“This hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:5) Paul concludes a couple thoughts on suffering and struggle with the reminder that God can pour hope and love into our hearts even in the midst of struggles. What are the things that restore your soul? How does God whisper gratitude into your life, even when things aren’t going so well?
The returning green and flowers after a long winter always seem to speak to me of how the harder, harsher seasons of life don’t last forever. Show me a glorious flower and I glimpse the resilience of the human spirit and the persistent presence of a life-giving God. Today, take a moment to look and listen to the world around you. Find something that pours a bit of hope and love into your heart. It may be the face of a kind friend; it may be watching one person share a good deed with another; it may be the song of a bird–even a common-place Robin has a wonderful song; it may be the feel of a warm breeze upon your bare arms. Pausing to let God pour a bit of love and hope into our lives is time well spent. Even better, tell another about something that filled your spirit.
As we near Sunday, whether you’ll be in church or away this weekend, I invite you to read the Scripture for the Sunday morning–Romans 5:1-5. It never fails to uplift me and I expect it will give a boost to your day as well.
Memorial Day weekend three Facebook friends posted pictures of “the first campfire” by the lake. Another posted a photo of the first colorful blossoms of the garden. My wife posted a picture of a full-grown bear we saw in Clay County. Many, myself included, posted words of thanks for the fallen who’d served to protect our country. It was a litany of the things that inspire us–that keep flame of gratitude burning in our hearts. This Sunday is Pentecost: one of the big three in church special days, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. We often don’t know what to do with Pentecost. We wear red if we remember. Sometimes we may have a birthday cake for the church. I’ve hung kites from the ceiling of sanctuaries. I’ve had fans blowing on wind-chimes. Yet, the wind blows where it will and moments of inspiration can’t be forced. Like an unexpected bear crossing a wide open field, or that feeling that suddenly touches the heart watching the first campfire of the season, the Spirit speaks when the Spirit speaks. When it speaks, we remember God is near; we remember we have a purpose.
Acts 2:1-21 tells of one of those moments when the Spirit moves, people are inspired and the church finds its purpose. I invite you to read it each day before Pentecost. I also invite you to reflect on these words from Marianne Williamson that speak to me of Pentecost. “We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.” (Marianne Williamson) Together we have a purpose to share our moments of inspiration, to share the moments God has blessed us, to invite others into the blessing of God’s love for everyone. So, keep sharing what inspires you–on Facebook, over cups of coffee, sitting with a grandchild, or any way you can. And, keep remembering you have a purpose in God’s grand plan of making sure, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
May you have many Spirit-filled Blessings
“We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.” (Marianne Williamson)
Pastor Roger Grafenstein
Grace United Methodist Church
1120 17th St. South
Moorhead, MN 56560
A clear blue sky with a warm breeze that almost melts into you, add in the sound of waves softly lapping at the shore, and you may have peace. A rocking motion, the warmth of a baby resting on your chest with soft breaths whispering contentment into your ear, I expect you can nearly feel the peace imagining it. Life is filled with moments that subtly remind us of the goodness of God. But, life is also filled with challenges and worries. Jesus knows this. So, there’s a moment in the book of John when Jesus prepares his followers for his crucifixion and death. He says, “Don’t be troubled or afraid. There will be a time when I go away, but I will return.” (John 14:27-28). He says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you, not as the world gives.”
I believe Jesus’ hopes that by knowing him we’ll be able to find peace when days are neither sunny or warm. I believe Jesus wishes to offer us peace even when the waves driven by a storm. I believe Jesus also prays peace for us when the darling little one that slept upon our chest, is close to grown, and not always gracefully stumbling through life’s choices. How do you find the peace Jesus offers when storms arise? How do you find peace when people you love make choices that may harm them?
Confirmation Sunday I chose the 23rd Psalm to preach on. Then, Wednesday, at the request of a Eloise Brendemuhl’s family I preached from the 23rd Psalm again for her memorial service. Thursday, I decided to preach on the 23rd Psalm at Parkview Terrace and Moorhead Rehab Center. Sometimes, a favorite Scripture is where we find peace–especially if that Scripture helps us visualize peaceful places and moments. Often, when we are worried or troubled our heart rate increases. Our body gears up as our flight/fight response keeps getting nudged. One way to pray is to begin without words–simply breathing in for the count of four, holding the breath for the count of four, letting the breath out for the count of four, then waiting four more seconds before breathing in again. Cycling through that pattern of breath a couple times before conversing with God may allow us to sense God’s peace-giving presence during our prayer time. Another practical way to lean into Jesus’ peace is to softly sing a verse or two of a favorite hymn–or the hymn that God mysteriously brings to mind at the moment. (God doesn’t care if we remember all the words. The words we need are more than enough).
The point is, Jesus says you deserve peace, especially when the circumstances around you are less than peaceful. If you find yourself longing for peace today, take a moment to read a favorite Scripture, begin a short prayer time with a breathing exercise, or softly sing a hymn that speaks to you. If you see another in need of peace, maybe you’ll even have a little extra peace to share.
Sunday, we’ll revisit the peace Jesus offers.
(CNN) “Just a few miles from Columbine High School, gunfire echoed through the hallways of yet another Colorado school. This time, it was the STEM School Highlands Ranch near Denver. Authorities believe two students, a male and a female, used a pair of handguns to open fire in two classrooms Tuesday afternoon. An 18-year-old student just days away from graduation was killed. Eight other students were shot but survived.”
