Tag: Minnesota

Table Talk: It’s Enough

Table Talk: It’s Enough


Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.”
-Judges 7:7

Dear Friends in Christ,

One of my favorite Bible stories is found in Judges 7. Gideon, a man that was afraid of his own shadow is called to lead the Israelites against the oppression of the Midianites. In the preparation for battle, 33,000 men show up. God tells Gideon again and again that there are too many people. Gideon keeps whittling down the number for his army until there were 300 men left. Then God tells Gideon that their weapons would be trumpets and jars. Now, the Midianites had a large mighty, army. How in the world were 300 men with nothing but some musical instruments and clay pots are going to beat this mighty army?

We learn that God was with the Israelites and God would hand them the victory. That’s what happened. The trumpets and the smashing of the jars in the middle of the night scared the Midianites and they ended up fighting themselves until the big army was no more. The story of Gideon’s puny army is a reminder that God can use the smallest things to do “a mighty work.”

First Christian of St. Paul is a small church, maybe even tiny.  Our culture tends to put its faith in bigness and we suspect the small.  It’s easy to look at our church and think of all the things we can’t do, especially when we have a big church a mile or two down the road.  We don’t have enough people. We don’t have enough money.  We don’t. We don’t. We don’t. 

(Being a small church doesn’t mean people aren’t invited to join and be a part of our congregation.)

Of course, there are limits as to what a small church can do, but there are limits to what anyone can do.  When we think that we can’t do something at church, think about something: why do you go to First Christian?  You go here for a reason and you’ve stayed.  If you are here for a reason, then there have to be others out there that might want to come to this church. So, instead of trying to wish we were bigger and better, work at making this church a place you want to be at because when we do that, we are welcoming others who might need a community like this.

What does being enough in God look like?  Let’s look at it through our offerings. When we give our offerings on Sunday, we are giving our money to help do mission in our world. Your offerings have gone to support our worship ministry which helps us meet God in the Word preached, the songs sung, and in the weekly Lord’s Supper. They have gone to help our sisters and brothers through our Mission Partners like Feed My Starving Children and the Mahtomedi Area Foodshelf. They help us go beyond borders to support the ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The giving of what we receive has allowed this small church to take part in God’s mission in the world.

At the end of the day, we are enough. Gideon teaches us that we are enough because God is enough.  God has a history of using little things to do great things. If God can use 300 soldiers to go against an army of thousands, what can God do with us? I truly believe God can and will use First Christian Church to be a witness in Mahtomedi, the Twin Cities, the United States, and to the ends of the earth.

In God, we are enough.  Let’s just let God work through us as we give our offerings, take part in communion, and worship together.  Let us have faith in a God that can take the little things and do great things.

Godspeed everyone.

Dennis Sanders, Pastor

Dear God, help us to remember that we are enough.  Even when we are small, we can do mighty things in your name. Amen.

Praying for Revival (I Think)…

IMG_0021A few years ago, I was at a local  gathering of Disciples (my denomination) in Minnesota.  It was a good event overall, a time when our small tribe could gather to worship and fellowship.  Somewhere early in the event, there was a slide that showed all of the Disciple congregations in Minnesota that no longer exist.  The speaker wanted us to honor the work that these former faith communities did and I was in agreement.  They had for a season, been a small example of God’s kingdom.

As much as I wanted to honor these congregations, I also felt a sense of annoyance. Not with these congregations, but the fact that we Disciples in Minnesota are a smaller groups of people.  In the last 15 years or so, a number of congregations in the state have closed.  Churches in Rochester, Mankato and Fridley (a suburb north of Minneapolis).  Some of these congregations had simply reached the end of their lives and that is understandable. No, the frustrating thing is that we aren’t replacing those churches and it seems at times like most people don’t care.

A century ago, it was not uncommon for local churches to plant new churches.  First Christian in Minneapolis (where I used to serve) planted a number of churches over the years.  They looked to see an area where there was no Disciple church and a number of people would go to start a Sunday School class that would be come a church.

Over time, our churches have lost that evangelical drive.  We have become risk-averse. People have become skeptical that investing money in church plants actually makes a difference.  Better to spend it on a needy social service agency.  Some pastors from outside the area have said they were interested in church planting, but only if they were given money to support them.

I don’t say this to trash talk or to speak ill of folk.  But I do think there is a problem here when it comes to planting new churches.

I have had an interest myself in planting a church, but I already have a church that is in a transformation process, so I don’t know if I have the time to do this.

