Psalm 96:10 Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.” 11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 13 before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.
Here in our home of Northern MN, the peak time for the Autumn leaves has come to an end. There are more trees that are completely bare then trees with leaves on. Yesterday, the street cleaner came down my street to clean up all the leaves that gathered in large piles on the curb, and t is clear that the time for winter is fast approaching. Inspired by verse 12, the beautiful hymn that nature sings to us whenever we open our door and step out into the world, the trees have sung their melodies of joy and peace. We thank the forest for the concert it has put on and praise God we created it all and who rules over all with righteousness.
Everyday is a blessed opportunity to enjoy this amazing world.
Blessings~ Pastor Erik
September 10, 2020
Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13
[1 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Blessing. Most of us define “blessing” as something good from God that happens to us or given to us. Our family and friends, vocation, health or even nice weather are often referred to as blessing. Interestingly, psalm 103 begins not with the author receiving blessing from God, but by giving blessing to God. The question is posed, “what could any of us do or give to God that God doesn’t already have or can acquire by God’s self? In other words, how can we bless God? I think the answer is found is the later half of verse 2, “do not forget all his benefits.” Remembering who God is and what God has done and continues to do is how we bestow blessing upon God. Simply put, being in genuine relationship with God is how we bless God. With any relationship, blessing goes both ways, and it is the same with God.
Know that you are blessed, as well as the source of blessing to God and all those around you.
Your co-worker in Christ- Pr. Erik
The theologian, Jurgen Moltmann wrote, “the church doesn’t have a mission rather the mission of God has a church. The idea is that the church is God’s instrument for accomplishing God’s goals for the world. Moltmann’s work challenges some of our assumptions and understandings about what the church is and what it is for. One of the challenges is that lots of people view church to be a safe place where we can retreat and be protected from the fast-paced and harsh world. Architecturally, Christians have even built church buildings with this mindset. If you’ve ever been to Europe, you’ve probably visited huge stone cathedrals with their super thick walls. These churches are so strong and safe, they have been standing for hundreds of years. Also, we call the main room of our church a sanctuary. Sanctuaries are peaceful and protected places where we can retreat to. Of course, churches should be peaceful places where we feel safe, but a drawback of this mindset is that it temps us to think the church is removed and separate from the world.
The thought that the church is an exclusively protected retreat is one of the reasons some of us get upset when anything going on in the world is spoken about in a sermon or lifted up in prayer. When church talks about economic inequalities, racial issues, and justice issues, people get offended. I’ve heard people say that they come to church because they want to feel good and they don’t want to hear about the controversies of the world. They are upset when the sermon or the Bishop or the ELCA or coffee an’ conversation disrupts that. I get this, and I also enjoy feeling good and I too need relief from the harshness of the world. However, we are called to be an authentic church, and an authentic church is one that is rooted and engaged in the world because the church is the instrument in which God uses to do God’s mission. I do think we can have it all. I do think we can engage in the messiness of this world while also feeling good and enjoying sanctuary. Warm feelings, peaceful expressions, and feeling protected come with being part of a community that is compassionate, confident and strong. After all, Jesus is both 100% God and 100% human. As man, Jesus shares with us all the experiences of being flesh and blood living in the messiness and controversies of the world. He saw, felt, and preached about economic inequality, gender inequality, racial conflict, civil unrest, etc. Jesus’ followers didn’t simply want to feel good for an hour, they were there for salvation, salvation that is only available through Jesus Christ. Same for us as for the disciples back then, we are called to live, work, engage and serve in this broken world, not to avoid or escape from it. As well, as God, Jesus gives to us peace, fulfillment, grace, acceptance, love and salvation. These gifts of Christ certainly make everyone feel good.
The truth is that every relationship. Every business. Every political platform, both liberal and conservative. Every organization. Ourselves and everything we are involved in can be sharply criticized by Christian theology and ethics. I don’t want people to feel personally attacked by sermons and prayers, but I do want everyone, including myself, to know that God is calling us to live lives that are more graceful, forgiving, generous, and open-minded, and to advocate for the other, and pursue justice. We are living in a unique time with a contentious political elections, relentless pandemic, destructive hurricanes and fires, and systemic racism. Avoiding these issues only makes them more destructive. We are Christians led by God to participate with God’s mission of salvation, peace, and justice.
Your co-worker in Christ~ Pastor Erik
1 I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; 2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. 3 On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. 4 All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth. 5 They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord. 6 For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away. 7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me. 8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.
