Hello Fellow Reformers!
And you ARE reformers! YOU are the church!
A couple of Sundays ago, the Praise Band led us in singing the campfire song, “WE ARE THE CHURCH.” We were reminded that the church is not a building and that we do not go to church, but rather we go to worship! The church is the body of Jesus Christ. We are the church, the believers in Jesus, linked one to another in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. To that end, we are the movers and the shakers. We are the arms and legs of God’s Holy Purposes. Though ultimately, the acts are God’s, we are the actors, the agents of God’s Divine Will.
Martin Luther was really not so unlike us. He loved God and struggled with God. He loved the Church and struggled with her…and yet, Luther has been regarded as one of the most influential people in Western Civilization. What made him so special? Why is he heralded among millions over the centuries?
I think Luther is distinct. His greatness has everything to do with simply, his trusting in God above everything else. You remember how he spent time writing explanations to the Ten Commandments? He wanted others to better understand the Scriptures and God’s desires for all. Luther wrote in his explanation of the Introduction to the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God,” that “We are to love, revere and trust God above everything else.” What makes Luther so very special…what makes him distinct and impacting, in my estimation, is simply, his trusting in God above everything else!
Luther had his share of critics. His father criticized him for becoming a monk. The Church criticized him for his outspokenness. Reformers criticized him for not being MORE outspoken! At various times in Luther’s life, he was in danger. He was nearly killed in a lightning storm. He was nearly killed by the Church. And Luther no doubt wondered about his eternal damnation, the ultimate danger, as he was excommunicated from Christianity.
Throughout his life, it would have been easier for Luther to walk different paths. At any number of junctures, he could have settled for a life of “less integrity.” Yet Luther remained true to his principles. He was driven to do what he believed God wanted him to do. He chose the higher ground, the lonely path, the one with twists and turns, thorns and briars, not to be martyred or ascetic, but because he believed in God’s grace and call to be a disciple of Christ’s.
At a unique place and time in history, with Renaissance spreading in Europe, the stage was set for Luther’s challenges to take hold. Much has been made of the time being ripe for Luther’s Reformation of the Church. Probably too much has been made of it. Let us not say that Luther’s ideas “stuck” because Christopher Columbus was sailing around the world. Let us say instead that Luther’s ideas stuck because God wanted them to…and because a man, not unlike us, chose to “trust God above everything else.”
What does it say about us that a man, hundreds of years removed from us, is so honored if only because he lived out his Christianity? The Holy Roman Catholic Church of today gave SAINTHOOD to both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. When Mother Teresa received her Nobel Prize for ministering to the disenfranchised people of Calcutta, India, she was both humbled and surprised. She did not want to be “awarded” for merely doing what Jesus called ALL Christians to do, namely, loving neighbors as themselves.
Yet the world is curious about those who do not play by worldly rules. Great, influential people in history have been recognized, in part, because they acted bravely or differently from the rest of us. Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. were wearied and unsettled by the world. They stood up to the injustices of their societies. They trusted God above everything else…at great, personal cost…and we revere them today as almost even sacred.
Thank God for the Martin Luthers of history! Thank God for those who even great personal cost risk it all to say, “Wait a minute! Something is terribly wrong here!”
Martin Luther has been praised as someone who acted with integrity at a time right for change. We truly thank him for his contributions to Christianity. Our lives have been impacted because of what he endured “for Christ’s sake and the sake of the Gospel.” But let us not leave Luther back in the 16th Century! Let us carry his example into our own day and age.
Perhaps the Church of today is facing its greatest challenge! Mainstream churches are losing members. Apathy reigns. Morals are decaying. With increased frequency, many are wondering about the relevance of God and the need for Church. In our smorgasbord society, we pick our own likings: “If it feels good, do it! If it serves us better, by all means, subscribe to it!”
God is calling US to lives of integrity, courage and faith! Even TODAY, most notably, TODAY, God is hoping we will change our respective communities, maybe even the world, by merely loving others to Him…by merely, being…CHRISTIAN.
Pastor Mike Lemke
Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,
Those steeped in Lutheranism certainly know and appreciate this beautiful hymn:
This Is My Father’s World, the birds their carols raise, the morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise. This Is My Father’s World, He shines in all that’s fair. In the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere!
Indeed! God has unbelievable imagination! To think that this so-far-beyond God, Creator of the spheres of the universe, knows the number of hairs on our head! God is so very other and yet, so very personal!
Try getting your hair-counted head around the following strange and mind-blowing facts about nature:
- There are 12 times more trees on earth than stars in the Milky Way! Scientists estimate there are about 300 billion stars in our galaxy while there are an estimated 1 TRILLION trees on Earth!
