ASH WEDNESDAY, February 25

A reading from Luke 15

THE PRODIGAL SON

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place … and he began to be in need. … When he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you … treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father.

But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.…

Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.’ … Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

Today we have the opportunity to have the sign of the cross marked on our foreheads with ashes as we hear these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are reminded of our mortality. We are reminded that we are lost and have gone astray.

As we read this familiar parable, we often place ourselves in the story. Which character are you? Do you feel like the son who has wandered far away, blowing your inheritance? Or the son who has grown bitter, staying close and doing your duty but not being rewarded for it?

We may relate to a different son at different times in our lives. But we rejoice in the unwavering, unconditional love of the father. The father comes out to meet both sons, with arms open, inviting them back into a relationship with him. Whether he is running out to greet the lost son on the road or going out to plead with the older son to join the party, the father’s arms and heart are wide open.

We, too, experience moments when we are lost. Yet God seeks us out. God comes to us with open arms, ready to welcome us back into a relationship, no matter what has pulled us away.

Gracious God, thank you for your unwavering, unconditional love. As we move into this season of Lent, draw us out of our lost places and back into your loving embrace. Amen

The Rev. Kristin Neitzel,
Associate Pastor

Thursday, February 26

A reading from Luke 13

THE BARREN FIG TREE

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

The owner of the vineyard was displeased with the barrenness of the fig tree, but the gardener encouraged him to give it another chance. It needed something it was not receiving ― steady and proper attention.

Most plantings require nourishment and purposeful attention for good results. So it is also with the growth of our faith life. As we profess our faith and strive to live in such a way that our very lives reflect our faith, we must apply the gardener’s suggestion.

We must nourish our faith, feed it with prayer, study the scriptures, reflect on Christ’s example and allow our faith to grow and flourish. Then our faith will bloom and grow and sustain us when we lean even more on the love and support of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear and Gracious Lord, be with us as we study your word. Grant that we apply what we learn to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to you and an example to others. Amen

Lotus Gerards

Friday, February 27

A reading from Luke 14

THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

This parable reminds me of an adolescent experience. I did not grow up Lutheran. My family belonged to a non-denominational group. During our annual religious convention, attended by members from all over North Carolina, those who wished to accept Christ were invited to stand. When I was about 12, I knew that God was calling me, yet I refused the call. I feared that I would have to give up too many things I enjoyed. So I sat, trembling. Several months later, after much soul-searching, I became a Christian. This time, I didn’t count the cost. Instead, I gave myself over and experienced tremendous peace and joy.

I believe this willingness to give God control of one’s life is what Jesus means when he tells his disciples, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Perhaps he does mean to sell everything ― as he instructed the rich young man who wanted to join the kingdom. But maybe it means to “let go and let God.” We do not lose control of our lives, for we are finally freed from sin’s bondage to enjoy them. Nor do we become poorer in doing so. Everything we have (including our lives) already belongs to God. We share in spiritual richness as we become God’s children and Jesus’ siblings!

Father, thank you that our price to be your children is so small since your Son paid the ultimate price. And we thank you that the rewards are so great. Amen

Dr. Eunice Doman Myers

Saturday, February 28

A reading from Matthew 13

THE WEEDS

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Jesus’ parable of the weeds speaks directly to us about the world we live in. We are born and baptized as children of God and raised in the belief that he is our Savior and Messiah, so we grow as the wheat: strong and firm as Christians. But the devil also plants his “seeds” among us in order to confuse us, tempt us and draw us away from the glory of God.

Jesus tells us to be aware of those around us who sin; they will continue to exist as the “weeds in the fields” of our lives. He also ensures us that he will deal with them at the time of the “harvest,” which is the end of time. That is when the “harvester” angels will gather us as God’s children and take us to our eternal heavenly home. The unrepentant will also be gathered and thrown into the depths of hell.

None of us knows when the harvest will come. So we must be prepared. We must pray daily, believe earnestly and be disciples as we bring others to know Jesus. Only then will we truly know his abundant love and grace, as we are brought into the place that he has prepared for us to live with him for all eternity.

Jesus, give us the strength to confront the “weeds” in our lives and continue to grow strong in our faith and love for you. Amen

Bob Livingston

Sunday, March 1

A reading from Jeremiah 24

THE FIG BASKETS

The Lord showed me two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord…. One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good and bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: “Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”

But thus says the Lord: “Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat … the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land…. I will make them a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth – a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they are utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.”

When Judah was conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC, many of the best and brightest Israelites were taken forcibly from their own land and relocated to Babylon (Iraq) where they were put to work in service of the king. Many others were left at home in Judah tending the flocks and the crops. These two groups – the captives and those left behind – are represented by the baskets of good and bad figs in Jeremiah’s story. How strange that the “figs so bad they can’t be eaten” represent the seemingly fortunate Israelites who escaped captivity, while the good figs represent those who suffered in Babylon.

Bad things do happen to good people. Diseases afflict the good as well as the wicked among us. Relationships disintegrate, jobs disappear, savings vaporize, people starve to death in Africa and freeze to death in the American Midwest – all this without respect for the virtue of those involved. There are moments of emotional exile in every life – moments of suffering and insecurity, moments when the world makes no sense and hope seems far away. “My God, my God,” we cry, “why have you forsaken me?”

God never abandoned the captives in Babylon, and neither will God abandon us during our personal exile experiences. We may feel alone, separated from God and from one another. Sometimes God may seem more like a silent partner in our lives than an active participant. But read again the active role God claims: “I will build them up… I will give them a heart… I will be their God.”

God is active here among us. There is hope beyond exile.

Gracious God, give me a new heart to know that you are Lord. Even when I can’t see you or hear you, let me feel your presence beside me. Amen

Dallas Cronk

Monday, March 2

A reading from Matthew 7

THE WISE BUILDER

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell ― and great was its fall!”

If you’re a sports fan, you know the mantra: Work on the fundamentals! It doesn’t matter if we’re talking football, basketball, swimming, ice skating, tennis, gymnastics, or sumo wrestling. Achievement in any sport is fleeting unless the athlete is smart enough to build his career on the fundamentals.

I’m a golfer, so Tiger Woods is my poster boy. This guy’s been working on the fundamentals since he was a baby. At age 2, he won a putting contest against Bob Hope on TV. The next year, he played a 9-hole demo game on a California golf course and posted a score of 48. Not a bad score for a 3-year-old. Actually, it would be a pretty darn good score for me these days.

Since then, Tiger has joined the ranks of one-name celebrities. He’s won every major amateur and professional championship in his sport, not to mention multimillions of dollars, great fame and a guaranteed spot in the Golf Hall of Fame.

What makes Tiger so different from other golfers? He is physically gifted, of course, but most pro athletes are. Tiger is unique because he learned the fundamentals of golf at a very early age and never lost sight of them. His father drilled him over and over on the correct grip, the correct swing and, most of all, the correct mental attitude. Tiger’s father, Earl Woods, taught him a strict physical and mental training regimen that Tiger practices to this day. Tiger is Tiger because he has built his life on foundational rock, not on celebrity sand.

Golf may seem a trivial analogy for the Wise Builder mentioned in today’s parable. And maybe it is trivial. Jesus wasn’t talking about a golf tournament, after all. He was talking about life and how we live it. Do we have our feet firmly planted in the Word before we swing into action? Do we have faith that, when we do swing, we will end up where we want to be? Are we even aiming in the right direction?

It’s all about fundamentals.

Creator God, you are the foundation upon which we build. Keep us on the solid ground of your promises. Amen

Tom Cronk

Tuesday, March 3

A reading from Luke 7

THE MONEY LENDER

“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed 500 denarii and the other 50. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

I am writing this just three days before Christmas, and I think about all the families who are struggling in this economy. Many face foreclosure of their home. Others face losing jobs. Many have stretched their credit to the limit. Wouldn’t it be a joyous moment for those people if the phone would ring and a voice on the other end would say, “This is your bank calling,” or “This is the credit card company calling,” or maybe “This is your boss calling.” And the voice would say, “We have decided to just wipe the slate clean. Consider your home paid off, or “Your credit card balance has been reduced to zero” or, “Don’t worry, your job is safe.” Just picture the scene. People jumping up and down, overcome with joy, singing praises to the bank, the credit card company or their boss with tears streaming down their cheeks.