I want to highlight verse 8- “The Lord will fulfill his purpose in me.” Have you thought about your purpose lately? Another way of asking this question is, “have you thought about what God’s purpose for you is?” Afterall, we are all creations of God. God didn’t create us just because. Indeed, God has something in mind, some special purpose for you. I believe that God has specifically brought you to this time and place for a purpose. What is it? It takes a great deal of contemplation, prayer and discernment to confidently answer this question. Perhaps it is to be a voice of wisdom for others. A source of safety and reassurance. A means of grace. An example of love. A vehicle for faith. God has a purpose for all of us. Even for those who can’t leave their homes, or those whom experience physical limits due to age or health. Regardless of any label that society has placed upon you, know this- you are important, and God has a purpose for you. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “ 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life…” Basically, scripture tells us that our purpose is to do good works.
So, as the summer winds down and the beginning of Autumn is in the air, think to yourself what good works you can do today. Especially good works towards folks who are not expecting it. When people ask you why you are so kind, generous, and/or gracious, simply tell them that you are fulfilling your purpose that God intended to do, and then invite them to live out their purpose too.
God Bless~ Pastor Erik
7 August 2020
Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God.” Do any of you feel stress this week? When I am feeling anxious, I turn to the faithful and wise words of the psalmist. I have a memorized exercise where I speak the words to myself, let them sink in, and then repeat the words with some omission.
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
I often practice this exercise before or after I do something that’s special. Before a car trip, before beginning a project, after an emotional conversation, etc. This exercise grounds me, gives me peace and helps me gain perspective of whatever situation, and know God is active. I smile to myself with a deep breath when I just say the word “Be.” It feels good to simply “Be.”
Pick a time to do this exercise today. Maybe during lunch break, between phone calls or meetings, while you prepare a meal. It seems that people are on edge. The social restrictions weigh heavy on our shoulders, there is anxiety about schools, jobs, the health of loved ones. These are difficult times and we need to rely on our faith to help us get through it. It is helpful to be reminded that we have God to lean on. To be reminded that God is in charge, and that God watches over and cares for us. Because God is God, we can be still.
I pray for each of you, and I encourage you to pray for others. My prayer centers on you experiencing the peace, security, and reassurance that you can be still and know that God is present.
Your co-worker in Christ~ Pr. Erik
31 July 2020
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
The image of a soaring eagle is so powerful and vivid. Earlier this week I went to Camp Vermillion to hear about how the pandemic has impacted the camp and as I was driving back home a bald eagle flew across the road with a fish in its claws. What an amazing sight, the eagle displayed so much power, grace, and confidence. I was instantly reminded of the beautiful hymn, On Eagle’s Wings, and gently sang the hymn (I was the only person in the car thankfully) for the remainder of the drive. I could only remember the words from the refrain so when I arrived home I turned to hymn #787 and read through all 4 verses and I sang it all the way through with Nozomi and Ronin.
I love this verse from Isaiah just as much as I love the hymn it inspired. It speaks so wonderfully about God’s love and God’s promises. It speaks of patience and persistence. I will confess that I’m not very good at waiting, and when I run I become weary very quickly. I confess that there have been long days in this time of pandemic, and times when I am weary, even exhausted from trying to figure out how to be pastor during a pandemic and how to be church in a time when so much of what we love to do together is just not possible right now. I am weary, but I still have unshakable hope in the Lord.
Though these are often challenging times, I do believe in God’s promise to renew my strength, to renew your strength, and to renew the strength of the church. I have witnessed amazing acts of generosity, the intense power of kind and affirming words, heartwarming love and care for neighbors, and the bold imagination of so many of you. Although we have not been able to gather in person on Sundays, we have never stopped being the church.
Last month, our gospel readings and reflections were from Matthew 10, the chapter where Jesus gives his disciples instructions just before he sends them out. He told them that the “harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; pray to the Lord of the harvest, therefore, that he may send forth laborers into his harvest.” I think the Holy Spirit was at work by assigning those readings to us at that time. It has prompted many people to think about our mission during this time of pandemic, of where and how God is at work and how we might be part of God’s mission. I hope you will join me in praying for our congregation: in thanksgiving for all the blessings and all the ways we are doing that mission together, and also that God continues to lead us and guide us to be faithful laborers for that abundant harvest. It is for that work that our strength, patience and perseverance is relied upon and we mount up with wings like eagles.
