February 2016

Dear friends of our Good Shepherd,

This month is a milestone for my family and me – we are celebrating five years of being members of Good Shepherd and the Rockford community. We are so thankful to walk with you through the good times and the hard times of our life together. Thank you for the generous Christmas gift – you do not know how much your prayer support and our shared community life means to us, especially during times of loss, as many of us have experienced recently. As we begin our sixth year of living and sharing Jesus together, I am committed to growing as a pastor and fellow traveler, as we reach out with the love of God and grow in faith, hope, and love as a grassroots, passionate Jesus community, a mission station in this community that lives and shares Jesus for the sake of our neighbors.

 

I am excited about our Lenten series, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers). Here is what the series is about: “Though commonly understood as a place to be feared and avoided, the Dark Wood is the surest place to meet God. It is a place where you may feel uncertain, empty, lost, tempted, and alone. Yet these feelings—these gifts of the Dark Wood—can be your greatest assets on your journey because they invite you to probe, question, and discover. According to the ancients, you don’t need to be a saint or spiritual master to experience profound awakening. You don’t even have to be ‘above average’. All you really need to be is struggling. This series is for anyone who feels awkward in their search for God, who seeks to find holiness amid their holy mess.”

 

We want to communicate better. Our church website is being revamped, our Facebook group is getting more attention. If you have an email address or cell number that we do not have, please let us know – you can email me at lemonholm@gmail.com or call or text me on my cell at 815-708-5997, or drop a line to Susan at the church office.

 

Living and Sharing Jesus!

Pr. Eric

January 2016

Dear friends of our Good Shepherd,

It is a new year – a new beginning. As a pastor, the new year begins for me during Advent, the time of waiting for the coming of God before Christmas. Merry Christmas! But there is something renewing about beginning a calendar year. What will 2016 reveal to us?

This is a new day for Good Shepherd. Our Home for All campaign has put us on a more secure footing, and reminded us of our commitment to our mission: to live and share Jesus as a passionate, grassroots Jesus community. Our property team is busy caring for our building and grounds – in fact, we invite volunteers to pitch in as stewards of our church property.

We continue to open our doors to the community, with the Northwest Neighbors, WINGS, Becca’s Closet, and more. We will hold monthly movie nights, showing impactful, conversation-sparking movies for our members and the community. We will have a weekly Theology Pub conversation at the Olympic. We are also renewing a commitment to community organizing, working with other churches and institutions to effect positive change in Rockford. Essentially, community organizing is about building relationships, and it starts locally – so we will want to grow and deepen our congregation’s community as well.

As I write this, we are at the 5th anniversary of my family’s visit to Good Shepherd, before we moved here on February 1, 2011. This is a milestone for us. For me, it is a time to renew my commitment to serve as your pastor in this community. We love Rockford, we love Good Shepherd. We are so thankful to be here in this place, walking with you as we live God’s mission for us.

Living and Sharing Jesus,

Pastor Eric

December 2015

Dear friends of our Good Shepherd,

Loss. Sadness. Grief. Anguish. Mourning. We know about these realities. We see them every day. We experience them ourselves. We all know loss. We all know sadness. We all miss family and friends who were once present for us and are now absent. Their absence leaves a hollow space in our hearts, and our hearts ache.

There is so much grief in the world. Just this past week or so: 129 people killed by ISIS terrorists in Paris. 43 killed in Beirut, Lebanon. 224 people killed in an apparent bombing of a Russian plane. How many killed in Syria and Iraq? I don’t know. The sad truth is that we become numb to the endless news of acts of terror, just as we were often indifferent about the hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis that died after our invasions. Just last month, we accidently blew up a Doctors without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, killing 30 people. Do we grieve as much for those doctors, nurses, and patients as we grieve for the people of Paris?

The refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq are fleeing from the ISIS terrorists. Do we stand in solidarity with the refugees, or do we scapegoat them and add to the terror they have already experienced? Can we stand in solidarity against terrorism without being terrorists ourselves? Can we channel our righteous grief and anger about violence and terror into effective action against the us vs. them thinking that begets terror and violence? Can we embody Jesus’ spirit of love for our enemies?

When we feel that Jesus our good shepherd is absent from us, we struggle with God, but we do not give up: we wait for the Advent, the coming of God in Jesus. If we listen and do not give up, sometimes we hear the still small voice of God say,

I am your God, and you are my people. I am here with you. I will never leave you or forsake you. I give you the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of faithful love and life and justice and peace. I will restore your soul when you are crushed by grief and despair. I will protect you in the face of your enemies, even the enemy death. I will walk with you through the death dark valleys of your life. Nothing will separate you from me. Not even death. I will fill you to overflowing with love for me and your neighbor. I will reconcile enemies, feed the hungry, bring justice to the oppressed and freedom to all in bondage. I will do this through you my beloved children. And then, I will dwell in the new creation with you forever.

