Archive | September, 2009

a september summary

28 Sep
A Grace summary from the past weeks:
  • First sermon – check. It feels good to have it behind me and I have been getting a lot of positive feedback about my sermon and how relaxed I seemed while preaching. Next sermon: Oct. 18.
  • I attended a youth mini-golf outing this past Sunday afternoon. Someone set up a bus for us to take … a party bus. Seriously. This bus is typically rented for bachelorette and bachelor parties. There may or may not have been a pole in the middle of the bus and puke buckets scattered throughout.
  • I am starting to recognize faces and remember names which makes this feel like a more comfortable and home-like place.
  • Confirmation has begun and this Wednesday afternoon I’m in charge of the 24 seventh and eighth graders all by my lonesome. I think I will bake them cookies and bribe them to love me.
  • I have visitors lined up for the next two weekends – awesome – and then the following week I will be attending a theological conference for three nights in St.Cloud, MN.
  • After services on October 11, I will be driving the three hours to St.Paul to see Rob Thomas in concert with my bestest, Sara. I am VERY excited for this adventure!
  • I am done with my quilt top! Now I await a machine quilting presser foot of sorts for my machine because I have decided to machine quilt it instead of tie it. I also am still waiting for more floor space in my apartment to appear magically so I have the space to lay the quilt out with the back and batting.
  • Lori, the interim pastor, made bars yesterday on her day off and gave me one. She made scotcheroos with butterscotch mixed in with the chocolate for the top. Glorious. Just like Mom. You know, lots of people don’t make them that way and that missing element of butterscotch just leads to disappointment. (Apologies to anyone who neglects the butterscotch.)
All in all, I drove to work today and realized that I am enjoying myself. The staff I work with is great and the church community is so welcoming and caring towards me. I like it and feel like it’s a good place for me to be at this point in time.

preacher gnome.

27 Sep

Put down your post hole diggers!

27 Sep

I did it – I preached my first sermon on internship.  Phew.  Nerves were high this week as I anticipated the Sunday service and wrote my sermon.  I was pretty nervous until I was there reading the gospel and then I was okay.  No rotten tomatoes were thrown and I wasn’t rushed outside to be tarred and feathered so I think it went over fairly well.  So far anyways.  I realize that what I preached could have some further reaching implications – it seems very applicable to the ELCA churchwide assembly vote to allow gay clergy to be in same gendered monogamous relationships, which continues to be a sticky issue at Grace.  I do not in any way feel that it is my duty to preach my point of view regarding the vote and feel that this sermon was true to the text but could very easily lead people in that direction.  How my words rest and speak to the congregation members, my dear, is the job of the Holy Spirit and not my own.

Gospel text: Mark 9:38-50

My sermon is as follows:

My family has always included a canine member.  I remember running around the farm with Barkley and then Lucy.  Barkley was our guard dog, a black lab mutt, and Lucy was the sweetest yellow lab.  Now we have Jetta, another yellow lab, who is, by far, the most rambunctious and wild of the family pets.  Jetta is friendly and loves to run off and make new friends.  After a few instances of Jetta’s attempts to make friends, we decided Jetta needed boundaries … so Jetta is now subject to an invisible fence.  She is trained to stay within the limits of that fence.  The thought of crossing the line where the invisible fence lies is threatening to her.  She’s scared of it, knowing it will lead to a slight shock from her collar.  Once, when the invisible fence was still relatively new, Jetta crossed the line.  Her favorite toy had wound up on the other side and she was determined to get it.  She crossed the line, felt the shock, and was then fearful to cross back.  She sat on the other side of the fence and cried and whined that heartbreaking puppy cry.  My brother finally found her and brought her safely back inside of her fence. 

Poor Jetta has been stuck on both sides of her fence.  With a fence, we’re always on one side or the other.  We’re either in or we’re out.  Fences create limits and boundaries. They enforce ownership and can put people on the de-fense. We are excellent fence builders in our day and age, and have been for hundreds of years.  Think about the walls of Jericho.  The great wall in China.  Fences for farm animals.  Property lines.  White picket fences.  Snow fences.  A fence that spans the United States and Mexican border.  We even have invisible fences – fences that enforce limits but can’t be seen. 

