January 28 2018

We live in a time when the number of people who say they are religious and the number of people attending church is declining. Yet, Hollywood still produces movies about religious topics. During my lifetime there have been many movies about exorcisms and last year a movie was produced called “The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund”. I must say I did not go to the movie. I think it was a horror movie and that is not my interest. But I do believe that there are evil spirits in the world and I do believe that we must fight against the evil that does exist. In the gospel story Jesus performs an exorcism. A spirit inside a man complains about the work of Jesus. And Jesus calls that spirit out of the man. Not many people today know of someone who had an evil spirit that required an exorcism. It would be easy to say that the lesson does not apply to us. We may not need an exorcism but I think we all call upon Jesus to help us avoid the evil spirits that keep us from being close to God. Or perhaps we can call upon Jesus to keep us from temptation. Each of our lessons today offers words of advice. The Psalm points out the glory of God. We give thanks to the Lord God with all of our heart. We recognize the wonderful acts that God has done. We know that God works in truth and equity for all. And we know that we will find wisdom when we trust in the Lord. Faith, trust and hope in the Lord lead us to ask God for help. In the first lesson from Deuteronomy, we hear that God will raise up a prophet from among the people. As Christians, we think of Jesus when we hear these words. We are told that “Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable”. God calls us to use those gifts of faith and trust that we may listen to Jesus. If we fail to listen to Jesus then we may be following the evil spirits that are mentioned in Mark’s gospel. Temptation may overtake us and keep us from hearing the word of the Lord. Paul wrote about temptation in his lesson for today. He wrote that knowledge can lead to pride whereas love leads us to care for our community. Much of the food in the marketplace came from offerings that were made to idols. Some people believed that eating this food was like worshiping the idol. But Paul said that idols are not gods therefore they cannot be worshipped. But the wise must not be prideful or hold this knowledge over the foolish. Paul wants us to help the weak, care for the suffering and love one another. Let us not lead others into temptation. Let us not think we are smarter or better than someone else. Once again it is about asking Jesus to help us avoid temptation, to avoid the evil spirits of this world. Today, we will have our annual meeting after the service. It is a time to celebrate what we have accomplished together, a time to recognize the work of many, a time to identify new leaders for the church and a time to consider what God might be calling us to in the future. I wish to share my own observations about our communal life with you as I know that some will not be able to attend the actual meeting. Our most important activity is the time we come together and worship God. We support each other when we come together, helping everyone to live in the Lord. Just as our lessons speak to us, it is a time to send away any evil spirits that threaten us and our relationship with Jesus. We praise God, we ask for God’s forgiveness and we share in the communion with Jesus. It is a special time. I find this congregation to be welcoming and caring for each other. I think that the Holy Spirit can be felt in this place. Every church, in fact every organization, has little cliques, groups that form. Our does too. But I don’t think our cliques are destructive to the life of this place. We should always be watchful that nothing separates us one from another. We should be friends with everyone. And we should also be watchful that we welcome other people to our church and encourage them to participate in any way that makes them feel comfortable. There are many indications that this is a healthy congregation of followers of Jesus. I am most thankful that so many volunteers have stepped up to offer activities for the church. Most recently, we have a couple offering an AA meeting and we have someone who plans to start a contemplative prayer group. Many others are active, offering programs like a book club, and a walking group. Our Harvest Festival took place for the second year in a row and so many volunteered to help. We had many people attend our strategic planning activity in the fall and many came in January to plan our next steps as a congregation. I encourage you to review some of our material on the strategic plan and I ask you to find ways to become involved in our many activities here. There are other positive signs for this congregation. The number of people attending our Sunday services has increased by about 3%. The number of people that we consider to be part of this congregation has grown as well. We have enough people on our membership lists that we were able to send an extra person to convention last year and we will do so again this year. It is always difficult to speak about money but we have good news in that space as well. If you look at our financial reports, you would see that our income was expected to be about $6500 less than our expenses in 2017. We were fortunate that so many people gave generously so that our shortfall was only $2700 for the year. In other good financial news, our budget for 2018 expects that our income will exceed our expenses for the first time in several years. Thanks for your generosity. We are blessed that someone left money to this church when they died. So many have given their time and money in the past to support this church. In 2012, this church created an Improvement fund that has helped us to maintain our church buildings and grounds. It is time to consider a new funding campaign for this place. My immediate wish is that we collect money to replace the air conditioners in this church which, I am told, have lasted for 17 years. I would also like to complete the improvements we have started in the Parish Hall kitchen so that we can relicense the kitchen and welcome people from outside of our church family for events that include food. I would also wish that we could finish off our plans to open a nursery. Several people have already given money towards that end. In my dreams, I would wish that we could replace our current organ with another used organ. I think we could accomplish that without spending too much money. Perhaps you have other wishes for a capital campaign for this place. In the near future, you will be asked for your own wish list and we will ask for your help as we move forward. Numbers are not the most important way to measure our communal progress. What I most appreciate is that we come together and share hospitality with each other. I have often heard from others about what delicious meals we serve here and I am thankful. We are called by Jesus and we were called by Paul to care for one another. I am so thankful for the outreach activities that this church is involved in. We help to feed the hungry, to care for those who have been abused, we help children in this community and in the world. Last year we gave money to the Boys and Girls Club for the first time, a new way to help young people. Today, I am so thankful for everyone of the people in this church who make it a special place. It is always risky to identify people by name. However, I wish to thank Linda Ostmeyer, our office manager, and Gary Quamme, our organist. I wish to thank our outgoing senior warden, Bobbie Lafford, and our outgoing junior warden, Don Strachota, for their wonderful work. Thanks to all of our vestry members and most especially thanks to my wife for her love and support. May Jesus keep the evil spirits from our door. Let us pray that God continues to send blessings to this place, that we hear the word of Jesus in all that we do and that the Holy Spirit Guides and protects us. Amen.

Last modified on Wednesday, 28 February 2018 22:51

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