Messages, Meditations, and Musings on the Life of Faith by Rev. Dr. Scott E. Olson, Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church, Mankato, MN

Sunday, February 28, 2016

"For Whom Am I in Charge?" - Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

For Whom Am I in Charge?
Lent 3 – Narrative Lectionary 2
February 28, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
Mark 12.1-12

Last week I talked about the Clifton Strengths Finder, the tool we use both individually and as a staff to identify our strengths. It was not my intention to make this a series, but this week I was again led to think of another of my strengths: Analytical. As an analytical I like to, well, analyze stuff. In doing so, I like to look for patterns and connections between things. Combined with my other strengths, I like to think things through fully before deciding, I usually know where I am going and how I’m going to get there, and I need to know why a goal is important. But (you knew there was going to be a “but,” didn’t you) I also have teeny tiny control issues. Because of my strategic strengths and ability to see the big picture, I very often find myself in charge, thus the control issues.

Who is in charge seems to be at the heart of the parable of the tenants in the vineyard. However, before we tackle the parable, I need to say some things to clear the way. First, parables as a category are hard. Though there are a variety of types, for all of them they are not to be as much explained as they are to be explored. Designed to help us gain a deeper understanding of God, Jesus and the kingdom, they are meant to provoke us more than anything else. Second, most people see this parable as an allegory: owner = God; vineyard = Israel; tenants = religious authorities; servants = prophets; beloved son = Jesus. The element that is up for debate is the “others” to whom the landowner will be handing over the vineyard.

Third, it is important to know that Jesus is now in Jerusalem and is being interrogated by various groups of religious leaders. Just prior to this, Jesus responds to their question, “By whose authority do you do these things?” The tension is rising and this parable indicates that Jesus is aware he will die at their hands. Last, it is probable that following Jesus’ death and resurrection the early church used this parable to legitimize its presence and ministry.

Granted that this background is important and helpful, we can’t let it deflect its importance for us today. It would be easy to say that this parable is only aimed at the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Or, if we allowed a current application, that it’s only aimed at the religious leaders of our generation who abuse their power. Doing so robs the parable of its power for us. As much as the religious leaders have moved from analytical to critical, calculating and controlling, the parable challenges us to ask, “For whom is God in charge?” In the season of Lent, a time for reflection both personally and as a community of faith we are led to ask, “What are the ways we take God’s place?”

We don’t like that question any more than the religious leaders 2,000 years ago, at least I don’t like it. Although I’m not always aware, I do kill God’s servants and Son when I think it’s only up to me to accomplish anything. I fail to give God’s share when I think that everything I have accomplished has been due to my own hard work. And I engage in crazy thinking when I plot and calculate and control as if no one else can or will help do anything.

Yet, the God news for today is that, as crazy as I am, God is even crazier because God’s grace abounds. The parable of the tenants in the vineyard also tells us that this God has invested everything in this vineyard we call the world. This crazy God is all in, even to the point of sending the Beloved Son, a son we killed. And when we killed this Son, God raised him and continually sends him back to us. Why does God do this? Because this crazy God is crazy in love with us and everything this God has made.

We have a place in God’s kingdom and God’s work. After all, God has made this for us and placed us here. But in order to remind myself for whom is God in charge, I try to emulate former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who quotes Pope John XXIII: “It’s your church, Lord. I’m going to bed. I’ve done all I can.”

So, in what ways is God inviting you to let go? Let us pray… Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

"Drinking the Cup" - Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

Drinking the Cup
Lent 2 – Narrative Lectionary 2
February 21, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
Mark 10.32-52

“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

Our staff has been using the Clifton Strengths Finder for almost two years now. It’s been an insightful tool for us as we identify our strengths and figure out how to leverage them as a team. It’s also been helpful to me personally to understand what my gifts are and what they are not. It may be no surprise that one of my top five strengths is “Achiever.” Being an achiever means that I like to work hard and I like to get things done. Being an achiever also means I have teeny tiny competition issues; I like to get ahead and I like to win.

This strength served me well in the business world, a place where being better and achieving more was both encouraged and rewarded. I was always looking for the next challenge and the awards that would come with it. Being an Achiever also served me well as I transitioned to seminary, working hard to be the best student so I could be the best pastor. However, it was hard being called to a small rural church in my first call when I had been used to managing stores with a million dollars in sales and 30-40 employees. It was also hard accepting a call as an associate pastor serving with a senior and another associated. When the senior pastor retired, my Achiever and competition issues kicked into overdrive with the other associate pastor. It was not my finest hour.

