This past Sunday, Joyful Life began classes for our 2021-2022 confirmation program. Five youth gathered after church and enjoyed Frito Pie and some other yummy snacks, then played a name game to get to know one another. Next, we jumped into our lesson for the day – an overview of the bible. I do not mean to say we learned everything from Genesis to Revelation in one day! But we did learn about what scripture, canon, translation, and interpretation mean. We learned how to use tools like the table of contents, the difference between a book, a chapter, a verse, and a passage, and how to find any one of those things if I asked them to. We practiced finding verses and reading them aloud. We learned about the language’s scripture was originally written in, and some of the history of how it came together. We got down to the basic, fundamental pieces of interacting with our bible that help us build our lives of faith and relationships with God’s Word. Each confirmand received their own Lutheran Study Bible, workbook, notebook, pencil, Small Catechism, and daily worksheet, and wrote their name in each one so that we will know whose whose is. Next week we will jump into Genesis 1, and week by week we will learn from and with one another as these youth grow in their knowledge and in their faith which they will later confirm.  Confirmation classes are an example of faith in action. Yes, because of the students, and their questions, their learning, their faith growth. But also because of all those who come together to make confirmation classes happen. I planned our curriculum and led us through it. Parents and Grandparents made the time and commitment to bring their confirmands each week, and to wait for them or pick them up after class, and might continue some of the conversations, questions, and discussions throughout the week. Jo Ann put together announcements, gathered interest, and ordered all the books and materials we needed, then set those materials up for our kids to use. Mark helped us to figure out our budget and pay for the materials Jo Ann and I ordered. Gerald volunteered to bring Frito Pie, which Laura helped set up and serve, so the kids could focus better with full stomachs. Keith got our PowerPoint up on the screen and set up a little remote so I can change the slides from the front of the sanctuary. Marci served as my co-teacher, helping the kids to learn how to find various bible verses, one-on-one. Stephanie helped shut off the projector, the lights, and all the tech stuff I would have no idea how to do. Anita and her whole family helped to clean up and take out the trash from our snacks, as Trinity asked some great faith questions that we discussed as we cleaned and left. And I am sure there are others I have missed! These are all ways in which we live out our faith, by using our God given gifts to love and care for those around us, working together as a community to develop a new generation of disciples. I am so thankful for all the ways God has gifted our community with servant hearts, and I look forward to all the ways we will continue to live out our lives of discipleship, through confirmation, and through all that we do in Jesus’ name. 
Pastor Amanda

Easter Sermon – Pastor Amanda (4/4/21)

Mark 16:1-8

The Resurrection of Jesus

16 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. [a]


There is a story I once read about, of a Christian missionary to India that went to spread the gospel and found that God had already been at work and doing more than he could have imagined. Pantaenus was sent as a missionary from Egypt to India around 190 AD to bring the gospel to the people of India, the people so far away from Rome that they surely had not had the privilege to hear the good news of God. News that God’s only son Jesus had come to Earth and been crucified and resurrected for humanity’s sins and to reconcile the world back into a loving relationship with God.

When this man arrived in India he was surprised to find, not people desperately in need of God’s gospel, but a number of christian congregations who had already been there for many years. There were groups of faithful people who had the gospel of Matthew and who traced their founding all the way back to the apostle Thomas. They had been in India learning, teaching, reading the Bible, and attempting to live faithfully while the Roman church functioned across the world having no idea there were also Christians in India.

The Roman church thought that they themselves would bring the good news of God to those who needed it, only to be reminded that God’s workings and the gospel itself was more powerful than what they themselves could do or would do. That God went where God willed, not where they wanted or in the places they expected.

God had worked through them to spread the gospel and encourage faithfulness, but God had also continued working elsewhere and with radically different people in totally new ways. This did not just happen in India either, there are plenty of similar stories in Ethiopia, and other places around the world as well. Yet it was the same God at work in each of these places, through the same Gospel. 

Although there are alternate endings to the gospel of Mark, our reading for today was the original. Later, ancient scribes, unsatisfied with Mark’s ending, included other alternate ways to wrap up the story and incorporated them as well after the original ending. The gospel writer Mark however wanted the story to end with Mary, Mary and Salome being terrified and amazed fleeing and saying nothing to any one because of their fear.

The story of Jesus’s resurrection ended with fear instead of celebration because the logical response to meeting a strange man robed in white in place of your dead, beloved teacher would be fear. Even if, like happened, the first words that man said were, “Do not be alarmed”. The women had much reason to be very alarmed.

We know, from other gospel writers, that Jesus, resurrected from the dead, was already in Galilee and that others would see him, that the disciples would find him and that the movement he started would grow into what it is today. A global church of about 2.4 billion people. We know that God was and is at work in the world, that there, out in our midst, we will meet him, just as he told us. The women and Jesus’ disciples had been told by Jesus before his death that he would rise again, that he would come to meet them, so perhaps the women should not have been as surprised as they were. Yet in the midst of shock, grief, confusion, the tomb was a much easier, more tangible place to expect to find what they were looking for.

The temptation still remains even for us, to look where we might expect to find God, in the tomb. We, like the women, still look to the places that make sense to us, where we think God should be, rather than in the place God promised us he would be- in Galilee and in the world, with his people.

Throughout the entire gospel story, Jesus confronts his followers and his disciples with this aspect of faithful living- expecting God where you want God to be. When disciples fall short, Jesus is there to pick them up and empower them again. When they struggle to understand a parable, Jesus explains it to them. When they are slow to understand their role in feeding a hungry crowd, Jesus walks them through it. When they look for prestige among themselves rather to the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus shows them the way. And, finally, when the way of Jesus leads to the disciple’s abandonment, Jesus emerges and summons them to Galilee for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

Today, we as the people of the church might feel much like the three women at the tomb- terrified and amazed. We are terrified because the world has changed so much, because our church attendance and active membership changed significantly because of a global pandemic, which has brought fear into so many other aspects of our lives.

