Beautiful Grain

On Sunday mornings I get just as much from the Children’s Message as I do with any other part of worship. I guess I’m terribly complex that way.

11059973_869763319726089_3897337767204758743_oRecently at Easter we celebrated Pastor Paul’s retirement. A true servant of Christ, Pastor Paul served the people of Easter for 15 years. The end of July, without much fanfare, he gave his final sermon.

He called children forward for the Children’s Message. My youngest hasn’t quite outgrown the carpet in front of the Pastor’s feet. My son knelt down in front of Pastor Paul while other kiddos moved into the space around him. Pastor Paul held a wide straw basket in his hands filled with grain. Much to the kids delight he threw the grain into the air and caught, well-most of it, back into the basket. He explained the process of threshing in which wind would blow away the inedible scaly chaff of the grain when it was tossed in the air. The process left only the best, only the valuable piece of the grain within the basket. It was too heavy for the wind to take it away.  He encouraged the children before him to do something good and honorable with their lives, something heavy in value that can’t be easily blown away with the wind.

As he spoke, with my son directly at his feet, I remembered the day Pastor Paul stood at my son’s bedside when he was in intensive care. It struck me that that had just been a single moment in his lifelong service of Christ. He had come to comfort us. He put his hands in ours and prayed quietly over my son. To my husband and I, that simple single moment was one that we cherish. I looked out at the congregation at those who lined the pews and wondered how many others had their own moment.

7e9db15a2a4ee54f398c56ed0724e2eeHis sermon, based on the first Psalm, humbly gave no reference to his own life work. He spent the last few moments of his vocation to talk about his beloved Tanzania. He recently returned from his annual trip and he wanted to share the ways in which the people of Tanzania benefited from our congregational support. He talked about some of the beautiful ways in which these people, in spite of significant challenges, put their trust in God. Meditating on His word thus having what they need to be productive and fruitful.

He stood before us and he challenged us to develop a dependency on God, to meditate on what it is that God is calling us to do and be in our lives. It was a beautiful way to end this time as teacher and consoler. Nevertheless, what will stay with me is the image of grain thrown in the air and my memory of his hand in mine.

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“Thank you Jesus for the gift of Pastor Paul. He has done many good and honorable things, things that could never be blown away with the wind. May you continue to provide him with rich blessings. Help us Lord to respond to his encouragement. May each of us do something good and honorable. ~ Amen.”

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Passing on Faith Through Rituals

This is a sermon delivered by Easter summer intern Meghan at Camp Wapo.

My name is Meghan and I am a junior nursing student at Luther College in Decorah, IA. This is my second year as an Easter intern, but my first time at Family Camp. Our theme for this weekend is Passing on Faith. I am going to give you my perspective of this theme and our reading this morning, hoping that maybe it will give you some insight to what it means to you.

The reading this morning reminded me of a ritual my family has, family camping in the summer. Let me first say that my idea of spending time outside revolves around sitting outside reading a book and once in a while taking a walk. So, camping, you can guess, has not been my most favorite family activity!!

In order to help us understand the story better, I am going to back up a little bit in the chapter. The writers start the story talking about how the Israelites have been walking for 40 years and are finally arriving in the Promised Land. I cannot fathom how excited and relieved they must have been. After all, this isn’t just pulling into your driveway after a long camping trip, but whole lifetimes of wandering through the desert in search of a “Promised Land.” And then, because they weren’t very good with directions, and didn’t have a GPS or a handy weather app, the Israelites happen to arrive during harvest season. This means that the river is flooded, flowing too fast to get across safely. At this point, if I were an Israelite, I would be extremely frustrated with God, questioning everything about him. Why did we wander these past 40 years to not even be able to get into the land of milk and honey? Why would he let this happen to us? Does he even know that we’re here?

I know that I have felt this way often throughout my life, questioning if anyone cares about or is listening to me? Can you imagine the distress the Israelites were going through? Luckily, it turns out that God is pretty good at working with water!! God tells Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, that “He will find a way.” How’s that for blindly trusting in God? But, the Israelites chose to trust in God though, so God tells the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant to go before the others, entering the Jordan River first. Tradition says the Ark contained the 10 commandments, some manna, or food, and perhaps the first five books of the Old Testament. In other words, the Ark of the Covenant was the holiest of holy places for the wandering Israelites. The idea that God, his holy word, and his promise, goes ahead of us to prepare a way when there seems to be no way is amazing. God is always with us, helping us forge our paths in life.

