No Unopenable Tombs

The grief and stress of this COVID-19 pandemic is exhausting. Healthcare workers around the world are wearing themselves out doing everything they can with what they have to work with. But even those of us not on the front lines can feel exhausted by grief and stress from which distractions give us only temporary reprieve.

Speaking for myself, I go through emotional ups and downs. But, today, as I was getting my coffee and sitting down to write, the words that popped into my head were: “This is taking the wind out of my sails.”

Then, here come the readings for this Sunday, and they couldn’t be more fitting—not just for those of us who feel our sails are empty but for everyone affected by this pandemic, from the stressed all the way to the deceased.

Is the wind out of your sails? Do you feel depleted? Are you frightened by the increasing death toll? Sad for the medical professionals who are getting sick or who are unable to go home to their families for fear of spreading the infection there? Are you worrying about what will happen with your job, with your family, with your own life should the virus hit close to your home?

On a check-in call with pastors in our conference this past week, one pastor said she was in her car going to the grocery store when she was overwhelmed by a strong urge to run away—a feeling she hadn’t had since high school, she said. But then she realized there was no place to run to. This is a whole-world thing.

Where can we run to?

This Sunday’s readings prompt us to spread the map out a little farther, beyond the limits of this world, beyond the visible points on a map to the invisible reality that transcends all this. Our readings remind us of a reality and a power that preceded life, that made life, that enables life, that can and does recreate life even after death.

If ever we’re tempted to despair, we can open our eyes a little wider to see beyond the immediate, beyond both the physically present and the temporal present—to see God before, within, around, above, below, and after it all.

Our Old Testament reading is the amazingly stirring “dry bones” passage, Ezekiel 37:1-14. The prophet Ezekiel speaks to the people of Judah after Jerusalem has fallen to the army of Babylon, with many citizens carried off into exile. In this prophecy, he communicates a message of hope in that desperate time.

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.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

These bones were “very dry.” This is not a vision that can be misinterpreted to mean that God can awaken someone who’s dozed off. These fallen people are long since dead, flesh gone, bones bleached in the sun.

Why would that be a problem though? Why would that be an impediment to the God who created life from nothing in the first place?

That’s what God shows Ezekiel in this vision. And the point is: So that “you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel and the people will know when God has brought them back out of exile and placed their feet back on their own soil. They’ll know that God is God, and nothing—not even the great Babylonian empire—can thwart God’s intentions for them.

God is God. We can’t say that and, in the next breath, say, “All is lost.” With God as our God, we are never at a dead end.

Which brings us to our gospel reading, the account of the last of the signs Jesus performed to let the world see who he was. This is the story of the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus and what happened after he was entombed.

You can watch the story unfold in a chapter from the Visual Bible: Gospel of John by clicking here (note: the video goes a little beyond our reading). If you prefer to read, the text is available here.

Finished?

You may have noticed, as you watched or read, that Jesus delays going when he hears that Lazarus is ill. In an echo of last week’s account of Jesus’ giving sight to a man born blind, Jesus gives this explanation: “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Later Jesus says that his prayer to the Father as he stands by the now-open tomb serves the same purpose: it’s for the sake of showing that it’s God who’s at work in this.

Again, the love that leads to creation, the power that brings life from nothing, the power Ezekiel attested to, the love that sent the Son into the world: that love and that power flows through Jesus. This man who weeps at the death of his friend is also the Son of God who can change his friend’s tomb from a permanent to a temporary resting place.

Jesus’ final sign before his death shows him aligned with the creating, liberating work of the God of new beginnings, in a line that stretches from creation through Ezekiel to this point, where Jesus stands on the verge of his own death and reverses the death of another.

And with Jesus’ death, we’ll see that there are no dead ends, no final chapters, no unopenable tombs with this God.

Our current reality of worldwide fear and universal uncertainty will pass. For those of us who are living through it, our lives will be forever changed. And there will be those—already have been so many of those—who will not see the end of this pandemic. This chapter in God’s history will be remembered, no doubt, but the story goes on, for both survivors and casualties.

God is God. Dry bones, entombed friends, executed Messiah—all are deeply felt human events and occasions for God to demonstrate his power and for us to see and believe. Let that seeing and believing inform all our seeing, so that we can believe and not despair. So that we can believe in life and love always flowing from our Creator God and his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

May hope and optimism live on in us, and, undergirding it all, faith and trust in the God from whom all things come.

