April 8

     Yesterday I stopped by the Law Enforcement Center.  Like many other places, it’s following COVID-19 protocols.  There are signs for the general public about the process to even get into the building.  As one of the Moorhead Police Department chaplains I’d been thinking about how to stay connected with the officers while social-distancing.  Thankfully, Google led me to an article that gave me a clue.  Front line people are using hand sanitizer more than ever, (and I know many officers were using it pre-COVID-19).  Increased use means hands become drier and more cracked then ever.  The article suggested that for medical personnel, police officers, and first responders, hand lotion makes a good gift.  So, I stopped by with 20 small hand lotions conveniently sized for squad cars.  No doubt, their hands are parched.  And, no doubt they’re also aware that the fact they cannot shelter in place puts them at risk.  That knowledge can leave people emotionally parched.  If you know such a person, consider gifting hand-lotion, or Googling other options.  Sometimes the smallest things can help others during “parched” times.
     Yesterday, in a video      devotion http://www.graceumcmoorhead.org/2020/04/08/april-7/                    I shared from Isaiah 43:19–a verse that ends, “I will make a way in wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  That’s a scripture about moisture in parched times.  Consider how you might help another who may be feeling parched today–even from a distance.  Look back upon a parched time in your own life; give thanks for the person or the way God used to refresh your parched soul.
     Finally, I have a prayer request that is a follow-up to a devotion two weeks ago.  I ask prayer for Carol, Micah and Craig.  Pastor Craig Breimhorst is the retired colleague I mentioned two weeks ago who contracted COVID-19.  He’s been on a ventilator 11 days, and still is.  He has a long road to recovery.  His wife Carol and son Micah request prayers that he wake up TODAY, so he can progress to having the ventilator removed.  Please hold them in your prayers.  Thank you.
Blessings, Pastor Roger

Sermon April 5 2020

Click on the Bible to view the video of April 6th Sermon.

Matthew 21:4-11

Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring. The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.

Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!Hosanna in the highest!” And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 26:20-30

That evening he took his place at the table with the twelve disciples. As they were eating he said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me.”

Deeply saddened, each one said to him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?”

He replied, “The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this bowl. The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”

Now Judas, who would betray him, replied, “It’s not me, is it, Rabbi?”Jesus answered, “You said it.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven. I tell you, I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Then, after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives.

Matthew 26:47-50

While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came. With him was a large crowd carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. His betrayer had given them a sign: “Arrest the man I kiss.” Just then he came to Jesus and said, “Hello, Rabbi.” Then he kissed him.

But Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.

March 29

Last night in my dream world I had a full social life.  For some reason I’d been picked as a judge in a piano contest at a school; I had all the chairs and extra in my living room set up for a family movie night and all my family was scheduled to arrive along with a few friends; I planning a wedding with a couple whose parents were planning an extremely large reception; but accidentally messed up a food order and ended up with with a dozen cases of canned mushrooms at the church. Almost a lifetime ago now, Elizabeth Kubler Ross published a book–The Five Stages of Grief.  Since that time other researchers have noted that the stages aren’t like stair-steps and they can come in any order.  Plus, people can be in two or three stages at once and hop around through the multiple facets of grief.  Some have even suggested there are more than five stages.  Last night in my dream world, my mind was in denial.  I was plunging ahead with multiple large social events–except none of them ever quite materialized in the end.  In complete denial I’d plunge ahead with an event, only to have it canceled, and plunge ahead with another.

