Announcement! – 11.30.09-12.06.09

Malachi 3:1–4
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the LORD whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
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I appreciate the suggestion in the book Transform Your Church with Ministry Teams.  It offers a guided Bible study experience.

READ  You are to first read the passage.  You may read it several times slowly.

REFLECT  Jot down your insights from the text.

RESPOND  How will you apply the teachings of this text to your own life?

REQUEST  What prayer requests do you have?1

As I read the passage I note the Lord announcing.  I reflect on this regarding the holy presence of the Lord.  The divine communication.  The vision imparted.  A messenger like Malachi.  A messenger like you or me.  The grace and intention which produces a covenant. What means covenant and what is expected of the parties in the covenant?  How does this produce a long lasting relationship between the parties in the covenant?

I respond by asking if the Lord is still communicating.  Are there specific instances today when the Lord speaks?  Who is directed to listen at that moment?  What is the message for the messenger to communicate to the community of faith?

I request the Lord to prepare me.  Am I readied to listen?  Are you still speaking?  Dear Lord as surely as you prompted Malachi, prompt me.  Prompt all to listen.  Guide us to moments, meditation, message, messenger.  Thank you Lord!  Amen

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This week’s devotion was written by Pastor Dave Wasemann.

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Comfortability – 11.23.09-11.30.09

Luke 21:25–36

25There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

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“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Poor grammar aside, we’ve all heard that admonition at work, at home, or at church. We are more apt to grow comfortable with something less than it might be than to invest the time and energy to make it better.

After the resurrection, Christ empowered his disciples to carry on his ministry. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost brought these disciples together into a body with that same commission. The intervening centuries have witnessed various levels of success in accomplishing that mission. Luke gives us words from Jesus to remind us that at the end of all time, the church’s mission will not have been completely realized.

Creation is broken. No matter how hard we try, without God’s intervention, we cannot fix it. Yet, we are called to be partners with God in that restoration. It may be “God’s work” but until Christ returns, it is accomplished through “our hands.”

Yet worrying about that return, or trying to avoid the anxiety about it through the excesses of hedonism, are both futile. Jesus tells his followers to pray for strength to the things that will keep them from standing before him on that day.

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This week’s devotion was written by Chip Borgstadt.

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The Whole Truth – 10.19.09-10.25.09

John 8:31-36
31Then Jesus said to the Judeans who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

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This gospel reading turns on one of those classic, Gospel of John, “I-know-you-think-you-understand-what-I’m-talking-about-but-you-don’t” Jesus misunderstandings. With Nicodemus it was about “being born”; with the woman at the well it was about “water”; here it’s about “freedom.”
These Judean disciples hear Jesus’s offer of freedom and are unimpressed.

“Freedom? Is that the best you can offer? We’ve always been free! E pluribus gee-golly unum!” These disciples seem to think that “freedom” is of use only to those who are in political, or perhaps, economic slavery. The irony of their confusion is compounded by their denial of—or is it hyperbolic bluster about—their own history. Have they forgotten, oh, I don’t know, Egypt? Assyria? Babylon? Rome?
Whatever the case, Jesus takes them to the deeper place. As always in the Gospel of John, the literal simple words (“birth,” “water,” “bread,” “freedom”) are metaphors for layers and layers of deeper meaning. If, as Paul claims, everyone sins; and if, as Jesus claims, everyone who sins is a slave to sin; then this offer of freedom has universal relevance. And I think the “truth” that sets us free does so in two ways.
First the truth points to and names the leg irons and manacles that have us bound; it shines a light so that we can see the fences and walls that that constrict our movement and vision; and it uncovers all the ways we wish for the “leeks and garlic” that we used to eat at every meal back in Egypt. After all, leeks and garlic are good for us, aren’t they?
Second, the truth encourages us that the road of freedom is harder, less sure, and in many ways darker than the pains of slavery. The truth reminds us that the things that hold us in bondage are rarely evil. At worst, our captors are morally neutral or ambiguous; more typically our captors are good things—leeks and garlic.
But no matter how much we love leeks and garlic (or charge cards, Facebook, motor cars, overtime bonuses, the Green Bay Packers, or plopping down to watch “Two and a Half Men”) Jesus wants us to understand that the hand that provides them is not that of your friendly corner grocer. And no matter how austere and un-entertaining the road to freedom looks the promises of resurrection joy are known only by walking with Jesus down that road.
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PRAYER: You are the one, O God, who hears the cries of slaves and comes in powerful weakness to set them free. Awaken in us sense enough to cry out from this land of enslaving freedom and luxury. Help us to embrace the freedom of having nothing to lose except our lives. In Jesus’s name. AMEN
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Hank Langknecht teaches preaching and communication at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. He and Shirla have two sons and two cats. Hank enjoys bicylcling, reading, and solving the New York Times Crossword Puzzle (but he can quit that anytime he wants … really).

