Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends!
I really don’t know the answer. I certainly have thought about the question for decades…and I wondered how the answer would positively impact the church…but truly, I still do not understand Denver’s fanatical love affair with the Broncos.
It was October, 1984. I was in the middle of my pastoral studies at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, STILL clinging to everything that reminded me of home. I remember the comfort I experienced in going to the Lutheran church I would attend in Dubuque regularly and seeing the green LBW hymnal in the pew rack. It was as though my home congregation, Atonement Lutheran Church, had Lewis and Clark back to the Midwest to find me lonely and needy in what seemed like a galaxy far, far away. Now on a Monday night in 1984, I sat by myself in Dubuque’s popular sports pub, clad in Bronco Orange and Blue amidst the Green and Yellow puke of outnumbering Green Bay Packer fans. At least this was before the gawdy and sad Cheesehead monstrosities Packer fans don even to this day. I arrived at the sports pub early to guarantee an exceptional seat in front of the big screen television (in 1984, not so big). I probably ordered my cheese curds as an appetizer in part to thwart off SOME inevitable Packer animosity. The Monday Night Football game between the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers was about to begin…and Denver, to the glee of our Colorado ski resorts, was avalanched in an epic blizzard.
Oh, it did not keep my brother Steve from going to the game! I would have been right alongside him had I been in Denver! Since 1960, the inception year of the Broncos, ALL Denver Bronco home games have been sold out! Mile High Stadium (what’s this Empower Field nonsense all about these days?), MILE HIGH STADIUM, seating 76,000 fans, had in attendance that whiteout-blizzard Monday Night Football game 62,000 crazed, Denver Bronco enthusiasts, half of whom chose to stay until halftime!
The game was truly over in the first minute of play! Before I could eat half of my cheese curds, defensive backs Louis Wright and Steve Foley had scooped up two Green Bay fumbles, scoring touchdowns on both. Barefoot kicker (did you get that?), BAREFOOT KICKER Rich Karlis added the extra points and Denver was ahead 14 to zero (below). Knowing I was trying to hold my own in Dubuque against dumbfounded Green Bay Packer, Lambeau frozen tundra-ites, my brother Steve held out for the duration, knowing that if he could get to the Barrel Man, there was a chance he could get on national television and make my being homesick tolerable for an evening.
To this day, when I hear Denver Bronco stalwart fans, painting their faces (no, their bodies) orange and blue, weathering the “slings and arrows” of the Raiders and now the Chiefs and the ups and downs of better and worse Broncos seasons, argue about whether they are the greatest of Bronco enthusiasts, I simply ask them, “Were you at the Green Bay game?”
But getting back to point… What is it that is so very, very captivating about the Denver Broncos that would cause seemingly mentally-stabled people to…live their lives AROUND the Broncos…to dress up like leprechauns and pom poms, arrive hours before games to tailgate (and stay hours thereafter to decompress) while spending bookoo bucks on Broncos brats and beers and braving Bronco blizzards?
How can the church bottle some of that Mile-High magic and make it work to care for Jesus as much as it works to care for John Elway? People who think nothing of dropping $20 for a burger and a beverage…and another $20 for a parking space and program…complain about the church always asking for money as they dropkick a couple of bucks in the offering plate. Heaven forbid if a church service goes 5 minutes over an hour when sports enthusiasts see overtime to an already 3-hour-event as exciting. Truly, what is it about the Broncos that makes it all or nothing?
I’m being serious. Perhaps the Church would do well to ask those in love with their teams to articulate why they commit so much time, energy and expense to their passion. What benefits are being enjoyed in rooting for our Broncos, or in down seasons (like the last few of ours), AGAINST the Patriots? Can some of the answers translate into making the Church a greater priority if not… a must?
I’m not suggesting that we build a billion-dollar Superdome like the one Jerry Jones built in Dallas. “If you build it, they will come,” may have worked for “Field of Dreams,” but I’m a bit skeptical of it working equally as well for the typical American church of the 21st Century. We could get 1000 people to show up at church on a Saturday for a “Meet and Greet Time” with Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning, but we all know that after the autographs and selfies, there is as much chance of the 1000 showing up for worship the next morning as there is the Detroit Lions ever getting to a Super Bowl.
Perhaps in this time of pandemic, when we have more downtime to do some serious critical thinking, we should wonder primarily about the reasons behind the phenomenal growth of the Church particularly in the first decades of Christianity. Even amidst severe persecution, Christianity flourished. Jesus message to disciples was a hard sell (“Take up your cross and follow. Lose your life to find it. Prioritize others over yourself.”), yet thousands embraced the faith. Thousands were martyred in the first centuries of the Church! Let us never forget that in certain places in the world today, brothers and sisters in Christ are being killed for vowing allegiance to the saints (not the New Orleans ones).
