Fallow Time

The LORD said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.’ ” Leviticus 25:1-5

The idea of a fallow year, or year of rest for the land is an ancient one for farmers. God commands Israel to give their land a rest every seven years. No plowing or planting, no reaping. Just let the land do nothing. We know now that this is important to keep the land healthy, to allow it to recover from being farmed so it can nourish plants for generations to come.

We are in a fallow time now. The difference is we didn’t choose this; we have to stay home and do little for the sake of our neighbor. But most of us are at home now running out of things to do. I wonder if God could redeem this slower time for us. Could this turn into a time of rest and renewal? I’m spending a lot more time with my kids now and feeling the bonds of our relationships strengthened. I’m really glad I like my wife; our relationship is strengthened as we pitch in together to meet these challenging times. We actually get to worship together, as a family. My son started making Bible scenes on his Minecraft game. My girls are playing with Sam more than ever. Both my wife and I are exercising more. We’re eating more too, but that’s beside the point. Maybe God is redeeming this fallow time.

I’ve been interested to see that pollution is way down across the globe. The waters in Italy are clear again. Animals are coming out of hiding. Maybe God can teach us about what our planet can be like, again.

Please don’t misunderstand me. This virus is real, and it’s scary. Some of us in essential services, like healthcare, are working harder now than ever to fight against it. And some of us have gotten sick and others have died. This is a terrible time in our world. We are all affected differently.

God is here with us. God is with the nurses and doctors on the front lines. God is with those who are doing their part by staying home. God isn’t just with us; He is working through us and on us. For those of us who find these days to be quiet and still, God may just be doing the work of renewal deep in your soul. What is God reminding you of? How is God giving you new life? Pay attention and embrace God’s work, even when it’s invisible.

-Pastor Travis

Prayer Practice Fridays – 03-27-20

Fasting

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
-Joel 2: 11-12

One of the Lenten disciplines that is always encouraged is fasting. During this particular Lent we are most certainly fasting in ways that we had never intended. We find ourselves fasting from face-to-face interactions, from going about some of our daily routines, perhaps from picking up our regular items from the store and from experiencing Holy Communion together. None of this comes to us as an intentional fast to make room for prayer but, all of it allowing for time to reflect in prayer on so many different things. This forced fast has been pretty eye opening, allowing time to think about the things that we can’t currently have access to, or that no longer seem like a big deal, and it makes me wonder what things that we are currently fasting from that may not return.

When we talk about fasting as a prayer discipline we speak of filling the space of something we consume with time for prayer and reflection. This is a time of prayer and reflection can be spent giving thanks for what we have been blessed with and praying for those who lack the same. We might find that when we give up a comfort in our lives it readies our hearts for more urgent sacrifices that might be called upon us from time to time. Today it seems we are living in a vulnerable state of fasting. I know that it is one that creates anxiety and a sense of helplessness in not knowing how to help. I urge you to take this time of fasting and create space to pray, to reflect on the blessings that abound in our lives and trust that God is faithful.

Lastly, this week I’ve started reading (literally just started) a book titled “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. It speaks to the ways that Common Prayer helps today’s diverse church pray together across traditions and denominations. It seems most appropriate to me now in light of our current pandemic situation. Early in the book, page 19 on my Kindle to be exact, they have this to say about prayer: “We never pray alone, even when praying by ourselves.” I take great comfort in that during this time and I hope you do too. Remember that we continue to hold you in prayer and long for the day that we gather to pray together.

-Pastor Carrie

The Lord is with you Mighty Warriors

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Gideon starting in Judges chapter 6. The beginning of the story gets my attention today. The nation has been overrun by the Midianites and all of Israel is in hiding. Gideon is hiding in his wine press, trying to thresh wheat in there to keep it from the enemy. Basically, he’s working from home 😊. An angel of the Lord comes to him and says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon’s response is classic, and maybe something we’re all thinking. Gideon says to the angel. “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord has cast us of and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Gideon is honest. He’s fearful and feeling unsafe and he’s wondering where God is. Where is God while he’s trying to thresh wheat in a wine press? Where’s God when we’re trying to be work from home? Where’s God when the schools are closed? Where’s God when jobs are lost and the money we had to live on disappears? Where’s God when the church can’t even gather to worship? Gideon’s question “Why has all this happened to us?” is on the lips of so many these days.

We don’t know why the coronavirus has happened to us, not ultimately. We can trace it back to a strange animal in an unclean market in a foreign country, but that doesn’t answer our questions. What we really want to know is why are we suffering, how long will it last, how bad will it get, and why doesn’t God do something about it.

I can’t answer all those questions, but the angel’s greeting to Gideon is a good place to start. First of all, the Lord is with us in this. I’ve seen so much evidence of this, it’s mind blowing. Our first online worship service received over 1000 views as people shared with friends and family. People who haven’t been able to attend church in years, or stopped coming for other reasons expressed great appreciation for hearing God’s word. Those who have volunteered to make phone calls to fellow members to check in are sharing amazing serendipitous moments of connection. The Lord is with and will be throughout the entirety of this experience.

I also like the angel’s declaration to Gideon who is hiding in the wine press. The Lord is with you MIGHTY WARRIOR. I’m sure Gideon didn’t feel mighty and he certainly wasn’t much of a warrior. But God believed in him, saw in him something He didn’t see in himself. I believe the church is a mighty warrior too, and each of you are part of that. Our battle is against invisible enemies. A virus. But also against fear, despair, selfishness, and isolation. There are more things that will come against us in the weeks to come, but God is with us and is stronger than anything that threatens us.

Read the rest of the story of Gideon and see how the Lord teaches him to trust in God. May we learn the same trust and reliance during our hour of need.