Most people have experienced times in their lives when there was more month than there was money, times when they had to sit down and figure out how to stretch a paycheck, which bills could be paid and which would have to wait. But Jesus was not talking about financial problems. He was talking about spiritual debts. He was talking about our sins, great and small. How many times have we fallen short, committed an act of selfishness or dishonesty or failed in other ways? In our confession, we ask forgiveness for things done and things left undone, for sins known and sins unknown. We fail over and over. But each time we do, Jesus calls. And the voice on the other end says, “I have decided to wipe the slate clean. I forgive you. You don’t owe anything. Why? Because I love you. I love you so much I am willing to die for you, and I will do this over and over.

But I wonder do we react to this call the same way we would if it was the bank or the credit card company or our boss calling? Do we jump up and down? Do tears stream down our faces? Is it the most joyous occasion?

Which one of us should love him more? The answer is all of us. We should love him with all our strength and all our might, because he first loved us. Jump for joy or fall on your knees, but know that no matter how great or how small your debt, Jesus is always there to say: “Don’t worry. All is forgiven.”

Father in heaven, help us to forgive others as you have forgiven us. Amen

Jerry Whetstone

Wednesday, March 4

A reading from Matthew 20

THE WORKERS IN THE VINEYARD

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out at about 9 o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about 3 o’clock, he did the same. And about 5 o’clock he went out and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about 5 o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This parable reminds me of a time about 43 years ago when I was working construction. It was winter, with snow on the ground. Another fellow and I were digging post holes and setting pipe posts in cement. As I recall, we were repairing a perimeter fence at the Dodge City sanitation department.

Out of the blue, this other fellow asked what I got paid. Not using good judgment, I gave an honest answer and then had the opportunity to listen to him rail about why he thought he should earn as much as I did.

Sometimes we do not appreciate the good things that God gives us. How many times have you heard someone complain about their job? Or comment, “Not my job,” when asked to do something different? We should appreciate what God has given us. If the job is not a good fit for your skills and aptitude, find one that is. I for one believe that God wants us to be cheerful workers. Being a positive worker is an opportunity to be a Christian witness.

Dear God, we pray for guidance as we select a career in which to serve you and those around us. Comfort us as we face day-to-day tribulations at work. Prepare us for the joy of your love. Amen

Richard McDiffett

Thursday, March 5

A reading from Matthew 9

THE NEW WINESKINS

“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

I have read this parable over and over again and have prayed for God to inspire me as I write. I want to relate these words of Jesus to my life and the lives of readers, but at this moment my life is totally consumed by a remodeling project at our home. I keep trying, but it’s hard to find a clear connection between new wineskins and old floors.

We are replacing all the old flooring in our house with new hardwood. Some of the old boards are probably OK, but we wouldn’t want to mix new boards and old boards. In the first place, it wouldn’t look right. In the second place, it wouldn’t work right. The old boards are weak, discolored, warped and squeaky. The new boards are strong, bright, straight and silent. If we nail some of the old boards and some of the new boards together side by side, the boards might eventually pull away from each other, leaving a weaker floor than we had before we started this project. So we are installing all new boards, boards that will react uniformly to wear and tear.

What does any of this have to do with new wineskins? Jesus was talking about how hard it was for the Jews to understand God’s kingdom. The Jews (especially the Pharisees) believed in the law. They were rigid in their beliefs, brittle like old wineskins, and couldn’t be flexible enough to accept the new wine that Jesus brought to the table. Like my old floorboards, they would squeak and creak, but they couldn’t expand to handle new energy.

What a great opportunity we have at Reformation Lutheran Church right now. We have new pastors who bring renewed energy and vision. We have a new church council, willing to learn and to lead. We are blessed with a gifted membership, pledged to serve God by serving others. May we, in community, be like new wineskins, flexible and able to expand with the excitement of new wine.

Heavenly Father, help us to grow in your love, to be a complement to each other’s ideas and experiences, and especially to remember that your Son gave his life so that we might have eternal life. Amen

Sheryl Johnson

Friday, March 6

A reading from Matthew 24

THE FAITHFUL SERVANT

“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

As this is written, my family and I are preparing for Christmas, which will be shared with guests from other households. We plan the menu, make a shopping list, buy the groceries. We clean and decorate the house and shovel the snow off the driveway and sidewalk.

At this Christmas season, we have also counted down the days on an Advent calendar and lighted candles on the Advent wreath while awaiting the greatest gift ever given ― the baby Jesus, God’s own Son, our Savior.

So how do we prepare for him? How do we become the faithful servant? Have we really heard the ways in which God is calling us to serve? How best can we fulfill our commitment as Christians by the way we lead our lives?

Each of us has something we can offer to God through service to the people of God. We share our finances through our offerings, but we can also share our time in service to church and community. We can share encouragement, smiles and handshakes. Sometimes we share tears ― either of joy or sorrow. And always we can share love for one another and, most especially, for God.

Let us respect and honor the presence of God in our lives by dedicating ourselves to be his faithful servants today and every day.

Loving God, teach us and use us for service to you as faithful and wise servants. Amen

Marjorie Bender

Saturday, March 7

A reading from Luke 15

THE LOST COIN

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Once again we find Jesus hanging out with the undesirables such as tax collectors and other notorious sinners, and yet again, he is criticized by the Pharisees and notable religious law teachers for doing so. It is not difficult to imagine their deep concern and sense of outrage. That sort of behavior by a supposed religious leader could not be tolerated.

In response, Jesus used a series of parables to preach his message of inclusiveness. “The Lost Coin” is the middle one, sandwiched in between a lost sheep and a lost son. I am guessing he figured the Pharisees could relate to the concept of money, whether it be lost or found.

In biblical times, many Palestinian women received 10 silver coins as a wedding gift. These coins were valued both monetarily and sentimentally, much as wedding rings today. When I researched the coins, I found that even today, some women incorporate coins into their jewelry in an effort to keep them close at hand. Lost rings and lost coins are both causes for much anguish and searching.

Jesus points out that surely a lost soul is just as important as a lost coin. The angels rejoice at the return of a repentant sinner. My study Bible concludes that “we would have more joy in our churches if we shared Jesus’ love and concern for the lost.”

Heavenly Father, be with us as we begin our Lenten journey to the cross and help us to remain diligent in our search for the lost. Amen

Suzanne Koch

Sunday, March 8

A reading from Isaiah 5

THE UNFRUITFUL VINEYARD

Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines;
He built a watch tower in the midst of it;
He expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured.
I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;

It shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briars and thorns.
I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting;
He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.

Read this passage again slowly. Think about who the characters in the parable represent, then about where you fit.

I know what I am. It’s easy for me to look down at those horrible Israelites who produced wild grapes. I’d never be one of those. And if I were, I’d never be as wild as they were. Or would I be? Have I been? The answer is a quiet “yes.”

Just out of high school, I thought that I would become a director of Christian education. I’d been the model “church kid” through most of school. Youth group, services, the occasional youth gathering. So I attended a Lutheran college.

Talk about your wild grapes! Now, I didn’t produce cranberries or turnips. What I produced was still recognizable as grapes ― but certainly not the grapes that the Vinedresser justly expected. If grape vines could have thorns, my vine would have had thorns. In college I was a stinker with professors, and pushed limits in all parts of life. My grapes were sour, if they had any taste at all. But I always thought (and sometimes still think) that I produced a good grape. We each tend to think we make the best grapes ever. The men of Judah thought they made good grapes.

But they didn’t. And I don’t. And you don’t. The Vinedresser wants good grapes, and gets the likes of us. He is ready to take down the walls and let the vineyard go to weeds and thorns. He may not even water the vineyard anymore.

Holy God, gently show me who I truly am. Then, in your mercy, rebuild the vineyard, send rain and make me a vine with grapes pleasing to you. Amen

Tim Meyer
Seminarian

Monday, March 9

A reading from Matthew 13

THE YEAST

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

The short little parable of the yeast was hard for me to understand at first. Why did I not get it? Probably because I do not use yeast. For me, bread is purchased in a bag, biscuits in a package and rolls in a refrigerated can. So what’s yeast good for? Any self-respecting baker knows that yeast causes unbaked dough to rise, to expand. But I am not a baker, and so yeast is a mystery to me.

