Worship With Us This Sunday!

On Sundays we gather for two services and education:

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

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

Resumes January 12: Funday School for pre-school through grade 5 meets during the 10:30 service; Youth groups for middle and high school at noon

Birth Stories

Dear friends,

 

Pastor Steve Holm

It’s hard to believe but my time as your “fill-in pastor” is rapidly drawing to a close. My last service as preacher and presider will be on Christmas Day. I want to thank you for your patience and encouragement over these two months–I’ve enjoyed working with the texts and preparing sermons.

 

This week we get an opportunity to look at the birth story of Jesus through the eyes of both Matthew and Luke. As you know, they have two very different accounts. Matthew, whose story we hear this Sunday, tells the story from the perspective of Joseph and says nothing about angels, shepherds, or a manger. He emphasizes Joseph’s faithfulness and mentions Mary only in passing.

 

The other story of Jesus’ birth, the one found in Luke, is the one we’ll hear on Christmas Eve. It’s undoubtedly one of the most familiar and beautiful bible stories and has been carefully crafted to capture our attention and imagination. Many of us could probably recite portions of it from memory, especially if we’ve ever participated in Sunday School Christmas programs. Luke makes Mary the central figure and Joseph is the one who gets the non-speaking role.

 

Both writers speak of Mary’s virginity in order to hammer home the point that Jesus is the messiah and that the fullness of divinity rests in him. Jesus is different–he has no earthly father. For some that notion of a virgin birth has been distracting and troublesome, almost a stumbling block to faith. It’s even caused some to reject the entirety of the gospel narratives. Others, including myself, try to understand the reason for telling the stories in this fashion, and reject a wooden literal interpretation.

 

These really are beautiful stories and each of them contain powerful truths behind the images. To get at those truths will be the aim of my sermons this last week of my time with you.

 

Thanks again for the chance to serve. You will be in my prayers as the interim pastor begins her work and you begin the exciting process of finding a new pastor. I can’t wait to see who it will be.

 

Blessings,

 

Steve

Pink Candle Sunday

Isaiah 35:1-10

Psalm 146:5-10

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

Pastor Steve Holm

Dear Friends,

One of the things that drew Cherie and me to Esperanza seven years ago, in addition to Pastor Steve’s stimulating sermons, was the amazing choir that we heard regularly at the 8:30 worship service we attended. What a blessing they are! Not only do the members have exceptional voices, the highly skilled director, Robin Neely, coaxes excellence from them without fail. To hear them sing is definitely worth the price of admission!

The third Sunday in Advent, also known as “pink candle Sunday,” is a time to reflect on the joy that is ours in Christ Jesus, and this year it will be packed with joy for all of us. Not only will you not have to listen to me, you’ll hear the choir at their best as they perform their annual Christmas cantata while accompanied by a six piece chamber orchestra. Because it’s a special occasion, and to save the vocalist’s voices, we’ll be combining the 8:30 and 10:30 services into one and meeting at 9:30 a.m. I have a feeling you’ll definitely want to get there a bit early as it’s likely to be a sell-out!

And while you’re checking your calendar, don’t forget the Blue Christmas service at 7:00 p.m. on December 18. This is the fourth time Esperanza has offered the community this opportunity and I know I’ve attended the first three. I’ll be there again this time and am looking forward to the blessing it provides for those of us feeling a bit of sadness during the holiday season. I know I’ll be thinking about Pastor Steve’s absence–and I won’t be the only one!. Losses are magnified in moments of celebration and it’s good to have time and a place to reflect on the myriad of feelings that loss of any kind can bring.

Thanks again for the opportunity of serving you during these months.

Blessings,

Steve

The Wilderness Prophet

Dear Friends,

Pastor Steve Holm

I guess I really am a prophet! My prediction for worship numbers last Sunday was right on! But come to think of it, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that folks would react to Thanksgiving and Black Friday mayhem by using Sunday as a true day of rest. It certainly didn’t take a prophet!

The text for next Sunday, though, will feature a real prophet, John the Baptist, the wilderness preacher who Jesus called the greatest man ever born to a woman. In Matthew’s gospel he simply appears on the scene as a prelude to the Jesus’ story; nothing is said of his background or origin. Obviously he’s a significant figure, but all we get from Matthew is a brief description of his ministry and his connection to Jesus.

I believe that John was a big deal in his day. Josephus, the great Jewish historian, mentions him at length and says no more than a sentence or two about Jesus. John had large numbers of disciples and was a political force to be reckoned with. Even King Herod feared him. But who was he, and where did he come from?

Based on my reading and a little bit of imagination I’ve constructed a backstory for John that I think helps make some sense of what he says in this week’s text from Matthew 3:1-12. It might also help us understand why Jesus also says of him, “The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” I’ll be sharing that backstory as part of my sermon this Sunday, and I hope it helps us all understand the beauty of Jesus’ life and radical legacy.

