I worship at Ebenezer UCC because the people accept me with all my strengths and all my weaknesses. I worship at Ebenezer UCC because this church offers me a place where I can grow in my faith, come to know God better, and they help me see God in the everyday.
I came to the UCC by accident in 1989 in Nebraska. I had never heard of the UCC, but they had a church where I lived in Columbus, Nebraska. The church was made up of a lot of families descendant from German farmers, though few of the present families farmed. The church was between pastors, searching for a new pastor to lead them. The people were warm and welcoming, especially Jeanette.
The new pastor, Bruce Carlson, was called in 1989. He made an impression on me during the “get-to-know-you” meeting the night before the trial sermon. He answered a relatively simple question with an answer so far off the wall that I knew this was going to be an interesting time with him in the pulpit.
He did more than anyone to point me in the direction of ministry. He was scholarly, a great storyteller, kind, a Boston Red Sox fan, and as flawed as anyone else. He was also open to listening to many ideas.
As some of you know, there was a day that I asked to speak with him for a few minutes. He invited me into his study, listened to my deepest concerns and then startled me with a question which changed the direction of my life. Without that time in his study on a Sunday morning, I would have left the church, most likely to never return.
After that morning, life began changing at a pace and direction scarcely believable. Within three years, I had left engineering, Nebraska and an old life, and had relocated to Wisconsin and seminary. Today, I call Chilton & New Holstein home.
Where is God in all of this? This is a fair question for me and a fair question for you. If I assume God is nowhere to be found in this life during the past 27 years, then I have a series of events occurring at random times and I have a story of a person adapting to changing circumstances. Not much more than that and certainly nothing to capture the imagination or worth sharing. However, there is another way to understand my life.
At every moment of life, God is deeply involved in my life. From the moment I awake to the minutes when I fall asleep, God is beside helping me lead my life which will be significant for myself and for everyone whom I know. In some ways, I can readily testify to how God has changed me and continues to change me. I have learned to have a much larger view of the world than I had several years ago. I have learned the world is a complex place to live with many people of different cultures, beliefs, and practices. I have discovered that God speaks many languages and lives and flourishes in countless different cultures – some of which I understand and some of which are so different from mine that I have trouble understanding them. God is present in every culture and nation in the world.
I have also come to understand life as a journey. None of us are at the same point in the journey. There are so many side roads which we can choose to explore that at times it may seem to some that any road, except the main road, is a path leading to a dead end. I own a terrible sense of direction so it is comforting to me to know that eventually God will lead me to the main road. Perhaps, I’ll stay on the main road for just a short time, and then take another path and explore another unknown land. On every side road, whether it is paved or unimproved, God is there with me helping me see what I have not seen, learning that which was unknown to me, and steering me to places which will equip me for some part of life which I have not yet experienced. During 2020 one of those paths brought me, and I suspect many others, to wonder what was happening to the country.
Tomorrow I do not know where I will be. I do not know what I will find when I awake. I do know that tomorrow God will speak to me through people I will meet, through the world around me, through the Bible, and through the traditions which have preceded me. I would like it if you joined me Sunday at church to hear God still speaking to us and always loving us.
How would you tell your story? What have you done in your life? Where have you lived? What jobs have you held? Are you married? Do you have children? Are you single? Are you divorced? Who has had the biggest impact on your life? Why? How did that person change you? Sometimes telling your story, understanding your story, will help you understand other people’s stories. Get to know the stories of others and you might begin to experience the “unity” that is so often spoken of these days.
Peace and grace,