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Magnified Joy – Advent 3A

“Are you the One,” John wants to know, “or should we be waiting for someone else?” You can read an earlier message on Matthew 11:2-11 and Luke 1:47-55 here.

It’s curious that we hear about John the Baptist’s doubt on the same Sunday Mary’s song magnifies the Lord and rejoices in God our Savior. Joy and doubt are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Consider Martha Spong’s thoughtful reflection on this week’s lectionary readings.

May you be released from whatever binds you, or stalls you, or holds you captive, so that your joy – like Mary’s and John the Baptist’s – may point others to Jesus.

Holy Lord, our hearts leap in our chests when we experience your nearness. We cannot help but know ‘the joy of the Lord’ when you are in the center of our lives. But how easy it is, Jesus, to slip into doubt and despair when we take our eyes off you.

Give us the kind of steadfast faith that Mary had when she said, “let it be to me according to your word,” even though she had no idea what she was getting into. Give us the courage to seek you out when our doubts overcome us, just as John did. And remind us, as you did John, that the evidence of your kingdom is right under our noses. You are working through us to magnify your name. Let our joy be complete and point others to you, Almighty God.

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Keep Awake – Sermon on Matthew 24:36-44 – Advent 1A

When my older brother, David, first moved out of the house and was living on his own, we looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, in the hope that he would come home for a day or two, and our family would be together for the holiday. To understand how much this meant to us, you need to have a little background. My brother was the eldest child in our family. He was my only brother. We four girls adored him. As a young, single adult, David enjoyed driving the latest, fanciest car he could afford. I remember well his first Corvette, a white 1959 model with a removable hard top. Then he moved up to a midnight blue 1963 Stingray with the fiberglass body and the headlamps that rotated out of sight when not in use. By 1972, he was driving a Porsche. So, whenever David came home to visit, part of the excitement was discovering what he was driving, and arguing over who would get the first ride in his new car.

But the real excitement came with trying to figure out just when David would arrive. Continue reading

Roy’s AWWA Cheese spread

My step-dad ran the Water Department (also the Sewage, Street, and Engineering departments…) in our hometown. It was a big deal for him to receive an award from the American Water Works Association, and when my mom died a couple of years ago, we found the scrapbook she had made of that event (he got to bring her along to the convention). Tucked in with the programs and photos and newspaper clippings, was this recipe, in Roy’s careful draftsman’s handwriting. I remember him making it for us as a special treat – and this was a guy who did not splurge on special treats, I can tell you. But it’s pretty good, and will fill out your holiday snack table or charcuterie board pretty well. Serve it with fancy crackers or little toasts.

1 stick butter, softened
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 envelope dry Ranch dressing mix

Poke the garlic into the softened butter and let it sit for an hour. Remove the garlic (or, if you are like me and really like garlic, go ahead and mince it and work it back into the butter). Using a mixer, blend together the butter, cream cheese, and Ranch dressing mix.

Serve with crackers. Refrigerate any leftover spread in an airtight container. (But, seriously, there won’t be any left if you put this out at a party.)

Byron’s Hot Buttered Rum

When my father-in-law served this to my tee-totaling mother, she asked for seconds. It’s that good. You could probably make a non-alcoholic version with rum flavoring added at the end. But I’ve never tried that, so …

1 lb. butter
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 lb. light brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 qt. good vanilla ice cream
rum
whipped cream
cinnamon sticks
boiling water

To make the batter:
Cream the butter, sugars and spices together until light and fluffy. Stir in the ice cream. Freeze in a tightly covered container. (You may want to put a layer of plastic wrap right on top of the batter, if it doesn’t fill the container – nobody likes freezer burned batter!)

To serve:
Slightly thaw the batter, then place 3 Tbsp. batter in a mug. Add 1 jigger of rum, then fill the mug with boiling water. Top with whipped cream, maybe sprinkle a little nutmeg on top, and serve with a cinnamon stick as a stirrer.

Makes 30 servings.

Growing Pains: A Sermon from the Book of Acts

This sermon was preached for Winthrop Evangelical Covenant Church on October 23, 2022, as part of a series on Understanding the New Testament. A video of this message is available here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s an honor to be with you today, as you continue your journey through scripture to discover God’s great plan of redemption. God is on a mission to redeem the world, and God is fulfilling that mission through the church, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, to recap the last few weeks, or bring you up to date if you are joining us now for the first time, we know that:

Continue reading

Monday Prayer 9/26/2022

Holy One,

Just like that, the season changes. While half of the planet turns cold, dying away toward winter, the other half wakes to new life, blooming toward summer. The cycle of life and death begins anew.
And you are there.

When we find joy, you are there.
When we cannot be consoled, you are there.
When we know trouble, you are there.
When we know peace, you are there.

