FROM THE PASTOR:
Pastor Biel’s post October, 2017
This is a season when we recommit to learning, serving, growing, and giving: discipleship. As I remind our confirmation class, United Methodism isn’t a set of beliefs but a movement of people guided by Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience. With that kind of community, we are going to see things differently and disagree. By participating in this kind of fellowship we will grow on the inside and change the world around us.
So, rocky-soil people, if you are stubborn about change, if your life is messy and you’re willing to let God work in your life…you are welcome here.
Pastor Biel’s post September, 2017
In the homes of families with children and youth, this is Back to School season. Likewise, at St. Andrew, it is Back to Sunday School time. Pray for our wonderful kids and their helpers as they grow in their faith on Sunday mornings. In October, some of our youth will begin the two-year process of Confirmation, while others will finish the course and be confirmed in May. I’m excited for Adult Christian Education opportunities coming up in the Fall, too. There is something for everyone to help us become more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
It’s a good time to remember the basics of our faith formation: worship attendance, daily Bible reading, generosity, personal prayer, small group study, and witness. That last one, witness, is about sharing the good news about what God has done.
You ever notice that part of the Bible with Ezekiel, where God’s voice tells him to eat the scroll? And, when he had, do you remember what Ezekiel said it tasted like? The words on the scroll, lamentation and ruin, fit the experiences of Ezekiel’s people. But, instead of being bitter, these words of truth were sweeter than honey. What tasted good to Ezekiel’s spirit-filled body in God’s presence, he was able to share with others. Because, face it, if something tastes good we want to tell somebody.
The Bible, this library of sixty-six books of history and poetry, enlightened ideas, and faith, is a living text. By that, I mean that it still informs our daily life. It is a way for the Spirit to lead us, or as Rob Bell says, is “way ahead of our present consciousness and practice.”
In worship, daily devotion, and study groups, the word comes alive and it is worth sharing. Lots of people are already talking about grief and anger, change and danger, doubt, worry, joy, grace, and health; those are exactly the sorts of things happening in the Bible and the life of the church. So we connect. We examine and notice, together. We recount stories about God’s spirit tugging and goading people just like us to become a people, through whom God blesses the world.
Again, Rob Bell: “I’ve been reading and studying and exploring and rereading and rethinking and giving sermons from the Bible for twenty-five years, and I find it more compelling and mysterious and interesting and dangerous and convicting and helpful and strange and personal and inspiring and divine and enjoyable than ever.” That’s a lot of “ands;” and, he has a point! Together, our thinking is shifting, our consciousness growing, and our deeply spiritual issues are made known, namely, our need for God’s love and grace revealed in Jesus and how to faithfully respond. Together, as the church, we enter into God’s story of ending violence and being a blessing.
Embracing our scriptures, our traditions, our experiences, and our intellect is best done in community. I hope that within this newsletter some opportunity to grow in your faith walk with others at St. Andrew presents itself. And when you taste what we have to offer you find it sweeter than honey.
Confirmation classes will begin on October 8th at 4:00 p.m. Parents, there will be an overview of the class after worship on September 17th. Please plan to join Pastor Biel, Cherryl Groves, and this year’s mentors for orientation and class schedule.
Youth! Mark your calendars for Sunday, September 24th. We will travel to Northbrook for a Northern Illinois Conference-wide Youth Group gathering. We depart at 3:30 and will return at 8:00 p.m. Cost is $5.
The October Sermon Series and All-Church Study is based on “The Call: The Life and Message of the Apostle Paul.” Look for small group sign-ups in the lobby. If you’d like to place a book order through the office, you have until September 17th. Cost is $15.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Biel’s post August, 2017
Jesus said, “Do you know how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on, “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier to thread a camel through a needle’s eye than to get a rich person into God’s Kingdom.” Mark 10:23, The Message.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve messed up a new shirt or pants with a spill or a tear, or scuffed some brand new shoes by stepping carelessly. The feeling of loss and frustration with myself is immediate. I’m pretty tough on things that I wear, which is why I stopped buying wrist watches years ago. The problem is, not only am I less than graceful, I’m also picky about the way things fit and stingy about paying a lot. So shopping with me is tedious; it’s common for me to leave clothing stores without a purchase after trying on several items. With all the time invested in an outfit, I get a brief sense of satisfaction. I get a fleeting thrill from having a fresh look. I feel, if even for a moment, that by looking good I’ve got it together.
In my imagination, the local official who asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life was probably the best-dressed guy the disciples had seen that day. Picture him, well dressed, a man of status and dignity, and what does he do? He runs! That’s right. This important ruler, who has messengers to do his running for him, drops all his appearances, pride, and dignity and runs to Jesus.
After going over the requirements in Torah, Jesus informs this man that he’ll inherit eternal life by selling everything he has, those possessions that hoard him, giving it to the poor, and following Jesus. I can’t begin to imagine the rich man’s sadness. The disgust I feel at ruining yet another garment is tempered by the fact that I can’t remember owning 90% of my wardrobe. I look at old pictures and I am surprised at what I’ve owned. I count myself lucky in that attic junk (and losing it) doesn’t mean much to me. I guess I’m pretty lucky, too, that I don’t “have it all together;” it keeps me humble.
Jesus seems to be telling the rich young man that he needs to experience some dependence, some loss, some basic needs, the gift of extravagant generosity. Jesus knows that the “cracks” in our lives are where the light gets in. Jesus knows that our wounds are God’s workshop where glory shines through, precisely because we didn’t make it on our own. Our needs help us in our faith walk because they reveal to us our dependence on God and one another.
