Rest & Gather

Sleeping Beauty by treble
Sleeping Beauty by treble on flickr.com

THE THIRD COMMANDMENT:  Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

WHAT IS THIS? OR WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching of God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it. (Luther’s Small Catechism, pg. 17)

Genesis 2:1-3 NRSV
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV
 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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 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 connect to the story of 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?

This fall, the confirmation students and I have been studying the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Small Catechism.  When I teach the commandments to confirmation students, I am always amazed at which ones certain groups accept completely, and which ones generate more in depth struggling and discussion.  This year, the Third Commandment, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy,” was one of these more difficult ones.  First, we had to learn that the word “sabbath” means “day of rest.”  Then, we learned that although Jews and Christians both practice sabbath, we do it on different days of the week (Jews practice from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, because it was the order that God made in the creation story.  Christians practice sabbath on Sunday because Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and we believe that this is the most important thing that has ever happened since the world began and ought to be celebrated weekly, not just once a year at Easter).  Then, as good Lutheran confirmation students, they asked me “What does this mean?”

I think that practicing sabbath is tricky in this time and place because we live in a society that tells us that we are what we produce, and that a packed schedule is a badge of honor, and that the pinnacle of productiveness is to be a human doing rather than a human being.  If this is the case, how do we take the sabbath commandment seriously and learn to practice it more fully?

For me, it has become the practice of Rest & Gather.  What if, into our packed schedules, we scheduled some time to rest, to be instead of always doing?  Our older confirmation class receives this as a gift every night when we gather and take time to breathe, to be still, and to remember to listen for God’s still, small voice.  I was speaking with a shut-in last week, and she said that it is amazing how life goes in a circle.  When she was small, she took a nap every afternoon.  Now that she is in her later years, she finds herself doing the same.  Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). As reflections of God, we are created to create, and we are created to rest and to remember our creator.

We are also created to be in community with one another.  As Dr. David Lose was fond of reminding us, “It is impossible to believe in the miracle of the resurrection for more than a week at a time.”  We need to gather together with other followers of Jesus on a regular basis to strengthen one another, to build one another up, and to remember who we are and whose we are in a world that is constantly trying to rip those identities away.  When we gather and sing the ancient hymns of faith, our faith is strengthened.  When we gather and learn something new together, our connections to one another are strengthened.  When we gather to listen God’s word and respond in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, we reconnect to God, who holds us all in his hands.

I invite you to be a part of our Sabbath Sunday experiment on the last Sunday of the month for the next several months.  If you come to the early service, gather with us in worship first, and then plan to stay for fellowship to reconnect with family and friends, or go home and take a nap before dinner!  If you come to the late service, take the opportunity of a break from Sunday School programming to spend a little more time in your jammies, a little more time with your family, a holy moment at the family breakfast table with no one rushing out the door.  Then, rested and reconnected, make it a point to join us for worship in which all generations are welcome and able to participate in the worship of God and the experience of God’s Word.  Let’s reclaim the sabbath together.

In Christ,

Pastor Breen

Like a Child

Fancy Nancy Party by skokiepl

Tri-Saints Lutheran Parish

Dwelling in the Word 

September 2018

 

Mark 9:30-37 (New Revised Standard Version)

30[Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

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

I believe that this section of the story of Jesus is challenging because of the culture that we live in.  I have been in the market for workout clothes lately, and it seems to me that every piece that I see has some sort of message about being the best, or the hardest-working, or the one who wins.  We are taught win.  We are expected to win.  We believe that any cost is worth it, as long as we are first.  Does it surprise you to know that the disciples two thousand years ago worried about this, too?  It might be even more surprising to learn that this goal is not interesting to Jesus.  He says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  What does this mean in today’s world?  How can we, broken humans, ever hope to abandon our goal of “best” for the goal of “servant”?

