Sacred Spaces

Originally published on

1The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,

the world and those who dwell therein.

2For the Lord has founded it upon the seas

and established it upon the rivers.

3Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord,

and who may stand in God’s holy place?

(from Psalm 24, ELW translation)

I have been thinking a great deal about sacred spaces since the pandemic began, but especially in the last few weeks. I was an early encourager of all of us creating sacred spaces in our homes, posting photos of what a home altar might include. When we were in quarantine in the spring and I was participating as best I could from my kitchen table, with candle and cross on hand, that place become something of a sacred space. (Here is a resource from Women of the ELCA on creating sacred spaces.)

I thought about sacred spaces again when people voiced their appreciation for seeing our sanctuary during pre-recorded or live streaming worship. This led to us offering times when people could come sit in the sanctuary in silence—a weekday morning and a Sunday afternoon. No one signed up. Interesting, I mused.

The yearning for the building made me just a bit nervous. I have belonged to a variety of churches with different architecture, histories, and degrees of attachment to buildings. I whole-heartedly agreed with the sentiment expressed all over my social media feed, “Buildings are closed. But church is open.” For weeks I could not get Jay Beech’s The Church Song out of my head, “The church is not a building where people go to pray; it’s not made out of sticks and stones, it’s not made out of clay….The church, it is the people living out there lives, called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.”

Most of us know whole congregations or individuals who make idols of buildings which is not healthy for our relationships with God or the life of faith. I wonder if we need so many church buildings across the Treasure Valley. In the year before the pandemic, I read multiple articles about churches across the United States repurposing the spaces in their buildings for their neighbors.

I thought about sacred spaces once more while cleaning up after the second Sunday worship our congregation held on our lawn. We have also held an evening Lament service and an evening Pet Blessing service. In addition, several teams have had meetings on the lawn. I reflected that the lawn has become a sacred space for me in 2020 and it is because I have so consistently spent time there with other bodies hearing scripture read, praying, and discerning. 

This new feeling about our lawn made me think about other sacred spaces in my life. I thought about the rock outcroppings above the house I grew up in, in the central portion of The Black Hills. I thought about meadows in the Absaroka Mountains of Montana where I led Bible Studies and worship. I thought about beautiful and old churches I have visited—St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and the Church of Reconciliation at Taizé. Whenever I have visited these places, or other sacred spaces, I feel connected to the bodies who I am with or who have been there before. I like knowing that bodies of Christians have been gathering for centuries and reading the same old, old story of Jesus’ love.  

Today, I am thankful that the church has consistently had people and events to remind us that God is certainly in the everyday, which includes our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our gardens and lawns. The ordinary can be and is sacred. I am always going to need sacred places to gather with others, because I am single—homes, sanctuaries, and pilgrimage sites. Instead of an either/or answer, this may be a time for both/and. 2020 is a time to remember that the ordinary can be sacred space and we occasionally should gather with other bodies in spaces (natural or built with human hands) that hold beauty or history or awe.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for making creation good and blessing it. Help us see the sacred and holy in what we might consider ordinary. Watch over us as we safely gather bodies together to offer you our thanks and praise.

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Senses Awakened

Pastor’s Column for October 2020 Epistle

Dear Friends in Christ,

It seems only appropriate that our Old Testament readings the end of September through October (every Sunday but Reformation Sunday) report the Israelites time in the Wilderness. They are free from the Egyptians, but they have not yet arrived in the Promised Land. Once they reach Mount Sinai, they will start receiving instructions about how to live together in community. It is actually the time before Sinai that I find even more informative for our current circumstances because they wonder where God is. In Exodus 17, Moses ends up naming the “place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (17:7). We are in a middle space and time right now, occasionally wondering if the Lord is among us. Many of the rituals, totems, traditions where we have experienced the Lord have been taken away or altered. And yet, in my conversations with you, in cards and email and texts I receive, in stories I hear second-hand, I know that you and I are learning to recognize God in our midst. It is as if one of our five senses has been taken away and the other four are elevated. (One of the most unique Bible Studies written by the camp director I worked for during my college summers was about Scripture and the Five Senses). Maybe we did not always see God in clear, blue skies, but now we do (I am writing this on Sept. 21-FYI). Maybe we did not always notice God in the friend who took time to call or visit in person. Maybe we never heard the love of God revealed in that particular passage of scripture, but we do now. Maybe we never paid attention to this particular movement or individual or organization, but now the Holy Spirit seems so apparent in whatever it is they are doing. Maybe wild blackberries never before made us think of the sweetness of Jesus, but they did this summer. I hope you journal or write a letter or send a text to share how you are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, even tasting God at work in your midst. As I said, part of the wilderness journey for the Israelites and us is learning how to live together as God’s people. We need one another’s stories and epiphanies now more than ever, to give us life and hope and nourishment. Yes indeed, the Lord is among us!


Pastor Meggan

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Oct. 11, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples and poured out your life with abundance. Call us again to your banquet. Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure, and transform us into people of righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Exodus 32:1-14

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. 

7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. 

Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf c.1799-1800 William Blake 1757-1827 Bequeathed by Ian L. Phillips 1986

Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23 

1 Hallelujah! Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good, for God’s mercy endures forever. 2 Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD or proclaim in full God’s praise? 