Church is not the place to go to once you’ve got it all together. We want you with your stains and brokenness. I like the saying that church is a “hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.” We are all in recovery, rehabilitation, and healing. Life beats us up, but without those human experiences and God in them, how could we minister or bring God’s kingdom near to another’s suffering? I like to think that the reason we have the rich ruler in all three synoptic gospels is because he was a “somebody” in the early church. That he took Jesus’ challenge after confronting his sadness and found new life in the community of believers. Maybe they called him Saint Camel-Eye; who knows?
I do know this! You have the chance to cast off your belongings, to support the work of Jesus Christ alive in our midst, with the upcoming garage sale at St. Andrew August 19. May you be blessed to discover the treasure that really is eternal life.
Yours in Christ, Pastor Biel
Pastor Biel’s post June, 2017
I used to have a saying, “Don’t make plans for May. May will make plans for you.” End-of-the-year school activities just pile up in May; graduations, confirmations, awards ceremonies, banquets, concerts, and art shows. This spring has offered us a glimpse into the accomplishments of our young Christians as well as an appreciation for their dedication to academics, arts and sports.
I’m proud of and celebrate the three graduates in St. Andrew’s midst: Kyah B. graduated from University of Iowa, Tess S. and Nyduta M. from Homewood-Flossmoor High School, and I.T.T. scholar Beverly L. will graduate midyear, as well. I pray God’s wisdom and guidance on them as they journey forth to acquire more education in the upcoming academic year. Tess will be attending Adrian College in the Fall, and Nyduta will be a little closer to home at Valparaiso University.
Summer 2017 is shaping up, too. The trustees are tackling some roof repair needs. In response to the All-Church Retreat, Imaginarium, in May, there will be a weekly Prayer Group Wednesday afternoons “On the Threes:” 3:33 p.m. To increase the visibility of our space, I will offer Free Weddings one day a week called Tie the Knot Tuesdays. We anticipate another good gathering of St Andrew Methodists to work the crowd at the 4th of July Parade on the corner of Central and Ridge. Summer studies at the church and the Waterford will be available. And one of our church friends will be partnering with Exodus (from our Munch and Learn) to host a refugee family for one month; more details on how St. Andrew folks can assist will be coming.
Proverbs 28 reminds us that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” Vision, chazon, can mean revelation, or ‘What God wants us to be.” I am excited about the opportunities St. Andrew provides to do God’s will. A vision needs a task. I hope that in activities in this newsletter and in your daily living you are blessed to witness God’s work in you.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Biel’s post May, 2017
I live with someone who has a green thumb; the things she plants grow. Spring is a time of surprises for me, to see what plants have made it through winter and are now bursting into glorious flower at your parsonage. After months of bare earth and cold come colorful heads bringing pleasure to the eye, collecting sunshine and enticing pollinators. Some peek out slowly; others appear suddenly with a flourish.
Jesus referred to himself when he said that a single grain would fall to the earth and die and bring forth much fruit. He told his followers that if this did not happen, that single grain would remain by itself, alone. After his death, Christ’s body was planted in the womb of the whole world. The world had its way with Jesus by killing him. His burial looked like the end.
Only, it was the beginning. From the darkness of the earth Christ arose; not just one time, but for all time. Jesus is alive in the hearts of those who believe in his glorious Resurrection. His bearing fruit, his flowering, takes place in countless lives. His seed, no longer hidden, manifests itself in each of us.
As bearers of Christ-life, let us also be sowers. Let us share seeds of hope, healing, joyful anticipation, and true rest for the weary. Your support of and participation in the ministries of St. Andrew UMC are some of the ways you sow righteousness in this life. I am convinced that together we will be humbly surprised by the harvest we gather in Resurrection life.
Pastor Biel’s post April, 2017
“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2
Have you heard the story of the tree cutter who learns that taking time to sharpen one’s saw or axe makes all the difference in performance? For instance, President Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying that if he had six hours to fell a large tree, he’d spend the first four hours sharpening his axe. Most woodcutter tales start out with someone achieving impressive results. But, as time goes on, the woodcutter works harder and harder with less to show for it.
In the end, the overworked yet underperforming woodcutter learns the moral of these kinds of tales, which is, take time to sharpen your saw and your axe if you want them to perform efficiently. Apply this to our spiritual life. Inefficient and neglected tools waste energy. Attention to our disciplines helps us acknowledge God’s activity in our lives and know God’s will.
Are you aware of spiritual hunger? Are you the type of person who would like to live a life that is joyfully fulfilled? Would you like to grow closer to God using the gifts God has given you, your heart and mind? If so, then it is crucial to “sharpen the saw” (Habit 7 of Highly Effective People, according to Steven Covey). This means we must take care of our physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs.
I’d like to offer that it is a worthwhile use of time to find out which tools work best for you to encounter God, to be receptive to God’s Spirit. At the same time, I’d remind you that you don’t have to get anything “right” in your prayer practice. I, for one, am tempted to judge myself by my performance. But, know this, God wants you, your heart. In the words of Dom John Chapman, “The best way to pray is the way you pray best.
”The renewal of our minds helps us make changes that are necessary and good. As we renew our connections with others, our diet and exercise and resting regimen, our learning, reading, and writing, we create growth and change in our lives. Sharpening the saw spiritually means that we spend time in practices that allow us to yield to God, who both refreshes us and challenges us. Our well-being is made more vibrant by prayer, time in nature, service, music, art, and meditation. These disciplines keep God central so that we can face each day as a new creation where God is working for good.
Finally, expect resistance! We are creatures of habit. Even a practice that revitalizes us at first may seem like a chore in short time. Persons in your life who have been models of faithfulness will be sources of resistance to the change Jesus is working in you. The only source of fidelity and hope I’ve found during difficult seasons of prayer practice is in the Holy Spirit, who teaches us to pray, sometimes in sighs too deep for words.
As we approach Easter, may you recognize God’s voice, Jesus’ love, and the Spirit’s leading in your practice. “Be with God. Enjoy your company, God’s company,” (John Ackerman, Spiritual Awakening.)
