Thursday, December 21, 2023

There are Two sides to Every Story

 False.  There are not two sides, at least in most cases there are multiple sides to every story.  I remember on a youth event many years ago I went to have dinner with my family while the other adult leader had dinner with the youth at the event.  When I returned, four of the children wanted to be the first to tell me what happened.  Even though they were describing the same event, they all had a different take--and I am sure none of them told me the WHOLE story.

In the past weeks, I have heard this a lot--there are two sides to every story--and it seems like the other side is the one that wants to prove the other is wrong.  Just because there are two sides to the story does not mean both or either are right.  

In my ministry, I have served with people who were alive during WWII and who served in Germany, and who lived in Germany.  I know from history the atrocities of Hitler, and I heard stories of those who lived in Germany at the time that roads were being fixed and things seemed to prosper.  Are both true.  I have no reason to doubt it--but roads being fixed and prosperity will never be the "other side of the story" to justify the holocaust.  No matter what, the Holocaust was evil!  

In our world today, at least in our country, we believe we have the right to free speech.  I am not a history major or a constitutional expert, but I do remember something about this from learning.  But free speech is not the other side of the story for hateful speech of racism, classism, sexicism--hate speech is hate speech and there are consequences to that--no matter what the other side of the story is.  Politicians, no matter how great we believe their policies are need to be held accountable to hate speech.  Leaders need to be held accountable. 

Calling someone out in truth is not defaming someone--it is naming the wrong, calling out the ignorance--of your not knowing.  Denial or continuing to say hateful things or blame others as the other side of the story is no longer ignorance--for now you know and must be held accountable.  

We are about to celebrate one of the most joy filled and holy times of the year as we remember the joy of Jesus coming to earth.  We celebrate the joy.  But there is another side of the story--Herod was threatened.  King Herod did not find joy in the coming of a king, or even the prospect of a coming king.  It is his side of the story that led the magi not to return as he had asked.  It was his side of the story that led Mary and Joseph to flee and become refugees in another country because their lives were being threatened.  Both sides of the story are true, but one is faithful.  One is a story of love and the other of fear.  1 John 4:18 says there is no fear in love.  

We face many issues in our daily lives where there are two sides to the stories--but generally one is more faithful to the love Jesus commands.  We can even make difficult decisions about issues while being faithful to love.  

A few years ago in public someone called me frustrating.  I have lived with the impact of that for years.  I have learned to embrace this, but I would call it more of an agitator or challenger.  Jesus has called me not to ignore or be passive about harmful speech directed toward anyone, or anything that does not further the mission of God.  The ways things have always been, the way we learned them as children, or the way we witness leaders and personalities on TV must be called out, addressed, named in order to make a difference. We must realize there are consequences to these actions, and learn from them to be better.  God is with us.  Let us live as if each person we encountered was Christ.  

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

On the Eve of Thanksgiving

As we gather with family and friends, please hold these things in prayer- 
1.Those who are alone without anyone to share the holiday with. Give thanks for places like the East Side Soup Kitchen and for those who choose to spend part of their giving thanks with people they may not even know. 
2. For those whose thanksgiving meal does not consist of the abundance many of our tables will present. 3. For those of whom this Thanksgiving memory is not one of joy but a day of mourning--the native people whom inhabited this land before Europeans came and took the land by force. 

It is important to remember the true history--as one member of the congregation told me, history is taught so we don't repeat it. I would add we have to teach the true history for that to happen. 

I am saddened greatly as I recall my learning of history as a child. I grew up in Nebraska, so the movement west was a central part of our Nebraska history. Although we discussed the native people, they were depicted as savage and murderers; whereas the European settlers were depicted as peaceful, cooperative, generous. It didn't even cross my mind that as settlers claimed their land, others were displaced, often by force. I have to wonder if we realize that we are part of history that continues to repeat itself around the world. 

I would encourage you to spend some of your holiday researching the truth. And with thanksgiving, let's give thanks for all perspectives, for all people, that together we will live in unity with our diversity recognized as a gift.


Saturday, April 15, 2023

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!


It is about one week post Easter.  I loved the worship space when we entered on Sunday--the flowers up front, the butterflies that signal new life, the people!  Mostly I loved saying and singing Alleluia.  

As we come into the second week of Easter, I am just as excited.  New life is here and now.

When I was growing up, I think I believed Jesus died so I would go to heaven.  What I did and said probably was my way of ensuring I would go to heaven.  I was taught, whether intentionally or not that faith is something we have here to go to heaven in the future.  We focused on "Jesus died for our sins."   I don't really remember when that changed.  Yes, Jesus died for our sins, but the dramatic, hopefilled, eternal truth is Jesus is risen!

I am rarely concerned about heaven.  I trust the words of Jesus and believe that Jesus will come and take me to the place where he has led the way when my time comes.  I have all the faith in the world that my parents, my brother, grandparents, friends, colleague and parishioners are with Jesus in heaven.  It isn't up to me--for we are made right with God by grace, a free gift--and I can not earn it, not even if I believe hard enough.

