Pastor Travis’ statement following the Club Q shooting

Dear friends,

Fear, hate and violence have again reared their ugly heads in our community of Colorado Springs. We mourn with the victims of the shooting at Club Q, and especially grieve with the LGBTQ+ community who appear to be the targets of the violence. They have suffered so much in our country and their safe places shattered by these heinous acts. May God protect, comfort and heal.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, when our Lord our Savior became a victim himself of fear, hate and violence. On the cross Jesus held up a mirror to our world and the cancers that infect us. Jesus showed us that the God of love does not inflict violence but rather enters into our suffering and stands with those who are hurting the most.

Today, God and God’s church stand with the families mourning the dead and those nursing wounds from last night’s shooting. And today we remember that our God wasn’t only a victim on the cross, but suffered fear, hate and violence in order to overcome and defeat these enemies in the resurrection.

So, we pray for transformation of our world and resurrection from all ways of death. We trust that God stands with all who suffer and hurt today.

Lord have mercy…

-Pastor Travis

Fourth Quarter Financial Update

We had excellent Ministry Gatherings and an annual meeting last week.
It is clear to me that the congregation is excited and supportive of our minis-
tries. The 2023 budget passed overwhelmingly. The congregation elected Jason
Fox, Larry Bagley and Terry Hjelkrum to serve on Council for the next three
years. I am so appreciative of the excitement and energy around our ministries.
There is a lot of momentum, and we are making a difference in people’s lives.
Thank you for your support and trust.

Now we turn our attention to the current year and our need to finish strong in fulfilling our commitment to funding First Lutheran’s ministries. You should have received your third quarter financial statement where I shared with you that we are about $128,000 behind expenses for the year. We typically see a decline in giving in the third quarter, but this year’s was exceptional and will require our attention as we finish the year. In the next three months we will need to raise $651,193.00 to cover the deficit and fully fund ministry in the 4th quarter. Here’s how we can do that. First, I’ve asked the staff to tighten up expenses and forgo some of the plans we had (for example we won’t be sending out a newsletter to the Old North End this quarter). This will help, but before we do anything more consequential, I want to come to you to see what you might be willing to do. My family has thought through this ourselves and determined what steps we will take. We had already planned to increase our giving by $200 per month for next year and now we will begin that increase this month. In addition, we are going to give a donation of $500 to contribute to the efforts to finish strong. Would you consider joining us in something similar that makes sense to your family income and budget?

I believe in this ministry and am determined to move forward rather than cut back, if possible. God is using First Lutheran to bring people to faith, help those in need and serve as an example to the larger church that our best days remain ahead of us. We are a bright spot in the post pandemic church landscape as a healthy and vibrant congregation. We have a reputation in the city for being generous and mission minded. Our children and youth are learning to follow Jesus and serve as ambassadors of Christ. I think the world needs more, not less, of what is happening here at First Lutheran. I’m confident that we will meet this challenge as we have done in the past. It may be a bit harder because of inflation, but First Lutheran has a history of beating the odds and surprising with generosity. I’ll keep you updated as we go forward. Thank you for your excitement and engagement with this ministry. Let’s finish strong!

If you’d like to give online, click here!

-Pastor Travis

Beating the Bounds…and drinking coffee

Thursday, May 13 various times and locations
Pastor Travis and Pastor Carrie

We know that the church seems to have lots of peculiar traditions in many different places and we would like to embrace one of those old traditions with a new modern-day approach. The “beating the bounds,” is a tradition with a 600+ year history. A procession of church dignitaries and parishioners mark the borders of their parish by walking them and hitting marker stones with willow wands on the day of the Ascension. Now, Pastor Travis and I are not big into lashing stone with willow wands… But can we come by for a quick coffee and a bite to eat.

