Recently I was talking with a retired couple who both asked about the kids ministry at Grace. They also shared a few camp and VBS memories from their childhood. Over fifty years later, a half century, and they still remember the impact of events that adults created for them to have fun and learn about God’s love in Jesus. My heart is always warmed by such stories. In my own life I am also able to look back at events–weekends, camps, outings that adults of the church created to teach me how Jesus’ love can make all the difference in our lives, especially in times of struggle. More than that, I can still name the names of those adults, some of them now passed on to heaven’s shore. I usually don’t say, “Yee Haw!” when I think of them. But, I do get a grateful feeling, and am reminded each of us is called to pass the faith on in some way or another. VBS is one of those ways. I invite you to start praying now for VBS leaders and the kids who will attend. If you are crafty, enjoy teaching, like to creating snacks, enjoy leading kids in outdoor games, or are adept at giving first aid if needed please let Sarah Martin or Stephanie Grow know or me know, ASAP. If you’ve not helped before we need need time to do the obligatory Safe Sanctuary background check. And, the sooner we know the more it helps with planning.
Sunday, I’ll be sharing five things I’ve learned in the last 30 years of being a pastor. There’s way more than five things, however. So, let me share a sixth thing I’ve learned. Every church I’ve served has had quiet, silent, humble servants who bless their churches in more ways than most people notice–unless suddenly that person isn’t there. They prune bushes and trees. They replace batteries and light bulbs. They keep watch for those who need hearing assistance devices and make sure those devices are ready. They notice the recoil rope on the push mower is about to break and set to work making the repair. They chop ice away from the door, spray weeds in the parking lot, recycle the paper, and tend the flowers. They notice that person standing alone and quietly go to check on him or her. They send cards. They lift prayers. The list things they care for is long and important. But, in the Spirit of Micah 6:8 they walk humbly with God not seeking to draw attention to themselves. Sometimes they’re long-term members. Sometimes they’re are rather new to the congregation. I am humbled and grateful every time I glimpse one of them in action–or simply notice where they’ve been by the things that mysteriously get done. They remind me how much we need each other to be the church. Add in those who are willing–who just need to be asked or have a sign up sheet put out, and I’ve learned to appreciate the strong human desire to serve and make a difference. It’s real and it’s beautiful–and it has made me more humble and appreciative.
I invite you on the 14th to bring a thought to worship. I invite you to be thinking of one or two transformative things God has taught you about life over the years. You’ll have a chance to write down a sentence or two that will be be shared on future worship slides by completing the following sentence “Over the Years God has changed/blessed my life by teaching me….”
The last days have been filled with pictures and information that has been hard to take in. Yes, immigration issues are difficult issues. However, it’s not like, “First… we have to solve all those issues before we can show basic kindness to children.” We can be kind and caring even while larger issues go unsolved. Last week in the midst of the first breaking news of the plight of children “government holding centers,” the United Methodist Committee on Relief shared information I needed to hear. Although UMCOR is not able to bring hygiene kits into government holding centers, UMCOR has provided 46,128 hygiene kits in the past three months to individuals in church-run “transitional shelters” along the border. There are signs of humanity, care and hope amidst what has become a desperate situation. Churches and UMCOR has stepped in where they can to provide for the most basic of needs. I needed to hear that encouraging word last week. I am guessing some of you may find it encouraging as well.
Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan, maintain the rights of the lowly and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hands of evil.”
I was encouraged to see I was part of a group called United Methodists who are making a difference. I also was encouraged to see a politician who noted at one center that all the teen-aged girls were being watched over only by men, none who could speak Spanish. Not a single woman was a guard in that unit. Another unhealthy situation (that would not pass any church’s ‘Safe-Sanctuary’ guidelines) that makes me extremely concerned. I was encouraged to see someone determined to change that particular situation. And, I pray for those efforts. Caring for suffering children is a clear call to all who follow the Christ who said, “Let the children come to me.”
Sunday we shared a prayer–a prayer sent out mid-week from UMCOR for all UM Churches in the nation to share. I share it with you. Prayer has power. So I invite you to use this prayer as a way of expressing hope for all God’s children.
A Prayer for Suffering Children
God of all children everywhere,
Our hearts are bruised when we see children suffering.
Our hearts are torn when we are unable to help.
For all the times we were too busy and shooed a curious child away, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we failed to get down on their level and look eye to eye with a child, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we did not share when we saw a hungry child somewhere in the world, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we thought that caring for the children of this world was someone else’s responsibility,
forgive us, oh God.
With Your grace, heal our hearts.
With Your grace, unite us in action.
With Your grace, repair our government.
With Your grace, help us to find a way to care for all children everywhere.
We pray they will know Jesus loves them–
not just because “the Bible tells them so,”
But because they have known Your love through caring followers of Christ.
