Sermon for 1/29/17 Matthew 5:1-12

The trouble with preaching on the beatitudes (as they are called) is that scripture like this is so well known. Sometimes too well known. You may hear scripture like this and wonder “what is new? What is Pastor going to tell me that I haven’t already heard about this scripture before?” Well, I think that if Jesus were running for President and he made a stop at the Iowa State Fair (as they all do) and then read the beatitudes as his stump speech that he would be booed, run out of town, or worse…all before he could pick up a corn-dog or one of those buckets of fresh, hot, chocolate-chip cookies. Unfortunately, our definition of blessed is quite different from what Jesus says it means.

Jesus gathers his disciples for a time of teaching on the mountain top. If this were a class, it might be called “discipleship 101.” Remember, one of the names that Jesus is often called is “Rabbi” or teacher. He gathers his students, his pupils, his anxious evangelists to teach them one of the most important lessons: how to recognize those that are blessed. That is so important to remember. This is not a how-to list. This is not a to-do list. Jesus is teaching the disciples how to recognize those who are already blessed. And I have to wonder if the disciples were as confused as I am. Do you think that the disciples sat there, listening and processing, all while thinking “that doesn’t sound like being blessed at all”?

I got curious this week of what our definition of “blessed” would look like. I went to my favorite place, the internet. Actually, I went to Instagram to start. If you don’t know much about Instagram, I’m not going to go too much into it. But, it’s a social media site where people share pictures. With those pictures, you can add captions and hashtags (also known as the pound or number sign). This is handy to find other pictures with common themes. For example #ELCA or #dogsofinstagram. So, I looked up #blessed. And here is a small amount of the pictures I found.

I tried to select a nice mix. As you can see, I found this couple kissing on the subway or train, a man with a monkey on his shoulder, in the middle is a picture of a journal and a blender bottle, a Houston jersey and shoes, and then on the right hand side is a picture of a couple announcing that they are pregnant with a boy and finally, the last picture is (of course) Indian food. I wondered what made the picture takers (or picture posters) use the word blessed. Maybe the pregnant couple suffered through years of infertility like we did and they mourned for years. And now, surprise! It’s a boy. Maybe the kissing couple had just gotten over a huge argument and this is a kiss of peace? Maybe the person journaling is trying to discern what God wants from his or her life and striving for peace of heart. I can’t figure out the Indian food or monkey picture.

But, sadly, most of these pictures and many more like them on social media and other places isn’t the kind of blessed that Jesus talked about. You don’t usually hear people say “well, I  just lost my job, my house burned down, my spouse left me, and I haven’t eaten in 4 days, but at least I’m blessed.” It’s usually “just bought my new car. I’m so blessed.” Or “I’m headed to the caribbean for vacation. #blessed.” Because the truth is that when we think of someone who is blessed, it is usually equated to wealth, status, power, fame, success, and even beauty.  

At the same time, God is not in the shaming business; we usually do fine enough shaming ourselves. It’s not like these beatitudes are meant to make us feel bad. It isn’t as if Jesus wants us to be poor in spirit, or in a state of mourning, or even meek. What I don’t want for any of you is to hear these beatitudes and get down on yourself. I don’t want you to hear these and think that God has forgotten you. The challenge of the beatitudes is that God blesses the things in us that no one else (including us) can see as a blessing. Remember that Jesus was teaching the disciples how to recognize that someone was blessed. I wonder if they were being taught so that they could remind those that seemed downtrodden that they are blessed and therefore, loved? Or perhaps they needed to be taught what being blessed looks like so that those who claimed to be blessed would be invited to see the things they hide as a blessing instead?

Blessed are you who fight mental demons, who curse the darkness by lighting a candle. Blessed are you who wake up daily and keep fighting. Blessed are you who doubt God’s existence, who question, who struggle, but keep showing up. Blessed are you whose every breath is a battle. Blessed are you whose biggest battles are internal. For God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who sit at empty tables. Blessed are you who still reach for hands that are no longer present. Blessed are you who loved hard and now hurt much. Blessed are you for who tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are you who “shouldda, couldda, wouldda,” and “if only” for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who are overworked and underpaid. Blessed are you who are underappreciated. Blessed are you who have to make difficult business decisions. Blessed are you who want to feed the world but just can’t. Blessed are you who get frustrated by regulations, rules, and the weather. Blessed are you who keep others working even if you may not need them; for God see you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who draw blood and clean up disgusting things. Blessed are you who study until your brain leaks out your ears. Blessed are you who work while others sleep. Blessed are you who teach. Blessed are you who parent or grandparent. Blessed are you who share your crayons, playdoh or class notes. Blessed are you who feel invisible, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who love without boundaries. Blessed are you who love someone others don’t approve of. Blessed are you who stay only for the children. Blessed are you who keep fighting because you know it’s worth it. Blessed are you who feel like you sleep next to strangers. Blessed are you who sleep alone. Blessed are you who struggle just to love yourself, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who love and support our President. Blessed are you who are scared and engaged in resistance. Blessed are you who can have a civil disagreement on Facebook. Blessed are you who want to register as a Muslim. Blessed are you who are patriotic. Blessed are you who stopped paying attention because it’s all just too much, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

