Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Voyage: The Captain & the Crew

September 13, 2009
Genesis 6, Jonah 1, Luke 5

The Voyage is a series of four
messages for the upcoming Sundays. I want to explore the faith life through the metaphor of a voyage at sea.

Have you ever paddled a canoe by yourself? It is possible for the skilled to do this well, but imagine you are in a single person canoe in a shallow pond and all you can do is paddle in circles? Not much of an adventure, is it?

Sometimes our faith life can be like that. Not much of an adventure, paddling around by ourselves, going in circles, trying to have an adventure in shallow faith waters.

God wants so much more for us! Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly!” God intends for our faith life to be an adventure, like sailing in the deep waters.

Volvo Ocean Race is a sailing race that through 10 legs of racing takes sailors around the world. The race begins in October and ends in April. Now that’s an adventure! The subtitle of the race is “Life at the extreme.” This is much more of an adventure than paddling in circles in shallow waters.

The faith life is intended to be like that…setting sail for deep waters. For the next four weeks we’re going to see what it looks like. We are going to remember who the captain is and decide if we’re going to be on the crew. We are going to realize how we can possibly survive the storms at sea. We’ll discover the importance of shipmates and determine to set sail for deep waters.

So this morning I ask you three critical questions.
1. Who is the Captain of your life?
2. Are you a passenger or a member of the crew?
3. Are you going to set out for deep waters?

Who is the Captain of your life?
When we say Jesus is “Lord,” that is to say Jesus is the captain of our lives; to let go of the helm and let Jesus steer our lives; to sing, like the faithful have a generation or two, “Jesus, Savior, pilot me,”; to live directed by Jesus’ ways.

Now the relationship a captain has with his crew is one of friend and fear. The same is true with those who make Jesus the captain of their lives. If Jesus is the Captain of your life he is your friend: someone you can go to when storm hit; someone you can trust; someone you talk to often; someone you feel closely connected to.

If Jesus is the Captain of your life he is also feared, in that Old Testament understanding of “The fear of the Lord.” That is a fear that means Jesus is to be respected for his position in your life, to know that Jesus is powerful in your life, to say that we have confidence and trust in him.

Who is the Captain of your life?

Let’s look at how did our Biblical characters answered that question.

In Noah’s time God is disappointed in humanity. God is grieved that God created human kind. God’s remedy for the situation is a flood to destroy everyone. But then God notices Noah who scripture calls a righteous man. The Bible says that “Noah walked with God.” God decides to start over with Noah and his family. God asks Noah to build the ark (a big boat) to save them. The scriptures say, “Noah did everything God commanded him to do.” Noah knew who the captain of his life was – God.

Have there been times in your life when you did exactly what God asked of you, no matter how silly and ridiculous you might look?

Jonah lived in the time of the Ninevites. The Ninevites were always unsatisfied – always trying to conquer more people, more land. God told Jonah to go there and tell them to change their ways. It was to be a warning. If they didn’t change their ways, they would be destroyed. If they did change their ways, God would be gracious to them. Jonah doesn’t like the Ninevites. He would prefer God skip the intermediate step and just get on with destroying the Ninevites. Instead of doing what God asked, Noah said no. He boarded a ship and headed for Tarshish. Can you get a picture of what this is like? Jonah went in the exact opposite direction that God called him to go. Jonah runs from the one who is supposed to be the captain of his life.

Have you ever run from God? Run in the opposite direction?

The scene in Luke 5 is before Peter is a disciple. There’s a crowd around Jesus and he needs to get some space to be able to speak to them. So Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat. Now Simon has been fishing all night long. He’s tired and wore out. The last thing he wants to do is go out fishing again. And besides that, this Jesus character is going to tell him where to fish? Peter’s the fisherman, not this guy, Jesus. But Simon sets out for the deep water, anyway. He says to Jesus, “Because you say so, I’ll do it.”

Ever feel like God calls you to do something you don’t want to? But for some reason, you do it anyway.

Peter had a sense that this Jesus could pilot him on the sea of life. Peter was willing to go out into deep waters, simply because Jesus said so.

Who is the Captain of your life? Which seafarer are you? We tend to be like each of them at some point in our lives. Sometimes we are running from God. Sometimes we are walking with God. Sometimes we do what God says, even though we don’t know exactly why. Who is the captain of your life? If Jesus is the captain of your life, and you follow his guide and direction, you will receive blessings you did not expect – like Peter and his big catch of fish or like Noah did when God saved him.

Who is the Captain of your life?

Are you a passenger or a member of the crew?
Think cruise lines, here. Passengers are guests on the ship. Everything you want as a passenger is delivered to you. You are expected to do nothing more than enjoy yourself. You are to lounge around, catch some sun, drink cool beverages and eat at endless buffets. And while this may appeal to you for relaxation and vacation, the real action on any ship is being a member of the crew! The Crew on the ship are there to serve. The crew on Jesus ship are to serve. It is as if we are saying, “These are my hands and feet, Lord. What do you need me to do?” That’s where the adventure is! Seeing where Jesus calls us and going.

Here’s the thing: you have to decide not to be a passenger anymore! No more “what’s in it for me.” No more coming to worship because the music or the message serves me. No more looking out for what I like or what pleases me. A crew member is looking to please the Captain. Is it all about you? Or are you serving and finding out your receiving at the same time?

It’s OK to be a passenger for a time – early in your faith journey. There is a time for receiving. But becoming a member of the crew is a sign of spiritual maturity.

So are you going to be a passenger or a member of the crew?

Are you going to set out for deep waters?

Staying in port is safe, but lacks any adventure. You can’t stay in port forever. We bring the ship into port 1 day out of 7. We get our provisions, are reminded of the captains orders. That’s what we’re doing this morning. But we are never meant to stay in the safety of the port. We called to venture out into the deep waters of our faith, to be about the work of God as members of God’s crew. We’ll talk more about setting out into deep waters in the weeks ahead. For now it’s enough to know that deep waters is where the faith adventure is. And it is also where the storms of life hit… which we’ll talk more about next week.

May you trust Jesus as your captain.
May you choose to be a member of the crew.
And may you know the godly adventure of deep water faith.

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead United Methodist Church

Rochester, MN

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Women Were Disciples, too!

September 6, 2009
Labor Day
Luke 8:1-3, Luke 24:1-12

Today we meet Joanna in the gospel of Luke. Joanna is the wife of Chuza, a steward of Herod. Chuza was high up in power in the Roman government, so he is a person of means because of his position.

Joanna is one of the named women who followed Jesus. Luke says she and others had been healed of some form of sickness. We don’t know what that was for Joanna, there are no other details. She was one of many women who provided for Jesus and the other disciples. She likely used her husband’s means to support Jesus’ ministry. Now that’s an interesting thought, as her husband would have had to have been agreeable to this. Perhaps initially he was agreeable out of his gratitude for whatever healing Joanna experienced from Jesus.

Luke says these women travelled with Jesus and the other disciples while Jesus ministered and taught. We don’t know much about the details of Joanna’s time with Jesus. She was with him in his ministry. She had a place in that ministry, though we don’t exactly know what place. She was remembered by name, like the other disciples were.

The other story we have about Joanna comes at Jesus’ death & resurrection. Presumably she is one of the women who’s looking on at the death of Jesus, one of the women grieving that Luke mentions, though she nor any of the others are named.

She is also there on the first Easter. The women are named here. They have come to prepare the body for death, perhaps as one last time to provide for Jesus out of their means. There at the tomb, they experience the two men in dazzling white, who tell them of Jesus’ resurrection. And the women are also reminded of something Jesus taught…that he would rise from the dead. The women believe and run to tell the “others” – i.e., the other disciples. And while the “other” disciples think what the women are saying is “an idle tale”, eventually the “other” disciples learn that what they say is the truth.
That’s what we know about Joanna through scripture

Joanna was a disciple. There were women disciples in Jesus’ day. Writings other than the Gospel of Luke speak to this fact. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, for instance, tells of Mary teaching and preaching to the disciples after Jesus’ death, trying to encourage them to believe.

The gospel of Luke indicates that these women were disciples for two reasons: they followed Jesus and they learned from Jesus.

These women followed Jesus. They were with Jesus and the other disciples as he taught and healed. They didn’t admire him from afar. They were with Jesus, following where he went.

These women also learned from Jesus. When they are at the tomb, the two men in dazzling white speak to them. “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that…” they say to the women. These angelic figures knew that the women had been around when Jesus taught. They knew that the women would remember Jesus’ teachings. These women learned right along side of the disciples who were men.

The question I have for you today is: Are you a disciple like these women were? Do you follow Jesus? We cannot literally walk with Jesus today. But being a disciple, as a generic term, meant “imitating the one whom you follow”. How are you doing at that? How close are you to the original? Are you staying near enough the teachings and the stories of Jesus to remember what the original is all about? Being a disciples isn’t about admiring from afar. It’s about getting an up close look at Jesus and imitating his ways. It’s about caring for the sick. It’s about preaching good news. It’s about standing up when you see injustice. It’s about giving voice to the voiceless. It’s about welcoming everyone and excluding no one. How are you doing at following Jesus?