Your co-worker in Christ~ Pr. Erik
Devotion July 24, 2020
129 Your decrees are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. 131 With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments. 132 Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your custom toward those who love your name. 133 Keep my steps steady according to your promise, and never let iniquity have dominion over me. 134 Redeem me from human oppression, that I may keep your precepts. 135 Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes. 136 My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept.
As I read today’s psalm, I was captivated by the imagery of God’s words unfolding before my eyes. How do you picture it? One particular aspect of Biblical study is that scripture always seems to have multiple meanings and interpretations. Translating from one language to another and learning about cultural nuances gives a richness and depth to scripture that leads to a lifetime of learning and imaginative insight. One verse or even a simple word can have so many different layers, indeed God’s words unfold before our eyes and bring light to our world.
Earlier this week, after the kids fell asleep I started in on the seemingly never-ending task of folding laundry. I began by folding the towels. One particular towel that we have is a brightly colored beach towel. The edges are bright pink, then a strip of green, blue, and finally in the center is a big cartoonish sun with a smile on it. I love this towel; it is big, fun and still relatively new so it is soft and fuzzy. I can already picture this towel being neatly packed in our beach bag for our next outing to a lake on a hot and sunny day. The bright pink will shine brightly from inside the beach canopy while my family and I build sand-castles and swim. Then, we will take it out, unfold it, revealing the other brilliant colors and then the happy sun. Several beautiful layers just waiting to be unfolded and seen.
How has scripture unfolded for over the years? I think every time we read scripture, even the most famous stories, we hear something new layered in the words that gives new insights and directions. Scripture constantly and consistently inspires us and surprises us. Thanks be to God for that.
God’s Peace to you and yours- Pastor Erik
Devotion for July 10, 2020
1 Samuel 24: 1-5When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the wilderness of En-gedi.” 2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to look for David and his men in the direction of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. 3 He came to the sheepfolds beside the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself.[a] Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 4 The men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’” Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak.
I remember first hearing this story when I was a little boy. I felt connected by the imagery of young King David camping out in the wilderness with his friends, hiding in caves, and playing pranks on unsuspecting adversaries. I remember laughing while thinking about Saul’s cloak and how silly he looked when he emerged from the cave with a big piece cut out. But, reading the passage again as an adult conjures other feelings and images. I no longer find it funny, but deeply faithful and dramatic.
I’ve labeled the time we currently live as the “messy middle.” It is time where covid-19 is no longer new, but the end of covid-19 is not yet in sight. The messy middle is a frustrating and anxiety filled time. People are anxious about their health and finances and even more anxious about the well-being of their loved ones. We are frustrated because things are not normal, plans have been changed or cancelled, and we can’t worship in person yet together.
I chose this story from 1 Samuel because King David is also living during a “messy middle.” David has been anointed King, but he hasn’t yet taken the throne. He is hailed as a national hero after defeating Goliath, admired for his musical talents, and beloved by many, but all these deeds and adventures have made Saul jealous. Saul’s jealousy resulted in having everything taken away from David. David is now homeless and an outlaw. He was forced to flee and abandon everything. As our story picks up today, David is hiding in a cave because he is being hunted by Saul, the most powerful man in the country.
We learn a lot about David’s character from this story. We know he is desperate and has suffered a great deal. He is a faithful person. He is well liked. He has tried to help others and do what is right, but now he is struggling by no fault of his own. In fact, the one person who is to blame – The one person who has victimized David – The one person who stands in the way of all that is good for David is Saul. And here he is. Completely vulnerable and open. David could have easily killed him and eliminated the one obstacle in his life. David didn’t. He didn’t give in to the temptation to cheat, cut corners, or lose his integrity. David followed God’s way even though it didn’t serve his own interests and even though God’s way was far more difficult.
I know we are all living in the messy middle. For some, it is extremely messy. My message and prayer is that you don’t give up. Don’t take the easy way out. Don’t act out of character and lose integrity. David teaches us that we can also live our lives with patience, humility, and trust God to do God’s work. God’s work is judgement and justice. Our work is to share God’s love. We look to this story of David as inspiration, but above all, we look to Jesus as inspiration, who humbled himself even to the point of death on a cross.
