All Saints Day, 2018

 

“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man

have kept this man from dying?”

 It is a question that has been asked through tears many times over. It is a question that aches for the why of death, especially when it is sudden or comes at a time that we feel is too soon because we are not ready—or because the person is young. Why did this happen? Could you not have healed our loved one, God, instead of taking them from us? It is a question without an answer. But we are asking because we want to hang on to the life of our loved one, as though earthly life matters more than the life beyond—even though we know better.

We identify with Mary when she says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This speaks of Mary’s faith, but it also hints of anger and disappointment. How many times have we thought; “if only this or that would have happened, maybe he or she would have still been alive.

In the story of Lazarus, Jesus delayed on purpose. He intentionally did not come when Mary and Martha sent word to Him about the illness of His friend and their brother. Jesus knew it would mean that Lazarus would die, but without the death, the resurrection of Lazarus—the  miracle of new life, could not happen. So He waited.

When Jesus finally arrived on the scene, Lazarus was dead and the funeral was over and deep mourning had taken hold. Jesus was not immune to the sadness. He cried. He went to the tomb in great sorrow. He then ordered the stone to be taken away even though as Martha warned, there would be a strong smell coming from the tomb. But that was not important and Jesus called in a loud voice—“Lazarus, come out!” And the man emerged wrapped in burial cloths, looking like a mummy—yet full of life! And the power of God through Jesus won the battle between death and life and between despair and hope. Jesus won. He won for Lazarus, He won for Mary and Martha and He won for you and me. Death does not have the final word—there is life beyond death. We need to see Jesus right there in the picture, larger than death, more powerful than death, coming to raise us. That’s how we come to believe.

“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man

have kept this man from dying?”

Oh yes, He could have, but He had a larger truth to tell. Not only is Jesus able to heal, He can and will give life to the dead. With Lazarus, it was in this world. With most of us it will be in the next. This event took place so Jesus could assure Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the crowd and all of us that He—Jesus—is the life giver.

And there is another parallel here. We realize that resurrection for us will most likely be after our life on earth, but Jesus has the ability to grant a different kind of “coming back to life” right here and right now when a person accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That is also a kind of a resurrection—a spiritual coming to life in Jesus that causes us to live in a very different way than we used to.

There are millions and millions of stories about how this has happened to people. You have your story. Every Christian has their own story of how they have come to believe. Sometimes it comes through healing prayers, sometimes a friend will share their faith with someone and it often happens when someone is in some kind of trouble and our Lord answers their prayers. We even hear stories of murderers coming to Christ while waiting for their execution because they have been ministered to and prayed for and God has blessed them with His peace.

The Bible says that God does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his ways and live. This turning is last week’s word from the Presiding Bishop. It is this turning from our old ways, that becomes a resurrection into a new life. It is not always dramatic. Many times it takes place without even being noticed by others except that the person seems to be more alive, happier and more sensitive to the needs of others.

There are men and women past and present who sometimes face danger, torture or execution and many also who lived long blessed lives working fervently for the sake of the gospel. All are saints and their experiences with our Lord are so amazing that they risk everything to be a part of Christ’s mission in the world.

Now, when you think of saints, don’t look for perfection. No saint has ever been perfect—not one. Saints come to faith with all their warts intact and leave this world the same way—with one added dimension: They have been able to somehow leave this world with a remnant of their faith left behind for others to explore and to remember them by.

Fr. Frederick Waldo Barker was a saint of this Church. William Bradley was a saint of St. Barnabas in Tomahawk. My Aunt Ruth, who taught Sunday school for 30 years and who gave me a book when I was 10 called “Lady on a Donkey”. That book greatly contributed to my belief in prayer. She was a saint for me. Saints are all around us. If we think about it we can all recognize saints in our own lives. And, maybe God has given us the opportunity to be a saint in someone else’s life! I hope so. We too can dare everything for the sake of this one true thing—that Jesus is life and resurrection here on this earth and in His kingdom beyond. All believers are saints—men, women and children—and we all have the ability to leave something of our faith for others to remember and to be encouraged by.

Today we celebrate All Saints day. The Saints of God have truly found resurrection in Christ and the reality of life eternal. The commemoration of All Saints is meant to unite us in spirit to the whole “communion of saints” as we call it in our creed, and to which we belong with those who have gone before us and have dared everything for the sake of this one true thing—that Jesus died on the cross for us that they and we might have eternal life because of it.                               Amen.

 

 The day right after All Saints Day is All Souls Day when we think about and celebrate the lives of our family and friends who have gone before us. So today when you come to communion, remember those people and if you wish, remain kneeling here a bit longer and speak their names out loud or in your heart while you thank them for the ways they helped your faith in Christ.