I invite you to lose yourself in either or both of these musical expressions of the power of our Creator God:

“Thy Strong Word” (words by Martin Franzmann, music by Thomas J. Williams), performed by the orchestra and choir of Concordia University Irvine for a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (also in our hymnal at #511)

“Awake, My Soul” by Chris Tomlin, performed at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside Denver, with spoken word by Lecrae

May God bless you in the week ahead with health, with faith, with patience, and with joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Carol

 

Lenten Midweek Meditation: Love and More Love

Dear Esperanza friends,

For this week’s Lenten Midweek meditation, I thought I’d offer this meditation on what Jesus said are the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

Like me, you’re probably seeing and hearing a lot about love during this virus challenge. People are more aware than ever how much they cherish those nearest to them. People are going out of their way to offer help to neighbors they may never have connected with before. Some people are also reconnecting with themselves—you might say, with their souls—as busyness drops away and solitude and quiet reign. (That’s some people. Of course, for lots of folks, the transition is just to another form of busyness.)

This meditation (link below) is from video series called Molten Meditations. It was published in 2010. If you can set aside 12 minutes, you can let Jesus’ words wash over you while you watch a gentle time-lapse video of a darkening then brightening sky. Or you may find it more meditative to listen with your eyes closed.

Either way, see if you can arrange to be uninterrupted for 15 minutes, then take a few deep breaths as you settle into a comfortable but alert posture, pray that you’d hear God’s voice in the meditation and feel God’s love surrounding you. Then, as the ancient mystics used to say: click on the “play” arrow. When the video is over, perhaps you want to sit in silence for a bit longer, then breath out to God whatever prayer is in your heart.

“Love the Lord Your God” Molten Meditation

May you be refreshed.

Peace and health to you!

Pastor Carol

News Update: Discernment Meetings, New Facebook Group, Sunday Worship

Here’s the latest from Esperanza:

Discernment Meetings

We’re underway with the online meetings we’ve set up to take the place of the day-long discernment workshop that had been set for March 22. Pastor Miguel Gomez-Acosta from the Grand Canyon Synod office is leading groups through a three-part look at Esperanza’s past, present, and dreamed-for future.

Last Sunday, March 22, was the first meeting. Thirteen people participated in the meeting, with three more listening in to capture notes. It was a great conversation and a productive meeting. Particularly interesting: Pastor Miguel shared Esperanza’s “trend report” that shows changes in such things as baptized membership, worship attendance, and our financial situation over the last eight years. Particularly encouraging was the response to his question: If money, volunteers, and time were unlimited, what do you dream Esperanza could do?

This morning,  11 of us engaged in an interesting and in-depth conversation, and 15 are scheduled for Sunday, March 29 (9 a.m.-noon). There’s room for more! Register by emailing Pastor Carol at pastor.carol@myesperanza.org or call or text her at 224-422-9552.

The thoughts shared in these meetings will feed into the writing of the Ministry Site Profile, which is the document the bishop shares with potential pastoral candidates for Esperanza. The Ministry Site Profile will be available for the congregation to read before it goes to the bishop.

New Facebook Group

For those of you who are on Facebook, we have a new group called Non-news Esperanza. News updates get posted on our official Friends of Esperanza page, which is public. This new group is visible only to members of the group and is intended to be what Liz Farquhar called a “virtual coffee hour”—a chance to stay connected, post photos, request prayer, and share mood-elevating inspirational messages, videos, and funny stuff. To join, just type “Non-news Esperanza” in the search bar, go to the group, and click “join group.”

Not on Facebook? No interest in being on Facebook? You can sign up for free and just do this one group, then deactivate your account when we can all get back together. Just a thought.

Sunday Worship

For this Sunday, March 29, we will not try to do any kind of online worship because we have the meeting with Pastor Miguel. The plan is to get something out to everyone on Saturday night so it’s available for you when you want it.

What exactly we’ll be offering week-to-week going forward is in flux. We do want to maximize opportunities to connect.

 

Walking with God, Waiting for God

Readings for this Sunday, March 22, include the prophet Samuel anointing David to be the second king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13), the well-known “The Lord is my shepherd” psalm (Psalm 23), a passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians about living as children of light (Ephesians 5:8-14), and the long and fascinating story from John’s gospel about Jesus giving sight to a man who’d been blind from birth (John 9:1-41).

