Thursday, March 22, 2018

Why Holy Week?

Dear St. Mark friends,

Resistance to Christianity and all faiths is on the rise worldwide.  In light of so much discord all around us, why Holy Week?  Why continue to lift up Palm Sunday and the passion of Jesus?
Because we share in his experience of exclusion.  This is our story, too.

The terror that lurks behind this story is familiar ground to us.  We see our own reflections in the faces of the crowds…those who first welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, only to turn against him by the end of the week.  We know how to identify the so-called saviors of this world…falling down before them in desperate gratitude, believing they’ll give us whatever our hearts desire.  But eventually, we turn against them when they fail to deliver.

Why Holy Week?  Because it’s redemptive to see this behavior depicted so honestly in the Bible…just as it is in our lives.  Holy Week is our story…about the people we truly are rather than the people we’d like to think we are.  Yet, because the events surrounding Holy Week are genuinely about us, there will always be the urge to turn and run…to exclude the truth about ourselves and those who embody it.

The Savior who rode in among us on Palm Sunday intruded into our lives the same way a surgeon’s knife cuts into our bodies.  If we’re to be healed of what ails us, it won’t be painless.
The terrible events portrayed in Holy Week ask each of us: Are we prepared to follow Jesus through all the circumstances of our lives…or just those that meet with our approval?

Jesus did not flinch from the murderous mob.  He did not sidestep the terror of death or escape into some ethereal world, immune from suffering and pain.  He passed through the waving palm branches and marched with us to Golgotha, the place of death.  He embraced the terrible, painful ambiguity of human existence with one message for all time: “Brothers and sisters, because of my great love for you, I am willing to die that you might live!”

Why Holy Week?  Because through it all, Jesus is still our Lord…and this is still our story.

Waking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark Hagen


Friday, March 2, 2018

Children Are Our Present

It has been just over two weeks since the most recent school shooting in our country. With all the news coverage and arguments in the aftermath, it feels more like months have passed. Mass shootings have become a dismal routine in our country, but something about this one is different. Children are reacting to the tragedy in Parkland in a new and ardent way.

A group of teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have taken it upon themselves to be more than mere survivors. It would be hard to argue that these children, reeling from tragedy, are anything but sincere. In their passion and surprising eloquence, they have become leaders in their own right. A person does not have to agree with the solutions they propose in order to hear their words and take them seriously. 

These high school students, thrust into the national spotlight, have been a reminder to me of how we adults view our children. To stand up for them, so often folks will say something along the lines of “Children are our future” or “They are our future leaders.” It is important for parents and educators to make decisions with the future in mind, but our kids are not merely waiting on the sidelines for their chance to take part in society. It would be a mistake to prescribe age limits or life achievements to any person before fully recognizing them in all their unique and wonderful humanity.

In the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, there is a brief story about folks bringing children to Jesus. His disciples, we are told, “spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’” Older folks may try to keep power away from their younger successors as long as they can, but in the Kingdom of God, children are already in charge. 

On Sunday, our little family will be celebrating a whole year with our daughter, Linden. How odd it is to speak of her existence in the future tense. Yes, she has only just completed her first of many trips around the sun, but she is so much more than mere potential. I have peanut butter on my shirt, bags under my eyes, and board books strewn across the floor that prove she is very much defining my life in the here and now. She is my present and current reality. I already miss who she was in the past, and God willing she will one day be my future.

We all have hopes and dreams. When you look at the children in your life, you might even be able to catch a sneak peek into who they will be in the years to come. Today, though, let us celebrate our youth for the curiosity and the joy they inject into the world now. Any parent who has lost a child will tell you that we must treasure our children today. So, as you seek to be an influence on those younger than you, may you recognize how they too are capable of changing you in each and every present moment.

Pastor Chad McKenna

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Transition and Anticipation

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.                                                            Philippians 2:1-2

2017 was a year shaped by transition and anticipation.  This was our first full year living with our major renovations to the church facility.  These necessary improvements have been instrumental to our increased hospitality, both in worship and fellowship.  The community-at-large has provided excellent feedback, showing increasing interest in utilizing our facility for multiple meetings and events.  Fellowship time has taken on new meaning here!  I anticipate that 2018 will continue to build on this trend of offering new opportunities for our community to share our beautiful space.