The woman in the story adds a small amount of yeast to a very large amount of flour. The yeast causes the dough to grow, to rise to an unbelievable size, able to feed many. If we, as Christians, are going to include “yeast” in our lives, we must be prepared to let our faith grow. We must add the yeast of the Word to our lives, so we can share the Good News, so we can give to the community by tending the sick, the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned.

One kind word, one small deed, can be multiplied by the people we touch, just as the yeast multiplies the dough. Thinking of this particular parable reminded me of the movie “Pay it Forward.” The movie prompted talk show hosts and reporters to find people who were paying it forward. People of all walks of life realized that a small gesture, a tiny bit of “yeast,” would grow and lead to many receiving kind actions and small gestures.

An interesting aspect of this parable is that in some translations (not including the NRSV quoted above) the woman in the parable “hid” the yeast in the flour, suggesting that for some, the kingdom of heaven is hidden. It is our responsibility as Christians to “unhide” the power of the Gospel, the Good News, by revealing the true Word.

Having been a teacher for many years, I believe that my actions, my morals, my beliefs, my feelings ― in addition to my knowledge of my subject matter ― are the “yeasts” that inspire my students to grow, to rise, to use their own “yeast” in their abilities, morals and actions.

I don’t bake. But this parable has opened my eyes to the fact that we all have our own “yeast,” and we must not hide it; we must share it and let it rise so that we can touch, inspire and encourage others.

Dear Jesus, help us to use the yeast in each of us, so that the kingdom of heaven is not hidden, but revealed and shared. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen

Barbara Orsak

Tuesday, March 10

A reading from Matthew 24

THE FIG TREE

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

One of my favorite toys as a kid was the Magic 8-Ball. You could ask it any question and then flip it over to reveal the answer. It was amazing! Somehow, the Magic 8-Ball knew the answers to questions about gifts, vacations, punishments, who liked who and whatever else the future might hold. When asked, “Will I get a bike for my birthday?” the answer came, “Almost certainly.” Wow!

Wouldn’t it be nice if real life were so simple? Humans are preoccupied with knowing what’s around the bend. We read horoscopes, tear into fortune cookies, participate in DNA testing, and spend hours watching weather channels hoping to get a glimpse of what’s ahead.

The disciples wanted to know the future, too. They were concerned with Jesus’ talk about the end of the age when the Son of Man will return – when Jesus will come again. When will this be? When will pain and suffering end? When will you come, Jesus, and make things right? He told them to pay attention to the signs around them, pointing to the cycle of the fig tree for clues; tender branches and leaves tell when summer is coming.

God’s promises are not as random as the Magic 8-Ball. There are signs all around us. God is here and will stay here, even as Jesus promises to come again. There will continue to be wars and suffering, mourning and sorrow, but not forever. There will be a day when Jesus returns and brings a new era. We can look forward with hope now, as if something is already beginning to blossom and emerge – something beautiful that signals God’s never ending presence with us. The hints are everywhere.

Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light, take my hand
precious Lord, lead me home. (George N. Allen)

The Rev. Lowell Michelson
Senior Pastor

Wednesday, March 11

A reading from Matthew 21

THE TWO SONS

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not;’ but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir;’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

My grandma’s feet are legendary. She suffered from foot problems for years after a lifetime wearing high heels. Frequently, my mom would share stories of helping grandma wash her feet and trim the toenails she had left. Clipping her nails was beyond my grandma’s ability. Because she lived alone, it was a chore that rarely was done.

Although I knew her feet were a source of pain and discomfort, the stories grossed me out! The last thing I wanted to imagine was the gnarled toes of my octogenarian grandma’s feet. My mom explained that is what we do for people we love, and I denied her. Getting up close and personal to what could best be described as “claws” was not anything I was going to volunteer for ― ever. Not only was I adamant about never clipping anyone else’s toenails, I teased my mom mercilessly for having done it for someone else.

Over Christmas one year, I had the opportunity to spend some time alone in another city with my grandma. She was sitting on the couch, straining to change her socks. I sneaked a peek at her feet (fully aware of their reputation) and it caught me off guard. They did look terrible ― and painful! I asked grandma how her feet were feeling, and she said they were giving her some problems as usual. I hesitatingly asked if she would like me to help soak her feet and trim her nails. She lit up like a Christmas tree! “Oh, would you?” she exclaimed, literally clapping her hands together.

For the next hour, I trimmed and soaked and massaged and lotioned up my grandma’s tootsies. She relished the experience and, after my initial trepidation, I actually enjoyed helping her feel better. It was probably the most personal time I have ever spent with my grandma, and I’m so glad now for the opportunity to do something for her that she appreciated so much.

Dear God, walk with us as we do good works with the help of the Holy Spirit. Help us to submit to your teachings in both word and actions. Amen

Jennifer Worrel

Thursday, March 12

A reading from Luke 11

THE FRIEND IN NEED

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”

The disciples had just asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. After teaching them “The Lord’s Prayer,” as we call it today, Jesus continued with this parable to explain how we are expected to pray.

A man was in need of bread to serve unexpected guests who had arrived late at night, so he went to his friend and neighbor to borrow some bread. The typical poor Israelite family lived in a one-room house, which sometimes also served as a stable for the animals. By the time the family and animals were settled down for the night, it would be quite an ordeal to get up and open the door. So the man in the house told his neighbor to go away; he didn’t want to wake the entire household. However, the man in need continued to ask until his friend obliged his request just to get rid of him. Boldness and persistence paid off!

Jesus encourages such an attitude in our fervent and constant prayer. We must pray for what we need, for the kingdom of God to come near, for God’s will to be done, for daily bread, for forgiveness of our sins and to be forgiving, for safety, and for the Holy Spirit. For it is by the Holy Spirit that we are brought to know God and ourselves, to repent, and to believe in and love Christ. Although God may not answer our prayers immediately or speedily or in the manner that we expect, he will answer them.

We may find comfort in the verses that follow this parable: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. … If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Dear Heavenly Father, graciously give us the power of your Holy Spirit to guide and to encourage us in persistent and even audacious prayer for those things which you would have us ask. Give us the strength and boldness to say, “Your will be done.” Amen

Marlene Hallstrom
Associate in Ministry

Friday, March 13

A reading from Matthew 13

THE DRAGNET

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

By high school, the issue is pretty much settled. Except for possibly some new kids, it was decided in junior high who would play basketball and who wouldn’t. Ten boys try out for every available position. The coach and his assistants judgmentally watch the tryouts. Each prospect dribbles in and out of a line of chairs, alternating dribbling hands at every turn. Then they do speed sprints and jumping drills. The goal is to demonstrate superior ability. Eventually, the head coach and his assistants call the group together for the announcement. Names are read. A few are directed to the “chosen” group; most are rejected.

The same process goes on in all sports, cheerleading (I’ve been told), drama, Science Olympiad, etc. Kids are evaluated and chosen or rejected. Those who are rejected, except in very rare circumstances, never get another chance. Parents can’t change the outcome. There is no appeal.

Having children who have been among the selected sometimes and among the rejected other times, it’s a little bit of a heaven or hell experience.

Heavenly Father, we know the day will come when you return and reward your sheep with everlasting life. Keep us from failing the least of your children. Grant us the depth of faith and inspiration to do your good works, be righteous and join you in eternal life. Amen

Keith Martin

Saturday, March 14

A reading from Matthew 13

THE HIDDEN TREASURES

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

One of the greatest gifts of getting older is developing a stronger knowledge of what really matters in life. If you are a Christian, it is a time when you are blessed with an even greater faith in God and in the gift of love he has given us.

The tradition at Reformation Lutheran Church has been to write the Lenten devotionals at Christmas time. There is some irony in writing about Lent at the time of Christ’s birth. The true meaning of Christmas often gets lost in the marketing and materialism of Christmas. We are bombarded with messages about what we should want and what we need to achieve happiness.