Psalm 23 is a lovely meditation for each of us during this time, when we want to remember that, even as we keep our distance from one another, still we’re never alone. The psalm is attributed to King David (the one anointed in our first reading). It’s lonely at the top, a lonely job being king of Israel, but David felt himself always both led and accompanied by God, tenderly guided in the right way and protected by God at every turn.

“Even if I walk through the darkest valley,” David wrote, “I fear no evil.” Another translation reads “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” These are familiar words to many of us, and soothing ones, especially now. Whether you’re young and healthy or you fall into a higher-risk category vis-à-vis the coronavirus, the shadow of death is looming over our community, our country and our world. The same was true for David. But, surrounded by enemy nations and threatened by rebellion from within, even from his own son, David nevertheless felt confident because he knew God was with him.

Set apart in self-quarantine, God is with us. Separated from loved ones we are worried about, God is with us … and with each of them as well.

To listen to a calming reading of Psalm 23 in the King James Version click here. Or read the New Revised Standard Version translation right here:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters; 

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff—

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

my whole life long.

See how the promise isn’t that events will never drag down our souls? The promise is that in those times, God will restore us, lift us up, revive our spirits. During this pandemic and the restrictions it has brought and will bring, we’ll experience cycles of emotion: frustration, fear, grief, anger and boredom. When those feelings flood you, perhaps you’ll want to return to Psalm 23 to remind yourself that you’re not walking this path alone, and that all of life wraps up in God’s house—where we do indeed shelter in place.

When we come to our gospel reading, we move from David’s profound but simple words of comfort to the story of a miracle that raised questions for the Pharisees and may raise questions for us as well.

Before I talk about it, please read the account here, or you can watch the events unfold in this clip from The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John, narrated by Christopher Plummer.

Did you notice how the Pharisees refuse to acknowledge what’s right before their eyes? Why is that? It’s because what Jesus does and how he does it doesn’t fit their expectations and their criteria. A miracle has happened, and the beneficiary of the miracle attests that it was Jesus who performed it. But, the Pharisees say, the miracle cannot have come from God because it was performed on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees claim to see clearly, they claim to know definitively, they claim to be in a position to judge. But Jesus tells them: You claim to see, but in fact, you are blind to the truth of who I am and what I’ve done. And so, you remain in a state of sin, a state of separation from the God you say you serve.

Meanwhile, the man who was given his sight knows nothing about Jesus except that it was Jesus who ended a lifetime of blindness. But that’s enough for him. Knowing that truth gives him courage to stand up to the moral and societal authority of the Pharisees. It gives him confidence to go down on his knees and worship what, to the eyes of those lacking faith, is no more than simply another man. Jesus has given this man physical sight (an amazing gift!) but has also opened his eyes to see and recognize Jesus, the Son of God.

Now the story moves on. Did you have the same question I did about Jesus’ answer to his disciples about why the man was blind?

The disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus answers, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

This puts me off. But it aligns me with the Pharisees, that like them my criteria haven’t been met. It’s me saying: Sorry, but if you’re saying God left a person in blindness for decades, just to tee up this miracle for Jesus … well, I object. That doesn’t fit my understanding of how God does things.

It’s funny how saying it out loud shows me how inappropriate it is. It’s as if I were to turn to Jesus and say, “Look, I don’t wanna tell you how to do your job, but …” Funny – it’s also one way to look at the approach the Pharisees continually take toward Jesus.

But, recognizing the flaw in my thinking, I give it a little more thought and realize that this man may have been more than happy to experience the first part of his life in order to experience this moment: to gain his sight and, at the same time, to become someone through whom God’s power is revealed. An important, abiding character in the story of Jesus the Messiah.

Of course, he didn’t know he was waiting. Only God knew what lay ahead, the part he would play, and the joy he would experience. He certainly may have felt deprived and even angry over the years—at his parents, at life in general, even at God.

Here’s where I find for myself in this story today: in the unknowing waiting. I don’t want to equate waiting out the coronavirus with being unable to see, but nonetheless I’d say there’s a parallel.

None of us knows how long we’ll wait before the world is delivered from this pandemic threat. We’re allowed our feelings, up and down, through it all. Some of us may even face deep grief if the virus or another ailment takes a loved one during this time.

