St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church
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Mon., Tues., Wed. - 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
or by Appointment
Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
A Note From Pastor Martin's Desk...
Living It Up in Lent
March 21, 2023
Here we are once more counting down the forty days of Lent. It has become a bit of a lost art. Not many people consider it worth the effort. Just as Advent gets swallowed up in the hoopla surrounding Christmas, so Lent tends to be overlooked as we watch for sales on Easter baskets and chocolate bunnies. Both Advent and Lent suffer from poor public images. Perhaps a Lent mascot (Hmm … Lenny, the Lenten Smudge?), Certainly, the church has contributed to this unpopularity, insisting that we give up chocolate, coffee, meat, or something else we enjoy, as if enjoyment were the problem and misery the cure. But such self-mortification misses the point. Lent is not about depriving oneself, or making oneself unhappy; it is about remembering the source of our true happiness. Lent is not about giving up things that make us happy to show God how sorry we are for having crucified Jesus; it is about remembering who we are and what God has done for us.
In Lent, we strive to shake ourselves awake to the presence of God all around us. We are encouraged to discipline ourselves, not for the sake of making ourselves unhappy, but to limit or set aside those things which tend to distract or otherwise separate us from the reality of God’s presence. If we make confession, it is so that we can receive healing from God. If we silence our phones, it is so that we can hear God speaking “in a still small voice.” If we give up something, it should be that which is harmful to us, or that which by its absence will raise our awareness of the need and suffering of others and thus restore us to our larger human family.
So try powering down your screens and talking to your family. Try eating a bit less, and giving a bit more. Try parking the car for a day and walking instead. Try finding a few moments of silence in the day to listen for that holy voice sounding beneath the constant buzz of our busyness . Not everyone will observe such Lenten disciplines, but those who do may find themselves approaching the days of Holy Week with a new appreciation and wonder for the mighty works of God in Christ.
Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Lent is a good time start really living that life!
May God bless us to be a blessing to others!
The Fire Within
February 21, 2023
"The religions start from mysticism. There is no other way to start a religion. But, I compare this to a volcano that gushes forth ...and then ...the magma flows down the sides of the mountain and cools off. And when it reaches the bottom, it's just rocks. You'd never guess that there was fire in it. So after a couple of hundred years, or two thousand years or more, what was once alive is dead rock. Doctrine becomes doctrinaire. Morals become moralistic. Ritual becomes ritualistic. What do we do with it? We have to push through this crust and go to the fire that's within it." David Steindl-Rast
February 22 is Ash Wednesday. We don’t get a lot of time to catch our breath, to reflect upon just what it means that God has joined us on this messy earth, owned our troubled flesh, before Ash Wednesday rolls around to remind us that no one lasts forever, that we are dust and destined to return to same. And as if to test the sincerity of God’s investment in this newborn mortality, we will in short order make him bleed and die, his blood the ink on the contract that binds us together come hell or high water, come life or death.
Lent is the time to crack our cold stone hearts open to rediscover the fire within, to again handle the mystery of the Spirit’s fire and let it burn us, for there can be no refining without fire. The Old Testament writers warned us of the dangers of coming into God’s presence, that death is always the cost of seeing, let alone touching, God. Even now, in worship we regularly reenact our baptismal death, a glorious conflagration of water and fire. But by the time we arrive at Easter morning, having endured the slow humiliation and death via Holy Week, we will be reminded that there is still fire at the core of our faith, a refining fire that is making all things new, including us. Having drunk deeply of that dark cup, only then will we be ready to experience what lies beyond – a glorious unexpected morning, an empty tomb – ours as well as his – and an eternal life in the presence of our God. Pastor Martin
A Marvelous Footnote
November 15, 2022
“If I am asked what are my grounds for hope, this is my answer:
Light is lord over darkness, truth is lord over falsehood, life is ever lord over death.
Of all the facts I daily live with, there is none more comforting than this: If I have two rooms, one dark, the other light, and I open the door between them, the dark room becomes lighter without the light one becoming darker. I know this is no headline, but it’s a marvelous footnote. And God comforts me in that.”