Blessed are you who hunger for something different. Blessed are you who are comforted by routine. Blessed are you who want all the answers and blessed are you who know all the answers. Blessed are you who hunger for something more than food. Blessed are you who are full and overflowing, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.

The darkest parts of you? The parts you try and hide or cover up? Those are the things that God sees and blesses. Blessings are not of human doing, they are of God’s doing; and that means they rarely look like we think they will. What a blessing.

Sermon for 1/22/18 Matthew 4:-23; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

I want to talk today a little bit about call and the foolishness of the cross. For reference, then, I will be touching a bit on our Gospel lesson as well as that lesson from 1st Corinthians. What constantly surprises me about God and God’s actions towards me are the ways that God prepares me for the tasks that I am called to or will be called to. Maybe part of the foolishness of the cross is that God does call and prepare me, a lowly sinner, for things greater than I can ever imagine. Everything in my life that I thought I couldn’t do or shouldn’t do, God prepared me for.

Let me start by talking about call. Call isn’t language we use in the church very often. We may say the words “job” or “passion” or even “hobby”. When I talk about call (and as I talk about it today) what I am referring to is the roles in your life for which God created you. My calls for instance are wife, mom, daughter, friend, sister, pastor, dog-mom, advocate, feminist, and humorist (just to mention a few). When I talk about call, it may not necessarily be something you are paid for or maybe it is. I am lucky that my call to be a pastor is something I am paid for. Maybe your 8-5 job pays the bills, but it is whatever you do after you clock out that really lights your fire or that really makes you feel like you have purpose.

Our Gospel today talks about the calling of the disciples. Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, and on both occasions the disciples stop what they are doing and immediately follow Jesus. Talk about faith! They didn’t wait until their 401K’s reached a certain amount. They didn’t wait until new fishermen could be hired. They didn’t even give a 2-week notice. They immediately went. It’s as if the disciples knew that they were being called to something greater than themselves. They knew that what they were responding to was their hearts desire. And the foolishness of the cross was that Jesus called a bunch of nobodies. Jesus could have called members of the empire, kings, the rich or well off. But, instead he called fishermen. While this was a noble profession, it certainly wasn’t popular or well paying.

One of the things I love about the call of the disciples is their actions. They don’t give Jesus a list of reasons why they shouldn’t be disciples or why they can’t be disciples, they just go. I don’t know about you, but when I feel God is calling me to something new, I immediately start to think God is wrong (which, by the way, is the wrong move). “God,” I thought “I don’t think I’m meant to be a wife, I struggle with self love.” Then God sent me Chris. “God,” I continued “I don’t feel that burning desire to be a mom. I doubt I’ll be any good at this parenting thing.” And God sent me Ellen. “God, I wasn’t even raised Lutheran…are you sure I’m supposed to be a pastor?” Then, God sent me to seminary. The foolishness of the cross is that God prepares the called and not the other way around.

I also keep saying the phrase “the foolishness of the cross.” This comes from our first Corinthians reading for today. It says “for the message about the cross is foolishness.” What is the message of the cross and what makes it foolish? No matter what you think the message is, it all boils down to one answer: love. The message of the cross is forgiveness. But we are forgiven because God loves us. The message of the cross is grace. But we are given grace because God loves us. The message of the cross is mercy, hope, salvation, and redemption. But, all of that is really just love. The love that comes from the cross and because of the cross is offensive. Seriously, it’s super offensive. The person you just can’t stand? God loves them. The person who you wouldn’t swerve to miss? God loves them. And most offensive? God loves you. Because no matter what you’ve done or not done, God loves you. The fact that God loves you is foolish.

