Lent – March 18

Wednesday night, March 18, we encourage all members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Nampa to pray this devotional at 7pm. You may wish to light a candle as a way of inviting the light of Christ into your sacred space.

Our theme for midweek Lent evening prayer is Open our Lives.

Photograph by Trinity member Mary Braudrick

March 4 was “Open our Eyes.”

March 11 was “Open our [thoroughly washed] Hands.”

March 18 is “Open our Ears.”

Psalm 141 (Song of Forgiveness and Protection)

1 I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me;
give ear to my voice when I call to you.
2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.

3 Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
4 Do not turn my heart to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with those who work iniquity;
do not let me eat of their delicacies.

5 Let the righteous strike me;
let the faithful correct me.
Never let the oil of the wicked anoint my head,
for my prayer is continually
against their wicked deeds.
6 When they are given over to those who shall condemn them,
then they shall learn that my words were pleasant.
7 Like a rock that one breaks apart and shatters on the land,
so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.

8 But my eyes are turned towards you, O God, my Lord;
in you I seek refuge; do not leave me defenceless.
9 Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me,
and from the snares of evildoers.
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I alone escape.

Litany (Sundays and Seasons)

As children, we hear: Don’t touch! Slow down!

As teenagers, we hear: Your curfew begins in an hour.

As adults, we hear: Cash or credit?

In the water and the word, we hear: You are loved, my precious child.

Prayer (Sundays and Seasons): Open our ears, Lord, to heed your will for our lives. Help us not only to hear, but to listen and understand with our hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Readings

Isaiah 50:4-5

Matthew 13:10-17

Time for Listening (Two Options)

You are invited to participate in one or both of these:

Step outside and listen to the evening sounds. What do you hear? How is God present in the sounds you hear?

Most of us are now a few days into practicing physical distancing in an attempt to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus. We are attempting to “Flatten the Curve.” We are going to be creating and sustaining community in a new way. What might we be building? This recording of a song from the musical Godspell provides some hope and vision:

Prayer

O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works: give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments; and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God forever. Amen. (ELW p. 317)

 

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.
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St Patrick’s Day

Eight months ago, my friend Joy and I hiked past Patrick’s Mountain. It was our last official day of hiking. We ended the hike in the beautiful town of Westport, in County Mayo. Who could have imagined that I would be spending St.Patrick’s Day 2020 on the phone and in multiple Zoom meetings talking about how to do ministry during the time of COVID-19. I love being outdoors, feeling the sun and wind on my face and earth under my feet. Today I am giving thanks that I can still do those things, even if Patrick’s Mountain is not in view.

Does Patrick have anything helpful to say to us today? Here are the famous words from his breastplate:

What exactly does it mean? Does it mean that we can do whatever we want and God will take care of us? No, I do not think so. God has gifted each of us with abilities, relationships, and information. Putting all of those together, hopefully we can glean some collective wisdom. We are meant to steward those resources to the best of our abilities, knowing that God journeys with us. Every time a parishioner asks, “Now, how are you doing pastor?” I assume they actually care and are not just being polite. I take the opportunity to be accountable to keeping myself healthy so I can continue to lead well. Occasionally I take the opportunity to share the load. We are all doing the best we can right now. A colleague posted this, written by a friend of hers, a few days ago, which now feels like a few weeks ago. It sums up well where most of us are at; trying to do the next best thing knowing that God is always with us.

 

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Nampa Food Banks in the time of COVID-19

Largely because of Trinity Community Gardens leadership in food security, I have been part of email threads and Facebook groups wondering how people will get food during this chapter in our lives. Here is what we know:

Traveling Table – March 18

10-11:45am Lakeview Church Nazarene (608 14th Ave. North)

12:15-2pm Nampa Housing Authority (211 19th Ave. North)

 

Good News Food Pantry

1207 7th St. North

March 18, 4-6pm

 

Care House Partnerships Food Bank (1524 6th St. South)

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday – 12:30-4pm

 

Family Community Resource Centers (connected with Nampa schools)

