One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20A (September 21, 2014)

Lessons:
Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
St. Matthew 20:1-16

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and eternal God, you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants. Because we cannot rely on our own abilities, grant us your merciful judgment, and train us to embody the generosity of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

20.1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


St. Matthew 20:1-16, 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.

Grace in the Vineyard

What is the kingdom of heaven like? I am thinking of images from a wide range of sources. Songs (especially some of the old spirituals), movies, stories, and pieces of art have all contributed to my personal vision of what the kingdom of heaven will be like. But as I try to form a picture in my mind, I can’t say that it is based on anything I have read in the Bible, because the Bible teaches us about heaven in a different way than that.

What is the kingdom of heaven like? In the Gospels, Jesus offers many answers. The kingdom of heaven is like: a sower who goes out to sow seeds, a grain of mustard seed, a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants, someone looking for fine pearls, ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom, a woman who lost a coin, a shepherd, who upon missing a lamb… Jesus teaches often about the kingdom of heaven, but for him the kingdom of heaven is described more like a verb than a noun. We don’t hear what heaven will look like; what we will look like in heaven; what sort of accommodations we will have… We don’t even hear whether heaven is an actual place (physical or spiritual). Instead, we hear how one becomes part of the kingdom of heaven. We hear how God goes about including people in the kingdom of heaven. And we begin to understand not so much how the Kingdom of Heaven will look, or feel, or function, but how we are welcomed into it, and made a part of it by the One who died for us.

In this week’s Gospel lesson, the disciples (who left home and family to follow Jesus) are wondering what special reward they will receive for their faithfulness. Jesus tells them a parable about a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He hired some then, and again at 9:00 am, and again at noon, and at 3:00 pm and finally at 5:00 pm. When quitting time came, they were all paid a day’s wage — a gesture that the latecomers appreciated, but which offended those who had worked all day. It wasn’t fair, of course. But that is the point. God isn’t fair. If God was fair, we’d all get what we deserve. (And who would want that?)

This kingdom of heaven image from Jesus comes to us as a comfort and as a warning. A comfort, because the invitation is always there for each of us. It is never to late for us to turn to God. A warning, because there will indeed be those welcomed into the family after you and me. Our task is to love and welcome them just as God does, not feeling haughty or more important because we were there first, but instead meeting them with great joy for their faith.

What is the kingdom of heaven like? Our Bible doesn’t give us the answer to that question, other than assuring us that we will be with God. How does one become included in the kingdom of heaven? That is the most important question. Whether we are lifelong members of the faith or recent converts; whether we have been following Jesus for years or are just now considering the life of discipleship; whether we’ve put in hours of service to our Lord or were “hired” at the last moment; each of us is welcomed into the fullness of the promise that is ours, not because of what we’ve done, or because of what we’ll do, but because of what Christ has done for us. That is the good news. And thanks be to God for that!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why do the disciples ask about what reward they will receive in the kingdom of heaven?
  2. What is the central message of Jesus’ response to them?
  3. On what do his words direct us to focus, as his faithful followers?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I felt most assured of my relationship with God? (When have I struggled?)
  2. How does this text affirm God’s love for me, and deepen my trust in God?
  3. What is the most important work for me to be about as a follower of Jesus Christ?

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19A (September 14, 2014)

Lessons:
Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103: [1-7) 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
St. Matthew 18:21-35

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

18.21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


St. Matthew 18:21-35, 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.

Radical, Unending Forgiveness

Saint Peter is trying to be generous. Put yourself in his position. Imagine that you have a brother or sister in faith who continually sins against you. One time you can forget about it. Twice, maybe. Perhaps even three times. But when someone hurts me in the same way three or four or five or six times, I’m not inclined to be as gracious as Saint Peter. I’ll give them at best three or four chances, and by then my patience has run out. I’m ready to put grace aside and opt, instead, for a good, solid presentation of the law. “Straighten out, or head out… one or the other!”

You see, Saint Peter is beginning to understand that at the heart of faith, as Jesus sees it, is the gift of forgiveness. He is willing to extend the boundaries of his own generosity. “How about it, Lord: what are you really talking about? Are you expecting us to forgive one another time and time again… even as many as seven times?” He is beginning to understand.

But what he hasn’t yet fully realized is that the life of faith isn’t about measuring forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t come simply to raise the bar a notch (“Now you have to forgive seven times instead of three…”). Jesus comes to invite those who will follow him into a different kind of living. A kind of living that is grounded in the experience of God’s grace. A kind of living that changes people from the inside out. A kind of living that isn’t interested in questions like: “How much?” or “Is that enough?” A kind of living, instead, that is interested in questions like: “Is this a chance for forgiveness to begin?” or “Is this a person who needs a word of grace?”

Jesus invites Peter, and he invites us, into a radical experience of forgiveness. Forgiveness without boundaries; without limits; without measure. That’s the reality which stands at the heart of our faith.

You and I, who have been touched at the very center of who we are by God’s amazing grace, are now challenged by the Lord of Grace to let that forgiveness shape us and mold us into the people God wants us to be. We are commissioned by these words to be as extravagant in forgiving one another as God has been in forgiving us. Let us allow God’s grace to touch us so near the center of who we are that it is able to transform us into new people — resurrected people — people who live in grace and love and forgiveness and joy.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why is Peter attempting to learn the limits of forgiveness?
  2. What does Jesus’ parable about the unforgiving servant teach Peter?
  3. What does the servant’s inability to forgive say about his heart?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I experienced God’s love and forgiveness?
  2. How has that made a difference for me?
  3. Who might I forgive?
  4. How might this be helpful for me, and for my relationship with God?