Help us to show that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate them
from Your love in Christ Jesus our Lord
Blessings and Strength,
Occasionally I’ll be ready to check out an item at a store and the store’s phone will ring. It’s most common at an auto parts store. What follows is a conversation that I only overhear half of. In an auto parts store the phone conversation may lead to the check out person going on the computer to search for a particular part. It may take a few moments. The store either has the part or not. The price is either right or not. Finally, perhaps five or ten minutes later the mystery person on the other end of the phone either makes plans to come in for a part or not. Suffice it to say, sometimes I find myself frustrated while I stand waiting to check out my item–a real live person, who will make a real purchase.
“This hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:5) Paul concludes a couple thoughts on suffering and struggle with the reminder that God can pour hope and love into our hearts even in the midst of struggles. What are the things that restore your soul? How does God whisper gratitude into your life, even when things aren’t going so well?
The returning green and flowers after a long winter always seem to speak to me of how the harder, harsher seasons of life don’t last forever. Show me a glorious flower and I glimpse the resilience of the human spirit and the persistent presence of a life-giving God. Today, take a moment to look and listen to the world around you. Find something that pours a bit of hope and love into your heart. It may be the face of a kind friend; it may be watching one person share a good deed with another; it may be the song of a bird–even a common-place Robin has a wonderful song; it may be the feel of a warm breeze upon your bare arms. Pausing to let God pour a bit of love and hope into our lives is time well spent. Even better, tell another about something that filled your spirit.
As we near Sunday, whether you’ll be in church or away this weekend, I invite you to read the Scripture for the Sunday morning–Romans 5:1-5. It never fails to uplift me and I expect it will give a boost to your day as well.
Memorial Day weekend three Facebook friends posted pictures of “the first campfire” by the lake. Another posted a photo of the first colorful blossoms of the garden. My wife posted a picture of a full-grown bear we saw in Clay County. Many, myself included, posted words of thanks for the fallen who’d served to protect our country. It was a litany of the things that inspire us–that keep flame of gratitude burning in our hearts. This Sunday is Pentecost: one of the big three in church special days, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. We often don’t know what to do with Pentecost. We wear red if we remember. Sometimes we may have a birthday cake for the church. I’ve hung kites from the ceiling of sanctuaries. I’ve had fans blowing on wind-chimes. Yet, the wind blows where it will and moments of inspiration can’t be forced. Like an unexpected bear crossing a wide open field, or that feeling that suddenly touches the heart watching the first campfire of the season, the Spirit speaks when the Spirit speaks. When it speaks, we remember God is near; we remember we have a purpose.
Acts 2:1-21 tells of one of those moments when the Spirit moves, people are inspired and the church finds its purpose. I invite you to read it each day before Pentecost. I also invite you to reflect on these words from Marianne Williamson that speak to me of Pentecost. “We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.” (Marianne Williamson) Together we have a purpose to share our moments of inspiration, to share the moments God has blessed us, to invite others into the blessing of God’s love for everyone. So, keep sharing what inspires you–on Facebook, over cups of coffee, sitting with a grandchild, or any way you can. And, keep remembering you have a purpose in God’s grand plan of making sure, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
May you have many Spirit-filled Blessings
“We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.” (Marianne Williamson)
Pastor Roger Grafenstein
Grace United Methodist Church
1120 17th St. South
Moorhead, MN 56560
A clear blue sky with a warm breeze that almost melts into you, add in the sound of waves softly lapping at the shore, and you may have peace. A rocking motion, the warmth of a baby resting on your chest with soft breaths whispering contentment into your ear, I expect you can nearly feel the peace imagining it. Life is filled with moments that subtly remind us of the goodness of God. But, life is also filled with challenges and worries. Jesus knows this. So, there’s a moment in the book of John when Jesus prepares his followers for his crucifixion and death. He says, “Don’t be troubled or afraid. There will be a time when I go away, but I will return.” (John 14:27-28). He says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you, not as the world gives.”
I believe Jesus’ hopes that by knowing him we’ll be able to find peace when days are neither sunny or warm. I believe Jesus wishes to offer us peace even when the waves driven by a storm. I believe Jesus also prays peace for us when the darling little one that slept upon our chest, is close to grown, and not always gracefully stumbling through life’s choices. How do you find the peace Jesus offers when storms arise? How do you find peace when people you love make choices that may harm them?