I will be visiting with Mary Lemke (Mom), our Music and Worship chairperson at Cross of Glory, about gradually introducing some new components to our worship service. I am reading a book these days on possible reasons why the church grew amazingly fast and faithful in its earliest centuries. Instead of trying to promote Church growth today with gimmicks, perhaps we need to get back to basics. It was said of legendary coach Vince Lombardi that upon taking over the woeful Green Bay Packers (there they are again, the poor pukes), that in his first season with his new team, his opening words to Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer and the like were, “Men, this is a football!” Maybe we need to embrace simplicity and sincerity all the more at Cross of Glory and invite others “out of the cold, out of the storm” into the “warmth and welcome” of our home-field advantage.
Do not worry. I will not be suggesting dramatic changes to our worship format without your encouraging voices and eventual Church Council approval. I am working hard on my Spanish however these days, particularly with the help of my Puerto Vallarta friend Jesus (yes, as many of you know, his name REALLY IS JESUS!) in ZOOM teaching sessions, in the hope of eventually introducing a Spanish-speaking component to our ministry at Cross of Glory. I welcome your input and your discipleships as we root for Jesus and the well-being of his team for a dynasty of years to come. I know Mary Lemke would really appreciate your involvement on her Music and Worship…team.
The Denver Broncos last week announced that for its first home game against the Tennessee Titans on Monday, September 14th, there will be no fans in the stadium. Just as professional football wonders about how to bring fans into stadiums the season, let us wonder about how to bring fans of Jesus into our own!
Thou shalt not Steelers…
Pastor Mike Lemke
Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to keep silent and a time to speak.”
Well, I’ve been silent long enough about it! I am bursting at the seams wanting to tell somebody! In this weird time of feeling the need to be cooped up, I sure could use the relief of a fun day at Elitch’s!
Oh, I’m not talking about the Elitch’s presently across the street from the Broncos stadium. I am talking about the REAL Elitch’s, the Elitch’s of my youth. Long-standing Denverites know what I’m talking about. Elitch’s, the real Elitch’s, used to reside at the intersection of 38th and Tennyson just to the east of Sheridan Boulevard. I spent so many of my summers in the park, laughing with friends while my parents probably laughed themselves! Little did I know that Elitch’s was not only an unparalleled amusement park, it probably, for my parents, was a great babysitter!
Not that the Mr. Twister roller coaster was for babies! Of the two roller coasters in the park, the Mr. Twister roller coaster was more imposing. Riders had about 15 seconds to decide whether they would throw their arms over their heads upon approaching the first scary, catch-your-stomach-in-your-throat, drop on the rails. I can still hear the click, click, click of the Mr. Twister roller coaster making its way up the steep, first hill before plunging into the abyss of its whirlwind ride. Remember the dark tunnel immediately after the first two imposing dips? It was there that you could grab the handlebars in front of you without your teenage friends knowing about it!
Oh, during this pandemic, I would like the relief and the innocence of the REAL Elitch’s.
I mentioned that there were two roller coasters at Elitch’s. Though Mr. Twister was considered more sinister, hands down, or should I say hands up (over your head?) the Wildcat roller coaster was by far the most fun. Just next to the kiddie merry-go-round near the back of the park, beyond the log ride (remember the bubble gum tree as you waited in line for the log ride?), the Wildcat was the roller coaster I rode all day long. ITS sharp turns were not as hard on my body as the turns of Mr. Twister. There were still the scary dips and the wind-blow-through-your-hair rushes of excitement, but the lines were not nearly as long, and truly, in my opinion, the view of the Denver Foothills and Rocky Mountains beyond, even more spectacular. Roller coaster enthusiasts know that the only place to REALLY ride a roller coaster is either in the first or the last cars. At times, my friends and I had to wait for the first and last cars, but I cannot recall that the wait was ever too terrible. If anything, waiting for the next ride in the best of roller coaster places, gave my friends and I more opportunity to talk excitedly about having lived through the ride before!
Not that I paid much attention to the beautiful Botanic Garden putt-putt course near the entrance of 38th and Tennyson, but as an older adult now, I KNOW I would indeed relish (hot dogs with ketchup, mustard and relish were musts on the day outings to Elitch’s), I KNOW I would relish simply sitting on one of the inviting, green park benches next to an Edward Scissorhands’ bush while now watching younger putt-putt players navigate the tricky windmill hole or the opening lion-mouth one. How I wish the real Elitch’s existed today! I suspect that my virus cares and concerns, or the heavier
burdens of life, responsibilities and decisions, would melt away under the hot August sun while taking a break from it all on those gondola-like things that hovered over Elitch’s fun.
