Loving our Neighbors: Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative

Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative is a group of 90 congregations, all working together to end homelessness in the Twin Cities metro area, and they send so much love out into our community! Their mission is to create homes and advance equitable housing, advocating for underserved people in and around the Twin Cities. Mount Calvary partners with Beacon as one of the congregation hosts of Families Moving Forward, a Beacon program that provides short-term, emergency shelter to families experiencing homelessness.

Dan Gregory is Beacon’s Strategic Communications Manager. He’s also an ordained minister who found his calling helping Minnesota’s homeless population by telling Beacon’s stories. “We work together with our collaborating congregations to create homes, shelter families, and impact public policy,” said Dan.

One of Beacon’s stories involves the Minneapolis homeless camp that recently has been in the news. In response to the homeless camp, Beacon started a campaign to build a new 70-unit building. This building will follow a “housing first” model, which essentially provides a home, no matter what.

Beacon recognizes that a stable home provides the first step in addressing some of the other factors that prevent people from succeeding. “We look at a comprehensive approach,” said Dan. “We create homes with onsite support for low-income and our most-vulnerable populations.” In the new building, the homes will come with onsite case managers to help residents connect with the resources
they want and need.

According to mnhomeless.org, the most recent study found more than 9,000 people in Minnesota are homeless! How do we provide a place for the most vulnerable among us to find light in the darkness, and understand what God is doing in the world? Jesus commands us to love one another. Maybe love for our neighbors starts with a space for them to be warm, to feel safe, and to thrive as God’s people. Beacon’s vision is that all people have a home, and Mount Calvary is grateful to be part of that vision.

If you would like to learn more about Beacon Interfaith’s Housing First campaign, please read their Executive Director’s blog at www.beaconinterfaith.org/blog/housingfirst.

When Love is Found

When love is found and hope comes home, Sing and be glad that two are one.
When love explodes and fills the sky Praise God and share our Maker’s joy.
(When Love is Found, hymn by Brian Wren, Copyright 1983, Hope Publishing Company.

We have begun our six-week sermon series God Expects Us to Love and continue throughout this month to explore the different types of love described by the Greek words philia (friendship), eros (romantic), storge (family and nation), and agape (Christ-like, sacrificial and unconditional). We will also reflect upon the two love commands Jesus gives regarding strangers and enemies. What we know is that
this word, so easily spoken if you are not Scandinavian, can be paper thin or ocean deep.

Composer Brian Wren wrote the words above as part of a hymn composed for his brother’s wedding and also the wedding of a friend. The first verse exudes the joy of love newly discovered and taking root in a couple’s life together. It also calls out our gratitude to God for a gift so wondrous and reminds us of God’s delight when two of his children
bring this added depth to their relationship. Fireworks!

But as the hymn goes on, Wren gets down to the nitty-gritty reality of love being put to work. In verse two, he describes this romantic explosion maturing into the building of trust and care, about love daring to reach beyond the comforts of home to go out into the world to serve God and neighbor.

And then in the third verse, Wren writes about those heart-wrenching times when love is tested and both love and loved ones change.

Hold still to hope though all seems strange, Till ease returns and love grows wise
Through list’ning ears and opened eyes.

And then the most powerful verse of all.
When love is torn and trust betrayed, Pray strength to love till torments fade,
Till lovers keep no score of wrong But hear through pain love’s Easter song.


Love found, built, tested, torn. If love is paper-thin, a word lacking will or an emotion lacking commitment, hope may be hard to come by and wisdom elusive. But if love is deep and you know it requires the best of who you are (even if it is hard to verbalize), you will offer listening ears and opened eyes. Rather than holding onto regrets or regressions, you
will hold to hope and work to hear what you need to hear and see what you need to see. You will stop keeping score as though relationships are a competitive sport and pray without ceasing for the strength to love when you may not like and to forgive what you can’t forget and to believe that there is resurrection song when it seems love lies dead.

