Good Grief: Shared - Grief in the Story of Lazarus

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“To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.” – Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

In our Good Grief series, we've been talking through the universal experience of grieving. We all experience it, but it's definitely not uniformly experienced. Grief looks different for each of us, and we experience it in a unique way every time we walk through it. The uniqueness of our grief can often leave us feeling isolated and alone. After the loss of a loved one, some describe walking around bewildered and unsure how the rest of the world is still carrying on.

In the first week of our series, Pastor Sarah shared about a book entitled Lamet for a Son where the author, Nicholas Wolterstorff, wrote that he didn’t want clever words or well wishes after losing his son. He just wanted someone to sit with him. Presence seems to provide a healing balm for those who are in the midst of the most difficult times of grief. To comfort someone, we have to risk getting close to them, and therefore, close to their loss.

This week at First United, we hear how Jesus risked getting close to the loss of his dear friend Lazarus, and Jesus actually weeps. Oftentimes, this scripture is interpreted as Jesus’ emotions getting the best of him as he cries over the death of a friend. But, a closer read of scripture reveals that Jesus doesn’t weep until he sees Lazarus’ sisters weeping. Their loss becomes his loss, as he risks getting close to this profound grief. Jesus’ reaction has many lessons for those of us in the midst of loss and for those of us walking with others who are experiencing grief. Listen in as we take a deeper look at “Jesus wept” and learn why this little sentence can help us experience good grief.

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Good Grief: Accepted - Grief in Ruth

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This week, we continue our series on "Good Grief" as we look at the book of Ruth and the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah after their losses. We will examine the perspective this story is written from as well as how we can better interact with those who are grieving.

Speaker: Darcy Anderson is a member and leader at First United, and she holds a Master's degree in American Studies, which examines the how and why of American history and culture. Darcy's research areas include death, dying, and grief in American culture, as well as gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and ideals and institutions. She currently works at Cal State Fullerton as an Academic Advisor and Program Coordinator and will begin teaching in the American Studies department this fall.

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Good Grief: Misunderstood - Grief in Job

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Anyone watching the Tuesday night baseball game between the Angels and Rangers got a front row seat to a great game....and an entire team experiencing profound grief. A beloved young pitcher for the Angels, Tyler Skaggs, unexpectedly passed away the day before. It was hard to watch the game and not share the team's deep sense of loss. Even though we all experience grief over the course of our lives, we don’t like to see it, much less talk about it.

Whether grief comes from the loss of a loved one or the loss of a hope or dream, it is a universal experience. The problem is...most of us haven't been taught that grief is actually normal...and good. As a result, we can often damage friends and family when we try to help them experience their grief. We may try to give timelines for how long grief will last or the stages through which they need to move. Or, we may even try to distract them from their grief altogether. Sometimes, well-intentioned Christians can suggest that "good Christians" don’t go through grief, because we have an ultimate hope in Jesus and a hope in the afterlife. While grief is universal, it is not experienced uniformly. In our efforts to help, we can unintentionally make people feel even more isolated and alone.

In this message, Pastor Sarah begins a series called “Good Grief” dedicated to the stories in scripture where grief is handled in both helpful and unhelpful ways. We begin with the story of Job. His story is often told as an example of how harmful friends can be in the midst of grief or how life will get better if you're faithful to hold onto hope in the midst of loss. Yet, there's so much more to the story! We'll learn how joy is not the opposite of grief and how hope is never intended to defeat it. Join us this Sunday as we look at the strange story of Job to learn how we can navigate grief in the midst of challenging seasons of life.

Unfortunately, there is no recording of this sermon available.

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A Whale of a Tale: Unfinished Business

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Recently, a blockbuster movie director revealed that American audiences watched a different ending to his latest film than the one released in Europe. When the movie was previewed in the US, the reviews were unfavorable when the storyline wasn’t wrapped up within the two hour timespan, whereas European audiences enjoyed more ambiguity and room for speculation. If we're honest, most of the storylines in our own lives are more like the European version. We don’t always get the closure we're hoping for, and we're often in the tides of in-between times. This is the case with the story of Jonah...a narrative that was first relayed to a community stuck in the middle of their own story. 

