in the way that other projects might. 

I could try to pitch that stable housing for employees keeps money flowing through the local businesses they frequent. The residents will pay other local taxes that help our city. I could remind you that there was real fear about the neighborhood changing and home values decreasing when New Hope was built in the 1990s. Neither of those things happened. Trinity New Hope housing looks great today, and it helps real people.

Other people can make those arguments more persuasively. So here is my real pitch. At many community events, I hear leaders talking about our Christian values in Nampa. We are a city full of faith communities. Jesus taught in ways that often confused his followers, but he was crystal clear about the two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor. And in the parable that describes who exactly the neighbor is, the neighbor turns out to be the stranger, someone we have not even met. Jesus also had no qualms that institutions were supposed to be part of neighbor love and neighbor justice. It was not just the business of the synagogues. The state (Rome, Idaho, Nampa) had a responsibility. This stance did not go well for Jesus, you may remember. And yet, he is the guy many of us profess to follow.

I am hopeful that many other people will bring to the public hearing statistics and real stories that put a human face on workforce housing. My plea is one grounded in my own faith—let’s practice some neighbor love, not just with our words but with real actions and resources.

Pastor Meggan Manlove

Posted in Housing, Reflections | Tagged , | 1 Comment

June 6, 2021

Prayer of the Day

All-powerful God, in Jesus Christ you turned death into life and defeat into victory. Increase our faith and trust in him, that we may triumph over all evil in the strength of the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20

4All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
  10So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; … 16He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
  19But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Psalm 138

1I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with | my whole heart;
  before the gods I will | sing your praise.
2I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name, because of your steadfast | love and faithfulness;
  for you have glorified your name and your word a- | bove all things.
3When I called, you | answered me;
  you increased my | strength within me.
4All the rulers of the earth will praise | you, O Lord,
  when they have heard the words | of your mouth. R
5They will sing of the ways | of the Lord,
  that great is the glory | of the Lord.
6The Lord is high, yet cares | for the lowly,
  perceiving the haughty | from afar.
7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you | keep me safe;
  you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right | hand shall save me.
8You will make good your pur- | pose for me;
  O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the works | of your hands.

Mark 3:20-35

[Jesus went home;] 20and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and the disciples] could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
  28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
  31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

In her article, “Religion after Pandemic” Diana Butler Bass proposes that we are experiencing four different kinds of dislocation: temporal, historical, physical, and relational. She suggests that religious communities need to be about the work of relocation. What does she mean? Finding what has been lost, repairing what has been broken, and re-grounding people into their own lives and communities. In fact, this is the work our leadership is going to take on in earnest at our June church council meeting, but the work of relocation belongs to all of us.

What does dislocation and relocation have to do with our peculiar passage from Mark’s gospel this morning? Jesus’ words and actions early in his earthly ministry might provide an anecdote to the historical dislocation Bass describes. Bass writes, “We’ve lost our sense of where we are in the larger story of both our own lives and our communal stories. History has been disrupted. Where are we? Where are we going? The growth of conspiracy theories, the intensity of social media, political and religious ‘deconstructions’ these are signs of a culture seeking a meaningful story to frame their lives.

Jesus is certainly disrupting history, no doubt about that. That’s been clear ever since he came on the scene. But he is also so clear about what he is doing. It may seem, and does seem, to onlookers that he is all about destruction. And there is some deep truth to that. However, what Jesus is finally about is the reign of God, and that reign is about life. 

Our specific story this morning about Jesus is one that can make us feel a bit wobbly, particularly his words about family. And yet, as we will sing later, this story can also be our fortress as we find our footing in the days, months, and years ahead.

Up until now, Jesus’ life has been a whirlwind of one amazing event after another.  He is curing people of various diseases. He is casting out demons.  And he is teaching that the Kingdom of God is coming. And so, his fame and popularity are growing.  

When we pick up the story today, so many people are crowding around to see Jesus that it is difficult for them to eat. In other words, it’s so crazy that they can’t do the most basic task necessary to survive.

Imagine being one of Jesus’ siblings during this chaos.  Hear the dinner conversation. “Did you see how he healed that man? Our brother is amazing!”  “You go ahead and think that. I think that Jesus has gone mad.” “No, no, but I am worried about him.” “Why?” “He is going to get himself into all kinds of trouble.  The leaders are furious that Jesus is disrupting the status quo.”  “Yes.  And they are nervous because he is giving all sorts of people hope, hope that things as we know them will change forever.” “Maybe his power is going to his head.”  “No.  That wouldn’t happen to our brother. Still, we need to restrain him and bring him home safe.”

Coming from Jerusalem, the scribes were having a very different conversation. “Things have gotten way out of hand with this Jesus. Who does he think he is, casting out demons and healing outcasts?” “He is teaching, and preaching, and working wonders with a new kind of power.” “Yes, ordinary people are starting to believe that their lives might get better.” “I don’t like change.”  “It’s more than life simply changing. Do you know what will happen if people are allowed to hope, if they start to believe their lives will change?” 