I don’t think pets are the only ones with invisible fences to keep them in or out, within limits or out of boundaries.  I have invisible fences in my life.  The fences in my life don’t deliver a physical shock to my body if the line is crossed but many times, they are fences that I build myself or am a part of, either intentionally or unintentionally.  When we stop to think about it, we are all faced with fences.  Our families, our churches, our country – think of the lines we draw for membership within these groups.  We put up fences to keep people in or keep people out, to maintain order, or to govern with rules.  Fences can have a good, needed purpose but fences can also be limiting and damaging in negative ways.

The disciples in the gospel reading today want to put up a fence.  They encounter a man who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name but this man is not one of the disciples.  The man casting out demons isn’t one of them – how dare he do such a thing when he is not one of us, the disciples think.  The disciples, with their post hole diggers and wire cutters, had built themselves inside a fence with Jesus.  This other man?  He was not on the inside.  He was on the outside of the fence and the disciples did not want to let him in.  He could not be a part of the group that cast out demons in Jesus’ name.  He was not one of them, they did not know him, and therefore, according to the disciples, must be stopped.

The disciples wonder how anyone else can do good in Jesus’ name but them.  They are the ones who are following Jesus.  They are the ones who are within the fence they have built.  The disciples and Jesus.  Because the others are not with them, what they are doing cannot be right.  It must be stopped.

Jesus thinks differently.  “Do not stop him,” Jesus says.  “For no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Whoever is not against us is for us.”   With those words, the fence is torn down.  The fence that keeps the disciples and Jesus on the inside and this other man on the outside is unnecessary – whoever is not against us is for us. 

Jesus continues, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”  Jesus tells the disciples that any act of kindness, even an act as small as giving someone who is thirsting a drink of water, is an act that advances the kingdom of God, an act in God’s favor.  It makes no difference who does this act – if it is not against God, it is for God.  An act as simple as a sip of water – how simple and trivial this is and yet, how often we need to be reminded to do it.

A small gesture is one that can advance the kingdom of God and further share the love of Christ in and among God’s people.  But just as a small gesture can do good, so a small gesture can do harm.  Jesus continues by warning the disciples against creating stumbling blocks for the little ones.  Earlier in the gospel of Mark, Jesus welcomes the children into his arms, further telling the disciples and us today to welcome the children.  “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”  Jesus goes on with a series of extreme examples of warning regarding the severity of sin and causing others to stumble in their faith.  But as these verses contain warning about cutting off a hand, a foot, or an eye if that body part causes one to sin, the verses also contain promise that speaks to the greatness of the kingdom of God.  It is better to enter the kingdom of God with only one hand than not to enter at all. 

We also know that this is not the last word.  The gospel doesn’t end here but rather continues with Christ’s death and resurrection.  We are sinful people and come before Jesus broken and maimed.  We repent and meet Jesus at the cross.  Three days later, with Christ’s resurrection, we are given a promise.  Promise that we will be raised and that we will be made whole again.  We are sinful people but in the death and resurrection of Christ through God’s love, we are made whole and forgiven.

This promise is not only for those on the inside of the fences we build.  This promise is not reserved for a certain few or the ones that we think deserve it.  It is not within us to determine these limits or boundaries.  God’s love has no boundary.  God is in all places with all people; who are we to say that he isn’t?  God cannot be put inside a fence.  There is no fence long enough or no words in our vocabulary to describe the limitless love and power of God.

When we put up fences, we limit the work of God in the world and limit the promises of God.  We limit what we see as good and the Holy Spirit working among us.  To God, there is not fence.  No insiders or outsiders. Everyone can be the source of God’s action in and among us.  There is no us and them.  We are one.  It is together as one, working to share the good news and love of Christ.  We are not to limit who is restricted from the gospel or who can share the gospel news.  God’s action cannot be contained or completely explained by us. 

God’s action in the world is not always something we can understand.  It does not always come from the sources we think it should.  It can’t be contained in a fence or within only a certain group of people.   We cannot claim as Lutherans that we do more or better work for God’s kingdom that others, like those of other denominations.  We in the United States cannot fence ourselves off and say that we do good work, but kind actions in Asia or Africa or Canada are not pleasing to God.  We cannot say this.  We cannot know God’s master plan or in what ways He is working for the good in this world.  But as we listen to the Spirit, read God’s word, and welcome all into our community, we hope, pray, and act for our neighbor, for the other, and for the coming of God’s kingdom.

