Reformation 500 Resources: The Third Article of the Creed for Adults

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In honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this October, we will be studying the three major parts of the Catechism for the fall months.  All children and youth will receive their own copy of Luther’s Small Catechism:  Study Edition, and adults may purchase them for themselves through the church.  May God bless our time of study as we return to our Lutheran roots during this Pentecost fall season of growth!

The Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: On Being Made Holy

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

What is this?  or  What does this mean?

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.  (Luther’s Small Catechism: Study Edition pg. 31)

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

What scares, confuses, or challenges me about this article and its meaning?  What do I have questions about?

One aspect about this article and its meaning that challenges me is that I cannot believe on my own.  There is nothing that I can do that makes me more believing, or more faithful, or more holy in God’s eyes.  That’s the work of the Spirit.  I would love to think that all my hard work at being good gets me somewhere, but it just doesn’t.  It is God’s work in and through me, and not mine at all.  Another part that challenges me is when I am in grumpy mode.  I am happy to believe that the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives me, but all believers?  Even the ones who I don’t like, who don’t seem to care about the world, that I don’t know?  Even them?  It’s a good thing that God is the one doing the forgiving; I wouldn’t be very good at that job at all.

What delights me about this article and its meaning?  What do I like about it?

I always think that Sunday morning is a miracle.  All these different people, from all these different homes and families and work places, gathered all together to sing, and pray, and learn, and grow.  Only the Spirit could bring that to pass, and I thank God every Sunday for the great privilege to lead our assembly.  I am also reminded that worship on Sunday morning isn’t the only place we gather.  This month, we will gather for service projects on Mission Festival Sunday.  We will continue to learn and grow together through Sunday School and Bible Study.  And we will serve in the various capacities that God has given us, as farmers and electricians, mothers and fathers, teachers and students.  And the Holy Spirit will go there with us, too.

What stories or memories does this article and its meaning stir up in me?  You might remember a time when you felt called, gathered, enlightened, made holy, or sent, for example.

I am looking forward to the Nebraska Synod’s gathering of Rostered Leaders in Lincoln this month.  We will be altogether in one place for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  It is an event that I imagine that I will be telling future generations about for as long as I live, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

What is God up to in this article and its meaning?  What is God calling you to do or to be because of this?

This is my favorite article of the Apostles’ Creed because it tells us all the ways and places in which God has promised to show up.  It is sometimes hard to believe, simply because we cannot see.  However, when we look to “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,” we find concrete places where we can be sure to encounter God.  That is a great source of comfort and hope for me, especially in a world that is often neither comforting nor hopeful.

As always, I look forward to great conversations with you about this article, and whatever else the Spirit puts on your heart, this month.  May the Spirit accompany us into all of the places where we have been sent to share God’s love.

In Christ,

Pastor Breen

Reformation 500 Resources: The Third Article of the Creed for Youth

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What does this mean?
Look up the commandment and its meaning in your Study Edition of Luther’s Small Catechism, page 31.

Don’t have one?  You can get your own copy here:  https://www.augsburgfortress.org/store/product/22231/Luther-Small-Catechism-Anniversary-Study-Edition

Or download the free app here:  https://www.augsburgfortress.org/store/product/22879/Luther-Small-Catechism-App

Questions to Ponder:
Underline or circle any words or phrases that you don’t understand.  Write the words and their definitions in the margins of your book.

What questions do you have about this section?

What is your favorite part of this section?  Why?

What do you think of when you think of God as “Holy Spirit”?

How is thinking of God as the Holy Spirit helpful in your daily life?

What is God up to in this section?

Teach Us to Pray:
You can Pray in Color with the illustration on pg. 30 of your Small Catechism.
You may also conclude your study in these or similar words:
Holy Spirit, Giver of Life, stir up in me the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of the knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen. (Luther’s Small Catechism:  Study Edition pg. 78)

Reformation 500 Resources: The 7th Commandment for Adults

Luther Ref500

In honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this October, we will be studying the three major parts of the Catechism for the next three months.  All children and youth will receive their own copy of Luther’s Small Catechism:  Study Edition, and adults may purchase them for themselves through the church.  May God bless our time of study as we return to our Lutheran roots during this Pentecost fall season of growth!

