During our Sunday worship services we offer God "ourselves, our time and our possesions" as we pray the offertory prayer. From time to time Grace members come to the lectern and present a "Mission Moment." Here are some recent Mission Moments. Find more in the archive.
December 11, 2013
Good Morning! My name is Karin Danganan, and I am a member of the Stewardship Committee at Grace. I am here to talk about the Advent Thankoffering tradition.
In preparation for this moment, I began, as a lay person might do, by researching the word “advent” on the Internet. My first discovery left me feeling a little empty, with the short and simple “the arrival or start of something.” My next discovery, on About.com, was a little more fulfilling by describing Advent as “a period of spiritual preparation in which Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord.”
In the Christian realm, Advent marks the beginning of the church’s liturgical year. In the secular world, December is the last month of our calendar year. It is a time when many of us reflect on the past year.
Recently, at Grace Church and School, we asked our young people to do just that, to reflect upon the blessings in their lives and then write one or two on a paper cut-out of a fish. We then created this “Net of Blessings” display. If you have not yet looked at it closely, I invite you to do so after the service. I am inspired by their words: family, friends, food, and yes, parents (remember that when they grow older), and also education, books, dolls, sports, and specifically named video games—because God blesses us with both work and recreation in life.
Recently, some Grace friends and I were talking about Advent and Christmas traditions in our families. One of my personal favorites is playing my well-loved Amy Grant CD on an old boom box and blasting her song “Emmanuel” while my family and I decorate our tree. Each ornament, carefully hung, brings back a special memory from our past. It is certainly a time for reflection on the many blessings which Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” has bestowed upon us.
As you reflect on the past year, I encourage you to follow the example of our children and think about the ways in which God has blessed you-- perhaps through a new job, marriage, or new addition to your family. Or maybe it was simply the gift of faith and the comfort of family and friends who are seeing you through a difficult time.
And as you reflect, I encourage you to pray, give thanks, and if you are able, I invite you to begin a new Advent tradition or continue one you may have already started. That is to make an extra gift to Grace during this season of Advent, as an offering of thanks to God for what he has first given us, as we await the coming of his Son --- the greatest gift of all. Thank you.
June 23, 2013
"All of Us Have to Hold the Ball"
For those of you who are visiting our parish - welcome - and for those of you who are extraordinarily faithful stewards for our parish from whom we cannot ask more -thank you-. I invite you to tune me out and contemplate other things. I might suggest the Glory of God.
For the rest of you, and I do expect that is most of you, I will be brief and plain speaking. I will leave theology to the ordained. By now, most of you have heard the extremely eloquent, and heart felt, Mission Moments from three of my fellow members the Board of Elders. I am going to avoid eloquence and speak to the challenge we face at the end of the fiscal year next Sunday.
Just the smallest part about me. I grew up in a Roman Catholic parish in New Jersey that I fondly remember as Our Lady of the Perpetual Collection. Two, sometimes three collections, on Sundays. The Church bulletin published lists of every parishioner’s contributions not just once a year, but also after Christmas and Easter. The Church bulletin was very well read in those days. We went to Church every Sunday but perhaps the only sermon of my youth that I recall vividly is when there was a money problem for the Church (this was probably during the sharp recession of the early 1970s) and Monsignor Dalton asked every family in which there had been no loss of a job to double its contribution to the Church. It was aggressive and those were different times for all Churches, but as I look back, the ministry of that parish thrived. I am as grateful for my time there as I am for what Grace has given me and my family over the last dozen years.
Next, a story that I always carry with me. I read it in Readers Digest many years ago. It involves a sportswriter asking a question of John Brody, who was then a famous football quarterback. Mr. Brody was among the very first professional football players who was paid $1 million per year. Big bucks. After a game in which he played, a sports writer asked Mr. Brody a question. “John, why do you, a player making a million dollars a year, have to hold the football when the kicker kicks an extra point after a touchdown.” Quarterbacks are often fairly smart men and Mr. Brody was no exception. He replied quite simply. “Because if I didn’t, the ball would fall down.”
