Worship to Go: Lenten Season 2021

Reeds, plate 3 by jeremybrooks on flickr.com

Light Your Candle/Ring Singing Bowl

We begin by creating a holy space.  We light a candle to recognize the light of Christ, present with us during worship.  We ring a singing bowl or bell to give us time to breathe and fully arrive, and to remind us to listen for God’s voice speaking to us during this holy time.

Confession and Forgiveness

Loving Father,
all the fancy words
in the world,
expressed in eloquent prose,
decorated with emotion,
spoken with conviction,
cannot compete with a heartfelt
‘sorry’
when all other words fail.
There are times
when we are all too aware
of our limitations,
conscious of sin,
and the distance it creates between us.
Sometimes ‘sorry’
is all the heart can bear to say aloud.
It is only you
who can read and understand
the language of our hearts,
only you who can translate our ‘sorry’
into the prayer we would have prayed,
if we had the words within us.
Then you forgive,
and having forgiven
surround us in an embrace of love,
drawing us close to your heart,
as it was always meant to be.
Thank you, Loving Father,
that you listen to hearts,
as well as voices
Thank you.  Amen.

written by John Birch, posted on Faith and Worship website. http://www.faithandworship.com/

Gathering Song:  I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

Prayer of the Day & Readings

Find the Prayer of the Day and Sunday Readings here:  https://www.dailylectio.net

Psalm Song:  Changes Each Week

Gospel:  Changes Each Week

Questions for Discussion

You can use these questions to discuss the Bible story with those in your household, with your study group, or on your own in a journal.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions
1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text? What do I have questions about?
2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?
3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  What does it remind me of?  How does this story connect to the story of my life?
4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is this living Word calling me to do or to be?

Song of the Day:  Changes Each Week

Apostles’ Creed

Prayers of the People:  Prayer of Intercession for Lent  

(inspired by Psalm 145: 14)
The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. 
                                 
God of love
hear the cry of those who yearn for love;
fractured families, broken homes
neglected, unwanted, alone.
God of love hear our prayer

God of justice
hear the cry of those who yearn for justice;
persecuted and oppressed,
exploited, ill-treated, broken.
God of justice hear our prayer

God of peace
hear the cry of those who yearn for peace;
in battle zones and broken states,
frightened, fearful, anxious
God of peace hear our prayer

God of healing
hear the cry of those who yearn for healing;
physical and spiritual
hurting, weakened, depressed
God of healing hear our prayer

God of mercy
Hear the cry of those who yearn for mercy;
convicted, in need of your Grace,
contrite, humble, bowed down,
God of mercy hear our prayer

— written by John Birch, and posted on http://www.faithandworship.com/

The Lord’s Prayer

Offering

This year’s Lenten challenge is to participate in Warm Up America, a non-profit which makes and distributes blankets, scarves, and hats to distribute to anyone in need.  Learn more about this project for knitters and crocheters here:  https://warmupamerica.org/make/box-of-500/

Offering Prayer

God of the wilderness,
We give these offerings in gratitude,
rejoicing in the abundance of your gifts to us.
We give these offerings in faith,
trusting that you will provide for our needs.
We give these offerings in hope,
knowing you can use them to spread your love in this world.
And with these offerings, we give ourselves;
May we live with generous hearts, with open hands. Amen.

~ written by Joanna Harader, and posted on her Spacious Faith blog. http://spaciousfaith.com/

Sending Song:  I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

Blessing/Extinguish Candles

May you know
The peace of God
The love of God
The justice of God
The healing and mercy of God
This day and all days
Amen

— written by John Birch, and posted on http://www.faithandworship.com/

Sending:  God, You Are Calling

Gentle and patient, God, you are calling.
Careful and persistent, God, you are calling.
In grieving and in praise, God, you are calling.
Through dawn and midday, God, you are calling.
Unexpected and planned, God, you are calling.
In a still small voice and in power, God, you are calling.
Spontaneous and prepared, God, you are calling.
Willing or protected, God, you are calling.

Our God is eager to share with us,
wherever we are in our journey.
May we be diligent to listen.
God, you are calling.

