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.

Amen?

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

The Church has Issues: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-17

Pastor Travis Norton
14 October 2020
Wednesday AM worship

We’re finishing up our series on the Church has issues this morning. Today we go to the church in Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia in Greece. We believe that these letters to the new Christians in Thessalonica are the oldest books in the new testament. Paul traveled through Macedoniain the 40s and likely wrote this letter in 50 A.D. You can tell Paul had a special fondness for this churchmaybe because it was among the first that he planted on his missionary journeys. I know as a pastor I have a special connection to the first church I served, Our Redeemer’s in Helena, Montana. Mostly because they knew me as a 26-year-old pastor who made a lot of mistakes which they met with patience and grace. Paul is pastoring the Thessalonians from afar and through his associate Timothy. But even though he has a special place in his heart for them, or maybe because he does, he writes to correct them on some of their issues. As he does with all the churches he writes to, he urges them to be holy, to begin to live as Christians, set apart from the world around them. We’ve talked about that a lot in this series, most of Paul’s letters are heavy in the theme of sanctification. We are saved by God’s grace, but we are saved for God’s work and witness which asks us to live holy lives, free from sin. To the Thessalonian’s, the two main issues Paul addresses is their sex lives and their work lives. As for their sex lives, he tells them that they can’t be promiscuous like the gentiles, they are not to sleep around. In 1 Thessalonians 4:4 he says, each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion like the gentiles who do not know God, that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this manner. We could do a whole series on sexual ethics, rooted in this passage that sex not be used to exploit others for our own benefit. Christian sex is meant to serve our spouses and not ourselves, a lesson believers and unbelievers still need to hear today. The second issue that Paul addresses is the work life of the Thessalonians. In chapter 4 of 1Thessalonians, he says that they should “aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands as we directed you.” I think the whole of the protestant work ethic is contained in that verse. Mind your own business, work with your hands. What is that phrase, idleness is the devil’s plaything/workshop? Paul really gets after this issue in his second letter. He tells them to stay awayfrom those who don’t work, who are being idle. Having nothing to do with them. If they aren’t going to work, they shouldn’t eat. Everyone should earn their own living. Now, we have to be quick to saybecause this passage has been misused politically over the years, Paul is not talking about people who can’t work because of disability, illness or circumstance. Paul is not saying that we shouldn’t help those who are poor, unemployed or in need. Paul is talking about people who choose not to work and because of that choice become busybodies who have nothing better to do than disrupt the community. One of the issues was that some believed that Jesus’ return was right around the corner, they thought the end of the world was at hand, so they quit their jobs to wait for Jesus to come back. And once they quit their jobs, they all of a sudden had a lot of free time to fill up. Apparently, they used that free timeto bother the rest of the community, and cause problems. We don’t know exactly what they did, but it was bothersome enough for Paul to tell the community to bar these people from Holy Communion. Although Paul does say that they should still be treated as believers, as members of the community. But they shouldn’t be allowed to eat with the community if they aren’t contributing and only causing trouble. Paul wants the busybodies to be ashamed of their actions and change their ways, go back to work and reenter the community. The goal of all of this is a church where everyone contributes, where everyone is helping to build up the community. So that the church can help believers grow in holinessand then be an example to the community. So, others might come to faith in Jesus. I wonder what the lesson is for us. We don’t have many people who quit their jobs just to cause trouble at the church. We may have people who don’t carry their own weight, although we don’t’ really try to identify them. I know many of us were surprised when we looked at the giving chart of our communityhow the greatest giving to this ministry was done by a relatively small number of people. I think there is something about what Paul is saying that would urge us to contribute to the good of the ministry, to carry our own weight. I remember being counseled early on by a Pastor saying that he’d discovered that those who complain the loudest about the church often give the least, if at all. I know I’ve found that to be true in terms of volunteering. Someone will come to me with a complaint but when I ask if they willvolunteer to help solve the issue, they suddenly become very quiet. And I will be honest that I tend to give greater weight to the critiques of those who serve and support the church than those who don’t. We aren’t meant to be mere consumers of the ministry the church offers. We are meant to be producers of the ministry as well as recipients. So, we must all ask what we can do to make this congregation strong and healthy so we can share God’s word with the world. In our giving, in our volunteering, in the words of encouragement we offer. Even coming to worship at 9am on a Wednesday is an encouragement to those of us who put forth the effort to create this service. Our singing, our prayers, our attendance are all important ways of showing support. Most of what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians show up in lines like verse 4. “We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command.” I would like to echo Paul’s words that you are already doing what is needed for this congregation. You are supporting the ministry with your gifts of time, talent and treasure. When we proposed the Peel house project you overwhelmingly supported it. When we ask for donations for the hungry, you exceed our goals. When we need volunteers to deliver bags to the congregation, we had more volunteers than we needed (I say that because we’ll be asking again for Advent ����.) When the coronavirus forced us out of the sanctuary, you continued to adapt and pivot and support the new ways we are worshipping.So, all I can really say is keep it up. Keep doing what you are doing and watch how God uses it to bless others. We are seeing new people come to the church, people passing by on Cascade seeing us worshipare now joining us and becoming part of the community. We don’t have to do something crazy or out of the ordinary we just need to keep being the church. Keep working on getting stronger, more united, more faithful. Keep learning and practicing the ways of Jesus, keep identifying and repenting of our sin. Keep worshipping and growing, don’t be idle but be active in doing the work of God and watch as God continues to bless and grow this congregation for the sake of our neighbors and the sake of the world.Thanks be to God.

