Peter and Sinking


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Peter and Sinking

This morning we hear the familiar story of Peter sinking into the water.

At first – Peter seems to be the brave disciple.

He is the one who takes the risk of coming out of the boat to meet Jesus.

When he does this – everything seems very good.

He walks on water.

A true miracle – just like the fish and the loaves miracle story.

But he becomes afraid.

He realizes what he is doing – he gets scared and he sinks.

Game over.

Here Jesus is a little disappointed in Peter.

“You of little faith, why did you doubt.”

Matthew’s telling of this story resonates with us today.

How many of us here can identify with Peter.

We want to believe.

We think we have faith.

Maybe we even feel that our faith is strong.

And then good things start to happen.

It is as if we are walking on water.

We see the power of God at work in our lives.

We start noticing miracles and blessings in our life and in the lives of those around us.

Our faith increases and grows.

And then we get scared.

We become afraid.

We start to sink.

We stop reading our Bibles, we stop praying, we stop coming to church.

It’s like whenever a lot of good things start coming our way and then we begin to worry that something bad is going to happen now.

Because so many good things have happened to us.

In the Bible once Peter notices that he is walking on the water and feeling the wind on his face – he gets frightened and then we know what happens next.

He sinks into the water and he needs help to get out of the water and back into the boat.

I wonder here what would have happened if he would have continued walking on the water.

What if he noticed how he was walking on the water, noticed the wind on him, noticed how he was obeying Jesus and coming to him.

-And didn’t stop walking.

He kept moving forward in faith.

Have there been times in your life when you got scared and stopped walking towards something?

Maybe even stopped walking towards Jesus.

You heard his voice, you believed in him, but something prevented you from coming after him and in following him.

You were afraid and you began to sink.

If you said yes, then know you are in good company.

I have certainly said yes to this question more than once in my life.

Times when I got scared.

Times when prayer seemed difficult.

Times when my faith seemed very small indeed.

The good news here for all of us – is that when Peter began to sink into the sea, he had the good sense to immediately call out to Jesus.

“Lord, save me!” he cried.

And what does Jesus do… he immediately reached out his hand, catches Peter, and saves him.

Afterward, he does get a talking to.

“You of little faith, why did you doubt.”

But even with that said – Jesus continued to believe in Peter and Jesus continued to love him.

Peter is a real person – an imperfect person, certainly he is not a saint.

He is one who sometimes lacks faith, but he is still a disciple of Jesus.

God does not call us to be perfect people, God does not call us to be saints, God calls us to be people of Jesus.

God calls us to be Jesus people.

People who love Jesus and who follow him.

In following his we call out to him when we need him, when we need his help, when we need his protection and care.

This is a really important text in Scripture.

This reading gives us the assurance that Jesus is with us even when we falter.

When we are not at our best and when we have days like Peter where we sink – Jesus is there to catch us, to lift us back up, and to set us back in the boat.

Thanks be to God that Jesus, the Son of God, is always there for us.

Picking us up and helping us to get back on our feet once again.

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Poinsettias and Christmas Sermon

January 1, 2023

There is an old story on how poinsettias and Christmas came together.

There was once a poor little girl named Pepita.

At Christmas she wanted to give something to the baby Jesus.

But she had no money to buy a gift for Jesus.

On Christmas Eve as Pepita walked sadly to church, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.

“Pepita,” he said, “I am sure that even the smallest of gifts, if given with great love will make Jesus happy.”

Pepita did not know if she could give even a small gift.

But she thought quickly and decided to make a small bouquet for the baby Jesus.

She picked some weeds from the roadside and tied them together.

She felt embarrassed by the gift because it seemed too simple and too small of a gift to present to Jesus on Christmas Eve.

As she walked into church with her cousin, Pedro she walked with him up to the altar.

There she knelt down, presented the bouquet of weeds at the manger, closed her eyes, and prayed.

Suddenly, as she was praying, the weeds burst into bright red flowers resembling the poinsettia plant.

Everyone who saw them that Christmas Eve believed it was a Christmas miracle.

And from that day on the poinsettia plant was called the flowers of the holy night.

Each Christmas as we present the poinsettia plants at the altar, we do so in humble reverence to the baby Jesus.

The flower and the leaves point to the star of Bethlehem and the red color points to the blood of Christ shed on the cross.

The white leaves point to Jesus’ purity.

The whole plant points to Jesus’ love for us and to the love that the little girl showed to Jesus.

This year we had many poinsettias given on Christmas Eve.

I can say that all of the gifts to our church both at Christmas and throughout the year were many in 2022.

Our church was greatly blessed.

There are many reasons for why we ought to be thankful today.

God has truly provided for our church and we have responded by faithfully giving back with our time, our treasures, and our talents.

As we look ahead to 2023 God with go with us.

In the life of the church every new year is an opportunity for us to reach out to others with the healing, life-giving message of Jesus’ love and every new year is an opportunity to grow deeper in faith.

It is difficult to travel through life without faith.

Faith gives us purpose and meaning.

Faith gives us courage and strength.

Faith gives us hope even in death.

To live without faith is no life at all.

Now I am not saying that those who do not believe have no life.

In the end, everyone decides for themselves what they will and will not believe.

Just as you cannot command someone to love someone else – you cannot command someone to have faith.

