January 2020 Newsletter
5:00 Family-Oriented Story and Songs
7:00 Brass Quartet with Carols
11:00 Midnight service with Bells and Chancel Choir
We invite you to join us as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior, on December 24th. Every service will have candlelight and Christmas carols. We’ll start at 5:00 with a service designed to be accessible for younger children and families. After that we have two services with special music and light shining through the darkness, just as Christ shown into the world at Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
Many myths have grown up around the Christmas story. In actuality, Jesus was probably born closer to April than December. (Unless you live in Minnesota, that would be a bummer for the whole reindeer-snow narrative.) We don’t know for sure whether Mary rode a donkey. She might have given birth in the corner of someone’s house instead of a stable. There’s so much stuff we don’t really know…things we have to guess at and fill in details for.
This is true every time the world gets re-made. If you look back in Genesis at the creation of everything, we honestly don’t know whether “seven days” means a week or millions of years in cosmic time. We don’t know whether Adam and Eve were singular people or broad names for “humankind”. We don’t know whether Genesis, Chapter 1 describes the right order of things or Genesis, Chapter 2. (Check it out! They’re different!)
All of this is ok. Whenever our world is remade, the things we thought we knew get overturned. We’re invited to let go of the idea that our personal knowledge keeps us safe and gives us power. We release the conceit that our beliefs lie at the center of the universe. Instead we’re called to examine the core affirmations of the story, and of our lives.
In the case of Genesis, no matter how the world was made technically, a common thread runs through creation: someone cares about you, someone wants goodness and life for you, the Author of the Universe is as close to you as your breath, embedded deeply in the fabric of your life. We are loved. We are not separate from God. No turmoil or change in the world will ever take that away.
That’s also the message made new again in the birth of Jesus. As it was in the beginning, so it was that night in Bethlehem, and so it will ever be. Neither life nor death will separate us from the love of God. April or December, donkeys or ubers, seven days or millions of years and on past eternity, through hardships and broken hearts, in presents and lights and song, in huge moments and in small breaths, we are loved. Always.
Blessed Christmas to you.
Core Affirmations, Part 2
Last time we looked at three of six core affirmations that define our faith and the community surrounding it. Today we go over the remaining three. See what you think!
Faith is less belief than trust.
Most of us have been taught that faith is belief, and that the more certain (and rigid) one becomes, the stronger one’s faith is.
We define faith as trust more than belief.
Belief only requires one person (the self) and tends to conform with whatever is convenient or sensible in one’s own head. Trust acknowledges the existence of, and our dependence on, others. We find truth, hope, love, and joy in relationship with others, not just internally. We hold to this even when trust requires us to act or believe in ways that we wouldn’t according to instinct, upbringing, or culture.
Belief happens when a person is certain. Faith happens precisely in those moments when we’re uncertain.
Learning faith is the same process as learning to trust in something not “us”, then adjusting beliefs, actions, and visions of the world based on that trust and the reality of the other.
Faith changes how we operate day-to-day.
We do not regard our relationship with God as something that happens primarily during a time of worship at a specific locale among specific people. Those places, times, and people help us explore our faith, but they are not the purpose of it. We gather together as a faith community to experience the wave of word and grace which washes us out into our week. We experience the wave in all moments. Its meaning and application will be as different as each of our lives.
In response to God’s gift of grace we spend our lives exploring, discussing, loving, searching, and serving. We do not just do these things among a limited group of the like-minded. We do them with each other so we can do them with the people in our daily lives. Our moments together are not holy unto themselves. Our holy moments together make every moment holy.
We all have a voice and we all have answers. None of us has THE voice or THE answer.
This is the same as saying God speaks through all of us, but none of us is God.
We come up with wonderful, enriching ways forward in this time and place. We do not claim our ways will be wonderful and enriching for all people, nor for all times and places. When we encounter someone different than we, we celebrate their ability to wonder and enrich as well. In this way, we experience more facets of God than we could on our own.
For this reason, we do not just claim that all are welcome among us. We affirm that all are leaders among us. We affirm that each voice matters even when not all voices agree. We acknowledge the joy and potential for goodness in each decision we make. We also remember those we might leave out or disadvantage by our decisions.
We care about the voices of those who have been marginalized, told that God is not with them. We uplift those voices especially, as the world has missed out on their vision, hope, and faith.