In a sense, we’re all in the dark. We’re blind to the immediate outcome.

But we’ve been shown the future—the future revealed by Jesus when he did miracles like this one—giving sight to a man who’d never, ever seen anything of the world around him. This show of what Jesus called “God’s works” is a vision of the God whose world this is, what that God can do, what that God intends to do, and how that God intends things to be: sight for the blind, a sturdy gait for the lame, good news to the poor, food for the hungry, agency for the powerless, God’s will and God’s wisdom as the organizing principles of the universe, with God’s love sustaining it all.

This is what we await while we wait. We too, once were blind. But now we see. No matter what the reality before us, the eyes of faith pierce through to the truth: Jesus is coming to heal us, to heal it all. We are waiting, as always, just more acutely aware now. We wait with hope and confidence grounded in faith in what we’ve seen and heard and in the one who could give a man born blind a whole new life of sight.

May our hope be contagious. May we find ways to spread it, even through closed doors and across social distance.

And may you all be well in body, mind, and spirit.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Carol

P.S. Looking for a little music? Here’s a song by David Crowder called “You’re Everything.”

We Are Still the Church

Hi, Esperanzans and old and new friends of Esperanza!

Your church council met last night via Zoom and we have some updates and very important information to share with you.

Discernment Meetings with Pastor Miguel

First up is a new format to go forward with discernment meetings with Pastor Miguel Gomez-Acosta from the Grand Canyon Synod staff. Pastor Miguel was going to lead an all-day workshop for us this coming Sunday, but, of course, that’s out. So, instead, he’s offering a three-hour online meeting, which will be available three times (identical meetings).

These meetings will be limited to 20 people to allow for conversation. All you’ll need to have to participate is a computer with a camera and microphone and an internet connection. We’ll send details for how to sign on to participants ahead of the date of the meeting.

Dates are Sunday, March 22, 9:00-noon; Thursday, March 26, 10:00-noon; and Sunday, March 29, 9:00-noon.

Sign up by emailing me at pastor.carol@myesperanza.org. If requests for a particular day exceed 20, I’ll get back to you to ask about an alternate date.

Realizing that a 3-hour online meeting might not sound like much fun under other circumstances, I hope you’ll see this the way one council member does. She said, “I think hanging out with people from church for three hours sounds great! It’s an event!” Plus it’s a great way to invest in Esperanza’s future, as the information gathered will help our Ministry Site Profile Team as we move the process along toward calling a new pastor.

Worship Plans

The plan through the rest of Lent is for me to develop something for each Wednesday and Sunday that will be a mix of scripture, meditation, prayer, maybe music…hoping to be a little bit creative. We’ll recognize Holy Week and Easter as well.

But, then, we’ll plan to do a full Easter celebration two to three weeks after we’re able to resume in-person worship. The two to three weeks is to give us time to prepare some music, maybe Easter breakfast, an egg hunt, etc. Technically every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection anyway; we’ll just go big one week.

Caring for One Another

The council will be calling members to ask who could use some help, who can give some help, and whether people are getting news updates via the newsletter. We’ll compile a list of people able to offer assistance to others, and that list will be available to me, to Joni (our parish administrator), and to members of council. We’ll be able to update it in real time to prevent the same one or two people from getting all the help requests.

If you’re able to pick up some groceries or prescriptions or whatever’s needed for someone who can’t or shouldn’t go out, please let us know when you’re called. Then, if you later become unable for a time, you can let us know that as well and we’ll pause you on the list.

Just so everyone knows:

Pastor Carol – pastor.carol@myesperanza.org

Joni Thorpe – esperanza@myesperanza.org

Michelle Tinsley (president) – michelletinsley3@gmail.com

Rachael Hanania (vice president) – rngirard@cox.net

Peggy Wagner – pwagner255@cox.net

Herb Pinske – grandpaherb@gmail.com

Liz Farquhar – liz.farquhar51@gmail.com

Doris Dorwart – dddorwart@hotmail.com

Jessica Mueller – tynjess@cox.net

Robert Elsaesser – 2sailr@gmail.com

Paul Gerrish – mailto:gerrishp@gmail.com

Ongoing as Best We Can 

  • I plan to do some online confirmation instruction (though probably not in a class format).
  • Thursday Matters will try meeting via Zoom beginning April 2 at 9:30am.
  • Watch for information about Children of Hope Preschool, which is closed at present.

