The Reverend Jan LaVake began her call as our new pastor on June 15, 2015. Pastor Jan served her first call in a church in northern Illinois and attended seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Her undergraduate degree is in Nursing from the University of Michigan. She worked in the field of cardiac heart rhythm disturbances for 28 years before leaving her work to complete seminary internship and her final semester.
She’s lived all over the Midwest, in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota and knows that one of the blessings of being called to Our Savior’s is that she’ll be closer to some of her family in Milwaukee—her brother and family and her son and his family.
One blessing since moving to Oshkosh is that she met, and married, Jeff! He teaches at UWO and they share a home with his youngest son in Neenah.
Pr. Jan has a particular love for ministry to children, confirmation age students, young adults, adults and senior citizens. They’re her favorite. She especially enjoys preaching, leading worship, Bible study, visiting with folks, talking about faith, drinking coffee, and serving God while serving others.
She is enjoying meeting the members of the faith community and seeing what God has in store for us all, together!
On being Matthew 25 people
Let me say this right away. This story in Matthew 25:31-46 is a parable.
A story that Jesus created to teach something to his followers…then…and now.
I want to say this as well….
that though you may have experienced pastors and people trying to scare, or shame, you into doing something to make yourselves right with God…
We are loved. And God’s Love came to earth as Jesus…to show us that love.
We are made right with Jesus by our faith…that is, by our trust in God.
We are saved by Grace through Faith…not by works.
This is the promise. This is God’s word for us.
Let me say this as well. When Jesus was asked what were the two greatest commandments; the two greatest rules, do you remember what he said?
Yes, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your strength…
And the second is much like it…
You are to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
We often say here that that is Jesus’ only rule: The rule of Love.
And, finally, let me say this.
We believe that when Jesus ascended to heaven,
he did not leave humans alone on earth.
He told us that when he would go, God would send…the Comforter, the Advocate….the Holy Spirit…who would always be with us. All of us.
God is present in our lives…now…and always.
So, with all that said, what was Jesus teaching in this parable?
to those who heard the parable from his own lips, and us?
It would be, it is so easy
to hear this parable as a story of judgment and condemnation.
To look at our own lives and think….we are not doing enough…we are failing…
We are not ‘good’ Christians. We are already judged and have been found..wanting.
But that is not what the story says.
Let’s look at it again.
It is at the end of time and Jesus is there, on his glorious throne.
The nations…all people…are also there. In front of Jesus.
And Jesus has gathered his people, all people,
because he has drawn all people to himself
in his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
And, then he separates his people,
but not in the way you might think.
Not according to whether or not they helped the people in need.
Because neither group of people….
Not the sheep nor the goats as he calls them….
Neither group has seen Jesus in people in need. Neither one.
Oh, the sheep have done the right thing,
And the goats have failed to do the right thing.
But neither did so because they knew Jesus was present in the people in need!
The sheep have done something else.
They have trusted Jesus and followed Jesus .
They have a relationship with God through Christ.
They have faith: they trust their shepherd.
Jesus tells the story
and makes the point that doing the right thing isn’t what saves you…
because even people of faith help the least
and don’t know that Jesus is present in them, too.
Doing the wrong thing and not seeing Jesus in the least
isn’t what separates the goats from Jesus.
Failing to trust.
Failing to follow Jesus in faith is what, at the end,
will move Jesus to separate the goats from the fullness of eternal life.
Just so we’re clear.
The lesson is about trusting God.
About using the faith we’ve been given to trust in God’s love,
forgiveness and mercy and Grace.
What you are reading here is the first in a series of sermons that I wrote on being Matthew 25 people
I think it’s important that we not mix up what Jesus said about being his disciples and what it is that makes us right with God, what saves us.
Because these are two separate things.
We talk about being followers of Christ,
On being Matthew 25 people because ….
of those two most important commandments….
The only rule that Jesus has
The rule of Love.
Because…commandments are about living life in community; about being dwellers in the earth.
Love is something that you do.
Loving God, loving neighbor….
this parable tells us that we when we love through actions to others…
we also love Jesus.
The parable says four times what loving actions might look like.
I was hungry and you gave me food
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink
I was a stranger and you welcomed me
I was naked and you gave me clothing
I was sick and you took care of me
I was in prison and you visited me.
And both the ones who trusted and the ones who didn’t said,
Whoa, Jesus! When did we see you…any of these ways?