Go in peace, called to journey with Christ.
Thanks be to God!

~ written by Joanie Thurman Williams, and posted on Consider Your Call. http://www.consideryourcall.org/sites/default/files/CYC-Media/Toolbox/Materials/Worship-Toolbox.pdf

Postlude:  Reawaken Hymns Lent Playlist

This resource is provided by Rev. Breen Marie Sipes, ELCA.  Feel free to use this resource, but please give credit where credit is due.

Worship to Go: Epiphany Season 2021

Worship for wherever in the world you are, first posted on https://takingworshiphome.weebly.com/worship-to-go.html

“Stars” by wideopencode on flickr.com

Light Your Candle/Ring Singing Bowl

We begin by creating a holy space.  We light a candle to recognize the light of Christ, present with us during worship.  We ring a singing bowl or bell to give us time to breathe and fully arrive, and to remind us to listen for God’s voice speaking to us during this holy time.

Confession and Forgiveness:  Prayer of Brokenness/Confession

Holy God,
we confess that we do not always love our neighbor.
We confess that we have despised others,
even to the point of hatred.
We confess that we have been hurt by others.
We confess that forgiveness and reconciliation at times
are just impossible for us.
We know that nothing is impossible in You.
We come to You, seeking healing and wholeness for us.
Help us, whenever possible, to live in peace with others,
to seek reconciliation and healing and forgiveness.
For Your Son came and lived among us,
was betrayed and denied,
abused and put to death.
He rose again,
and came with the message of peace to those
who had denied him and abandoned him.
May we walk in his ways. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance of Pardon 

(inspired by Matthew 19:26, Psalm 139, Romans 8:31-39)
For nothing is impossible with God.
There is no place you can go,
no end of the earth you can run,
where God cannot find you.
There is nothing on earth or beyond death
that can separate you from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You are forgiven.
You are loved.
You are reconciled to God.
Go and live with the love of God. Amen.

~ written by Rev. Mindi, and posted on Rev-o-lution. http://rev-o-lution.org/

Gathering Song:  Christ Be Our Light

Prayer of the Day & Readings

Find the Prayer of the Day and Sunday Readings here:  https://www.dailylectio.net/

Psalm Song (changes each week)

Gospel (changes each week)

Questions for Discussion

You can use these questions to discuss the Bible story with those in your household, with your study group, or on your own in a journal.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions
1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text? What do I have questions about?
2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?
3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  What does it remind me of?  How does this story connect to the story of my life?
4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is this living Word calling me to do or to be?

Song of the Day  (changes each week)

Apostles’ Creed

Prayers of the People

Holy God, may we hear your voice
In the stillness of night, in clatter of day
You call us, and we respond,
Here I am!
May we follow you
Holy God, May we love as you love.

Holy One, through trials and turbulence
Make us steady, your hands
Holding strong the fragile and weak
Holy God, May we love as you love.

Gracious God, may the fruits of our lives
be food for the hungry, bread
clothing, shelter, fire, water, Word
Holy God, May we love as you love.

God of justice, remove the barriers
Of our lives that keep us from
One another, barriers we construct
Based on skin color, religion, or gender
May we hear, and follow, graciously.
Holy God, May we love as you love.

Loving God, take this day our fears our
Worries, distractions, and all
Turn them into grace and mercy,
And, following the example of Martin Luther King, Jr.
and all your Saints.
Holy God, May we love as you love.  Amen.

— written by Terri, and posted on the RevGalBlogPals blog.  http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.com/

The Lord’s Prayer

Offering

During this season where we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, consider giving the gift of soap for Personal Care Kits and  Baby Care Kits.  You can send boxes of soap to the MN or MD warehouses, or give a gift online here: https://donate.lwr.org/give/190907/#!/donation/checkout

Offering Prayer

Giving God,  
Following the example of the magi,
we offer our gifts to you,
our gold, our worship, and our time in relationship with you.
Use our gifts for the healing of the nations,
in the name of Jesus, Amen.

by Rev. Breen Marie Sipes

Sending Song:  We are Marching in the Light of God

Blessing/Extinguish Candles

May our Epiphany God,
Who appeared by the light of a star,
In the rending of the heavens and the flight of a dove,
In the miracle of water turned to wine,
bless, keep, and call you forth, 
both now and always.  Amen.

by Rev. Breen Marie Sipes

Sending:  God, You Are Calling

Gentle and patient, God, you are calling.
Careful and persistent, God, you are calling.
In grieving and in praise, God, you are calling.
Through dawn and midday, God, you are calling.
Unexpected and planned, God, you are calling.
In a still small voice and in power, God, you are calling.
Spontaneous and prepared, God, you are calling.
Willing or protected, God, you are calling.

