Friday Uplift, 5/22/2015

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;  for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

Most of us have heard or read Romans 8 at some point in our lives, often when we are going through difficult times – because it contains the HUGE promise that brings great comfort. Verses 35-39 remind us, quite clearly, that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.
Not health.
Not sickness.
Not good times.
Not bad times.
And since Romans 8 is pretty wonderful at it’s end, I think we often jump ahead to that part we love so much (and why wouldn’t we) to immerse ourselves in that promise when we need it most.
But when we do that, we sometimes miss the amazingness that comes earlier.

Verses 18-21 remind us that something is coming.  Something bigger and better than anything we are going through right now.

I don’t often go here, but Eugene Peterson’s Bible Paraphase (The Message) says these verses really well:
“This is why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.  The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next.”
God is at work in the world.  Right now.
And so we wait for God’s work to be completed.
And even though waiting is hard, there is something joyful in that anticipation.
Again, Eugene Peterson talks about the waiting in this lovely way – as Paul writes our waiting is like a pregnant mother:
“that is why the waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.  We are enlarged in the waiting. We don’t see what is enlarging us.  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”

God is working in you too.

Right now.
It’s true.
And like the world, we also wait for God’s work to be completed.
It’s hard to wait, it’s hard to be in pain, or be sick, or be going through something really difficult – but trust that God is at work.
To be clear – God is not making you sick, or in pain, or making you go through something difficult… but God is at work within it.
Making it something new.
Making you new.
And while God works, we wait.
Because when it’s done, when that work is complete, we won’t even be able to handle the awesomeness.

In the meantime – NOTHING can get in between you and God.

Project 12:30 – Gratitude Month continued

So I have to say, this month is quickly becoming my favorite.
I find myself more content, more joyful, more peaceful when I take a moment and reflect on the things in my day for which I am grateful.

Again, I try to do little things, normal daily life things – not the usual: family, friends, life… Because in a way, that’s too easy.
This exercise is about the little things.  Appreciating the ordinary.
So here’s the days of gratitude:
6th: brunch, specficially, lemon ricotta pancakes with Steph.
7th: kitty snuggles while reading
8th: seeing familiar faces in unexpected places
9th: the ink whisperer
10th: Being told “you’re off duty”
11th: being home for bedtime (yey short meetings!)
12th: grace in the face of forgetfulness
13th: completing all the checks on my list on a Wednesday!
14th: Love Flash Mob
15th: Social Extrovert time
16th: Being Inspired at a church assembly (shocking)
17th: digging in the dirt

If you haven’t done this yet, it’s never too late to begin.  Join me.  Seriously. This is the best month ever.

Sermon: May 17, 2015

Sermons are meant to be heard – not just read – so consider taking a listen!

Scripture: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26,  John 17:6-8, 13-19
Title: Drawing the Short Straw

I know it’s hard to believe, but I wasn’t always this specimen of strength and athleticism you see before you today.

This week, when Katie and I were talking about her kid’s time, I told her the story of my skinny, weak, gangly self playing kickball in elementary school.  Every time I came up to kick, the other team would yell out “step in!” and everyone would move forward.

It was the worst.

And as my lack of kickball skills were common knowledge, I was most often picked last for the team.
It would usually be between me and another gangly awkward kid, and we would both be silently hoping that our name was next.  Because even though it wasn’t a great place to be, being second-to-last wasn’t nearly as horrible and humiliating as being the last picked.

So when I first read today’s reading from Acts, I read it through a different lens.
The lens of not being the a-team.
The lens of not being chosen first.
And I heard about Matthias and Barsabbas and couldn’t help but wonder if they felt at all like I did, standing there, next to the other person, hoping it’s your name called first.

The location of both of today’s texts are important – not where they physically take place, but where they are located historically and in our church year.
Today is the final Sunday of Easter.
Next week is Pentecost.
This past Thursday was Ascension Day, the day where Jesus ascends into heaven to be at the right hand of God.

