“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9

I know we mostly misunderstand what heaven will be like. Most of us think we will be at the center of heaven with all our hopes and dreams and wishes. I know I often find myself dreaming about what I will have in heaven that I don’t have now. But the truth of scripture is that Jesus is at the center of heaven with his hopes and dreams and wishes. I love this line from Revelation 7. Heaven is diverse. Every nation, tribe and language are represented. There’s a great multitude that no one can count, how’s that for good news! So many people and from everywhere. That’s what God wants in his heaven. The project of earth is to conform ourselves to God’s hopes and dreams. Are we the kind of people who want heaven to be full of all kinds of people from all kinds of places? I hope I am. I hope we are.

-Pastor Travis

“They are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:24

It’s reformation Sunday this week. Some might call it Lutheran homecoming week. While we share this belief in God’s grace with all Christians we claim to hold it more fervently and close to our hearts. The idea that we are justified by grace as a gift contains the whole of our faith. To be justified is to be righteous before God, without fault or blame. To be justified is to be able to stand before God without sin. It is to belong in heaven. But all of us have sinned and don’t deserve to be in God’s presence. We have nothing of our own to offer or make us worthy. Regardless, we get to be with the Father. Jesus dies on the cross and is raised from the dead and so we get to go to heaven. The gift is given freely to us although at great cost to Jesus. How could that ever make sense. It doesn’t. Grace doesn’t make sense, but it is real and it is for you. Thanks be to God!

-Pastor Travis

“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.”
-Matthew 22:21

Where do you see the face of Jesus?  Maybe it is turning the question around from the text, but isn’t turnabout fair play? The question is posed to Jesus asking if it is fair to pay taxes to the emperor and he returns with a question asking whose picture is on the coin and whose title?  So if it is the emperor who we are dealing in cash with, then it is to the emperor who the taxes on that currency should go to. But Jesus of course takes it a step further answering the question they didn’t ask and telling them also to give to God what is God’s.

For me it draws us into the question of where do we see the face of Jesus?  Because wouldn’t that be the place then that we give back to God what is God’s? Where do we encounter the face of Jesus; I sure hope that it is in the face of all the people that we encounter remembering that we are all made in the image of God.  I hope that when we find ourselves living in abundance we give to God in gratitude for all that he has given us.  I hope that when we see others in need we give out of our generosity and gratitude.  I hope that when we find ourselves in need we are able to receive help knowing that we too are open to receiving God through the gift of others.  I hope that we find ourselves just as amazed as those who encountered Jesus that day when we remember that all we have our possessions, our time, our talents are all from God and should be returned to God in blessings and thanksgiving.

-Pastor Carrie

“Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet” Matthew 22:9

Think about how much Jesus has upended the world and challenged all of our thinking. When we throw parties we almost never invite people we don’t know. But Jesus says the party God wants to throw is meant for everyone. The parable even says that both the good and the bad are invited. I can’t think of many events in this world where the guest list is that wide open. Often we cull the list by only inviting those who can afford the ticket to the event. Or we only invite members and their guests. Or we limit the list by limiting the number of people who can attend and shutting the doors once we are full. It’s easy to see why some think heaven is like some exclusive club that only a few will ever see. But Jesus pushes against all of that kind of exclusive thinking by issuing an invitation to everyone. The church must strive to live up to his example.

-Pastor Travis

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13-14

Forgetting what lies behind is going to be hard. With this pandemic changing the world underneath our feet and presenting us with a new reality we are going to be tempted to focus on what life used to be like. But our focus should instead be on what lies ahead, we need to look where we are going. I’ve done a lot of memorial services in the past two months and they’ve got me thinking about my life and what I’m aiming for. This passage from Philippians is a call to get your goals straight, to aim for the thing that matters most. Singular focus on Christ will bring everything else into perspective.

