All posts by Jeremy Berg

Jeremy Berg is the founding pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, MN. He is a graduate of Bethel Seminary ('05) and Bethel University ('02), the blessed husband of Kjerstin, and proud father of Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

Dandelions: A Modernized Parable

When Sarah was a little girl, she loved to dance and twirl barefooted across the soft green grass of her childhood home and feel the soft blades in between her toes. One day she noticed a small solitary yellow dandelion growing up amidst all the green and thought, “How beautiful!”

And she danced and twirled away thinking no more of it. When she returned sometime later, the dandelion had multiplied and spread across the entire lawn until the soft, green grass was completely overrun by the invasive weed. She was sad.

When Sarah was much older, she discovered a small lump on her skin but thought,  “It’s probably nothing.” And went on her way and thought no more of it.

When she visited the doctor some time later she discovered it was cancer and had now spread throughout her entire body and it was too late to stop the invasive disease. She was very sad.

In her final moments as she lie there in the hospital bed, she reflected back on her days of innocent youth, dancing and twirling across that pure green grass, and she remembered that little yellow flower and its ruinous effect, and now the devastation of the cancer that had choked the life out of her body.

She gathered the strength to look up at the visiting pastor and mouth these final words, “Is there not some force for good in this world able to spread life and healing as aggressively and effectively as dandelions and cancer spread corruption and death?”

The pastor clasped the frail women’s hands and with tenderness in his voice and love in his eyes, he said: “Dear daughter, such is the kingdom of God.”

This story is a modernized version of a parable Jesus once told. It is  found in Luke 13:18-21:

18 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” 20 Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Jesus is teaching us that the Kingdom of God, though inconspicuous and hardly noticeable to many at first, is God’s activity set in motion on earth to spread healing and restoration to God’s groaning creation. 

SERMON: Church Road Trip

I preached this sermon in the summer of 2012 to rally the congregation of  to make a deeper commitment to MainStreet and invest financially in our building campaign to move into our own space at Stonegate Plaza. 

A ROAD TRIP TO REMEMBER

It was spring break of 1998—my senior year of high school. Several of my best friends and I had our bags all packed and were about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.

We borrowed my dad’s conversion van, decked out with a tv and playstation, and drove across the country to Fort Pierce, Florida, where we spent some nights in a condo on the beach. Then we spent a day experiencing all the wonders of Disney World together. Disney highlights include: John getting pooped on by a bird and thereby earning a free t-shirt. Graham getting food poisoning at Mozarello’s. I tried flirting with a foreign vendor girl we called Anastasia…it was awkward! And we almost died when our van nearly collided with a tour bus going 75 mph on the Florida Turnpike. We already had enough shared memories to last a lifetime, but this trip was only just beginning.

Next, we drove to Miami where we boarded the Carnival Cruise ship The Ecstasy. I’ll leave out the story of blowing a tire in Miami rush hour traffic at 70 mph and nearly crashing into the center concrete divider. (For the sake of my parents’ reputation, I should add at this point the fact that we did have Dan’s parents chaperoning this trip in case you’re picturing a van full of unsupervised teenagers crossing the country.)

We finally boarded the ship and spent the rest of the week hopping the Caribbean islands, visiting the ruins of the Mayan civilization in Tulum, Mexico, experiencing the night life in Cozumel, and trying our best to snorkel in Key West where I almost died and ended up in the infirmary of the cruise ship with deep cuts and bloodied bandages up and down my legs.  (If you want more details, ask me later.)

Now if you ask any of us who shared this trip, we’d all agree it was a defining experience in our lives. Many years later we still share stories, quote funny lines, share inside jokes, and long to recreate the experience someday with a reunion cruise together.

So, what trips have you taken? What places have you explored?  What adventures have you shared with your family or a group of friends?  How have these trips left permanent marks on you? If we had time, we could spend hours sharing stories together—stories we would tell with great passion, excitement, shared experiences, nostalgia, emotion, joy and longing to do it again.

