Where does God live? In people who hope. The Old Testament book of Isaiah is one of the richest stories of hope, because (as is often the case) God’s people find themselves in seemingly hopeless conditions. War. Families separated. Mothers in anguish. Children’s ears ringing with the sounds of wailing. Sound like today’s reality for millions of our siblings across the globe? It is. The same world in Isaiah’s day is the same world into which Christ is born, the same world that Mickey Thomsen entered nearly a century ago. The same world today. Always desperate for good news, God’s people then and now search for hope amidst the ashes.
"This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord."
The search is not in vain, because God’s way of peace is coming. We were created for peace, and we practice it each week in worship when we pass the peace of Christ. Several years ago I learned a simple melody inspired by Isaiah 2: We are marching in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God. I sang this song while marching in Milwaukee alongside hundreds of other UCC friends and colleagues around an immigration detention center that was keeping children apart from their parents. Driven by war from their countries of origin, not enough visas to go around, these families knew the wailing of separation. Cries for hope in what seems like an impossible situation. You and I could describe a hundred different scenarios similar to this that remind us things have not changed all that much since the days of Isaiah.
We are still searching for hope, trusting that if we walk by faith, one day we will be able to join the great chorus that sings: We are marching in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God.
As we lit these Advent candles this morning, the first candle of hope, I am reminded this faith community embodied hope long before any of us were around, and we sure intend to make it so long after any of us are here. Today, as you looked around while passing the peace, this is today’s people who hope. We draw from the great source of hope that is our ancestors in faith; today we embody the stories of hope that continue to germinate in our lives and those who will come after us. That's what it means to march ever forward in the light of God.
I’ve been a part of this church family for 5 ½ years. As I reflected this week on what all has transpired since we moved here in 2017, I am aware of the many patriarchs & matriarchs we’ve lost and those who’ve moved away. I am also aware of the many new adults, youth, and children who have joined our body. It can be hard to hold this constant flux of grief & joy in balance. In fact I believe it would be impossible without one thing: hope. Even as we mourn the loss of loved ones, new babies are born and baptized. This is the constant of life: change. And we must practice the delicate balance in order to find our way toward hope.
Pastors get to see hope in action as a part of our job (SUCH a cool job); my favorite way is to witness YOU ALL giving your time and energy to our shared mission. As we prepare to vote in a new slate of 2023 leadership next Sunday & prepare a faithful budget for 2023, I stand in awe of the way you all contribute SO heartily to ensure we are people who embody hope for one another and our community. You’ve caught the vision, and that fills me with hope.
Now my favorite way to be surprised by hope is to receive the unexpected news of a large memorial gift to this church. Last week it happened again for the 4th time since I became pastor. My first year Glenn Kietzmann donated $30,000 for our Daktronics Sign, a memorial for Janet; Then Alice Doscher’s daughters Jeanie, Bobbi, & Mary donated $80,000 for our new kitchen remodel. A year later, Jim & Nora Wosepka donated $70,000 in memory of Verly & Louise to complete our Bradford Hall renovation. Just last week, we received a check in the mail from Mickey Thomsen’s estate in the amount of $25,000. Each time this happens, I cry tears of hope. People who’ve caught the vision and want to see it through, even after they’ve departed.
Do we need an updated and efficient building to be people who hope? Absolutely not. God lives in us regardless. But because we function as a community who gathers a LOT for worship, fellowship, service, and good ole’ fashioned fun AND because we are people with a variety of physical needs…it is a blessing to be able to call this place home.
Both Nancy Thomsen and our trustees agree that it would honor Mickey’s legacy best by using her memorial gift toward our new elevator. Accessibility and full inclusion are hallmark values for us as a church; a new elevator will improve our functioning in a big way. I don’t have full details on the elevator project just yet, but we will keep you informed as soon as we have the green light from our contractor. We’ll need additional funds (and you’ll hear totals when we have them), but we estimate already having over ½ of what we need set aside. Jack’s quilts in the back for purchase will also be for the elevator fund. So many displays of hope, even in the aftermath of grief.
At the end of the day, raising money toward a common cause is an act of solidarity with all the saints who’ve gone before us. We are ensuring that this faith home will continue to be functional and vibrant for a new generation. This hope is what turns our mourning into dancing, our tears into laughter. I can think of no greater place to tend the delicate balance of grief and joy than right here in worship.
The Lord’s call beckons us from the days of Isaiah: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. God will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in God's paths.” Thank you for choosing to walk in God’s path with us. It's my deep honor to share good news in the name of Christ as we begin another Advent season.
During our stewardship season, we get to listen to the gospel witness as a guide to our values. As we consider what is most important to us, we’re also naming what deserves our financial attention. We do this both in our households and as a church- we budget our values. It’s a way to refresh our memory each year about what Jesus says leads to abundant life (hint: it’s not what the very skilled holiday marketing experts are leading us to believe with those convincing ads).
