Throughout May we observe the season of Easter. On the very last day of May we mark the end of Easter with the birthday of the Church - Pentecost. Easter marks for us the renewal of life, new birth, new growth, new beginnings, the prospect of new promises. Winter cold recedes with longer days, warmer weather, and gentle rains; calving and lambing are completed, new calves, lambs, and colts scamper about, the grass is greening as our brown hills turn green again - new hope abounds with the arrival of spring.
Throughout Easter we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb; the tomb is empty, sin and death no more have dominion over us. The power of God reigns. We proclaim this when we say as a congregation: “Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have the promise of new life, new birth, new growth, new beginnings; we have the promise of life eternal in the realm of God.
This past month we have seen expressions of God’s power, and Jesus’ promises to us. We baptized four children at Easter: Greta and Gunnar Smith, Dawson Lester, and Morgan Gates. Eight children received their first communion at Easter: Dawson and Rebecka Lester, Zacc and Mikol Degele, Trevor and Morgan Gates, Rae Lynne Barnett, and Johannes Chandler. This is God’s promise to us of new beginnings, new growth, new life in our church. Yet we also had two funerals: Bud Heinrich and Susan Askins. We hear God’s promise to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ; we will be resurrected on the last day; Jesus will call us home to join in the heavenly feast with the communion of saints and share in the glory of God. These are the promises we believe and hold dear, for Bud and for Susan, and for us who remain.
Through his death and resurrection Jesus calls us to new life. The tyranny of death no longer terrorizes us. Jesus liberates us to celebrate life; we live a new life through his promises to us. Easter offers us the potential to grow in Christ and live fully in Christ. This is the power of God at work in our lives - new life - today, tomorrow and forever.
Our Easter Promise
Our Lenten journey is leading us to Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Through Lent, we contemplate our human nature, our short comings, how we sin and fall short of the glory of God. We are given time for reflection, a time to repent, a time to turn toward where Jesus leads. Were Jesus leads is the cross. To be a follower of Jesus is not only challenging but scary as well. To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was executed by the SS in April of 1945: “When Christ calls us, he bids us to come and die.” This is what is means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and as a disciple we are called to obey. Is this difficult and hard? Yes it is for us mortals; but with God, all things are possible. We put our reliance, our trust, our confidence, our faith in God’s promises to us through the words of Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s death on the cross our sins are forgiven, by Jesus resurrection on Easter Day we are given the promise of life eternal with Jesus in God’s heavenly realm. With the cross, Jesus takes the sin of the world upon his shoulders as he walks the Via Dolorosa on his way to Calvary and crucifixion. As he is crucified he prays to God to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” To the thief who asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, Jesus replies: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” By Jesus’ blood of cross our sins are washed away, with the resurrection of Easter morning we are given the promise life eternal. This is where Lent is leading us. God’s love for us, and promises to us will unfold during the Easter Season. There is joy is this Good News for us and there is a challenge for us as well. The joy is we are redeemed, we are saved, God loves us and promises us life eternal, the challenge is our living this Good News daily. This life Jesus calls us to live, we do not do on our own, but Jesus is there with us each and every hour of each and every day on our faith journey walk through this earthly life. This is the promise, the joy and the hope Jesus gives to us.
We begin our Lenten journey with Jesus. For forty days we will contemplate how we fall short of the Glory of God. We do, we are very fallible, frail and fickle creatures of God’s creation, and yet we are baptized children of God. Through baptism we are given the promise that God is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are named and claimed by God, as children of God. But as with most children, we are not as pure as the wind driven snow, we are not innocent creatures. As we contemplate our sinfulness, we can also contemplate God’s redeeming gift to us through the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for us, for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus bore the cross for us; Jesus died for us, so we might have eternal life in the heavenly realm, sharing in the Glory of God.
We all have different Lenten pieties; we engage in our Lenten devotions and contemplations in different ways. People give up something so they may give to those in need, give to the poor, be in solidarity with those who lack proper food, proper housing, clean water. Lent is not so much giving up as much as it is giving towards a cause or concern. So what form will our Lenten devotions take? This year we are sharing our Wednesday Lenten services here in Absarokee with the congregations of St. Paul’s on the Stillwater Episcopal Church and the Community Congregational Church. Ash Wednesday saw the participation of all three pastors during our worship service. During Lent, our neighboring congregations who participated in our Ash Wednesday worship services will be taking turns hosting and preaching at our Wednesday Holden Evening Prayer worship services. Immanuel will host the Wednesday prayer service on 4 March with the participation of Captive Free youth ministry and on 18 March. The Congregational Church will host the bread and soup fellowship and proclaim the Word on 11 March and 1 April. St. Paul’s on the Stillwater Episcopal Church will host and preach on 25 March. The offerings we receive during our joint services will be split three ways going to the following church service organizations: Lutheran World Hunger, One Great Hour of Sharing, and Episcopal Relief and Development. All three organizations serve those in need by providing food, health care, clothing, shelter, and spiritual relief. During our Lenten journey let us be faithful in our devotional support to those who are in need, who suffer loss, who are in pain.