If we take down the fences, it might be a scary adventure at first.  With no fence in place, we lose control.  We’re not in charge of who is on the inside and who is not.  We’re no longer the one to say what is acceptable and what is not.  We lose control and we lose definition.  It’s no longer clear who the insiders and outsiders are.  It’s not black and white, not us and them.  But then we wonder – did we ever have control to begin with?  Is it our job to decide who is on the inside and who isn’t deserving of Christ’s promises?  As we take down the fences, we learn to give control to God.

If we take down the fences that separate us, perhaps we’d be surprised about what we would find.  We may be surprised at the people we meet and the deeds of kindness and works of love they are doing because of the gospel.  As we meet people, we should not assign labels or instantly start building a fence to separate us.  Cultural labels, ethnicity, age, economic status.  Instead of labels, instead of fences, we look for the actions, attitudes, and spirit, for mercy, justice, integrity, and faith and welcome it as God working in the world.  As we look to our neighbors, we can tear down the fences we have built, and leave God in charge. 

Let’s put down our post-hole diggers and wire cutters and let us go forth and show Christ’s love with our own actions of kindness, sharing the promise of Christ with all people.


church ladies’ eating habits.

24 Sep
I love the church ladies. Hands down, love them. They are wonderful and fun and full of energy … and desserts. I have helped them assemble the newsletter, tied quilts for Lutheran World Relief, drank coffee after worship, been invited to join for dessert after Bible study, and generally been with them a fair bit in the last four weeks. Man, do they know how to “lunch” and do their coffee breaks up right.
Example one: The ladies make quilts in the fellowship hall every fourth Monday of the month. The calendar says they start at nine so I showed up around 9:10. The calendar is false. These ladies were in full quilting swing by the time I walked through the door! I visited with the ladies who were pinning and sewing, ironing, cutting, and then the women who were tying handed me a needle and thread. I had no sooner made my first tie in the quilt when they announced, “Coffee’s ready!” They demanded I put my needle down and join them at the table. I hadn’t been there for but ten minutes and we were drinking coffee and eating deliciously warm coffee cake.
Example two: I was invited to a quilting group on Tuesday night by a member of Grace. I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to go but figured it would be a good adventure. I was picked up at 7 pm and after two hours of sitting around a table and looking at extremely elaborate quilts which I will never be capable of making, they started handing out plates and napkins. Nine o’clock at night and they announce it’s time for lunch. Lunch, what? Apparently, this lunch, three hours before my bedtime, is tradition for these parts and consisted of bars, peanuts, and coffee/juice.
Example three: Wednesday night was Women of Grace, an event for women to come to church and hear a speaker. We listened to the Southern speaker – with whom I bonded afterwards over suckering tobacco – and then, guess what, time for dessert and coffee. Any event at church is seriously followed with or includes dessert and coffee. Lunch, if you will.
Example four: There was a women’s Bible study group that met this afternoon at church. Lori and I had no part in the Bible study; they lead it themselves except for one study every couple months when a pastor steps in. We may not have had a part in the Bible study but there was dessert afterwards and so the women found Lori and I and invited us to angel-food-cake-and-raspberry- dessert time.
So how do they stay so thin? Ideas? Email me or comment here with your conclusion for their ability to maintain weight while eating pastries day in and day out, and I’ll include the responses in a future blog entry!

Look, Mom, I’m quilting!

19 Sep
The quilt has made progress!
The fabric is cut into strips …

Then the fabric is sewn together – this is one half of the top of the quilt.
It’s still hard to imagine it with another half and finished … but I think I will like it. I think it suits me. The real difficulty with the quilt is when it comes time to put it together with the backing and the middle bits … if this is only half of the quilt size, where do I find floor space to lay the entire quilt out flat? You can see my coffee table and kitchen table get in the way … and this is pretty much the biggest piece of floor space I have available. It will be a creative challenge.
After completing this, I made myself stop for the day. I so easily get wrapped up into finishing projects but want to take my time with this one and give myself something to do on some other days in the week! Plus, I was naive in my estimation of how much a quilt costs to make; if it were cheaper, I’d make one every other week to entertain myself but money can be somewhat of an issue.

