Multiplying our gifts: How 250 pounds of food became half a ton

Our Falcon Heights Church congregation donated just over 250 pounds of food during our March food drive, including many protein items. The food was taken to the Department of Indian Work food shelf this past week — along with an additional 250 pounds from a generous giver who matched the donations pound for pound.

The folks at DIW were astonished to see 500 pounds of food arriving at their door. “Look at all this food! This is unbelievable!” said one person who came to help unload. “This is one of our biggest donations this month.”

But that’s not the end of the story. Minnesota FoodShare matched our 500-pound donation, resulting in 1,000 pounds of food — half a TON — for the food shelf. Our Outreach Ministry Team says “Miigwech,” the Ojibwe word for thank you!

Wednesday suppers extended through April 19

We have had an overwhelming response to our Wednesday night Lenten suppers and programs so far, and are extending the meals through April 19 (including during Holy Week). Kids and adults have packed the Gathering Room and the soups, salads, homemade breads and desserts have all been delicious. Contact Sue Gramith at suegramith@hotmail.com if you can bring a hot soup. You can also bring a salad, bread or dessert to share. Or, just let us cook for you that night! Spring musical rehearsal and adult program on the “From Jesus to Christ” DVD series follow supper, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The blind man is healed: everyone else turns a blind eye

By the Rev. Jeff Crews — So, what is today’s reading from John (John 9:1-41) all about? Is it about punishment for sin? Is it about light and dark? Is it about healing? Is it about the blind man now seeing? Is it about the Pharisees grilling the blind man because they were trying to trap Jesus? Is it about mud? Is it about parents who turn their backs on their child? Is it about religious authorities threatening to kick someone out of the synagogue if they supported Jesus? Is it about a brave man, once blind, who stood up to the religious authorities? Is it about the Pharisees becoming angry because Jesus called them blind? Or is it about Jesus, the Son of Man, who brings transformation in Lent? What do YOU think this long story is all about?

Well, let’s ask the guidance of the Spirit as we think about these things together. Will you pray with me? “God of light, of laughter, of life, and Lent, we come humbly before you today and ask that your Spirit teach us about Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. May the words of our mouths and thoughts in our hearts be guided by your everlasting love. Amen.”
In our scripture lesson today we listened to a story about a blind man and many conversations that occur about and with the blind man who now sees. But the entire story starts with a very intriguing question from the disciples in verse 2. “Why is this man blind? Was it punishment for his parent’s sin or his sin?”

This is the question of the ages, really. Why do bad things happen to good people? For me, the converse is even harder. Why do good things happen to bad people? This age-old question is the question Job asked. “Why is this stuff happening to me, God?” Job’s “friends” scolded him, “Well, you must have done something to make God angry.” But Job replied, “No! I’ve been good! This stuff is just happening!” Finally, in exasperation, Job asks God, “Why are you doing this to me?” And God replies to Job the same way Jesus replies to the disciples here, “You are asking the wrong question.” What? That’s it? So what is the right question?

When bad stuff happens, what is the right question, folks? How do you respond to bad stuff? How do we respond? If our God means anything to us, our God must have an answer to this age-old question. We are going to look several places for an answer today. First, we will look at the story of Job, where God told Job that things just happen and humans will never fully understand—only God is God and we are not. While this is certainly an answer, it is not very satisfying. In fact, it feels like Mom saying to us, “Because I said so.” Ugh. The second place we will look is our lectionary passages for today, where the Psalm for today is the 23rd Psalm. The uplifting Psalm we love so well is a response to the previous 22nd Psalm’s question where the Psalmist asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In other words, why is bad stuff happening to me, God? The answer to this question is in the 23rd Psalm, and in particular, verse 4. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you, God, are with me.” God does not promise to fix things for us if we pray hard enough. Instead, God promises to always walk with us. Always. So what this means is that when bad stuff happens, for whatever reason, God will always be with us. God will not abandon us. There is immense comfort in that. We are never alone. The third place we will look for an answer is in our passage today, in how Jesus responded to the disciple’s question in verse 2 and the Pharisee’s question in verse 40. First, Jesus tells them both they are asking the wrong question because the question infers that God punishes us for sin. But Jesus says stuff happens not for punishment, but to allow God to be revealed to us, or, as Jesus phrases it, to move from night into light. Now, I will admit, I read verse 41 a dozen times and had no idea what Jesus was really saying. “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.” What? So, I went to the ancient Greek. Sure enough, that is a pretty good translation of the Greek. But I was still confused. So I started looking at other translations for help, and I found the trans-literation by Eugene Robinson called The Message to be the most helpful. That translation says in the angry response of the Pharisees demanding of Jesus, “Are you calling us blind?” Jesus responded, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.” Here Jesus says that we are not punished by bad stuff happening in our lives, but rather, we are held accountable by how we walk with God and respond to the stuff that happens to us.