You either believe or you do not believe.

But for a follower of Jesus to live and to experience one’s life means that you have faith.

Martin Luther stated that faith is central for a Christian.

On this last Sunday of Christmas, we give thanks to God for the gift of faith.

And we respond to God for this great gift by living lives of service and love.

On this day we offer up prayers for our church as we hope for and pray for God’s blessings to be upon us in 2023.

We do not know the future and we cannot control or command the future we can only trust that the future is in God’s hands.

The future is always full of uncertainty.

The future is always full of both joy and pain.

But with faith and good courage we move forward into 2023 in grace-filled and in life-giving ways.

Just as an angel of the Lord directed and guided Joseph, Mary, and the baby in today’s Gospel reading – the Lord will direct and guide our days.

We will journey together once again through the church seasons of Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, and finally to Christmas.

We will gather together as God’s people on Sunday mornings to hear God’s Word and to sing God’s praises.

We will pray for one another and we will support and encourage one another.

We will try to be understanding to one another and we will try to speak about others in the kindest and most gracious way possible even when it is difficult to do so.

We will reach out to those in need with our outreach ministries like CROP Walk and the food pantry, ELCA World Hunger and San Jose mission church.

We will reach out to the community with our Vacation Bible School ministry and God’s Work. Our Hands Sunday.

We will support the work of the wider church in giving to the Synod and to Lutheran Campus Ministry and to Lutherdale Bible Camp.

There are so many ways our church lives out its mission.

This coming year look for ways you can help to move forward our church’s mission.

It does not have to be a big thing that you do.

None of us here need to be a superhero or feel we have to do huge things for this church – we just need to do many small things together in Jesus’ name and for his kingdom.

Sometimes the small things that we do together in his name make all the difference in the world.

I have often thought that our church does many small things very, very well.

And because we do so many small things so well those small things, over time, adds up.

For example, every year our small Sunday school faithfully takes up an offering for Heifer International which feeds families in need with much needed animals.

Over time our little Sunday school has given over ten thousand dollars to Heifer International.

What a gift this has been for those in need.

So once again look for small ways that you can give and contribute to our congregation in the new year.

And if you want to help more but don’t know what some of our needs are here is a short list of some of our needs.

You might volunteer to serve on the altar guide and then you would set up communion and  change the paraments during the church seasons, you might serve as an offering counter on Sunday mornings, you might serve as a reader at both the 8:00 and 9:30 services or as a communion assistant, you might serve on church council and then you would help the church board to discern God’s will in making important decisions for our congregation, you might decide to serve as an usher during morning worship, or you might decide to join the handbell group, or maybe you want to dig deeper in your faith and so you decide to join our Sunday morning Bible study group or maybe you have some new ideas for our fall stewardship program.

There are so many ways you can help this congregation so that we can continue moving forward in mission.

The church is for everyone and we all work together to discern God’s will.

And lastly, we can all pray.

We must continue praying for one another and praying for the health of our church.

Covid taught us that we need to be vigilant in praying for our church and praying for its survival.

We cannot take the church for granted.

The church needs our love, our gifts, and our service – then and only then can God bless the church and turn it into some beautiful and life-giving.

May the Lord guide us in the New Year.

May his blessings be upon us.

I am looking forward to walking this road with you and believe God will bless our life together in 2023.

May we leave our gifts at the altar.

And let us all pray together that God would make our gifts to bloom with life.


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Christmas Day 2022 Sermon

Christmas Day 2022

Grace and peace be with you this Christmas day from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?

There are several that come to my mind.

It was 1987 and I was seven years old.

There was a knock at the door.

It was Eldon Nessen a dear friend of the family.

He was holding a large wrapped box.

“Merry Christmas, “he said.

He stepped into our house.

“This is for all of you,” he said.

He then carefully handed over the large box to my dad.

It was very heavy and wrapped in beautiful Christmas paper.

My parents and Eldon exchanged a few more words and then he was gone – maybe to deliver another Christmas gift.

My brothers and I were only too eager to open the large box.

“Go ahead,” my parents said with smile.

“Let’s see what’s inside.”

Jim and I tore into the wrapping paper.

When our job of unwrapping, the box was finished – sitting there on the kitchen table was a color television set.

We had a tv but it was a tiny black and white television set.

I knew in that moment a whole new world was about to appear.

No longer would I watch Sesame Streat and Mr. Rodgers in black and white.

Now color would fill the picture screen.

A whole new world was coming my way, at least that is what I thought as a seven-year-old.

It was certainly a Christmas to remember from my childhood.

Another special Christmas was the memory that I shared last week in my sermon.

It was Kalen and my first Christmas together as a married couple and the Christmas where I would tell the good news of Jesus’ birth to all the people at my internship church.

It was a sermon, as I shared last week, that I almost did not give if it were not for the strong intervention of the Holy Spirit.

To this day I believe it was the Spirit of God who gave me grace to continue my training that year and to stay at that internship church.

I remember giving that sermon on Christmas Eve to a packed church and thinking afterwards how good it felt to share the Gospel at Christmas – the good news of Jesus Christ coming to dwell among us.

And lastly, the Christmas of the first year of COVID comes to my mind.

Everything seemed so difficult and unpredictable that year except Christmas.