Confirmation Sunday I chose the 23rd Psalm to preach on. Then, Wednesday, at the request of a Eloise Brendemuhl’s family I preached from the 23rd Psalm again for her memorial service. Thursday, I decided to preach on the 23rd Psalm at Parkview Terrace and Moorhead Rehab Center. Sometimes, a favorite Scripture is where we find peace–especially if that Scripture helps us visualize peaceful places and moments. Often, when we are worried or troubled our heart rate increases. Our body gears up as our flight/fight response keeps getting nudged. One way to pray is to begin without words–simply breathing in for the count of four, holding the breath for the count of four, letting the breath out for the count of four, then waiting four more seconds before breathing in again. Cycling through that pattern of breath a couple times before conversing with God may allow us to sense God’s peace-giving presence during our prayer time. Another practical way to lean into Jesus’ peace is to softly sing a verse or two of a favorite hymn–or the hymn that God mysteriously brings to mind at the moment. (God doesn’t care if we remember all the words. The words we need are more than enough).
The point is, Jesus says you deserve peace, especially when the circumstances around you are less than peaceful. If you find yourself longing for peace today, take a moment to read a favorite Scripture, begin a short prayer time with a breathing exercise, or softly sing a hymn that speaks to you. If you see another in need of peace, maybe you’ll even have a little extra peace to share.
Sunday, we’ll revisit the peace Jesus offers.
(CNN) “Just a few miles from Columbine High School, gunfire echoed through the hallways of yet another Colorado school. This time, it was the STEM School Highlands Ranch near Denver. Authorities believe two students, a male and a female, used a pair of handguns to open fire in two classrooms Tuesday afternoon. An 18-year-old student just days away from graduation was killed. Eight other students were shot but survived.”
If you’re like me, you’re saying, “Not again!” I find I’ve seen variations of this news so many times in the last few years that in spite of how much I care, I sometimes feel like running out of the emotional energy it takes just to grieve one more time. After Columbine, 20 years ago, I recall having the time to process what happened. Our nation could pause what it was doing–and mourn at a distance for a few days. Now, such tragedy happens so often we’d be in permanent pause mode if we grieved with the victims for a few days after every mass shooting. That’s hard to process! I think our brains are built to process life’s sorrows as a villager. Taking in our entire nation’s hurt all at once is too much.
This Sunday’s Scripture from the book of Acts shows Peter–a forgiven follower of Jesus, who’d denied Jesus three times, abandoned Jesus on the cross, and carried a lot of guilt. But, Jesus set him free to live again and to make a difference in the world again, a person at a time. In Acts 9:36-43, Peter was called upon to help a hurting family. A special woman named Tabitha had died. Peter, prayed over her body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” Miraculously she opened her eyes. Peter gave her his hand and raised her up.
You and I may not be able to pray away the frequent mass shootings. We’ll cast our votes for people we hope can come up with ways to make such things less likely. But, then it’s important to remember you and I can still pray for others near to us. We can still take others by the hand and help them up when they’ve fallen. We can’t save the world. But, Jesus didn’t ask us to. Jesus asks us to love our neighbor–face to face, one person at a time; to do what we can with what we have and pray God will take care of the rest.
Tonight Grace Church has a informational gathering on the risks and effects of e-cigarettes and vaping. Our hope is it might prevent someone from getting started in a dangerous addiction. Maybe it will help someone who has started find the wherewithal to step away. We do what we can where we are and take others by the hand where they are. May God give us energy and persistence to be found faithful doing what we can do in Jesus’ name, instead of lamenting what we can not do.
This week I find myself re-reading the resurrection moment Christ has with Peter. Christ finds a way to talk with Peter about the three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus resurrection isn’t complete unless it also bring healing to others. So, Jesus finds a way to talk with Peter, offer healing forgiveness and give Peter a purpose. Peter’s new purpose is to feed Jesus’ sheep (John 21:15-19).
We know Christ’s sheep are his followers, but I found myself wondering what sheep actually eat and how much they eat?
So, as I was doing some research on sheep, I happened to look at the logo on the top of the page I was reading from–and saw the Penn State Panther (Nittany Lion). The irony wasn’t lost on me and reminded me of a recent conversation. I was talking with a Mom who was feeling like it was time to start attending a church again. She knew she needed to be fed spiritually. But, she was afraid that if she brought her kids to a church, someone might pounce if her kids misbehaved. She was afraid those who were called to feed Jesus’ lambs might actually cause hurt. I prepared for my next conversation with the Mom by carrying Grace’s laminated welcome to parents with children for when I bumped into her again. It’s in each pew and says we know kids aren’t perfect and we don’t expect them to be. For that matter, adults aren’t perfect, and I hope we don’t expect that either. Take it a step further and Jesus original followers weren’t perfect. But, that didn’t stop Jesus from loving them, being patient with them, forgiving them, and giving them high and holy purposes.
I did get the chance to share the welcome and I hope some day we’ll see the woman and her children in church. Whether that woman decides to try out Grace or not, I invite us all to remember church can be a scary place, so we have to go the extra mile to show people we aren’t panthers if we wish to be part of feeding Jesus’ sheep.
Ask God to help you to be gentle with others and yourself–just like Christ is a gentle shepherd.