If you’re like me, you’re saying, “Not again!” I find I’ve seen variations of this news so many times in the last few years that in spite of how much I care, I sometimes feel like running out of the emotional energy it takes just to grieve one more time. After Columbine, 20 years ago, I recall having the time to process what happened. Our nation could pause what it was doing–and mourn at a distance for a few days. Now, such tragedy happens so often we’d be in permanent pause mode if we grieved with the victims for a few days after every mass shooting. That’s hard to process! I think our brains are built to process life’s sorrows as a villager. Taking in our entire nation’s hurt all at once is too much.
This Sunday’s Scripture from the book of Acts shows Peter–a forgiven follower of Jesus, who’d denied Jesus three times, abandoned Jesus on the cross, and carried a lot of guilt. But, Jesus set him free to live again and to make a difference in the world again, a person at a time. In Acts 9:36-43, Peter was called upon to help a hurting family. A special woman named Tabitha had died. Peter, prayed over her body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” Miraculously she opened her eyes. Peter gave her his hand and raised her up.
You and I may not be able to pray away the frequent mass shootings. We’ll cast our votes for people we hope can come up with ways to make such things less likely. But, then it’s important to remember you and I can still pray for others near to us. We can still take others by the hand and help them up when they’ve fallen. We can’t save the world. But, Jesus didn’t ask us to. Jesus asks us to love our neighbor–face to face, one person at a time; to do what we can with what we have and pray God will take care of the rest.
Tonight Grace Church has a informational gathering on the risks and effects of e-cigarettes and vaping. Our hope is it might prevent someone from getting started in a dangerous addiction. Maybe it will help someone who has started find the wherewithal to step away. We do what we can where we are and take others by the hand where they are. May God give us energy and persistence to be found faithful doing what we can do in Jesus’ name, instead of lamenting what we can not do.
This week I find myself re-reading the resurrection moment Christ has with Peter. Christ finds a way to talk with Peter about the three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus resurrection isn’t complete unless it also bring healing to others. So, Jesus finds a way to talk with Peter, offer healing forgiveness and give Peter a purpose. Peter’s new purpose is to feed Jesus’ sheep (John 21:15-19).
We know Christ’s sheep are his followers, but I found myself wondering what sheep actually eat and how much they eat?
So, as I was doing some research on sheep, I happened to look at the logo on the top of the page I was reading from–and saw the Penn State Panther (Nittany Lion). The irony wasn’t lost on me and reminded me of a recent conversation. I was talking with a Mom who was feeling like it was time to start attending a church again. She knew she needed to be fed spiritually. But, she was afraid that if she brought her kids to a church, someone might pounce if her kids misbehaved. She was afraid those who were called to feed Jesus’ lambs might actually cause hurt. I prepared for my next conversation with the Mom by carrying Grace’s laminated welcome to parents with children for when I bumped into her again. It’s in each pew and says we know kids aren’t perfect and we don’t expect them to be. For that matter, adults aren’t perfect, and I hope we don’t expect that either. Take it a step further and Jesus original followers weren’t perfect. But, that didn’t stop Jesus from loving them, being patient with them, forgiving them, and giving them high and holy purposes.
I did get the chance to share the welcome and I hope some day we’ll see the woman and her children in church. Whether that woman decides to try out Grace or not, I invite us all to remember church can be a scary place, so we have to go the extra mile to show people we aren’t panthers if we wish to be part of feeding Jesus’ sheep.
Ask God to help you to be gentle with others and yourself–just like Christ is a gentle shepherd.
Wednesday evening our Song of the Soul was “Are Ye Able,” with its refrain, “Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine, remold them make us, like thee divine. Thy guiding radiance, above us shall be, a beacon to God, to love and loyalty.” While exploring the history of the song, we also took a look at the prayer purposely placed next to the hymn. It’s a prayer for overcoming adversity. We’ve reached that point in Lent when we remember Jesus’ followers were rather bold in saying, “Lord, we are able.” Because, like us, they were prone to failure. In other words, on our own, we aren’t able. We need, as AA aptly puts it, a “Higher Power.”
Unfortunately, there is another thing that often comes with knowing we fail; that is feeling unworthy or unlovable. So, last night we not only pondered the disciples falling asleep in the garden and disappearing as the cross drew near; we also pondered the post-Easter words. “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not.” Have you ever heard those words echo a whisper of forgiveness? Sometimes I re-imagine Jesus showing up to his followers after they/we fail. “Don’t be afraid, I haven’t abandoned you.” “Don’t be afraid, I have forgiven you.” “Don’t be afraid, today is a new day and I will help you do what you cannot do on your own.”
Lent reminds us of our deep need. Easter reminds us God in Christ wants to help us to overcome what we can not overcome on our own. With God’s helps and strength we are able. Let that promise be your strength. Pray each day that God might give you the opportunity to whisper that beautiful truth into another’s life.
If you wish to encourage another on life’s journey, invite someone you know who could use a blessing to worship this Sunday. The message of God’s life transforming love will fill the sanctuary in song and word. Grace choir has been hard at work practicing a Cantata that shares the hope and beauty of God’s promises.
Blessings, Pastor Roger