The Lord’s Table…for Children?

We moved almost halfway across the country this past November, so my family has been dealing with a lot of changes lately. Despite my husband’s severe dislike of change, we all seem to be adjusting really well. In fact, the only hurdle I’ve come across so far that I’m in a quandary about is the fact that my 3 year old son takes Communion. This is the last thing I anticipated being an issue. Here is why my son takes communion…because he wants to! He really, really wants to. When he was younger and it was time for Communion, he would get giddy in the pew and even start clapping. How many people in your pews get that excited about it? It started when he was 17 months old. You see, I would always carry him up for communion to receive a blessing from the pastor and one day he stuck his hand out for bread. The pastor looked at me and I nodded my okay. This wasn’t planned, there were no classes he went through, he and I weren’t instructed in any way on when/how to do this, it just happened, and I’m sure his 14 month old sister will soon be following his footsteps. The practice in that faith community is intinction (you are handed a chunk of bread and then you dip it in the common cup of wine/grape juice). Several months after his first taste, he started wanting to dip in the grape juice, so we let him (with a little help at first, of course). This was not rocket science. He felt moved (by the Holy Spirit!) to receive what everyone around him had received and we walked with him as he experienced it and learned the ritual.

Since our move, we have worshiped with three different congregations. At all three we have gone up for Communion, and at all three I have had to nod my okay, whisper ‘really, it’s fine, he can have it,’ and leave with a slightly broken heart. Yesterday was the most heartbreaking. This particular congregation goes up and kneels at the rail along the altar, receives the bread and then the wine/grape juice is given in individual little cups. The pastor gave him the wafer (many congregations use small wafers in lieu of actual bread), but the lay assistant would not give him the cup. I even whispered, ‘He can have the juice,’ but the assistant looked at me and said ‘No.’ Sigh. My son then said (out loud, of course), ‘Why didn’t he give me one?’ I just whispered to him that it was okay, he just didn’t know to, but inside I felt my son’s disappointment. I understand that congregations have rules about what age children ‘should’ receive the Lord’s Supper (i.e. Communion), and I respect the fact that lay people are inclined to follow these rules because they just don’t feel they can make decisions on the spot outside of those rules. I get it, I really do. I also get that I need to be more proactive and have a one on one with the pastor(s) explaining why my son receives Communion. Honestly, I didn’t even anticipate needing to do this.

I understand that congregations want people/children/kids to be able to understand what’s so special about the Lord’s Supper and be familiar with the ritual before they receive it. Keep in mind, these are often the same congregations that are okay with the parents deciding for the children when it comes to the other sacrament, Baptism! Theologically speaking, the reason a sacrament is a sacrament is because God is active in it, not us. God understands our need for it, even if we do not. God blesses us even if we do not know what a blessing is. God is in charge, God is active, God is present. If we want parents to be more involved in their kids’ faith journeys, then maybe we need to give their kids’ faith journey back to them. As pastors/congregations, let’s help guide the process rather than dictate the process. I only have two children, both are still very young, but one thing I’ve learned this far into the journey of parenthood is that kids are VERY unique and they develop at their own pace. Let’s walk alongside families and encourage, empower, honor, bless, and accompany them.

I feel fortunate that I am comfortable dealing with this issue and sticking up for my child’s desire to take Communion at his young age. If I were not an ordained pastor myself, or hadn’t worked in a church, I might feel inclined to back down thinking that we need to go with the flow of the new congregation. That’s not the case, however, and I encourage anyone else out there to stick up for your children at church as well. Here is why I feel so strongly about this. On September 17th, when my son was barely 3 years old this happened (I copied it from my facebook page):

“At lunch today, Cedric was sharing his leftover (cold) blueberry pancake with me. He tore off a chunk and whispered something as he handed it to me. I asked him what he whispered and he said quietly, “The body of Christ.” I replied, “Amen!”

Receiving communion from my 3 year old…..Priceless!”

I think he gets it.
Amen…and AMEN!

Posted in Focus on Kids, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Sermon from 21 April 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter
21 April 2013
Word of Light Fellowship
Winnemucca, NV

Psalm 23
John 10:22-30

Let us pray…O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen

Grace and peace to you brothers and sisters in Christ.

The text I want to focus on this morning comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, versus 22 to 30.

This text is rich with curiosity.  Who are you?  Are you the Messiah?  How long will you keep us in suspense?  Despite all of the miracles he has performed, all of the lives he has transformed, all of the many times he has told them plainly, they are still questioning Jesus’ identity.  Questioning whether or not his power verifiably comes from God.  They want to believe…but they really want to be sure before they take that leap.