When the priests step into the water, the rushing river stops flowing, separating so the Israelites can cross, once again, on dry land. After all of the Israelites crossed, 12 men, 1 from each of the 12 tribes, go to the dry river bed and find stones from under the place where the priests had stood. They stack these stones on the river bank so that, as it says in verses 6 and 7, “when your children ask in time to come, ‘what do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” In other words, the Bible is telling us a ritual that the Israelites had. Every time a family walked past the 12 stones, the mom or dad would tell their kids the wondrous things God had done for them and their ancestors.

Think about what rituals you had in your family growing up. Whether they were done regularly or just occasionally, how did they help you remember what God’s done for you in your life?

While my family doesn’t have such a theological ritual like the Israelites had, our camping trips were always full of God-filled moments. Unfortunately a lot were related to the weather. While our family friends slept in a big, nice, air-conditioned RV camper next door, we woke up to snow or rain during the night. In fact, one year we actually woke up floating on our air mattresses because our tent had leaked. Throughout the years, we’ve also had exploding Jiffy pop popcorn, trips to the nearest town due to my sister extremely allergic reactions to mosquitoes, and waking up only to find out that our boat had sunk to the bottom of the lake. But no matter how eventful and crazy our trips were, or how happy we were to finally come home, we always ended up spending A LOT of time together as a family, ultimately helping us grow closer to each other and, eventually, God. We learned to trust God in times of trouble, such as when our boat sunk, carrying our trust into our regular lives back at home too.

Traditions are important for passing on the Christian faith to future generations. Rituals help is remember what God has done. They remind us that He keeps His promises. God promised to rescue the Israelites from slavery and bring them into freedom, and he did. The ritual of communion helps us recall that God has promised to forgive our sin and give us new life. He does this through his son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

It’s a Beautiful Day

(today’s offering is provided by Alicia Westbrock)

One of the best things about this time of year (in my opinion) is that football season gets underway!  You won’t see me on the jumbotron decked out in face paint, but I admit that for me, a perfect winter Sunday would include watching Green Bay beat the pants off the Saints.

So here’s a football analogy: Upon winning the Super Bowl, every member of the team is awarded a prestigious Super Bowl ring.  That includes the player who played in the game and fought for the win, as well as the player who sat on the bench waiting for a chance that didn’t come.  Both players are part of the team, support the team, and deserve a ring.  But when the game is over, which player had more fun and feels more fulfilled?  When they get their Super Bowl rings, whose means more?

Now translate that to life.  We all know that players on Team Christian aren’t compensated according to our skill and contribution – grace doesn’t work that way, thank goodness.  In fact, we all ride the bench from time to time.  No, this analogy is about personal satisfaction.  In life, who has more fun and feels more fulfilled – the player sitting on the bench being a “good Christian” watching and cheering the team on, or the player who has been in the game, actively striving with the team to carry on the work of Jesus Christ?  When the game is over, whose ring will mean more?  Not to God, but to the player.

God commands us to get in the game and play.  The often-quoted verse from Deuteronomy 6 doesn’t say love the Lord your God when you can squeeze it in and afford it.  It says love the Lord your God with all you got – heart, soul and strength!  Jesus said this is the greatest commandment of them all.  Time and time again the message in Jesus’ teachings is love God; love and serve one another.

I like this verse from the hymn “Gather Us In”:

Not in the dark of buildings confining
Not in some heaven light years away
Here in this place the new light is shining
Now is the kingdom and now is the day

We are the “place” that the new light is shining – in our hearts, our congregation, our team.  While there are countless worthy organizations where you can get in the game and do God’s work, I’m going to advocate for Easter here.  We need as many players as we can get!  For instance, on average some 900 people worship at Easter each week, and the communion wine doesn’t pour itself.  Over 800 kids attend church school and confirmation each year.  Here they explore and develop their faith and connect with others while they’re doing it, but they need supervision and a ton of guidance in that process.  There are people in our community and our world who are starving – physically, emotionally, and in spirit.  Jesus is counting on us to share the love that he taught us through action such as a caring visit, a meal, a winter coat, words spoken in kindness rather than pity or judgment.  These ministries and the many other wonderful, God-filled things taking place at and through Easter need a full team of players to run the plays and move the ball down the field.

Here’s another quote, this one from a U2 song:

It’s a beautiful day.  Don’t let it get away.