As we've been learning, Jonah has multiple layers, and it isn’t as straight forward as it first appears. When we tell the story, particularly to kids in Sunday School, we usually skip the ending and have Jonah giving a half-hearted sermon followed by the Ninevites changing their ways. If the writer had left it there, it would be a warning to all of us that God often includes more people than we are ready to include. After hearing the story, we could evaluate our ability to include others and learn our lesson, but that isn’t the end of the story. Jonah isn't just a hero who learned his lesson. Instead, the story leaves us with more questions than answers...questions that can help us see the character of God and where God is during the in-between times when we can’t see a clear ending. This week as Pastor Sarah wraps up the story of Jonah, we will see how we often miss the grace of God when it doesn’t end up looking like we had hoped.

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A Whale of a Tale: Get Up and Go

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“Change is a gift often disguised as discomfort.” - Unknown

We all know that change can be hard. In fact, many of us have done everything possible to avoid change, but change is the only way that God brings newness into the world. From birth to death, life is a series of changes. Change can cause both excitement and discomfort, but the riskiest changes usually cause us the most fear. We have a tough time when things don't fit into the boxes or categories we've created. Yet, God doesn’t work in these categories and certainly seems to enjoy moving us beyond our boxes! 

This Sunday, as we continue to learn from the story of Jonah, Pastor Sarah shares about how God often invites us into change before we are ready to embrace it. Jonah is willing to share God’s message with Ninevah, but he isn’t quite ready for the Ninevites to change. Jonah wants to stay within the categories and boxes he has created, and he also wants his understanding of God to remain the same. This call to go outside of his box will deconstruct any categories of 'beloved' he has ever created. We can relate to Jonah, can’t we? Our Ninevah may not be a group of people, but there are places in our lives and in our faith where we struggle to accept changes. This week, we'll hear the sermon Jonah delivers to Ninevah and learn why it's one we all need to hear.

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A Whale of a Tale: The Belly of a Whale

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There is a term often used by screenwriters, authors, and playwrights to describe a scene where a character's life seems to be at an all-time low. Everything seems to be going wrong, and the character may have even lost hope. These scenes are called 'the belly of the whale.' Jospeh Campbell, a literary professor, is credited with coining this term as a nod to the story of Jonah. You and I know, even if you take the story literally, it wasn't a whale that swallowed Jonah, but the term still is used to describe the moments in life when everything seems dark and maybe a little stinky. These dark moments feel like being inside of a fish! We’ve all been there, haven't we? We've all been in seasons of life that feel hopeless...a time when our next move isn't clear.

This week, we're going to join Jonah in the belly of the fish as he tries to figure out what is next. When you really dig into the story, Jonah weaves together a couple of psalms to create a beautiful prayer that he offers up as a way to both reconnect with God and soothe himself. Join Pastor Sarah as we ask the question, "How can we find hope in the belly of the whale? And, how can we authentically be present to others when they have their own whale moments?" Sometimes, we miss the richness of this story, because we get caught up in its absurd nature.

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A Whale of a Tale: Unlikely Conversions

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Have you ever traveled for an extended period of time to a foreign country and heard someone speaking your native language but it suddenly seems foreign to you? They may be speaking in your native tongue, but after not hearing it for a long time, it sounds completely different. In our faith stories, we have moments when familiar ideas or beliefs can take on new meaning when we hear it from a different voice or perspective. Because these moments can feel disorienting, we might want to flee from these experiences. Scripture is filled with people experiencing these disorienting and stretching moments. 

This week, we continue our series on Jonah as we will celebrate Pentecost Sunday. These may seem like two unrelated stories, but as Pastor Sarah will share with us, they are both stories where people are surprised by who was speaking in a way they understood. On Pentecost Sunday, we remember the story from Acts when people began to hear the message of God in their own language and from people that they least expected to hear it from. In the story of Jonah, her will have a moment of deconstruction just as foreign sailors are beginning to believe in the God that he professes. Both of these stories teach us that God and God’s Kingdom are so much bigger than the words we use to describe our them. Listen in as we hear how disorienting moments can lead us to growth.

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A Whale of a Tale: The Story of Jonah

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When you were a kid, you probably played the game telephone. It goes like this...one person sends a message at the beginning of a line, and everyone whispers it to the person next to them. By the time it makes it to the end of the line, what was said in the beginning is totally different from what the last person says aloud! Usually, this has funny consequences.