The Seventh Commandment:  You shall not steal.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income. (Luther’s Small Catechism:  Study Edition pg. 21)

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

What scares, confuses, or challenges me about this commandment and its meaning?  What do I have questions about?

This is a tough commandment for most of us, because most of us have never outright stolen much of anything at all.  We think, therefore, that the commandment doesn’t apply to us.  However, Martin Luther, as he always does so well, refuses to let us wiggle out from under this commandment by intensifying it to the point that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Have you ever bought the cheapest thing simply because it was cheap?  Did you stop to think about what the person who made it will get for their labor?  Will it be fair, just, right?  Have you ever complained about what a neighbor’s property looked like?  Did you ever offer to help them to improve or protect it with the sweat of your own brow?  This commandment and its meaning can go from simple to challenging, indeed!

What delights me about this commandment and its meaning?  What do I like about it?

I appreciate that this commandment and its meaning call us to work together for the good of all.  It warmed my heart last week to see the number of people who showed up to help out at Fall Clean Up Day at St. Peter.  All of the members working together, accomplished so much more than what a few council members could have done on the same day, and the property of the church was both improved and protected by the effort.  This is what happens when we take this commandment seriously, and work together to live into it fully.

What stories or memories does this commandment and its meaning stir up in me?  You might remember a time when you helped a neighbor or a neighbor helped you, for example.

One of my favorite things about living where we do in South Central Nebraska is the sense of community that exists here.  When someone is need of help, everyone bands together to do it.  If there are medical bills to be paid, there is a benefit to pay it.  If someone loses their home to fire, the community bands together to rebuild.  If someone is ill, the crops do not lay in the field, they are harvested by generous laborers who make the time to be a good neighbor.  I am truly thankful for all the good neighbors that care for our children, who will drop everything when we are in need.  We live this commandment together, every day.

What is God up to in this commandment and its meaning?  What is God calling you to do or to be because of this?

I believe that God is calling us to be generous with one another.  God is calling us to remember that all we have comes from God, and belongs to God, and that we are simply stewards of all of God’s good gifts.  How is God calling me to be generous to my neighbors in need?  How is God calling you?

I am looking forward to learning more from you as we study this commandment together over the course of the month.

In Christ,

Pastor Breen

Seating Chart

placecards by divingben
photo by divingben on flickr.com

Luke 14:1, 7-14 (New Revised Standard Version)

1On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Devotional Questions from the ELCA Book of Faith Initiative:

What scares, confuses, or challenges me as I read this text?

What delights me as I read this text?

What stories or memories from my own life do I remember when I read this text?  It might be a story about a banquet that you remember attending, for example.

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

I cannot remember the last time that I attended a banquet that was fancy enough for place cards.  Honestly, because my husband and I often have three young girls in tow, we are looking for a place out at the edges, preferably close to both the bathroom and the banquet table but far enough from the cake that it won’t be an irresistible temptation for little fingers.  Having what most would consider “the best spot” doesn’t even enter my mind at this point in life.

I have, however, recently been to camp, and have seen all sorts of seating preferences come into play.  The only rule at camp is that each table must have room for one adult to oversee the chaos.  However, it is interesting to sit back and watch what other “rules” become established as the week goes on.  The first rule, of course, it sitting with as many of your friends as possible.  Then comes sitting with a “fun” counselor or other adult.  If the meal occurs at lunchtime, a shady spot is preferable.  Depending on which counselor is asking the trivia questions to determine which table gets to eat next, you might choose a table full of Bible scholars, sports nuts, or Carol Joy Holling experts.  All of these rules determine where you might want to sit.