I hope your Advent is going well, and that you’ve managed to develop a daily ritual to guide your meditation and prayer. I’ll see you at worship!

Blessings,

Steve

Surprised By Joy

Dear friends,

When I was serving a congregation full time I never particularly liked the years that Thanksgiving showed up just four days before the First Sunday in Advent. Not only did parishioners wear themselves out with holiday feasting, large numbers left town for the whole weekend. Those who remained often got caught up in Black Friday shopping excursions and few had much energy left for worship on Sunday. Attendance would plummet!
Now I’ve not been around Esperanza much at this time of year, but I suspect that something of that sort may happen this week. I won’t be surprised if I end up just preaching to the choir! Though, come to think of it, many of them are likely to be gone too! And that’s okay! I’ve been around long enough to know that we need our holiday rest–and if it means a long weekend without worship, that’s not all bad!
But it would mean that you would miss my commentary on Matthew 24. It’s a rich passage, one that contains a prooftext for the rapture and some words from Jesus about how to prepare for the Last Days. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t recommend a flurry of frenzied buying! While I’m not sure at this point the direction the sermon will take, (it isn’t likely to be an endorsement of rapture theology), I am leaning away from trying to scare folks into thinking the last times are near! The phrase, “surprised by joy,” has been bouncing around in my head in reaction to Jesus’ words, and I like the accompanying insights that have been popping in and out. It could be a fun Sunday!
Advent is one of my favorite seasons–maybe because blue is my favorite color–and it invites us to spend long moments in meditation and reflection on the coming Christ. We light candles on wreaths, hang symbols on Jesse trees, and think about what Jesus means for our daily lives and for our futures. I’ve written devotionals for the season for many years now and I love exploring its themes. If you’re interested in what I’m writing this December, you can check the daily devotional at www.desertmeditations.com.
I’m keeping Esperanza in my prayers. May Advent be a blessing to us all!
Pastor Steve Holm

Christ the King

Pastor Steve Holm

Dear friends,

The cultural calendar is familiar to most everyone and operates pretty much on a linear basis. It starts with New Year’s Day, and is followed in rapid succession by Super Bowl Sunday, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, and Easter. There’s then a bit of a gap until we get to the Fourth of July and after that a really long wait until the biggies, Halloween, Black Friday, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each of these holidays has a distinctive emphasis and broad appeal.
Christians are pretty much in tune with that cultural calendar and celebrate all the holidays, not just the ones that overlap. In fact, as the church continues to lose influence, the liturgical calendar, which dictated religious observances for centuries, has become a mystery even for many believers.
This week at Esperanza we’ll be celebrating Christ the King Sunday, the end of the liturgical year that began last December 2 with the short season of Advent, a mini-penitential period that prepares us for the 12 days of Christmas. The whole year operates in a circular fashion with each season leading into the next with an amazing sense of beauty and rhythm. We see that clearly at this time of year as the Last Days theme at the end of Pentecost meshes perfectly with the End of the World scenario on the first Sunday in Advent. The church year is like a well-balanced wheel that pulls us through our lives with constant reminders of faith essentials.
The end of the year texts this week from Colossians and Luke are particularly rich and will challenge our understanding of the Christ, the One who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. For most of my life I’ve struggled in my relationship to this mysterious figure and I think I’ve only recently begun to figure things out. Sunday, I’ll share a bit of that journey in my sermon–I pray that I can find words that will convey the depth of what I’ve discovered.
I do want to thank you for your patience as I’ve led worship these last three weeks. You’ve been very kind.
With deep affection,
Steve

An Opportunity to Testify

Luke 21:5-19

Pastor Steve Holm

Dear Friends,
Like the rest of you members of Esperanza I received a commitment card in the mail a couple of weeks ago with instructions to return it (filled out I presume) by this Sunday, November 19. I’m familiar with the practice. Commitment Sunday is a big deal in the life of any congregation. Without a response from a significant portion of the membership the congregational council will only be guessing when they prepare a budget for the following year.
Generally, the folks who set up the lectionary texts for the year give pastors a boost on this Sunday. Whether it’s purposeful or not the gospel will have some reference to what Jesus said about money–but this year it didn’t work out that way. The Luke passage is about the last days and the trials and tribulations of believers in dark and dangerous times. There’s nothing in there about generous, sacrificial giving. But still, there is a verse that caught my attention! At the very end of the assigned reading Jesus says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
As I’ve thought about that line, which in context refers to disciples being hauled before kings and governors, I realized that it’s a perfect verse for our community. Our pastor has left us, a substitute is filling the preacher role, and an interim has been assigned. Obviously it’s a time of transition and uncertainty–but what an opportunity it is for us to testify! In this moment we can say to the world that we are committed to our sisters and brothers in this congregation, and will continue to work with them in the mission God has given us. Pastor Steve has gone but the ministry continues!
Personally, I’m going to increase my financial commitment to Esperanza. It’s probably the best way possible for me to testify of my love for its people and to say thanks for the amazing love I’ve received in the last seven years. I just hope I can remember to bring the card with me on Sunday–and I hope you remember too! It’s important!
Blessings,
Steve