So now let’s go back to our original question, armed with these three responses. Why do bad things happen to good people? From Job we get, “Just because. God is God. Stuff happens.” From the 23rd Psalm we get, “Stuff happens, but God will always be with us, no matter what, so we need not be afraid.” And from Jesus here we get, “God will always be with you, and God will be revealed in your loving response to the bad things in your lives.”

I don’t know about you, but the past few months have deeply tested my faith. How could we elect a President and congress so far from the truth of what Jesus taught as the Gospel? Where is God in this horrible mess? This passage teaches us the answer. God is right here with us in this mess. We are the hands and feet of God in this world. The Gospel challenges us to respond to bad stuff like hate and anger with love and compassion. When bad stuff happens, Christ followers respond in love, mercy, justice, and kindness.

So now, when you hear a televangelist say God is punishing us for our sins with a hurricane or storms or disease, you know Jesus said that is totally false. Stuff happens. And God shows up in how we live our lives in our response to the hurricane, in our response to the storm. God shows up in our response to our pastor retiring, or losing a love one, or something bad at work. Our passage today shows us there are two ways to respond to stuff. The people and then his parents responded to the blind man’s healing by rejecting Jesus. They did not believe Jesus. On the other hand, look at the series of responses from the once-blind man. At first he said “a man called Jesus” healed him. Later he calls Jesus a “prophet,” and finally he confesses Jesus as the Son of Man, a Jewish way of saying savior. While the blind man’s eyes are slowly opened in the story, the people and Jewish leaders become more and more blind. So here is the question our passage asks without ever using these words: What do YOU think of Jesus? [pause] The Gospel of John uses the word “sin” only in the singular. There is only one sin according to John: rejecting Jesus. When I grew up, my friends all went to a strict Baptist church. They had a long list of sins, all making moral mistakes like drinking, smoking, dancing or playing cards. But the Gospel of John rejects that, saying all moral laws are just social rules. The only real sin is rejecting Jesus.

So, here is the Good News. God loves you. Really loves you, even when bad things are happening to you. God will not abandon you. Ever. God loves you and invites you to live your life responding to the world in loving ways, even when bad things happen. No matter how much bad stuff happens, how much blindness is on your life, if you turn to Jesus and God, you will find your way through the darkest valley with God by your side. And as you follow Jesus, the blindness will fall from your eyes, and you, just like the blind man in our story, will begin to see.
[sing…] “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but NOW I see.” And God’s people say, “Amen.”

Honor someone with flowers for our Easter Chancel Garden

Honor someone special in your life by purchasing a plant ($20 each) to help us build our Easter Chancel Garden. Forms will be available in the Sunday bulletins or in the Gathering Room, or download a form below.

Please return the completed form and money to the church office no later than Friday, April 7, or you can purchase plants at the Scrip table in the Gathering Room on Sundays. Orders must be placed by Sunday, April 9.