Money

So … our expenses as a congregation go on even when worship gatherings aren’t going on. We will likely be able to reduce some expenses, but many will remain. And many of our members and regular attenders make their donations to church by bringing their envelopes when they come on Sundays.

You’re probably already ahead of me on this, but: We, as a congregation, need you, as a part of the congregation, to continue your generous donations to support the ongoing and future ministry of Esperanza Lutheran Church.

Esperanza is in a particularly vulnerable stretch here—between regularly called pastors and now enduring this pandemic along with everyone else. We want to assure that we can keep things going as much as possible, including such things as the call process, and also be prepared to jump back in with energy when in-person worship and other ministries get the green light to start up again.

Speaking to everyone at Esperanza on behalf of everyone else at Esperanza, I strongly encourage you to keep up your regular giving. You can do that in one of these three ways:

  • mail your offering to Esperanza Lutheran Church, 2601 E. Thunderhill Pl., Phoenix, AZ 85048 (seal your envelope in some way other than licking it, please)
  • sign up for automatic giving through Vanco (email Joni Thorpe at esperanza@myesperanza or call the church office at 480-759-1515 to ask for a sign-up form)
  • set up your donations as an automatic bill-pay via the online option with your bank

You are an important part of keeping our church strong through this challenging time.

Finally …

Church Council will be meeting every two weeks, at least for a while, as events and advice from government health authorities change from day to day. Please get in touch with any questions, thoughts, and, especially, needs you may have. And please stay in touch with your friends and neighbors.

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” –Philippians 2:1-1

The Woman at the Well

Dear Esperanza friends,

It’s our usual day for Lenten Midweek worship. Though we can’t be together, I invite you to pray with me, read a meditation, and listen to Holden Evening Prayer.

Let’s pray together:

Holy Spirit, you draw us into the eternal life of the Triune God and call us together into community, to be the Body of Christ is the world. In you we are one with Christians of every time and place, so we trust we are connected and united with each other even when physically separated. In this time apart, keep our faith strong and keep our hearts soft toward the suffering of others. Build up the bonds between us and fill us with gratitude for the hope we have in you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Here’s a meditation on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, from John 4. The woman at the well was the gospel reading for last Sunday, and this meditation captures how Jesus gently draws her to understand who he is and what he has to offer. This meditation is originally from a sister in an abbey in Australia in 2017. The artwork accompanying it is lovely, too.

Finally, if you’re missing Holden Evening Prayer, here it is with words and room for you to sing along.

Blessings on your Lenten meditations.

Pastor Carol

Sunday Schedule (Please note: no worship or classes this week)

PLEASE NOTE: NO WORSHIP OR CLASSES THIS SUNDAY

On Sundays we gather for worship               and learning

At 8:30 we celebrate a traditional Lutheran service of liturgy and hymns.

At 10:30 we gather for a contemporary service featuring a worship band.

Junior High Sunday School meets at 9:45. Funday School for pre-school through grade 5 meets during the 10:30 service. Confirmation Class and Youth Group for middle and high school kids meet at 11:45.

Facing Challenging Times Together

Rodney Stark’s 1996 book The Rise of Christianity shows how the early church made a strong impression on the people around them by the willingness of Christians to stick around and care for the sick when the plague came to town. At risk to themselves, they lived out their love for their neighbors in a tangible way. With Jesus as their example, those earliest followers of his were clear on what they were supposed to do if a neighbor was in any kind of need. Besides, there’s no need to run for your life when God has already given you a never-ending, eternal life to work with.

In this time of COVID-19, the challenge for those of us who aren’t medical professionals is to stay away from each other. Keeping our distance and washing our hands are key practices to help slow the spread of this new virus. But we also can be intentional about maintaining supportive relationships by phone and email and keeping up our prayers for each other.

Your Esperanza Church Council spent time considering how our church community can best deal with this situation. Here’s where we are as of the time I’m writing (Friday, March 13):

Communication:

If you are in doubt about whether an event (Sunday service, choir practice, etc.) is going to be held, you can check the Esperanza website. We will post cancellations there in as timely a fashion as possible. In addition, we’ll send emails with information when plans change. We’re working on setting up a system to be able to send a text to everyone who’d like to get updates that way.