- Pluto has not made a full orbit around the sun since it was discovered in 1930! In fact, it takes Pluto 248 years to make one orbit around the sun, which means that Pluto will make its first full orbit since 1930 on March 23, 2178!
- Pineapples take 2 years to grow! Remember this the next time you buy a lovely pineapple and then let it go to waste!
- Baby elephants suck on their trunks for comfort, just like how baby humans suck on THEIR thumbs!
- Sometimes when they’re out gathering nectar, bees will fall asleep in flowers!
And speaking of flowers, in the incredible imagination of God, sunflowers turn their faces toward the sun as they track it across the sky – an activity known as heliotropism, or solar tracking.
In stark contrast to the 90-degree days of the last month, today is overcast and even suggesting that Fall may be around the corner! This morning, I passed a field of thousands of sunflowers. What really intrigued me about the unbelievable beauty of the moment was that in the grey skies of this day, the sunflowers seemed rather confused! Some sunflowers were pointing towards the east as they always do as the sun rises. But other sunflowers seemingly pointed their proud, lovely heads in other directions; the sun hidden behind the rain clouds of the morning! It was obvious to me that the sunflowers did not know where the sun was!
Now we all know that the sun was there! Granted, I too wondered EXACTLY where the sun was, but I trusted that it was bringing life to flowers, TO US, from up above, nurturing and blessing creation.
When we have trouble finding God in the dark times of our lives, let us trust that beyond the moment, beyond grey skies and difficult circumstances, God is indeed shining and wishing to bless us with hope for a new day. Sunflowers must be pretty smart! They have the wisdom to always be looking towards their source of life.
Might we do the same? Might we look to the God who knows us through and through and STILL chooses to be in association with us?
This Is My Father’s World…and He loves us so very much, through thick and thin, day in and day out and in bright days AND stormy ones.
God’s Peace and Joy!
Pastor Mike Lemke
Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,
As I think about it, it is hard for me to believe it has been 20 years! Going back to 1998, when I began my funeral ministry, I could not have envisioned that I would have done over 2000 funerals! It truly is staggering to me! And over the course of the last decades, I have had so many unusual experiences with my services.
There was the time a fist-fight broke out in the cemetery. And how about the cold December of 2006 when the funeral coach slid off a snowy highway into the ditch! And then there was the memorable African service where hired mourners rushed the casket and were kept off the coffin by men positioned in front of it! There have been occasional services where plain-clothed policemen attended the funeral because of the threat of violence. During one service, members of rival gangs attempted to place their own colors in the deceased’s casket while tensions in the congregation mounted!
I really could share a hundred stories of memorable funeral happenings… and have been blessed to be part of each one of them.
Recently, I did a graveside service at Crown Hill Cemetery in Wheat Ridge. When I received the phone call learning of the death, I instantly remembered the woman informing me of the passing. I will call her Elizabeth. I had met Elizabeth years ago when her son Bruce died. She impressed me immediately as a sweet woman of devout, Christian faith. Though understandably heartbroken by her loss, Jesus shined through her. She thanked me over and over again for presiding at the funeral. In unmatched graciousness, Elizabeth greeted each person in attendance as the worship service began (and concluded) with her loving eyes and gentle hugs.
In our recent phone conversation, Elizabeth told me that her sister had died and that her niece (I will call her Roberta), would be contacting me for a sit-down meeting of introduction. Roberta called the next day and we agreed upon a meeting time at Cross of Glory to discuss details.
A half hour before our church meeting, Roberta called and in a frantic voice told me that she was tied up in traffic, had a number of things she was trying to do in preparation for the service and that I should try to meet her at a place close to I-25 and Evans. I suggested that we meet at the Perkins off of Colorado Boulevard. Roberto shot back: “I SAID EVANS!” Knowing only of the McDonald’s at that intersection, I told her that the only sizable restaurant off of Evans that I knew was the Breakfast Inn not far from church. Roberta insisted that we meet there and so we did. With Cross of Glory only 5 minutes away from the restaurant, I arrived earlier than Roberta.
I immediately recognized Roberta as she stormed through the Breakfast Inn doors. I remembered her from Bruce’s service years before. She looked imposing then. This time, she was indeed… energized! A big woman anyway, she appeared even larger, carrying on her person… preoccupation. Self-absorbed, Roberta brushed past the receptionist barely acknowledging her. Mild-mannered aunt Elizabeth trailed timidly behind, in what appeared to be Roberta’s tornado debris.
