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Sermon for January

I bought an Ancestry DNA kit several years ago and sent it in. Would you be surprised to find out that I’m mostly Scandinavian and German? I wasn’t. I was surprised that I was much more Scandinavian than I thought, but still, not a big deviation from what I grew up believing that I was. There were lots of little bits and pieces of other nationalities in there too, mainly because the Vikings brought home people from other parts of the world, and their DNA got mixed in too. But in all those little bits and pieces and slivers, there was no Middle Eastern decent of any kind. I’m not Jewish at all. I’m what the Bible calls a “Gentile”.

“What is a Gentile?”, you might ask. Well, it means someone who is not a Jew, not an Israelite. God’s chosen people were the Israelites. The Ten Commandments were written for the Israelites. All the laws of the Old Testament were written for the Israelites. Gentiles were not included in the family of God at that time.

But then came Jesus. The Magi came to worship him. But why? They were not Jewish. Yet they had been called to come see the new king. They had an epiphany. It was the manifestation of the divine being to the Gentiles. The word epiphany comes from a Greek word that means “reveal”. Those wise men realized that they were meeting God in human form, and they worshiped him. They had an epiphany that would be celebrated for all time.

When Jesus came into his ministry, we see him ministering to all. There were no boundaries as to whom Jesus would preach or love. Tax collectors, prostitutes, the lowest of the low. Imagine Jesus gathered in a group of homeless men and women, druggies and criminals, sitting around a garbage can fire, listening to him talk about God. That’s how unnatural this ministry was. Jesus not only sat with them, he loved them. They were God’s children just as much the tribes of Israel were his children. The Pharisees didn’t like Jesus. He messed up their plans. He messed up their “holier than thou” attitudes. He called them out on their unrighteousness.

God grafted us Gentiles, the wild olive shoots, into the the branches of Abraham’s tree so we are nourished by the sap of the roots of God’s special cultivated olive tree, The Tree of Life. We have been given the same love as God extended to his children of Israel. (Romans 11:17) But what does this really mean? It means that we have been given God’s grace.

God gave us his grace, and the New Covenant, which we read about in Hebrews. God tells us that Jesus was the lasting sacrifice. He died on the cross, and His blood, His life, was the sacrifice for our sins. And since we have been grafted onto the Tree of Life, that sacrifice is for us Gentiles too. God tell us that he will forget our wickedness. He has forgiven our sins. His grace is what saves us, there is nothing we can do to make God love us more.

But what is grace? Justin Holcomb tell us that “Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve, which is death. Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, and these result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive.” “Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God”

Grace is Jesus, given to us, to take our punishment. Grace is Jesus, given to us, so that we can see God’s love, even though we don’t deserve it. Grace is the gift of life that God’s gives us so that we can go out and show His love to everyone. We share of stories of God’s grace with others so they will want it too. What a wonderful world we would have if everyone felt God’s grace in their hearts, and were thankful and humbled by the immensity of his great love for us all! There would be no more we and them, and I and you, for we would know that we are all brothers and sisters. Men and women of every color, every nationality, every walk of life: every single person on this planet as your sibling. And we would show our love, and we would treat each other as Jesus told us to, as ourselves. We would want the best for every single person. We wouldn’t judge another’s wrongful actions because we know that we have wrongful actions in our lives as well. We would lend a hand, and help pull people up instead of oppressing them. Poverty would disappear as we all shared what we had. Instead of trying to get ahead in the rat race of life, we would be working together, for the collective good of all humankind. Could you imagine a world without greed and oppression? Because this is what Jesus tells us: ” Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And all of this started with a baby. A baby born into our world of sin, of corruption, of tragedy and pain. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, and 12 days later, we celebrate the Magi, the wise men who came to worship. The Gentiles who studied astronomy, the moon and stars and planets, and came seeking something. Something they knew had to be big; so big that the stars changed in the heavens. And the star over Bethlehem prompted them to go and seek whatever that was. They knew of the prophecy, that a King would be born. They knew that a Messiah had been born, to shepherd God’s people. That baby changed everything. And you, you child of God, you can make the world a better place by extending God’s grace to those around you. Because we all need God’s grace more than anything else.

God, we thank you for your grace. Thank you for your faithfulness to us, and extending to us all these undeserved blessings. We are your children, and you are our loving Father. Guide us through these times of trials and ruthlessness and division in our world and our country. Shine your light of peace on all our hearts and let us shine in your glory. Let us all remember that we are all your children, and help stop fighting with our brothers and sisters. Help us learn to love one another as you have commanded. Amen.

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Sermon for July

I remember hearing a story once, of the difference between heaven and hell.  A man was given a vision of hell.  A group of emaciated people were seated around a huge banquet table, full of wonderful foods.  Instead of hands, they had long arms with spoons attached where their hands should be.  But the spoons were too long, and no one could get them into their mouths.  So even though the table was full of nourishing foods, the people were starving to death, not able to feed themselves.  Then the man was given a vision of heaven.  It was the same room, the same table, and the same feast.  However, all the people were fat and happy and joyfully enjoying the food, even though they also had long spoons.  The man asked why these people were so happy.  “Because’, God said, “these people have learned to feed each other.”