Our God is eager to share with us,
wherever we are in our journey.
May we be diligent to listen.
God, you are calling.

Go in peace, called into God’s marvelous Light.
Thanks be to God!

~ written by Joanie Thurman Williams, and posted on Consider Your Call. http://www.consideryourcall.org/sites/default/files/CYC-Media/Toolbox/Materials/Worship-Toolbox.pdf

Postlude:  Baptism Playlist

This resource is provided by Rev. Breen Marie Sipes, ELCA.  Feel free to use this resource, but please give credit where credit is due.  

Wilderness Meditation: Lent 1 2021

During the season of Lent, my husband, Pastor Patrick Sipes, will be our guest blogger with a series of tactile meditations exploring Sunday’s Gospel text. He is currently serving as the transitional minister at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Platte, Nebraska, and will be inviting congregation members into these meditations in worship. May God bless you as you explore Scripture through Prayer.

Items needed: a bowl or dish and some decorative sand.

The following meditation is offered knowing full well that many of you have differing life circumstances. I encourage you to pray with it to the best of your ability in the moment you are praying with it. If you are an adult praying with children and find yourself wishing to spend more time on a certain section resist that temptation for the moment and  let the little child lead. Your goal in these moments is to meet them where they are at, let them play with the sand, let them answer a few questions and then move on. As for you, this does not mean your needs and your desires aren’t important, they are. If you have a desire to spend more time with this prayer, listen to that desire and then find time to come back to it by yourself of with a more mature partner at a later time. When you do, approach it with the intention of spending the time you desire. Find some music you like if that helps, pour yourself a relaxing beverage, and take all the time you can to pour yourself as deeply as you want, as long as you want and as often as you want into this time with Jesus.

As the season of Lent begins, we begin with a Gospel reading that tells us that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. A place where St. Mark rather succinctly tells us that Jesus was tempted, that he lived with wild beasts surrounding him, and that the angels waited on him. My invitation for you is to enter the wilderness with Jesus and through this time of prayer and meditation, spend some time becoming aware of what is in your particular wilderness.

Take your bowl of sand and use it as a means of journeying into the wilderness with Jesus. You may find it helpful just to put your hands or fingers on the sand and feel it.  You might like picking the sand up and as you squeeze it or simply open your hand let it fall back into your bowl. You might use your sand to draw pictures which you can erase with a swipe of your hand or leave there to come back to later.  Or you might think of a different way of using your sand altogether, however you choose to use it, use it in a way that takes you into the wilderness with Jesus.

As you enter the wilderness with Jesus, begin to look for what is tempting you in your life at this moment. Our temptations often arise around those things we are unsatisfied with, or that we believe we deserve. We find them lurking in places where we think we can or where we would like to get away with something. We find temptation in things that are forbidden, or risky, or off limits because it feels exciting to us. With Jesus as your guide, take some time to explore where you are tempted. As you find a place where temptation dwells, spend some time looking more deeply into that temptation to see what motivation lies there. Talk about your temptation with Jesus, ask him what he might do to resist it, or reframe it so that something more in keeping with who you are may be what draws you in. Spend the time that you need looking at your temptations and when you are done continue exploring the wilderness with Jesus.

As you continue to explore the wilderness. Notice the wild beasts that surround you, notice those things or people in your life that seem to wish you harm, recognize what in your life is “eating you up.” Bring these concerns to Jesus. Talk with him about them, see what he has to offer about living with these wild beasts, or protecting yourself from them, or recognizing them as something harmless that you are just afraid of. Spend as much time as you need examining the wild beasts of your wilderness and when you are done, move on with Jesus.