Minutes of Bishop's Committee Meeting April 2018

Minutes of the Bishop’s Committee Meeting  April 8, 2018
 
Present were: Amy Heimerl, Marla Van Wie, Sandra Blizzard, Jenny McKinney, Bill Pittman and Deacon Linda Schmidt.
 
We opened with prayer.
 The minutes of the last meeting were read and approved.

Continuing Business:

A. Spring Cleaning Day: April 29, 2018 after Church. Please plan to attend.
B. Youth News—AYM coming to a close 1. One session left: April 18 (Pizza and practice for the Youth Celebration Sunday) 2. Youth Celebration Sunday April 22, 2018 @10:00 3. Potential Summer Fun Day at Purpora’s July 14
 C. Service time change. It was decided by vote that our service time be changed to 10:30 am beginning the first Sunday in May. We will need to change the sign out front. This is a trial and will be visited again if problems appear.
 D. There was a conversation about offering a weekday “connection”. Perhaps it might be saying Compline by candlelight after AYM.  
 E. Deacon Linda informed the committee that Father Ken Guy will no longer be a supply at Ascension as he wants to retire again. Fr. has helped Ascension with his time and beautiful words, his expertise and advice for 10 years beyond his first retirement! He is now wanting to attend church instead of doing church and we can all understand that. We thank him greatly and will miss him immensely.     We will now be looking for someone else to come once a month as we can only have Communion from the Reserved Sacrament twice a month. Amy will talk to the Bishop for suggestions to move forward.
 F.  There was a discussion about the prayer ministry that we are embarking upon. There is an old, but beautiful tabernacle in the basement and we are wondering if it can be re-purposed as a prayer box outside of the church. Amy will talk to the Bishop for that also. We will be gathering a “prayer group” together which will meet regularly to pray for what ever is asked. We will also offer prayer to anyone who is in need of any sort during our rummage sale in June.   
 
Upcoming Dates and Events to be aware of:
 
1.  The Executive Council will be meeting at Ascension on Thursday, June 7th from 10:00 to 2:00. We will need to provide lunch, etc. Deacon Linda, Ellin, Joe and Sandra volunteered to help set that up.
 2. The Spring Conference will be held on April 28th in Appleton. Anyone can go. If you want to go, you will need to register soon. It will begin at 8:30 and end at 3:00.
 3. Our annual rummage sale in Friday June 1st from 3-7and Saturday June 2nd 8-4.
4. Eucharistic Festival: Cathedral in Fond du Lac Saturday, June 30th at 11:00am. There will be a commissioning of General Convention Deputies including Amy who will attend the Convention in Austin TX from July 3rd to the 14th.                                                                        5. Summer Camp: (Scholarships available)  Kindercamp: June 29-July 1: ages 4-7 with a parent or adult family member ; Senior Camp: June 17-23 for those who have completed grades 9-12 ; Middler Camp-June 24-29 for those who have completed grades 6-8 ; Junior Camp-June 24-29 for those who have completed grades 2-5
 6. Out door worship service: August 19, 2018 at 10:45am. Deacon Linda made reservations.
 7. Breaking Bread 2018 is November 15th. This is a whole parish event including kids.    
 

Treasurer’s Report: We paid off the loan for our addition! All else is satisfactory.   
 
Closing Prayer was offered by Deacon Linda.
 
Next meeting: Sunday May 20th at 8:45am.
 
List of Building Issues still to be addressed: -The windows in the belfry—estimate from Eric Heimerl $2,500.00. Clear glass vinyl double hung. -Windows in basement?? Estimate from Eric $2,500.00 for 5 windows and vinyl awning. -Cedar Shakes-replace—need estimate    -Masonry cross  -The basement door/landing—steel door -Yard work/trees growing out of window wells

Deacon Linda's Message, 5th Sunday in Lent 2017

“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

 Whenever I read this gospel, I can feel the anxiousness of Mary and Martha. I too, just want Jesus to get there. I want Him to touch Lazarus before it’s too late—even though I know the rest of the story! But I guess I so identify with the worried state of Martha and Mary that in this circumstance, I find it difficult to accept Jesus’ decision.

Martha, Mary and Lazarus were good friends with Jesus. They supported His ministry; they traveled with Him at times and opened their house to Him when He was in the area. More important than all of that, they saw what He did and they knew His power. They knew He could and would heal a sick person, even if they were a complete stranger. Surely He would rush to the aid of his dear friend.