Amen – let it be so!

Pastor Eric

Novermber 2015

Dear Friends of our Good Shepherd,

From my sermon on the story of Jacob wrestling with God: This past week God has been wrestling with me. Breaking down my defenses. Waking me up in the middle of the night. Trying to pin me down. God has my full attention. Wrestling with God tends to focus one’s heart and mind. As part of focusing our church’s ministry and planning forward, I looked at Good Shepherd’s ministries in this place, this neighborhood, and beyond. I realized that we are doing a lot of good things, and many people are involved! I also realized that our challenge is not so much to start new ministries or new programs, but to focus on what we are already doing, go deeper, get more people involved, and spread the word.

By God’s grace and power, we are already engaging our mission, Living and Sharing Jesus. Our challenge is to renew and deepen our engagement in that mission. As one pastor put it, renewing our church is “not rocket science… You preach the gospel, offer hospitality, and pay attention to worship and people’s spiritual lives. Frankly, you take Christianity seriously as a way of life.” Taking our faith seriously as a way of life; living and sharing Jesus as a way of life, as part of our individual and community DNA. That’s what it’s all about.

One of our challenges here at Good Shepherd is to reach out to our brothers and sisters of different nationalities or ethnic backgrounds with the love of Jesus. And again, it’s not rocket science! As brother Denver Bitner once told me, the secret to being a multicultural or multiracial church is to be a multicultural or multiracial church. Reach out, and then reach out, and then reach out again. Don’t give up seeing and meeting Jesus in your neighbors. Don’t give up welcoming them to Good Shepherd. Take the ministries that Good Shepherd already has and create entry points to the congregation. Be a Good Samaritan church!

This is why, as we are nearing the finish line for our Home for All: All are Welcome campaign, I am looking toward renewed Bible studies, evening prayer on Wednesday evenings, monthly movie nights that focus on spiritually powerful movies, and regular children’s events that serve as entry points for the community. That, at least, is how God has been wrestling with me this week. I invite you on a pilgrimage. Come and wrestle with God, not just alone in the dark of the night, but together in the light of the day as well. Renew your commitment to live and share Jesus every day, with our families and friends, our coworkers, and our neighbors. We want to grow deeper and wider as a community of Jesus people not out of obligation but out of joy. We wrestle with God, and we invite others to wrestle too. We hold on for a blessing. We may leave limping, but we have been blessed and we have been named – God Wrestlers.

God’s Work, Our Hands, Pastor Eric Lemonholm

September 2015

Dear Members and Friends of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd,

The great Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road– Only wakes upon the sea.

The poet reveals the truth that We Make the Road by Walking. We do not know exactly what the future will look like; in our ever-changing cultural landscape, it is difficult to make one-year plans, much less five-year plans. And yet, we are called to walk together, to live and share Jesus from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year – individually, and as a congregation, a synod (synod means ‘walk together’), and the whole church, united, empowered, and guided by the Holy Spirit. Often, it is only as we look back that we can see the path on which we were led.

For this next year, our weekly focus will center on Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking: A Year Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation, with 52 short chapters (4 pages) that lead us through key passages of the Bible through the church year. The book is $10 if you want a copy (sign up at church or call the office), though if that amount is a burden, order one anyway.

Here are the first five weeks of We Make the Road by Walking: Alive in the Story of Creation

Aug. 30. Awe and Wonder: Genesis 1:1-2:3, Psalm 19:1-4, Matthew 6:25-34

Sept. 6. Being Human: Genesis 2:4 – 25, Psalm 8, Mark 3:1-6

Sept. 13. A World of Meaning: Psalm 145:1-16, Proverbs 8:1-36, John 1:1-17

Sept. 20. The Drama of Desire: Genesis 3:1-13, Psalm 32, Philippians 2:3-11

Sept. 27. In Over Our Heads: Genesis 4:1-17; 6:5-8; 7:1-5; 8:1; 9:7-17, Psalm 51, James 4:1-8

We will mostly focus on these texts in worship during the next year, unless other texts take priority. I invite you to join your brothers and sisters in this spiritual journey as we live and share Jesus,

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

August 2015

Dear Members and Friends of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd,