Pastor Biel’s post March, 2017
Have you ever had to say, “I’m sorry to ask you this, but I’m really sensitive to scents, and I think I’m reacting to something you’re wearing. I’d really appreciate it if you could avoid using that perfume at work.”
As one who lives with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, it’s not just cologne or perfumes that have a negative effect on me. Deodorant, laundry detergent, lotions, and soaps with chemical scents also impact my health adversely. And yes, flowers.
I remember being so nervous the first time I had to ask a worship team to please NOT order Easter lilies because of how their scent affects me. I was relieved that there was no pushback at all. The leaders simply stated that they wanted to make sure that I could be in the sanctuary on Easter! We informed the congregation, explained that we wanted to be welcoming to all, so that the people we love would be able to show up.Being aware of scents is another way of showing our care for each other.
I learned a couple of things from their Christian kindness. First, Speak Up! Share your needs and concerns. People without MCS may not be aware of it, and don’t mean any harm, but the use of products with fragrances can be overwhelming for those of us who are sensitive. It was only after bringing this up in a meeting that others privately expressed their sensitivities to me.
Also, I was afraid of embarrassing people. The discussion naturally broadened from flowers to fragrances. I worried that people would be put off when I expressed my need. But what I learned is that most people want to be team players and make church accessible to all, MCS sufferers included. In no time at all, folks helped accommodate me and others like me by not wearing any fragrances in public. They even changed hand soaps in the bathrooms.
So, this will be another Easter devoid of lilies in St. Andrew’s sanctuary. Thank you for your understanding!! However, let’s keep their meaning in our hearts: purity, innocence, joy, and the victory of Christ’s Resurrection.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Biel’s post January, 2017
An eye on the past and an eye on the future. The gospels go the extra mile to show that Jesus fulfills prophecies spoken about the messiah. King Herod’s advisors studied the prophets to divine Jesus’ birthplace: Bethlehem. We learn that the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape the violence of King Herod. From Bethlehem to Egypt, both Jeremiah and Hosea’s prophecies come to life; Rachel weeping for her children in Ramah, and “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Jesus’ birth, like Moses’, involves the slaying of children. Like Moses, Jesus comes out of Egypt offering God’s deliverance.
Jesus’ adult life continued to reflect what was said of old about God’s Savior. In particular, that he was unwanted, persecuted, and murdered by the legally sanctioned power of the state.
It’s hard to make sense of the life of Jesus’ family, with its suffering, violence, strange angelic visitations, and immigration. Yet, the cost Mary and Joseph were willing to pay, their sacrifice, led to Jesus’ public ministry. Even today, courageously following Jesus leads us into suffering (one’s own and the suffering of others). My Roman Catholic friends call this truth an “enigma;” that suffering often does lead to light and life.
Even with a rudimentary understanding of scripture, it’s easy to draw parallels to the atrocities taking place today. I don’t think it’s our job to find meaning in senseless violence. Not all grief leads to belief. It’s not our task to perform autopsies on whatever hurt us in the past. The God who calls us into intimate relationship does not make terrible things happen to us.
One can accept that Jesus’ original family suffered and still reject the violence done to people and life on the planet today. Just as we would not condone Herod’s slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, we must not blame God for the killings (and acts that kill the person-hood or spirit) in our modern life. Nor should we remain silent about them. Instead, however, we must keep open to the possibility that suffering can be used by God to lead us past the cross to resurrection.
The gospel writers had an eye on the past and an eye on the future as they wrote about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the one who fulfilled the prophecies. With the towering crosses of rejection and human pain surrounding us, we too, need to know our his-story and look forward to God’s Life-Story living and moving and breathing through our lives.
Pastor Biel’s post November, 2016
The birth and mission of Jesus revealed our greatest human need. Our greatest human need is forgiveness. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Never forget, you can’t earn your salvation. Our only hope of salvation is Jesus!
Someone once wrote these memorable words:
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator;
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist;
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist;
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer;
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.
That means you can’t save yourself by taking in your neighbor’s trash can. That means you can’t save yourself by preparing a casserole for a sick friend. That means you can’t save yourself by putting your loose change in the bucket by the bell ringer. You can’t earn your salvation by attending a Christmas Eve service. Your only hope of salvation is Jesus. Let me ask you this all-important question for this Christmas season. Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior? I hope your answer is yes!
We have a special opportunity this year with Christmas Day being a Sunday, to honor Jesus with our church family in worship. Christmas Eve will feature a relaxing Candlelight Service at 11:00 p.m.
There are 365 days each year, but Christmas Day is special. What is there not to love? Our favorite Christmas cookies tempt us for weeks. Our community is illuminated with Christmas lights. Our Christmas trees are decorated with ornaments that remind us of the past. Our calendars are filled with Christmas parties, and our Christmas wish list contains our perfect gift. Christmas is a time of family and friends. It is easy to forget that Christmas is a time to remember the birth of Jesus.
This year’s Advent/Christmas sermon series is called Christmas is Not Your Birthday. It was originally created by Mike Slaughter of the Ginghamsburg Church (a United Methodist congregation) in Tipp City, Ohio. He is afraid we have lost the real meaning of Christmas in American commercialism. He has a point. Did you know that the average American home will spend $749.51 on Christmas this year? Did you know the average American child will receive $271.00 in gifts this year? How can the church compete?
How easy it is for our secular world to forget the sacred meaning of Christmas. This sermon series challenges us to look beyond ourselves to a world that is filled with need. God blessed us on Christmas by sending us his Son, so we should be a blessing to others.
To underscore the importance of this sermon series, we will have the opportunity to study the book in small groups. Look for the book and sign up sheets in the lobby.