I know that my Redeemer lives

Job 19:23-27a

Psalm 17:1-9

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Luke 20:27-38

Pastor Steve Holm

Dear Friends,

It was reported that last Sunday former president, Jimmy Carter, after a lengthy absence following a fall, returned to his church in Plains, Georgia to deliver his regular Sunday School lesson. His topic was the book of Job and he shared his feelings about suffering, death, and life after death. He reported that after 95 years of life he has absolutely no fear of death.
It may be a coincidence but this week’s first lesson at Esperanza is also from the book of Job and will include the well-known verse, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” As we look at this verse and consider Jesus’ comments about resurrection from Luke 20, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to think about some of the questions we have about the life to come. From our childhood on we’ve confessed our faith in the resurrection from the dead, but most of us have little certainty about what that might mean. Some of us, heavily influenced by scientific evidence and rationalism, may even have begun to doubt that there is such a thing. For such persons, the arguments of the Sadducees, who said there is no resurrection from the dead, are more reasonable than what Jesus believed and taught.
I can’t promise that I’ll be able to give you satisfactory answers for all of your questions about the afterlife. (Frankly, I’m suspicious of any who would claim to give definitive answers about that which is unknown.) But lack of answers should never prevent conversation…sometimes it is as we wrestle with those big questions that insights come. I do think that it’s possible to come to the point where we have a sense of peace about the future…and if that can happen for us on Sunday, I will be full of joy!
Thank you for the expressions of love I’ve felt from you as I’ve begun these two months of service…I am blessed by your thoughtfulness.
Steve

The Christ Is Still Present

A note from the Congregation Council:

This Sunday will be our first since Pastor Steve Hammer’s retirement. We are pleased to announce that Pastor Steve Holm has graciously agreed to lead worship through Christmas. He has also agreed to share some thoughts in this space during his tenure with us. We hope to welcome an interim pastor in January, who will minister to us through the call process.

Pastor Holm is already a friend of Esperanza, and worships with us alongside his wife, Elaine. Please join us in welcoming him to the pulpit!

Pastor Steve Holm

Dear Friends,

It’s a bitter-sweet week! On the one hand we’re happy for Pastor Steve … but we are going to miss him! I have a sense of what that’s like. Seven years ago, I retired as the senior pastor of Desert Cross Lutheran Church in Tempe after 22 years of exciting and stimulating ministry. It was so hard to leave … I’d baptized, buried, confirmed, and married so many. My experiences had been rich and full. When I left, all those relationships changed … in many ways I felt like my leaving was the death of me. I had to sever ties to allow the interim pastor to fully function and prepare for the new senior pastor.

That’s how it is now for Pastor Steve. He’ll miss us … and we’re certainly missing him. I’ve been able to tell him that his life post-Esperanza will be rich and full. New opportunities will come … and certainly he’ll find relief from weekly pastoral responsibilities. I rejoice for him and his family! But I’m going to miss him. Steve was my pastor too … I joined Esperanza because of his magnificent sermons and story-telling. Sermons like the ones he gave were manna for my soul … he made me think in new and provocative ways. And he was always prepared! Oh, how I valued the work he put in to get ready for each Sunday! When my wife, Cherie, died, he was the man I chose to preside and preach at her service.

It’s fitting that our first Sunday without Pastor Steve will be All Saint’s Sunday. It’s a day set aside to remember loved ones who have died who now rest in the peace of the Church Triumphant. Even though he has not died, (it only feels that way), he is indeed finding rest from his labors. And we will be remembering him with deep and affectionate love! Oh, we’ll still see him from time to time, of course we will … he’s not moving away and our paths will surely cross.

But Sunday also marks the first Sunday in a new era at Esperanza. This is a remarkable community of faith and I can’t wait to see how the Spirit of God will be stirring things up in the months and years to come. We have been called through our baptisms, fed at the Table, and equipped with magnificent gifts for ministry. Steve has gone but the Christ is still present…and he will do marvelous things!

As for me, I am humbled that the church council has asked me to help out until after Christmas. I can’t promise the same high quality sermons that Steve delivered, but I will be here faithfully to preach and preside.

Blessings,

Steve

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