When I was growing up it seemed like we always had friends and family dropping in for a quick cup of coffee, or my mom was stopping at someone else’s place for a quick cup. It wasn’t ever anything fancy, more just dropping in to say hello because we were in the neighborhood. I wonder what happened to that tradition? I know that it seems everyone is always on the go, with somewhere to be, but have we lost some connectedness in our rush to always get to the next scheduled thing?

So, to honor this old tradition of the “beating the bounds”, Pastor Travis and I would like to “beat the bounds” of our parish and have a drink and a bite with you. In one-day we will travel to Monument, Briargate, Widefield, Manitou Springs and end in our church neighborhood to spending about an hour or so at a local spot sipping and noshing with our members who live near that particular boundary of our parish!

May 13, 2021
Monument 8 – 9 a.m. Coffee Cup Café (breakfast) 251 Front St., Suite #6

Briargate 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Mission Coffee Roasters (coffee & pastry) 11641 Ridgeline Dr, 80921

Powers Corridor 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Rock Bottom Brewery (lunch stop) 3316 Cinema Point, 809223

S. Academy 1 – 2 p.m. Black Bear Coffee and Tea (post-lunch coffee) 975 N Academy Blvd, 80909

Manitou Springs 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. Amanda’s Fonda (chips & dip) 3625 W Colorado Ave, 80904

Westside 4 – 5:30 p.m. View House (Happy Hour) 7114 Campus Dr, 80920

FLC Neighborhood 6 – 7 p.m. Good Neighbors’ Meeting House 505 E Columbia St, 80907

From the Pastor – Council Votes to Open Sanctuary

I am pleased to share the news that the Council has voted to open the Sanctuary to worship beginning April 11. There will, of course, be new protocols to follow as we ease our way out of the pandemic, but we feel that things have improved enough to allow for this step. God has protected us during this time and taught us a great deal about what it means to follow Him in times of hardship. I pray we will return stronger in our faith, more committed to one another and more agile in our discipleship.

Here is the plan for resuming worship in the Sanctuary:

Schedule: Sundays, 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., worship only.
Rationale – We aren’t sure how many people will take advantage of worship or how the size of our congregation has changed during the pandemic. If we find that demand is more than capacity, we will add a service. We won’t have education in person as it puts people in the building longer, and children and their parents are less likely to have received the vaccine. Sunday School and the Adult Seminar will continue online. We will also continue Wednesday Night LIGHT worship at 7 p.m. outdoors when weather allows and indoors otherwise. We will continue to provide online worship.

Protocols: Masks are required, 45-minute service, communion in seats, reservations required, coffee served outside. Cleaning between services. Singing is allowed. Bathroom use is allowed, but only one person at a time. We’ll have a simplified bulletin, a smaller cadre of volunteers and use the hymnal. Nursery will be staffed and held in the Gathering Place.

Capacity: Approximately 100. We’ll do reservations by pews. We have 34 pews and are planning to do staggered seating. So, individuals and couples can be on either end of every other pew and larger families can be in the center of the other pews. No one will be seated directly in front or behind anyone else so that most people are properly distanced. Reservations are required, but if someone shows up without a reservation, and we have room, they will be allowed.
Rationale – Many of our members have received vaccination, and a majority will have access by the middle of April. We chose the week after Easter since we typically have lower attendance that Sunday and likely won’t be put in a situation of turning people away. We recognize that this will be a learning experience, and we will likely have to make several adjustments. It’s also probably likely that at the point we figure it out, we won’t need to have any restrictions and can set a new regular schedule of worship. 😊

Reservations: We will begin taking reservations next Wednesday, March 17. Reservations can be made using the form that will be emailed to the congregation that day or by calling the church office.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your patience. We are in this together and will figure it out together. I’m so proud of this congregation for holding together and weathering this storm in unity. The end is in sight. May God bless and guide us through this next chapter and transition.

-Pastor Travis

On the Brink – Wednesday Sermon Series: Joshua 24

March 3, 2021
On the Brink
Joshua 24

Today we start a new series as we return to Wednesday worship. We’re calling it “On the Brink, stories from the edge.” The idea is to look through scripture for those moments of significant transition. Times when Israel or an individual was on the brink of something new. What can we learn from scripture about these times of great transition?