Have a Blessed Advent waiting,
Pastor Biel’s post October 1, 2016
One of my stand-out experiences in the life of St. Andrew Church was participating in “The Living Last Supper.” The leadership of Mary Lee Hoganson and Angela Marciszewski moved the actors and singers into a deeper consideration of Christ’s life and what it means to be Christian. People I meet in the community remember their experience of this touching performance.
“They call me Andrew, the Bringer, since I am always bringing people to Jesus,” states the apostle Andrew, played by Noel Patterson. I can’t shake the importance of this message from our church’s namesake.
Because of Andrew, people encountered Jesus. He gave them the opportunity for a relationship. Andrew, “The Bringer,” could converse in a variety of languages to people of diverse cultures, ages, and incomes, building trust and impacting acquaintances. That spirit of listening and connecting with God and one another is sorely needed today.
I’ve watched the culture shift in America related to membership in organizations and relationships. Olu Brown says, “…in our present-day culture, ‘a sense of belonging’ trumps or surpasses ‘a habit of joining.'” Relationships first, membership later. I believe that forming significant relationships should be the work of our membership, our “Bringers” of people to Jesus.
I’ll be performing a wedding this week for a family that calls me “their pastor.” They’ve not joined any church, as members, but they have a deep regard for how I minister in Jesus’ name. We’ve had enough of a relationship for them to consider me their pastor. We need to realize that commitment only comes after nurturing and cultivating the sense of belonging.
What’s the difference between joining our church and participating in our church? The people of Impact Church, Atlanta’s fastest-growing United Methodist Church, call themselves “impactors” whose job it is to bring the community into significant relationships that impact the world around them.
What if we stopped calling ourselves “church members” and thought of ourselves as “St. Andrew Bringers” instead? Bringing people to Jesus is as easy as it was for the apostle Andrew. Telling your story, how good Jesus has been to you, is all there is to it. Your relationships have the power to transform.
Deep Blessings, Pastor Biel
Pastor Biel’s post September 1, 2016
I must say that I am walking on a cloud right now. I just returned from the first class of our All-Church Study, “Half-Truths” at Waterford Estates in Hazel Crest. I love the way that a small group comes alive with intelligent discussion around a relevant and engaging topic. Of the fourteen attendees, everyone was caught up in a spirit of inquiry and sharing.
It’s no secret that even leaders of classes are strengthened in their faith and nurtured by the wisdom that pours forth when we gather to study God’s word. I appreciate how my walk with God is deepened thanks to the insights and experiences of the group.
I hope you have signed up for one of the groups being offered, even if you cannot attend all five. I pray that one of the sermons on the topic of Half-Truths will stir your imagination. Half-Truths are simple phrases. They sound Christian-like something you might even find in the Bible: “Everything happens for a reason,” “God helps those who help themselves,” “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” We’ve all heard these words. Maybe we’ve said them. They capture some element of truth-yet they also miss the point in very important ways. Join us as we search for the whole truth.
And bring a lawn chair and your pet (if you have one) to the Pet Blessing Service on Sunday, September 18. We’ll be outside on the west side of the building to enjoy a worship where even the animals are welcome.
Deep Blessings, Pastor Biel
Pastor Biel’s post August 1, 2016
As brooding rain clouds gathered over the parsonage on Aberdeen Street, so did a half-dozen friendly souls from St. Andrew. The first to arrive were treated to a symphony of raindrops beating on the gazebo roof. But the storm passed over with alacrity and more guests arrived to “Gather with the Pastor.” We enjoyed tasty finger foods, great company, lively conversation, and organic, vegan s’mores over the camp fire. The date of the gathering was chosen to coincide with the local dog-walking group’s presence in the park behind the parsonage, Woodborough Park. Yes, it was an opportunity for us to cherish each other, but also to practice the art of Visibility. Maybe ten dog walkers came out despite the rain. Trust me, they noticed our little group.
I’ve observed an increase in the community taking notice of St. Andrew and our ministries. The Bear Den #5 of Cub Scout Pack 304 is a new addition to our building use. Thirteen families see us in a way they never had before through this Boy Scouts of America-sponsored group. The Brookdale Senior Living Community’s director of activities, Lori Barr, routinely asks for us to be a faith-based presence at their site. Tell her “Thank You,” if you’re part of that great community. Likewise, Waterford Estates Senior Living has welcomed us for a study in September. The new Bloom Township Food Pantry specifically reached out to your church to invite partnership. The V.F.W. cordially invited my participation in the Memorial Day Parade, where I led the marching Cub Scouts of Pack 304. The Cancer Support Center is eager to have our help at the Walk of Hope in October. The Homewood Park District reveled in our youth group’s participation in their Ultimate Frisbee event (it would have been a dud without us) and promised to personally let me know of upcoming free events. At the Fourth of July Parade, where eighteen of our church family staked out the corner of Ridge and Center, several marchers commented on our shirts and our group, pleased and encouraged by our presence.
This development thrills me. We are becoming relevant to the organizations making a positive impact in our neighborhood. We are on their radar, on their maps. They are beginning to say in their planning meetings, “Make sure the people at St. Andrew Methodist know about…” These groups see an association with your church as a strength. Our job is to continue this awareness-raising.
Since the St. Andrew UMC T-Shirts have arrived with the stylish new logo, it’s time to step up our visibility efforts. Of course, simply wearing your T-shirt in public helps tremendously. Friendly, natural social interactions are the logical next step. For instance, my family enjoys garage sales, and we wear our St.Andrew UMC T-shirts when we go “sale-ing.” The exchanges that spring up begin like most typical conversations. But, by the grace of God, some conversations go deeper into hopes, aspirations, hurts, and sometimes prayers. We discovered that the parsonage is a local landmark for being organic and for the North American Butterfly Association certified butterfly garden we planted. While our invitations to worship are politely received or declined, our connection to our neighbors lasts. And these neighbors know to what church we belong.
