“There is no fear in love, perfect love casts out fear…”
1 John 4:18a
Pastor Kendra Wilde serves as the Associate Pastor at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Helena. She preached at a Synod event a few years ago, and it was so nice to hear this person proclaiming the Gospel. I thought about how sort of odd it is that there are so many pastors I’ve known for years and years, and never heard them preach.
Here is her reflection on the 2nd lesson fro Sunday, 1 John 4:7-21.
“There is no fear in love, perfect love casts out fear…”
What would you do if you were not afraid? This question haunts me. The risk-management officer in my brain is forever measuring the cost of potentially risky actions. The risk of losing esteem. The risk of making people angry. The risk of rejection. The problem, of course, with measuring these costs is not that they aren’t real risks, rather the problem is they are sourced from a human economy. Human love is precious and transformative, yet it can also be capricious and conditional.
The divine economy, in contrast, is based on a currency that is unchanging in value. I can do nothing to risk losing God’s agape love, nor can I improve myself to be more worthy of it. It does not cease based on my ability to reciprocate. It is steady and unchanging.
When I ground myself in God’s enduring love, my fear recedes. Like the heart flower that opens to receive the sun of God’s love in the hymn “Joyful, joyful we adore thee,” may we bask in God’s love and let our fears melt away.
Pastor Kendra Wilde, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Helena
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip,
‘Get up and go towards the south
to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’
(This is a wilderness road.)
Friends in Christ, I want to share with you that we received news that Pastor Cliff Gronneberg, died on Monday at the age of 103 years old. Pastor Cliff served as our interim pastor in 2005-06 just before we came to Trinity. Trinity was one of many, many congregations who were blessed by his wise and caring leadership.
I will provide other information when it becomes available.
The Easter season devotions that we are reading, are intended to invite us to consider how God equips each one of us for ministry. Pastor Cliff was a marvelous steward of his gifts, and I consider myself fortunate to have benefited from his wise counsel, and his generous stewardship.
Today’s reflection on Acts 8:26-39 is prepared for us by Pastor Tammy Craker, of Plentywood, Montana.
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.)
This past year we have all been on our own wilderness road. We are navigating a whole new world where we are all in more isolation than ever before. We are unable to gather with our family and friends in person as we would like to gather. We long for the company of fellow human beings.
We are told in this passage the road the eunuch was on was a wilderness road and he was in need of some guidance. Philip was just told to meet him there. He didn’t know why he was going, nevertheless, on the Spirit’s bidding, he got up and went. He ended up being right where he was needed.
We can learn a couple of lessons from this passage. First, we should listen for the Holy Spirit to send us to someone in need. We shouldn’t worry about what we will do, just meet them on their wilderness road with a phone call or a text. Second, if someone ends up in our wilderness road with us, we should invite them to stay a while. Then let the Holy Spirit direct your conversation and see what happens next.
Pastor Tammy Craker, Plentywood Lutheran Church.
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you
This reflection on Isaiah 30:18-21 is prepared for us by Pastor Peggy Paugh Leuzinger. She is our Synod Director for Evangelical Mission. The DEM is a person who is called to be a resource for congregations to help us better reach out to our neighbors with God’s love and grace.
Peggy is a good friend and marvelous colleague. We had her visit with our Church Council in 2019. She leads the Synod Stewardship Task Force, and I greatly appreciate her passion for the Gospel, and her desire to help us more faithfully fulfill our callings.
Isaiah 30:18-21 - But God's not finished. He's waiting around to be gracious to you. He's gathering strength to show mercy to you. God takes the time to do everything right - everything. Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones. 19Oh yes, people of Zion, citizens of Jerusalem, your time of tears is over. Cry for help and you'll find it's grace and more grace. The moment he hears, he'll answer. 20Just as the Master kept you alive during the hard times, he'll keep your teacher alive and present among you. Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, 21urging you on whenever you wander left or right: "This is the right road. Walk down this road." (The Message translation)
Eugene Peterson’s translations sometimes open the scripture so that I hear something with new ears.
Hear this good news:
God is not finished! God is waiting around to be gracious to you!
I know that when I hear that proclaimed – that God is at work, that God is up to something, that the Holy Spirit is active and present, then I see and hear and notice with a renewed hope.
One of the things that I love (and have missed this last year) is the chance to drive across our beautiful territory of the Montana Synod. I am always on the lookout. What can I see: eagles, moose, bear, elk, snow geese?
These words remind me to have the same eagerness and watchful spirit to notice God-sightings, too!
What have you noticed recently that reminds you that God is close by? Where have you seen God’s gentle and loving spirit at work in your life or in your community? God is waiting!
Pastor Peggy Paugh Leuzinger, Director for Evangelical Mission, Montana Synod
O come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
I thought I already sent this. - sorry, Pastor Phil
Today’s devotion is by Pastor Trina Johnston, who has served as interim pastor at a number of Montana Synod churches.
She offers a reflection on Psalm 95, and time at our Church Camp, Christikon.
These first verses of Psalm 95 greet me
O come, let us sing to the Lord!
though I come with bleary eyes and sleepy mind
and croaky voice since I’m just 15 minutes out of bed.
Let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation!
The morning is cool, and damp;
the sun still not above the mountains that surround.
I shiver, wishing I’d put on one more layer.
Let us come before God’s presence with thanksgiving
and raise a loud shout to the Lord with psalms!