Biblical scholars do not really know who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. In the pithy, Old Testament book, its opening verse attests some “Preacher” as writing its contents. Though I do not think of King Solomon primarily as a preacher, maybe so! It seems like those in the know ascribe Solomon authorship of the book.
And maybe for good reason! Solomon is particularly noted for his wisdom. If he wrote those verses about there being various times for every activity under heaven, his wisdom oozes like the syrup on a snow cone. The reality of course eventually realized in longer lives is that there will always be roller coaster ups and downs, sharp twists and turns, dark places and even getting drenched at the end of a ride. There will be long waits for better places and times and scary moments when it’s best to hang on for dear life.
But just about the time you figure you probably are at a loss, resigned to never landing that wooden circle over evasive pop bottles, you recognize the beauty and the marvel of the rides of life as well. The Colorado mountains will forever be majestic. Spending time, and laughter, with good friends soaked in wet t-shirts is a blessing. Giving Mom and Dad a break is not a bad idea. They always seem to be nicer after having some down-time themselves.
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” There are indeed the concerning times AND the celebratory ones. Together, with God’s help, with patience and trust in the inevitable cycles of worse things becoming better, we will get through this pandemic time with fun recollections about such.
Granted, it might not be as knock-your-socks-off fun as throwing your best girl around the dance floor at the Trocadero but who knows? Maybe by persisting, maybe by trusting, maybe by waiting, the best is yet to come! That girl OUTSIDE the Trocadero with the short brown hair and big scholarly-looking glasses just might someday be your wife!
God’s Peace and Joy!
Pastor Mike Lemke
You know the hymn, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” Remember the line, “All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.” Indeed! How fortunate we are… how graced… to call upon the Creator of the cosmos, the Redeemer of everything and the Sanctifier of it all in both better and more challenging times. We have deliberately attempted at Cross of Glory to prioritize prayer over the course of this last year. Every Sunday in our ZOOM broadcasts, we are asking all in worship attendance to share prayer requests. Each week, Pastor Mike is regularly sending email recipients prayer requests given to him by members and friends of our church. Telephone calls are being made to those in our parish who do not have computers. They too are “in the know” about both the joys and sorrows of each passing week. Please continue to share your prayer request with us at church! Prayer is privilege! Prayer is power! Prayer is promising! God (and the rest of us!) are awaiting your care/shares!
Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,
The year was 1955! At a drive-in movie theatre off the Santa Ana Freeway in Los Angeles, California, the Reverend Robert Schuller climbed atop the snack bar’s tar-paper roof, microphone in hand! Months before, he had paid for ads promoting A NEW WAY to attend church: “Come as you are… in the family car!” Schuller’s wife, Arvella, played an organ that the couple towed on a trailer behind their station wagon. Worshippers in a few dozen cars listened to the service that Sunday afternoon on drive-in speakers clamped to car windows as the likable, young preacher urged faith in God to meet the cares of the world. An offering was taken and counted: $83.75! Such was the humble and auspicious beginning of one of the world’s farthest-reaching ministries: The Crystal Cathedral and Robert Schuller’s television broadcast, “The Hour of Power.” Schuller was 29 years ago when he perched himself on the drive-in theatre’s snack bar.
At 61 years of age, I might have trouble carrying a ladder out of my garage let alone climbing it atop ANYTHING! Yet, maybe in this NEW NEW of COVID-19 impact, we may be challenged with “doing” church a bit differently. I am not opposed to the snack bar idea. As long as you help me get on top of our roof and throw me some Milk Duds every so often, I think we would be set (Dots my favorite movie candy would not be advisable. It would be impossible for me to preach with those amazingly delicious Dots candies “gluing” my mouth shut).
The year, once again, was 1955! Just down the road from Schuller’s movie-theatre, specifically Anaheim, Walt Disney opened his astounding theme park “Disneyland!” Disney would say over the years, “To think! All of this began with…a mouse!” Five years before, Disney began crafting his envisioned “Dreamland” of fantasy and futurism. He intended Disneyland to have educational as well as entertainment value, catering to kids of “all ages!” Having spent 17 million dollars for the park’s development, this on 160 acres of Orange County land, invitations were mailed to VIPs for the July 17th opening. Unfortunately, the “pass” was counterfeited… and THOUSANDS OF UNINVITED PEOPLE were admitted into Disneyland on Opening Day, having waited in lines MILES long! The park was not ready for the “onslaught.” Food and drink ran out. A woman’s high-heel shoe got stuck in the wet asphalt and the Mark Twain Steamboat nearly CAPSIZED from too many passengers!
Tinker Bell must have been working in the castle AND the snack bar! Both the Crystal Cathedral AND Disneyland had beginning stories many would say were FAR too challenging to overcome!
Yet, I have been in the Crystal Cathedral. I marveled at its organ and hundred-plus member choir. Like you, I have been to Disneyland. Like you, I wondered if I could EVER get that song out of my head, “It’s a Small World After All!” When you wish upon a star, right?