This brief meditation by the Lutheran theologian Gehard Emmanuel Frost is one of those literary bits I desperately wish I had written. It reminds me again what the Reign of God looks like, which is the highest compliment I can pay any such writing. It fills me with hope and peace, two commodities I can never get enough of.
We live in a time of pandemic, bitter political divides, warfare, and the anxiety of climate change. Meanwhile, we watch the days grow shorter as we sink into the darkness of the coming winter months. Who could blame us for feeling a bit
pessimistic. At the same time, however, we are entering into the church season of Advent, which embraces simultaneously the ideas of anticipating and coming. We anticipate the coming of a star and the inbreaking of God’s glory into our benighted lives. These uncertain days will give way to better ones as surely as night must give way to morning. It is already written in the pages of creation and in the DNA of our lives. Nothing can stop it.
May God give you peace during these anxious times and fill you with the certain hope of better days to come. Pastor Martin
Now is Enough
October 16, 2022
Every now and then I have to do a reality check.
When it seems the wheels are coming off the proverbial wagon of the world, I ask myself whether they are really coming off any more today than they were yesterday, whether it’s just that I may have liked the old wheels and someone has replaced them with new ones, or whether I’m just turning into a pessimistic old fart – always a possibility. Perhaps it is a combination of all three. For whatever reason, I seem to find myself complaining more.
Although I may seem enthusiastic in my complaining, I don’t really like the way it makes me feel. If I stop to take stock, I’m likely to find the things I complain about are comparatively few. Let’s see … 1. Politics, 2. The environment, 3. Lack of civility 4. People who wear slogan t-shirts, 5. Autotuned pop singers … that’s about it. It’s just that I am likely to focus on these so much that they seem like a lot. Like I said: time for a reality check.
The reality is that for whatever shortcomings there may be – and there are certainly real – this is still an amazing time and place to be alive for the simple reason that it is now. At this moment, I am sitting on our deck writing. It is a perfect autumn day. The last few cool nights have made the trees explode with color. I have three cats who, in response to the cooler weather, will instantly distribute themselves across my belly when I lay down later for a nap, creating my own Thunder Blanket. Despite what I hear on the news, the people directly around me continue to be civil to, and generally caring for, each other. Above all, however, this moment is filled with potential. I have a full day to act in the world, to be kind to someone, to create something of beauty, to encourage someone, to build something, to make a difference. I pray that I will not contribute to this world’s problems, but rather will leave it just a little bit better for having been here. It is still a beautiful place. It is still worthy of our care and encouragement. It is still the only world we have. It is still our Garden of Eden.
All We Need is Love
August 16, 2022
I came into pastoral leadership at a challenging time. After decades of growth, the protestant church in America was just starting to come to grips with the fact that it was shrinking. The hand-wringing began in earnest, and we began throwing massive amounts of energy and resources at what we saw as our two main problems: how to get more people, and how to get more money. As I pass my 25-year anniversary of ordination, it seems a good time to look back and see how we’ve done. The truth is, for all our anxious efforts, the sky is still falling. Numbers continue to decline; budgets continue to shrink; worry continues to abound.
Why have we been so completely ineffective in solving these problems? There is probably more than one reason. It doesn’t help that the church, and especially the more conservative denominations, continues to view political coercion as an effective means of mission. Experience has consistently shown, however, that when church and state try to inhabit the same space, both are damaged. Morality can only be modeled, never legislated.
So why have we been so ineffective? Because we have turned what should be a joy into a burden, an invitation into an obligation. When summarizing his teachings, Jesus reduced it all to one simple idea: love God, love each other, and do so with a prodigal abandon. Loving God does not require knowledge or training, just the will to draw nearer to God. Loving each other does not require business models, clever new approaches, advertising, or new technology, just the willingness to see each other as part of the same family, and to express our love in tangible ways. That’s it. That’s why we’re here. That’s all God wants of us.
We are not being asked to develop a program, memorize a gospel, post on Instagram, sign a petition, or open a storefront church. We are being asked to do one thing, and one thing only: to boldly bring the power of love to bear on those around us.
The Beatles were right: All we need is love.
Surely, this commandment that I am giving you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross over and get it so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)