Your co-worker in Christ- Pastor Erik
Devotion for June 26, 2020
1 John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
Thanks be to God and thanks to OSLC for the faithful prayers that you have offered on behalf on my mom for this past year. As many of you know, last summer my mom was diagnosed with a rare form of stage 4 lung cancer. For the past 12 months she has been enduring intensive cancer treatments several times a week. It has been extremely difficult for my parents, who live in Colorado, and I have been sad that I can’t do more to help them. But two weeks ago we received some great news from her team on oncologists! Her treatments have worked well and her doctors updated her diagnosis. Previously, the doctors said she had a couple months to live, but now she may have couple years. To celebrate this joy, I drove to Colorado last and was able to visit for a couple days. It was beyond wonderful to spend time with my mom as well as to see her be able to laugh and spend time together with the kids. For the past year, my earnest prayer has been for the treatments to work and to cherish every occasion I get to see her and chat on the phone. I am so grateful for your prayers too. Scripture is true- God certainly hears us.
God’s Peace and Blessings to you and yours- Pastor Erik
Devotion for June 7, 2020
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As a congregation, and as individuals, how do we respond to the killing of George Floyd? How do we respond to the protests that followed? How do we respond to the threat of violence is coming from national leadership? I know we all have our opinions and different life experiences that form them, but we are a church, we are the body of Christ, we must frame this answer by asking how our Lord and Savior has taught us to respond. We are called to follow our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is what we will do.
A focus point is that Chris calls us to live a life of compassion. Therefore, take a moment of self reflection- Are you being compassionate? How have you shown compassion to the family of Mr. Floyd and the far too numerous other families who are grieving the loss of their father, son, sister, or friend? How have you shown compassion to the protesters? How have you shown compassion to law enforcement? How have you shown compassion to law breakers? How have you shown compassion to the African American community? The pastor from my home congregation pointed out that word compassion means literally “to suffer with.” As people of God we read and proclaim scripture passages that tell how God showed compassion to humanity by coming to us in Jesus and suffering with us. Holy Week depicts God’s compassion fully when Jesus suffered betrayal, oppression, injustice, violence and murder. Although scholars have debated aspects and details of scriptures since it was written, there is one aspect that is not up for debate and everyone agrees. And that is that Jesus lived a life of compassion. He always responded with courage, care, mercy, and grace to those who were being oppressed.
He used his power to offer healing and hope. He never backed away and he never prioritized his own safety. Jesus invites us to follow him and his way in the world. We must therefore condemn racism in all its forms. We must listen to the African American community with compassion and the desire to understand their experience. We must embrace solidarity with others as a way of life. We must teach our young people the violent, unjust, and evil history of race relations in this country even if it is painful and shameful. We have voice and power and we must use our voice and power to serve our neighbors who are ignored or silenced. And we must confess our own sins, including the sins of complacency and silence. We ask God to forgive us and we repent. That is what Jesus taught us and calls us to do.
God’s Peace ~ Pr. Erik
Monthly Devotional, June 2020
Now it is June. We’ve been dealing with the pandemic for over two months now. It is no longer new, but still the end is not in sight. We are somewhere in the middle. So far, the middle is not a very nice place to be. Some of our businesses, organizations, and houses of worship are reopening and some are remaining closed. There is disagreement and hostility between levels of government on what is acceptably safe or unsafe. Sadly, people around the country feel compelled to choose one side over the other, and be for something and against something else, even though there truly is only one side that we are all on – humanity. This middle time is proving to be a time of frustration, impatience, anger and division, and I worry that the middle is going to last for a while. The middle is messy.
In times of messiness, we turn to scripture for comfort, perspective, and wisdom. The Bible tells us about times when people experienced hardship and uncertainty. The book of Exodus teaches us about people living through a middle time. We learn that Israel wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. If we look at a modern day map, we can see that they didn’t really have that far to go, but it took them 40 years. For long stretches of time it seemed like they weren’t really going anywhere, or making any progress. Previously, when they were living in slavery, the agenda was clear- escape Egypt and go to the promised land. The beginning was clear and the end was clear, but the middle was uncertain. Once they were freed, things became murky. They only had food for one day at a time, and their only guidance was a cloud by day and fire by night, and neither the cloud nor the fire explained where they were going. They became frustrated and angry. They yelled, grumbled, and were rebellious. Indeed the middle was not a nice place to be. The middle was messy and stressed them out.
But God was with them in the wilderness during the middle time. God guided them. God inspired their leaders. God provided food and water. God healed their sicknesses. God disciplined them and taught them and loved them. God taught them how to be a people, how to be a community, how to treat each other, and God taught them about faith. Just so, God is with us in our middle time. Even when we disagree on what to do next and how to do it. Even when we get frustrated, impatient, or even angry, God will remind us that God is in our midst, continuing to lead and care for us. And God will eventually bring us to where we need to be. Remember – God makes promises and God keeps those promises.