This past week has been filled with events that might make us question as well.  How can two men create such terror?  And why?  Why did God let it happen?  Or why did God not prevent it from happening?  There are moments in our lives when we can’t help but ask such questions.  Kids getting bullied, people going hungry, broken relationships, loved ones dying too soon, disasters destroying communities.  We want to believe and we do believe, but still, in the back of our minds, we sometimes question what it’s all about.  I believe that doubt is a constant companion to faith.  It doesn’t take away our faith by any means, but rather gives us new perspectives and encourages us to renew and reclaim the faith that we do have.

There are two main topics I want to draw on from the text this morning.  One of them is the notion of searching, specifically as it relates to Jesus and his sheep, who is searching for whom?  The second is the concept of belonging.  What does it mean to belong to Jesus’ flock, to be people of God?

Who searches for whom?  When we read in the Bible about the Shepherd and his sheep, it is usually in the context of the Shepherd searching for the lost sheep and bringing him or her back to the safety of the flock.  “I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind but now I see.”  Indeed this is true.  God is on the lookout for those who get lost, who go astray, who lose their way.  God knows who we are.  And God calls out to us, “Child of Mine, you are getting really far away.  Come this way to return to me.”  “Yoo Hoo, this way!”  Yes, God searches for all of us and calls out to all of us.  In this, we have no choice.  It’s one of the ways that God works in our lives.  We might be quick to point out that the Jews in the text had it easy.  Jesus was a man among them.  They could see him and hear him right there in the flesh.  For us it isn’t so tangible, but we are spoken to nonetheless.  It might be that gut feeling you get when you’re about to make a questionable choice.  It might be a friend giving you a gentle, or not so gentle, reminder of what is right and what is wrong.  Or maybe it was that last time you were grounded, or had a time out, and you sat quietly by yourself and were reminded that the world is bigger than you and although you are loved and important it doesn’t give you the right to disrespect others.  God searches for us constantly and never gives up.  Even when we are here in church, and we believe, and we worship, and we call on God, God still keeps an eye on us in case we go astray.

This text from the Gospel of John, however, describes the searching a bit differently.  It encourages us to search for God.  The Jews sought out Jesus in order to question him.  They were looking for him and they called out to him and they approached him.  Jesus also puts the ball in our court.  He tells the Jews that they do not believe because they have not heard His voice.  Do we hear God’s voice?  Are we searching for it?  Certainly, when we make the choice to come to church we are choosing to hear the Word of God, to hear God’s voice.  We are opening ourselves to the transformative power of God’s grace.  And certainly when we pray, we are seeking God and calling upon God and desiring a response from God.  But do we pay attention when we are not here or when we are not actively engaged in prayer?  Do we search for God in our everyday lives?  When we put our children to sleep at night, do we openly entrust them to God’s care?  “Remember, dearest one, that you are a child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever.  Good night.  I love you.”  When we witness random acts of kindness, do we acknowledge God’s love in the world?  When we see people in our midst who are different than we are, can we acknowledge that they, too, are part of God’s good creation?  When we see horrible acts of violence or cruelty in our world, are we still able to search for God, even if it involves questioning and doubt?  Evil is a very powerful force, but it can never overcome God.  Evil wants us to fear, because when we fear we tend to turn inward.  We worry less about our neighbor or our world and we worry more about ourselves.  Fear tends to instill more selfishness in us.  Evil loves fear.  When we see evil or experience evil and pain in this world, our searching for God is knowing that we have already been saved.  God has already rescued us from evil through Christ.  Our searching leads us back to the cross in times of despair.  We are safe in Christ.

So, how do we know that we belong to Jesus’ flock, that we are God’s people?  I’m going to suggest that there are two perspectives here.  What God wants and what we are capable of.  Belonging is sometimes a difficult concept because it implies that there are those who do not belong.  And the hard reality is, that’s true.  In creation, however, God chose all of us, each and every one, even those who inflict harm.  God calls out to all of us and wants all of us to hear God’s voice.  When people go astray and inflict harm, God weeps because God wanted them to turn back and join the flock.  We can also think of belonging in the sense of being known.  God knows us whether we like it or not.  It’s a scary thought isn’t it?  God knows all of my judgmental thoughts, all of the times I turn away from those in need, all of the times spiteful words slip off my tongue.  I might be able to hide them from you by not talking about them or by making excuses around them, but I cannot hide my heart from God.  God knows us deeply and God still wants us in the flock.