We are, however, also amazed. Amazed by the way in which we are reaching out to people  

with Facebook, zoom, and other forms of technology. We are amazed by all the ways we have experienced God’s love in the midst of this wild year. We are not solely terrified because we can glimpse ways in which good things are happening and being made possible through God.

We, like the three women at the tomb are seized by both amazement and terror. We are living in the story after the story Mark tells in his gospel. Where, because of God and God’s action, not the ability or response of any three people, God has continued to work and make new life possible.

If we are ever tempted to think that God has abandoned us or our churches, we would do well to remember this aspect of the Easter story- God does not leave us, we just do a really good job of looking in the wrong place, even if we should know better. We need to develop the practice of looking for God where God promises to be, not where we want God to be.

Just over a year ago, when COVID and lock downs had really just started to ramp up, my husband Cole and I began volunteering at a soup kitchen in our town every day. We worked on the food pantry side and helped to give out groceries to people in need, no questions asked. Because of COVID we were giving as much as we could to anyone we could. But, also because of COVID, donations were down and some of the soup kitchen’s staff, volunteers, and even guests worried that they would not be able to keep up with the quickly rising demand. 

There were many days, sometimes multiple days per week, that by the end of the day, Cole and I would have given out all there was to give of various items. We wondered if those who would line up at the door the next morning would receive much at all – since the freezers were empty of meat, the dairy and produce was completely depleted, and the canned good shelves were looking sparser than ever. Walk in coolers that once looked lush with bins of produce floor to ceiling, looked dark as a cave and empty as a tomb on Easter morning. Even with the money the soup kitchen had saved up, the local grocery store shelves were sparse, and there were strict limits on the number of each item you could buy, which makes it logistically very difficult to shop for a food pantry. And yet, we gave out all that we had each day, trusting that God would continue to provide for tomorrow. 

And every single day, God did. Local restaurants who closed temporarily, went through their refrigerators and freezers, donating all the bulk meat and vegetables they had left. Some local churches, though they were not meeting in person, continued food drives at their congregations, and some even decided to empty their church kitchen pantries and freezers with things that had been purchased or saved for events that had since been canceled. Every day people would come by with trunk full of groceries – on multiple occasions, they would say they were shopping for their family, remembered us and all their neighbors who must be struggling, and felt moved to buy double of everything they purchased, giving us the second half. Neighbors rallied together and pulled their money to buy and donate hundreds of pounds of meat from the local meat processor – so much that you could not even walk into the walk-in freezer. People donated produce from their

own gardens, cheese from their own goats, and cans from their own shelves, and some days the food pantry was stocked with milk, or eggs, or vegetables that every grocery store in town was out of. 

While we had been looking for God inside the walls of the food pantry, looking for God in the fear we faced each day because of our empty shelves, we had entirely missed where we should have been looking for God in the first place. God had already told us where God would be – in the faces of every single person who came to receive food. In the heart of every little kid who was overjoyed at the chocolate bunny and little happy meal toy we would give them. God was in every neighbor and local restaurant and church that stretched themselves a little bit more, knowing that God would continue to care for them as they cared for their neighbors. God was in the smiles and sighs of relief that Cole and I, along with all the other volunteers experienced daily in restocking shelves that were empty the night before. And God was there in the hope, and the faith we all had, that we could continue to show up each day, and God would continue to show up too, just as God promised. Like the women at the tomb, it just took us a little while to learn to look for God in the right places. 

So, this wonderful Easter morning, remember this – When things look bleak or beyond hope, or when you wonder if God has abandoned you. Try looking elsewhere. Wonder where God might be and listen to the signs pointing us back in the right direction. Look for God in the little opportunities for hope. Look for God in all those around you. Let yourself be both Terrified AND amazed at all the ways you encounter God in the places you never thought to look. God does not leave us, even when we may feel that way. God is constantly at work in the world, and in our lives, making new and terrifying and amazing things possible. May we all have the faith to look for God where God tells us to. Amen.

Maundy Thursday Message – Pastor Amanda (4/1/21)

The Gospel according to John 13:1-17, 31b-35

The story of the last supper in John’s gospel recalls a remarkable event not mentioned elsewhere: Jesus performs the duty of a slave, washing the feet of his disciples and urging them to do the same for one another.

1Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus asks this question of his disciples after washing their feet but today we too hear this question and are called to answer. The answer for the disciples seems quite straight forward. Jesus washed their feet. He assumed the position of a slave to ritually wash the disciple’s dusty feet before mealtime as a show of love and hospitality. While uncomfortable and unusual for the teacher to do this for his students, the sentiment was easily understood: Jesus loved them and wanted to show them to what extent that was true. The action of washing however had a much deeper meaning than those gathered would have

thought, and implications for how their life was to continue after Jesus was no longer with them.

Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus tells his disciples, yes, he humbled himself and served those whom he loved but he did so also as an example of what they themselves should do. Jesus does not ask for repentance from the one he knows is about to betray him. He does not speak lofty about what a great, benevolent teacher he is. He shows love through humble service, in a way much more impactful than any sort of speech. Jesus, son of God, insisting on taking the role of a slave, serves even his betrayer. In a moment where everything is about to change and things themselves have already changed after having entered into Jerusalem, Jesus chooses to let his love take center stage. Making love be remembered, not our own human sin. We do not get attacked for having pulled away from God before he was to be put to death for our salvation, we get Jesus again showing self-emptying love, hoping, praying, that those around him will understand. Do you know what I have done for you? 

Jesus knew this was nearing the end of his time on earth, with those he had tried to show the way of faithful love and service to God and to neighbor. It is during these last times that he chose to give of himself and show that the love he had talked about was not dependent on anything about the person to be loved. It did not matter what they had done, if they were ritually pure, if they were the right ethnicity or had earned love or evening a loving response. Jesus humbles himself to love the person it is often the hardest for us to love, someone who betrays us, our trust, or our sense of what is right. In the face of humanity turning, it’s back on God, God nevertheless turns ever more closely to us. The foot washing isn’t to change anyone’s mind or change Jesus’s fate, it is a visible, tangible sign of what has been the story all along- although we have fallen away from God and perfect life in sin, we are not beyond help. Do you know what I have done for you? 

The disciples’ worlds are about to be turned upside down, their day-to-day experiences will shift to the shadows, as they will fear for their very lives. The very things they put their utmost trust in will be thrown into question. The person they most relied on for meaning and guidance will no longer be beside them. They will start to doubt those around them and look on them with suspicion as one of their own proved to have been overcome with sin and greed. We too have worlds that have been turned upside down in the last year. We have mostly retreated from our busy, public lives. The power of government and science to protect us has proven some of its potential, but largely its limits. We fear and mourn for our vulnerable loved ones, and we wonder when things will return to normal, or what that new normal will be. The question however still echoes, begging to be answered. Do you know what I have done for you? 

Do you know what I will do for you? Do you know how far I will go to show my love for you? Do you know just how incomprehensibly beloved you are? And then, we hear an answer. I don’t think you do, says Jesus. But I will show you all the more. You will only fully come to understand these things if you continue to dwell in the tremendousness of God’s love by sharing it and showing it to one another. Go and do likewise. 

We must go and do likewise. The text, the message now turns to us. We who are leaving home minimally, washing our hands, working, or connecting with loved ones online or over the phone. We too are called to show love to those around us, and although we cannot get close enough to one another to wash feet, we can still let God’s love be known. The answer to the great uncertainty of these times is the answer Christ showed time and time again to all uncertainty, death, suffering, and betrayal- unbelievable, extravagant,

nonsensical love. 

Washing feet looks different now but the intention remains, to make God’s love known. Many of our council members have been calling, emailing, writing to members to check up on them, see how they are doing, and make sure they can remain connected to our church community, no matter their circumstances. Others of us in our community have been spending more time calling friends and family throughout this year, to make sure they feel loved and not alone. We have continued to donate to and volunteer with our neighbors at SOS, to make sure the most basic, tangible form of love is still freely given – fresh food for those who are hungry. It is in these examples and the free giving of time, resources, and reaching out to others in love that Christ remains and slowly is beginning to show us a way forward. Holding us firm for what lies ahead. 

Jesus knew dark times were coming, and yet, he showed us that even in times when it feels like the world is standing still, our calling as followers of Christ is to love even more urgently. We do not know what comes next, but we do know how we are going to respond and continue forward. Even though we are 6 feet apart from one another, Jesus remains right next to us asking – do you know what I have done for you? Yes, God, we know. Strengthen us to do the same.

Reflections – Pastor Amanda (3/31/21)

Blessed Holy Week! We have entered into one of the busiest, and most exciting times of the year in our church calendar. As Lent comes to a close, we prepare our hearts for the joy of Easter by remembering the many days and events that led to the death and resurrection of Christ. Some of these commemorations are less well known – for example, did you know that today, the Wednesday of Holy week, is called Spy Wednesday or Ugly Wednesday, commemorating Judas Iscariot’s betrayal? In central America, some people hang scarecrows labeled “Judas” from their porches on this day, and in Eastern Europe, children are expected to sweep the chimney on this day to rid their house of darkness. There are many other interesting traditions in other countries that commemorate the days of Holy week we often overlook. If you are interested, these can be quite fun and fascinating to learn about. 

The days we most significantly remember and celebrate are Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. Palm Sunday (also called Passion Sunday) commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the beginning of the end, so to say. Maundy Thursday, which we at Joyful Life will remember through a written devotion rather than an in-person service, Recalls the story of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, spending his last moments as a free man by epitomizing servant leadership. Good Friday marks the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Holy Saturday recalls the waiting time between Jesus’ death and resurrection, and in some traditions and congregations, may end with an evening time Easter Vigil service, retelling 12 different stories throughout scripture of God’s faithfulness to God’s people. All this leads, as you all know, to the triumph and glory of the risen Christ on Easter. 

Traditionally, the services of Holy week from Maundy Thursday until Easter, are thought of and celebrated as one continuous service. You will notice that Maundy Thursday’s devotion will end with no benediction or sense of closure. Our in-person Good Friday service will seem to begin rather suddenly, with no announcements, welcome, or confession, and it will end with very little sense of closure either. This is intentional, and it is part of our practice as Christians to experience and remember the unease and anticipation of the disciples. Like them, we will wait until Christ fulfills his word that on the third day he will rise. And oh, how joyful of a celebration that day will be.

Reflections – Pastor Amanda (3/24/2021)

It is officially Spring, and Cole and I have our Spring garden in the ground. As I drove to Magnolia on Sunday, I noticed little light green buds on many of the trees along the way. Signs of life. Signs of the earth’s cycle of annual resurrection. We have filled our raised bed, turned up a plot of the grass and put in a new row of plants up against the back of the garage. We still might also fit in a couple rows of corn, and a few planters of herbs somewhere too. With all the new growth in our garden and in the trees around us, it sure feels like Spring and Easter- full of new life and promise.

If you were to venture into our garden, you would notice something very interesting. Parts are perfectly organized in neat rows. Other parts are less linear and fall in zig zags, crooked lines, and uneven spacings. I planted the well-organized parts. Cole planted the freeform parts. This speaks very well to each of our personalities, but it also reminds me of different aspects of God. God appreciated both order and chaos.  The book of Job in particular comes to mind, demonstrating this well.

In the whirlwind speeches of Job, God’s answer to Job’s questioning of God’s justice and faithfulness, God describes himself as someone who appreciates both neat rows and freeform design. When the Earth was created God determined the pathways for both rain and thunder even where no one lived. God determined how and where rain would go, to people and to empty places just for grass. (Job 38:25-27) 

God also let wild donkeys run crazy and free, going wherever they pleased, listening to no one. (Job 39:5-12) God plays with giant sea monsters that no human could ever come close to defeating. (Job 41:1-11)

God does not let everything run free, but he also does not make everything perfectly ordered. Rather, it is a mix, it is something in between. Things like the rain and seas and fish act freely but only within the boundaries drawn by God. When God created the world, when God created us, he made things and people simultaneously neat and ordered and wild and free. 

Last Sunday after church, we gathered with about 17 of us, both children and grownups, to learn more about the Eucharist. We made grape juice, and wafers of many shapes and sizes. We learned about how at this time in our liturgical calendar each year, right before Easter, we hear about Jesus’ final meal with his disciples before his death and resurrection. We talked about tangible means of experiencing God’s grace through bread and wine, about sacraments, about faith, and many other things.

We discussed these things in very orderly, theological ways, and yet made sure to emphasize how we have a God who works in ways much too wonderful for us to understand. The best part is that just like in Spring gardens, just like in the book of Job, and just like the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sin in variously sized wafers and not fully filtered grape juice, God is there. The details and our full comprehension, nor our proclivity for the messy or the organized, are not as important as our willingness to show up, and to meet God in both the tameness and the wild.

So, whether you plant your vegetables in rows or willy nilly, and whether the bread you receive on Sundays to come is a perfect disc or something homemade and a little wilder, I hope you can take comfort in the fact that God did the same when creating and sustaining the Earth. I hope you can experience the love of God and the beauty of God’s creation in Spring so that all our voices, all the organized and messy parts of ourselves, can join in with Job’s-

“Then Job answered the Lord:

‘I know that you can do all things,

    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

‘Hear, and I will speak;

    I will question you, and you declare to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

    but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,

    and repent in dust and ashes.’”

(Job 42:1-6)

Recognizing that when we look at God and God’s creation, we simultaneously know God and cannot know God. That we feel God’s love and have relationship in faith but that we cannot ourselves know everything. Only God can know it all, things too wonderful for us in this life.

In Peace,

Pastor Amanda

Reflections – Pastor Amanda (3/17/21)

In Sunday’s gospel, we heard Jesus liken his crucifixion to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness so the Israelites might be saved from the venom of desert snakes. In doing so, Jesus communicates that he came so we might look at what is killing us. He came to shine a light on that which poisons our lives so we might live. The cure for the ancient Israelites, following Moses, is to look directly at what is killing them, rather than avoid or hide from it. Healing occurs in the confrontation.

In this gospel passage, we catch Jesus in the middle of a conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who is slinking around in the night to get a word in with Jesus, presumably so he is not seen. In this conversation Jesus gives a judgment that shines a light on Nicodemus: you, Nicodemus, seem to prefer the darkness because there is something you are doing that you want to hide, thus making it easier for you to live in the dark. This sounds an awful lot like the experience of shame. Jesus is naming the way shame has dictated Nicodemus’s life, relegating him to shadows where he will not be seen for what he really is. Notice the lack of condemnation. Jesus is simply a light, showing Nicodemus to himself.

Jesus is also a light to us, showing us to ourselves. Looking at Jesus lifted up on the cross, we see the poison that is killing us: power used to protect the status quo; our instinct to blame one in order to save the rest. We see the fruit of our defenses against what the light reveals: the death of an innocent man at the hands of those in power.

Christ has come so that we will see what is poisoning us and that, in seeing, we might turn and live. This reflection is what the season of Lent calls us to – that difficult reflective work, allowing God’s light to help us recognize the parts of ourselves that are keeping us from all the joy in Christ that awaits us. 

Sunday Sermon – January 17, 2021

People ask me often what it was like growing up in Hawaii. Kids have asked me if I rode a dolphin to school, if I had to buy normal clothes to visit other states (assuming all I owned was grass skirts and coconut tops). I’ve been asked if Hawaii has zip codes or area codes, if we have electricity, if I lived in a hut on the beach, or if I was a hula dancer or surfer. I’ve been asked what we eat, what we do, if I ever got tired of the sunsets or the ocean. People think this is what Hawaii is like because this is the Hawaii they know from afar, the one they see in cartoons and ads. And yet, while I can answer their questions, all that answers do is to dispel the myths. If someone asks me all those things and my answer is, we wear normal clothes, don’t live in huts, I don’t surf very often or ride sea creatures to school. The landscape is nice, we eat lots of different things. All I’ve done is to take away their understanding, doing nothing to actually give them a better picture of where I’m from. 

So, if you ask what we eat, we eat things like ulu and lilikoi fruit, with lomi and mahi mahi, poi, and haupia, and spam musubi. Yet most of you won’t know what any of those things are. So, I could describe them to you one by one – That spam musubi is exactly the kind of canned spam you’re thinking of, but thinly sliced and fried in soy sauce and brown sugar, then assembled into a rectangle with a fat cake of sticky white rice, and wrapped in dried seaweed like massive spam sushi, which admittedly sounds horrible. But even me who has been a vegetarian for over half my life can attest to how delicious they are, and how much kids and grown-ups absolutely love them. I can tell you about other things we eat like ulu, which is a giant fruit that grows on trees and is the size of a cantaloupe but looks like a jackfruit. When it is raw it’s slimy and smells like feet, but if you bake it and eat it with butter, it has the flavor and texture of moist warm bread. And then you might have an idea of what an ulu is, or what a musubi is. But the far better way is for me to make it for you. Instead of offering answers, to say “Taste and see.” “Smell and see.” how spam sushi is mouthwatering and soul warming, and how slimy gym sock fruit becomes just like home baked bread and butter if it is cooked right. Taste and see. Smell and see. 

When people ask me what the landscape is like, I can ask if they’ve seen Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lost, Hawaii Five O, From Here to Eternity, or dozens of other movies or shows that will give them an idea. I can try to describe the sharp green cliffs and valleys, the personality of the waves on different beaches, the smell of the tropical forests, and how one valley smells like ginger while the next smells like plumeria and the next hibiscus. I can try to describe the feel of treading through wet, rotting branches, or describe how sore your calves get from running on sand. I can explain the nuances of how being barreled in an ocean wave feels different than swimming under a pounding waterfall. But you won’t really know what those things are like – the smells of hiking through plants and flowers you’ve never been near, the personalities of different valleys and trails and beaches, the thrill and fear of tumbling underwater in the ocean, the softness of the water itself under a waterfall. I could answer your questions about what the landscape is like, but the best thing I could possibly do for you is to say – come and experience it. Smell the flowers, tread through the trails and beaches, swim in the waters. 

When people ask me what the language is like, I could explain how there are only 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet, how vowels are heavily used, how beautiful Hawaiian music is with ukuleles and slack key guitars. But you won’t fully understand that unless I speak it for you, unless you hear the old men from down the street singing and playing together in lawn chairs on the beach, you won’t be moved by it until you see their wives stand up, bashful yet proud, to dance hula and tell the story of the words the men are singing with their dancing. I can try to tell you what it sounds like, what it feels like, but you won’t be moved by it unless you come and hear. Come and see. Come and experience it for yourself, because no matter how well I try to answer your questions, to tell you about it, to witness to it all, I can’t put the fullness of it all into words. You have to come and experience it for yourself to know the beauty, the grace, the extraordinary manifestation of God’s creation and God’s people that have emerged there in the middle of the pacific. 

Our gospel text this week, very early in Jesus ministry, is about invitation. It’s about misconceptions about people and places – Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Come and see. It’s about limited understandings of who Jesus was. It’s about Nathaniel declaring “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” for Jesus to respond, “You will see greater things than these.” It’s about surpassing expectations, about the glorious future still to come, about the anticipation, the expectation, the obliteration of everything they thought they knew about the Messiah because experiencing Christ is so much more than words or legends or prophecies can describe. 

This is a central theme in John’s Gospel – the invitation to come and see. John as a gospel writer leaves questions unanswered but doors open. He takes Jesus words “Follow me” and extends them to each and every one of us, because Christ can’t just be heard about, or talked about, he must be followed into new and better relationship with God and our neighbor. The depth and richness of that relationship needs to be experienced, not just talked about. 

So, you want to know Jesus? Come and see him in the face of the woman with the cardboard sharpied sign on the side of the road, see him in every neighbor you encounter whose in need, see him in every neighbor with a yard sign for the candidate you didn’t vote for, see him in every act of kindness and love you receive yourself. Come and hear him in the voices of people calling for justice, fairness, equality, support for those who most need it, for those who are most vulnerable. Hear him in every lonely or homebound friend or family member you call just to say hi. Hear him in the gospel, and in worship music, and in birds chirping and rain pounding and in every other way God speaks to you. Come and taste and smell Christ’s body and blood through the bread and wine we share in the eucharist. Come and feel Christ in every way you can, through relationship with your neighbors, through solidarity with the poor and the hungry, through the beauty of oceans and waterfalls and mountains, or of pastures and longhorns, tall trees, and country roads. Come and experience Christ in every part of your life you possibly can. This is Christ’s invitation to us. To come and see and follow him to new places God might be calling you, to know him in ways that will surprise you, but will far exceed your expectations.

Sunday Sermon – January 10, 2021

As we look to Jesus’s baptism by John and our own experiences of baptism on this Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, we find that the act of baptism changed something for Jesus, and it changes something for us. Baptism inaugurates a new life and a new way. It did for Jesus, and it does for us.

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not begin his account of the gospel with Jesus’s birth narrative. He focuses on another sort of beginning, the birth of Jesus’ public ministry. Before the day when Jesus met John at the Jordan, the day we hear about in today’s reading, Jesus was not the same person we usually think of when we think about Jesus. Before baptism, Jesus was only God incarnate. 

After being baptized, Jesus was God incarnate on a mission and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and sent him out into the world for the work of healing the sick, giving sight to blind, feeding the hungry and embodying a different type of faith. A faith that wasn’t stuck inside the temple but that was actively at work in people’s lives.

This gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism pushed Jesus out into a new movement and was itself a break in the way things were before. The Heavens tear open as the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in Jesus and in the world. The word used to describe the opening of the heavens that allows the Holy Spirit to descend onto Jesus and into the world is schizo. It is not a gentle opening like as of a door but a violent tearing open. 

God rips through the heavens, bridging the divide between heaven and Earth. Creation is fundamentally altered as God again crosses the boundary between him and his creations. This violent action and the word used to describe it only occurs one other time in the gospel, during Jesus’ eventual crucifixion- the final tearing of what was left that could separate God from humanity- sin.

This tearing begins Jesus’s public ministry and gives him the tools needed for that ministry, healing and gospel sharing. Jesus’ baptism pronounces Jesus as God’s son and God’s beloved and sends him out in the world to share the good news that a different type of life is possible.

Jesus’s baptism started him on his slow march towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion. It set in motion his sacrifice. This set-in motion another sort of slower tear too. Slowly, in the ministry and teachings of Jesus, people’s worlds and visions were torn open to include the poor, the sick and the marginalized. Relationship with God was torn away from the temple and temple officials as God himself went to meet people in the streets. That tearing would slowly tear into the people’s lives too, opening their eyes and their hearts to their neighbor and Christ. 

Baptism fundamentally changed Jesus’s life. After baptism, Jesus was transformed and set out to transform the hearts and lives of all those he came into contact with and all those who heard his message. 

We cannot understand the fullness of all that happens in the act of baptism, but we know that the simple act of being splashed with holy water, like the eating of simple bread and wine during the eucharist, is a way that God tears into our own selves and works in our own hearts and minds to prepare us for a different type of life, a life as children of not only the world but as children of God too.

I don’t remember my own baptism, but I know that it marked the beginning of another kind of life even though I was only still a baby. When I was baptized my family and my godparents stood up and decided that they would raise me with an understanding of who God was and how a relationship with God was possible.

By some mystery, God entered into my life and now I live as a transformed creation. By the faith of my parents who had me baptized, by the work of the holy spirit, and by all those in my life who have nurtured and encouraged my faith, I have tried to live into the life God has called me to. The Holy Spirit has been with me throughout my life, and I know because of the promises of baptism that it will continue to guide me as I continue on the path ahead of me.

That is what living into baptism is like. It’s about moving forward transformed but not always aware of exactly how. Each of us experience this, guided by the holy spirit throughout our lives, even when we don’t fully understand or realize it. In some way’s baptism is like the beginning of this new year of 2021. Plenty of people are thinking about new year’s resolutions and ways to get more sleep, exercise more or spend more time on self-care. In baptism, we take up the practice of nurturing a different sort of life too. We practice admitting we have not lived as God desires in the confession, we ask for and receive forgiveness in the community of our churches and we develop a deeper understanding of God and God’s word each week during worship and hopefully elsewhere in our lives too.

The Holy Spirit is at work in us as promised, yet our promise and the promise of our baptismal sponsors, family, and community is to nurture ourselves in ways that allow God to work in our lives more fully. Baptism is not a one sided, get out of hell free pass. It’s entering into relationship with God, and all the blessing and responsibility that entails. It is entering into community so God can continue to work in our lives, not only within us but also in our relationships with and interactions with those around us.

In our own baptisms we are welcomed into the life of the church, given people to help instruct us in our lives of faith and empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’s baptism, the Holy Spirit empowered him into a life of ministry that would ultimately lead to his death and resurrection. For us, baptism opens us up to God’s working and leading, and to new relationship with God made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Baptism is not any work of our own. We do not control the Spirit’s coming but rather, we acknowledge the promise that it does. This is exactly why we practice infant baptism. What happens in baptism does not hinge on our own understanding or ability to do something but rather on what God promises and assures us will happen. Baptism is not contingent on our action or inaction, but it calls us into action – into relationship with God and our neighbor. Whether the one being baptized is an infant or adult, we as a community rejoice with them, and commit ourselves to helping them grow in their faith given to them through the Spirit yet nurtured by scripture and by those around them.

Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit coming to us during baptism empowers us to live a different kind of life. That life strengthens us to live through grief, pain, sorrow, joy, hope, love, and all else life entails, not fearing what’s to come, but opening ourselves to all God has in store for our lives, just as Christ did. In baptism, we let ourselves be torn open, over and over again, because we are baptized into Christ’s life AND death, forever tied to service of God and our neighbors. So, let the world break our hearts. Let us feel for our neighbors in need and act on it. Let us recognize where God’s love is most needed and bring the good news to those places. Let us cry, and laugh, and weep, and rejoice for and with our neighbors just as Christ did, because the holy spirit is moving us to action, and we must respond.

Please pray with me.

Sunday Sermon – December 20, 2020

“Do not be afraid” Simple and perhaps terse words for the world-altering news Mary was able to hear. Like elsewhere throughout the Bible, an angel of God cautions their hearer before continuing. A brief reminder that what is about to happen should not cause fear. In our own world of unknowns and fear we would do well to remember that God is at work and weaving new life for the world in our midst. The Christ-child is coming. All will be made new. Things will be different but do not be afraid because God will bring us into better and more abundant life if we but have faith and trust in him.

One of the songs we’ll sing later in our service is inspired by the text and person our gospel is about today – Jesus’ mother Mary. The song is “Mary did you know?” and it asks a number of interesting questions.

Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy Has come to make you new?

That the child that you delivered will soon deliver you?

When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she would have a son that she was to name Jesus and that he would be great, be called the Son of the Most High, that the Lord God would give to him the throne of his ancestor David and that he would reign over the house of Jacob forever, Mary was understandably surprised, and must have had an overwhelming number of questions. When it finally sunk in, Mary’s response was exuberant joy. Mary was so filled with happiness and emotion that it was not mere words; it was a song. Mary’s song. The Magnificat, which we hear parts of in many beloved hymns and parts of liturgy and our worship, rather we notice it or not.

Like the others before her, Mary had learned to expect God’s working in unlikely and unimagined ways and so the vision she casts of what a Savior’s coming might mean included amazing things. Casting unjust rulers from their thrones, feeding the hungry, helping Israel amidst their persecution and occupation. Mary considered what her encounter with an angel might mean not only for herself but for her people and the world and so she ran towards that future without fear.

Mary responded to the heed of Gabriel’s command “do not fear” and the world-shattering news that followed by boldly trusting in God and God’s character. While finding herself in an unfavorable situation and with a lot of explaining to do with those around her, Mary chose to cast her vision towards the newness God was creating. Mary did not get stuck in the ordinary that was passing away. Mary did what is not easy to do. In a time when the world felt like it was being turned on its side, she chose confidence in God as she moved forward into the unknown future. She imagined what could be rather than what could be lost.