There are just a few of us gathered,
and we find our places on the stumps that form a semi-circle,
a band of old, strong pines at our back.
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
We sing the ancient words,
joining with centuries of the faithful
who have greeted the morning this same way.
We do this cradled in the very heart of God’s creation.
In his hand are the caverns of the earth;
the heights of the hills are also his.
This is the way that life at Christikon begins each morning,
with the option of getting up early and joining in the ancient words of Matins. In this way we join in the wave of prayer that encircles the earth each day. Seven offices of daily prayer offered by communities of faith globally.
In convents, in monasteries, in seminaries, in congregations, at camp, on an early morning, voiced by the croaky faithful.
The holy words are raised day in and day out, over and over again, shaping the people into what God would have them be.
Pastor Trina Johnsten, Interim, Bethel Lutheran Church, Great Falls
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
Today’s reflection is written by Pastor Steve Schmidt. He came to Bozeman about ten years ago, from (I believe) Connecticut. As one who came to this part of the world from Minnesota, I take note when someone comes from further away.
I have appreciated getting to know Pastor Steve a little bit over the years. I just learned that he will be retiring soon. Pastor Schmidt has prepared a reflection for us on Mark, who is commemorated today.
St. Mark, Evangelist Mark 1:1-15
“Walking Wet in the Kingdom”
Today we remember the Evangelist, St. Mark who, tradition believes is John, the writer of the Gospel of Mark. Scholars agree Mark is the oldest of the Gospels found in the New Testament. It is also the shortest of the Gospels. No birth narrative and, some would say, no resurrection witness either!
Perhaps the writers of Matthew and Luke were also concerned with this bare bones approach and decided to fill out more details of the story of Jesus, his history, ministry, passion, death, and resurrection.
Mark begins with John the Baptist, who proclaims a need to be baptized. Jesus appears for the first time when he is baptized, recorded in just three verses! The Spirit then compels him into the wilderness of temptation and by verse 14 he is already calling his first disciples.
Jesus’ ministry begins with baptism and so does ours. Whether you are baptized as an infant, adolescent, or adult, baptism is, as Martin Luther says, our entrance into the Kingdom. It is our ordination into the continuing ministry of Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God is near!
I remember a song from my high school days “Walking Wet” which was a call for us to always walk in our baptismal waters, claiming them daily. Walking wet means, we are to remember our baptism, how God in the waters of baptism announces, “You are Mine.”
So, the next time you begin your day with a shower or a bath or just drink the first glass of water, remember you are called to walk wet in your baptismal water. You too are an evangelist, one called to proclaim that God loves everyone and invites you into the abundant life. Walk wet into the Kingdom of God!
Pastor Stephen Schmidt, Hope Lutheran Church, Bozeman
Little children, let us love,
not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
1 John 3:18
I am looking forward to worship tomorrow at 8:30 and 11, as well as our first Coffee Hour since (I think) March 8th of 2020. Sunday School is meeting again, and with the gift of the vaccine, it feels like this springtime weather is accompanied by an extra measure of hopefulness.
Blessings to you today! Peace, Pastor Phil
Today’s devotion is a reflection on the 2nd Lesson for tomorrow, I John 3:16-24. The writer is Marilyn Hall, who lives in Missoula.
“16This is how we come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves.”
When I read this verse in 1 John, I was reminded of Sara Groves’ song, “Love is Still A Worthy Cause”
“Did you take a chance and lose it all
Do you fear there’s no collateral left for trying
Friend I know your heart is raw
But love is still a worthy cause
Picking up and pressing on
Oh love is still a worthy cause
It’s the touch that starts the thaw
Love is still a worthy cause”
There are so many times we try to love someone, and it just doesn’t work the way we want it to. She goes on in the song:
“I love because He loved me when I had nothing,
I had nothing
When you count the cost and all seems lost
Love is still a worthy cause
When you’re pressing on, though your strength is gone
Love is still a worthy cause”
To believe in Jesus Christ as God’s Son, means to give God the control and to give our hearts, our time, our efforts, our failures, our successes, our love.
“23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
Marilyn Hall, Montana Synod Coaching Coordinator, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Missoula
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Pastor Tammy Bull serves New Hope Lutheran Church in Great Falls. After serving as an AIM (Associate in Ministry), she was ordained in 2013. Her daughter, Sylvia Bull, was ordained 4 years later. One of the things I appreciate about the Montana Synod is the relationships we have with one another. Both Tammy and Sylvia are friends, I have known Sylvia since she was an active member of the Montana Synod Youth Organization, and her mom (our author today) much of the time I have been in this Synod…
Tammy reflects Sunday’s Psalm…
I don’t know much about raising sheep, but I’ve noticed a cycle in the spring and summer:
rest… shadow… feast.
Rest – in lower home pastures where ewes and new lambs recover and gain strength.
Shadow – as they follow the shepherd on the journey to higher summer pastures.
Feast – eating the rich new grass of mountain meadows and drinking from springs overflowing with clear, cool water.
Our life together in the church follows that same cycle: rest… shadow… feast.
We rest for a time in comfortable spaces and traditions that give us strength and confidence.
We listen and feel the wind of the Holy Spirit prodding us as we follow Jesus on new adventures along difficult, uncertain paths.
We reach a new “pasture” of ministry and mission where Jesus comes to us anew in the overflowing waters of baptism and the rich food of bread and wine. Then the cycle repeats.
