Beautiful, Scary, Energizing Change

Prepared by Vision Board President Brad Van Horn

Change at Easter has been discussed many times but, it still seems appropriate to discuss the beautiful, scary, energizing, grievous, complex, and powerful changes that have happened – and are still happening – at Easter Lutheran Church.  Retirements, new pastoral calls, periods of hard-earned rest, tearful good-byes, and warm welcomes; we have seen them all!  Change is seldom easy!

Rubiks_cubeDuring a recent men’s leadership group meeting, the following was read from the book, “Leadership Prayers” by Richard Kriegbaum.  It is included in this devotion because we’ve seen so much complex change over the last few years at Easter and this really illustrates the challenges we have faced together. Kriegbaum writes, “In the guest bathroom of a friend’s home, I found no reading material, only a Rubik’s Cube. Pondering the challenges of leadership while fiddling with the plastic puzzle, I happened upon these lessons:

Some things cannot be changed. The center square determines what color each side of the cube must be.  Everything else about the cube can be changed in endless permutations, but the color of any one face is determined by the center.  Inherently optimistic, I assume I can accomplish whatever the organization needs, but I have always been blessed with a few faithful “reality therapists” who make sure we do not waste time and energy trying to do the impossible.

You can never change just one thing. The only way to move any square on any face of the cube is to move twelve squares all at once.  I may want to move one manager, rewrite one section of the plan, modify one advertising concept, drop one product line, add one new service, or relocate one branch office.  But every change has multiple results, planned and otherwise.

You have to give up what you have to get what you want. Getting one face of the cube all the same color is not too difficult, but progress beyond that point requires losing part of that beautifully complete face.  Most people fail the cube because they cannot destroy the first complete face they achieve.  They cling to the lovely but unfinished present and sacrifice the future.

This clever metaphor doesn’t judge change to be either good or bad, but if the goal is to complete the cube, change is necessary.  Beyond the old axiom of change is inevitable, the passage elegantly brings additional context to the nature of change that are not so intuitive, i.e.  ‘Some things cannot be changed,’ ‘You can never change just one thing,’ and ‘You have to give up what you have to get what you want.’”

As it was read, the images of change at Easter were flashing in my mind with all the progress and complexity.  And then a larger question came to mind: does this puzzle toy and the physics that govern it represent our spiritual lives?  Are we prepared to uphold our values every day and not allow them to be changed?

Do we recognize all the transformations in our lives when we make a change that accepts God?  Do we cling to the unfinished present and sacrifice our future in the eyes of God?

Dear Lord, help us to see the changes in our lives that would serve you.  Guide us to separate those things derived from your word that must not change, from those things that must change in order to accomplish your will.  Please help us find the courage to let go of our time, talent, and treasure to serve you and others in need so that we may build a future with you.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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!

A Blast from the Past

This devotion was prepared by Vision Board member Keri Olson.

I just watched the 40th Anniversary of Saturday Night Live.  It was a blast from my past and made me smile from ear to ear.  But it also made me realize that all those performers of my youth were getting really old. And if they were getting old then by default I must be too.

Make no mistake, I am clear on my age.  But for the most part I see my family, friends and acquaintances often enough that general aging is incremental. When you go back to the beginning and then jump forward 40 years, it’s a little shocking. A bit like running into friends and their children at the mall when you haven’t seen the kids for years; it’s as though they instantly went from toddlers to teens.

Experiencing the SNL oldsters (Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murry, Jane Curtain, etc) from their youthful comic genius to now seasoned dramatic veterans gave me an entertaining yet powerful view of our mortality.

I distinctly remember the first time I was truly aware that I would not live forever.  Shortly after our son Cameron was born, I had an epiphany. I realized that if something happened to me, if I died, it would matter.  Really matter.  In a joyous time those were heavy thoughts so I put them aside and went on living without fear of dying, because to live in fear would have denied how wonderful this new life and motherhood was.  And yet here I am again, from a completely different impetus, recognizing my mortality.

The timing of the anniversary show couldn’t have been better.  Coming just before the start of Lent it pushed me to thinking about the fullness of life; it has a beginning, middle and an end.  Years ago my thoughts on what to do with my life were framed by big ideas, plans and goals.  I still have a few of those, but my focus on how I want to live the rest of the “middle” of my life has softened.  I’m going to make a real effort to be more intentional in all I do, to be really present and in tune to other’s needs and less on my own.  That will take some doing.

On Ash Wednesday we were reminded through scripture “Remember, man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.”  It refers to our making and our finality, leaving the middle to us.  And I guess until we are finally dust we are in the middle, challenged to live without fear of dying, knowing that Christ did the heavy lifting for us.