  1. What delights me in this text? What is my favorite part, and why?

I love that Jesus uses the example of welcoming a child to show what the kingdom of God looks like.  Welcoming children is not always easy.  They come with many wants, and needs, and disruptions.  They need a lot of time and attention and love.  They are noisy, and wiggly, and full of hard questions.  What does it mean to us to welcome the children in our midst?  Several years back, I had a young lady who discovered how much “music” she could make standing on a wooden pew with her hard-soled shoes on.  She loved to dance, and did not hesitate to “make a joyful noise” during our time of worship.  It was driving her mother crazy!  She wanted to be in worship with her child, and knew what might happen if she tried to make her sit still for an entire service, but was so worried about the noise she was making that she could no longer worship God, and instead just endured her obligatory Sunday morning hour of torture.  When she brought this concern to me, we decided that the answer might actually be simple:  worship shoes.  Instead of hard-soled patent leather Mary Janes, we decided to try special ballet slippers that her daughter would only be allowed to wear in worship.  She could still dance and move without driving her mother crazy.  And it worked!  On the first Sunday that she had them, the little girl showed them off to me, saying, “Look at my special worship shoes!  Now I can show God how much I love him, and still hear you talk!”  We also got a mini-recital that day, and I was delighted.  How might we welcome that children that we have in our midst right now?  Do you think that Jesus only refers to children of a certain age, or are there other “children of God” who are more challenging to welcome, and yet important to make space for?  How can we work together to do this?

  1. What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? How does this story connect to the story of my life?

This summer, my husband and I visited a small, rural church to worship on a Sunday morning.  They were so surprised to see visitors that they weren’t sure what to do.  We were greeted, “You are?” to which we replied, “Here to worship.” “Oh!” they said, “Let’s turn the light on for you!”  Are we out of practice at welcoming the child, the widow, the orphan, the stranger?  What does it mean to be welcoming?  How can we minister even more fully to the children of God in our midst, whether week after week, or by pleasant surprise?

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

I believe that God is calling us to give up our pursuit of greatness for the pursuit of him.  I believe that God is calling us to open our hearts and eyes to see those who need to be welcomed as children.  I believe that this church has a place for me, and that there is always more room at the table.

I am looking forward to Dwelling in this Word with you over the course of the month; may our conversation be fruitful, indeed!

In Christ, Pastor Breen Marie Sipes

Overwhelming Abundance

California quail by malfet
“California Quail” by malfet on flickr.com

Numbers 11:4-9, 18-20, 31-32 (New Revised Standard Version)

The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.

18…Say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wailed in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19 You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’”

31 Then a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground. 32 So the people worked all that day and night and all the next day, gathering the quails; the least anyone gathered was ten homers; and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

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

It challenges me that the people of God spent so much time complaining.  Aren’t they the ones who were chosen by God, created by God to be God’s holy people?  How can those whom God calls holy be such a mess?  I think sometimes we think that making a new commitment to Christ means that we will become more than human, super human, perfect.  Perfectly obedient.  Perfectly sinless.  Perfectly holy.  But that’s not reality, is it?  In Romans 3:23, Paul writes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Belief is not a magic pill.  Turning over a new leaf doesn’t mean that our humanity will be stripped away.  It is normal, even expected, to have doubts, and fears, and times when we think we know better than God.  The good news?  God loves us messy people, and gives us even more that we can possibly ask or imagine.

  1. What delights me in this text? What is my favorite part, and why?

My favorite part of this text has always been when God says that he will give the people so much of the meat that they crave that it will come out of their nostrils.  The image reminds me of a time in Kindergarten when I laughed while eating tomato soup, and it came out my nose.  Grossed out yet?  It is gross (and it did hurt), but the idea that sometimes God answers our prayers with what WE think we need with even more that we can possibly take is reassuring to me.  Sometimes, I spend so much time worrying about what I do not have, about having more than enough, that I forget to look around me and be thankful for what I do have.  God was already providing manna and clean water for the people as a gift, six days per week.  How could they possibly want more?  And yet, they do.  And so, God provides.