The other perspective of belonging is what we, as humans, are capable of.  The hard reality is that not everyone acknowledges God.  Not everyone wants God to be a part of their life.  Not everyone listens for God’s voice, or they hear it and ignore it.  As much as God wants everyone to be in the flock, we are a stubborn people!  So, how do we know that we belong?  In our text, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me.”  This is always a difficult place for me as a Lutheran.  We tend to be really big on what God has done for us…and not so big on what we do to earn it.  God’s love, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, and eternal life have not been earned, they were purchased for us through Christ dying on the cross.  We cannot pay for what has already been purchased.  But Jesus clearly states in this text that there are those in the flock and there are those who are not in the flock.  Are we in the flock or are we not?  It is my hope when people are aware of what God has done for them through Christ, they will seek out their place in the flock.  When they realize the depth of love and the sacrifice that were given so that they can be set free from fear and death, they cannot help but be moved towards the flock.  That is my hope.

People have written books about what identifies a Christian, or what are the marks of a Christian.  Those things that help distinguish the flock from the rest of the world.  The list can get quite long, and the longer it gets the more certain I am that I am not in the flock because I’m not that perfect no matter how much I try.  I’m sure we can all come up with conditions that make sense to us for who is a Christian and who is not.  Some we might agree on and some we might not.  However, I prefer Jesus’ description.  Do you hear God’s voice and do you follow?  What does that mean to you?  In your life, what does it mean to hear God’s voice?  In those moments when you hear it, how do you know that you will follow?  In my life, I have come to realize, that focusing on one word helps me out a great deal with hearing God’s voice and following.  That word is reconciliation.  Reconciliation doesn’t imply that I have to be perfect, which I’m not capable of, or that I have to be passive and soft.  No, it’s actually a very active word.  Reconciliation means that when I get angry or do harm, I take a deep breath, acknowledge my wrongdoing and apologize.  When I need to instill some justice in the world, because we do have time outs in our house, reconciliation means that when the time out is over I bend down to look my son in the eye and I tell him why he needed a time out but that I still love him and I always will.  Reconciliation compels me to think before I act, to make things right the best I can when I have done wrong, and to make sure that others know that their wrongdoings do not make them less lovable.  Reconciliation is what the cross was all about.  Jesus reconciled us to God once and for all, for all of eternity, even though we may not deserve it.

Are you searching?  Do you hear God’s voice?  How will you follow?


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Sermon from 24 March 2013

Palm Sunday
24 March 2013
Winnemucca United Methodist Church
Winnemucca, NV

Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 118:14-29
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 19:28-40(44)

Let us pray…O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

Grace and peace to you brothers and sisters in Christ.

It’s the time of Passover, the Jewish celebration of their liberation from ancient Egypt under the leadership of Moses over 3,000 years ago.  The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and God inflicted ten plagues on the Egyptians so that Moses and his people could escape.  The tenth, and worst, of those plagues was the death of the first-born child in every Egyptian household.  God instructed the Israelites to mark their doorposts with the blood of a lamb so that the Spirit of the Lord would know to pass over those homes and spare their children.

It’s the time of Passover, and Jewish people are gathering in their holy city, Jerusalem, to celebrate once again.  Jesus has known for some time that he would be on this journey to Jerusalem as well.  He knows he must go there to face his enemies, to face his fears, and to face the cross.

As he begins to draw near, the crowds from Jerusalem begin to gather along the road.  In ancient times, it was common to greet a conquering hero on the road as they drew near; covering the path with cloaks and palms as if to unroll a royal red carpet.  And his entry is that of a royal king, indeed!  These disciples and followers of Jesus have been watching him teach and perform miracles.  They have heard him promise that he is the only way to true peace and salvation.  They have witnessed the power of his presence, the power of his touch, the power of his preaching.  When they see him coming, they now believe that it is true, that he will surely be the king that they have been waiting for, the king that will conquer the Romans, the king that will set them free and bring them peace!  The baby who humbly entered our world at Christmas, is all grown up and will now take his proper place at the throne.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, God with us; “Blessed be the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Jesus is a king, but not the kind of king they were expecting.  Remember, it’s the time of Passover.  And when people gather for a celebration, no matter what ethnicity, no matter what religion, no matter what generation, things often get unruly.  So the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, had also come to Jerusalem to ‘keep the peace.’  His entry was most likely also very royal, with people gathering, laying cloaks and palms, waving flags, and showing respect (genuine or otherwise) because it was demanded of them.  Pilate was surrounded by soldiers, all of whom were heavily armed.  He rode in on a warhorse, not a donkey.  THIS is the kind of king they were expecting.  THIS is the kind of king they were familiar with.  THIS is the kind of king that Jesus was not.

