One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17B (Aug. 30, 2015)

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Semicontinuous Series:
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9

Prayer of the Day:
O God our strength, without you we are weak and wayward creatures. Protect us from all dangers that attack us from the outside, and cleanse us from all evil that arises from within ourselves, that we may be preserved through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many  other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;  7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’  8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.


Cherished Beliefs

Jesus.GermsIn the men’s room at Saint Peter there has been (for years) a small card taped to the mirror, at about eye’s level for a 5-year-old. It says, “Jesus and germs are everywhere, so wash your hands and say a prayer.” I have no idea whether there is one in the women’s room. It reminds me of the old joke that ends with, “Jesus and germs, Jesus and germs; that’s all you talk about, and I can’t see either one!”

This week’s Gospel lesson is about Jesus and germs, but the intent of the teaching is not to prevent us from spreading diseases. The intent is to explore religious tradition, and discern the ways in which it promotes or inhibits our participation in the kingdom of God.

The Lutheran church is a liturgical church, with 500 years of rich history behind it. We have many cherished beliefs and practices, and most of them are far more significant than the color of our seat cushions or the Sunday morning worship schedule. At the same time, we think of ourselves as a reforming movement within the catholic tradition — a church that is always committed to evaluating our beliefs and practices (even the ones we cherish the most!) with one question in mind: “Do they strengthen our church’s proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”

These are not always easy questions to ask. Occasionally they compel us to make some major adjustments to our life together. Think about our church’s changed positions on slavery, or the role of women in the church, or the age of first communion. These days we are asking questions about same-gender relationships and whether the communion table is open to the unbaptized.

Did I catch any of your hot buttons there? If so, perhaps you can imagine the position Jesus finds himself in, here in the seventh chapter of Mark. He too is living within a religious tradition that has many cherished beliefs and practices; a number of them related to the careful washing of hands and cooking utensils. Recalling the words of the prophet (Isaiah 29:13), he has evidently concluded that too many believers in his day are living with clean hands but unclean hearts. So he invites his followers to set those customs aside, and focus on what sort of intentions come from within them.

The Pharisees and the scribes are aghast. But his point is clear: “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” Do these washing traditions help to cleanse the heart, and promote Godly intentions? If so, follow them with passion and pleasure. But if they distract from the heartfelt transformation that God wants for us, they are not much different from rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Jesus calls us to question whether our beliefs and practices lead us to a bolder proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a church, and as individuals, are we willing to do this?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why were people of Jesus’ day so committed to these washing traditions?
  2. What is Jesus trying to accomplish by allowing his followers to ignore them?
  3. How does this exchange impact Jesus’ relationship with the religious officials?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What beliefs and practices should we be re-evaluating today?
  2. What might we do if we find them in conflict with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
  3. Am I most inclined to embrace or question our beliefs and practices?

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Date: August 23, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 

learning and growing
everything is holy now
may God bless this year

We wish the best for our students, and those who teach them and guide them in their schools. May they all  be aware that preparing to do the best we can do with the gifts God has given us is a holy venture.

Download Sermon: 2015 Saint Peter Summer Festival

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16B (Aug. 23, 2015)

St. Luke 2:41-52

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, your word feeds your people with life that is eternal. Direct our choices and preserve us in your truth, that, renouncing what is false and evil, we may live in you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

2:41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

St. Luke 2:41-52 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

In My Father’s House

We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood. There are stories about his birth, of course. And stories of the first visit his family made to the Temple after he was born. But nothing, really, between then and his baptism by John in the Jordan River (when most scholars suspect he was in his early 30s). Except for this story.

Jesus was born to two devout, Jewish parents. Every year they made their way from Nazareth to Jerusalem (a five- or six-day walk each way) for Passover. When Jesus was twelve years old they took him along with them. They were traveling with a group of relatives and friends, and at the end of the first day’s travel they couldn’t find him in the group. (Clearly first century parents didn’t hover over their children quite as much as we do today…)

They return to Jerusalem and after three days (is Luke foreshadowing here?) they find him in the Temple. Exhausted after four days of traveling and searching and worrying and laying awake all night long, Mary asks him what in the world he was thinking. Jesus’ response, sounding more like an adult than a twelve year old child, is to ask her why she ever thought he would be anywhere else. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Jesus was fully at home in the Temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions. And he wasn’t just going through the motions. Luke tells us that he increases in wisdom, and in divine and human favor. Gathering in the Temple to learn is important to Jesus, and a significant way in which he develops and grows. Although it must have been a trying experience for her, Mary treasures the memory of this trip to Jerusalem in her heart. Was she seeing, for one of the first times, evidence of what the shepherds proclaimed to her in 2:17?

