April 13 Devotion

Greetings,

As Sunday April 11th neared I braced myself a bit.  There was word of a “White Lives Matter” protest based on posters that had been placed around cities such as Fargo:  posters with a stereotypical Aryan-looking man’s face on them, square jawed, light hair, master-race look from WWII.  Thankfully, virtually no one showed up in Fargo or anywhere for those rallies.  In Fargo a couple hundred folks did show up, peacefully affirming diversity instead.  Then came Monday.  A colleague from Brooklyn Center shared the news of another black man killed by police and chaos into the streets.  On the national news there were images of a black soldier being pepper-sprayed in his car by police.  As the day unfolded there was a school shooting in Knoxville killing one student, injuring more and injuring a police officer.  A police chase in Georgia ended up in three officers shot and killed.  On a personal note a family friend collapsed at work with a possible heart-attack.  An acquaintance’s daughter took her life.  A vandalism-spree damaged 60 cars in Devil’s Lake Sunday night.

 

Friends, we can brace ourselves in this life.  But, bad, stressful stuff can still take us by surprise.  I saw a number of Facebook posts Monday with varied versions of “This just has to stop!”  “We have to be better to each other!”  “Our nation’s people are tired!”  Not long after the beating, trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus, not long after the word of the disappearance of Jesus’ body, with a few accounts of a risen Christ, Jesus’ disciples were sticking close to one another.  They were supporting each other and bracing for any next “bad” thing that might come their way.  Jesus’ resurrection had not claimed and transformed their lives…because every time the risen Christ drew near. his followers were terrified and filled with fear.  On Sunday we’ll read Luke 24:36b-48 and hear their fear described.

 

Jesus’ followers were bracing themselves for the worst.  So, the risen Christ kept appearing with the words, “Peace be with you” and “Do not be afraid.”  Peace be with you.  Some days we desperately need to hear those whispered into our lives.  A sunrise, a world covered in a blanket of snow, the laughter of a toddler, the nuzzle of a four-legged friend vying for a bit of attention, sure, none of those things is as big a sign as the risen Christ standing in our midst, but they are all good things.

 

Another good thing the risen Christ shares with his followers when he appears is a word to look at his feet and hands–scarred, that is, wounded and healed.  Sometimes the best thing Christ’s church can share is the truth that life scars us, as well as scares us.  Life scars us is a much different word than life wounds us.  Scars imply healing after the pain.  Scars imply joy on the other side of despair, hope on the other side of fear.  Scars imply, when bracing ourselves isn’t enough and life knocks us down, God will tend our wounds and lift us back up, again and again.

 

Today, I invite us to work with God.  Acknowledge another who is hurting.  Acknowledge some days life is difficult.  Then help others up in every little and large way you can–in the name of the risen Christ.

 

In God’s Peace and Christ’s New Life,

 

Pastor Roger

April 9 Devotion

Easter 2021 is now behind us–at least the calendar day is.  As a pastor, the Sunday morning part of Easter was less than many past Easters; With 43 in worship it was more personal than on-line only Easter 2020.  Still, no congregational singing, no packed sanctuary, no sonrise service, and no in-person Holy Thursday service meant some things were “less than.”  Am I alone in that experience whether you decided to attend Easter worship in-person or on-line?  Easter 2021 started me thinking in a new way about the first Easter.  No choirs of angels, no joyous family gatherings in a sanctuary, no kids rehearsing or sharing a program.  Easter began with delicate whispers of hope into some very confusing moments.

 

An empty tomb, folded up grave-clothes, a rolled-away stone, and a missing body were reasons for more sadness in the beginning.  The gospel of Mark has a point where it says the disciples, “told no one.”  The gospel of John has the men is disbelief, running to the tomb to look, then running back to their hiding place.  All the gospels show Easter dawning in small and gentle ways.  The way Mary heard her name.  The way two people recognized a stranger as Christ when he broke bread at their table before supper.   Close disciples see him while hiding behind locked doors lest they, too, be caught and crucified.  Maybe Easter 2021 was more Easter-like than I knew.