Because we speak so highly of you, St. Andrew (the Bringer) UMC, waitstaff, librarians, the Mayor, cashiers, hygienists, secretaries, teachers, retired folks, local business owners want to know how things are going at your church. Even young adults I’ve met playing Ultimate Frisbee (always wearing our t-shirt) are giving me their ideas of where we can be seen in public for free. (May wonders never cease!)
As you read this newsletter, please be thinking about who in your life might enjoy one of the multiple “Entry Points” St. Andrew offers to get involved in the life of our church. It isn’t only worship, you know. We offer crafting, scouting, drug/alcohol anonymous, singing, feeding, serving, study, coffee, fitness, youth activity…so much!! And tell someone, so that the love of God, the peace of Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit can grow in our village.
Deep Blessings, Pastor Biel
Pastor Biel’s post June 1, 2016
I’ve just returned from conducting the memorial service for my Aunt Caroline in Michigan. Being with extended family again gave me the chance to hear the stories I’ve heard again and again, as well as some new ones. These stories are more than just our memories. They tell what our values are, what special events shaped our character and identity.
Likewise, we have stories in the church that release in our hearts certain qualities and remind us of our identity as God’s children. The earliest parts of the Bible contain stories we repeat the most. In Genesis we learn of some of the worst stories of humanity. We also learn about the figures who give us the courage to live faithfully in our own day.
What a gift to realize that we aren’t the only ones called to leave our comfort zone, for instance, when we read about Sarai and Abram. Our ancestors in the faith were adventurous and set an example for the generations that would follow. Young people have had to leave home, exiles leave their native land, people leave behind childhood beliefs as we grow in wisdom. As we realize the inadequacy of conventional thought, as we explore unmapped regions of the planet and cosmos, as theories of matter and energy still compete to define truth, we are break-ing new imaginative ground.
Daily I marvel and worry about how fast our world seems to move, how privacy and face-to-face interactions are on the decline, how ethics can’t keep up with the pace of discovery. Yet the fast pace of to-day and the changes that brought us to this day give witness to our faith. With the awe, excitement, and revulsion of each new landmark discovery, we are invited to trust God, who commanded Sarai and Abram “Go from what is familiar and comfortable. There are realities greater than you know and I will lead you there.”
Jesus worked intentionally at calling his followers beyond the friendly confines of human exclusion. He ate with sinners, spoke highly of Samaritans, touched the ritually unclean, talked with Roman soldiers, even invited a tax collector to be an apostle. Thomas Troeger says, “Part of what makes Jesus so attractive is his willingness to risk censure in challenging the exclusion of people from the circle of God’s hospitality.”Hospitality begets hospitality when we read the Gospels; acceptance begets acceptance. May you find comfort and challenge in the command, “Go! Be my witnesses to the ends of the earth,” from our taboo-breaking messiah. Once word gets out that we reach out to outcasts, imagine how quickly and widely grace will spread around.
Keep the Faith,
Pastor Biel’s post May 1, 2016
These words of encouragement, spoken to Esther by her uncle Mordechai, still cause us to consider how we participate in the world. We could place ease, comfort, and security above the public good. But only to our detriment. The world’s peoples (even creatures and habitats) need Christians to speak up, live right, and to act in love.
God’s will, Mordechai suggests, will get carried out one way or the other. Instead of being a spectator, young Queen Esther chose to act in the face of extreme prejudice. The phrase “…for such a time as this,” recalls God’s providence, God’s guiding hand in human affairs.
Do you ever feel like you were “specially placed” in a position, or in someone’s life, or into a situation? Do pieces of information seem to find you at just the right time? Does it ever feel like things “worked out” so that you were present at something important, such as a need you were particularly suited to address? It is worth considering God’s timing for our lives, looking back (and forward) to those times and places where our presence made a difference. This gives us an opportunity to say, “Thank you,” and “Use me, Lord.”
God, who designed our souls, also directs our lives. When we commend our lives to God, we find ourselves in service to the kingdom. We discover opportunities to speak to individuals and crowds alike about matters of the heart and spirit. Even dangerous situations, dreamed up by the world’s Hamans, will be confronted with the power and presence of God. By whom? Those sturdy dreamers who answer, “Yes!” to God’s call on our lives.
Following a call to be Jesus’s witnesses can be intimidating. There is great temptation to remain quiet to injustice, safely at home when our neighbor is in need, and unable to find the time for inward or outward disciplines. Esther was afraid to come before the King. She feared for her life were she to speak up on behalf of the persecuted. We, too, may be afraid of casting ourselves upon God’s free mercy.
Let us have the courage of Esther, with earnest prayer and commitment, to make love manifest where there is evil today. Even if it makes us tremble, let’s do the work of ordering our lives for God, so that everything we do and say can be an expression of divine love. Our work of uniting with one another, especially because we are different and diverse, is a bright light to a deeply divided world, “for such a time as this.”
Pastor Biel’s post April 1, 2016
The Easter stories, in worship, will turn to conversion stories. The disciples will experience a conversion so that they are no longer spectators but are the church, through which God’s saving work will reach multitudes. Peter will experience conversion in his understanding of who is acceptable to God. Gentiles will experience conversion by having the resurrection explained to them by witnesses. Saul will experience the conversion on the Road to Damascus that leads him to abandon his persecution of Christians and become a follower of Jesus Christ.
What conversion is needed in our world? On one hand, individual conversion is an ongoing affair. My own faith and my trust in God is still a work in progress. “Could do better,” is stamped all over me. I’m so glad I am not alone in my work towards improvement. I have the church to help me. I also have Jesus’s Holy Spirit. Each time we take communion I am reminded of Jesus’s strong and continuing desire to eat and share with us.
Just as individuals need to keep growing in faith, the church is always under construction, or conversion, as well. We have the tasks of freeing people from social evils, forgiveness, proclamation, and teaching interpretation of current events. This looks different today than it did in the past.