Whatever love one might be offering to friend, family, country, spouse or God, our prayer is for a love that is ocean-deep and Spirit-fed. Our prayer is for a people who work at love and whose template for love is the One who is the greatest expression of God’s love. Our season of
focus on the expectations God has for our many loves is embarked upon with the desire that our faith moves us to “hold still to hope and pray strength to love” in all times. A faith that reaches, stretches, listens and loves even when the challenges are daunting and long after the fireworks have faded into our long-term memory.

People of God, we are loved by the Source of all love. We are loved ocean-deep and Jesus-strong, held onto even when we are hapless and hopeless. Gospel truth. We begin there. Ocean-deep and Jesus-strong. Loved. And then, God willing, we mirror that love to friend and foe, spouse and louse, neighbor and stranger, child and parent. We mirror that love for a world torn by betrayals and breaking of trust and we sing Easter songs when least expected. It’s who we say we are. It is, I pray, who we hope to be. And I know in my deepest knowing that when love brings healing, when people stop keeping score and start keeping faith, hope comes home and unpacks its suitcase. And, God willing, never leaves.

Dating and Sexuality

It was MOVIE day – the boys had scoffed and joked, the girls had giggled and whispered. If the truth were to be told, we were all mortified. The day when the 5th grade girls went to one school room and the boys went to the other. We were going to see the changing bodies movie and get “the talk”. This was an important milestone and every parent was invited by the school to attend. I remember it vividly
because out of 50 students, my mom was one of two moms who came. I liked my mom, so I wasn’t too bothered. The fact that the other mom belonged to the most popular girl in 5th grade didn’t hurt, but I remember wondering why no other parents attended. I learned later, that not only did parents not attend, there was no discussion on the topics of sexuality and dating between my friends and their parents, ever!

Being a typical adolescent, I was completely and utterly embarrassed by the “conversations” my parents were determined to have with me. Now I know what an amazing thing it was. Working with young people for the past 32 years has taught me that even though “sex and sexuality” front all the magazines, TV, movies and every social media
outlet, it is not talked about in the home.

In this church home, it’s a different story. Several years ago, Pastor Dave and I decided we wanted to help parents talk to their children about sexuality and dating. We didn’t want to talk biology we wanted to talk relationship. We wanted to open the door to comfortable conversation between parent and child – a door that could remain open. We designed and wrote four lessons based on everything from dating and love to body image, abusive relationships, media messages
and God’s hope for us. We shaped it around 7th and 8th graders and placed it within the confirmation ministry. There was much fear and trembling from child and parent as they shuffled in for the first time, but it didn’t take long for it to be replaced by conversation and laughter.

We used a combination of discussion, interviews, power point, graphics and personal story to invite everyone to participate where they were at. It was facilitated to allow the parent to guide the discussion using their own language, experience and values. We received a flood of positive response! The most important to me was an email from a member who worked at the West Suburban teen clinic. She said it was an amazing experience and if all teens had an opportunity for conversation like this,
it could change what she did!

At the end of January, teen and parent gathered. They entered with fear and trepidation, giggles and whispers which soon changed to laughter, jokes and warmth. God calls us into relationship and who better to teach and guide young people than those who love them the most! The night ends with each parent placing a hand on their child’s
head and blessing them – a holy moment in time. What an honor to behold!

A Message from Pastor Dave – 1/18/19

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for 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.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

Deeply embedded in the faith story of Jesus’ people is the memory of the times they have found themselves as strangers in a strange land. When Abram and Sarai leave home for economic opportunity in a land they have never seen. When Jacob and his family leave a famine-stricken homeland for Egypt and survival. When Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery and repression. When they find themselves exiled by war into Babylonia and then generations later return home to a land now inhabited by others. Numerous times in the Hebrew scriptures, God says “Remember you were once the stranger, the foreigner, the alien in someone else’s midst. When you encounter the stranger or foreigner in your midst treat them with hospitality.” Exodus 22: 21 says “You shall not wrong or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:17-19 says “For the lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. “And Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the lord your God.”