 

A few people gathered to hear the message.  Others heard the message in their own homes.  As the week unfolded but a couple of people I haven’t seen in a long while stopped by the church and we had the chance to visit.  These next weeks as vaccination numbers increase, when we step out more from behind our “safe spaces” to interact with each other (albeit masked) I invite us to focus on the small signs of new life.  I invite us to focus our attention less on the big “no’s” that have been part of our last year.  I invite us to gratefully engage with the little “yes’s” that are starting to be a part of life again.  May the Easter God give us a new and larger appreciation for the good in the smallest of things.  May the risen Christ allow us to see the radiant image of God in the most familiar of people.  May the Spirit whisper delicate blessings into ears ready to hear.  Easter isn’t over.  Easter 2021 has barely begun.  Keep watch for God’s “yes’s” each day.

Easter Blessings,

Pastor Roger

March 12 Devotion

Dear Friends, 

 

Thursday Evening I received my second Covid-19 vaccine dose.  It was a full night at the former Gordman’s building.  Essentia, Sanford and Cass County were engaged in getting the vaccines that last inch into people’s arms.  Lines were much longer than the evening I went for my first shot.  Still, I didn’t hear complaining.  Along my way I wished various medical personnel well and mentioned the busy day.  They were celebrating the busy day because it meant the vaccine was reaching people.  I struck up a conversation with the person next to me in line–who reminded me of Ardis.  She was so grateful to be getting her second shot.  She had three siblings/siblings-in-law that had been diagnosed with Covid-19.  One didn’t recover, died without family near as she had to be flown from Bismarck to one of the hospitals in the Twin Cities.  I shared I lost a friend to Covid-19 just after Easter 2020.  I didn’t share about the week one of our church families prepared for a funeral and two other family members died of Covid-19.  I can’t speak for everyone in the former Gordman’s building.  But, I can say the two of us who were talking were very grateful to be getting our second dose of the vaccine.  I can also add I heard lots of people thanking the medical staff profusely.  It felt like it was an entire building filled with gratitude–and hope.
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Sunday, March 14th our worship service theme is “Turn to God’s Healing Love.”  It’s based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21.  One speaks of a snake on a stick, the other speaks of the cross and we’ll sort through that Sunday.  Suffice it to say, both Scriptures invite us to “turn back” to the God at the center of our shared life who longs to heal us.  Both invite us to “look up” to God and how God longs to give us new life.
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What has helped you “look up” toward better days?  When have you felt hope lately?  Celebrate those things.  How might you encourage others to trust God seeks to heal and uplift?
 
May the Lord bless you,
Roger  

February 18 Devotion

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”  So begins the 23rd Psalm.  Like a typical Hollywood movie, the Psalm begins with a beautiful time free of cares, followed by the challenges of the valley of the shadow of death, followed by redemption (in God’s house and presence).  Psalm 23 is dependent upon a covenant or promise God made to humanity in Genesis 9 after the great flood.  “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood.  Never again shall a flood consume the entire earth.”  The beauty of the rainbow after the storm becomes the sign of God’s promise:  a sign of God’s own nature, a caregiver instead of a punisher, a nurturer instead of a demander.

 

The rainbow moment was perhaps the first time humans and God understood life would have plenty enough struggles and storms of its own, without an angry deity making life even more miserable.  Think of this past week, between the snowstorms and cold pounding the south and Texas having its own essentially unregulated power-grid millions of humans are suffering through no fault of their own.  The core of our faith through the message of Jesus and Scriptures like the 23rd Psalm is that it’s precisely at such times that God seeks to be our shepherd, our comfort, our guide in learning how to better care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.  God’s promise not to flood the earth becomes a covenant to love, and an invitation for all the faithful to love our neighbors as well.  Below is a link to UMNews  that I invite you to click on.  It will lead to stories of what UM Churches are doing in the midst of the storms in the Southern US.  It will remind some of you of what UM Churches did in the midst of the Red River Valley floods.  It will remind us what is at the heart of God’s covenant to care for the people of the earth.

May God shepherd us all, and lead us to care well for one another.

Blessings,                                                                                                            UMNews

Pastor Roger

February 3 Devotion

One of the most beautiful pieces of music, in my opinion, is a rather simple song.  It’s a song that is like a good conversation with a friend–over food where each bite is savored and each word is gracious and honest.  The song is a lullaby, so the notes from the piano are gentle, as the string section savors each note they play.  It’s almost like the piano is a crackling fireplace and the strings a warm blanket soothing a tired soul.

