The Third Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (1/22/2017)

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9 (1)
1st Corinthians 1:10-18
St. Matthew 4:12-23

Prayer of the Day
Lord God, your loving kindness always goes before us and follows after us. Summon us into your light, and direct our steps in the ways of goodness that come through the cross of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15  “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately the y left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

St. Matthew 4:12-23, 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.

Follow Me

A man had fallen away from his church. A friend of his decided to give him a call about a tennis match they were scheduling for later that week. The friend called from the phone at Christ the Lord Lutheran Church where he was attending a meeting. The phone rang, and the man glanced at his Caller I.D. It said, “Christ the Lord.” He thought Christ the Lord was on the phone waiting for him to answer. This turned out to be a wake-up call for him, and in its own way, it motivated him to become involved in his faith community once again.

In the Lutheran Church we have a strong tradition of considering what it means to be called by God. Not called on the telephone – God’s call usually comes in ways that are a bit more subtle than that. But our conviction is that everyone is called, by God, to a particular ministry, as we seek to spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

The most obvious example of this, of course, is the call that a congregation (or religious institution) will issue to a person they want to serve with them in ministry. In our church, we have set up an elaborate system for training and evaluating those who believe God is calling them to serve as pastors. There is an equally robust set of procedures in place that determine how a congregation goes about finding a new person to serve them as a pastor. When a congregation chooses a new leader, it calls him or her to join them in ministry.

Yet this sense of call is not restricted to religious professionals. Through the waters of our baptism, each of us is called by God to become agents of the Gospel – the presence of Jesus Christ – wherever it is God calls us to serve (Let your light so shine, that others may see your good works…). Some of us are teachers, and our call is to be Christ-like in caring for the students entrusted to us. Some of us are parents, and our call is to raise our children in a faithful environment. Some of us are in the business world, and our call is to honor justice and righteousness as we work on behalf of our employer. Some of us are in the trades, and our call is to honor God with quality work and respect for our customers. In every vocation God transforms what we do, and uses it to grace the lives of those who come in contact with us; uses it as an opportunity to proclaim that people of faith make a difference in the world, as they see their involvement in the workplace as an opportunity to glorify the God who equipped them for the work they do.

When Jesus happens upon Simon, Andrew, James and John at the Sea, they are hard at work doing what God had called them to do: they are professional fishermen, feeding their villages and supporting their families by working hard at their trade. Jesus doesn’t call them to stop fishing. He transforms them as fishermen, so that they no longer exclusively focus on fish, but begin to use their skills of gathering to gather people for the kingdom of God.

One aspect of faithfulness has to do with discovering what it is God has called and equipped us to accomplish in this world. As we do so, we are aware that God also wants to transform the way in which we serve, so that in all that we do, the justice and mercy and grace of God’s kingdom are proclaimed to all.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Text:

  1. What skills and abilities have the four fishermen in this week’s Gospel lesson developed?
  2. How does Jesus transform those abilities for the sake of the Gospel?
  3. What do we know about the witness that those four eventually make on behalf of their faith?

Connecting with This Week’s Text:

  1. What gifts and abilities has God given to me?
  2. How have I made use of them in fulfilling my primary responsibilities?
  3. How might the daily routines of my life be different, if I saw them as opportunities to do ministry?

Look! The Lamb of God!

Date: January 15, 2017
Liturgical Day: The Second Sunday after Epiphany; Year A

Christian ministry
the stories God wants to tell
will we be faithful?

John the Baptist Bearing Witness, by Anabale Carraci (1600–1602)

John the Baptist had as his primary purpose the responsibility to point others to Jesus. So do we. How is it that God is seeking to do so through the ministries of Saint Peter? What are the stories God wants to tell through us to the world today

Some discussion Questions:
1.How is God calling me to point others to Christ, as St. John the Baptist does in the Gospels?
2.What stories did God want to tell the world, through the life and witness of Ancient Israel?
3.What stories did God want to tell the world, through the ministry and writings of the Apostle Paul?