So, no surprise that Jesus continues the call to care for and welcome the stranger and others who are vulnerable. The twist Jesus adds in the parable above is that how one treats the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned is how we are treating him. That statement is a lot to reflect upon, discuss and debate, plan and act upon. And while it doesn’t propose any specific policies or procedures, it does command a certain spirit in which such things are considered. In a portion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48), Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, big whoop! If you greet only those folks you know, how does that set you apart? How easy is that? I say to you that you should even love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

On this weekend before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I consider how wrong it is that after many generations, people of color are still treated as strangers and aliens. I consider how wrong it is that we forget the stories of our ancestors, biblical and genetic, who were once strangers and aliens hoping to encounter hospitality, opportunity, patience as they learned a new language and new customs, and respect for the customs and traditions they brought with them. I consider how the narrative might change if we looked at the stranger in the way the Bible and Jesus taught rather than simply as a problem to be solved or a fear to be driven away. And I cannot help but think of Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 where he turns around a man’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” to instead ask “What does it mean to BE a neighbor to the stranger we meet on the road, to the broken one whom others are content to walk on by?” 

Remember, scripture says, we are all resident aliens on this planet (Hebrews 11:13-16, Philippians 3:20, John 17:16). It’s a good place to start.

A Message from Pastor Dave – 1/11/19

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

When Jesus goes to the River Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptizer, he was joining the many others who had come out to participate in an old Jewish ritual that was very different from what we call baptism today. John invited people to symbolically wash themselves of the past and prepare for the new working of God in their midst, a call to turn away from their sins. But when Jesus is baptized (a Greek word meaning washed), it is not for the forgiving of sins….it was for the revealing of God. Jesus sees the heavens torn open, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and hears a voice saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” What does John the Baptizer see? He sees simply a man he thinks should be baptizing HIM! He sees a man whom he tells others is so powerful that John does not feel worthy even to untie his sandals. The others see an encounter of two intriguing people, whom some say are prophets sent by God. Each of those ways of seeing is an epiphany, a revealing, of God at work in their midst. 
When we talk about baptism at Mount Calvary, it is not John’s baptism that we are patterned after but Jesus’. Baptism is not about gathering at the river seeking to turn our life or our faith around, it is to reveal what God is doing in the moving of the Holy Spirit. It is to stand before God inviting, celebrating, believing that gift of the Holy Spirit is for any and for all…. dependent on God’s choosing, not ours; celebrating God’s promises and commitment to love and embrace through the community of believers and beyond. The community, parents and sponsors all promising to BE epiphanies of grace, wisdom and faith for this child in our midst. 

Over the years, I have participated in thousands of baptisms….and as yet I have not seen the heavens opened, I have not seen Holy Spirit doves, or heard a voice resonating from the chambers of heaven. I have held multitudes of the tiniest of infants and splashed the heads of many adults…..I have been the receiver of angelic smiles and spine-tingling cries of fear; I have been splashed, and soiled and urped upon; I have had tiny feet tangled in my microphone and been kicked; I have accidentally used the wrong name and mispronounced legions of them. For years, I kept a cassette tape of the baptism of twin two-year olds where they both screamed until they turned purple and mom and dad turned ghostly white and it seemed more like a scene from The Exorcist than a moment of grace. I have baptized in sanctuaries, hospital rooms, backyards and homes; in robes, suits, jeans and even shorts. I have reached into bowls and lakes and cups and found water colder than a Polar Plunge, warm enough for tea and a couple times no water at all! That is one way of looking at and experiencing baptisms.

But what did I see? I will repeat one of my favorite quotes: “The question is NOT what you look at, but what you see,” said Henry David Thoreau. I see Jesus. I see Jesus in ordinary water, working through the hands and hearts of very ordinary people, embracing one more child of God. I see Jesus, who showed us how silly it was for us to try to figure out how we were going to open the gates of heaven, opening them for us. I see the Spirit of God moving once more in the order and chaos of the moment to say “Life! Light! Love!” for this one. Gift of grace, not reward for righteousness. Gift of grace, voice of God saying, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

I see heaven opening up for the youngest of babies…unaware, unknowing and unworthy…and I see a reflection of me. It would be sheer arrogance to claim that I am any more aware, knowledgeable, or worthy of this mystery than this one before me. I see heaven opening up and I offer an echo of God’s voice when I say, “Child of God, marked with the Cross of Christ forever” in the same way those words were spoken for me. I see the frequent tears emerging from the eyes of parents and family members descending like Holy Spirit doves out of love and awe for this one. I see the congregation, rejoicing, adoring, marveling in the miracle of new babies and new life. “The question, my friends, is NOT what you look at but what you see.