The new toy

18 Sep
This title was part of my status on gmail last Wednesday to which my friend, Kim, told me “I wish I was your new toy.” As much fun as Kim is to play with, the new toy was, sadly, not her or any person but an inanimate appliance. I decided last spring that my internship hobby would be learning to quilt. I’m not sure how or why I came to the conclusion but since then have told many people so they can hold me to my word.
I’m making progress … the sewing machine arrived last Wednesday. It sat patiently in its box until I was done with Wednesday evening meetings and then it was unpacked and put to work. The plain, cheap and too-long IKEA bedsheets which had hung from my windows needed some trimming and adjustment. I did it. I measured, cut, and sewed. I’ll admit, they’re not any too straight and have their flaws but for a first project, I pat myself on the back. Now I have curtains that don’t hang on the ground and can be tied back from the middle. Success.
Today I made the trek to Willmar, MN, a drive of just over an hour foregoing the detour of a highway. The road continually reminded me that it was closed with barricades and signs but I made it the 17 miles with no unnecessary stops on the shoulder or visits with a person in uniform. Willmar is pretty much the closest fabric store to Dawson and so I stocked up on fabric for my first quilt. It’s a simple quilt but I think a good place to start and I hope that it is at least in a usable condition to clothe my bed for the year ahead.
I had no idea how difficult it was to look at bolts of fabric and then envision what the fabric would look like when it is pieced together on a larger scale. I struggled and still am uncertain that I succeeded at the task. Piecing it together and time will tell. Here is my “color story” for my first big sewing project —
Washed and dried, I had hoped to iron the fabric and start cutting tonight but alas, I lack the distilled water needed for my iron. I also lack the convenience of 24 hour shopping in the berg of Dawson and so I wait until tomorrow for the sewing disaster to begin.


18 Sep
It’s been a busy week for me at Grace Lutheran here in Dawson, MN. A few highlights include:
I discovered on Monday that I miss – in the tiniest degree – being in the classroom and being a student. Emily, the membership care director at Grace, and I are leading/participating in a Bible study on the book of Revelation along with eight to ten women on Monday afternoons. Revelation … yea. I know nothing about the book of Revelation and so I needed to expand my mind and learn about this puzzling book. A professor at Luther Sem has lectures from his class on Revelation online so I spent much of Monday morning listening to lectures and taking notes and smiling with sincerity while doing it. Some Revelation insights for you —
  • The book is written by John, but research leads us to believe that this is not the same John to whom we attribute the fourth gospel.
  • The number seven, the number of perfection, appears 57 times in the book of Revelation.
  • Revelation was written as a letter, just as Paul wrote letters. The letter was written to specific congregations in what is now modern-day Turkey. Though the letter speaks to us today, we bear in mind that it was written near the end of the first century to real congregations.
  • In all of the confusing language and images that are so foreign to us today, we remember that in the end, Jesus wins. Amen.
This coming Sunday is our Rally Sunday. I am leading much of the service which is in many ways geared towards the kids who will (fingers crossed) be in church with their parents. If they aren’t there, the older members of the congregation will be treated to award-winning acting by Lori and myself as we act like second graders in the sermon skit. I wrote the skit and wrote it to be funny … here’s hoping it doesn’t backfire.
Towards the end of August, the ELCA met for a church-wide assembly in Minneapolis for a week. In this week, many different resolutions and statements were talked about and voted on, including votes regarding the recognizing of homosexual relationships and the role of ordained homosexual pastors in committed relationships. These resolutions passed but with the realization that the church is divided on the matter; in a sense, the ELCA is agreeing to disagree. Many people in Dawson and Grace Lutheran are fearful, saddened, and angered by these votes which leads us to hold a meeting regarding the resolutions this coming Sunday. We believe that much of the extreme reactions we have witnessed and heard about through town coffee talk can be calmed through receiving the correct information. People are fearful that with the passing of these resolutions the church will change, so much so that churches in the area are strongly considering leaving the organization of the ELCA or withholding their offerings from the church. And so we wait for Sunday afternoon at 3:30 (so as not to conflict with the Vikings game) and hope that no fights break out in fellowship hall.
Confirmation begins next Wednesday. I preach next Sunday. Meetings. Revelation research to be done. It will be another busy week to come.

A weekend of –

13 Sep
– Vegetable races?  For fun.  I went to the Lac Qui Parle County fair just up the road in Madison, MN and planned my visit specifically for this event.  

Gardeners brought in their produce and kids of all ages picked their vegetable of choice, grabbed a wheel kit, and using toothpicks, flowers, and any vegetable available, created their mode of transportation.  They then raced their vegetable down a track to compete for the longest run.  

Some of the veggie mobiles were quite plain, built for distance with proper weight distribution and the like, while others were quite creative works of art or a way of cheering on a certain football player.