Last week I shared with you part of my call story, and this week I’d like to tell you about part of my husband’s. Very few of you have had the chance to meet my husband Cole, because he’s also a seminary student, serving as a vicar at four Lutheran churches near La Grange, until we both graduate this Spring and are hopefully ordained this fall. His story is fairly different from mine. I knew I was called to ministry from the time I was 14 and have actively pursued this path ever since. Cole at that time would have laughed at you if you told him then that he’d become a pastor a decade later. 

Growing up, he was always excellent at math and science, he excelled in school and his whole personality is much more heady and logical than most people. He wants to investigate and understand everything he can, constantly acquiring more knowledge, rather it’s about calculus or how to shell pecans and make moonshine. Everyone had always told him he would make a great engineer, and he heard that enough times that he assumed he wanted that too. It would give him financial security, it was interesting, he was good at it, what more could he want?

Meanwhile, as a teenager he was much more of a troublemaker than I ever was. While I played in the school wind ensemble, he played in a punk rock band. In my free time I played on sports teams and worked part time jobs, while he and his friends explored abandoned buildings and gave each other bad tattoos. Yet he still remained involved in church, not because his parents made him, but because he genuinely wanted to. He helped to mentor some of the younger youth, and even helped teach confirmation classes. He loved the Lord but didn’t realize that pastors could be people who had tattoos or used swear words, so the thought of him doing something like that never even crossed his mind. 

He went off to college in San Francisco, he had gotten into a good school there, and was in a 5-year program for physics and mechanical engineering. He had everything he’d wanted – a great school far from his hometown, a pathway to a reputable career, classes he was doing well in. But while he was in his first semester of college, he heard a voice inside of him, telling him this wasn’t what he was meant to do, he was called to be a pastor, not an engineer. The first time he realized this, he was at a punk rock concert, and told one of his friends what he’d just realized, and the friend stared at him, then laughed in his face and brushed it off. But that voice and that call never left him. 

He was doing well in his classes but wasn’t fulfilled in what he was doing. He found far more meaning by wandering the streets of San Francisco at night and making friends with homeless people, hearing their stories and breaking bread with them, being with God’s people on the margins. At the end of the semester, he went home for winter break and talked with one of his pastors at his home congregation about his thoughts about maybe, possibly considering ministry, and his pastor listened and validated everything Cole was saying. His pastor told him he’d always thought Cole might be called to ministry, and that he had great gifts for it, but the pastor was wise enough to know that if he told a rebellious teenage boy that, all it would do is make him run farther from the possibility. He knew Cole had to come to this path on his own, and that’s exactly what he did. 

Cole asked his pastor, if going to take this seriously, what he needed to do, where he needed to go, how he could even begin to take steps towards ministry. What this pastor told him was not at all what Cole wanted to hear. He said, Cole would need to leave his engineering program, and his Catholic university in San Francisco, and consider getting a Theology degree instead. And the best place he knew of to prepare and nurture Cole for the path God was leading him on was California Lutheran University, which is a great school, but which was even closer to Cole’s parents’ house than his high school was. It was where Cole relentlessly teased several of his friends for going to after high school, for not wanting to leave the nest or go somewhere cooler than their sleepy suburban hometown. In a matter of just a few weeks, Cole had gone from being so set and sure of his path, and well on his way to life as he’d always imagined it, to a crossroads where he was faced with a complete 180 to a completely different, lower paying job, with more schooling required, at the school that would have otherwise been his absolute last choice. 

Like Mary, he was faced with Life changing news, risking, and gaining everything all at once. Mary said yes and responded to her new future with joy. Cole responded, probably not with singing like Mary did, but with full trust and commitment to the new life God was giving him. He dropped out of engineering school and applied to California Lutheran, and was accepted just a few days before Spring classes started. He met me on his third day of school there. While God’s path for Cole was completely unexpected, God also gave him the faith to be able to follow boldly. God is active in our world and in our lives here and now, and having an active God means having our lives changed in huge and unexpected ways. We’re each called to do what Mary was called to – not to give birth to the Son of God – but to be open to God working in our lives in new and unexpected ways. We’re called not to fear, but to trust God as we choose to take steps towards the new, scary, wonderful life we’re being called to.  

We don’t always know where God is leading us, but we take courage and continue on despite the unanswered questions. Did Cole know if he would regret leaving his engineering degree? No. Did he know if he would even get into another school, for a completely different program? No. Did he know he would meet his wife there, along with countless other great friends and colleagues? No. But he trusted God and took courage. 

Mary, in her situation of uncertainty also decided to take courage in God and God’s character rather than linger in questions that could not be answered before she got through them. What would her betrothed Joseph think if she suddenly became pregnant? What would her parents think? What if she, a young teenager, wasn’t ready to raise God’s promised heir? 

Rather than get stuck in the present, Mary trusted in God’s future, whatever that might be. Mary boldly followed what God was doing in her life even in a situation that seemed like it might only cause heartache and headache.

So, did Mary know? Did she know her baby boy would walk on water, save our sons and daughters, and make Mary new? Probably not. As a member of the Jewish people Mary would have grown up with an expectation for a Jewish Savior. The name Jesus, which comes from a Hebrew word meaning Savior, itself carried with it a plethora of different expectations and assumptions. Mary would have had plenty of ideas of what Jesus might do or be, but she never would have been able to know exactly what Jesus came to do. Even more miraculous than predicting the future in that way is perhaps the fact that Mary trusted and obeyed the promise anyway.

Jesus grew up in a house with this sort of trust and bold faith, and so it makes sense that Jesus, as an adult and fully accepting his role as Savior, also trusted in God, and moved forward into a future, knowingly facing death, because he trusted not only in what could be imagined but in what could be possible through God. Jesus and Mary both adopted lives as obedient servants. Trusting in God and God’s plan that was being laid ahead of them. Going forward into the unknown future with confidence in God’s love and mercy, they left their fears behind and took courage in God alone. May we also have the courage and faith to do the same. Amen.

