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This Sunday is a jam packed one!
God is certainly up to some great things in the midst of us. Our whole lives belong to and are blessed by God, so we gather to celebrate!
76 people that encompassed 30 families participated in the Stewardship Stone Soup Suppers. In an effort to shake stewardship loose from the drum beat “we need money – we need money” and release it into a way of being in our whole lives, we met around a meal that everyone contributed something to. Some brought stuff to throw in the soup pot – even a stone at one of the dinners. Some brought delicious desserts and fruit and salad, bread, cornbread. It was a metaphor come to life for everyone bringing something to the table.
While of course we need money to support, sustain, and live into the future – God’s future, people’s participation in a church body is what makes up Christ’s body. So at these suppers, we talked about what we were good at, about what we were grateful for, all based on the belief that we believe in a generous God.
This coming Sunday celebrates this stewardship of our lives. We’ll give thanks to God for the countless ways which we give back to God, including money, including hidden and flourishing talents. See you there.
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Sunday, November 6, worship will be shaped around our remembrance of those who have died in the past year as well as all those who have gone before us, regardless of time. We will take comfort in their memory and celebrate our continued relationships with those saints.
During the service, there will be a time to light candles in memory of loved ones and you are invited to bring a picture to place on a table in the worship space as well. Paper and pens will also be provided for those who would like to write a name (or names) of saints (grandmas, grandpas, next door neighbors, etc…) who have been models of faith. What an incredible life this is, huh.
This Sunday (tomorrow) finds us not only blessing the trick-or-treaters (kids, wear your costumes) but also finds us marking the occasion of the Reformation that was triggered by Martin Luther. If you’re feeling left out seeing the kids dress up in their costumes, then put on a little red to celebrate the day. Tell your friends. See you on church corner at 5:30.
Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story. These words float across the bottom of the screen, beneath breath-taking landscape familiar to us here as Minnesota farmland. Expansive blue skies dotted with fluffy clouds and ducks flying in formation; lush green grass, rich, fertile fields. All of these images fill your senses throughout the opening scenes. This is the physical landscape and the very heart of the movie called Sweet Land that was filmed in Montevideo probably 7 or 8 years ago. Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story.
The movie tells the story of post WWI America. It’s 1920 and a young, new Norwegian immigrant farmer named Olaf Torvig is set to marry his mail-order bride who he thinks is from Norway. But she, Inga, turns out to be a German, and a German lacking in immigration papers. So their wedding cannot happen and the little town scorns the couple as they try to make a life together. It is the small community’s Lutheran pastor who stands in vocal, public opposition to them, using the Bible to say…”those who are from the outside, God judges.”
In today’s reading from Matthew, we get the religious leaders asking Jesus yet another question. Except this time, they want to know if Jesus understands the law, since it seems he’s always talking and living outside of their definition of it.
They ask him: ”Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
And Jesus answers:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
They ask about law and Jesus answers with love. Seems sort of typical, doesn’t it? Of course Jesus answers with love, he’s Jesus after all, right?
But you should know better after we’ve been hanging out in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus isn’t often portrayed as meek and mild or saccharine sweet. Remember, this is the gospel that mentions outer darkness and gnashing of teeth.
No, the kind of love Jesus is talking about isn’t the easy kind. It’s not the candy heart kind, the kind that is sectioned off and sweetened up and preserved. It’s not the kind that has a limited shelf life. It’s not the kind of love we say without thought or apply to inanimate objects. No, Jesus talks about the real kind of love. The lasting kind. The kind that endures, that is limitless. The kind that doesn’t always feel like we think it should.
Teachers, you may live out this kind of love by having certain expectations for your students: behavior, homework, test-taking. What happens when these expectations aren’t met or are ignored? Do you always toe the line? Where do you find yourself creatively figuring out something else, another way to help a student? And does it mean you’ve abandoned those perimeters?
To have rules, to have expectations, well there are days it may feel like scathing, unforgiving law to you. And there are days when it may feel like the best kind of love to live out each day, to rely on.
