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Posted by on Apr 12, 2020 in Words from Pastor Michelle | Comments Off on Join Us for Live Worship on Facebook!

Revealing Who You Are

Posted by on Feb 9, 2020 in Words from Pastor Michelle | Comments Off on Revealing Who You Are

Sermon summary for February 9, 2020 (worship cancelled due to snow)

Feb 9 – Revealing Who You Are

Read Matthew 6:13-16      

We are to be what God created us to be – salt and light.  What does it mean to be salt and light?  What does Jesus mean when he warns us not to lose our saltiness or hide our light?

Jesus says “You ARE the salt of the earth.”  “You ARE the light of the world.”  This is not something you strive to be, or become – but this is who you are. You are salt; you are light.   Jesus wants us to reveal who we are and not hide who we are. 

This is not an impossible task.  Even a little salt can enhance food.  In the winter, salt can melt snow.  As salt, whose life can you enhance, make better?  As salt, where can you help thaw the bitter cold of division and injustice?  Even a small flame of a candle can light a room.  It is even possible to see the light of a candle over a mile away.  Where can you shine with the love of God?  Whose life will you brighten today?

 In baptism, you are blessed and called to bless others.  You are called “child of God.”  You are part of the body of Christ.  You shine with the light of Christ.  How do you reveal who you are?   Salt and light are very common ordinary things but incredibly useful and small amounts make a big difference.   You do make a big difference in the life of others whenever you express the love of God.

Read Isaiah 58:1-12 (from The Message version, if you have access to it)

God tells Isaiah to communicate to the people that their words and actions do not truly reveal who God created and calls them to be.  The people are busy at worship and love to study about God, and yet they question whether God is on their side.  They complain that they are humble and fast but God does not notice.  But the truth is that God notices that the people bicker and fight, drive employees too hard, blame victims, gossip about other people’s sins (Isaiah 58:3-4, 9).  According to Isaiah 58:6-7, the kind of “fast” God seeks is to “break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts,” “share food with the hungry, invite the homeless into your homes, put clothes on the shivering ill-clad, be available to your own families.”  This is how to make your life glow.

You are salt and light.  You enhance life.  You are a beloved child of God, blessed by God.  Hear the great promise from God for our lives here and now from Isaiah 58:11-12 (The Message) God says:

“I will always show you where to go.  I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest places – firm muscles, strong bones.  You will be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.  You’ll use the rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.  You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”

Go.  Christ is with you.  Go be salty, shining people! 

May blessings

Posted by on May 17, 2019 in Words from Pastor Michelle | Comments Off on May blessings

For the month of May – a story of a mother’s love and graduation…

This young lady in the photo is my former confirmation student from another congregation.  I have remained friends with her mother as well as her and her sisters.  I have their permission to tell their story, but decided not to include their names.   

She was born in Africa when her mother was already a refugee.  At her birth at a midwife’s clinic, there was gunfire in the streets nearby.  She was born with a cleft palate and was unable to suckle.  The midwife told her mother that the baby would not survive and then the midwife fled the clinic to keep her own family safe, leaving a vulnerable baby and her mother to fend for themselves.  Her amazing mother carried her home a few hours after giving birth and then expressed her milk and spoon fed her so her baby would survive. 

Her story shows the power of a mother’s love and the power of a devoted member of the church the family attends.  Her story shows how we bless one another in our daily lives so that God’s glory may shine.  I pray you notice God’s love active in the lives of your friends and family this month as well.

This lovely young lady’s mother is one of the strongest women I know.  She immigrated to the United States as a refugee and a single mother with her children.  Mom only had one year of school and enrolled in classes to learn how to read and write here in the U.S.  She worked very hard and raised her girls to appreciate all the blessings we have in the U.S. and to value education.  The photo above was taken at her graduation from college with a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice.  Her older sister received her B.S. degree in Public Health two years ago and her next younger sister is in college now.  Did I mention how strong and amazing their mother is?

Imagine having only one year of education, immigrating to a foreign country, being unable to read or write, and raising 4 girls on your own and having two of them already graduate from college.  Well not entirely on her own… Others have helped in many small ways; especially a very special older woman from church who took the young lady pictured above under her wing, helped arranged surgery to fix the cleft palate, and took her to years of speech therapy sessions and tutored her.  Just to be clear, this was not financial support, but instead, phone calls, communication help, helping mom to complete forms which she could not read, and transportation to speech therapy while mom was working.  If we think about it, we each have many special people who are cheering us on and supporting us in many small and large ways. 