 

2020 and 2021  thus far have had more than their share of challenges.  Recently, I received word a friend and colleague’s grandmother passed from Covid-19 while his Grandpa was hospitalized at her side and still is struggling with it–just a few weeks more and they would likely have been vaccinated.  Our Grace prayer list also includes one of our member’s  brother-in-law who is on dialysis several times a week while waiting for a kidney transplant, now admitted to the hospital with Covid-19.  I also find myself thinking of essential-workers again–how everyone was praising them for a time for putting themselves at risk each day.  Yet, as vaccinations slowly roll out, I wonder if those essential workers not in hospital settings feel forgotten in the formula of distributing vaccines.  My guess is there will be many stories to tell of this last year and griefs I haven’t even thought of for people to heal from–including seeing some of the darker angrier sides of our others.

 

This upcoming Sunday in worship we’ll read the words of Mark 1:29-39.  Two words struck me near the end of the reading, “there too.”  My guess is we’ll find people are hurting “over there, and over there, and there too” as we recover from 2021.

I invite you to click HERE to listen to Karen Marie Garret’s Tally’s Lullaby.    Let it embrace and comfort you.  Then, pray a sense of God’s embrace and comfort around someone you know (a weary parent, a devoted teacher, an essential-worker whose dealt with way too many angry customers this year, a person who cleans and faces risk each day, a person whose hours have been cut, a person who owns a restaurant, someone who lost a loved one).  Take a moment to let God comfort you, then pray God’s comfort “there too” for another.

 

Christ’s Peace and Comfort,

Pastor Roger

January 21 Devotion

Greetings, 
This week a little something different (and brief) for our weekly devotional in a time of what may be informational and emotional overload.  So, I simply share with you an inauguration day reflection and prayer, followed by Psalm 62:5.    
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Inauguration Day 2021
Today, I remember
my Dad making me breakfast,
baking holiday treats in the kitchen with my Mom,
sledding with my children,
holding hands with my wife in the moonlight.
Today, I remember
tears at my grandma’s funeral,
where I was when the towers fell,
the right words at the right time from a friend,
waiting for a loved one to awake after surgery.
Today, I hope
we remember each person has memories & hopes;
each life is a treasure-trove of experiences;
where we find common-ground we find peace;
that mutual respect is a priceless gift.
Today, I pray,
May we allow change to:
usher in a new spirit in our nation,
foster a new appreciation for one another,
to open our hearts to care for all in our human family.
Amen.
 
“All people, Trust in God at all times! Pour out your hearts before the Lord! God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:5).
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Blessings,
Pastor Roger

January 15 Devotion

Many of us have sat and waited in hospital settings while a family member undergoes medical procedures.  Those procedures can range from hours of surgery in the middle of the night to sliding a tiny tube through the circulation system until it reaches the heart to take a peek inside.  The procedures can go on for weeks and months such as chemo or radiation.  Or, they may be relatively quick like MRIs.  What we discover is that waiting drains more energy than a regular day at work.  Not knowing, uncertainty, change of routine, not having control of outcomes, and the possibility of things going wrong can take their toll on us emotionally and physically.  
 
     While I type these words, many of us know people who are in the midst of going through such uncertainty in medical settings.  And, all of us are going through not knowing, uncertainty, change of routine, not having control of the outcomes and the possibility of things going very wrong on a national level.  For most of us, that wears on us.  It drains our emotional reserves.  It numbs us to the beauty that is also part of each day.  It leaves us with a feeling of being helpless as the world is in chaos.  
 
      The picture above of Thomas Merton and his words is a reminder that there are still critically important choices we can make each day–for the sake of our souls and the benefit of those nearest to us.  “Speak words of hope.  Be human in this most inhuman of ages.  Guard the image of (the best in humanity) for it is the image of God.”  This Sunday we will glimpse a moment in time when Jesus meets Nathanael.  “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said, ‘here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’  Nathanael asks, ‘How do you know me?”  Jesus says, ‘I saw you under the fig tree.'”  (John 1:47) Only Jesus and Nathanael know the particulars of what Jesus saw.  What we know from reading it, however, is that Jesus notices integrity–and it matters greatly to him.  These days, these tiring, chaotic, unsettling days, integrity still matters to Jesus.
     Being our best selves still matters.  Speaking hope, sharing kindness, living honestly, blessing others, still matters.  In fact, it matters more than ever now.  We can choose those things.  We can choose to be about the basics–loving God and loving neighbor.  The living Christ will notice and be grateful–because it keeps his mission alive in this world–especially in fractured times.  Take comfort in the fact your faithful actions matter and God is still at work through every loving act.
Be Well and Be Blessing,
Pastor Roger

December 9 Devotion

This past week I clicked on a Facebook post by a member of Grace. It was a comical post but it also brought tears to my eyes. It’s a Christmas Pageant where a sheep pulls the doll-baby Jesus out of the manger during a song and starts dancing with him. Simply adorable. The link to the original story and video is below.
 