And that’s the point. That’s the intersection of law and love. It’s not one or the other. When you lay down the law with a student, you show them love.
The 10 Commandments are often regarded as outdated, frozen, chiseled, un-moveable law. Yet these commandments, well, they are God’s love story to us. They are God breathing life into our lives together. This, this is how you love, God says. This, this is how you live together, God says. They are not rules for the sake of having rules. They are not rules for the sake of God’s power. They are our breath, our life blood. They are the love story that precedes us, infuses us, and lasts long after us. They set a pattern, they tell a story of great, heart-breaking, ground-breaking, foundational love. This is God’s love story for us, to us, with us.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
And it is one tough love story.
You love God? Well then, love the stranger by sticking out your hand first.
You love God? Then stop the rapid pace of your day to be inconvenienced by another pesky question from a trying co-worker.
You love God? Love the person who will cancel out your vote in November.
You love God? Eat lunch with the person you can’t quite like.
You love God? Show compassion to the parent who is on your last nerve.
And it is tempting to step back and to say, well in Christian love, sure I love my neighbor. The author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, An Altar in the World, tells about joining a Christian organization in her college years and how she grew tired of people telling her they loved her but no one could tell her how it was particular to her. She writes, “I did not want to be loved in general. I wanted to be loved in particular, as I was convinced God loved. Plus, I am not sure it is possible to see the face of God in other people if you cannot see the faces they already have.”
The Lutheran pastor in the movie Sweet Land cannot see God’s face in this German immigrant’s face. He can only see law and love as two separate things. He can’t see them together, bringing in the harvest, standing up for their friends when the law threatens their very lives. He gets tripped up by law and misses the love that is smack in the middle of it all.
Toward the end of the movie, he takes the couple to the judge who denies Inga any formal immigration papers. As they stand outside, all of their lives at a crossroads,
Olaf says, This is her place now.
And the pastor says how can it be?
Inga says, You can let it be.
but, You don’t have the papers, he says.
Inga assures him that she is married, that she is a citizen, in her heart, she believes.
And the pastor says to her That’s not enough, Inga, in your heart to believe. It has to be real.
She asks, Do you believe in God?
And then, there is a long, long pause. The pastor looks away and, it seems, her question takes root in him. Shakes him.
And I think this is where love and law finally meet for this pastor. Not one or the other but together, standing in front of him in the form of 2 human beings.
All right, he says. In my heart.
Stone soup suppers continue to be a blast. People are getting to know one another better, even meeting for the first time. The story of stone soup brings the notion of community to life: we eat a great meal that everyone has contributed to in some way. Our instinct is to always be prepared. Our instinct is to have the food ready when people arrive at our home. Our instinct is to have too much, to over-prepare. These suppers ask us to make time, wait for and include others, to use all that everyone brings, and to look at stewardship as a way of life instead of a bottom line budget. Stewardship asks broad, deep questions: How do you use your time each day? What is it you bring to the relationships in your life? How are you participating in God’s activity in your life, in the world? These are all questions that God is in the middle of – supporting us on the feeling-rushed days and encouraging us to love others, even ourselves.
One of my favorite things to do over the years as a camp director was to lead group building activities. Trust falls, log walks, over-the-wall efforts, “the grand canyon” were simple ways to get you to rely on other people. To trust their judgment in addition to or rather than yours in a tight spot. It’s harder than it sounds, even in simple activites that you know are designed for such things. Because we know a lot about ourselves and are used to making all kinds of decisions about ourselves, our loved ones, our money, our time.
Those who have been to a stone soup supper in the last week or so were given a dollar bill to take with them. The challenge they took with them and that single dollar bill was to think about where they would put it, spend it in light of what the money itself actually implores: ”In God We Trust.” Do you? Really? How’s that going? What’s that dollar being used for? How do you trust God? Do you trust God?
Hit the comment button and share a story associated with a single dollar bill.