What is needed is for their to be a revival of sorts, people who feel called to help plant new communities.  I pray for the Pentecost winds to blow among our small Disciple tribe in Minnesota to have a passion to tell the good news of Jesus that translates into new churches.

I think we can say “well done” to those churches that are no longer with us.  But we should also be busy planting new communities, places that can reach the Minnesota of 2015.

I pray that this might come true.

Sermon: “There Goes the Neighborhood”

“There Goes the Neighborhood”
Luke 2:1-20 and John 1:1-18
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2013
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

there-goes-expressionSince I don’t have children, I’ve never seen the actual birth of a baby. But I have had the blessing of seeing a child hours after having entered the world. I remember seeing my nephew, John Luke, on a late May morning in 2008. I held him as he slept, he did have a busy few hours there, what with all the being born and all.

It’s fascinating to see someone at the beginning of their life. It’s also fascinating to see someone at the end of their life. In 2011, I got word that my Aunt Nora was being placed in hospice. She had dealt with Alzheimers for several years and had come to the point where she had stopped eating and drinking. The doctors believed that it was time. There was nothing else to do, but make sure she was comfortable. I was in Michigan to look after Dad as Mom was going to have her knee replaced. I made it a point to go to the hospice…to say goodbye. I secretly hoped she might get better, but I was realistic that she was nearing her end. Indeed a few weeks later she did die after being on this earth for 87 years.

Two years ago, Daniel and I took my parents to Puerto Rico, where my mother is from. We took time to visit relatives and do some sightseeing. I got the chance to go Arecibo Observatory, home to one of the largest radio telescopes in the world. At this location in Carribean, humanity could plumb the depths of space and still only understand a mere fraction of it.

I remember when I had the chance to travel to mainland China while in seminary. We had the opportunity to worship with our sisters and brothers in the remote southwest of the the nation…all under the watchful eye of the government, which had sent a long folks to “protect us.” I learned how it was to be faithful in a society where the government saw you as a potential threat.

Christmas Eve is always a challenge for pastors. We feel the need to preach, but the fact is, the message has been told again and again in the songs and the reading of Scripture. There isn’t much more to add, so my words are going to be short…hopefully.

The two gospel passages tonight look at the coming of Jesus in different ways. Luke talks about Mary and Joseph, a pregnancy, a census that the Romans wanted, and having to give birth to baby in smelly stable. Everything here is somewhat mundane, everyday. Yes, there is that whole angel thing with the shepherd, but even the shepherds were so plain. Luke’s story is about people, places and things. It’s concrete. John on the other hand, is a whole different animal. Where things are finite and ordinary in Luke, John tends to deal with the infinite. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” says John 1:1. There is no Mary, no Joseph, no shepherds, no angels. Instead we have talk about the Word or Logos, about being rejected by people, about the Word being around since the beginning of time. In the midst of all this, verse 14 talks about the Word, the cosmic, the infinite taking on flesh and living among humanity.

Think about that for a moment. The infinite got involved with the finite. Here’s what John 1:14 says according to the Message translation of the Bible:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

This is what Christmas is about. God, the infinite, the all powerful and all knowing, became a helpless baby. God loved creation so much God decided to become one of us, to accept the limits of being human. God became Immanuel, God with us, by becoming one of us. God moved into the neighborhood.

As we get together with family and friends tomorrow, remember this: Christmas is about God getting involved in the life of the world for its salvation. God is about moving into our hearts and joining us in the good and the bad. Charles Wesley expressed this in his carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The third verse explains this wonderfully:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

God has moved in. There goes the neighborhood. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: “Blasphemous Rumors”


“Blasphemous Rumors”
Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 22, 2013
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours
But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor
And when I die I expect to find Him laughing

-Blasphemous Rumors, Depeche Mode, 1984

Those are the lyrics of a song called “Blasphemous Rumors” by the British New Wave band Depeche Mode. It’s an interesting song, because it takes on the topic of suffering and where faith intersects. In the song, we hear of a young girl trying to commit suicide, failing at first and then succeeding and another girl who became a committed Christian only to end up in a accident that left her on life support until the decision was made to turn the machine off.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t like this song because it seemed to denounce God for not stopping the evil that overtook these two women. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to see how this song is a song of complaint and questioning. Why does evil exist in this world? How can a good God allow such bad things to happen?