When I think of us feeding each other, I generally think of very, very poor people.  People who are living on the street, in shelters, and those who need the food pantry to get by.  People who truly don’t have enough to eat.  The single mother who goes without a meal to make sure her kids can sleep without their tummies growling.  And these people are needing help, and we all know that.  It makes me feel good to donate to the food pantry.  We can donate money, canned food, and extra produce, and we know that we are feeding people.  And that is a very good thing.

But what about the people who are living on the edge of poverty?  One missed paycheck would mean them losing their home, apartment, or car.  They live paycheck to paycheck.  They are very careful with the money they have left after the bills are paid.  They make too much to qualify for any type of assistance.  One car repair, one breakdown, one unexpected hospital bill could send them over the edge.

What about the widow who’s husband passed away, and with only one social security check, she can no longer afford her groceries and prescriptions at the same time, the light bill and utilities.  She cancels her cable, cuts back on everything she can, but she still can’t quite make ends meet.  Now her AC goes out in the heat of the summer.  Or her furnace quits in the winter, what will she do?

I know families who are very fortunate to have grandparents nearby, who can help them out with daycare, and running children to events.  But there are some families who don’t have this luxury.  If their child gets sick at school, they must leave work.  If their child becomes very sick, and they have used up their personal leave and sick days, how will they pay their bills?  What if that child is diagnosed with a chronic illness, or migraines, or cancer? How will they manage?  In a world of Go Fund Me accounts and charity dinners, there are still families who suffer these financial burdens without help.  The families who don’t have a community of support suffer.  That’s why community is so important.

Our community is so wonderful, and we are all so fortunate to have each other.  I am always willing to take care of someone’s pets when they are gone, and I know that I can count on help from them when I go on vacation.  That is a direct benefit: I help you and you help me.  You mow my lawn when I’m gone, and I’ll mow yours.  My neighbor Paul always takes care of my chickens.  He lets them out in the morning after I’ve gone to work, and I give him eggs.  Plus the chickens eat some of the bugs from their yard as well as mine.

But sometimes, we are called to help those who aren’t going to help us in return.  My kids are adults, so I’m not going to need someone to watch kids.  But I’m willing to watch other people’s kids if they are running late.  They can come in the store after they get off the school bus for 15 or 20 minutes, or however long.  And while I’m not planning on opening an after school daycare, I don’t mind doing it once in awhile, if the parents call and ask first.

I want to tell you a story of a wonderful young woman who is helping so many people.

(This story is from the CBS News website.)

At a nursing home in northwest, Arkansas, CBS News found a gem named Ruby.  11-year-old Ruby Chitsey likes to go to work with her mom, Amanda.

Amanda is a nurse who travels to several nursing homes in the area. It was on one of those visits, that Ruby started going up to residents with her notepad, asking “if you could have any three things, what would they be?” Ruby says she was mostly just curious what they’d say.

“I was very surprised. I thought people would say money, houses, a Lamborghini,” she said.

But instead, here’s what she got: Electric razor, new shoes, Vienna sausage, for some reason a lot of people asked for Vienna sausage and other really basic items.  Some of the other items on her list included basic clothing items, cheese, avocados, oranges and watermelon, and a chocolate pie.

“Like, that’s all they wanted. And I really decided that I needed to do something,” Ruby said.

So she started a charity called, Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents. Now, while her mom is caring for patients, Ruby goes room-to-room, jots down wishes and then sets out to grant those wishes.

Ruby has a GoFundMe to cover costs, but again, no one is asking for a sports car here. Her expenses are minimal, especially compared to the rewards.

“It really lifts you, it really does,” she said.

On one day, she came back with a wheelchair full of sausages and other grocery items. But make no mistake, this isn’t about food. Whether she knows it or not, Ruby is satisfying some much more basic human needs here,  to be remembered, to be cherished, especially by a child, that is what our seniors are truly hungry for. That is what Ruby brings every time she sets foot in a nursing home.

Now, it’s not just her. Since this story first aired on CBS, Ruby has helped start chapters of her charity in other states. She speaks to advocates for the aging. Of course, she is still very much hands on, proving no one needs a Lamborghini when they’ve got home delivery of all the happy they can handle.

Maybe we should all take Ruby’s work as an example.  Are there elderly neighbors you could help? Is there a struggling family near you? Perhaps you could be the one to grant their wishes.  Perhaps sharing your extra produce, a night of babysitting, or a hand helping them repair a lawn mower or car would make all the difference in the world.  Maybe a battery jump-start in the morning when they are running late, or a meal delivered when they are working late would make their day.  Or maybe a new pair of shoes or a sweater for a nursing home resident would be a blessing.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to help someone.  Sometimes, giving our time and expertise is the most valuable gift we can give.

And as Jesus tells us, we reap what we sow.  And we all sow love.

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Sermon for 8-4

One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name.

Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.

That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. ‘Really?’ she heard whispered. ‘I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!’ and, ‘I didn’t know others liked me so much,’ were most of the comments.

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on.
Several years later, one of the students was killed in
Vietnam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature.

The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.

As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. ‘Were you Mark’s math teacher?’ he asked. She nodded: ‘yes.’ Then he said: ‘Mark talked about you a lot.’

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.

‘We want to show you something,’ his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket ‘They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.’

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.

‘Thank you so much for doing that,’ Mark’s mother said. ‘As you can see, Mark treasured it.’