As you grow older, your wants are fewer. Time with family and friends is the most important gift. Your longing at Christmas is for the sacred. You understand the greatest treasure in life is the belief in and love for Christ and the knowledge that his birth assures us of eternal life. All we have to do is accept this greatest of gifts.

The complications of life often blur the true meaning of life. Material things pass away and personal glory fades. The one truth in life is that God is with us. He sent his Son to die for us. My prayer for you this Lenten season is that you stop and take time to feel the presence of God.

Thank you, God, for sending your Son to die for our sins. Help us to trust and obey you. Thank you for the assurance of eternal life with you. Amen

Judy McDiffett

Sunday, March 15

A reading from 2 Samuel 12

THE EWE LAMB

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of the meager fare and drink from his cup and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

When I first read this parable, I thought of my experiences growing up on the farm. I enjoyed making pets out of the animals. I named a favorite chicken Corky. When Corky died of an illness, I made a headstone and buried the chicken. Like the poor man with the ewe lamb in the parable, I was devastated. To me, Corky was family.

Nathan’s parable is not really about pet animals, however. It is about sin. The prophet Nathan was sent by the Lord to give this parable to King David to illustrate David’s sinful actions. David had arranged for Uriah’s death so David could have Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, for himself.

When Nathan told David this parable, David was outraged by the rich man’s conduct. He told Nathan surely the rich man deserved to die. David did not recognize that the rich man in the parable was a reference to himself. Only when Nathan confronted David about his sinful behavior did David realize the parable was speaking about him.

The good news is that David later repented to the Lord. Though David was held accountable for his sins, the Lord accepted his repentance and continued to look with favor upon David.

The Lenten season is a time for self-examination and repentance for our many shortcomings. May we seek our Lord’s forgiveness, for he is a just, merciful and loving God.

Thank you, Lord, for always loving us. May we always come to you in prayer. Amen

Larry D. Ehrlich

Monday, March 16

A reading from Matthew 5

THE LAMP

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

My brother is one who let his light shine. In 1989 we buried his 16-year-old daughter the day after Christmas. Wayne was devastated. At the time he was president of his ELCA church council.

We were amazed at the number of people who told us how much Sunday school meant to Amy. These testimonials came from friends, neighbors, the elderly, but especially from her classmates at public school.

Shortly thereafter, Wayne attended a synod meeting where a new program was introduced. The plan was for members to pledge a minimum of $100 a year to a new church/Sunday School building fund. They got fewer than 20 pledges. Wayne said to the bishop, “If I couldn’t sell something that important better than that, I wouldn’t try.” To which the bishop replied, “If you think you can do better, Wayne, we’ll just let you.” “OK!” Wayne answered.

For the next three years, most Sundays, he preached in ELCA churches all over Florida. He talked about how important Sunday school had been to his daughter and what it meant to him to know how deeply she had been influenced by attending church. He ended by telling audience members that they had the opportunity to make such an influence available for all the children of the synod, and what a shame it would be if they lost any child for lack of a building for worship. After he raised more than $750,000, he was on the cover of The Lutheran.

He had two lights to shine: that of a salesman and that of his love for family. You have a light to shine too. You can fold bulletins, make prayer shawls and blankets, greet people, be a lector, sing in choir or visit the sick or imprisoned. Nothing is too humble to serve the One who gave his life for us.

Dear Lord, help me to shine my light for your glory. Amen

Jolene Dougherty

Tuesday, March 17

A reading from Matthew 13

THE HOMEOWNER

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Something old, something new.

Who doesn’t find comfort in the familiar? We don old sweaters, curl up with beloved books, talk to longtime friends. These are things we can count on to give us feelings of happiness and ease.

Sometimes, though, the familiar is not enough. Sometimes it is redundant. Ah, then, something new is appealing. It provides something different, a new perspective. It can bring a new flavor to your life, something you might actually enjoy again and again, until it becomes … the familiar. It’s like buying new ornaments to hang up with your family heirlooms on the Christmas tree. Or putting up new curtains in the front room.

In Jesus’ time, those who knew and taught what we now call the Old Testament went through a very vivid version of mixing the old and the new. They knew all the stories and prophecies by heart. They recited them and examined them almost every day.

Then Jesus came along. Now those prophecies were not only being remembered, they were coming true! Things that had been long promised were being lived by Jesus. Some of the teachers and leaders didn’t want to believe it, but it was all real. And those willing to accept the truth found their world rocked. As Jesus put it in this parable, for those who knew the law, it was like bringing out new treasures with the old. Jesus was that new treasure!

Though these events happened ages ago, the wonder that was Jesus resonates as much as ever. Jesus may be the rock of ages, but he’s a treasure to mankind that shines like new.

Dear God, in our old troubled world, thank you for the always-new treasure of salvation provided by your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Ken Hobart

Wednesday, March 18

A reading from Luke 16

THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘in They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

He was an honorable man! A family man! He loved his father and his five brothers. They got along swimmingly in their carefree, self-indulgent lifestyle. And he was very wealthy. He was well-respected in the community for his leadership qualities, qualities that were at least partially responsible for his wealth. Most likely, he was an active member of the synagogue. People kowtowed to him to gain his favor. And many coveted an invitation to be a guest at one of his sumptuous dinner parties.

The guest list at his parties was long and impressive: bankers and CEOs, politicians and power brokers, artists and other celebrities. Oh! It was really something to be a guest there.

It wasn’t that he abused Lazarus. He simply ignored Lazarus. Going in and out of his gate, self-absorbed, he didn’t even notice the wretched creature lying there.

I certainly do not consider myself to be wealthy (unless, of course, I weigh myself on the same scale with the homeless, hungry, shivering people of the community and the world). But how very easy it is for me, self-absorbed, to be preoccupied with my compelling interest of the moment and to ignore or overlook the plight of one of Jesus’ little ones who is in great need. Lord have mercy!

Lord, grant me a loving awareness of the needs of others and a willing readiness to share my blessings. Amen

Wil Johnson

Thursday, March 19

A reading from Matthew 21

THE TENANTS

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes?’ Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

Jesus’ parables sometimes disturb me. It may be because I like books and movies with happy endings, where good overcomes evil. Our lives with Jesus will have happy endings but in the meantime, there is a lot of trouble and chaos in the world. How do we deal with this in our lives?

At this time of year, I get inspired to reorganize, clean out clutter and renew commitments to exercise, healthy eating, etc. I read with enthusiasm the article in the Jan. 1 Wichita Eagle by Suzanne Perez Tobias called “This year, I’ll make life’s margins bigger.” It focused on the ever-elusive simplicity and spiritual renewal that we hunger for in our lives. I know I get overwhelmed with work, organizational commitments and other activities, and soon I’m rushing around and not making time for what matters most. This is just like the Pharisees in our parable. They had all sorts of reasons for rejecting Jesus and the life he wants people to have. I think Jesus is telling us the same thing he told the Pharisees – focus on him, do things that really matter and leave room in your life for spontaneity and daily unexpected joys.

Jesus, help me to focus on you this Lenten season as I try to commit to those things that really matter following you, taking care of myself and my loved ones, and slowing down to enjoy the creation you have provided. In your name I pray. Amen

Marsha Meili

Friday, March 20

A reading from Luke 12

THE WATCHFUL SERVANTS

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But know this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

I scratch my head at this parable. What does it mean? The Greek translation of the first part literally says "the loins having been girded.” The text also talks about masters and slaves; does this image work for us? This world we live in is obviously much different from that of first-century Christians. The focus of this text is the repetition of the word “come/coming” in Greek. The word shows up in five of six verses in this parable. Read the passage again with the emphasis on the word “come.”

I often ask young people this question: “If Jesus were to come to Seattle tomorrow, would you go visit?” After the logistics of securing a plane flight, certainty is a requirement to make the trip. As you ponder if you would go, start with this question: “Have we learned how to be prepared for the Son of Man’s unexpected return?”

The first step in being prepared is to expect it. We live as if Jesus were already here. We understand as God’s people that the Jesus who is going to come in the future is the Jesus who came in the past and who comes in the present as we gather to proclaim the Gospel and share in the sacrament.