That Christmas of 2020 we still gathered together on Christmas Eve either on Zoom or in-person with our masks and social distancing to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

And to remember that God was still with us even at a time like that.

When we lit the candles that evening and sang “Silent Night” it was a powerful witness to all of us of the light of Christ shining brightly among us.

As dark as that year seemed the light of Christ shinned brighter.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

In the beginning of the Gospel of John, we hear of the light of God coming to us in a person who is Jesus the Christ.

Later in the Gospel of John Jesus proclaims that he is the light of the world and that whoever follows him will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

It is this light that we celebrate every Christmas.

It is a light that turns the world from black and white to color.

Jesus illuminates the world with his love, his grace, and his glory.

He is the reason we have left the comfort of our homes this morning to gather together once more to celebrate his birth and to sing his praises in these beautiful Christmas songs.

I don’t know if this Christmas will be a Christmas you will remember in the years to come – maybe it will – maybe it will not be a very memorable Christmas.

Nevertheless, this day reminds us to also keep our hope in the future.

On Christmas day we remember that the Savior has already been born to us and his future kingdom that will come someday.

Today we put our hope in God’s future as we remember the past.

Christ has come to dwell with us and Christ will come again.

He comes to us.

He will heal us, bless us, and will have communion with us and one day he will invite us to join him in the kingdom of heaven.

There are many who have gone ahead of us, there are many who will follow us, Christ leads all of us to his everlasting kingdom.

Truly this is grace and this is truth to us this day.

Jesus the Christ full of grace and truth coming to us as the Word made flesh.


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Fourth Sunday of Advent 2022 Sermon

December 18th  Fourth Sunday of Advent 2022

Pastor Tom Dowling

Fourteen years ago, I was preparing to preach a Christmas message as an intern pastor in Dodgeville.

I remember only a little now of that Christmas sermon that I spent so much time preparing for.

I remember how, at one point in that sermon, I spoke about that beautiful hymn, Silent Night.

It’s a hymn that when song on Christmas Eve brings a bit of heaven to earth.

But that Christmas sermon almost didn’t happen…

At that time in my life, I was doing seminary the traditional way of living on the seminary campus for three years and then living off campus for one year of internship at a church.

I started my internship there in Dodgeville at the end of that summer.

I remember in the beginning feeling so overwhelmed.

It wasn’t so much that I felt that I could not do the work – it was that I felt that I could not handle the work – which is a big difference.

Meaning I had the skills – more or less – but certainly not the confidence.

And so, I thought to myself how I might quietly find a way to leave my internship.

Kalen and I were newly married and I knew that if I told her I was quitting my internship that would not go over so well with my new wife.

So, I had to be very careful with how I was going to do this.

But in the struggle of my discernment, I somehow found a way to stay with it.

And over the course of the year, I was tremendously blessed by the work that I was doing, by the people that I ministered to, and by those who ministered to me.

Even now whenever I go through that little Wisconsin town of Dodgeville or when I think about that time in my life and the people that I got to know there – so many good memories come to my mind.

The Holy Spirit was certainly interceding and gently and at times forcefully pulling me along that year of internship – speaking to me to stick it out – to stay with it.

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew, we hear of Joseph’s decision to leave not a job, which was my situation, but to leave the one he was engaged to – Mary.

But just when he resolved to do this the Lord intercedes through an angel and the angel tells Joseph to stay with Mary.

By doing so Joseph is greatly blessed for he becomes the earthly father of the Son of God.

Now all of us here – in some way – can identify with the man Joseph.

All of us here have had experiences in life where we have wanted to leave something.

Whether it be a job, a town, or some kind of life situation that would greatly impact those around us – in Joseph’s case he wanted to leave Mary because of what he knew – all of us here have faced, at some point in life, that difficult decision of whether to stay or to go.

I imagine with Joseph he wrestled over his decision to stay with Mary or to leave her.

Discernment is never easy.

Discernment is hard work.

Now the word discernment means understanding or perceiving something in such a way that you can see a clear path forward.

Discernment refers to the ability to make smart judgements and to be aware of the subtle and not so subtle movements of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes though the way is not clear at all.

And we pray and pray and hope that we can find some direction from God.

Joseph is in discernment.

At that time the Jewish law stated that engagement was legally binding.

And when he hears that Mary is pregnant with a child, that is not his, Joseph discerns that the best option for him is to leave Mary.

But before he does so the Lord intervenes.

In a dream God speaks to Joseph.

Just like how God spoke to the other Joseph in the Bible in the book of Genesis.

God speaks to this Joseph too in a dream.

Two thoughts here.

First, God is always speaking to us and God will use whatever ways God can in order to get our attention.

Secondly, we may not be as faithful as Joseph was or as clear in our discernment as Joseph was after he received the guidance of the dream but nevertheless, God keeps speaking to us.

Joseph immediately listened to God and he did what God told him to do when God spoke to him through the angel.

But again, even when we don’t listen to God – God doesn’t give up speaking to us.

When we turn the other way and when we turn away from God – God still intercedes on our behalf – God continues to reach out to us – until we finally stop and listen to him.

I have learned in life that when we turn from God or if we have a big misstep the best thing we can do is to humbly come before God and say, “Ok Lord, I took a wrong turn again.  I had poor judgement.  I did not listen to you.  But I am listening now… I am listening now.”