All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, ‘I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.’

Chuck’s wife said, ‘Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.’

‘I have mine too,’ Marilyn said. ‘It’s in my diary’

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. ‘I carry this with me at all times,’ Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: ‘I think we all saved our lists’

That’s when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don’t know when that one day will be.

So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.  (This story was shared by Jim Hubbard.)

Those lists are amazing.  Who wouldn’t want to have a constant reminder of all the good things about us?  Anytime you felt sad, or down, you could take out that list and get picked right back up again, reading all the great things people think about you.

But what if your teacher never did this, and now you’re done with school?  How will we get a list of our own?  Its turns out that you did get a list.  Do you want to hear what someone wrote about you?

In Isaiah 43:4-5 it says:  Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11

Isaiah 41:10  “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” –1 John 3:1a

These are only a few of the things that God inspired to be written about you, about all of us and to all of us, in the Bible.  Carry it in your purse, in your wallet, keep a copy in your nightstand.  Anytime you are feeling down, pick it up and read it.  Read all about the promises that God gives us as his children, read about the good news of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and what that means for us all.

And then, when your spirits are lifted and your heart is full of joy, remember thank God for those words.  Our Psalm today tells us that the best way to give God our grateful praise is to shout it out!  Worship with gladness!  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and praise!  Praise His holy name!

I’ve watched videos of Southern churches, with everyone dancing in the aisles and shouting “Hallelujah!!” with their arms raised above their heads.  And maybe that’s a little bit overboard for our church, but perhaps we can make a bit more noise.  I mean, Joel (our pastor) is not here so it’s just going to be up to us.  Maybe shouting “Hallelujah!” in your own house even feels a little strange, but go home and try it.  No? No takers?  So what if you instead found that CD of hymns or gospel music you have, and listened to that the next time you take a drive in the car? Play it on your stereo or blast it to your iTunes.  There are so many great songs about God and His love for us.  One of my favorite memories is that of my Grandpa belting out “How Great Thy Art”, and it was joyful.  He always sang loudly, especially for such a conservation man.  But we, the grandkids, always knew that he loved us very much.  We also knew that God loved us very much because Grandpa told us all the time about how great God’s love for us is.  And its wonderful to know how much people love us.  So if there are people in your life that you love: kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, neighbors, friends;  tell them.  Tell them how much they mean to you.  It’s such a blessing to know that you are important to someone, that you matter in someone else’s life, that you are appreciated.  But don’t forget that those around you would also love to know that they matter to you.

Pray with me:

Thank you for your amazing power and work in our lives, thank you for your goodness and for your blessings over us. Thank you that you are able to bring hope through even the toughest of times, strengthening us for your purposes. Thank you for your great love and care. Thank you for your mercy and grace. Thank you that you are always with us and will never leave us. Thank you for your incredible sacrifice so that we might have freedom and life. Forgive us for when we don’t thank you enough, for who you are, for all that you do, for all that you’ve given. Help us to set our eyes and our hearts on you afresh. Renew our spirits, fill us with your peace and joy. We love you and we need you, this day and every day. We give you praise and thanks, for You alone are worthy!

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Time. (Excerpt from a sermon.)

Anytime I read the obituary of a younger person who has suddenly passed away, it makes me sad; sad for their families, sad for their friends.  But sometimes it also puts our lives into perspective.  Because, lets face it, we’re all going to die someday.  Are we prepared for that day?  I know that our hearts are prepared to meet Jesus, our souls long to be reunited with God.  But what are the things that each of needs to do before we go?

If you learned that you had one year to live, what would you do differently?  Would you travel?  Where would you go?  What’s that one place you really want to see? For me, I want to see the giant Redwoods and giant Sequoia trees in California.  There are many other places I’d like to go, but seeing and touching those trees are high on my bucket list.  Just imagine the stories they could tell!  Redwoods can live for 2000 years, and sequoias can live for 3000 years! How amazing is that!  The oldest sequoia known is 3500 years old.  Wow!  But the oldest known tree in the world is a Bristlecone pine located in the White Mountains of California, and it is over 5000 years old! (There are older clonal colonies of trees, some believed to be 80,000 years old, but that’s a tree story for another day.)

Who are the people that you would want to spend more time with if you knew your time was limited?  Are you a lucky one whose family is nearby and you see them on a regular basis?  What friends have slipped out of your life, and you wish to reconnect with?  School friends that you haven’t seen for years?  Maybe friends from the military that you served with, and you wish you knew how to get ahold of them.  Would you try harder to find them?  Do you have family a long way away that you want to go see”someday”?

Are there relationships in your life that need to be mended?  Are there apologies that you need to make?  Is there someone that you need to forgive to cleanse your heart of anger and resentment?

We have all lost family and friends, and we all know what grief feels like.  My paternal grandfather died when I was 6 years old.  I have a few specific memories of him, but not many.  I do have a shelf that he made, he was a carpenter and farmer, that my dad’s cousin gave me.  He had made it for her when she was a girl, and she felt I should have it.  It was a very kind gesture, and I cherish it.  But do my kids know who made it?  And what significance it carries?  Probably not.  It would probably get sold at a rummage sale, or maybe even tossed in the trash.  What keepsakes do you have that should be labeled or explained to the next generation?

