One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

Reformation Sunday; Year A (October 26, 2014)

Lessons:
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46 (7)
Romans 3:19-28
St. John 8:31-36

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lesson:

8:31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”  34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.


St. John 8:31-36. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Reformed or Reforming?

On October 31, 1517, the evening before All Saints’ Day (then referred to as All Hallowed’s Eve; now as Halloween), when the city of Wittenberg, Germany was teeming with Christian pilgrims who had traveled there to celebrate the festival, Martin Luther made a trip to the entrance doors of the Castle Church. Long used as the official bulletin board of the University, he nailed on them a bulletin of his own: the Ninety-five Theses, a statement of his objections to some of the practices of the church in his day.

Copies of this document were quickly generated with one of the newest technologies of his time: the printing press with movable type. In no time at all visitors to Wittenberg had copies of Luther’s protest, and carried them back home when they left town. Soon word of Luther’s teaching, and his challenge to Rome, had traveled all over Europe. With this bold action, the Reformation that was to give birth to our own Lutheran Church had begun.

Since the mid 17th century, Lutherans through the world have paused at this time every year to remember Martin Luther and the other reformers, and to give thanks for their strong and bold witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But Reformation Sunday is not a celebration of the past, as if the church reformed itself five hundred years ago, and has been just fine ever since. Reformation Sunday is a time to recall that our particular movement within Christianity is one that continually looks for how we need to reform ourselves in order that our proclamation of the Good News continues to be fresh and clear and compelling. We are not a reformed church: we are a reforming church. And Reformation Sunday reminds of this important aspect of being Lutheran.

The lessons appointed for Reformation Sunday — lessons that many Lutheran churches will hear read this coming Sunday, all get to the heart of the reformation. Jeremiah speaks of a day when God will make a new covenant with believers; a covenant that is dependent on God’s faithfulness, not the believer’s ability to earn God’s love. Romans proclaims that all humans have fallen short of God’s expectations, and all are justified by the miracle of God’s grace. John speaks of the freedom that is granted to every believer in Christ — freedom from having to please God in order to be “saved” — freedom to live life as a response to the goodness of God’s love.

As we prepare ourselves for the celebration of another Reformation Day, let us not think only of our heritage, and days gone by. Let us also think also about the future, and the ways in which God is continuing to reform and reshape us to be the kind of people who can be credible witnesses to others of the difference it makes to have Christ in our lives.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do I remember about Martin Luther and the other reformers?
  2. What truths about the gospel of Jesus Christ did they rediscover?
  3. How did their work change the church, and the proclamation of the gospel?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is there in my life that God desires to reform?
  2. How might I draw near to God, and allow that reformation to begin?
  3. Who might partner with me, so that we can encourage one another to stay open to how the Holy Spirit would work through us to reform us and revitalize our faith?

The Things that Are God’s

Date: October 19, 2014
Liturgical Day: The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24A)

what belongs to God
what belongs to emperor
a faithful response

Summary:
We live with one foot in the kingdom of this world, and one foot in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus calls us to be faithful in how we offer our support and allegiance to each kingdom. What does that look like for me?

Download Sermon: 2014 Pentecost 24A

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 24A (October 19, 2014)

Lessons:
Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
St. Matthew 22:15-22

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99

Prayer of the Day:
Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts. Created by you, let us live in your image; created for you, let us act for your glory; redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

St. Matthew 22:15-21, 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.

Jesus and Taxes

“Come on back this Wednesday, and we’ll focus on what Jesus thinks about taxes.” That was my announcement last Sunday. The obvious first reaction, during this heated political season, was to wonder if Jesus is for more taxes or fewer taxes; bigger government or smaller government. After all, the question posed to him in this middle section of Matthew 22 is: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

Our Lord’s questioners, of course, are not interested in what he thinks about taxes. We’ve come to suspect this of them, and Matthew makes it clear in the verse that follows: “But Jesus, aware of their malice…” They haven’t come to learn about God at the feet of the Rabbi from Nazareth. They are more interested in seeing if they can present Jesus with a question that there is no way to answer; a question that will force him to incriminate himself.

Will he say Jewish believers ought to pay the Roman tax (a tax that pays for the Roman forces who have made life miserable for the Jews…)? Then he will clearly get himself in trouble with the faithful who have borne the burden of this tax. Will he say that Jewish believers are morally obligated to have nothing to do with this tax? If so, he will clearly get himself in trouble with the Roman authorities who have little patience with rebels. Either way, these Pharisees imagine, they have come up with a sure-fire way to take him down a notch or two.

