Sunday, November 18, 2007

Psalm 25:4-5 - “The Map”

Farewell Sermon
Thursday, November 15, and Sunday, November 18, 2007


Seven years ago when the Seminary told me you had called me to be your pastor, I needed a map to find Manitowoc. When we did find our way to Manitowoc, then I needed a map to find Two Rivers, Valders, Mishicot, Newton, Francis Creek, and Shoto. Then I really needed a map to realize that Cleveland isn’t in Ohio and Denmark is a short drive and not across the Atlantic Ocean.


Now I need a map to find out how to get from Manitowoc to Brookfield, how to find my way around the Milwaukee Metropolitan Area. I needed to look at the map to see that Immanuel Lutheran Church is located in the northeast corner of Brookfield, across the street from Menomonee Falls, caddy-corner from Butler, two miles from Milwaukee. Since the church has called me to focus on evangelism, reaching out and connecting with the community, I’ll need a map to realize how many communities that Immanuel touches.


Yet there’s really only one map that we need, isn’t there? There’s only the map of God’s Word. It’s what guides me; it’s what guides you. So today let’s celebrate that map with the words of Psalm 25.

On the insert in your bulletins, you have verses 4-5 from Psalm 25. It’s from my favorite version of Psalm: an engaging paraphrase called The Word on the Street by Rob Lacey. For the psalms, Lacey writes them as modern songs, giving each one a type of music to imagine behind the lyrics. Psalm 25 happens to be an upbeat indie rock song, and verses 4-5 are the chorus. I don’t know the tune Lacey had in mind, so I’ll just read the words. But watch how Lacey makes the travel imagery really come alive.

I need a map and a torch if I’m going to go your way;
I need good shoes and a guide if I’m going to go your way;
Where else would I go? You’re my God;
I really want to go your way.
Who else is worth relying on? You get the nod,
‘Cos I really want to go your way.

We need a map—God’s Word. We need a torch—that’s British English for flashlight. We need a flashlight—God’s Word. If we’re going to follow God, if we’re going to know how to live how lives, if we’re going to go to eternal life, we need a map and flashlight from God.

We need good shoes—the Holy Spirit. We need a guide—the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our travel guide through life and death. He is the One who will save us from dead ends and hellish destinations. He is the One who will bring us to eternal life.

That’s what we’ve been doing here—getting together to study God’s map, letting Him be our travel guide. That’s what we’ve been doing, and that’s what you’ll continue to do even as I take the call to Brookfield. It’s what we all need to hear today.

I need a map and a torch if I’m going to go your way;
I need good shoes and a guide if I’m going to go your way;
Where else would I go? You’re my God;
I really want to go your way.
Who else is worth relying on? You get the nod,
‘Cos I really want to go your way.

This calls for a map story. Flip to the back side of the insert.

When we travel from Wisconsin to see Susan’s parents in Kentucky, we take Interstate 65 through Indiana. One of our favorite places to take a break is just north of Indianapolis at Exit 124 so that we can stop at Steak and Shake (it’s really good food).

That exit intrigues me, because you drive about a mile on a side road to get to Steak and Shake. And once you’re at Steak and Shake, there’s no reason to go back to Interstate 65 because the restaurant is right by Interstate 465 which you can see on the map is just about to link up with 65. Whether we go back to 65 or we get on 465, either way we can get to Kentucky.

That’s where I imagine you and I are right now, and it’s why we “need a map and a torch… good shoes and a guide if [we’re] going to go [God’s] way.”

We have been traveling down Interstate 65 together; we have been doing God’s work here, sharing His love and Word of salvation with our community, but now I am leaving that highway, taking exit number 124.

I’m cutting across and jumping onto Interstate 465. I’m joining Immanuel Lutheran in the work they are doing to serve the Lord, the ways they are reaching out with the Gospel.

However, even if you’re on Interstate 65 at Redeemer and I’m on 465 at Immanuel, notice we’re all still headed towards Kentucky, all still headed towards the eternal life that comes through Jesus Christ. [And yes, I just compared Kentucky to eternal life, and I meant to].

Anyway, we’ll all be headed the same direction—on two different roads in two different places—but both Redeemer and Immanuel are headed towards Jesus Christ. You have the map and torch, good shoes and guide of God’s Word, and so do I. We’re following God’s lead as we head down these roads.