3 Happy are those who act with justice and always do what is right. 4 Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people, and visit me with your salvation; 

5 that I may see the prosperity of your elect and be glad with the gladness of your people, that I may glory with your inheritance. 6 We have sinned as our forebears did; we have done wrong and dealt wickedly. 

19 They made a bullcalf at Horeb and worshiped a molten image; 20 thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

21They forgot God their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, 22 wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, and fearful things at the Red Sea. 

23 So you would have destroyed them, had not Moses your chosen stood in the breach,to turn away your wrath from consuming them.

Matthew 22:1-14

1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I will confess that when I first read this passage from Exodus, I thought I would focus on the first half of the passage, during which the Israelites go astray. Later I supposed I would focus on Moses’ conversation with God. I never really planned to spend much time on God’s anger, right there in the middle. But eventually I came to see that the entire narrative has much to say to us today.

God giving the commandments on Mt Sinai earlier, the passage we heard last Sunday, was a high point in Israel’s story. It was a gift, the beginnings of God’s vision for community. Despite having those commandments, the Israelites fell into chaos and apostasy. It all happens as they wait for Moses to return from the mountain. We are left wondering, how did the relationship between God and Israel go so wrong?

Aaron is Moses’ brother and helper. Moses is the go-between for the people and God. 40 days seemed to be too long for the people. Aaron is left to lead the people during Moses’ absence and what happens could be described as a failure in leadership. Reading different translations and commentaries, it is hard to say if the people end up worshiping another god, altogether, one formed for them out of gold, or a replica of the one true God. Either way, false god or false image of God, they are breaking the commandments. 

It is easy to criticize the Israelites with our perspective, and yet I know that idolatry is something I easily fall into. We may not think of it as worship, but we surely put our trust into material things, systems, and even people. Pope Francis called the people in his charge, Roman Catholics, to account in a recent document. The Pope warned against creating an idol of pure Capitalism. The Pope knows we will have economic systems, and that Capitalism is here to stay. But I think he is right and that Capitalism unchecked leaves no safety for the poor, the voiceless, the homeless. Here is an entire system that groups of people put their trust in.

In our individual daily lives, we are offered opportunities to put our trust in all sorts of other idols: power, material possessions that make us feel powerful, money, things that give a sense of security. Some of those things can actually be helpful tools. But they can also all become idols.

A piece of the Exodus 32 story that I find fascinating, is how one particular phrase gets repeated but with slight changes: “brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” The first time the phrase is uttered, it is by the people, complaining to Aaron. They say, “Come, makes gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” Perhaps this should have been our first clue that something was amiss. The Israelites have forgotten that is God who delivered them. Yes, Moses led the way through the Sea, but God was the deliverer. Is it just a slip of the tongue, “This Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt”? I do not think so. 

This past week and through Election Day, most of us will hopefully carryout the civic duty of voting. How easy it is to turn human beings into our idols or gods! Or maybe that is just something I do. How do I know when I have turned a human into an idol? Usually about the time they disappoint me and what I feel is not just disappointment but utter heart break. How could they let me down this way? It is like I have temporarily forgotten that God alone is the redeemer of my life.

I am speaking about this with a little humor, in part because this is such a fabulous story. But worshiping idols is no small thing. And if we needed a reminder, just feel the anger from God in verses 7-10. After unleashing on go-between Moses, who has not even been down there with the disobedient people, God finishes, “Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 

This may not be the Great Flood. God is not destroying the cosmos, but God does seem okay with starting over with another group of people, so long as Moses is their human leader. God goes so far as to deny God’s own people by saying, “Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely.” Clearly worshiping a false god or creating a false image of god stir up God’s anger.

God’s seemingly resolute behavior makes it even more shocking when Moses is able to change God’s mind. He does so by reminding God that it was God who brought the people out of the land of Egypt. He reminds God of God’s power and might. He reminds God of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel to multiply their descendants. Killing the Israelites now would not foster offspring and certainly would give the Egyptians the edge. Moses’ threefold imperative — “Turn from your wrath,” “Change your mind,” “Do not bring disaster on your people” — is bold and effective. God does change God’s mind.

I wonder who we need to intervene on our behalf. I wonder if in our impatience we have bowed to more tangible, accessible, and shinier gods rather than relying on the one who brought us out of the power of sin, death, and the devil. And sometimes I wonder how God quells God’s anger at such atrocities.

Nearly every day in the news we are reminded that, as a whole, humanity wefall short of God’s will for us. That is not shocking news anymore. I do not want to minimize the depth of our idolatrous tendencies. Still, I do think the more shocking and profoundly hopeful news here is that God sticks with us. God continues to claim us as God’s own despite it all. Instead of God’s wrath burning hot against us and consuming us, God the Father’s beloved son Jesus reminds us there is joy when even one sinner repents (Luke 15:10).

Instead of waiting for an Aaron to help us offer burnt offerings and sacrifices to gods of our own making, or instead of waiting for a Moses to intervene on our behalf, we might ourselves pray the Psalmist’s prayer as our own, “Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them.”

Prayers of Intercession

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

With confidence in God’s grace and mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.