From mid-June until mid-August, we are hosting the Summer Lunch program for neighborhood children: thank you to all who volunteer with that important ministry. Most of our Youth group – the Youtherans – and many adults volunteered at our West Side Day Camp in July. It was a wonderful week of ministry, with 48 children from the community learning about Jesus with our volunteers, the LOMC staff, and our friends at United Lutheran. The next week, the Youtherans, along with me and Lori Mueller, left for the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. What a transformative experience for us all – a time of worship, learning, and service, along with 30,000 other young Lutherans! You will hear directly about their experiences in the weeks ahead.   The theme of the Youth Gathering was Rise Up Together. Here is the goal of the Youth Gathering: “Ultimately, young people will be encouraged to see themselves as essential witnesses to God’s story in the world as they learn to proclaim the beginning of the good news in and through their lives of discipleship, a discipleship marked by their baptismal promises to:

  • Live among God’s faithful people,
  • Hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
  • Proclaim the good news of God in Christ through words and deed,
  • Serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  • Strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”

We are all called to Rise Up Together as followers of Jesus Christ. We are called to live and share Jesus, to meet Jesus in our neighbors and be Jesus to our neighbors as the body of Christ. That is what being church together is all about. This fall, we are embarking on a capital fund campaign with the ELCA’s Stewardship Key Leaders Program. We all know that we have significant building issues to address, starting with the boiler that needs to be replaced before the fall, but in the next few years including the roof, pew covers, AC, etc. We have an opportunity to address these short and long term needs, to make our building more efficient and able to house and empower ministry in our community for decades to come.

The capital fund campaign will begin September 27, and end on All Saints Day, November 1, with the giving of our commitments. This will not be a high pressure campaign, but rather an opportunity to grow in our faith and in our life together, a chance to Rise Up Together and live generous and joyful lives. Together, we can lay a solid foundation for living and sharing Jesus in Rockford for the coming generations.

Living and Sharing Jesus in 2015,

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

July 2015

Dear Members and Friends of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd,

Here is an excerpt from my sermon on June 14, about the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed – growing, multiplying, and spreading through the power of the Holy Spirit (Mark 4):

I cannot help but think of this spring and early summer in Rockford, the Forest City. A few weeks ago, I stood in Barb Street’s hospital room on the 9th floor of Swedish American Hospital. Looking out the window from the 9th floor, the south side of Rockford looked like a forest, with an occasional house popping up out of the greenery. With the rain we have had lately, our city is so green! Everything is growing. In our backyard, we had to cut down a dying ash tree a few weeks ago. Now, five little saplings are growing from the stump. In this fertile valley warmed by sun and watered by rain, plants cannot help but grow. If you are a gardener, or simply like to walk in your neighborhood, you cannot miss it. Birds and other creatures nest in our community.

Life is organic. The earth is organic. Human community is organic. The kingdom of God is organic. The church is organic. Alive. Growing. Spreading. Multiplying. Our church is an organization, an organism, organized chaos, a community, a family extended through time and space. And it all begins by planting seeds. Seeds which grow into plants that scatter their own seeds. And so it goes, on and on.

We are a mission outpost for God’s kingdom, a passionate, grassroots Jesus community living and sharing Jesus. We do not micromanage growth. What we do is plant seeds. Water. Prune. Weed. Nurture. But the Spirit of God, the Spirit of life gives the growth. God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s vision of peace and justice and love grows and spreads like a weed.

The Summer Lunch program is a way to plant seeds of God’s kingdom. So is Sunday worship, and Day Camp, and the Ice Cream Social. This fall, we will deepen our focus on faith formation, strengthening our relationship with God, our neighbors, and ourselves. Plantings seeds. Watering. Nurturing. And then standing back and letting God’s Spirit grow us in grace. Amen!

Living and Sharing Jesus in 2015,

 

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

June 2015

Dear Members and Friends of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd,

Our mission is Living and Sharing Jesus. Good Shepherd has been living and sharing Jesus for 68 years! In 2017, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of this congregation, which was planted in this community in 1947. This is a perfect time to establish a capital improvement fund.

We paid off our mortgage in the last couple of years. Unlike many congregations, we are debt free. However, in the last few years, we have had increasing costs to repair our boiler, our AC units, and our roof. Rather than reacting to emergencies that take a larger and larger percentage of our yearly expenditures, let us be proactive, and establish a fund that can be used for capital improvements as needed. Think about it: each of us has invested money, time, and talents in building this community and the building that is our community center. It is time to put the stewardship of this property on a more solid footing.