PRAYER: Gracious Lord Jesus, you relentlessly pursue us with goodness and mercy. Continue to bless us with rest, shadow, and feast. Strengthen and equip us to build up the body of Christ for the work of ministry in your name! Amen.
Pastor Tammy Bull, New Hope Lutheran Church, Great Falls
Repent, then, and turn to God,
so that your sins may be wiped out,
that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…
Today’s reflection is written by Pastor Julie Long, who serves in Broadus, Montana. She is quite a person. We met her in 1985-86 when we were in Missoula on my internship. She was active in her congregation in worship and music, and served as a worship resource person for the entire Synod. I believe that Julie became and LPA, and then, after retiring (she served in criminal justice for the state of Montana, in forensics of some sort) she attended seminary and was ordained around 15 years ago. She then moved to Broadus to serve as their pastor, while she continues to serve our Synod in worship and music.
Here is her reflection on Acts 3:12-19, which was the first lesson this past Sunday.
In our global pandemic world, many things we counted on as consistent and constant are turned upside down: the ways we do school, worship with Holy Communion or Baptism, shopping, visiting, sporting events, celebrations, funerals and so many more.
Moving forward, we were forced to be creative and try new things. Some worked well, some not so much. We will keep going.
Distancing and restrictions have caused us to feel disconnected over the past year. But one thing that always connects us is God. One thing that remains consistent and constant through the best and worst of our days is God’s love, God’s grace and God’s faithfulness.
To those who witnessed the healing, Peter connects the God of their ancestors to Jesus. That same God is at work through his followers, Peter and John, healing and restoring God’s people even though the people’s actions could have resulted in God’s distance. But God raised Jesus as foretold by prophets. God’s love and God’s faithfulness remained.
That same God connects with us and is at work today, calling us, refreshing us, and then working through us to bring healing, restoration and reconnection.
Pastor Julie Long, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Broadus
But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
Today’s devotion is provided by Meryl McKenna, an LPA in Lewistown, Montana. She reflects on “the longer ending of Mark” - a passage that was added to the original ending of the Gospel…
Today I am thinking about a colleague, Pastor Barb Westhoff, who served her entire career (28 years) in Westby, Montana. I just learned that she died on Sunday from complications of COVID. Barb graduated from the same high school I did, about 3 years ahead of me. (We didn’t recall our younger selves.)
A close friend often spoke of how she had been pastor to his in-laws, and how they greatly appreciated her ministry. While her obituary won’t appear in many newspapers, I know she made quite an impact on many lives in Eastern Montana. That is Christian stewardship. The little things we do, the ways we fulfill our vocations and callings in life, are ways of bearing God’s grace and love to others. I am thankful for you, and your stewardship of the Gospel.
Mark 16:9-20 - The Longer Ending of Mark
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the eleven disciples didn’t believe the women. Women weren’t supposed to speak up in a group of men. Women’s accounts are still often discounted, but in this case, even the men who had seen Jesus alive could not convince the others.
We may judge them as stubborn, foolish, for disregarding the news. But could we have believed it? The ramifications of Jesus’ resurrection still seem too fantastic to be true.
Maybe your heart gets stuck in dead Saturday from time to time, like mine, doubting the possibility of unfailing love. On darkest days I wonder whether it’s true for me. It seems so far away from the part of myself that acknowledges what I’m really like. Can I believe the Easter message?
Luther said the Holy Spirit builds faith in us. Thank God! Come, Holy Spirit!
The final verse tacked onto Mark’s gospel says, “they went out...while the Lord worked with them...” The Lord works with and in us, too. We are works in progress. Thanks be to God!
Abide in me, Lord. Saturate me with your Spirit, that I truly know your love for me. Then it will show. It will. Amen.
Meryl Rygg McKenna, LPA, Zion Lutheran Church, Lewistown
Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
Today’s devotion is written by Pastor Mark Donald, who serves as director of our camp, Christikon. He’s a good friend, and does a great job in helping to make Christikon a wonderful place for all who are blessed to attend that camp.
He reflects on Psalm 150 for us today.
While generally not one to wish time away, I’ll admit to being thankful we’re not back at the start of the Covid pandemic. It’s been a really tough year, one that most of us would rather forget. And yet, as I look back on the last 12 months, there were glimpses of grace, reasons even to praise and give thanks to God.
The Psalms are considered scripture’s prayer book and song book, and while one can find the whole range of human emotion and experience there, the last five psalms all focus on giving praise and thanks to God. “Hallelujah!” begins and ends each one, and Psalm 150 in particular instructs “everything that has breath” to praise God.
This isn’t to say we pretend all is well, all the time. Far from it, in fact. But this last Psalm is invitation to consider all God has blessed us with—relationship, creation, the very gift of life itself. In the last year I found myself going to this Psalm more than once, using it to remind me that there is much to thank God for even in the midst of difficulty and pain. Let every living, breathing creature praise God, indeed.
Pastor Mark Donald, Director, Christikon Lutheran Bible Camp.
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us —
and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
1 John 3:16
As a member of the Synod Stewardship task force, I wrote two devotions for Equipping for the Work of Ministry for this Easter season. This reflection is inspired by todays’ reading, I John 3:10-16.
It was good to have Sunday School between services yesterday. This coming Sunday, April 25, we will also have coffee hour between services. Judging by how nice it was to be together in Sunday School, I suspect that - if you are able to be there - it will be an excellent time.