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18A (September 7, 2014)

Lessons:
Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
St. Matthew 18:15-20

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy. Without your help, we mortals will fail; remove far from us everything that is harmful, and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

18.15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”


St. Matthew 18:15-20, 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.

The Nature of God

This week’s Gospel lesson is quite well known by a relatively small number of believers. It seems to come into play whenever believers (or congregations…) find themselves in conflict. To the extent that it helps believers sit down face-to-face and work out their differences, it has probably been useful in those settings. After all, there is wisdom in this teaching from Jesus: when two of you have a problem, talk to each other. If that doesn’t work, have someone moderate your conversation. If that doesn’t work, deal with it as a community. As long as the church is made up of human beings there will be disagreements, misunderstandings and hurtful actions — some intended and some unintended. It is helpful to have a process; a method to help us work through these experiences together.

The longer I look at this text, though, the less convinced I am that its central purpose has to do with resolving conflict in the church. Continue reading

Servants of the Servant

Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article for September, 2014

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by, “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” [Mother Teresa]

On September 28th, I invite you to join us for our second “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday. During our Sunday morning worship services we will enjoy the shortest sermon of the year, offer our prayers for the needs of the world, experience the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and receive the blessing of God as we are sent “to serve communities in ways that share the love of God with all of God’s people.”

On October 3rd-4th, I invite you to join us for our annual Fall Retreat for Spiritual Renewal. During this day-and-a-half gathering we will explore God’s call for us to live in this world as servants; striving to care for others as Christ has cared for us.

The life of service to others is a central component of Christian discipleship. Continue reading

Divine Things

Date: August 31, 2014
Liturgical Day: The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17A)

the wisdom of God
set your mind on divine things
a new way to live

Summary:
In this morning’s Gospel lesson, Jesus makes it clear to Peter (and to us) that we are to set our minds on divine things (not human things). This isn’t an easy task, but it has to do with a commitment to stay ready to be surprised,  to stay grounded in God’s word, to stay connected to other believers, and to stay aware of the needs of others. As we grow in our ability to do this, we become more aware of the presence of God in our world and in our lives.

Download Sermon: 2014 Pentecost 17A

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17A (August 31, 2014)

Lessons:
Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Saint Matthew 16:21-28

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

Prayer of the Day:
O God, we thank you for your Son, who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by his example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us strength to follow your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

16.21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”


St. Matthew 16:21-28, 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.

Take Up Your Cross; Follow Me

Peter just doesn’t  get it. He has been with the Lord from the very beginning of his ministry. He has had more opportunity than anyone else to learn how Jesus understands his mission. He has called out that profound confession: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God! But he just doesn’t get it. Directly following Peter’s confession, Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter just doesn’t get it. Like a fool, he blurts out: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

To the One who gives his life for us Peter says: “God forbid: this must never happen!” To the One who becomes the sign of our hope Peter says: “God forbid: this must never happen!” To the One whose self-giving service teaches us what it means to be God’s faithful people, Peter says: “God forbid: this must never happen!” Peter just doesn’t get it. Continue reading

Who Do You Say that I Am?

Date: August 24, 2014
Liturgical Day: The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16A)

Jesus asks us all
who do you say that I am
Messiah, the Lord

Summary:
Jesus asks his disciples, and he asks us: “Who do you say that I am?” To answer this question, is to enter more deeply into the Christian faith. Each of us should have an answer, to help us grow in faith, and to help us invite others into God’s grace. What is your answer?

Download Sermon: 2014 Pentecost 16A

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16A (August 24, 2014)

Lessons:
Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138 (8)
Romans 12:1-8
St. Matthew 16:13-20

Semicontinuous Series
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124 (7)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, with all your faithful followers of every age, we praise you, the rock of our life. Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son, that we may gladly minister to all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

St. Matthew 16:13-20. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Rock Solid Faith

It seems, some times, that we are inundated with polls. There are polls about issues; polls about politicians; polls about items of human interest. We seem obsessed with knowing how many people agree or disagree with us.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus takes a poll of his own. As he is traveling through Caesarea Philippi, he raises two questions. First of all, he asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They come back with the following information: some believe that he is John the Baptist, come back to life. Some believe that he is the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Some believe that he is Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Continue reading

Trusting in God’s Grace

Date: August 17, 2014
Liturgical Day: The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15A)

a mother’s concern
faith: trusting, not believing
leaning on God’s grace

Summary:
In a conversation between Jesus and a Canaanite woman which seems troubling to us, a gem appears: this woman shows us what the life of faith is all about. It doesn’t have to do with “what” one comes to believe. It has to do with “whether” one comes to entrust all of life to God’s care. May we learn, from her, that God is one who can be trusted. And may we learn, with her, how to entrust our entires lives to God.

Download Sermon: 2014 Pentecost 15A

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 15A (August 17, 2014)

Lessons:
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Psalm 67 (3)
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
St. Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

Semicontinuous Series:
Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133 (1)

Prayer of the Day:
God of all peoples, your arms reach out to embrace all those who call upon you. Teach us as disciples of your Son to love the world with compassion and constancy, that your name may be known throughout the earth, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

[15:10 Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

St. Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Mission… and Grace

There has been a lot of talk throughout the church about how important it is to be clear about one’s sense of mission. Churches are developing mission statements. Task forces and committees and teams are using those mission statements to shape their objectives. Leadership groups are making personnel and programmatic decisions based on those mission statements. It all is done for good reason: research shows that the clearer an organization is about its mission, the more apt it is to be moving forward in a way that is meaningful. We continue to find our stated mission here at Saint Peter (Welcomed into God’s love just as we are; Sent into God’s world to be a reflection of Christ’s love) to be a helpful way of focusing our efforts. Continue reading

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