So this morning finds the disciples in this strange in-between zone.  They have followed Jesus, learned from him, watched him be killed, they’ve seen him rise from the dead, and have just watched him go back to be with God.  So the question for them is… now what?What do we do now?

Well, Peter, being the practical leader that he is, decides that the most important thing to do in this moment is to replace Judas.
While it’s been argued among scholars the exact reasoning for Peter’s decision, most agree that keeping the connection to the 12 tribes of Israel and remaining true to the prophecies were the main ones.

The remaining 11 disciples decided that this new disciple should come from among those who had been with them during Jesus’ ministry. After all, who better to tell the good news of Christ than someone who had been there and had seen it all?
So they propose two guys for this job: Matthias and Barsabbas.
And then, believe it or not, they cast lots to decide.
A flip of the coin decides who is the new 12th disciple.
They didn’t take resumes.
They didn’t conduct interviews.
They just said, you two guys stand here, heads it’s Barsabbas, tails its Matthias.
Ready, set. … Tails – Matthias, you’re in.
Sorry Barsabbas.  Better luck next time.

I feel for these guys.
I’m sure for them, this moment was not great.
They hadn’t been included in the original 12, so there’s that good start.
And then this – to be picked by a flip of the coin?

I think a lot of us can relate – even if you were among the lucky ones who were picked first for kickball and other playground sports – you can still relate to that moment that seems so important when it’s happening, but in reality doesn’t do a whole lot to the big picture.

This text makes me laugh a bit because the disciples are worrying about this one little thing and right around the corner is Pentecost and they have NO CLUE what is about to happen.  Here they are, voting to bring just one guy into their inner circle, and next week, the Holy Spirit destroys that very inner circle and brings everyone else on board.

It’s going to blow their mind.
It makes me wonder what little things in my world are going to be blown out of the water by the Holy Spirit.
And despite what is about to come, despite that we never hear about Matthias again after today, this moment is still important enough to have been recorded, for us to hear about, not because one individual is going to save the whole of God’s plan … but he matters because he was a part of what made the team complete.
He is called, but the plan isn’t contingent on him.

God is going to work.

Things are going to happen with or without Matthias.
Things are going to happen if the lot would have fallen on Barsabbas.
Whether the disciples like it or not, whether they are ready or not, the Holy Spirit is coming.
And for us – it’s already happened.
The Holy Spirit has come.
God is working in the world already.  Right now.
And the good news for us?
The lot has already been cast.
The coin was flipped, and God spoke YOUR name.
You are in.
God has called us disciples.
And while God’s plan isn’t contingent on you – your presence makes the team complete.
The team needs you.

This is what I think Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel.
We come across Jesus praying to God, praying for his disciples to God.
Jesus knows what is coming.
Jesus knows that he is going to go away, but he is praying that those disciples who are still here might be reminded that the work is not done yet.
We’re disciples too.  This prayer is for us.
We have all been sent.

John 17:18 Jesus says “As you (God)have sent me (Jesus) into the world, so I (Jesus) have sent them (us) into the world.”

That’s how it works.
There’s a plan here:
God sends Jesus.
Jesus sends us.
Because there is still a lot of work for us to do.

In the final verse of today’s Gospel Jesus says that he has made us holy.
That word literally means to be made holy, or to be set apart for God.

I want to focus on this word for a second, because I think we can hear “set apart” and think it means “stay apart.”  That we should be separate from the world around us.
But it’s the rest of that definition that matters most.
Sanctified means to be set apart FOR GOD.
For God.
We are set apart, sanctified, We are being made holy FOR something, and Jesus tells us today that we are to go out into the world.

Pope Francis once said “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

I think this is what we all want to be.
We WANT to be this kind of church.  Be this kind of disciples.
But I also think that we don’t really know how.
Our world today gives us a lot of information, but not a lot of action.
We hear a lot of opinions about how to make the world better, but don’t see a lot of people actually doing the things they talk about.
I’m guilty of this too.
I can be the best armchair activist the world has ever seen.