Since there is a bit of a festive note to the coffee hour, the Trinity Council has decided that we will take some time to celebrate and give thanks to Debbie Deeds for her many years of serving as our Church Secretary. This will be an opportunity to wish her well in her retirement. I hope you can be a part of that.
Here is the devotion for today:
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
Another John 3:16 with a rich Gospel message for us. I John 3:16 here.
A professor at Luther Seminary, Dr. Gerhard Forde, liked to warn about words like stewardship and discipleship.
He’d say: “Beware of ship words.”
These “ship words” can cause us to pay too much attention to ourselves, and not enough attention to God.
This is a constant temptation; the temptation to take our eyes off Jesus.
Yet, at the same time, these “ship words” might do the opposite. They might help us to know that our lives are lived as a response of love for the one who first loved us.
This is how we know love, Jesus, giving himself for us.
Christian discipleship is living the love of God in response to God’s great generosity. This is our calling, to bear a generosity toward all whom God places in our lives to love.
Pastor Phil Wold, Trinity Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
Pastor Daniels is a chaplain at St. John’s United, and she offers a reflection on today’s Gospel text, Luke 24: 36b-48.
This text reminds me of the “3-S’s” of raising a girl who is currently a “threenager.” When meltdowns start, we try Snuggles, Snacks, and/or Sleep.
Recently, I read the wrong book. The one she had handed me to read. I wouldn’t read another, as it was bedtime. While sobbing and saying, “You a bad mom. You bad mom.”
She also dramatically hiccupped out, “I. Need. A. Snuggle!”
I snuggled her. Then put her into bed for the sleep she so desperately needed. Upon reflection, those 3-S’s still work on all of us.
Jesus showed up to a scared group of disciples. They were confused, nervous, and probably pretty close to melting down. Jesus met them in the most basic of places. He was present. Jesus invited touch. He offered peace and modeled having a good healthy snack.
This is a moment steeped in the Theology of the Cross. Jesus met them right where they were. It is after those “3-S’s” were sorted that he gave them perspective and theological hope. Jesus understands our humanity. Take it from him, sort the 3-S’s before there is a meltdown or despair. Then look more deeply at what being a witness means. Amen.
Pastor Elisabeth Daniels, Chaplain, St. John’s United, Billings
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
I John 3:1
Pastor Paul Anderson wrote today’s devotion. He is a bit older than me, was a normal person most of his life, and was ordained just a few years ago. (Ha!)
He has a ready laugh, and a great love for Jesus, for the Gospel and for the Church.
Here is Pastor Paul’s reflection on I John 3:1-7, the 2nd lesson for tomorrow.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
“Lavished” with love.
The definition of the verb lavish is:
“To bestow something in generous or extravagant quantities on; spend, expend, heap, shower, pour, deluge, give generously, give unstintingly, bestow freely.”
I love the picture I have in my mind of being lavished with God’s love. I think of our dog Cincinnati—she lavishes us with her love. She is always there for us, and she seems to even know when we are feeling low, or when, at times, we are feeling unloved, or unworthy. Often, at these times, she will snuggle a little closer to us lavishing us with her love.
Emmy Kegler, in her book, One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins, writes,
“Love does not leave me. Love is new every morning, like a faithful dog laid across the bottom of my bed, ready again for a fresh day and a clean start.”
As God’s children, because “that is what we are,” God lavishes us with God’s great love that is new every morning and will never ever leave us.
Pastor Paul Anderson, Faith Lutheran Church, Hamilton
“Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out…”
The devotion for today is by Pastor Scott Hedegaard, a good friend who serves Redeemer Lutheran Church in Great Falls.
A few months ago I was privileged to preside at a graveside service for a member of Scott’s church. She was over 100 years old, and her husband had been buried here in Sheridan decades ago. Talking with her family, it was so nice to connect across the miles as members of the same Church. I think again of this line: “Every person who belongs to Christ, belongs to every person who belongs to Christ.”
Here is Scott’s reflection on Acts 3:12-19
That is quite a charge! As the people have gathered to marvel at the healing of the man who was lame from birth, Peter, no doubt with finger pointing at them, declares, “You killed the Author of Life!”
Killed the Author of Life? How do you even do that?
The truth is that they really couldn’t. They couldn’t kill the Author of Life. Yes, they rejected the Holy and Righteous One. Yes, they consented to having Jesus hung on a cross to die. Yes, his lifeless body was laid in a tomb. But the Author of Life wouldn’t stay dead. God raised Jesus from the dead.
For the Israelites, and for us, there yet remains hope. The Author of Life did not stay dead, and we need not either. God can raise us. God can wipe out our sins. God can even forgive us of killing the Author of Life, because the Author of Life still lives and it is through his life, his death, and his resurrection that we can live also.
Prayer:O Jesus, Author of Life, breathe your breath of forgiveness into us that we may live. Amen
Pastor Scott Hedegaard, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Great Falls
“I have no silver or gold,
but what I have I give you;
in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
stand up and walk.”
Today’s devotion is written by my seminary classmate and good friend Pastor Tom Schlotterback. Tom helps to raise money for the ministry we’ve known as St. Johns Lutheran homes in Billings. It is now called St. John’s United.
Tom reflects on Acts 3:1-11, the story of Peter and John bearing the healing grace of Jesus to a man in need.
