June 6, 2021

Prayer of the Day

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

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20

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

Psalm 138

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

Mark 3:20-35

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

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers of Intercession

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

Let us come before the triune God in prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 30, 2021

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

Prayer of the Day

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

Isaiah 6:1-8

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

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

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

Psalm 29

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

Romans 8:12-17

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

John 3:1-17

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

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

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

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

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers of Intercession

Let us come before the triune God in prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grant Writing as Storytelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will grant funds be used to achieve your goals?

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

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

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

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More Neighbor Love

Pastor’s Column in Trinity’s June 2021 Epistle

Dear Friends in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, 

Pastor Meggan

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Gardens and Lutherans Restoring Creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 16, 2021

Prayer of the Day

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

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

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

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

Psalm 1

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

1 John 5:9-13

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

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

John 17:6-19

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

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Intercession (from ELCA Worship in the Home)

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

A brief silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.  

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May 9, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, you have prepared for those who love you joys beyond understanding. Pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all we can desire; through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Acts 10:44-48

44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Psalm 98

1Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done | marvelous things,
  whose right hand and holy arm have | won the victory.
2O Lord, you have made | known your victory,
  you have revealed your righteousness in the sight | of the nations.
3You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the | house of Israel;
  all the ends of the earth have seen the victory | of our God.
4Shout with joy to the Lord, | all you lands;
  lift up your voice, re- | joice, and sing. 
5Sing to the Lord| with the harp,
  with the harp and the | voice of song.
6With trumpets and the sound | of the horn
  shout with joy before the | king, the Lord.
7Let the sea roar, and | all that fills it,
  the world and those who | dwell therein.
8Let the rivers | clap their hands,
  and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes to | judge the earth.
9The Lord will judge the | world with righteousness
  and the peo- | ples with equity. 

1 John 5:1-6

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

  6This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

John 15:9-17

[Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
  12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Sermon – Meggan Manlove

Today Jesus builds on his simple metaphor: he is the vine, and we are the branches. The imperative is quite clear: love. I find that there is so much in the passage from John’s gospel that is corrective to what ails the world, balm for our wounded communities, a tonic that could clear our vision. 

My sermon preparation began last Saturday afternoon when I attended my first Eagle Scout Ceremony. Ryan Beeson is the young man who organized the building of the pergola for the Trinity New Hope gathering space. He and another scout were the two being celebrated for earning the highest honor—the Eagle. 

There was one line in the ceremony that really stood out to me: “I charge you to be among those who dedicate their skills and ability to the common good.” I had not read or heard that phrase for a long time. It almost brought tears to my eyes, this idea of the common good. I have heard much more about what is good for me. But the common good? So I starting thinking about the common good in relation to John 15. 

Then this Thursday morning I led a prayer during the Kiwanis Club’s Nampa Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. Our keynote speaker was Doug Armstrong, who was the executive of KTVB and is now the chaplain of the Idaho Senate. Doug told us how became a man of faith as an adult. But first he talked about his goal had to run a business. He told us how influential a particular book had been for him in his twenties: Robert Ringer’s 1970s best seller: Looking Out for #1

Now, it’s always a challenge to talk about something in our culture that not everyone is familiar with. Plus, I have not read this book, but I read several summaries. Here’s one: “Looking out for number one is the conscious, rational effort to spend as much time as possible doing those things which bring the greatest amount of pleasure and less time doing whatever causes pain.” That, to me, is quite a contrast to the notion in the Eagle Scout pledge of dedicating our skills and ability to the common good. It also is a contrast to our gospel passage.

Jesus says, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” In this specific case he is referencing, at least metaphorically, a specific kind of fruit—grapes. How do we know this? Because the first seven verse of the chapter are all about how Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. The fruit we will bear if we abide in God is love, pure and simple. 

How are the vine and branches related to the common good, besides the obvious command to love? The metaphor of the vine is non-hierarchical. There is no me getting ahead. There is not even room for church hierarchy—bishops, pastors, laypeople. The vine and branches metaphor is also stark in its anonymity. What I mean is that the visual image of the branches lacks any and all distinctions in appearance, character, or gifts. The question of “how do I look out for #1?” just does not fit into the picture.