But I’m not sure that’s what God is asking.
I think God is asking us for more than armchair activism.

This is why Jesus prays today.
He is praying for us.
Jesus knows how hard it is to go out and DO.
So he prays for us who are sent.
For the wisdom and strength to do more.
To recognize that our names have been called.   

I spent the last two days at the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly in Ramsey, and along with a few of our congregational delegates, I heard the call to go out.
The theme was “The Word became flesh, and moved into the neighborhood”

We are asked to be about more than talking.
To be about more than focusing on things inside this building, and more on going out and doing.

Our keynote speaker Brian McLaren reminded us that being disciples isn’t about bringing people into the church, it’s about going out, into the neighborhood and BEING the church.

Now for some of you – maybe even a lot of you – this is as uncomfortable a task as when Chad asked you to change pews last week.
Go out?
Be the church out there?
But I like it in here.
It’s safe.
And I know people.
And my pew is comfy.

I get it.

This is no easy task.

But there is a lot of work to be done still, and if we don’t do it.  If we don’t go out and show the love of Christ to the community around us, the love that WE have received from God first – then who will?

There’s a story from the Old Testament, when Moses was giving one of his many arguments to God as to why he was the wrong person to lead the Israelites out of slavery – and God simply asked Moses – what’s in your hand?
For Moses – it was a shepherd’s staff, and God used that staff to make all sorts of miracles happen.

Moses didn’t go out and get something new.
He didn’t do something he had never done before.
He simply took what he knew and let God make it holy.
He let God set him apart for the work of God.

And look what happened.

This same thing is being asked of you today:
What’s in your hand?

Today, I want us to imagine.

I want us to imagine together how we might be invited to join God already at work in the world.
I want us to imagine together what it might look like to make the world a better place for God.
I want us to imagine together what our own personal gifts and talents and passions might have been set apart for.

God is already at work in the world.

We can either sit here, safe in our pews, surrounded by people who look and think and believe a lot like us, or we can go out.

God will love us either way.
God calls us beloved no matter which one we choose.

But we can go into a broken, hurting, needy world, and share with them the love we have been given.

So as we watch this video, as we are reminded of the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples, for us, and for the world, I want you to imagine what these words might mean for you.

Jesus has called you.

Jesus has sanctified you.

Jesus is sending you.

Now what?



Friday Uplift (5/15/2015)

“The disciples woke Jesus and said to him, “teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves “quiet, be still!”  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”
Mark 4:38-39
Have you ever been in a a storm (real or metaphorical) that was so chaotic and scary that you weren’t sure if you’d make it?
How often in those storms have we called out, just like the disciples – “Jesus – don’t you care?  I’m drowning over here!”
I’ve noticed that in my own life, I can work myself into a frenzy about a storm pretty quickly.  I can make it seem a lot worse than it is, and I can look at it from all the wrong angles until I’m a mess, only focusing on the bad, not seeing any good, and most of all, not seeing any hope for myself anywhere.
It is this verse that reminds me that God can and does calm the storms in my life – but it’s also a reminder to trust God even in the middle of them.
Jesus looks to his disciples after calming the storm and asks them why they didn’t have faith in him?  Jesus wanted the trust of his disciples, he wanted them to remember that he would keep them safe.
After all, even in the storm, Jesus didn’t leave the boat.
He was there the whole time, calm, taking a nap even, secure in the knowledge that he was taken care of.
Loving God,
inspire by your Holy Spirit those who are afraid of losing hope.  Give us a fresh vision of your love, that we may find again what we fear we have lost.  Grant us powerful deliverance, through the one who calms the sea and makes all things new – Jesus Christ our Lord – AMEN.

Sermon 5/3/2015

Sermons were meant to be heard, not read, so listen here.

Scripture: Psalm 22:25-31, John 15:1-8
Title: What Remains

I like wine.  (Never thought you’d hear a sermon start with that did you?)