Monday-Friday – 8:30-4pm

Central Elementary (1415 5th Street, Blue Portable Building)

Iowa Elementary (626 W. Iowa)

 

St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry

2920 E. Railroad

Tuesday and Thursday, 3-5pm

 

Seventh Day Adventist Food Pantry

1515 Checola Ave.

Wednesday, 12-4pm

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Well Rooted

One of our church members, Sarah Henthorn, posed a question in a video on Facebook today, “What do we love about our congregation?” Though I know that anything can become an idol, even Christian community, I want to share that after talking with our executive committee members on Friday, working together with four other individuals Sunday morning to stream our first worship on Facebook Live, and then meeting with our entire council for about an our Sunday morning, I am so thankful for the deep roots that ground Trinity Lutheran Church. These roots consist of our faith in a loving and faithful God, our relationships with one another, and an ethos that consistently has us looking beyond our walls and ourselves.

I have loved seeing the many photos people are posting on Facebook of spring flowers coming up and today I enjoyed some of them in person on a walk around my neighborhood. But what I am most thankful for is my budding tree.

The arborists who treated it last year were not sure it would make it through the winter. If we had experienced Snowmaggeden again, the tree might not have made it. I trust that part of the reason it survived is because we tended its roots and the roots go deep. All of this is to say that our congregation will weather this time of uncertainty brought on by the Coronavirus because we are like that tree with its deep healthy roots.

Prayer for time of conflict, crisis, disaster from ELW: O God, where hearts are fearful and constricted, grant courage and hope. Where anxiety is infectious and widening, grant peace and reassurance. Where impossibilities close every door and windows, grant imagination and resistance. Where distrust twists our thinking, grant healing and illumination. Where spirits are daunted and weakened, grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams. All these things we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

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March 15, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Merciful God, the fountain of living water, you quench our thirst and wash away our sin. Give us this water always. Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, whoo lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (ELW p. 27)

Exodus 17:1-7

1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm 95

1 O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed. 6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! 8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.” 11 Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Romans 5:1-11

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

John 4:5-42

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Meggan Manlove – TLC – March 15, 2020

It’s no accident that we hear the story of Nicodemus one week and the very next Sunday we read about Jesus’ encounter with, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable characters in the entire gospel—the Samaritan woman at the well.  She has gumption, personality, conversation skills, and courage.  We never even learn her name.  And yet, Jesus’ conversation with her is longer than with any of his other conversations recorded in scripture.  This is an encounter worthy of our attention.

The Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.  To Nicodemus, Jesus pronounced, “God so loved the world that he sent his only son.”  Now Jesus is walking the talk—crossing every possible boundary.  He speaks to a Samaritan, who by rule did not associate with Jews.  This Samaritan is a woman, another boundary.  And finally, this woman is ostracized by her own community.  We know this before getting her personal background because she can’t even draw water at normal hours, when respectable townsfolk come to the well.

Someone drew a comparison between this scene and storyteller Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.  In Lake Wobegon, like any small town, you can be reasonably sure that everyone knows your history as well as the latest news about you.  Maybe they know the news even before you know it yourself.  The second thing about small town life is that knowing the history or the latest news about someone is not the same as truly knowing them.

What do we really know about this woman at the well?  Five times she has been either widowed or abandoned.  Likely she was infertile, or perhaps too uppity.  We will never know.  But neither does it say, even though many interpreters have delighted to assume, that she was a tramp.

Jesus shows his knowledge of the woman’s former husbands and the man now in her life.  Notice that he does not attempt to shame or judge her.  Such judgment has been projected onto the text, but I don’t hear it.  No, instead Jesus expresses intimate knowledge of her pain—rejection, loss, vulnerability, impermanence.  He sees her, all of her, and he knows her.

Being seen is a powerful thing.  I love that moment when you hold an infant who is looking at everything around the room, suddenly your eyes lock, you both smile, and she knows in her tiny little heart that she is loved.  But the need to be seen does not end there.

Several colleagues in the Nampa ministerial association have recently become passionate about human trafficking, an issue it easy to ignore.  My colleagues are trying to find ways for those women to be seen.