You can’t argue with that logic.
Folks, we are running short and there is not that much time left in the fiscal year. Thriving parishes help form good Christians. We need contributions by next Sunday. We are likely to have a deficit and our best hope is that it be a manageable deficit. An overwhelming deficit will force this parish and its leadership to redirect energies and time to matters that are not central to its ministries.
We all have to do more. You already know that. As much as you would like, you can’t rely on the other guy, because the only guy you can control is you.
Quarterback Brody’s insight into the reality of the situation was deeper than you might have thought at first. All of us — no matter who we are, how much we have done before, how much we make or don’t make, how together or broken we are when we come to this place, whether we agree with every choice ever made at this parish — all of us have to hold the ball or it will fall down.
June 2, 2013
by Markus Sleuwen
Good morning. My name is Markus Sleuwen and I have the privilege to serve on the Board of Elders of Grace. I have been asked to provide, in a few minutes, a synopsis of how and why I offer with joy and thanksgiving what God has first given to me - myself, my time and my possessions. Those who know me, know that limiting my talking to a few minutes is no easy feat. I will try my best.
I would like to focus this morning on Grace's dedication to learning, teaching and providing a safe place for moral discourse. Why is education and conversation so important to me? Well, a little background on myself may be helpful to provide some context.
Stating that I am an international person somehow is just mentioning the obvious. I was raised in Duesseldorf, Germany and Barcelona, Spain. My direct family members include nationals of Germany, Spain, The Philippines, Britain and South Africa. I am a fluent speaker of German, Spanish, Catalan and English. I have been traveling the world since I was born ... and, today, am just 50,000 miles shy of reaching the status of 2 million miles flyer on American Airlines (which does not take into account the miles which I have racked up traveling on other airlines).
At a very basic level, the German side of me views the "why" of the giving of myself, my time and my possessions simply as my responsibility. Germans (similar to other northern Europeans) are rule followers. Germans put a lot of thought into and engage in extensive discussions during the stage of the creation of an effective system of rights and obligations, but once such system is devised and put into place, Germans follow it. In the context of our faith, there is no need to create the system of rights an obligations because it already has been articulated in our scriptures. Therefore, typically rule abiding Germans do not have any hesitation accepting the implementation of God's wishes strictly as their responsibility. Lots of us Lutherans have a northern European connection (some of us still very clearly represented in our last names) - as such, maybe you also feel that your giving of yourself, your time and your possessions simply is an act of compliance with your responsibilities.
My northern European rule following "black or white" machine-like predictable cold tendencies struggle with my southern European emotional, passionate, subject to discussion at every instance, "shades of grey nuanced" tendencies. This southern European part of me engages in constant analysis of whether my giving of myself, my time and my possessions is appropriate in light of the probability that the objectives that I desire to achieve are satisfied. I am very pleased to report that the result of this constant southern European "return on investment" analysis in which I engage is fully satisfied with respect to my involvement in Grace. In addition to important reasons such as the German heritage of this congregation (which continues alive and well with the original German language Bach cantatas), the ability to share church life with three generations of my family and the marvelous services at our Church, the dedication of Grace to learning, teaching and providing a safe place for moral discourse is of paramount importance to me.