Download Presentation Slides: 2017-01-15 Sermon

Download “Take It Home” Handout: 2017-01-15 TIH

The Second Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (1/15/2016)

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11 (8)
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
St. John 1:29-42

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, our strength and our redeemer, by your Spirit hold us forever, that through your grace we may worship you and faithfully serve you, follow you and joyfully find you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1:29 The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

St. John 1:29-42, 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.

Come and See

The Toastmasters Club is famous for helping people become proficient at public speaking. A friend once spent some with them, and came away with one conviction: the most important parts of a speech are the first and the last things said. Setting aside the very last words Jesus speaks in St. John (a bizarre exchange with Peter — read it at John 21:20-23), his (almost) last words are “follow me” and his first words are located here in this week’s Gospel lesson.

John the Baptizer is with his disciples, carrying out his central responsibility. (“I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”) As they are standing together one day, John watches Jesus walk past them. He declares to his followers: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” And it works! His two disciples hear John’s words, and begin following Jesus.

The very first words Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel form a question for these two disciples of John: “What are you looking for?” And then, when they ask where he is staying, Jesus makes the first of many declarations in John’s Gospel. He says, “come and see.”

Come and see. The first invitation to a new life of faith. The first invitation to become part of this great story God is beginning to tell in Christ. The first invitation to draw near to Jesus, and in doing so draw near to the power and presence and promise of the good news.

These disciples do just this, of course. Not only do they come and see where Jesus is staying: they stay with him. And what is the result? They become convinced he is the Messiah. And they join him in inviting others to come and see. Andrew steps up as the first Christian evangelist: he immediately finds his brother, Simon, and invites him to come and see Jesus. Simon will never be the same. And neither will the history of the Christian movement.

Come and see. If we join Andrew and Jesus in extending this invitation today, what will people see if they come? What kind of witness will our lives, and our churches, give to the transforming, gracious presence of Christ in our midst? That’s the challenge. If we invite them to come and see, it is essential that what they see is Christ.

I am writing today at Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado, about an hour west of Cañon City. A group of us are creating the Bible study to be used this summer at Rainbow. Through this study we’ll invite each other to consider what we need to do in order to love God, neighbor and self in everything we say and do. It is going to be a challenging study. It will help campers and staff alike to re-evaluate what faithfulness looks like, and how we can offer a strong witness to the world. And just maybe, it will give us something to show to anyone who comes our way. God willing, perhaps they will see our desire to love God, neighbor and self in everyone we say and do.

Come and see. Please consider joining us in extending this invitation. And in living so that others have something valuable to see. The love of God, moving through us, and touching the world. That’s something worth seeing!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is John’s role in salvation story of our faith?
  2. How does he accomplish this with his followers? With others in his day?
  3. How does Andrew continue the work John has begun?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who might I invite to “come and see?”
  2. If they come to me, or to my church, what are they likely to see?
  3. What do I need to do to make sure what they see is the love of God in Christ?

An Epiphany of God

Date: January 8, 2017
Liturgical Day: The First Sunday after the Epiphany: “The Baptism of Our Lord” (Year A)

shedding light on God
an epiphany of Christ
God: with us; for us

The Baptism of Our Lord, by del Verrochio, da Vinci
 and Botticelli

During this time after the Epiphany of Our Lord, we study text that shed light on who God is, and what God wants for us. Today we remember that God loves us deeply: enough to become one of us, to die for us, to love us wholeheartedly.

Some discussion Questions:
1. What does God’s desire to become one of us say about how God thinks and feels about us?
2. How does the Book of Acts (10:34-43) interpret what John accomplished when he baptized Jesus?
3. In what ways do the words of Isaiah 42:1-9 help us to understand who Jesus is, and what he does?

Download Presentation Slides:  2017-01-08 Sermon

Download “Take It Home” Handout: Take It Home; Epiphany 1A

The First Sunday after Epiphany; The Baptism of Our Lord; Year A (1/8/2017)

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29 (3)
Acts 10:34-43
St. Matthew 3:13-17

Prayer of the Day:
O God our Father, at the baptism of Jesus you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized into Christ faithful to their calling to be your daughters and sons, and empower us all with your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3.13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

St. Matthew 3:13-17, 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.