If we choose to follow the Holy Spirit, I believe we will find the gospel alive in whatever setting we are led to. The good news can be manifest in every circumstance. Our daily lives are where the scars are visible, where someone’s name spoken in love can be truly heard, where our witness makes a difference. Jesus shows up in those moments with grace, healing, mercy, and a call to do better.
Now that Easter has entered our lives once again, I’d like to see us take seriously the conversion of making our everyday lives an offering to God. I’d like to see the law of love realized in our words and actions. I’d like to see God’s justice evidenced in our relationship to people and the planet.
This kind of conversion will not be possible with our own resources. Pray for the strength that comes from God to make the necessary changes; to set these bones dancing and melt these stone hearts. Pray that the people of St. Andrew, “The Bringer,” church choose to follow the Way, trusting that we are named and blessed. Pray that we, too, may experience a conversion that leads us into deeper trust and an understanding of the world God wants us to build.
Commit yourselves to God and to one another.
Your Brother in Christ,
Pastor Biel’s post March 1, 2016
We cannot run from restlessness. When we try, we only run to it.
The chatter that invades our attempts at stillness always finds us. Dealing with interruptions is part of a healthy prayer life.
Here is a collection of images that have worked for me to keep calm and contemplate on. Be gentle, of course; we’re always learning to go deeper. Even seemingly fruitless minutes spent in feeble attempts at perceiving God is still quality time given to God, who redeems the time and restores your spirit.
The first images that have been a help for me are those of animals: a seagull, a wild deer, lake fish, and a calf, in particular. With each, I take a distinct approach to keep thoughts from derailing my practice of mindfulness. The soaring seagull reminds me that there is a wider, higher view than the one drawing me from my center. The wild deer reminds me to tread quietly, intently, open to ‘markings’ of the spirit. I sometimes adopt an attitude toward prayer as if I’m stalking a wild creature that startles easily by strong emotions and inappropriate thinking.
The lake fish reminds me that many ideas swim below the surface of my conscious mind. So what if they leap up, making a splash and ripples? I can just as easily let them return to my own deep without chasing after them. Finally, a calf that is continually breaking its tether and running off is a favorite of mine. My awareness constantly rambles away from my intent to remain focused on God. When I notice that this has happened, I simply picture a loving, non-judgmental hand leading the calf back to its tether and beginning again.
Less concrete images like warmth, energy, wind, light, a flowing stream are also effective tools in my soul work. Impressions like these help me connect to the rhythm of my breathing and heartbeat. Each one can assist me to move back into a quiet space after I am presented with a strong emotion, such as a loss, a disagreement, someone who needs healing, a conflict, or a new and exciting idea.
Some distractions are boring and easy to let go. Imagine sitting at the edge of a riverbank; having these thoughts is like noticing leaves or sticks in the stream. They occupy your mind but only for a mo-ment before they continue on their way. In every session, though, I have thoughts that are more persistent, that demand examination or action.
For instance, the image of my deacon floated from my heart into my mind’s eye in this morning’s meditation. My reaction was to get up, send her an encouraging text, and look at my planner to see when we could connect. It took effort to resist this good urge, to remain at peace, and entrust her to God’s care, knowing that we could connect after my prayer time. The image that came then was a warm, soft wind that carried her into God’s hands.
“The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
I used to keep a notepad nearby so I could write down and release ideas that I didn’t want to lose, and then, return to stillness.
Finally, human images bring me back to my quiet center. Seeing the face of Jesus can calm any storm in my interior. Sensing silhouettes of loved ones, ascended masters, saints, ancestors in faith offers me assurance and challenge. The cloud of witnesses who have tread the path of prayer is vibrant and alive with compassion. Some have smiled upon my prayer efforts with nurturing encouragement. Some have been wildly aggressive in their insistence that my attention be fixed on the present moment, dressed as a Desert Mother or Father of the early church, pursuing me while shouting, “Now!”
I will ‘see’ you in that timeless ‘space’ we travel to in prayer, where our souls touch. When we expand beyond our cell or prayer closet or rocking chair or hospital bed we would do well to know that we are not alone. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit sent in Jesus’ name, will meet us and help us to pray.
So, rather than trying to dash from distractions, simply observe them. Remain centered. And let them go.
Pastor Biel’s post February 1, 2016
Dear Friends in Christ,
Did you know that the Eastern Orthodox churches do not observe Ash Wednesday? Traditionally, they spent the first Monday before Lent cleansing their souls by penance and their cookware by scrubbing away all traces of meat and fat, which could not be eaten during this holy season.
“Clean Monday,” “Pure Monday,” even “Green Monday,” can be a time for us, too. A time to clear the decks as we prepare for Lent and Easter. “Clear your mind and your agenda so that you can have space to engage yourself in the works of this holy season in a way that makes you a holier and more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ,” writes Edward Hays.
What practices would help you “unclutter the desk of your heart” as you connect to the divine? Prayer, fasting, and gifts of charity are the age-old works of Lent. More recently, people are taking up a discipline as well as sacrificing; worship, spiritual readings, the Study of Scripture. In Sunday morning worship we will spend the first part of Lent by honoring Black History Month.
Perhaps this year is the year you focus on your mind-body connection. If so, St.Andrew offers a Yoga Class led by Jeffery Lippert on Mondays and Wednesday at 2:30p.m.
A Small Group for prayer will be offered right after yoga class, at 3:30p.m. on Wednesdays, February 17-March 23. With this book as a guide, I will lead an hour of ancient prayer practices in the Sanctuary each week. Participants are responsible for securing their own copy of Daniel Wolpert’s “Creating a Life with God.”