The fact that God loves you, loves me, or loves any of us is foolish. But that is the message of the cross: love; and often, that message doesn’t make any sense, thus it is foolish. And this love, as I’ve told you time and time again, is something you receive without any strings attached and without doing anything or maybe (more appropriately) despite what you’ve done. This love is a gift: a life-saving gift. Because God loves you, God created you for life-giving, soul-enriching work. This, my brothers and sisters, is your call. Theologian Frederick Buechner says “the place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Think about that for just a moment: the world is hungry for something and the world can be fed by whatever it is that brings you great joy.

Our own foolishness, however, comes in the denial of this call. “No God, you don’t mean me” or “God, perhaps you meant to call someone else to this” or, worse yet, we do our best to just ignore God. Trust me when I say that if you try and ignore God, God gets louder. A call from God usually comes one of two ways: internally (where you just feel unsettled in your soul) and/or externally (when someone says to you “have you ever thought about…”). Don’t be quick to dismiss any of that. We serve a God who loves us (again, the foolishness of the cross). We serve a God who protects us. We serve a God who showers grace and mercy upon us. Do you really think that this same God would call you to a life, a vocation, a living that isn’t anything but fulfilling and life-giving?

So what is it that God is calling you to do? Maybe you’re already doing it. What is it that is causing the hunger in your soul? Are you feeding that hunger with excuses? “I’ll do it when I retire.” “I’ll do it when the kids leave the house.” “I’ll do it when I have enough time (or money).” The excuses do only one thing: feed our fear. Fear is fed by our excuses and the more we feed it, the more it grows. Fear is counterproductive to love. As our psalm said today, God is our light and salvation and the stronghold of our lives. Who can we fear? When God calls you to serve the world you answer. You rise up. The foolishness of the cross is that Jesus died for you. Jesus didn’t die so you could ignore the call of God. Jesus didn’t suffer so you could feed fear with excuses. Jesus didn’t bleed so that you could just go through life and going through the motions.

It’s foolish that God calls any of us to discipleship in God’s name, but that’s exactly what God is doing. It’s foolish that God loves any of us despite the amount of sins attributed to our name, but that’s the cross for you. The world is hungry and is waiting for your gifts. God is calling you to something greater than yourself. Yes, it’s scary and uncertain. But, it’s also rewarding and life-giving. And if whatever you think God is calling you to makes you feel foolish, never ever forget that you are in good company.  

Sermon for 1/15/17 John 1:29-42

Some of the blogs and authors I follow have made it a habit of choosing one word or phrase at the beginning of each year that they want to be the focus of their life. It’s not always profound, but it usually seems to be surrounded by much thought and prayer. So, I thought about doing this for myself as 2016 came to an end and I prepared for the new year. I wondered what difference it might make for my own life, spiritual and otherwise. It’s not too late for you if this is something that interests you. I prayed about it, I prayed some more, I did my best to listen to God, and what kept coming to me over and over again was a word and a phrase. The word that kept coming to me was “resistance” and the phrase was “for such a time as this.” Every week as I sit down to plan the days ahead, I write these two things in my planner. I am still praying about what God has planned for me in regards to these words and phrases. Why do this at all?

“What are you looking for?” This is what Jesus asks us and the disciples today .What are you looking for? And it’s so much more than that. The translation is “what are you looking for” but it could also be “what are you seeking?” It could also be “what do you hope to find?” Those are three very different sentences. The disciples then say that they are wondering about where Jesus is staying. And Jesus responds “come and see.” This is where the English translation does us no good in adequately relaying the message that Jesus had for the disciples and us. Because see, the disciples weren’t asking a simple question of “where are you staying.” They aren’t looking for a hotel review. The translation is where are you abiding, dwelling, or remaining. The Greek word here is “meno” which is often translated as abide. This verb, meno, is used over 40 times in John’s Gospel. You might be able to call that a theme! The disciples aren’t interested in a specific answer. It’s not like they expected Jesus to answer “I’m staying at 4022 Old Jerusalem Road.” What the disciples were hoping for, seeking, looking for was relationship. And Jesus responds “come and see.” Jesus thus invites the disciples into relationship. He invites them to abide with him.