Do you have boxes of unlabeled photographs?  I inherited my grandmother’s box, as well as several albums.  Some of the pictures were labeled, some not, and some had been labeled on the back and then glued into the album!  Who the heck are these people??  I gave the box to my dad in hopes that he would label them, but he passed away before they were finished.  Its taken me years, and visits from a couple of my dad’s cousins to get them figured out.  And yes, there are still some that I don’t know, but for the most part, those pictures have names.  And I was able to send some of them to the people in the pictures!  Now, that was fun!  But do my kids know who these people are? Nope.

I know that in my life, I tend to get caught up in the day to day workings of life.  I have my job, my hobbies, my responsibilities and obligations, and the unending list of chores that need to be done in my daily life.  My brain has its own worries and ideas that need attention.  I have errands to run, and meetings to attend.  I think that pretty much summarizes everyone’s normal days.  But maybe, we all need to learn to just pause. Stop the running.  Breathe.  Take time every day to do something you like.  Take the time to talk to those you love.  Tell them how much you love them.  Listen to them.  Ask about their lives.

I loved listening to the stories my grandparents told of their childhoods.  I loved hearing about the mischief they caused, and what they did for fun.  My maternal grandfather told the best stories about tipping over outhouses where he grew up in Iowa, and playing baseball, April Fools pranks and Halloween shenanigans.  My paternal grandmother awed me with stories of riding horseback through the prairie near Bowman, shooting rattlesnakes.  She and her brother would cut the rattles off the tails to see who got the most.  I heard stories of the Great Depression, stories of hardship and pain, and stories of love and laughter.  I wish I had those stories written down.  Even though they may seem trivial to some, they are a part of  my heritage, my family’s history.  Its like “Little House on the Prairie”, but instead of Ma and Pa, its about grandma and grandpa, and great grandma and great grandpa, some of whom I was born too late to meet.

What stories do you have for your family?  Have you ever thought of writing them down?  Or recording yourself telling the stories?  I know more and more people are doing this nowadays, and its such a great treasure for those who get to listen to those stories. And don’t forget to include the stories that your grandparents told you!  How much fun it was to hear about how great great grandpa and grandma came across the ocean, gave birth to great grandpa on the ship, and kept him hidden until the ship was in the harbor, making him a natural born citizen!  Those crazy Norwegians!

We all hope we have many years ahead to do all the things we want to do.  But there are things we shouldn’t put off, no matter our age.  Tell those people that you love them.  Write down your stories. Forgive those who’ve hurt you and don’t dwell on negative experiences.  Live life for happiness and don’t let the daily grind get you down.  Eat the cake, drink the wine, use your good dishes, and plan that trip.


Loving God, thank you for the time that you’ve given us here on this earth.  Help us to use our gifts and resources wisely, to help others, and to glorify you.  Bless us with the knowledge of your love and forgiveness, and help us love and forgive those in our lives as well.  Help us see the goodness in life and beauty all around us, that was created by you.  Help us to see the extraordinary in our everyday ordinary lives.  In your name we pray, Amen.




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Women’s Sunday Sermon

The First Council of Nicaea was convened by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great upon the recommendations of a synod led by the bishop Hosius of Corduba in the Spring of 325.  In the summer of 325, the bishops of all provinces were summoned to Nicaea, Constantine had invited all 1,800 bishops of the Christian church within the Roman Empire, but a smaller and unknown number attended.  The emperor was present as an overseer and presider, but did not cast any official vote. They debated and fought, and finally produced the Nicene Creed, which we all know today.  To maintain this Creed, the four Gospels that were chosen for the Bible needed to have no rivals.  So all the other sacred writings that hadn’t been chosen became a threat, they believed.  In 367, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria ordered that the monks destroy all the the writings that hadn’t been chosen.

Luckily for us, those rebel monks decided to preserve these holy writings by burying them in urns in the desert, and hiding them deep in caves in clay jars.  I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, over 900 different texts, many of which had not been seen for nearly 2000 years.  It was an amazing discovery that has taken much too long to translate.  These scrolls were not found all at the same time, but over the course of many years, in many different locations in the area of the Dead Sea, beginning in 1947 when the first jars of scrolls were found.

The Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of thirteen ancient codices, or stitched together pages, containing over fifty texts, was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945.  These discoveries have been a wealth of knowledge, and have shown us how different the early branches of Christianity were from what we know now.

But one of the most amazing finds was in 1896 in an antiquities market in Cairo.  A German scholar bought a text written in Coptic, the Egyptian language still used today by Egyptian Christians.  Scholars refer to it as the Berlin Codex, and it is the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.  In time, two more ancient copies of the Gospel of Mary were found, these written in Greek.  Harvard Divinity professor Dr. Karen King explains in her translation of Mary’s gospel, “Because it is unusual for several copies from such early dates to have survived, the attestation of the Gospel of Mary as an early Christian work is unusually strong.”  Basically, this was a very popular book for three copies of it to have survived.

In the book, “Mary Magdalene Revealed”, Meggan Watterson tells of her research and study of the Gospel of Mary over the past 20 years.  There were several other gospels found in the past century as well, and when read together, they tell us a story of Mary, a Disciple of Jesus, whom Jesus loved more than the other disciples.  Even kissing her on the mouth, according to Levi. Peter was a hothead, angry that Mary is the companion of Jesus, and that Jesus has given her special knowledge.  Peter doesn’t like the fact that a woman has been placed above him.

But there have been other men who did not want women in the same category as the apostles.  One of these was Pope Gregory from the 6th Century.  By the time he was done proclaiming his Homily 33 sermon, Mary was a whore, a prostitute, and since she had seven demons expelled from her, he said this proved her sinfulness.

But the Gospel of Mary actually mentions seven powers; darkness, craving, ignorance, craving for death, enslavement to the physical body, the false peace of the flesh, and the compulsion of rage.  These are very similar to the seven deadly Christian sins; pride, greed, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, and anger.  Perhaps these are actually the seven demons she was able to overcome with the help of Jesus.  And since Jesus had accepted her as a disciple, then who were they to say otherwise? The role of women in that period of time was not one of equality.  Women were seen as property.  Jesus showed them a new way of thinking, that men and women were created to be equals.  That women deserved the same education and acceptance as men.  Jesus showed us in many ways that he judged humans as human, not greater or worse for their gender.  Unfortunately, many pages of Mary’s gospel is missing.  We may never know the rest of the teachings of Christ that Mary had been taught.  Or perhaps, they are still copies of this gospel waiting to be discovered in clay jars in the desert.

Some people try to discredit these other gospels, but not every student learns the same things from a teacher.  Every gospel is the story of that person’s experience with Jesus.  Its their own interpretation of what happened and what was taught.  Just as in any classroom, the experiences of each student are different.  Some students really grasp a new concept, while others need to take the class twice to learn the new material.  And as we read in Luke 9, there were a few disciples that didn’t get it.  They argued over which of them was the greatest while Jesus was headed to his crucifixion.  They just didn’t understand what was going on.

I personally would love to read the entire gospel of Mary, along with the full versions of the other gospels as well. I find it fascinating to read these new experiences from the other people who knew Jesus.   One of the things from Mary’s gospel that really caught my attention is that Jesus told her that there is no sin other than what we as humans create.  I have really thought about that.  Its true, it makes sense.  We humans are the ones causing all the problems, and Mary says we need to look inside ourselves to find our higher power to stop sinning. We need to stop injuring the earth and all the beauty and perfection that God has created.  God sent Jesus to save us, save us from our sins.  So as we continue to learn from these ancient gospels,  I pray that humanity finds a way to stop sinning; to love each other, and to love ourselves as well.  Jesus told Mary that each of us has the Divine inside us.  I pray that we work to find and reveal that Divineness and use it to better the world.  Amen.

*Please be aware that this is my copy to read, and perhaps there are some more parts which should have been cited specifically.

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Excerpt from sermon from 7-29-20

A while back I read a story of a visiting pastor who attended a men’s breakfast in the middle of a rural farming area of the country.
The group had asked an older farmer, decked out in bib overalls, to say grace for the morning breakfast.
“Lord, I hate buttermilk”, the farmer began. The visiting pastor opened one eye to glance at the farmer and wonder where this was going. The farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.” Now the pastor was
growing concerned. Without missing a beat, the farmer continued, “And Lord, you know I
don’t much care for raw white flour”. The pastor once again opened an
eye to glance around the room and saw that he wasn’t the only one to
feel uncomfortable.
Then the farmer added, “But Lord, when you mix them all together and
bake them, I do love warm fresh biscuits. So Lord, when things come up that we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we don’t understand what you’re saying to us, help us to just relax and wait until you are done mixing. It will probably be even better than biscuits.  Amen.”
There is great wisdom in that prayer.  We all seem to go through things that we don’t care for.  Its just part of life.  But it does seem like the things we learn from our trials are the things that make us stronger, or wiser.  There is much to be said about resiliency; the capability to be able to recover quickly from difficulties.  We’re tough up here in the Upper Midwest.  But our ancestors were so tough!  Seriously, no air conditioning, no cell phones,  no wi-fi, no refrigerator, and no Keurig coffee maker.  How did they do it?  The Native Americans who lived here didn’t even have the train to bring them supplies.  They existed completely on their own intelligence and perseverance.  They were amazingly resilient!
As a child, my mother would read us the “Little House on the Prairie” book series.  I loved listening to those stories, and watching it on television.  I loved listening to my grandparents tell me stories about how life was when they were children, and it made me thankful for indoor plumbing.  I would go to our neighbor’s house to grandma-sit, and got to hear Martha’s stories too, and they were fascinating.  Her father was a veterinarian, and the James brothers would come pick him up to attend to their horses.  She even had a picture of her dad with Jesse and Frank.   I’m not sure why, but I’ve always enjoyed hearing or reading stories about the past.  I can listen to the stories, and feel quite grateful for all the conveniences we have in our modern lives.
We are very resilient.  We are rooted in resiliency because that’s how we grew up.  We were raised to be tough.  How many times have you heard, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  Or, God will never give you more than you can handle.  How many of us have sat quietly in times of despair and read Psalm 23?  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  Having been raised in the church, in the Bible, and in families where God was the most important thing, we know we can rely on God.  We have that strength rooted deep inside our hearts and our minds.  We can thank our ancestors for the determination we have, and the faith in God that we have as well.  Regardless of which country your great grandparents came from, they were probably devout Christians who trusted fully in God’s provisions.  They trusted that He would give them what they needed to survive the storms of life, even when venturing into a wilderness of unsettled prairie.  Even when the temperatures were brutal and could kill anyone who made one wrong decision.  Even when the train couldn’t get through, and Pa had to butcher his ox for his family before they all starved to death.
We come from a long line of people who had total faith in God.  In Ephesians 3, Paul tells us that since we are rooted and established in love, we need to have the power to  see how huge the love of Christ is, that he hopes we are able to see that this love surpasses everything else.  There is nothing you have, or know, or do, that is better than the love that God has for us.  there is no material wealth in the world worth more than Jesus.  There is no knowledge in the world higher than God’s.  We think we know all there is to know, but God’s love surpasses any knowledge we have.
And we should be so grateful for this!  We all mess up.  We all believe things that turn out to be lies.  We have all been wrong at times.  But God shows us that His mercy and love are here forever.  His power goes beyond anything we can imagine.  He can take the hardest experiences and turn them into a blessing for each one of us.  God can do all things.  We just need to stop worrying and trust that He always knows the way.