The wilderness is an inhospitable place, but we are told while Jesus was there, the angels waited on him. As you are in the wilderness with Jesus, take time to recognize what angels are waiting on you. Who is supporting you in your life? Who is providing what you need? Who is offering you help when you need it? These are angels. Take some time to share with Jesus who the angels are that are waiting on you, name them, name specifically what they do, and give thanks to Jesus for them.  Spend the time that you need to find the angels in your life, and as you are ready, bring this time of prayer to a close. Let go of any sand you are holding, brush it off of your fingers, clear any pictures you have drawn, or leave them if that feels more appropriate, and as you leave the sand in your bowl until the next time, we close with the word Amen, Yes, it shall be so.

Amen

If you would like to explore this text as a family devotion, check out my post for Lent in a Dish 2021 on Family God Time: https://familygodtime.wordpress.com/2021/02/15/lent-in-a-dish-2021-week-1-wilderness/

Lent 2021 Resources for Personal Devotion

Lent is often a season when we take intentional time to work on our relationship with God.  There are many resources available for personal devotions, but, with so many choices, how do you know which is the right one for you?  This post highlights some of the resources that I have used through the years, along with fresh new resources from trusted sources.  I pray that this list will help you to find faithful devotions which can accompany you through these forty days.

Poetry and the Word:  The Salt Project

The Salt Project has published several Lenten devotions linking poetry to the themes of Lent.  My favorite (which happens to go perfectly with the texts for Lectionary Year B), is a weekly devotional entitled “The Poetry of Lent:  Mary Oliver’s Devotions.”  It costs $10.00 for a personal use license, and is a digital product that you can download to a tablet or computer or print out on paper.

Other items required include your own Bible (or online access to one) and Mary Oliver’s book “Devotions” (or online access to the specific poems cited).  You can find this resource here: https://www.saltproject.org/the-poetry-of-lent/the-poetry-of-lent-a-lenten-companion-to-mary-olivers-devotions-individual

Here is a link to the Salt Project’s other Lenten resources:  https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2018/1/8/spring-is-coming-lent-customizable-short-films-and-print-resources

also available from the Salt Project:

  • Emily Dickenson and the Poetry of Lent
  • Wendell Berry and the Sabbath Poetry of Lent
  • Practicing Lent

Coloring and the Word:  Illustrated Ministry

Illustrated Ministry is a consistent, trusted resource for all ages.  They are famous for their giant coloring pages, colorful stickers, and children’s bulletins (my family is using these), but did you know that they also publish fabulous devotional resources?  They have published several new resources for this year, and I am suggesting “Where Your Heart Is” for personal devotion.  It is an all-in-one, weekly resource that you download, print out, and color, write on, and doodle through.  It is $10.00 for a personal use license, with a sliding scale for use by congregations. 

Although it has one devotion per week, I believe that there is plenty to work on through the week, so it becomes a bit of a hybrid, big bang for your buck, resource. You can find this resource here: https://store.illustratedministry.com/collections/lent/products/where-your-heart-is-an-illustrated-devotional

Here is a link to Illustrated Ministry’s other Lenten Resources:  https://store.illustratedministry.com/collections/lent?sort_by=created-descending

also available from Illustrated Ministry:

  • Psalms Devotional Guide
  •  An Illustrated Lent (Focus on Giving, Prayer, Fasting, and the Heart)

Spiritual Elders and the Word: The 40 Day Journey

This resource is an extensive collection of books, and you are invited to choose a Spiritual Elder whose work speaks to you.  It is a daily devotional that assumes that you will spend a good chunk of time with it each day.  It is a commitment, but definitely worth it.  In the past, I have explored Kathleen Norris, and this year I am planning to journey with Joan Chittister.  This is a print resource (also available on Kindle for $10.99), and the editors suggest a separate journal and pen or pencil for exploring the journal prompts. 