We (like the Pharisees) might expect him to offer a clear-cut answer to their question; one that puts Roman taxation and Jewish faithfulness in a proper relationship, and provides a roadmap for Jewish believers to follow when their annual tax assessment arrives in the mail. (Wouldn’t that be handy for us as well, as we get ready to fill out and mail in our paper ballots this week?) But Jesus resists the temptation to provide tax advice, and continues to what he has always done: proclaim the Kingdom of God which is breaking into this world.

Minted coins may belong to Caesar, and if Caesar wants some of his coins back each year he has every right to expect that. But just as citizens of Rome are obliged to give Caesar what is rightfully due to him, citizens of God’s kingdom are obliged to be faithful with all that belongs to God. And as everyone in the room knows, this includes everything: our minted currency, our accumulated wealth, our time, our energy, our focus, our desire…

Give to God the things that are God’s. A great stewardship text for this fall’s campaign: How much of what God has given us will we return in the form of our offering, to make sure the ministries of our congregation stay strong and vital? But faithful stewardship has to do with far more than currency. How will we honor and acknowledge God with all that we do? What movies will we watch? What books and magazines will we read? What portion of our resources will we tie up in homes and automobiles? How will we divide up our (increasingly crowded) schedules? It all belongs to God, and we are to treat it as if it did.

Give to God the things that are God’s. With these words, Jesus challenges the Pharisees, and us, to be thoughtful and faithful about our entire lives.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why are the Pharisees trying to discredit Jesus?
  2. How does Jesus’ answer prevent them from doing so?
  3. What do the others who are present experience that day?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How do I balance the citizenships I have in my country and in God’s kingdom?
  2. When do my commitments and interests threaten to put my faith in second place?
  3. What must I do to keep my faith, and my relationship with God, central in my life?

A Parable for Us

Date: October 12, 2014
Liturgical Day: The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18A)

by the grace of God
invited to the banquet
called to be faithful

Summary:
This week’s Gospel is a challenging one to understand, but when we think of the three audiences who are touched by it (Jesus’ listeners, St. Matthew’s readers, and us) it becomes clear that this is a parable for us. From it, we learn to look for the new thing God is doing, give thanks that a place has been made at the banquet for us, and know that God has high expectations of us. This may be a had word in some ways, but it is a life-giving word.

Download Sermon: 2014 Pentecost 23A

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 23A (October 12, 2014)

Lessons:
Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Saint Matthew 22:1-14

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Prayer of the Day:
Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples and poured out your life with abundance. Call us again to your banquet. Strengthen us by what is honorable, just and pure, and transform us into a people of righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

22.1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”


St. Matthew 22:1-14, 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.
An Invitation
The Parable of the Wedding Feast. The anger of the king. The rejection (even destruction) of those whose response is inadequate. At first glance, this is an incredibly difficult parable to understand. We find ourselves with so many questions:

  • What does it mean that the banquet invitees reject the king’s invitation?
  • What does it mean that they mistreat and kill the messengers?
  • What does it mean that the king destroys them and their city?
  • What does it mean that the king declares the first ones invited to be “unworthy?”
  • What does it mean when the guest without a wedding robe is thrown to where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in the darkness?

It seems that God (The king usually represents God in a parable, right?) is depicted here as mean and vindictive, destroying everyone who fails to respond to the invitation; in fact, even rejecting one who responds to the invitation in a way that isn’t quite correct.

Undoubtably this parable has spawned a great deal of “fire and brimstone” preaching. And sadly, too many Christians have concluded that this parable is about God (the king?) punishing the first invitees (the Jews?) for rejecting and killing the messenger (Jesus?). This may well have been how St. Matthew understood the situation. After all, it is not coincidental that this week’s passage follows the last verses of chapter 21 where Jesus refers to himself as “the stone that the builders rejected [which] has become the cornerstone,” followed by St. Matthew’s interpretation:

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. [St. Matthew 21:46-47]

So this passage can hardly be understood as anything other than a shot across the bow of those religious leaders who will reject, and eventually condemn, Jesus. Perhaps even an effort by Matthew to give meaning to the difficulties God’s people (those who believed in Jesus and those who didn’t) were having in the first century.