Then, there is the table that no one seems to want to sit at:  the table of outcasts.  Remember being in 6-8th grade?  Then you know the table.  This is the place where others flock until they see a certain person who they don’t like, or who it’s not cool to like, or someone who doesn’t fit in with others.  When this happens, smart people turn the other way, break up their friend groups, and sit at other tables.  After all, who wants to sit there?

Jesus makes us examine ourselves and our behavior in this month’s text, especially when it comes to seating preference.  Where do you think Jesus would be sitting at camp?  At the next wedding feast?  At your house?   Where is he calling you to sit?  Who is he calling you to choose?  How is he calling you to reach out in new ways?  I look forward to sitting and studying with you this month, as together we try to figure out the seating chart of God’s Kingdom.

In Christ, Pastor Breen

A Tattooed Heart

heart

First Reading: 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.

Book of Faith Devotional Questions: 

1. What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?

2. What delights me in this text?

3. What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?

4. What is God up to in this text?

Have you ever made a promise?  Have you ever broken a promise?  If so, you are in the same shoes that the Israelites are in when they received this message from God through the prophet Jeremiah.  The Israelites were God’s people, and God gave them laws to obey so that they would stand out from the other people on earth.  They were set apart for God’s purpose, made holy so that everyone could see that they belonged to God.  But being chosen isn’t always easy.  Keeping promises that involve every moment of every day of your entire life can be too hard of a standard to be held to, even for God’s own people.

This section of Jeremiah is kind of like pushing the reset button. Wiping the slate clean.  And it begins with a promise from God to the people.  “You can’t seem to keep your promises,” God says, “even though you want to and you try (most of the time).  So, let me make a promise to you.  A promise about your future people.”  God goes on to say:

“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.  No 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…”  (Jeremiah 33:33b-34a)

At first, this might not sound like the greatest of news.  We can’t follow the law with our heads, so God’s going to tattoo it to our hearts?  Force feed it to us until we submit?  Or else? Maybe, but I choose to hear it as a word of grace.  In the future, I won’t have to work so hard to remember God’s law.  I won’t have to work so hard to do it.  According to Martin Luther’s meanings of the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Small Catechism, we are all doomed to fail in this endeavor, after all. In the future, the law, the way that I can perfectly relate to God and to my neighbor, will be second nature to me.  I will know it by heart, and, when I act from my heart, my actions will follow all that God intends.  And, as it says in I Corinthians 13:12b “then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  And not just me, everyone.  Everyone who God has ever created.  This is indeed a future to look forward to with hope.

This reading is appointed for Reformation Sunday, the day when we celebrate the beginning of the Reformation of the church and the founding of Lutheranism.  As we prepare for this feast day within our churches, I pray that our study of this text may be fruitful, and stir up in us a joyful anticipation of the true feast to come.  I can’t wait to hear what this text will stir up in you!

In Christ,
Pastor Breen

For or Against?

cup of cool water

Mark 9:38-50 (New Revised Standard Version)
38 John said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

  1. What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?
  1. What delights me in this text?
  1. What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?
  1. What is God up to in this text?

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”  Where have I heard this before?  Oh, wait.  I’ve never heard it before!  Everyone knows that the phrase is “Whoever is not for us is against us.”  Why is Jesus talking nonsense?  Or is he trying to open us up to another truth?

I have to admit that sometimes other Christians make me really mad.  I believe what I was raised to believe, and when others call themselves Christians and have differing, sometimes opposite, beliefs, I have a hard time with that.  Jesus’ words here in this reading are able to serve as a corrective to me in these instances.  Is it really against me?  Against the Jesus I believe in?  Or just different?