Now, what if these same adjectives, these same emotions, this same kind of passion, excitement and sense of adventure could characterize our shared experience as a church? What if joining a church was like joining a high paced, action packed adventure with a group of people who were set on “going someplace” together?

But if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us would never describe our past church experience in such a an exciting way.  Church has been a place we go to each week.  A building to enter. A set of rituals to observe or a club we belong to and to which we pay our dues. Church is often a static, motionless experience, a meaningless going through the motions out of a sense of duty.

But hopefully not at MainStreet.

A CHURCH THAT IS GOING SOMEWHERE

We hope that every Sunday you get the sense that we are a people who are determined to go certain places together. We want our Lifegroup gatherings and Sunday worship experiences to feel like a quick pit-stop to refuel our tanks and check out progress on our spiritual maps, and then we’re off again together to blaze a new trail, or scale another mountain, or cross another bridge, and reach another destination or goal in our mission in Mound. God help us to never become static. Stuck. Circling the wagons, maintaining church programs, and no longer going places together — both physically and spiritually.

Every church should be able to answer the simple question: Where is your congregation going together? What hopes and dreams, mission and vision are you moving toward together?  How much progress are you making toward reaching this destination?

Sadly, if you asked many churches that question, they would give you a blank stare and have no clue. They are just doing church. Going through the motions. Circling the wagons, and getting deeper and deeper in the rut as they repeatedly spin the tires and go nowhere.

When we open up the Book of Acts, it is exactly that—high octane, adventure filled activity, or acts. Its a travelogue of sorts, detailing the early apostles’ action packed road, off road road trip across the Roman Empire. The early church was a missionary tour bus, carrying the mission-minded apostles into unknown lands, unexplored terrain, encountering all kinds of new people and places, with a very clear but open ended itinerary.

In Acts 1 Jesus kicks the tires on the apostolic bus, and hands them a road map saying, “Start out in Jerusalem, then visit the outer skirts of Judea. After that, cruise out into the unfamiliar regions of Samaria, and finally, I want you to head west all the way to the ends of the Earth!”

Next the apostolic bus needs fuel to carry it across the entire known world, and so in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit is poured into the tank of the early church movement. And off they went—the little band of apostles, following Jesus’ itinerary and fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit with a message to the ends of the earth! It was the cross country road trip the world is still talking about 2,000 years later!

Now, let’s be honest. Some of you are here this morning visiting this brand new church because maybe you have grown frustrated with other churches you have attended that may have lacked a clear sense of direction and mission. Something deep inside you longs for a faith experience with harder edges, a spirituality with teeth, an experience with God that is even more exhilarating  than your last trip to the ocean or your vacation in the mountains. If Paris or Hawaii or the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls or the Egyptian Pyramids excite you more than God, I assure you that you have yet to come to know and encounter the True and Living God of the Bible!

We hope MainStreet will serve to help us all get swept up in the adventure of God, to foster regular life-changing encounters with Him in worship, through the preached Word, by serving others, and by fostering deeper Christian community.

A PIONEER’S FAITH IN A CONSUMER CULTURE

Before we move on to explore this “Church on the move” motif further, let me offer a slight detour. I have spent much of the past year reading some histories of pioneers. I have read a lot about the Swedish immigrants who came over to America in the late 1800s to put down roots and plant a new life in America.  I have read of the Swedish pioneering pastors who started the Mission Friends movement in America that gave rise to the Evangelical Covenant Church we are now a part of. Story after story plunges us into the experiences of adventure, grave sacrifice, hard work and perseverance in building towns and churches from nothing.

