One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

A Critical Season of Advent

Pastor’s monthly newsletter article for December, 2015

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

There are times when the prospect of living as a faithful Christian in the 21st Century seems extraordinarily daunting to me. When I consider the challenges facing our world, our nation, even our congregation, I am aware that I don’t have within me the capacity to overcome the obstacles in our way. That is when I am most inclined to pray this 13th Century prayer, attributed to St. Francis. It reminds me that when I make myself available to be an instrument of God (even though my human brokenness would rather be in charge…), God’s power is then able to move through me in new ways. Peace, love, forgiveness, faith, hope, light, even joy become possibilities, because they depend on God’s power and presence, not my own.

Our world is facing significant dangers these days. From hunger and poverty, to international conflicts, to environmental concerns, to the prevalence of terrorism, these are challenges we must meet as an international community. Our nation is similarly challenged. From national debt, to racial tensions, to deteriorating infrastructure, to the seeming inability of our elected representatives to work together for the good of the nation, these are hurdles we must clear. At Saint Peter we are experiencing critical shortages of volunteer commitments and financial support.

So how will we equip ourselves to engage these issues faithfully and robustly? Perhaps the ancient tradition of Advent might help us. During these early-winter months that are typically filled with chaotic schedules and frenzied activity, the church offers us Advent – four weeks of waiting, and watching and preparing for the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas.

Advent typically includes the invitation to enter into:

  1. Worship; on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, drawing near to the presence of God in the Word and in the Meal.
  2. Meditation; intentional times of quiet, listening for that still, small voice of God which speaks to us, even when we are too busy to hear it.
  3. God’s Word; perhaps using a service like the ELCA’s daily Bible Verse direct e-mail (to sign up, visit:, or my own
  4. Service; becoming involved in one or another of the numerous service projects available this month at Saint Peter, or elsewhere in our lives.
  5. Prayer; using these words of Francis, or other words of our own, to ask God into our lives in a way that transforms us to have a faithful impact on the world around us.

Advent can be a time of deepening our faith, and empowering us for faithful living. Given the challenges that face us, this year may well be a critical time for us to do just that. I will be praying for each of you, that you might step away from the busy pace of life during this season, and rest in the presence and the promise of God. I can guarantee you: it will be well worth the effort!

A blessed Advent Season to you all,

Pastor Dave

An Advent Call to Hope and Faith

Date: November 29, 2015
Liturgical Day: The First Sunday of Advent

the prophets of God
calling us to faithfulness
words of hope and faith

Advent, for liturgical Christians, has traditionally been a time to draw near to the presence of God, and be touched by God’s gifts of faith, hope and joy. This was what the prophets of old tried to make possible for God’s people, and this is particularly true for the prophet Jeremiah. Today, Jeremiah calls us to love others enough to share our faith with them, that they too might live in faith, hope and joy.

Download Sermon: 2015 Advent 1C

The First Sunday in Advent; Year C (November 29, 2015)

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10 (1)
1st Thessalonians 3:9-13
St. Luke 21:25-36

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Protect us by your strength and save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

St. Luke 21:25-36 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The Days Are Surely Coming

Jeremiah — one of the best known prophets in the Hebrew Bible — lived in Judah from 640 to 587 b.c. He was born in Anathoth, a small village not far from Jerusalem. He belonged to the priestly class, and was very familiar with the religious and political leadership of Judah.

Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry took place during the time when Judah (the southern kingdom) lived in the shadow of three great world powers: Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. In those days, King Josiah led Israel to an alliance with Egypt. Jeremiah was bold in asserting that the only hope for Jerusalem and Judah was if they put their entire trust in God. To rely on any earthly power (even one as great as Egypt) was both unwise and unfaithful. His message was not warmly received (to say the least!), and he was imprisoned by his own people. When Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 587 b.c., they appointed Gedaliah to govern Judah. Jeremiah tried to muster support for him, but an anti-Babylonian group murdered the king, seized Jeremiah, and fled to Egypt. It is assumed that Jeremiah died in exile, while living in Egypt.

His is a story about striving to live faithfully in a complicated and dangerous time. Jeremiah had strong and challenging words to share with Judah, calling them to place God back at the center of their lives again. But many of them had lost confidence in God’s protective power. They sought something more concrete; something more measurable.