You can find the link to both the print and Kindle versions here: https://smile.amazon.com/40-day-Journey-Chittister-Beverly-Lanzetta/dp/0806680318/  

Here is a link to the other books in the series:  https://www.augsburgfortress.org/store/search?ss=40+day+journey&c=0

also available:

  • Kathleen Norris
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Maya Angelou
  • Martin Luther
  • Parker Palmer
  • Dietrich Bonhoffer
  • Madeline L’Engle
  • Howard Thurman

I hop you enjoy exploring these resources; drop a comment to let me know which one you are planning to use this Lent!

Sustaining Peace: Dwelling in the Word November 29, 2020

Advent Candles by lapenn on flickr.com

Bible Reading:  John 14:22-31 NRSV

22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to [Jesus], “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.  25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.  This is the Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to You, O Christ.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why? 

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life? 

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?

Dwelling in the Word

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, Patrick has been leading Morning Prayer online three days per week with a small group of regulars.  Each time, we pray, listen to music, and dive deep into study of the Word of God and what it means in our lives.  My favorite part of these times together, however, comes at the very end.  We end by wishing peace to one another, and then someone always says, “Blessings for your day.”  Wishing peace can be a powerful thing, can’t it?  It can bring calm to a storm, healing to relationships, and a firm anchor to which we can tether our lives.  And that is exactly what Jesus is giving to his disciples in our text for today.

         This section is not usually read during the first Sunday in Advent, but it does go with the Advent theme of peace, and perhaps especially peace in our time.  It comes from a section of John called “The Farewell Discourse,” and is basically Jesus’ final sermon on Maundy Thursday, meant to strengthen the disciples and give them direction after he is gone. 

One of the disciples asks why it is that they, the disciples, get to see Jesus as he really is, and not the whole world.  Jesus answers them by reminding them of the commandment to love.  This mutual love, which the disciples have for Jesus, for one another, and for the world, will result in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  God will abide, make a home, in the disciples.  They will always be with God, and God will always be with them.  The Holy Spirit will teach, remind, and empower them to do God’s work in the world.

         Then, Jesus gives the disciples the gift of peace.  It is more than a standard greeting, or a signature sign off phrase.  It is the peace of Christ, the type of peace which Paul describes in Philippians 4 as “the peace of God, which passes all understanding,” which will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  It is a deep abiding peace, a peace which, as I said before, provides an anchor to tether to, even amidst the roughest storms of life.

         The disciples don’t realize it yet, but they are really about to go through some times of storm.  Jesus is going to be arrested, tried, and killed as an enemy of state.  They will scatter, and hide, and be faithless.  They will see the miracle of Easter, and still not understand.  The going is about to get incredibly rough.  And these words will sustain them.  These words will get them through.  The abiding peace of God in Christ, dwelling in and among them, will lead them out the other side and give them the courage to found a Christian Community of Care which abides, even to this day.

         So what does this have to do with you and me, with our lives in this time and place?  This gift of peace in Christ is ours to claim as well.  It is the Holy Spirit working in and though us, to bring calm into the storms of our lives, and the lives of those whom God puts in our path.  This gift of peace in Christ has the power to heal our relationships, to help us to put aside combative words, to reach out to one another in love, maybe especially when we cannot do it by our own power or might.  And this peace holds us fast to Christ, so that the waves do not overwhelm us, the sting of death does not overtake us, and we are able to look up, and out, in hope of a brighter tomorrow.

         Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  Peace be with you, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, now and in every tomorrow.  I promise to hold you, in prayer and in love.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