Astonishment at the Beautiful Gate
No one seems to know anymore what the Beautiful Gate of the temple was that is referenced in this story. A beautiful happening, however, once transpired there. Feet and ankles that were unsupportive were made strong. A body that for a lifetime had been carried by others suddenly jumped up and walked on its own. Peter and John, who had neither silver nor gold to gift, in the name of Jesus offered so much more. A man who asked for alms received instead the richness of healing. People who were accustomed to walking past the lame man sitting at the Beautiful Gate, suddenly ran together toward him. The narrator tells that the people were utterly astonished by the beautiful happening they had witnessed. Readers of the story may suspect that the lame man was astonished also. In joining his hand to Peter’s, the lame man was raised. With or without a Beautiful Gate, life still works this way. Whenever and wherever human hands join together in Jesus’ name, people are raised up. Beautiful. Thanks be to God!
PRAYER: Invite our hands and lives, O God, to be instruments of your grace and peace. Amen.
Pastor Tom Schlotterback, VP of Mission Advancement, St. John’s United, Billings
“I write these things to you concerning those
who would deceive you…
…And now, little children, abide in him,
so that when he is revealed we may have confidence
and not be put to shame before him at his coming.”
1 John 2:26, 28
Today’s devotion is written by… me.
I was asked to reflect on I John 2:18-29. The writer of First John suggests that we “abide in” Jesus. What an interesting way to look at our lives as God’s people in Christ. I think I John suggests that we do not believe things “about” Jesus, we believe “in” Jesus.
Well, here is today’s offering:
“I write these things to you concerning those who would deceive you…. …And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.”
In the Small Catechism (I like the older translation) Luther asks about baptism: “What does Baptism mean for daily living?”
What an interesting thing to consider; that your baptism into Christ has ramifications for each and every day of your life.
You are called to live in Christ always, and this calling is good and right and true.
Do not be deceived. Do not let yourself be defined by anything you have or do or think. It is Christ who makes you God’s own child and abiding in him shapes your entire life.
You abide in Christ; God has made this happen by the water and the word. This gift is given, and the life you live now, is a faithful response to this amazing generosity of God.
Pastor Phil Wold, Trinity Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
I write to you, young people,
because you are strong
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
I John 2:14
Today’s reflection on First John 2:12-17 is written by Pastor Will Sappington. He is a good friend and was the chair of the Christikon board when I joined them. Pastor Will and his family will soon be moving to North Dakota, and while I am sad he is leaving our Synod, I pray for good things for them there.
Will included the text of today’s reading as the beginning of his devotion:
I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people,
because you have conquered the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
because you are strong
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world — the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches — comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
Recently I was going through a stack of papers and I found an old list of instructions for a babysitter. It had the basic information of telephone numbers, the length of time my wife and I planned to be out, but I laughed out loud when I read the next section. Apparently, I had decided to try and anticipate every possible scenario that might occur in the 150 minutes this young person would be caring for my kids. It was ridiculous. There was even a map of the house highlighting where first aid and cleaning supplies were kept. (I’m not a helicopter parent. You’re a helicopter parent.)
These days my kids are old enough to watch themselves and my parting words to them are much more like the words written to the community that received this letter.
“Remember who you are. Remember whose you are. Remember you are loved. Remember to love each other. I’m not that far away.”
We need reminders that we are forgiven, that we are loved, that we are capable, and that we are not alone. We need these words.
Pastor Will Sappington, Peace Lutheran Church, Billings
Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.
1 John 2:9
Today’s devotion is written by Pastor Pete Erickson. Pete is a very good friend of mine, and so I read his words with an extra measure of interest.
We (The Synod Stewardship Task Force) asked colleagues to reflect on the theme: “Equipping for the Work of Ministry.” First John addresses how we are to live our lives as people of God in Christ. This is in many ways, the perspective of Stewardship. I like the definition of stewardship as: “Everything we do after we say ‘I believe.’”
First John 2:3-11 is the passage that inspires this reflection. Here is Pete’s thoughtful entry:
Hatred is a complex thing. In its true form it is such an intense dislike of another person that one wishes for the end of their existence, and then possibly acts upon that wish. As we experience division and polarization, hatred becomes more evident each day. Sometimes it feels like the voices encouraging hatred are louder than all others.
This passage’s discussion on hate is rather surprising, and maybe we feel accused by it. But the reality is that the community of the church can be an incredible solution to hate. I believe that the person who hates has deep problems with how they view their own self. They are blinded to the image of God they possess. Perhaps they hate the self and those intense feelings are then projected on to others.
The church community, following the risen and victorious Jesus, lives values that are the antidote to hate: forgiveness, inclusion, empathy, listening, seeing the image of God in everyone.
Hate crucified Jesus. God freed him from its death-grip.
United to Christ, we follow him into that freedom and light.
May our church communities be so loving and gracious that all our people understand themselves as valued and cherished. Love will be the only possibility. Resurrection light will guide our way!
Pastor Peter Erickson, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Columbia Falls
2nd Sunday of Easter
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
Pastor Jason Asselstine, is our Associate to the Bishop, Montana Synod. He wrote the devotion for today, reflecting on today’s Gospel text, John 20:19-31
Christ is Risen…Christ is Risen, Indeed!
I think the real significance of this passage of scripture from John 20 gets overlooked because people get hung up on Thomas, the one who doubted. While Thomas’ desire for empirical proof of the resurrection is noteworthy, it pales in significance to the first verse of this passage. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus stands amid this frightened and grieving cadre of friends and gives them what they need most…peace. At a time when nothing else could fill the hole in the pit of their stomach…not money or fame…Jesus gives peace. When fear caused them to lock the doors…Jesus gave peace. Jesus’ gift to them was greater than their fear of death and more than they could have even hoped.