The problem, though, would be if I took Exit 124 and stayed at Steak and Shake. If I never got back on the highway, I’d never get to Kentucky. If I didn’t keep following God, I’d be ignoring His map, His plan. If that was the case, you should be very concerned for me.

But that’s not what I’m doing. I’m not stopping my travel towards God’s destination. By the time December 9 rolls around and I’m installed at Immanuel, I’ll be back on the highway of ministry. Please pray that there’s no Steak and Shakes that keep me from getting back on the road.

And I’ll be praying for you, because I don’t want you getting stuck at the Steak and Shake either. As I take Exit 124, you might be tempted to take that same exit. You might be thinking, That Steak and Shake sounds like a good place to stop. You might be thinking, If Pastor Squires is leaving, maybe we should just leave, too. Of course, if you do that, you’re ignoring the map of God’s Word.

Instead, you’ve got to go back to Psalm 25:

I need a map and a torch if I’m going to go your way;
I need good shoes and a guide if I’m going to go your way, [LORD];

You’ve got to stay on Interstate 65. You’ve got to keep moving forward in ministry together, you’ve got to keep looking for ways to reach out into this community, you’ve got to see how God will continue to use you to share His love and salvation with the people around you. There’s no reason for you to take Exit 124; there’s no reason for you to stop traveling down Interstate 65; there’s no reason for you to stop doing what you’re doing.

God has placed you on Interstate 65 for a reason, so don’t lose focus. Don’t follow me down that exit ramp; don’t get stuck at Steak and Shake. You’ve got to keep going past Exit 124, keep seeing where God will lead you.

But none of this is easy. It’s not easy to read the map of God’s Word. It’s not easy to keep following God’s map when a lot of the people around you are following other kinds of maps. It’s not easy to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing with your life—why you’re living according to God’s Word, why you’re so sure that Jesus is your Savior—it’s not so easy when everyone seems to misunderstand you.

Which makes me think of another map story.

To help me tell this story, we need to listen to 30 seconds of a song by the rock band R.E.M. It’s a song called “Maps and Legends,” and you have the lyrics on the insert.

Down the way the road’s divided
Paint me the places you have seen.
Those who know what I don’t know
Refer to the yellow, red and green

(Can’t you see)
Maybe he’s caught in the legend,
Maybe he’s caught in the mood.
Maybe these maps and legends
Have been misunderstood.

This song got me through a tough period in high school. Maybe you’ve heard me tell stories before about spending every summer during junior high and high school at a canoe camp in Boundary Waters of Minnesota. Those canoe trips culminated in a 36-day expedition to Hudson Bay in Canada. It was an incredible journey, exploring territories few people have seen, going for days without seeing another person, surviving by trusting each other in the group and learning how to travel on the wild rivers and lakes.

When I came home from the trip, no one around me seemed to understand how important that expedition was, how it had changed me, how hard it was to come back off the trail. When I found myself reminiscing and retracing our route on maps, I listened to this song by R.E.M. as they sing about following maps. When I felt misunderstood, I sang those words in my head: “Maybe these maps and legends have been misunderstood.”

I started thinking about this song again, because people don’t understand us when we follow God’s map. Even though it might be tough to hear, I know you understand when I say that I accepted the call to Brookfield because that’s where God is leading me. If I say that God’s map is telling me to head to Brookfield, you might not like it, but you understand that I need to follow God’s direction.

However, when I’ve talk to other people, people outside of the Christian faith, and tell them I’m going to Brookfield, they don’t understand why we’d pick up and leave with 3 little kids, why we’d leave when we had come to love this community so much, why we’d leave when I have obviously loved working with the people at Redeemer. I tell them that I’m following God’s direction, but when they give me a funny look, in my mind I’m singing, “Maybe these maps and legends have been misunderstood.”

I’m sure it’s the same way for you as you tell people about following God’s Word for your life. People who don’t know Christ, who don’t have an active faith, often don’t understand what it means that God’s Word is our map, the guide for our lives. “I need a map and a torch if I’m going to go your way.”

We want to follow God’s Word, we want to follow His map, but that means that people around us will misunderstand us. “These maps and legends have been misunderstood.” People will not understand why you don’t exit the highway, why you don’t stay at the Steak and Shake, why you don’t make other things more important in your life, why you make sure that you’re always moving forward to serve others with God’s love and Gospel.