“So you’re Pastor Mark,” she blurted out. Elizabeth quickly corrected Roberta, “That’s Pastor Mike.” After a quick, firm handshake, Roberta plopped herself down in the Breakfast Inn chair and yelled across the restaurant, “I want a glass of water!”
Normally I would meet with a funeral family for 45 minutes to an hour. I knew that this conversation would be short-lived. As the waitress came over to the table, I ordered a cup of coffee. Elizabeth did the same. Roberta ordered nothing. As the waitress came back to the table with our coffees, Roberta glared at her. In a harsh retort that those in the McDonald’s at I-25 and Evans could hear, scolded, “And where is MY coffee?” For the next half hour, Roberta demonstrated numerous instances of volcanic eruptions, her lava spewing all over the Breakfast Inn and dear Elizabeth particularly.
For the first time in over 2,000 funeral services, I thought for a moment of telling someone they would need to find another minister for their funeral. I understand that grief-stricken people are not themselves. They typically are lost in a gamut of emotions. But Roberta? This was beyond emotional grief. This was just plain ugliness. And I felt so badly for sweet Elizabeth. After a difficult conversation of half-answers to my many questions about Roberta’s mother, Roberta and Elizabeth left the restaurant.
The morning of the funeral came. When I had asked Roberta how many people she thought would be in attendance, she had looked at me with disbelieving eyes before remarking, “How should I know?” Maybe to her surprise, there were about 20 people in support at Crown Hill. Roberta was not interacting with any of her family members nor friends at the grave. She stood off to the side of the casket, dressed in black, saying everything in saying nothing. As I began the funeral with the words always used, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Roberta turned from the funeral party and walked from the grave towards her car. For the remainder of the graveside service, she stayed there. No one went to check on her.
And then sweet Elizabeth, sitting in front of the casket, dressed not in black, but in the soft blue colors that her sister adored, interrupted me in the middle of the 23rd Psalm. Elizabeth said what I think I will always remember. Looking at her family members, she exclaimed, “Roberta has not made things easy for us. There have been the many times we in turn have been terribly unkind to her. If we are to honor Jesus, and my sister, we need to take the first steps towards reconciliation and forgiveness. We need to love Roberta so that she may love the Lord and love herself.”
The world is full of people that don’t love themselves. They have heard about the love of Jesus but have not felt it for themselves. Today we have the opportunity, following Elizabeth’s encouragement, to love others so that they may love the Lord. To be sure, in a lifetime, there will be those who treat us unfairly. There will be those who chide us with harsh words or who put us down. Jesus did not charge his disciples to just love those whom it was EASY to love. Jesus charged disciples, US, to love everyone, friends and foes alike!, 1 John says, “We should love others because God has first loved us.” We should love others. Period.
May it always be our primary hope at Cross of Glory to love God first and our neighbors as ourselves. Let us pray for the Robertas in our world, recognizing that at times, WE have probably been not so unlike her. Thank God for God’s patience with… US.
Thank you Cross of Glory! Thank you… church!
God’s Peace and Love!
Pastor Mike Lemke
Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends!How many years now have we done our annual Cross of Glory yard sale? I am not sure. I want to say that we have had a yard sale every one of the thirteen years that I have been at church. I DO know, carrying tables and chairs and boxes full of treasures to be sold onto our lawn was a lot easier thirteen years ago then it was last weekend! I guess I am feeling my age these days! Haha! How many times have we said this will be the LAST year that we do a Cross of Glory yard sale? And then there are the many, many pluses coming out of the yard sale weekends!
I think we had more items donated to us this year for our annual yard sale than in years past! Thanks to all you who gave us “treasures” and…who priced them ahead of time! Haha! In addition to raising hundreds of dollars in promotion of Jesus and God’s Cross of Glory ministry, you did some serious Spring Cleaning these last months, clearing out from your closets and your drawers, even homes and garages, “I can live without” odds and ends! With space now to spare in your closets and drawers, homes and garages, you then in turn bought NEW items to replace your OLD ones! Ah, the rationale behind such!
Even though we often remark each year that our annual yard sale is pretty grueling, we DO see the benefits of hosting them. Helen Devantery, one of our newest members to Cross of Glory, gladly accepted the responsibility of being our fearless leader! She did an INCREDIBLE job, even months before our sale, in preparing for last Saturday’s, June 23, “Meet and Greet” neighbors and donations! With her coordination, and publicity of our sale, and weeks of sorting, pricing and carrying donations throughout our church, onto the lawn and then off our grass, Helen was a champion! She made our annual yard sale a lot easier, and yes, even, fun!