Do you learn from Jesus? As I was reading this week on topic of discipleship, I read a question for discussion for a small group I thought was interesting. Have you read the “guide book” (The Bible, of course) all the way through? Being a disciple involves studying the words of Jesus. Digging into them and learning them. Reading everything in the Bible. Studying to know the character of the one we want to imitate. Studying enough to be able to follow. So how are you doing at studying the “guide book”?

Being a disciple is a choice. Joanna had a choice. She had to have had a comfortable life before Jesus. She had money and position from her husband. She probably had no wants or needs. But she chose to follow Jesus. Something about him intrigued her. Maybe it was the healing Jesus did for her. Maybe she was impressed with the words he said. Perhaps it was the way he treated the outcasts, women included. Who knows what it was that intrigued Joanna. But whatever it was, she had a choice. And she chose to follow Jesus. She chose to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

You have a choice, too. Will you follow at a safe distance? Getting a nibble of the Bread of Life now and then in worship? Sipping the Water of Life now and then in a thin devotional? Catching a glimpse of the Messiah as he passes by in the life of someone else?

Or will you be a disciple? …following Jesus closely…soaking in the word day and night…delighting in the things of Jesus…and doing the things he commanded.

You’re here on Labor Day Weekend. That already says something about your choice. You want to be a disciple.

The question is, are you going to take it all the way?

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Phillip the Evangelist: Evangelism 101

August 30, 2009
Acts 6:1-7; 8:26-40

Disciples were being made. People were obviously telling others about Jesus.Since the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit birthed the church, when many chose to be baptized in Christ, disciples were being made. Folks were being told about life in Christ. And they were choosing Christ for themselves. The church was growing so fast. They couldn’t keep up with the needs. Specifically, the care of widows was lagging behind. Disciples were so busy earning a living, making a wage so as not to burden others, trying to still leave space for the work of Christ. But it just wasn’t cutting it. More and more people were coming to the faith and something had to change. They needed some who could give their whole lives to the work of Christ, to not be burdened with having to earn a living, so that they could organize the rest of the people and their work for Christ. Some leaders were set apart. One of those leaders was Phillip

The strategy worked! More disciples were made. God’s word continued to be told. Evangelism was happening. People’s lives were being made new in Christ.

Today we venture to learn a little about Phillip, not the disciple, but the one known as the “Evangelist”. Philip was “set apart,” in much the same way that I was when I was ordained. He was set apart to help lead the church, but his primary task, given by God, was evangelism. God set Philip apart for the task of evangelism.

We have 3 other accounts of Philip’s life in Christ. In Acts 8 Philip is preaching and changing lives in Samaria. Later in the same chapter we have the encounter with the Ethiopian. And in Acts 21 reminds us that Philip is still at the work of evangelism and has taught his family.

In all his ministry, Philip evangelized. He went to people and places outside of his comfort zone – Samaritans and Ethiopians. He had conversations with people he would normally not talk with. He shared the life of Jesus with them and the difference it made in his life. He encouraged others to choose Jesus for themselves and brought people into the faith through baptism.

Philip was an example of evangelism in his generation.

But just what is evangelism? And what does evangelism look like in our generation?

Martha Grace Reese in her book Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism (page 6) tells us “Evangelism is people sharing with others their personal understandings that life is better, richer, truer if one has faith in Christ and lives in a faith community.” She tells us that evangelism is relational. It’s about intentionally building relationships with other people, sometimes relationships with others with whom we would not normally mix. It’s about going out of our way to, for the sake of Christ, know others personally.

Reese also tells us that evangelism is sharing what you feel. Sometimes we think evangelism is telling people what we know, and we think we don’t know very much, so we think we don’t have to do evangelism. But Reese reminds us that evangelism is sharing what you feel. It’s sharing the simple story of how God has made a difference in your life. It isn’t always a “I once was lost but now am found” kind of story, though if that’s your story, that’s the story to share. Sometimes it’s a story of always having been held in God’s love and the difference that this has made in your life. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing why you make the choices you do because of your faith.

Evangelism draws people to Christ first, and to community as a result. Sharing your story with others should elicit a desire to know Christ personally. Evangelism helps people want to know Christ. The conversation Philip had with the Ethiopian drew him to know Christ. It didn’t highlight Philip’s accomplishments or life, it It highlighted Christ. And because of that story, the Ethiopian was drawn to baptism, to connect with the community of Christ.

Two cautions: First, evangelism isn’t about growing the church. Though there is no harm in growing the body of Christ, our task is making disciples. Evangelism draws people into the life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ, as it goal! Secondly, evangelism isn’t solely the task of people “set aside” like Philip. Jesus charged every follower to “go and make disciples”. It is the task of everyone whose life has been genuinely made “better, richer, truer” because of Christ. That’s all of you, to be sure. That’s me as well!

So what does evangelism look like in our generation?

Two stories of evangelism in our generation:
1) Heather Kirk-Davidoff’s story from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (page 34-35)

2) Story of Evangelism in the Oil Change shop told by Royal Speidel, the Distinguished Evangelist in Residence at The General Board of Discipleship.

That is another, good, definition of evangelism in these stories: engage people in conversation about God in the strangest of places. Places we sometimes go regularly – like the oil change shop. Places we sometimes go out of our way to in order to engage in conversation about God – like the bar, perhaps.

I am convicted by these ideas of evangelism. And I want you to challenge me. I have many times I schedule to engage people within the church in conversations about God. I don’t know any time in my work week where I intentionally schedule time to engage people outside of the church in conversation about God. But I want to know that time. I am compelled to do that. And perhaps if a few hundred of you each week ask me if I had a conversation about God with someone outside the church, I might be more inclined to remember the importance of doing so. So would you ask me? Would you hold me to that? Ask me if I have been Philip this past week or not?

And may I ask you the same?

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Would the Real Mary Magdalene Please Stand Up?

August 2, 2009
Mark 16:9-11

It was 1988, and I was in my second year of college

  • We were on a campus that brought in all forms of art - ACES
  • Every presidential candidate that year
  • Lectures by famous people
  • And then there was the movie
  • People lined up in protest outside the showing on campus
  • It was The Last Temptation of Christ

The movie in part portrayed the subject of today’s biblical character: Mary Magdalene

  • In the movie she is a prostitute turned around by Jesus
  • And then in dream sequence, she and Jesus are married and have children together

Sounds like a more recent movie, doesn’t it?

  • The Davinci Code worked on the same sensationalistic story
  • The same underlining assumptions about who Mary Magdalene was

But would the real Mary Magdalene please stand up?

What we know from scripture is far from the tabloid type stories of her we find in the movies

So, would the real Mary Magdalene please stand up?

Mary Magdalene

  • From the town of Magdala – on the Sea of Galilee near Tiberius
  • That’s where she gets her name “Magdalene”
  • Mark and Luke record the fact that Jesus healed her from seven demons
  • As a result of her healing she becomes a disciple of Jesus
  • She uses her “resources” to support Jesus’ ministry

We get confused because there are three women of scripture that have been fused into one woman throughout history

  • Mary Magdalene, the one healed of the demons
  • Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, who anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume
  • The sinful woman of Luke 7 who anoints Jesus’ feet with her tears and with oil, the dried them with her hair
  • Pope Gregory the Great fused these all together
  • And in that we have our confusion
  • This Mary Magdalene has been cast a prostitute – sinful woman
  • And there is speculation about her closeness to Jesus in ministry
  • Artists have raised the question of whether or not they married

The real Mary Magdalene stands up at the death & resurrection of Jesus

All four gospels agree that Mary is at the death of Jesus

  • When other disciples fled
  • Mary and the other woman followed
  • Many women ministered to Jesus on his way to the cross
  • Many women followed and stayed
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene are the only women named
  • Mary Magdalene stood there on that awful day
  • She stood with Jesus’ mother at the crucifixion
  • She watched and prayed as Jesus suffered in pain
  • There was not another place she wanted to be
  • She stood weeping as Jesus breathed his last breath
  • Even though it was dangerous to be associated with Jesus
  • Even though it was risky to stand publicly with him, Mary Magdalene was there

Mary Magdalene was there when Jesus was taken from the cross

  • In three of the four gospels, the women are there at the burial
  • In two of the four, Mary Magdalene is named

Mary Magdalene walked with Jesus

  • Through his ministry
  • To his death
  • And to what all believed would be his final resting place
  • Mary Magdalene was a woman devoted to Jesus
  • She had a boundless love for him
  • She was endlessly grateful for the healing he had done in her life
  • And she was devoted to Jesus until the end

It was the same boundless love, endless gratitude and faithful devotion that led Mary Magdalene to the tomb that first Easter morning

  • All four gospels agree on this important detail
  • Mary Magdalene was among the first at the tomb
  • She probably could barely wait for the sun to rise
  • She came with love and gratitude and devotion to do that last thing that she could for Jesus – prepare his body with spices
  • Now the gospels differ on the details
  • Much like four different people describing the same accident scene will tell the same story with slight variations depending on their vantage point
  • While the details differ, Mary Magdalene is first on the scene in all the gospels
  • We have two of those accounts read this morning
  • Mark’s gospel has Mary witnessing to the disciples
  • But they fail to believe her good news of Jesus’ resurrection

John’s gospel has the beautiful, intimate account of Jesus and Mary

  • After a time of grief because the body is lost
  • Mary encounters a person she supposes is a gardener
  • That person is actually Jesus
  • And when the gardener speaks her name “Mary”
  • Mary Magdalene knows immediately that it is Jesus
  • Her boundless love, endless gratitude and faithful devotion to Jesus enable her to recognize her Savior

Remember that Mary Magdalene is a disciple

  • In other words, one who learns from Jesus, follows his ways
  • So as his disciple, Jesus gives Mary Magdalene disciple-like instructions
  • Go and tell!
  • Jesus make of Mary Magdalene the first post-resurrection evangelist
  • She is charged with going to the other disciples and telling them the good news
  • Beyond the resurrection, Mary Magdalene continues in her boundless love, endless gratitude and faithful devotion to Jesus, now Risen Savoir.