In our communities today many young people are returning to school after summer vacations. It isn’t always an easy return: although they rarely go missing for four days, there are adjustments that have to be made and schedules that begin to rule again. But it is where they need to be. Where they must be.

At Saint Peter, this weekend, we are planing a Summer Festival, to mark the ending of summer and the beginning of the school year. We will ask for God’s blessing on our young people. We will give thanks for their teachers and administrators and other school staff members. We will remind ourselves that just as Jesus matured and grew by the time he spent the Temple listening to the teachers and questioning them, our children will mature and through the time they spend in their school.

Let us remember to pray for them on a daily basis. Let us show our gratitude for their teachers and others who take an active interest in them. Let us give thanks to God for the opportunities they have to grow during these school years, that they too might grow in wisdom, and in divine and human favor.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How do I think Jesus became separated from his parents?
  2. What is his parents’ response when they first find him?
  3. How does he respond to his mother’s concerned words?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What hopes to I have for students who are returning to school this fall?
  2. How might I be a source of strength and encouragement for them?
  3. How might I show my gratitude to those who have invested a lifetime in teaching them, and in helping them grow?

God, Who Feeds and Sustains Us

Date: August 16, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15B) 

holy communion
eat my flesh and drink my blood
take and you will live

God has a history of feeding the faithful. Jesus demonstrates this when he feeds the crowds in the wilderness, when he is present to us in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist, and when he shapes us as we practice habits of discipleship.

Download Sermon: 2015 Pent 15B

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 15B (Aug. 16, 2015)

Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
St. John 6:51-58

Semicontinuous Series:
1st Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111

Prayer of the Day:
Ever-loving God, your Son gives himself as living bread for the life of the world. Fill us with such a knowledge of his presence that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life to serve you continually, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

St. John 6:51-58 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

”Whoever Eats Me Will Live because of Me.”

I love to imagine the original setting for the words of Jesus. Where were they gathered? Who was present? What events prompted his words? How did his audience respond? How did the religious officials react (always an interesting question…)? What event(s) took place just before or just after the saying? Often it is the case that addressing questions like these helps the reader understand what Jesus is trying to teach us, and leads to a much more fruitful reading of the text.

That said, as we use these kinds of questions to help us identify with his original listeners, this weekend’s Gospel had to be one of the most confusing statements he ever made to them.

It is recorded in the sixth chapter of John — quite early, actually, in John’s 21 chapter narrative. Jesus has performed miracles of feeding, and the crowd is impressed. No doubt experiencing physical hunger, they follow him around the country mostly, it seems, because of the bread he provides. But now he tries to stretch their understanding. He is shifting his focus from the bread that fills the stomach and sustains the body, to the bread that fills the soul and sustains faith.

Long before Maundy Thursday; long before his passion; long before his resurrection, long before the events that will give meaning to the meal his followers will celebrate in his name, Jesus speaks these words to his listeners. At best, one imagines them leaving the synagogue in Capernaum completely bewildered. (Verses 60 and 66 suggests exactly this…) “Whoever eats me.” — what can this possibly mean to someone who has never heard of his Last Supper? “Will live because of me.” — what can this possibly mean to someone who has never heard of his resurrection?

Years later, though, the early church will come to understand how important these words are. Having instituted the meal (“This is my body… this is my blood…”) and commissioned his followers (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”), Jesus now becomes their source of life. Opposed by many of their Jewish brothers and sisters, persecuted by the Roman Emperor and his armies, misunderstood by almost everyone else, these faithful ancestors of ours took great comfort from the meal; great strength from the presence of Christ in the bread and the wine.

This weekend, at Saint Peter and at most Lutheran churches throughout the world, we will gather for the same meal. We will celebrate the real presence of Jesus in the bread and the wine. We will recall the story of salvation that gives us meaning and hope. We will take comfort and strength from this gathering, and we will indeed live because of him.

Thank God for this source of life. May our weekly gathering strengthen us, as it did the people of the early church. And fed and nourished by our Lord, may we love him profoundly, and serve him faithfully.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What did Jesus mean that “eating him” will lead to life?
  2. How must his followers have responded to this saying?
  3. What did the early church come to believe about these words?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When has participating in Holy Communion given me new life?
  2. In what ways am I changed when I receive the bread and wine?
  3. What do I most appreciate about participating in this meal?

Strengthened for Service

Date: August 9, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14B) 

a broom tree refuge
the healing presence of God
strength for the journey 

The story of Elijah and the broom tree reminds us that through various means, sometimes through very simple common means, God strengthens us for what we have been called to do. May this week’s Eucharist empower our witness in the world.

Download Sermon: 2015 Pent 14B

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 14B (Aug. 9, 2015)

1st Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
St. John 6:35, 41-51
Semicontinuous Series:
2nd Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130

Prayer of the Day:
Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread that gives life to the world. Give us this bread always, that he may live in us and we in him, and that, strengthened by this food, we may live as his body in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven.     

