This Sunday is Pentecost, the festival day when we remember the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples and inspiring them to share goodness with the world. If you want to, you can wear red at home and maybe have a candle ready to light with us as you watch worship.
Either way, this Sunday’s sermon should be a GREAT one not just for you, but for and friends, neighbors, or relatives you think might enjoy such things. It’ll have personal illustrations and be easy to understand. We’ve been trying to make the sermons more broad-based as we’ve been putting them online anyway. This one should especially appeal.
Since we’ve been online, we’ve already had a couple requests via our website contact form, asking how people can participate in our community. We welcome this and we’ll evolve our view of church to make sure that they can join in too. Go ahead and make that evolution with us. It doesn’t really matter so much whether a participant is in person or a member. That’s not what makes worship valid. When God’s word and love go out and touch people, God is at work. We’re all a part of that process.
I hope you all get a chance to watch and participate in the Pentecost sermon next week. Pass it along to friends too! You can watch it on Facebook @SOVBoise together with some of your fellow church members when it posts at 9:30 on Sunday or access it any time of the week at our website, myboisechurch.org.
Today we have another question from our Confirmation students, who have been studying Luther’s Small Catechism, and particularly the Lord’s Prayer.
The question: “In the prayer, we say, ‘Our Father in heaven’, but we also say God is with us all the time, everywhere. Which is it?”
The answer: Well, kind of both!
“Our Father in heaven” has two parts to it. The “in heaven” part reminds us that God is not us. We are not talking to any dad we see here on earth. Earthly dads are great people to talk to, but they’re not God. We’re not talking to a boss, a government, our ourselves in this prayer either. We’re not praying to anyone or anything that we can control, or even completely understand. God is different than all of that!
This is important because of our human tendency to make God into an extension of ourselves. We want God to be whatever WE want God to be. Since God seldom shows up in person to correct that perception, we slip into it very easily. “God agrees with me, I’m sure! God is on my side of the argument! I don’t believe in any God who would think differently than I do about this issue!” When we say these things, we’re not talking to or about God as much as we’re talking about ourselves. There’s no room in those phrases for a God who is different than we are.
God does respond to our needs for sure, but God isn’t just us, given ultimate power. Praying to the God “in heaven” helps us remember that we’re really talking with another person here, one who matters.
But “in heaven” aren’t the only words in the sentence. They’re not even the first words! The first words in the prayer are, “Our Father”. When we say those words, we’re claiming a relationship with God as close and deep as any we know.
Parents help form who we are. Their DNA—biological and/or social—is embedded within us. We don’t know an “us” without them and their influence. Calling God, “Father” means that even though we acknowledge God is not us, we claim God is as close to us as our own hearts. The perfect Father is never absent, never uncaring, and always loves us. That’s the God we hope for. That’s the God we have.
So, you see, both parts are necessary! The “Our Father” part reminds us that God is with us so deeply that we can’t define life properly without him. The “in heaven” part reminds us that even though God is embedded that deeply in our selves, God is NOT just our selves with a heavenly face. God is more and different than we are. We’re in a real relationship with a real, other being.
Without the “in heaven” we slip into idolatry. Without the “Our Father” God isn’t connected to us in the same way. That’s why we say both together!
Great question! Thank you! We’ll look forward to more as we continue to grow together.
If you didn’t already know I have a passion for summer camp and outdoor ministry. This isn’t because I grew up going to camp from the age of 5, always dreaming of one day being a counselor or camp director. I was not your typical first time camper. The first time I went to summer camp I was 14 and was forced by my parents to attend Confirmation Camp (our church conference would do a week long camp that was the week between staff training and the first week of summer camp). Looking back now I do not really recall why I didn’t want to go; I just did not. I even hid the paperwork from my parents at one point. However, as my dad recalls, within five minutes of arriving for camp I asked my parents why they were still there. By the end of that week all I wanted was to go back for another week of camp that summer. I was so disappointed when it didn’t work out for me to go back that summer (I had to watch my younger brother), but I did happen to be pen pals with a few people I had met.
The next summer I was able to go back multiple weeks, including one last round of confirmation camp, and two weeks of summer camp. It was during my first week of “real” summer camp that camp became more than just this awesome place where I felt welcomed, accepted, and loved for who I was. It was that week that I happened to become buddies with another first time camper who was 6 years old and who was feeling a bit homesick and unsure about this whole camp thing. Even though we were different ages we became friends and it was through that experience of accompanying her through that week of camp that I started to really discern a call to youth/outdoor ministry.
