Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday, Hannah!

One of the greatest moments in my life was holding my daughter, Hannah on December 16, 2000 shortly after she entered the world.  I tell her all the time that it is a privilege to be her parent.  Happy Birthday, Hannah!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sunday sermon, December 7, 2014

I love the celebration of Christmas because we remember an amazing story.  God chose to enter the world in the womb of an unwed, peasant teenager.  Her finance, Joseph, decided to stay with her when he found out she was pregnant.  I’m sure it was hard for him to believe that the Holy Spirit had been the father and not another man from town.  The baby was born in a small house in Bethlehem with animals nearby.  After the baby was born he was put in a feed trough or what we would call a manger. 

This is the story of God entered the world as a human.  What a remarkable, humble story.

I love getting ready for Christmas by celebrating the season of Advent. 

The worship services are so beautiful this season.  At Chain of Lakes we have some amazing music planned.  In two weeks we’re going to have our first symphonic band.  Along with a choir.  We had so many people show up for choir practice that Kristel ran out of music.  The music of the season is amazing. 

I love getting together with family and even going to a party or two.

But as much as I love the season I hate—and if your parents were like mine they taught me that hate is a very strong word—I hate how the season can be hijacked.  The excesses, the consumption, the busyness, the financial debt we take on and even the weight some of us gain. 

The media encourages us to spend, spend, spend.  Already we have days in this season that are labeled for shopping—Black Friday/Cyber Monday.  The media keeps us informed on how well we are doing at our shopping.  I turned on the news this past Monday—excuse me—sorry culture—I’ll be hip and call it cyber Monday—and I didn’t watch news.  On the news I watched a three minute description of the best deals on the Internet.  After every deal the newscaster said “wow.”  For me the word, “wow” is a very special word that is all about God.  Now the word, “wow” is being used for shopping.
What I’ve always wondered about the season is what lasts?  We celebrate a story that has everlasting implications for our life.  What lasts about our preparation and celebration?  Are we being drawn closer to the person God wants us to be?  Is our world drawn being closer to the Kingdom that God desires.  Is the poverty rate lower because of Christmas?  Are the nations of the world drawn closer to peace because we’re celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace?
My hope is this year our preparation and celebration can last.  With this hope I’m sharing a three week sermon series called “Making Memories.”  The AIM of the series is to see what is it about the story of Jesus’ birth that we will carry with us into the new year.  Each Sunday I’m going to encourage us to do make a memory this season.  I’m going to encourage us to make a memory based on the Spirit of Jesus that we will still talk about in ten years. 
Each sermon will revolve around a theme.  Today’s theme is hope.
I’m going to do three things in this sermon.  I would encourage you to write them down in the left hand side of the bulletin. 
1.  Share the story of Simeon

Give two take-aways
1.  A challenge for the week
2.  Encourage us to make a memory

Let’s look at the story of Simeon.  This story takes place in the latter half of the second chapter of Luke. 
Some context.  Right before the story of Simeon we read about Jesus’ birth.  Eight days later he was circumcised.  Then Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. 
You remember the village where Jesus was born?  Bethlehem.  Do you know how far it was from Bethlehem to Jerusalem?  A little more than five miles.  Do you know how far it is from Roosevelt Middle School to Lino Lakes Elementary STEM where we do mentoring?  That’s 7.3 miles.  So they walked Joseph and Mary walked a little less than that distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.
Why did they go to the Temple?  When a woman gave birth in Jesus’ day she was known as unclean for 40 days.  During this time she couldn’t touch anything that was holy and she couldn’t go into a sanctuary.  When those 40 days were up she would approach a priest and share an offering.  The priest would declare the woman clean.
This is the law they were following.     
When the days of her [mother of a child] purification are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest … a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, a pigeon or a turtle-dove for a sin offering.

If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons.  Leviticus 12:6

“they [Joseph & Mary] offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.  Luke 2:24

What this tell you about Joseph and Mary?                            They were poor

Joseph and Mary and Jesus were on the way to the Temple from Bethlehem.  One part of the story.  This brings us to Simeon.