Other than knowing the difference between sweet and dry, red and white, and that I like it, I don’t know a whole lot more about it.

I haven’t ever toured a vineyard, and I don’t really know much about the process of winemaking other than that one I Love Lucy episode where they are stomping grapes.
A connoisseur I am not.

Earlier this week I was talking about this sermon to Sam and he asked if I had preached on it in another year, because he was pretty sure he remembered me talking about growing things before this.
While I haven’t preached on this particular text before, it is true I have certainly not hidden my lack of skills in the area of horticulture.
And really even if I was particularly green thumbed, which we know is not true, my summer veggie garden isn’t quite the same as grape vines in a vineyard.
All this is to say that when you combine my lack of knowledge of winemaking with my black thumb, you get a Gospel lesson that is a bit problematic for me.

So even more than usual, it’s important to try to understand what Jesus is trying to say his 1st century middle eastern disciples, and what it might have to say to us, 21st century american ones, when he talks about vines, branches, fruit and vine-growers.

Two main themes come forward when we listen to today’s text.

Jesus says the same few words over and over again, while it can make this text seem repetitive, it does not make it difficult to figure out what Jesus is trying to communicate.  The two words we hear throughout this text are “fruit”, and “abide”.  And it is with these two words I’d like to stay today.

If you’ve ever planted veggies from seed, the little packet of seeds tells you to sprinkle them on in there, and let them sprout, and then when they start coming up, you’re supposed to remove sprouts until they are 1-2 inches apart.

I can never do it.

For some reason, it goes against something in my core to pull out veggies plants and let them die.  The fact that I got it to grow in the first place is a big deal, then to just pull it out when it’s doing so well?  It makes me feel so guilty.

But while from the plant’s perspective, that might seem very nice of me, when I don’t thin them out, those rows of veggies end up getting a little crowded.  And then they can’t really grow. In fact, they either don’t grow at all because there isn’t enough space or nutrients, or they can only grow a little and you end up with mini carrots and mini radishes.  (Not like I know from experience or anything.)

This thinning that the seed packets ask us to do?
That is pruning.
And unlike pruning of grapes and vines, it’s the kind of pruning I understand.
Pruning for health, not to destroy things.
And it’s this kind of pruning Jesus is talking about today.

I think we often hear the verses about pruning this morning and hear them in a few ways –
The first is to think Jesus is saying watch out, God is hanging out with pruning shears ready to go to town so you’d better start producing some fruit, or else.
Or, it’s also pretty easy to hear this verse and look around and say, alright, who do I see in here that needs to be pruned?  I’ve got this God, leave the pruning up to me.

Pruning is not something that we decide.
We are not the vinegrower, God is.
And God prunes because pruning is necessary for health and growth, and for fruit.

If you look back at verse 2 Jesus says that he prunes the branches in order to make them bear, not just fruit, but MORE fruit.
There is a purpose for pruning.

See, pruning happens not to get rid of dead, bad branches, but in fact, a lot of pruning happens just like it did in my garden. We prune things that are living and doing well, but that are making it difficult for the nutrients in the vine to go where they can be used for fruit.  Sometimes branches are cut simply because they are in the way of the fruit.

So what remains after pruning is fruit.
And not just any fruit, but healthy, abundant fruit.

The phrase “bear fruit” is found 6 times in 8 verses.
And three of those add the word more, or much to fruit.
So this passage is first about abundance.
It’s not a condemning passage, and I think it’s a mistake to read it that way.

The vinegrower isn’t seeking bad stuff and cutting it out, instead the vinegrower is finding good stuff and giving it a chance to be even more fruitful.
It’s a perspective shift that’s important.

Pruning is about life and growth, and the result of pruning is abundance.