Jesus asks of us the same as he received from Mary Magdalene

  • Boundless love, endless gratitude and faithful devotion
  • It is an invitation to walk with Jesus in his ministry, through his death, and beyond his resurrection
  • Our love, gratitude and devotion is demonstrated best when we, like Mary Magdalene, go and tell others about Jesus
  • May we continue what Jesus began in the real Mary Magdalene

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Leaving Muddy Footprints

May 24, 2009
Ascension Sunday
Taken Up
Luke 24:44-53

Parents, try to remember the emotion. Others of you who are not parents can imagine it fairly easily, I would think. Your first child has come into your life. It’s been a day and a half and the hospital has carefully packed your room. You’ve nestled the baby in the car seat for the first time, with one of you actually sitting in the back seat on the drive home. And here you are, the baby carefully lying on a blanket on your bed in your home. You look at the baby’s intricate little self. Likely aloud, you say to one another, “Now what do we do?”

This little life is your responsibility. There is no longer a nurse to bathe the baby. Every diaper is yours now. Midnight feedings will be done by you. It is completely up to you.
Remember that feeling? It’s almost like the whole world has vanished. There you three are all alone. “Now what do we do?”

It’s a similar emotion the disciples feel in our lesson today. While it doesn’t say it in the text, I think the emotion is implied. Jesus has risen from the dead. There have been many appearances of Jesus. They have enjoyed 40 days of the Risen Jesus walking around. They’ve been given a little pep talk of sorts. “You are my witnesses of these things” Jesus tells them. He even promises them a special gift for the task, an innate something that will empower them. And he has even blessed them.

Then, he’s taken up. Luke says he “was carried into heaven.” The book of Acts has a cloud doing the work of “taking up.” I imagine that the disciples stood there for a moment. The book of Acts says they were “gazing up toward Heaven.” They are staring off into a distance. Maybe they are even saying aloud to one another “Now what do we do?”

They are entrusted with the precious life of the gospel. There is no one else anymore. Jesus is no longer with them physically. It’s all up to them. You can imagine the emotion.

Barbara Lundblad, a preaching professor from Union Theological Seminary, tells of a picture of Jesus’ ascension that caught her eye. It was a black and white woodcut print, finely etched. In the picture Jesus is rising up while the disciples watch him disappear into the clouds. But if you look closely at the picture, not at the clouds, but look on the ground, you can see footprints on the earth. The artist has carefully etched Jesus’ footprints. Those footprints are down on the level where the disciples are standing. They are down where they are standing with their mouths open, down where the disciples are asking “Now what do we do?”

It makes you wonder what the artist was thinking when he or she etched those footprints into the picture. Maybe it’s just a strange detail without too much meaning. Perhaps the artist is imagining something about the text that isn’t in there at all. Or perhaps the artist is pressing the question from Acts: “Why are you staring off into heaven?” Maybe the artist wants us to notice the footprints instead of the cloud, to notice Jesus’ footprints here on earth. Maybe the artist wants us to stop staring up into heaven and start looking at the earth. Maybe the artist wants us to start noticing the footprints of Jesus, the muddy footprints of the one who walked the earth.

Jesus’ muddy footprints are all over the pages of the gospel. Can you see them?
Can you see his footprints as he walked along the shore, inviting this motley crew of disciples to his work? Can you see his footprints as he walked hand in hand with the outcasts? Can you see his footprints as he walked into the temple to correct ancient teachings? Can you see his footprints as he walked to get a drink from a woman the most despised race in his day? Can you see his footprints as he entered Jerusalem to give up his life? Can you see his footprints as he stumbled under the weight of the cross? And can you see his footprints leaving the empty tomb? Or walking on the road to Emmaus? Or entering the closed and fearful hideout of the disciples?

Jesus’ muddy footprints are all over the gospel. It is hard not to notice the muddy footprints, the very real presence of Jesus walking the earth.

Now Jesus is calling the disciples to the task of placing his footprints all over this world.
Repentance and forgiveness are to be preached in Jesus’ name and this precious gospel is to be proclaimed to all nations. “And, by the way,” Jesus says to the disciples, “You are witness to these things. And I am sending you. I am sending you to blanket the earth with my muddy footprints.”

But Jesus has been “taken up.” He is no longer standing among them. So the disciples stand, mouths wide open, staring off into a distance, as they mumble under their breaths to one another, “Now what do we do?”

That day in Bethany, before Jesus was “taken up,” he had promised them a power to get the job done, an innate, internal thing that would empower them in their foot-printing work. That power that would come to them soon enough, the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then Jesus blessed them. He lifted up his hands and blessed the disciples, this motley crew of unlikely, imperfect characters. He lifted his hands and blessed their footprints. He made holy the impact of their steps on earth. He made holy each footprint a disciple on earth makes, not only the “days after the resurrection” disciples we read about in the gospel, but also the “21st century disciples” gathered for worship today. Jesus blessed us and made holy the impact of our footprints.

Here is the theological truth of Ascension Sunday: Because there is no longer a physical body of Jesus, we are the embodiment of the risen Christ. Where there is no physical presence of Jesus anymore, we are that body on earth. It is our feet that will leave muddy footprints on earth. It is our feet that must walk the way of Jesus. It is our feet, our blessed and made holy feet. We are the embodiment of the one who left in the cloud. That is our call as disciples.

No matter where we walk, our steps are made holy by Jesus. Our task to embody Jesus is to make careful footprints on the earth, to walk tenderly and intentionally with our lives, to make each step count for the sake of the precious life of the gospel.

So how are we doing at making muddy Jesus footprints with our holy feet? Are we walking among the unlikely to invite a motley crew of disciples to Jesus’ work? Are we walking hand in hand with the outcasts? Do our footprints show up in the worship space? Do we make steps among races and genders that are despised? Are we stepping out to heal and make whole? Are we walking among the hungry and poor and oppressed to bring food and resources and freedom?

There’s a lot of talk lately about our carbon footprint. It is a question of the environmental impact of your life. Do you drive to work, or ride your bike? Do you recycle, or throw everything in the trash? We are encouraged to as faint a carbon footprint as possible.

Sometimes we get our muddy Jesus prints confused with our carbon footprints. We think the task is to walk lightly on the earth with the gospel, to make faint the footprint of our faith. We are discouraged by some from making an impressionable footprint, so as not to offend other faith traditions. It is best if we keep our faith to ourselves. Then no one will be offended or hurt or …. Impacted. We tend to walk so gingerly, that Jesus’ footprints have a hard time being noticed in our generation. Or we are so busy looking up that we aren’t making footprints? Are we so concerned with our “heavenward-ness” that we standing staring into the clouds and forget to look at or make footprints on earth?

One of those “Reader’s Digest” quips seems appropriate here…Jesus has no hands but your hands. Or, if you will, Jesus has not footprints on earth if you are not making them. We are the embodiment of Jesus, the Risen Christ, and our call is to be sure that our muddy Jesus footprint is significant.

May you walk firmly and intentionally with the love of Jesus, and may you make real the one who was “taken up” by your words, your actions, your footprint on the earth. Amen.

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Black & White? or Full Color Living?

May 17, 2009
Black & White? or Full Color Living?
Psalm 23; John 10:11-18; 1 John 3:16-24

I don’t ask the following question to offend anyone. Does anyone remember the switch from Black & White to color TV? It happened in 1954 when the Rose Parade was the first broadcast in color TV. In anticipation of it, 200 color televisions were produced and distributed. Perhaps that color TV came into your life later – after your Black & White TV gave out
Do you remember what it was like to go from Black & White to Color TV?

A black & white television told a story and got a point across. It enabled you to see expressions on faces and gave you a sense of the landscape in the storyline.

With full-color television, the scenes came to life. Landscapes were lush and green or parched and brown, and you could tell the difference, The color of one’s coat could convey something it could not on the black & white TV.

