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

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.

Pastoral Letter from Pastor Jim

Dear Beloved Community at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church,

Not too long ago we received the ashes of previous palm crosses on our foreheads in the shape of the cross, with the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. 

It turns out that was not just the standard ritual that we go through each year to begin the season of Lent. In these last few weeks the meaning of what we did on Ash Wednesday has become a very important spiritual preparation for the unprecedented matters we are all being affected by now. When we face our human limitations during Lent specifically, and throughout our lives as Christians, we are more understanding and able to live well through difficult times like these and the many others that inevitably come.

This is especially true when we know that those ashes mean that our true faith is not placed in anything other than the love of God, and God’s hope for the ongoing healing of all creation, which we celebrate in the high point of the Christian year – Easter.

It certainly is harder to celebrate that when we can’t gather like we are used to, but we can still gather our spirits in other ways like sharing this email and praying after we read it.  We will also be given the opportunity to experience our weekly Sunday worship in a different way too. We are working on a way to both offer a live-stream link to Sunday morning worship that I and Gary Roberts, our musician will lead at a time TBD (once we are sure it will work), and by visiting our website and viewing a recording of our Sunday worship. The bulletin will be emailed out so you can print it and participate along with the service. Please watch for another email tomorrow or Saturday with the final details. 

In the meantime, here are the upcoming scripture readings for Sunday so you can have the Word of God planted in your life before we share them on Sunday. Hey! What a concept! We can open our Bibles and read from them, rather than relying upon the Celebrate insert!  My comments are a result of our weekly Pastor’s Text Study where several Lutheran and Episcopal pastors gather and rotate leadership of the study, so that we can come to a deeper and more scholarly understanding of what we will be preaching on for the coming Sunday.

First Reading:  1 Samuel 16: 1-13  (Pay attention to the theme of anointing here and in John and what it means as a new way of being able to see. Also the idea of speaking the truth in a difficult situation or when it may not be welcome. Also the way God chooses leaders that people don’t expect, but have the underlying characteristics that God hopes people to have.)

Psalm:  Psalm 23 (This is chosen to be read in Lent for its “death and resurrection” themes that play out most dramatically in the approaching Holy Week. Pay attention to what the verse “for you are with me” means to you in these times. This is a theme of this years gospel, Matthew, as well as the Lenten gospels in John that we have this year.  Again the image of anointing in the ancient world had power for the direction and care of their lives – how can this happen to day for you? Also, God “Makes” the psalmist lie down in green pastures. How can you surrender to God’s moving in your life in a way that is more directive and intentional, instead of always giving in to what we think we should do and how we should live? Also, sometimes life presents situations that are beyond our control and the message in this psalm can be a comforting one when that happens. Look for ways that you can “revive your soul” in these anxious times.)

Second Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14  (Light is used as a metaphor for a growing understanding and awareness of who Jesus is and what his message and purpose is. The context for this passage is that it is addressing the cultural battles of the day. Sound familiar? There were very diverse communities coming together in the early Christian church and sometimes that presented problems for how they were supposed to make decisions together and what they were supposed to believe when they disagreed. What are the ways we can bring this Christian heritage and message to the cultural battles of our time?)

Gospel:  John 9:1-41  (In John, sin is not really about the moral failing we often equate it with in our present day understanding. Instead, sin is really more about not being in relationship with God and receiving God’s Word as Jesus offers it. Pay attention to how Jesus corrects the wrong thinking that somehow suffering is deserved because of sin. This is an old tactic that is still heavily used today in the more fundamentalist / televangelist preaching known as the “Prosperity Gospel”, which claims that people just need to live a certain way in order to gain God’s approval and thus enjoy more material blessings. Jesus himself refutes this twisted form of belief in God. Also the theme of washing as a way to healing is a powerful baptismal reminder, which Lent is a traditional time of preparation for.)

Grace and Peace,  Pastor Jim