Not only did Jesus arrive alone without an entourage of soldiers, on a donkey not a warhorse, unarmed; as Jesus arrived near the city gates, he wept.  No, this is certainly not the king they were expecting…weeping as he enters his battle…no, certainly not.  Another king of the Jewish people wept near these city gates on the Mount of Olives hundreds of years earlier.  It was King David, another king familiar to Jesus’ followers.  Why did David weep?  Because his son Absalom came to seize control of the kingship…and won.  David was conquered, defeated, rejected.  He wept for himself.  Jesus wept, not for himself, but for others, for the city, for the people who did not understand the magnitude of his suffering.  Jesus wept for you and for me and for every other broken hearted soul who longs for a conquering king but has no idea the kind of savior we really need.

Jesus was not the kind of king they had in mind, but he is the Messiah, the Christ, that we all are in need of.  You see, the differences between these two kinds of kings are differences in power, in peace, and in personality.  King David and Pontius Pilate relied on the power of numbers and the power of weaponry and the power of force, and there is power in these things. We see it all around us today.   Jesus, however, relied on the power of belief and the power of presence and the power of conviction.  It may be hard to believe there is power in these things, but there is.  The presence of a child can draw the undivided attention of an entire room.  The faith of professional athletes amazes the masses.  Teenagers who resist peer pressure are admired for their convictions.

The differences in peace were eloquently identified by Martin Luther King Jr. as the absence of conflict on one hand and the presence of justice on the other, two very different concepts of peace.  Pilate and David wanted an absence of conflict.  That meant everyone in their kingdom was on board with their authority.  Their mentality was, “think the way I think and don’t raise a stink.”  I’m sure we’ve all had the pleasure of dealing with those types of people from time to time.  Or, perhaps, we ourselves have a tendency to be that kind of person.  The presence of justice, on the other hand, is the peace that Jesus came into our world to show.  Jesus did not remove conflict, in fact, his presence often created much conflict and Jesus was not always docile, he may have been slow to anger but he did show anger on occasion.  His motive was that of justice.  And the peace that Jesus intends surpasses all understanding.  We may never fully understand the scope of that peace, let alone our role in it.

One’s concept of power and peace is evident in their personality.  Pilate and David were a bit on the selfish side.  They wanted people to admire them and bow down to them.  They expected others to serve them.  It made them feel special, and they used whatever means they could to get it.  Jesus was the epitome of unselfishness, weeping for us when he was about to endure the unthinkable, washing our feet, serving us sinners all the way to the cross.  Jesus could have had soldiers and weapons with him, but they still would not have been the sources of power he would have chosen to use.  Instead, he chose humility and service to others.

Today, my friends, is the beginning of holy week.  We not only celebrate Jesus entering our lives once again, but we contemplate our own willingness to follow Jesus all the way to Calvary.  It might mean we have to check our use of power, or our concept of peace, at the foot of the cross.  There is power everywhere.  There is power in being a parent.  There is power in being a child.  There is power as a supervisor, as an employee, as a pastor, as a parishioner.  It’s less about whether or not we have power, and more about how we choose to use the power that is available to us.  Are we willing to humble ourselves and use our power for service to others?  Our fear is that humility and service will deny us our own rights, but in reality they ensure that we are exercising our own rights properly and truly for justice and peace.

Jesus goes on a journey this week.  It began on the Mount of Olives, continued down through the gates to the city of Jerusalem, and from here he will enter the temple, he will rebuke, he will teach, he will share a meal with his disciples, spend time in a garden where he submits himself to his Father and where he is betrayed and arrested.  His journey gets pretty gruesome after that.  This journey was for our sake, every step of it, because as much as we may try to be humble and commit our lives in service to others, we are still imperfect human beings.  We are constantly in need of forgiveness and that forgiveness is only possible through Christ.  Our celebration today is somewhat bitter sweet.  Yes, we are jubilant at the arrival of our conquering Hero, but we are humbled because his arrival comes at a very high price.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!


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Consider this

I feel that this is a belated response to the school shooting, massacre would be a better term, on Friday, but I’ve really struggled wrapping my mind around it.  I wasn’t even aware that it happened until several hours later because not only am I in an earlier time zone, I usually don’t get connected to the outside world until a few hours after getting up when I finally wake up my cell phone.  That is how Friday went and when I woke up my cell phone and checked facebook I started seeing several posts about a school shooting.  So I turned on the news and was horrified.  Truly horrified.  It is so hard to imagine what the teachers, staff, and students of Sandy Hook endured, and when I do let my mind imagine it, my eyes well up with tears.  When I think about the lives lost, I get angry.  When I think about how broken/alone/lost a person has to be in order to do such a thing I can’t even imagine that kind of brokenness.  And now, knowing the names and seeing the faces of the victims, feels like holding something very sacred and I pray that we honor and respect that.