  1. What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? How does this story connect to the story of my life?

This story reminds me of the summer that I spent in Norway.  Before I left, someone told me that if I were going overseas for any length of time, that I should bring a jar of peanut butter with me.  To be clear, I didn’t even like peanut butter at that time in my life, but I decided bringing it with me couldn’t hurt, so I did.  Everyday, I ate Norwegian food in homes of family friends and the school I attended.  And most days, I enjoyed the experience.  It was new, and novel, and fun to try to live in a way that we foreign to my own experience.  Then, the Fourth of July came and went, with no celebration, no fireworks, no s’mores.  And I started to long for the familiar food, faces, and language of home.  And I went back to my dorm room, and dug out that jar of unused peanut butter, got a pack of crackers, and ate and ate and ate.  And it tasted like home.  What tastes like home for you?  What do you long for?  What gift has God given you that reminds you of home?

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

For the next month, we will be in the “Bread of Life” section of the Gospel of John.  By the end of the month, it just might feel like Jesus’ words about bread will be coming out our nostrils.  We may be rolling our eyes, and shaking our heads, and not-so-quietly commenting that we can’t wait until it’s over for another three years.  But what if we took a new tact?  What if we sank deeply into God’s abundance, and abided there awhile.  What if we slowed down, and listened, tasted and savored? What if we thanked God for all the abundance, rather than complaining about excess?  What if Jesus as the bread of life became the good news that we could not live without?  I look forward to Dwelling in this Word with you this month.

In Christ,
Pastor Breen Marie Sipes
Tri-Saints Lutheran Parish
Byron and Hardy, Nebraska

Come Away

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (New Revised Standard Version)

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

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

Have you ever had one of those days?  A day where you check something off of your “to do” list, and three more things seem to be added to it?  A day where you thought it was going to be nice and easy, and things took a turn, and you didn’t even have time to eat?  Did you know that the apostles had this experience as well?  It is challenging to me that even the ones closest to Jesus didn’t have things all together.  It reminds me that proximity to Jesus doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing, or an easy life, or easy answers to the suffering of the world.  Instead, it seems that once the eyes of the apostles were opened to the need for God’s power and presence in the world, they couldn’t shut them again.  Do I really want my eyes to be truly opened, if that’s what following Jesus means?

  1. What delights me in this text? What is my favorite part, and why?

I love that Jesus encourages them to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  As I write this, I am preparing for our annual week at Confirmation Camp, which is an opportunity for our 5-8 graders to get away to a deserted place, if only for a few days.  I am always amazed at the growth in faith that occurs during this intense experience, and it seems that it has the opportunity to be deep and wide because we are away from the familiar.  I am hoping to help our students to appreciate the power of rest, and stillness, and mindful concentration during this year’s camp, and will keep these words of Jesus close at hand.

  1. What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? How does this story connect to the story of my life?

Also as I write this, I am preparing to lead our group to the National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas.  We are being sent, from the Tri-Saints, to experience a new city, and new people, and a new sense of what it means to be church, along with 37,000 of our closest Lutheran high school friends.  I am certain that, when we return from this life-altering experience, we will have many stories to tell and experiences to share.  We will be like the apostles, all crowding in on Jesus to shatter about our encounter with God’s mighty grace and power.  I hope that you will take the opportunity to take our youth aside to a deserted place and hear their stories of renewed, refreshed, and rejuvenated faith for yourselves.

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

As I look forward to all of the experiences that are coming up this month, I pray that God will open my eyes to see how God is working in our world, country, and backyard.  I pray for rest and rejuvenation.  I pray for partners on this journey of serving the last, the least, the lost, and the lowly.  How might God be calling you?

In Christ, Pastor Breen Marie Sipes

 

Peace! Be Still!

Peace be Still Shabby Shack on Pinterest

Mark 4:35-41 (New Revised Standard Version)

35When evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text? What do I have questions about?  One of my mentors, Pastor Carol Tomer, would always say the following on the occasion of a baptism:  “God does not promise us a life without rain or storms.  God promises that God will go with us through them.”  This is challenging, isn’t it? There are times in life when we also call out to God, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  It is hard to confront the problem of evil in this world and not wonder where God might be in the midst of it all.  Is God there at all, especially when our boat is swamped, and the wind is fierce, and the waves threaten to overwelm?  Where is God when I don’t feel God’s presence?