”This Is My Son”

Those of us who worship regularly during Advent will find this (and next) Sunday’s Gospel lesson(s) to be somewhat familiar. The middle two Sundays, every Advent season, are given over to John the Baptist, and the baptism of Jesus. Now, as we begin this span of time between Christmas and Lent, we do the same. On Sunday we will once again turn to the account off Jesus’ baptism (St. Matthew 3:13-17), and next week we will focus on the teaching of John about Jesus (St. John 1:29-42).

We do so under the theme of epiphany. Our tradition used to be that a season called “Epiphany” was located between the seasons of Christmas and Easter. Now we have two times during the church year that technically are not seasons. There is the “Time after Epiphany” which begins on the first Sunday after January 6th (which is the “The Epiphany of Our Lord”) and continues until Ash Wednesday, and there is the “Time after Pentecost” which begins after the Day of Pentecost, and continues until Advent begins.

During the Time after Epiphany, we focus our attention on what we can learn about God. Epiphany is a Greek word, which means “to shed light upon.” The question of the season is: “How do these passages from the Bible shed light upon who God is, and what God is seeking to accomplish for us and through us?”

This shifts the conversation about Sunday’s Gospel lesson. During a different time of year, we might reflect on Jesus’ baptism, and ask what it means for us. How can a careful and thoughtful conversation about our Lord’s baptism help us better understand what baptism means for us?

But during this Epiphany season, we ask what St. Matthew 3:13-17 has to teach us about God.

  • Why did Jesus travel all the way from Galilee to where John was baptizing, so that he could be baptized, and what does this teach us about God?
  • What does John’s reluctance to baptize Jesus teach us about God?
  • What does Jesus’ insistence on being baptized teach us about God?
  • How is it that by being baptized, Jesus “fulfills all righteousness,” and what does that teach us about God?
  • What does the descent of the Spirit on Jesus after his baptism teach us about God?
  • What does the voice from the heavens teach us about God — especially about how God is present in the person of Jesus?

Epiphany is a rich season, as we explore the depths of God’s presence, promise and power in our lives. And it appears there is much to explore this Sunday. Come join us for Bible Study on Wednesday (at noon), or for worship on Sunday (at 8:30 or 10:45). Or better yet, in the next day or two, log in to and let me know what you think. Maybe together we can learn something about the God who is made known to us in Jesus, the Christ.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What point does John make in resisting the invitation to baptize Jesus?
  2. What connection does Jesus make between baptism and righteousness?
  3. How does the voice from heaven put this entire story into context?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What have I come to believe about my baptism?
  2. How is this similar to — or different from — what I believe about Jesus’ baptism?
  3. What does the voice from heaven teach me about God? About Jesus?

An Invitation to Faithful Living

Slaughter of the Innocents; Reni Guido (1611-1612) — Padua, Italy

Date: January 1, 2017
Liturgical Day: The First Sunday of Christmas (Year A)

Herod’s cruel act
death and destruction the norm
call to faithfulness

Today is the start of a new year, and for liturgical Christians the 8th Day of Christmas, but our Gospel lesson reminds us of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Christian faith has been opposed by political and social forces for centuries. Where are the struggles in our lives today?

Some discussion Questions:
1. What opposition to my faith will God help me to overcome?
2. How might Mary have understood Isaiah 63:7-9?
3. According to Hebrews 2:10-18, why was it important for Jesus to suffer and face the kinds of challenges that we do?

Download Presentation Slides: 2017-01-01 sermon

Download “Take It Home” Handout: 2017-01-01 Take It Home

The First Sunday of Christmas (1/1/2017)

Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Hebrews 2:10-18
St. Matthew 2:13-23

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, you know that we cannot place our trust in our own powers. As you protected the infant Jesus, so defend us and all the needy from harm and adversity, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

St. Matthew 2:13-23, 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.