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Where Did I Come From?

I’m reading an amazing book called “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  Someone in my Master Gardening group recommended it, and I’m so glad I decided to buy it.  The author is a master of weaving words, and poetic descriptions.  Its a beautiful masterpiece of words and thoughts, and teaching and history.  I hope you decide to read it too.

In reading the history of the author’s Native upbringing, and her quest to find her true self, I found myself questioning my ancestral status as well.  Who are my people?  I’m a mix of many.  And I was fortunate enough to have grow up with grandparents nearby.  I grew up with their stories. But what about the ones before them?  How much of me is environmental, and how much is genetics?

The field of epigenetics is fascinating.  The whole world is fascinating.  I have always been that curious child, wanting to know how everything works.  And why?  And how? How does a monarch butterfly, hatched from a tiny egg in North Dakota, know where it should go in Mexico when it migrates?  And how does any being migrate in the first place?  The herds of caribou?  The birds and insects?  How do they know when to go? Or where to go? How do they all join up and head out together, even if they live more solitary lives otherwise?  Fascinating, but I want to know.

Why do children in one family all look very similar, but the children in a different family look nothing alike, even though they have the same parents?  Why is gene expression so vastly different in one family versus another?

I always felt I was born into the wrong family.  So many times my questions were answered with, “Because that’s the way God made it.”  That was also my cue to stop asking.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about those ideas, and wanting to know the answers.  My parents bought me a set of encyclopedias when I was a child.  I read them all.  But back in the 80’s, they didn’t have all the answers to my questions.  They still don’t, all these years later, but they do have guesses.

Where does my never ending thirst for knowledge come from? Was there an ancestor who always questioned everything?  Who wanted to know how everything works and why?

How many of my ancestors loved animals and taking care of them?  Did any of my Viking tribe keep pets?  Maybe a big hawk or a falcon? Maybe the Germans? Or the Bohemians? Ancestry.com told me what my crazy mix was, and I was surprised how many different places my DNA came from, including a very small splash of Native American and Southeastern Asian.  My blonde hair, green eyes, and fair complexion wouldn’t have you guessing many of those.

I look a lot like my German grandfather, but my paternal Norwegian grandmother always told me how much I reminded her of her mother.  I have no memory of ever meeting great-grandma Mary, who died the summer before I turned 4 years old.  However, her hand-sewed quilt hangs on my living room wall; one of my most treasured possessions. I also enjoy quilting, but I like making the tops, not so much the finishing.  Turns out, Mary was the same way, and had many quilt tops left unfinished.  The one I have was actually finished by my mother, as it was made for my dad.  That gives it a little more history and love, and those roots and connections grow it even deeper into my heart.

The similarities don’t end there though.  Mary loved her garden and her chickens.  I am a Master Gardener with a flock of 16 pet chickens.  But Grandma said my personality was much like Mary’s.  I’m a happy-go-lucky soul with a huge imagination. I love laughing and joking around with people.  I am an optimist, a true optimistic realist.  I truly believe in the potential of humanity. I believe that most people are more good than bad. I believe that all people are deserving of the same rights, and love, and help; with no regard to their color, sexuality, shape, or background.  I truly believe that God made each one of us to be someone with a passion, with a mission, and with a heart made of love.

What are some of your traits?  What are the things you would love to know about your family tree?  Who do you take after, if you know?  Are you a curious person too?  I’d love to know!



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Sermon for 3-11-18 The Grower

The Bible begins with the story of creation,  God is the creator of all things, and the method used is amazing.  God speaks and things happen.  God says, “It will be so”, and it is, because God can’t lie.  Can you imagine how absolutely perfect God needs to be for this to not end up in a catastrophe? I think of the things that I say sometimes, sometimes out of habit, sometimes out of anger or pettiness.  Sometimes I catch myself complaining or finishing “I wish” with something that’s not truly best for me or for those around me.

Colossians 4:6
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

The words we say are so important.  Luckily we don’t have that same power that God has.  I converse with people quite a bit at the store each day.  I try to be positive, working toward the greater good of our community.  Some of the conversations are wonderful, but some make me cringe.  I can’t help but overhear quite a few conversations too. Sometimes , if they get too crazy, I’ll turn on the nature sounds CD on my laptop and drown out the noise.  Sometimes I can only thank God that I have paperwork to do!