As many of you know, this summer we celebrate  the City of Mound’s centennial and I am helping plan an outdoor centennial worship celebration at Surfside Beach on July 22. I have the honor of giving the message at this historic occasion, and in preparation I have been reading up on the history of all of Mound’s churches.  In each case, there was a brave group of people who set out on a shared adventure, investing much and sacrificing dearly to bring into being these communities of faith to reach people with the love of Christ. They were pioneers who by necessity were either going somewhere, chasing a dream, building something new, or they would die trying. The pioneers were often driven by a very basic survival impulse. The pioneer family facing their first winter on the frozen shore of Lake Superior needed to find a way to survive. They had to build a shelter or freeze to death. They had to chop wood to burn or freeze to death. They had to find a way to grow crops or starve to death. They had to band together and form a community or live and die in isolation on the prairie.

These same pioneers brought the pioneer mentality and determination to the way they lived out their faith.  They pooled resources, sacrificed greatly and built and maintained little church houses with congregations of only 30 or so people. The pioneers and the couple generations after them were notoriously faithful to supporting their church. That’s how so many little country churches were able to build churches, and support a pastor’s salary with only a handful of members.

But, alas, we have come along way from the Pioneer faith of both the men and women in Scripture, and the men and women who immigrated to America in the 19th century. The challenge we now face is trying to live out a pioneer’s faith in a consumer culture.  

What is a “consumer culture”? Instead of sacrificing and building, we now shop around for the cheapest buy at the lowest personal cost. Whether its shopping for shampoo, finding cheap airfare or a new church, many people will choose the easiest, most convenient option that will cost them the least. This is fine when it comes to groceries or back-to-school shopping bargains, but presents a huge problem when we bring this mentality to our sense of church community and commitment.

American churches are all too often filled with people who act more like costumers in relation to their church than committed members. As long as the church provides a pleasing product each Sunday with great music and entertaining sermon, we stick around. But as soon as the church down the road begins to offer a better experience, we’ll take our “business” (or tithe) elsewhere.

Plus, we are bargain shoppers by nature, and many prefer a place that will cost them least and ask little of them. The preacher whose message is most appealing gains the most listeners, and the pastor who faithfully preaches the hard, often times offensive truths such as “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” and “go sell all of your belongings and come follow me,” this pastor’s congregation is growing smaller and smaller these days.

So many of us find safety and comfort in the back of a large auditorium at a megachurch where we can remain anonymous, show up when we want without being noticed, give occasionally as we’re able, and avoid being held accountable in our faith walk.

Where is all of this going? As we set out on this new adventure together as a church, and prepare to raise money and buildout our new worship space in the Stonegate Plaza this fall, I want to challenge MainStreet to resist the tide of the culture to approach our faith as consumers looking for the cheapest, most convenient church experience that is mainly about satisfying your desires and costs you little. We are want to call forth a pioneering spirit that has characterized so many giants of the faith—both in the Bible times and in our own times.

We are a pioneer church breaking new ground in Mound.  We are a people on the move, going somewhere together, and the destination is worth sacrificing to reach. We need to see this church as absolutely vital to the wellbeing of this city—just as the log cabin was vital to the survival of the pioneer family on the frozen tundra.

Now back to my senior trip in the spring of 1998.

BUDGETING FOR THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME

The only way I was able to experience that trip of a lifetime was to begin budgeting and saving for it months before we left town. For many months, even years, I worked and saved and put money in my vacation account. So when the time came, I was able to afford the trip and no miss out  on the adventure.

While every metaphor eventually breaks down, I want to simply invite all of us to ask the question: Do you want to be part of an amazing, life-changing, faith-stretching adventure at MainStreet in the days ahead? Do you want to be part of a church that is on the move, going somewhere together?

Do you want to help raise up a people who overcome obstacles, break through barriers, leap over walls, cross over bridges, scale mountain peaks, cross oceans, touch the sky, ride the moon, taste eternity, see heaven kiss earth?

Do you want to impact schools, transform neighborhoods, serve the poor, bring light into darkness and relieve suffering?

Do you want to outgrow meeting spaces, build new buildings, expand ministries, bring hope to the hurting, and see schools ignited on fire for Christ?

