Message from Pastor Stanton for March 2016

Since September, we have been considering, as a congregation, what it means that God welcomes us to “the table.” Our Lenten theme is centered upon this truth as well. We come to the table to be fed, for fellowship, to be known, to be included, to remember Sabbath, to celebrate… and there’s so much more. But these things, obviously don’t just happen at the church’s Altar Table. They also happen in our homes, at our dinner tables. God shows up in our feasts and our weeknights, over meatloaf and prime rib. These are the first two points we want to make about the table: that God shows up both at church and in your home.

But there is one more way we want to consider the “table.” Just as Christians become the hands and feet of Christ in this world, offering grace and mercy in Christ’s name, we make a transition from feeding at the table to becoming feeders. The church becomes a table to the community where those in need of mercy receive hope, clothes, a listening ear, food and so much more. God invites us to come to the table. Together, we become a table to the world.

That’s why throughout this month of March and even beyond Easter we will emphasize ways we respond to the grace we receive at the table. On March 6, the president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan will join us for worship and offer the sermon because First Lutheran, although generous in its annual budgeted giving to LSS, has little idea of what an impact we have through the 262 programs at over 196 sites in 115 communities throughout Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. LSS is an ELCA ministry that costs a lot of money and draws upon a lot of gifted people in our church. Our greater awareness of this ministry will hopefully result in greater support for this table that provides so much for so many. LSS is changing lives. LSS is us!

Did you know that within our annual budget we support LSS, La Crosse Campus Ministries (serving UWL, Western and Viterbo), Sugar Creek Bible Camp and the La Crosse Area Synod? We also support a number of other organizations, mostly local, as need arises, but these four ministries receive a significant annual portion of our giving. Through these ministries First Lutheran shapes faith for kids through camp, sustains faith for young adults in college and meets all kinds of needs for people of all ages through LSS. We don’t hear enough of these stories. First does not know how their dollars are changing lives or shaping faith.

We need to tell these stories! Many years ago, our synod created a program for congregations where individuals are equipped to tell the Stories Of Faith In Action (SOFIA). The program is called “Mission Interpreters.” Our own Vern Olson helped create the program, and Cindy Berg from Our Redeemer in La Crosse continues to do a great job of training and sustaining this crucial ministry. Mission interpreters 1) thank people for their faithful giving, 2) remind people of how the church makes a real difference in real people’s real lives and 3) tell the stories of how our offerings are transformed into effective global and local ministries that bring hope and healing. We are agents of mercy in this world! A mission interpreter would be asked to make a 3–5 minute ‘announcement’ every once in a while at worship sharing one of these stories. We would also want to share these stories at small group meetings and among Sunday School and confirmation classes. There are many ideas for how to share the joyous news that our gifts make a difference.

I hope to gather 5-10 mission interpreters so that we can share the load of all this storytelling. Details for the training day are to the right. Please contact the office if you are interested. Is God calling you to be the bearer of good news?