Jesus always knows and gives us what we need. In these times of uncertainty and fear, Jesus extends peace to you. What Jesus offers through his death and resurrection is far greater than anything we face in these challenging times…peace through our salvation.
Make the sign of the cross on your forehead and say, “Peace be with you.” Spend the rest of your day in the knowledge that the one who conquers death has given you His peace to share. Amen.
Pastor Jason Asselstine, Associate to the Bishop, Montana Synod
“I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world…”
John 12: 47
Rick Brown is an LPA who is a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Hamilton, Montana. Here is his reflection on John 12:44-50…
Eugene Peterson in The Message translates verses 47 and 48 this way:
‘If anyone hears what I am saying and doesn’t take it seriously, I don’t reject him. I didn’t come to reject the world, I came to save the world. But you need to know that whoever puts me off, refusing to take in what I am saying, is willfully choosing rejection.’
Looking for God and seeing Jesus. Listening to Jesus and choosing to reject what He is saying. As Spock might say, ‘It would seem illogical.’
It isn’t logical, but how often do I choose to not take Jesus seriously?
How often do I step up to the plate and say “Don’t worry Jesus, I can do all the judging for you!” Jesus, the Light of the world, saved ALL for all time. Tetelesti, ‘it is finished’.
PRAYER: Dear God, through Your Holy Spirit empower me to reject my brothers and sisters less and choose the love of God through Jesus Christ more and more. Amen.
Rick Brown, LPA, Faith Lutheran Church, Hamilton
I wrote the Pastor’s Corner article for the Sheridan Press, and it was in yesterday’s paper. I will include it here…
Sunday in-person worship will be at 8:30 and 11. We will continue to provide an online service: https://www.trinitylutheransheridan.org/2nd-sunday-of-easter
The sanctuary and chapel are open each day, you can stop by for prayer.
Sheridan Press - Pastor’s Corner - April 9, 2021 -
Pastor Phil Wold, Trinity Lutheran Church
I saw an article that began with this question: “Why is it that, according to Jesus, faith is better than proof?”
This weekend, many congregations will hear the story of Thomas and his encounter with the risen Jesus. Thomas, perhaps unfairly, is often called “Doubting Thomas.” He is the one who was not there that first Easter evening, when Jesus appeared to the other Disciples. When told the Good News, Thomas replied: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later, Thomas is present when Jesus appears to the disciples. This encounter with his risen Lord causes Thomas to make a great confession of faith.
Jesus replies: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
It is not clear whether Thomas ever does place his finger on the wounds. He had set out criteria for what would cause him to believe, and it looks like those requirements fall away in the actual encounter with Jesus.
The demand for proof seems to me to be a demand for control. Our quest for control is so far reaching, we want to determine for God how the world should operate, and how our relationship should be established..
“Why is it that, according to Jesus, faith is better than proof?”
I have to admit - I only remember that opening question to the article, I may have just skimmed through. But I have a suspicion that the question is more interesting than any answers we can offer.
The great wonder of Easter, is that in Jesus Christ, God has entered our world, taken on our violence and sin, suffered, died and was buried. The violent end usually puts a stop to all hope and love. Death and destruction always seem to win out. In the resurrection dawn, Jesus stepped forth from the grave, proclaiming God’s peace, and bearing forgiveness and life to a world seemingly ruled by violence and death.
There is really no proof of this. Yet the evidence is there for those who believe.
Resurrection faith is not about a bunch of facts or doctrines to agree upon. There really is little point in arguing for proof. Resurrection faith calls you into a relationship with God, who promises to be with you with God’s love and hope, now and always.
If we simply agree on some sort of proof, - - that can be interesting, I suppose. But it would not necessarily change your life’s direction.
The relationship of faith calls you to live in a new world. A world where forgiveness and love are stronger than violence and hate. A world where each and every person is a child of God’s creative love, and you are enlisted as agents of God’s love that bears life to even the most hopeless places in our world and in our lives.
“Why is it that, according to Jesus, faith is better than proof?”
I’m not sure that faith is better than proof. Perhaps the reality is more this - there is no proof. But there is this One, who gave himself for you, who was raised for you, who calls you into the relationship of faith. It’s not that faith is better, it is that faith is all there is.
Faith that unites you with God, restores you to yourself, empowers you with the forgiveness of Christ, gives you purpose and sends you out to love.
A blessed Easter to you.
“Last of all, as to one untimely born, Jesus appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles … But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”
I Corinthians 15: 8-10
My good friend Pastor Brad Ulgenes wrote this reflection on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. I got to see Brad this week, we laughed a lot, saw his son Jake and my son David, and he showed me more pictures of his adorable granddaughter.
Elaine and I have recently become new grandparents with the birth of our first granddaughter, Mara. What a joy! New birth! New life! This sounds like Easter!
Paul goes on to talk about Christ’s resurrection - and ours - in the rest of chapter 15 of Corinthians. So, I was a bit puzzled when I read verse 8 where Paul says, “Last of all, as to one untimely born…” I looked it up and was shocked! The Greek word means, “a miscarriage, a deformed fetus, an aborted fetus. Paul says his birth into God’s kingdom came out of a miscarriage because he persecuted Christians. He felt unfit and inferior to the other apostles.