Resurrection faith is important here and now. It is the promise of forgiveness and the strength to forgive.  It is the promise that in the midst of everything in the world that is tragic, there is still hope because of Jesus.  It is the promise that failure does not have the last word, death does not have the last word.  

May we not forget as we live day by day, Alleluia!  Christ is Risen.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

I am Ready for Easter--I think!

 I was planning on reviewing my sermon, and going to bed.  I think I'm ready for tomorrow--for the celebration of Easter.  It was a good Holy Week but I am ready for the celebration of resurrection. 

Or am I?  Because resurrection means new life, it means things don't aways appear as I expect, and my old and comfortable ways may not be the way to new life. Resurrection means that I stop returning to the tomb where my guilt was laid to rest, once and for all by Jesus Christ.  

This week has been a tough week.  As those of you who know me, it isn't because it was Holy Week and as a pastor one of my "busiest."  You see, I have known for a long time about this week coming, so it has been in the making for quite some time.  Worship planning has been done for weeks, and all I needed to do was listen to the Holy Spirit as they revealed to me what to proclaim.  

This is a tough week because so much has been out of my control. Doctors appointments are leading to more doctor appointments, messing with plans I had already made, and leading me into some of those unknowns that we all fear.  Because of who I am and my need to plan, I immediately got coverage for when I know I will need to be off. Things I had hoped to do and people I had planned to visit didn't happen, and I have guilt about all that.  I leave for vacation in a week, and there is so much that needs to be done before I go.

I worshiped Thursday night with joy as we celebrated the love that Jesus has for us, in the breaking of bread and the washing of feet.  I worshiped Friday recalling how Jesus suffered, died and was buried; offering himself in love for us. 

And I prepared today for the sermon tomorrow, when we will shout Alleluia, Christ is Risen. I am ready to sing the Easter songs, because it is the resurrection of Christ where we find the hope and strength to deal with whatever comes our way.  Here is an excerpt from the sermon for tomorrow:

This is not an assurance that nothing can go wrong, because things will go wrong.  It isn’t assured that everything will turn out for the best, because if we were honest, we know that isn’t true.  It is assurance that whatever happens to us, whatever our day may hold, God has the power to strengthen us and uphold us, that whatever we must face, we do not face it alone.  Nothing, absolutely nothing we encounter is stronger than God’s love, and ultimately God has the final word.  The final word over sin, and the final word over death.  Christ is alive, death could not hold him.

As I go to bed, I will rest in the assurance of God's love and grace made known to us in the resurrection of Jesus.  

May we all sleep this Easter Eve in the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, encountering Jesus along our journey.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Faith and Convictions

 How do we share our faith? How do we share who we know and understand Jesus to be? 

This is what we have been talking about in our Sunday discussion and as we have read "We are Witnesses of These Things."  But how do we even begin. 

Often we struggle because at some time or another we will be asked when did you receive the Lord Jesus as your personal savior?  This is a hard question to answer.  Some of us might be able to recall a situation or experience when we really knew the presence of Jesus in our lives.  Some of us might answer with our baptism date, more so when God welcomed us and came to us rather than us going to Jesus.  Some of us have just always known, at least with a spark that Jesus was real.  

I grew up in the church.  There are experiences I remember.  But I can't give you a date.  I just have always sensed God's presence in my life.  I have questioned, wondered, strayed... but Jesus was always there--because my understanding is that Jesus comes to us, and that Jesus never leaves us.  Jesus calls me!

As I've thought about ways in which we might want to begin, it might be good to just start with some significant events in your life.  Some you won't remember--for instance, I don't remember my baptism.  I remember confirmation, but not always the exact date.  I recall moments, songs, sermons, relationships--all these bear understanding in my witness to Jesus.

I also wonder if it is helpful to think of what are our primary convictions of faith?  Do you have favorite passages of scripture and how do they speak to you?

For me, John 17 has an impact on how I understand Jesus, the Trinity, and our relationship with each other and the world.  In John 17, Jesus is praying for himself, then the disciples, and then those who will believe because of their witness.  Jesus prays for us!  And he prays specifically for unity, that we will be one as Jesus and the Father are one. One of my convictions in ministry is unity.  This is one reason why I am passionate in the open table at communion, in conversation with people who disagree but are still willing to converse, to realize that Jesus is for the whole world.

Micah 6:8--What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  This passage from the Old Testament prophet summarizes for me the life of Jesus and the life we are called to live as disciples.  Justice isn't a political ideal or left for the courtrooms.  Justice is a way of life when we live as a disciple of Jesus the Christ.  

1 John may be my favorite book in the Bible.  There are so many gems in this short book.  1 John 4:16b-21 summarizes well:  "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love 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. There 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. We love because he first loved us. Those 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. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."

There is no fear in love.  We often think of hate as the opposite of love, but I do believe fear is the opposite. We struggle loving others because we do not know them, or we have preconceived notions or prejudices--all stemming from fear.  Naming our fears is a start. My experience is that as I confront my fears of "the other" I am able to love not only them, but experience the love of God even deeper.