Another experience from that summer that always comes to mind for me when I think about how camp shaped me is when I arrived for the last week of camp. My brother happened to be attending camp for the first time that week and we stopped at his cabin to get him settled in and I decided to walk down to my cabin and as I was walking down some of the friends I had made earlier in the summer along with some of the counselors came running out of the cabin to greet me and welcome me back to camp. It is one of those moments that is hard to put words to. After seeing that welcome my dad said something along the lines of “Wow now I know why you wanted to come back so badly.” That warm welcome made an impression on me and my parents, and it helped them understand that there was something special about this place and the friends I had made there. The following summer I was able to be an LIT and spend three weeks at camp. I then was privileged to work at Vanderkamp for 4 summers, trying to share the love and welcome I had experienced there to all the campers I had the privilege of knowing.
After those four summers on staff I took some time away from camp, the quick turnaround of end of camp back to college was wearing on me and I wanted to start my senior year a little more refreshed. I didn’t end up getting back to camp until I moved to Idaho and got to take youth on a fall retreat to Luther Heights. That weekend I realized how much I had missed camp without realizing it. It didn’t matter that this was a totally different camp in a totally different location, it was still camp. I felt like I was home again after being away for a while. For me the feeling camp creates is one of those things that is hard to fully put into words. There is just something about most camps, that creates an accepting and affirming space to just be.
A special atmosphere that makes camp a special, sacred place. Camp has been a special place for me and if camp has been a special place for you I would love to hear about it sometime!
It’s Wednesday, and time again for our series on theological artwork! Today’s piece is from Shepherd of the Valley artist Edie Martin. Edie has done many wonderful works for the church, including our stained glass windows and banners. She is marvelous and gracious to share her work with us today!
This piece is done in stained glass, an evocative medium, one I’d blanch at even trying to figure out! Edie has titled it, “The Demise of Enmity”. It references Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:17-25, prophecies that cite a peaceful future where, among other things, the lion lays down with the lamb.
and I love this piece for several reasons, not the least of which is the subject matter. When times are tough, when it seems like we can’t solve the world’s problems no matter how we try (but we’ve still got to try), we need reminders that it wasn’t always meant to be this way, and that it won’t always be. We are meant for peace, togetherness, and comforting joy. We uphold this hope even as the forces of the world rage around and inside us.
Edie’s stained glass work captures the image with conviction, yet still invites the viewer in. Anyone who’s ever owned a cat will smile at the realism of the lion, which seems huge in scale but also resembles your favorite house cat curling up for a nap.
The lion’s paws are not visually touching the lamb. Instead the lamb feels enough safety and trust to drape its legs over the lion’s. This subtle touch is important. The lion-like powers of the world tend to judge themselves by their ability to control or manipulate others. When lions hear about lying down with lambs, their instinct tends to be, “Let’s go out and get as many sheep as possible, to show we’re the biggest and best lions!” Churches often fall into this mode when discussing evangelism. Instead of togetherness, we trade on angst and objectification. Few lions (or churches) aspire to be so gentle, so obviously suffused with the Spirit of goodness, that lambs feel comfortable and natural reaching out to place their hoofs over the lion’s paw.
The figure of the child is striking. The child sits where all of us would like to be, in the circle with lion and lamb. Notice the child isn’t in the center though! The youngster forms a circle of three with the animals, inviting the viewer to contemplate the relationship between them instead of any single figure. You can’t set your eyes on one without acknowledging the sanctity and importance of the others.
The colors evident in the child blend with the environment. The skin is the same color as lion’s fur and lamb’s wool. The child’s blue clothing and yellow hair match the flowers around. The child is not separate in any way from the world around. They are part of the same whole. Any claim to stand out as an individual would break the scene, not enhance it. The message appears to be that we and the world belong together in this way.
One feature stands out, though: the child’s eyes. That gaze is the only thing that breaks the frame, reminding the viewer that there is a world outside of the peaceful ideal. It is the world in which the viewer stands.
The child appears to be looking right at us. The implication of that penetrating gaze is clear: you’ve seen this relationship, you’ve identified how deeply and seamlessly we belong in this place…so where are you standing today? As the eyes of the child look up, away from the scene, they remind viewers that they still stand apart from the picture, even as they’re gazing upon it and loving it. The obvious question
becomes, “How do we get where we’re supposed to be? How can I find myself looking level with this child as part of the circle instead of apart from it? When do I get to lie down with lion and lamb in the flowered fields?”
There’s a sadness in the experience, in that we have no more hope of making this happen ourselves than we have of jumping inside the stained glass frame. Hope and conviction remain, though.
Maybe we can’t get inside the picture by our own devices, but we can carry its vision with us. We can remember that we are meant for peace and start making it a priority now. (After all, you don’t wait until you’re actually in the ocean to put your swimsuit on. You change and prepare before you hit the water!) The image helps us judge things that are more worthy of our time/attention and things that are less. We can prioritize the loving community that is our ultimate destiny rather than our own self-interest and power over others. We can stop seeking ways to be the lion, stop fearing that we’re forced to be the lamb, and instead embrace both—and all of creation—in love.