His answer, both times, stirs us deeply and opens our eyes.
I like how Eugene Peterson puts it.
instead of saying ‘the least of these’, he says:
When you did (or did not do) one of these things
To someone overlooked or ignored
You did (or did not do) it to me.
Being Matthew 25 people, I think,
is to pray to have our eyes opened
It is to pray that we might not ignore a person who is hungry, or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or imprisoned by not seeing them, by not noticing them–
It is to pray that we might not overlook the need in our neighbor.
And, if we do, it is not to lose all hope and conclude that we are goats,
who have failed and will be judged unacceptable.
For one thing, this parable is descriptive, not prescriptive.
It encourages us to see, notice, try, serve, love and keep doing so for the
whole of our lives.
Because Matthew 25 people understand that it is Jesus who makes us right with God.
As the author, Fr Robert Capon says:
…Jesus is the Love that will not let us go. Trust him now!
And it is that trust that we pray will allow us to see the needs of our neighbors;
Those who are overlooked or ignored
And to help as we are able
and to reflect the Love of Christ…
Because Love is something that followers of Jesus do
To follow the rule of Love.
Thanks be to God! Amen
Last Sunday I went to something completely different for me. The 8th Day Project is an alternative worshipping community in Oshkosh. It meets a few times a month in a bar. I’ve worshipped with them in the past. But this time, there was going to be something called a ‘Mumford Mass’. Now, musically, I’m stuck in the 1970’s, so I didn’t actually know that the Mumford part of the mass was the music of a group called Mumford and Sons .
I was blown away.
The music and the lyrics blew me away.
And, especially, the prayers of intercession grabbed me and moved me to tears.
I’m used to…well….Lutheran prayers. The pray-er says, Lord in your mercy,
and the people respond…Hear our prayer.
But this night, oh, this night….each petition ended—
Say something, Say Something…..
And we responded…..Something like…You love me.
It was the most heartfelt prayer I’ve participated in for a very long time.
It turns out,
the words come from one of the Mumford and Sons songs called ‘Believe’.
The words came straight from the heart of the folks assembled.
I am still praying them, asking God….
Say something, Lord, say something like ‘You love me’….in a language I can hear, in words I understand.
And, praying this….God is answering…in the faces and voices and words of the people I see every day.
Thanks be to God!
We have a new secretary. She’s looking at the website. And she asks me…how often does that blog get updated?
I think this speaks to that part of me that worries about what has gotten lost in the hurriedness of life; what things are so quiet that they don’t clamor for my attention and I forget.
Yeah. I forget. I forgot. I say this, in the spirit of Lenten discipline, confession, asking for forgiveness and resolving to be more mindful.
I do forget sometimes.
We all do. And because we’re made differently, we forget different things.
All the while hoping that we don’t hurt anyone in our forgetting. All the while praying that we haven’t done permanent harm…to relationships, to communities, to other people who count on us.
Now I’m no longer talking about a blog on the church’s website but about the things that we…that I…have failed to do. The things that I am asking you to forgive, if I have forgotten to do something I promised, or let you down if I failed to do something important to you.
I am reminded that it would be a very good idea for me (and perhaps for you as well) to begin my day praying….Lord, show me what I should do today. Guide my thoughts, my plans, and my actions. Nudge me to remember what I have promised and the people to whom I have promised them.
Finally, I remember the song we are singing each Sunday here as we bring our little pieces of purple paper with our sins and confessions on them up to the rough wooden cross…Jesus, remember me.
I am sorry. I will work to remember this piece of writing. I do ask your forgiveness and hope that you will also remind me…with love.
Jesus came for every one of us.
A Maundy Thursday reflection on John 13
I’ve been a pastor for 7 years now, and so this is the 7th time that I’ve gotten to offer a reflection on this story.
It is, as so many of the stories in the Bible are, my favorite.
It’s a story that I wish we knew better.
That is, that we remembered better.
That is, that we lived by.
It’s a story that I wish all Christians had to imprint on their hearts
Especially when they, or now I had better say we,
when we get tempted to draw lines,
putting some people on the wrong side of the line, and others on the right side…
and when we are tempted to judge that some people have fallen short.
Let’s see what we can do to memorize the truth of the story tonight..
It’s a Passover meal. Jesus gathers at night, with his friends.
(Gesture to them all). Like we’re doing.
The Passover meal the night before he would be handed over.
The Last night together .