Simeon was a righteous man.  The story says he was looking forward or waiting for the consolation of Israel.  This means a lot, but most simply it means he was waiting for the Messiah.  Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. 
Most people think that Simeon was old.  Here are some pictures of Simeon



Let me ask you a question.  Simeon had been promised that he would see the Messiah.    As he was waiting what do you think was going through his mind?  What emotions was he experiencing?
Anticipation; excitement; expectation; hope. 
I think Simeon felt hope.  I think Simeon was a prophet of hope.  He is a role model for us.

I preached a lot on hope.  I pulled out some of my sermons on hope.  This week I came up with a definition of hope. 

SLIDE            Hope is knowing the worst of the world and believing in the best 
I don’t think living with hope is easy. 
Jim Wallis is the editor of Sojourners magazine.  He wrote this.
“Prophetic faith does not see the primary battle as the struggle between belief and secularism.  It understands that the real battle, the big struggle of our times, is the fundamental choice between cynicism and hope. … The choice between cynicism and hope is ultimately a spiritual choice, one that has enormous political consequences.  God’s Politics, page 346

God had told Simeon that he would see the Messiah.  It was quite remarkable that Simeon would believe God.  People in Israel had been waiting for the Messiah ever since their nation had been destroyed six centuries earlier.  Many times people thought the Messiah was coming.  The Messiah had never come.  I think it would have been easy for Simeon to be cynical about what God had told him. 

In many ways it’s a lot easier to choose cynicism instead of choosing hope.  There’s quite an attraction to cynicism.  The cynics have a lot to offer the world.  Cynics are smart and critical, and they honestly see reality.  I’ll let Wallis share the point.
“[Cynics] tend to see things as they are, they know what is wrong, and they are generally opposed to what they see.”

We actually need cynics in our lives as they keep us honest. 

However here is the thing about cynics.  They make the correct step in identifying the problems of the world.  But they don’t go far enough.  They stay with the problem, but they don’t present a solution.  They aren’t willing to take risks, or make sacrifices, or put their heart and life on the line to solve the problems they can so easily identify. 

One more quote from Jim Wallis.  It’s a fairly long quote, but it expresses the point.    
“Perhaps the only people who view the world realistically are the cynics and the saints.  Everybody else may be living in some kind of denial about what is really going on and how things really are.  And the only difference between the cynics and the saints is the presence, power, and possibility of hope.  And that, indeed, is a spiritual and religious issue.  More than just a moral issue, hope is a spiritual and even religious choice.  Hope is not a feeling; it is a decision. 

And the decision for hope is based on what you believe at the deepest levels—what your most basic convictions are about the world and what the future holds—all based on your faith.  You choose hope, not as a na├»ve wish, but as a choice, with your eyes wide open to the reality of the world—just like the cynics who have not made the decision for hope. 
God’s Politics, Page 347

I love being with a group of people who choose hope.  That is why I love being your pastor.  You choose hope.  You and I are almost at the end of a long campaign that started in early June when Gary Long and I received an E-mail that said we weren’t going to be able to worship at Da Vinci Academy.  After worship today the Steering Committee is going to vote on when we will start worshiping at our new home on Davenport. 

The journey from that first E-mail to our first worship service has been quite a journey.  We’re going to a facility, the journey has not been about a facility.  The journey is about a choice.  The choice is one that you made many times in the last six months.  The choice you always made was hope.

We chose hope instead of cynicism.

The cynics would have rightly said that this journey would be hard.  They would have quit. 
Instead you said that this journey will be hard, but let’s give it a shot.  Let’s see what happens. 
The cynics would have said that it makes no sense to turn a Bridal studio into a worship space
Instead you said—yes not too many Bridal studios are turned into a worship space.  But let’s try to figure it out. 

The cynics would have said that there is no way the congregation can raise the amount of money we need to raise.
Instead you said, “yes it will take a lot of money, but money follows vision and if we can communicate the vision the money will come.”
This particular journey is almost over.  Guess who won the journey.  God won the journey.  God is a God of hope. 
It’s the same story as Simeon. 
Simeon could have said—yes I’ve heard that the Messiah has been coming.  I’ve been hearing that for 500 years.  Why would it happen now?  He didn’t choose the path of cynicism. 

God was at work in this story in a way that no one could have imagined.  I encourage you to read the story this week.  God had an intersection that God was orchestrating.  Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple.  God told Simeon to come to the Temple.  When Simeon came to the Temple, guess what happened.

He saw Jesus.  He saw the Messiah.   