I hear that lyric and I think to myself: Don’t wait for a role that suits you to a tee – perfection is hard to come by.  Don’t get sidelined waiting for your schedule to clear or your bank account to show a surplus – that simply won’t happen.  Put any other reasons that keep you on the bench aside.  Play in the game to the best of your ability!  Do it for yourself.  When you look down at your Super Bowl ring, you’ll be glad you did!

Blind Side

Today’s reflection is from Easter member Chris Cairo: 

I hope this semester is getting off to a good start for you!

the_blind_side1Tonight I am watching a good movie on TV, one I’ve seen a few times…”The Blind Side”. Very few movies move me. This one does. Part of what makes the story so powerful, is that it is true.

Simple story: a family takes in someone homeless, who is in need. Gives him, not only a place to sleep, but the gift of family. Helps him get through school. He is given an opportunity to succeed, and does, becoming a first round pick in the NFL draft (Michael Oher 2009 draft). Great story. Simple plot.

The title “The Blind Side” refers to a line in the movie where Leigh Anne Tuohy, the heroine, (and yes, I truly think she is a hero) tells him his job on the field is to protect the quarterback’s ‘blindside’.

But, I think the title, and the story, also calls us to look for our ‘blindside’.

How many of us would have seen his need? Seen his need and understood that we could help? Seen his need, knew we could help, and then actually did something about it?

Jesus tells us “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Turn that into a question from Jesus; ‘what did you do for the least of these in My name?’

Easter has been growing. Not so much in number, but definitely in service to others. Our partnership with Oak Ridge (tutoring/community meals), our partnership with Loaves & Fishes (community meals at the Lake 4 nights each week), our partnerships in Guatemala and Tanzania, and our partnership with Treehouse. These are some of the ways Easter is answering Jesus’s question.

How will YOU answer that question?

P.S. not in the movie: but the daughter, who was a straight A student, dropped out of some of her advanced classes, so that she could take classes with Michael and help him in school.

 

Easter member Chris Cairo wrote the above reflection as part of his special ministry to college students and others, in which he writes to them on a monthly basis to encourage their faith to thrive in their daily lives.

little Aylan

Last Wednesday I woke to find images on FaceBook of a lifeless little Syrian boy lying on the shore of a Turkish resort town. His image stole my breath, and left my heart heavy in grief. The photograph captured his sweet innocence in perfect contrast with the atrocities of the evil that is the islamic state.

If I could melt away all that surrounded him, the cold sand and rocky beach, the waves of the sea washing over his sweet face, his soaked clothes and shoes-if only. In my minds-eye I see him lying in his parent’s bed warm and dry, air filling his little chest allowing it to rise and fall sweetly as he dreams of toy trains and running beside his big brother.

mašinkaThe world soon knew his name-little Aylan. He was three years old. We knew his story as well. His family spent $4,000 to board a small boat off the coast of Turkey with the hope of reaching Kos Greece, and a new life in Europe. Tragically-as if his story was anything else-after his family payed the smuggler $4,000, no money remained for life jackets. The small boat capsized and Aylan perished along with his mother and five year old brother.

Syrian refugees have a piece of my heart. Aleppo, Syria is my husband’s birthplace. Birthplace, I must premiss, but not his ancestral home as he is often quick to point out. His family also endured incredible atrocities at the hand of radical islam. His grandfather, and great-grandparents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Also refugees, they settled in Syria and Lebanon in 1915. It’s been 100 years since the Armenian Genocide-sadly it seems little has changed.

A few months shy of my husband’s eighteenth birthday his family set out for a new life in the States. My Pauly is the best storyteller. Over our marriage he has shared so much about his childhood. Stories about growing up in a Christian neighborhood in Aleppo. Stories we all can relate to, even if our stories are an ocean away. Stories like sneaking out and taking his dad’s car for a midnight joy ride with his buddies-who needs a license anyway. Girls, bicycles, birthday parties, corner ice cream shops, more trouble than his parents would like to know-he has painted a colorful picture for me describing a group of young boys with life to burn.

Recent reports say that half of Syria’s population is now displaced. Half. Most of Paul’s childhood friends left Syria in the same way he did, now more than two decades ago. But some remained-who knows were they are now.

SIRIA_-_LIBANO_-_aleppo_devastataThe Armenian Catholic Church, his family’s church home, where he served as an alter boy was destroyed by a bomb this last April. The Church dated back to the 15th century and housed relics and icons including a painting from 1703. His neighborhood has been a hot spot for violence, as it has been home to Syrian Christians for hundreds of years.

The building where he grew up was also bombed-destroying homes on the top floor. Families still occupy the floors below the damage. Who knows what each day feels like for those living beneath and amongst the rubble. My Paul has my heart, and I can’t help but think about what his life would look like had he stayed. These are the things I ponder.