What delights me in this text? What is my favorite part, and why?  My favorite part of this text is when Jesus wakes up and says “Peace!  Be still!”  When I am in frantic mode, unable to settle or trust or even call out to God, I try to keep these words of Jesus close to my heart.  For me, it might even be “Stop!  Be still!  Peace!”  It is when I take the time on my yoga mat to pray, or pull out a coloring prayer page I have been working on, light a candle, turn on my favorite hymn playlist, and make the time to just be.  That is where my peace is recovered, I recall that I am a beloved child of God, and I remember that God through the Holy Spirit is as close to me as my next breath.  Ahh…the blessed rest of peace.

What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? How does this story connect to the story of my life?  This story has always been a memorable one since I led a group of confirmation students on a sailboat on the south shore of Lake Superior.  As we were sailing one day, a storm began brewing.  The captain of the sailboat, who had many years of experience sailing just these waters, said to me, “We have two choices.  Try to get to land and off the boat before the storm comes in, or ride it out on the water.”  I asked him which option was safer.  He told me that, if the students and I were willing to do exactly what he said to sail the boat, it was actually safer to ride it out.  Making for shore meant that there was a possibility that we might wreck, and the boat was made for storms such as these.  We decided to ride it out.  What an exciting, exhilarating, terrifying ride!  We made it safely through the storm, and the sunset over a lake as smooth as glass that evening was one of the most beautiful I had seen.  Then came the crazy part.  When I pulled out our pre-prepared devotion that night, it was this very story!  You can imagine that the students, captain, and I had quite the deep discussion for Bible study that night.

What is God up to in this text? What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  I have been listening to a recording of “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by the Norton Hall Band at Southern Seminary lately.  When I read this story from Mark, it reminds me of a couple of lines from the hymn:  “In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”  In the storms of life, where is my anchor fixed?  Who walks with me through the dark times?  How do I seek God’s face, even the valley of the shadow of death?  Jesus promises to go with us, to be present, to give us peace and strength and hope.  “All other ground is sinking sand.”  I am looking forward to Dwelling in this Word with you over the course of the month.

In Christ,

Pastor Breen Marie Sipes

Heart Promise: Dwelling in the Word March 2018

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This year during Lent, our readings from the Old Testament will focus on the five covenants, or promises, that God made with the people of Israel before the coming of Jesus.  Each covenant makes a shift in the people from past to new future that reminds us of our baptism.  This is the fifth covenant, which God makes as a future promise to Israel.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (New Revised Standard Version)
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Devotional Questions from the ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative:
What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about?

What delights me in this text?  What do I like about it?

What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  You might remember a time when you learned something by heart, or suddenly remembered something that you had learned by heart in time’s past, for example. 

What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling you to do or to be because of this story?

Rainbow Promise: Dwelling the the Word February 2018

This year during Lent, our readings from the Old Testament will focus on the five covenants, or promises, that God made with the people of Israel before the coming of Jesus.  Each covenant makes a shift in the people from past to new future that reminds us of our baptism.  This is the first covenant, which God makes with Noah after the flood.

 rainbow near finland by lyza by nc sa 2.0

Genesis 9:8-17 (New Revised Standard Version)

8God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Devotional Questions from the ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative:

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

I do not like flooding.  When my family and I lived in central Pennsylvania, flooding was an almost yearly reality.  The thing about flooding that I especially did not like was the anticipation.  When there is a tornado or snowstorm, it happens, and it is over, and then the clean up begins.  With flooding, you know that it is raining, and that it is going to flood, but you have all sorts of time to think about it, to watch it rise, to endure it, and then to watch it slowly sink back away.  It is an extremely helpless feeling, and a reminder that, ultimately you have no control.  I am challenged by the story of the flood because I know the dread that I feel in relation to flooding, and I can’t imagine having to endure a world-wide flood, especially in response to the sin of others.  I wonder how Noah’s family endured such a difficult thing.  Did it draw them closer to God?  To one another?  Did they learn that they had strength beyond what they had imagined before?

What delights me in this text?  What do I like about it?