Simeon rushed up to Jesus and grabbed him in his arms.  This is the one we’ve been waiting for.  He pronounced these words.  These verses have become know as the Nunc Dimittis   They are worth memorizing
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
Which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A light for revelation to the Gentiles
And for glory to your people Israel.
Luke 2:29-32

This is the one; this is the one we’ve been waiting for.  All of our waiting has been worth it.  That’s the power of hope.  That’s the story.

My first take away to you is this.  It’s a takeaway for one week because I realize the shelf-life of sermons is one week. 
SLIDE            This week continue to choose hope over cynicism. 
Every day we’re going to look at the reality of a fallen world.  We’re going to have to choose how to respond.  We have hard decisions to make because of this fallen world.  Our decisions range from as small as my schedule is out of whack to a loved one needs help.  Just this week Amy and I got word that a close friend of ours had to go into emergency surgery because a large mass was discovered on his bowel.   Every day we look at the reality of a fallen world.
What are you going to choose this week—hope or cynicism.  Are you going to say—this situation is really bad and it’s not going to get any better.  Or are you going to say, this situation is really bad, but I think God just might turn it around.  Choose hope.
Today we are welcoming 12 new people as Disciples at Chain of Lakes.  I am so excited that this group is connecting to us.  You aren’t a member, though we do have members.  You are a disciple because what most important to us is not what you do for the institution called Chain of Lakes.  What is most important is how this community can help you grow as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I want our community to help you grow in your faith life, your relationship life, to be healed of any wounds that you have, and to become the person God desires for you to be—to discover what I call our Inspirational Intersection.  Those are a lot of words, but my charge to our new folks for their time at Chain of Lakes is choose hope.  Always hope over cynicism.  Help our congregation do the same. 
The last take-away I want to share is very simple.  But it’s a big challenge. 

SLIDE I want to challenge you to do something this season in the spirit of Jesus that you’ll still be talking about in ten years.  Make a memory that will last.
If your family is like my family we have family traditions that are special and meaningful.  I’m not asking us to create a new tradition that we do every year.  I’m encouraging us to do something for one year—in 2014—that will last—something that represents hope.
It’s up to you to discern what this could be.  Let me share some possibilities.  My motivation is not to tell you what to do, but instead to prompt your discernment.  I’ve talked about Ola in some past sermons. He is a man in his 20’s who came from Nigeria.  He is dying of colon cancer.  Sally Narr and our confirmation students are going to visit him today.  He might not be with us in a month.  His mother still lives in Nigeria.  Perhaps a group of us could figure out how to pay for her plane ticket to the United States.
We’re going to be asking people to give gifts to homeless teens.  Maybe you want to take one teen—or perhaps you would take five teens.
Maybe you could do something with your family that is very meaningful.  Perhaps you would want to knock on every door near you and share a present with that family that represented Christmas to you. 
You probably could come up with some even better ideas.
As the world tells us to consume, we’re celebrating an everlasting story.
Right after the sermon Kristel Peters and the band is going to play a song.  As they are doing that I want to encourage each of us to reflect on a memory you could make in the Spirit of Jesus this season.  Have a conversation with God about what your memory could be.
I pray that Simeon’s story can be our story.  Always choose hope.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Michael Brown and Darren Wilson--we need a trial

I’m always most interested in what brings people together instead of what tears them apart.  That is why I wish the St Louis County Grand Jury would have issued a charge against Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

I don’t know what happened on that August 7 night.  And unless we were there none of us do either.  That is why we need a trial.  We need a legal process to determine justice and judgment. 

Because a trial won’t happen Michael Brown’s killing will be viewed through the prism of the media and the prism of race. 

Already Darren Wilson was interviewed on ABC news to share his side of the story.  I watched Lesley Mc Spadden, Michael Brown’s mother, share her side of the story on CBS news this morning.  I can understand why both of them would want to share their story.  But without cross-examination and the rules of a fair trial these interviews fuel the divide that exists.

It’s not surprising that a Huffington Post survey shows that 62 percent of African Americans believe that Darren Wilson was at fault in the killing and that 22 percent of whites believe the same.

I can understand why people all over the country have protested since the decision was announced on Monday night.  Violent protests are never justified, but civil disobedience in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is. 

