We are Family Together & Distanced

Due to technical difficulties Sunday’s live stream worship was missing its audio. Below is a copy of the sermon for your reading enjoyment.

Thanks for your understanding,

Pastor Roger

My grandparents and uncle on my Mom’s side lived on a small farm. My uncle still has the farm, renting out the acreage. My grandparents have passed. I remember as a child—pre-cell phone, party-phone lines, rural Minnesota—living only 15 miles from their farm, we often just stopped by. They had livestock, cows, a garden, and crops—so they were home the vast majority of the time. Nonetheless, sometimes we’d drive up the driveway and you could sense they were not home. There was no cell-phone to call. They didn’t leave notes that said, “Back at 4 PM; if you’re a burglar check your watch and skedaddle at quarter ‘til.” Butch, their German Shepherd was home and thankfully he knew us. However, Butch was also very tight-lipped about where they’d gone and when they were planning on returning.

As a child I remember it felt disappointing and disconcerting when we didn’t find them home. I suspect, had we driven by and not stopped, I would have imagined them at home and it would have somehow felt more comforting. As a child, at least in my case, many things in life felt predictable and permanent. As a child, sometimes there’s even the sense the people you care about will always be there. In times past, “there” often meant present for you and in the
same place.

Times change! Children age! And life, life always reveals change is what is permanent.
People we care for move, or we move. People we love pass from this world to the next, or we
do. Sometimes relationships fracture for a bit or a very long time. The older we become the
more we experience the distances that repeatedly become part of our lives. As a United
Methodist Pastor each time I move to a new place, though it is not often, I start with a sense of
anticipation and a sense that there will someday be an end. (No this is not a last Sunday sermon
today. It is just a time to say, honestly, I don’t like endings. That said, knowing there will be
an end is a vivid reminder to make the most of each day with the people we share life with. It is
also a reminder when Pastor Taylor does arrive at Grace to move quickly to embrace his
leadership and make the most of each day with him.

Today’s Scripture picks up with the story of Christ post-crucifixion and post-burial. Today’s
reading from Acts 1:1-11 is an account of Christ presence and teaching post-resurrection. The
risen Christ had been making appearances that healed the wounded faith of his followers for a
few weeks. They are feeling close to him. Even so, today we read of one more letting go. Just
as they are getting used to his repeated, comforting appearance he tells them, “this time I am
going away for a very long time. It is not your place or mine to know when I shall return. A
Holy Spirit shall carry you through this time.”

As an empty-nest Dad and a Grandpa I’ve come to have a larger understanding of the Holy
Spirit. Somehow, even though my kids are now adults and out on their own, even though the
grandkids are in their respective homes—somehow a little piece of all of them all have a room
somewhere within me. Somehow there is this presence, this tether, that binds us even when we
are apart. In here, because of the Holy Spirit, wherever they are, I find they are always at-home
within my heart and soul. Yes, life changes; yet there is this permanent connection. Through
the Holy Spirit, whether we are near or far, God’s love does not end, and God’s love holds us
all together.

I’m not sure it can be explained so much as felt—and noticed at times. I know I have had
too many good-byes in my life. I also know, deep within, that there will be times of
reconnecting if not on earth in the next place. What that reconnecting will be, only God knows.
Yet, I have been glimpsing it a bit this last year. I’ve friends from different times in life that I
connect with through worship who are in Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Washington, and
occasionally Germany. I have had the chance to worship, in a way, with my parents most every
week even while 200 miles apart.

After June 13th I will ask all of you who are at Grace to make emotional space for Pastor
Taylor and refrain from worshiping online with me for a time. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll be
out of my thoughts or memories. It doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally find myself whispering a
private prayer for you. It does mean you’ll have a new pastor—a new leader to connect with, to
be blessed by, to share holy moments with. I will send out a letter with “online guidelines to
follow for healthy pastoral transitions.” The online world and those parts of transition we didn’t
really have a year ago. So, there are some guides I’ll share later to help us with that.

For now the point is that the online worship world whispers to me of how the Spirit works to
keep us connected to Christ, and all those we love who have reached heaven’s shore. Gone
from our sight, we can still see them. Gone from our side, at times we can still hear their voice.
Distant from their touch, sometimes the Spirit to feel connected by God’s embrace that spans
the distance from earth to heaven.

The Spirit is how we survive when a loved one goes overseas in the service for a time. The
Spirit is the strength that holds us up through worries when a dear one wanders away to follow a
path that breaks our hearts. That Spirit is what sits with us when a dear one is physically near,
but not-at-home suffering with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a coma. The Spirit is what connects
us near or far.

Yes, Jesus has risen and his return may be far off. And, yes, we are not left alone. Yes,
Covid-19 kept us apart so long, but we were never completely alone. Together or apart God has held us all in an deep embrace. And the Spirit has moved givers to make sure this congregation weathered the pandemic without going under. The Spirit has moved card-makers, and note writers, and phone-callers, and midnight-prayers to envision each other’s faces and seek to tend one another’s spiritual needs. No it’s not the same as sitting side by side in a pew or after making donuts or in the Sunday School classroom. But, it is something, something so powerful that we’ve people like Bonnie Wagner who gets to worship with Grace each week even though she now lives in Fergus Falls.

Today we heard the risen Christ tell his followers, receive the Holy Spirit. Pray for it. Then
share it with the world. Remind others a loving God is still near—every single day, in every
single kindness done from afar or shared face-to-face. A wonderful hymn ends with the words,
“I will hold your people in my heart.” Every day, we are held in God’s heart of care. Every
day ask Spirit to give you faith, hope and love to hold God’s people in your heart—near and far.

Amen

April 13 Devotion

Greetings,

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In God’s Peace and Christ’s New Life,

 

Pastor Roger