In my first church pastorate, during my thirteen-year ministry, the congregation took on TWO building projects! Parker, Colorado was one of the fastest growing communities in the country! Douglas County was EXPLODING with new residents. As I drove to Parker for my pastor-position interview, I did so on a lonely DIRT ROAD south of I-225, yes, NOW, UNBELIEVABLY BUSY PARKER ROAD, with thousands upon thousands of cars upon it each day! Those of you who know Parker know how vibrant a community it is…TODAY! You may be surprised to realize that in 1985, the sleepy community DID NOT HAVE EITHER A SAFEWAY NOR A KING SOOPERS STORE let alone fast food restaurants! There was only ONE grocery store in town, Hills Market, and it was owned by dear friends to this day, Larry and Rhea Thomas. With the growth of Parker came the inevitable growth of our church. Joy Lutheran Church doubled in membership…and then quadrupled thereafter with enthusiasts… during my pastorate. As the congregation outgrew its ability to do hands-on and envisioned ministry in our church/administrative buildings of the day, gifted visionaries in the parish called our membership to embrace not one, but then TWO new building projects within a decade!
Oh, there were the naysayers. There always are. There were those who doubted our ability to pay for what was proposed. I remember Larry Doolen, so instrumental in Lutheran Family Service ministry, saying at a congregational meeting, “Well folks, we are sitting in the sanctuary that many said COULD NOT be built!” Robert Schuller preached optimism, faith in God. Echoing the words of Jesus, Schuller’s trademark Biblical reference was “With men, things are impossible, but with God, ALL things are possible!” Walt Disney weathered the criticism of a pointed California newspaper that lambasted Disneyland’s Opening Day, “Black Sunday” with the headline “THE 17 MILLION DOLLAR PEOPLE-TRAP THAT MICKEY MOUSE BUILT” while irate adults cursed Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Snow White and ALL the seven dwarfs!
Now, amid COVID-19, wondering what the future MAY look like, we would do well to remember the sentiment: “With men, things are impossible, but with God, ALL things are possible!” We may want to remember…instead of worrying…to believe what the Scriptures say, “God will take our sins, scarlet as they may be, and make them…SNOW WHITE!”
Cross of Glory is just a couple years younger than the Crystal Cathedral and Disneyland. Over the decades, our church has seen its share of “challenges,” but in ALL cases, God has remained forever faithful. God will lead us as we continue to BE HIS CHURCH in the years to come… and I have every confidence in YOU, the amazing, dear people of Cross of Glory to be more “Yeasayers” than “Naysayers” in perhaps doing ministry a bit differently in times ahead. Thank you for your patience as we prayerfully consider doing Cross of Glory ministry forever true to our Mission Statement: “Rooted in the Scriptures; Reaching Out in Love and Rejoicing in God’s Grace,” while being mindful, no, insistent, on our care for those among us especially virus-susceptible.
Thankfully, we have a dedicated Church Council to navigate us through “Frontierland” into “Tomorrowland.” Under President John Test’s dedicated leadership, your Cross of Glory Council wonders when and how we can “safely” re-enter our church building. Until a vaccine for the virus is administered, we ALL wonder about social distancing, masks and the predicted clean-ups needed thereafter. It has been suggested that we keep six feet apart from each other. Some say that we should social distance even more… that “singing enthusiastically (spitting for short…think Donald Duck!)” would require greater caution. We wonder about how to celebrate Holy Communion again, this safely…while not “watering down” what we believe to be Sacred and Theologically Fundamental. Our Bishop Jim Gonia, friend of so many in our parish, is strongly suggesting that ELCA churches in the Rocky Mountain Synod NOT return to their buildings until AT LEAST the end of August! Though our Colorado Governor Jared Polis is lifting restrictions on public gatherings, he still “urges” those over 65 (or those pre-disposed to virus problems) to remain in quarantine. We are seeing so many ZOOM Sunday morning worship onlookers and Tuesday evening Bible Study enthusiasts (how pumpkins have turned into carriages!) that we wonder how many in our church would “choose” to come back to our building anyway as long as there is even a “hint” of danger.
Let me be Crystal (Cathedral ?) clear: Time will tell. So much will depend on lessons learned as people slowly return to what has been “more normal” in the past.
In the meantime, thank you for your continued faithful support of our mutual ministry Cross of Glory family and friends! Keep the faith! Keep praying! Keep sending in your offerings! The Crystal Cathedral and Disneyland were founded in the same year. Cross of Glory is almost as old. Realize this… draw strength and comfort from the parallel: All THREE beloved places have ties to…”Los Angeles,” in Spanish, ‘THE ANGELS!” Tale as old as time: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Pastor Mike Lemke