The anonymity is also a contrast to other metaphors in the New Testament itself. First Corinthians 12, with its church as the body metaphor, is irresistible in the anatomical fantasy it puts before the early church: talking feet and ears, entire bodies composed exclusively of ears or eyes or noses. The Apostle Paul points to the place that his or her individual gifts occupies in the body. Paul holds together the oneness of Christ and the diversity of gifts and members of the body. And that metaphor can be helpful and life-giving. I know. I have preached and taught this metaphor a lot. 

But that’s not our focus today, and I am ever grateful for the vine metaphor. It undercuts any celebration of individual gifts in exchange for a clear focus, a directive for absolutely everyone. There is only one measure of one’s place in the faith community—to love as Jesus has loved—and everyone, great and small, ordained and lay, young and old, male and female are equally accountable to that one standard. 

What would happen if the church were to live as the branches of Christ? Well, individual distinctiveness would give way to the common embodiment of love. The distinctiveness of the community would derive solely from our relationship to God and Jesus, not the characteristics or even gifts of its members. And the mark of the faithful community would be how it loves, not who are its members. There is only one gift, to bear fruit, and any branch can do that if it remains with Jesus. 

A follower of Jesus is someone who, in every situation, tries to respond to other people with the love of Jesus. There may be responses to the world which, in the world’s eyes, “Make sense,” or which can simply be justified by reference to, “everyone else is doing it.” But Christians are those who, through baptism, have signed on, have publicly committed themselves, to obey Jesus. And Jesus has commanded us to love. 

The practice of obedience can make us Lutherans bristle when it sounds like we are obeying so that we will be loved and forgiven.  But in fact, we are all about obedience; we obey God’s commands because God has already claimed and loved us.  

Whether our obedience to Jesus’ command will make the world a better place, or lead to deeper human understanding, or help to win friends and influence people, we don’t know. We only know, in today’s scripture as well as so many other places in the New Testament, that this is clearly what Jesus commands us to do. 


It is not always easy to know exactly what loving one another means. This is where community, those other branches, can be helpful with discernment and accountability. There are some times our love needs to be that sort of “tough love.” Yet hate, violence, revenge, and the other means through which the world gets what it wants, are not options for Jesus’ people, people who are commanded to love, to bear fruit. Sometimes love means a day of discomfort when a perfectly healthy adults gets vaccinated, to help drive a virus away for people who absolutely cannot get vaccinated. Whatever it looks like, love remains the imperative.  

There is a second wonderful corrective that this passage from John addresses. Sometimes, especially in the Treasure Valley, we face a binary when it comes to following Jesus. There are Christians who will ask me, “are you a believer?” For them, I think, faith is completely a matter of the heart or mind. It is about where we put our trust, or in the words of our text today, what we abide in. 

If I am feeling just a little self-righteous, I want to respond to these Christians by asking them, “are you a fruit-bearer?” What I mean is, have you put your faith into action by feeding, clothing, visiting people in prison, welcoming the foreigner? How have you been bearing fruit?

But the truth is neither of these approaches is fully faithful and today’s gospel gets right to the heart of it. We cannot bear fruit if we are not abiding with Jesus. If we only bear fruit without abiding in Jesus, we will dry up and die OR our fruit will not resemble Jesus. And, if we only abide in Jesus, without bearing fruit, we are not actually abiding. 

However, if we truly abide in Jesus, which means abiding in God’s love, we will not be able to help ourselves. Fruit will come. Acts of love will be spontaneous. The love of God will simply spring forth like a big juicy grape.

Abiding has sometimes been a challenge in the past year. Lots of us depend on in-person communal worship to be nourished and reminded of Jesus’ love. Many of us have pivoted and adapted so much so that we are now even sick of those words—pivot and adapt. But if you have have found new ways to abide in Jesus’ love this past year, please do not let them go as we live into the new normal. Let them continue to nourish your life of faith and, in turn, our community.