If worship and fellowship is where you feel most connected, please mark your calendar for our Ash Wednesday worship at 7:30p.m. and the Homewood Community Lenten Lunches at the Presbyterian Church on Gottschalk every Tuesday at 12:00p.m., February 16-March 15. In particular, February 23 could be a day for you to grow in service to others as the people of St.Andrew provide the meal that afternoon.
I’m very excited about the return of the “Living Last Supper” on March 24th and hope you’ll buy a ticket for the people in your life to have this incredible experience.
“Clear the decks!” because St.Andrew offers a little spiritual food for everyone and we need to make space to receive it. “Clear the decks!” because we need to de-clutter to hear God’s messages to us.
May this Lent draw you closer to the love and peace of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior.
Pastor Biel’s post January 1, 2016
But to each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’
(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?…) Ephesians 4:7-9
Christmas is real. The Messiah came to the world in the flesh. God “descended” to us because that’s how God is. God’s love never quits seeking out the lost. In our humorous “Christmas at the Movies” series, we learned that in Buddy the Elf we also see God, on a quest to bring us back to the ‘Nice List.’ Not because we are naughty, but because we are broken.
With Christ at the center of the church, will we, too, descend? Will the church follow the path Jesus set before us, I wonder? See if you can locate on your GPS where Jesus tells our patriarch, Peter, to go. “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Did you catch it? Did Jesus say, “take my church to heaven?” No, Jesus tells Peter to take the church to “Hades.” Hell.
“Go to Hell, Church!” Who says this? Our Lord said it! You know that gates don’t travel. Where would the church need to be in order that the gates of Hades fail in prevailing against it? Jesus wanted the church to be on the edge of Hell. Jesus declared that he came for the sinners, the sin-sick, not the healthy. He called sinners like me to the Gospel feast, and the Great Commission is for us to do likewise.
Friends, the church is supposed to be on the offense. Jesus never said that our gates withstand Hell, but that Hell’s gates fall under our invasion. With 90% of churches in decline, I wonder if we need to check our playbook and see how our offense is doing. Is this decline because there is no hell on earth to rally against? Is there no brokenness? Is no one hungry or suffering? Let’s stop messing around with God.
There are 78 million young adults in the Millennial Generation, and only 15% of them go to church. Who will put together a game plan to reach them?
Never believe that we’re too old for this. Psalm 71:18 declares, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”
The psalmist inspires us to pray, “Lord, make us still effective to reach the next generation with your good news.”
If you want to be playful about God’s vision, remember that it is like the ‘Code of the Elves’ that states, “There’s room for everyone on the Nice list.” If you want to get serious, remember that God promised Abraham that “all nations” would be blessed through him. God promised Isaiah that he would be “a light to the nations.” If you need hopeful encouragement, recall that Simeon said of Jesus that he would “bring all to salvation.” If you need a rebellious message, recall that the Old Testament forbade astrology, yet that old rascal, God, goes and uses a star to proclaim Jesus to the Magi of the East. God never stops seeking us, all of us.
Jesus carried out God’s game plan of salvation. The work of inviting those who aren’t here yet is ours to continue. Some will sign up for this effort in pencil and in six months erase their names. Others will sign up in pen and after a year or two decide that St. Andrew Church’s vision isn’t theirs and leave. But others of you will sign in blood. You will be God’s “F.A.T. people” (Faithful, Available, Teachable) who stay and do great things. May God bless your commitment in 2016.
Pastor Biel’s post December 1, 2015
“Tis the season to be jolly,” but the voices around us aren’t always joyous. No, the chorus we hear this time of year can be anything but angel choirs. The messages we see will not all be glad tidings and good news. I anticipate cartoons about keeping “Christ in Christmas,” (and rebuttals that we’ve collectively forgotten that the Greek ‘X’ represents ‘Christ’ in Xmas), reminders that Jesus’ family were refugees, and advice against rampant consumerism. I expect some of us will go into debt. And others will be hardened by the profit-driven sales that have little to do with the birth of a Savior. Of course, advertising strategies that convince shoppers that “You deserve to get yourself Christmas gifts” are catching heat. As Pastor Mike Slaughter challenges his readers, “Christmas is not your birthday.” I also expect Christmas to be “blue” for those missing a loved one or struggling with physical and mental health issues. I expect family arguments caused by the stress we’re under to act normal, find the perfect gift that says, “I love you,” and for children to behave like angels. For those with large families, I expect Christmas to be a three-ring circus of emotional ups and downs. Before I come across as a Scrooge, let me point out a couple of startling voices from the Bible. (And these are the good guys!) John the Baptizer’s Advent advice? “Repent, and prepare a way for the Lord.” Jesus’ hairy cousin, John, insists that those looking for the Messiah “give some evidence that you mean to reform.” That wild, lone prophet in the desert reminds me that the ax is already at the foot of the tree. And if I can’t provide evidence of generosity and selflessness, of inner reformation, then I will be chopped down, like a Christmas tree—only, not to be decorated, but to be thrown into the fire! And if that’s not upsetting enough, there’s the prophecy of old Simeon when he lays eyes on Jesus, “This child is destined to be the downfall and rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed.” Our faith should be quickened by the reality that all is not “merry and bright” at the first or any other Christmas. Hope is possible in the face of 21st Century adversity when the faithful recall the life-threatening and foreboding events around Jesus’s coming. Toppled governments, military occupation, murderous despots, innocents butchered, riots, the powerful brought down to the dust like a “brood of vipers,” an unwed, pregnant teen-mom, refugee families: these make up the Christmas experience in the Bible and in our lives. Our worship will reflect on some of these hard truths in a playful way with a “Christmas at the Movies” sermon series. Don’t let the true light be distorted by the happy-flashing signs this time of year. God’s light entered our harsh reality and continues to abide with us, even when we are, and the world around us is, broken. Remember and relax. The Christmas Season is always a mix of build -up and let-down, anticipation and disappointment, tender moments and old grudges. Jesus is the greatest gift we receive, so how will you receive him? You, yourself, are the greatest gift you can give in response. What will be your sacrifice: praise, conversion, worship, a humble heart? Deep Blessing on your Advent Journey towards a meaningful Christmas, Pastor Biel
Pastor Biel’s post November 1, 2015
Throughout life we are often asked to be faithful. We are asked to be faithful to our marriage and family; to our country; to our teams; to our schools and too many other things. These faithful commitments are important because when they are made and kept they help to hold the fabric of our lives and society together. Faithful commitments to those institutions and relationships which are important is a necessary and vital part of life. Unfortunately, we have all seen the harmful and sometimes destructive results that occur when these faithful commitments aren’t kept.