-Pastor Travis

“For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.” Matthew 21:32

When was the last time you changed your mind about something substantial? When was the last time you let someone of less or different status than yourself, influence the way you think? Jesus is talking to the pharisees, those super religious people, when he shames them for not seeing what the sinners saw so clearly. John the Baptist was sent by God and his message was a heavenly one. The whole exchange worries me a bit. Are there things God is doing in the world now that I’m missing or dismissing? Is there a message being proclaimed from heaven that I’m too stuck in my ways to hear? How do we protect ourselves from missing out on God’s action. In part I think it’s about humility. To always hold what you think you know loosely and be willing to listen and learn from anybody, maybe especially those on the margins of society to whom God is more likely to speak. I fear becoming a pharisee. The antidote I think, is a willingness to change one’s mind. Easier said than done.

-Pastor Travis

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?’ – Matthew 20:13

It is no fun to feel like you have been wronged. That you didn’t get what you deserved, what you earned, what you worked so hard for. The workers in the field who had been there all day surely felt they should have received more than those who had only worked a part of the day or even just an hour. But that wasn’t the agreement, when they were brought to the field early in the morning they had already settled on what they would earn.

I sometimes wonder if it was really about the money. Were the workers ticked at the perception they were being treated unfairly, or were they even more upset by the unchecked mercy and grace offered by the landowner. Grace, mercy, forgiveness offered to those who were perceived as having not earned it, made the workers uncomfortable, they couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” It is that radical generosity, grace and mercy that Jesus offers to us, and I think that we find discomfort in that because we are not always good at extending it to others. Maybe this is a good season to find the places that we are uncomfortable with the last being first and first being last and extend our grace and generosity there. God doesn’t play by our rules, God doesn’t toss aside those who haven’t earned their keep, God extends his hand in grace and mercy to the least, the lost, and the last and that can be very discomforting for us all.

-Pastor Carrie

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”
Matthew 18:15

My first thought is how much I hate it when someone points out my faults! I hate making mistakes, especially when those mistakes hurt or offend someone else. I get embarrassed and angry with myself, and I vow to change. When we really mess up and someone calls us on it, we all respond differently depending on the situation and the relationship with the person who pointed it out. What’s your reflexive response? Do you get defensive and try to show how it really wasn’t wrong what you did? Do you get evasive and seek ways to get out of the conversation or change the subject? Do you go on the attack and name all the ways your accuser has messed up? Do you admit your mistake, apologize, and try to do better? Every week in worship we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. One goal of that weekly ritual is to make us ready to do the same when we sin against one another.

-Pastor Travis

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me;” -Matthew 16:23

What are your stumbling blocks these days? It’s so easy to get caught up in whatever is center stage right now; and today we’re in the middle of a pandemic, a civil rights movement, and an election season. No joke that we might find stumbling blocks in how we navigate any of those current situations. I like to think that when we look at the world through our lens of faith we find ourselves living as Christ has called us, but I’m afraid this verse holds more truth in naming that the stumbling blocks are likely each of us. In my mind it offers us two possibilities for response we can either get out of the way and let Jesus work through those who are willing to lose their life for him or we can get behind and follow him.

So often we think we have all the answers or we expect that others who we align ourselves with, who we follow, who we trust, that perhaps they will guide us over or through the stumbling blocks that keep us from a life with Christ. We’re not so different from Peter who in one breath (Matthew 16:17) is praised for his faithful confession, and in the next he is condemned for his lack of faith. Peter is not alone in this experience. Try as we might, all people fail God. All people turn away from the life our Lord offers. How will you overcome the stumbling blocks in this season to take up your cross and follow Jesus?

-Pastor Carrie

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

’ll be honest, when I think of a building with gates I think of the church. First Lutheran has a metal fence that goes all the way around it, so maybe it’s natural to think of this. So I’ve probably misread this passage from Jesus throughout the years. I’ve thought of the church as A Mighty Fortress too. But reread the verse. Who owns the gates? Who is on the defensive? Who is protecting their turf? It’s not the church. The church, it seems, is pushing against the gates of Hell. The church is the one doing the invading. Jesus has done it again, totally upended my thinking and challenged my preconceived notions. What might it mean to think of the church on the move working to overtake the defensive positions of the enemy?

-Pastor Travis

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