Several aspects of this massacre have been discussed and debated and they will continue to be.  There is talk about guns.  There is talk about mental illness.  There is talk about who could do such a thing.  There is talk about parenting.  There is talk about where God is or isn’t.  There is talk about prayer in school.  There is talk about violence.  The list could go on.  All of this talk is necessary, as hard as it might be and as grounded as some of us are in what we believe.  Now is a time to be open to discussion.  Well, really, it’s always been the time to be open for discussion but we are rarely willing until something terrible happens.  I don’t really want to address these particular issues here, though, although I might get off course a bit.  There are two things that feel like big elephants in the room and nobody is really addressing them head on.  I pray that I am able to tread lightly here because I do not want to cause any harm and I hope that those who read this will understand that.

First, I want to talk about God.  If God is so powerful and all knowing, then why did God let this happen?  Why?  Why?  Why?  I’ll be honest.  I don’t know.  I have felt more confident in my response with other tragedies…when so many helpless children weren’t involved.  (See…here come the tears again.)  Here is what I believe.  When God created, God proclaimed that it was ‘good’ not perfect.  Humans are part of God’s good creation.  God has given us free will to act on our own.  Evil exists and humans are susceptible to evil.  So evil caused this horrific event, not God.  (Gap).  God is present everywhere and God’s presence was evident at Sandy Hook in the heroism of the teacher’s and staff and students.  (Gap).  God is truly weeping with us.  (Gap).  God did not call on those victims to die that day, but God was waiting for them with open arms just as God waits for all of us.  Do you feel the gaps?  Sometimes don’t you just want God to be God’s own presence and stop it rather than relying on imperfect humans to do their best?  Theologically, the only place I can go is back to free will.  If I want God to dictate in some situations then I need to allow God to dictate in all situations.  But God did not create us to be puppets.  That was not the purpose of Creation.  God let go of humanity, much like parents must let their children go from under their wings (never their hearts mind you!!!) so that the children can be free to live their own life…with their own choices…and, unfortunately, their own consequences.  I also believe that there is a continuum of belief from unbelief to doubt and all the way to certainty, and we are all somewhere on that continuum, most likely fluctuating along it.  Now is a time when I have to say I believe, but Lord help my unbelief.

Secondly, I want to talk about life.  In church on Sunday, 26 candles were lit for the victims.  It was very beautiful and from our silence we started singing Silent Night, and many were brought to tears.  It was very moving and appropriate, I felt.  But I also felt something else.  I felt like there should have been more candles.  I wondered why there wasn’t a 27th candle for the mother who was shot in her head.  Okay, maybe we were just focusing on the school itself.  But really, a mother being shot by her son is also a tragedy.  And I wondered (and this is the really hard one so please take a deep breath) why there wasn’t a 28th candle for the young man who caused this tragedy.  I do not in any way want to honor or glorify what he did, absolutely not.  His actions were horrific.  And I don’t even want to call him a victim of anything, his circumstances, his condition if he had one, nothing.  There’s just a hole right there where that 28th candle should be.  I want a candle because his life mattered to God.  Yes, he went astray, but we are taught that God seeks those who are lost.  I believe that God wept when this young man went astray and that God wanted him to be found.  And more than anything, I wanted that 28th candle lit because we never know who this young man might be.  I wanted it lit to remind us to seek out the brokenhearted and let them know that their life has value!

Amen…and Amen.

Posted in Current Events, Daily Life, Theology Explained | 2 Comments

What happens now…

I did not start this blog to tackle the political side of life, although our politics tend to reflect deeper aspects of who we are and what we believe.  Having said that, I TRULY believe that both sides (because let’s face it – there ARE sides no matter what anyone in the public political field wants to tell you) genuinely want to help people who are struggling and genuinely want to get America back on track, they just have very different ideas of how to get there.  Much the same as my husband and I having very different ideas about how to get an elk from the field into our freezer.  His idea involves ‘us’ cutting it up and packaging it, and my idea involves the butcher block down the street!  However, I don’t want to minimize how important our differences on a national political scale are.