As Christians we are also asked to make and keep faithful commitments related to our faith in God. Each person who is a member of the United Methodist Church was asked to make such a commitment when he or she joined the church. Each of us committed to support God’s Holy Church through “our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness.” The commitment we made when we became a member of the church is a sacred commitment because that commitment was made to God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life.
In the sermon series that leads up to “Commitment Sunday,” November 22nd, we will consider this sacred commitment and how it impacts our stewardship. As we look forward to dedicating our pledge cards, you are invited to look with honest eyes at how faithful you are being to this sacred commitment. Commitment Sunday” is November 22nd. Dedicate your pledge card in worship.
Pastor Biel’s post October 9, 2015
The bold, interactive worship experience known as “The Brief” will return to St. Andrew UMC in November; Sunday nights at 7:15 p.m.
Led by Pastor Biel, this uplifting service lasts 30 minutes. In it’s pilot-phase “The Brief” was packed with prayer, praise, and great discussion.
We’re looking for participants to worship, of course. We also welcome you and your friends who would like to sing, play an instrument, perform in readers’ theater, or just move some furniture to respond. We need helpers to bring “The Brief” to life in this preview stage of it’s development. Please contact Pastor Biel if you or someone you know would like to get involved.
Pastor Biel’s post October 1, 2015
You won’t believe what happened to me on top of that ladder. After all, I was simply using a prop in worship, right? WRONG! Invoking the Bible story about Jacob’s ‘ladder dream’ while climbing on the tallest A-frame ladder in the building, I really wasn’t expecting God to grant me a vision; but that’s exactly what happened. First, let’s back up a year. When I arrived to lead worship in your sanctuary, something ‘funny’ caught my attention. You didn’t sit near one another. Truly, I wondered to myself, “Don’t they like each other?” Then, it struck me that I misinterpreted your behavior. Avoiding people was not why there were little clusters of you worshiping around the whole sanctuary. It was the lights. You actually couldn’t see the hymnal and bulletin unless you sat directly under a light fixture! This meant you grouped yourselves together with space between you. Sometimes a lot of space. After a little trial and error, the trustees hit on a solution that is both energy-efficient and bright. That’s where the vision comes in. By shedding more light in more places, the trustees (in memory of Dick Campbell and Dennis Carlson) literally chased away the darkness. But it doesn’t stop there. After ascending that ladder twice in worship, the welcome and the benediction, the marvel happened. What I saw from my perch brought a deep peace and hopefulness to my spirit. I recall saying something to the effect of, “I wish you could all see yourselves from here. You are a beautiful church.” It wasn’t until later that afternoon that I understood why seeing your smiling faces alight with a new glow touched me so profoundly. Yes, we saw each other in a new light, that’s factual. For the first time since I have been St. Andrew’s pastor, the worshiping Body of Christ was free to follow their hearts and sit NEAR one another. Newly illuminated, there is now no ‘off limits’ place in the pews, no obstacle in your way. The light has overcome the shadows and the darkness could not contain it. The vision was as much sensing as seeing. Seeing the people of St. Andrew worshiping less than an arm’s length from the next person was like a little glimpse into heaven. There was light in your eyes that wasn’t just from the lamps. And I am deeply humbled. You are why I’m so excited about the power of small groups and classes. They bring you together, strengthening your ties to one another. You are also why an outreach like “Sack Hunger” brings me such joy. It gives the community an opportunity to meet us and partner together with us in doing God’s will. What I thought would just be a ladderstunt, something dynamic to make worship more interesting, glorified God for me because of you. I pray you sense the bright light of God’s spirit moving in and through us, too. In Christ, Pastor Bie
Pastor Biel’s post August 24, 2015
The comic genius Lucille Ball told us, “The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” One of the greatest lies is that we are “nobodies”. Most of us have at some point felt like a nobody – insignificant, invisible, worthless. The Gospel of Luke is a first century portrait of Jesus with a particular focus on his ministry with those who were considered nobodies. This August, join us as we read through the Gospel of Luke together. Each week, we’ll turn our attention to specific stories that illustrate Jesus’ concern for those who were marginalized by society, and as we do, we’ll hear his word for our lives today. Join us for “The Gospel of the Nobodies.
In a home near you…Friendly chatter warms the living room as drinks arrive. In the other room children’s laughter bubbles up. Led by the Spirit, we share stories that connect us. In response to a short video we weave questions and answers, convictions and doubt, wisdom and hope and prayer. Together we foster a love of Jesus. Together we dedicate ourselves to life ordered around God’s love for us. You can be a part of such a movement with the small group study, “Dare to Dream” by Mike Slaughter beginning in mid-September.
Our last all-church small group this past spring drew 24 participants into 3 homes to pray and learn about John Wesley together. I know our response to six weeks of “Dare to Dream” can be even greater this autumn. Books will soon be available to purchase. Perhaps you’d like to open your home to this kind of experience.
I hope you’ll live into the expectation we have at St. Andrew Church that EVERY MEMBER is growing in their faith. Attending worship, daily prayer, Bible study, giving, and participation in a small group are hallmarks of a growing disciple.
In Christ, Pastor Biel