A brief silence.Gracious host, fill your church with a spirit of joyous hospitality. We pray for bishops, teachers, church leaders, and all children of God as they invite others to your table of boundless grace. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, as creation waits with eager longing for redemption, protect your creatures that are mistreated. Restore valleys, mountains and pastures, and still and running waters. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, as you set a table in the presence of enemies, so bless the efforts of diplomats, international peace workers, and world leaders who navigate conflict. May they proceed with dialogue and understanding, so that justice and peace prevails. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, let your gentleness be known among those who are weary or ill (especially). Strengthen doctors, medical care workers, and caretakers who see to their needs. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious host, when we are quick to judge outward appearance, remind us how you clothe all in your mercy. We pray for ministries that provide needed clothing and other personal care assistance in this community (local ministries can be named). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Gracious host, as we remember those who have died and are gathered at the heavenly banquet, comfort us with your presence. Assure us of your peace at all times. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Listen as we call on you, O God, and enfold in your loving arms all for whom we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Oct. 4, 2020

Prayer of the Day 

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 

18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

Ten Commandments, wood carving from church in Poland.
10 Commandments, illustrative wood relief from a Catholic church in southern Poland.

Psalm 19 

Please join me in reading the psalm responsively, as printed in your bulletin. 

1The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork. 2One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. 

3Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, 4 their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world, where God has pitched a tent for the sun. 

5It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber; it rejoices like a champion to run its course. 6It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

7The teaching of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the simple. 8The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes. 

9The fear of the LORD is clean and endures forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. 

11By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward. 12Who can detect one’s own offenses? Cleanse me from my secret faults. 

13Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense. 14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

Matthew 21:33-46

33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I worked at a Lutheran camp for three summers in my late teens/early twenties in southern Montana, on the edge of the Absorka Beartooth Wilderness. We had two weeks of staff training, a week of campers, and then the staff backpack trip. The part of that staff training I kept remembering this week, as I thought about our reading from Exodus, was a three-part series our director called “How to Clean it Right.” It started in the kitchen in week one of training. We proceeded to the bathrooms, which also included how to do laundry. It culminated in the dining hall/lodge—How to Clean it Right Part 3. 

By the third year of staff training I was itching to get a backpack on and may have rolled my eyes just a few times as we proceeded through How to Clean it Right. Was it really necessary to teach all of us how to sweep a large push broom? Wasn’t it instinctive how to run the dishwasher? Did we need such exact measurements when we cleaned the bathroom?

The truth is that our very experienced camp director knew what he was doing. First, he hired a lot of people who had worked on other camp staffs. They were all coming with their experience of how to do it right at X camp, usually in the Midwest. Declaring, this is how we do it at Christikon—no arguments—led to very little squabbling among us. It also led to efficiency, even when we were tired mid-summer at the end of the week. And all of this lead to cleanliness and hygiene and therefore safety, which was at least one of the goals.

We may think we want our individual liberties but communities, which is what we were at camp, do not thrive in chaos. Norms and guidelines and sometimes even “How to Clean it Right” help everyone thrive. Not constantly negotiating those norms, we actually experience a different sort of freedom. Our creativity could be used for great goodness instead of constantly negotiating daily norms.

Something like this, but also quite unique, happened to the Israelites as they were wondering in the Wilderness. At Sinai, they were given, through Moses, what we now call the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments and the books of the law that follow, are meant to form Israel as a sacred community. They are a community rooted in right worship of God and living in justice and peace with one another. The Israelites are to live as neighbors to one another. 

They, like us, lived in a world of options, alternative choices, and gods who make powerful competing appeals. It does no good to pretend that there are no offers of well-being, happiness, and security elsewhere. We have all succumbed to other appeals at one time. In pursuit of happiness, we may choose indulgence. In pursuit of security, we may choose violence. In pursuit of genuine love, we may choose lust. It is clear that these choices are not God’s.

One scholar suggests that these ten commandments are “policy statements.”  They are not in themselves guidelines for specific action.  Instead they provide the ground and framework from which specifics may be drawn.  Taking them as policies links the commands quite clearly to the concrete community Moses formed—and to ours as well.  

This means that the commandments are not absolutes with no context.  They are instead proposals that are alternatives to other policies.  They are gifts from a god who wants to be in relationship with us, who wants to shape us into a loving and merciful and life-giving community.

Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, adapted the Ten Commandments for his own time—an expansion of these commandments. Instead of leaving us with a list of “you should nots,” he explains what we should do. At Trinity, whenever we are discerning a new ministry or new direction, I find myself turning to a few things during the discernment or decision-making process. I turn to Jesus’ words and actions in the Gospels, I listen to what members say, I listen to my own head, heart, and gut. And yes, I turn to the Small Catechism.

Let us begin with the first one, “You shall have no other gods.” What does this mean? We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things” Luther said. I still can hear my home church pastor explaining to my younger self that if we all kept the first commandment, we would not need the others. 

What did he mean? Work, money, sex, stuff, power can all become gods/idols to be worshiped. Looking back over history, we have seen that whenever the church has run amok, it’s usually because it put one of those over the triune God. Even here in Southwest Idaho, those other gods can look pretty appealing to me, though they are extremely stealthy. I will return to the first commandment next Sunday.