You are here.
In the now, in the then;
In the joy or the sorrow,
You are here.

By your grace, let me sense your presence. Let me recognize you in the season as it changes. By your grace, change me, too. Let me become more and more the one you created me to be. Amen.

Monday Prayer 9/19/2022

Holy One,

“There was a rich man …”
who couldn’t see his brother, naked, hungry, full of sores.
But you did.
And you valued him so highly, you gave him a name:
Lazarus – “God helps.” (Luke 16:19-20)

The psalmist cries, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” Our hope is in you, who watch over strangers, upholding widows and orphans. (Psalm 146:3, 9)

Help us to see the stranger who lands on our doorstep.
And when we are the strangers at someone else’s door,
Let them see us, and value us as you do, so that together,
We may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:16)
Amen.

Monday Prayer 9/12/2022

Holy one, this prayer has something to do with paradox. Please help me remember the brilliant idea you gave me while I was up to my elbows in dishwater and couldn’t write it down. It had something to do with Noah’s 3 sons, and a dishonest manager being commended for his shrewdness.

It had something to do with the way the world turns upside down when a queen dies, while others pass from this life to the next with barely a 5-line obituary. It had something to do with one person’s grief triggering another’s deep pain, and how we never really know which end of the equation is ours, the grieving or the aggrieved. 

It had something to do with holding two truths – or maybe more – in tension, not balance. Because they need to push and pull on each other in order to be truth at all. It had something to do with recognizing the pain we cause when we assume we are the victims, while our privilege shields us from seeing ourselves as perpetrators.

It had something to do with the way righteousness encompasses both judgment and mercy, a seed has to die for a plant to take root, something can only be lost if it belonged to someone in the first place. Death is necessary for resurrection to happen.

It had something to do with the assurance your love endures to all generations without fail, and in the end, evil will not be able to withstand such love. 

Whatever that brilliant prayer about paradox was, Lord, you already know it. Help me to see this week that Truth might be bigger than I can grasp, but just because I can’t grasp it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. So show me the little truths holding each other together in opposition, and give me grace to walk humbly with you in your enduring love. Amen.

Monday Prayer (Labor Day 2022)

Holy One,

You who birthed all things into being,

who flung the stars and separated the waters from the dry land,

were your arms tired after all that making?

Did your back ache from your labor?

Did you decide to give us rhythms of rest and work

because you, yourself, in all your infinite power, needed the same?

Grant us the wisdom to know when to work, and when to rest.

Give us newness of heart, as we begin this week.

May our labor be fruitful, and may our rest be sweet,

and may both reflect your glory. Amen.

The Final Sermon – Going Out In a Blaze of Glory

Pentecost C
June 5, 2022

NOTE: This is my final sermon before retiring from active ministry. I’ve preached Acts 2:1-21 other years, and you can find another message on this passage here. But this one is different, because it is also my farewell to a specific congregation, as well as to formal ministry.


The Greek word used in the New Testament to describe the Holy Spirit is “parakletos” –  which translates best as Advocate or Comforter. But parakletos means more than that.

It literally means “one who comes alongside.” Certainly, there is an understanding that this means to come alongside us to comfort us in our confusion and despair, or to come alongside us as an Advocate would in a court of law. But every year when I read this description of Pentecost, I’m struck by how the Holy Spirit coming alongside these gathered disciples is anything but comfortable.

We’re talking about a loud rush of violent wind sweeping in and filling the house where the disciples are praying together. This does not sound comforting, does it? And at some point, the sound of their many voices, each speaking in a different language, gets loud enough that people outside the house can hear it, and they start to gather around, wondering what it means.

And suddenly, that violent rushing wind propels them outdoors, where people from every nation can identify their own languages being spoken. When Peter stands up to explain what is happening, he addresses “all who live in Jerusalem,” so we get the sense that the wind and flames inside the house have now spilled out into the streets.

The Holy Spirit is on the move. Suddenly, the word “Pentecost” means more than a Jewish festival 50 days after Passover. Now, it means an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that signals the beginning of Christ’s church. The Kingdom of God is no longer confined to the heavenly realms – or within the walls of a building.

The Kingdom of God is not just “at hand” or “near.” The Kingdom of God is here. It is now. It is moving.

The Holy Spirit is more than Comforter, more than Advocate. The Holy Spirit comes alongside to strengthen us and give us courage for the daunting work of proclaiming Christ to a world that doesn’t always want to hear this good news. And, sometimes, the Holy Spirit gives us the swift kick we need to get up, and get moving out of our comfort zones, out of the building, into the places God wants us.

You are experiencing this, as a church. Like those early disciples, you are becoming apostles. How does that happen? When does following turn into being sent?