We are on the brink now as the pandemic comes to a close and we anticipate opening the building again. We know that things have changed, there is no going back to normal or the way it was. There’s too much water under the bridge for that and we’ve experienced too much, learned too much. When we return to indoor worship and see our whole congregation face to face again it won’t be the same congregation. People have died, people have left, new people have joined, babies have been born. And we’ve all been changed in ways that will take years to fully be revealed. We’ve undergone something together but also independently. And it will take some time to fully realize how it has affected us. My wife is now fully vaccinated, and she was sharing with me that when she was at the gym someone started working out next to her. Even though she was fully vaccinated she still felt discomfort, even as she told herself it was ok. We’ve been through a lot and it’s taken a toll. We will need to be intentional about thinking through and naming the ways we’ve been changed.

Today, we turn to Joshua on the brink of new life in the promised land to learn a bit on how to move into something new. Joshua and Israel had been through a lot together. Just think a bit about their history. Joshua, the son of Nun, was sent by Moses along with eleven other spies 40 years prior to go scope out the promised land. When they returned, only he and Caleb were confident they could take the land. They had faith when the other ten had fear. Joshua was outvoted and the result was 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Do you know how hard it must have been to be outvoted on such a significant issue and yet stay with your people? Not only did Joshua stay, but he became a warrior and leader for the nation of Israel. When they came against enemies, it was Joshua in the trenches leading the charge. When they crossed over into the promised land and faced formidable foes who outnumbered them, it was Joshua who led them to victory after victory. Yet Joshua never took credit, he always gave that to God, knowing that any victory they achieved was by God’s grace.

Joshua led Israel into battle, into war. I wonder how many friends Joshua lost in those battles. I wonder how many wounded veterans were in the crowd that gathered to hear Joshua’s last speech before he died? That’s when this speech takes place. Joshua was very old, the battles had been won, although more would be fought. Joshua had led Israel over the Jordan into the promised land and fought to subdue it. He then divvied up the land among the tribes, casting lots, deciding the future of families and nations. But then before they are too settled in this new land and before the memories of the wilderness had faded Joshua gathers all the tribes before him for some final instructions. Some on the Brink instructions before he dies. What would you tell a people who had been through so much together? What would you want them to remember, what points would you press home? Joshua has a long memory and what he wants Israel to know is all the ways God was there for them. He takes them back all the way to Abraham, before the wars, before Jericho, before the quail and manna, before the spy adventure, before the red sea, before the 400 years of slavery, before Jacob and Isaac. All the way back to that moment when Abraham was called out of the blue by God and led to the promised land. Then step by step Joshua tells the history of how God gave the promised land, rescued them from Egypt parted the seas, fed them from heaven, gave them victory over opponents and restored them to the Promised land. I can see them nodding their heads, especially as he recounted the things they had personally experienced. Remember crossing the Jordan river and God piled up the water on one side so we could cross over? Remember looking at the walls of Jericho and thinking we didn’t have a chance? Remember marching around the whole city while they jeered at us and attacked us? Remember when God brought the walls down at the sound of the trumpets? I imagine mothers and fathers taking their sons and daughters by the shoulders as Joshua talked – urging them to pay attention. It must have been a stirring speech because when Joshua comes to the end, comes to the point he wants to press home, the crowd shouted in response. Joshua asks them to choose this day whom you will serve, knowing the temptations all around them to serve other gods. “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” And the crowd responds in kind, we will too. Even when Joshua casts doubt on their acclamation, saying they are unable to serve the Holy God and he will surely punish them if they go after false gods. They shout again, “NO, we will serve the Lord.” And they do for a generation or so as they make their home in the promised land. They serve God for awhile but then their children forget, and their children’s children go their own way.