Jeremiah’s message was a harsh one, and he wept great tears for the unfaithfulness of the people (for this he is remembered as “The Weeping Prophet”). But he also had a word of hope for them: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made…” Jeremiah knew that no matter how unfaithful the people became, or how hopeless their situation appeared to be, God would remember this promise. A ruler from the line of David would come, the kingdom would be saved, and God’s people would live in peace again.

This prophet, who lived some 2,700 hundred years ago, has a word for God’s people that is as pertinent today as it was when Jeremiah first spoke out. We too live in a complicated and dangerous time. Many around us have given up on the notion of God’s providence in their lives. A growing number of our contemporaries have come to the conclusion that something more concrete — something more measurable — can serve them better than faith in God.

Perhaps Jeremiah shows us how to remain faithful in such an context. Genuine tears are a good start. Can we love the people around us as much as Jeremiah did? Can we weep at the prospect of them giving up on God’s presence in their lives? Can we offer a ministry to them that is based on a deep, powerful sense of care for their wellbeing?

And then, can we make a personal testimony as to how faith in God gives us hope and peace and joy? Gifts that are lasting, because they come from a God who is and who was and who is to come? If we could, what a great legacy that would be for Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why did Jeremiah urge the people of Judah not to trust in their alliance with Egypt?
  2. What response did he receive from the people of his day?
  3. How did his own faith allow him to remain faithful his entire life?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. In what do the people I know place their ultimate trust?
  2. When have I been tempted to trust in my government, my retirement savings, or other concrete and measurable sources of security?
  3. How might my trust in God’s presence grow?

What Kind of King?

Date: November 22, 2015
Liturgical Day: Christ the King Sunday

Christ the King Sunday
the authority of Christ
known in love and grace

Jesus is a King unlike any earthy king we have ever know. One who rules not with power and violence, as most kings (and other magistrates do), but with grace and mercy. And for this we are deeply grateful.

Download Sermon: 2015 CtK B

On Purchasing a Bible

Christianity101We’ve been having some fun at Saint Peter on Sunday mornings with a class (9:40 to 10:30 a.m.)  called “Christianity 101.” It is a time to deal with the basics of our faith. We sip some coffee, eat some snacks (thanks, thanks, thanks to the women’s group at Saint Peter!), and become involved in some pretty interesting conversations.

Along the way, we’ll consider questions like:

What do Christians believe about God?
How do we talk with non-believers about God?
What is the Bible and how do we read it?
What is prayer?
What is repentance?
What is salvation?
What role does service to the community play in Christianity?
What is liturgy and why are Lutherans committed to it?
What does our faith have to say about marriage and family life?

(If you’re in town, you really ought to join us!)

Last week I presented a brochure I wrote entitled, “On Purchasing a Bible.” There are so many options available to us these days, that it seemed to make sense to offer some suggestions on how to dig through the pile most effectively. This brochure is attached, below, and I encourage you to read it before heading out to the local Christian bookstore.

If you have any questions, or any suggestions about how to strengthen this approach, let me know. And join us this Sunday at 9:40 as we finish up our conversation about how (and why) to read the Bible.

On Purhcasing a Bible

The Last Sunday after Pentecost; Christ the King Sunday, Year B (11/22/2015)

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93 (2)
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37
Semicontinuous Series:
2nd Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-12 [13-18] (9)

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever. Grant that all the people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

St. John 18:33-37 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Thy Kingdom Come

In May of 1529, after a discouraging program of visiting with Christian families in and around Wittenberg, Germany, Martin Luther published a short pamphlet entitled “Der Kleine Katechismus” (or “The Small Catechism”) — a teaching tool for parents to use in sharing their faith with their children. In this catechism, Luther provided help in understanding the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and other basics of the Christian faith.

This week, I am thinking about his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, and particularly the petition, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” Luther writes:

Q:  What does this mean?

A:  Truly God’s Kingdom comes by itself, without our prayer. But we pray in this request that it come to us as well.

Q:  How does this happen?

A:  When the Heavenly Father gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we believe the holy Word by grace and live godly lives here in this age and there in eternal life.

I love Luther’s image of God’s kingdom: living godly lives now and into eternity, led by the Holy Spirit, empowered by grace, and grounded in the holy Word. Maybe that is what Jesus’ means when he declares, “My kingdom is not from this world.”