I think if James and John were given the Strengths Finder, “Achiever” would be in their top five strengths. They pull Jesus aside and lobby for the choicest spots in the kingdom as they think it is coming. Who can blame them? They have cast out demons and healed people. They have seen Jesus transfigured on the mountain top. Yet, what’s remarkable is that this request comes immediately following Jesus’ third and last “passion prediction.” He has repeatedly told them what is going to happen to him and what discipleship means. So, it is not hard to imagine Jesus doing a face palm, giving a deep sigh and saying for the third time, “Guys, it’s not about that. Let me tell you—again—what it means to follow me. So, listen up.”

Jesus introduces this last set of instructions with question important for us all: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” James and John eagerly say, “Yes!” much like a child who has begged for a puppy and asked if they will take care of it, oblivious to what it takes: getting up at all hours, walking it, feeding it, and picking up poop. So, Jesus says the James and John: “Yes, you will, even though you have no idea what it means.”

Last week, John Odegard did a great job of talking about how hard it is to be a follower of Jesus. He talked about the fact that only God can bring in the kingdom, but invites us to be a part it in some way. So, it’s serendipitous that we are baptizing his and Jenna’s daughter, Lyra Lynn, today. Did you know that if this were an Orthodox church we would have fully immersed Lyra, naked as the day she was born, symbolizing her dying and rising? That she would then be given her first Communion? Can you see the connection to today’s text? John, Jenna, the sponsors and you all made promises to help her follow Jesus and in doing so have renewed your own baptismal promises to follow Jesus.

The good news is that the way of Jesus, losing ourselves and serving others, is where life is found.  The better news in this is that, like the disciples, whenever we stumble, whenever our strengths become weaknesses and get in the way of being the servants Jesus calls us to be, he never gives up on us. He picks us up, gently explains to us again and sets on our way. As you come to take the cup of Jesus yet again or as you return to your seats, dip your hands in the font to remember that you have been set aside to serve God by serving others. Amen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Searching for Sunday: Holy Orders" - Sermon for Midweek Lent Service

Searching for Sunday: Holy Orders
Midweek Lenten Round Robin 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
1 Corinthians 12.4-11; 1 Peter 2.9-10

You don’t get very far on the road to becoming a pastor before realizing you will be asked repeatedly, “Tell me your call story” and you will have ample opportunities to hone one. You’ll also learn that some peoples’ call stories are dramatic and others painful and there will be a temptation for you to do the same in yours. My call story is pretty tame, though others might disagree. It includes God speaking directly to me at an ordination service, saying, “You need to be doing this.” God also spoke through others at my father’s funeral when, after delivering a eulogy, they said I should be a pastor. God called me through closing some doors and opening others, and God called me through both the support and the resistance of various family members. Hopefully, though, somewhere along the way you’ll also realize that God calls all of the baptized to ministry.

In Searching for Sunday Rachel Held Evans begins the section on Holy Orders by talking about the importance of touch, the laying on of hands, as the ancient practice of commissioning for ministry. I remember talking about the importance of touch during my Clinical Pastoral Education experience where seminarians learn to provide pastoral care in a clinical setting such as a hospital or nursing home. We had to balance good hygienic practices with the residents’ obvious need for physical contact. And I still remember the weight of those hands on my head at my ordination, feeling the weight of the office that was bestowed on me.

I can’t help but think about touch and ministry when we lay hands on babies at baptism and on young people as the make affirmation of that same baptism during the rite of Confirmation. Furthermore, our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, encourages us through its tag line, “God’s work, our hands.” Lastly, I encourage Confirmands to think about all of us being called to ministry when they write their Faith Statement Paper by asking them, “At this point in your life, what is God calling you to do and how will you serve God and neighbor through this vocation?” Evans notes, though, the dark side to this all: one way or another our hands will be used, but will it be to hurt or heal?

In her effort to find church, Evans talks about an attempt to build the kind of church she and other like her desired. Though it didn’t end well, she at least felt for the first time that she was an asset to the church instead of a liability. She also learned that ministry is not perfectly scripted and that it often occurs in our “epic failures.” She goes on to quote Ian Morgan Cron: “All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.”