Jesus lived in full-color. He spoke about love. He encouraged others to love. But eventually, he demonstrated love. He is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life. You have to understand that imagery a bit. A shepherd in Jesus’ day would have cared for the sheep at night by placing them into a “pen”. It was a space closed in by a wall of rocks or something like that. Each night the shepherd would lead the sheep through the one opening to this pen. After all the sheep were safely in, away from the danger of wolves or thieves or predators of any kind, the shepherd would literally lay down in front of the opening to the pen. The shepherd would act like a gat to the sheep pen. No one got in without going through the shepherd. If something threatened the sheep, they would literally have to kill the shepherd to get at them. The shepherd laid down his life like a gate in front of the sheep pen to protect those sheep. Like a gate in front of the sheep pen, Jesus was willing to give up his life to save the sheep. Jesus did that very thing.

The Good Shepherd imagery unfolds a post-resurrection understanding of the cross as a supreme act of love, a demonstration of what Jesus talked about and encouraged. It’s taking the Black & White world of knowing and believing, of intentions and passions, and turning it into the full-color living of acting and doing, of life laid down.

First letter of John calls us to the same full-color living. The writer tells us that we only know love by its action, such as an action as bold as laying down our very lives. Not just talking about it. Not just believing in it. Actually doing it. Actually demonstrating a self-giving kind of love. That’s full-color living! We are called to this kind of living as disciples of Jesus Christ

I was overwhelmed recently by love in action in a self-giving kind of way. Since 1977 Sea Shepherd as been an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. Their mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. They have a love for animals that I, sadly, do not know. Their work in Antarctica is documented on an Animal Planet show called “Whale Wars,” a title I wished they would not have chosen.

In Antarctica they work to thwart the efforts of whaling fleets trying to catch whales. There is a debate whether or not the catch is for research or industry, depending on your perspective. Sea Shepherd members work diligently and creatively to do their work of thwarting the efforts of the whalers. The thing that impressed me the most, though, was their commitment. They are out on a large ship for a few months at a time. You only get on the ship if you are able to make a particular commitment to the cause. Of course you must believe in their work and having passion for the work is important, too. Some experience on a ship would be good. But you don’t even step foot on the ship if you are not willing to give your life to save the life of a whale. That’s full-color living!

You may not be passionate for whales or the work of Sea Shepherd. I’m mildly interested, but certainly not passionate.

What is it for which you feel passion? Feeding the hungry? Violence free neighborhoods? Clothing the naked? Clean water for African nations? Housing the homeless? Educating children? Homes free of domestic violence?

Jesus asks us to demonstrate our love, not just believe in it or talk about it. Jesus asks us to act on it, to act out of love for others by laying one’s life down, by actually doing something about the things for which we feel passionate. Jesus calls us to move from talking to action, to act in ways that cause you to sacrifice some of you in order to accomplish the mission.

Jesus invites us to full-color living. It’s taking the weekly on-call for the domestic violence hotline. It’s serving regularly at Noon Meals. It’s becoming educated and doing something about providing clean water to remote places in our world. It’s creating a peaceful presence by being in the more violent neighborhoods in peaceful ways, by providing meaningful activities for at risk kids. It’s taking a lesser paying teaching job in a neighborhood with little hope.

Jesus invites us to full-color living.

Can you turn your Black & White living of passions and causes into full-color living?

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Creating Home…One Gift At A Time

May 3, 2009
The Barnabas Effect
Acts 4:32-37; Malachi 3:10-12; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Homestead UMC is in the middle of a capital campaign called "Creating Home" for the purchase of land to relocate the ministries of our church. These sermons are to encourage our congregation and listen to God's call on our community of faith to extend its reach in ministry and mission through relocation.

The Acts community is “all-in”

Do you know that phrase? I had to look up again why I know that phrase. It is planted in my memory from the days I was fascinated by Texas Hold’em Poker tournaments on Television. All-in is a bet a player can make. They look at the cards they have, presumably it’s a winning hand, so on that hand they make their bet “all” the money they have. They lay it all on the table. They go “all-in”.

The Acts community has gone “all-in”. They have held nothing back. They have given everything they have and everything they are. They have laid it all on the table. They are “all-in”.

So to what is the Acts community “all-in”? They are all-in to this resurrection faith that has been given to them. They are “all-in” to reaching in as a work of God and to reaching out with the Word of God.

They are reaching in as a work of God. They have pooled their resources. Because of this, no one in their community was in need. They took care of their widows and orphans. That was something to which Jesus challenged the people of God. They had not lived up to caring for the most vulnerable of their society. But this Acts community was working to care for the vulnerable. No one had excess and no one was needy. That’s the way it goes. Because if I have excess, someone else is in need. The Acts community understood this truth. They lived in a kind of harmony not as common today.

They also reached out with the Word of God. They gave their testimony to the resurrection by going out and telling others why they were so full of joy. They brought others into the joy of their community and their way of life. They were sharing the risen Christ with others.

How is it that the Acts community can go “all-in”?

First – someone taught them the faith. The disciples and others who were filled with the Holy Spirit were compelled by the Spirit to spread the Good News. They made a life out of drawing others to Christ. This early Acts community of faith were recipients of their faithfulness. The Acts community of faith can go “all-in” because someone has taught them the faith.

Second – the Acts community of faith can go “all-in” because they believed in the ministry in which they participated. Scripture says they were “of one heart and one soul.” The thing that God had called them to do was powerful. They were gladly a part of what God was doing in their midst, even privileged to be a part of it! The Acts community of faith can go “all-in” because the work God called them to was so important!

Third – the Acts community of faith can go “all-in” because they had resources. God had provided those resources to them. There was land and houses and other resources. Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they sell it all. And in faith, they “laid it at the apostle’s feet”. They give it to the work of God happening in their midst. They are so convinced at the life-changing work happening in their midst that they are wholly committed to this work. They have gone “all-in” with their lives already. Now they go “all-in” with their resources, too.

Is it possible that we could go “all-in”, too?

We can go “all-in” because someone has taught us the faith! Do you remember who they are? Perhaps it was your mother or grandfather. Perhaps it was a youth group leader or a Sunday School teacher. Someone came into your life and taught you of the life-changing truth of the risen Christ. Perhaps it was several someones. For some of you, that was right here, in this building. For others, it may have been in another building or even in another faith community. Someone was so filled with the Spirit that they couldn’t help but reach out with the word of God to you. Someone taught us the faith!

We can go “all-in” because the work to which God has called us to is so important! God has called us to reach in, to teach the faith to our children and youth. God has called us to build a community that lives “family at its best”. God has called us to grow a community that nurtures and challenges and grows people in their walk of discipleship.

God has also called us to reach out, to go to where young families live an bring to them “family at its best”. We are called to strengthen families and individuals in their faith walk, and to share the family that we love with others.

Honestly, I have never served or been a part of a community of faith that has had such a clear call and ministry from God. I am privileged to help lead in this call. I am thrilled to see how it will unfold. I am excited to see what will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit through this faith community.

We can go “all-in” because someone taught us the faith and because the work to which God calls us is so important.

We can also go “all-in” because we have resources! God has provided abundantly for us individually. We have homes and land and cars and savings accounts and a variety of resources. At the very least, we must acknowledge that God has provided for us. Even if we struggle some financially, compared to other parts of the world, we have an abundance.

Paul reminds us in our 2nd Corinthians about our abundance. When we have enough of everything, it as a gift from God. And it is not a gift for ourselves. God has made sure we have “enough of everything” so that we “may share abundantly.” Do you hear that? When we “enough of everything,” God has given it to us so that we can share it with others. And, when we share it with others, God entrusts us with more so that we can share it with others. That is the way of God.

Barnabas understood that truth. He stands as an example to us. I don’t know if he had a lot or a little, but the fact that he owned a piece of land meant he was somewhat wealthy in his day. As he came to know Christ, he had to respond! So he sold that field and he, like the others, laid the proceeds at the apostle’s feet. That’s another way of saying to us that he gave them to be used in the important ministry work. Barnabas went all in! He held nothing back. He didn’t keep a little for himself or for a rainy day. He was so fully committed to the work of God that he gave all that he had!

Is it possible that we could go “all-in”, too?

In the time the Prophet Micah is writing, there is great difficulty, presumably because of locust. Whatever the case, they are in a place of uncertainty. In such a time, God invites them to put God to the test. “See if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” Put God to the test? We do that by entrusting what we have been given by God to the work of God, partnering with God.

We can go “all-in.” It is time for us to go “all-in” and put God to the test. We’ve already been doing that with our regular giving and God has proven faithful. In a time of a down economy and people cutting back, we are able to keep doing the important ministry work to which we’ve been called. Now is the time for us to put God to the test again. Let’s bring in all of our gifts and so test the limits of what God can do with us. May we be a powerful witness to the risen Christ. May God work in and through us and our “all-in” commitment. May the Barnabas effect change lives, ours included.

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Creating Home ... With a Shared Sacrifice

April 26, 2009
An Equal Sacrifice
Mark 12:41-44
Homestead UMC is in the middle of a capital campaign called "Creating Home" for the purchase of land to relocate the ministries of our church. These sermons are to encourage our congregation and listen to God's call on our community of faith to extend its reach in ministry and mission through relocation.