As a congregation, we are aging (as we all are!), but we are also beginning to welcome new members, and that will increase over time, as we continue to reach out with the love of Christ to our neighbors. We want Good Shepherd to be a strong, healthy congregation in 5, 10, 20 years and beyond. An essential part of our health is to continue to have a functional, attractive building for worship, education, and community events.

The urgent need, of course, is for a new boiler to replace the one installed when the building was built in 1959. A new heating system will be much more efficient than our old one, so in the long run, it’s a good investment anyway. Eventually (hopefully not for several years), we will need to replace some of the AC units, again, for more efficient units. In a few years, when our large, flat roofs need replacing, let’s explore the possibility of solar panels, as a way to lower our electricity bills. That technology is developing so fast, who knows what will be available then! Being green, and lowering our energy footprint, is a way of being good stewards of the resources God has given us to do God’s mission today and into the future.

This capital improvement fund does not replace the LCGS Endowment Fund, which is an endowment that will empower ministry in years to come. The Endowment Fund has about $53,000 in it. The interest from that endowment can now be used for special projects and non-budgetary needs, as specified in our constitution. It will continue to be important to grow the LCGS Endowment Fund for more long term mission needs.

Living and Sharing Jesus in 2015,

 

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

May 2015

Dear Members and Friends of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd,

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Happy Easter season to you all. With the butterflies dancing above the sanctuary, the lilies swaying on the altar, the quilts draping the pews, beautiful music filling the air, and the sun warming us, it certainly feels like spring in our worship. On the Sunday after Easter, we celebrated the baptism of Zach Stowers, and welcomed new members Bill and Pat Folz, Jennifer and Jessi Folz-Smith, and Dorothy Fant. We also have other friends of Good Shepherd who will join soon. It is a new day! Spring has sprung.

It is also time for change. After a year and a half, this month we say goodbye to our friends in LSSI’s Prisoner and Family Ministry, who have outgrown the space at Good Shepherd and will be moving to their own building, leased from Zion Development. We are grateful to have been able to help the program get off to a good start, and wish them well on their way. We will also keep our partnership with them alive in the years to come by hosting graduations and special events.

WINGS (Wednesdays in Good Shepherd) is up and running again – the children were excited to return after Easter. For the summer, we host the West Side Day Camp from July 6-10. We are also exploring the possibility of serving as a federal Summer Lunch program site for the city of Rockford, where the city delivers lunch for children in the neighborhood, and we host, at no cost to us (except for our tax dollars, of course). This is another opportunity to build relationships with the children and families of our community and make a difference in their lives and ours, by inviting them to Jesus’ table.

As you probably know, the main boiler for our building has ‘died,’ and we know we will have other facility challenges in the future, such as the roof, the AC systems, flooring in the Fellowship Hall in the basement, repairing the pews and the lighting in the sanctuary, and so on. We need to be good stewards of the church property, to ensure that Good Shepherd can remain a mission outpost for God’s kingdom, a passionate, grassroots Jesus community united in living and sharing Jesus in this community for years to come. Following the potluck brunch after worship on Sunday, May 17, we will have a congregational meeting to discuss and vote on a capital improvement campaign, and permission to go ahead and replace the boiler, so we can have heat by the fall. Please make sure to attend this important meeting.

 

Living and Sharing Jesus in 2015,

 

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

April 2015

Dear Members and Friends of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd,

As Jesus the Christ was on the road to the cross, he told a crowd, “The time has come for the Human One (or the Son of Man) to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.” (John 12:23-26)

On the cross, Jesus gave himself for us and for all, bearing God’s love all the way to death at the hands of the powers of this world. Like a grain of wheat planted in the ground, Jesus’ body was buried in the tomb. As a seed bursts with new life, shooting out of the ground a verdant living plant, so Jesus was raised from the tomb to resurrection life, the first fruits of God’s kingdom, God’s reign of justice and love and life, the new heaven and new earth promised and anticipated in our lives as followers of Christ.

When Jesus died on the cross, he was a virtually unknown rabbi, crucified by the Romans as a traitor. But when God raised Jesus to resurrection life, God affirmed that Jesus’ nonviolent way of love is God’s way of saving the world, that Jesus, in his life and death and resurrection, is the word of God made flesh for us and for all creation.

This is why we celebrate during the season of Easter – and all year long. On the first Sunday after Easter, we will welcome new members to join us in God’s mission of Living and Sharing Jesus, the Resurrected One, God with us and for us all the way to the cross and beyond.  God bless you this Easter season!

Living and Sharing Jesus in 2015,

 

Pastor Eric Lemonholm