My prayer to God and my request to you is to be abundant in grace. Be generous to each other. Be patient with each other. Listen to each other. We should constantly be asking ourselves, “What does all this mean, and how can we use this time to further our relationship with God and our neighbors?” God does work to bring something good out of the bad times.
As we prepare to emerge from this messy middle time, I am assembling a new committee of people who will work towards making plans for how to assemble safely for worship and ministries for the coming months or longer. This team will also work closely with other churches and leaders to discern when it safe to gather again for worship. Notably, we will not gather until is safe to do so.
Your co-worker in Christ- Pastor Erik
Devotional: Memorial Day Weekend
John 10:10b I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
This Monday is Memorial Day here in the United States. It is a day often honored by getting together with groups of loved ones. This year, many people will honor it a bit differently because of restrictions on travel and gathering. Perhaps though, with a bit less noise and busyness, we can ponder more of the somberness of the day and where God fits in with it.
First, some context, Memorial Day was officially declared a national holiday in 1971, but dating in practice back to shortly after the Civil War. It is a time to rest from work and the routines of our week in order to create an intentional time to remember and honor those who have died in service to their country. Also, it is a time to hear and tell stories about the sacrifices of actual people which enables the younger generation to attach a face to a name. Importantly, making this day more than just a series of memories will help us all to keep from making war an abstraction. Hopefully, when we hear and tell these important stories we will be inspired to actions of peace, patience, and solidarity so that in the future others will not have to make the same sacrifice.
In this sense, Memorial Day should not be merely a vacation, a time to go to the lake, or a long weekend, but a time to renew our sense of gratitude for those who have served their country, and for the freedoms we enjoy because of that service and sacrifice. And it can also renew our own sense of commitment to working for a world that is committed to justice and peace.
Sincerely~ Pastor Erik
Devotional, May 15, 2020
Today’s Devotional is from Pastor Erik ~
Philippians 4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer let your requests be made known to God.
Ephesians 6:18 Pray in the spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.
1 Thessalonians 5:17. Pray without ceasing.
James 1:5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you.
James 5:13 Are any among you suffering? they should pray.
James 5:16 The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
When we don’t know, pray. Strange times in which we are living. The uncertainty of this time bothers me. It bothers me as a pastor. It bothers me as a father. It bothers me as a son. It bothers me simply as a person who lives and participates in society. This past week, I’ve been speaking with people about church and the question that keeps coming up is, ‘When will we gather again for worship?’ This question is being asked along with several other follow up questions like: “When we will we be able have communion again? What about confirmation this next year and other youth events like the youth gathering next summer. What about the stuff sale and 25 cent clothes sale? When…
Perhaps the hardest thing for me and I think most people is to say the words and admit the fact, “I don’t know.” But that is the truth. I don’t know right now. What I do know is that you are experiencing this too. You are experiencing this uncertainty as a parent, grandparent, friend, businessperson, caregiver, student, and faithful follower of God. We are used to checking our calendars and making plans for the future. We are used to looking forward to events where we see our friends. We are comforted by having a routine in life of work, social and religious activities. But, we’re no longer able to reasonably assume the future and make plans. We don’t have control of the future. We’re living in the present in a way we’re not used to doing. As my kids say, “the virus is ruining everything.”
So what do we do? Give up? Throw our hands up in despair? Wallow in self-pity? No! We are Christians. When we don’t know, we pray. When we’re worried, we pray. When we’re confused, we pray. When we are scared, we pray. When things seems lost, we pray. In all things we turn to the One who does know, the One who is not confused, uncertain, worried, or scared. We turn to God. One way I’ve been turning to God this past week has been to pray Psalm 86 everyday. I read/pray it out loud even though no one else is around. I do this so that not only do I read it, but I can hear it too. Psalm 86 specifically communicates to me God’s power and certainty and it is helpful during times when I am feeling powerless and uncertain. Pray Psalm 86 or any other scripture that speaks to you.