Advent Sunday Sermon – 11/29/2020

I once heard a story of a father who took his son to Toys-R-Us, and he and his son got separated. This was his first child, and had never happened before, so the father started to panic. Yet, because he could see the doors, he knew that his son hadn’t exited the building. He paced up one corridor and down another… around another aisle… peeping… looking to find him amidst a crowd of people in the Christmas rush – but he could not find his son. He found a security guard and asked him, “Do you have surveillance in the store?” The guard said, “Yes.” He then asked, “Do you have a monitor?” “Yes.” “Can I look at the monitor?” “Yes.” “Can you scan the floor?” “Yes.”

The guard began to scan up and down the aisles, and there the man saw his son, surrounded by toys, but crying.  He was clearly in a state of panic. His son was all by himself among people he did not know, in a place that was unfamiliar. The son was feeling lost and alone, and the father did not know what to do. The father asked the guard, “Do you have an intercom?” The guard said, “Yes.”

The father said, “Keep the camera on him.” Then he got on the intercom and said, “Christopher.” His son looked around because he recognized his father’s voice. He continued, “Stay where you are.” The boy started looking around. “It’s Daddy,” he said over the intercom. “Don’t move. I see you although you can’t see me. Stay where you are. I’m coming.”

Though the little boy did not know it, even when he felt most separated from his father, his father was doing everything he could to get back to him. No matter how far we wander, we are never too far for God to still see us and offer the hope of being reunited. God is active and is looking after our lives in ways that we don’t always understand, even when we’re feeling like a child feeling lost in a toy store. God is our protective father, calling out to us, telling us exactly what we need to do, reassuring us of the promise that through relationship with God, everything will be ok. Rather through the prophet Isaiah, or through the store’s intercom system, God reaches out to us urging us to listen.

In our Isaiah reading, we enter into the midst of a nation whose sin has brought them further and further from right relationship with God to the point that they felt completely lost. They remember that God is their God, and they are God’s people, yet their expectations of God have become very one directional. They cry out for God to fulfil his side of the deal, without seeing all the ways they’ve abandoned and actively worked against this relationship themselves. The prophets are God’s way of calling the people to repent, to recognize, to reorient themselves to God and right the relationship that has become so broken.

In Isaiah 64, the children of Israel were much like the little boy in Toys-R-Us; they cried out for help from someone they had wandered away from, someone they could not see, nor could they be sure that they were seen. And while an intercom was sufficient for the father to announce his arrival to his son, the prophet on behalf of the people asks for something far more dramatic. He prays and asks for an announcement of God’s presence in ways that would garner respect and recognition from both the children of Israel and God’s enemies, who they viewed as their own enemies. They cried out for quaking mountains, burning brushwood, and boiling water. 

Now, we should not think this request is unusual given the fact that God has been performing awesome deeds on behalf of Israel for quite some time. The plagues on Egypt that forced Pharaoh to let Israel go, the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, the flattened walls of Jericho and David’s victory over the giant Goliath all readily come to mind as we consider how God has intervened and saved them in the past, so the lack of God’s intervention now makes them think that this time they may have gone too far, that God’s lack of action means their relationship is irreconcilable. 

The nature of the prophets was to help God’s people see that they had turned away from God, and that God was waiting for them to turn back. Isaiah was urging Israel to stop expecting God to be a miracle vending machine, but to recognize God instead as one whom they were in relationship with, that required effort on both sides. God was waiting for them, just as they were waiting for God. As we enter into the season of Advent, waiting is a central theme, and we’ll hear it over and over in weeks to come.

Over and over in the Hebrew bible, God’s people are admonished to wait: 

(Psalm 27:14) – “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” 

(Psalm 37:9) – “For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth” 

(Psalm 40:1) – “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me and heard my cry”.

Now, the idea of waiting has several implications. The first is that the Lord is worth waiting for.  No matter how long it takes, no matter what you have to go through, when you get to the place that God has purposed, planned, and provided, or you receive what God has promised, prepared, and produced, you will gladly testify that it was worth the wait.

Another implication of waiting is the reality that God reserves the right to keep us waiting; time was made for humans, not for God. Thus, God is not in a hurry. Another implication of waiting, which is probably the least popular yet the most applicable to the text, is the reality that while God is great, God can also be gradual. When it comes to God’s moves, God’s methods, and God’s miracles, God can be slow, and we must learn to be patient.

In all our waiting, we are not called to just sit there idly until God makes the first move. Advent waiting is an active time of anticipation, of reflection on our relationship with God in the past and preparing ourselves for what the future might hold. In our waiting, we return to God in every way we can, doing our part to be God’s people, as we trust that God continues to be our God.

Our God is a god of promise. God is going to do what God said. What we go through cannot cancel what God told us, because God’s Word is more powerful than any shortcoming we may have. Nothing is strong enough to revoke, rescind, retract, reverse or repeal God’s promises. God promised to be the God of Israel, and they were to be God’s people. God promised to make us all God’s people through Jesus Christ, calling us to repent, and reconciling us to new relationship with our God.

This passage in Isaiah closes with an impassioned appeal for God to look favorably on the people of Israel, forget their sins against God, and to remember that they are God’s people. I am inclined to believe that the wait had far less to do with God remembering than it did with the people remembering; remembering that God is our caring and concerned parent, watching, searching, and calling out to us like a father in a toy store. 

God’s hope is the hope of a Parent, who always hopes against hope that the children will see the error of their ways and return home. Our hope is the hope of a child, realizing we’ve wandered too far and are lost in a toy store, trusting that there is hope that we can be reunited once again. So, we eagerly wait, hoping for a future we don’t yet know, but that we are sure our God will be a part of, turning to us as we turn back to him. Amen.

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