That’s why it’s so important to tell the story, to retell the history of God. And so, I wonder as we are on the brink now, ready to move out of pandemic life into something new. What do we want to remember? What story will we tell? What do we want our kids and our grand kids and all those who come after us to remember? It was a year ago when we moved online, before we even moved outdoors, and I was full of fear. I worried that people would stop giving and that we would have to downsize staff. I imagined the conversations I would be having to tell people that we couldn’t pay them anymore. I worried about our outreach partners, that we wouldn’t be able to support them anymore. Could we continue to feed the hungry, house the homeless, foster children? But then week after week, like manna from heaven, you continued to give and support this ministry. God provided. I want to remember that, how God provided for us when things were bleak. I want to remember how the people at First Lutheran were faithful and supportive during the darkest night. I want to remember that we were able to worship without a sanctuary or pews. Hundreds of faithful members of First Lutheran have worshiped in their homes, on their decks, in their bathrobes and pajamas with coffee in their hands. When someone complains about the color of the carpet in the sanctuary or their pew has been taken by a guest, I want us to tell the story about the time we worshiped outside of the four walls of the sanctuary. How we were still moved by the gospel and touched by the music, when the pandemic kept us at home. I want us to remember that God was working, that the Spirit was active. Talk about the new members who joined our church and still haven’t been inside the walls of the sanctuary. Talk about the people who found us online, the Selleck family in Maine, Thim Liu in Malaysia, Russ and Donna in Florida. Tell the story of our home bound who rejoiced at the opportunity to return to worship through online services. Tell the story of how our people came together as a congregation to baptize, confirm, marry and bury, all without the building that can so easily become an idol. So that when we have the building back, future generations never confuse the building with the church.

People of God, we have been through something together and we will bear the scars for the rest of our lives. The scars of isolation, the scars of fear. The grief over the ones we’ve lost, especially those who died from Covid. Let’s never forget Dennis Kruse or Don Niles. Even as recently as last week we mourn with Darrel Shafer who lost his mother to Covid. We will bear the scars of the political division during last year that took its toll on our unity and we lost a few friends in that conflict. I pray those scars and this shared experience will strengthen us for the days ahead. Soon this time will be behind us and the old temptations will return. But let’s tell the stories of God’s faithfulness. Let’s remind each other, not only of the hardships but of the way we got through it together. Let’s be like Joshua and commit ourselves to the Lord and charge others to do the same. We are still in this, but not for much longer.

We are on the brink, not of returning to normal, but of entering something new. Choose today how you will come out on the other side. Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.


COVID-19 Update from the Pastor

Council has met to discuss our ongoing response to the covid-19 pandemic. The council has begun developing a plan for reopening that will reflect the scientific data from the El Paso County health dashboard. The council has determined that the sanctuary will remain closed to worship through Easter. We are hopeful, however, that soon after Easter, we will be able to return to indoor worship in some capacity if the trend downward continues.

We are in a very interesting time where many people have received vaccines and feel personally safe to return to more crowded venues. However, faith leaders, including myself, are not eligible for a vaccine until March 5. As our pastors and worship leaders get vaccinated and more and more of the congregation receives vaccines and the trend lines of the pandemic push downward I am confident that we will return to indoor worship this spring. We do need to keep an eye out for the variants of the virus and the possibility of another surge which would necessitate delaying a little longer. But, all in all, the end is in sight.

It’s helpful to me, when I get impatient, to look at the numbers. In February we had an incident rate of 125.5 and a positivity rate of 5.97%. Last August we were lower than that with an incident rate of 34.6 and a positivity rate of 4.53. Now that was before we had vaccines, but it does remind me that while we are lower relative to the peak in December, we are still higher than many other points during the pandemic. But we’re going the right direction.

Given the decline and turn to Yellow on the dial, we have decided to return to outdoor in-person worship on Sundays at 11:00 a.m. and Wednesdays at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m weather permitting. We will still provide online worship and are committed to that being a permanent feature of our ministry. The outdoor Sunday worship will be live and not a watch party like we did last year. In addition, we are allowing small groups to return to meeting in person as long as they wear masks and their numbers do not exceed 50% of the room capacity in which they meet. I pray these small measures will give us some comfort as we endure the waiting till we can resume worship in the sanctuary.