There’s no way to avoid wanting to be in the child’s place in the circle. There’s no way to see ourselves in that place without being forgiven of all the things we thought got us ahead, instead living out the reality of the picture even when we’re in the midst of the world we know today.
It’s a powerful image and a meaningful reminder. Thanks for sharing it, Edie! You can find Edie’s Facebook page @ediemartinglass and find her artwork page at ediemartinglass.com
Ep. 73 - Is seeking glory, even in God's name, a part of faith? Time Travel, the Ultimate Warrior, and internet jerks all make an appearance in our discussion of John 17.
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!
Shepherd of the Valley is holding virtual confirmation meetings every couple weeks. Our participants are looking at the Small Catechism, discussing things like the Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. In the course of those things, talking about weighty theological issues, they tend to have questions. With the permission of those who asked, I’d like to share some of their questions with you, as well as some thoughts about them.
One of the big ones that came up on Sunday was this:
“Should we ever reach a point where we stop forgiving someone?”
Before we explore this one, we have to unpack what we mean by forgiveness.
The popular definition, adopted by most churches, paints forgiveness as one or more of the following:
· Not holding a wrong against someone
· Saying the wrong was “ok”
· Continuing to engage in a relationship with the person who has done the wrong
· Forgetting that the wrong occurred
· Minimizing the impact of the wrong
If these definitions of forgiveness are true, then yes, we should reach a point where we stop forgiving.
With some wrongs, that point should come immediately after the wrong was done. Abuse, domestic violence, assault, and a host of other things can be considered, “Not even once!” offenses. It’s perfectly sane, safe, and faithful to say, “Once these behaviors have been shown, I am out of this relationship.”
Abusers often manipulate our traditional definitions of forgiveness to maintain access to the people they’re abusing. They’ll hurt someone, then say, “The Bible says it’s right to forgive! You have to let it go and continue in this relationship with me.” In this way, forgiveness and scripture get twisted into another form of abuse. They trap the person being abused in a relationship centered on wrongness and control.
If forgiveness really does follow these definitions, it would be better for the person being hurt to NEVER forgive than to get stuck in a harmful relationship that crushes them in the name of “forgiveness”. That’s not what forgiveness is meant to do.
Fortunately, the popular definition of forgiveness is not correct…or at least it’s not complete. Forgiveness involves releasing, decentralizing, letting go. It’s an exhale that takes the weight of sin off of your shoulders, to be replaced by something better.
Forgiveness makes a simple claim: whatever wrong is done in our lives will not form the central core of our identity. Something better than evil lies at the heart of our relationship with life, God, the world, and each other.
Forgiveness does not say that doing wrong is “ok” or acceptable. If we justify wrong as right, we don’t need forgiveness in the first place. Who requires forgiveness for something good? Forgiveness names hurtful, selfish, inappropriate things as such.
At the same time, forgiveness looks at the wrong and says, “This is real, but it is not the only reality in my existence, nor is it the central one. I am something more than this. I exist as a real, integral, beloved human being even in the face of evil and wrongdoing.”
Forgiveness acknowledges the power of sin without making it the determining factor in all of existence. It’s breathing out the pain, disappointment, and fear that sin brings in preparation for breathing in something truer and better.
We say this is possible because this is what God does with us. God sees the wrong that we do, yet chooses to define other things as central to our identity and relationship…things like love, hope, trust. God sees us as more than the accumulation of our mistakes. We are called to see ourselves and the world that way too.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting that wrong has been done or acting like it has no effect. It does not require us to remain in relationships where wrong is being done to us. The claim, “Something else is central to my identity besides being hurt or hurting others” drives us towards healthy, mutually loving relationships.
When a relationship violates us or others, forgiveness may mean stepping away from that relationship. If we claim that wrongdoing is not the centerpiece of our existence, but a relationship keeps putting wrongdoing in the center, at some point that relationship is not congruent with our identity and purpose in the world. It does no good to exhale if the air around us is constantly polluted. Our next breath won’t be better than the last; we may need to think about change. These are things we’re all called to wrestle with as we’re forced to deal with the brokenness of the world.
The important thing is that anyone who says, “Forgiveness means you have to stay in this bad thing and pretend it’s good” is counseling you into the opposite of forgiveness. They’re claiming a harmful thing is central to your existence and love is optional. In reality, it’s the other way around.
Summing up: Forgiveness says, “I acknowledge wrong has been done. That is not ok. I will tell the truth about the pain this wrong has caused. At the same time, I will affirm now and always that my life, the world, and the relationships I pursue are centered on love, joy, and trust. I will live for those things, with the wrong that was done as part of the story, rather than making the wrong the whole story and the center of my existence.”