…and now with the image of little Aylan, now it seems I have a picture for my heavy heart.

Jesus, Please Come…  Revelation 21:4  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”


Consider joining me in supporting World Vision in their efforts to help Syrian Refugees.

Mindy Lynn Hilo and her family have been members at Easter for eleven years. She is a conformation mentor and a regular contributor to Easter Prays. “little Aylan” was also shared on her personal blog, embracingcharlie.com.

Sabbath Rest

Somewhere along the way in life I came to realize, somewhat to my dismay, that my sub-conscious sees my worth in what I do, not who I am.  I value accomplishing things – it seems to validate my existence or something, I’m not quite sure.

Earlier this summer, I had surgery on my hip.  This, after a three-year stint of not doing much other than work and school – a time in which I accomplished a head-spinning amount of work. After surgery, there is the forced, doctors-orders type of rest – Sabbath.  Along with that prescribed rest, I also found I didn’t have the energy to accomplish much other than the minimum reqsunrise-fielduired of my day.  I forced myself to get stuff done, and kicked myself for not accomplishing more.  When my energy levels began to increase again, I realized that, in fact, God had given me a gift during that low energy time – the gift of Sabbath Rest.

1 Corinthians 10:31 urges us to do everything for the glory of God, whether it’s eating or drinking or anything else.  Sabbath Rest is especially for the glory of God. As I began to realize the gift I had been given, I, as someone who values checking off the to-do list, beat myself up a little. But then, I gave myself permission to live into the rest, and spend more time with God. Part of my recovery is to just walk. Not fast, not for exercise, but for recovery.  What a perfect way to spend time with God, in God’s creation, focusing on God. I spent more time just sitting with God in quiet or in meditation – listening for God’s voice. I began to cherish this extra time with God. And now that I’m coming fully out of my recovery period, I’m trying to keep some of that Sabbath Rest as part of my daily life, living into being a child of God, rather than a person who gets a lot of stuff done.  I know that the to-do list will eventually take over again and that’s ok – God made me that way after all.  But I pray that the beauty of that extra time with God will call me back to quiet places in the midst of the chaos of life.

God created the world out of chaos, and God rested in the midst of it.  May you recognize the gift of Sabbath Rest when God presents it to you, and may you live into it fully, deepening God’s presence in your life.

Ubuntu

I know this post is long. Please read it anyway. I know it will inspire you because some people are just magical in their inspiration and Jason was one of those people.

I am posting this in memory of myJason and Jenalee cousin Jackie’s son.  Our husbands call us twin cousins and I love her with my full and crazy heart.  Jason keeps a strong grip on my soul.  I learned so much from his young wisdom.

Some years ago, Jackie and her husband Skot, unexpectedly lost her 22 year old son, Jason, full of great promise and on the cusp of life. He was fluent in life and intention. A while ago, she shared an essay Jason wrote describing a semester he spent in South Africa.

The essay said in part,”I have learned here that wealth is not about money; it’s about family, friends, and community—the more you have, the wealthier you are. Here, in South Africa, people are always talking about community and “ubuntu”, focusing on it, adding to it, holding it up, living it. Ubuntu in the Xhosa culture means, “I am because we are.” I had heard about it before I left home, but it was only when I saw it in action that I finally understood and realized that it was I who was impoverished, not them. They aren’t “enduring” anything. They are loving life. In the US, time is money, and people live it. Here, time is life, and life is to be enjoyed. Here, people call each other brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, auntie, and they literally treat each other as family and care for one another regardless of blood relation. For me, this is the souvenir I take away from South Africa, not just the story about the time I ate goat intestines.”

Although we no longer see Jason, his presence remains strong. I know he is still among us, brushing by and whispering “Ubuntu.”

Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” Today, in honor of Jason, practice Ubuntu.  Then do it again tomorrow.  And again.

As the children in South Africa told an anthropologist, “How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?” Live as if time is life, care as if all you meet today are related to you. Be rich in family, friends, and community. Be an angel among us.

“I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.” — Maya Angelou

Dear God, Thank you for angels. Thank you for Jason. Thank you for the wisdom of children. Open our eyes wide and permanently to each other. Make us know that we belong to each other. Shine your light on opportunities for us to practice Ubuntu and be an angel among your people. Bring us the peace of belonging to each other. Teach us, Lord, as the children know, that “I am, because we are.” With my child’s heart, Amen.