When we lived in central Pennsylvania, most of the flooding that occurred was because of hurricanes on the coast.  As nasty as the rain, wind and flooding were, my favorite days of weather were always the day after a hurricane.  The morning would dawn sunny and clear, the air would smell clean and fresh and new, and it seemed like anything was possible.  I wonder if that’s how Noah and his family felt when they were finally released from the ark.  Were they relieved?  Did the world seem fresh and new?  Were they ready for a new start?

What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  You might remember a time when someone made a promise to you, or you made a promise to someone else, for example.

This story reminds me to take the time to look around.  To see the rainbow, or the sunrise, or the beautiful configuration of the stars.  I am reminded to listen for the cry of the hawk, or the rushing of wind through the trees, or even the sound of sheer silence, when it feels like even nature is holding its breath and listening for God to speak.  God spoke to Noah through the rainbow, and I wonder what it was like to remember God’s voice, God’s promise, living through the flood, each time a rainbow appeared after a storm.  What was it like to be God’s people of the rainbow promise?

What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling you to do or to be because of this story?

I am looking forward to walking with you through these promises of God during Lent this year.  Together, we will remember the rainbow (Noah), the stars in the sky (Abraham), the Ten Commandments (Moses), the bronze serpent (Moses), and the law on our hearts (Jeremiah).  Together, we will listen for God’s voice calling us to baptismal remembrance.  Together, we will discover God’s call for us, here and now and in this place.  As always, I am looking forward to discovering what this old, old story has to say to us.

In Christ’s promise,  Pastor Breen Marie

Lessons and Carols for the Home: #jesusbirthatoz

Each year, I am fortunate enough to get to do a little Christmas service at two of our local assisted living facilities.  These folks are wonderful, wise adults who bring their entire lives of faith to Bible study each month, but my favorite is when we gather at Christmas time.  This year, I developed a resource to use with them, and it occurred to me that it might also be a great devotion for families who are gathering for Christmas.  It combines the old tradition of my family of singing Christmas songs together around the tree (you get to pick the songs you want to sing) with readings from Bible about the Christmas story and questions that any member of the family is more than qualified to answer, no matter their age or stage.  I hope that you enjoy this time together during one of the holiest times of the year!

Christmas Lessons and Carols for the Home

nativity by smichael cc by nc 2.0

Gathering Prayer:
Dear God, we thank you for sending Jesus to us in human form on Christmas.  Be present in our time together, in our lives, on our lips, and in our hearts.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Song: group choice

The Birth of Jesus Foretold:  Luke 1:26-38 NRSV
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Question:  Mary was surprised by the angel.  When was a time that you remember being surprised?

Song: group choice

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah:  Matthew 1:18-25 NRSV
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Question:  We learn that Joseph is a righteous man.  When was a time that you tried to do the right thing, even if it wasn’t popular?

Song:  group choice

The Birth of Jesus:  Luke 2:1-7 NRSV
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Question: These are probably the most familiar few verses of the entire story.  What is the best Christmas memory that you have?

Song:  group choice

The Shepherds and the Angels:  Luke 2:8-20 NRSV
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Question:  The shepherds received the gift of being the first to be told of the birth of the Son of Man.  What was the most memorable gift that you ever received?

Song:  group choice

The Visit of the Wise Men:  Matthew 2:1-12 NRSV
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Question:  The wise men came a long way to give gifts to Jesus.  What is the most memorable gift that you ever gave?

Song:  group choice

The Word Became Flesh:  John 1:1-14 NRSV
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Question:  This reading from the beginning of the Gospel of John describes the coming of Jesus as the coming of light into a dark world.  Where have you seen the light of Jesus shining in this past year?  How have you been able to be a reflection of Jesus’ light?

Song:  group choice (end with Silent Night)

Dismissal:  Go in peace.  Christ is coming.  Thanks be to God.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Questions and order of service ©Pastor Breen Marie Sipes, Tri-Saints Lutheran Parish, ELCA 2017.  Please give credit where credit is due.