So, fellow co-workers in Christ, keep praying. Pray for your loved ones. Pray for care givers. Pray for me and other pastors and religious leaders as we seek wisdom from God. Pray for all those guiding the lives of this nation. Pray for a vaccine. Pray that we all can become more humble, gentle, patient. I do know that prayer works and prayer is needed, but keep in mind that prayer is the companion of action. For example, Pray for those who are lonely or scared, and then give them a call. Pray for the church and then generously act on behalf of God’s mission. Pray for patience and then watch a beautiful sunset or take a nice walk.
May the peace of the Lord be with you always. ~Pastor Erik
PASTOR’S DEVOTION FOR THE MONTH OF MAY:
I never thought 2020 would be like this. In fact, since 2019 brought challenges to OSLC due to staff changes, I was planning for 2020 would be a year to take a breath and, relax, worship and simply enjoy each other’s presence. Not to make light of the situation, but I I’m reminded of the saying, “when people make plans- God laughs.”
This past week I was following the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA mostly out of curiosity because Rocky Mountain is where I was previously rostered in before moving to Minnesota. They were having their annual assembly and they used internet meetings to conduct their meeting. I mainly wanted to see some familiar faces and I wanted to hear what their guest speakers had to say in this time of the coronavirus. I was especially taken by one speaker who asked, “Is this an interruption or a disruption”? He posed this question to help everyone consider that the impacts of the coronavirus represent a fundamental shift in the way our society and therefore our churches will now operate. The reasoning was, if the coronavirus was just an interruption, then we would be looking forward to getting back to normal. But if this is a disruption, “then we must recognize that our normal is a thing of the past and make room for a new way of operating in this world.”
We’ve all experienced disruptions in our lives, and some are big, some are small. For example, we now stream our videos from Netflix and Amazon instead of renting videos from Blockbuster. This week I had all my dog’s food and chew toys delivered to my house by the UPS man rather than driving to the store, putting the food in the cart, buying it and bringing it home (amazingly, delivery is even cheaper than the old-fashioned way). Another example, after 9/11 people stopped greeting their loved ones at the gate at the airport and instead we all wait patiently in the cell phone lot. Everyone knows we must remove our shoes when we go through airport security and we can’t bring liquids in our bags. Our travel routines were disrupted, and we have now been living in this “new normal” for almost 20 years.
So, church has not simply been interrupted, it has been disrupted. Church is going to change. (Read that last sentence again and think about it for a moment before you continue reading) “Church is going to change,” is not a sentence I like typing. It’s not something I want to say or hear. I want to make plans for going back to normal, but the fact is we’ve been disrupted. Our worship will be different in the locations we can sit, the way we partake in communion, pass the peace, collect offering, and interact with others. As you all know, I love to give hugs, and that can’t happen anymore. But it is not all lament, I think some changes will enhance our ability to participate in God’s mission. I don’t know exactly what all those changes will be, but I’m ready to make the changes rather than get left behind and become ineffective in doing what Jesus has called us to do. One change that is permanently with us, for the good, is online worship. We will continue to have an online worship experience for people. Not just for health reasons, but when people are out enjoying the beauty of Minnesota on the weekends or out of town they can still worship and be connected to the community. I’ve also been humbled to hear from a couple folks who physically haven’t been able to worship in person for a couple years how grateful they are for this ministry. Having virtual meetings is also an opportunity. For example, our Synod’s Global Mission team, which I am part of, will have more frequent meetings over Zoom instead of occasionally having everyone drive to Duluth. This will cut down on travel, time and expense and hopefully bring more people into involvement. The folks from I-Falls have no excuse now. Our own congregation can use this technology to be more efficient and invite more people to participation.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we know that disruptions can be difficult to adjust to, but we also know they can bring new opportunities. Continue to guide us and reveal to us the majesty of your world.
Your co-worker in Christ- Pastor Erik
May 1, 2020
Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19
I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”
What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
This psalm really spoke to me this week. During a time of uncertainty and difficulty, I gain confidence and comfort knowing that God is a God who listens and responds to my prayers. God also listens and responds to your prayers too. Lately, several people have asked me to help them or teach them how to pray. It seems like the difficulty in beginning to pray is just figuring out what words to use. It seems strange to talk, especially out loud, if there’s no one else in the room. Laughably, I speak to an empty room all the time- just check out the worship service videos. Remember, there isn’t a wrong way to pray, and if you want to do it silently, it is ok. But even if you don’t mind talking out loud, it can be hard to know what to say, or how to “start the conversation” with God.