Jesus was taking a break. He was in temple teaching and had faced a number of tests to his teaching, so he was taking a break.

He sat on one side of temple watching the crowd of people. On the opposite side of him was the treasury. The treasury was a series of thirteen offering boxes that looked like suitcases, but were made out of metal. There was a slit in the top of those boxes. People would place their offerings through the slit on the top. Little signs were placed on each of the offering boxes indicating the various ministries funded by each of the offering boxes. One said building maintenance; another said utilities; another said rabbis’ salary; another said widows and orphans.

Now this particular day there are many people putting money in the treasury. First Jesus notices that there are many rich people in the temple that day. I am guessing it was hard to miss them. They put large sums of money into the treasury. The metal boxes assured that you could hear what they were doing. No doubt they dropped the coins in with great flare so that when they dropped them in the metal boxes the noise rang throughout the temple space.

Then Jesus notices a widow. He would have had to work hard to notice her, though Jesus always seemed to notice those the society forgot about. She was probably trying to blend into the background. I imagine she quietly approached the treasury, took out her two coins – the last two she had to live on - and dropped them quietly into the treasury.

At that, Jesus’ break from teaching is over. The time for teaching has begun again. This time rather than teaching to all the folks in the temple, he pulls the disciples aside to teach exclusively them. The lesson is for those who are trying to follow Jesus, for the disciples, for us. Jesus lauds the example of the widow’s giving two small coins and he questions the motives of those giving large sums.

Jesus’ teachings must have surprised the disciples. Certainly the large sums of money would have been useful. Why wouldn’t those gifts please Jesus? And the widow’s gift was minimal. What makes that so special? Shouldn’t Jesus be more pleased by folks giving equal shares?

Jesus teaches that the widow’s gift is sacrificial. It was given out of her living expenses. She had learned to trust in God for her needs. She was dependent on God working through others for her living needs. All the widows were dependent on that. So her sacrifice was enormous. As she dropped those two coins in, there was nothing left to rely on except God.

Those giving large sums were giving from a different place. They were giving out of their abundance, giving from what was left over. It was not a sacrifice for them. They hardly knew it was missing.

It isn’t that both gifts are not useable in ministry. The large sums and the two small coins would both be useful in ministry.

But Jesus calls all of us to an equal sacrifice. Jesus calls us not to give out of our abundance, but to give from a place of sacrifice: to surrender something in our lives in order to contribute to the needs of others; to forgo some comforts so that others might be comforted; to give up something that God might use it as a blessing for others.

Jillian, Rebecca, Deanna stood in the ticket line for the movie theater at the mall. They had planned for this day and saved for this movie - a romantic comedy. They had high expectations for the movie experience.

Out the corner of Deanna’s eye, she could see Betty. The three girls dressed in the latest fashion, unlike Betty who always dressed plainly. Betty was short and a little overweight. The three girls were trim and pretty. Everyone at school knew Betty lived a small apartment and there were rumors spreading that Betty’s father lost his job.

“Look who’s here,” Deanna whispered. She nudged the others and pointed to Betty. Rebecca turned and glared at the girl behind them. Betty turned her head so she wouldn’t see Rebecca’s cold stare. Rebecca and Deanna whispered and giggled as they pointed occasionally at the unpopular girl. But Jillian stood back and remained silent.

The three girls approached the ticket window and ordered the tickets for the movie for which they had waited. They pooled their money together to buy the tickets. “$15.75, please,” the man at the ticket window said. Rebecca realized she had a one dollar bill instead of the five-dollar bill she thought she was carrying. As they counted their money, the girls realized they were a dime short.

Deanna shoved the money toward the man at the window. “Come on! Give us the tickets,” Deanna demanded. The man behind the counter shook his head. They only had enough money for two tickets, and that was that!

Everyone could see the disappointment in the girls’ eyes.

Suddenly, a hand reached from behind and placed a dime on the ticket booth counter. As the girls turned, they saw Betty walking away. All three girls knew who gave them the extra money.

“Great!” Rebecca said. “Now we have enough money for tickets!” She began to shove the money to the man at the ticket counter.

“Wait,” Jillian said in a low voice. “I’ve changed my mind. You two go in. I’ll see you later.”

Deanna and Rebecca stood speechless as Jillian ran to catch up with Betty. “Thank you,” Jillian said to Betty as she pressed the dime back into the plain girl’s hand. “Do you want to go to the movie with me tomorrow?”

Sometimes a small sacrifice for one person is a huge one for another. For the three girls, a dime was nothing more than a small coin. They might not think twice about spending a dime. For Betty, the dime meant a lot of saving. It was a huge thing to give up and she would have to think about this kind of sacrifice.

Like Betty, the poor woman gave up something for which she had to save. A few small coins worth less than a penny, but her small gift and her huge sacrifice impressed Jesus. Here was someone, like Betty, who was willing to give up the little she had for the good of others.

Jesus calls us to do the same.

Through the Creating Home campaign, we can do the same. We are not called to an equal share. We do not take, say, our first step goal of $300,000 and divide it by the number of members and then know what our “share” is. God does not call us to equally distribute the numbers. We are not called to an equal share. That is not what God honors that day in the temple. That is not a Biblical principle.

Instead, your share in this important work is based on the resources God has entrusted to you. You are a God-appointed custodian of resources for this time and this ministry project. God calls us to give an equal sacrifice, to surrender some of what makes us comfortable, to give a sacrifice that will be a blessing to others.

What does it look like to equally distribute the sacrifice? For one person, $10 / week will be sacrificial. It may mean not going to the movies every week. It may mean giving up eating out once a week. It may mean dropping the cable package to basic. For others it might take something more in the $150 / week range to be sacrificial. It is not about equally distributing the numbers, it is about equally distributing the sacrifice; each of us surrendering something for this important work of God

The question lingers in my mind…I hope it does in yours as well. What little things can we give up for the good of others? Daily coffee? A family vacation? A weekly meal out? A portion of our savings account? That new car?

That day in the temple God honored the gift of a humble woman, not because of the amount, but because of the sacrifice. God will honor our sacrificial gifts, as well. May we learn together what it means to surrender before God for the good of others. Amen.

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Creating Home...In Times of Fear

April 19, 2009
Immeasurably More
Mark 6:34-44; Ephesisan 3:14-21
Homestead UMC is in the middle of a capital campaign called "Creating Home" for the purchase of land to relocate the ministries of our church. These sermons are to encourage our congregation and listen to God's call on our community of faith to extend its reach in ministry and mission through relocation.

Check out some of these current headlines.
  • Home building takes a big dip – declines nearly 11% last month
  • MN Jobless rate 8.2%
  • Credit Markets dry up
  • GE’s Profits Dragged by Finance Arm
  • Foreclosure Filings Jump 24%

If we listen carefully, the “experts” want us to be afraid. And perhaps there is legitimate fear. Maybe you’ve lost your job, or you’ve actually looked at your investment portfolio, or your income from investments has dipped. Maybe you tried to refinance your home, only to find out you owe more on it than it is worth. The “experts” would have us afraid and acting in fear. There’s not enough to go around. There’s not going to be enough for a while. If you see any glimmers of hope, you need to check your eyesight. This is going to last a long time. We’re not going to have enough for who knows how long. We are supposed to be afraid of the economic times in which we live, and that fear of scarcity can paralyze.

That’s what happened that day on the grass. The numbers just as staggering: 5,000 people; 6 month’s wages needed to feed them (John’s Gospel); only 5 loaves and 2 fish. The disciples are paralyzed by fear. “Send them away,” the disciples plead with Jesus. “It’s late. There are too many of them. I know they’ll be getting hungry.” The fear of the staggering numbers paralyzes they disciples. They see no way to accomplish it. They trust only in what they can measure: the clock, the crowd, the need, the scarcity. Rather than acting, they are paralyzed by fear.

Jesus does not play into their fear of not having enough. “You give them something to eat,” he tells them. The disciples protest. The cost of even buying bread for them is staggering. They throw out a number that’s as far as their imagination can go – 200 denarii. Can you hear it? Clean your room … That’ll take forever! Today in gym we’re going to run the mile … That’s impossible! We have to find 40 people to help … There’s no way I can find five! When what’s asked of us seems beyond our resources, we can be paralyzed by fear, but Jesus does not play into fears on the grass that day.

Rather than focusing on what they don’t have, Jesus asks what they do have. “Go find out! Count the loaves! See what resources are available!” The disciples discover they do have resources, meager as they seem. Five loaves and two fish is what they have, but at least they are something.

Jesus gets his hands on those seemingly meager resources and things start to happen! Jesus sits them down. Jesus takes, blesses, breaks. Jesus makes the meager resources holy. He makes them holy in the same way he blessed the bread and the cup. He makes them holy in the same way he took his life and made it holy.

But Jesus does not distribute the bread and the fish. At least three of the gospels agree on that fact. The disciples get involved in the holy act. They participate in turning meager resources into enough.

When the need has been met, they gather up what’s left. To even think that there would be some left is ridiculous! There’s no one that could think this would feed the crowd. But the disciples pass baskets to collect the leftovers. In what is the miracle ending, there are 12 baskets full of broken pieces, leftovers!

