Sermon for Christmas Eve 2017 -- Wildfire, Hair Salons, and Mangers: Encountering the Word of God

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
— John 1:1-5.....NRSV
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I hope you all had a blessed Christmas.  May love, peace, and joy be yours in the New Year!

Sermon for 12/17/17: Confusing Mary with a Nice Lady -- Youth, Part III

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Luke 1:26-38

Labyrinths by the Bethel Middle School Youth Group

Labyrinths by the Bethel Middle School Youth Group

Upon Further Reflection

This week, I do not have a thought of my own to share, but rather, a prayer.  Recently, in Bible Study, we talked about the trouble some of us find with the Lord's Prayer because it limits our understanding of God to the realm of Father.  What happens to the mothering nature of God?  Is it necessary to even think of God as a parent?  How is that liberating?  How is that stifling?  These were all good questions with good wrestling.  Each one of us in the room had different ways we've come to terms with the Father language of this abiding prayer, let alone our tradition as whole. 

In that class, I mentioned a different version of the Lord's Prayer that might be helpful, one that holds to the original intent of those words, but has used more expansive language to achieve its end.  Words are limited vessels to be sure -- but they are what we have.  Try this on though and feel what language can accomplish:

The Lord's Prayer
(from the New Zealand Prayer Book
Rev ed.: He Karakia Mihinare O Aotearoa)

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen

Sermon Notes

In my sermon, I reference the claim of Mary as the first preacher of the gospel.  I think that idea came from this interview with Rev.  Nadia Boltz-Weber.  I recommend the unedited version.  Hang on to your hats though -- she's not polite either.  

Sermon for 12/10/17: Being Hard To Live With --- Youth, Part II

Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8

Rock Prayers painted by the Middle School Youth Group

Rock Prayers painted by the Middle School Youth Group

Youth ministry is not about getting things accomplished - only the act of God can bring about the transformation we seek. Youth ministry is about participating deeply in young people’s lives as we await, together in suffering & joy, the coming of God.
— Andrew Root

Upon Further Reflection

I forgot to tell you that John the Baptist was an artist.  In all my comparisons between John the Baptist and teens on Sunday, I forgot to say that.  It's an insight by Richard Rohr, that John the Baptist shaped containers for the Holy Spirit; he shaped pathways for God. He was never confused between the object he was making and the spirit it held within it in the way we are often confused.  In church life, we often mistake the container for the contained. 

I don't know about the kids you know, but the ones I know are always making stuff.  From an early age, they are always, always building, molding, creating.  My son has been out at 7am for the past week in the 25F mornings hammering on the fence.  He says he's working and fixing and building.  My daughter's hands never weary of shaping paper, wax, candy wrappers, you name it, all of it transformed into stuff she has an internal logic for making.  It's all a mystery how these things appear at her fingertips.  Kids have this inherit creative drive.  We need this drive in our churches if we are meant to renew.  And in the midst of all that messiness as we embrace the spirit of our prophets, our kids, we can't forget...Jesus was a crafter of containers, a sculptor, an artist. The wild thing though is this: it is us he's always tinkering with.

Sermon for 12/3/17: Waking Up to Youth in the Church

Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

Liturgical calendar constructed by middle school youth

Liturgical calendar constructed by middle school youth

Upon Further Reflection

The crisis of young people in the church -- That’s what I addressed on Sunday – a crisis that has been dogging us for a couple generations: why don’t they stay?  This is question for the whole ELCA, not just little ole Bethel.

I want to leave here some of the powerful quotes from Sunday.  They are ones that informed my sermon or spoke to me while I was leading worship.  This is one of the most important sermons I have preached about ministry at Bethel.  If you are someone who feels attached to an idea of what church is or has to be in order for worship to feel like worship, then I encourage you to let the words of scripture and sermon dwell in you for a while.  They were hard words no doubt for some of you, but very hopeful ones too.  And that’s what we are called to cling with our hearts – to hope.

By Michael Warren

“[Confirmation] efforts that are failing are those that reduce young people to the status of consumers, accepting doctrinal ‘capital’ on a ‘handout’ basis and putting it to good use.”

“The stumbling block to full participation of the young in the church is that they are invited to participate in the reproduction of religious meaning but not the true, original production of that meaning.”

From the Bible

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

“Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come….”  Mark 13:35

From Marty Haugen

“Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night,                                                                                  though dark the winter and cheerless,                                                                                          the rising sun shall crown you with light,                                                                                        be strong and loving and fearless.                                                                                                Love be our song and love our prayer                                                                                         and love our endless story;                                                                                                            may God fill every day we share                                                                                                      and bring us at last into glory.”

      In Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn

Sermon Notes

Quotes on confirmation come from Warren, Michael (1991). "Youth, Cultural Agency, and the Confirming of the Church's Commitment." Word and World (Volume XL) 4, pg.396-403.