How many times have I prayed that exact same prayer to God over the years.

“Lord, in this situation I did not listen to you.  I missed your will but I see what I did and I am listening to you now.  I have learned my lesson.”

I am grateful for the times in my life when I was like Joseph and I listened to God’s voice but I am equally grateful for all the times in my life when I did not listen to God and yet God still worked in my life and more than that – God gave me grace.

Grace being a second change and a renewed hope that we have another opportunity to listen and to honor God’s will.

All of us here have regrets – things that we did that we wish we did not do, sins that we committed that are painful to remember, and choices that were in direct contradiction to God’s will.

At times it may feel like we are lost in the dark and that we are wandering aimlessly in life.

And when we come to that point in life, that is when the good news of the Gospel impacts us.

There is a reason that God decided to send Jesus.

In Matthew verse twenty-three of chapter one we hear:

“The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.”

Even though here in Wisconsin we have the longest nights of the year a light still shines very, very bright this time of the year.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we are very close to celebrating the birth of our savior.

Jesus comes as the true light among us.

He will be with us and he will save us.

He saves us from sin and death and he saves us for a life of joy and peace.

Joseph had a great responsibility.

He was to care for the Christ-child and to nurture him until he would become the Savior of the whole world.

God gave Joseph a mission and Joseph listened to God.

In what ways is God speaking to you this Advent?

Every Advent season is an opportunity for us to listen to God in new ways.

From this place of worship as you leave today and go about your week, this final week before Christmas – where is the Holy Spirit interceding on your behalf?

How is God preparing your heart and your mind for the coming of his Son?

Is he speaking to you through prayer, through Scripture, or is God speaking to you through your dreams just as he did through Joseph’s dreams.

Dreams can be a powerful way that God speaks to us – whatever way God is speaking to you – keep listening.

Christmas is a reminder to each one of us that God is always speaking to us and that God is always calling us to something greater in life – to a higher purpose.

Let’s be like Joseph and let’s hear God’s voice and respond to God’s voice with our lives.

This coming Christmas may we hear the Lord’s true voice and when we hear his voice let us faithfully follow him.

And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing in the coming Christ-child.


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Third Sunday of Advent 2022 Sermon

When I was a child, I thought that these last two weeks of Advent, right before Christmas, were a bit magical.

In church I can remember the joy that I felt when the third candle was lit.

“One more to go,” I would say to myself and then Christmas will be here very, very soon.

And then with Christmas came the great delight of Christmas vacation and presents and family traditions and in joining in on the church Sunday school Christmas program.

In the little country church, I attended, it was their tradition to have the children’s Christmas program on Christmas Eve.

Oh, how exciting it was to participate in such an event on the night before Christmas.

The tiny church would be packed, balcony and all, and with my Sunday school friends we would sing and say our lines and in special costumes perform the story of the birth of Jesus.

I knew even then, as a small child, that Christmas pointed to something much greater, even if I could not fully understand what it pointed to.

And while we follow a clock and a calendar – we have faith in a God who is beyond time and whose love and grace, and protection is far greater than what we could ever imagine.

And yet, at this time of the year, somehow, we try.

We even try to practice it and to embody it, even if for the briefest of spurts.

For if we cannot image such love and grace now – how will we ever be able to receive such love and grace.

And so later this morning we will try to do just that.

We will try to image and feel such love and healing and mercy from God as told through the voices of our children – as they act out the story of the birth of Jesus.

And then we will hear again from the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John that miraculous message of the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

Jesus the coming messiah who comes to save God’s people.

He will save us from evil and from sin and he will save us for that which is life-giving and healing.

Can we and will we imagine and believe in such a powerful love from God?

In the Gospel of Matthew chapter eleven John the Baptist has a strong moment of doubt.

He questions if this person, Jesus is indeed who he says he is.

Now in our Scripture reading – John is in prison.

He is not in a good place – his end is near.

And he is having some serious doubts about Jesus.

The messiah is not meeting his expectations.

Afterall, he is in prison.

Later we will hear in the Gospel that he will be executed.

And in this sad state – John thinks that God’s kingdom is not being realized yet on earth.

He is probably thinking here about King Herod and the power of Rome.

John wonders why Jesus has not taken over the throne and assumed kingdom power.

And so, he sends his disciples to question Jesus.

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus is the One – there is not another.

Jesus answers back by saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies made by the prophets specifically from the prophet Isaiah.

In the book of Isaiah, we hear:

“Say to those with a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!’  The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

Jesus’ work of healing and love is ushering in God’s new kingdom.

Jesus is a warrior king in this new kingdom, but he is a warrior king of healing and new life.

He will not misuse his power as kings of old – who kill and destroy.

Instead, Jesus will humbly take the throne and he will judge and rule with justice and love.

Jesus will be a king unlike any other king from the Bible.

He will rule in a new way, and he will restore and reconcile all of God’s creation back to God – he will be the Savior of the world.

It says in Colossians chapter one that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

In our time, right now, the reconciling work of Jesus continues to unfold.

Jesus continues to manifest the mystery of his healing peace.

It is a peace for you and for me this Advent season.

This is a bit of a magical time in our calendar.