Easter Garden order form

Acceptance and affirmation

A sermon conversation with the Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis and the Rev. Philip Rohler (John 4:5-26; 39-42) —

Anne Swallow Gills (ASG): About a year ago, Philip Rohler began worshiping with us. I’ve invited him to join me in a conversation about today’s scripture reading, in part because of his concern for and support of those who are marginalized in our society and often in our churches. And if anything, today’s story from the Gospel of John is about a marginalized person encountering a welcoming and nonjudgmental Jesus. The layers of this woman’s marginalization may be hard for us to imagine in this day and age. Samaritans did not regularly intermingle with Jews, even though they came from the same ancestry. Their dispute centered on where, upon what locale, does God want to be worshipped. For Samaritans, it was Mt. Gerizim in today’s West Bank; for the Jews it was Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. It was a bitter family fight. Think of it as similar to the hatred and disdain between Protestants and Catholics down through the years. In addition, a revered rabbinical teacher like Jesus would be considered ritually defiled by having contact with Samaritans, and even more so by contact with a woman not related to him. And, there is this pesky detail about her drawing water from the communal well at noon-time. Has she been shamed and banished from mingling with the other women in the cool of the morning? Even more reason for Jesus to steer clear of this person.

The unusual dialogue between Jesus and this unnamed woman quickly moves from a simple request about a drink of water to an intimate exchange about spiritual thirst, wellsprings of living water within a person, and a revelation of some details about her life. It appears many husbands have either died on this woman or divorced her, and she currently lives with someone not her husband. This may draw a yawn from us, but it was scandalous in Jesus’ time. He calls her out on this reality. He names her marginalization within her culture and community, but interestingly doesn’t dwell on it. He sees her as a person worthy of conversation, of receiving spiritual nurture and invites her to interact with him. No judgment; no shaming. Her marginalization stops there.

At our congregational meeting following worship today, members will be asked to vote on an expanded and renewed statement which clarifies not just our welcome, but our support and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer and questioning individuals. We are entering a period of our nation’s history when the rights and safety of this marginalized community are endangered. A retired pastor, Philip has been involved in our Executive Board-appointed Opening and Affirming Group. This group has worked over the recent months to expand this church’s welcome and support of the LGBTQ community. We’ve held after-church forums to explore Biblical views around these issues, and also to better understand gender identity, gender expression, and gender nonconformity so we welcome and support transgendered people. Philip, will you share with us just why it is you wanted to get involved in this church and in this particular working group?

Philip Rohler (PR): After learning about FHC on the website and attending for a year, I’m happy to say I have been warmly welcomed, and I’m glad I have become involved.

Thirty years ago my biological family began to understand in deeply personal ways what it meant for a family member to begin to live in a lesbian relationship. After she and my brother were divorced, they both have remarried. She to her wife and he to his new wife. When my mom was on her deathbed, she invited this former daughter-in-law to visit, and I had the privilege of witnessing their laughter, tears, and my mom’s loving affirmation of her.

In another conversation during her last weeks of life, my mom, knowing she could not do it but wanting us to know what was in her heart, said to my son and me, “Make an appointment for me to visit the president of your denomination; I’ll tell him that the Church will someday change their views about the LGBTQ community, and he should begin giving leadership to that now.”

ASG: Help us get a sense of what it’s like to be part of a denomination that would not consider affirming the kind of Opening and Affirming Statement we will vote on today.

PR: Last week as I was reflecting on today’s gospel text and on my opportunity to join you in this sermon conversation, I watched a TED talk video entitled “I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church – Here’s why I left.” A young woman told her story of growing up in the fundamentalist church that taught her to hate any person or group that the leaders of the Westboro church told her were sinners; those sinners, she acknowledged, were people of any different religious, ethnic and life-orientation background. That was very similar to the church in which I grew up, and maybe others in this congregation did too.

ASG: Is this the kind of stance your denomination was taking towards homosexuality, when you were ordained by that church?

PR: No. When I became active in 1973, the denomination had just decided that women were not prohibited in Scriptures from being ordained clergy and leaders in a local church. The new church culture was affirming women who had been marginalized in ministry, a culture in which I openly participated.

While I served as a pastor in town and country churches for 28 years, I enjoyed freedom in Christ, including interfaith and inter-church involvements in the communities where I served. Then about 10 years ago, the pendulum began swinging from openness and inclusiveness to exclusiveness. This was keenly made public several years ago when an ordained pastor and a local congregation were dismissed from fellowship in the denomination because they welcomed members of the LGBTQ community into membership and leadership. And it was reinforced that clergy were prohibited from performing a same-sex marriage.

This shift highlights why I was looking for and found in FHCUCC: a spiritual community where I shared values for ministry and for encouraging a person and the congregation to go deeper into the freedom of Christ, to love our neighbor as self and to put into practice the scripture that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, but that all are one in Christ.