Being prepared means to let Jesus prepare us for the coming. In this season of Lent, we gather in preparation. We do this not by making sure we are dressed for battle or by putting locks on our homes. We prepare ourselves with the small piece of bread and tiny glass of wine that we receive as a gift from God. We prepare for the unexpected hour when he will come to host the heavenly feast.

Gracious God, as we prepare for your coming through the sacrament of Communion and by your word, let us not be like the homeowner with destructive consequences, but as a servant… ready. We proclaim the Gospel and gather in the preparation of the coming of Jesus, your Son. Amen

Chris Deines
Seminarian

Saturday, March 21

A reading from Luke 18

THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

We often believe accomplishing a given task will hinge on our detailed expertise, knowledge and skills. We fail to seek help from others.

My son planned to build a bridge over the spillway of a small lake for his Eagle Scout project. About a month before the scheduled construction, he broke his collarbone. It became clear that this strong 16 year-old would not be able to contribute his physical strength to the project.

The day of the project arrived. Two of his uncles began the strenuous task of drilling several holes into which telephone poles would be set to anchor the bridge. A large contingent of his fellow Scouts and their parents moved the telephone poles and other lumber to the site.

We had been told rocks sat just on the surface. But they also were below ground. As a result, many of our holes were not as deep as intended. Some were enlarged beyond the optimal size. While we pondered how to ameliorate this problem, one of the adult leaders remarked that his son’s Eagle project had involved sinking several trail markers. He offered a suggestion to securely anchor the supports.

Several of us devised ways of ensuring the supports for the bridge were level across the 30-foot span. One of the parents, who had worked summers in construction, offered a quick and efficient way of laying out the bridge. With a work force of eager volunteers, the bridge was efficiently constructed.

God, grant us the humility to turn to you for assistance we can’t provide ourselves. Amen

Ted Vlamis

Sunday, March 22

A reading from Jeremiah 13

THE LINEN LOINCLOTH

Thus said the Lord to me, “Go and buy yourself a linen loincloth, and put it on your loins, but do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord and put it on my loins. And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “Take the loincloth that you bought and are wearing, and go now to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.” So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. And after many days the Lord said to me, “Go now to the Euphrates and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.” Then I went to the Euphrates and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. But now the loincloth was ruined; it was good for nothing.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Thus says the Lord: “Just so I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own will and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to one’s loins, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord, in order that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory. But they would not listen.”

“Don’t wash your dirty linen in public,” my mother would say. Don’t tell your faults and failures. Don’t reveal problems or concerns in your family, business or country. Keep quiet.

Through Jeremiah, the Lord calls people to account: “You became dirty useless linen. You stubbornly went your own way, forsaking God’s values.” God says, “I created you to cling, true to me.”

Jeremiah acts out the message. Sadly, he warns of consequences, national crisis, Babylon’s takeover, Judean leaders and people deported to exile. Jeremiah does not keep quiet. He airs dirty linen in public.

We are in distressing economic and global times. Personal and public faults, failures and needs plague us. God’s Word and Jeremiah’s actions speak to us.

My mother said, “Keep quiet.” But if I don’t reveal my difficulties, others cannot care and encourage me. If we keep silent, seeing hurts or wrongs, nothing changes. It gets worse.

We need washing! At the Last Supper Jesus washed Peter’s feet in caring love. Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.” Peter replied, “Lord, wash my feet, my hands and my head!” We seek God’s grace to come clean with God and one another.

Gracious God, wash and renew us. Make us fresh and clean, that we may live according to your will, to your glory, sharing your everlasting love. Amen

The Rev. Sally Fahrenthold
Retired

Monday, March 23

A reading from Mark 4

THE GROWING SEED

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The generally accepted interpretation of this passage is that the Messianic Kingdom, which supposedly would be inaugurated in a flare of glory, would, in fact, begin small and move quietly toward the day of harvest.

But, as in the other parables, there is more than one message here: He goes to bed at night, and the seed grows and he doesn’t know how. A miracle! What the sower does not understand, although his livelihood depends on it, is the tiny miracle that takes place within the seed. There is within the grain of wheat a command that tells it when to sprout, not too soon and not too late. At exactly the right time.

And what else lies within the grain? There are commands that tell when the leaves, the head and the seeds within the head should appear. This miracle would be remarkable even if it were the only one, but there is more. Much more! The same series of commands is contained in every seed in God’s creation. The results are fruits and vegetables for our nourishment, and flowers, whose colors and fragrance delight us.

But, as great as this series of miracles is, there is still much more. The same God who instills in every seed the command to grow and to produce, this same God loves us! This is even more difficult to understand when we consider the faults and frailties that we all suffer. How can he love such creatures that are so unlovable? Who can say?

But the proof is that he sent his only Son for our salvation. And what must we do to earn this salvation? Only to believe. How can this be? We have only to refer to the words of Jesus: Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Our Heavenly Father, we are grateful to you, not only for the miracle contained in the grain of wheat (and all the other seeds), but so much more for your Son who died to make everlasting life possible for us. Amen

Leslie Riggle

Tuesday, March 24

A reading from Matthew 18

THE LOST SHEEP

“What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

What a simple concept — everyone is important! I live this every day working with students with special needs. But I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing my daughter apply this concept in her own life.

It’s easy to recognize different people as unique beings. It’s much less easy to recognize that each individual person has something to offer all of us.

As early as kindergarten, my daughter was asked to help other students in her class. As time went on, she didn’t have to be asked; but more importantly, she began including students who weren’t included by others — those who were physically, socially or academically different than others.

Her inclusion of differently abled people continued to evolve to the point that several years ago she began to volunteer at the summer school where I teach students with developmental disabilities. The volunteer time helped to develop her desire to work on staff when she gets older. The class in which she usually volunteered had students with more challenging behaviors. I got to see her sharing her nonstop smile with students who have behaviors many others shy from.

Her relationships with these children didn’t stop when summer was over. As a participant in her school’s Circle of Friends, she gets to mentor students with special needs. This mentoring includes helping these students understand hidden social agendas so that they can participate in regular education classes, like PE, and social activities, like skating parties.

These children have become her friends. I’ve gotten to see how she lights up when she sees these friends and runs to greet them across the basketball arena, at the gym or at a store. She remembers names and favorite activities and is always enthusiastic in greeting them. These children know that they have a friend.

Everyone is important. My daughter’s life is more complete because she has gotten to know some special children who make a difference in her life and because she continues to look for opportunities to include these children with developmental disabilities. My life is more complete because I get to see the great things my daughter does.

Dear Lord, thank you for including everyone in your love. Please help us continue to find the opportunities to share your love with ALL others. Amen

Karen Vlamis

Wednesday, March 25

A reading from Matthew 25

THE TALENTS

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things and I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’… Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man … so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! ...’ ”

This parable is one of several Jesus used during the latter days of his ministry to provide instruction on the proper way to prepare for the final coming of God’s kingdom. The basic message: We don’t know when God’s kingdom will come. So we await our Lord in anticipation, ready for him whenever he may arrive. We wait patiently and, while we wait, we turn every gift the Master has given us to productive use in his service.

The word “talent” as used in the Bible refers to a very large sum of money. Today we use the word in reference to personal skills and abilities. Money or ability? It doesn’t much matter. Both represent gifts from God, gifts we are free to use in the Master’s service or equally free to bury.

Some years ago, I worked with a task force here at Reformation. The task force was responsible for developing and administering a spiritual gifts ministry. We started strong with a six-week Bible study and discussion. It was called “Opening Your Spiritual Gifts” and was designed to help people identify their individual gifts – talents, skills, abilities – and put them to work. The study was offered at several different times, and more than 100 members finished the course.

The gifts ministry did not survive as a long-term intentional ministry here. Even so, it was well worth the effort. We all learned so much from the study of how we are variously gifted by God – and why.

One of the teaching points that has stuck with me over the years is this: God has gifted every single one of us in some way. But, just because we possess the gifts doesn’t mean we own them. They are merely on loan to us. We are supposed to share them. God’s gifts have no value if they sit on dusty shelves in our mental “gift closets.” God’s gifts are not gifts at all until they are given away.