Scripture is a living, breathing document, brothers and sisters. What this means is that it is just as relevant for us on January 15, 2017 as it was for the disciples and those who followed Jesus in his time. Instead of thinking of the Bible as an old document, think of it as readings that are still prevalent for our time (because they are). Allow me then, to ask you what Jesus asked the disciples. “What are you looking for?” Maybe this is what we all are supposed to think about for the next year. Just like my words of “resistance” and “for such a time as this” maybe I should add “what are you looking for?” What do you need? What are you seeking? What do you long for? Then it is to us to resist the temptation to answer or to fix. Have you ever noticed how quickly we want to fix people or situations? There’s something about uncertainty that makes us uncomfortable; and so we rush to fix it. For example, if someone said “I feel like what I need is time” we might be quick to jump in and give advice. “Go on vacation!” or “start prioritizing!”

What are you looking for? What do you need? How is God calling you to abide? Do you need silence in a noisy world? Do you need comfort in a time of change? Do you need to abide with others? Are you longing to be in real genuine relationship with others and not just surface relationships? Are you looking to be fed in ways that fill your mind and soul? Maybe you are looking for the opportunity to rest. Jesus is asking you, me, all of us, “what are you looking for” and so how will you answer?

It’s interesting that we are asked this question today of all days. After worship today we will gather for our annual meeting. A lot of what we will talk about today will be money. We’ll talk about the budget, our goals, our hopes, maybe even our dreams. How might our discussion change if we kept in mind the question of “what we are looking for” in a church? What would our budget look like if we said we are looking to be a church that welcomes young families? Or what might it look like if we said we are wanting to be the church that feeds hungry people? We can’t possibly be all things to all people. It’s just not possible. So, what are we looking for? What are you looking for? I want you to take a moment to think about that.

When you’re done thinking about it, hear what Jesus has to say. “Come and see.” This in an invitation with no time limit from Jesus. Come and see, he says. Come and abide with him. There is no catch. There is nothing we have to do to earn our keep. But the thing about Jesus’ invitation is that it will change your life. “Come and see” should both reassure and scare the crap out of you. Because when you answer Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” you are responding to a relational invitation; you are responding to an invitation to be loved. Come and see is about being willing to go and have your life changed by grace. If grace isn’t what you’re looking for then maybe don’t respond. But, who wouldn’t want grace in their lives. For me, it comes back around to resisting the urge to cave to what the world tells me I need and instead rely on what I want: Christ. If you are brave enough to answer the question “what do you want? What are you looking for? What are you seeking?” then be brave and bold enough to follow when Jesus calls “come and see.”

Our life together is relational. We are nothing without one another. Our life together is relational in Christ because we are nothing without him. What makes this place different than a country club is that relationship. The relationship that we have to Christ is life giving and the relationship that we have with one another is living proof of that. My brothers and sisters, I once again ask you “what are you looking for?” and are you willing to “come and see?”

Funeral sermon for Jeanne Rogis (based on John 11: 21-27)

When someone you love dies suddenly, it can feel like someone has ripped a bandaid off many places. But, when someone you love dies suddenly around Christmas, it can feel like you got donkey kicked in the gut. “Lord, if you had been here….” I think that can be a common feeling in situations like this. Even as Allan and I sat in the hospital on Friday night, a sentiment similar to that one was said more than once. Maybe you too have felt it. The idea of “I should have…” or “if I only would have…” But death is very real and we never really know when it will happen. Sadly, you all are too familiar with that now. The doctor himself even said that there was nothing that could have been done. You who loved her must rest assured that everything that you could have done, would have done, or even thought about doing would not have stopped death from coming for Jeanne.

I don’t expect that to make you feel any better. In fact, the only thing I hope brings you comfort is that Jeanne’s faith was strong. The last few years didn’t allow her to attend church as she may have liked, but that didn’t stop her faithfulness to God. Nonetheless, there still may be a part of you that thinks “Lord, if you had been here…” Brothers and sisters, the Lord was there and is here. The Lord was with Allan as he literally held Jeanne as she slipped from this world to the next. The Lord was with the doctors and nurses as they tried against all odds to breathe life back into her body. The Lord was with the hospital chaplain as he called myself and others to come and care for Allan. The Lord was with Sara and Carla as they were able to arrive safely (something Jeanne always worried about). The Lord continues to dwell here.

Jeanne was a trailblazer. I don’t know if she saw herself that way, but as I’ve talked with family and friends, it has become clear to me that she was a trailblazer. Teaching isn’t necessarily a trailblazing occupation. It’s a noble occupation, that’s for sure. I was raised by 2 teachers and married a teacher too. But, science, and the way that Jeanne taught it was awesome. In a time where women weren’t getting involved with the sciences as much, Jeanne was leading the way for many women after her to come. Again, I doubt she saw it that way, but that is the way it was.