I have been reading a lot of hateful and hurtful statements (from both sides) over the past few weeks, many of which came from people who, like me, have vowed to uphold the Gospel in our life and work.  What I have been reading from many of them does not uphold the Gospel and it really, really bothers me.  I want to believe that their intensions are genuine, but at the heart of the Gospel is not alienating people, not casting people aside.  Yes, as Christians we have to stand up for what we believe in, but not at the expense of what we believe in.  That sounds like I’m talking in circles, but if we have to put ‘others’ down in order to lift up our own viewpoint, then we should take pause and consider what it is we are lifting up.

And today, I keep reading and hearing a lot about ‘coming together,’ that now is the time to come together and reach across the aisle.  I hear it from politicians and I hear it from pastors.  Why is now the time?  Hasn’t it always been the time?  And when is anyone going to acknowledge the differences that exist?  When I hear people say ‘come together’ and ‘reach across the aisle’ I wonder if that really means ‘it’s time to see things my way.’  Why are differences so bad…so taboo?  Differences inevitably make our unity stronger because we have to set our egos aside in order to make progress.  Egos are what get in the way of progress, not differences of policy or opinion.

Here is a quote from John Wesley that is an appropriate one for any election and is one of the more positive things I have seen during this election season.  John Wesley is known as the father of the Methodist church in America, and was the driving force for embedding worship in the wilderness areas during the colonial times.  Find any small town today and you will likely find a Methodist church because that is still part of their mission – making sure people, no matter how remote, have access to religious worship.

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. to vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; 2. to speak no evil of the person they voted against; and, 3. to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”  ~John Wesley, October 6, 1774

I think we can all learn a thing or two from this.

Pastor Tara

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Soul Surfer

I just watched the movie Soul Surfer this morning.  It had been our Netflix movie on the counter for a couple weeks now and I decided it needed to be watched and sent back.  I knew the jist of what the movie was about but I think I was a bit surprised that it also had a religious angle to it…hence the ‘soul’ in Soul Surfer I’m sure!  When I first realized there would be religion in this flick, I grumbled.  I have nothing against religion, in general, but I get really tired of bad theology…especially bad theology in movies.  An example of what I would consider to be bad theology in a movie is Facing the Giants.  Not a bad movie necessarily, but when they start winning games they attribute it to God.  God helps them win.  Now, I do believe that God gives us strength, God fills us with peace, and that through God we can achieve the impossible.  BUT, I do not think God is going to ‘make’ one team win a game at the expense of the other team losing.  It all has to do with the question, “Who’s side is God on?”  And I hope the answer is ‘everyone’s!’

[As a side note, I am also a football fan and to my husband’s dismay (he’s not into sports…which is just strange to me) I watch as much football as I can on weekends (which usually only amounts to a couple of full games).  I always grumble a little at the end of games, or after a touchdown, when players point to the sky.  In particular from this weekend, it was Ben Roethlesburger, the quarter back for the Steelers.  I try not to be judgmental because I really have no idea who exactly they are pointing to (it could be lost loved one) or what they are saying.  I think God appreciates being acknowledged whatever the circumstances.]

In the movie Soul Surfer, Bethany has to deal with a horrific accident that completely changes her life.  She’s a kid with a dream and in an instant that dream is threatened, and in fact, the dream she had before the accident took a lot longer to achieve and a ton more hard work on her part.  Through all of it, even before the accident, she believed in God and attended her youth group.  So this wasn’t a movie about ‘coming to God and things turning out okay.’  In no way was her life or circumstances made ‘easier’ because she believed in God.  Nothing was handed to her.  Nothing fell out of the sky.  What I really liked about the movie is that God was there all along waiting for Bethany to realize what was next and to go for it!  And there was no one right answer as far as I’m concerned.  Just watching how the movie unfolded there are several ways that Bethany could have overcome her circumstances and whichever one she chose would have been awesome.  (I’m really trying not to ruin the movie for anyone in case you haven’t watched it.).  It really reminds me of a quote by on of my favorite theologians, Frederick Buechner, (and I’ll paraphrase here) “your true calling in life is where your greatest desire meets the worlds greatest need.”

We all have tons of desires of what we want to do in life and the world is certainly full of needs.  The world needs good teachers, honest politicians, faithful sales clerks, business owners willing to hire ex convicts, caring physicians, and the list goes on.  Where do your desires meet the world’s needs?  Remember that God is not disappointed in where you have been, but God is waiting patiently and excitedly for you to realize what might be next!