And pruning, though necessary, is sometimes painful.
When we take time and ask, how do I need to be pruned? We find ourselves faced with the difficult task of being honest with ourselves.
Honest in relation to our place in the community: am I connected and bearing fruit, or am I taking nutrients away from fruit makers?
And honest with ourselves in our relationship to God:  Am I connected to God?  What things in my life get in the way?

How do I need to be pruned?

The answer to that question is found by remembering the purpose of pruning is fruit bearing.

So what does it mean to bear fruit exactly?
And how do I know if I’m doing it?

I think we look to see how Jesus is manifested in our lives.
Do we care about the things Jesus cares about?
And if we care about those things, do we care without action?

I think when we look around, we can see evidence of places where fruit is happening.
When one person hears and is inspired by a story of service and steps forward in faith to serve as well… that is fruit.
When a small group of POP members serves a meal for cancer patients staying at Hope Lodge… that is fruit.
When hugs and prayers and time are given to hurting friends… that is fruit.
When rival gang members stand unified to protect police officers, because they believe a broken system can’t be solved with more brokenness… that is fruit.
When emergency personnel and aid workers rush toward the scene of utter devastation instead of away… that is fruit.

When we are Jesus’s hands and feet in the world, fruit happens.

If we want our lives to bear fruit, we need to be connected to Jesus.
Abundant life, or, fruit producing life, isn’t possible apart from the vine – apart from Jesus. And John’s Gospel makes that very clear with his use of one word: Abide.
The word abide, in Greek Meno, occurs 8 times in these 8 verses.

John is not hinting at something.
He’s not being subtle.
Abide with me. Meno
Stay with me. Meno
Be with me. Meno
This passage, besides being about abundance or fruit-bearing, is also about relationship.
The relationship between God and us.

In verse 4 Jesus says we should abide in him as he abides in us.
God is already in us.
But it’s a two way street.
God is with us, and we need to be with God.
When we separate ourselves from the vine, we cannot grow.
Just as cut flowers have a limited life span, so too do we when we disconnect from Jesus.
Sure, we can survive for a while, even look pretty, but we cannot thrive.
We can’t bear fruit.

“Abide in me as I abide in you.”
It’s already happened people.
God is in us.
We are a part of the vine already.
God is with us.
This isn’t about God being with us, it’s about us being with God.
Our relationship with God is a two way street.
And God has done God’s part already.
Verse 3 reminds us that we’ve already been cleansed, and verse 4 says God is with us.

Nothing changes that.

And now it’s our turn to abide with God.
To “be with” God.
When we stay close to the vine, things happen.
Abundant life happens.

After the year of tiny inedible radishes and carrots, I learned to prune.
But I have to tell you, I have never stopped feeling horrible taking something out and just letting it die.   So for the last two years, I have pruned and replanted.
I sort of think of it as my version of grafting.

Grafting, in case you don’t remember from junior high earth science, is when a cut section of tree or plant is attached to an existing tree or plant and it grows anew.
Grafting is how vinegrowers make new varieties of grapes, or even help small vines become stronger and more resistant.

So maybe you’ve been listening and thinking to yourself, you know, if I’m brutally honest with myself, I don’t really feel connected to the vine anymore.
I’ve walked away, I’ve put distance between myself and God, I’ve struggled with that relationship.  I think I’ve been pruned.
Or maybe you’ve been thinking, you know, I’m pretty sure I’m connected to the vine, but I don’t think I’m really a fruit producer.  I’m not pruned yet, but I think I could be.
If either of those feel true for you today –  I want you to know that it’s not the end.
If you’ve ever wondered what grace means for you, today we have a reminder.
Today, we come forward, we come here (move to the altar) and get reconnected.

We have confessed our sins, we have been cleansed and freed, and now we are brought back to the life-giving vine.
Because even if you have walked away, even if you have disconnected, that doesn’t change what remains.  It doesn’t change what God has already done for you.

For it was on the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks…. (communion)

End of service closing:

There’s one more fun fact of today’s text I’d like to leave you with today.