It is a time where we think a little bit more of what it means to help those who are in need, where we try to show a little more kindness to others, where we reflect upon the previous year, where we dream about the New Year and where God will take us, and where we make more space in our hearts for Jesus.

It is a time of the year where we are reminded that we are forgiven and loved by a gracious and compassionate God and where Jesus’ abiding presence is always with us.

Today may you know, without a doubt, that Jesus is the Messiah who comes to make all things new.

His healing presence is for you and for me.

May you be blessed by his peace this Advent and may you know the joy of the Lord now and at Christmas.

We pray.

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Thanksgiving Sermon 2022

Grace and peace be with you all from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.


This evening it is good for us to gather together for worship.

In speaking about being thankful tonight, I want to begin my sermon by saying that I am grateful for our shared partnership in the Gospel.

I am grateful that we can come together as a community to give thanks to God for blessings received.

I have been a pastor now for twelve years and every year of my ministry I have joined up with other churches for an ecumenical Thanksgiving service.

Starting back in my first congregation out in Iowa I have had a part in a community Thanksgiving service for the past twelve years and I don’t plan on stopping – I want to keep this important ministry going.

I begin my ministry in rural Tama, Iowa.

The tradition in that small community that I was called to was always to share in a community Thanksgiving service.

And so, between the two Methodist churches, the Presbyterian church, the Catholic church, and the Meskwaki Tribe Assembly of God church we joined together every Thanksgiving to give God praise as a community.

For those four years that I was in Tama I always found it so incredibly meaningful for everyone to come together each Thanksgiving for worship.

I am grateful still that I am able even now to participate in a community Thanksgiving service that has grown in size over the years.

I certainly want to thank Chapel on the Hill for hosting this years’ service.

We are grateful for this service.

Besides being grateful for tonight’s community service… what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving.

The Apostle Paul says in Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always.

For the Apostle Paul, to rejoice in the Lord meant that you not only expressed gratitude and thanksgiving through your actions but to rejoice in the Lord meant that you felt something internally – you felt something in the heart.

Paul believed that to rejoice meant you actually had an experience of God’s grace and mercy that compelled you to rejoice in all circumstances.

Through the inner experience of God, you outwardly expressed your joy and delight and praise.

What do I mean by this?

When I was ten years old, I developed a great passion for the game of basketball.

I would go out and shoot baskets in our basketball hoop over the garage again and again and again.

For hours and hours, I worked on my shot.

In the rain, in the snow, in the wind I would fine tune my basketball skills.

I had a love for the game.

There was this profound joy that I found in basketball.

I even purchased a rim that was smaller than the actual size of a standard basketball rim -that fit over the standard rim – in order to improve my shot.

It was called the accurim.

The accurim turned a standard basketball rim from being eighteen inches in diameter to being twelve inches in diameter.

Now a standard basketball has a diameter of about 9 inches so when shooting at a hoop that has the accurim attached to it you had to be extremely accurate in your shot.

If you were off just a little the basketball would bounce of the accurim.

The purpose of course in using that device on your rim was to improve your shot by forcing you to get the basketball right in the middle of the rim.

At that time, I also sent in the mail a check for sixty dollars to get a book that guaranteed anyone that read the book some ten inches on their vertical jump – if they followed the plan highlighted in the book.

But from my memory the accurim did improve my jump shot but that expensive book that I sent away for, which turned out to be not a book at all but really just a pamphlet, I discovered that reading that pamphlet did not greatly improve my jump.

In other words, after reading that pamphlet I still could not dunk the basketball.

Although to this day I still have dreams in my sleep of dunking the basketball.

But in real life not so much.

Oh, I had dreams back then to become an NBA star like my hero Michael Jordan.

But by my sophomore year of high school while sitting on the bench during the games I had to rethink my NBA career.

But my love for the game and the joy that I still get even now from basketball whether it is simply in shooting hoops at the Y or in watching the Milwaukee Bucks on television or my favorite thing in watching now my daughter play basketball at the Williams Bay school I am grateful for that simple game of getting the basketball.

I don’t play basketball just because I enjoy the game.

I feel the game as I play.

It is an inner feeling – it is a deep commitment to the game that flows from that inner feeling of joy.

To be grateful is to not only show your joy and your love for something it is to feel that joy and love for something.

God doesn’t just want us to carelessly offer up praise and thanksgiving.

God wants us to deeply feel that praise and thanksgiving in our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

God wants us to experience his joy and his grace so that our hearts spill out his praise.

Now it is your turn.

Think about something in your life that brings you great joy.

Sometimes just thinking about something that brings us joy can ignite these deeper feelings within us.

Then ask yourself this question: “Why do I feel this way about that?”

Why does this thing bring me so much joy?

Because whatever that thing is it may be leading you or pointing you to something very significant.

That thing might be helping you to understand yourself in a deeper way.

Once you got it – hold onto this feeling.

The way you feel about that thing that brings you such great joy is the same feeling that God wants you to feel towards him.

And more than that because whatever that thing is – in my case it is basketball but it will be different for you, whatever that thing is it pails in comparison to having a life-giving relationship with God.

Nothing here on this earth compares to God.

God is the source of all life and joy and wonder and God is the source of our happiness.

In the Gospel of John, we hear that Jesus is the bread of life who gives life to the whole world.

He is the one who satisfies our hearts and our souls.