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Wholeness – 10.05.09-10.11.09

Mark 10:17-31

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

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For many weeks I have thought about what I wanted to say about this text from Mark. I remember preaching on this text on internship the lights were blazing, the Sunday crowd was big, and I was nervous. It was one of the first sermons I gave as an intern and I felt the world’s weight upon me. Would I fail or would I hit a home run as it were? Well, I won’t tell you how it turned out, but I will say this I learned something that day which I’ll never forget. I learned that though I felt empty God was there all along to fill me up. To give me the support I needed to preach the Word and live to tell the tale.
This really is what seems to be at the core of the gospel message I think. The recognition that God is what we search for our whole lives for. What we search to make us complete. So many in this broken world, at least here in America, think that in order to have a full life you need money, fame, a great number of friends, possessions – these things are what will make them complete these things, these are what will fill the void making us whole. Now I will admit these things make one feel good. I write this as I celebrate breaking the 400 friend barrier on my facebook page, but if I think about it where its nice having these things – where is the substance, where is the concrete love? We look good on the outside; we are empty on the inside. Of the 400 friends there are only a handful I know I could call in a “pinch” and even less that would sit up with me at all hours to comfort me, and maybe two who would pray with me.  Yet, on the other hand I know I have Christ. I know I have the love of a God who would and did give it all so I could know what true freedom is all about. When I look at it that way, I often wonder how could I not find continuous blessings everyday in all that comes my way. I cannot deny it. With God I am complete.
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Prayer: Lord, so often we seem to lack that one thing. We seem to search for what will fill in that last gap of our lives. Though we search this world fruitlessly the answer always has been standing in front of us, it is you. Be our guide so we can let go and live in you, filled by you, make us whole. In Jesus name. AMEN

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Andrew Gookin. Pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church Roscommon, Mi. I have two kids and have been married for ten years. Graduated from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in 2005 and have been ordained just over four years. Love to brew beer and love the Lord.

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Silly People/Church! Jesus is For Everyone – 09.21.09-09.27.09

Mark 9:38-50

38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But 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. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For 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.

42If 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. 43If 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.

45And 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. 47And 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, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt 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.”

Our Gospel lesson for this week opens with the disciples coming to Jesus like a bunch of kindergarten tattletales – “Teacher, teacher! We saw people do things in your name, and they aren’t part of our group! We tried to stop them, cause they aren’t part of our group!” Maybe they expected Jesus to fly into a rage, as he sometimes does, and use his miraculous powers to smite these unlicensed demon-caster-outers, or at least see to it that they stopped doing things in his name without his permission.

But Jesus surprises them – “don’t stop them, whoever isn’t against us is for us.” The disciples learn that people do not need to be a part of their group to do the work of Christ. The disciples, as they so often do in Mark’s Gospel, come off as petty and silly in this story. Jesus not only corrects them, but launches into a tirade about not putting up stumbling blocks before those who believe in him.

It’s easy for us, reading this story 2000 years or so after it happened, to treat the disciples like the Trix Rabbit; “silly disciples, Jesus is for everybody!” and miss the message that Jesus words to them contains for us. How often do we exclude, or try to stop, or put up stumbling blocks before those followers of Jesus who aren’t part of our group? The history of Christianity is filled with these stories; the interdenominational battles that began 500 years ago alone could fill libraries with stories of violence done by followers of Christ to other followers of Christ.

When observing the fallout in my denomination, the ELCA, over decisions made on a social statement on human sexuality and who can serve as a pastor, one can see the deep divisions that exist within denominations as well. Perhaps we have as much to learn today as the disciples did back then about having salt and being at peace with one another.

Lord, may we remember that those who are different from us, and are not part of our group, can still do great ministry in your name. May you restore us with the salt of your Spirit that we may be at peace with one another for the sake of your gospel in the world. Amen.