Thank you for understanding and hanging with your congregation during these trying times.

-Pastor Travis

Pastor Hank is Retiring…. Again

He came to First Lutheran a retired pastor and was quickly hired to assist with visitation and grief counseling. Through the years he has helped many of our members during the darkest times of their lives as they cope with the loss of lifelong partners. He has visited the homebound and brought comfort and the good news of the gospel to those isolated by illness. He became a regular preacher in the rotation for the Saturday night service. In addition to his official duties he has offered counsel and example to the younger pastors still in the middle of their working years.

Pastor Hank has worked long beyond what anyone would have expected. He will continue to volunteer at First, but wants the freedom to be even more active pursuing his hobbies and activities with his wife, Sally. We are sorry to see him go, but fully understand that the time has come. We are grateful he will continue to be seen around the congregation serving as we all do, at our leisure.

I asked Pastor Carrie to share some thoughts and she writes of Pastor Hank “Pastor Hank has always been one who is quietly productive, a straight shooter, willing to step in and take the lead whenever called upon. He and Sally often worshipped together at the Saturday evening service where they were loved by those who regularly attended. He is a gifted storyteller which made for easy listening to sermons that were often filled with depth and character from his years of experience in the parish and in the great outdoors. Pastor Hank has gifts in listening and hearing people, he is relational and combined with his education and intelligence he provided counseling which lead many to relief in their lives and deep gratitude for Pastor Hank.”

Pastor Hank will complete his work the end of December. I invite the congregation to send in cards with notes of personal appreciation prior to his departure. We’ll set aside some time in worship to thank him and share these notes.

God has richly blessed First Lutheran with men and women of considerable talent and generosity in sharing their gifts. Pastor Hank is at the top of that list and for him we give thanks to God.

-Pastor Travis

Covid-19 Update from the Pastor

As the coronavirus continues to spike in our country, I’m beginning to get word of members who are sick with the disease, and one is currently hospitalized. It’s been heartening to hear that relief is on the way in the form of at least three effective vaccines. But we know it will take time to receive that relief and in the meantime, people are getting sick some to the point of hospitalization and even death. Our hearts go out to all who are suffering from this pandemic, both those who suffer physically and economically.

Our county has moved the Covid-19 dial to Red or “Severe Risk.” Not many weeks ago this was the most severe category, but they have since added a Purple or “Extreme Risk” category that will basically be a shut down. What does this mean for the church? While we will continually review and update our policy, we have decided to take the following actions effective Friday, November 27.

· The church building is closed to small groups.

· The church building is closed to 12-step groups.

· The church building is closed except by appointment.

· Only essential church staff will work from the church building and only as necessary. All persons entering the building must be wearing a cloth mask, and that mask is to be worn whenever they are interacting with any other person or in a shared space.
-Receptionist and Sextons must wear a cloth/paper mask at all times since they work in shared spaces.
-Face shields may be used in addition but not as a replacement for a cloth or disposable paper mask.

· We will hold our 3:15 p.m. outdoor Sunday Advent services. The current restrictions limit us to 75 people. So, the grounds will be closed to everyone after the 75-person threshold. Everyone needs to make a reservation through the online sign-up form.

· Funerals, weddings, baptisms and other life rites will be held outdoors or postponed for now.

· We will no longer use volunteers for church activities. Staff will cover counting, folding, setting up etc.

· The only exemptions to these restrictions will be in the case of recording needs to provide online worship services for the congregation.

Please continue to pray for an end to the pandemic. And please continue to do your part as good Christian citizens, to serve your neighbor and take action to minimize the spread of this disease. We have tough months ahead of us, but the good news is that it is likely only a few months until this is all behind us.