Sometimes, reading scripture feels like a game of telephone. It's like the story started out one way, and by the time it was passed down through the generations, it has some new additions or maybe some things are left out. Most stories weren’t written down until generations after their occurrence. This can make the stories hard to legitimize due to lack of details or historical facts. But whether or not the stories held in scripture are completely historical, they still hold great meaning and help us to further understand God.

Every summer, we take sometime to look at a complete story and all that it has to offer and teach us. This year, we're looking at the incredible and grand story of Jonah. Most of us grew up hearing the story of Jonah as the man who was swallowed by a whale. From art to felt boards, the story is told with a whale, but scripture doesn’t give us that detail. In fact, many of the things we think we know about Jonah are just things we have heard like the telephone game. This week, we'll begin looking at this story seeing it for what it really is...a parable. We know it's a parable because of its exaggerated nature. Both in the Hebrew scriptures and in the New Testament, when a story is exaggerated, listeners learned to hear it as a parable with deep meaning. Just because not all of the parts of the story are factual doesn’t make the entire story untrue. When someone exaggerates the size of a fish they caught, we don’t assume they never caught a fish...just that part of the story isn’t quite factual. In the same way, there are pieces of the Jonah story that even if you don’t buy the whole fish part, you can garner helpful truth and a hopeful story of God’s surprising inclusive nature. 

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You Have Heard It Said: How To Be Perfect

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“Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

Perfect...when we think of the word perfect, we usually think of someone who is able to achieve all their goals, be fully present with their family, engage in healing the world...all while making no mistakes. Perhaps “you have heard it said” in church that we should be perfect, but since we can’t live up to that, we need Jesus to step in for us in our relationship with God. The problem with that is that would mean God created an imperfect human that is being asked to be perfect. This kind of perfection feels heavy and is filled with musts and shoulds

Is that really what God wants from us? Does God want us to be able to police ourselves towards perfection? Or, is it possible that Jesus is suggesting something else? Perhaps, we can get to the bottom of what Jesus is really asking when we look at the world translated as perfect. Teleios can be translated as complete, fulfilled, or balanced. If Jesus is asking us to be fulfilled or balanced, how does that change our expectations of other people...including ourselves? This week as we wrap up our series on the things we have heard, Pastor Sarah takes some time to look at how Jesus is offering a new way of looking at our intentions and why that can be freeing and lead to a life that is teleios

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You Have Heard It Said: How To Be Good

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From the very beginning of our lives, we're given rules or laws with which we are to live. In fact, just today, I'm sure you've followed numerous laws you didn’t even realize you were following. From the way we drive, to the order in which we start our day, we follow rules and laws to make life structured and safe.

Often “you have heard it said” from pulpits and churches even more things to add to your list of rules. In fact, some faith communities spend most of their time figuring out who has and who hasn't followed the rules they think make you a “good person.”

This week, Pastor Sarah shares why boiling our life down to a set of "dos and don'ts" can't teach us how to be a good person...and how it stops us from living into the kingdom of God. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses some of the rules that people were using to decide who was good and who wasn't. At first, it seems like he's simply continuing a traditional insistence on following strict rules, but the nuances indicate that he's pushing us beyond sin management into whole-hearted living. He's giving us true freedom! 

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You Have Heard It Said: When Things Get Salty

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"I use chips and salsa as a conduit for my sodium intake. I pour salt on my chips! I’m starting to realize though that salt is about bringing out flavor that already exists rather than creating new flavor.” Rev. Robert W. Lee

Scripture tells us that we are to be salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Oftentimes, that has meant that Christians see themselves as superior as we bring the flavor of God into spaces. This week as we continue our series “You Have Heard It Said”, we are going to hear from guest speaker and friend of Pastor Sarah, Rev. Robert W. Lee. Robert will help us reimagine Jesus’ call to be salt in the world.

Rev. Robert W. Lee was a little known pastor at a small church in North Carolina until the Charlottesville protests. Following the protest, he went public with his denunciation of white supremacy in a captivating speech at the MTV Video Music Awards. As a descendant of confederate general Robert E. Lee, his message held great weight and created both massive support and violent critique. Shortly after he began receiving threats, and he had to leave his post at his local church. Since those days, he has become part of a growing group of activists who are trying to add a little salt to the earth by facing the complicit culture of racism and injustice.