Once again, our entire church staff is deserving of commendation as it works diligently to produce effective and inspirational leadership and results, week after week.  They are worthy of our appreciation and expressions of gratitude as faithful partners in ministry here at St. Mark.
Likewise, our Congregation Council, various committees, and many volunteers continue to provide high levels of commitment and productivity…both in leadership and service.  I have been pleased these past thirteen years to witness a positive growth in the levels of service and outreach by our members.  Such involvement reflects not only the spiritual health of the congregation, but the joy of servanthood we share as followers of Jesus. 

2017 was a transitional year for my family, as well.  My mother, Sylvia, passed away on January 28 last year.  I am indebted to you for your compassion and support during this time of loss.  2017 also included moving Naomi into day-care at The Atrium Dementia Care Center from March through November…and then into full-time care at Anam Glenn Memory Care beginning December 1.  This transition has been the most difficult experience for me, personally.  I am indebted to you for the remarkable care you’ve extended to Naomi and me throughout this process. 

As your Senior Pastor, I am both challenged and fed in my assorted roles as preacher, teacher, counselor, administrator, head of staff, and resident Vikings fan…the last being the most hazardous!  Together, we are growing in this holy partnership to advance God’s mission in this community and beyond.  While 2017 was shaped by transition and anticipation, I envision 2018 as a year of celebration and inspired planning for our future.  I am proud to be among you and to share in the marvelous activity of the Holy Spirit: growing in faith…sharing God’s grace!

Walking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark Hagen

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Quest Wholeness

This may come as no surprise to you, but this winter has brought along a nasty season of sickness. Currently, I am working my way through a box of tissues and trying to figure out if this is the fourth or the fifth time I have been hit with whatever bugs are going around. It could be the price one pays with a young child who brings all manner of things home from daycare. But it seems as if everyone is more susceptible this year to the variety of viruses swirling through the air. Some of you have been to the hospital, and some of you may be finishing off a regimen of germ-killing drugs.

There is something unifying about finding a cure for sickness. You might share a knowing nod with someone in a waiting room or in the cough-syrup aisle. Maybe you have bonded with others who live with the same chronic illness you have. Or perhaps you unite with others who have had their worlds shaken by a terrible disease, raising awareness and funds so that no one will ever have to live through that same terror.

Fred Pratt Green isn’t necessarily a household name, yet there is a good chance you know his work. A dozen of his hymns are featured in our current hymnal. In one of his lesser known pieces (Hymn #610 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship), he captures this idea that we can find unity in our quest for healing:

O Christ, the healer, we have come
to pray for health, to plead for friends.
How can we fail to be restored,
when reached by love that never ends?

From every ailment flesh endures
our bodies clamor to be freed;
yet in our hearts we would confess
that wholeness is our deepest need.

In conflicts that destroy our health,
we diagnose the world's disease;
our common life declares our ills:
is there no cure, O Christ, for these?

Grant that we all, made one in faith,
in your community may find
the wholeness that, enriching us,
shall reach the whole of humankind.

There is no amount of money, soap, or sanitizer to protect you and your loved ones from being ill. Everyone, rich and poor, young and old, gets sick. Disease does not discriminate. When you are sick, it is far from easy to think beyond yourself and your most urgent needs. But, the next time you are on the mend, take a moment to imagine how similar you are to all of God’s people. Everyone deserves good health and loving care. May Jesus Christ, the healer of our every ill, unite us in our search for wholeness.

Pastor Chad McKenna

Thursday, January 11, 2018

You Can Do Great Things!

In the black 1863 days of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln went to church with an aide. After the service the aide asked him what he thought. Mr. Lincoln said, "The sermon was very logical and very well reasoned." The aide said, "So the sermon was a success?" Mr. Lincoln said, "No. It was a failure. Because he did not challenge us to do something great."
I'm going to challenge you to do two great things.
But first, consider invisible people. They are everywhere. They may be poor, they may be of a different race, they may be incarcerated.
But the homebound people of st. Mark need not be invisible! It's true that they cannot come to church, or a restaurant, or a marketplace. But they can be conspicuous in our lives.
How? By doing two great things. First, coming to our Barnabas class this coming Thursday, January 18, 2:00 P.M. to learn how to visit and whom to visit. You'll be joining wonderful caring Barnabas ministers who are actively visiting. Just call Melinda to register, 815-871-0390.
The other way to make them  conspicuous is to pray daily for each of them:
George and Betty Adams, Glenn Bengston, Phyllis Blunt, Dorothy Brommerich, Helen Corbett, William Dinges, Ann Doty, Robert Dvorak, Marilyn Hallen, Gene Holmberg, Bill Jennings, Ray Lundgren, Jeanneil Miller-Paul, Kaye Mueller, Bette Patterson, Rose Pearson, Elmer Seybold, Al Spangrud, Audrey Weberg.
I challenge you to do two great things: visit our invisible people, and pray for them- and do great things!  - God loves you and so do I, Pastor Chuck Olson, Pastor for pastoral care