And when people misunderstand God’s map and your life, support one another. Just as the R.E.M. song helped me when I came home after my canoe expedition, so you can be that song for each other, encouraging each other when the world doesn’t understand, comforting each other when the journey gets difficult, and urging each other forward to keep driving, keep going down Interstate 65, keep focused on God’s map, keep moving forward in your ministry together, because

(use hand motion that is kind of my trademark)
God’s love has come down to you,
so go out and share that love with the world.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Exodus 3:1-6 - “Holy Ground: Take Off Your Shoes”

24th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27)
(Lutheran Service Book readings - Year C)
Thursday, November 8, and Sunday, November 11, 2007

I want to share with you some pictures from an art installation by Paul Hobbs. The exhibit is called “Holy Ground: Take Off Your Shoes” (Sections below in italics are quotes from the accompanying book from Church Mission Society).

If we had the actual exhibit, it would be a display of shoes that have been donated by Christians from around the world. Each person also wrote a short story about their life as a Christian.

The exhibit is partly inspired by the reading from Exodus that we heard today as our Old Testament reading. Moses is walking along, notices a bush that is burning but isn’t burning up, so he stops to investigate. God speaks to him from the bush, and before Moses can get any closer, God says, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Out of respect, honor, and devotion, Moses takes off his shoes. Taking off his shoes made him aware of his sin, his unclean heart, his unholiness, as he approach the very holy presence of God.

So artist Paul Hobbs asked a bunch of people around the world to take off their shoes and tell a story about their respect, honor, and devotion for God, a story about their awareness of their sin and need for forgiveness, a story that shows how Jesus came to save them.

For instance, the cover shoes come from Laura Calenberg, a model from New York City. She tells her story this way:

Being on the covers of top European fashion magazines was no longer a dream for me but a reality. I could hardly believe it! All I ever wanted was to be in magazines, earn lots of money, and travel all over the world. My logic was that if I was successful and working as model then I must be beautiful. But my entire life was focused on my weight, hair, clothing, and overall appearance and attractiveness. I became a workaholic, working seven days a week because I knew nothing was guaranteed. And I became exhausted and sick.

I reflected on my life, questioning my values and ideas about beauty, and the kind of person I had become within. These questions and doubts were hitting me when I was still at the peak of my career. I saw the shallowness of it all and felt very empty inside. I had built my life on things that weren’t secure. . .on what the culture or my boyfriend thought, or how much money I made, or how popular I was. I was building my life on sand. I had neglected my relationship with God and chosen my own way. No wonder I felt so empty!

So, what is beauty? It’s what’s found inside, what’s in your heart. Humility is beautiful, though not popular in my business. Security and self-esteem are beautiful.…Only Christ can make us beautiful in God’s sight.

Laura Calenberg founded Models for Christ. Over the past 20 years she has met with girls from all over the world who have sought fame and fortune as models in New York City, helping them to see that real beauty is in Christ.

I originally found out about “Holy Ground” and Paul Hobbs just because I was searching the Internet for resources about this passage from Exodus. When I ordered the materials, I expected to mainly be thinking about how each of these people has taken off their shoes—literally for the art exhibit and figuratively in their faith—and once they’ve taken off their shoes, they’ve approached God.

However, the more stories I read from the collection, the more I realized that the whole exhibit is a natural fit for talking about stewardship. These are stories about people who have been given faith in Jesus and have gone out to share God’s love with others. That’s stewardship. Taking the gifts that God has given you—gifts of your time, your talents, and your material resources—taking those gifts and serving others.

Take Haile Gebreselassie for example. Here’s his story:

As a child growing up on a farm in Ethiopia, Halie ran 10 kilometers to school each day and another 10 kilometers back home. As an adult he ran with his left arm crooked, the effect of years spent running with books under his arm.

By the time of the 1996 Olympics, Haile was the reigning world record holder at 10,000m and the twice defending world champion. It was expected that he would receive a serious challenge from Paul Tergat of Kenya and that is exactly what happened. Tergat and Haile pulled away from the rest of the field after 8000m. Haile tracked Tergat until the final lap and then surged ahead to win by six meters. Haile and Tergat renewed their rivalry at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Again they left the rest of the runners behind and again Tergat led as they entered the final lap. This time the finish was even closer, as Haile did not edge ahead of Tergat until the very last stride, in what would prove to be one of the most exciting finishes in Olympic history.