God of all good gifts, may we learn to use all our talents in service to you. Prepare us for the coming of your kingdom. Amen

Dallas Cronk

Thursday, March 26

A reading from Luke 12

THE RICH FOOL

Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

In this passage Jesus tells us exactly what he wants us to know, and then he tells a story. Before the parable, someone asks Jesus to get his brother to divide their inheritance, and Jesus says that is not his job. But he adds: "Watch and guard yourself against the spirit which is always wanting more; for even if a man has an abundance, his life does not come from his possessions." And then he tells this parable.

The Rev. William Barclay has written New Testament commentaries to help make the Bible more relevant to life and work for us common folk. He says Jesus used this parable as an opportunity to tell what his followers' attitude to material things should be.

Two things are apparent: This man is totally wrapped up in himself. Six times in four verses, he says, "I have" or "I will." He does not even consider that he could give some of his abundance away to others. Instead of finding happiness in giving, he chooses to find ways to keep more for himself.

Barclay gives this amazing illustration: "John Wesley's rule of life was to save all he could and give all he could. When he was at Oxford he had an income of 30 pounds a year. He lived on 28 pounds and gave 2 away. When his income increased to 60, 90 and 120 pounds a year, he still lived on 28 and gave the balance away." He could not justify using more for himself when others around him were still hungry.

The man in the parable does not see beyond the present world he lives in. His plans are only for more comfort and riches in this world. The rising and falling stock market of 2008 has been a reminder for us of where people have put their trust and of what they valued. Jesus reminds us: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Lord, help us to seek your kingdom, treasure you, and share what we have. Amen

Glennyce Reimers

Friday, March 27

A reading from Luke 14

THE GREAT BANQUET

Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’ “

God provides us with everything we need in this life. And yet, when he calls us to serve, are we there? Are we off doing chores, or off on a vacation, or are we just too busy to answer his call? We are promised the great banquet in heaven and still we sometimes ignore God’s call!

I have been called to serve in 2009, and I challenge everyone at Reformation to serve with me to answer God’s call to fill his house. There are many opportunities for all of us to be a part of this challenge: serving as a member on one of the ministry boards that oversee existing programs; offering ideas for new programs; serving on the church council that provides guidance and leadership; volunteering with the many activities of the church; supporting the church with weekly attendance and pledges; and praying for the church, its members and its staff.

2009 is our opportunity to roll up our sleeves and answer God’s call to fill his house! Let’s not waste it. Let’s work together and see what great things we can do!!

Heavenly Father, fill us with the desire to answer your call and join together to fill your house! Amen

Sheryl Johnson

 
Saturday, March 28

A reading from Luke 18

THE PERSISTENT WIDOW

He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus used this parable to teach his disciples about praying and not giving up, even when the prayer doesn’t seem to get an answer.

A widow went before a judge and begged him to grant her justice against her adversaries. The judge rudely said, “No!” and sent her away. I think the judge was heartless. She went home that day, but time and again she returned to make the same request for justice. Each time the judge shook his fist at her, said “No,” and threw her out of his presence. Finally, she went before the judge one last time. He was so tired of the widow’s constant pleading that he decided to give her what she asked for just so she would leave him alone.

God wants us to pray at all times. Keep praying even when you don’t get the answer you want as fast as you would like. Think about the widow and the mean judge. She kept pleading her case over and over, and eventually this heartless man gave in to her petitions. If someone like this unfair judge will eventually listen, won’t God who loves us listen to his children when they call out to him? God will hear the prayers of his people.

Please read Isaiah 40:31: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Heavenly Father, we thank you for giving us the Lord’s Prayer and teaching us to pray constantly. Amen

Twila Black

Sunday, March 29

A reading from Jeremiah 18

THE POTTER’S VESSEL

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?” says the Lord. “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.”

The nature of creativity involves making a lot of mistakes. The nature of art is knowing which ones to keep. This caveat has always been at the heart of my artistic endeavors. Whether unraveling the mysteries of a beautiful piece of music or rehearsing lines for a play, I keep trying different colors and nuances. Sometimes that “aha” moment comes quickly. But more frequently the detritus of my own rejections is overwhelming, and I have to leave the task before I go stark raving mad.

Once, on a trip to Colorado, I met a wonderful artist named Rocky. A wizened old man with twinkling eyes and bulbous nose, he could have been the twin of Gandalf. He gave me a great piece of advice to ponder. The word “ART” can be dissected thus: A = artist, R = relationship, T = thing. The stronger the relationship with the artist, the more valuable the thing. The more the artist’s input, the more expression the thing offers.

God, in this parable, is the potter, the Artist. He does not deal arbitrarily with us, his creations of clay. He can destroy or restore accordingly as we disobey or fulfill his plans. We are fortunate that his relationship to us is merciful, resolute and intimate; hence, our value is immeasurable.

Divine Creator who shaped us with your own hands, make us worthy to be fired in the kiln of your love. Amen

Joanne T. Ehrlich

Monday, March 30

A reading from Matthew 13

THE SOWER

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” …

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Admittedly, I am not any one of the “seeds” on a regular basis. I shift from one to the other. At times, I am confused about God’s plan for me, and “birds” gobble me up. Occasionally, I hear the words of the Lord and rejoice. However, I fail to process their meaning and the experience is fleeting. Worse yet, I too often become consumed with life’s worries and anxieties – am I a good spouse, a good parent, a good employee? I forget to ask, “Am I a good Christian?” I do not trust Jesus to help me. Instead, I take my burdens upon myself.

Through all these weak moments, however, there are times when I hear the word of God. It pierces me – heart and soul. Then, I know God’s plan, accept it and live it. I can only pray that as my relationship with the Lord grows, these experiences will become a way of life and I will be a bountiful seed.

Dear Lord, I pray my relationship with you will grow deeper; I will hear your words; I will trust them; I will live them; and I will yield a plentiful harvest. Amen

Dallas Rakestraw

Tuesday, March 31

A reading from Matthew 18

THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do unto every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Forty days in the wilderness waiting for an answer; 40 years of wandering, waiting, looking for the Promised Land — unimaginable! I have never been very good at waiting. I leave early and arrive early, unless someone makes me wait. It is almost a credo and likely one of my worst traits. My lesson in waiting began recently after I had surgery on my fractured right heel.

Waiting for a ride to the emergency room; waiting for a doctor, an X-ray, a diagnosis, a pain pill. After surgery, waiting on a nurse to respond, waiting for the machine to pump more medicine into my vein and waiting on medication to take its toll on the pain.

During the healing, waiting on my wife, Mary, to help me out of a bath or bring me food or medication. Waiting on everything and feeling helpless and not very useful. Until this experience, patience as a virtue seemed quite sissy-like. It is not. As I waited helplessly, God offered me the time to see generosity, care-giving and nurturing in a new and more appreciative light. I pray for the strength and patience to continue seeing what God wishes for me when I am fully healed.

God, you have forgiven my impatience, and I pray I will be forgiving with my whole heart of anything or anyone that I am impatient with. Amen

Bruce Brittain

Wednesday, April 1

A reading from Luke 10

THE GOOD SAMARITAN

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him and, when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Why are these Samaritans so often portrayed in the Bible as less than desirable people? They weren’t very popular with the Jews, but this one Samaritan at least had an enviable capacity for helping others.

Even today we see many instances of people doing heroic feats to save others during disasters. We see people step up to help out those they don’t even know. Yet it appears we only hear about these good deeds during bad times. What about regular times?

Are we too much like those who passed by the injured man? Do we have too many excuses that prevent us from helping? Or can we be Good Samaritans as we travel down the road of daily life? When you get too much change, do you return it? When someone drops an item, do you pick it up and give it to them? Being a Good Samaritan doesn’t mean you always have to do good in big ways. The little ones add up. Help at a soup kitchen and feed the homeless. Volunteer to teach Sunday school. Read to a child at your neighborhood school. Just jump in to help those around you.

There are many in need. Remember what Jesus said: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Dear Lord, show us the ways we can relieve others’ suffering. Give us the courage to be helpful to others. Lead us to hear your Word that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for you. Amen

Bob Weaver

Thursday, April 2

A reading from Luke 16

THE DISHONEST MANAGER

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly: for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

What a timely parable! After a year in which many of us have seen our retirement savings plans and investments suffer huge losses, it is easy to feel as if we have suffered because executives at huge companies have made some horrible business decisions. After the government became involved and bailout plans were announced, we were further distressed to hear stories of huge bonus payments to executives at failed entities. Certainly these people were not acting as good stewards of the monies with which they had been entrusted.