It’s the yous.  All of the you’s in today’s Gospel are plural.
You can read it as “You all”
I am the vine, YOU ALL are the branches.
Apart from me YOU ALL can do nothing.
My Father glorified when YOU ALL bear much fruit and become disciples.

Because a vine doesn’t have one single branch.
It’s made up of many branches.
Our culture lifts up autonomy and independence – but we are challenged to go against the grain and bear fruit not by ourselves, but in community.
Community matters.
Church matters.
We are here together, because even though one little branch can and does produce fruit, a vine full of branches produces fruit in abundance.  (and then we get wine)
So we go, confident in our connection to the vine, regrafted into this community, to bear fruit, and love and serve the Lord.

Project 12:30 – May!

Before I get into my May project, I need to confess that I didn’t do a great job in April.  I did try to pray every day, but didn’t always take the time to actually do it.  I also found it was a lot more difficult to pray for someone I didn’t like than I had initially anticipated.  I actually thought the silence part of the prayer practice would be harder, but it was pretty good.

All in all, I’ve deepened my prayer practice, but I don’t think it has changed my daily routine all that much, so that’s kind of disappointing.

But, it’s on to May.  Gratitude month.
My goal this month isn’t to be grateful for the obvious things, like my husband or kid, who are both awesome, or even my friends or family, or great job, etc…
But instead, my practice this month is going to be about the little things.
In my research for this gratitude month, I’ve learned that people who have a daily gratitude practice on the little things report being happier, more joyful, and less stressed.  I think I would be fine with all of those things.

So, to start my little things for the first few days of May:
1st: kid-free weekends.
2nd: outdoor couches. seriously.
3rd: 5 neighborhood kids running in the sprinkler in our yard, giggles and joy
4th: the smell of our backyard today. lilacs + flowering trees = amazingness
5th: mama duck and 15 ducklings joining me and my reading buddy for lunch. SO CUTE.

I’ll continue to post these every couple of days, but if you’re a blog follower, I encourage you to join me in this small things gratitude practice for May.

Want to get the Friday Uplift in your inbox?

A few people have asked how they can be included in the Friday Uplift emails, so I thought I’d write a quick note about it to let you know.

If you aren’t currently getting this email on Fridays and you would LIKE to be a part of it, just send me a note either here through the blog, via facebook, or email.

However you contact me, make sure you include your email information so I can add you to the list!

Friday Uplift (5/1/2015)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
(Joshua 1:9)

This is probably a familiar verse for some of you.
Maybe you learned it in Sunday school, or at camp, or maybe when you went on a trip – as a reminder that God goes with us.
And that’s not bad, in fact, it’s never bad to remember God goes with us when we travel.
It’s not horrible to be reminded that God isn’t just in a church building on Sunday mornings.
But if you take this little section in context, it’s a bit bigger.
At the start of the book of Joshua, Moses has just died, and we find God calling Joshua to step into the role vacated by Moses and lead the people of Israel.
Can you imagine what Joshua is feeling at that moment?
His friend and mentor has just died and he’s expected to do what?
It’s heart-wrenching and terrifying at the same time.
Not only is Joshua dealing with his grief (which is hard enough), he’s also now dealing with this mantle of responsibility that has just been placed on his shoulders.
It’s a lot.
It’s too much.
Have you ever felt like Joshua?
Have you ever felt like just saying:
“It’s too much God.
You’re asking too much.
I can’t do anything more.”
God makes a promise to Joshua that day:
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.
I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)
Believe it or not, in our baptisms, we were given this same promise.
God is with us.
God will never leave us.
Does that mean, like Joshua, we won’t grieve the loss of someone we love?
Does that mean we won’t wonder how we can do what God is calling us to do?
What it does mean is that we’re not alone.
We don’t grieve alone.
We don’t struggle alone.
We don’t do anything alone.
God is always with us.
Whatever happens. Wherever we go.
It’s a promise that I hope you hear today.
So be strong and courageous.
And go with God.
You are not alone.