But the story is not about the protestors.  The story is how race affects the criminal justice system in an unfair way.

I can understand how African-Americans can believe that the criminal justice system is rigged against them.  Because of my skin color I don’t have to worry about being stopped by a police officer for walking down the street.  In many parts of America that isn’t the case for African-Americans.  

The lack of a trial against Darren Wilson will continue the belief among many African-Americans and others including me that when an African-American is killed the justice system often does not operate fairly.

Our country needs a trial.  Without a trial justice will not be served.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reflections on November Presbytery meeting

This past Tuesday I had the privilege of attending the November meeting of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities area that was held at Macalester-Plymouth church that is on the campus of Macalester college.

I arrived early to set up a table for Chain of Lakes.  I passed out many brochures about our new congregation’s move to a facility we’re calling our new home on Davenport.  Our new congregation will have a permanent space in a well-traveled area in Blaine.  As soon as the way is clear we will no longer be a portable church.  This facility is not on our church property, but it’s in an area where many people who live near our property travel.  We are very grateful that the Church Development Team and the Board of Trustees of the Presbytery have helped us in this move.  We don’t have a move-in date yet, but I believe we will be able to start worship there before the end of the year. 

This will be our fifth facility in five years.

The highlight of the meeting for me was the examination of Kate O’Brien-Soltau and Lisa Ellwoods.  Kate has been attending Chain of Lakes since December 2012.   She was looking for a Presbyterian congregation in the north Metro and found Chain of Lakes.  I know that many people in our new congregation have helped and nurtured her in the final stages of her ordination process.

Kate was asked four questions.  At the end of the examination the Presbytery voted unanimously to ordain her as a Teaching Elder.

Right after that Lisa Ellwoods was examined.  Lisa is a member of Buffalo Presbyterian Church and has been working as an intern at Chain of Lakes since September.  Lisa started a house church in Montrose and learned the importance of being involved in a connectional church.  She didn’t come to faith until later in her life.  She has a keen understanding of what it means to be disconnected from church and God. 

At the end of her examination the Presbytery voted unanimously to move her to the Candidate stage in her process.

Some of the staff from Chain of Lakes came to the Presbytery meeting to watch these examinations.  Afterwards we all went out to a local restaurant to celebrate.  I cannot wait to celebrate Kate’s ordination this Sunday, November 16 at 3:00 p.m. at Valley Community Presbyterian Church. 

One of the reasons I love and serve the Presbyterian Church is we ordain women to be pastors.  I know of hundreds of women who have tremendous skills that they want to share with the church and the world.  I can’t imagine how diminished we would be if these gifted women couldn’t be religious leaders.  We have made tremendous progress in accepting women as leaders in the church; however we can never take this progress for granted.  Over half of the people who attend a church in Anoka County this weekend will attend a church where women cannot be ordained.

After our celebration at a local restaurant I came back to the meeting.  Worship had just completed.  The Presbytery spent a good part of the meeting talking about the future.  They offered people opportunities to participate in two Breakout gatherings.

I participated in a Breakout conversation on focusing the Presbytery committees on function and not structure.  Many good ideas were shared.  One idea I shared is to change the rotation of leadership, so that the same person does not have to be Vice-Moderator, Moderator, and then Chair of the Presbytery Leadership Team in three consecutive years.  I believe that the functions of those positions are so different that the Presbytery would be better served not to have people rotate through these three positions.

After that, Rochelle Le Tourneau compassionately shared the story of the closing of Familia de Fe.  She wrote an excellent summary of the process that can be found on pages 48-49 of the Presbytery packet at: http://www.presbyterytwincities.org/files/679_11_11_14_presbytery_packet.pdf

David Liddle shared what is happening with the Eden Prairie Presbyterian church.  Right now the process is in court filings. 

In his report Bill Davnie, Stated Clerk, shared the need in a written report for an Administrative Commission to be formed in response to some in the Presbyterian Church in Albert Lea’s who are interested in leaving the PC(USA).  I did find it a bit odd that the written report was handed out at the end of the meeting and wasn’t shared in the packet.  The report can be found on page 52 of the Presbytery packet.  However I trust the request and voted for it.

By that time it was time to go.  Even though my personal focus for the meeting was Kate and Lisa, I’m very glad that the Presbytery spent so much time talking about its future.