I remember one time when one of my friends shared with me that he used hate going to other churches where he had not chosen the worship style.  It just wasn’t the way that he would have done it.  He was also quite critical of other’s sermons, because, again, he would have done it differently.  Then, he became a bishop, and spent most of his Sundays leading worship in all sorts of settings at all sorts of times and places.  All of a sudden, rather than focusing on his likes and dislikes, he started looking out at the people with whom he was worshipping.  And they were prayerful.  And reverent.  They were engaged.  And heartfelt.  And he began to realize that they were not against him, or against Jesus, just different.  And yet, they were still his brothers and sisters in Christ and worshippers of the very same God.  And his heart was opened.  And he was able to see and serve God in ways that he had never even imagined.

Whoever is not against us is for us.  It can be a powerful statement, if we let it.  It can turn negative into positive, difference into blessing, despair for the future into hope.  What if we began assuming that people are for us, for Christ, for the life of the world?  What if we began acting that way?  What if we lived that way?  Perhaps, then, Jesus’ vision for the future would come to pass, and “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”  Could it really be that simple?

Just the other day, I was talking to someone that was telling me that he felt we needed to start working with other Christians to do some good in this world.  We, meaning not just our parish, but the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our full-communion partners (including the UCC, United Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Reformed, and Moravians), and all other Christian denominations.  We are, after all commanded by Christ to seek unity, make disciples of all nations, baptize and teach, and give that cup of water to anyone in need.  How can we fully do this, unless we do it together?

My prayer is that we can find ways to be together instead of apart, that our likenesses can outweigh our differences, and that we can welcome one another with open arms instead of suspicion.  May your kingdom come among us, O Lord, that all your people, in all their differences, may be united in you.  Amen.

In Christ,

Pastor Breen

Human Tradition

wash hands

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (New Revised Standard Version)

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands,[ thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Book of Faith Devotional Questions

What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?

What delights me in this text?

What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?

What is God up to in this text?

As I have been studying this text in the past couple of days, one sentence that Jesus says here keeps sticking with me; “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”  Wow.  Powerful words, especially if you like tradition as much as I do.  Tradition is comforting.  Reliable.  Safe.  In fact, when I asked our youth who went to the National Youth Gathering what she wanted to do for worship on the Sunday that we will present our experiences from the Gathering, she said, “I just want to do regular church.”  She had been exposed to so many different worship styles and forms over the week in Detroit that she just wanted to come home and feel that she was, indeed, at home.

As I said before, I like tradition, too.  In the days before I started working on this passage (or letting the passage work on me J ), my family and I were planning to start a new tradition.  Our eldest daughter is about to begin Kindergarten, and we would like to start the tradition of going on an overnight to celebrate the end of summer, get school supplies, and get birthday pictures taken.  It will be an annual event, something by which to mark the passing of our family’s days into kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and beyond.  It will be a human tradition, alongside our other traditions of attending the county fair, the state fair, the pumpkin patch, and a host of other ways that we mark time and celebrate regularly as a family.

It is into this effort that Jesus’ words break in for me; “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”  What do we do with this?  How, then will we live?  It reminds me of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” and Martin Luther’s definition of a god in The Large Catechism.  He said that “A god is that to which we look for all good and where we resort for help in every time of need.”  The Pharisees were concerned about Jesus’ disciples handwashing practices, and it was keeping them from seeing God himself incarnate in Jesus Christ right in front of their eyes.  Should we wash our hands?  Yes!  Should that rule become our god?  No!

So what do we do, we who are freed in Christ to love and serve our neighbor as ourselves?  Perhaps we are called to take Jesus’ words seriously, to let them follow us around and chew on us for a while.  Perhaps we are called to examine our human traditions, and ask if we can find a way to make those traditions show forth Christ even more boldly.  And if they can’t?  Maybe it’s time to toss them on the trash heap to make way for the things of God and the ways of God.

Following God is tough.  To paraphrase The Princess Bride, “Anyone else who tells you differently is selling something.”  Thanks be to God that he loves us first, and last, and always.  We may not always acknowledge him as our God, or follow his ways, but we are always his people, sealed in baptism and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  God bless you as you seek to follow him, now and always.

In Christ,

Pastor Breen

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