Innocents and Innocence

This weekend we turn our attention to a dramatic story about the Holy Family when Jesus was a young child. Two years or so after the birth of Jesus, Magi arrive from the east to honor this newborn King. Herod feigns interest, but he is mostly afraid of losing his throne. The wise men slip out of town without reporting back to Herod (he had asked them to bring back word as to where the new King was born, but they were warned in a dream not to do so), and Joseph, also informed in a dream about Herod’s intent, flees with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

It is a dramatic story, and there are any number of ways to enter into it. We might reflect on the two Josephs (one the father of Jesus, and one the son of Jacob), their dreams and their faithfulness to God. We might reflect on Egypt as a place where God’s people find refuge (the Holy Family: refugees from the murderous intents of King Herod; and ancient Israel: refugees from the ravages of a severe famine). We might reflect on God’s saving action (working through Moses to bring Israel to the Promised Land, and working through Jesus to bring forgiveness and new life to the world).

Yet the middle of the text derails these possibilities. It is quite likely that none of these connections to the Hebrew Bible will even be heard, because of the horrific reaction of King Herod to the possibility that his successor may have been born nearby. The Magi slip away, but Herod soon realizes he has been duped. Acting on a tip from the chief priests and the scribes (that the king should come from the line of David, whose historic hometown is Bethlehem), and information from the Magi (that the star over Bethlehem first appeared about two years earlier), “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under…”

Jesus is safe, having already been taken to Egypt by his parents. But we find ourselves overwhelmed at the senseless death of these innocent young ones, and the extraordinary pain their families must be experiencing.

On the one hand, we might wish this story didn’t have to come so soon after our Christmas celebration. It was just one week ago, after all, that we gathered at the manger with Mary and Joseph and shepherds and angels, and gazed with wonder at this newborn King. Couldn’t we have stayed with this aspect of the story for a week or two, before the pain and anguish of the world crashes in?

But no. The world does crash in. The birth of the Prince of Peace elicits a murderous response from the King of the Jews. Peace is replaced by terror. Life is replaced by death. God’s will is replaced by humanity’s rebellion.

Yet there is hope. Jesus is well, and will return. Herod will pass away, but God’s presence won’t. Nor will God’s grace. This, after all, is the heart of the Christmas story. No matter how dark the world, the light of Christ will not be extinguished. Not then. Not now. Thanks be to God!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do King Herod’s actions tell us about him?
  2. What do Joseph’s actions tell us about him?
  3. How does God work through these two individuals?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do the ties between Jesus’ story and the Old Testament tell me?
  2. When have I seen someone, like Herod, threatened by the work of God?
  3. How will I stay connected with God’s will and word through my life?

Word Enfleshed; God Born Among Us

Date: December 25, 2016
Liturgical Day: The Nativity of Our Lord; Christmas Day

God in human flesh
transcendent and immanent
that we might have life

Beginning with a hymn of praise for the Word of God, present in creation, and enfleshed in Jesus, St. John’s Gospel invites us to contemplate the transcendence and the immanence of God — and experience the life that God so passionately wants us to know.

Download Sermon: 2016-12-25-sermon

A Beautiful Time of Year

Date: December 24, 2016
Liturgical Day: The Nativity of Our Lord; Christmas Eve

the heart of our faith
Immanuel; God with us
with each one of us

Amidst the challenges and difficulties of life, it can be easy to lose sight of God’s presence — a sometimes illusive reality in our lives. But in the birth of the Newborn King at Bethlehem, God has given us something concrete and tangible to hang on to. May we be stirred to faithfulness by this gift of Immanuel (“God With Us”); this gift of Incarnation (“God in Human Form”).

Download Sermon: 2016-12-24-sermon

A Light in the Darkness

Date: December 21, 2016
Liturgical Day: Wednesday before the Nativity of Our Lord (Year A)

a child born to us
God’s light, shining in darkness
the promise of hope

Isaiah promised that the light of God would shine upon all who live in darkness. This promise, realized in the birth of Christ, is given to us as well. May this Christmas be a time when the light pushes back darkness in our lives, and we live in the hope that is ours through Christ.

Download Sermon: 2016-12-21-sermon

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