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This week’s devotion was written by Rev. Aaron Matson.  He currently serves as pastor of a two point parish – Leganger Lutheran Church in Toronto, SD and Wood Lake Lutheran Church, Astoria, SD.

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08.31.09-09.06.09 – Be Opened

Mark 7:24-37
24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

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It seems these days that many of us suffer from deafness. We are willing to listen to ourselves talk, listen to our point of view, and it often causes great torment and suffering in the end. What if we each considered Jesus’ statement to “Be opened”? What if our ears were not closed to others’ words, and our hearts and minds not closed to others’ ideas?

Consider for a moment being the deaf man and ask yourself why it was the Jesus was able to say one word “Ephphatha” and his ears immediately opened? Do you think it is because no one had ever tried to get him to hear before? Do you find yourself more willing to accept an idea if it is stated by someone you agree with or admire? Why is it that we as a people always feel the need to take a side and listen and uphold that side adamantly? Why does it take so much to try to hear and be open to the other side?

We suffer quite a bit from our unwillingness to open ourselves to others which in turn means we are not opening ourselves to God. God comes to us through every person we encounter. The caring we show each other is a direct reflection of our faith. Our willingness to have open ears, minds, and hearts is part of being a Christian. It is one of the hardest parts because there are times we are truly challenged by the ideas and actions of others.

I have found that there is often validity in both sides of an argument, yet through my deafness I stick to my side. I admire those who are able to put aside their feelings and truly listen. When was the last time you were able to do that without having partiality? My challenge to myself in this upcoming week, and I hope you will join me in it, is to set aside my opinions and “Be Opened”.

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Dear Lord, I pray that you teach us to “Be Opened” and hear and speak with your will in mind and not our own. Help us to accept the differences amongst us and learn to listen and speak in love with each other without partiality.  Amen.

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This week’s devotion from the Gospel of Mark was written by Katharyn Wheeler an active disciple of Christ at Epiphany Lutheran Church.

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08.31.09-09.06.09 – Full Faith

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-171 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  2  For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in,  3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”  4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?  7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?  8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,  16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

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Oh, how we were taught to hate James.  It was Luther’s epistle of straw, or so legend goes.  It is because of these very words that we were taught to treat James and these passages with contempt.

It is clear to see why the bitter aftertaste fills our mouth on these words.  It describes an ineffective faith, a faith that is inactive by what the faith does, how it is lived out.  With the eyes of the reformation and the interest in justification we are quick to dismiss these passages especially for passages in Romans and Ephesians which would proclaim what we think of as gospel, how no work is enough and it is by faith alone we are justified.

But what is it James talking about here?  Is James discussing heaven and hell?  Rather James discusses present salvation- loving our neighbor, adultery, murder, giving to the hungry.  These are not justification issues but rather sanctification issues, that is these are not issues that are dealing with our immortal soul and future but rather than the ongoing life of faith as we walk today.

This life of justification and sanctification are not to be separated into unrelated categories but held in artful and graceful balance with one another. It is like breathing in and out.  Breathing in is the gift of God, the life of the Spirit, the sustaining of our soul, the heart of our faith. But breathing in for our future calls us to breathe out for our present.  We are called to move with the Spirit that has been drawn into our life through our justification by Jesus’ act on the cross and to breathe out a life of sanctification, a life reflecting the gift given, passing on breath and Spirit into the world.

We can focus too much on our future life so that we make grace cheap, only acting enough to make a difference in the next life but not calling us to anything in particular in this life.  When we focus on this life and our works, we make grace weak and ineffective and thus trust instead on our works.  We must learn to balance our life, to trust solely on God in Christ as our atoning sacrifice that justifies us but we are also drawing the full power of this restoration of the world into our lives. Yes, perhaps a faith without works is dead but the converse may also be said: works without trust in God is dead as well.  A full faith and a full life is a life that trusts solely in God and then lives everyday as a reflection and a “thank you” for what God has done.  It is as easy as breathing in and out.

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God, we cannot stand before you by our own merit our work.  We thank you for Jesus, that through his sacrifice we are reconciled to you.  We wish to thank you for this gift with our life and works.  Give us understanding that we may work with out trusting our work and believe without neglecting the call to serve.  Help us to live this balanced life.  To you be all glory.  AMEN.

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This week’s devotion from James was written by Rev. Jay Gamelin, pastor of Jacob’s Porch, the Lutheran Campus Ministry at Ohio State University.

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