The end of their time …at least the time where they could be together to share a meal, words, the joy of their teacher, this closeness.
The writer tells us that Jesus…having loved the ones
who were his in this world…
including the ones who were gathered with him to share this meal…
Having loved them
He loved them to the end.
All of them. He loved them to the end.
The disciples who kept falling asleep in the garden when he asked them to keep watch.
The disciples who argued about which one of them would be at Jesus’ right hand in heaven.
The disciples who scattered after his arrest.
Peter, who despite identifying him as the Messiah, would deny that he even knew him….three times
Judas. The One who would hand him over to be crucified.
That is the story that we need to remember and memorize
and use to frame the whole of our lives.
The story that needs to shape how we live in faith.
We are all loved.
The ones with great faith, great works, kindness, helpfulness, strength,
and service to others
And the ones who fall short.
Who are less than,
whose lives of faith come in fits and starts,
who forget to pray, forget to read the Bible,
don’t always come to worship,
Who sometimes forget to be kind.
The ones who have lied or cheated.
The ones who worry about the future, and health, and money and safety.
The ones Jesus came for are: all of these
and Jesus loved, loves them…us…to the end.
To the end of his earthly life, and,
we are promised ,
to the end of all time.
This is a story of the purest Grace we could ever know.
Love that is unconditional and broad, generous and tender and kind.
This shapes Christian faith
and it is the story that could be told more.
I’ve half a mind to read it every Sunday for a month.
It’s a story of truth that is meant to be believed.
We are asked to find the truth and the good news of Jesus in all of Scripture—
In this story, the good news is the truth of who are the ones he loved….
and the commandment that he gave to them, to us, on that last night.
It sounds completely impossible at first.
Love each other as Jesus loves us?
We’re not so good at unconditional love.
We’re not like Jesus.
We get mad. Hold grudges. Get hurt. Confused. Mixed up. Want revenge.
Love like that?
We can’t, can we?
Well, the good news is that we can’t do that alone, by ourselves,
by our own strength or resolve or goodness….
Jesus give us his example and the way to practice.
Love as I do.
I love, so you can do it as I do.
I love you all,
And I am giving you the example of loving even, and maybe even especially,
because this kind of love…..talks.
It takes on a life of its own.
It is authentic. Real, Visible. Honest.
It’s the only thing that tells other people that you are mine…
it’s the only thing that speaks the truth out in this world.
My followers practice love.
Not exclusion. Not judgment. Not grudge holding and revenge.
Not line-drawing and door closing.
The thing is, Jesus says, my love changes people.
It brings love out of hate. Hope out of fear. Promise out of despair.
Kindness out of self-interest.
It brings you together, not drives you apart.
It’s the last thing I’ll ever ask of you…to love one another just as I have loved you…
that is…my loving you all the while knowing that you’ll make mistakes
knowing that you will all at some time fail, screw up, bumble, stumble and forget.
I love you in and through all that.
Try to Love each other that way, too.
So that being a Christ-follower stands for loving people
not drawing lines and excluding people.
Yeah, this is my favorite story.
The one I pray God will imprint on my heart.
The one I pray I could learn to live as if it were true;
as if I trusted Jesus to give me what I need to love like that.
Some of the time I get it.
And, when I don’t, Jesus loves me to the end, as he promised.
He loved his own.
He shared the meal with them all.
Just like we get to do tonight, imagining what it was like.
A meal made and shared with love.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
1-1-16 Every day is a New Year's Day with God!
Every year, in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, folks ponder whether they could, or should, or will make New Year’s Resolutions. Or, maybe think, regretfully, of the resolutions they made a year earlier, and weren’t able to keep. Many of such resolutions are for very good things—better health, better balance of work and rest, and even better relationships. It’s that last one that I want to talk about with you all: Our relationships with God.
What I love about God is that every single day is New Year’s Day.
Every single day gives us the opportunity to start anew…to draw closer to the One who loves us unconditionally. Who gives us second, third, and infinite chances. Who never asks, ‘Where have you been?’ when we show up, but always says, “I love you. You are mine”
Every single day, here is Jesus, Emmanuel—Godiswithus– with his arms out wide; loving us, forgiving us, inviting us into conversation. Loving us. Did I mention loving us?
This is not a guilt trip. This is not a ‘should.’ This is a gift. This is a blessing. This is God’s love: life-giving, and life-strengthening and life-fulfilling.