This week’s Gospel lesson is a portion of St. John’s dramatic Good Friday narrative. After sharing a final meal with his followers, Jesus makes his way out to a garden where they often meet. But as they gather there, they are confronted by nothing less than a lynch mob. As St. John puts it, “Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.” [St. John 18:3] Jesus is arrested, bound, beaten, and tried by religious and political leaders.

One of those leaders is Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judaea, who serves at the pleasure of the Emperor. It is Pilate who interrogates Jesus, demanding to know whether or not Jesus thinks of himself as a king. Pilate is well schooled in the bloodthirsty tactics of the Roman Empire, which is why he is at a complete loss about what to think of Jesus. (Even his wife was troubled; see St. Matthew 27:19-23.) Kings of this world meet other kings with force, but Jesus seems to willingly accept his fate. He embraces his suffering and death, making it clear, at least to us, that his reign will have nothing to do with violence and terror.

His kingdom is one of grace and love; one of forgiveness and new beginnings; one of purpose and eternity. It is a kingdom which breaks into this world through the events that surround the life of Jesus. It is a kingdom which breaks into the world even today. It is a kingdom which has come, and which is coming. Of this we are certain.

We pray, with Luther, that it might also come to us. So capture our hearts, King Jesus. Rule our lives. Empower our faithfulness. Help us to love and cherish the citizenship we have in your kingdom. Come to us, and be our king. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does Pilate (and the rest of the authorities) deal with Jesus?
  2. Why does Pilate have such a difficult time understanding Jesus?
  3. How is the kingdom in which Jesus rules different from the Roman Empire?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does it mean for me to submit to the rule of King Jesus?
  2. How might I characterize the means by which Jesus comes to rule the world?
  3. In what specific ways does the rule of this Crucified King influence my living?

Creating and Life-Giving God

Date: November 15, 2015
Liturgical Day: The 25th Sunday after Pentecost 

no sermon today
a prayer for peace and healing
honoring our God

Those who kill and maim in the name of faith profoundly misunderstand who God is and what God stands for. We know God as One who wants the very best for us, and who calls us to live in ways that lead to a rich, fulfilling, grace-filled life.

Download Sermon: 2015 Pent 28B

The 25th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 28B (Nov. 15, 2015)

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16 (9)
Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25
St. Mark 13:1-8
Semicontinuous Series:
1st Samuel 1:4-20
1st Samuel 2:1-10 (1)

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever. Grant that all the people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

13:1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

St. Mark 13:1-8 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

That Which Endures 

Trinity StillwaterTrinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota, the church where my family has been involved since the late nineteenth century (and still is), turned 100 years old when I was in the seventh grade. It was quite a celebration: worship services, visits from former pastors and pastoral interns, celebration banquets, a remodeled “Centennial Room” in the basement, a series of pictures of the pastors who had served at Trinity over the years (lots of strange facial hair and serious expressions in those pictures…). For an 11-year-old boy, it seemed like an ancient and storied congregation — one that God perhaps created on the Eighth Day. Back then, walking into the darkened sanctuary on my own was a stirring experience. The long center aisle, dark wood pews, raised chancel and carved wooden reredos were awe inspiring to a young person. It gave the impression of strength, stability and permanence.

My experience was, of course, little more than a shadow of what it must have been like to experience the first century Temple in Jerusalem — an impressive structure, magnificently restored by King Herod in about  20 b.c.e. The people of that time were in awe of its great stones and expensive ornamentation. Although the Temple had been destroyed at least once already, it was hard for them to imagine Jerusalem without this signature landmark.

Yet in this week’s Gospel, Jesus prophesies that this great temple will soon lie in ruins. (He was right: Roman armies destroyed it in a.d. 70.) He makes this claim, it seems, not so much to disparage the temple, but to teach his listeners that there is a significant difference between that which is temporal and that which is eternal. Temples will come and go (as will Lutheran church buildings — Trinity Stillwater’s building was so significantly remodeled in the 1980s that it takes a clever eye to imagine where the original structure stood). But in their destruction are the birth pangs of something new.

The writer of Hebrews took Jesus’ words to heart, which is evident in this week’s New Testament lesson: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” [Hebrews 10:23] Even the most massive of buildings are vulnerable to destruction and decay. But there is one reality that has power to last; one reality that is eternal: the faithfulness of the One who has promised us new life.