Sixteen chapters into Luke’s gospel, we see Jesus fulfilling what was predicted even before his birth; only his version of kingdom power shocks those in authority. He wears no fancy clothes, rides no chariots, buys no home, seeks no political office, he doesn’t build a wall of protection; no, he addresses the rich men in power who are neglecting the poor and says, “You cannot serve both God and money. When the Pharisees heard all this, they made fun of Jesus, because they loved money. Jesus said to them, “You are the ones who make yourselves look right in other people's sight, but God knows your hearts. For the things that are considered of great value by people are worth nothing in God's sight.”
Reign of Christ Sunday is the perfect reminder that no amount of earthly riches satisfy the human heart. We are created to cultivate rich spirits, not possessions; but oh how the pursuit of things captivates us. You know that feeling if you–like me–have ever bought something to satisfy an emotional need…only to feel disappointed when it doesn’t? We were meant to gather only what we need, not more. Our daily bread; manna for today’s journey. I suspect Jesus isn’t as concerned with the amount we hold as he is with the hold that amount has on us. Jesus wants us to break free from earthly attachments, “For the things that are considered of great value by people are worth nothing in God’s sight.”
What is the antidote to the trap of consuming more than we need? It’s simple: Jesus says, “give it away.” Why? Because Jesus knows we will never experience true spiritual freedom if we become too attached to our money. Of course money matters, because at the core of every financial decision is a value being expressed.
I enjoy normalizing talk about money, because I trust, as Jesus says, God already knows our hearts. The expression of our generosity is simply a benefit to our shared goals, because generosity is contagious. It feels counterintuitive to ask an already exceptionally generous crowd to give even more during this month of Stewardship…and I might be more hesitant to ask for those pledge cards (due next Sunday) if I didn’t have the joy of filling one out myself.
Our family has set up an automatic monthly withdrawal to this church as a way of speaking our values. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate reviewing my bank statement as a way to ask, “am I investing in what truly matters to me?” For example, I pay a car payment each month because I could not fathom doing my family life and ministry without it. I make a contribution to this church each month, just slightly more than my car payment, because I could not fathom doing my family life and ministry without you all. I feel truly fortunate to have the financial means to support this church, because I’m investing in us…in what God is doing among us in the Pierre & Ft. Pierre area. That’s my why in a nutshell. So many of you have shared your “why,” and I can't thank you enough.
We are bearing witness together to the Reign of Christ, to the world in which money is used for things that make a difference, that increase our wellbeing; that bring life and collaboration toward shared goals: Togetherness, empathy, justice, mercy, life-changing community, worship, and service. I don’t know of another institution that is quite as organic and beautiful as a church family investing in their future together.
I’m sold on church because of you all. This is my church- this is your church- this is God’s church; as Cherlyn, Brenda, and I remarked this week at our budget meeting- WE ARE the sole funders of this church. If I don’t give, if you’d give, we don’t exist. We are just a mom and pop operation here- and that’s SO cool to me- we’re hardworking people with enough faith to believe that sharing our resources is an investment in our wellbeing and in the wellbeing of our neighbors. That’s it! That’s stewardship at its finest. And that’s enough for me. So when I look at my bank statement and I see my church giving out pace my car payment, it stings a little at first, but I’ve been at it long enough to know I am better off for the investment made. You cannot serve both God and money. The more we practice release, the more freedom we receive.
So THANK YOU for helping invest in the future of our ministries. In 2022 we’ve had 90 households contribute financially, that’s incredible! And if you stay tuned next Sunday, I have big news to share in the generosity department. Thank you for saying “We will not let the reign of Christ happen in this world without us!”
Jesus’ good news today emerges from real time spent with people who are suffering. In his (now famous) sermon on the mount, Jesus begins to address hurting people with a blessing. Hear it today in your own stories of pain and grief.
Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
A reflection from Sojourners in 2017 offers a connection between suffering and hope. “This is how personal transformation takes place. We can’t imagine ourselves different than we are today or healed of that which binds and afflicts us. We can’t imagine ourselves forgiven. We can’t imagine our own salvation. But when we walk through the door of hope, and we look back at where we have been and where we are now, we see evidence of the grace of God.
For Christians the Resurrection is that door of hope, and Jesus showed us that the resurrection comes by way of a cross. Suffering and hope are always joined in human history. The cost of moving from one reality to another–in our personal lives and in history–is always great. But it is the only way to walk through the door of hope.”
Each year during All Saints, I reflect on how much more effort we put into tending our physical pain opposed to our emotional and spiritual pain. Its here in worship where we tend the wounds of our souls. None of us can escape the grip of grief. There’s no way around it; we must simply walk through it as best we can, holding onto the strength of others for support, offering our sorrow in prayer. It’s the only way I’ve ever experienced true hope in the midst of loss. That’s the story Jesus tells those who are looking for healing on that hillside over 2000 years ago, and it remains our hope too.
“To you who are listening” He says, whether in need of healing or in need of sharing your blessing…Jesus is drawing us together for the sake of experiencing hope in the flesh. We cannot exist in communion with God without also being in communion with one another. That is the road map to our blessing we celebrate on All Saints Sunday. Amen.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.