ASG: At the end of today’s story, this once marginalized woman has returned to her community and boldly told them that she has been encountered and seen by this Jesus: “He told me everything I have every done,” she enthusiastically exaggerates. In receiving Jesus’ non-judgmental acceptance of her, she herself has become a source of living water for her community. We too are invited to do the same. Today we have yet another opportunity to step forward and say: This is who we are at Falcon Heights Church. We are welcoming, supportive and ready to advocate for this specific marginalized community which has been scorned and rejected by so many churches. We too become sources of living water, as God’s spiritual waters gush up to abundant life within us, and flow out from us. Thanks be to God! Amen

Generous Spirit Food Drive March 1-26

Our March food collection will benefit the Department of Indian Work food shelf at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul. The Generous Spirit Food Drive is part of the Minnesota FoodShare March campaign. It is the time to give generously. Bring your donations of canned or dried food, especially canned protein, to our church lobby by Sunday, March 26, for timely delivery.

And this month, your generosity will be matched not once but twice!

A member/friend of FHC has offered to match food donations pound for pound between now and Monday, March 27. So two pounds donated for the Department of Indian Work will become four pounds, which will then be matched by FoodShare for a total of eight pounds of food. Checks can also be made out to FHCUCC, with “Interfaith Action” in the memo line.

Sunday morning study during Lent, “Who is this Jesus?”

Throughout the five Sundays of Lent, our First Hour adult discussion at 9:30 a.m. will focus on the question “Who is this Jesus?” by looking at a series of encounters Jesus had with different individuals. Each interaction gives us another view of how to understand who Jesus is for us today. This scripture study will be based on the passages used in that Sunday’s worship. Sessions will be led by Pastor Anne and members of the congregation. Drop in when you can for an interesting exchange of views!

Join our choir for Holy Week

Deepen your Holy Week experience by singing with our Falcon Heights Church choir and a professional brass ensemble. It’s a short-term commitment:

  • Three Wednesday rehearsals, beginning March 29 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Three Holy Week worship services: Palm Sunday, the deeply moving Maundy Thursday service and the triumphant Easter Sunday service with professional brass ensemble.

Contact Music Director Joel Johnson at joeloj@msn.com or 651-426-4505, or speak with any choir member. We’ll pair you with a friendly singer who “knows the way.”

Congregational Meeting to consider expanded Open and Affirming statement

Our congregation will meet after worship March 19 to consider a proposed expansion of our Open and Affirming statement and hear reports from the Foundation Board and the Pastoral Search Committee. This is the agenda:

1. Vote on the proposed expansion of our Open and Affirming statement. The new statement proposed by the Executive Board’s working group reads:

“As seekers and servants growing in God’s transforming love, Falcon Heights Church, United Church of Christ, joins with the 15th General Synod of the UCC in recognizin and affirming persons of any sexual orientation, gender identification, and gender expressioni as equal recipients of God’s love.

“We celebrate the proclaimed truth in Galatians 3: 26, 28: ‘In Christ Jesus we are all children of God, through faith. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female: for we are all one in Christ Jesus.’

“We pledge to covenant our four core valuies of inclusivity, love, community and spirituality as a congreation of faith to work for full inclusion of all. We commit ourselves to making justice and inclusivity a reality in this congregation and in the world.”

2. Update on the work of the Foundation Board and vote on extending the 5-year terms of current Foundation Board Trustees Bonnie Russ and Joe Vance.

3. Update on progress from the Pastoral Search Committee.

All ages welcome in spring musical, “Table for Five…THOUSAND!”

Rehearsals for our all-ages spring musical, “Table for Five…THOUSAND! The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes,” begin  Wednesday, March 8, at 6:30 p.m., following the soup supper. Performance will be at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, April 23, during worship. People of all ages are needed! Contact Margot Olsen at margot@olsenfamilycircus.com if you’re interested.

The musical tells the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. This is the only miracle, apart from the resurrection, that is reported in all four gospels. In this version of the story, we use details from all four, but particularly from the book of John. One young boy with five loaves and two fish is the catalyst for everything that follows.