Grace and Peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Many years ago in high school I ran cross country. Though I was the second best runner on our small team, I was only slightly better than average. Regardless, I fully enjoyed racing over rocks and through the woods. Our home course on Garrett Mountain had all the features you'd want in a challenging course - steep declines, rolling hills, and fast flats around a lake. What is more, in the fall, with the leaves changing, it was absolutely beautiful. All that said - the last quarter mile was a killer. It was deceptively difficult in that after you came out of the woods, the incline was steady to the first line. Knowing this, and even training for this, we usually had an advantage over the teams that would come to race on our home turf. We knew that we needed to keep on moving, not to lose our momentum, as soon as we left the woods. And in case we'd forget, our dear coach Stan was always there to remind us.
Advent is a wonderful time to be reminded to keep running the good race of faith. This race began a long time ago in the waters of our baptism. Washed in the waters of Christ forever we were given the gift of God's running right alongside us. Down steep hills, across fast flats, over rocks and through gold encrusted woods - our faith journeys cover a lot of terrain. At times when we are in good stride and heading downhill it can seem like we've already won the race. Other times we hit what runners call 'the wall' and it seems like we can't go any further. Along the way we need encouragement to keep on running. John the Baptist - a voice crying out in the wilderness - reminds us to prepare a way for the Lord in the difficult places of life, where the course is steep and our energy has been sapped.
We prepare a way for God when we reach out in compassion and love to our neighbor (stranger and friend alike). Through our words and kind deeds we are able make a space for God to enter in places full of hurt and need. We prepare a way for God when we take the time in our busy lives to come to worship, or read scripture and pray for others. As a Christian community, we prepare a way for God to enter when we share ourselves, our time, and our possessions. At St. James we prepare a way for God each time that we carry out our mission to praise God and serve others. Our mission areas of worship, education, youth, pastoral care, fellowship and parish community, and outreach (local/global) provide wonderful opportunities for us to run faithfully the race that was begun in our baptisms.
And now a word about the race we are running together... despite our strong performance for the first ten months of the year our financial position at St. James has slipped a little in the past month. For ten months we had made major progress in closing the Mission Budget Gap with which we began the year. Our stride was good and strong. Unfortunately in November we stumbled a bit and the pace of our congregational giving slowed down a bit.
It is time for us to be reminded of all that God is doing through our combined efforts at St. James. Think about our inspiring worship and innovative education (that is not only for children). Think about our new emphasis in youth ministry on providing meaningful service experiences. Think about the pastoral care that is provided on your behalf to those who are in the hospital, nursing homes, and shut in. Think about the new fellowship on Sunday morning and the increased electronic communication. Think about the students in Tanzania who are going to school today or the hungry families in Burnsville that receive assistance through our local social ministry connections or the comfort meals that are being given each week out of our narthex freezer. The Spirit is moving at St. James in many exciting ways.
It is also time for us to be reminded of our baptisms and God's call to each of us to prepare a way for Christ to come.
Now the invitation... if you are able, please consider making an additional gift in these weeks of Advent to support the mission that we share. If you are current in your pledge, please consider additional gifts on behalf of those whose financial position has changed. If you are behind in your pledge, please make an effort to catch up. If you have yet to pledge or give to the 2010 Mission Budget, please join your sisters and brothers in Christ in lending your financial support.
Together we can get back on stride and finish the race of this year strong and faithful. Together we can make sure that we continue to prepare a way for the Lord.
I look forward to worshiping with you on Sunday.
The Rev. Walt Lichtenberger, S.T.M. - Pastor
St. James Lutheran Church, Burnsville, MN
Office: (952) 890-4534 ext. 112
Emergency Pastoral Care hotline: (651) 354-1883
Cell phone: (952) 836-8588