Well, the first thing to do is be comforted: you don’t have to perform for God in your prayers with perfect words or long speeches! God much prefers honesty to style. And if you only have enough to say to fill up one minute, that’s ok too. Another source of comfort: you already have a lot of experience praying. You have said and heard many prayers in church. Even if you don’t have them memorized, your brain is used to the language of prayer. Once you start to do it, it will feel perfectly natural. If it helps, you can begin with the Lord’s Prayer. You probably know it by heart, and it will help you relax a bit. You can also find a Psalm, or read another part of Scripture to loosen you up a bit! Another possibility is to start like you would a letter and say, “Dear God…” Whichever way you begin take heart knowing that we all end our prayers in the same way- “AMEN!”
Stay safe and God bless~ Pr. Erik
April 24th, 2020
I invite everyone to open their bibles and read Judges chapters 6-8. It is the story of Gideon. I’ve always liked the story of Gideon, and I’m highlighting this story now because some of the themes and issues that Gideon dealt with seem very pertinent for today’s struggles.
Chapter 6 tells us about a time when the Israelites were experiencing terrible suffering by the Midianites. Everything they valued and everything they worked for was either stolen or destroyed. Our main character in the story is Gideon, and when we are introduced to him he is hiding in a wine press, trying to thresh wheat in order to keep it from the enemy. Basically, he was working from home, and trying his best to preserve a future for himself and his loved ones. (A familiar place where many of us find ourselves these days) Then, an angel of the Lord comes to him and declares, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Notably, Gideon doesn’t boldly stand up and reply “Here, I am.” Instead, his response is something more realistic. Gideon said 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 off 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 people are suffering? Where is God while he’s trying to thresh wheat in a wine press? Where is God when we’re working from home because it is unsafe to be out? Where is God when the schools are closed? Where is God when jobs are lost and money is tight? Where is God when the church is unable gather to worship? Gideon’s question is, “Why has God allowed this happened?”
Whether it is Covid 19 or any tragic event during the course of our lives, we find ourselves asking the same question as Gideon. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that God invites us to ask and converse with God about our lives, joys and struggles. Another thing that I do know is that no matter what, God is with us. In fact, that was the angel’s greeting to Gideon. The Lord is with you mighty warrior! I doubt Gideon felt mighty and he doesn’t seem like much of a warrior. But God called him to be a leader and do great things. God believed in him and saw in him something he didn’t see in himself. I think the church is a mighty warrior too, and because the church is not a simply a building, but because the church is people, you are also a mighty warrior.
Through the oppression of the Midianites, people experienced fear, despair, anxiety, selfishness, and isolation. But God hears the cries of the people and God gets involved which leads to victory. Similarly, the virus has also caused fear, despair, anxiety, selfishness and isolation. God hears our cries and I am confident God is involved and is present. Gideon trusted God in the midst of hard times, and we can too. No matter what comes, know this: God is with us and is stronger than anything that threatens us.
Your co-worker in Christ. Pastor Erik
April 17, 2020
There are so many people to thank for all the ways people are stepping up during this difficult time and making a difference in the lives of God’s people. We are in ministry to walk with others through their joys as well as struggles and to equip others to fully participate in God’s mission. That mission remains t17 he same even when we can’t physically gather in our Sanctuary. My heart overflows because I see the congregation fully embracing God’s mission. Thank you for continuing to support the mission of our church with your generosity. Thank you for sending in your offerings through the mail or through our online giving. Thank you for sharing our worship service with your friends and family. There are some powerful stories coming to light about how people who hadn’t been in worship for years are engaging their faith through online worship. Thank you for your notes of thanks and encouragement to me during this time. Thank you for making phone calls and checking in with one another and expanding our congregational care. Thank you for being you and not letting the challenges of the world diminish your hope, commitment, and grace.
Above all, my main focus of thankfulness and awe is directed to God. God is the one who sustains us through this time. God is the one who is always present and is with those who are alone. God is the one who will guide us through these confusing and frustrating days and weeks. God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead so that we are fully redeemed and can live our lives with complete confidence in God’s grace. Therefore, we can devote ourselves in responding to this grace with good work to our neighbors. God is the one who gives us life and purpose and a peace that passes all human understanding. I take heart that the last thing we said and proclaimed as a physical gathered congregation was “go in peace, serve the Lord,” “Thanks be to God.” I take heart because we have done exactly that.
