by Pastor Bernt

We’ve been in that Fall planning phase, figuring out class schedules, music lessons and getting kids to college. I also looked ahead at the scripture readings we’ll be hearing this Fall on Sundays. What might God be saying to us, in our busyness?

A common theme in the readings is God’s loving regard for people who are otherwise looked down on or neglected – in other words, God’s grace. Some examples:

  • (September 10): Jesus says we’re to confront wrongdoers, not to expel them, but to regain them as companions.
  • (September 17): Jesus commends the forgiveness of debt as a reflection of God’s mercy.
  • (September 24): God’s generosity, says Jesus, is like day laborers who work a half day getting paid just as much as those who worked a full day.

To say “all people deserve love and support” sounds obvious. But in our society, there’s not much grace: wrongs just aren’t easily let go of. Debts crush without relief. In our “meritocracy” there’s not much generosity; many people will never catch up.  Even those deemed successful may doubt their own worth. We need mercy.  We need to belong. With Paul, we need to find out that “Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (October 10 reading)

So, at Christ’s invitation, we gather. Rally Day, the beginning of Fall programming, is September 10. There are ordinary reasons to come to church, like, I don’t have other important things going on, or I agreed to host coffee, or I agreed to be pastor. 🙂 But ultimately, we come for grace. It’s good to remember what church is for: that we would experience God’s loving regard for all people, and show that love to others.

And it’s fitting that we gather on Sunday, because on that day Christ was raised from total human shame to glory, from lost cause to new found hope, from death to life. Grace isn’t just a commendable attitude; it’s the actual future God is making real. Because Christ was raised, Sunday, the first day of the week, is also the first day of new creation, always for us a new beginning

How have we experienced this grace and hope? Maybe just when we feel glad to be together. I also think of the gracious warmth in which you both welcome and share musical gifts, whether vocal or instrumental. And how you feast: on a recent Sunday, a refugee we know shared the Venezuelan food she hopes to be able to sell in our area as she did back home. We got to try and express our loving regard for her and the food she makes. All Sundays are Feast Days, anticipating God’s great, final banquet of joy not just for the inside few, but all people (in the readings, October 15).

The Festival of All Saints (November 4) will be the culmination of Fall worship (and a turning point towards Advent). Having heard the Book of Revelation set to music with Don Knuth’s Fantasia Apocalyptica (October 20-21) and a pledge invitation based on Revelation 22, we’ll gather that Sunday to hear from Revelation 7. That text promises victory for people who are lost causes, looked down on and helpless, crushed by injustice and put to shame:

“the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
  the sun will not strike them,
  nor any scorching heat;
 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
  and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
 and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Image above:

View near Rouen, Richard Parkes Bonington, British ca. 1825

In the news I’ve seen various numbers: that nationally, 25% or 30% or even 40% of those who attended church before the pandemic, aren’t really back.  We’re glad so many FLC people and new members have shown up and even brought new energy.  But some people have moved or have other changes in life circumstances that challenge their schedule.  And we all probably have a different mindset now than we had a few years ago; different habits and patterns of life.

I’ve been thinking about our local Philz Coffee.  Before the pandemic, that’s where you could find me on any Saturday morning when I was on for the next day’s sermon.  I’d feel “off” if I had to break this routine.  I looked forward to seeing Karen Nelson and her husband Paul, as they would inevitably show up and stop by to chat for a minute (they’ve since moved back to Canada).  But during the pandemic I stopped hanging out in public, indoor places.  And as of yet, I still haven’t been back to Philz.  It’s not really because of Covid.  It’s more like I got used to life without coffee shops, and just haven’t gotten around to it yet.  

I’m curious if others feel similarly about certain places or habits, even church? Our theme for the year has been Sunday as “First Day.”  It’s a simple idea: we’re celebrating the bedrock thing we do as Christians – we do Sundays.  We worship, we feast.  But on an even more basic level, Sunday is about coming together.  Just assembling, being present, connecting – in person and online- may be more important than we know.  Lately it seems like a lot is being said about how loneliness and isolation are growing problems in American life, for teens, the elderly, and many others.  “Church” as such (from the Greek ekklesia, meaning “assembly”) can be a needed gift.  