One of the things I enjoy talking about the most is gardening, and growing food.  I’m a volunteer Master Gardener with the NDSU extension service, which anyone who knows me already knows.  I love growing plants, they amaze me.  They generally start from a seed, sometimes a tiny small seed sometimes a big seed depending on the plant. But somehow, contained in that seed, are the blueprints and the nutrients, and all the stuff it takes to make life happen.

But even though that seed has everything it needs in it, it won’t grow until it gets the proper place, time, and set of circumstances.  There is a certain signal that prompts that seed to sprout.  As a gardener, I try to replicate that signal, I try to give the seeds everything they need to start that process of sprouting.  Many seeds are easy to sprout, but others take extra circumstances.  Some seeds need to be left outside in the cold all winter before they will sprout.  Some seeds need to be burned in a fire before they will hear their signal that its time.  And others need to pass through the digestive tract of a bird or animal before the hard outer shell is dissolved, and the seed can begin its journey.

People are like seeds.  We all need the proper set of circumstances to truly grow.  Its one thing to be alive and occupy space, but its another thing to truly live life and continue to learn and grow and share ourselves with others.  Some of us seem to thrive right off the bat. Others need time, and space, and some extra help. Some of us need a big push to leave our comfort zone and reach out to others, while other people seem to live as though the whole world is their comfort zone.  Some people need to get burned by life, or frozen in their tracks, or even be consumed by something that seems to be the end of the line, before they are able to truly grow in life.

Many of us are born, or planted, in the same set of circumstances, yet the result of our lives can be very different.  There are things that stunt the life and growth of plants, just as there are things that will stunt human growth too.  There are pests and diseases in both plants and people, some can be cured, and some cannot. In 1 Corinthians 3: 6-9, Paul tell us “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.  For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”  

One of the stories from Jesus is the parable of the sower from Mark, chapter 4. “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word.15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

If you put a plant that needs a lot of sun in a shady location, that plant will never reach its full potential.  It won’t get as big, and it may not bloom or produce fruit.  However if you place a shade loving plant in an area that receives full sun, it will probably burn up and die.  We are like that too.  If you stifle someone’s ability to grow and improve and learn, they will never reach their full potential.  They may never bloom or produce the fruit that God wants us to produce.  But give that same person the opportunities and tools they need, and they may grow so much you’ll barely recognize them!  There are some people who love to work behind the scenes, if you thrust them into the spotlight, you may lose them forever.  We all have different personalities that demand different scenarios for life.  There is only one “one size fits all” model that actually works for all of us.  And that model, is the life we have in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During Lent, we remember the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us, and then we celebrate the great triumph of Jesus rising from the grave.  The death and resurrection of Jesus fulfilled the Law, and then Jesus gave us his New Covenant.  The wonderful thing about this New Covenant is that this is where we Gentiles are invited to be the children of God.  Before this, we were not invited to the table.  We had no chance to grow.  The Bible says that we are the wild vine that has been grafted onto the tree of life.  I’ve grafted a few trees in my life, and here’s the crazy part; you have to cut off part of the tree in order to graft another piece onto it.  Another piece of that tree was cut off, or broken off, in order for us to be attached to it.  Romans 11 tells us that those branches were broken off due to unbelief.  So if we also suffer from unbelief, we can be broken off as well. God can graft as many branches as he wants onto his tree.  He can offer forgiveness and mercy to anyone he chooses.  The people of Israel were God’s chosen people, but He didn’t offer his son up for just them, he offered up this sacrifice for us all.  As Gentiles, we were never included in the Law of the Old Testament.  That’s why the Laws from the Old Testament do not apply to us.  We have only ever had the New Covenant.  Large portions of the Paul’s writings are aimed at telling the Jewish people that they cannot keep both covenants.  Since a covenant is a contract, you are under one or the other, you cannot have both.  Some people want to keep parts of the old law in place, some of us have been misled into believing that we must.  Paul tells us specifically that the old law, the old contract, is over.

Imagine if you will, that you have a loan contract with a bank.  You purchased a new car and are paying payments on the car.  Once the payments are paid in full and on time, the contract is done and you own the car out right.  Would you keep sending the bank a car payment each month?  Of course not!  The contract is done, its finished.  So why would any of us try to keep working on a contract from God that is finished?  Its a contract we were never offered in the first place.  Your name isn’t even on it!

Instead our name is on the contract that tells us to love God, and to love each other. God says that the work of Jesus is finished.  Its done.  When he died on the cross and rose again, we were included in the most amazing deal in the history of the earth, we are to be called children of the most high God.  So even though our roots were not from that tree, we have been grafted onto it and receive our nutrients from the roots of the tree of life.

Now we are called to go out and testify to the love and mercy of our Creator.  We are to go out and proclaims God’s greatness.  We are to replicate his love by showing love and mercy to others.  We have been called by the Most-High God to be the hands and feet, to be the mouth and the voice of Jesus.  We are called to be the keepers of the kingdom.

I pray then, that we all hear our calling and rise up to the challenge of producing the fruit that God wants us to bear.  May we love God above all, and love each other as God loves us. Amen.