So, then we do well to look at some of the later commandments. Here we will look at just two other commandments and Luther’s explanations: You shall not murder.  What does this mean? Luther wrote, “we should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? Luther again, ‘we should defend our neighbors, speak well of them, and explain everything in the kindest way.”

It is so easy for me to see these explanations in our housing and feeding ministries, but also in the ways I watch you all live out your faith in the workplace, home, and larger community. You are caring for your neighbors in so many ways. Neighbor love is why we are wearing masks and physically distancing today. No. I do not love wearing a mask while preaching. Yes—I agree that the it is unfortunate that we were given different messages about masks, though the intention was good—to have enough masks to protect healthcare providers. 

We also know as a community that there will be more to learn about this virus. Science may not be a god we should worship, but I firmly believe that science is a gift from God that can be used for more neighbor love. Only if you are going to live off the grid, away from all human beings, can you live without any rules or policy statements or responsibility to other creatures. But what kind of life would that be? What good is all that individual liberty if you are alone? We are meant to be in relationship with other human beings.   

We are wondering today, how can everyone flourish and be liberated? George Bernard Shaw, the great Irish writer, put it succinctly, “Liberty requires responsibility. That’s why most men despise it.” Or, as a biblical scholar commenting on our Exodus passage wrote, “Belonging comes with responsibility.” 

I hope we can take responsibility for one another joyfully and with open hearts. Actual liberation for all people is, I am quite sure, what God intends. 

The Ten Commandments should not be understood as a strict list of laws given by God to the people to follow in blind loyalty or out of fear of retribution if they disobeyed. Rather, they should be regarded as the exercise of God’s free will toward the Israelites and their acceptance of God’s gracious initiative to be in covenantal relationship with God as a new community—a community as the people of the Lord God.

If there is a person or a group of people being enslaved, abused, treated unequally, then the rules change. In fact, be prepared for deliverance. Remember that our lesson this morning began not with the words, “Thou shalt not,” but instead with these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” 

It is true that in that incidence, God was delivering a specific group of people. But there is enough evidence throughout the entire biblical narrative that all of human liberation is the ultimate goal. Jesus talks about this in language of God’s reign coming to earth. God’s hopes of liberation and thriving for all people are the good news today. The heart of our gospel text is in v. 43, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” 

God’s love and mercy free us to work in the vineyard, to bear fruit. That fruit bearing takes on different specificity in different contexts, but it certainly means caring for our neighbors, especially those who are not yet fully liberated, fully whole, fully well. 

We are not left to wander this world aimless. God gives ordinances, guidance, instruction, a vision for how we might live together. What’s more? The psalmist compares the Law to drippings of the honeycomb. In other words, it is pure gift to have guidance on how to be in relationship with God, other creatures, and even myself.

Prayers of Intercession 

With confidence in God’s grace and mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need. 

Holy God, you call us to work for peace and justice in your vineyard. Refresh the church with your life, that we may bear fruit through work and service. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Thank you for the abundant harvest of the earth. Bless and care for those whose hands bring the fruits of the earth to the tables of all who hunger. May we be inspired by your servants who cared deeply for your creation especially Francis of Assisi, whom we commemorate today. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Curb the impulses of greed and pride that lead us to take advantage of others. Grant that world leaders seek the fruits of the kingdom for the good and welfare of all people. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Sustain all who suffer with the promise of new life. Assured of your presence, heal our pain and suffering, and equip us to embrace all bodies aching for wholeness of mind, body, and soul. We call to mind those who are struggling today especially Trinity member Bob Torrey, recovering from surgery, President Trump and all those suffering from the impact of COVID-19 physically, economically, mentally, or spiritually. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

We pray for all managers in our community and for all who seek employment. Give hope and a future to those who lack meaningful work, those who have been marginalized or abused in the workplace, and those who desire new opportunities. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Thank you for the saints who teach us to live faithfully in your vineyard. May our chorus join theirs until our labor is complete. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Listen as we call on you, O God, and enfold in your loving arms all for whom we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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What Shall I Pray?

Originally published on

Psalm 19

1The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

3There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

4yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;

8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;

9the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

11By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward.

12Who can detect one’s own offenses? Cleanse me from my secret faults.

13Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

The poetry of the psalms continues to free my imagination—to dream, to have vision, to allow creativity to well up in me. At the same time, I am comforted knowing that there is language for my prayers when I feel speechless. When I get caught up in the spin and the news cycle, the psalms ground me in ancient words and perspective. At once they humble and empower me. Most importantly, they point me to the God who creates, guides, and redeems us. 

The first part of Psalm 19 portrays the wonder of creation, the beauty of the natural world. It is a song to the creator God. I love that creation itself is, according to the psalmist, doing to the work of praising God and telling of God’s glory. I am again made mindful that I am small in contrast to the firmament, but I am also created by God. I too am embodied. I praise God for the wonders of creation, and I get to enjoy those wonders—the big sky of the Mountain West, the Aspen and Birch showing off their colors against the crisp blue, the laughter of friends, the Earl Gray tea helping me greet each new morning. Small and large wonders point me to God, creator of all. 