-Pastor Travis

This is Grace: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Pastor Carrie Baylis
November 18, 2020
Wednesday Morning Service

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace, peace, and mercy to you from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Today our reading comes from Isaiah, that might seem like an odd choice given that we are in the midst of sharing stories of grace, but grace can be found in Old Testament God and I like to think I came across it in Isaiah.
The books of the prophets are sometimes difficult to read, they warned of disastrous circumstances when people didn’t follow God and sometimes presented cold, hard pictures of God, but those harsh images are also balanced with sections of God’s mercy. They worked hard to get the attention of people and remind them of God’s truth. Isaiah is a long book that spans a time of over 200 years, speaking to different people in different times and places. The first 39 chapters are addressed to people who disobey God, chapters 40-55 are meant for people who have been taken or removed from their homes and the final 11 chapters are for people returning to their homes. Today’s reading comes from the 43rd chapter, just preceding this reading you have to understand that God “gave up Jacob” (42:24). God poured out on God’s chosen people the heat of divine judgment, burning them with the fire of war (42:25). Forsaken, brutalized, and conquered, God’s people became prisoners in foreign lands, where no one, not even God, would claim them. No one would speak for them and say, “They are mine, give them back to me, free my people” (42:22). The new divine word — “But now” — breaks the devastating silence that haunted God’s people through generations in exile. The new word announces an end to judgment and proclaims the promise of life from captivity and death. And so the 43rd chapter begins:

Isaiah 43: 1-7
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

This is the transcendent God whose word created all that is good (Genesis 1). This is also God the potter, intimately present with God’s creatures — who formed humankind from the clay of the earth and breathed God’s own spirit of life into the being (Genesis 2:7). This God will declare to Israel, “I shaped you for myself” (Isaiah 43:21). Like the book of Genesis, Isaiah moves from a panoramic view of God’s universal providence to focus on the radical particularity of God’s love for Israel.

And so in these verses God speaks to God’s people not like a king on a throne pronouncing an edict, but like a lover whose heart is bursting, who has waited an eternity just to say their name. The people of ancient Israel and Judah needed to hear divine judgment against injustice just as the church does today, but also need to hear reassurance of divine love, protection, and presence. This passage from the second series in Isaiah speaks tender, encouraging and empowering words to those who faced uncertainty. It provokes images of divine love and care, it brings grace into a time and place where hurt and separation had been, it brings the people home, not just to a physical space, but into God’s safe care, as God’s people.

In the 5th and 6th verses the extent of God’s call is described in the use of all four directions, showing the wide range that God casts upon his community, that the nature of his call is to come and join the community, sons and daughters from all ends of the earth and echoes back to creation, when all things were formed. And throughout this call to God’s people, we can’t suggest or promise that God will protect us from all danger, but that both the people of the time and place of the prophet and the contemporary church today are assured of God’s presence along our journey. God’s protection is his grace scattered upon us, within us, and shared. We should be so brave as to look at how God led the community back home in Isaiah, where he walked with them on their journey, assured them that “you are mine” and still today we can declare the same for ourselves and for each other. When God led the people Israel home it wasn’t without its’ dangers or fears, and they went on to perform God’s mission, thousands of years later we have the same assurance through the prophets and through the new covenant of Jesus Christ that God remains steadfast and present with us, and works through the church despite the dangers, despairs and disagreements we might face. The church can do its work because God is present and calls us by name.

Listen brothers and sisters, listen to hear him call you by name and awakening you to the grace of God? Awakening to the grace of God, I love that phrase. In the first verse of our reading the words “do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” That might be all the grace that we need to know from God so that we too can live out our calling as the church. It brings us to the baptismal promise that God forgives us, that salvation is ours and that no matter where I am in my own journey of faith, God is present and has called me by name. This passage reads like a love song that God is singing to each one of us, that God’s commitment to us is greater than anything else that the world might have or bring.

In a time in history when so many people are discouraged with work, home, life, and church, let this word from God be healing, enriching, and startlingly attractive. God is present, he is with you and for you, and he calls you by name.