For his part, Jesus won’t tolerate his opponents or his family. He interrupts them with more proclamations of God’s reign. It is breaking into the world.  The reign of God will bring hope and disruptions. God is going to have a family that reaches beyond bloodlines. It is a family that could include everyone—even those people, especially those, who do not look like they belong.

Jesus replies to the attacks on him by his family and scribes. He speaks about a house divided. The scribes have attributed Jesus’ power to cast out demons to being demon possessed himself. The scribes, according to Jesus, do not understand how households work. For a ruler to take up arms against himself would be the prelude to disaster. Divided households cannot survive. In fact, if Satan’s host is at war with itself, people should rejoice—for he has come to an end. 

Jesus offers the only reasonable interpretation of what is occurring. Someone has invaded the domain of the strong man, Satan, and that someone is the “stronger one” who John the Baptist preached about-Jesus. Satan is being deposed and his domain plundered. 

And then comes this question and answer. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  

In many ways, this powerful statement affirms the stance Trinity Lutheran has taken on partnerships and collaborations: if you are not harming people, if you want to partner on life-giving work like feeding and housing and peacemaking, let’s meet at the table and talk. Jesus is clear that bloodlines are not the most important thing, and denominational and religious lines are not of highest importance either. What is important is doing the will of Jesus’ Father. This is a great scripture passage to support partnering with all sorts of people. 

The clarity of Jesus is rare and worth noticing in this passage. He does not speak in parables or use a metaphor we have to untangle. He says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And yet, we do not know exactly what anyone in this crowd has done, and so our understanding of what it means to do “the will of God” is a bit sketchy. 

One scholar noted that it appears to involve sitting [Skinner]. What he meant was that the people sitting around Jesus, the crowd that surveys Jesus, is remarkable for being passive. They are patient. They are present. They are simply in the house with him. This simple presence is so inline, so consistent with Jesus’ other very clear command—follow me.

This does not mean that there are no other activities involved in doing the will of the Father. All four gospels help flesh out the life of discipleship. But simply, or profoundly, sticking around Jesus seems to be a significant part of kinship with Jesus, of being part of this new family, of being part of the reign of God. 

If Diana Butler Bass is right, and we are experiencing historical dislocation, then our story today is a compelling and life-giving story. My impulse, fostered by so much of the culture we exist in, is to produce and then produce more, to be excellent if not perfect, to try to change the world. 

In moderation and shared by a community, those impulses might be okay. But not checked, they can be downright damaging. The gospel today calls us to be grounded in Jesus’ himself, in God almighty incarnate, a human being. He is the one taking on the powers of the world, not me or you or our neighbor. Let me repeat that, Jesus is the one taking on the powers of the world, no one else.

How then, do we relocate ourselves in this particular story? In Jesus’ own words elsewhere, how do we abide in Jesus? Being here in worship is one answer. That’s difficult in this bridge time, while we rebuild the worship experience for our next chapter. Prayer, devotions, spending time with strangers as Jesus did, are all part of relocating ourselves in the Jesus narrative. 

Of course, faith is active in love and that love needs to ultimately be active in the world, in our daily lives, in the life of the church. But there is a difference between activity directed by the 24-hour news cycle, the latest on social media, all the competing narratives right now and activity directed by the story of Jesus. One feels like a field of slippery mud and the other is solid. There are other life-giving narratives, to be sure. But we are gathered in this place this morning because at least for this chapter of our lives, if not other chapters, we choose to trust the story of Jesus. We are sitting with him like that crowd, sticking with him, abiding in him.

To worship, prayer, spending time with strangers as Jesus did, we might add the story itself, as a way to sit with Jesus. Earlier this year, in a church newsletter column, I encouraged all of us to read the gospel of Mark straight through, advice I will admit to not following yet. My plan is to use my few days up at camp, helping with staff training, to read the shortest of the four gospels. This story has spoken to people for generations, transformed communities. Why would we expect that it is has lost its power? Maybe we can trust that, like past generations and saints gone before us, if we truly stick with Jesus and locate ourselves in his story, surprises will start to occur.  

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

Let us come before the triune God in prayer.

God of wholeness, we pray for believers all over the globe (global mission partners may be named). Unify us in service of the gospel, that we may work together as beloved siblings to share your love with all. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of the cosmos, we pray for creation; the gardens, waterways and creatures near to us and diverse forms of life that remain unseen. Teach us to treat the natural world with reverence, seeking restoration when human divisions have caused harm to your beloved creation. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of all people, we pray for harmony among the nations. Cast out from us unclean spirits of greed and fear, that we may work in solidarity with one another for the common good. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of abundance, we pray for those who are oppressed or in any need. Encourage those who have begun to lose heart. Strengthen and renew us with your Spirit. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of righteousness, we pray for this holy house of worship. Set our gaze upon things eternal, that in thanksgiving for your mercy, we may extend grace to more and more people. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God of the ages, in your goodness you have sent us faithful witnesses for every time and place. We give you thanks for those saints who now rest in your eternal mercy (especially). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We lift our prayers to you, O God, trusting in your abiding grace.Amen.