As I thought about this quote, I thought about Kim and Mike. Mike was diagnosed with cancer when they were both approaching their 50s. Mike did all right for a while, but ultimately died. A few months later, Kim told me she knew God was going to use her for something though she didn’t know what. She told me how because of caring for Mike she was more aware of and sensitive to the difficulties of others and was better equipped to enter their suffering. Kim and I started a grief support group and led a couple of “Blue Christmas” worship services. But Kim also went back to school to earn a counseling degree and switched careers. Her ministry began at the “ragged edges of her pain.”

Evans notes that the greatest tragedy in the church is to think the difference between laity and clergy is bigger than it is, to miss the depth of our calling because we think ministry is something others do. Yet, in Romans Paul reminds us that God has given all of us gifts for ministry and in 1 Peter the writer calls us all members of a royal priesthood. As we know too well, ministry is not easy. It is one thing to pick up a hammer for Habitat or donate money to a worthy cause. But it’s quite another when are called to hard choices within our professional lives, to fudge the financials as an accountant, to overcharge a customer, or to cheat on a test. It is hard to sit with someone we don’t know and wouldn’t normally associate with.

But these are holy callings we have, as Barbara Brown Taylor notes: “To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be and yet to care for them as the way they are.” Ultimately, Evans says, God calls each of us to a purpose both beneath and beyond natural ourselves. She uses the images of basin and towel from the biblical story where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. In doing so, she poses some challenging questions, not the least of which is, as people who follow a guy whose three-year ministry was cut short by his crucifixion, who emptied himself, should we lead from weakness every bit as much as our strengths?

Where has God touched you and called you? Where in your daily life is God inviting you to serve God and neighbor? What are the ragged edges of your pain that may be using for ministry? What is your call story? Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"With God All Things Are Possible" by John Odegard - Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

With God All Things Are Possible
John Odegard, Minister for Discipleship and Faith Formation
Grace, Mankato, MN
Lent 1 – Narrative Lectionary 2
Mark 10.17-31

Brothers and Sister in Christ today I bring you the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Each of us may hear a different truth in the scripture today, and to many of us, it might not always sound like good news. If you read into this passage, and think about the light it shines on our own lives, it can be a hard one. When I was looking for a theme for today's sermon I kept coming back to Jesus love for us, but it’s hard to focus on that when most of this passage is Jesus telling us how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God. Maybe you are thinking to yourself that it seems pretty cut and dry. This guy was rich and loved money so much he couldn’t get into heaven. It seems simple, and I’m not rich so it’s not a problem. Maybe you are thinking “I can barely keep food on the table and pay my bills” This doesn’t even relate to me. It can be too easy for some of us to think we are those last ones that Jesus was talking about, that this is all good news. But that ignores a lot of what is really going on here.

If this is just about the money, then why did the disciples seem so worried when Jesus told them how hard it is to enter into the Kingdom?

This rich man managed to follow the commandments all of his life. That's more than I can boast. How many of us can say we have kept even one commandment for our entire life? That we have not slipped even once, especially considering the extremes that Jesus goes to when telling us what is a sin. He tells us that to hate is the same as murder. Truly all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. His own disciples are distressed to learn this man who has done so well following the commandments, is still not ready to enter the Kingdom of God. If not him, then who else stands a chance they ask?

Rich or not, who among us is ready to do as Jesus asks this man, to sell all you have and give it to the poor? I know I have some stuff that is going to be hard to part with. Jesus talks about leaving it all behind, not just our wealth. He brings up leaving our possessions and families to follow Him, but I have to be honest, I really like my girls at home. I like watching them grow up. I don't know if I can give that up. Do any of us stand a chance?

Because it’s not about the money, but it’s not not about the money either. It’s about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and the things that keep us from it, whatever they might be. The very thing that Jesus wants from each of us is at the heart of this text and what He demands from this man. It is not about being rich or poor, it is about those 3 words. Come, Follow Me.

As the German Theologian Dietrich Boenhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die"

So there you have it, we have gone from a slightly distressing piece of scripture that we feel may or may not apply to us,  to downright terrifying. Jesus doesn't want our stuff, He is King. He wants us. In one commentary on this text, Author Matt Skinner says, “Here is a deeply religious person so well-attuned to his practices that he can sense that there is more out there than what he has experienced so far. He asks Jesus about the "more," but his question focuses on what needs to be added. He seeks the limit, or the next step, but discovers instead that eternal life entails the surrender of one's whole self.”

