By Paul Koch

Every year when the season of Advent rolls around, the church throws us a bit of a curveball. I mean, we have the tree up in the sanctuary and I’m sure you all have either begun or even finished decorating your homes. There is Christmas music on the radio and everyone is beginning to plan for the big holiday. But as we gather here today, as we listened to the readings, we get a mixed message. Instead of baby Jesus and warm feelings of family and friends, we are greeted with the famous triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, humble and riding on a donkey. Instead of Advent it seems like we are in Lent. Instead of getting ready for Christmas, this is the text we always read on Palm Sunday in preparation for Holy week and the death and resurrection of our Lord.

By Tim Winterstein

The Haunting of Hill House is probably the most philosophical ghost story you’ll ever watch—except for maybe A Ghost Story, but that one is not scary. Hill House (10 episodes, streaming on Netflix) definitely has its share of cover-your-eyes moments and horror commonplaces. But, as with the best of them, those elements are just a device to deliver something far more important than jump scares. The layers of the show (and of the House) are multiple and heavy.

By Cindy Koch

Dear Lord Jesus,

I know that I am a sinner. But I only can conceive of a tiny piece of my sin and failing before You. I know there is a right and a wrong that You desire, but I continually choose the wicked path. I don’t really even understand the good that You want from me. Even my best works and my most pure thoughts are soaked with evil and selfishness. My every thought, action, and deed works against Your wisdom. I can’t recall, nor will I ever know, every sin from my past that has offended You and my neighbor. I know that I am stumbling in unrighteousness even now as I say these words out loud. I know that I am a sinner, but I do not fully understand how deeply corrupted I really am.

By Tim Winterstein

Troubled Water (2008, streaming on Amazon Prime) is really a brilliantly made film. You know the whole thing is going to collapse and fall apart between Thomas and Agnes, but you don’t know when. That tension builds and builds, even when there is nothing tense happening in a given moment. And the way the story is put together brings even seemingly unimportant events to their true significance.

By Paul Koch

I often joke around with some of my colleagues that the reason I default to the historic liturgy of the church along with an established lectionary system is that I’m lazy. I don’t want to try and figure out some sort of creative thematic series, so I just open up the book and follow the next lesson that is prescribed. I don’t have the confidence to write out my own confession or proper preface nor the time to do so, so I just use what has been used since long before I was ordained into the ministry.

By Joel A. Hess

That’s really all you want to know, right? What’s the rule, Pastor? What can I do? What can’t I do? Just tell me, and I’ll do it. Just say it. Or, is this is a good reason? What if he does this? What if she does that?

This is not an unusual conversation that confronts a pastor at least a couple times a year. How often I have had a man or woman tell me they wish their spouse either cheated on them or beat them so they would have a good reason for divorce. 

By Cindy Koch

It is a terrifying thing to consider that you don’t really know yourself. As far back as you can remember, your voice inside your own head has been your friend and council, unbeknownst to the world outside. You have had silent conversations in the middle of actual conversations within your own heart, soul, and mind. Trusting your familiar voice within has been the only constant in this ever-changing lifetime. Everything on the inside is safe and protected until the day someone says it. You have been lied to. You don’t really know who you are.

By Tim Winterstein

First of all, in another life, I would have wanted to be an Icelandic shepherd. Second, Rams (streaming on Netflix) is a beautiful—truly—meditation on family, place, and history. There is the dark humor that comes with two brothers (Gummi and Kiddi) who live next to each other, doing anything and everything they can to avoid actually speaking with each other—up to and including training the dog to take messages back and forth.