What are your convictions of faith?  Are there Bible passages, phrases, stories that you go back to for comfort, inspiration, challenge?  

When we can articulate our faith, our conviction in Jesus, it is easier to share with others.  

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Are we ready?

Our study group continues in chapter 8 in the book "We Are Witnesses of These Things." --Prepare the Way of Jesus.

We talked briefly about one question--How does our faith community's life together align with its confession and witness of Jesus?  We talked about ways in which we serve in and with the community.

How does our community receive and accompany people desiring to follow the way of Jesus?  One way doesn't fit all!  We offer varying Bible studies, some small groups have arisen organically, we pray for one another.  How else might we receive and accompany people on their journey?

And the big question--are we ready to receive and accompany new disciples of Jesus?  New people will bring diversity and change. Not all people do things the way we have always done it.  Are we a congregation that says our way or no way?  We have to realize that some of the things some of us have found lifegiving are not what people are seeking now as they reach out to Jesus.  We have to admit that sometimes we just want more people in church, more people to do the work or better take over the way we do it our way and give money, so we don't close.  I just don't think that is what Jesus was asking of us when we are called to accompany people on their journey of faith.

One place to start is how do we present ourselves.  What about how we present ourselves on social media.  We have a Facebook Page, a website (, a YouTube page.  What do these pages communicate about who we are?  Can you find us easily, including worship times?  Is the website directed toward people who already have faith or would those who are new to faith figure out who we are.  Do we present a positive and realistic impression of who we are?

How are visitors welcome when they enter the building?  The author likens what we as church need to do to get ready as that which we do when we are expecting company at our homes.  We spiffy up.  We want to make sure the space is uncluttered, clean, functional.  How might a visitor experience our building?  Are there signs to the worship space, bathrooms, fellowship hall?  

Do we offer other ways to become part of our community, the "back door" as was mentioned in the book?  Some congregations offer Pub Theology or gatherings at restaurants for discussion.  

Do we mind our manners?  Do we leave people standing alone at coffee time, too engaged in seeing friends again that we ignore the visitor?  Do we watch what we talk about in our gathering area after church--I have overheard some interesting conversation that those of us may just think oh that's just how Alfred is--but what do visitors think?  Are we open about telling people why we like our church--maybe we have never even thought about that question. 

How do we adapt and proclaim Jesus' story to those who know it best and those who have never heard?  

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Preparing the Way

 The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight"  Luke 3:4 and Isaiah 40:3

These are the words of the prophet Isaiah and the words of John, the Baptizer as they "prepare" the way of the Lord.  According to the author of "You are Witnesses of These Things," John prepared people to see Jesus.  Likewise, the church is called to prepare to receive those who seek Jesus.

What is Church?  The church is not a building where praying, worship, study, and meetings happen.  We know the church as the people who pray and worship and study and meet.  The church as the people also do outreach, in the community, as we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the community and world.  

When I was ordained, I can't remember word for word the sermon that was preached by my long-time mentor pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska--the Rev. Thomas Hallstrom.  He spoke to the reality that as church we are going to be called for a lot of things--we will be called to social service issues, fellowship, and I don't know what else he said.  But we are NOT another social service agency or a club where people join and meet.  As church, we have a call to proclaim Jesus, to introduce people to Jesus--to proclaim to those who know Jesus best and those who have never heard.  

In the book, Satterlee writes: "While we seek to attract busy young families who find belonging in multiple communities, the ancient church reached out to people who needed to belong-widows, orphans, and the poor.  While we make it easy for people to join (and therefore to leave) the church, the ancient church expected people to invest themselves by learning to behave differently, in ways Christians behave.  While we frequently approach faith as a matter of individual mind and heart, the ancient church was convinced that believing comes from doing.  Chrisitan faith in embarking on a chosen way of life that includes belonging to the way or community of Jesus, behaving like Jesus in the world, and trusting and sharing the good news of Jesus."  (page 82)

How have you witnessed this in your life and in the church?

They go one to say, "People who receive the story of Jesus seek out communities that prioritize extending belonging in the name of Jesus, behaving in ways Jesus embodies, teaches and commands, and trusting the good news of Jesus above all else. Even more disheartening and demoralizing than witnessing to Jesus and bearing no fruit is someone receiving our witness and seeking out the church to learn more about Jesus, only to turn away because what they find undermines or contradicts the good news about Jesus they received."  (Page 82)

Have you ever witnessed a stumbling block in the church?  Though we often think of individuals as being stumbling blocks, as a community we can be stumbling blocks as well.  

We are going to spend a little more time talking about this chapter in our class and online.  But there are a few questions I would ask that you consider:

1.  How well does our faith community's life together align with its confession and witness of Jesus?

2. How does this community receive and accompany people desiring to follow in the way of Jesus?

3. Is Ascension/your congregation ready to receive and accompany people new to the story of Jesus?