Since my wife, Leslie, and I joined Grace Lutheran Church, we have found that we share with many members of Grace a natural curiosity for knowledge and a desire to further the exchange of thoughts relating to important and frequently challenging topics in a respectful and safe environment. This realization has only grown on my part since I have taken more active roles within our church. While I understood from the outset that Grace is a special place, I did not fully grasp the extent of the specialness until I followed my mother in law's advice that "If you want to get more out of church, you need to get involved beyond attending Sunday service". As a result of my expanded level of participation, I have gotten to know fellow congregation members in a less superficial manner and, through such interactions, have concluded that we are united not only by our belief in God but also by our striving for excellence in most of what we do. Thanks to our talents and our pursuit of excellence, many of us have become accomplished in the areas to which we have chosen to dedicate our time. Scripture reminds us that the gifts that we have received, including our talents, are to be used by us for the benefit of others, as good stewards of God's manifold grace. I have been deeply touched by seeing first-hand the humble actions of numerous members of Grace for the benefit of others in need - in most cases done silently, without drawing any attention to themselves. Did you know that a significant number of Grace adults and teenagers tutor poor students in the Austin neighborhood through the KidzExpress program on a weekly basis ? Of course, Grace's commitment to the education of children also is visible in our support of Grace Lutheran School and our Sunday School program. I am proud to be associated through Grace with those of our members providing education.
As you know, Grace also provides education through programs such as our weekly adult education and periodic faith perspectives, presenting different matters in an unbiased and informative fashion, sometimes using panels of presenters with differing views on the same topic. I have fond memories of our adult ed series on gays (with the participation of catholic scholars on relevant biblical foundations, but also psychologists on the scientific background), our discussion of the controversial Mel Gibson movie "The Passion" (with the participation of a Jewish rabbi), our presentation on the topic of "Just War" (with participation of a political science professor and a pacifist) or the faith perspective afternoon sessions presenting discussions by highly regarded experts on challenging issues of critical importance to our country, such as immigration and health care reform. In putting together these programs, we at Grace are creating a community of moral discourse. A forum which cherishes the discussion of difficult issues in a balanced and respectful manner. A place where the sharing of different constructive viewpoints is celebrated in recognition of the power that comes from leveraging God's entire and diverse creation for the purpose of learning about each other and about the different effects that certain problems have on different people, with the goal of distilling all such information into an enlightened understanding of our problems and a better situation from which to craft well suited solutions. As someone who has dealt with many people of different languages and cultures, I appreciate the importance of a setting which promotes constructive dialogue, respects differences of opinion and serves as catalyst for achieving enlightened solutions.
When I travel to foreign countries, I always talk to people about our church. As you know, many European countries, particularly southern European countries, used to be fervently religious, but now have become fervently secular. After hearing about our church, I frequently hear from people in those countries: "If we had access to a church like yours, with engaging pastors, educational programs by experts, magnificent music and a lively congregation at every age level, we would be active members." This is what I wish to leave you with, the understanding that our actions have a reach that extends much further than our local community. We are part of something bigger than ourselves. Our educational activities here help not only our local communities, but serve as a beacon of inspiration and road map to churches, synagogues, mosques and other temples of worship throughout the world. I see that the time and possessions that I contribute to Grace generate a strong "return on investment". My Spanish side is happy! My German side, naturally, too.
Thank you and God bless the educational ministry of Grace!
May 12, 2013
Stretching Into the Future
by Susie Calhoun
My name is Susie Calhoun. My family and I have been members of Grace for about 40 years. For many of those years I was a member of the Grace School faculty.
After I retired and became an elder and more active in other areas of the Grace community, I realized that Grace is in a unique situation at this time. On the one hand it has a rich store of traditions that bring people back year after year to services and events. And on the other hand it is pulling and stretching itself to meet the needs of its changing family.
Some of you may not be aware but the congregation has established a new department called Youth and Family Ministry. The first hire was Logan Kruck as its director, and now we are beginning the search for someone to fill a half-time position who would be specifically working with children from birth to fifth grade and their families. This is all very exciting and promising, but frankly we need money for salaries and we need volunteers to help develop programs and implement them.
We all will pray in the Offertory Prayer in a few minutes the words, “We offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us, ourselves, our time, and our possessions.
If you are not sure how to do that, take an hour and visit our youth room between services to listen to our teens and learn about what they are thinking, come around Grace School especially late morning and watch the little ones giggling and rushing to meet moms or dads after a morning of preschool, or visit with shut-ins to remind them their Grace family hasn’t forgotten them, or better yet take a meal to a family that is experiencing a hard time. You will realize that the Grace community is worth your investment.