In Christ, Pastor Breen

Companions on the Journey: Dwelling in the Word November 15, 2020

Walk for Water September 2018

Reading:  Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiahshould suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.            28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? In this text, I am challenged that the eyes of the disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus.  This is not unique among Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances; there is something about Jesus that is different, changed, unrecognizable.  Perhaps it is that they never expected to see him again.  Indeed, in this text, they even have all the information that they need, they even say that the women saw that the tomb was empty, and they do not yet believe.  I think that sometimes our eyes are shut, as well.  We cannot see, or believe, without the help of others who come alongside us.  Who are your companions on your faith journey?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  I really delight in who Jesus is for the disciples in this text.  First, he comes alongside them.  Then, he asks questions, “What are you discussing?” and “What things?” and really listens to their answers.  Next, he opens their minds to understand the scriptures.  He explains to them God’s entire plan of salvation, right down to the moment in which they find themselves, running away from Jerusalem on the Emmaus Road.  Finally, he is revealed at the table, in fellowship, in the breaking of the bread.  Where do you find delight in this text?  What about the risen Jesus is comforting to you?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  As I have walked alongside the Tri-Saints over the past eight years, this story has become a model for pastoral ministry for me.  When I arrived, I was a stranger to you.  It was my job to ask questions, to hear your stories, to learn which roads of life you were walking along.  I have continued to walk alongside you, and have striven to open your minds to the scriptures, to hear your faith stories, and to connect the work of God to your daily work.  And we have gathered, in so many and various ways, to break bread together, to find mutual consolation, and to meet Jesus in the Word and the Sacraments.  We have been companions on the road for a good long season.  What stories would you tell about our past eight years?  What memories will you hold onto?  Let go of? Treasure?

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  We have arrived at the point in our mutual ministry where it is time for me to travel on down the road.  Through much prayer and discernment, I have discovered that I am being “called to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.”  I pray that God will “give us faith to out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (ELW pg. 317)

In Christ, Pastor Breen

The Long Wait: Dwelling in the Word November 8, 2020

Earth Day lanterns by briggs48 on flickr.com

READING: Matthew 25:1-13 NRSV

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? I am challenged by the callous nature of those who are labeled “wise” in this parable.  When the bridegroom comes, and the bridesmaids get up and trim the wicks on their lamps, and the foolish ones find that they do not have enough oil, I honestly expect the wise ones to share.  They have enough, and more than enough, and although it is not maybe wise to share, I would think that the law of love who call us to expand our circle and help those in need.  I know that I have received undeserved generosity from others in the past, and that it truly felt like a miracle.  Perhaps it is helpful to think about it like the instructions you are given before your plane takes off, to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.  You must have enough oil to survive in order to help on another day.  Where do you struggle with this text?  Do you consider yourself in the wise camp, or the foolish one?  Why?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  As I am certain you already know, I am a person who lies to be prepared.  I have lists.  My list have lists.  I have plans.  My plans have back up plans.  At the surface at least, this story seems to reward those who are prepared.  But even more, it rewards those who pair their preparation with patience.  All of the bridesmaids wait so long that they grow drowsy and sleep.  But they don’t give up and go home.  They wait, in hope.  And when the bridegroom comes, the wise ones are ready to go at a moment’s notice.  They don’t worry about what they have, or don’t, they just get up and go.  They greet the bridegroom and are welcomed into the feast.  When was a time when you were prepared?  Unprepared?  In what ways did your preparation or unpreparedness have an effect on your circumstances?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  I am writing this devotion on the morning after the election, when there is still no decisive winner.  It is tough to wait.  Through the pandemic, in many ways, we have unintentionally also entered into a long season of waiting.  Waiting for test results.  Waiting for the wave to arrive.  Getting impatient with waiting, and struggling to see where God is acting.  I have never felt more camaraderie with the original audience of Matthew’s Gospel as I do today.  The first disciples truly believed that Jesus would come back and usher in the end of the world in their lifetimes, and, by the time of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel, the Christian community was getting tired of waiting.  The horizon of their liberation kept getting farther and farther away, until it seemed that there was no end in sight.  When I start to despair of seeing the horizon of all the major issues of our time, I take comfort in the knowledge that the bridegroom WILL come.  In fact, the bridegroom is already with us, sustaining us, uplifting us, giving us the bright, though tiny, light of hope.  Where do you find hope in this text?  What are you looking forward to, even when the horizon seems far away?

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  When I consider where I am being called by this text, I am drawn back to the image of the flask of oil.  What is the spiritual oil that I have to sustain me during a long season of waiting?  What practices can I lean into?  Where does God consistently speak to me, and how can I take time, make time, to listen? 

I pray that the oil in your lamp of faith will continue to sustain you.  If you need help finding some more, please know that I am willing to share (even if the parable said I shouldn’t 😊).  Christ, be our light, our source, our hope, now and in the long wait to come.