Jesus is excellent at saying a lot more than what he is saying out loud. There's more to this exchange than just giving up what we have and putting God before riches. I don't think storing up treasure in heaven is the whole point. I believe Jesus wants to make a difference, right now, through us, just as much as He wants us to have eternal life. He wants us to grow into a life in the Kingdom of God.

So what does that mean, to enter the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom is one of those things that I have heard pastors use as a trick question: Is the Kingdom of God here now or is it something to look forward to?

Yes. As Pastor Scott will tell you, when a pastor asks a question like this, the answer is always yes. It is both something to look forward to, and it is here among us now.

I believe the Kingdom of God is among us when we accept that God is ruler and creator of all, without end, worthy of endless praise. The Kingdom of God is something to look forward to with joyful anticipation when He comes again in glory to make everything new. But, the Kingdom is also here now and He is already making everything new, He is inviting us to live into this Kingdom now with those same words, Follow Me.
The Kingdom of God grows when we follow His commandments to love God and love our neighbor. The Kingdom of God exists in the space between you and those in need and you enter into it when you cross the divide separating you from them.

Jesus is calling us to be Disciples, to give up whatever it is that keeps us from living into this radical and life changing Kingdom that grows from the smallest seed into a tree so large that birds can nest in its branches. Jesus calls us to a life of Discipleship, one that bears good fruit. Like the rich man, we need to search for whatever it is we are carrying, that keeps us from it. Our judgments, pride, or wealth. Perhaps we struggle with joyfully giving and sharing what we have with people if we feel they don't deserve it. Perhaps we are bitter with how our life has turned out thus far, angry with a God who seems content to let us suffer. Maybe we believe we don't need to try anymore because we have done our part around here, and it's someone else's turn now. Think about it for long enough and you will find something, probably a lot of things.

It will be very hard to follow Christ. We will fail. Over and over again we will fail. Following Jesus is hard, and none of us will ever be perfect. But, because we are not perfect, God can use us! Because of that, we have an opportunity to live into the Kingdom right here at Grace! No, the Kingdom of God doesn't only exist at church, and not just through all of the great things we do here. Like feeding the hungry through lunch for a buck at Crossroads and the Food for Friends teams, serving those in need with the thousands of dollars we give to charitable organizations, or growing new disciples through our youth programs and confirmation classes. Yes, I believe the Kingdom of God is present in those things, but I believe it is equally present when we are being honest with each other. Sharing our burdens and being open about the times we fail. When church is a safe place for everyone to be honest about who they are and where they are, that is a time when the Kingdom of God is here. When we say “All Are Welcome” and it is more than words. When truly all are welcome, including the refugee, the illegal immigrant, the homosexual, the person who struggles with their belief in God, the person who cheated us out of fifty dollars last week, the sinner, the saint, and our best friend all get treated the same, as a beloved Child of God. When we put our judgments away and treat this like the Holy place it should be, a place for everyone. And when we do our best to carry that same light out into the world. Then each of us is taking part in the Kingdom of God right here and now.

It is our calling as followers of Christ to love God and to love our neighbors, and that never stops, no matter how much we have done already. It never ends.

I wish I could send you off today with an easy, lighthearted sermon. This passage isn't easy though. There is no loophole. Jesus really is calling us to change and even the best of us have room to improve. Jesus really does expect more from us. He knows how much we do each week and how busy we are, and he wants more. He will keep wanting more until He has all of us. Not in the sense that we are neglecting our other vocations, as parents and members of society, but so that we bring our faith in Him with us into those contexts. So that everything we do reflects our belief that Jesus is Lord.
We don’t serve others because it will save us. There is nothing we can do to earn eternal life. We serve others because we have already been saved. We live a life that produces good fruit not because we are perfect but because we believe with God, anything is possible.