After the Meeting
I am pleased our annual meeting went well and that we were able to recognize and thank all who contribute to the ministry and mission of Immanuel Lutheran Church here in Absarokee. Our call to mission and ministry is communal. No one can accomplish God’s ministry by themselves. It takes a congregation. We work together to carry out the ministry of Jesus Christ, not just in our corner of the world here in Absarokee, Montana, but throughout the state of Montana, the United States and the world. We can make a contribution and we can make a difference, when we work together, responding to God’s call to us through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. When we do this - responding to God’s call to mission - our lives become vital, exciting, energized. God is working through us; we are the handmaidens, and servants of the Lord. God is a part of our lives, a living presence with us. We discover, our ministry is exciting.
Ask the ladies of the Faith Circle how they feel in carrying out their ministry: the making of quilts, offering Fair Trade Coffee for sale, knitting sweaters, serving the congregation and community at various functions and events. Ask those involved in caring for our church facilities, those who govern the church. They make it possible for us to carry out our ministry and mission. Ask those who educate our children and care for them. They are helping to teach them about the love of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ and what that means for them in their lives. Ask what it means for them as they live out the ministry God call us to each and every day.
But our congregation is more than a civic club, classroom, or craft center. We gather together every Sunday to hear God’s Word proclaimed and to receive the sacraments. We come and gather to feed, nourish our Spirit, to discern God’s plan for us and to live in community as the Body of Christ in the world. We gather to experience the love of God and be disciples of Jesus Christ. We do this together, as Jesus tells us: “Whenever two or three are gathered in my Name, I am among you.” We gather as a congregation and worship God together, because Christ is present in our midst, we experience the Holy among us. Strengthened and nourished by God’s Word and promises to us, we go out into the world to proclaim the love of God by our actions. Through the cross we are liberated by God’s grace and called to go and share God’s love with others. Being a Christian is not a static activity. Being a Christian is a dynamic, active and involved activity with others. Don’t be shy about proclaiming and living God’s love for you in your lives. You never can tell when it will make a difference in the lives of those we meet.
The Third Christmas
This is the third Christmas I have spent with you here in Absarokee. These past Christmases have all been unique and special to me. I have found Christmas here in Absarokee to be very rich, meaningful and spiritually rewarding. You all are the best Christmas present I could ever receive. You all have been so kind and generous to Susan and me. Your friendship is very much appreciated by me and it is an honor to be your pastor. As a congregation you fill me with pride and joy. Are we perfect? No, we will never be perfect. But we are responsive to God’s call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ both in word and deed. There will always be work for us to do as disciples of Jesus Christ. Yes we live in a good community, but we can strive to make it better. We can work to communicate our ideas towards being a better community. We can continue to give of ourselves and care for each other, both friend and stranger among us. God calls us into relationship with our creator and calls us to be in relationship with each other. The new year opens up to us a new time to strive and work for the Kingdom of God. This is no easy task. God promises to be with us as we carry out our ministry here in Absarokee at Immanuel Lutheran Church.
I would ask you to prayerfully reflect concerning our ministry as a congregation; what do we do well, what can we do better? How can we stretch ourselves and grow strong in our ministry? How can we exercise our faith and reflect the love of God in what we do? What is our mission and ministry as the congregation of Immanuel Lutheran Church? Our mission, carrying out the call to ministry in Jesus Christ, is what will make us a vital and dynamic congregation, one where we excited and engaged in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the Good News - as Pastor Richard Hardell says: Christ makes life exciting. Our call to ministry is exciting! Our call to ministry opens to us possibilities, more than we could ever imagine. My challenge to us: lets be active, committed and engaged in our discovery of mission and in carrying out our ministry. Let that be our goal for the upcoming new year.
Thank you for all your kindness and love shared with Susan and me this past year. May God bless you and bestow upon you his gracious love and boundless mercy.
Advent is upon us - What are you doing about it?