Haile himself writes:
“When I was young, I always dreamed of becoming an athlete. And it’s thanks to God that I was able to realize my dreams. I couldn’t tell you what I’d have been otherwise. It’s clear that God gives all of us talents. The question for me is: how good are we at using these God-given gifts? So I have to work hard to utilize the gifts that God has given me.

“My faith underpins all of my actions….I always say thank you to God for giving me the opportunity to do what I have done. It does not matter whether I win or lose. The important thing is to work hard and to thank God for what He gives us to do.”

Haile is a great example of stewardship in the ways that he’s so clear about knowing that his athletic talent comes from God and that he looks for ways to give God glory for his talent. Even in participating in this art exhibit, Haile is being a good steward. He took off his running shoes and donated them to Paul Hobbs, but by so doing, he also donated his story, his encouragement, his testimony so that others would hear about how God worked in his life.

After reading a couple of these stories, and thinking about the art project’s title, “Holy Ground: Take Off Your Shoes,” I started thinking that really these people are talking about what they did with their shoes on. Sure, they’ve taken off their shoes so the shoes can be displayed, but they served the Lord with their shoes on.

That sent me back to Exodus and Moses standing by the burning bush. He’s there quite awhile talking to God, God trying to convince Moses to go and set His people free. Moses isn’t quite so sure about leading the people of Israel, about being God’s spokesman, so God has to do a lot of persuasion. The whole time Moses is standing there with his shoes off, because it’s holy ground.

But when it comes time to actually go and be God’s spokesman, when Moses is finally ready to go back to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of slavery, well, he’s got to put his shoes back on.

Moses took off his shoes to approach the Lord, but when Moses goes out to serve the Lord, when Moses is a good steward of the gifts that God has given him, then he’s got his shoes back on.

It’s just like us today. Take off shoes, leave shoes off, walk out of service at end carrying shoes We’ve got our shoes off, so to speak, right now. [Actually, some of the 7th graders knew what was coming, and they took off their shoes. We talked this week in Confirmation about one tradition in worship is to take off your shoes to remind us that we’re entering God’s presence]. Even if you haven’t literally taken off your shoes, we’ve taken off our figurative shoes in our hearts, showing God respect, honor, and devotion in our worship, realizing we’re unclean and unholy but God invites us to approach His holiness anyway. We’ve got our shoes off.

But when we leave from here, we’ve got our shoes back on, we go out to serve the Lord, we go out to be good stewards, good users, faithful users of our time, talent, and material resources. The stories behind these shoes are stories about what happens after standing by the burning bush, what happens after you leave church.

Look at the shoes of Julius Nyabicha from Kenya. As a Christian, he didn’t just stay in church; he didn’t keep his shoes off. He went out to be a faithful user of the gifts God gave him. Julius says it this way:

I was born in 1974. My father died when I was very small. When I look at my life, I have been amazed at God’s faithfulness in providing miracle after miracle to meet my needs for school and college. I am now married with two children, and it is my hope that soon we will be able to provide for other destitute children as well.

I joined Pastor Boniface Mosoti in his work with children. My vision is to help as many children as possible, to enjoy the privileges God has given me. One day, I hope to do this by starting a pharmacy business to build a financial base from which to fund these projects.

But right now, I have to work 400 km away from my wife and children, and can only see them twice a month. But I am re-assured that I have a caring, understanding wife who shares my vision. It is very hard financially, too, but I trust in the Lord who has always been faithful.

Being a good steward is about taking off your shoes only but then putting those shoes back on when you go out to serve the Lord. Stewardship is about coming before the Lord, confessing your sins, asking for forgiveness, and receiving salvation through Christ—taking off your shoes in your heart to receive God’s holy Word, but then stewardship is about putting your shoes back on, going out into the world looking for ways to faithfully serve the Lord and serve others with whatever you have.

That’s the amazing part this art installation by Paul Hobbs. He’s gathered stories from so many different places, different kinds of people, different experiences, but every one of them left the burning bush and put their shoes back on. The shoes we see in this exhibit are shoes that have gone out to serve the Lord by serving the world.