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You Have Heard It Said: The Kinds of People God Blesses

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Everybody wants good things and to live a good life. Many people’s view of Christianity is a religion where doing more and trying harder is the way to please God who will then give you good things. But, Jesus never taught that. In fact, he taught something very opposite. The kinds of people God blesses are not who most people think. Philosophers throughout the ages have been asking the question, “Which life is the good life?” Once again, probably not what you’re thinking.

Listen as Michael Bischof continues our series called “You Have Heard It Said” as we look at the kinds of people God blesses and how we can all be living in a reality where that “blessing” flows normally and naturally.

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You Have Heard It Said: The Kingdom of Heaven is Near

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Fill in the blank:

  • Tis' better to have loved and lost than never to have _____________.

  • The world is your _______________.

  • If at first you don't succeed, _________________.

(*just in case this stumped you answers are on the bottom)

If you grew up in a native English speaking home, you probably heard some version of these sayings. Recently, a study concluded that as our environments get noisier, our brains adapt to fill in the missing parts of any conversation we hear. This can be quite helpful on a busy street...however, familiarity often leads to misunderstanding. We think we know what's being said and jump to an inaccurate conclusion. For instance, the saying "you've got another thing coming" is actually "you've got another think coming." According to linguists, the original saying was, "If you think that, you've got another think coming." Meaning, if you are sure about a thought you're having, just wait and another thought will come.

The Sunday, we begin a series about some of the ways that Jesus reframed and continues to reframe many of the common thoughts and sayings of Judaism and the surrounding culture. Jesus highlights some of these thoughts in a section of scripture known as The Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus is about to reframe a common thought, he often begins with, "You have heard it said..." For the next four weeks, we're going to talk about some of the ways we have heard, interpreted, or asserted so-called Christian beliefs. This week, Pastor Sarah will share that if you think you know what the Kingdom of Heaven is...you've got another think coming! 

Answers:
a. loved at all.
b. oyster.
c. try, try again! 

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Flawed and Faithful: From Cowardice to Courage

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"Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb... running together, but the other disciple set outran Peter and reached the tomb first." John 20:3

He is risen...He is risen indeed!!!

Have you ever been so excited to see someone that you ran toward them as soon as you caught a glimpse of them? Maybe even risking being in the middle of traffic to get to them? Simon Peter and the other disciple weren't sure what was happening. Resurrection probably wasn't the first thing on their minds. Yet, something was happening. and they had to know what. They had no regard for their safety as they had been in hiding following the crucifixion, and their own arrest was a real potential. Simon Peter was especially risking his own health having recently pulled a sword on the royal guard, but that was the last thing on his mind. Something was happening with Jesus, and he had to know what.

We've been following the story of Simon Peter for the season of Lent, and we've learned that he was simultaneously flawed and faithful. His story is relatable, ordinary, and inspiring. He often is narrated as jumping into action before having all the facts. Who can't relate to acting before we know everything we need to know? It's quite telling that Jesus never scolds Simon Peter for his enthusiasm. Instead, Jesus redirects his enthusiasm and eventually trusts all of the church to this reactive disciple. We won't always get it right, but Peter can teach us how sometimes action comes before belief and complete understanding. Peter may not have always been the first to "get it" (he wasn't even the first to the tomb), but he is the first to enter to tomb and risk it all for the sake of curiosity and love. This Easter, join us as we hear how Jesus' resurrection can show us that faith can give us the courage to move forward in life.

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Flawed and Faithful: I Will Not Deny You

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This weekend, we celebrated Palm Sunday as we remember Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem. The gospels tell us he entered the city with crowds shouting and waving palm branches, similar to the entry of a victorious rebel. It's like watching a movie when you already know how the plot will play out. Soon, the cheers will turn to jeers, and in the end, their voices will cry out for Jesus to be executed. We also know how the plot plays out as we hear Simon Peter declare he will never abandon Jesus. Not only does he ultimately deny Jesus once, but three times.

Simon Peter is often narrated as flawed for his triple denial, but that's just part of the story. Here's what we often forget. Even though he can't seem to admit he knows Christ, he's actually putting himself in incredible danger! By being inside the courtyard of the High Priest's home after Jesus' arrest, Simon Peter has a chance of being recognized by the temple guards as that sword-wielding disciple. In actuality, he shows a level of faithfulness we don't often acknowledge, and he might have something to teach us about being faithful in uncertain times. Listen as Pastor Sarah unpacks more of this story and the ways it can help us in our own times of perceived failure.