As a spectator, this girl was my favorite to watch.  So darn cute and so darn ready to race her eggplant!

– The installation of me.  I was officially installed as the intern pastor at Grace Lutheran Church this morning during the service.  Then following the service, the congregation and I played a game show to better get to know Pastor Lindsay.  They learned that I have have no tattoos and believe in extraterrestrial beings only on rare occasions.  People seem to love the fact that I drink coffee and I’m a “good Lutheran” because of it.  For my love of coffee, they gave me a gift of a coffee mug and coffee.  The mug reads: Coffee.  Chocolate.  Men.  Some things are just better rich.  True?
– I made applesauce and dare I say, it’s not only edible but tastes pretty good.  I remember my Grandma Vera, a grandma of so many treats and homemade deliciousness, used to make applesauce all the time,
sometimes with lots of cinnamon and red hot candies.  I made a very simple recipe and can foresee myself making more as the season of fall and apples aplenty surround us.  
– I was invited over to the interim pastor’s house to have lunch with her and her family.  It was wonderful to eat somewhere other than my apartment and with other people.  The food of choice was pizza and the preferred television station was the one with the Vikings.  (I am in MN after all but still so strange to see Farve wearing purple!)  Lori and her family live on a farm so I was also privy to see the baby calves.  For cute.  I left with the invitation to come back anytime, perhaps specifically at 5:30 pm to help milk!  I’ve never actually milked cows before so I’m game to learn.  Milking cows – another skill to add to my internship final evaluation!

Grace Lutheran Church

10 Sep

This is the sanctuary at Grace Lutheran Church, where I will be preaching, worshipping, and learning for the next year. It’s a beautiful place with stained glass windows and recently refinished hard wood floors. The other new feature in the sanctuary is the grand piano which was played for the first time only weeks ago. It sits just to the right of where this picture ends.

On the left hand side is the baptismal font – above the font, there is a screen which is lowered for the contemporary worship service to display the words to songs/liturgy and announcements.

Beginning September 27 (which also happens to be the first Sunday I will preach) the congregation will return to two services, whereas there was only one throughout the summer months. The 8:30 service will be traditional worship and the 10:45 is contemporary service.
To end our short tour of Grace, to the right is a dreadfully narrow and steep spiral staircase which I will difficultly climb every Sunday while wearing a robe. Quite tricky. The staircase begins in a corner of the fellowship hall and leads to the sacristy, which is just off of the front of the sanctuary. It’s how the pastors and acolytes enter the service and thus I will become skilled at climbing spiral staircases while wearing a robe and heels. Now that’s a skill not every intern can put on their final evaluation.

(Yes. Today was a yellow shoe day. Yellow shoes make me happy.)

Population : 1600

9 Sep

Welcome to Dawson, folks.
Dawson is a small town in western Minnesota, located off of Hwy. 212. If you come into town on 212, turn to the south between the Casey’s and the Dairy Queen, drive for seven blocks and that’s pretty much it. We’ve got numerical streets running north/south, trees running east west (Chesnut, Linden, Walnut, etc.), but really not too many of either of them. Main Street (also known as 6th Street) consists of a few “for cute” shops, a hardware store, post office, grocery store, couple banks, dress shops, and a family restaurant. It’s hard to blink and miss them because the speed limit is 20 mph. “Downtown” is the happening place in Dawson until 6 pm when everything closes.
Railroad tracks run straight through the middle of town, through the grain elevator and AGP, or “the bean plant,” one of the businesses which employs many people in the area. They process soybeans. (More information on AGP) It is a bit strange to drive a few blocks through a residential area and then suddenly be surrounded by railroad tracks, grain elevators on one side, a soybean processing plant on the other, and downtown just ahead.

Here’s a fun Grace Lutheran Church fact I learned today: Local farmers can give their offering to the church in grain as opposed to in an envelope on Sunday mornings. When they take their grain to the elevator, they can specify that a portion of it be given to Grace and then when sold, the money comes to the church. For neat.
There is a milk processing plant just outside of town (AMPI) which employs many people in Dawson and also a Cenex fertilizer plant. Lots of the people in Dawson work at one of these three agriculturally-based plants, farm, or are employed by the school district or hospital in town. Because many to most of the jobs at these places are shift based, this affects how and when we do worship, conscious that people may be working every other weekend or nights. I believe the location of the three plants in Dawson is also to credit for drawing a diverse population into this rural area.
%d bloggers like this: