Lent 3 – Word of Hope

Last night at our midweek Lent service I read Isaiah 55:1-13, another of the required readings for the Easter Vigil Service. (Here are verses 10-13, “10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”)

 Snow and rain in Stanley, Idaho, Sept. 2017.

I then read a reflection on verses 10-13 and finally asked people to answer this question, What gives you hope?  Here is a sampling of responses:

People helping each other in need–food, shelter, visiting the sick, mentoring youth and others.

Hospitals–going to one everyday–I see how families receive hope from doctors and prayers.

In places like Trinity, all over the world, scattered but there.  God’s love….

In the everyday small acts of kindness and in the way people draw together in times of crisis or catastrophe.

That God loves us, sin and all. Every day is a treasure.

I see hope when high school students in Florida are willing to demonstrate for change that may improve their safety. And when women are brave enough to speak up about being assaulted or being treated unfairly.

The different agencies and individuals who help the homeless and people in need.

Refugee Community in Boise.

The snow covered mountains.

The miracle of a new born baby.

The kindness people show each other even if they don’t know each other very well.

We have kids in Florida that have taken a stand.

Experience hope in the miracle of medicine to heal cancer and other diseases.

In the establishment of families.

My children.

My neighbors.

New Food Pantry at Good News Community Church.

I see hope in the youth that are going to the ELCA Youth Gathering this summer and also the youth that have made a stand and are working for change in light of the school shooting.

Teachers being kind and helpful to their students.

Our grandchildren’ outlook.

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Exodus – Lent 2

Last night we continued our journey to the Easter Vigil by hearing the story of God delivering the Israelites from Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, ending with Prophet Miriam praising God with song and dance.

I shared a reflection by Princeton Professor Yolanda Pierce.

Then I asked people to reflect on a time when they had known God’s presence (or recognized it in hindsight).


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Creation – Lent 1

This year for our midweek Lent worship services, we at Trinity Lutheran in Nampa, Idaho are journeying towards the Easter by reading through the Easter Vigil texts. We began this week with the creation story from Genesis 1.

I read a devotion by Richard Rohr and then posed this question, “What difference does it make that God calls creation good?”  Here is a sampling of answers:

It is encouraging and uplifting, moves me forward rather than making me pause and wonder and look back.

That what was created by God is Good–We can make it bad.

Affirmation, comes to mind, of birth, death, resurrection, forgiveness of sin. It’s all good.

This is good is a positive statement and a direction

We need to have good in our lives to keep going.

Who would want to worship a creator who created “bad” stuff through violence!? One who uses love and goodness is worthy of being worshipped.

God’s goodness drives all things.

It makes all the difference in the world. With God we have good, we see good. Without Him we see only darkness.

It is freedom to be fully ones self, to be whole.

The alpha and omega.

Without the beginning, where would we be now.

A creation that is good is a reason to hope for good in the world and work for restoration of creation in the face of destruction.

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What Makes Me Happy at Trinity

A more accurate description would be, what gives me joy, but I have started listening to the podcast “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” which usually ends with a piece called “What’s Making Us Happy.”  So, in preparation for this coming Sunday’s annual meeting I have been thinking about what phrases make me happy when I hear them said by Trinity members and friends.  Here they are:

“It’s okay to let that [program/ministry] die.”  We trust that resurrection comes after death, not just on Easter.  Sometimes a ministry simply runs its course and that is okay. We are awake to how and where God might be doing the next thing.

“I love being the church with the garden and the houses.”  So, this may seem insignificant until you learn that Trinity New Hope affordable housing and Trinity Community Gardens have not existed without some pain and loss. I thank my predecessor pastors and past church leadership for helping create the congregational personality that allowed these two entities to begin and eventually thrive.

“Did you hear what [fill in the name of any toddler] said during worship?”  I am so happy that we embrace kids being part of worship life. They are not shushed or sent away. Adults understand their restlessness and want to be part of the village that helps raise them.  Kids at Trinity have lots of adopted aunts and uncles and grandparents.

“We could try this [program/ministry/music] for a season.”  The people of Trinity Lutheran seem open to just about anything.  One wise member looks around the room at the beginning of meetings to make sure some level headed people are present; her way of making sure we do not try something too outrageous. I am so thankful to one of my predecessors who introduced a wide variety of songs and liturgical settings at Trinity.  He fostered this culture of learning and growing and transforming.

“Thank you.” We have a very healthy habit of thanking people regularly.

“I love seeing the guests–every week there are guests!”  Yes, we should have guests.  Idaho has been named the fastest growing state (based on percentages) and a great deal of that growth is happening in Canyon County.  Even in 2018, with church attendance still declining nation-wide, it would be weird if new people were not visiting Trinity.  But I do not take for granted that the members and friends of Trinity will be excited about guests.

“Pastor, do you have any books about …?” I hauled many books from South Dakota to Iowa to Idaho and have purchased more in the last seven years. It makes me happy that we are a congregation full of life-long learners. I have loaned Biblical commentaries, history books by Pelikan, my biography of Bonhoeffer (the Schlingensiepen one), and many others.

“Sit here while we pray for you.”  I am a private introvert who likes to analyze and process and make sense of problems. Yes, I like the idea of prayer and I do pray, but people praying for me, aloud, with me still in the room, that is a growing area.  This is one of the most uncomfortable, destabilizing, humbling, awesome, life-giving phrases said to me by our parishioners.

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Baptism and Communion at Trinity

This coming Saturday I will be with worship students at Northwest Nazarene University, our local liberal arts school.  Professor Brent Peterson asked me to come and talk about Baptism and Communion.  I have spoken in several of Peterson’s classes and always regret not having a visual presentation of what we do with worship space at Trinity.  So this time I am creating this blog post and will encourage the students to access it during or after our conversation.

Welcome to Trinity!  That is our sanctuary on the left.

Usually our baptismal font is in the back of the sanctuary, as it was for this Reformation Sunday.

Sometimes, as we did on this Pentecost Sunday, we move the font into the narthex.

One summer we worshiped monthly out on the lawn. We replaced the Confession and Forgiveness with Remembrance of Baptism and poured water into the font until it overflowed.

On this Easter Sunday the font was up in the loft area so everyone could see the Baptisms.

Last year during Lent, we put the font in the loft as a way to remember that Lent is the time when many people journey to the baptismal font.  Each Sunday we added new physical items, corresponding to the lectionary texts, to the display.

Baptism is once and for all but we also have a service called Affirmation of Baptism, sometimes still referred to as Confirmation.  Here are three young people affirming their baptisms.

Sanctuary prepared for Easter Sunday!

Setting the Table for Holy Communion during the Season of Advent.

A few more examples of doing church outside.

Blessing of the Community Garden.

Ready for the Passion Sunday procession.


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The Florida Project and 2018

Steven Spielberg’s film The Post, not yet out here in the Phoenix area where I am spending a week of vacation, is being described as “not the best movie that came out all year, but it’s the one people need to see the most–as in, right now,” according to Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic and many others.

That may be, but as the security system of our country continues to slowly be shredded (read this for a story about how Meals on Wheels is being impacted right now), I think writer and director Sean Baker’s film The Florida Project may be the film to see as we prepare for 2018.  He follows the stories of residents of several cheap motels on the road to Disney World.  Specifically, we get a glimpse into the lives of Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her precocious daughter Moonee (an amazing Brooklyn Prince).  Willem Dafoe earned a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for his performance as the kind-hearted motel manager.  If you can see The Florida Project on the big screen (I saw it in a second run theater in Tempe) do it.  As my movie-going partner said, seeing it on the television screen would be too much like watching the news.  This heartbreaking feature at times felt like a documentary.  It’s brilliance is in its perspective.  How many stories about the vulnerable population of children get to be told by them?  As Trinity New Hope affordable housing, the nonprofit affiliated with Trinity Lutheran Church, continues to mature, we hope that we are truly seeing the children we are accompanying.

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The World is About to Turn

Thanks again to ELCA World Hunger for the Advent Series they wrote for 2017, inspired by Rory Cooney’s hymn Canticle of the Turning, an interpretation of Mary’s Magnificat.


We completed our mid-week Advent series Dec. 20 by hearing Howard Thurman’s reflection on Christmas:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuilt the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

People reflected on these questions: How can or has our Advent journey prepared us for “the work of Christmas” year-round?

The Advent journey has enabled me to connect with my congregation and have a fuller sense of spiritual connection.

Through the garden that provides food for the hungry.

Advent is to remind us of God’s love that we need to share with our neighbors and all those close to us.

We just need to be still and listen with our hearts.

By learning about Jesus; Sharing soup suppers with everyone; Preparing the food baskets; Fixing the baskets for Trinity New Hope; We need to remember that these things need to be done year-round.

Giving and care for those in need, hands prepared to help, willing to wait.

We are reminded we are God’s people and we are called to serve others.

The message of Advent calls us to action throughout the year, to be advocates for social justice where we live, worship, work and vote.

Advent stresses patient waiting—reminding us to keep working but to be patient until we see results.

Advent is a time of waiting in expectation of great things to come.  This reminds me to remain hopeful for the future and look for goodness in the world.

Working together as a family unit and by helping one another this world is turning!

I believe it brings the church members closer forming memories and relationships which help them go out and help the community.

To prepare our hearts and minds to remember the feeling we experience year-round.


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