So they waited. Hours passed, then days and then even more days and of coarse, Lazarus died. In fact, by the time Jesus finally arrived, Lazarus had been dead for 4 days. This is significant because in that culture, it was believed that a dead person’s spirit hung around for three days. The term “four days” was shorthand for “the situation is now, hopeless”.

Disappointment is too weak a word to describe the state of mind of Martha and Mary. Devastated is more like it. The first thing the two sisters each said to Jesus when He arrived was “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We can be sure that some of the tears that Martha and Mary shed were tainted with anger and frustration at the seeming neglect of Jesus to deal with their emergency.

We have all felt what they were feeling. We have all struggled with the “if-only’s”. We would love to go back and have a re-do. Or at the least we want to know the answers. Why did God permit this to happen? Where was He when we or our loved one needed Him most? Could there have been a different outcome? We also may be angry. And it is OK to be afraid, to mourn, to cry and it is even OK to be angry. It is not disbelief that causes these emotions—in fact they come from our belief that God could or would rescue us. If anyone knew the big picture, it was Jesus and yet grief consumed even Him. Jesus wept. Our Lord felt sorrow. He has wept at loss. And He understands anger. We won’t be judged for having those kind of feelings. When God weeps, His grace abounds in us.

But we can’t help it. We want Jesus in the “right now” of our lives. Martha and Mary and even Lazarus felt, I imagine, alone and abandoned—left to cope with this tragedy without the support of their best friend. They felt that way—but was that really the case? As we read the story, we find that Jesus was really with them in thought the entire time. When God watches, when He is aware of our trouble, He is there, He is with us. And when God is with us, His very presence blesses our suffering. We are not alone. Whatever our trouble, God is nearby. If we are facing illness or uncertainty or debt or marital struggles—if we are in grief or fear or worry or loneliness, Christ is with us—Christ has His eye on us.

We were never promised that life would be a breeze but that God will be with us no matter what we face—right here, right now, today, tomorrow, next week. He is here and He knows what we need.

Some centuries ago, a Christian woman, Julian of Norwich, put it this way: “God said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted’, but God said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’”

Yes, we would like action. Just as Mary and Martha were frustrated that Jesus didn’t show up in time, likewise, we would like things to happen now. It is only human to make plans and to hope they will occur in a timely manner. It is only human to think that our plan is the best plan. But, that turned out not to be true for Mary & Martha. Our plan is not the only plan out there—God has a plan for us too. And we are at our best when we simply let Him handle the situation. His plan is the best plan. His plan is what will really work for us.

And God has a plan for glory that is bigger than any of us can imagine. His plan is to raise us up when our hope is lost, when our courage fails, when life comes down hard on us. What we are experiencing is not the end. There is much more to come—and we will see God’s glory in it.

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was showing us the truth. There is a heaven, and we will be with Him there. He does have the power to raise us from this life on earth to the new life in heaven.

What appears impossible to the human mind is possible with God. It is what Martha and Mary and Lazarus soon discovered.

Trust Him with whatever your burden is and ask Him for help. He is your strength and your direction; He will bring light to your darkness. And He will breathe on you as He gives you life in Him. It is the breath of the Spirit that He gave to the first human in the garden; and to the dry bones in the valley of Ezekiel and the long dead body of Lazarus. It is the breath that was breathed into Jesus crucified, lifting Him to resurrection life. It is the breath of the Spirit that comes into us at Baptism and Confirmation and any time that we ask for His nearer presence. Paul spoke of it in our reading from Romans.

It is difficult for us to be patient and to focus on the glory ahead. We live in the now. Even Martha who spoke her belief to Jesus, who had seen His miracles and believed solidly in life beyond, still was reluctant to move that stone from Lazarus’s grave. Jesus had to remind her to believe.

By waiting until the time was right, Jesus was able to lift up all who were present at that gravesite and to empower them—as Jesus says “so that you may believe”. And it becomes a certainty when He appears to His disciples in His own resurrection. Jesus says “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.” We can put our trust in Christ in all things.

We can put our hand in His hand. We can be sure that His promises are true. God has sent our Lord Jesus to be our Savior, that we may live forever.

Amen.

Readings for today:     Ezekiel 37:1-14     Psalm 130         Romans 8:6-11       John 11:1-45

 

Meet the Bishop!

On Sunday, April 9th, 2017 Bishop Matthew Gunter will be joining the congregation at Ascension Episcopal Church for 10:00 services.  Join us to celebrate his visit, as well as the  confirmations he will preside over.  

Want to know more about Bishop Gunter?  Here is a link to his blog, An Odd Work of Grace and to the Diocese of Fond du Lac's YouTube channel, where you can hear him speak about challenges in today's church: DIOFDL