By THIS definition, I would hope we never reach a point where we stop forgiving. I hope there never comes a time when we claim that wrongdoing is the center of our identity, the core definition of ourselves, our main reason for living.
Hope that gives you something to think about! We all need to consider and reform our concepts about forgiveness, so we can help each other live into goodness instead of pain.
Ep. 71 - The power of "if" versus the power of love. Which is more central to our walk of faith? Jesus speaks with passion to his followers in the second part of John 14.
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!
Wrapping up our discussion of the Ten Commandments with a big question. Is it even possible to keep these things? If not, why do they even exist?
Take a look at the ninth and tenth commandments. What does coveting mean and how does it bend our perception of worth, reality, and our own lives?
It’s Wednesday and time once more for Art with Rosanna. Today’s picture shows Jesus coming out of the tomb on Easter. But like the real Easter event, there’s so much more story here than meets the eye. I was actually present when Rosanna made this one, and how it came into being is as fascinating as the picture itself.
Once upon a time, when Rosanna was a member of the church I served as pastor, she came to me with a great idea. “I learned this technique that would let the entire congregation participate in artwork. Can we try it all together?” That seemed wonderful to me, so we agreed that each Sunday of Lent, during the offering time in worship, we would create something. Rosanna would direct the project and the rest of us could follow along, doing whatever she needed.
The first Sunday of Lent, Rosanna showed up with a blank canvas on an easel. She explained that we were going to make something beautiful together. Each Sunday would involve a different part. That first Sunday just had strips of different colored paper or something. (I forget the exact order. I’m not an artist!) The paper was in the pews. Everyone could choose one, bring it forward, wet it a little, and stick it to the canvas. People asked, “How should we do this? Where should we stick it?” She responded, “Do it however you want.” We shrugged and did. We had no clue what we were doing, but we trusted and went along. The canvas was pretty afterwards with all that color.
The second Sunday involved some kind of texture thing maybe? The third had us sticking newsprint or old bulletins onto the picture. The canvas was getting covered with more and more material…something was sure going on. We still couldn’t figure out what.
Rosanna never did tell us what to put where or how to align things. We just picked up whichever piece of material we wanted and stuck it on the canvas however seemed best to us. But it was funny. Even though we didn’t know what we were doing and had no idea what our contributions were leading to, we started to take ownership of the piece. We wanted to see how our part was going to fit in, what we were making together. As the weeks rolled by, the project became personal for all of us. Even when our minds were confused and wondering, our hearts were invested.
That’s why it was sad, maybe even a little shocking, when we showed up on Good Friday—the night of the crucifixion—to find Rosanna with strips of black paper in her hand. We each got one as we came in the door. We were instructed to adhere it to the picture. This was hard! Piece by piece, all of our color and texture was disappearing. Our investment was being swamped by darkness.
Some of us thought that maybe the art experiment didn’t work after all. Others of us thought that covering it in blackness on Good Friday was the point, that experiencing this loss was part of the lesson. Either way, I was sorry to see the picture go. I had begun to love that thing and the way we had gathered around it.
We held our Good Friday service and left in silence for the weekend of contemplation before Easter. Our work was completed, the picture was dark, but it was finally done.
But not quite.
As we came in on Easter morning, Rosanna stood in front of the congregation with the black canvas on its familiar easel. Nobody knew what she was doing…even I didn’t know this was going to happen. I guessed she was going to move it aside, making room for the flowered Easter cross in its place.
Instead, at the start of the service, as we all watched, Rosanna began peeling back the black strips we had draped over the canvas. Around the edges some blue and purple started to show. Then the interior started coming off and we saw glimpses of yellow and white! What??? Then she pulled the strips off of the middle and there was Jesus, coming towards us, carrying a little lamb in his arms!!! After the blackness and sense of loss, the picture glowed brighter than anything else in the room. The words surrounding Jesus spoke of joy and resurrection.
To this day, I do not know how Rosanna managed that. I was there personally, watching every black strip go on. I’ve seen the picture up close and, at least to my eyes, the strips of paper and colors underneath look like the ones we all put there. To me, it still seems like a miracle.
However she did it, what an illustrative process this was! For weeks we brought what we could, only to see it end up in darkness. But then, just when we were sure it couldn’t happen, the light showed forth. Nobody controlled it. Most of us had no idea how it was happening, or even THAT it was happening. Beauty and life shone through and among us anyway.
This picture is special to me. When most people see Jesus carrying the lamb, their mind goes to church-y Lamb of God imagery. When I see that lamb in that piece of art, I feel like it’s each of us individually and all of us collectively, nestled in Jesus’ arms, being carried to new life, just like our congregation was carried that morning.
You can find Rosanna at https://www.facebook.com/rosanna.cartwright.3. Come back next Wednesday for more artwork and theological discussion!