St. John 6:35, 41-51 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Drawn by the Father

On the airplane yesterday, returning to Denver from a family vacation in Washington D.C. and Richmond, VA, I read an article by Professor David Lose (in the April Lutheran Magazine) suggesting that one goal of preaching is to “help us see God and, having seen God, to participate in God’s ongoing work to love and bless this world.” For the record: I agree with him, and try to accomplish this as often as I can. So this morning I find myself wondering how this weekend’s Gospel lesson can help us to see God and participate in God’s work. Continue reading

Hope, and a Future

Pastor’s newsletterarticle for August, 2015

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm,
to give you a future with hope.
[Jeremiah 29:11]

This past month we were blessed by a visit from Dr. Mark and Linda Jacobson, ELCA medical missionaries in Africa. The Jacobsons have been in Arusha, Tanzania since 1982, working with the ministries at Selian Lutheran Hospital and (since 2008) the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre. We at Saint Peter considered it an honor to have been one of their supporting congregations for the past decade-and-a-half, and look forward to a relationship with them and their ministry team that continues to grow in years to come.

As they shared stories about bodies that have been healed, lives that have been changed, and families that have been restored, they reminded us of Jeremiah 29:11. Patients at Selian and ALMC receive the gift of healed bodies, to be sure. But even more importantly, through the faith and compassion of the medical workers at these two facilities, patients also receive the gift of hope; a hope which comes from God, and which invites them into a future that is entirely made new. Continue reading

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 13B (Aug. 2, 2015)

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Psalm 78:23-29 (24, 25)
Ephesians 4:1-16
St. John 6:24-35
Semicontinuous Series:
2nd Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a
Psalm 51:1-12

Prayer of the Day:
O God, eternal goodness, immeasurable love, you place your gifts before us; we eat and are satisfied. Fill us and this world in all its need with the life that comes only from you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:24So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”26Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ “32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

St. John 6:24-35 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.

I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Brady and Landon feeding birds in Venice; March, 2006

Brady and Landon feeding birds in Venice; March, 2006

When our boys were young we had an opportunity to visit the plaza at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. They couldn’t wait to feed the pigeons. They had been watching others do it, and it looked like great fun. So they dropped a couple of Euros in the vendor’s hand, and received two small bags of feed. As soon as they turned away from the booth, the pigeons had them in sight, and swarmed them from every direction. There were pigeons on their feet, their hands, their arms, their shoulders, their heads… and so tightly surrounding them that they could hardly even move!

Jesus must have felt like that in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. In the text we considered last week, he fed some five thousand of them in the wilderness. When they came after him, and he realized that they were about to try and forcibly make him their king, he slipped away to the mountain to be alone. That night many of them fell asleep in the wilderness (stuffed with food like Thanksgiving Day afternoon?). When they awoke to find that he had left for the other side of the sea, they swarmed after him (like Venetian pigeons?), and in a tone that bordered on belligerence, began to demand of him: When did you come here? How can we control the power of God? When will you give us more bread? Continue reading

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 12B (July 26, 2015)

2nd Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
St. John 6:1-21
Semicontinuous Series:
2nd Samuel 11:1-15
Psalm 14

Prayer of the Day:
Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth. Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven and share this bread with all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

St. John 6:1-21 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Philip and Andrew

This weekend’s Gospel lesson features two of the lesser-known disciples of Jesus. Those of us who have spent any time at all with the Bible can recall story after story about Peter and James and John. They make up the inner circle of Jesus, and are often with him when none of the others are present. But the disciples in this week’s story, Philip and Andrew, are not as well known. In fact, other than those passages where the Gospel writers name all twelve disciples, these two are mentioned only four times.

We meet Philip in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. In that passage, Jesus calls Philip to follow him. Philip not only follows Jesus immediately, but also becomes instrumental in convincing Nathanael to do the same. We meet Andrew when Jesus passes by a group of fishermen. Andrew is Simon Peter’s brother, and they were partners in a Sea of Galilee fishing enterprise near Bethsaida. Along with James and John (the sons of Zebedee), Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to follow him. All at once they drop everything, leaving Zebedee with the boats and nets, and begin to follow Jesus. In John 12, Philip and Andrew are instrumental in introducing a group of Greeks to Jesus.

The fourth appearance of Philip and Andrew, of course, is this weekend’s Gospel lesson. As is often the case, a large crowd has been following Jesus, largely because of the healing miracles he is performing. On this particular occasion there are about five thousand people present. Jesus looks at them, then turns to Philip and asks him where he thinks they might find food to feed such a crowd. Philip is the pragmatist: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Continue reading

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