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Flawed and Faithful: The Last Supper

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This week we continue following the story of Simon Peter as he tries to be a faithful follower of Jesus. The final week of Jesus life takes up a large portion of the book of Matthew. Rev. Adam Hamilton reminds us that 7 of the 28 chapters are focused on this last week. Combining the narratives of all the gospels we are given incredible detail about the final meal Christ will have with his friends. The preparation of this special passover meal will require Simon Peter to head into town, get a passover Lamb, and prepare a room. Simon Peter is dutifully preparing for a typical passover meal and its deeper meaning isn’t yet clear to him or the other disciples. As preparations are being made, there is a debate over who will be the greatest and Jesus responds by washing their feet. Simon Peter in relatable reaction doesn't want the one he follows to serve him. Jesus is revealing a beautiful truth that the kingdom of God will require us to learn not only how to serve, but how to be served... and that last part is often the hardest!

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Flawed and Faithful: Missing the Point

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We don't have a lot of information about what Jesus and his disciples talked about during their times away from crowds. We can only imagine what wisdom was shared as they were walking between cities or sharing some down time around a dining table.

We do get to listen in on one incredible conversation after Jesus takes Peter, James, and his brother John to pray up on a mountain. Before their very eyes, they not only see Jesus glowing white...but also Moses and Elijah! Everyone seems stunned into silence. Well, everyone but our dear Simon Peter who immediately wants to construct a monument to worship this incredible moment.

As he's still speaking, a voice reminds those who are lucky enough to hear it that Jesus is indeed God's son, the beloved, and should be listened to. Simon Peter seems to have missed the point of what the encounter was all about. Simon Peter's excitement to build a monument and create a new place to worship is shattered by a voice coming from the sky. Simon Peter is perhaps the most relatable disciple and seems to feel the need to fill the silence by saying something and jumping into action. Simon Peter is reminded that now is not the time to do or say something, but instead to listen. Join Pastor Sarah as we hear how sometimes we miss the point when we jump into action or feel like we need to have just the right words.

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Flawed and Faithful: The Inclusive Church

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As we continue our series on the life of Simon Peter, we're honored to have Halleemah Nash as our guest speaker this Sunday. She explores how we can truly live as an inclusive church by breaking down biases and exploring the powerful conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter. 

Halleemah Nash is Chief Partnerships Officer of The Academy Group, and she has led and established a broad range of social impact and education organizations serving Chicago students. Halleemah managed charitable programs for the Chicago Bulls, developed partnership strategies in service of over 9,000 public housing youth at Chicago Housing Authority, and serving as Executive Director for NFL veteran Israel Idonije’s Foundation. She is a proud Compton, California native and avid California based sports and music fan. She is an author and first generation college graduate, with degrees from Howard University and a Masters in Divinity and Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University.

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Flawed and Faithful: Walking With Jesus During the Storm

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During the second week of Lent, we continue to dig into the story of Simon Peter, a character that is both flawed and faithful (just like us). Simon Peter is probably most famous for the time he tried to join Jesus for a stroll across the Sea of Galilee. Oftentimes, the failure of taking his eyes off of Jesus and starting to sink is preached as a reminder that we should have great faith and always trust. Yet, perhaps there is more to this story than just the moment Peter's faith seems flawed. What isn’t often talked about is that out of all the disciples, he is the only one that has the audacity to think he could walk out on the water. Sometimes, the bravest thing we can do in the midst of a storm is step out of the boat that we thought was keeping us safe.

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Flawed and Faithful: The Call

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The season of Lent has begun - 40 days centering on self-reflection leading up to the celebration of the resurrection. As we prepare our hearts for Easter, we're going to journey through the life of Simon Peter, one of Jesus' closest companions. Out of all the disciples, he is mentioned the most, even more than the one often referred to as the "beloved" (John).

Unlike most historical figures, the record of Peter's life includes both his triumphs and his failures for all to see - most likely because he shared them with whoever he met as a reminder that God can do big things even when you are flawed.

In his recent book entitled Simon Peter, Rev. Adam Hamilton refers to this disciple as "flawed BUT faithful." For this series, we're going to look at how the season of Lent helps us recognize that we can be flawed AND faithful as we seek to follow the radical way of Jesus. This week, Pastor Sarah begins by looking at the calling of Simon Peter. This is going to be a great season of Lent together, and we hope you don't miss a week as the story builds towards celebrating Holy Week together! 

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