And yet, the resurrected Christ came to him and chose him. Paul says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” The Message Bible says, “But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste.”
The resurrected Christ raises Paul and us out of the tomb of shame and regret to live as one swaddled in the grace of God. God holds each of us and declares, “Child of God, you are beautiful and imperfectly perfect in Christ.”
Prayer: Gracious God, when I feel I don’t measure up, grace me again. Amen.
Pastor Brad Ulgenes, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Helena
You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all.
Pastor Lynne Ogren, of Pastor Lynne Ogren, Zion Lutheran Church, Lewistown, Montana has a reflection on Acts 10:34-43 for us.
The church of my childhood is named Peace Lutheran. During their 50 year anniversary celebration one of the charter members shared some stories of how the congregation came to be. Apparently, they chose the name Peace because of some not-so-peaceful interactions with the only other Lutheran church in town.
As they started this new ALC congregation, they wanted to be a community that welcomed people into a setting marked by peace.
I attended that church for over 25 years before moving away, and I know that conflict and discontent happened among the members of Peace Lutheran from time to time. But always, the preaching from the pulpit was the gospel of Jesus Christ, whose message from God was a preaching of peace.
The people of Peace work through their struggles and hold firm to the promises of God made known in Jesus. And like those first disciples, this congregation has heard the command to preach to the people—in worship, in teaching and learning, in serving one another and the neighbors beyond their building.
The peace we all know as God’s beloved people is received most profoundly in the forgiveness of sins through the name of Jesus Christ. This peace is a gift we are given to share with the world. - Pastor Lynne Ogren, Zion Lutheran Church, Lewistown
“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”
Today’s devotion is written by Pastor Brenda Frelsi, who serves Zion Lutheran Church, in Glendive, Montana.
When I went to the Holy Land, I was surprised to learn that there are two places that people think might have been the burial place for Jesus. One is located within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In the Holy Land, it is a practice to build a church over a holy place, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has been built over one option of where Jesus might have been crucified and buried. Christians consider this a very holy place. You can touch the place where Jesus might have been laid in the tomb.
The other place that claims to be where Jesus was laid is the Garden Tomb. There is a place nearby where you can see a skull in a cliff, if you let your imagination work just a bit. The Garden Tomb is just a short walk away from the place of the skull and near the tomb are the remains of old olive presses. There is a cave and at its entrance is a little tunnel. In the tunnel is a huge stone, that, if rolled along the tunnel, would cover the entrance. You can go into the cave/tomb and see where Jesus might have been laid. There is even a higher spot in the stone that would be where the head would lay. I liked this one better and was just sure that this was the real place instead of the place within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was much less touristy and the peace and quiet seemed just right.
As I was thinking this, the man who had led us to this place said, “This might not be the real tomb any more than the one in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We really don’t know. The important thing is that the tomb is empty. Jesus has risen!”
He was right. The exact placement of the tomb is secondary to the fact that Jesus isn’t there anymore. He has risen! Death couldn’t keep him in its grasp. And he lives and reigns and loves us and is calling us to be members of the Body of Christ.
Alleluia! Pastor Brenda Frelsi, Zion Lutheran Church, Glendive
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
Pastor Peggy Paugh Leuzinger, serves our Synod Director for Evangelical Mission. She is a resource for congregations as we seek to be faithful to our mission. She leads the Stewardship task force that prepared these devotions. Today’s reflection is on the Easter account from Matthew 28:1-15a.
In Matthew’s resurrection account, there are fantastic and clearly other-worldly events taking place. A great earthquake causes the stone to roll back from the tomb. An angel appears at the open tomb to greet both Marys. The guards are scared (nearly to death) as they see the angel.
Then Jesus appears to the women. He speaks familiar words: “do not be afraid.” He tells them to go to the rest of the disciples. In this passage, Jesus’ appearance as the living one is confined to two verses. Two out of fifteen! The rest of this passage includes the conspiracy plan of the guards, chief priests and other leaders. They scheme that if they can convince people that Jesus’ body has been stolen, then that story will be perceived as the truth.
But somehow, the religious leaders’ plan didn’t work out. Their “story” was never the one that stuck. Just a few days ago, we worshiped, joining in the chorus, “He is risen. He is risen, indeed.” After a year of questions and chaos and all that we have experienced (and now a 2nd Easter celebrated in a new way) this story, of Jesus’ death and resurrection holds us, molds us. Because Jesus is alive…. We are not afraid. We claim the promise of hope and proclaim that his new life is also ours.
Amen. Pastor Peggy Paugh Leuzinger, Montana Synod Director for Evangelical Mission
“Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
Today is Easter Monday, a day for laughter, jokes and telling stories -
Here’s a dumb joke for you.
What did one shark say to the other when eating a clownfish?
“This tastes funny.”
For this season, I will be sharing the The Montana Synod devotions “Equipping …for the Work of Ministry.”
Today’s reflection is by a friend, John Mundinger. He has gone through Montana Synod training to be a Lay Pastoral Associate (LPA). Our LPA’s are trained to preach and lead, mostly in churches that are not served by ordained ministers.
Here is John Mundinger’s devotional reflection on Luke 24:13-35
Where do we find ourselves in the account of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus?
Like the two disciples, we are on a journey. As they walked, the two struggled to make sense out of the confusing events of the Passion. We struggle to walk faithfully. Our right feet stride in God’s sacred and eternal realm while our left feet stumble in this secular and temporal age.