I have witnessed people become invisible in their grief.  Grieving a death, a loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the sale of a home, people disappear literally or hide in themselves.  The truth is that if you live long enough you will go through some time when you believe no one on the planet truly sees you, truly knows who you are.

To know that another human being has truly seen you, understood you, received you for who you really are: that is pure grace. It is being seen.  Most of us would do anything for it. Human beings long for communion, for deep connection. When we don’t have it, we literally waste away—from isolation, anger, depression, addiction. To use Jesus’ own image from today’s text, we find no quenching for our thirst and we dry up.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman talk with one another about water. Their conversation always reminds me of the hand-dug wells I stared down into as a child.  They were pieces of art—perfectly shaped and lined with granite taken right out of the hillsides.  There were two of them on the ranch I grew up on in the Black Hills of South Dakota. One was up the valley that fed the horse tank and the other was in the pump house, which fed water up a hill to a five-hundred-gallon cistern.  The water from the cistern then flowed into the old log homestead house.  Ten years ago, I asked my dad about the depths of the wells—35 feet deep—and the cistern—only five feet deep.  I couldn’t believe him at first.  I was certain that cistern was at least 20 feet down.  Then he reminded me that things seem much larger when we are younger.

I can still recall quite clearly the sun glittering as dad and I carefully leaned over the edges of the wells and cistern.  More than anything I remember my dad’s relief and thankfulness that both the guests staying in the ranch house as well as our string of horses would have water.  I could actually see his body relax with such assurance.  Water is truly life giving—that’s what makes it such a powerful image.

The need for fresh water unifies living things.  It is necessary for life. The same is true about being truly seen.  Is there anything else so necessary for the health of our souls?  That is just what Jesus does—he sees her.  And I think we can confidently finish what the woman says to her townsfolk, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did…and loved me anyway.”

It’s quite a contrast to the main character last week.  Nicodemus is a Pharisee—an insider, a leader of the Jews.  He is a man, he has a name, but he comes to Jesus by night.  The woman is a Samaritan—a religious, social, and political outsider.  She is a woman, she has no name, but she meets Jesus at noon, in full daylight.

No one introduced to these two individuals would assume that the woman at the well would be open to what Jesus has to say, for her to identify Jesus and then to converse with him.  And yet it is she who testifies to Jesus, she is the one who gives her testimony.  It is so easy to make assumptions about who is and who is not ready for Jesus’ living water, so easy to think we know who or who is not thirsting to know the Good News of Jesus Christ.

What conscious or subconscious assumptions do we make about people we would talk with about our faith, invite to worship or social events?  Do we seek out only those who look like us?  Are our eyes and ears open to other possibilities, people who can almost seem invisible?  From whose brokenness do we turn away even though he might be the one person who most needs to be seen?  What oddball has been on the outside for so long that he does not even notice his need to be seen and loved?

The truth is that each of us here is in some way broken, odd, has felt invisible in some way.  By the grace of God, we were told or shown that God sees us and loves us.  Maybe it happened long ago on a grandparent’s lap or in a Sunday School classroom or around a campfire.  Perhaps it took place recently in a conversation with a friend, in the solitude of a long walk, or when you came to the Table for the first time or for the first time in a long time.  Maybe it happened through something we simply cannot explain.

And now, in the time of the Coronavirus, we are going to experience being seen, or not seen in new ways. My heart ached when I sent out the email announcing that we were cancelling worship. I know it was the right decision, but congregational life is such an important space and time for people to be seen and loved for who they are.

But God is faithful and full of compassion and that faithfulness and compassion with carry us in the weeks ahead. We may make more phone calls and send more cards to one another than we have in a long time. And we might see one another in brand new ways. Relationships may be formed and strengthened in ways we cannot even imagine.

Furthermore, our neighbors will continue to need us. People who do get sick will need to be seen and cared for by us and by medical professionals. Our food pantry will need be accessed in the days and weeks ahead. Our relatives, friends, and neighbors may need help. We may become conduits of God’s mercy and compassion for individuals and families we do not yet know. Furthermore, people we do not even know may need to self-quarantine. They may feel isolated and may find us online and suddenly feel connected.