However it happens—Conversations, prayer, reading scripture or poetry, or singing or talking with people of faith, family,friends, neighbors,or strangers. Every day, God is there, giving us opportunity and loving us no matter what.
I know a pastor in Oregon, John W. Stevens, who writes haiku poems as prayers. Often, I find that his poems invite me into prayer. I’d like to share a quartet of them that he calls ‘Reminders.’
Remind me again
about how much you love me.
Wrap me in your Grace.
Remind me again
how nothing can separate
me from your love, God.
Remind me again
how even when I mess up,
You still love me, God.
Remind me again
that your free Grace is for real.
Let your Grace soak deep.
Let’s call it ‘this new day’ instead, and lean deep into God’s grace and love, ok? Pr. Jan
Ash Wednesday 2-10-16
This is a true story
A little child
Coming into the sanctuary at Mt Zion Church in Wauwatosa WI with his mom…
like some folks here,
was to remember their baptisms at the font when they came in.
But this child knew that this night was special…
had explained about Pastor had burned the palm branches
from last year’s Palm Sunday
and that she would be making a cross on his forehead with those ashes…
like this (demonstrate) ….
and how the cross was about Jesus…
and that we would be thinking about it for a while…
he was too young for Lenten discipline talk…
but she told him a little about Lent anyway…
And the little one asked
Do the ashes go under or over the cross we make when we dip our fingers in the water?
(the water in the baptismal font)
Under? or Over?
And incredibly profound!
So, what do these crosses on our foreheads mean?
I love this story.
And, I think about a third aspect to it that the little boy and his mom did not think of….
Because there is another cross on our foreheads…
One that is always there…
The one the pastor traced with oil when he or she speaks hese words at our baptisms:
Child of God
You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ
That mark…that cross…that seal…it is there still…it will always be there.
My first Ash Wednesday as a pastor in Illinois.
Nora, my daughter, who was 15 at the time,
was sitting close to the front; and so got her ashes early.
She watched, carefully, I think…though I wasn’t paying much attention to her….
Instead….I was looking carefully into each face of each person that came up….
speaking the words…
Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
I was also remembering my own pastor, the one who helped me identify my call.
I said the words, but I heard his voice…saw his face…
saw the glimmer of tears in his eyes.
(I usually email him every year after Ash Wednesday and tell him that same thing over and over!)
Anyway, I didn’t look at Nora again until….until the little girl came up…
Sweet, and innocent…loving…with a heart as big as the outdoors.
I put my hand to the ashes….my heart crying out…..
Oh, God….this child? Sin?
Tears welling up.
I carefully traced the cross on her smooth rosy forehead
and blinked back my tears….
when my eyes fell on Nora…who was sobbing her heart out.
Later, at home, we talked.
Mom? She asked. Really? That little girl has sinned? She needed the ashes?
Well, part of our conversation was about theology…
and how we teach that sin is anything that separates us from God….
and that we all do this…
we all turn away at times and feel like we are separated or that we have allowed things to divert our focus from God.
We are sinners…
but we are also made saints in our baptisms, by our faith,
by what God has done, in grace and love, in forgiving us.
And that part of this marking of the cross of ashes
has to do with remembering that God created humans from the dust of the earth…
and that we are God’s own creation….
we belong to God…always and ever
and we are–loved, forgiven, blessed, loved, forgiven, blessed.
We come to worship on Ash Wednesday out of love for God…
We come…we return to God…with all our hearts…
we turn away from the things that have distracted us and come between us and our focus on God.
The prophet Joel put it like this :
Return to the Lord with all your heart….
And Matthew reminds us that where our treasures are…there will our hearts be also.
We come tonight…as those who are returning…
turning back to the God who has never left us, who has not turned away,
who has marked us with the cross of Christ forever.
We come, humbly, and pray for the faith of a child…
not unlike the children in my stories….
who came forward to be marked and reminded that they are God’s children.
We come, even if we don’t understand it all completely…who could?….
in obedience and love and gratitude for God’s undeserved grace.
We come to begin Lent…a journey in a way…a journey of the heart…
where we remember, and are remembered.
longing to hear about God’s grace and forgiveness and love.
We long to know this grace and forgiveness and love
in a way that we can see and hear and feel and touch…and taste…
in the bread and the wine.
And dear friends, sisters and brothers in Christ—we will.
We receive it tonight, tomorrow, and each and every day of our lives.
Thanks be to God.