The two disciples are insignificant characters and so are we. Yet, Jesus chose to walk with them and Jesus walks with us. Jesus opened the Scriptures to them just as the Word is opened to us.
Jesus revealed himself in the breaking of the bread and reveals himself to us in the Sacrament. Yet, before that revelation, the disciples did not recognize Jesus. It is easy for us to see Jesus when we gather for worship. But Jesus walks with us 24/7 and we often are unaware of his presence.
The two disciples bore witness to the resurrected Jesus and that same purpose has been entrusted to us.
Blessed Redeemer, open our eyes to your presence, open our ears to your calling and open our hearts that we might serve you. Amen
John Mundinger, LPA, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Helena
Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Evening
The Prayer of the Day for Easter evening: The reading is the road to Emmaus.
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread, open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For the Season of Easter - 50 days - The Montana Synod Stewardship task force has invited Synod leaders to share devotions on the theme “equipping God’s people for the work of ministry.” I will be sharing these devotions for our Trinity Connections so that you may hear from some of my colleagues and we can connect a bit with our Synod.
Todays reflection by our Bishop starts us off.
Peace to you - Christ is risen!
The Day of the Resurrection
“So the [women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark 16:8
So ends the original ending of the gospel of Mark.
The women hear that Jesus has been raised from the dead, resurrected and alive just as he promised. And they flee and say nothing because they are afraid.
Why were they afraid? Well, maybe it was because in Jesus’ resurrection, everything changed! Everything was different and new! A capital “N” New!
But “in with the New” sounds to us like “out with the old.” Which means loss. Which frightens us. For those women and for us, Jesus’ New means death of the old, and perhaps rightly so, for clinging to the old too often destroys us.
This fear, though, is unnecessary. For like those women, we have been equipped for New Life. That’s what Jesus’ teachings and healings and signs were all about – he is preparing us for the New Life he is giving us. In fact, all of Jesus’ ministry was about equipping his followers for ministry, for following Christ and doing his working in the world, for dying and rising with him. And he isn’t finished equipping. The Spirit is coming on Pentecost to equip us even more.
And so we can proclaim “Christ is risen!” without fear this day. Because, with Christ, we are risen too! Risen and equipped to live a new way, a different way, Jesus’ way!
Pastor Laurie Jungling, Bishop, Montana Synod
"Do not be alarmed;
you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth,
who was crucified.
He has been raised;
he is not here.
One of my favorite preachers is Barbara Brown Taylor. She begins an Easter sermon with these wonderful lines:
“Happy Resurrection Day!
May the news of Christ's risenness touch the dead spots in your heart and bring them back to life, so that you become part of the good news that flows forth from this place today. May you be springs of living water in all the dry places on this sweet, parched earth. May the fresh life that God has given you spill over to freshen all the lives that touch yours - in your homes, in your work, in your schools and neighborhoods. May you be Easter people, this day and forever."
Let me simply add, “what she said.”
A blessed Easter to you, and may we always be an Easter people.
Prayer of the Day:
O God, you gave your only Son to suffer death on the cross for our redemption, and by his glorious resurrection you delivered us from the power of death. Make us die every day to sin, that we may live with him forever in the joy of the resurrection, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
“While it was still dark…”
It is Holy Saturday. A time between.
This is a day for quiet contemplation of the cross, and a looking forward to the hope of the resurrection.
The terrible violence of the cross is not the last word.
Jesus will step forth from the grave, and call you to life.
I hope to see you at worship tomorrow, we will gather at 8:30 and 11.
I have shared this video before - if you click on the link, be sure to watch to the end. https://youtu.be/0c2inXKD6PI
Prayer of the Day
Eternal giver of life and light, this holy night shines with the radiance of the risen Christ. Renew your church with the Spirit given us in baptism, that we may worship you in sincerity and truth and may shine as a light in the world, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, look with loving mercy on your family,
for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed,
to be given over to the hands of sinners,
and to suffer death on the cross;
who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and forever.
“It is finished.”
Isn’t that an intriguing thing to say at this point in the story?
What about the resurrection?
Sometimes we might want to skip the cross, and rush to Easter.
Yet take note: it is from the cross that Jesus announces “It is finished.”
Of course, that is not all.
We stop here, take note what Christ has accomplished on the cross. We take note. We grieve. We give thanks.
Also, let us note, that in just a few days, God has a great surprise in store!
After [Jesus] had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?”
Prayer of the Day
Holy God, source of all love on the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another as he loves us.
Write this commandment in our hearts, and give us the will to serve others as he was the servant of all, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
The Prayer of the Day helps set the scene for our observance of Maundy Thursday.
The Gospel reading for today is a good portion of the 13th chapter of John. (1-17; 31b-35) This holds such wonderful facets of the story of Jesus.
Among the many riches, is Peter’s exchange with Jesus. Peter objects to Jesus condescending to wash his feet. Jesus answers: “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John13:7)
We often forget that we are called - not to understand - but to follow. Perhaps later, we will understand, but until then, we are to live our lives as Jesus’ disciples.
We may pray that our discipleship will lead to understanding, yet we know that more important than understanding is the knowledge that Jesus walks with us every step of our journey.
This is what we see now these next days of Holy Week, Jesus entering fully into our lives so that we might know God’s presence now and forever.
I hope to see you tonight.
Blessings to you, Pastor Phil