This One lived and died in the person of Jesus, defeated the power of sin, death and the devil on Easter Sunday, and continues to live among us today. This One, our God, has claimed us in baptism, and graced us with promises that last longer than life itself. Here is something that won’t suffer destruction or decay. Here is something that is eternal. Let us hold fast to our hope without wavering, because it is grounded in God’s trustworthy promise!


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why were people in the first century so impressed with the Temple?
  2. Why does Jesus predict that it will be destroyed again?
  3. What new faithfulness will Jesus give to his followers, that replaces the Temple culture?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What, in my life, am I tempted to trust for my future?
  2. If I am honest, in what was are those realities bound to disappoint me?
  3. How will life become different for me, as I trust more and more in God’s promise to me?

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All In!

Date: November 8, 2015
Liturgical Day: The 24th Sunday after Pentecost 

a poor widow’s gift
giving everything she had
all in for her God!

Jesus notices a poor widow, whose generosity indicates that she is all in. He teaches his disciples that they must be all in, as they commit to the ministry he is about to entrust to them, and he teaches us the same. What will it look like for us, today, to be all in, as we offer ourselves to the ministry God has entrusted to us?

Download Sermon: 2015 Pent 27B

The 24th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 27B (Nov. 8, 2015)

1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146 (8)
Hebrews 9:24-28
St. Mark 12:38-44
Semicontinuous Series:
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127 (3)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, you show forth your almighty power chiefly by reaching out to us in mercy. Grant us the fullness of your grace, strengthen our trust in your promises, and bring all the world to share in the treasures that come through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

12.38 As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

St. Mark 12:38-44 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

All In

There was a day when this passage from St. Mark seemed relatively simple. It is a contrast between two groups of people in the first century. On the one hand you have the religious professionals. Jesus has already experienced some conflict with them, and in the opening verse of this text he warns his followers about them. “Beware,” he says. They may walk around in fancy garments, be greeted warmly by those they meet, and always sit in the best seats whenever God’s people get together. But look: they devour widows houses, and show off with their lengthy prayers. This kind of behavior will lead to their condemnation.

Then he points out the second group: the very widows whose homes are being devoured by these same religious professionals. One of them — a poor widow (and, honestly, most of them were in the first century) — drops two small copper coins into the treasury. Others put in far more that day, but Jesus notices this woman, and remarks that her gift is notable because she gave everything she had.

It used to be that we preachers would read this text and then announce God’s desire that we all put a lot of money in the treasury. After all, Jesus seems dismissive about the prosperous worshippers who put in what look like large sums, but which are actually fairly modest gifts when compared with how much wealth the contributors have. And even if he doesn’t actually commend the poor widow, at least he notices her and comments on her generosity. That has to stand for something, right? So we took it as an encouragement to give in relationship to how much we have, and fill up the treasury. [And, not coincidentally, we silently gave thanks that this story usually came around just about when we were asking our members to make a commitment to supporting the church’s ministry in the coming year… something we’ll do at Saint Peter this very Sunday.]

But maybe there is more going on here than meets they eye. David Lose suggests: “All of this leads me to conclude that Jesus isn’t actually lifting her up as an example but rather decrying the circumstances that demand her to make such an offering, a sacrifice that will likely lead to destitution if not death.”  Karoline Lewis writes, “God knows nothing else than to give God’s whole life… And here, now, in this unnamed widow, God is doing it again. God calls us to whole life living. That’s what discipleship is all about.”

It is, indeed, a complex story. It is about generosity. It is about the contrast between cautious and extravagant giving. It is about about institutional integrity. It is about God’s sacrificial love. It speaks to us on a variety of levels, and can come to us as a word of grace or a word of condemnation.

We’ll have other opportunities to address the poor leadership of these religious professionals, but this week we take time to admire this generous woman. What inspired her gift? Was Jesus admiring her generosity or lamenting her situation? This story clearly has struck people in a variety of ways. How does it speak to us today?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What tone of voice do I imagine Jesus having as he speaks of this widow?
  2. How might the disciples have interpreted what he had to say about her?
  3. Which of the disciples eventually gave “all they had” for the cause of the Gospel?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does the contrast between the scribes and the widow say to us today?
  2. Who have I known that I would describe as “all in?”
  3. What would it look like for me to be “all in?”

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