As much as I love basketball it is nothing in comparison to my relationship with Jesus who is the true bread from heaven.

He is the Word made flesh, the Alpha the Omega, the beginning and the end.

He is everything to us.

When we receive him and his love and his grace, we overfull with gratitude and thanksgiving.

You give him thanks and praise because your praise flows out of a heart that has been touched by God.

On Thursday we will celebrate the day of Thanksgiving.

This coming Thanksgiving Day take a moment to express your joy and your gratitude to God.

Let God fill your heart, mind, and soul in such a way that you overflow with praise to him.

We have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Mostly we give thanks for our faith in a gracious God who gave his Son to us.

For Jesus was faithful to God and to us even going so far as dying on the cross demonstrating his commitment and love to those he cares for so very much.

His love is for you and me.

It is not a love that we only hear about it is a love we feel, we know, and we experience – it is a love that tell others about and it is a love that we rejoice in.

Let us pray:

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All Saints Sunday 2022

This past week I had a graveside service at Roselawn Cemetery here in Williams Bay.

The service was for someone who was a previous member here but had since moved away from this area many years ago.

But even through the years and the distance she still felt a connection with our church.

I am grateful that people feel that way – connected to the church even though time passes and distance separates.

Whenever I officiate for a graveside service or a funeral service, I am reminded that we do not have a permanent place here on earth.

Sometimes it seems as if our lives will continue forever but that is not the case.

As wonderful as life can be the time we have is set.

There is a Scripture verse that says:  “People are appointed once to die.”

That is from Hebrews chapter nine verse twenty-seven.

We will not live forever.

We will, one day, die.

Today on this All Saints Sunday we remember this truth just like we remember this on Ash Wednesday.

Every year on Ash Wednesday, as we begin the forty-day journey of Lent, we hear the words:  Remember we are dust and to dust we shall return.

We believe by faith that our spirits will continue but our bodies will go back into the earth.

“We commit her body to the ground earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Those were the words that I said at the graveside service this week.

The words that we hear at the beginning of the book of Genesis will come true for all of us.

In Genesis chapter three we hear:  “We will return to the ground, since from it we were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  Genesis chapter three verse nineteen.

On this All Saints Sunday we also remember that we are connected to the whole company of the communion of saints.

All of God’s people in heaven and on earth are a part of the company of saints.

There is a never a moment in life where we are not a part of the communion of saints.

Again in Hebrews chapter twelve it says that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.

The writer of Hebrews wanted us to imagine that we are all in an arena and there at that arena are previous generations.

They are present for us.

These people witness and see our faith in action and from their seats they cheer us on.

Think about your favorite sports team.

If you follow your team regularly you will notice a pattern.

Your team always plays better at home.

Your team feeds off the energy, the excitement, and the positive energy of the home crowd.

This is true for us as well.

Knowing that we are a part of the communion of saints gives us encouragement and hope especially during the struggles and challenges of life.

We have people right here in this place who will encourage and support us but we also have those who have gone ahead of us who now rest with God who wait for us and who cheer us on.

And they do cheer us on in life and at the hour of our death.

When I first became a pastor, I thought that I would have many difficult conversations with members about dying and in addressing people’s fears around death.

Now over the years I have had some of those hard talks and these talks are very important as I try to give these people hope but overwhelmingly, I have seen such peace and faith in those who are near death.

Overwhelmingly, those who are at the end of their life, talk to me about their love for God, their faith in Jesus, they talk about their loved ones who have passed away and how they are ready to be with them again, and they talk to me about their readiness to be with God.

I have seen such faith over the years.

Surely these men and women that I have seen with my own eyes were already surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.

In fact, I can recall one conversation in particular, this conversation happened when I was serving a church in Iowa, that especially moved me.

I met with this person for our visit at the nearby town’s favorite diner in Toledo, Iowa.

Big-T, which was a Maid-Rite restaurant, was our stop.

Not only was the restaurant a town favorite but the owner, a very kind man and humble man, was a member of the church that I was serving at the time.

So, over a Maid-Rite and a cup of coffee, we talked about faith and about dying.

From my memory he did most of the talking, which was fine with me, and I remember him telling me this:

Pastor, I have learned that we don’t need to be afraid of dying.

It is going to be beautiful.

When my time comes, I am ready to go to heaven.

The conversation that day really impacted me.

His faith was so strong.

When his time was up, he was ready.

He had made peace with his life and he made peace with God.

We do not have a permanent place here on earth but we do have a permanent place, a permanent home in heaven where we will be with the whole company of God’s saints.

On this All Saints Sunday we give thanks for our faith in God’s gift of eternal life and we give thanks for all the saints.

If I could leave you with one more thing this morning it would be this:  Eternal life is our inheritance.

It is God’s gift to us.

There is nothing you can do to receive an inheritance.

You receive an inheritance as a gift from the owner.

This is Christ’s gift for us.

For Jesus was faithful to us and Jesus was faithful to God even to death on a cross.

Now n Christ our lives will continue even in death.

Jesus said in the Gospel of John:  “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

May God give to each one of us here the faith to believe this promise from our Lord and may the peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.


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Reformation Sunday 2022

Today is Reformation Sunday.

On this day we remember the good work that was done, 500 years ago, by Martin Luther and the other early church reformers like Philip Melanchthon and John Hus.

These church reformers taught us to always be about the work of reforming and renewing the church.

There is never a point where we can say – I think that the church is perfect.

As much as I would like to say this

– there is never I point where I can say – I think Williams Bay Lutheran Church is perfect.

We will never reach that point.

We will never be able to say that we will not need to change or make any improvements to our church because everything is already right.

Reforming / renewal is an on-going process in the church.

Somethings do stay the same in the church but other things change and through it all we look to God for guidance and direction.

We do not cast the vision – it is God who casts the vision – who gives us the mission.

We do not move the church forward it is God who moves the church forward and then we move into God’s future with trusting hearts.

It is easy to get caught in the temptation that we are the ones who direct and guide the church but that is wrong.

It is God who directs and guides the church.

For Luther he believed that the church was greatly misguided because the church was moving in a direction that was not led by God and by God’s Holy Spirit.

The church was corrupt.

Through Luther’s work, along with other early reformers, the church changed and became more faithful to the Gospel.

There was resurrection and new life in the church.

Even today we strive to seek God’s will and not our own.

How do we do this?

How do we hear God’s voice in the church?

In my personal devotional time, I am reading through the book of Proverbs.

The book of Proverbs is a book that gives advice and guidance on a wide range of issues.

In Proverbs chapter twenty verse eighteen we hear that we are to form our purpose by asking for counsel and advice.  Then and only then can we carry out the plan.

One of the things that I have really appreciated over the years as a pastor is being on church counsel.

I am grateful that I don’t have to cast the vision for the church on my own.

I listen carefully to the direction and the guidance that I receive from the leaders of our congregation as they carefully seek God’s will.

And then I lean on them for help in order to carry out the mission of our church.

Over the years some seasons in the church have gone very smoothly with very little concern but some seasons have been much more challenging and difficult but through it all we listen to the voice of God.

We trust in God’s future and God’s ability to draw us forward into God’s mission.

We catch ourselves when we are tempted to be visionary dreamers – this means times when we put our plans ahead of God’s plan.

These are times when we try to push our will forward instead of taking the time to carefully discern God’s will.

And the only way we can discern God’s plan is through prayer and listening.

There is no other way.

Prayer and listening.

We pray to God and then we listen.

During the first two years of the pandemic this was my constant work.

Prayer and listening.

Prayer and listening.

Praying to God.


Listening to the church counsel.

Listening to others in the church.

Listening to the Spirit at work in our church.

Listening, listening to the voice of God.

In Proverbs chapter three verse five we hear that we are to listen for God’s voice in everything that we do, everywhere we go; for God is the one who keep us on track.

And Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading that if we continue in his word – meaning that we continue listening to him and seeking his will, then we are truly his disciples.

We will know the truth – we will know the way and his truth will set us free.

We will be free to live a grace-filled and life-giving life.

As the church continues listening to God’s voice the church will continue to reform and be shaped and pruned by God’s Spirit.

God will continue using the church for God’s purposes.

God has not given up on the church.

Even now I see God at work in our church.

Yes, here in this place.

As we gather together each week for worship

– God is at work.

In seeing the children and youth in church

– I see God at work.

In Stu’s stewardship talks where he speaks about the work and activity of this church

– I see God at work.

In the work that our church council does each month working together to help our church discern God’s ways

– I see God at work.

In the hymns that we sing that speak to our faith in a gracious and loving God

– I see God at work.

In the laughter and the joy that we share together over coffee and pie – I see God at work.

As God’s people in this place and time

– may the Lord bless our church and may we have the faith to continue moving forward into God’s future as God makes a new covenant with us.

A covenant where God writes on our hearts that we are God’s people and God is our God.

We ask for all this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


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September 25, 2022 The Shrewd Manager

Today we hear another shocking teaching from Jesus.

It appears that Jesus is praising an act of dishonesty.

The manager who acts shrewdly is the hero of the story.

I can remember hearing this story as a child and thinking what a weird parable.

Even now I have to really think about this parable and what Jesus is trying to teach us.

Clearly there is an important lesson here if we just dig a little deeper.

What is Jesus trying to say to us in the parable of the rich man and the manager.

As with most of Jesus parables you can look at them through many different angles.

Today I would like for us to think about the quick and smart behavior of the manager.

He showed composure – he did not act compulsively – he made a plan and then he executed it.

Now I don’t believe that in the end Jesus was praising his dishonest behavior but Jesus was trying to make a larger point here.

Jesus is praising the man’s resourcefulness, his wits about himself, his smart intuitive thinking.

That is what Jesus is lifting up.

Jesus wants us to be just as bold for his kingdom work.

He wants us to use all the gifts that we have to move his kingdom and his mission forward.

Can we be just as creative and smart and yes, shrewd as the dishonest manager but and, here is the twist here, can we be that for what is right – for what is just, and for what is honest.

Remember the scripture from the book of Micah – we are to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.

Jesus is calling us to respond to him with the same kind of boldness that the manager had in the parable.

We are not to shy away from our faith but we are to lean more deeply into our faith with all the strength that God gives us.

It is a shocking parable but it is also a parable with a good message.

Each of us can find ways in our work, in our home life, within our families to really live from our hearts and not to just to complacently get by.