She got to speak to Christa McCauliff before the Challenger shuttle took off and met its ultimate demise. That pumpkin patch spoken of in Oxford Junction? The seeds also went into space. She wrote curriculum for Space Camp when kids my age had the ultimate dream of attending. Family trips during the summer usually centered around science teachers conventions. And, of course, 4H projects. So many 4H projects. Because Jeanne didn’t do anything half way and that seems to be a trait passed onto her daughters. They couldn’t have just 1 rabbit. They had to have like 175.

Jeanne was a student’s teacher. What I mean is that she catered to her students. She was a teacher admired and adored by many. She was tough but fair. She especially took the students that were outsiders under her wing. Her family joked that if you didn’t have the drive that she might just beat it into you. She was tenderhearted. She had a tough exterior but it wasn’t hard to break through it. Her last year in Oxford Junction, her students gave her a cat named Soxy. She loved that cat; she loved all animals, really. This is probably what made her such a good fit for the pet supervisor at the Clinton County fair.

She met Allan when he was working for her dad. The story goes that a supposed pig got loose and Allan asked Jeanne to help him look for the pig. Jeanne claims there never was a pig; Allan does. So goes the story of the imaginary pig. Imaginary or not, the pig story worked. Their first date was a concert and they were married about 6 months later. 5 years after their marriage, Carla came along. And 5 years after that, Sara. Carla was the first of her children to experience having mom as a teacher. The first semester was a little rough when mom gave Carla detention several times. But Jeanne wasn’t one to take crap from anyone in her classroom, even her own daughter. Carla said they eventually got it figured out.

Many hours were spent with Sara in the car going to one orchestra practice or another. Jeanne wore down at least 2 cars carting Sara around. Sara liked to listen to the same works of music over and over and over and Jeanne obliged. Jeanne herself was quite musical. There are stories of a family band with her playing the saxophone and her sister would put thumbtacks on the hammers of the piano to make the piano sound like ragtime. She also served in the music boosters when the girls were school. Jeanne’s talents were all over the map. Her quilt handy work can be seen around you today. She was determined to finish her projects and the level of difficulty didn’t really matter to her. More than once Allan was called into the room to help her look at a pattern or figure something out.

While Jeanne’s accolades certainly are impressive, her most important title was that of child of God. Her involvement here could be another sermon altogether. She was claimed in life at her baptism and she was claimed in death by God. Her baptismal journey is complete. It was shorter than we would have liked it, but God has once again claimed her as his own. “Lord, if you had been here….” and the Lord was with Jeanne. And one of the clearest ways I saw God at work was through Allan. Whether you knew it or not, Allan, you were Christ to Jeanne. By doing what came natural to you, loving her, you were Christ’s hands and feet in this world. I know that you were doing it because you love her, but it was Christ moving through you. You are living proof of how wonderful and yet how painful it can be when the vow of sickness and health is lived out in daily life.

Romans 8 assures us that nothing separates us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus. Nothing at all. It doesn’t matter how Jeanne succeeded or failed, how often she sinned, what kind of mother, wife, or friend she was, God loved her every single day of her life. And God loves you too. Jeanne would probably want me to tell you that and make sure you knew it. God loved Jeanne and God loves you too. Proof of this love will be tasted in bread and wine very soon. God’s love will be seen through the love that carries this family over the next weeks and years to come. God’s love is seen as a baby born into this world would be destined for a cross, the ultimate sign of love.

Jeanne will rise again. Those of us who believe, who have been claimed by God in baptismal waters, will also rise again. We will all be joined together with the company of all the saints who have gone before us in the last days. That may not do much to heal the hurts of your hearts today. But friends, we are Easter people. We are resurrection people. We are empty tomb people. We are light in the darkness people. We are the people who stare death in the face and declare that death never has and never will have the final word. Jeanne’s earthly journey is complete. Our lives are different with her death. The Lord, who is here, bring you all comfort and peace.

Sermon for 1/1/17 Matthew 2:13-23

I don’t know if it was the moon, the tides, or just life, but this past week was challenging. Not good, not bad, just challenging. The week between Christmas and New Year’s I had planned to relax, visit our shut-ins, spend an extra afternoon or so with Chris. But then life happened, as it does. I had one funeral lined up before Jeanne Rogis died. So this past week brought me 2 funerals. One of those funerals was for a baby from Camanche. If I ever have to do that again it will be too soon. Then Jeanne’s funeral. Then a wedding rehearsal on Friday with the wedding last night (which was awesome, by the way) and service this morning. God and I have spent more time together this week than usual. On top of this, I wanted to prepare to leave for vacation, the house is chaotic with the siding and windows work, and I am worried about a dear family member dealing with some heart issues. And if I am going to be honest with all of you, which I totally believe in doing, I am exhausted. I have poured more out of myself than I have put in. I joked earlier that I felt like God was making me earn my vacation.  