And then there were the stories that made it all worthwhile! A man named Glenn was among our first customers. Arriving at 7:45, fifteen minutes before our sale began, he started to look at items already on our lawn. Glenn struck up a conversation with one of our members. He talked about his grandson never attending a professional baseball game and then noted our church was encouraging neighbors to join us for our July 29 Faith Day outing to Coors Field (The Rockies play the Oakland A’s at 1:10 that Sunday. Jon Gray, Ian Desmond, and Charlie Blackmon will talk about their devotion to Jesus and baseball after the ballgame. Join us! Tickets for the game and show thereafter are $20 each)! Glenn will be bringing his grandson to Faith Day with us…along with the baseball mitt Glenn bought from our yard sale! Then there was Sheila. She was waiting patiently at our checkout stand when another woman confessed that she had forgotten her purse. Sheila, with a smile, interjected, “I’ve been there before” and gladly paid for the woman’s jigsaw puzzles. Pay it forward, right? How about the Spanish-speaking lady who was joking with her husband about needing more tables and chairs. The husband kept shaking his head, “NO!” (Some things translate easily regardless of language barriers)! This man was NOT going to be roped into buying furniture pieces that would clutter their condo AND be too heavy to carry! The woman, however, won a victory of sorts. She got her husband to help load up the very tables and chairs SHE WANTED into another man’s vehicle! (“Yes, dear,” i.e, “Si carina!”).
One of the joys of doing our annual yard sale is that our Cross of Glory members let their hair down in ways not typically seen on Sunday mornings! There was the banter about who would be eating FIRST K.C. Keefer’s grilled hot dogs! Nancy Barlow, former president of our Cook Park Association and K.C., not even members of our church, nonetheless, braved the heat of the day and spent their Saturday, great neighbors that they are, helping US! Nancy and K.C. you are the best! There were the funny stories about which Danielle Steel novels were the “seediest” and that some of our members would be “in the know” about such! And how at Cross of Glory do we attract new people to our ministry? Just ask poor Scott Dankenbring! Our newest member to Cross of Glory (Scott joined our church last Sunday with Jackie Phillips), Scott had set up our new grill days before our sale and carried dozens and dozens of boxes onto our lawn that yard sale morning! How we joked that we probably would get more people to join Cross of Glory if we did not immediately put them to work! Haha! The stories were precious. Prayers were shared on our lawn as we learned of people’s joys and challenges. Members of the Cross of Glory-sponsored Gambler’s Anonymous group, meeting at the church at 10:00 AM on Saturday mornings, pitched right in, carrying chairs and heavy furniture pieces onto our lawn! All in all, though a long day, even months in the making, our annual Yard Sale turned out to be pretty joyous. Thanks to all who made the day… once again… memorable and joyous!
Church is many things. Some speak of hymns and sermons while others, stained glass windows and steeples. At the very least, let us remember the first lesson many Lutheran Christians learn in Confirmation: Church is YOU! YOU ARE THE CHURCH! Church is the Body of Jesus Christ: People forgiven, renewed and energized by God’s living and relentless Holy Spirit! The church is not a building made of mortar and stone. It is the man or woman who places trust in Jesus, who attempts to love God in loving service to others.
In our recent Bible Study on the Book of Acts, we learned that the early church ALWAYS did three things when coming together for worship. Firstly, new converts to faith prayed. Secondly, the first followers of Christ sang spiritual songs. Lastly, the church celebrated the Lord’s Supper together, believing that in the bread and in the wine (in a mystery of faith), Jesus was somehow present in loving support! Worship happens from 10:00 AM to 11:15 AM on Sunday mornings at Cross of Glory to be sure, but it is NOT Church! Church is YOU! It is laughing while bringing Spencer the dog some water from the kitchen! It is smiling when a neighbor wants to talk down prices on our grass! It is YOU getting sunburned on a Saturday afternoon because you know that helping Cross of Glory will help others. Thank you for being the church! Thank you for being YOU!
I do not know if the early church had yard sales. I DO know that the early Christians SHARED their possessions one with another so that no one was without. Might it be our hope in upcoming yard sales at Cross of Glory to meet our neighbors, those made in God’s image, in THEIR need and in THEIR joys! Might we as the church, allow God to live in and through us as we carry tables and chairs onto our grass? Better yet, let us realize the privilege and joy in carrying Christ well beyond our Cross of Glory walls, onto our grass and down the street! God will give us the strength to do His work… and even help us with that heavy, walnut desk on the corner!
Thank you Cross of Glory! Thank you…church!
Pastor Mike Lemke