Pastor's Blog

Celebrating Lent

Pastor.Jean Friday March 3, 2017

Grace and peace to you from our Savior, Jesus Christ. We celebrate lent as a time of self-reflection and repentance. And it is a celebration. It’s a special time when we can give ourselves permission to pay more attention to our faith. It’s a time for piety – that is the practice of faith.

Jesus reminds us not to practice our piety before others, to be recognized by others, because piety is about our relationship to God.

And our relationship with God is not something to be exploited for personal gain. We don’t call out to God as a way to build credibility. We don’t call ourselves Christian to align ourselves to the dominate culture.

When Jesus tells us to give alms in secret he is telling us about more than modesty and discretion. He’s remind us not to take advantage of people. Don’t give just to create an obligation in others. Don’t give to call attention to the fact that you have more than others.

This is exactly what people were doing then and are doing now. We want charity to level the playing field. If someone is not able to work because they are sick or injured, we want to help them get well, we want to provide what they can’t provide for themselves. When children are born to poor families, we want to see them fed and educated. No one should go hungry – especially in this time and in this country.

But all these good intentions can so easily be perverted to reinforce the very same human institutions that cause the great disparities of wealth in the first place. The rich and the poor both recognize who is giving and who choses where it goes. Rather than focusing on the fact that we can’t have extreme wealth without extreme poverty, we tend to focus on not falling into poverty. Our fear of the plight turns to anger at the afflicted because we don’t want admit how random our place in the hierarchy is and how very vulnerable we are to slipping downward.

There is another dimension to this as well. When we are more focused on other people and human hierarchies, then other people have a hand in defining our place in the hierarchy and naming our short-comings. And they will name our short-comings because they need to reinforce their own place in the hierarchy. Another way of saying this, is that if we are good stewards of our relationship with God, other people will exploit it for their own gain.

Come for Communion, Stay for Cookies.

Pastor.Jean Monday February 20, 2017

For some, for many, the word ‘church’ conjures feelings of being not good enough. It conjures images of putting on your ‘Sunday best’ and risking conversation with strangers only to be found wanting. Why would anyone give up their day off, or the only day that time-off schedules coincide, for a put down?

For others, the word ‘church’ a best evokes an image of complete ineffectiveness and cultural irrelevance, at worse it evokes reports and suspicions of graft and sexual misconduct. No thank you!

Guilt is another feeling commonly associated with church. Guilt because you haven’t been in a long time. Guilt because you don’t measure up to the Christian ideal. You judge others, you don’t want to forgive, you don’t want to give. An invitation to church sounds like “Come, have your flaws exposed. Give us your money so we can help you feel better (and worse)“. Why go to church when you can get this at the mall? We know that advertising is all about making us feel bad about ourselves so we’ll buy the product to make us feel better about ourselves. But when you go to the mall, at least you get to bring stuff home and pretend it’s all okay.

With choices like consumerism, irrelevance and guilt-riddled salvation, it’s no wonder so many people consider themselves spiritual but not religious. In our hearts, we know God, or at least we want to know God. But in our minds, we also know about the church and every evil thing justified in the name of God. And so, we prefer to commune with God at home, alone, in the comfort of our jammies.

Unfortunately, faith calls us to community.
God is for us.
All of us. Together.

And so I say, come for communion, stay for cookies, because it’s all about community. You don’t have to subscribe to certain creeds and doctrines. You don’t have to believe what I believe, or to feel what I feel. You don’t have to leave your brain at the door.

Bring your questions, bring your doubts. Know that the community is stronger for your participation. Know that you are stronger for the community’s participation in your life. We humans are social beings, and for all the great things we can accomplish with technology, nothing replaces the warmth of a handshake or hug. There is comfort in seeing the same people, week after week. There is grace in watching the children grow and knowing you are a part of what is good in their lives.

You don’t have to be whole or holy or saved or even full of faith, just come.

Your Pastor on Preaching

Pastor.Jean Friday January 27, 2017

He was impressive; young and aggressive; saving the world on his own.

from He Went to Paris by Jimmy Buffet

In my youth, in my imagination, this described me. Now, I am no longer young, not quite old. I’ve spend a lifetime honing assertiveness rather than aggressiveness. And I know, in my heart, in my bones, that salvation is God’s work.
As for impressiveness, my imagination and my mirror tell different stories. I can make a dramatic entrance, but I rarely want to. I can use body language to convey authority, but I often forget that I should. Does this mean I preach without authority?
Where does my authority to preach come from and why do I bring this up? First, I have been told that I am a much better writer than preacher. This was during my internship and was spoken to me by an accomplished retired preacher. His intentions were loving and affirming. “Use the things you are good at to improve the things you wish to improve.” Second, it has come to my attention that my style of preaching does not feel authoritative to some. It feels too whimsical and off-the-cuff and informal. To others it feels free and engaging. Finally, I bring this up because I want to talk about authority and purpose and style.
Authority and authenticity share the same root, ‘autos’, which means self. I would argue that one cannot be authoritative without being authentic. But here, I am putting the cart before the horse. One cannot become authoritative without first being vested with authority by others, years of practical work, and the authentication of others.