This is Grace: Acts 11

Pastor Carrie Baylis
November 4, 2020
Wednesday Morning Service

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace, peace and mercy to you from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Years ago Monk and I went to Israel on a trip with the seminary. One of the things that is pretty typical on these tours a taking a “Jesus Boat” out onto the Sea of Galilee. We got to Tiberius and went down to the port and the boat was waiting. It was built out of wood and was rocking back and forth. I stared at it trying to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad. It was getting closer to my turn to step on. Finally one of the crew took my hand and helped me down the step. I lasted about 30 seconds and said I have to get off or I’m going to be sick. With me about 4 others stepped off. I wonder about the fisherman of Jesus day. I would bet that their boat was not nearly as sturdy as the one I exited, and certainly didn’t have a motor. Fishermen were manly men, men of action, afraid of little and they worked in the toughest of conditions. Some of these simple fishers would leave their nets and follow Jesus, Peter, imperfectly perfect, was one of them.

Peter, who might have one of the greatest redemption stories of the bible.

In the synoptic gospels Peter was identified as the first disciple called on by Jesus, and in the book of Luke it paints a picture of him and Jesus having a moment of trust and understanding at the very beginning of their relationship. A trust that would serve them time and again when Peter faltered. In that first encounter Jesus tells Peter to go back out on the sea and cast his nets and then when the nets are filled with fish Peter comes back to him and declares his sinful state and gives glory to the Lord before him by falling to his knees and exclaiming, “‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’”. Yet Jesus looked at this wicked man and said, “‘Don’t be afraid;

from now on you will fish for people.’” And it is then that he leaves his nets behind to become a fisher of men. In this moment Peter laid his sin before God, not feeling worthy of just the fish in his net, but as he bears his sin Jesus lifts him up, and calls him to serve as a fisher of men. This is grace.

Peter is far from perfect, he goes with Jesus as a disciple, and while he makes mistakes Jesus continues to love Peter wholeheartedly, and he uses him in the kingdom work. Peter goes on to make proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah (despite that Jesus may not have been ready for the declaration), he is witness to the transfiguration (if seeing is believing then Peter had a front row seat). Jesus holds him close, perhaps it reminds us that even Jesus needed a close knit circle to hold confidence with, to be in relationship with, and that even when those confidences were broken Jesus would continue to love, with no partiality. Jesus desires close relationships just as we do, and he held those with normal, everyday people, and he continues to do with each of us today. Jesus took this man who by all accounts was a simple fisherman and sinful by his own claim and loved him with no conditions and many reasons not to, giving us the assurance that he can do this for us as well.

Peter grew in maturity as a follower of Jesus his spiritual maturity and even integrity wasn’t fully developed from the time he met Jesus but continues to grow as he learns more about himself, about Jesus, and about the world around him beyond just the Sea of Galilee. Peter was eager to have a mighty faith, but was sometimes leary of the path to get there, he would falter, which seems to have been expected. Jesus called him to walk on the sea, to keep his eyes on Jesus, he (understandably) begins to doubt, he gets nervous, fear sets in and Peter begins to sink. Later as Jesus fortells of his death, Peter is exasperated and cries “Never Lord” sometimes I think maybe that Peter just didn’t have an inner monologue? He is doesn’t ever seem to be ready for the things that Jesus is going to tell him or ask of him. I wonder if he ever wanted to just say, “can I get back to you, or can I have a day to think about it?” And then as Jesus is arrested and heading towards trial and ultimately death, Peter denies knowing him, three times. Jesus had already told Peter this would happen saying “I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you , when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” I wonder if in his denial Peter calculated, or did he just respond with that fight or flight response to save himself and deny knowing Jesus, his friend. Sometimes I feel like I get Peter, he seems to be unsure or wavering or in an effort to do the right thing he muddies it up with some other perception of what the right thing is. Fortunately for Peter, and for us, Jesus sees through our uncertainties, our iniquities, and brings us back to him in ways that we might not even know are the work of our Savior. Jesus told Peter before the denial that he prayed for him, that power of prayer, might have be unknown to Peter, but it is a grace that brings him back into ministry and to strengthen those around him, just as Jesus said it would. Jesus love for Peter never faltered, even when Peter did.