In this time between Christmas and Lent, the readings in worship are about assembling.  A bunch of sinners gather at the river to repent and be baptized, and the sinless Messiah – who you’d think would have better things to do – still shows up to join them. He then starts assembling people around him.  They ask “where are you staying? He says “come and see.” To a people split by exile, broken by conquest he says “follow me.” Paul will say that the community itself is the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3) and the very body of Christ (1 Cor 11-13), each person not just valuable but essential for the whole to be what it is.

Not that we’re always going to want to show up.  But as I tell the kids, “you don’t know how much people appreciate your being there,” even wearing those cruddy shoes and acting slightly annoying.  The message is that each of us is a precious gift, let Sunday be a day to receive one another!

by Pastor Bernt


We’ve said a theme for our year together is “First Day,” with a focus on our Sunday experience together.  Jung Jin has organized new ways to get involved with music, such as ensembles (such as Isaac & Dolly’s recent violin duet) and a monthly pickup choir (“Day by Day” was wonderful!).  In September, a lively group met on our beautiful front patio to do some planning around Sunday children and intergenerational activities.  You’ve probably already read about some of these plans, such as: Beth is involving kids in ringing the bells, Margaret is organizing dramatized scripture readings, Sonia T. met kids after worship to talk about church and life in Jamaica, Wendy will lead an ornament-making activity, Carol and the Willrichs and others are organizing a Sunday lunch and presentation on the Children’s Health Council.  And the list goes on – updates will be on the website.  Fresh new day, “first day” energy! 

Not that the goal is to make Sundays super busy.  What is Sunday about?  Consider the traditional “Sunday theme prayer” the pastors say or chant each week: “It is indeed right, our duty and our joy that we should at all times (not JUST on Sunday) and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God, through our Savior Jesus Christ; (NOW the Sunday part): who on this day overcame death and the grave, and by his glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life.” 

This prayer is the preface to Communion: a meal – a feast – which Christ hosts.  So: to say Sunday  is a “feast day” isn’t just to say it’s celebratory in some general way.  In everything Christ says and does, he’s the host sharing extravagantly with his guests.  What Christ shares at this feast is life: his own life and presence (John 14:6, 17:3), everlasting life and a future (John 3:16, 11:25), and life richly abundant (John 10:10, or John 2: turning water into fine wine at a wedding feast). The purpose of Sunday is to enjoy and share this feast, these gifts: the presence of God, hope for the future, and the fine wine of life. 

At a Council meeting we read about how the first Christians (Acts 2:42-47), upon receiving the Holy Spirit, were all about sharing (that’s what “communion” means): shared meals, prayers, teaching, gladness, need, possessions, time together. I like how it’s put in this Salvadoran song: 

Let us now go to the banquet, to the feast of the universe. The table’s set and a place is waiting; come, ev’ryone, with your gifts to share. I will rise in the early morning; the community is waiting for me. With a spring in my step I’m walking with my friends and my family … 

Come everyone, with your gifts to share: the gifts we bring on Sunday – whether music, muffins, money, a lesson for kids, a craft to do, a word of encouragement, or just our presence – all we offer as part of Christ’s banquet, this weekly festival.

So what’s next with the First Day Theme?

  • Holy Communion (Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist) is at the center of our Sunday.  We’d like to engage a few people in planning how we set up and offer this meal in this post(?) pandemic time (common cup? Sacristans? Old traditions?  New ones?).
  • Online Next Steps: It looks like we’ve finally found some audio / visual specialists to help us with a more permanent online worship setup.  We may ask for contributions.   This would likely involve moving all the gear into the balcony, using cameras that can view the whole sanctuary, and various other updates and fixes.   Questions are raised: what do we want online worship to be like going forward?

Questions and insights always welcome.  More information about these next steps will come soon. – Pastor Bernt


A sermon by Pastor Bernt

August 21, 2022 – On Luke 13:10-17

Sabbath is connected to Exodus: the Jews were enslaved to the Pharoah; he made them work harder and harder. But God released the slaves. And God gave them a commandment: the seventh day of each week would be an “anti-slavery” day; a day of rest: Sabbath. And not just rest for you, but rest for your servants, your animals – even, at times, the land itself.

There would be lots of related laws, even including release from the slavery of financial debt. But basically the Sabbath was at least one day a week when everything could be different – and God wanted for us freedom from bondage, equality, rest and delight – always.