But not everything goes in this big beautiful world. The same God who created has given the Law. If creation reveals God’s glory, perhaps the law helps me hear God’s voice, God’s desires, God’s relationality. We are not left to wander this world aimless. God gives ordinances, guidance, instruction, a vision for how we might live together. What’s more? These are compared to drippings of the honeycomb. In other words, it is pure gift to have guidance on how to be in relationship with God, other creatures, and even myself.

I will never be able to follow this guidance perfectly. Who could? We are works in progress. This is why I remember my baptism each morning. We have always been works of progress. I am not the first or last to pray the words of Psalm 19, to adopt this prayer as my own. I pray for God to guide us, knowing it is only through God’s pardon and love that I am well, whole, beloved, and able to extend that embodied care to my neighbors. It is God, the psalmist declares, who is my strength and redeemer.

Prayer: Faithful God, you sent your incarnate Word as the sun of justice to shine upon all the world. Open our eyes to see your gracious hand in all your works, that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness, for the sake of him through whom all things were made, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen. (Psalm 19 Prayer from ELW)

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Sept. 27, 2020

Prayer of the Day

God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings. Give us your grace to overcome them, keep us from those things that harm us, and guide us in the way of salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

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 78: 1-4, 12-16

1Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2I will open my mouth in a parable; I will declare the mysteries of ancient times—

3that which we have heard and known, and what our forebears have told us, we will not hide from their children. 4We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD, and the wonderful works God has done.

12God worked marvels in the sight of their ancestors, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan, 13splitting open the sea and letting them pass through; making the waters stand up like walls;

14leading them with a cloud by day, and all the night with a glow of fire; 15splitting the rocks in the wilderness and giving them drink as from the deep;

16bringing streams out of a rock, making them flow down like a river.

Philippians 2:1-13

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Matthew 21:23-32

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Every profession has its own medium. Farmers have crops and livestock.   Engineers have mathematical equations. Teachers have the minds and emotions of children and teenagers. Carpenters have wood. Worship planners have poetry. As we have become better equipped to tell our faith stories the past few years through workshops and training and practice, I have become so aware of the power of language and words. I am ever thankful for the language in Scripture and the language in our liturgy.

What of the music?  Yes, the music adds texture.  But the music, both in the liturgy and in the hymns we sing, is secondary to the words, the phrases, the poetry.  What is liturgy?  It literally means “work of the people.”  It is the work of the people put together in a certain order–an order that has been passed down from the early church.  The poetry of the liturgy and hymns is our medium as worshipers.   It instructs our week. As we learn more and more about the dangers of singing, I am thankful that we can still have music and we can still have poetry in this new season. When worship ends, we are called to our words into action.

Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees a parable about a man who had two sons.  He sent the older son to work in his vineyard, but the son refused to go, then later changed his mind and headed for the fields.  Not knowing this, the father sent his second son to do the work his older brother had refused to do.  This son said he would go, but then changed his mind and never set foot in the fields.  “Which son did the will of the Father?” Jesus asked.  Which of the two boys obeyed?

The chief priests and the scribes knew the answer to the question–it was the son who headed for the fields.  But Jesus interpreted his own parable for them.  He told them that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom before they did.  Why?  Because as religious leaders, the priests and scribes were known for their words, but were short on deeds. Jesus says that the tax collectors and harlots who believed John the Baptist repented of their sins and underwent baptism.

Jesus’ parable of the two brothers points out that we answer yes and no with our actions as well as with words. We can say yes with our mouths, but live a no, as the one brother did. A person might say no, but in the end discover that she has lived a yes, as the other brother did.

The chief priests and scribes wanted to use words as a way to trap Jesus with embarrassing questions. Jesus can play that word game, too. But Jesus does more than speak with authority; he lives it! He places his entire life behind his words. He walked the path of obedience to a cross and through an open tomb. His yes and no can be poured into a chalice, broken as bread, authenticated in a cross and empty tomb.

Accompanying our gospel text from Matthew is a beautiful text from Philippians—seriously, read the text again. It is often referred to as “The Christ Hymn,” supposing that the Apostle Paul is quoting at least in part a very early hymn from the worship of the church. It ends with these verses:

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

What does it look like to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling?”   As one pastor says, “it means going about our everyday tasks and duties with the conviction that the gospel is true—that is, that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, and that God’s promised future is bigger and better than either the past we’ve created or the future we deserve.  And because the gospel is true, we are free to regard others, treat others, and care for others as Christ did.”

We are loved so much—so much that Jesus came and lived as a human being—flesh and bone—experiencing all that we experience. Hearing this, knowing this, how is it possible, Paul wonders, that we would not regard others in the same way—brothers and sisters deserving our love. What’s more, he writes, “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”

Every Sunday we hear echoes of the “Christ Hymn” in our own worship service.  We begin every service with the Confession and Forgiveness. Our Confession ends with us asking God to “renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.” How will we live renewed?  How will we walk in God’s ways?

In the Kyrie, we pray for the peace of the whole world.  How will we bring peace to our small corners of the world–in communities, in the workplace, in the home, in the schools?

When we confess our faith in the words of the Creed, we say we believe in one God?  How will we put our trust only in God and not in something society tells us to worship like power or wealth?