Saturday was the Winter Solstice, the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the day in the year with the shortest amount of daylight. A number of churches are starting to do services around that day that are little less festive than the rest of the season. The service goes by different names: Blue Christmas, Longest Night, Service of Light and so on. I’ve done a Blue Christmas service at First Christian in Minneapolis in 2011 and 2012 and I hope to do one here next year. The point of the service is to help those who might be facing a Christmas without a loved one, or are facing a job loss or anything that could keep you from celebrating during the holidays. These services provide a space for grief and sadness amidst the joy. It helps people remember that God has not forgotten them. Continue reading “Sermon: “Blasphemous Rumors””

Sermon: “Things Can Only Get Better”

“Things Can Only Get Better”
Isaiah 11:1-10
Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2013
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

When I Daniel and I moved to our house in North Minneapolis back in 2007, there was a large Silver Maple tree in the backyard. This tree was quite fruitful, because we were always getting rid of little saplings that seemed to appear everywhere in our yard. Three years later, we decided to expand our house. We also learned the maple tree was diseased, which meant it was susceptible to falling over. So, we called a service and had the mighty tree taken down.

As I had said earlier, we were doing some remodeling which would include a bathroom and bedroom. We wanted to have hardwood flooring in that room and Daniel came up with an idea. There’s a business in Minneapolis called “Wood From the Hood.” The company specializes in reclaims wood from discarded trees in urban areas an turns them into wood products. In our case, the silver maple was taken and turned into plank upon plank of blonde hardwood that now grace the downstairs bedroom. What was once a diseased tree ripe to fall down, was turned into something useful and beautiful.

We are continuing our journey through the book of Isaiah during Advent and on the concept of waiting. Today’s passage is one of hope. The people of Israel have seen their land divided into two kingdoms. At some point, the Northern Kingdom was overrun and fell to conquering armies. The Southern Kingdom’s days were numbered as the Regional powers in the area rattled their sabres. In the midst of all this, the writer start’s talking about some guy named Jesse. For those who either don’t know or remember, Jesse was the father of David, the great king of Israel. All of the kings of the Southern Kingdom were from the line of Jesse. Some were kings faithful to God, and other, not so much. In the last days of the Southern Kingdom and during exile, there had to be some thought that the royal lineage was gone forever. No more kings.

But the writer tells the audience to not loose hope. He says that life will spring from the stump of Jesse’s tree or family lineage. A shoot will spring up and this bearer of hope will rule with justice. Lions and lambs will sleep together in peace.

The writer was telling the people that even though things look dark, there will come a day when a new Davidic king will arise and rule not only the Israelites, but all the nations with justice.

It’s important to note that there were no more kings of Israel after the fall of both kingdoms. So, what was the writer talking about?

For Jews, the stump might be Hezekiah a king of Judah that instituted a time of righteous reform. But Christians have seen this passage as talking about another ancestor of Jesse, that is Jesus. Out of a lineage that didn’t produce kings anymore, would come a great king, one that would make all the difference in the world.

God has a habit of using things that seem useless for God’s great work in the world. God used a dynasty of a long ago king to bring salvation to all of creation. Jesus would usher in a new kingdom unlike any the world has seen.

As I was preparing this sermon, I kept thinking of stumps, actually one particular stump, this congregation. This an old and established congregation that is nearly 130 years old. If we could walk up to the stump of First Christian St. Paul/Mahtomedi, we would see ring upon ring of history. But we would also feel a bit of sadness because…well, it’s stump. There’s no tree. And it can feel like that all that is left of this congregation is a stump.

But what if God is not done with us? What if there is a green shoot growing from the stump? What if from the big stump, a new plant is growing and over time will grow and grow? In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve been amazed at how much faith you all have. In many cases, when a church is down to a handful, the tendency is to close. But you didn’t. I don’t know why you didn’t, but if I would hazzard a guess, it would be that you saw a green shoot coming up out of the stump. You saw life where there wasn’t supposed to be any. You had faith that God was doing a good work here and you are waiting to see what God is doing. I know congregations that are larger than you that have just given up.

The birth of Jesus was astounding. The coming King was born when Israel was a backwater of a large empire. He was born to an unmarried woman. And yet, God did wonders.

I want to end with a quote I found this week as i was preparing for this sermon. It’s by Barbara Lundblad a Lutheran theologian. Here it is:

“What if we believe this fragile sign is God’s beginning? Perhaps then we will tend the seedling in our hearts, the place where faith longs to break through the hardness of our disbelief. Do not wait for the tree to be full grown. God comes to us in this Advent time and invites us to move beyond counting the rings of the past. We may still want to sit on the stump for a while, and God will sit with us. But God will also keep nudging us: “Look! Look — there on the stump. Do you see that green shoot growing?””

During this time of year, may God give us the patience to let the little seeds we see in the world grow. And as God’s work grow, may we grow in faith to see God’s mighty deeds. Amen.