Moments of Joy

Pastor's Corner - RomansBack in July, members of Orfordville Lutheran got together for a family fun event to play bocce ball, swim in the pool, laugh together, and, of course, to eat food. It was one of my favorite moments of the summer. Summer can be a time for friends, families, and communities to have fun and laugh together. I wonder, where have you seen God in your moments joy and laughter?

Sometimes we miss the spiritual side of our joy, because we have been taught that religion is serious business for serious people. Just think, for example, of the portrayal of Christians in popular culture. They are rarely portrayed as joyful. I think of the ironically named Reverend Lovejoy from the TV show The Simpsons. Despite his name, he is not often portrayed as joyful, laughing, or even smiling.

In the Bible, however, joy is often described as a part of our relationship with God. Joy, for instance, is listed among of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. In Psalm 65, even the pastures, hills, meadows, and valleys of creation are described as shouting and singing for joy. (Picture that the next time you’re driving through hilly country!) In the Gospel of Luke, Mary moves from fear to joy when the angel Gabriel announces that she will give birth to Jesus (Luke 1:47). St. Paul, as a final example, calls on Christians to share in the joys and sorrows of others, saying: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). In 1 Thessalonians, 5:16, he goes even further: “Rejoice always.”

Laughter is also an underrated part of Christian spirituality, in my experience. Sometimes there even seems to be a fear of laughing in worship and other religious spaces.

One of the best stories of laughter in the Bible is the birth of Isaac in Genesis. When Sarah hears she will give birth to a child in her old age, she can’t help but laugh. When the child is born, Sarah says, “God has brought laughter for me, everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6 NRSV). The child himself is named Isaac, which means “he will laugh.”

After Christ’s resurrection, I believe we all get to share in Sarah’s kind of laughter. It’s the laughter of those surprised by God’s grace and goodness. The Reformer Martin Luther joined in this deep humor when he told his students to laugh and scorn the devil away. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul even begins to mock and laugh at death, saying: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Sometimes when God pulls new life out of death, like some kind of cosmic magician, all we can do is laugh like Sarah did. If we can’t crack a smile after saying, “Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!,” I don’t know what we can smile about.

I’m not saying that we should pretend to be happy all the time. Certainly, there are times of grief and times that call for seriousness. God is with us in times of joy, sadness, fear, anger, confusion, or wherever you find yourself this day.

But I am saying that moments of joy, fun, and laughter can be holy moments. People who laugh and rejoice together will be ready to weep together when the time comes. People who are humble enough to laugh at their mistakes are often willing to extend grace and forgiveness to others as well. It means that I can look back at that afternoon eating food, playing bocce ball, and enjoying the sunshine not just as a “good time” but also as a holy time, a time of God’s palpable presence. May God be with you in your moments of joy.

Note: This post originally appeared in the Brodhead Free Press and the Independent Register as part of their weekly “Pastor’s Corner” column.

Words of Blessing

The Lord BlessWhen did you last receive a word of blessing? When did you last give one? As a new pastor, I am often asked to offer words of blessing over food or an event or a person. A few weekends ago, for example, I said a prayer of blessing for a couple at their wedding. I asked for God to bless them and their new life together. More frequently, at the end of every Sunday worship service, I say the ancient words from Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine on you with grace and mercy. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” It’s a privilege to proclaim God’s blessing.

Our lives are often filled with cursing words, and I’m talking about something more than words spelled with four letters. There are words of gossip, prejudice, fear, violence, and hatred. There are the calculated words of political campaigns and advertisements. There are targeted words meant to tear down a person’s reputation or self-worth. There are words meant to conceal the truth. As human beings, we can curse one another in more ways than one.

I wonder if our families and communities could use more words of blessing, if God’s blessing can overcome the ways we curse each other and this world. That seems to be our calling from Scripture. As St. Paul says in Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” And later, in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (NRSV). How might we make the time to bless our families, neighbors, and even our enemies?