There’s our first attempt at the core six! What things would you add or subtract? Let us know!
Core Affirmations, Part 1
Recently a couple different ministries have given rise to the question, “What are your core affirmations as a church? What things define you faith?” We could answer in a hundred different ways. Every door opened leads to a hallway with a dozen more doors! Even so, I sat down and took a stab at it. See what you think.
Here are the first three.
We do not save ourselves by our own works or beliefs. God’s grace saves us.
Nothing we do earns our way into right relationship with God. Nothing we believe earns our salvation. Nothing we achieve with our bodies, minds, hearts, or lives makes us perfect enough to stand before an infinitely just, infinitely good God. We all fall short of infinite perfection.
Yet we do stand before God, not because of our own achievements, but because God loves us. We do not define other people by shortcomings or any perceived imperfection. When we meet someone, we assume they are a beloved child of God, gloriously imperfect and gloriously blessed with God’s Spirit and voice.
God’s grace comes to us through Jesus Christ, specifically through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Jesus taught, fed, gathered, blessed, and performed miracles. All of those are great things. None of them were sufficient. Jesus’ purpose was not just as a spiritual leader in one place and time, but as a Savior for all places and times. Jesus died because we die, and in death he unites with us all. Jesus rose again so that we may rise, continuing to be united with God and each other beyond the limits of our own power and mortality.
Jesus’ teachings and miracles were not a way around death or our own imperfection, but a light illuminating that death and imperfection are not the ultimate powers in the universe. God is the ultimate power, and God chooses to love and redeem us through Christ.
We live as saints and sinners at the same time.
Life is not a series of choices, sending us down paths of goodness or evil, wholeness or oblivion. Our lives are inevitably a mixture of both.
We are broken pots, incapable of containing or fulfilling what we ought. No understanding or belief can un-break us, this side of the grave. God pours infinite love and grace into us. Through God, even the cracks in us become opportunities for more grace to pour out into the world.
The purpose of the law in the Bible is to point out our cracks, that we not celebrate them or justify them as good. If we forget we are not perfect, we become our own gods over and against our neighbors instead of vessels of grace and Spirit pouring out to our neighbors. But the law is not the end of the story, nor its ultimate purpose. Understanding we are broken, we then look beyond ourselves for hope. That hope is always fulfilled in God’s love.
Saying we are only saints denies our need for God. Saying we are only sinners denies God’s power and relationship to us. We are both. We do not ask, “Is this bad or is this good?” Much less do we ask, “Is this person bad or good?” We assume both are true and we ask questions like, “How? For whom? And how are we to proceed in this time and place for the good of people beyond just ourselves?”
Next Time: The remaining three affirmations!
Delivered by SOV Visitation Pastor, Rev. Kari Sansgaard
Why Doesn’t God Show Up—Part 2
Earlier this week we discussed our desire for God to appear before our eyes and our frustration when he doesn’t. We talked about Old Testament precedent for God appearing, and how it doesn’t always have the effect we think it will. We also talked about Jesus coming for all of us in a way that goes beyond eyes or beliefs, that transforms our whole relationship with God.
Still, we’re left with the question of other miracles. What about the times when God does show up in ways people can see or experience. Does Jesus coming mean those sightings are no longer valid? Or does God still play favorites among us even after Jesus came to redeem us all?
Other miracles aren’t absent, they’re just temporary. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John, Chapter 11. Where is Lazarus now? He’s not hanging out on a Mediterranean beach sipping cocktails; he’s dead, just like all his contemporaries. Jesus fed the 5000 an all-you-can-eat buffet out of five loaves and two fish. The next day they were hungry again. Those miracles were real. They were not the point of salvation, rather they were meant to demonstrate the power and purpose of salvation.
It’s the same way with the events of our lives. Sometimes we recover from illness or get out of a tight spot. Those things are worth celebrating! They are miracles, but they’re not THE miracle. God’s redemption isn’t confined to a single person in a given place or time. It’s the life blood running through the veins of the universe, through all of our lives and times. The real miracle is that even when we don’t get a positive outcome, God redeems us. Our lives are precious and important. Ultimately, we are not the center of the universe.