You and I don’t know the children, yet we know the children. We know they are learning. We know they are participating in a tradition we’ve come to know as sacred. We know the unexpected things the children do are often the most memorable of all. So, watching the video was bitter-sweet for me. The in-person kids Christmas program is one of the most precious events in a church’s life–tears over what will not be this year. Simultaneously, my heart was warmed by the spirit of the sheep character dancing with the doll-baby Jesus.
 
On the 20th of December, if all goes according to plan, we will have a Grace Kids’ virtual Christmas program. Some things about it will be different–including how we participate from our own homes. The story, however, will not change. It’s a story meant to lead us to the manger to embrace Jesus. It’s a story meant to start our spirits dancing. It’s a story meant to whisper God is with us at all times, through all things. Hold that hope. Hold hope through memories. Hold hope through imagining the promises fulfilled.
 
This Sunday, the 13th of December, we will glimpse a messiah who knows his mission. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “he will proclaim, The Lord God’s Spirit is upon me because he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for the captives and liberation for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn.” (Isaiah 61:1-4) This coming Sunday worship will remind us that this baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, becomes the love of God who swaddles us in comfort and healing
Where do you need comfort or healing today? Who is a person you care about who needs comfort and healing? As a prayer today, take a moment to imagine an adult Jesus drawing near. Quietly he drapes a blanket of warmth, light and healing over your shoulders. He says, “I understand;” “I am with you and all will be well.” Rest in the moment. Then watch the video, and remember again the joy we are meant to have dancing through this journey called life with the saving grace named Jesus.

Blessings,

Pastor Roger

December 1 Devotion

Joanna Sisk reflects on the loss of her parents to Covid-19.  Married 47 years, Dad a truck driver and Mom a nurse, they died one minute apart in Jackson, Michigan after battling the virus.  Yes, knowing they are together does make it easier to cope with the loss of both at once.  Even so, Joanna shares what makes the loss much, much harder.  “Like so many who have lost loved ones to the virus, Sisk says it is agonizing to hear others brush off the risk.”  (Keep in mind Joanna is sharing from the fierce battleground state of Michigan—though all states have become political battlegrounds over the virus).

Specifically, Joanna said, “People were talking about it and not knowing that my parents were in the hospital, both fighting for their lives with it,” Sisk said. “I just had tears streaming down my cheeks, listening to them. Our entire family is completely devastated.”

The prophet Isaiah heard God’s word to a hurting people long ago.  “Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God. (Isaiah 40:1) The gospel of Mark does not say anything about how Jesus was born.  It jumps right into Jesus’ adult ministry, pausing just long enough to mention one thing before Jesus’ ministry began.  There was a man calling out in the wilderness, “prepare the way for the Lord, and make his paths straight.” (Mark 1:3) That man, John the Baptizer, “Called for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” (Mark 1:4)

Reading Joanna Sisk’s words about her tears, as her family heard people with no first-hand experience with Covid-19 deny its reality, reminds me we are called to comfort one another.  Whenever we choose conflict over comfort in the face of pain, we desperately need to hear John the Baptist’s call to change and ask forgiveness from the God who made us.

I have no doubt Covid-19 is real and sometimes devastating.  That does not mean I am exempt from needing to hear John the Baptist’s message.  There have been many times in my life when I have chosen to engage in conflict instead of seeking to comfort.  Making room for Jesus in our lives always means making room for Jesus to change how we live our lives.  Every day we have room to grow into more compassionate, understanding, comforting people.  In fact, now more than ever, the world needs Jesus’ followers to be signs of compassion, understanding and comfort.

A prayer for today: “Loving God, I seek to prepare the way for you to enter my heart.  Show me where I need to change, so that I may be a sign of your compassion, understanding and comfort.”

In these trying times may you feel God’s comfort today.

Be Well and Be Blessing,

Pastor Roger