Likewise, if there were habits or parts of your daily routine that you have let go of that did not help you abide in Jesus, please do not pick them up again. Just keep pruning. Be mindful of what helps you abide and what helps you bear fruit. Be mindful of love, not sentimentality or romance, but that sustaining abundant love that come from God. It will naturally become love of neighbor and yes, even love of self. 

We are part of a big world and it is easy to feel quite small and insignificant. But maybe especially when we feel powerless, the Holy Spirit reminds us through scripture passages like this one that all of us are already fruit bearers because we abide in the love of God through Jesus. 

Prayers of Intercession

Alive in the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we bring our prayers before God who promises to hear us and answer in steadfast love.

A brief silence.Loving God, you call us to be your fruit-bearing church. Strengthen the bonds among all Christian churches. Today we pray for the Moravian Church, giving thanks for the life and witness of Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, renewer of the church and hymnwriter. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Creating God, the earth praises you. The seas roar and the hills sing for joy. Fill the earth with your love so that by their song, all creatures of land and sea and sky, burrowing and soaring, may call us to join with them in praise. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Faithful Savior, you conquer the world not with weapons but with undying love. Plant your word in the hearts of the nations’ leaders and give them your Spirit, so that the peoples of the world may live in peace. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We praise you for the gradual lessening of the pandemic and for your gift of vaccines. Wherever the virus still rages (especially India, Turkey, and South America), wherever medical resources are depleted, wherever medical advice is rejected, extend the power of your healing hand. Be present with all who today will die, and visit all who are sick or suffering. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

We praise you for the loving support of mothers to their children. Bless mothers, stepmothers, foster mothers, godmothers, and all of each gender who give mothering care. Protect mothers in societies where women have few rights. Comfort those who grieve because they cannot mother a child. Wherever children are deprived of mothering, provide responsible and affectionate care. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Gentle Redeemer, all who die in you abide in your presence forever. We remember with thanksgiving those who shared your love throughout their lives (especially). Keep us united with them in your lasting love. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

In the hope of new life in Christ, we raise our prayers to you, trusting in your never-ending goodness and mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast

It is always an interesting experience to pray at the Kiwanis Club’s annual Mayor’s Community Prayer Breakfast in Nampa. This was I think my third time leading a prayer. Kudos to Doug Armstrong (former exec of KTVB and current Chaplain for the Idaho Senate) for a great keynote.

Thanks to my denomination’s hymnal, a good friend, one public official, and Martin Luther for helping me craft this “Prayer for Churches and Religious Freedom.” For readers not from Nampa, this event is more ecumenical than interfaith.

Let us Pray.

Gracious God, we give thanks for the many expressions of faith in Nampa and for gathering us together in this place this morning. We remember and praise you for the variety of ways communities of faith have worked together in the past and we pray for a continued spirit of collaboration and cooperation. Help us discern what it is we can do together that we cannot do on our own for the good of the community.

Loving God we pray for your holy church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it.

Almighty God, we thank you for the religious freedom bestowed on all religious communities in this country. We give thanks that the interests of the state do not need to be served by our religious commitments. We ask for wisdom so that we are good stewards of this freedom. Let us never allow religious freedom to be an excuse to harm our neighbor. 

For those who follow Jesus Christ, help us remember that our ultimate freedom lies in him. Keep us ever mindful that a “Christian is perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all,” [The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther].

You are love, God. Draw your church together, following Jesus Christ into every walk of life, together serving in Jesus’ mission to the world, and together witnessing to your love wherever you will send us. We pray with grateful hearts. Amen.

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May 2, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, you give us your Son as the vine apart from whom we cannot live. Nourish our life in his resurrection, that we may bear the fruit of love and know the fullness of your joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 8:26-40

6An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: 
 “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
  and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
   so he does not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation justice was denied him.
  Who can describe his generation?
   For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Psalm 22:25-31

25From you comes my praise in the | great assembly;
  I will perform my vows in the sight of those who | fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat | and be satisfied,
  Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts | live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn | to the Lord;
  all the families of nations shall bow | before God.
28For dominion belongs | to the Lord,
  who rules o- | ver the nations. 
29Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow | down in worship;
  all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel be- | fore the Lord.
30Their descendants shall | serve the Lord,
  whom they shall proclaim to genera- | tions to come.
31They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people | yet unborn,
  saying to them, “The | Lord has acted!” 

1 John 4:7-21

7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
  13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. 
  God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

John 15:1-8

[Jesus said:] 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I 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. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The Holy Spirit was on the loose in the early church.  The Book of the Acts of the Apostles could rightly be named, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”  Before his Ascension, Jesus tells his disciples “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

Our story today has a whole lot to do with witnessing, pointing to the good news of Jesus Christ, to abundant life, to never ending love, to acceptance and belonging, to mercy every flowing. The Holy Spirit is present in the lives of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch and is present in our lives as well, often in the most surprising ways. 

I have loved the story of Philip and the eunuch for a long time. Growing up in the West, where distances are vast, I appreciate that the story takes place on a road, which is, as one scholar [WJ Jennings] says, a place of “survival, moving from one place to the next and searching for life possibilities or at least running from the forces of death. . . . This is a God who wills to be found on the road in order to transform it, collapsing near and far, domestic and foreign onto the body of the Son. There on the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza, from the near and known to the distant and unknown, Philip will again witness a God whose love expands over every road and transgresses every bordered identity. The Spirit is Lord of the road.”

In a way, we have all been on a road this past year, from lock-down to the new normal. I know, as your pastor, that our members have been all sorts of other roads as well—the road of medical diagnosis, the road of grief, the road of my loved one is several states away and I feel helpless, the road of job searching, the road of coming-of-age. And, chances are, we all know someone who is on the road, searching, transforming, discovering. Can you picture those friends, neighbors, relatives in your mind this morning?

Bring those people along with you as we enter our story from Acts Chapter 8, a powerful story of witness, of pointing to a God of love, of providing hope, of interpreting Scripture. Philip demonstrates with his words and actions how one can make a passage of Scripture deeply relevant and meaningful to another person. 

But before we get to Philip’s witness, let’s pause for my favorite part of this story, the character of the eunuch himself. The Holy Spirit brings Philip to a road in the wilderness where he encounters an Ethiopian riding a chariot. He was well employed—a minister of Candace, the queen of Ethiopia. He is educated enough to be reading Greek. He has dark skin. And he had come to Jerusalem to pray. But he could never have gone into the inner temple. Deuteronomy 23 makes it plain that no eunuch could be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.

This is who Philip meets on the road. The encounter is what Gloria Anzaldúa “would call a borderland moment, where people of profound difference enter a new possibility of life together in a shared intimate space and a new shared identity.” His ethnicity, his blackness, and his sexuality made the eunuch an outsider. “This Ethiopian eunuch is the outer boundary of the possibility of Jewish existence, and there at that border God will bring that difference near, very near, to hearth of home in the Spirit.” 

According to another scholar [Jennings], “the eunuch asks of the passage from Isaiah, who is this person in pain and suffering, humiliation and shame? . . . It is a question that shadows every biblical text and every fledging interpreter, inviting us to see the One who would bind together exegesis of text to exegesis of life to illumination of new life in the midst of sorrow. . . . Now the body of God will be seen where no one would have imagined or dared to look, at the place of humiliation and pain and on a eunuch’s chariot.”

And then Philip preaches an intimate sermon in which he brings the eunuch “into a future promised especially for him, one in which he will not be in the shadows or at the margins of the people of God, but at a center held together with strong cords that capture our differences, never despising them but bring them to glorious light and life.”

“God has come for the eunuch precisely in his difference and exactly in the complexities of his life. He matters, not because he is close to worldly powers and thus a more appealing pawn. He simply matters, and he is being brought close.”