The Church has Issues: Colossians 2:6-3:1

Pastor Carrie Baylis
7 October 2020
Wednesday AM worship
Do Not be Led Astray

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

The question I asked myself when reading and studying this text, especially in the understanding that “the church has issues” is: What does this letter urge the church to believe to hope for, and to do?  And like all the weeks before us, it is amazing how we find ourselves in the same place thousands of years later looking at how we can live fully into the body of Christ without letting the “outside” world distract us, or misguide us, or lead us astray.   

Our faith shall not lead us astray like the world will.  

This letter was written to the people of the city of Colossae who were stretched beyond just the faith and belief of Jesus Christ as the full embodiment of God.  The possibility of religious syncretism was perhaps stronger here than anywhere else in Paul’s world.  (Judaism, local religions, standard pagan cults, gentiles) they could be considered people of a multiethnic church. Throughout the city some were judging others for not following certain dogmatic ideas and self-abasing practices.  There was more than just a faith towards God, but a looking towards authorities and rulers who provide philosophies and promises through practices and beliefs that are not of God, but of human tradition and ideas and that promised good life and needs being met if they put their faith there. 

As Paul heard of this call to faith in people and promises other than in Christ and God the father his response in writing to the people was to urges them to be rooted in the Messiah, in whom the “entire fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Since they too have “come to fullness” in this Messiah — having been baptized into his crucifixion and resurrection — they need not be “dogmatized” by any self-appointed “authorities and rulers” who seek to undermine their faith. 

What might it look like to undermine one’s faith?   

I will venture so far as to say that you can pick up a paper, turn on the news or answer a robocall these days and probably pick out a handful of different places where our faith is undermined by a call to serve the interests of things that are not of God, but of economy, loyalty and tradition. 

Paul warns to beware of anyone who would trap you with deceptive philosophies that strip your experience of life’s fullness and value — whether based on human tradition or ideas about the universe. The writer here is not attacking “philosophy” per se, but rather beliefs and practices (which in this case are clearly spiritual and religious) that are not rooted in the Messiah, those that might undermine one’s faith. 

Looking a little more closely, however, there is another threat to the church, a threat that has been common to the human condition ever since we failed to live our lives in the image of God and embraced earthly/human images instead. While idolatry doesn’t get named until chapter 3, the rhetoric of the argument in chapter two indicates that idolatry is in the author’s sights. Remembering to always read the New Testament with Old Testament eyes, an argument that dismisses an opposing worldview as “empty deceit”, mere “shadow” without substance, a “human tradition”, and a “human way of thinking”? It speaks to our OT understanding of idolatry and reminds us substance is of God. 

So today I invite you to consider the idolatries that continue to have a deathly grip on our lives. Might we need to name something like the financial markets of the global economy as a “shadow” without substance? If our identity is “in Christ,” might it be time to recognize all patriotic nationalism as a “human way of thinking”? Might we need to see where we are living into empty and deceitful practices that don’t provide for the least and the lost, but allow us the self-indulgence of helping the “other” through a self-imposed piety or humility. 

One of the text studies I read this week suggested that this text and the people of Colossae (and I believe us today) were in the midst of trying to understand competing worldviews.  Pastor Karl Jacobson from Good Shepherd in Minnesota identifies three competing views that could be summed up as opposites when trying to understand and live this text.  It includes: 

  1. Philosophy and the true word of the gospel;  
  1. empty deceit and the knowledge of God;  
  1. human tradition and spiritual wisdom and understanding. 

Philosophy is not gospel, nor are human traditions.  Even (and maybe especially) religious, church-related traditions–the same thing as spiritual wisdom or understanding that might be the toughest one for me, I love some tradition but when pressed on the spirituality of all tradition or where we find the gospel in it, I can talk until I’m blue in the face and still just be making stuff up. We don’t need to hold these things in steadfast opposition, but perhaps need to find where it is that they live into the divine reality of Christ for us. Philosophy and the gospel need not be in opposition; nor are human traditions in and of themselves hurdles to wisdom and understanding. When philosophy attacks the gospel, or human tradition, piety, dogma and patriotism becomes a burden to faith it is right to set them aside, but when they serve the church and the proclamation of the gospel they may be embraced. It is only deceit and the knowledge of God which are in pure opposition of each other. 

The tension in Colossians lies in what the governing influence in one’s life is. These opposites we speak of could also be identified as “the elemental spirits of the universe” in one column and t “the Christ,” in the other and it is here that the real tension comes to the fore. Does one orient faith and daily living according to the elemental spirits of the world, philosophy, empty deceit (whatever form that takes) and human tradition or does one orient faith and daily living according to the who fullness of God in Christ through the true word of the gospel, knowledge of God, and spiritual wisdom and understanding (which we are always learning new.)  Will we stumble, will we fall?  Yes, the church has issues, for thousands of years we are still learning to  turn towards God in Jesus Christ, to understand that our loyalties fall to God through the crucified Jesus Christ and authority comes through him, not through people of this world.   

The piece that accompanies this writing to the Colossians and really to all of Paul’s letters, is to remember that there is no embodied faith without forgiveness. When this text comes up with the regular lectionary it echos the OT, Psalm and NT readings and Colossians takes us to the place of forgiveness in the cross. Something remarkable happens at the cross. Our author doesn’t tell us exactly how this works, but at the cross, is nailed all that stood against us, all that held us guilty, all that would strip us of the fullness of embodied life.   Trespasses, transgressions, sins are forgiven and no one gets to rule us out of the kingdom again! 

And if we are to understand this text as a tract against idolatry (and empire), we need to ask today, which rulers and authorities are disarmed at the cross and paraded behind the Messiah in triumphal procession? Dare we imagine these to be our rulers? Our political, economic, military, and even ecclesiastical authority structures? Are we in the captive procession? And if that is where we find ourselves, maybe not all day, everyday, but even some of the time, we should join Paul in learning how to live a life fully embodied in Christ,  and then remembering the final verses of today’s reading, “if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Amen. 

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