God appearing to me right here in this room as I’m typing would be awesome. But me claiming that he was here with me would mean that he wasn’t in New York or Bangladesh or at an Antarctican research station at that moment. My gain would imply everybody else’s loss. “God was with me in a way he isn’t with you! Neener neener! He loves me best!” God doesn’t operate like that. To the extent that we perceive him in particular ways, that’s the least important aspect of his work…a nice side-effect of him existing, neither the proof of it nor the central reason for it.
One person recovering from an otherwise-terminal illness is a fantastic event, worthy of celebration. It pales in comparison to God saving an entire universe of people (who otherwise would have died without hope) to eternal life. It pales even more when you consider his miracle would have taken effect whether or not the illness ran its course. Disease is not the ultimate power; God is stronger than anything that assails us. His redemption doesn’t pop up in a glorious moment then fade like a firework. It shines like an eternal sun, bringing life, illumination, and warmth.
The proper answer to why God doesn’t show up is that he does, no matter what, now and always.
God showing up in the ways we ask for would also distract us from the ways he actually wants to be seen. As I type this our church’s Women’s Bible Study is meeting in the room next door. The walls are thin and I can hear them clearly. In just a few minutes I’ll pop in to say good morning. I can hear God in their conversation and struggle with each other. I can see God through the sparkle in their eyes and the worry wrinkles on their faces. His presence is etched into every line of them. As we care about each other, learn about each other, and trust in each other, our vision of God becomes bigger and more solid. Instead of dividing us from each other (“I saw God and you didn’t!”) God’s appearance unites us. As we perceive him we’re pulled together in love, forgiveness, and unity. That’s what every father wants for his family. Our Father does too.
Geek and Greek Podcast: Episode 50
Ep. 50 - Vipers, camel's hair, the locust and honey diet! John the Baptist makes an appearance on the podcast, but is his point to uphold the past or shake up the future? Matthew 3 clues us in.
The Geek and Greek podcast is a show where two reverends talk honestly and clearly about faith, Christianity, scripture, and life.
Follow us at GeekAndGreek.com!
Why Doesn’t God Show Up—Part 1
“If God wants me to believe in him, why doesn’t he show up and say so?”
It’s a natural question, often asked. I remember struggling with writing a two-paragraph assignment in 5th Grade. As we typically do with hard things, I put off doing it until the evening before it was due. I remember sitting in my room, struggling to get a couple sentences down on paper, when inspiration struck. I looked heavenward and said, “God, I’m going to turn around for two minutes. If you really exist, do this assignment for me. If the paper is done when I turn around again, I’ll believe in you forever!”
Sadly, when I turned around 120 seconds after, the page was in the same sorry state in which I left it. The creator of the universe didn’t swoop down to complete a report on tree frogs. I shrugged and figured he must not be real.
Nevertheless, the question remains. If God wants to be known, if it’s so important that we believe in him, why not just appear and work some miracles we can all see?
The first, and best, answer to this is that God already tried this. It didn’t end up solving things. You may remember some of his greatest hits from the Old Testament, including:
Those were just the major ones from the first two books of the Bible. God has appeared and worked miracles many times over, up to and including taking on human flesh and walking among us. No matter what he did, no matter how big the display he put on, we never ended up understanding him, let alone believing. Everybody who saw was amazed. Everybody who saw also fell back into trusting something else eventually. All of them fell short of what they were meant to be, even having seen God up close and personal.
If we were honest, we’d admit that we would end up the same way. Every one of us has had a watershed moment in our lives that we swore would change us. “From this moment on, I pledge that I will…” (Or the more directly-religious bargaining, “God, if you get me out of this I swear I’ll never…”) How many of those really stuck? The Bible also illustrates that every promise we make, we also break…including and especially our promises to God. No matter how much we protest that we’ll change and believe now, we don’t.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us because we believed so well. Jesus died on the cross for us because we were not capable of believing well. He didn’t sacrifice himself for our awesomeness and teachable nature, he gave himself so even mixed-up people like us could enter into God’s embrace.
This was the miracle for all times and all places. This was the moment when we shifted from, “If we live and are healthy and whole, God is with us,” to, “Whether we live or die, no matter what happens today or any day, we are God’s.” That is a far more powerful relationship with God than simply, “When good things happen, I know he’s there.”
Next Time: What about other miracles? Are they still real?