Every week we pray the Lord’s Prayer together.  This prayer alone can inform our whole lives.  We pray that we will keep God’s name holy.  We will be ready for opportunities when we can bring God’s kingdom into the here and now.  We will forgive one another.

We read the Psalm responsively nearly every Sunday. I do not know about you, but for me the poetry of the Psalms has been especially helpful/comforting/relatable (I am not sure what word best describes it) during the pandemic. I am not necessarily ready for prose or narrative. The language of the prose frees my soul and imagination and connects me to the thousands of people who have prayed to God using these same psalms or songs. They are our most ancient songs. The psalms are filled with action words like worship, trust, turn again, endures.

We have a treasure of hymns written more recently, and the words found in them also give us guidance for our living. In our hymn of the day today we will plead, “As you, Lord, in deep compassion healed the sick and freed the soul, by your Spirit send your power to our world to make it whole.” That phrase reminds us that when we try to walk the talk, when we attempt for our actions to match our words, we are never alone. The Holy Spirit moves through our actions. God truly is at work—redeeming our world, equipping you and me both to will and word for God’s good pleasure.

Prayers of Intercession – Adopted from Sundays and Seasons by Mary Braudrick

Drawn together in the compassion of God, we pray for the church, the world, and all those in need. 

Gracious God, In all the world, give your church unity. Inspire all the baptized, everywhere, with the grace-filled mind of Christ. Where the church is powerful and where it struggles, shape us with humility and obedience so that your love may be at work in us. Lord in your mercy, HEAR OUR PRAYER

Creator God, Your Son took on all bodily life in our world, even to death. Preserve and keep your perfect creation, O God. Mend and redeem places that are polluted and damaged, so that all of creation confesses you as Lord. Empower us each to do our part to protect our precious, unique environment. Lord in your mercy, HEAR OUR PRAYER

Loving Holy Spirit, Turn all the nations toward life. Where our ways are unfair, give us clear vision, new hearts and new spirits. Where sin permeates our cultures and institutions, change and enlighten our minds and teach us to trust your authority. Lord in your mercy, HEAR OUR PRAYER 

Our lives are yours, O God of healing. Relieve the suffering of those who are ill in body, mind or spirit. Bring light to those who are dealing with the very real darkness of depression in these difficult days of pandemic, fires and floods. May they reach out for help, but also look to BE helpers, as that can bring light, too. Defend the lives and welfare of children who are abused or neglected, hungry or exploited, bullied or lonely. Lord in your mercy, HEAR OUR PRAYER 

O God our helper, Turn this congregation away from our self interests toward the interests of others. Fill us with your compassion and sympathy. Bless ministries of care in our community, especially through Trinity Gardens, the residents of New Hope Housing and our connections to the children of West Middle School. Make us into signs of your mercy and justice for our neighbors. Lord in your mercy, HEAR OUR PRAYER

Giver of Grace, Thank you for those who have gone into the kingdom ahead of us: tax collectors, prostitutes, the likely and the unlikely, obedient and slow to learn, faithful and not. By their witness, teach us to confess Jesus Christ as Lord in this life and in our death. Lord in your mercy, HEAR OUR PRAYER 

All these things, and whatever else you see that we need now, or will need, We entrust to your mercy; Through Christ our Lord. AMEN

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Affordable Housing – Through the Pandemic

Originally published on

“The home is the center of life. It is a refuge from the grind of work, the pressure of school, and the menace of the streets. We say that at home, we can ‘be ourselves.’ Everywhere else, we are someone else. At home, we remove our masks.” Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Desmond’s book came out in 2016, about a year after Trinity New Hope, Inc. (TNH) was started, long before masks took on new importance. TNH is an Affordable Housing neighborhood of 16 3-bedroom single family homes in West Nampa. We celebrated our five-year anniversary in April 2020, right as we were all hunkering down.

For all of the hardships and struggles we have dealt with as the TNH team (board and staff), stuff I should not publish for probably another ten years, I would not trade this work for anything. It has brought us close to those who are experiencing homelessness. It has taught me that as many stories as filled up Trinity’s sanctuary pre-pandemic, that is how many stories fill up the homes. There are of course threads and we all have learned how complex affordable housing is and how difficult it is to make systemic changes. But each family or individual also brings their own unique background, trials, and hope. And when I wonder, “where is God in all this?” the Holy Spirit often responds, “right here—where sinfulness and brokenness are most apparent,” whether they belong to me, another individual, the community, or the world.

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Sept. 20, 2020

Prayer of the Day

God of abundance, you have poured out a large measure of earthly blessings: our table is richly furnished, our cup overflows, and we live in safety and security. Teach us to set our hearts on you and not these material blessings. Keep us from becoming captivated by prosperity, and grant us in wisdom to use your blessings to your glory and to the service of humankind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (ELW p. 80)

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?”

1 Peter 4:8-11

8Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaining.10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Interviews of Trinity members and staff conducted by our Stewardship Team

Prayers of Intercession

Drawn together in the compassion of God, we pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.

A brief silence.

Generous God, you make the last first, and the first last. Where this gospel challenges the church, equip it for its works of service. Strengthen those who suffer for Christ (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Sun and wind, bushes and worms, cattle and great cities—nothing in creation is outside your concern, mighty God. In your mercy, tend to it all. Give us a spirit of generosity toward all you have made. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Where we find envy and create enemies, you provide enough for all. Bring peace to places of conflict and violence. Inspire leaders with creativity and wisdom. Bless the work of negotiators, peacekeepers, and development workers. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Reveal yourself to all in need as you are gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, ready to relent from punishing. Accompany judges and lawyers, victims of crime and those serving sentences. Give fruitful labor and a livelihood to those seeking work. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Even beyond our expectations, you choose to give generously. Grant life, health, and courage to all who are in need. Grant safety to all firefighters, consolation to all who have lost property, and love and hope to those whose loved ones have died in the fires across the west. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We praise you for the generations that have declared your power to us. Give us faithfulness to follow them, living for Christ, until you call us to join them in the joyful song around his throne. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

All these things and whatever else you see that we need, we entrust to your mercy; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Sept. 13, 2020

Prayer of the Day

O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Exodus 14:19-31

19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” 26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Phillip Ratner

Psalm 114

1Hallelujah! When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,
2Judah became God’s sanctuary and Israel God’s dominion.

3The sea beheld it and fled; Jordan turned and went back.
4The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like young sheep. 

5What ailed you, O sea, that you fled, O Jordan, that you turned back,
6you mountains, that you skipped like rams, you little hills like young sheep?7Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8who turned the hard rock into a pool of water and flint-stone into a flowing spring. 

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I’m turning to Dan Erlander’s wonderful summary of the events up to this point. Once upon a time God was vexed with a nation called Egypt.  In this nation a big deal Pharaoh was on top.  In the middle were various big deals and ordinary citizens.  On the bottom were the slaves who lived under heavy oppression.  The slaves were descendants of early believers in God—Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Isaac, Leah, Rachael, and Jacob.  It was Sarah and Abraham who received the promise that their offspring would bless all nations.

Because of the slave labor, the big deals of Egypt lived in ease and luxury.  The Pharaoh, who thought he owned everything, depended upon the priests and the military to keep the whole system going and to maintain the status quo.  Everyone, including the slaves, considered Egypt to be eternal.  God detested this system.

God did not plan the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as it was happening.  There was a goal and a plan.  God wanted the Israelites and Egyptians to see that Israel’s God is Lord of all the earth.  And so, God performed a creative and cosmic act which led the Israelites to praise God.

Creation of the dry land leads to freedom of the oppressed.  The Israelites are liberated.  The work of God as creator effects the redemption of a people. The Egyptians oppose what God has newly brought into being. The Egyptians’ anti-creation activity turns the creation against them, and they suffer at its hands.

Then Moses stretches forth his hand over the sea again and the dry land disappears.  The Egyptians drown in the midst of a chaos of their own making.  But Israel walked through the sea on dry land and was safely standing on the opposite shore. The created order is once again established.

The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”  This confession is a grudging admission of defeat.  We hear something like it in the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus breathes his last breath on the cross and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  The centurion confesses, “Truly this man was God’s son.”  The power of the Roman Empire at long last concedes to the power of Jesus.

The abundance of creation language indicates that something more than military victory has been achieved with the Exodus. A new creation has occurred, offering Israel a future that is free from the dominating reign of Pharaoh. Drawing on images from both the Bible and the ancient Near East, our story today assumes that creation and chaos are in conflict.

God’s victory over the Egyptians is not simply a matter of defeating ancient chaos monsters. Human costs are involved: “The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived … and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.”

The rabbis were particularly insightful in naming this reality. One commentary explains ministering angels desired to sing a song of praise before God in response to the decisive victory over the Egyptians. God, however, said to them: “My handiwork [the Egyptians] are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before me?”

A quick reading might suggest that Exodus 14 is nothing more than a tribalistic, us-vs-them story. But in highlighting the impact of Pharaoh’s policies on the bodies of Egyptian soldiers, the story shows that the Israelites are not the only victims of Pharaoh’s hard(ened) heart. The Egyptian system of domination and violence also drew Egyptian soldiers into its orbit, as enforcers of the pharaonic will.

One scholar I heard talk about this story said that it was an unrepeatable event. In other words, this story’s liberation and new creation are beautiful themes but the loss of so many Egyptian lives makes in unrepeatable. I think he is right.

As a friend and I talked through the story earlier this week she said this was a good place to use the phrase, “Kill the crown, but keep the head.” Said another way, throw over pharaoh, empire, oppression, exploitation, but keep the human life which God can surely redeem.

As long as human beings are running them, systems of oppression will need to be drowned in the waters of the sea, or flood, or elsewhere. The Israelites themselves serve as an example. They sang and danced with their liberation on the shores, rightly so. Generations later, in possession of land and serving kings, they collectively embodied an empire that acted similar to Pharaoh and the Egyptians.

Last Monday, as our country celebrated Labor Day, I thought of all the amazing labor movement stories and protections that came about through various movements—child labor laws, safety measures, overtime, benefits, fair wages, non-discrimination. It is quite impressive and something to celebrate. But I would also be the first to admit that unions, at the heart of many of those stories, can become corrupt and greedy. Why? Because they are made up of human beings and human sin is tenacious.