Photo “Nativity” by smichael on flickr.com CC BY-NC 2.0

Speechless: #jesusbirthatoz

Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so_ For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”.png
photo by jeremybrooks on flickr.com

Luke 1:5-25 (New Revised Standard Version)

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

Devotional Questions from the ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative:

What scares, confuses, or challenges me about this Bible reading?  What do I have questions about?  One thing that I have learned about myself over the years is that it is hard for me to change plans.  I identify with Zechariah, because he had resigned himself to being childless, and denied the gift when it was given to him.  This Bible reading challenges me to be open to changing my plans, and to spend more time listening when God is trying to speak to me.

What delights me about this Bible reading?  What do I like about it?  What is the good news here?  One thing I love about this Bible reading is that God is acting to bring good things into Zechariah’s life, even over and above his protests.  God desires our life, and our happiness, and all good things for us, even when we deny him.  How am I denying the good in favor of the bad, just because it is a part of my plan?

What stories or memories does this Bible reading stir up in me?  You might remember a time when you were completely surprised, or said “No” to something you wished for, or weren’t able to speak for a length of time, for example.  Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that the biggest surprise in my life finding out that I was pregnant with twins.  It was a blessing beyond expectation, and also one of the most difficult times in my life.  I am beyond thankful that God gifted me with a community to surround me in love, even when I was speechless during this time, both in joy and in fear.

What is God up to in this Bible reading?  What is God calling you to do or to be because of this?  Maybe it’s because we are entering Advent, a season which has always been marked by quiet contemplation for me, but I hear God reminding me to be quiet, to listen, and to believe.  Sometimes, in this over-busy, over-scheduled, over-expectation-full world, this is just exactly what we need to hear.

May God bless your work and your rest, your action and your contemplation, during this hoy season of waiting in hope!

In Christ, Pastor Breen

The Story of the Birth of Jesus from Beginning to End

Jesus Birth A to Z

Last January, I was with our Women in the Middle study group studying the story of Simeon and Anna from Luke 2.  As we worked our way through the story, it began to occur to our women that, although this was a story that continued the story of Jesus’ birth, it was not at all a story with which they were familiar.  In fact, many of them never remembered reading this story at all.  It got them wondering why.  Why do we know the story of the shepherds and the angels and the wise men, but almost nothing about Zechariah, or Simeon and Anna, or the boys in Bethlehem?  The truth is, we do hear many of these stories, but only once every three years, and almost never in chronological order.  As I explained this to our women, they came up with an amazingly simple idea.  What if, during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and the beginning of Epiphany, we read through the entire story of the birth of Jesus from beginning to end?  And what if we committed to doing it for several years, until Zechariah and Simeon and Anna and the boys in Bethlehem were as familiar a part of Jesus’ origin story as all the rest?  This past fall, I brought this “crazy” idea to our Tri-Saints Worship and Music Committee, and they agreed to give it a try.  And #jesusbirthatoz was born.  As I started to really get into the story, I realized that the perfect introduction would be Mary’s Song in Luke 1.  It’s not chronological (sorry!) but it fit in well to the themes of Christ the King Sunday while also providing a transition into Advent.

We will experience #jesusbirthatoz together in several ways.  First, they will be our guiding texts for Sunday worship.  Together, we will dive deeply into this story, both the familiar friends and the new (to us) acquaintances.  After this introduction, we will be invited to delve deeply into the story over the course of the week with a daily flipbook devotion.  You may get a paper copy at church week by week to decorate, color, and generally make your own.  If paper is not your speed, you can find it one week at a time at Good God Ideas (https://goodgodideas.wordpress.com/category/jesusbirthatoz/), or daily on Instagram and Facebook.  This resource is written for confirmation-level youth, but adults and children should also find daily inspiration and invitation into the story.   Our monthly Dwelling in the Word Bible Studies will also follow the story, taking this more lengthy opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the more unfamiliar aspects of the story.  I am so looking forward to introducing and reintroducing this, most sacred story to our community of faith!  Join me, as together we journey through Jesus’ birth story from A to Z!

In Christ,

Pastor Breen

p.s. If you would like to see what the weekly Bible readings will be in advance, you can find the whole season here: Advent to Epiphany Lectionary 17 18