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Light in the Darkness

Today, we will be getting just over nine hours of sunlight. By now, you are probably used to driving home in the dark as you take quick glances at all the light displays on the houses you pass. For folks who work a traditional nine to five job, all the daylight and brightness is squandered by a career that demands you stay inside. For others, even the sun’s brief invitation is not convincing enough to step out on chilly December days. 

It is in these bleak days that we wait with hope for God to do something. We light candles, pray, and anticipate the light that shines in the darkness, which cannot be overcome. Many of us even celebrate the birth of Christ all December long, confident that the light of Christ will shine down and prevail on this earth.

Maybe, though, the darkness is getting to you. Despite all the parties and carols, you are just not in what folks call the holiday spirit. There could be any manner of reasons for you to have little Christmas cheer this year. You may think that Christmas is for the people who start listening to holiday music in October and get their cards in the mail on time every year while sipping cocoa and baking batch after batch of cookies. Yes, this holiday is for them, but I am pretty convinced people like that are elves anyway. What makes Jesus’ birth so meaningful is that he didn’t come on the brightest day, when everyone was full of joy. You don’t need to hang lights or wrap presents perfectly in order for Jesus to decide it’s time to come to earth. You can even give in to the darkness completely, and Christ the Savior will still be born. 

Jesus is coming to dispel the gloom. Christ’s arrival gives hope to the hopeless and light to a world shrouded in shadow.

If you are really observant of the sun’s movements, you may notice that things are about to change. We have been through the worst of it. Today, the sun was out a whole two second longer than yesterday! Can you believe it? Tomorrow, there will be seven seconds more. And so on, until all the darkness has been scattered, and we can actually spend our days in daylight. Jesus shines in much the same way. So when you come to worship on Christmas Eve, come with a heart that hopes for the arrival of light and joy in our wintry world.

Pastor Chad

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Real Work of Advent

Dear St. Mark friends,

The season of Advent is a busy time with lots of activities and events.  Yet, it also is a time of quiet reflection as we await the birth of our Savior Jesus.  In the midst of it all, we pause to give thanks to God for the assurance of hope and the promise of salvation.  We also give thanks for those significant persons in our lives by whom we are blessed beyond measure. 

Our spirit of thanksgiving this Advent season stands out in a culture that may not share our optimism and faith.  Lowell Erdahl speaks to this juxtaposition in his devotional, “No One to Thank.”

Alvin Rogness likes to say that “the worst thing about being an atheist is having no one to thank.”  When life is terrible, it is possible to stoically endure it.  But when we are overwhelmed by joy and overflowing with gratitude, what can we do with no one to thank?  It is difficult to reconcile the goodness of God with the world’s evil; but, for many of us, it is impossible to reconcile the goodness of the world with the absence of a good God.  Our intellectual problems are not solved by dismissing a God of love from the universe.  We then face “the problem of goodness” – how do we explain the beauty, joy, and meaning that are also a part of life?  Even now, we see the miracle of our own lives, shattered as they may be, and recall the joyful moments of love we have known.  We ponder the beauty of sunsets and symphonies, flowers and friendships.  Above all, we think of Jesus, who came through sin and suffering to become our beautiful Savior.  Remembering all this, we again dare believe that there is someone to thank.

I encourage you to make the time this Advent season to thank those many persons who have blessed your life and helped shape your faith in God.  Above all, let us give thanks to God for the birth of Jesus, our beautiful Savior!

Walking this journey of faith with you,

Pastor Mark

Why Holy Week?

Dear St. Mark friends, Resistance to Christianity and all faiths is on the rise worldwide.  In light of so much discord all around us, ...