It is why Martin Luther insisted that we remember our Baptism daily. Every day, we remember that we too came through waters, our sin was drowned, we were washed clean and given new life, our own liberation from sin and death. We might do well to remember that in the service of Baptism we are asked three questions: Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? We reply, I renounce them. How precisely does this happen? Where are we give opportunities to live out our baptismal covenant?

There is a sort of line drawn in through  our country right now that this renouncing of the devil is either done by each one of us in our daily life, through acts of kindness, or we renounce the devil by changing the big policies that guide us. Today’s Scripture passages from Exodus and Matthew show us just how ridiculous a choice the media and politicians have given us.

Jesus tells us to forgive those close to us and also those distant from us. Forgiveness itself brings liberation for the transgressor and the one offering forgiveness. And the Exodus story shows us that a whole policy and system—Pharaoh’s system of slavery and exploitation of the Israelites, needed to be overthrown—tossed in the sea, drown forever.

Please do not think that this is an Old and New Testament distinction. There were plenty of times before Jesus’ birth when God gave instructions about how we are to treat one another up close and personal—see exhibit A—the Ten Commandments. And there were times when Jesus turned whole systems upside down—see exhibit B—his crucifixion and resurrection.

We need policy changes and we need changes of minds and hearts. It is always both/and not either/or.

I personally see the pandemic, the protests this summer, and the economy exposing policies and systems that are unjust, exploitative, and in need of reform. White bodies are valued, still, over black and brown bodies in this country in so many ways. This disparity, this many years after the Civil Rights Movement, should fill us with compassion and the drive to transform society. Racial inequalities are surely not the only part of our society that is broken, but it permeates everything—housing, income, jobs, schools, healthcare.

I certainly don’t think we need to burn it all down or, sticking with the metaphor of the day, drown it all. But change needs to happen. And as much as I would like to get everyone on board first, sometimes policy needs to come first.

What if law makers had waited for every CEO to sign-on before enacting child-labor laws? We might still be waiting. What if Lutherans had waited for every pastor and lay person in the country to be okay with ordaining women before the governing body voted for change? I might still be waiting. What if no one had thought to protect big plots of land? The west would sure look different. This year is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act? What if every employer was required to approve before it became law?

Policies, and enforcing policies is part of how we get better as large bodies of people. And often living into the policy is how we discover that we all are better—all have more life—all experience liberation.

But just as important and valuable as policies are to our life together, so are human encounters. Remember, it’s always both/and. We all know that transformation happens, dry land appears, when we stop and truly see each other—in line at the grocery store, on the sidelines of a soccer match, while making small talk before the meeting begins, in the school cafeteria or playground.

Somehow, when we see another human being as a child of God, there are new possibilities for relationships, for the community, for the world.  There is hope for a new creation.  Oppression, domination, and exploitation begin to crumble.

Gathered together around this simple meal of Christ’s body and blood we remember the first Passover, God’s redeeming work at the sea, and the new covenant. Through words, bread, and wine we receive forgiveness of all we have done and left undone.  We are free in the most marvelous way—free to praise God and free to take the hand of those we know well and those who are strangers—with the Holy Spirit before us and behind us—we can walk across dry land.

Prayers of Intercession

Drawn together in the compassion of God, we pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.

A brief silence.

You welcome us when we are weak in faith. Uphold your church throughout the world; make it a place of welcome. Strengthen faith through Bible studies and Sunday schools, confirmation classes and youth ministries. Nurture new ministries of education and growth (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The heights of the heavens show us the vastness of your steadfast love. Have compassion on your creation. Where human selfishness has brought ruin and destruction, we look to you to heal, renew, and redeem your world. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Make your ways known to the nations. Speak kindness to our bitter grudges. Settle our hearts when we want to settle accounts with violence. Bless our leaders with patience and wisdom (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Bring healing and justice wherever harm is dealt. Provide vindication for all who are oppressed. Free victims of human trafficking and forced labor; deliver all who are bound by debt. Feed all who hunger, and guard refugees fleeing famine, poverty, and war. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Teach us to forgive. Remind us that you do not always accuse us. Still our tongues when we are tempted to pass judgment and argue over opinions. Make this congregation a community of mercy for one another and for all our neighbors. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Whether we live or whether we die, we are yours. We thank you for those who have showed us faithfulness, for the knees that taught us how to bow to you and the tongues that taught us to praise you (especially John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, whom we commemorate today). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

All these things and whatever else you see that we need, we entrust to your mercy; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Not Expendable

Originally published on

“They make us sound so expendable,” was a comment made a few months ago by several people in my congregation and in my family/friend circle. What did they mean? These elderly people were repeating the sentiment they have read or heard that they are old and that their potential deaths from COVID-19 are just part of how we, as a global community, will get through the pandemic. This all made me think about my reaction to the  2015 film, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a follow-up to the 2011 Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. First, let me say that I love the all-star cast. Who would not? From a film-critic perspective, I also appreciated that the film is set in India and mostly shot outdoors. Many scenes are set in the daytime, so the screen is saturated with sunlight and all colors of the spectrum. The film also has a vibrant musical score. Continue reading

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