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May 30, 2021

With a link in the sermon to the song written about my dad.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Isaiah 6:1-8

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of the Lord’s robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above the Lord; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of the glory of the LORD.”
4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the Sovereign, the LORD of hosts!”

6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Word of God, word of life.
Thanks be to God. 

Psalm 29

1Ascribe to the | LORD, you gods,
ascribe to the LORD glo- | ry and strength.
2Ascribe to the LORD the glory | due God’s name;
worship the LORD in the beau- | ty of holiness.
3The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of | glory thunders;
the LORD is upon the | mighty waters.
4The voice of the LORD is a pow- | erful voice;
the voice of the LORD is a | voice of splendor.
5The voice of the LORD breaks the | cedar trees;
the LORD breaks the ce- | dars of Lebanon;
6the LORD makes Lebanon skip | like a calf,
and Mount Hermon like a | young wild ox.
7The voice | of the LORD
bursts forth in | lightning flashes.
8The voice of the LORD | shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilder- | ness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe and strips the | forests bare.
And in the temple of the LORD all are | crying, “Glory!”
10The LORD sits enthroned a- | bove the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king for- | evermore.
11O LORD, give strength | to your people;
give them, O LORD, the bless- | ings of peace.

Romans 8:12-17

12Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Christ.

John 3:1-17

1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish people. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the dominion of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the dominion of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The 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.” 9Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son-of-Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son-of-Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16“For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I feel extra pressure on Holy Trinity Sunday while serving a congregation with the same name, pressure to say something profound or beautiful about the Holy Trinity. But one of the gifts of the particular way we worship here at Trinity Lutheran is that not everything has to be done through the sermon. The prayers, the hymns, the scripture passages, and Holy Communion all help reveal who the Trinity is and what the Trinity does. That is good, because life circumstances drew me strongly to Nicodemus this week, in particular to his questions.


At my dad’s funeral at the end of December, we had the church in Arizona play a recording of a song written in honor of my dad about fifteen years ago. Dad was in the first group of elders in my hometown of Custer, South Dakota to be part of Elders’ Wisdom-Children’s Song. My dad spent a morning with a classroom of fifth grade students, telling them about his life, answering their questions. Then the children worked with a local musician and wrote a song about my dad. Dad’s song was titled “Questions I have asked on my way?” (Here is a LINK to the song).

Each verse begins with a question: Verse one: In this valley (the valley where I grew up west of Custer) where is God’s face? Verse two: How can we find equality? Verse three: Will the fighting ever end? Verse four: How can we all be together and belong? The questions collectively say a lot about my dad. But what always struck me is how those perceptive fifth graders picked up on my dad’s curiosity and humility. They had a World War II Veteran who loves sports and horses. But the thread the fifth grade students pulled was my dad’s big questions about life and community and God.

And it is these questions that tie us back to the main character in today’s gospel story—the Pharisee Nicodemus who comes to Jesus under the cover of night to ask his own questions. It is way too easy to mock the Pharisee Nicodemus for misunderstanding Jesus, thinking we have to somehow all crawl back up into our mother’s wombs. He sounds a bit silly in his misunderstanding. But I think we do well to admire this questioner who becomes a follower of Jesus. Yes, he comes by night so as not to be seen, but he will not be kept away. His curiosity about God, for reasons we never learn, has been heightened. He does not presume to have all the answers about faith. He seeks out Jesus and he will not be deterred from his questions. 

How refreshing, what a tonic for the certainty about God and whose side God is on or what God’s will is, which seems so pervasive today. It seems so abundant whether you are reading the opinion section of the newspaper, listening to the radio, or reading an email from your aunt Elizabeth. Certainty about God abounds.

That is not how I was raised. I am comfortable standing here affirming that God is a God of love and healing. I am also confident declaring God’s preferential treatment for the poor and outcast. I love so many of the stories we read in scripture, and I equally love stories of people trying to follow Jesus. But certainty about the rest of God is harder to come by in my soul.

In part, that is because one other thing I have some confidence about is that faith is a journey, as tired as that metaphor may sound. To give at least a little time to the Trinity we are celebrating today, I will admit that there were times I found the Trinity intriguing, periods when I thought it was too confusing to bother with, later one of the best gifts of Christianity, and still later something best just to confess rather than ever explain. And there are many aspects of faith, of being a disciple, that have shifted and moved, and grown or shrunk in my nearly 45 years.