Maybe you can understand, then, why the last thing I really wanted to do was to preach on the slaughter of the innocents (at this text from Matthew is often called). I read it over like 27 times trying to make it magically turn into rainbows and unicorns. No such luck. I should know by now that God doesn’t work like that. The more I tried not to think about this reading, the more I thought about it. I didn’t want to talk about the bloodshed, violence, and graphic nature of today’s reading. I especially didn’t want to talk about it because it is still Christmas, after all. Yes, despite what the retail stores are trying to sell you in regards to Valentine’s Day, it is still Christmas. I want to hear more about the infant Jesus. I want to hear about the manger, the animals, Joseph still in disbelief, and Mary a little unsure of her place now after giving birth to a savior. I want to hear about that.

But instead we get this terrible story about Herod killing innocent children. Herod, who was a supposed King of the Jews acted like anything but. For some reason he felt like his legacy, his work, maybe even his title and thrown, were at risk or under attack by an infant Jesus. I’m not an expert in infants, but I’ve never seen one overthrow a kingdom yet. Nonetheless, Herod was frightened. Of course, being a king he wasn’t going to admit that, but he was outright scared. This should start to give us a picture of the power of Jesus. If Herod wanted him dead even as an infant, Jesus’ powers and what he might accomplish in his lifetime we already putting fear into people.

In an act of what can only be called tyrannical rage, Herod demanded that all children under the age of 2 be killed. One has to wonder if our world leaders could be or would be set off so easily. Just let that set in for a moment. Herod felt so threatened by the infant Jesus that he demanded that all children be killed. That’s like setting your entire house on fire in order to cook a casserole. And in a great time of uncertainty, God protected Jesus. While the loss of the innocent lives was overwhelmingly cruel, God provided for and protected the messiah. Maybe then it’s not too much for us to believe that in uncertain circumstances God protects us too.

With the arrival of a new year, many of you might make resolutions or promises for a better 2017. Unfortunately, with the turning of the calendar, the dropping of the ball, and the start of a new day and month, our problems do not automatically disappear. Wouldn’t that be just wonderful if it worked that way? Some of you still struggle with health. Some of you still struggle financially. Some of you still struggle with your family or friends. All of us, in one way or another, struggle. That didn’t go away from 2016 to 2017. For some, the arrival of a new year may actually cue the anxiety to increase. With the election of Mr. Trump what happens to the affordable care act? How will the markets react with his presidency? What laws will a republican congress and senate pass that will affect me?

Maybe the arrival of 2017 causes your anxiety to increase for good reason. Maybe you’re expecting the addition of a little one to your family. Maybe you’re sending your “baby” off to college. Maybe you yourself are thinking about a job switch or even retirement. The life of the church and our future ahead is even a little uncertain (but in good way). We added 30 new members in 2016. What will this year bring? What and who will we need to make room for in our pews, hearts, and Sunday School rooms this next year? Through all these changes, God moves and acts to protect us.

And I understand that in some situations it can feel like God has just outright forgotten you. If you were to be told that God is acting for you and protecting you during a time of great struggle and stress, you have every right to doubt that. It usually isn’t until a time of great peril is over that we realize how and where God was acting and protecting us. And the beauty of this protection and love offered to us from God isn’t something we need to or even have to acknowledge in order to receive it. In the midst of crisis, it’s perfectly okay to doubt that God even knows you’re still alive. God’s faithfulness to us does not depend on our faithfulness to God. (say this again)

God created you. God created me. God created all of us. We are made in God’s image. God loves us and would never let us walk through the fire and abandon us. God protects us and would never go through waters and drown. Even in the times of great struggle, God protects us and is with us. In the times of great triumph, God protects us and is with us. In our every day lives, God protects us and is with us. I’m not advocating that you be happy 100% of the time no matter what. Brothers and sisters, what I am advocating is that you trust God’s presence in your life is very real, even if you can’t feel it. I am asking you to trust that God is protecting you, even if it feels like you are in the middle of a storm. God has not abandoned you yet and God certainly isn’t going to start now.