In Christ, 

Pastor Breen

God’s Children Now: Dwelling in the Word November 1, 2020

Reflections by dosmosis on flickr.com

Reading:  1 John 3:1-3 (NRSV)

1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? My challenge is in the phrase, “The reason the world did not know us is that it did not know him.”  Being Christians means that we act differently than the status quo of the world.  It means that we are a people of love and forgiveness and hope, even despite all evidence to the contrary.  It means caring for the last, the least, and the lowly, the vulnerable, the estranged, and the endangered.  And when we act this way, the world will have a hard time recognizing us, because it has a hard time recognizing Jesus.  What aspect of the Christian faith is challenging to you?  In what ways would you sometimes rather side with the world than with Jesus?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  I am comforted by the phrases “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”  Martin Luther wrote, “In the good we do, we are just “little Christs” to each other (Luther’s Works, Vol. 31, pages 367-368).  We are reflections of Christ’s love, one to another, and in being those reflections, we actually see Christ for ourselves, here and now in our daily lives.  I am so glad that we are called to be like Christ, to forgive, and love, and heal.  And I am doubly glad for all of those who work to forgive, love, and heal me!  Who has been like Christ for you this week?  In what ways has your life reflected the love of Christ?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  My imagination is captured by the phrase, “what we will be has not yet been revealed.”  It reminds of the progression of our Confirmation students through our four year course of study.  When they begin, they are in 5th grade, full of the wonder and questions (and goofiness and energy) of children.  By the time they finish their 8th grade year, they have matured, both in faith and in life, and I get a true sense of the kind of adults that they will grow up to be.  We are all constantly becoming, growing, discerning who we are, both in this world and as Beloved Children of God.  I am blessed to get to be a part of the journey of revelation alongside you.

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  When I truly rest in this text, I do not believe that it is calling me to do or to be anything.  Instead, it calls me to deeper awareness of my identity in God’s eyes as Beloved, as Child of God, as a reflection of Christ to the world.  What does it mean to you to know that you are all of these things, and more?  I pray that you will connect to Christ’s love in a deep way in the coming week, especially in a world so intent on dividing us.

In Christ, Pastor Breen

Refuge, Strength, and Stillness: Dwelling in the Word October 25, 2020

Rapperswil Castle at Dawn by lschlagenhauf on flickr.com

Reading:  Psalm 46 (NRSV)

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? I am challenged by all of the chaos in this psalm.  The earth changes.  The mountains shake.  The waters roar and foam.  There is desolation.  There are weapons of war being crumbled to dust.  Although it is probably an accurate description of life here on earth, I certainly wish it wasn’t so.  I wish that being a believer meant that nothing bad ever happened.  I wish it meant that we are guaranteed smooth sailing.  This psalmist doesn’t let us off the hook into the land of wishing though; the psalmist confronts the real chaos of life head on.  Where, in your life, do you experience chaos?  Violence?  Unsettling forces beyond your control?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  Last year, we used this Psalm for our first quarter of Sabbath Sunday, with verse one as our memory verse:  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  I hope that it is familiar to you, and something that you have taken to heart in your own life of faith.  This time as I read it, I most noticed the word “strength.”  Usually, when I come to this Psalm, I emphasize the “refuge” aspects of God.  God as a place to turn, to run to, to hide away in.  When I instead emphasize the word “strength,” it reminds me that God is the source of my strength.  This empowers me, not just to go to God to run and hide, but to be grounded in the strength beyond ordinary human strength that comes from God alone.  What words or phrase stick with you?  How do these images for God resonate with you?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  Another familiar phrase in this Psalm comes from verse 10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  This command reminds me most of the natural world.  I remember times when it has been incredibly windy, and then wind stills.  Or times during dawn or dusk, when even the animals seem to take a deep breath and be still.  I remember being at our lake cabin in the summer a marveling over the water when it is as still and reflective as glass.  When, in your life, have you had the opportunity to be still?  What was that experience like for you?

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  This week, God is calling me to remember that God is both refuge AND strength, and a very present help in trouble.  I am also reminded of an amazing centering practice with verse ten, where you slowly (one syllable per inhale or exhale) say the words, “Be still and know that I AM God.”  Each time that you cycle through the verse, you remove the last word of the sentence, until you only have “Be” left.  It is a great way to slow down, to come to stillness, to really dwell in a fragment of scripture.  I commend the practice to you.