That is another thing I love about Nicodemus—his journey and transformation. John Chapter Three is certainly his most prominent scene in the gospel, but it is not his only appearance. Near the end of chapter seven, Nicodemus reminds his colleagues that, according to the law, they should not judge Jesus before giving him a trial. This gets him rebuked. Nicodemus makes his third and final appearance after Jesus’ crucifixion. He accompanies Joseph of Arimathea to collect, anoint, and bury the body of Jesus. With this action, Nicodemus declares his allegiance to one who had just been executed for a capital offense. 

There are other disciples whose faith we get to see transform, but Nicodemus, who starts with so many questions, resonates with me during this season. First, he brings questions and is confused. He later invites others to slow down in their judgment. He finally risks publicly honoring the one just executed. Faith takes time.  

This morning, I have hope both in Nicodemus’ beginnings as a disciple, along with his growth. It all takes time, and that appears to be just fine with God. This is perhaps where our greatest hope can be found—God’s faithfulness through this whole journey, and presumably through our journeys of faith as well. 

It is okay to have questions. My dad always assured me that questions revealed that my faith was active and alive. It is okay to feel like you have taken a few steps forward and then a step back. Things might look clear to your friend but blurry to you. That does not mean your faith is less than. 

I would say that being curious about our faith in God might lend itself to curiosity about the world God created. And that curiosity about one another and the natural world can lead to the empathy and compassion Jesus commands over and over. We have talked a great deal this past year about neighbor love, how that is the calling that unites everyone who follows Jesus. Just as questions and curiosity can reveal an alive faith, maybe questions and curiosity about the stranger can reveal neighbor love. That’s true, of course, only if the curiosity eventually leads to empathy, compassion, and action.

That work can feel daunting, even overwhelming. We do well to remember we are never along. The deepest hope for me comes in God’s faithfulness through all of the questions and blurriness. God continues to give mercy and healing. God is patient. And God’s love endures forever.

Today we celebrate the God who created the world, the God who liberated the Chosen People from slavery in Egypt. We celebrate the God who loved the world so much that he took on human form and was laid in a humble manger in Bethlehem. The reign of God Jesus preached and lived led to his death on the cross, but the tomb could not hold in this God of love and life. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit shows up this many years later in our worship and in our lives. God keeps creating, redeeming, and sustaining today. 

The Triune God is on a journey too. That may feel unsettling, as if it takes away from God’s immanence. But I do not think so. God’s journey reveals only a deep transcendence, an ability to be in relationship with creation.

I am going to leave you with one of my favorite quotes about the Trinity, which I think sums up so much of Nicodemus’ journey and our own relationship with the Trinity. Here are some words from Jurgen Moltmann: “God is not only other-worldly but also this-worldly; he is not only God, but also man; he is not only rule, authority and law but the event of suffering, liberating love. Conversely, the death of the Son is not the ‘death of God’, but the beginning of that God event in which the life-giving spirit of love emerges from the death of the Son and the grief of the Father.”

Prayers of Intercession

Let us come before the triune God in prayer.

A brief silence.We pray, O God, for your holy church around the world. Revitalize and renew us, that we may be reborn once again through the waters of baptism and the blowing wind of your Spirit. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We give you thanks for your power revealed to us in creation; for cedar and oak trees, for rushing waters, for the echoes of thunder. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for the nations and our leaders, that led by your Spirit, they work towards a world where all of your children enjoy peace. We pray especially for (nations currently experiencing war or turmoil may be named). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for healing for all those who suffer, especially victims and survivors of trauma or violence. Give respite to those living with PTSD or any other mental health concerns. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for this worshiping community (congregation/community may be named), that the splendor of your majesty and the holiness of your mystery may be glorified through our worship and our relationships with one another. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.We give you thanks, O God, for those who have died in the faith (especially). We remember also those whose lives have been lost due to the horrors of war. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We lift our prayers to you, O God, trusting in your abiding grace.Amen.

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Grant Writing as Storytelling

I realized the other day that one reason I do not have quite as much free time for creative writing is because I have done so much other writing the past eighteen months. The bulk of the writing has been communicating with my congregation, but some of it has been grant writing. Lutheran Disaster Response decided to disburse COVID relief funds through the synods. In 2020, I wrote a grant to help four Trinity New Hope families who had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Later, I wrote a grant for direct assistance for the Nampa schools Family Community Resource Centers (including the one at neighboring West Middle School). But the proposal for this last grant cycle may have been the most out-of-the box. Here is the narrative portion:

Description of Ministry/Project and goals: type of program and how long has it been in existence, who are your community ministry partners, how many paid staff and volunteers, where located/housed, etc.

Trinity Lutheran Church, and our affiliated nonprofit Trinity New Hope affordable housing, are applying for funds for the Region 3 Housing Coalition (“the Coalition”). The Coalition serves as the Idaho Homeless Coordinating Committee for Southwest Idaho, except Ada County, (Adams, Boise, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Valley, and Washington Counties). 

The Coalition has existed for many years under the Treasure Valley Community Resource Center (TVCRC). 