Care Packages for our College Students

God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide a way out. 1 Corinthians 10:13.

This is the verse that began Pastor Dave’s 2018 letter to our college-student members. Copies of the letter were included in boxes that contained snacks, novelty items, home-baked cookies, and personal care items. 100 of these boxes were mailed to college students at the beginning of December, just in time for finals. These gifts from their church are intended to provide our kids a little boost during a stressful time of the year.

This tradition began about six years ago, when some Sunday School moms began to think about a way they could care for, and keep in touch with, Mount Calvary students away at college. “It all started with collecting leftover Halloween candy,” said Brenda Lund, our Faith Formation Assistant, and the coordinator of the program. “We sent the candy, along with a card, a letter from Pastor Dave, and a few added treats.”

The program has evolved so that now the boxes include nut-free options and just the right mix of healthy and not-so-healthy treats. A sweet card from the Sunday School kids is always included, along with the letter and a novelty item from Pastor Dave. This year’s box included Kleenex, Chapstick and toothbrushes too!

Treats are donated by families of the students, and fresh-baked, chocolate chip cookies are contributed by the Women of Thunder Bible study members. Parent volunteers then gather to pack the boxes and get them ready for mailing. “It’s a double ministry,” said Brenda, “because it also gives parents a chance to see each other and reconnect.”

Thanks to all who contributed or helped pack and mail boxes. They were much appreciated by the students! Here is a sampling of the responses we received from both students and parents:

I would just like to say thank you for the box of snacks and goodies I got from the church this week. It has helped deal with the stress during this stressful time in college.

(Student) asked me to share how much he appreciated getting the care package. What a great ministry! Special shout out for the customized, nut-free packing. 

Thanks so much for doing this!  My kids have always loved receiving the boxes and feeling the connection to church, especially at this time of year!

Thank you all so much for putting this together, this absolutely made my day and turned my week around for sure!!

We are so proud of our students, and loved seeing many of them home for Christmas!

A Message from Pastor Dave 1-4-19

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:1-12
Happy New Year! The quirky little story about the three dignitaries from the East who follow the star to the manger of Jesus is among the more well-known stories from Jesus’ life. Perhaps because of all the Christmas pageants, perhaps because of the Christmas Carols (“We Three Kings,” etc.), even those who are least familiar with the story of Jesus have heard the story of the wise men who come to visit the baby Jesus.
They are not, however, kings. The Greek word that describes them (magi) can be translated either as “wise men” or “astrologers.” They were likely part of a Persian or Babylonian group of priests who studied the heavens looking for signs from the gods. They interpret the appearance of a star to signal the birth of a new, world leader and they set out to find who and where. When Matthew elected to include them in his telling of the story of Jesus’ birth, he is calling attention to the truth that the gift of God’s Son is a gift for the whole world! These non-Jewish leaders are drawn by God’s initiative through a means of God’s choosing to draw them to the Christ. What we know is that they come, they worship, they leave their gifts, and being warned of the harm King Herod intends to do to this newborn king, they return home “by another road.” After they leave, we never hear about them again.
In a wonderful vignette from the book The Shack, fictional character, Mac, asks Jesus if it is true that all religions are the same and that all roads lead to God. Jesus responds, “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.” I believe that. I believe God chose one particular road and one particular life through which to make Himself most fully known. Jesus is that Way and Jesus is that Life. But I also believe that God never ceases in His efforts to gather and love the people of this planet and is at work in ways we would have never imagined. God is there on whatever path or road you may be walking this day and eager to hold your attention and finally your heart. Be alert and aware, people of God! When God draws you in, it is never the same road home. Make it a blessed and faithful New Year!