This whole exchange begins with Jesus making a very important point. He asks, “Who are you calling good? Only God is good.” Right away, Jesus is pointing to God's goodness, not ours. God's love for us is all about how good God is, not how good we are. Jesus knows this rich man like he knows me, and you, and everyone else who comes to Him. He knows where we struggle to live into God's plan for our life. Jesus knows we haven't been able to follow all of the commandments. He looks at us, and like the rich man, He loves us. Jesus looked at him and loved him. Our Savior looks at you, and He loves you as you are, broken, imperfect, and as we heard on Wednesday, dust. We are dust, and to dust we will return, and yet the God of the universe loves us. So much that He became human and died for us, so we could live. Knowing us completely, knowing we will never be perfect, Jesus says to us, Come, Follow Me. As much today as 2,000 years ago, Jesus is inviting us into a relationship with Him and the Kingdom of God. Come, Follow Me.

Here again is the good news. With man, it's impossible, but with God, anything is possible. Praise be to God! Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Searching for Sunday: Confession" - Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Searching for Sunday: Confession
Ash Wednesday – Narrative Lectionary 2
February 10, 2016
Grace, Mankato, MN
Mark 9.30-37

“For Jesus was teaching his disciples and saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he as saying and were afraid to ask him.”

So begins our Lenten journey during which we ask what it means follow a Jesus who goes to the cross. In a few moments, ashes will be smeared in that shape, a sign of destruction, mortality, grief and repentance. It will starkly acknowledge the one reality that we can all agree on, whether Christian or not: we will all die. During our Wednesday services and also on Maundy Thursday, we’ll explore discipleship in a unique way through Rachel Held Evans’ book, Searching for Sunday. In it, Evans details her own spiritual pilgrimage of loving, leaving and finding her way back to the church and in doing so, a deeper life in Christ. She accomplishes by using the classical seven sacraments as a framework for how to view the church and the life we find therein.

A side note: we who call ourselves Lutheran recognize two sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion. We classify the other five as rites.

For Lent, the rite or practice of Confession is a good place to start because the power of Christianity is that it tells a deep and important truth about the human condition. We are not okay and we are all in need of healing and grace. As Evans notes, we do not do this through shame and ridicule or finger pointing. Rather, we admit the truth about ourselves through honest vulnerability.

Confession is such a wonderfully multifaceted word that can mean different things, all of them important. In the larger sense, confession means admission of something. We confess that we are broken, fallible human beings who fall short of God’s intentions for us. We confess that no matter how much we try to look otherwise, we don’t have it altogether, that our brokenness is often invisible to others. We confess that we have doubts and questions and fears and uncertainty, just like Jesus’ disciples.

Confession not only means admitting some hard truths about ourselves, but it also means professing something. The sacraments and rites express a truth about the church when it is at its best: Christianity is to be shared and lived in community. Christianity is intensely personal, but it is never private. However, all too often as Evans herself experienced, we have to admit that the church is not a safe place to share our brokenness. Sometimes it forces us to check parts of ourselves at the door. It may force us to choose between religions and science or intellectual integrity and faith. So, as a church we also confess that is true while professing hope. Our hope is we can live into being the kind of community Jesus calls us to be where we can share our grief and pain and receive grace and healing. For as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian said, “The man who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.”

This is not easy. Indeed, it is risky, messy and potentially embarrassing to admit our brokenness. As Evans notes, it is hard to admit our troubled marriages, pride, judgmental attitudes, racism, materialism, addictions, doubts and, yes, even our preoccupation with status and image. We aren’t so unlike the disciples. However, not do so means death for us. But to do so also means death, but death to an old way of being in order for a new way of life to take its place.

This is really hard for me, to be honest about my struggles and shortcomings. But I know it’s important to do so because I’ve experienced a glimpse of life that comes when I do so. Several years ago, our oldest daughter was still living at home. She had graduated from college a few months earlier and had bought a new car. One Sunday morning, the car was parked in its usual spot in the driveway. As I was backing out, my mind was clearly at church, not in the driveway and I scraped the rear panel of her car, damaging the taillight as well. Though the damage was minimal, I was beside myself with anger, shame and guilt.

When I got to church, I did my usual duties of putting on my robe and greeting people in the narthex. As we were exchanging the usual “Hi, how are you,” Fine, how are you” I found myself getting tired of pretending. I said to some folk, “Not very good this morning” and briefly told them what happened. Now, I didn’t do this for sympathy, just to share what was happening. It was like a switch was flipped. All of a sudden, the casual greetings became mutual conversation and consolation between broken, fallible human beings in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. I think that’s what Evans is pointing to and what God hopes for us as a community of belonging.