 This month as we remember our mothers and celebrate graduations, may we all be grateful for the many blessings in our lives and live lives helping others to shine brightly glorifying God!

Who Has God Called Us to Be?

Posted by on Apr 30, 2019 in Words from Pastor Michelle | Comments Off on Who Has God Called Us to Be?

On April 29, I participated in a live video-conference with the author of a book many church leaders are finding helpful.  The book is Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger.  The author compares our current context of the church to that of the journey of Lewis and Clark trying to find a water route across the United States to the Pacific Ocean.  Lewis and Clark could see the Rocky Mountains for miles, but they refused to notice the great change in front of them.  Like many of us in current times, they believed what was in front of them was the same as what was behind them.  They had expertise in navigating rivers by canoe, but they could not canoe over or through the Rocky Mountains to the west coast, the mountains were too wide and too high.  You simply cannot canoe up mountains.  Something had to change, but what? 

If you have been a member of a church for more than 20 years, you know from direct experience that there has been a significant change in the role of the church in people’s lives.  Attendance at many churches has continued to plummet because people are too tired from work and life Monday through Saturday, and there are even more activities that via for attention on Sunday morning.  In addition, just think of all that has drastically shifted since 9-11 (Fear and anxiety have increased; and, technology has drastically changed our lives with the Internet infiltrating our lives in the 1990’s and then Facebook and similar platforms since 2006).  How can the church respond?  I have a whole shelf of books about “renewing mission” and change in the church.  There is great information in them.  But…people do not like change, especially when too much is changing or anxiety over change is high.

Tod Bolsinger has some great insights and practical tips about changes in the church.  He compares leaders in the church with canoers who have run out of water with no route in front of them, no map, and no quick fix or easy answer, just like Lewis and Clark as they faced crossing the Rocky Mountains.  However, Bolsinger sees this as good news, a divine moment, an opportunity to clearly express what it means to follow Jesus.

The author outlines several fundamental principles about the change we face.  Two are really useful for everyone facing changes in our daily lives. 

  1.  People do not resist change, they resist loss.

In other words, people are not being stubborn when resisting necessary changes.  Instead, they are feeling anxious and unsettled and even grieving what is being lost when something changes. 

2. Don’t start with change, but start with what must never change. 

This means identifying the core values of the congregation.  The core values are like the DNA of the congregation.  It is what we are really all about.  Once you have identified what will never change, then everything else is open to change.

These two fundamental principals were real ah-ha moments for me.  Hopefully they bring some measure of assurance that there is a way to navigate well all the changes we face nowadays.  God has created us and the church for a purpose.  The way we engage in that purpose will change.  I look forward to working together to identify St. John’s core values as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.  Together with Jesus, we can navigate the mountains and valleys of life and live out God’s purpose for this congregation.

Pastor Michelle Elfers

Posted by on Apr 1, 2019 in Words from Pastor Michelle | Comments Off on Pastor Michelle Elfers

Greetings!  For my first post, I share a bit about my background.

I am very excited to be living in Wisconsin again and to be living closer to family in Sauk County.  I grew up in Ohio, but have always considered Wisconsin to be my home.  I vacationed at my cousin’s dairy farm in Sauk County every year as a child, and I still enjoy going to visit at the farm as often as I can.  My dad’s side of the family immigrated to Wisconsin from Germany and settled on land near our cousin’s farm in the mid 1800’s.  I previously lived in Madison for 15 years after moving here for graduate studies.  I was fortunate to find work locally upon graduation.

It has taken a while to find my calling.  I spent many years as a student and completed a BA in Anthropology from Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio, a MA in Portuguese and then a JD from UW-Madison, and an M.Div. from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.  During my time as a student I was able to  study abroad in Brazil twice (once in high school through Rotary and again as a junior through Wright State).  During my undergrad studies, I also traveled to Japan and China through University-sponsored summer programs.  While in seminary I participated in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul trip, traveling to Rome, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Istanbul.  I also went to Latvia and Russia with a classmate from Russia one summer during seminary.  My international adventures began because I wanted to go to Germany in high school, and I finally made the journey to Germany in 2010 and visited many of the Luther sites.  

Serving as a pastor is a change of career for me.  I first worked as an International Student and Faculty Adviser at UW-Madison for 3 years and then as an attorney in the area of immigration for 7 years, also in Madison.

Before serving at St John’s, I served as pastor of New Hope Lutheran Church in Blanchardville and Hollandale, Wisconsin.  Previously, I served as the pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Indianapolis and at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  

In addition to travel and learning about other cultures, I enjoy gardening, bike riding and cross-country skiing.  I love animals and currently have a cat and dog.  


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