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Christmas is for Kids

As an adult, I have realized that Christmas just isn’t as good as it used to be.

Every store gleamed with the hopes of what Santa might bring. Every aisle littered with toys, books, new clothes and shoes.  In a family where gifts were limited to holidays only, the anticipation of, the perception of unlimited possibilities, was sheer joy and excitement.  What would Santa bring?

The fun of picking out a gift for Grandma, for Grandpa, and wanting it to be perfect, was thrilling.  The baking, the ability to eat Christmas goodies for a month without gaining an ounce of fat was amazing, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.  And Mom baked, and both grandmas baked, my aunts baked, and I ate.  I ate and ate and ate.  And it was good.

In school we practiced for concerts, and we sang our hearts out.  We sang at church and practiced for our programs there. And the moms and grandmas baked, and we all ate.

Christmas Eve was always spent at Grandma’s house.  Santa even knew it, and dropped our gifts off there.  The stench of lutefisk permeated the whole apartment building, but I knew there was always a turkey for those of us unwilling to partake.

I used try to get my kids to clean out their toy boxes and closets so they will be able to fit all their new things inside.   I baked, and they baked, and we ate. My son, the baker, baked the most, and probably ate the most too.  We had fun.  We wrapped and packed and shopped and argued, and it was good.

We all run.  We run from one thing to the next. We drive to the store, and try to find a gift for someone who doesn’t need anything.  We wrap, we pack, we order online because the stores are too packed with people. We cuss at the person who took our parking spot. It can be stressful.

We stress over trying to make everything fun, for the kids.  Because the magic of Christmas works best for those who believe in magic.  And Christmas, the material commercial Christmas, is for kids.





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Dogs and God, and Us

I share my home with three dogs, two cats, a conure parrot, and of course, my dear husband.  The dogs are so much fun, and can be a challenge as well.

Kelly is an 11 year old Setter that we brought home almost two years ago when her owner was in a terrible car accident and would be in the hospital for half a year.  Bo is our purebred yellow lab puppy, almost 7 months old, that we purchased, because we were denied adopting since Kelly was never spayed.  And Jersey is a 6 month old puppy we got about 3 weeks ago, from a friend who couldn’t keep her, and she is the new kid on the block.  All three are house dogs, although Kelly lived outdoors for the 9 years before she came home with us.

There is always plenty of food for our dogs.  No one ever goes hungry. We monitor them as they eat to make sure that they each get their own food.  One day I noticed Jersey was hesitant to come to her food bowl.  I moved it to the other side of the room, and she proceeded to eat.  Kelly gave her a growl and started toward her.  Jersey ran to the living room.  I told Kelly, “No.  Its Jersey’s food.  You are not allowed to take away what you didn’t give.”  I brought Kelly back to her dish, and coaxed Jersey back to hers.  I stood by Jersey while she ate, and for the next few days to make sure this didn’t happen again. (I always talk to my pets as though they are humans who understand everything I say.)

But as I stood by Jersey, I thought about what I said.  You are not allowed to take away what you didn’t give.”  For some reason, it really struck me.  I thought about humanity, and how so many people are trying to do this all the time.

Why are people trying to take away things from others that they did not give them?  If I look at the teachings of the Bible, I see that oppression is a recurring theme in the things that God tells us NOT to do.

God tells us over and over again that oppression is wrong.

Psalm 9:9   “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”

Proverbs 14:31  “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”

Zechariah 7:10  “Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

Jeremiah 5:25-29  “ Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you. For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait.  They set a trap; they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich; they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper,  and they do not defend the rights of the needy.  ‘Shall I not punish them for these things?’ declares the Lord, ‘and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?’”

Whoa!  That last one!  It makes me think of religion and politics, and how these evil men, these wicked souls, have turned so many away from the words of Jesus.  How many so called Christians do you know who have been lured into this deceit?  By reading the red letters in the Bible; you know, the words of Jesus; we can see that much of American “Christianity” is not Christian at all.  It is no longer following the words of Jesus.  This American Christianity does not follow Jesus at all.  Instead, it operates on fear.  It’s trying to make us afraid.  It wants you be afraid of anyone who is not like you.  It wants you to be afraid that someone is going to steal your money and your privilege, and all the other treasures you have hoarded here on earth.

But God tells us to not fear over 80 times in the Bible.  Fear is the tool of evil.  If your religion is all about fear, then it is not following God.  If your church tells you to fear everything, then it does not preach the words of God.  Inciting fear in God’s people is how many so called religious leaders try to control and exploit their followers.  By doing this, they have become rich.  Look around! How many mega-million preachers are there?  Everyone of them should be ashamed.

But they are not allowed to take away what they didn’t give.  When God gives us rules and guidelines, who are these people to try to convince us that they know better than God?  They try to take away our faith, our hope, and our promise from God that He will take care of us, that He will prosper us and give us hope, and a future.  He also has a stern warning for those people in Matthew 25:41-46:  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

So, who are you going to fear?  Man?  Our rich politicians who are following their own made-up religion centered around money?  Or God?  You see, God made you.  God is one who gave you everything.  And He who gives, can also take away.  For naked you came from your mother’s womb, and naked you shall return.  The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.


Thank you to Bible Gateway for the Bible verses I cut and pasted, all in ESV.