     During my daytime hours when I see frustrated or oblivious people trying to work around the shields or extended distance barriers meant to protect cashiers and other customers or hear people vent frustration over all the unnecessary inconvenience right now, I find myself saddened.  But, I also remind myself “denial” and “anger” two of the stages of grief.  It helps me get to a better, more patient place personally.  That is important for me right now as my role is to empower others to be their best selves for the sake of each other during a very difficult time.  I’ve noticed over the past couple weeks that’s meant creating video devotions and live-stream worship that says, 1) “Covid-19 is very real and extremely contagious, ” 2) “it is OK to be sad over empty churches and cancelled important events”; 3) “God has given us tools to live in a time like this such as Micah 6:8 (do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God); and I Corinthians 13:4-8 (Love is patient, love is kind…it isn’t irritable or rude).”
     I’ve also found myself encouraged hearing what creative ways others are leaning into their best selves.  One who wears a smart watch says when the heart rate begins to race, repeating the Apostles’ Creed brings it back down; another shared about diving deep into the Lenten Study book “Reckless Love: Jesus’ Call to Love our Neighbor”; another picked up the directory and simply started calling people to check in.  Lydia circle created a call list and began making calls.  Some are doing frequent video chats with family.  Another is sending cards of care.  This Sunday, I found myself responding with a note to each person who commented on livestream worship.  It soothed my soul.  Have you found your “something” that brings calm to your soul amidst the chaos?  I’d love to hear about the “something” that is working for you and share it with others in a future weekly devotion.  If you’re willing to share a practice that is blessing you and/or others during this time, simply send me an e-mail at graceunitedmethodistpastor@gmail.com
     Please know this, I am praying over our church directory each day for all of you…and miss seeing you.  I pray you will find ways to do more than cope.  I pray God might breathe a bit of new life into you even in the midst of the challenge.
QUICK NOTES:  Please keep in your prayers:
1) JoAnn Oelke.  Doctor’s have identified inoperable heart issues that will be addressed through medication and therapy.
2) Richard Wagner and Family – Margaret’s funeral service is postponed to July 18th.
3) Pray for Medium Risk and High Risk “essential workers” who interact with dozens to hundreds of people each day.
4) Pray for many who are unable to visit loved ones in hospitals, some who are unable to be with loved ones during times of death,
    some who can’t be in delivery rooms with Mom’s because of lack of masks.
5) Pray for those who’ve been laid off and are actively waiting to see what resources are available and how to access them.
 for Richard Wagner:  511 40th St. S #120, Fargo, ND  58103
 for Don and Pat Walter  3102 S. Univ. Dr. (Villa Maria) Fargo, ND  58103
I will be subscribing to a $9.95/month app called Blue Jeans to create a virtual room for us to meet in, do some work and planning together, and stay connected.  Our building and physical gatherings will be closed until at least May 10th.
If you are out and about getting essentials, the church could use AA Alkaline batteries for our mics and hearing assistance devices.  We will gather in person to worship again!!!  Simply Slide a 4, 8 or 16 pack in the mail slot.  Double A Alkaline–Duracell and Energizer seem to last the best.
Pastor Roger

Sermon March 29, 2020

Click on the Bible to view the video of March 29 Sermon.

Psalm 130

A pilgrimage song.

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord
my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
If you kept track of sins, Lord
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord.
My whole being hopes,
    and I wait for God’s promise.
My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord!
    Because faithful love is with the Lord;
    because great redemption is with our God!
He is the one who will redeem Israel
    from all its sin.

John 11:1-45

Lazarus is ill

A certain man, Lazarus, was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This was the Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was ill.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was. After two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s return to Judea again.”

The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish opposition wants to stone you, but you want to go back?”

Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.”

He continued, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, but I am going in order to wake him up.”

The disciples said, “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he will get well.” They thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was in a deep sleep, but Jesus had spoken about Lazarus’ death.

Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.”

Then Thomas (the one called Didymus) said to the other disciples, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.”

Jesus with Martha and Mary

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother’s death. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”

After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.

When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, “Where have you laid him?”

They replied, “Lord, come and see.”

Jesus began to cry. The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb

Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

Therefore, many of the Jews who came with Mary and saw what Jesus did believed in him.

March 24

So, there is this.  Sunday, we at Grace attempted to widen our screen for viewers and accidentally posted our live worship on its side, and took a good share of the day to rightly orient it.  Meanwhile a priest from England was getting lots of views.  He’d set up a little altar of sorts, with a cluttered office background.  While trying to keep the altar the focus of his video, he leaned over it to speak.  Unknowingly, he lit his sweater on fire.  The picture shows the back of his sweater flaming up behind his face.  I confess I laughed lots watching the video.  Pastors the world over tried live-streamed video Sunday and we critiqued what we did making a list of do’s and don’ts for next time.  Now most of us can also say, whatever glitches we had along the way, “at least we didn’t light ourselves on fire.” 
    So, I don’t know how you’re faring with the changes Covid-19 is bringing to you routine.  What i do know is that most of us struggle with changes to routine.  My wife and I stocked up on food to have a 14 day supply, trying to focus on proteins since we both have diabetes.  We also stocked up some less healthy snacks–which we usually try not to keep around.  If we crave a not-so-healthy snack we make ourselves travel to the grocery store to get it because it’s easier when it’s not in the house.  Now such things are in the house.   It turns out I have x-ray vision and can see the unhealthy snacks through the cupboard doors.  Not a good situation for me–though it’s better now that I recognized that I was making too many trips to the cupboard.  “Well, at least I didn’t set myself on fire.”
       I’m guessing you may have some Covid-19 lifestyle changes that are challenging for you:  housebound without March Madness basketball, working from home, kids home, working at a place that is busier and/or riskier, going to an office that is completely quiet; maybe you’re part of a peer support group that’s not meeting; maybe you worry because you or loved ones work on the front-lines of people-care (medicine, police, groceries, prescriptions); maybe you’re feeling stuck in a setting that is on lock-down or in a quarantine of sorts; maybe you’ve had non-essential surgery postponed.  My Mom was scheduled for shoulder surgery in mid-April to repair three tears in the tendons.  I understand it is safe not to have the surgery now; but, I thought, “I wonder how many tears would make it an essential surgery?”  Right now life is more challenging for all of us in a way that I expect it hasn’t been since WWII.
     This past Sunday morning, as Sharon accompanied Trisha on flute and Jack as vocalist, I knew we got one thing right.  As soon as I heard the first song, I knew God had guided us.   “You Are Mine” written by David Haas, God’s Spirit burned in my heart and moistened my eyes, as Jack sang.
“I will come to you in the silence, 
I will lift you from all your fear.  
You will hear my voice, 
I claim you as my choice, 
be still and know I am here.”    
scroll down to sermons and click on the coffee cup and Bible or
Click HERE  to hear “You Are Mine” (song begins at the 2:00 minute mark).
   Everyday be patient with yourself and others.  If it’s a challenging day, remember “it’s a good day if you don’t start yourself on fire.”
God’s blessings and prayers for health,
Pastor Roger