Sundays:

We will continue to have services as usual, but with modifications to avoid having multiple people touch things. We won’t share the peace or join hands for the Lord’s Prayer. Communion servers will wash their hands immediately before communion. Baskets for the offering will be set out so that people can simply drop their envelopes in. And we will pause the passing of the attendance folder.

If you are providing coffee hour snacks during this time, please consider bringing pre-packaged items.

Sunday, March 22:

We’ve been strongly encouraging everyone to make a concerted effort to be at church for a day-long workshop on Sunday, March 22, in preparation for beginning the call process for Esperanza’s next pastor. At this point we plan to go forward with this event. However, we don’t want anyone to come who feels anxious about being with a group for so many hours. If you are hesitant to come, there will be both online and paper options for sharing your thoughts. In addition, we’ll offer the option of a phone conversation with a member of the Ministry Site Profile Team or the Church Council. This is especially for people who might have trouble doing extensive writing.

If you have non-urgent questions, please get in touch with Pastor Carol (pastor.carol@myesperanza.org) or Joni Thorpe (esperanza@myesperanza.org). Urgent questions can come to me at 224-422-9552.

Finally, I want to mention what a blessing it is, at a time like this, to be part of a community like Esperanza. Belonging in a community and knowing that there are people who care is a great benefit to both our spiritual and our physical health. Let’s lean on that. And, if you know of neighbors who are already isolated, even before the virus, you can be like those early Christians by reaching out and extending the support you have to others who need it.

May you remain in good health and good spirits.

In Christ,

Pastor Carol

Love in a Time of Choler

I’ve been reading 1 John and finding no place to hide.

The author writes to a Christian community with this straightforward declaration, one of many like it:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8).

You could try to find a little wiggle room here, because John maybe means we (Christians) need to love one another (other Christians), and not that we need to love everybody.

But I’m thinking that’s a bit of a dodge.

I mean, even if John was referring to life within the Christian community, there’s still his big, universal statement: “Love comes from God.” It’s hard to parse that out to convince ourselves that God is really perfectly OK with us hating people who aren’t part of our community, so long as we love our Christians sisters and brothers. God did create every single one of those other folks too.

So, here we are in a time of high dudgeon—so many, many things to be angry about and so many, many people who do or say those things we’re angry about.

On top of that, many of us are over-busy and chronically stressed, which wears away our good intentions and makes us more prone to irritability and anger. In this environment, how well do we do when we check ourselves with John’s litmus test?

This time we’re in could be a great opportunity for us to demonstrate the counter-cultural nature of a life spent following Jesus, by letting love undergird our relationships and our opinions and our comments and our stance toward people who disagree with us—even those whose views we find truly disturbing.

If we practice loving, if we consciously adopt an attitude of love-first/agreement-or-disagreement-second, it will show. People will sense it. It will make a difference in the world—a real, tangible difference.

And, as a bonus, it’ll help us know God more fully. It’ll help us experience, on a small scale, what God is doing every moment of every day: loving people no matter what.

In Christ,

Pastor Carol

There’s an App for That!

Please excuse me if I use my space this week to plug an app. I just want to make sure people have heard of the YouVersion Bible app.

This app offers an apparently limitless number of reading plans to help guide your Bible-reading. You can choose a plan focused on a personal issue you struggle with (worry, busyness, etc.) or a theme like grace or stewardship or Sabbath. Or you can launch into a particular biblical book, a section of Scripture, or the whole Bible, using a plan that provides guidance and devotional content for each day.

I’ve known a lot of people who’ve found the Bible app to be the perfect answer to the dilemma of wanting to read the Bible more but not knowing where or how to begin.

Personally, I’m at day 310 of a through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan that includes daily devotionals reflecting on each day’s readings.

Of course you can look up the readings in your own Bible if you prefer not to read from a screen. Bu you can also highlight verses and make note in the app.

The app is also good to have simply to look up passages or read whatever you want to read. And it comes with lots of different translations and versions in English as well as in lots of other languages.

The app is free. If you don’ have it, I encourage you to give it a look. Online it’s at bible.com. In the app store, search “Bible” or “YouVersion Bible app,” skip past the paid ad, and look for the icon below.

And remember: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

May God bless your Bible-reading!

-Pastor Carol

 

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