Thursday, May 17, 2018

Another Family Wedding

Dear St. Mark friends,

My wedding invitation did not arrive in the mail, so apparently, I am not invited.  I’m speaking of the majestic royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle this weekend on the “other side of the pond.”  While I often joke about my Norwegian heritage, 25% of my bloodline is actually British; so naturally I feel that I’m due a modicum of recognition from my prominent relatives abroad.  From what I hear, though, I’m not the only one sitting out this event.  Poor me…misery loves company.

One of my favorite movies is, “The King’s Speech,” based on the true story of King George VI and his quest to find his voice.  Throughout the movie, one is made painfully aware of the formal class distinctions between members of the royal family and mere commoners.  Yet, in the end, it is an ordinary man with an extraordinary gift who assists the new king in recognizing and achieving his potential as a leader.  It is a movie that extends hope in the most desperate and challenging of circumstances.

With the hymns of Easter still fresh in our ears and on our tongues, I’m reminded that the royal bloodline of King David has been extended to each of us by the Son of David, the Son of God.  Jesus is indeed the heir to God’s throne…witnessed at his resurrection and ascension.  Our New King, however, is also our brother…meaning that no one is left out; no one is dismissed for lack of a proper bloodline. Each of us has direct access to this King…each of us has been invited to the resurrection party!

As we conclude the seven weeks of Easter in anticipation of Pentecost, I encourage you to share in this celebration of inclusivity and new life.  God has raised Jesus from death so that we, too, might one day be raised to new and eternal lives with Christ our King.  With God, the playing field is made even; sin and death have been conquered once and for all in his Son.  Whatever disparities and prejudices we face today will fade at his second coming and the life to come.

So, do not despair, good friends…there are more wedding invitations right around the corner.  The best invitation includes us all: “the marriage feast of Christ, which has no end!”

Walking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark Hagen

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Building Faith

This past Sunday during worship, we introduced a project that is sure to frame the summer here at St. Mark. In partnership with Thrivent Financial and other area churches, we will be helping Habitat for Humanity build an additional home for a family here in Rockford. We have signed up for four work days in May and June, and soon we will be raising money to ensure the house is completed.

Maybe your experience with Habitat is a bit like mine. I have known about the organization for a long time. The churches I have called home have been involved in various ways. Though I have never swung a hammer for Habitat, I have friends and acquaintances who have. I have always wanted to do more.

Building a house is no small feat. Even on a team of experienced framers and roofers, it can seem incredibly intimidating. But when we have all summer to finish a single-story home for a deserving family, the task becomes a bit more bearable. This Saturday is the first major construction day for the houses here in Rockford. Our first day to work is exactly one week later. Do you know what you can expect to be doing, should you volunteer on March 12th? Most likely, it will involve vinyl siding. Before we even step foot onto the construction site, the framework will already be up and ready to start looking like a home.

Even if you have zero experience, your help is still valued. Even if you cannot come to a work day, there will be more opportunities this summer to lend a hand toward this build. The family that will work alongside us and later purchase the home will be forever changed by what we, the people of God, are about to do.

There is still room for volunteers at all four of our work days. You can sign up at a clipboard in the Fellowship Hall or email me ( to get your name on the list. Anyone 16 and up is eligible to be onsite, and you can volunteer on one or more days. They are:
Saturday, May 12
Thursday, May 31
Saturday, June 16
Tuesday, June 26

I pray this endeavor will strengthen our commitment to God, our community, and one another as we use our hands to do God’s work.

Pastor Chad

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Not Your Typical Wedding

Dear St. Mark friends,

Like many of you, my role in the family carries multiple titles.  I am a husband, a father, a grand-father, a son, and a soon-to-be father-in-law.  On Saturday, April 28, our youngest son, David, will be married to his fiancĂ©, Maureen.  I am privileged to perform the wedding ceremony at the outdoor pavilion at Anderson Gardens.  The current weather forecast predicts a cloudy but acceptable temperature in the mid-60s.  Whew…we’ll take it!

David’s and Maureen’s wedding bears remarkable similarities to Naomi’s and my wedding in Woodinville, WA, on June 7, 1980.  First, Naomi’s father, Eldon Lyso, (a Lutheran pastor) likewise performed our ceremony.  I was more than a little nervous as to what he might do and say.  Eldon was a prolific jokester, and I wasn’t going to put anything past him.  Thankfully, he was both serious and humorous at all the crucial moments.  It was a glorious wedding ceremony!  I am eager to carry on this paternal tradition with David and Maureen.  Still, I want to keep them guessing just a bit.  I have plenty of fun “material “on David I could share!

Second, in preparation for our wedding in 1980, I wrote a song for Naomi five days before the ceremony.  It was a bold move, but I really wanted to do this.  Immediately following our marriage vows, I sang my song to her while playing my guitar.  Truth be told, I was more nervous about messing up that song than I was getting married!  Thank God, the song came off perfectly.  David has likewise written a beautiful song for Maureen and will sing it to her at their wedding, accompanying himself on his guitar.  Like father, like son!  It will be quite moving, I’m sure.

Jesus loved weddings, performing his first miracle at a wedding in Cana.  There will be no need to turn water into wine at this wedding reception, however.  Franchesco’s Ristorante is well-stocked!  None-the-less, Jesus will be present with us as we celebrate their marriage in the presence of God, family, and friends.  Like all proud parents, Naomi and I rejoice in their marriage.  We trust that you share in our joy!  

By the way, don’t bother looking for me at worship the next morning…I’ll be sleeping in.

Walking this journey of faith with you,

Pastor Mark

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Hoping for Easter

Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like Easter. When the holiday happens before you can qualify your yard as verdant, it can seem like the world itself is not ready to celebrate new life. Maybe your body ached so much that you stayed in your pajamas on the one Sunday everyone goes to church. Like the eleven disciples, the fervent testimony of faithful women might not be enough to release you from whatever place you feel has locked you in.

“We have seen the Lord,” they said, as the hope of the disciples wilted to jealousy.

“My scans came back clear,” she announces in relief, unaware of the doubt that is spreading through your bones.

“We are over the moon about our baby boy,” the birth announcement reads, reminding you once again of the joy you have been yearning for far too long.

It can be so difficult to hear of the good news that comes to others. Even worse is trying to respond with honesty and empathy. Is it harmful to force a congratulations? Because in all fairness, life is wholly unfair. 

This good news of Jesus, though, is different. It is not selective. Resurrection is not something you or I need to work for. There is no room for envy when it comes to the new life of Easter because this is a proclamation of joy for all people. Jesus has traveled through the suffering of the world and made it to the other side. Christ has torn a hole in the shadowy veil of death wide enough to illuminate all of creation in the permeating and all-encompassing light of eternity. 

Despite what Mary Magdalene told those close confidants of Jesus, the disciples still felt the need to lock themselves in the upper room, the last place any of them had any hope. It is in that room where Jesus reminds us all that resurrection is not our responsibility. Jesus breaks through their chains and their shame and their guilt and breathes new life into their lives. Nothing can stop the promise of new life. 

In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds us that “faith is the guarantee of what is hoped for, the proof of deeds that cannot be perceived.” (My translation.) During difficult times, it can be hard to have confidence in God’s promises. In this season of hope, though, my prayer is that God might fill you with the faith you need to witness the good news of new life that Jesus has brought to you and all the world.

Pastor Chad

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.

Walking 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

Another Family Wedding

Dear St. Mark friends, My wedding invitation did not arrive in the mail, so apparently, I am not invited.  I’m speaking of the majestic...