Jesus’ words about greatness turn our world upside down. But through them we are given a new way of valuing people: the greatest are the ones who have little or no standing in our society. And there is good news as we enter Lent, this time of truth telling about our relationship with Jesus and each other. As much as the disciples fall short of what Jesus asks, he never gives up on them. Neither will he give up on us.

Jesus invites us on this journey of truth telling because this strange way of living is the only way to get free. As you are looking reconnect with your faith, I invite you to join with us on this journey, searching for Sunday and a renewed life of faith. Amen.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Glimpses of Glory" - Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

Glimpses of Glory
Transfiguration – Narrative Lectionary 2
February 7, 2014
Grace, Mankato, MN
Mark 8.27-9.8

Today’s lesson provides an assault on the disciples’ senses and I invite you to imagine with me what that might have been like. Their ears got a good workout as Jesus first challenges them to hear what he has to say about who he is, what he has come to do and what they must do in response. Then, to Peter, James and John there is God’s “Listen to him!” I can envision that both Jesus’ words and God’s words left a funny taste in their mouths, perhaps even bitter. Then their bodies get going as Jesus first shoved Peter and, metaphorically, the rest of them behind him and then God shoved the big three to the ground with his over the top appearance.

But it’s their sense of sight that really intrigues me this week, probably because sight is something I don’t take for granted. I’ve had glasses since I was a young boy, I’ve scratched both corneas, which caused me excruciating pain, and I have had the typical progression of bifocals and trifocals. That’s not to mention the male affliction of not being able to find something that is right in front of me. The twelve, and then Peter, James and John, are given some glimpses of Jesus and they almost miss it. For a few brief moments, the veil is removed and Jesus is shown brilliantly and radiantly white.

Had this happened today rather than 2,000 years ago, instead of building booths Peter would have insisted on a selfie with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Frankly, I think most of us would focus on the same thing, this incredibly powerful vision of Jesus and God. Fortunately, the gospel writer Mark and the Narrative Lectionary folk understand framing and perspective when reading a given story. So we are to put all of these vignettes from today into conversation with each other: the confession of Jesus as the Christ or Messiah; the prediction of Jesus’ suffering, rejection, death and resurrection; and the declaration that anyone who wishes to be Jesus’ disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.

People are often fond of saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but people also say, “You can’t believe everything you see (or read).” The modern day equivalent may be that, just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t make it true. The problem we have, and the one faced by Peter, is that we try to fit new experiences into preconceived categories. However, Mark wants to open us up to the new thing Jesus is doing in us. One of those things is to look for new ways to see God working to bring life to us and our world.

We tend to look for God in the big Cecil B. DeMille experiences in life, such as the Transfiguration. Now, God can and does show up there, but I think that God is mostly in the places we don’t expect, but nonetheless need. Most often, God meets us in the vulnerability of someone who admits they are powerless in their addiction. God meets us in the suffering of chronic pain. Or God meets us in the loss of our community’s downtown area to fire. God shows us that true life isn’t found in the packaged product we see on TV, Twitter, Facebook, the Red Carpet or other such places. As David Lose said, true life is not something that can’t be earned or won or bought. Like love, true life can only be given away and the more you give it away, the more you have it.

The disciples got glimpses of true life as they got glimpses of Jesus’ glory, though they didn’t realize it at the time. This past week, I’ve been wondering what it means to deny self, take up our cross and live as a follower of Jesus. I’ve looked for glimpses of God’s glory and here’s what I’ve seen. As Penny Banwart and I led two nursing home worship services, I saw a glimpse of God’s glory in younger people tenderly caring for older people. This Wednesday I got a glimpse of God’s glory as some Saved by Grace confirmation students expressed appreciation for Joyce Nelson’s dessert, which she and others prepared lovingly prepared for them and others. I have seen glimpses of God’s glory in Randy Long, Marlene Roede, John Odegard and others working hard to help all of us engage more deeply in ministry here. I’ve seen glimpses of God’s glory in our annual meeting as you as a congregation agreeing to give yourselves away through mission and ministry, making a commitment to this community and the greater world.

As we prepare to enter Lent, I invite you to catch glimpses of God’s working and to join in the journey to the cross, where we give ourselves away. Amen.