In fall 2019 we moved out from under the TVCRC because of someone stepping down from leadership. We elected a great new chair, Natalie Sandoval (Homeless Education Liaison, Nampa School District) who led us through Zoom meetings beginning in March 2020. In May 2021 we resumed in-person meetings. 

In 2020 we adopted four focus areas: Network Improvement, Community Engagement, Resource Development, and Participant Experience. Website/Social Media Presence, the focus of this proposal, falls under Community Engagement.

How many people or families are being served and how many more are estimated being served due to impacts of Covid-19; what demographic groups does it reach? (ethnicity, family stats, income level, at-risk or vulnerable groups, etc.)

I honestly do not know how to answer this question. The Coalition currently includes the following: CATCH, Jesse Tree, Trinity New Hope, Salvation Army of Nampa, Hope’s Door, WICAP, Valley Women’s and Children’s Shelter, Catholic Charities of Idaho, Nampa Family Justice Center, Advocates Against Family Violence, the VA and several school districts. Collectively we serve thousands of families annually. The goal of this grant proposal is not necessarily to impact more people, although that could happen, but to impact them more effectively by being even less siloed. 

Describe any hardships that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused for your ministry, congregation, volunteers and community members? 

From Natalie Sandoval, “during COVID, families that were already experiencing homelessness were even more limited with shelter options.  Friends and family who may have let them stay with them were fearful to do that.  Families that were living out of their cars were much more vulnerable to getting COVID due to not having basic needs met.  Shelters were scrambling on how to keep people safe within the shelter system which initially caused some people to go without shelter.”

Consider also this data from Idaho Housing and Finance Association (IHFA): 

What the “Out of Reach” report says about Idaho: There is a shortage of rental homes that are affordable and available to extremely low-income Idaho households whose incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or 30% of the area median income. Many of these households are severely cost-burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing. Severely cost-burdened and poor households are more likely than other renters to sacrifice other necessities like healthy food and healthcare to pay the rent and to experience unstable housing situations like evictions.

What the ALICE data says about Idaho: In 2018 (the most recent study), 40% of Idaho households struggled to make ends meet. While 12% of these households were living below the Federal Poverty Level, another 28% were ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed

What HUD’s Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) data says about Idaho: Only half of the state’s rental units are affordable (30% of monthly income) to Idaho residents. There are more than 41,000 renter households that are housing cost-burdened. The largest group is those earning 0-30% of the Area Median Income. There are nearly 52,000 homeowner households who are housing cost-burdened.

An Idahoan working at minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) has to work 72 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom rental home at HUD’s monthly Fair Market Rent ($680), according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

The Treasure Valley of Idaho was already experiencing a housing crisis before the pandemic. Federal Cares funds have helped many people but what we talk about at every Coalition meeting is, what happens when those funds run out and moratoriums on evictions end? The median home price in Canyon County, home of Trinity New Hope, is now $410,000 and a three-bedroom rental in Nampa ranges from $1,600 to $2,300, if you can find one. 

How is this ministry/program being funded presently? (Include information on current and anticipated funding needs for staff time, supplies, building, other operations)

We receive funds through IHFA based on the annual Point in Time Count for our region. Point in Time is the statewide event in which we try to count the homeless population across the state on one day each year.

How will grant funds be used to achieve your goals?

We have never had a fully operational website to tell the story of homelessness in Region 3 to the larger community. We had only one page on the TVCRC website. To begin with, we will need  Home Page, Who We Are Page, Get Involved Page, Education/Data Page, link to an email, link to Facebook page, and a Donate button. We would someday strive to have something like Ada County (Region 7): https://www.homelesscoalitionboise.com. We will pay a web designer $750 ($25 for 30 hours) to build the website. We will then use funds from Point in Time Funds to maintain the website. [We will be awarded $1000 for this project–got the news May 28.]

What measures will this ministry/program use to evaluate success and/or results?  

We will measure visits to the sites. We will survey Coalition members for feedback as we finetune it. We will watch for how quickly the new website and our monthly meetings lead us to better advocacy in our cities and counties (for example, mobilizing for council and planning and zoning meetings). The ultimate success will be when our network helps bring about more joint private/public housing solutions, like the existing Our Path in Boise or upcoming Canyon Terrace in Nampa.

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More Neighbor Love

Pastor’s Column in Trinity’s June 2021 Epistle

Dear Friends in Christ,

I received my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in February (I was eligible because I help distribute food through The Traveling Table, a partner of our garden). I felt relieved and grateful and humbled. My chances of hospitalization due to COVID were drastically decreased and I felt just slightly freer. As I write this, I am preparing to get on a plane and meet my mom in California. I cannot wait to give her a big hug.

How receiving the vaccine would impact my relatively healthy 44-year-old body was not my only reason for getting vaccinated. It was important to do as a community member. This is always how vaccines work. When enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, the virus cannot travel as easily, and the entire community is protected. That means even people who cannot get vaccinated, for various medical reasons, will have some protection from getting sick. 