The rules were important. When there’s urgent work to do, employers may not give time off unless they have to. Or, cancel debt. But Sabbath wasn’t about the rules so much as the remembering: we were slaves, now we’re not! Let’s celebrate! The rules aren’t intended to constrict, but to set free. The Sabbath should be a day that’s life-giving.

The controversy in today’s gospel is between to Jewish teachers. One – Jesus – heals a woman on the Sabbath. The other teacher objects: “Isn’t healing work? Is it allowed? Are we taking a day off here or not?” Jesus is saying: “She’s healed from bondage to an oppressive spirit. Isn’t being set free from slavery what this day is all about? Isn’t that what I’m all about – and God?”

When some of us were kids, everything was closed on Sundays – and not just the restaurant Chick-fil a, but movie theaters, clothing stores. It was in part a legacy from our Puritan past. They had some very strict sabbath laws: like having to spend all day in worship or bible study. To some people the word “sabbath” could mean: “Just, stop! Shut it down. Get serious.”

Isn’t that what some people think Christianity is all about? “Settle for a strict, dutiful, dull HALF-life now so that some day when you get to heaven you can spread your wings like an angel.”

But that’s wrong. Think of the woman Jesus heals: she’s bent over – living that half-life. I like to imagine her folded forward, her face against her shins, like some kind of odd toy. More compact, so she can be stored away and shipped off to heaven.

But Jesus won’t have it. He doesn’t want her to be half-alive, constricted. On the Sabbath, he unfolds her so she can stretch out, fully alive.

And what about us?

A theme we’re introducing this year is “First Day.” At the close of the Sabbath was the First Day of the week, a new day, when Christ was raised from the dead. The First Day – Sunday – is like the Christian version of the Jewish Sabbath. Kind of like how the Jews have Passover, and around the same time every year the Christians have Easter, which they used to actually just call “Passover.” Passover, Easter, related but different.

The First Day – also called the Lord’s Day – is like our Sabbath. Only, the Puritans made it a somber day. In the early church, the First Day was joyful – I’ll get to that.

When you hear “First Day” think “first in priority.” As in, “what are our priorities in how we spend our time?” Is that the best way to put it? Priority sounds like “what I’m supposed to do.” But it is about liberty: what am I permitted to do?

I could say: “you ought to prioritize going to church, first and foremost,” but it’s bigger than that. There are so many demands being made on your time. So many claims being made on your schedule, your attention. What kind of time do you want more of? What do you want permission to do? Aren’t we like the ox Jesus describes, tied up to the fence, just wanting to get over and get a sip of water?

What binds us? Maybe we’re expected to work too many hours? Or we have this inner compulsion to work hard, to achieve? We want that straight A life – especially for our kids. So we’re shuttling them around more than we’d like. Or we have addictions. Or we just stress – as a verb; I’m stressing but I can’t find much to do about it. My question is: can we, as siblings in Christ, find more ways to support each other in these struggles? Give each other permission, to put first priorities first? I’m not sure what that would look like.

And what about captivity to social media? Imagine hearing this gospel story as a contemporary account. “A woman bent over? She must be looking at her phone. She’s doom scrolling. Or she’s refreshing her inbox. I see people walking around like that all the time.” Not that smartphones are evil. But they’ve become a symbol for all that holds our attention captive – and a symbol for the business of Silicon Valley. But Jesus sees her. He sees this woman bent over and he says to her – as to us – “You are set free from your ailment.” Ok. Now what?
But imagine the story another way. The land is – under – occupation from Rome, It’s – under – oppression from the demonic powers. The woman is bent over because she’s – under- a heavy burden. The evil spirit is basically riding on her back. Who’s carrying the heaviest loads in our society? Probably not many of us. But people all around us – who are forced to work multiple jobs just to survive. People burdened under racism. People in the criminal justice system. The incarcerated.

And Jesus sees them. He sees the people folded over and says to them – as to us – be free from your ailment. Ok. Now what?

What are we freed for? What’s the First Day for? OUR Sabbath: Sunday – and, each new day?

We can explore together this year – but start with this one woman. She’s healed in the synagogue: that word just means “house of assembly.” She stands now as an equal in the assembly: she can see their faces; they can see hers. One First Day priority and permission is just to get together. Church means assembly. But I think also of home and the custom of family gatherings, Sunday dinners: “put your phone away at the table!” After a long Covid isolation, it’s good to be with people. For children to be with the elderly and all in between. We’re also challenged to find ways to meet those carrying the heaviest burdens, across social class and race and ethnicity.