Your co-worker with Christ~ Pastor Erik
GREAT ARE THE WORKS OF THE LORD
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.’ ”
The concept of a year of rest for the land is an ancient one for farmers. God commanded the people to give their land a rest every seven years. No plowing or planting, no harvesting. Just let the land be. We know now that this is important to help the land be productive, to allow it time to recover from being farmed. We are in a time of rest now. The difference is we didn’t choose this and we didn’t have much time to prepare; we have to stay home, distance ourselves for the sake of our neighbor. Like the land during the fallow year, many of us simply have to let ourselves be.
After calling many of you to check in and see how things are going, I know most of us are at home now running out of things to do and occupy our time. The weather is still a bit cold and outside is wet and muddy so gardening and yard work are not options yet. We’ve already organized our basements and cleaned out our closets. Now what? I can’t help but wonder what God is planning to do to redeem this slower time for us. Could this turn into a time of rest and renewal? I hope so. I know I am spending more time with my kids now and feeling the bonds of our relationships strengthened. We’ve been reading a lot more kid’s books together and I can tell that my daughter is strengthening her reading skills everyday. I’m also really glad I enjoy the company of my wife, and I feel our relationship flourishing as we work together to meet these challenging times. I think maybe, God is redeeming this time.
As many of you know, I am passionate about the environment and being a good steward of God’s creation. I’ve been interested to see that pollution is way down across the globe. There are some amazing videos on youtube that show dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice and other wildlife coming out of hiding. Maybe God can use this time to teach us about what our planet can be like, again. Please don’t misunderstand me. This virus is real and it is bad. But I think God has a way of revealing God’s self in the midst of bad situations to illuminate God’s love and grace.
I am inspired by hearing stories of brave and talented people who work in essential services like healthcare and knowing that those people are using their God-given talents to do amazing work. These stories prove to me that 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; God is working through us and among 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.
Bless you now and evermore~ Pastor Erik
SUSTAIN THE WEARY WITH A WORD.
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
I know I am weary. I am weary of watching the constantly changing news, weary of not being able to do things and go places, weary of missing my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, weary of worrying about loved ones. “Sustain the weary with a word.” Sounds like just the thing for this week.
And not just any word, but the Word. The word of God. In times of weariness and uncertainty, these verses from Philippians are right on. They teach us and remind us of God’s character, who God is, and God’s strength. It shows us Jesus becoming fully human and entering fully into the human experience. Not only is Jesus one of us, but he is the best of us.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Let the words from Philippians enter your heart and mind. In a time when we often feel powerless in the word, take comfort in knowing that God is powerful and in charge. When we can’t “do stuff” out in the community, know that the word is can and will “do stuff.” I love this quote by Martin Luther. He fully trusted the Word to go out and do God’s mission. “I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word…did everything.”[i]
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
Happy February everyone,
On January 26, we read psalm 27 in worship. It is one of my favorite psalms. Simple, beautiful, uplifting. I have often gained comfort and courage by reading verse 1 and letting the psalmist’s word dwell in my mind.
Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Whenever we have scripture that invokes words and images of light and dark I remind myself that in psalmist’s time, and most of human history, people have had two types of light in their daily lives- the sun and the lamp (oil, not electricity lamps) . The sun is so powerful that it can’t be stared at. It gives light, warmth, and enables plants to grow. The sun is certainly a gift from God. In Genesis 1:3 God said, “Let there be light” and it was so. 1 John 1:5 wonderfully tells us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
In the psalmist’s time, people had small oil filled lamps that they would occasionally light at night. Several examples of these lamps have been discovered by archeologists and can be seen in museums today. I have a replica of the most common lamp on a shelf in my office. It is small and can fit in the palm of your hand. It is filled with oil and has a 2-3 inch wick coming out. I’ve lit my replica lamp a few times in order to see how it works. It works well, but with just a single small wick it casts just enough light for someone to see a few feet in the darkness. I am reminded as well of the words from Psalm 119, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.”
Reflecting upon light, lamps and psalms I feel the wisdom of these words teaches us that we do indeed receive God’s light in our lives and God’s light illuminates our path by our feet, but it doesn’t show us every detail of the path ahead or which direction it is going to go in the next mile or the next year. These thoughts can be applied to our individual lives, or our congregation, or even to the wide universal church. In essence, we learn that we live as people who honor the past, try to discern the future, but ultimately are called to live fully in the present as God’s hands and feet in this beautiful yet broken world.
So, as we prepare for Lent at the end of February, (metaphorically or literally if you like) light your lamps and let your light shine as a beacon of hope to others.
Your co-worker in Christ, Pastor Erik