Reverend Rich Melheim, who founded an organization for churches and families called Faith Inkubators, recommends that parents and children take a moment to bless each other each night before bed. It could be as simple as, “I love you. God loves you. God bless and keep you.” There are several instances of parents blessing children in the Bible (e.g., Isaac blesses Jacob in Genesis 27), but those aren’t the only examples. Jonathan blesses David before they part (1 Samuel 20:13). Boaz, in the book of Ruth, calls to the workers in the field “The Lord be with you,” and they call back “The Lord bless you” (Ruth 2:3-5). We can pray for God’s blessing when we rise for the morning or lay down for the night, when we say goodbye to a cherished friend, when we greet a stranger on the sidewalk. All are moments we can proclaim God’s blessing.

In some ways, the language of blessing is already present in our everyday language. We say “God bless you” when someone sneezes, for instance. Or sometimes we will talk about our money or possessions as blessings. Or maybe you’ve seen a post on Facebook that says “Share and God will bless you.”

In other ways, these cultural understandings of blessing don’t seem to capture the depth, richness, and unmerited nature of God’s blessing. In the United States, there’s a tendency to think of blessing in individualistic and material ways. But the blessing of the God we meet in Jesus has a different logic to it. Christ emptied himself of blessing for our sakes, taking even our curses upon himself. Likewise, whenever God blesses us, our blessings are not our private possession but are meant to be a blessing for others. As God said to Abraham, “I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Every blessing we receive is both a gift and a call, a privilege and a responsibility to use our blessing for the good of our neighbors. May God bless you.

Note: This post originally appeared in the Brodhead Free Press and the Independent Register as part of their weekly “Pastor’s Corner” column.

Spoke Folk to Perform in Orfordville!

Potluck @ 6-00 pmShow @ 7-00 pm

Spoke Folk, a 12-day Christian biking music ministry tour group, will perform a concert at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at Purdy Park, 100 W. Church Street, Orfordville, Wisconsin, as a part of a seven concert tour in Wisconsin. The group of teens and adults will present an interactive, contemporary music program for all ages that includes music, puppets and drama. The evening of music and fellowship is open to the public. Admission is free; a free will offering with be taken.

Spoke Folk is a mission trip that trains high school and college students to be missionaries in their daily lives. The members of this Spoke Folk team represent many states around the country. During their 12-day tour, they will bike from their training site to seven host churches in different communities. After biking approximately 40 miles to their next host church, they share their musical program each evening.

For more information, visit spokefolk.org or contact Orfordville Lutheran Church at 608-879-2575 or via email at pastor@orfordvillelutheran.org.

Download a Spoke Folk Flyer to share with your friends!

Building Community Across Generations

Relationships across different generations are important in the church and in our communities. Increasingly, however, it seems like there are fewer opportunities for people of different ages to spend time together. Our communities can become segregated by age when our kids are in school and our elderly are in retirement communities or health care facilities. We may even develop harmful stereotypes about different age groups like teenagers or older adults. We know though that these relationships are meaningful, and I wonder how we can foster connections between people.

In my own life, when I was a young child, I had an adopted grandma at church named Clara. She was a widow in her 70s, but she took the time to get to know me. Clara remembered important things about me like my birthday and would listen to my stories. I would often walk over to Clara’s when I got bored at home or when I thought I needed a cookie.

When my family moved to a different town, Clara let me plant a tree in her backyard. Each time I came back to visit, she would take a picture of me next to the tree to show how much I had grown. The year before her death, Clara came to my wedding at the age of 98. She told me that day that she had been praying for me and was so happy that I had decided to go to seminary. Perhaps you have your own story of intergenerational friendship.

Intergenerational relationships can benefit everyone – children, youth, adults, elders, and whole communities. For example, the Intergenerational Center at Temple University reports that children and youth who were involved in intergenerational settings had improved self-esteem, improved involvement and behavior at school, and a greater understanding of their own history and context. Older adults reported enhanced life satisfaction, decreased isolation, and new skills from their interactions with young people. When generations learn from one another, families are supported and communities can grow stronger and more collaborative.

Churches seem to have a special opportunity to help foster intergenerational relationships in our communities. On a Sunday, you might see a 5 year-old and a 90 year-old sitting in the same pew. In my story, Clara was my friend from church, and she nurtured me in the faith. Every age of life has its own challenges, but every age also has its gifts. God calls us into relationships with people of all ages so that we might support and learn from one another. As Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I believe God calls us to be in community with people of all ages and to love them. We need each other through all of life’s seasons.

Note: This post originally appeared in the Brodhead Free Press and the Independent Register as part of their weekly “Pastor’s Corner” column.