So, how do we respond to such a claim on us—of being seen by a loving God?  Our cast of characters this Lent gives us two contrasting possibilities. Nicodemus, at least initially, is unable to move beyond the confines of his religious system. Nicodemus cannot hear that Jesus is sent by God. Nicodemus’ last questioning words to Jesus expose his disbelief, “How can these things be?”

The Samaritan woman moves outside of her religious expectations to engage Jesus in a theological debate. The woman at the well hears the actual name of God, “I am.”   The last words of the woman at the well are “He cannot be the Christ, can he?” lead her to witness to her whole town.

When I speak with friends about preaching in this space, I acknowledge the wonder and challenge I experience.  I’m sure it’s true of most congregations but we come, each one of us, with such diverse stories.  Yes, there are of course some threads of similarity but our backgrounds, trials, celebrations, daily lives are quite varied.

What that means on a day like today is that some of you need to hear that Jesus sees you and loves you, just as he saw that Samaritan woman with her broken family.  Jesus loved her enough to journey to the cross and die. And then God defeated even death in the resurrection.  Others of you know this truth so well, it floods you, quenches your thirst.  You need to be reminded to share that gift.  “Come and See!”  Those are the words with which you can begin your testimony, your story of faith.  Most of you need to hear both of these things.  You are seen and you are loved just the way you are.  Now go tell someone else that the same is true for him.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays & Seasons, 2020)

Turning our hearts to God who is gracious and merciful, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

God of living water, send your church beyond boundaries to proclaim your grace. May its witness be a source of refreshment for thirsty souls. Strengthen our voices, that all people can know and believe that Jesus is truly the savior of the world. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, protect from pollution or misuse all rivers, lakes, oceans, and streams (local water sources may be named). Bless the work of those who dig wells and those who advocate for access to clean water, that all people and animals have enough to drink. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, open the hearts of leaders and authorities, that they hear the cries of the suffering and act with compassion toward them. Bring peace to disputed lands and bring reconciliation to people divided by race, culture, or nationality. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, mend the hearts of those who grieve broken relationships, whether by conflict, abuse, divorce, or death. Draw near to all who are ill (especially). Assure those questioning your presence in the midst of doubt or suffering. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, renew us in the promises of baptism. Join us together in worship, fellowship, and sharing your good news. Embolden us to serve others and to work for justice and peace. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of living water, we thank you for those who endured suffering and who now boast in the glory of God (especially). Pour your Holy Spirit into our hearts and give us peace as we live in the hope of our salvation. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

According to your steadfast love, O God, hear these and all our prayers as we commend them to you; through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

 

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March 8, 2020

Since some of my readers  self-quarantined last week, here are the prayer of the day, scripture passages and sermon. Remember, you can bookmark this page of subscribe to the blog.

Prayer of the Day: O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism you bring us to new birth to live as your children. Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your Spirit we may lift up your life to all the world through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (ELW p. 27)

Genesis 12:1-4a: 1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm 121: 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17: 1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

John 3:1-17: 1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus 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. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, 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.

Meggan Manlove

TLC – March 1, 2020

There are things I absolutely love about this morning’s gospel passage, and I promise I will get to them. But I think we first have to contend with how harmful this story of Nicodemus and Jesus nighttime conversation has been to so many. This is the passage of scripture, after all, where we get the phrase Born Again. I have rarely been able to satisfy people who have asked me if I have been born again. Pastor Monty, of the Christian Faith Center down the street, has an online profile that includes, “Pastor Monty was radically born again out of the drug culture as a young adult.” In other words, he has a moment in his life that he can point to and say, that’s when it happened. What’s more, he has a drug addiction recovery story.

My story is utterly boring. My parents took me to the Baptismal Fount in Roseville, Minnesota when I was two months old. They read the scriptures to me at home, took me to worship and Sunday School, taught me how to pray. They encouraged my questions and inquiry. Along the way, I had some mountaintop experiences, moments when I felt particularly close to God and to the Body of Christ, the church, but I never had a born-again moment.

The problem with born-again moments is not the experiences people had. I never want to discount that people have experiences like the one the Apostle Paul had on the Damascus Road or the one Pastor Monty had, or the one Kayne West had in the Holy Land. The problem is when their experiences are the measure of authentic faith. The problem is when the born-again moment, or lack of, becomes one more reason to say that some people are in and other are out.

Nothing about Jesus’ ministry indicates that he wanted to build up the Body of Christ simply so that human beings will break it apart. This is the same Messiah, the same Christ, who next week will break several rules for the sake of relationship when he talks with a Samaritan woman at the well. The following week he will heal a man born blind, restoring him to community. On the fifth Sunday in Lent he will raise a man from the dead. This is a Messiah whose agenda is restoration, transformation, and abundant life for all of creation. It is not an agenda of shame or division or cutting people or entire communities down.

It does little good and can actually lead to a great deal of harm, to compare stories of how precisely we experience new life in Jesus Christ. Jesus also is pretty explicit that the wind blows where it will. People who try to dictate the activity of the Holy Spirit are asking for trouble.  That we do receive abundant life through Jesus is the point, not the how it happens for each individual. What is certain is that Jesus offer to be born anew or born from above is for everyone and it is pure gift.

The other problem with this story of Jesus and his night visitor is the beloved John 3:16. Of course this verse, in itself, is very good news. How could it not be? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him many not perish but may have eternal life.” Well, what happens, as it sometimes does, when someone confesses their belief or trust in Jesus but does not live their life as if it has made a bit of difference?

John 3:16 read in isolation may lead us to believe that. But fortunately, there are some antidotes. The first being the very next verse, “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.” God is not just after the one person who will confess Jesus is Lord, good step as that might be. God wants to heal the whole world. That means we cannot just all stand around confessing Jesus is Lord. People will still be hungry, homeless, hurting, in physical and emotional pain, and isolated.

This week I found it helpful to bring in another part of Jesus’ ministry—one of his “I am” statements. He has a number of “I ams,” but the one I kept thinking about this week was “I am the vine” because in that lesson, Jesus is adamant about bearing fruit. He tells his followers, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

I am quite confident that fruit cannot just look like some intellectual set of beliefs, subscribing to a set of doctrine. Plus, anyone, including all of the First Graders we know, who has spent five minutes on a grade school playground knows that actions speak much louder than our words.

And so, in the end I would go so far as to say that Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, the Triune God is active in the lives of all those people who seem to be bearing so much amazing fruit, but who may not consider themselves Christian. I would never presume to tell anyone that, not unless I had a very deep relationship with them, and they seemed curious about my faith.

Nonetheless, the wind blows where it will. If they want to be Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Agnostic, or Spiritual but not Religious, but they are partnering in including the marginalized, caring for the disenfranchised, transforming systems that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, then so be it. Let us give thanks for the good fruit.

What all of the fruit-bearing people in my life, whether they are Christians or not, show me is that this business of being born again or born from above is a daily practice. In many ways our understanding of remembering our baptismal identity daily is mirrored by people who are going through addiction recovery. People in Alcoholics for Anonymous never quit introducing themselves as alcoholics. They are never cured. Their introduction at each meeting is the same.” My name is …. And I am an alcoholic. And every time they are triggered, they work the twelve steps.” What’s more, they know that they cannot do any of their recovery work in isolation.

Likewise, each day we remember our identity as a child of God. We will encounter adversity, evil, temptation. We will, as the old confession states, sin against God and one another. We will hurt individuals in our lives and we will participate in cultures and communities that hurt people, some of which we are aware of and some of which we have to be made aware of. But sometimes we get it right, sometimes human beings do bear fruit in acts of kindness or advocacy or solidarity with the downtrodden. And in the midst of all of it, our brokenness and our fruit-bearing moments, we remain God’s beloved children.

A colleague of mine wrote this week, “as the Lenten season continues, we are reminded that to be born anew we first must die. Die to our ego, our control, our false self, but putting our trust in God alone.” My Lenten devotional this year is Luke Powery’s “Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals.”  This week, I read, “When we are lonely and lost and disconnected from family or all this familiar, what do we do? The spiritual writer points us in a good direction. ‘I get down on my knees an’ pray.’ In other words, I turn to God. I turn to God because God is our eternal home, our mother and father. If we try other approaches, they may not be the best for us…When we are lost, we can only be found by God and in God.”

I talked a lot this morning about things I struggle with in this scripture passage. I want to end with what I really love, and that is the role of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was speaking and this particular gospel writing was writing thousands of years ago. I doubt they had any idea how desperately our 21stcentury ears would hunger for all that is unknown and not spelled out in Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. Words Jesus speaks have double or triple meanings. Jesus speaks of being born from above, but he never gives the “here’s how” manual. And there is no glossary for terms like “eternal life” or “belief.” And what exactly does it mean to be born of the Spirit?

We may laugh at Nicodemus, who is trying to imagine crawling back into a womb and seems to misunderstand Jesus at every turn of phrase, but there are times I am right there with him, and I grew up after the Enlightenment was long past. I have been trained to find all the answers.

But not everything about faith can be pinned down, and that is okay, it might in fact be a good thing. One of my favorite authors is Houston Smith, a Christian who could be credited with introducing the West to Eastern Religions. His memoir is called: Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine. I am thankful for the way today’s story makes room for some wonder. Somehow it allows me to trust that the Holy Spirit is as active today as it was that night so long ago. “The wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” Wow!

 

 

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Worship Cancelled/What’s Next

Dear Friends in Christ,

I have been reading the CDC website daily, along with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare website. I have consulted with our executive committee. I do not know if there is a perfect decision. As was cited in a previous email, the CDC states that “Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.” The CDC site also states that when the risk is minimal to moderate (and we now have a confirmed case in Idaho) “for organizations that serve high-risk populations, cancel gatherings of more than 10 people.” We are cancelling worship and midweek prayer through March 29.
So, if you need tips on Personal Preparedness (which will limit the spread of COVID-19), here they are (again from the CDC):
  • Washing hands with soap and water, frequently
  • Don’t touch your face (mouth, nose, eyes)
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with tissues and elbows, and washing hands afterwards
  • Staying away from others who are ill
  • Ordering a month’s supply of medications
  • Avoid spaces where crowds gather, when possible
  • Talk to your doctor about possibly postponing non-urgent trips to the doctor if you are in a high risk health group
(I could find nothing on the CDC site about stocking up on toilet paper, but this is all new so I am trying not to judge)
Our plan as a community of faith:
  • Post the Prayer of the Day, Scripture Passages, Pastor’s Sermon on Pastor Meggan’s blog: megganmanlove.com. Please subscribe to this blog or bookmark it.
  • Try streaming worship on Facebook live via our congregation’s Facebook page (10am Sunday mornings).
  • If you are on a committee or team or part of a study group, please get ready to meet electronically via Zoom (you can call in with your phone or use your computer if you have a webcam).
  • Deposit financial donations every Monday morning. We will still have bills to pay.
  • Communicate with all of you via email. If you check your email weekly, we would love for you to begin checking it daily.
  • Keep the office open. For now, office hours will stay the same.
  • We will stay connected! I am fully committed to this. I am your primary contact (208-318-4845). If you do not reach me, please contact a church council member. They are listed on our website: nampatrinity.org. If you need a new directory, call or email Bob Cola and he will set you up.
This is one of the hardest messages I think I have ever written. It is easier to cancel worship when there is a blizzard. There were tears streaming down my face as I started typing because I was so excited about out Lent Sunday Worship and our Midweek Series. Furthermore, this could be the wrong decision, and I hate being wrong. But I also love our congregation and the individuals that make it up. This decision was not made in a vacuum, as I hope to have demonstrated.
If you want more information:
ID Health and Welfare https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov
Northwest Intermountain Synod https://nwimsynod.org
Peace,
Pastor Meggan
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