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Sermon from 26 August 2012

Here is my latest sermon

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69


Let us pray…O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

Grace and peace to you brothers and sisters in Christ.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Those words were written by Robert Frost in 1916 in his poem, The Road Not Taken. The message in this poem echoes that of our texts for today. Joshua stood with his people and asked them which god they were going to serve. He did not ask if they will serve God, but which god they would choose. He recognized that although there is only one true God, the world is full of other gods to serve. In ancient times, those gods may have been pagan gods or sculptures or, as the text points out, the god’s of their Father’s. Today there are other gods as well. Maybe we serve an addiction or we serve a specific cause or political affiliation. Causes and politics aren’t all bad, don’t get me wrong, but when we lose sight of God’s will in the midst of our work in the world, even when we are serving others, we can easily get off course. When we are so focused on things in this world that we lose sight of God and God’s presence in the world, we can get off course. We can find ourselves on the well beaten path, not the road less traveled. Joshua’s people declared that they would serve the Lord, their God. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” They outlined specific reasons why; the Lord delivered them from slavery, preserved them along their way, and drove out their enemies.

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus turned around and the crowds were gone. The crowds had gathered to see who this Jesus was, to find out if he was for real. Jesus fed them and taught them. Jesus instructed them regarding faith in God, but when push came to shove, the majority of people bailed. From their perspective, Jesus was asking them to do something that went against everything they believed in. The book of Leviticus in the Old Testament outlined specific instructions for them and one of those instructions was to not come in contact with, let alone consume, blood. Jesus is telling them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. That was too much for them to bear. To consume blood would have made them outcasts in their society. “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?,” was their response to Jesus. And unlike Joshua’s people, the crowds surrounding Jesus could not affirm their faith, not recognizing that Jesus was truly God’s Son. So only the twelve remained.

When we consume bread and wine in communion in remembrance of Jesus, we are taking Jesus into our body, our life, and our soul. This is a gift. Jesus is the bread of life. Bread sustains life. It provides nourishment and sustenance. It contents a craving stomach. When Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life, he means all of this and more.

Paul, in our Ephesians text, helps us to understand this in more depth. He instructs us to put on the armor of God. God’s armor consists of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, footgear that proclaims peace, the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Notice that the only weapon is the sword…the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God. Everything else listed is for protection. The only weapon we need is the Word of God. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God are armor for our lives. When we think of armor, we think of something tangible that can stop a bullet. It seems strange that Paul would use such a comparison when he is referring to Jesus, a peaceful King and Savior. But that is exactly his point. As confident as we are under the protection of body armor…that is how confident we need to be in the armor of God. God’s truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and Word are solid. They cannot be penetrated. They can be trusted. Armor takes some getting used to. If you only wear it when you really need it, it will certainly make an impression on your muscles. The body armor that the average soldier wears in a combat zone weighs about 40 pounds, maybe more. When you wear it day in and day out for several weeks or months, it becomes second nature…it becomes a part of you. But it takes consistency and habit for your body to adjust.

If you’re waiting for me to ask you, or challenge you, to make a choice between who you will serve, or ask you to put on the armor of God…I’m not going to. The reality of it is this. We are human. Our choices are not perfect and are soon forgotten. Our promises often lay broken like shattered glass. It’s okay for us to acknowledge what is truly in our hearts, what we are truly capable of. God already knows. But God can also see what I see. People who show up anyway, who sit patiently (or not so patiently) anyway, and who trust anyway…in the midst of wanting to serve God wholeheartedly and living in a world that makes it really challenging at times while being a real, bonafide, imperfect human being. Worship and prayer create consistency and habit for bearing God’s armor.

There is a choice to be made, but it is not ours and it has already been made. God has chosen us. Not just those of us inside these walls, but everyone out there also. God has chosen us to bear God’s armor in this world. God has created a place in each of us for us to be in relationship with God. And God, through Jesus, nourishes our bodies, our lives, and our souls with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and God’s Word…the bread of life…Jesus. We don’t always recognize these things in ourselves or others, but it’s there. We are all somewhere on the continuum of belief and unbelief, holding the two together in some kind of proportion. And we waver from doubts and unbelief to confidence and certainty and back again.

Maybe belief doesn’t have to be that complicated. Maybe we should think of it more in terms of whether or not we recognize who Jesus is. At the end of our Gospel reading, Judas was identified as the betrayer. He was not the betrayer because he turned Jesus over to the authorities, because in the Gospel of John Jesus turns himself over. Judas was the betrayer because he did not recognize Jesus for who Jesus claimed to be. Or maybe belief has to do with our willingness to enter into relationship with God. Whatever belief means to you, and however much belief you have right now, cling to it and rejoice in it. Remember, you are armored with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. God has equipped you to withstand a mighty force, whatever that may be in your life right now. God has chosen you and filled you with the bread of life. Given that amount of love and acceptance of us, we really have no choice but to trust God. We really have no choice but to try to live each day as God’s people. We really have no choice but to love our neighbor. God has done the rest.