Do you want to see little home-based LifeGroups popping up in every neighborhood in town where people share a meal, laugh together, find encouragement, raise kids together, learn to follow Jesus better, and go out and serve together?

If this sounds like an adventure you don’t want to miss out on, then are you willing to invest financially in making it possible?

SERMON: Navigating Life’s Storms

A MEMORIAL WEEKEND SERMON (2013)

On this Memorial Day weekend, I want you to imagine two scenes. First, picture a peaceful tropical beach resort, yourself lying in a hammock with a cold drink and good book. Seagulls are squawking and the sounds of the surf provide a relaxing soundtrack. Feel the sun warming your neck, and the gentle breeze keeping you cool. Peace and serenity abound.

Second, now picture a boat being tossed violently in the stormy waters of the open sea. Waves 30 feet high are crashing over the bow, and flooding the deck. You’re stumbling around on deck, bailing water, and doing everything possible to keep the ship from going down. Which scene best describes your life these days?

Or, consider two different kinds of umbrellas. The first person is relaxing at the cabin under a giant umbrella on the beach, the kind that provides a little shade from the hot summer sun. The second person is hiding under a rain umbrella, as the skies pour down cold rain on the fun you hoped to have this holiday weekend. Which umbrella are you holding in your hand in this particular season of your life?

The story we’re looking at today in Acts 27 is about Paul being shipwrecked on his voyage to Rome where he’ll stand trial before Caesar. The narrative is filled with action, drama, power, emotional angst and stress, as well as heroic faith, bold leadership and God’s rescuing presence. Let’s dig in!

—Read Acts 27—

The phrases in the text give a colorful description of the struggles we all experience at times: “The winds were against us” (v. 4) and “We were having great difficulty” (v. 7). We all have those moments when it feels like we’ll never get a break, we’re swimming up stream, going against the currents of life.

“We were making slow headway” (v. 6) and “Much time had been lost” (v. 9)Ever feel like its too late for you? Like time is slipping away and you’ll never find “the one” and get to start a family? Or, you’re pushing 40 years old and you still haven’t found your calling in life?

“We were caught in the storm…we gave way to it…we were being driven along” (v. 15). Ever feel like you’ve lost all control, and you’re just being driven along? Do you know what it feels like to finally just give up fighting and just give yourself completely over to your monster, your addiction, your weakness or temptation?

In verse 17 it describes how the crew were desperately trying to put ropes and cables around the ship, to prevent the whole thing from breaking apart. Do you ever feel like your family or career or emotional health is coming undone and the entire thing could break apart into a million pieces never to be restored?

“We took a violent battering” as the “the storm continued raging.” Will this awful nightmare ever end? How long must I stay in this miserable place? Will the sun ever shine again in my life, will the waves ever be calmed?

When hope vanishes completely behind the dark clouds of the storm, we are in danger of giving up. “We finally gave up all hope of being rescued.” Have you ever been there?

So, I want to ask the question today: How do you get through the storms of your life? We’ll all face them.  In this story, in verse 29 it says,

“Fearing that we were about to be dashed against the rocks, we dropped four anchors and prayed for daylight.”

Today I want to offer up four or five anchors to throw out to keep you from dashing against the rocks in your storms.  Continue reading SERMON: Navigating Life’s Storms

Seven Stanzas at Easter (J. Updike)

“Make no mistake: if He rose at all

it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit,

the amino acids rekindle,

the church will fall….

Let us not mock God with metaphor, 

Analogy, sidestepping transcendence;

Making of the even a parable, a sign

painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages: 

Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not paper-mache,

Not a stone in a story,

But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

The wide light of day….”

My Name Is Lucky: The Tale of Eutychus

Here’s an imaginative first person narrative sermon I prepared and performed back in April of 2013 about the strange story of Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12. Enjoy!