They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority…

Mark 1:22, NRSV

He was impressive because he spoke as one having authority. But that was Jesus. Fully human, fully God.
Preachers are just fully human. Hopefully they are well grounded in God. The call to preach comes from God. It can be difficult, even for the one called, to distinguish a call from God and a yearning to satisfy one’s own ego. For this reason, we, the ELCA, provide for an extended time of discernment, external confirmation by clergy and lay people, and theological preparation for pastors. Even with all this, ordination, that is the authority to preach, comes only from the lay people of the church.
Where does my authority to preach come from? It comes from you, the beloved people of God gathered as Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
Why do I preach? This might be better answered if we ask first: Who do I preach? Not myself, but Christ crucified. God has put it on my heart to share the good news of Christ crucified for us and for our salvation. God has put it on my heart to try to share the good news in a way that is accessible and relevant to us today.
Understanding this brings us from purpose to style. Preaching must fit the situation. It must fit the preacher and the listeners. I will say, that regardless of where I stand, I do much better without notes. While I have preached from the pulpit in sanctuaries where there is more distance between the pulpit and the pews, here, in this place, preaching closer feels right. I mean this in a very embodied way. I could probably maintain a little more distance if that feels more right to us, but I don’t think I can preach from the pulpit. I think it would feel too constraining, as if I cannot use my whole self to preach.
Finally, I want to offer a word about the relationship between preaching style and preparation. Generally, it takes a preacher about ten hours to prepare a sermon. For me, a lot of this takes place in my head. I also spend time reading scripture and commentary and news. I regularly attend the local clergy text study and I talk about my ideas with others. One thing I rarely do it write a manuscript.
Do I preach “off-the-cuff”? Only with careful preparation.

Running It Flat (and other bad ideas about self-care)

Pastor.Jean Monday January 16, 2017

Run-flat tires seemed like a good idea at the time. The automatic tire pressure sensor that came with the car also seemed like a good idea. Until winter hit. Sudden drops in air temperature led to minor reductions in air pressure. That led to stupid false alarms on stupid cold days. And that led to ignoring the alarms. After all, they were run-flat tires.

Recently, when it was stupid cold and icy, the sensor suggested the tire pressure was low. Because the car felt like it was floating, somewhat erratically, on the busy city streets, I pulled into a gas station. Did I mention that it was cold? And icy? There was nothing graceful about me getting low enough to check the tires, or fitting the hose to increase the pressure by 3 psi in each tire. The pressures were at the low end of okay, but they were all the same. I was probably over-compensating, but I didn’t want to have to do this again in a few days. So there! The tires were now at the high end of okay.

Until my wife and I drove together a few days later. Yes, I had over-filled the tires. No, it’s wasn’t ideal for these road conditions. Did I mention that clearing the roads in my new home territory is optional, and generally left to the combined effects of traffic and sunshine? There I was, a few days later checking the tires again.

I went merrily on my way, feeling confident that the tire pressures were good and bolstered by the rediscovery of a magic button marked ‘DCS’. In a rare moment of pragmatic lucidity, I let go of the need to know what the acronym represented and the theory behind the button. Push the button, get better traction. Noted.

What I had not noticed, and didn’t understand for about a week, is that some time during my merry wonderings, I ran over a sharp piece of metal. As Soren Kierkegaard noted "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." It seems so unfair at times.

Again, on a day that was stupid cold and icy, the sensor suggested the tire pressure was low. Because the car felt like it was floating, somewhat erratically, on the busy city streets, I pulled into a gas station. Did I mention that it was cold? And icy? And I was not becoming any more graceful with practice. At least this time it was worth it. I had a reading of 0 psi. Or, I had a broken gauge. I checked again. Then I went back to another tire. The gauge was good; the tire was flat. Strange. I filled it and went merrily on my way.

Next day, the low-tire indicator comes on again. By now, I am simply annoyed with the whole thing. They were run flat tires, and I was running late, so I ran it flat.

Then I filled it again.

It occurred to me that this was not a good metaphor for self-care. But it is a perfect analogy for my approach to self-care. First, I want to finish what I am doing; then I will rest, or get a drink of water, or see a doctor.

So, I stopped at the tire place on the way home. Twenty dollars later, the tire is fixed, good as new. And I had the satisfaction of taking care of business before it became a three-hundred-dollar problem. Go me!

So, I went to the doctor too. I could feel that my recent sinus infection had not resolved with antibiotics. I knew that no amount of at-home self-care would fix it. And I was starting to feel pretty funky.

What I had not noted properly was that all my visiting with recently-sick people might include visiting with people in a highly infectious pre-sick stage. I mean the kind of infectious stage that frequent hand washing can’t fix. Lived forward, understood backward, so unfair.

The next forty-eight hours were a blur of nausea, fitful sleeping and an irresistible feeling of being fully grounded in my body. Mortifying.

How can I be a good soldier if I keep getting sick? We need to keep pace; not let the team down. In my head, I know this is a ridiculous work ethic. Who are we trying to keep pace with? Automatons? Human frailty is a thing. For sure and certain, we are all human and we all have limitations.

It’s great when we can accept and prepare for the consequences of those limitations – like having run-flat tires and pressure sensors. After all the world is a dangerous and capricious place. For instance, my wife took wonderful care of me when I was sick. Now, as if to prove that no good deed goes unpunished, she’s about 18 hours into that blur of nausea, fitful sleeping and undeniable embodiment. Dangerous and capricious.

But – at least I am now well enough to take care of her. The only thing worse than attending to self-care and succumbing to human frailty, is not attending to one’s own needs and becoming unable to care for others.

Upcoming Events

Mon Oct 23
Pr Jean -- Jury Duty
Tue Oct 24 11:00 am
Clergy Text Study - American Lutheran
Wed Oct 25 06:00 pm
Fri Oct 27
Bishops Convocation, Lewiston MT
Sat Oct 28 04:30 pm
Trunk or Treat

Join us for trunk or treating in the Bethlehem parking lot!  Free for kids of all ages.

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If weather is too bad we will move indoors.


  • Please note the time change!  We are now doing trunk or treating from 4:30 to 6:30 pm