And at the ascension, Peter is restored and forgiven and becomes the spokesperson for the apostles. 30 years of kingdom work sharing Jesus message. Showing maturity in leading a Spirit led life where even when we stumble there is room get up.

Peter showed the world that Jesus is for them, for ALL.

After Jesus death and resurrection and ascension Peter continued in his discipleship. He went to Caesarea and there after a dream he was directed to meet Cornelius who had also had a vision and had sent men to bring Peter to him.

Peter went to the house of Cornelius, a gentile, after being summoned, and was invited to share all that the Lord has commanded. Peter shares with them his story and then says to them “‘if God gave them the same gift of the Holy Spirit he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’” And in response to Peter’s faithfulness the Jewish Christians respond, by having “no further objections and praised God saying, ‘So then, even to the Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’”

God wanted to be sure the whole world knew that when He gave His life for all, He meant for all. And He used Peter to make this clear, to show us just how big His love is and just how capable His grace is—that it can forgive the sins of all and give all everlasting life. For as Romans 3:22-24 states, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

At least at this particular moment, this is the essence of the gospel for Peter: the local efforts of Jesus to heal amongst his neighbors take on a universal significance with the resurrection. In this way, Jesus shatters the distinction between the local and the universal, the provincial and the all-encompassing.

Were we to understand our faith in a nutshell, what theological elements would remain as most essential? Were we to tell a simple story of Jesus’ deeds and his person, what would we say?

Of course, our answers may depend on the context of our confession of faith. Peter’s gospel story or understanding emerges from a specific series of experiences full of significance. From the three-fold vision that led him to Cornelius to the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, Peter must express the gospel in a world radically changed before his eyes. This sounds familiar to those of us who have had to grapple with change, whether tragic or wonderful. Whether as an effect of loss or gain, our lives change, and the gospel must respond. This text reminds us that in the midst of change, the Christian’s instinct ought to be to restate anew the living word of God and to remember that God is the ultimate actor who has moved ahead of the church to embrace all of the world’s people. God is a God of grace and it seems we are still trying to catch up.

Peter stumbling doesn’t remove his identity in Christ.

As we are learning to catch up we remember that we are made in the image of God, and in that we are also one with Christ. As a disciple Peter made a decision to follow Jesus, to learn from

him, seeking to be Christ-like in his life. In the time that Jesus was with Peter his first words to him were “follow me” and I suspect with great intention his final words to him were also “follow me”. Between those first and last words all of the ministry that Peter accompanied Jesus with happened, and also Peter’s denial of even knowing Jesus. Jesus who was brought to earth to understand our failures and trials, understands our weakness and could forgive Peter, again understanding what it is to be imperfectly perfect.

It was also in this in between time that Jesus reminded Peter of his identity, and told him that the church would be built upon the rock. And I wonder where are the places that Jesus reminds us of our identity in him, how do we continue to build the church upon the rock? Just as it was for Peter we are gifted with forgiveness when we fail, but also just as Peter our relationship with Jesus continues to mature and Jesus continues to say “follow me”.

Peter’s story is one of coming to faith through stumbling over and over again. For every time that Peter stumbles I can think of a time in my own life where I have stumbled, sometimes in doubting that my faith is strong enough, sometimes in doubting that I am worthy of God’s grace, sometimes in hiding the truth for protection or out of fear. Like Peter I too am imperfectly perfect. But here I am, a child of God, forgiven and chosen, called and sent, living as a disciple in a world that still needs to know God is with us and in us, overflowing with grace, and that even though we are imperfect, our perfect lies in him. Amen

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