Last week we heard Jesus give his final instructions to the disciples as they watched him disappear into the clouds. We saw them return to Jerusalem with joy, praising God, and we looked on as they gathered once more in a room together, praying to receive what Jesus had promised them, power from on high. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blows them out into the city to share the Good News, and the church is born.

Somewhere in there, they’ve been transformed from frightened followers to bold announcers of the gospel. Somewhere in there, they’ve changed from apprentice craftsmen to master builders in God’s kingdom here on earth. They’ve joined Jesus in the work of healing and driving out demons and preaching Christ. They are no longer disciples, but apostles; no longer following behind, but being sent out ahead. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit propels them out into the streets of Jerusalem in a blaze of glory.

The Holy Spirit is still at work, despite repeated human efforts to quench it. The Holy Spirit will not be tamed. God’s Spirit cannot be limited by our feeble attempts to control it, to keep it within polite boundaries. Just as the Holy Spirit propelled those first apostles into the streets of Jerusalem, it propels you into the streets of Willmar, Minnesota, to share the good news that Jesus is Lord, and the kingdom he came to inaugurate is present among us now.

Over the past two years, you have walked with me, as I have walked with you, learning and teaching each other what it means to follow Jesus, and to be sent by him. We may have disagreed on some things. We certainly rejoiced over others.

I know I have grown deeper in faith and stronger in love of God and neighbor, and I hope many of you can say the same. And while, for this season together, you have given me the authority to serve as your pastor, I have sought to be faithful to the authority God placed on my life when calling me into ministry.

In a couple of weeks, you will welcome a new pastor, and I know you will place your trust in her as your spiritual leader. This is as it should be. You are ready for a new chapter in the story of Willmar United Methodist Church, and I am confident God plans to make it a good one!

But here’s the thing: the core of the good news of the Kingdom of God is found right here, among you all, in the people who choose to follow Jesus, loving God with all your hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and loving your neighbors as Christ has loved you.

You are the gospel. You are the good news. You are the ones going out in a blaze of Pentecost glory. You are the ones who are being sent, propelled by the Holy Spirit into the world around you, to speak in ways others can hear, and to love as Jesus has loved you. As you approach this Table today, know that you are receiving nourishment for the journey. Christ gives himself to you. Christ goes with you, even as the Holy Spirit sends you forth.

So, one last time, let me offer this invitation to you …

“Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may. Come to testify not that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ, and desire to be his true disciples. Come not because you are strong, but because you are weak; not because you have any claim on the grace of God, but because in your frailty and sin you stand in constant need of his mercy and help. Come, not to express an opinion, but to seek his presence and pray for his Spirit. Come, that we may be one in Christ Jesus.” – Covenant Book of Worship, p. 112

Rhubarb Pudding Cake

It’s been great living in a parsonage the past two years, while I served as an intentional interim pastor. Someone else does the mowing and snow removal, the commute to work is a two-minute walk, whatever the weather, and there are little gifts left behind by former pastors – like the apple tree and the rhubarb. In four days, the moving van will take our things away to make room for the next pastor, so before I pack up the baking dishes, I need to use up some rhubarb, which is at its peak right now. Good thing there’s a potluck where I can share the goodness!

How you make this cake depends on how much rhubarb you have. If it’s a plentiful harvest, and you can gather 3 cups of chopped rhubarb stems at once, use a 9×13 dish and the quantities in bold type. If you only have 2 cups, use a 9×9 square pan (or 8×10 if you have it) and the quantities in parentheses. Either way, this cake is delicious warm or cold, with vanilla ice cream or plain.

INGREDIENTS

3 c (2 c) chopped rhubarb stems
2-2/3 c (1-3/4 c) sugar, divided
5 T (3T) butter, softened
1-1/2 tsp (1 tsp) baking powder
1/4 tsp (1/4 tsp) salt
3/4 c (1/2 c.) milk
1/2 tsp (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract
1-1/2 c (1 c) sifted flour
1-1/2 T (1 T) cornstarch
1 c (2/3 c) boiling water


Preheat oven to 375˚ (F).

Lightly butter (or coat with cooking spray) the dish. Spread the rhubarb evenly in the bottom of the baking dish.

Combine 1 c. sugar with the softened butter, then add the baking powder, salt, and sifted flour, the milk, and the vanilla. Pour this batter over the rhubarb (add a little milk if it’s too thick) and spread to cover the fruit.

Mix the cornstarch with the remaining sugar, and sprinkle this over the batter. Pour the boiling water over everything, and put it immediately into the preheated oven.

Bake 45 minutes, until golden on top. Cool slightly to serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Leftovers should be refrigerated, and will be just as delicious cold as the cake was fresh from the oven.

I will add a photo when it comes out of the oven!