If I have heard one concern about the Creating Home campaign more than any other, it is, “How can we do this in these economic times?” Do you hear the fear? Why now? It will surely fail! People will not be able to contribute because of the economy. We won’t get enough money. The project is doomed. Is that a fear that’s gotten a hold of you? It is a fear grounded in the headlines of the day. If the only thing you knew about the economy is from the headlines, if the only data you have to assess the situation if from your quarterly investment statement, if the only experience you have about the economic times is the stories of people around you loosing their jobs, then your fear seems grounded in reality. Perhaps as grounded in reality as feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two fish.

Jeremiah Clary was a farmer in 1930’s Oklahoma. These were the days of black blizzards. These were the days of the dust bowl landscape. These were the kinds of days when you would plant your seed one week, and the next week it would be a part of the topsoil blowing from Oklahoma to Missouri. Jeremiah Clary had done it for 5 years already. He took a month’s worth of salary and bought his seed. Then he planted it in the sure hope that it would germinate and make a crop. But for 5 years during this time of drought, there was no crop and, therefore, no income. It was getting to the point where Jeremiah didn’t know if he could afford to plant the seed any longer. Now that’s irrational thinking for a farmer. The only way to make a crop is to plant the seed. If you didn’t plant the seeds, there was not going to be a crop for certain. But in Jeremiah’s day, the fear of loosing the seeds to the winds, the fear of the sun scorching out his plants as they thirsted for even a drop of rain, the risk of actually putting the seeds in the ground was seeming more irrational than not planting. He was afraid.

Jeremiah Clary stood in his barn. He stared at his seed and he weighed the cost of actually planting again. He would have to make a quick decision. The window of opportunity to plant the seed and have it germinate was closing fast. If he planted, there was the possibility of even a meager crop, and even a meager crop might help him buy next year’s seed. But if he did plant, he might loose everything. The irony was overwhelming. Now Jeremiah Clary wasn’t a greedy man. But under the mounting weight of uncertainty, he was slowly becoming irrational.
(*Story of Jeremiah Clary found in Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley.)

Perhaps that’s the same uncertainty under which we feel weighted down this morning. What if I loose my job? What if I can’t pay my bills? What if my investments shrivel up to nothing? What if I can’t contribute to my kid’s college fund? What if I can’t pay my mortgage?

We are not alone in our fear. Many Christians are as afraid as we are. It isn’t a question of fear or faith. There are certainly things that are worth fearing a bit. It’s a question of how much fear and how much faith.

In our history as a community of faith, we have been here before! When the bills for building the Tabernacle needed to be paid, there was a lot of fear. We had no way to pay the bills we owed. The church had a bad credit reputation in town. The situation looked bleak. That’s when the women’s society took out a loan and paid the bills on the spot. Then those same women worked to pay back that loan through bake sales and the like. While there was a lot of fear, our faith in God was stronger than our fear.

When our congregation outgrew the East Center Street Church, there was a lot of fear. We needed a new building, but no one believed it to be possible, at least at first. Rev. Hilton said of us, that we built the parsonage first to prove to ourselves that we could build the church together. And both were built. There was a lot of fear, similar to the fear I hear in us today. But in the late 1940’s, our faith was stronger than our fear.

Each time in the past, when Homestead has been weighted down by uncertainty and fear, we have done in faith what the disciples did that day on the grass. We have taken our resources that seemed to us meager and we have placed them in the hands of Jesus. Look out when Jesus gets his hands on these resources! In his hands, he has taken them, blessed them, broke them. And then asked us to distribute them. Jesus has made holy what we brought to the table. When we have trusted in God’s economy and not our own economy, when we have trusted God enough to sow the seeds we have, we have seen the blessing. We have been released from that fear, aAnd we have known God’s provision for God’s church. In God’s hands, what seems meager is made holy.

Are you inclined to memorize scripture? Even if you are not, I hope you’ll take the challenge today to memorize the text from Ephesians.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Nearly by accident, I stumbled onto our text from Ephesians that has become my favorite scripture passage. I was a teenager and I needed to know the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ. When I read this text, I began immediately to memorize it, though not intentionally. It had a word for my soul I needed in that day. Now my Bible was a different version than what was read this morning – I had the New International Version of the Bible. So when I memorized the words, I memorized: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine… Beautiful words, aren’t they? I would encourage you to put those to memory, plant them in your heart.

There are many answers to our fears that can make our faith bigger than our fear. God’s promises to take care of us are all over scripture. We have a long history of stories of God’s care of God’s people in the scriptures. We have the history of our own lives and God’s care of us personally.

The promise that overcomes my fears about Creating Home is that God can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine… We have this dream God has planted in the heart of Homestead. We have this dream of reaching more young families with this wonderful family of faith. We imagine that there are young adults and families with children who hunger for the connection we have with one another. We imagine that in the family connection they will find here, they will discover the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ. We dream of a new building with a new location with a new layout to draw those folks in. We dream of that building on the edge of Rochester to extend our reach with the love of Christ. We imagine that God will do amazing things through us.

All of that is in our imagination and in our dreaming and in our asking. The scripture promises that God can do “immeasurably more” than that. We have seen it in our past. We know it in our hearts. So that even as the weight of uncertainty creates fear within us, our faith reminds us that God can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.

May you and your family, and us as a church family, start Creating Home from a deep sense of the promise that God can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine! So be it!

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Radical Renovation: Choose Your Own Ending

April 12, 2009
Easter Sunday
Radical Renovation: Choose Your Own Ending
Mark 16:1-8
*I am indebted in my Lenten preaching preparations to the book Radical Renovation: Living the Cross-Shaped Life by James A. Harnish.

In my late elementary years, I discovered “choose your own ending” books. You begin reading to set the stage of the story. You are even a character in the story. You read along, and at some point you have to make a decision. Do you take the door to the left or continue down the hallway? Do you follow the advice of a nice person you just met or just ignore their call and go on your way? So you “choose your own ending”, making your first choice, guessing where it will take you next. “Turn to page 13” it says by your selection. You flip the pages quickly at first and you breathe a sigh of relief when you find paragraphs on page 13. The story continues. That’s the joy and thrill of a “choose your own ending” book, that you make choices and find new adventures, new pathways. The story just keeps going and going. That is until finally you make a choice that directs you to, say, page 46. As you turn to page 46 and peak, there you see it. A few brief sentences and then the words you didn’t want to read, taunting you with their bold lettering. “The end.” Sometimes I went back and chose again, because I wanted the story to continue.

Mark’s Gospel seems to be a “choose your own ending” gospel. Most scholars agree Mark’s gospel originally ends where we did this morning. So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8) That is not the powerful Easter ending we are used to, is it? Mark has the people confused and fumbling. They don’t even know what to do next. They are all locked up in fear. The ending they have chosen seems unfinished, like a renovation project that was never completed, like one of those home-repair projects that never seems to be done. It is a ragged ending at best. A nonending, really. There is nothing of what happened next. The women do not answer the call to share the good news. There is nothing of the meaning and purpose of the empty tomb or the raised one. Just this ragged, nonending of a gospel.

Perhaps that’s why for centuries people have been trying to “choose their own ending” for Mark’s gospel. There is an attached shorter ending that is a wordy theological benediction of sorts. And there is an attached longer ending that is a recording signs and sightings of Jesus, greatly influenced by stories of the other gospels. Both of these endings try to complete the project. They both attempt to neatly wrap up the work of Jesus, to give it some meaning and purpose beyond the missing body, to have someone go and tell the good news, to find some closure to the story.

But Mark’s Easter story is a dangling nonending story, and in that, it speaks to some of the inconclusive renovation projects in my own life. Perhaps you are like me at some level. You start some important work and no matter how hard you try to tie up the loose ends, to make all the pieces fit together neatly, to bring closure, you keep ending up with a lot of loose ends in your life: broken relationships that don’t ever find healing; fears that continue to influence our lives; problems that remain unsolved; doubts that defy simple answers; temptations that return with disturbing regularity; visions that I may not see accomplished; dreams that I may not see fulfilled. No matter how hard we try, there seems to be these unfinished renovation projects in our personal lives.

The women came to the tomb that day with an unfinished project. They were prepared for death. They brought spices to anoint the body for burial. They believed the insurmountable barrier of the rock would block them from their project. There was only death and brokenness. There was only fear and frustration and terror.

But that first Easter morning, they discovered something different than what they had prepared for. They discovered that the barrier between life and death had removed. They discovered an empty tomb. They discovered that Jesus had gone before them. They discovered that Jesus was leading the way. They discovered that they were at a “choose your own ending” point in their lives. They discovered that a different project awaited them.

The good news of Mark’s Easter story, in its original ending is not that we are given conclusive evidence of the resurrection. The good news is not that there is a closing argument that nails down the verdict of what happened to Jesus. The good news is not even that the women do the right thing, because they do not go and tell like they were instructed to do. The good news is that we are given hope.