I will readily admit that prioritizing the common good is quite rare these days. It is also true that each one of us must decide what is best for our own health and bodies. And yet, the truth is that we need each other right now. I need you and you need me to what is best for all of us. Our individual futures depend heavily on how we love one another. 

From the beginning, our leadership has been guided by the biblical concept of neighbor love, and that is true still today. Jesus, when asked about the greatest commandment, said it was “to love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Then he added, “And love your neighbor as yourself.” Sometimes the neighbor is our actual next-door neighbor. Often, according to Jesus, it is the stranger, maybe someone who is quite different. Neighbor love is rarely easy. But we love our neighbor because it gives life and joy. The goal is abundant life for everyone, a reflection of God’s love for the world.

Inside this Epistle, you will read the stories of a few other Trinity members who are loving their neighbor by helping others get vaccinated. Each of us brings a unique perspective. I hope you will see in their words and actions the presence of Christ as I do.

The Holy Spirit, who the church celebrated on Pentecost, is with us, loving and guiding us to a better future. Together. 

Peace, 

Pastor Meggan

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Gardens and Lutherans Restoring Creation

Last Wednesday I was part of a Connections Call hosted by Lutherans Restoring Creation. The other panelists represented gardens/prairies on Chicago’s Southside and Madison, Wisconsin. The stories were remarkable and I was honored to be on the panel.

Follow this link to get to the recording of the Connections Call: https://lutheransrestoringcreation.org/church-soil/

What follows is what I shared during my time, the story of Trinity Community Gardens in Nampa, Idaho. Trinity Community Gardens Inc (TCGI) was founded in the spring of 2008 by three master gardeners (Paulette Blaseg from St. Paul’s Catholic Church and Dale and Sheila Anderson from Trinity Lutheran). From the beginning, they were very clear about their mission: grow healthy produce and help others grow produce. Community partnerships were also key. My predecessor, Pastor Wendell, encouraged them to create their own nonprofit and put the home garden plot on the church’s front yard, so the partnership with the congregation was primary. 

When I began at Trinity, the other key partners were Job Corps, the SILD (sheriff inmate labor detail), and the University of Idaho Extension’s Canyon County office. Later, Job Corps built its own garden, so we lost those volunteers. Funding for the SILD crew has gone up and down. 

Extension Horticulturalist Ariel Agenbroad taught her six-week Victory Garden series in Trinity’s fellowship hall. This inspired our gardeners to start their own two-day Gardening Workshop. A student collected all the materials from the first classes and suggested compiling a book. We received a grant from the Idaho Episcopal Foundation and published a Spanish/English version of Growing to Feed Many

The gardeners have often recruited labor for gleaning local vegetable fields. I asked Ariel one day if there were a recipe book we might distribute with the produce, so people would easily know what to do with so much cabbage and kale. She did not know of such a resource, so I suggested an ELCA Domestic Hunger Grant. Ariel encouraged me to talk to her colleague Joey, a food preservation educator. We added hands on food preservation workshops to the grant. 

Ariel also encouraged her master gardener students to complete some of their required hours at TCGI. When Ariel moved to Ada County to work with small farms, I was seriously worried. Her successor had other ideas about volunteer hours. Then, in December 2014, Dale died at age 57. Dale had been on disability since TCGI’s founding and had donated countless mental and physical hours to the garden. I wondered what Paulette and Sheila, both still working full-time, would do. They stayed focused on growing produce, teaching classes, and fostering partnerships.

The relationship with Trinity Lutheran remained steady, in part because the garden’s home plot was a physical reminder of the church-garden relationship. In 2014, 2015, and 2018 we helped organize a Nampa spring blessing of the gardens tour. This helped nurture the connection with the congregation. 

In 2019, Sheila let us know that the following year she would be moving to Oregon to be near her kids and grandchildren. Paulette was planning her retirement. What was her commitment? I wondered again what would happen to the garden.

Meanwhile, a new horticulturalist, Nic Usabel, came to Canyon County. Paulette and I both made a point to meet him. Then in February 2020, Lindsey Rhoades, the coordinator of neighboring West Middle School’s 21st Century Club made an appointment with me. We brainstormed lots of ideas and, in a conversation about gardens, I encouraged her to connect with Nic about the Junior Master Gardener program. 

A few months later, Kathleen Tuck, the coordinator of LDS volunteers in West Nampa, wanted to meet with me. We sat under a tree in front of the church and talked about various projects. I mentioned that Paulette was trying to get a crew together, in the fall, to replace some of the oldest raised beds in the home garden plot.

In October, Kathleen followed through and brought a small but dedicated crew to pull out the old beds and replace them. It was not until I started pulling out the rotten wood that I truly understood what had happened and how real the need was. In January, Lindsey asked to meet with me again. Nic had trained a whole group of Junior Master Gardeners at West Middle School and they wanted to practice their skills. Could TCGI utilize these volunteers? I connected Lindsey and Paulette and the youth are volunteering weekly this spring. Paulette, like Dale, is an enthusiastic teacher and gardening mentor. 

