Putting up the Palms

Many thanks to Don Smawley and his brother Bill for decorating the St. Stephen’s sanctuary for Palm Sunday. This is a labor of love they’ve done for many years.

They even put palms on the lamp post next to the church sign.

Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 29

Click on the bulletin cover to open the bulletin. Remember to have some bread and wine or grape juice ready for when I celebrate Holy Communion.

Please click on the Celebrate first page to open the Celebrate with today’s Scripture readings.

Here are the Scripture readings for Sunday so you can prepare to encounter God’s Word more deeply and meaningfully:

Exodus 37: 1-14  This is a story of re-creation as the exiled and Israelites receive hope from this vision of Ezekiel, that God will dwell with them. Notice how the physical things (dry bones, sinew and flesh) are not complete or even worth much without the “breath of God” or spirit.  The emphasis is on spirit and flesh together in the human being, in fact Spirit reigns OVER flesh. This is a reminder that God does a great deal in the midst of our aimless attempts at living (dry bones, death, hopelessness). We need to be looking for it. From a desperate situation, God’s will is to breath life so that something life-giving will result.  How do you see that? Think of some stories when that was true for you.

Psalm 130  This is a psalm of Lament. One that we can certainly enter into with our own as we lament our current circumstance and fears. The psalmist is confident that God does hear his cry. How are we able to do the same in our lives now?  The assurance of forgiveness that is lifted up is a way that God alleviates ones fears.  This is also one of 7 penitential psalms, which is why we read it during Lent. Lent is a time when we are turning toward and crying out to God with all the things that burden us and our world in anticipation of forgiveness, resurrection and a new way for our lives to go. By doing crying out to God, and waiting and listening for what God may be saying, we draw nearer to God’s Spirit. Notice the eagerness of the psalmist to be with God in the morning. Do we share this eagerness? How can we?

Romans 8: 6-11  This is a reminder, along with these other texts, that we believe we are spirit and we need to focus more on that aspect of our lives than all the pursuits that meet the needs of our flesh. Sometimes these are one and the same, but it is important to “set our minds on the Spirit” as our way of seeing our lives and the world. By following Jesus and dying and rising with Christ on a daily basis, we can nurture our spirit and receive life and peace. These days, we are reminded how fragile the flesh is, but we are also reminded that the Spirit is not limited by the flesh. You would truly know this if you would have been able to be with me when I led our preschool children in a “virtual” chapel service via the computer! It was an amazing, wonderful, beautiful sharing of the Spirit as we sang, read a Bible story and prayed with parents, while everyone could see each other’s image on the screen. There was constant smiling going on – a sure sign of the Spirit!

John 11: 1-45  The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the last gospel story we read before Palm Sunday and the Passion of Jesus Christ. It is a precursor to the greatest story ever told and the very heart of the Christian faith. The pairing of this story with the Ezekiel passage points us to God’s power over hopelessness and death. They are both trying to help us see beyond death by challenging our standard expectations. Notice that the raising of Lazarus is not dependent on their expectations and faith. It happens despite their doubts and the fact that initially Jesus does not meet their hopes and expectations. God still acts and showers them with the grace of resurrecting their beloved. Resurrection just happens, with or without our efforts and our task to look for it and join with it where it happens. Also notice Jesus’ command to everyone who is there…”Unbind him and let him go.” There is still something we can do after resurrection. We have a role to play with God to open up the power of God even more with acts that move toward the kinds of resurrection things that God wants us to know and experience. In our current situation, sheltering-in-place is a similar way that we are participating in the resurrection will of God as we seek to stop the spread of disease and death.

Grace and Peace,   Pastor Jim

From Pastor Jim: Insightful Article

Dear Fellow Captives of an Unseen Threat,

In my efforts to continue to draw us together in these ways while we endure these times, I feel called to lift up Martin Luther’s main question in his Catechism: “What does this mean?”

It is the task of all Christians to seek God’s will and discover God’s voice each day and in every circumstance. So as we all wonder how this unimaginable circumstance we find ourselves in right now will play out, I offer the attached article by David Brooks (which we read as COPA leaders trying to support one another), as a way to begin to figure out what all this might mean for our lives and for our lives together in the human community.

Let me know what you think. I found it very helpful and hopeful.
Pastor Jim


Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22

Per Pastor Jim’s e-mail of March 20th, here is the video of the service made on Saturday, March 21st. The bulletin is linked at the right, the video below. From the e-mail: “I hope you will sing out loud with me, say your parts when they come up and gather some bread and wine or grape juice for Holy Communion and share that when its time! It is important that we take some time to gather in this kind of way on Sunday – God’s day – and attempt to connect in the Spirit through a common worship experience, just like we have always done.”

Please send comments or issues to Kent Madsen.