Sermon March 22 2020

Click HERE to read a printed copy of the March 22 Sermon

Click on the Bible to view the video of march 22, 2020 Sermon.

Jesus heals a blind man John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.

The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”

Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”

But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”

So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”

He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

They asked, “Where is this man?”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.

The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”

Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”

He replied, “He’s a prophet.”

The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”

His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”

Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”

The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”

They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”

He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”

The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”

They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him.

Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?”

He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.

Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”

Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

March 20

I arrived home after a quick trip to West Acres at closing time–so I could get a picture.  West Acres felt like one of those movies where Zombies might appear any moment.  When I arrived home I was very glad I had a sharp hunting knife.  (Wow-hold on; this really isn’t as weird as it sounds).  I arrived home and heard a faint hum that wasn’t stopping.  Sure enough, the sump pump was running, but unable to pump through a frozen hose.  Hence, I was thankful for a really sharp knife to cut the ice-filled hose quickly–though not so quickly, I did get a full body, outdoor, in 40 mph winds, cold shower.  As miserable as that may sound, for a while life was back to normal.  I had a project with a beginning, a solution and an ability to fix, after a quick trip to Tractor Supply for hose and clamps.
     For a little while life was normal again.  It took my mind off questions that were weighing on me.  1) Those on ventilators with hospital visiting restrictions, are they suffering without family being allowed to visit; 2) those four senators (republican and democrat) who sold stocks as soon as they had the intelligence report on Covid-19 virus three weeks ago, how do they live with that choice? 3) The US Senator, a former accountant, that did the math of “well 97% will live?  We don’t need extraordinary measures,” wasn’t he listening when the physicians said, “without social distancing 50% of the population will be infected within 8 weeks?”  In the FM area alone that would be an extra 3,000 deaths in 8 weeks; many days without Covid-19 our local hospitals and emergency rooms are near capacity.  4) Who came up with the idea to suggest medical personnel could use handkerchiefs and scarves to protect themselves?  Did all of that entire group skip 9th grade biology?  5) How will my parents fare in all of this? how will church members fare? 6) how will Grace church pay bills without regular Sunday offerings? 7) What happens when the Spring Breakers come home to closed colleges and move in with their older parents?
     I don’t know what questions are running through your mind in this time of social distancing.  I do know the questions are not normal, everyday questions.  I do know we need emotional and spiritual breaks from those heavy questions.  While I don’t wish a frozen sump-pump hose on anyone, I do wish normal life moments for each of you.  I encourage you to create normal-life moments.  In talking with one of our members over the phone, he indicated shared a normal life practice that was encouraging him during social distancing.  In a phone conversation, Bill Krogen told me how chapter five of “Reckless Love:  Jesus’ Call to Love Our Neighbor” was speaking to him.  Today Lydia Circle is working on creating a volunteer phone callers team to connect with the home-bound.  The great Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is choosing to play beautiful, soothing music that people can access online for a sense of calm and spiritual renewal.  I am still returning to the Bible I set out at the beginning of Lent–open to I Corinthians 13:4-8.  “Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way, etc.”  Great words especially in times when we need to treat those we love with an extra measure of patience and care.
     In these far from normal times, ask God to keep bringing you back to those things that restore your soul and mind.  Ask God to show you how you might help someone else find a sense of “normal” and “peace” today.  
Blessings and Health,
Pastor Roger