One of the first community-wide meetings I attended in Nampa, back in 2011, was for a High Five Grant the city received from the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation. TCGI had been part of writing the proposal, hoping to start refrigerated mobile food produce in different parts of Nampa. After hours of meetings, piles of post-it notes, and politics that I never inquired about, mobile food produce did not make the cut for final grant implementation. 

But a few years later, a group of citizens started talking in earnest about food access in different pockets of Nampa. I still remember where I was standing in my house when retired nurse Pam Peterson called and invited me to a grass roots meeting. Jean Mutchie’s then 10-year-old daughter had an idea for mobile food produce and the idea started getting some real traction. The Traveling Table was launched in partnership with Treasure Valley Leadership Academy, the Idaho Foodbank, Good News Food Pantry, TCGI and other partners in January 2019. When I volunteered last Wednesday, I was told that the refrigerated truck has finally been purchased. 

I do not know how or when the story of Trinity Community Gardens will end but I think some lessons can be gleaned from its history. As we all help pivot organizations to the new normal, we will do well to be clear about our mission, look for new partners, and know that our timeline may not be the same as the Holy Spirit’s.

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May 16, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Gracious and glorious God, you have chosen us as your own, and by the powerful name of Christ you protect us from evil. By your Spirit transform us and your beloved world, that we may find our joy in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty persons) and said, 16“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus—17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.

21“So one of the men who have accompanied us during the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when Jesus was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Psalm 1

1Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel | of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats | of the scornful!
2Their delight is in the law | of the LORD,
and they meditate on God’s teaching | day and night.
3They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season,
with leaves that | do not wither;
everything they | do shall prosper.
4It is not so | with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind | blows away.
5Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when | judgment comes,
nor the sinner in the council | of the righteous.
6For the LORD knows the way | of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked shall | be destroyed.

1 John 5:9-13

9If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that God has testified to the Son. 10Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made God a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning the Son. 11And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in the Son of God. 12Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

John 17:6-19

[Jesus prayed:] 6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they may be sanctified in truth.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

There is much in today’s passage from Acts that speaks to our current world. The verses show the church struggling with the what, why, and how of communal life when Jesus’ body is no longer present. How did those following Jesus arrive at this moment? Let’s begin with a little review.

The story of the early Christian church begins with Jesus’ charge to the disciples.  Jesus ordered them to wait in Jerusalem until they had received power from the Holy Spirit.  He appeared to them in the upper room and said, “You are to be my witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” clothed, that is, with the Holy Spirit.

The power of the Spirit would empower them to be witnesses to the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Next comes Jesus’ ascension, which the church celebrated Thursday. We read, “Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.”  Then the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  Pentecost is on the horizon still. And that is where we find them today.  

The disciples returned to an upper room in Jerusalem. There, the disciples and the women with them devoted themselves to prayer. Peter stood up to announce that it was necessary, according to Holy Scripture, to appoint a disciple in place of Judas.  

He says, “one of these must become a witness with us to [Jesus’] resurrection.” This activity of witnessing is going to be as central to the life of the disciples and Christian community as the imperative to love. The role of the early church is to live into this “witness” vocation, even at the cost of its life. Everything, including replacing Judas, is about the urgent need to be witnesses to Jesus’ risen and ascended being. 


There is some criteria. Peter says, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.”  Two men are nominated: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. 

We think back to childhood days when we would pick sides for a team by “drawing straws.” That’s what I think of when I read that the disciples “cast lots.”  What kind of a method is this? Well, casting lots was not viewed as a haphazard process in biblical times.  Rather, it had a respectable history in Hebrew lore. And remember, the two nominees both fit the criteria—they both had accompanied Jesus during his ministry. 

We have no knowledge of whether or not casting lots was a practice in the early church. One thing is clear. This method facilitated a decision that was in accordance with the will of God for the mission of the church.

This event in the early Christian church addresses one of the most universal tasks we face: discernment.  Discernment in a community is no easy thing, but this passage gives us a picture of a particular community doing that brave, provisional work in another fraught time.

The community in Acts 1 leans into its trust of God’s goodness. They search the scriptures, and they commit to communal practices of prayer. They acknowledge their limits and decide on a method for moving forward. The imperative to “witness” remains central. Then they cast lots, which one scholar said was a reframing of the lots cast for Jesus’ clothing, an act meant to humiliate, with lots cast to strengthen the witness of Jesus’ disciples. 

What does this old old story mean for our discernment today? To follow the example of the early church is not to commit to a rigid practice of decision making or a particular structure. Instead, it is to recognize our own need to lean on divine guidance, to trust God’s ability to speak, and to faithfully act in response.   

This can be anguishing.  Often, we start with the worst, anticipating what will happen if we discern incorrectly.  Will we end up hurting the people around us—friends, family, colleagues?  Will we live in misery?  Will we know that we have disappointed God and how will that feel?  How do we know that what we want is God’s will?  Or, maybe it is, maybe in certain circumstances God’s will is the same as what we want.

We know the framework of God’s will for our lives in this world: we are called to love God and to love our neighbor. He says this pretty clearly when the lawyer asks him which commandment in the law is the greatest.  Jesus says, “’you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’…and a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-40).  

All the decisions we make about our lives ought to be framed within these two great commandments. Our lives are not our own to do with as we please. We are called to love God by loving our neighbor. This is the framework in which our lives ought to be lived.  Imagine is everyone who confesses Jesus is Lord were to discern with those commandments in mind.  

We also know we live our lives under the canopy of God’s forgiving love.  This is an extremely important reality.  I do not believe that God’s specific will for our life is revealed to many of us. As the Apostle Paul writes, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). 

We can pray and pray for God’s specific will to be revealed to us. But few of us will have our prayers answered. And so, as Martin Luther advised, we will have to choose boldly our path. We don’t often know for certain which is the right path.  We make a decision, we take a deep breath, and then we sign the letter or make the phone call and then we tell our friends and family.  

Finally, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  In Romans 8:28 we read, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God…” God is at work in the midst of our decisions.

Matthias is called. That is now clear, but he is called to the same upper room with  the other one hundred and twenty, with men and women he probably knows very well. He is called to one work, pray and wait, wait and pray. Like the others, he will wait for the Holy Spirit to come and the Spirit to speak and then he will know what he must do with the others for the sake of Jesus.

Another scholar supposes that “whatever ideas of leadership Peter and the other apostles were imagining; they could not anticipate what God was about to do. A common thing, a selection process, has been placed in an extraordinary setting, in the upper room before Pentecost. From this moment forward every common thing of the disciples of Jesus… exists in the posture of waiting and stands in the shadow cast by the Holy Spirit and within the necessary work of prayer.”

To me this is an incredibly helpful reminder and corrective to what is often my first response right now—to plan and do and create and produce. We have been through, are still experiencing, something really big as a global community, a country, a city, a congregation. It is so easy to want to just accelerate again. Now, I am super excited that we as a church community have some multigenerational events on the calendar. It is so good to connect and reconnect with people, to talk about anything from the weather to summer plans. And nurturing relationships is part of our journey of faith. 

But like the disciples turned apostles who had just watched Jesus’ ascension, we are also called to prayer and reflection. It can be hard to do those things on our own. What in our current context encourages ten minutes of silent prayer each day? So, we might need to make some space for prayer and reflection, even some silence, as a community. We too need time to remember what precisely we are called to witness. We too need space for deep and intentional discernment for our individual and communal lives. We too need to be reminded that God is with us. The Holy Spirit is among us still.

Prayer of Intercession (from ELCA Worship in the Home)

On this seventh Sunday of Easter, let us pray for all who are in need, responding to each petition with the words “Give us life in your name.”

A brief silence.

For the church we pray, O God: that you raise up the next generation of pastors, deacons, and musicians to serve your people; that you protect believers wherever danger threatens; and that you grant Christians a spirit of unity with all the baptized.

Hear us, God, holy father.
Give us life in your name. 

For the earth we pray: that you safeguard the trees and all streams of water; that you preserve the ice at the north and south poles; and that you instruct us in repairing what in your creation we have broken.

Hear us, God, plenteous giver.
Give us life in your name. 

For peace and justice, we pray: that leaders of nations act with integrity in their decisions; that the poor be respected and supported; that prejudice against people of different color or language or ethnicity be ended; and that our government use wisely the tax money it gathers.

Hear us, God, righteous ruler.
Give us life in your name. 

For families, we pray: that families under any stress be strengthened; that immigrant families find acceptance in their new home; that people forced to live away from their families be comforted; and that family members increase in forbearance with one another.

Hear us, God, bond of blessing.
Give us life in your name. 

For all the sick and suffering, we pray: that you give medical care to all with COVID; that you visit with compassion the people of India; that you sustain those with life-long disability; and that you embrace those we name before you. . . .

Hear us, God, physician and nurse.
Give us life in your name. 

For all graduates, we pray, that opportunities for appropriate employment or further education be open to them. For all who cannot benefit from such schooling, especially for women where their education is forbidden, we pray, that you show them a worthy way forward.

Hear us, God, teacher of truth.
Give us life in your name. 

For ourselves we pray, that despite sorrow or setbacks, we yield the fruitfulness that you intend from us; and that you receive the prayers of our hearts.

Hear us, God, source of peace.
Give us life in your name. 

For all who have died in the faith of Christ, we praise you. For Erik of Sweden and for Queen Helena, we thank you. That at our end we join with all the saints in your eternal presence,

Hear us, God, life everlasting.
Give us life in your name. 

In the joy of the resurrection, in hope for the gift of your Spirit, we raise these prayers to you, trusting in your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.  

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