I am president of a company founded by my father, and I was schooled by him for years in good stewardship. A good steward is fair in his dealings with all of his stakeholders, including stockholders, employees, customers and suppliers. I expect nothing less from my coworkers. Had I employed the unjust steward, it is doubtful I would have praised him for his last-ditch efforts.

The master was not praising the steward for his dishonesty, but rather for using his remaining employment time to prepare for his future so that when his employment came to an end, he would be taken care of.

In our daily lives we spend a great deal of time and talent focused on our earthly lives and a small amount investing those talents in our heavenly future. As stewards of what God has given us — time, talent and possessions — we are reminded to focus more on those things that bring us closer to God.

Heavenly Father, help me in the busy pace of the day to remember that I am on earth for a brief period. Give me the strength to use my gifts to prepare for the future, when I will dwell in heaven. Amen

Susayn Brandes

Friday, April 3

A reading from Luke 14

THE LOWEST SEAT

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher;’ then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Look who’s coming to dinner. What do the guests do? And how do we respond? And if we are helping with the invitations, who do we invite?

A parable is simply an earthly story with a heavenly or spiritual meaning. Jesus was having dinner at the home of a Pharisee on the Sabbath. The people were watching Jesus closely. And he was watching them choosing the places of honor. It’s natural to want to sit at the best table with friends, with the host, near Jesus, and to be able to see and hear what’s going on. Who wouldn’t want that? Even some of Jesus’ own disciples wanted places of honor in his kingdom. But Jesus cuts to the chase with his story about humility.

Humility is knowing and accepting who you are. Christians recognize that their strengths, talents and virtues come only from God. Most of us invite friends and associates, people we like. Sometimes it’s for business or to return the favor. The more prominent the guest, the more honor they seem to bring to us. But Jesus teaches we should do just the opposite. It takes humility to invite the “nobodies,” the poor, the outcasts of society or even those we simply don’t like. Invite such as these, Jesus says, and you will be blessed and repaid in heaven.

Invite such as these, just as Christ invites us dirty, poor, naked sinners to join him at the central feast of the Christian community – the Lord’s Supper. The Host invites everyone, regardless of who they are, or where they have been, or how they got where they are now. Jesus invites all to come. Everyone has a place at the Lord’s Table.

Dear Lord, teach us to humbly invite everyone to join us at your table. Amen

Larry Frank
Parish Ministry Associate

Saturday, April 4

A reading from Matthew 25

THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ ”

At a spring in southern Jordan, I saw flocks of sheep and goats drinking water to quench their thirst. I immediately thought of the parable about the Son of Man separating the sheep from the goats when he comes in his glory. It was not so easy for me to tell the sheep from the goats. They were about the same size. Perhaps Jesus had their temperament in mind as the separating characteristic. Sheep will follow the shepherd. Goats are more independent.

A main point of this parable is that Jesus Christ identifies himself with every other person on earth. You do something – feed, give drink, clothe, welcome the stranger, visit the sick or imprisoned – and you do it to him. You don't do it to those in need, and you don't do it to him.

Salvation is not just a ticket to get into heaven. It is a life-changing impulse and pattern of Christ's love awakened in each of us. This saves us from selfishness and separation, and unites us to God and all others. A simple meaning of this parable is that it is a call to naturally serve others in need.

A newer meaning given by British psychiatrist Maurice Nicoll in his book The Mark is that the Christ in each of us is our higher self, our unknown self, our Christ self. During our life, our task is to feed the hungry Christ, give drink to the thirsty Christ, welcome the stranger Christ, clothe the naked Christ, visit the sick Christ and visit the imprisoned Christ. We can do these six things without knowing we are doing it for our own higher self, our spiritual nature and being, or we can awaken and do it consciously. But not to do it is the biggest mistake of all.

Lord God, help us to welcome Christ in other people in need and welcome Christ in us, our own Christ self attuned to you, that we may be sheep at your right hand. Amen

The Rev. Paul Reimers
Retired

PALM SUNDAY, April 5

A reading from Judges 9

THE TREES

The trees once went out to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, “Reign over us.” The olive tree answered them, “Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honored and go to sway over the trees?”

Then the trees said to the fig tree, “You come and reign over us.” But the fig tree answered them, “Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?”

Then the trees said to the vine, “You come and reign over us.” But the vine said to them, “Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals and go to sway over the trees?”

So all the trees came to the bramble, “You come and reign over us.” And the bramble said to the trees, “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”

From very early times, Israelite descendants of the Exodus were looking for a king. Kings meant wealth, armies, territorial expansion, national pride. All the surrounding countries had kings. Why not Israel?

Israel finally established a monarchy but, with only a few notable exceptions, its king-choosing record was abysmal. The people wanted their king to be an olive tree, symbolic of wisdom. Or they wanted the fig, symbolic of plenty. Or maybe a grape vine, symbolic of hospitality. But what did they choose time after time, king after king? They chose the bramble, a nasty little ground plant full of thorns and prone to consumption by prairie fires. The kings of Israel were, by and large, a very useless lot.

Still, Israel never lost hope for a good king, a messiah who would rescue them from their oppressors and establish Israel as a leader among nations. How ironic that, when their true king finally came, they didn’t recognize him. You can’t exactly blame them. Their centuries-old dream called for a military king riding a big white horse, not a peasant riding a donkey.

Today, Palm Sunday, we will strew branches in Jesus’ path, recognizing him ever so briefly for the king he is. Later in the week we, along with the ancient Romans and Jews, will despise and reject him, crowning him with – of all things – a bramble bush. What kind of king is this?

Glorious King, you come to us in humility, offering the extravagant wisdom, abundance and hospitality of your heavenly kingdom. You are always before us and always our king, but sometimes we look past you into the wilderness of life and fix our gaze upon a bramble bush, the weed that would be king. Focus our gaze upon you, O Lord. Thy kingdom come. Amen

Dallas Cronk

Monday, April 6

A reading from Matthew 13

THE MUSTARD SEED

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

I don’t really “get” gardening. It’s a sheer miracle to me that you can throw a handful of dried-up, worn-out seeds and expect anything good to come from them at all. These little seeds are covered with dirt with a wink and a prayer, and before you know it, SPROING! Vegetables! Fruit! Kansas sunflowers the size of hubcaps! All of this beauty and sustenance from tiny, dried-up seeds.

We are like those seeds: dried up, worn out. Some days, we don’t look like we can amount to much. Buried under the soil of daily life, it is sometimes hard to see the sun. We strain to feel the nurturing rain. In our darkest moments, when we are dirty with disappointment, fear and pain, and find it impossible to believe in ourselves, SPROING – a shoot comes forth! Leaning into the comforting warmth of the sun’s rays, a seedling takes root. And grows.

God is quite the gardener. Just enough sun, the perfect amount of rain. Somehow, God even uses the compost (if you know what I mean!) to do some good.

And so, we sow. We sow the seeds of faith, the tiniest, mustard-seed-sized seeds we can muster. Where we see miniscule, God sees an opportunity for growth beyond imagination. And God blesses the harvest.

God, you go with us to the dark places. Where we feel buried, bring sunshine and rain, growth and new life. Amen

Tera Michelson

Tuesday, April 7

A reading from Luke 17

THE MASTER AND HIS SERVANT

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table?’ Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink?’ Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

My mom has hosted several wedding showers over the years. She loves to participate in shower games like Mystery Kitchen Utensil, Guess that Spice and Name that White Ingredient.

One popular game at showers is for each guest to write a piece of marital advice for the newlyweds on a keepsake index card to be incorporated later into a memory book. After everyone has written down advice, the bride-to-be reads the cards out loud for all the guests to hear.

At one shower, my mom sat listening with all her friends, waiting for her advice to be read. After being married more than 30 years, she was one of the more “seasoned” women in the group, and she was really enjoying hearing the younger women’s ideas. She was getting a good laugh out of advice about how to treat future mothers-in-law, how to get an unwilling husband to do just about anything by cooking his favorite treats, and how to appear like a good housekeeper without trying too hard.