Today take a few minutes to think about the words from the prayer, evaluate your time and your money offering and decide to help your Grace family move forward in these new and exciting times.
April 21, 2013
Passing Over The Bridge
by Dick Martens
The Lord be with you.
Many years ago when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, I had a long talk
about the meaning of life with a Sikh gentleman. Sikh men, you will recollect, are the
chaps with the turbans and the beards. He recited a saying which has always stayed
with me. He told me that the saying is written in the Persian language over a
magnificent gateway near Agra, India. Here it is:
The world is a bridge. Pass over it, but build no house upon it.
As I have lived my life, I have caught myself from time to time trying to build a house
on the bridge. I have usually caught myself in the midst ofa crisis or catastrophe.
Maybe you have been there.
It's 3:00 o'clock in the morning. You wake up with a start--eyes wide open, staring at
the ceiling. Why? Because you are upset.
Maybe a loved one has died; or
Perhaps you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness; or
Maybe you lost your job; or
Perhaps your marriage or other committed relationship is in trouble; or
Perhaps your child has suffered a disabling injury.
And you say to yourself, why? After all, I tried to do everything right. I worked hard to
get in good schools; worked hard to get a good job; worked hard to make a good
living; worked hard to make a name for myself, to make some money and enjoy the
good life--but now THIS.
And suddenly as you lie there, you don't feel so invincible. You don't feel so
immortal. And that house which you worked so hard to build begins to shake and
As you lie there, you ask yourself: So, what is important? Is this house of worship
important or is this just another house which we are vainly trying to build on the
bridge? No, this house is different. This is God's house. Oh sure, the walls may one
day crumble, but what we are about here, is what is on the far side of the bridge. What
we are about here is our Lord, Savior, and Guide, Jesus Christ, who came from the far side of the bridge, took on the form of a fellow traveler, passed over the bridge, died
on the cross, rose and now waits for us on the far side of the bridge.
Some may ask why we need a guide. Why? Because passing over the bridge is
dangerous. You see, there are no guardrails on this bridge. It is all too easy to become
disoriented, lose your way, stumble and fall.
It reminds me of driving at night in a white-out. Did this ever happen to you? You are
driving along in a snowstorm at night and suddenly the snow starts coming down in
sheets. You can't see where you are going. In fact, you can't even see where the road
is. You dare not stop, lest someone plow into you from the rear. So you press ahead,
straining to see the tracks ahead of you and if you are lucky, the glimmer of a taillight
in the distance, lest you drive off the road into a ditch. It can be like that on the bridge.
At times you struggle to find your way through what seems like overwhelming
troubles. Problem is that there is no ditch to catch us under the bridge; only a fiery
So as you lie there at 3:00 o'clock in the morning, eyes wide open, staring at the
ceiling are there any take-aways? Four points and then I will sit down.
First, realize that we are all passing over the bridge. Every one of us. It is happening.
Right here. Now. Today.
Second, be aware that no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we may work,
we will never succeed in building a house on the bridge. Fame, fortune and power will
all pass away and crumble.
Third, if we are to pass safely over this bridge with no guardrails, we must follow in
the footsteps of our Lord, Savior and Guide, Jesus Christ. He taught us how to live. He
taught us the way. We must love and care for each other. We must love and care for
ourselves. We must support the poor, weak and heavy hearted. We must forgive each
other, just as we are forgiven here week after week. We must forgive ourselves. We
must be kind and generous. We must be good stewards ofGod's creation--of the
bridge and all that is on it. Yes, this is about stewardship and faith promises, but it is
more than that. It is about the promises of faith.
Finally, as we pass over the bridge, we must keep our eyes fixed on the light at the end
of the bridge. The light of Jesus Christ. The light of the open tomb.
To the glory of God. Amen.