I remember it was early spring and unseasonably warm. It was just after Passover. I can still smell the warm, salted breeze coming off the Aegean sea, and hear the squalk of seagulls circling above. We stood on the hill overlooking the harbor and waited for the ship to appear on the horizon.  The ship was carrying the Great Apostle we had heard so much about.

The stories were unbelievable. In every city he visited remarkable things took place.  A cripple was healed in one city. A slave girl was freed from an evil spirit in another. He was worshiped as a god one moment and nearly stoned to death the next. Nothing matched the stories told about his time in Ephesus.  There his preaching upset the entire economy and started a riot in the theater one day. Another day his preaching led local occultists to burn their expensive books of magic spells in a large bonfire. The most remarkable rumor of all was the claim that peope were being healed of various diseases just by touching Paul’s hankerchiefs!

Well, who in their right mind can believe such fanstic fairytales like these?  I certainly couldn’t….that is, until the incident.

My name in Greek means “Lucky.” I’ll let you decide if the name fits after you hear my story.  I was a teenager at the time. I prided myself in being an intelligent, rational person who was not going to believe everything I heard — especially regarding these traveling preachers and so-called wonderworkers. I had seen enough charltans and frauds in my short life to keep me suspicious of such people and their claims. Continue reading My Name Is Lucky: The Tale of Eutychus

QUOTABLES: Ben Franklin’s Epitaph

“The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer, like the cover an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here, food for the worms. But the work shall not be lost; for it will, as he believed, appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the Author.”

~Ben Franklin, Epitaph on himself

Aboard the MainStreet Boat – 5th Anniversary Reflection

 

On January 15, 2017, MainStreet Covenant celebrated our 5th anniversary. Exactly five years ago, I preached an inaugural sermon telling the story of Erik August Skogsbergh, a renowned Swedish preacher and one of the founders of the Covenant, and of his dynamic ministry in Mound in the 1890s. In those days crowds took the train from the city to Lake Minnetonka on Sundays, getting off the train in Spring Park and boarding Captain Deering’s steamboat for the trip across West Arm Bay to Skogsbergh’s Point.

At the point they enjoyed picnics on Skogsbergh’s lawn, sang songs and  listened attentively to Bible expositions under Skogsbergh’s mulberry arbor. People came joyfully, people came expectantly. They went home spiritually recharged and sometimes forever changed. The Spirit was stirring hearts, and many experienced the gift of New Birth on the north shore of Minnetonka those many decades ago.

I have drawn much inspiration from the legacy of Skogsbergh’s Point these past five years. I have read and reread his personal memoirs and biography. Since moving few miles north a couple years ago, I now drive past his cottage (still standing on Rest Point on West Arm Bay) every day and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for his life and ministry. I try to imagine the crowd gathered on the shore, and the sound of his voice carrying across the bay as another heart is ignited and another soul won for the Kingdom.

Five years ago, at our Grand Opening service, I rallied people living in the Mound region to join our church-in-the-making by sharing the story of Skogsbergh’s boats. There were days when the crowds of Mission Friends (what early Covenanters called themselves) coming to the Point from Minneapolis on Sundays would not all fit on the steamboat, and so Skogsbergh built his own barge to provide an overflow taxi to his place. As the story goes, the people made it across the waters to the Point safely on the barge, but it was anything but a dry, comfortable ride!   Continue reading Aboard the MainStreet Boat – 5th Anniversary Reflection

POEM: “Expand” by Danny Evans

Our friend Danny Evans is writing poems each week for a series of sermons on the seven days of creation based on Steve Wiens’ book Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life (2016). Enjoy!

EXPAND

by Danny Evans

Now is your chance for expanse.
It’s time to broaden where you are going to the God who is all-knowing.
This shift and stretch in life may cause a bit of strife,
But if you have faith in the Son,
This situation will be won.
I know you might not want to let go of what you possess,
But you will not be oppressed.
Stretch yourself with God’s help, and you’ll be blessed.
God will take your hand,
So you can expand.