Finally, her advice was read: “To love is to serve” was all she had written on her card.

The new bride scrunched up her face and asked out loud, “What is that supposed to mean?” Hoping for some kind of lighthearted humor, she was caught off guard by the sage encouragement.

In an era when couples remove “To love, honor, and obey” from their vows, this kind of gentle guidance is met with special resistance.

I appreciate this simple reminder when I struggle against my own independence in relationships. Putting oneself aside in service to another, be it a husband, a parent or especially God, is necessary to honor the one being served. How great a love is that?

Dear God, help me to surrender humbly to honor you. Be present in my actions of service and assistance to others in your kingdom. Help me to look past myself to see the needs of others. Amen

Jennifer Worrel

Wednesday, April 8

A reading from Matthew 11

THE CHILDREN IN THE MARKETPLACE

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ ”

Growing up with two brothers and no sisters, I was grateful for the family who moved in across the street when I was in grade school. They had five daughters, the oldest just a year younger than me. Although I enjoyed playing Matchbox cars with my brothers and could occasionally talk my little brother into playing Barbie with me, I knew that the girls across the street were much more likely to play the games I liked to play.

Just as I often played “school” with those girls, it would have been common for the children in this parable to play “wedding” or “funeral.” However, they didn’t dance when they heard the flute, and they didn’t mourn when they heard the wailing. The children in the marketplace weren’t interested in playing at all.

Playing “funeral” or “wedding” are reflections of John the Baptist and Jesus. The verses following this brief parable compare the mourning of a funeral with John’s strict lifestyle and message of repentance, while the celebration of the wedding is compared with the lifestyle of Jesus, who “came eating and drinking” with tax collectors and sinners to bring abundant life for all.

We are called to participate in all facets of life. We’ve been invited both to dance with Jesus and to reflect and repent with John. Repentance and celebration are both important aspects of our life of faith. During this season of Lent, we tend to focus most on repentance. We cry and mourn the death of Christ on Good Friday, knowing that we will celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday with great joy and dancing!

God of tears and laughter, guide our steps as we journey through moments of mourning and moments of dancing. Help us to turn to you, our rock and our strength, both in repentance and in celebration of your grace and the gift of abundant life. Amen.

The Rev. Kristin Neitzel
Associate Pastor

MAUNDY THURSDAY, April 9

A reading from Matthew 22

THE WEDDING BANQUET

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their cities. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet. Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

The beautiful bride. The handsome groom. The weeping, joyful parents.

For them, a wedding is a gift (of sorts, until the parents get the bill). It’s a celebration of love and a passage in life. It’s a time to remember forever.

For the invited guests, it’s usually a pleasant, emotional occasion. You get to celebrate this special moment of a friend or relative. Actually, a wedding celebration is also a gift to the guests as well. By sending you an invitation, the couple has said you matter to them.

In this parable, we hear about a very special wedding invitation. But many of the guests rudely turn their backs on the invitations, and some actually kill the messengers. The king, in his wrath, destroys the killers and then opens the celebration to anyone and everyone on the street. However, the king is shown further disrespect, this time by a guest who refuses to put on proper wedding garb. The man is thrust into the street with the dogs.

Of course, Jesus is talking about God’s great gift – the offering of salvation provided through his Son. This is a celebration to which all are invited. Jesus is the focal point, but we’re the ones getting the gift of eternal life. But even some of those who seem to accept salvation fail to treat the offer with the respect it deserves – much like that woeful wedding guest. Entry into the kingdom is not guaranteed, but Jesus is willing to share it with all.

Not too long after telling this parable, Jesus again shared something important – his very body and blood, provided to all of his disciples at the Last Supper. Today, everyone is invited to share in this incredible gift. Jesus thinks we all matter. He has issued a special invitation to everyone, regardless of their place in life. This is an invitation that can save your very soul. Don’t pass it up.

Dear God, thank you for the invitation you have extended to us, to accept the salvation earned for us by your Son, Jesus Christ, and to dwell in your kingdom forever. Amen

Ken Hobart

GOOD FRIDAY, April 10

A reading from Ezekiel 37

THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

I write these words on New Year’s Eve. In two days, Anita and I will fly to Amman, Jordan, and begin a two-week stay with Palestinian brothers and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Right now, a war is going on. Israel is bombing Gaza, and many have died. In 2005, I visited the Holy Land for the first time, and someone said: “If you visit for a day, you can write a book about solving our problems; if you visit a week, you can write a magazine article; if you stay a month, you don’t know what to say.” Sometimes it seems as if there is no hope for the land that is home to Jews, Christians and Muslims, the three religions of the Abrahamic faith.

The prophet Ezekiel tells us there is always hope: Hope for people in the throes of disease and death, hope for churches weak in faith and mission, hope for nations caught up in conflicts inflicted generation upon generation. “These bones shall live!” is the prophet’s cry, even when there appears to be no hope.

On this Good Friday, what strikes me is the word breath (Ezekiel 37:9) with its connection to life. As Jesus gives a loud cry from the cross and breathes his last (Mark 15:37), the transformation of the world begins, the word of God’s redemption and hope and healing for all. Just when it appeared that all hope was lost, God reversed the spiral of the world — from death toward life.

Even Jesus cried out in despair: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It must feel like that to Palestinians locked in 40-plus years of occupation; or to Israeli victims of suicide bombers. And it feels like that when one is trapped in depression or poverty or however sin has manifested itself in our lives.

These bones shall live! And indeed they do because of Easter joy and Pentecostal outpourings of encouragement, love and peace.

But on this Friday called Good, we remember Jesus, and the world he embraces in his dying. In three days the prophet’s words will ring with confident hope. We journey toward hope, through the cross.

The Rev. Gerald Mansholt
Bishop, Central States Synod

HOLY SATURDAY, April 11

A reading from Matthew 25

THE TEN VIRGINS

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! There will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’ ”

It can be difficult, waiting for God. We ask God for healing, we ask God for answers, we ask God for what we need, and then … we wait.

So often it seems that God’s timing is not my timing. Good things happen when I least expect them, which is wonderful, but I wish sometimes God would let me be in control (probably a bad idea).

Life is incredibly rich in blessings, but blessings are unpredictable! This can give us great joy as well as great frustration.

There is one blessing, though, that is absolutely predictable. Grace is a blessing that we can expect. We do not have to wait for grace. We can count on grace, on forgiveness and on God’s love. God’s gift of grace is with us now and always.

Loving God of life, we thank you for your continual presence with us, and for the blessings and surprises of everyday life. Help us to remember that you are with us in all times and places. Amen

Quinn Gorges
Seminarian

EASTER SUNDAY, April 12

A reading from Mark 16

AT THE END, A NEW BEGINNING

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Our Lenten journey through the parables over the last six weeks has been loaded with many reminders and surprises. Jesus has shared images of wandering sons who receive a welcome-home pardon, a woman who pulls her house apart looking for a lost coin, and advice about wise and foolish places to build our spiritual homes. Sheep and goats have been separated, leaven has been put in the dough, and a skilled potter has worked the clay.

Each of these parables has used allegory to teach some truth. These everyday images, merged with writings from Reformation members and friends, have helped us think about God at work in our lives and in the world in new ways. I hope you have been reminded of God’s unfailing love that works through our sinfulness in beautiful and mysterious ways.

And now, here at the end of our Lenten journey, we get the biggest zinger of them all – “[Jesus] has been raised. He is not here.” Salome, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the tomb expecting one thing and are astonished when they find something other:

At the end, there is a beginning.

From death, comes new life.

In the darkness of the tomb, there is a Light that cannot be extinguished.

Like these faithful women, our encounters with God often leave us seized with terror and amazement. We don’t know how to respond to such enduring promises and a love that is stronger than death. That’s all right. Jesus goes ahead of us, waiting to meet us in all the places life – and death – will take us. He is ready to lead us into new life.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Living God, by the resurrection of your Son free us from our fears, restore us in your image and ignite us with your light so that we may be your witnesses in the world. Amen

The Rev. Lowell Michelson
Senior Pastor