But the bottom line, for us, can never be that this passage points out the shortcomings of some group other than us, whether the group exists now, or existed 2,000 years ago. The truth is (as the parable indicates), God invites all: the good and the bad. God’s invitation is extended to us: at our best and at our worst. And like the invitees in the parable, the invitation awaits a faithful response.

God has invited us to join the feast. A place has been set at the table for each of us. And if we fail to show up, it will break God’s heart. Some may be inclined to focus on the fate of those who absent themselves. Myself: I am happy to focus on the wonder that God continues, still, to extend the invitation to me. And I am grateful for to the chance to join the festivities.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who rejects Jesus’ invitation in the Gospels? In the life of the early church?
  2. What is Jesus’ attitude toward those who reject and condemn him?
  3. How do his followers continue this ministry of invitation after he departs?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How have I been invited to join the feast? Who has shared this with me?
  2. How might we learn from Jesus, as we think about those who don’t believe today?
  3. Who would I like to invite to the party?

Continue reading

And Who Is My Neighbor?

Date: October 5, 2014
Liturgical Day: The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10C)

who is my neighbor
called to faithful compassion
extravagant love

Summary:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a story about God’s deep and expansive love. Recipients of this love, how will we choose to love our neighbor?

Download Sermon: 2014 Pentecost 10C

Bad Knees and New Strength

Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article for October, 2014

I’ve always had bad knees. In my younger days I used to describe myself as a person with an athlete’s mind and a librarian’s body. My interest in playing basketball and racquetball, and downhill skiing, led to numerous knee injuries, the worst of which tore my anterior cruciate ligament in 1998. (That also led to the end of playing basketball and racquetball, and downhill skiing…)

I injured my right knee again this past summer, and my doctor proposed a range of treatments from physical therapy to surgery. We decided on physical therapy, so I have been visiting the therapist once a week and doing exercises at home five or six times a week since early-July. If everything goes as planned, this work that I am now doing will strengthen my knees and my hips, and make me less likely to re-injure myself in the future. I have committed to give this my all, and so far am doing pretty well.

I’m not naturally good at keeping these kinds of commitments, so it will be interesting to see how well I do. (Ask me in a month or two… the accountability might help hold my feet to the fire…) But I know that putting in the work now will open up new possibilities for tomorrow, so I will give it my best. Continue reading

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 10C (October 5, 2014)

“God’s work. Our hands.” Emphasis:
First Lesson: St. Matthew 25:31-46
Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 10:25-37

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, your mercy delights us and the world longs for your loving care. Hear the cries of everyone in need, and turn our hearts to love our neighbors with the love of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lessons:

10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


St. Luke 10:25-37, 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.

Who Is My Neighbor?

What is he thinking, this Samaritan? He is known by many as the Good Samaritan, but perhaps he is more foolish than good. Traveling that dangerous stretch of road between Jerusalem and Jericho, he happens upon a fellow traveler who has been stripped and beaten by a gang of robbers. They leave him, half dead, on the side of the road.

Others happen upon the same scene, including a priest and a Levite; two religious professionals. Their response is much more reasonable. They understand the dangers (those robbers may have been lying in wait, just beyond the bushes). They honor their responsibility to God’s people (nobody who comes in contact with a dead person can worship without first being ritually cleansed, and God’s people need them to lead worship at the Temple). They choose to pass by on the other side.

Not this Samaritan. What he does is dangerous, impractical, expensive and disruptive. Continue reading

The Same Mind

Date: September 28, 2014
Liturgical Day: The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21A)

God’s work: our calling
Our hands: the presence of God
faithful ministry

Summary:
On this Sunday, as we celebration our church’s history as one that likes to “roll up our sleeves and get to work,” we remember that God both gives us the will to serve our neighbor, and empowers our ability to work for God’s good pleasure. After the sermon, worshippers are invited to leave the building to serve their community in designated service activities (so the sermon is *especially* short).

Download Sermon: 2014 Pentecost 21A

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 21A (September 28, 2014)

Lessons:
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
St. Matthew 21:23-32

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Prayer of the Day:
God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings. Give us your grace to overcome them, keep us from those things that harm us, and guide us in the way of salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

2.1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,

8he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

9Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,

10so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.


Philippians 2:1-13, 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 Same Mind

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a beautiful tribute to a faithful community for whom Paul had very high regard. The Philippians had been quite supportive of Paul, even to the extent of becoming financial supporters of his ministry, and he saw in them signs of a deep and lasting faith. This letter is intended, primarily, to support and encourage them. Continue reading

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