The Lord is with you mighty warriors,

Pastor Travis

Prayer Practice Fridays – March 20, 2020

One of the things that I’ve been doing since we are no longer in the office and working from home is trying to figure out ways to keep folks connected. We are loaded with technology these days that keeps many of us in face to face conversation and allows for meeting one another online and in the cloud. But I’ve also been thinking of the ways that we can stay connected without technology, ways to stay grounded in caring for one another and engaging with the presence of God who is surely with us.

Each Friday for the foreseeable future I want to share with you a different resource for prayer practices and some ways to engage in them. Earlier this week I had also shared the hope that at 6:18 each evening you would take a moment, either as a family around the dinner table, or wherever you happen to be and offer a prayer. The 6:18 comes from Ephesians 6:18 which says: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” It’s my hope that during this time (and always) we can pray for one another, keeping us connected as the body of Christ, knowing that as you are praying for someone, another is praying for you.

This week I want to share with you “Intercession.” This is the kind of prayer that leads us to pray for others. So I invite you to spend some time thinking about, remembering, and praying for the people who benefit from the gifts and strengths that you offer. You might make a list of those closest to you and see what other names and faces come to mind. You may find yourself surprised. In some cases you will have a strong sense of what to pray for others, in other cases their situations might be far beyond your reach of knowing. In either case pray for them, and when you don’t have the words, simply know that God does. That God understands far beyond our own understanding and he intercedes for us when the words simply don’t come.

I want to commend to you one of my favorite new prayer books. It is simply titled “Prayer Forty Days of Practice” and it’s by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson, I ordered mine on Amazon. It includes a short prayer and a sketch to go with it and outlines some prayer practices too. The prayer from this book that I am praying on in these days is this: “May I find freedom in limitation—to fully give myself to what I can do rather than worry about what I cannot.”

Thanks for walking with us as community in this time of separation. I continue to pray for each of you and hope that you are well. Many blessings friends, many blessings.

-Pastor Carrie

Blessings in Our Midst

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. -1 Peter 3:8

This morning I went to Sam’s Club when it opened. I stood outside looking at about 150+ other people and started to turn around and head back to my car. But then I stopped, and I thought to myself, “you’re already here, just go in.” So, in I went expecting the worst and on a mission for eggs. What I found was probably more surprising than anything (and I don’t mean the TP or the eggs.) There seemed to be genuine care and concern for one another, and people went about their business of getting what they came for.

I always wonder why it takes crisis to so often bring out the best in people. I’m sure there is some psychological reason behind it, but really shouldn’t we always be on the lookout for the least of us, the vulnerable and the sick. Right now, it seems the best way to do this is to stay home, to check in on each other, and to offer love and grace. It is amazing how much life can change in a week’s time, I can’t even remember the things that I was concerned about or worried about last week. They have been replaced with concern for the ways we can care for one another in the weeks to come. I like the verse above from Peter, he speaks to all of us with instruction on how to treat one another and reminds us in the following verses that we should not repay evil with evil but with blessing. We should remember that while even in suffering as Christ did on the cross, we live in hope through the promise of the resurrection.

So this week, let’s look for the blessings that are surely lurking in the midst of what is evil. Let’s be gentle to one another and to yourself. Know that your pastors and church staff are praying for you. If you find yourself in need of prayer or conversation or anything else, reach out to us, to a friend, to a neighbor. Let’s remember in this time to love one another, be compassionate and humble.

-Pastor Carrie

Communion Blessings

Artwork in the Altar of the Holy Sacrament in the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, Italy.

This past November I was fortunate to visit Italy. We traveled with a tour group that included 11 pastors, 3 deacons and 3 bishops. The trip was really a pilgrimage, visiting many sites sacred in Italy, particularly to the Catholic church. I wasn’t sure how I would experience this trip or what I was even looking forward to most. I wanted to let the trip unfold each day as we experienced different sites figuring that if I was unsure of my expectations then nothing would disappoint.

Have you ever found yourself unexpectedly moved by what many would consider ordinary? When traveling in Italy we visited countless Catholic cathedrals and basilicas, some incredibly ornate and magnificent, others simple, almost humble. In these churches are many alcoves with smaller altars and chapels often honoring saints who have gone before. I also started to notice that almost every church we had visited had an “Altar of the Sacrament,” a space that held the body and blood of Christ in between services of Holy Communion. It is kept on the altar a constant awareness of the presence of Christ with us still today in his body and blood shared between us. While Lutherans understand the presence of Christ in this sacrament differently that the Roman Catholic church, we all come together to understand the action taken is through Christ who forgives and saves.

In this next week it is my privilege to teach our 5th graders, and the parents that will join them, about the sacrament of Holy Communion. For so many of these kids they have been coming to church for years and watching as those around them take in the body and blood of Christ. It is now the time for them to learn, to ask questions, to live into a baptismal promise to receive this sacrament. I love to remind them that this is a gift that Christ himself gives to us as he first blessed the bread and wine saying that it is “for you.” It’s also an opportunity to invite them into a practice, a tradition, that has remain unchanged for thousands of years, it practiced by Christians of varying beliefs and is something that brings us closer to unity with each other and the world around us that almost anything.

I invite you to think about what communion means to you in the weeks to come. Listen closely to the words that we share in the Eucharistic prayer and the words of institution, listen to the history they connect us to, the forgiveness and salvation that are proclaimed, and the unity it brings us back to, all the way to Jesus and the disciples together at what was the Last Supper. We are soon entering into the Lenten season, a time when we will walk with Jesus through his teaching and his final days as he journeys to the cross. Let us journey with him, remember all that connects us to the life of Christ and especially to the life that he renews in us through the sacraments.

-Pastor Carrie

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