There’s Rosemarie from Germany who survived Nazi Germany. Her father, a Christian, helped Jews escape until the Nazis forced him to kill himself in 1938. Rosemarie then survived the brutality of the Russians after the war, and then years later, God led her to work in the former Soviet Union to speak about God’s forgiveness.

John Musa Puma from Nigeria who rebelled against his family as a teenager—following a native religion instead of their Christianity, stealing, drinking, and even killing. Then through an evangelist meeting, John became a Christian, quit his rebellious life, and responded to the need for an evangelist in the rural parts of Kenya. Now John has planted a church in the neighboring country of Niger in a mainly Muslim area.

Kanta from India used to work as a prostitute for 20 years. Now she’s a health worker helping prostitutes protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases. She cares for these prostitutes when most of society treats them harshly, the hospitals not even having the time to care for them. She also has many chances to share God’s love with these women and girls who know very little love in their lives.

Oscar Gonzalez from Lima, Peru, is an ornithologist, an expert on birds, who celebrates God’s Creation with his work as a field biologist. It has led him to travel all over Peru, working with researchers from around the world, and to also create a rare green space around his home in Lima.

Dr. Rob Wilson was originally a doctor in Wales in the United Kingdom, but then he felt called by God to go to Rwanda, to work for eleven years in that war-torn, genocide-ravaged country. He worked in a hospital caring for people who desperately needed medical attention and care.

I should’ve gotten each of you to donate a pair of shoes. We could have had shoes displayed all over up here and around the sanctuary, because each of you comes and takes off your shoes in your devotion to God but you also use your shoes as you go out to be good users of God’s gifts.

Since I didn’t get all of your shoes, you’ll have to just imagine it or use this last picture as a way of thinking about it. It’s a picture from Naz Hamid. It helps us think about just how many different pairs of shoes there are in this place, and that each pair of shoes represents someone who believes in Christ and who leaves the burning bush to go serve the Lord.

Somewhere along the line maybe someone has convinced you that you don’t have much to offer God, that you do your part by putting some money in the offering plate, but that you don’t have abilities or ways to serve God with your life. If someone has ever made your feel that way, I want you to remember this picture of all these shoes or imagine a display of shoes from every person in the congregation or remember the shoes of the people in the art exhibit, because each of those people is unique, different, flawed, not always so perfect, learning, still learning, but all of those people that belong to those pairs of shoes, all of the people in this place have ways to serve the Lord.

This congregation needs a lot of pairs of shoes to do what it does. And there’s not one pair of shoes that are more important than the others. God has blessed each pair of feet in each pair of shoes in this place. God does and will use each of you to help others learn and experience God’s love.

Please don’t ever think that your shoes are unimportant. God called you aside, called you over to the burning bush of His Word, called you to faith, and then He told you to put your shoes back on, He sent you out to serve Him whenever and wherever you are, in whatever ways that you are able.

Put your shoes back on as you leave worship today, put your shoes on and go to serve the Lord by serving the world.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Leaving Redeemer. . .

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have accepted the call to be Associate Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin. While I am confident that God is leading me to this new ministry and look forward to continuing to serve Him as a pastor, I am truly sad to be leaving the people and ministry we have here together.

Seven years ago when Susan and I arrived in Manitowoc, you greeted us with such open arms, and your love and care for us—and now for our three boys, Samuel, Jude, and Owen—has continued to be very apparent to us. We have loved being a part of this congregation and this community.

As Associate Pastor at Immanuel, I will be especially working in the area of Evangelism. Just as in Manitowoc, I am thrilled with the idea of looking for ways to connect Immanuel with their community, and using those connections to have the chance to tell people about the love and forgiveness of Jesus. Although the church has a part-time youth director, I also look forward to continuing to serving as a pastor to youth.

I treasure the work we have done to share Jesus in exciting ways together at Redeemer, and I trust that God will continue to use you in tremendous ways as you reach out to this community.

My last Sunday will be November 18. I will be preaching on both the weekends of November 8 & 11 and November 15 & 18. Bible studies and Confirmation classes will continue as scheduled through the 18th.

Please keep us in your prayers as we make this transition, and we will certainly be praying for Redeemer as you enter a new phase.

In Christ,
Pastor Ben Squires