Great and gracious God, thank you for using all the tools available to you, to get to us, even SNL.  You are truly everywhere and in everything.  Guide us in the middle of our lives to seek you in all things. Amen

Music and Faith Life – Vision Board Devotion

Faith-sharing question: What role (if any) does music play in your faith life? by Wade Anderson

As I have mentioned before, maybe too many times, I spend much of my day surrounded by music. On the bus on the way to work. While trying to crank out that last-minute to-do in my office. While on the treadmill at the Y. On the radio when taking one of the kiddos to their latest after-school activity. It so often fills my ears that I lose track of what I’m listening to, exactly.

And then, at other times, it completely takes control of me so that I can’t do anything else but listen. I would argue that a well-struck G-chord on an acoustic guitar is the most beautiful sound in the world. (And, similarly, the same chord on an out-of-tune guitar is the most awful sound ever.) Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s harmonies on “The Boxer.” Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar solo on “Little Wing.” Miles Davis’s trumpet on “Freddie Freeloader.” Sounds that are so amazing, so unbelievable, so… holy?

No offense to any of my current or former pastors and their always-intriguing sermons, but the times in my life when I have been most moved during worship have involved music. These include, but are by no means limited to: the a church choir singing “Beautiful Savior” a capella while interspersed within the congregation; a two-man acoustic bluegrass version of “Come thy Fount of Every Blessing”; and, frankly, anything that the band plays at the Hill’s Saturday evening service. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the first time I heard “The Old Rugged Cross” after my Dad passed away. I was a puddle.

I list all of these songs to say that I truly believe that God speaks to me, to many of us, through music. He speaks to me in other ways too, of course, but some of those methods take more effort than putting in my headphones and firing up my iPod. There is something so intrinsically powerful about some songs that I know in my heart that the music is inspired by God, that He is using music to reach my heart. Not unlike David playing his harp to King Saul, God uses music to give us comfort and relief.

I am lucky enough to lead the Church School praise band at the Hill, where 15 great, talented, enthusiastic middle-schoolers lead children’s worship with song every Sunday. The kids in Church School range from pre-K to fifth grade, so (naturally) some of the spoken parts are lost on the younger ones, but everyone jumps up and joins in when the band plays. I can see the music reaching these kids, making an impression, making them smile and praise God in meaningful ways. I hear my own three kids singing “I Am 
A C” and “The Hippo Song” randomly during homework or before bed and 
hope a similar impression is being made on other kids.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for making Yourself known to us in so many ways, including music. Help us keep You and Your desires at the top of our mind, even if that means keeping the radio on in the background. Bring comfort to those who strain to hear You at times, reminding them that Your voice is never far from us. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Demonstrating Faith – Vision Board Devotion by Sandy Bull

Have you ever been talking with someone and all of a sudden the words that they are saying hit you like a ton of bricks? They go straight to your core and make you think. I experienced this recently while volunteering at the Holiday Gift Shop. I was working wrapping presents and talking with the many appreciative shoppers, when a young mother commented “It’s time to have a little faith in our lives.” Wow what a statement! Life had dealt her some recent changes, but she realized the importance of faith in God. She wasn’t bitter or depressed; she had confidence that there would be better days, and trusted that along the way God would be there to help her. It caused me to ask myself, do I have faith in my life?

So what is the definition of Faith? It is having complete trust or confidence in someone or something. From the church’s perspective the definition is a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. Where does Faith come from? Faith is not something we conjure up on our own, nor is it something we are born with, nor is faith a result of diligence in study or pursuit of the spiritual. Faith is a gift from God, not because we deserve it, have earned it, or are worthy to have it. We all have had Faith experiences that shape us into who we are today. We all desire the promise that there is someone or something that will be there for us, in times of need. It’s our security blanket.

As a congregation we are demonstrating Faith to the surrounding Eagan and Dakota County community. The existence of Faith is clearly demonstrated by action. Over the last year we pledged our financial resources to build the infrastructure to grow community outreach in many different ways. We did it with no guarantees of success, but with Faith, complete trust and prayerful planning that we would accomplish this goal. In just a few months since the completion of our Capital Appeal project, it is exciting to see the number of people coming every week for community meals, and the children who are getting help with homework.

The relationships that are being built and the lives we are impacting. Weekly, new services are being added to provide help to those in need. It’s all because we had a little Faith in God to follow His plan.

As a member of the Vision Board, we ask for the congregation’s trust-faith in our ability to expand this church to carryout God’s plan to serve this community. Our Mission statement “To Grow in Faith and Carry on the work of Jesus Christ” couldn’t be clearer on communicating the importance of Faith. This is our guiding light. To trust God that he will lead us down a path to serve others.

So as we start a new year, I challenge each one of us to think about where is Faith in your life today? What have you done or can you do to bring a little more Faith into your daily life? As we read in Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the lord your God with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” God is calling- where is your Faith to answer his call?

Heavenly father, we thank you for the gift of Faith, given to us out of your love. Open our hearts and minds to trust in you completely to follow your plan. And in doing so we will we help our brothers and sisters in Christ, to be filled with your grace. Amen.