So now – we hear that when this unfolded woman stands stands straight – she praises God. Take that word “praise.” The mood is celebratory. The First Day – Sunday – is a Feast Day.

Last year when we did adult classes on these topics, I was intrigued to learn that in the early church there was a law against kneeling for prayer on Sundays. You would kneel or even go prostrate on weekdays: in a spirit of penitence and humility. But Sunday was supposed to be a festive resurrection day. So you stood to pray and sing and all the rest – yes, even during Lent. One theologian said: “don’t show signs of anxiety or deference.”

How’s that for a First Day priority or permission? That we’re festive? Maybe that means wild dancing, or maybe just a happy nap. In the New Testament, when Christians gathered, it was about feasting. There was a sharing of food and gifts, including money, with people in need. There was gladness and beauty: music and other art, enjoyment of creation – in bread, wine and water. What kind of festivity do you crave? What about people in our society? Who do we want to share our company and food and gifts with?

Finally, when the healed woman sings praise – of course it’s praise directed towards God. A First Day priority is getting to spend time with God, hearing God’s word and responding in prayer.

I imagine the woman praising God for the presence of Jesus at the synagogue that day. But also praising God for the Sabbath itself: the gift of this special day from God, one whole day every single week that’s all about being redeemed, set free.

It makes me think about religion as a whole, what it’s about. What’s Christianity about, simply put? As I was saying before, maybe it’s not about living a half-life being shuttled toward heaven.

You might say Christianity is about the moral code. It’s an ethical, spiritual way of life.

You might say Christianity is about the message: “God loves you, unconditionally. Your sins are forgiven.” And getting that message across to people.

But you might also say, it’s about the gift of a day. In more ways than one. It’s the day promised to us. The prophets were always saying: “On that day … On that day” and they’d describe a day that would come when justice would be done and people saved.

It’s about the gift of a recurring festival day. People say “if only I had one extra day!” You’re busy all week but you’ve been given this one day: the First Day of the week, for meeting and feasting and worship. Here it is – it’s yours – take it! Enjoy!

And it’s about the gift of each new day, when we wake up, alive, yet again. Including this very day. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus often says “today. On this very day, salvation has come to your house.” When he began his ministry, he read from the prophet Isaiah: “Good news to the poor. Release to the captives. The oppressed go free. The year of the Lord’s favor.” And when he finished reading, Jesus said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” For you too. Thanks be to God.

Fall 2022 and beyond

A couple years ago, First Lutheran celebrated 100 years of ministry.  This year, staff and council are proposing we celebrate our first day.

It was on the first day of the week – in biblical time, Sunday – that the women discovered the empty tomb and met the risen Christ (Matthew 28:1). It was and is a new day unlike any seen before: a resurrection and a feast day, the dawn of new creation. 

So now- as early on – the basic thing Christians do is gather on Sunday, the First Day.  With busy schedules and long commutes, it’s our primary time together.  How can we make the most of it? At church as at home, what does it mean to receive this day as a gift and find new life in it?  Can it truly be for us a feast?  Sharing one another’s company, food, prayer, gifts, good news and all with gladness?

Beyond Sundays, what does it mean to be First Day people?  Liberated by the resurrection to live each day as our first?  

So let the people of First Lutheran be about the First Day, as a gift, a practice and a theme.  At this point, we’re thinking of two areas of focus:

  1. Let’s focus on the Sunday experience.  Since the pandemic, we’ve been slowly building new in-person experiences of learning, worship and fellowship – a work in progress.  What are we building towards? The First Day is a feast day.  It’s not about burdensome obligation or even solemn observance, but doing the following well: 
  • Assembling: across generations and diverse backgrounds
  • The gospel: claiming each and all as God’s beloved
  • Prayer: and praise in response to God
  • Sharing: of food, company, gifts
  • Joy: in the beauty of festivity, arts, creation.

2. Let’s support each other in a First Day approach to life:

  • The First Day is first in priority.  There are so many claims on our time, from work obligations to emails.  Are we – and other people in our society – finding time for what gives life? Like feasting, beauty and sharing in other First Day activities?
  • The First Day is a new day.  Early Christians compared it to the first day of creation, when God said “let there be light.” Despite ongoing problems and our fears of the future, we can be hopeful. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead … so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6)

More information will come soon …

Pastor Bernt