May God continue to bless us with places of refuge, of strength, of stillness and knowing, both now and in the days to come.

In Christ,  Pastor Breen      

Psalm 46 retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm+46&version=NRSV

Daily Bread: Dwelling in the Word October 18, 2020

Concrete Romain Coin, Colchester by howardlake on flickr.com

Reading:  Matthew 22:15-22 (NRSV)

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? I am challenged by the ulterior motives with which the Pharisees send their disciples and the Herodians, to “entrap him in what he said.”  They have already made up their minds before the encounter even begins, and, instead of being interested in dialogue, they only want to trick Jesus.  We are used to seeing the Pharisees as the bad guys in this Gospel, but last week I preached that we, as life-long, established Christians might be the closest thing to Pharisees that still exist today.  And if we are, indeed, Pharisees, where does the beginning of this story leave us?  I can certainly think of times when I have gone to God in prayer with the express purpose of wiggling out of the law of love, or the hard, uncomfortable work to which I am sometimes being called.  When have your prayers included ulterior motives?  How can we approach God with open hearts, ready to listen to what God has to say?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  I love that Jesus’ final answer turns the entire world upside-down.  He says to, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  At first, this might sound like Jesus is falling into the Pharisee’s trap.  Pay taxes?  Participate in a system of oppression that is becoming very precarious for the Jewish people in Jesus’ time?  It can sound like giving the best to the worst, and giving what is leftover to God.  However, I am reminded of the meaning of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (give us this day our daily bread) in Luther’s Small Catechism:

What then does “daily bread” mean?

Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, field, livestock, money, property, and upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. ( Luther’s Small Catechism, pg. 23)

Everything belongs to God!  And, everything that we have, relationships included, is given to us by God’s gracious favor. So when we give to God the things that are God’s, we recognize that it all belongs to God in the first place, and give back from a sense of thankfulness, blessedness, and joy.  And we participate in civil society, and vote, and serve on boards, and make sure that the last, the least, and the forgotten in our communities are cared for, because God loves us first.  What are you thankful for today?  In what ways do you consider yourself blessed?  What is bringing you joy?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  The closest thing that I can come to of understanding all the ways in which God cares for me that I don’t even recognize on a daily basis was the time of life when I was in high school and college.  I was beginning to be more independent, I was earning my own money, I began to live away from my parent’s house for the first time.  I had so much that I was providing for myself with the work that I myself had done, that I think I forgot just how much my family supported me through that time.  I bought the car, but they paid the insurance.  I lived on my own, but their work paid my rent.  I could go to school, and to the doctor when I needed it, and my parents made that possible. 

As adults, we work.  We pay our way.  We nurture our relationships.  We participate in our communities.  And we sometimes forget that the source of all of it is God, and God alone.  Stories like the one in Matthew help us to reorient ourselves to see the world, at least in small glimpses, from God’s point of view.  When, in your life, were you able to make it because of the help and support of others?  When, in your life, have you leaned hard on God?

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  As I reflected on my experience as a young adult, I was also reminded that not everyone is as loved and supported by their family as I have been.  We are not able to have a Mission Festival this year due to the pandemic, and I was remembering that Oaks Indian Mission in Oaks, Oklahoma, is a serving arm of our Nebraska Synod.  Oaks Indian Mission is “called to care for abused, neglected or abandoned Indian children, guiding them on a path that will allow them to live fulfilled, successful lives.”  They are the Christian community of care which surrounds young people during the most difficult chapters in their lives, and commit to giving them love, safety, food, clothing, education, and a fresh start.  One of the ways that we can be Christ’s hands and feet in this world is to participate in the work of providing daily bread for those who cannot access it, and I urge you to learn more about this important mission.  Learn more here:  https://www.oaksindianmission.org/our-calling

I pray that you are able to count God’s blessings in your life, each and everyday.  And I pray that you might always have enough (and some to share!).

In Christ,  Pastor Breen