If the eunuch had only the written words of Scripture, wow can he know what is true? Is it Deuteronomy or Isaiah? Is he in or out? How can he understand unless someone guides him?  What he needs is someone who knows the God of Scripture.  He needs someone to teach him who has felt the embrace of God, who can read the cold ink on the page in the warm light of God’s Spirit.  He needs Philip and Philip needs the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the eunuch asks Philip, “What’s to prevent me from being baptized?”  Philip could have answered, “Everything!”  You are a foreigner, not from the land of Israel.  You are a eunuch, a violation of purity codes.  You’re a member of the queen’s cabinet, so you’re loyal to the wrong sovereign—wrong nation, wrong sexuality, and wrong job.

But Philip heard the Holy Spirit speak a different answer, “Absolutely nothing.”  So, the eunuch commanded the chariot to stop.  He was baptized on the spot.  Walls of prejudice and prohibition that had stood for generations came tumbling down, blown down by the breath of God’s Holy Spirit.

The story of the Holy Spirit, Philip, and the eunuch balanced well our beautiful readings this morning.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus introduced the metaphor of the vine and branches.  In First John we are told to love one another, because love is from God. What’s more?  God abides in us.  These passages paint a picture of what it means to be the church.

The story of Philip and the eunuch on the wilderness road reminds us that the church exists for people outside the church.  We live as an Easter people, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ—knowing that we have new life, abundant life, here, now, today.  We come into the sanctuary, we gather around the table for bread and wine.  Here we are transformed to, as we say during the dismissal, “Go in Peace and Serve the Lord.”

We cannot tether the Holy Spirit.  Philip is a servant of the Spirit, not a gatekeeper.  Which role do we choose?  Philip was attuned to the Holy Spirit.  He was a great evangelist who got sent to the wilderness road.  But when the Spirit snatched him up he didn’t fight it.  And what fruit the encounter bore.  The Ethiopian eunuch goes on his way rejoicing.  

 We need the Spirit to empower us and guide us still today. It is the Spirit that will help us discern how we should be the church for the world in 2021. I am left to cling to the hope that it is the Spirit-filled church that does the work of God; to bring wholeness to our lives and break down the oppressive barriers that continue to subjugate people.

The Holy Spirit has always been the mover and shaker of ideas and action. The different ways in which we imagine the Holy Spirit can challenge some of our assumptions in Christianity. They can provide a liberating understanding of the Spirit that allows us to work for social justice.

The Spirit challenges the status quo. The work of the Holy Spirit that ceaselessly stirs us will also motivate us to work toward new kinships with God that are sustainable, just and whole. It will help our churches so that we can welcome everyone to the table to break bread.

Herbert Boeckl, Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, Angel’s Chapel, Seckau Abbey, Styria, Austria, 1952-60.

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Alive in the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we bring our prayers before God who promises to hear us and answer in steadfast love.

God of all fruitfulness, you abide in your church and your church abides in you. Cleanse us by your word and give yourself to the whole church on earth so that it bears fruit and witnesses to your love. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

You have created the heavens and the earth. As we wonder at the beauty of creation, may we seek vital connections among all that depends on the earth for life. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

You rule the nations with justice and love. Give the leaders of the earth assurance of your abiding presence, that they lead not by fear but with love for those they are called to serve. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

You have loved us so that we can love others. We pray for all in need of your love: those who are poor, lowly, outcast, weak, or fearful. Provide for the needs of all, especially those suffering in India. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.You gather us with all the saints by the power of your Spirit (especially with Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and those we name before you). With them, may our hearts live forever in your keeping. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

In the hope of new life in Christ, we raise our prayers to you, trusting in your never-ending goodness and mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Yes in God’s Backyard

In February and March 2021, I was honored to participate in Leap Housing Solution’s Yes In God’s Backyard (YIGBY) Panel. My deep thanks to Leap’s Exec Director Bart Cochran for assembling this group. I hope the stories from these three faith communities, including Trinity Lutheran Church, Nampa, inspire others to use their land or old properties for housing solutions.

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