O, God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.


Posted in Bible text focus, Sermons | 1 Comment

John 3:16…but not without 3:17

A friend of mine posted on her facebook wall at midnight last night that it was 3/16, which reminded her of John 3:16 and she wished us all a happy 3/16.  I responded by saying, “Yes…and tomorrow (3/17) it gets even better!!!  Here’s why I say that…

John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” [New Revised Standard Edition (NRSV) from].  This text is packed with stuff to talk about:

1) God SO loved the world.  This is true love, folks, the real kind of love that resides deep in our souls and that we long for.  We often find all kinds of other ‘things’ to cling to thinking that they are what this true love is all about, but it’s right here in John 3:16 (and all over in the Bible, too).  The love that we long for is from God.  It is everlasting, unfailing, unconditional, and FREE!

2) God gave God’s son (I try to be gender neutral in reference to God unless I am directly quoting text from the Bible).  Yes, the Romans arrested Jesus, tortured him (Jesus was an actual human on earth of the male persuasion so I do refer to him in masculine terms), and crucified him, but God gave him to the world for that purpose.  If you read through the Old Testament, or remember Bible stories from Sunday School, you have probably heard of Noah and the flood (Genesis 7-8).  God wiped out all but the mostest of the most faithful, Noah and his family.  As a result…well, humans are still human and we continue to struggle with following God.  After the flood incident, God made a covenant with humankind that God would never again destroy all living flesh (Genesis 9:11) and the sign of the covenant is the rainbow (Genesis 9:12-13).  So the only way for God to reconcile us with God was to send God’s only Son, Jesus, to pave the way for our salvation.  Notice that the reconciliation is done by God, not us.  There is no amount of doing that we can do to reconcile ourselves to God.  This work has been done by God.

It is difficult for me to imagine (and I try) what it took for God to give God’s son.  Just sit for a minute and think about it.  And then get this…God did it out of love for YOU!  For you, and you, and you…whoever you are, whatever you have done (or not done) in your life…it was for you.  Sometimes, this brings me to tears because I know that I am not worthy of that kind of love…but it does exist…and then I feel more teary-eyed just knowing that kind of love is really out there.

3) This gift is for everyone who believes in God.  EVERYONE.  It doesn’t say, ‘everyone who gives a certain amount of money,’ or ‘everyone who attends church regularly,’ or ‘everyone who worships in a certain way,’ or ‘everyone who never doubts,’ or….you get the idea.  Belief in God.  Belief in God.  Believe.  And we could dig deeper to try and figure out what constitutes belief…but I would be interested in hearing what you have to say about that first.

4) This last part is hard, “may not perish but may have eternal life.”  I say it’s hard because the fact is we all die, and no matter when or under what circumstances, it’s never easy to lose loved ones.  And when we read that we will not perish, we associate that with our earthly death.  But dying is inevitable.  It’s one of the conditions of being human.  I want to suggest that this last part has to do with renewal.  Our ‘old self’ dies and our ‘new self’ emerges.  This can mean two things: a) each day we have the opportunity to choose good versus bad, the more we work on choosing good the more our old self will die away and our hearts will be open to being transformed by God (although no matter how much we do the choosing to do good or bad, the transformation work is done by God…Baptism is huge here…but that’s a topic for another post), and b) when we die our earthly death we are perfected through Christ.  The only good that is in us is Christ working through us and when we die this is perfected in our sanctification.  [Note: Any theological terms that I don’t define well enough can be found here.]

Okay…so now we have finally reached John 3:17, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (NRSV from  Too often, Christianity and the Bible are used to condemn people for who they are or what they may have done.  Yes, God gave us commandments to live by, but they were given out of love and grace so that we can live in a better society.  The commandments are a gift!  They also help us keep ourselves in check, they are a mirror of sorts.  When I look in the mirror, do I see someone who is living the life that God would want me to live?  Our ‘meter’ for this are the commandments.

God does not want to condemn us.  God wants to save us!  And what does it mean to be saved?  Well, that might be a topic for another post.  What do you think?

Pastor Tara

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Getting there

I am finally getting the hang of this and figuring out how to customize and add all of the necessary features.  Please bear with me…a ‘real’ post will be here in the near future!

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Just getting started…

Please bear with me…I am just getting this started.  A blog should not be rocket science, but for some reason WordPress is not cooperating very well…

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