The gospel writer speaks of a “young man” dressed in white. He sits at the edge of the tomb as if he’s been placed there to direct the people who will most surely come to the grave. When they do, he speaks a word of hope to them. That is all he has to offer, hope, but that is something powerful! He says to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. … But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ (Mark 16:6-7) The hope isn’t inside the tomb. Hope isn’t in the place of death. It is not in the place of broken dreams & shattered expectations. Hope is out ahead of the disciples. It is before them. It is on the journey yet ahead of them. Jesus has gone before them and they must choose the ending. They choose whether or not to leave the place of death and brokenness to journey to the place of hope. They choose whether or not to follow the risen Christ to hope.

The late William Sloane Coffin, former pastor of Riverside Church in New York, one Easter morning told his congregation that there was nothing sentimental about Easter. He said… Easter represents a demand as well as a promise, a demand not that we sympathize with the crucified Christ, but that we pledge our loyalty to the risen one. (Living the Truth in a World of Illusions, pages 70-71).

Resurrection demands our participation, like a “choose your own ending” book calls us to participate in the unfolding story, like early Christians tried to write Mark’s gospel with their stories. We participate in writing the ongoing story of the resurrection with our very lives.

Giacomo Puccini was a great Italian composer who gained international acclaim with La Boheme and Madama Butterfly. He began his final opera Turnadot in 1920. Before he was able to complete it, he was hospitalized with throat cancer and died. Franco Alfano, another composer, took on the task of completing the opera. The first performance was in Milan 17 months after Puccini’s death. Arturo Toscanini, a great conductor of the time, held the baton for the performance. The opera was performed beautifully. When they reached the point where Puccini’s work had ended, Toscanini abruptly stopped the performance. He laid down his baton, turned to the audience and said, in Italian, “Here the opera ends, because at this point, the maestro died.” He turned and walked away from the podium. The curtain came down and the stunned audience went home with the incomplete opera haunting them. The next day the orchestra and performers returned to the stage and completed the opera with Alfano’s ending, and since 1926, it has always been performed this way. (From Radical Renovation: Living the Cross Shaped Life by James A. Harnish, page 57-58)

Resurrection begs us to pick up the baton and finish the performance. We do that by bearing the good news for our time, by being a construction worker on Jesus’ crew in the ongoing renovation of our broken and hurting world. We do that by loving as Jesus loved, attending to the healing needed in our world, walking alongside of the lonely, comforting the grieving, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Resurrection calls us to participate by renovating our world into a home fit for the Risen Christ to take up residence: a world where love is more prevalent than fear; a world where children are safe; a world where the outcasts are welcomed; a world where the left out are included; a world where there is no them but only us!

Resurrection demands us to finish the story with our story!

Mark’s dangling nonending of the Gospel offers an invitation to us to complete the resurrection story with our story. It begs us to allow our lives to become living witnesses to the presence of the Risen Christ, and to carry the Easter word of HOPE to the broken and hurting corners of our lives and our world. Mark’s nonending begs us to participate it the radical renovation God is doing, to construct with Jesus a kingdom here and now that is the kingdom of God.

Mark’s gospel may be a ragged nonending, but it begs for us to “choose our own ending”. May our lives complete the Easter story!

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Radical Renovation: It's Nothing if It Costs Nothing

April 5, 2009
Palm / Passion Sunday
Radical Renovation: It's Nothing if It Costs Nothing
Mark 14:1-9
*I am indebted in my Lenten preaching preparations to the book Radical Renovation: Living the Cross-Shaped Life by James A. Harnish.

Perhaps you came today hoping to hear the whole passion story. That will come to you as our worship week unfolds, and it is important to hear the whole story. But today we stop at the first scene of Mark’s passion story. We stop here because I think Mark wants us to stop here, to pause for a moment to be prepared for something.

Simon, the man healed of leprosy, is hosting a gathering at his home. He’s invited Jesus and some friends. Perhaps he wants to tell others about how Jesus healed him. Perhaps he just wants to create some space away for Jesus. Whatever the case, he has hosted a dinner in Bethany for Jesus

Into what is a restful scene of most likely men reclined at the table. A woman breaks in on the scene. We don’t know where she has come from. We don’t know who she is, at least how Mark tells it. And we don’t know why she’s there…at least at first. But very quickly we learn.

The woman comes to give an extravagant sacrifice to Jesus: “an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard.” Scholars think that would be about a year’s worth of salary. …I’ll wait while you do the math… A year’s worth of salary! This jar that would have been the woman’s security. It would have been her 401K and Roth IRA all in one little jar. It would have been very precious to her future. She takes it and breaks it open without a thought, it seems, and without missing a beat, she pours it over Jesus’ head.

What was she thinking? This woman’s gift to Jesus is extravagant. It is excessive and senseless. I am not even sure the woman knows the full meaning of her act. She just has an extravagant love for Jesus, perhaps because she has either witnessed or received such love from Jesus. Out of the depths her self, she pours this costly gift. It was likely a surprise to her to hear Jesus say that she was preparing his body for burial. She simply offers a sacrifice to Jesus and her sacrifice is extravagant.

Those gathered around the table are a little put out. Doesn’t that happen when someone wants to be generous? We think we could give away their money in ways that are more sensible. We think we could spend more prudently. So we can be a little put out by the extravagance of others. The people at the dinner are put out, too. Why was the ointment wasted in this way? They are confused and questioning. They think they could have made a better use of the woman’s gift. “Sell it,” they thought. “Sell it and give the money to the poor.” Now that sounds logical, and giving, and very Christ-like, don’t you think? Unlike John’s version of the story, there are no alternative motives. They just see what amount of money they could have gotten for that jar of ointment and they knew what kind of good work they could do for the poor with that amount of money. Think of what you could do with a year’s worth of your salary?

But what Jesus wants us to pay attention to is the extravagant sacrifice of the woman. The poor will always be with us. We will always have opportunities to serve the poor. We can do it anytime we wish. Whether we do it is the question. But notice the woman’s extravagant, sacrificial gift. That’s why Mark wants us to stop here.

Mark locates the story here on purpose. It’s two days before Passover. It is the last event Mark records before the events of the passion begin to unfold. Mark places it here to prepare us for what follows. It seems as though Mark is inviting us to ask the questions people asked around the table of the events yet to come: Why this irrational waste? Why this extravagant sacrifice? Why this squandering of the life of Jesus? The questions will haunt us as we walk through the events of Holy Week. Straight through to Good Friday we will be asking “Why this waste?” Many have tried to answer these questions of “why?” to find an answer, to explain the sacrifice of the cross, to calculate the mathematics of the atonement, to weave together some rational explanation for this irrational extravagance of God. Mark locates the story of the woman here to remind us that sometimes the search for a rational explanation is misguided. Mark is preparing us to experienced the gift of God’s sacrificial love on the cross, this extravagant, self-surrender that is beyond reason. The cross means that this God was willing to pay any price. The cross means that God was willing to go to any length. The cross means that God was willing to do anything necessary to accomplish the work of salvation. The cross means that God is willing to do anything to fulfill the radical renovation that God intends for us.

Not only is Mark preparing us to experience the gift of the cross, Mark is also preparing us to respond to the extravagant gift of the cross, to offer ourselves in extravagant surrender to the One who died for us. The only appropriate response to God’s gift on the cross is to offer ourselves the way the woman did, to give ourselves in unrestrained, extravagant obedience to Jesus Christ. Mark invites us to go beyond rational calculation, to give without counting the costs, to surrender without planning out all the details, to respond to the extravagant grace of God at the cross.

I know a man who lived that self-sacrificing response to the cross.

Scott came to Mississippi with his church. They were there to help victims of hurricane Katrina recover, and they worked hard. Perhaps they didn’t calculate so carefully what it would cost. I don’t think Scott knew what it would cost. He shared his time, his big heart, and his construction skills. But something happened to him that week. He came to understand God’s great gift for him on the cross. He came to understand that his own sacrifice for God is nothing if it costs nothing. Within two weeks after returning home, Scott was back in Mississippi. He had not calculated what it would mean for him to come back. He just packed up and returned. He didn’t wonder about any retirement plan. He didn’t question what salary he might get. He just extravagantly offered himself in service. He responded to the extravagant grace of God on the cross.

As you come to this Holy Week, as you sit at the table and share in Christ’s meal, as you stand before the awe of the cross, as you wait in vigil in the darkness and emptiness of the tomb, may you find a way to respond in extravagant, unrestrained obedience. May you leave room for God’s extravagant gift to radically renovate your life.

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Radical Renovation: The Radical Center

March 22, 2009
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Radical Renovation: The Radical Center
1 John 4:7-21 ; Mark 12:28-34
*I am indebted in my Lenten preaching preparations to the book Radical Renovation: Living the Cross-Shaped Life by James A. Harnish.

What do you think of when you hear love? What do you see in your mind’s eye? A couple sitting across a candlelit table. The look of a mother with a newborn baby in her arms. That tingly feeling you get when you see her. The “I can’t think about anything else” syndrome. The way our culture talks about love it is feelings between people or emotions of great intensity.

But is love more than that? Is true love more than an emotion or a feeling?