Thanksgiving is behind us and we are now in the season of Advent. We await the coming of the Christ child. This is a bookend of sorts to the Sundays we had before Advent, culminating in Christ the King Sunday, where we await Christ’s return to us. The commonality: we are waiting for Jesus to come. The question: what do we do until he comes? There is a bumper sticker that states: Jesus is coming - look busy. But Jesus does not want us to just go through the motions, or to be ecclesiastical accountants and check off our virtuous deeds from a ledger list. Jesus calls us to be kingdom builders; we are to live out our Christian vocation. We live as we have been trained to live through our attending worship, studying of scripture, meeting in fellowship with each other, discerning our mission, our purpose in life. Jesus gives us that purpose, that direction, and the mission. Our call to follow Jesus and be kingdom builders is like the air we breath. We are unconscious of it, we do it naturally, because following Jesus is the integral fabric of our life. We did not come upon it naturally, our vocation as Christians is caught, as much as it is taught.
We are given the opportunity to be kingdom builders. In America and the world, the financial crisis is making itself felt in ways that we would never have imagined. We don’t have to live in Detroit, New York, or Los Angeles, to feel the pain many Americans are now experiencing. The shot across our bow was the notice of layoffs to the Stillwater Mine employees. People we know are affected by this. Cattle and wheat prices are falling from their historic highs of a year ago. Credit for businesses, the purchase of cars and trucks, the purchasing of homes or building of homes is drying up. Our economy is slowly winding down, locally and nationally. Unemployment is creeping up. Internationally, many still are in poverty, suffering from lack of adequate nourishment, housing, energy, education; many places are decimated by AIDS, Malaria and other diseases. Natural disasters both here and abroad leave people destitute and homeless. The harvest is indeed great, and the laborers are few. But we few laborers can make a difference. We build the Kingdom of God, one step at a time, one action at a time. During this season of Advent, I call upon us as workers in the kingdom to gather canned goods and other food items for Project Hope in Columbus. This is a time when food pantries all over this country are stretched to the limit. Project Hope is our only local source where those in need can go and receive help. This is the time of year when the shelves are bare. Help us restock and resupply the shelves of Project Hope. This is also a good time to go through your closet. Are there clothes you have not worn for two or three years? Are you ever going to wear them again? If this is the case, donate your old clothes to Project Hope. Through the selling of these donated clothes, Project Hope offers good clothing at reasonable prices to those who are unable or can’t afford to shop in a retail store. The proceeds from the sale of these donated clothes helps run the store, helps those needing shelter, with temporary housing at the cabins in Columbus on Pike Avenue. On the global level, the Faith Circle is planning on a fund raiser to support Lutheran World Hunger. We have many opportunities to help build the Kingdom of God. It starts with our exercise of our Christian vocation. What will be our first step in helping build and bring about the Kingdom of God?
Its Thanksgiving Time
November is upon us and I wonder where the year has gone. Planning ahead is not my forte; I am quite good about maintaining a weekly routine, but life in the church requires some forethought. Yearly calendars do give me a head’s up for what is coming and I think about what needs to be done by a given event or season. But there are the little details, the steps I need to take between now and then that I tend to procrastinate and ignore until the eve of the event or season. I am good at organizing material, getting Advent devotionals, candles and candle holders, bulletin covers. But when it comes to organizing people to assist or participate, I encounter a personal aversion to ask or plan with others. I am very introverted and am quite happy with the dialogue that goes on in my head; in the end everything comes out my way. The church is composed of many individuals; if we are to be a viable entity, we need to gather and offer our inputs of advice, time, talent. I need to be better at asking for your advice, time, talents and help. There are some activities I really enjoy doing in the church. I like to shovel snow; I like to make our fellowship coffee; I like to change the paraments, change the candles, edit the bulletin and create the Immanuel Herald. We have many generous and giving people here at Immanuel. I honor your offering of time, talents and ideas. I need to be better at the sharing of tasks that others like to do for the church. I need to be better at asking others to join in offering of their gifts, their time and talent. I want to provide a sense of ownership of this congregation for others.
Yes, I like changing the paraments and organizing communion, this is a sacred service and others should be invited and welcomed in providing this service to the congregation. An active Altar Guild for Immanuel Lutheran Church would be a welcome ministry, serving this congregation. I would be happy to teach and explain why we do the things the way we do. Yes, Katrin and Susan do a wonderful job with Christian Education for our young ones. They would welcome others to come join with them in teaching our young ones about the Love of God and the joy we have in Jesus Christ. Yes, we have Lori to clean our facilities every week and she does a great job, but the idea of having a Sunday Sexton or Church Warden, to come earlier on Sunday to turn on the lights, the sound system, to make sure everything is ready for Sunday services would be another welcome service for a group of people to perform. We are all capable of offering our gifts for the ministry and mission of Immanuel Lutheran Church. This is part of our offering, our returning to God what is God’s in thanksgiving for all God does for us. We gather together to worship, to form a faith community, to care for each other, to go out and proclaim God’s grace and love to others. We all have gifts to offer and share. Help me in the sharing of the gifts of ministry and mission. Do not be afraid to offer me your ideas, your time, your talents. You are offering them not to me; you are offering them to God. Thanks Be to God!
Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison
This has been a trying week for the students of Absarokee High School as they come to grips with the suicide death of one of their fellow classmates. They have had to work through grief, anger, loss and pain. The Absarokee school administration was proactive in bringing in counselors, social workers as well as area pastors to help students, staff and faculty process through this tragic event in our community. After the funeral the reminders of loss will still be evident to the students even though they are starting to move on from this event. Our care and concern cannot ebb after the funeral. We will all need to have a greater sensitivity to the emotional needs of the youth in our community. In the next three to six months statistical evidence shows others may attempt suicide. Emotions may come to the surface that an individual thought were dealt with, for no explained or apparent reason. Being an adolescent is difficult enough, but with an event such as a suicide brought into the emotional mix, the volatility of adolescent youth can become even greater. In Montana we are very vulnerable to suicide; Montana ranks first in the country in suicide deaths per capita. When do we say: enough is enough? When do we take a greater proactive approach to the care of those who are the least significant, the ones lost on the fringe and those who feel they are of little value? We are also at a disadvantage because we are geographically isolated, money for proper mental health care is scarce, and there is a stigma attached to seeking help for emotional issues. We cannot be afraid to discuss this problem with each other. We cannot ignore our neighbor in emotional distress. We are a community and God calls us to care for our neighbor and to look out for our sister and brother. Christianity is not so much a belief, but acting on our faith through action. We will be known by the fruits of our faith. We are not called to be passive Christians but active, living out our faith.
If you need to reach out for help please contact myself, or online at www.warmline.org or you can call 1-800-273-8255(TALK). With the 1-800 number, you place your request to speak with someone, leave a phone number where you can be reached and a call is placed to you. Do not be afraid to offer your concerns to the person who you think is stressed to the breaking point. Offer to go with them for help; listen to them, be present with them during their time of trial. We are all in this together, neighbor caring for neighbor.
Teach Your Children Well...
Another school year has started here in Absarokee; the school yard is again filled with children running and playing before the start of school. After the bell rings, I’m sure they gather in their classrooms and diligently begin the serious task of learning.
So how do we as a congregation help the younger members, as well as ourselves, learn? Martin Luther was very emphatic that youngsters be taught, not just reading and writing, but also The Lord’s Prayer, the creeds, the sacraments, the scripture and the Good News of Jesus Christ. Since Luther’s time, Lutherans have continually emphasized the role of education in the formation of faith for both young people as well as adults. Luther developed the Small Catechism for parents so they could teach their children. Luther is onto something here. Parents instruct their children in many and subtle ways, more so then they could ever imagine. Children begin to learn from their parents as soon as they are born. Parents set the patterns of life for their children, they set the boundaries, they help develop discipline and habits their children take with them as they enter into adulthood.
If children are to develop in the Christian faith, do they see examples of adults living their faith, whether they be their parents or members of the congregation. The parents are the prime educators and developers of faith in their children, the congregation also teaches by example as well. Do we as parents or as members of the congregation - do we faithfully provide examples, role models of living a life of faith? As a family, do we pray together, worship together, read and study scripture together. If we as parents do not take our faith life seriously, how do we expect our children to develop their faith?
What I am suggesting is not new; read the charge to parents in our baptismal liturgy (page 228 in the ELW). These are promises we made before the congregation, but they are promises we make to God. God who blesses us with children and places them in our care. We as a congregation are called to work with parents and families to help them in handing on the faith to another generation. We can accomplish more working together than we can accomplish alone. As a congregation, we can support parents in their efforts of passing on the faith to their children. Faith is caught not taught. How do we measure up? Are we willing and able to provide help in Christian Education by being a Sunday School teacher, by being a mentor to the youth of our congregation, by participating in activities with our youth?
For parents and the congregation, this is a daunting task. But with God, all things are possible. We are engaged in living and learning about our faith so we can grow in our relationship to God and live as God calls us to live with each other. We care for each other, we look out for each other, and we support each other in bringing children to church and involving them in the development of their faith life. It is not easy in this world that we live. The devil is in the details and distractions of life. Only together can we resist the devil and all his empty promises and temptations. Only together can we provide a strong faith foundation to serve children well throughout their lives. Only together can we strengthen each other on our faith journey through this temporal life.