Life is too much of a gift to let it just slide by…

As I was working on this sermon this past week, I thought to myself if the shrewd manager were to write a book what kind of a book would it be??

And the first book that came to my mind was the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.

This is a book on how to live from that deeper and more creative part of ourselves.

The book also is a very worldly book and it takes an almost mechanical approach to living.

In other words, the book feels at times a little distant from the day to day lives of real people.

But if you look at the book and take his ideas and apply them with your faith then suddenly it gives your faith new meaning.

For example, one of his ideas in his book is to create a personal mission statement.

Our congregation has a mission statement – our shared mission statement is to praise God, to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ, to reach out with this message to people of all backgrounds and cultures, and to create a community of Christian support, love, and forgiveness.

Maybe you work at a place that has a mission statement but do you personally have a mission statement?

Do you have a mission statement that you think about everyday that impacts your choices and decisions that you make each and every day of your lives?

I have a personal mission statement that I have been living from for the past twelve years.

In January of 2010 I received some strong inspiration and I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down my personal mission statement which I have been living from ever since.

During good days and seasons I remember my personal mission statement during difficult days and seasons I remember my personal mission statement.

My mission statement gives meaning and purpose to my life and the statement give me direction in living out my faith and in being a better steward of the gifts that God has given me.

I am not going to share my mission statement because it is between God and me but I want to share with you now how impactful my personal mission statement has been for me over the years.

During some of the dark days and seasons of my life my personal mission statement has been a light for me – almost as if the Holy Spirit is reminding me to keep moving forward and trusting in Jesus.

How about you – what is your mission statement between God and you?

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September 11, 2022 At Home With Jesus

Jesus offers two compelling parables this morning.
First, the parable of the lost sheep.
Then the parable of the lost coin.
And unlike last Sunday’s Bible reading, where it was very hard to understand Jesus’ teaching,
today’s Bible reading is quite clear.
The two parables point to the truth that God is gracious and that God pursues us even when we
turn away from him.
God is a loving father who wants to be in relationship with us.
God wants us to know him and to find joy in him.
God wants us to turn to him and to be found – to be found is to be, finally, at home with God.
To be at home with God happens in our death, yes, when we are raised from the dead to be
with Jesus and the whole company of God’s saints, but it can also happen in this life as we
come to know Christ and his grace and his peace.
We do not have a permanent place here on earth but that does not mean we cannot find a
place of belonging and a place that feels like home.
This past week in considering this text from Luke, I have been reflecting on the meaning of
What does it mean to be at home?

To no longer be searching, to no longer be lost, to be found, to be at a place of rest, to be at a
place where you can be yourself, to be at home.
Home can refer to a house, it can refer to a place, it can refer to family but in the context of this
Scripture reading – home is being with Jesus.
This truth became very real to me as I was growing up.
By the time I reached eighteen I had already lived in five different towns, three different states,
and I had attended four different schools in four different communities.
To this day I still don’t know what school I should go to if I were to attend a school reunion.
Maybe some of you here have had a similar experience.
So, I realized as a child that being at home does not necessarily mean a place – it can mean that
to be sure but for Jesus – being at home means something else.
Being at home is something more spiritual, something we feel and know inside of us.
Being at home is an inner knowing and belief that Jesus is right there.
And that his peace and his grace is always there for us to receive.
Our weekly Eucharist meal both reminds us of this and our weekly Eucharist meal is a spiritual
means for us to receive his grace and his peace.
At the table we are at home.
We are at home with Jesus.

And then as we leave this place and go on – for the rest of the week Jesus goes with us and
ahead of us.
If you are like me, you may have some anxiety about the future.
The future is unknown, there is always uncertainty about the future.
And how comforting it is to know that Jesus is already there.
He goes ahead of us and then he meets us each step of our journey.
He does not let us to become lost on the way.
Suddenly then the mistakes that we make in life and the regrets that we hold to become
absolved in his presence.
And if we turn from him, Jesus is quick to help us to find the way back to him so that we can be
at home with him.
This is the hope that we share together as God’s people – it is an active kind of hope.
This means that our hope in God and in Jesus impacts us each day of our lives.
This coming week spend some time thinking about what home means to you.
We often have strong attachments to the places we call home.
My family and I recently visited a place that is very dear to us on our family vacation.
For me it is the place that feels most like home.
It’s Dubuque, Iowa.

Why you might ask?
Well, it’s the place where Kalen and I met and where we went to seminary together.
It is a life-giving place for me.
I still keep in touch with many of my professors, teachers, and classmates that I first me in
One of whom you met and welcomed this past spring, in our guest organist, Dr. Roy Carrol who
was one of my worship professors and the seminary worship organist.
There are so many wonderful memories from that place and it always feels like home when I go
back to Dubuque even though I only lived there for short four years.
Places do that.
We associate a lot of meaning to a place and the people we meet there.
This is good and the places that we call home provide the foundation and the stability that we
need in life.
Now think about that and the places that are dear to you.
And then think about your relationship with God and how God calls us to himself to be found in
him and to be spiritually at home with him.
Even during the times that we feel distant from God and the times that we feel lost in our faith
God is there speaking to us and reaching out to us.

Like the man who looks for his lost sheep and the woman who searches for her lost coin – God
continues, always to pursue us until we are found in him.
When we are found there is rejoicing indeed – for we are home.

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