We’ve been talking about an internal radical renovation God wants to accomplish in us. We’ve been talking about turning toward the ways of God, serving as the greatest act a disciple can do, and surrendering all that we are to God.

At the center of the renovation is LOVE. Love is both the source of the renovation and love is evidence of the renovation.

The source of our renovation is love. Love born of God. God first loved us. God’s love isn’t about feeling, but about actions. Think back to the Hebrew stories of God. The rainbow after the flood is an act of love from God. Saving the people from slavery in Egypt is an act of love from God. Manna and quail in the middle of the wilderness is an act of love from God. Bringing the people home after exile is an act of love from God.

God doesn’t just speak a word of love, though God certainly does that. God acts out God’s love for God’s people. The greatest act of love is the cross, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our ability to love is rooted in God’s act of love by the way God defined it with Jesus on the cross. We would not know what love truly is without God’s act of love in Jesus. Our ability to love has its source in God. Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. The source of our renovation is love.

The evidence of our radical renovation is love. A scribe asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. The two that Jesus quote are not new to him. They are a part of the long history of the Hebrew people. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. What is unique is the way Jesus bound them together. The first commandment is to love God. In Matthew’s telling of this story (Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus says, “And the second is like it” – to love others. In Mark’s telling, these are the two most important commandments. In Matthew’s telling Jesus says that “all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus is really summing up the faith life here. The greatest commandment is to act on our love for God by acting out our love for others.

When we act on our love for God by acting out our love for others, there is evidence that we let God into the house of our souls, there is evidence that we are content to let God do more than a little fix up work, there is the evidence that God is working that radical renovation in us.

George was a young man who enlisted in the military during WWII. He was injured twice shortly after arriving in Europe, then he was taken prisoner in Germany. As was the case in those days, he was forced to march from one POW camp to another. His daily rations was a small piece of bread and a water soup. Without much nutrition, and the physical exertion of the marches, he lost nearly 60 pounds in those days. One day on their march, a German woman approached George. Without a word, she thrust a warm loaf of bread into George’s hand, and walked away. There is evidence that the radical renovation was happening in that German woman’s life. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Evidence of God’s radical renovation in our lives is… demonstrated in our ability to love and measured by God’s act of love in Jesus Christ.

Love shaped by the cross is love in action. Love is not a look, a feeling, an emotion… Love is an action. Love is pouring fresh water for the one sitting across the candlelit table. Love is walking that crying baby back and forth in the wee hours of the morning while teeth are coming in.

Here’s the really good news about love. Every act of love undermines the power of evil, violence, hatred and sin. That is the work Christ came to do. Perhaps that is why these two commandments rise to the surface as most important, because when we love God in our actions of love toward others, the work of Christ is happening.

In the movie Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen has been building a relationship with a man on death row and building a relationship with his victim’s family. The relationship with the condemned man is a difficult one, especially as she takes in the heinousness of his crime, and as she begins to know the victim’s family. Still, at one point in the movie, Sister Helen says to the man condemned to death: I want the last face you see in this world to be the face of love, so you look at me when they do this thing. I’ll be your face of love.” The power of acted out love has the capacity to undermine evil, violence, hatred and sin

When Jesus hung on the cross he offered forgiveness for a criminal. He asked God’s forgiveness for those who were part of the machine of death that would take his life. He demonstrated on both this and the other side of life the power of a love acted out. Jesus’ act of love on the cross undermined evil, violence, hatred and sin for all times.

Look at his face, and you see the face of love. Thanks be to God!

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor

Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Radical Renovation: Nothing Short of Everything

March 15, 2009
Third Sunday in Lent
Radical Renovation: Nothing Short of Everything
Mark 10:17-27
*I am indebted in my Lenten preaching preparations to the book Radical Renovation: Living the Cross-Shaped Life by James A. Harnish.

We’ve been talking about the radical renovation God wants to do in us: the total change in us, the turning our faces toward the ways of God, and learning the peculiar way of greatness that Jesus teaches, serving. The radical renovation that Jesus asks for from the “rich young ruler” helps us see another part of that radical renovation. It helps us see a new aspect of what God wants to do in us.

Now the man we meet in the important story is known as the “rich young ruler,” though you’ll not find that designation in any one gospel. Mark refers to him as a “man,” while Luke says he’s a “certain ruler” and Matthew indicates that he’s young. But they all say he is “rich.” The man has the big 3: position, power and possessions. By the world’s standards, he has everything going for him.

We also know that he is a faithful person. He has kept all the laws – perfectly – from his youth. Everyone knew he was a good man. He certainly was better than the crowd Jesus gathered around him, full of “tax collectors and sinners.” And if he were to be among us today, he certainly shows us up, too, in his following of the law.

But this rich young ruler longed for more. Not more stuff, or things or wealth. Not more power or position. He wanted something more spiritually. He wanted real life in God. He wanted the life he witnessed in Jesus, that deep relationship with God. He was searching for a radical renovation and so his question to Jesus was, “What must I do to get eternal life?” After playing to the rich young ruler’s strength – following the law – a beautiful thing happens between Jesus and the man.

Jesus looked at him, perhaps in the same way a cardiologist looks into a person’s heart in search of what is stopping the flow of blood. Jesus looked into this guy’s soul. Jesus wanted to see what was blocking the flow of God’s life into his own life, and so Jesus looked at him and Jesus loved him. In that searching and love, Jesus found the blockage.

What was the diagnosis? The rich young ruler had one thing that caused the block. It was his wealth. Now, it was not that he possessed so many things, but that his many things possessed him. He was a slave to his big 3: position, power and possessions. Salvation is being set free from whatever has us bound. It happened for this man that his things bound him.

The diagnosis was tough to take. It was the last thing he wanted to hear. Jesus asked of him the one thing he could not surrender, would not surrender. He held tightly to his big 3, and there was no way he was going to give them up.

This story is certainly about money. Recently we talked about how much Jesus taught about money, and this is one of those instances. But this story is not only about money. It’s about whatever binds us. It’s about the block in our hearts that keep us from a full relationship with God. It’s what we are holding back. It’s the one thing we are not willing to give up for God. For many of us, it’s our wealth that gets in our way of the radical renovation that God wants to accomplish in us.

But the block in our hearts can be so many things. It might be pride, power, prestige or position. It might be addictions that are taking your life. It might be a victim mentality that comes from a memory of past hurts and emotional abuse. It might be an over commitment to our careers. It might be racial, cultural or political prejudice. It might be the way you use your time, energy and resources. It might be the places you go. It might be the sites you visit on the internet.

I don’t know what the one thing is for you. I do know that Jesus is looking deep into your heart. I do know that Jesus loves you. And I do know that the blockage needs to be removed. I do know that the radical renovation to live the cross-shaped life is dependent on your willingness to surrender that one thing.

You see, the rich young ruler lacked an ability to surrender fully to God. He held back a part of his life – his wealth. In his unwillingness to surrender every aspect of his life to God. He blocked the flow of the very thing for which he longed: the rich life of God.

God calls us to surrender nothing short of everything. There’s a saying in sports: “Leave it all on the field.” I hear Mike say that all the time. It’s about giving every ounce of yourself to the game. It’s about coming to the end of the game and being able to say that you had nothing more to give. That you left all your energy, talents and abilities on the field. That you surrendered your whole self to the game.

Jesus called the rich young ruler to leave it all on the field: to surrender nothing short of everything, to surrender all that he was to the transforming power of God, to surrender not only how he lived his life with respect to the rules of the faith, but also to surrender all that he had. God did not ask him to give them up, but to surrender them to God, to surrender his big 3: position, power, and possessions to the work of God.

It’s the same big 3 Oscar Schindler had developed for himself. He wasn’t much before the war, but as the war progressed, he saw his opportunity. He profited from slave labor available during WWII. He bribed his way to the top of the heap. He developed position, power, and possessions at the expense of others, until he had a nice little munitions factory full of the cheapest labor he could have in that day – Polish Jews. His position, power and possessions blocked the radical renovation that was necessary in his life.

The rich young ruler never surrenders. His story ends tragically. The scripture says “he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let go.”

The good news is that Schindler does begin to surrender. He begins to understand what was blocking his heart. He begins to care about saving the Polish Jews rather than take advantage of them. Just before the war ends, he uses everything he has to buy the lives of as many of his factory workers as he can. He surrenders everything for that work. His accountant, Itzhak Stern, lets him know, he has nothing left to use to buy more workers.

It’s the day before the end of the war. The Jews he worked so hard to save will be free tomorrow, but he will be a war criminal. So in the middle of the night, he and his wife prepare to flee. That’s where we pick up the story in this video clip from Schindler's List.

Oscar Schindler learned what it meant to surrender. Are you ready for the same?

If we want the radical renovation that God offers to us, then we must be willing to let Jesus look into our hearts, to see and diagnosis the blockage, to love us, and to remove the block from our hearts, so that the life of God can flow in and through us.

Let us pray: Give us courage, Gracious God, to hold nothing back, but to surrender it all to you, to surrender nothing short of everything, that we may discover the life that is really life! Amen.

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN