One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

The Second Sunday in Lent; Year B (3/1/2015)

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
St. Mark 8:31-38

Prayer of the Day:
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life. Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you…

15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; 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.


Our God is one who makes promises. Our faith is built on the premise that “God who promises is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23) This is evident from the very beginning of the story, when God establishes a covenant with Noah, promising to accompany him through the waters of the flood and into a new life (Genesis 6:18), and later promising never again to destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 9:11).

We notice this again in chapter 17, as God establishes a covenant with Abram and Sarai (soon to be Abraham and Sarah). God makes three promises to Abraham: he will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations; from his descendants nations and kings will come; and (in a verse excluded from this week’s lectionary reading) all the land of Canaan will be given to Abraham and his offspring as an inheritance.

As he and his wife were in their 90s and childless, both Abraham (17:17) and Sarah (18:12) laughed out loud when these promises first hit their ears. They seemed, at first, so far fetched; so ridiculous. And we, perhaps, might have laughed as well. It is hard to imagine a couple starting out a family when they were in their 50s or 60s — much less their 90s. Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes: at 99, would this be good news or bad news? Yet they came to treasure these promises, as did the people of Israel. Abraham became known as the father of the Hebrew faith, and for his willingness to stake his future on God’s promise he became a model of faith for Jews and Christians alike. (Romans 4:16-25)

In this weekend’s lesson, God declares that a covenant will be established with Abraham and Sarah. We know covenants, these days, as a set of rules and regulations that establish a certain character or quality in planned neighborhoods (Don’t paint your house purple, and I won’t park my wreck at the curb…). In the Hebrew Bible the word is used in the same way. it refers to a faithful and thoughtful relationship between God and a believer.

We too live with God, in relationships that are shaped by the “New Covenant.” Through the waters of our baptism, God has named us, claimed us, and promised us the gifts of forgiveness and new life. Through the resurrection of Christ, God has defeated the powers of death, and declared that we too will live.

As people of God, we give thanks for this promise, and pray for it to so take hold of our heats that we become transformed by the love of God that makes it possible. Our God is one who makes promises, and one who’s promises can be trusted because God is faithful. May we grow in the capacity to trust the promises that are ours, that we might live the life God wants us to know.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What promises did God make to Abraham and Sarah?
  2. Why did these promises first seem laughable to Abraham and Sarah?
  3. How have these promises to Abraham become central to what our Jewish friends believe?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who has helped me to understand the promise of my baptism?
  2. How does this promise allow me to live with hope and joy?
  3. How might I make witness to the promises that are mine, by the way I live my day-to-day life?


Date: February 22, 2015
Liturgical Day: The First Sunday in Lent (Year B)

preparing ourselves
walking together in faith
the season of Lent

The forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness was a time when he was being prepared for his public ministry. Likewise, we spend time each year (40 days, in fact) preparing ourselves to be God’s faithful people. May this be a good Lent for us all, as we grow in faith, love and joy.

Download Sermon: 2015 Lent 1B

The First Sunday in Lent; Year B (2/22/15)

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1st Peter 3:18-22
St. Mark 1:9-15

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, heavenly Father, in the waters of the flood you saved the chosen, and in the wilderness of temptation you protected your Son from sin. Renew us in the gift of baptism. May your holy angels be with us, that the wicked foe may have no power over us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 1.9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

St. Mark 1:9-15 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.

Ash Wednesday; Year B (2/18/2015)

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 51:1-17
2nd Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[Jesus said,] 6.1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21New 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; Go and Tell

Date: February 15, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year B)

come and see this grace
celebrating God’s presence
go and tell the world

This sermon is for the people of Esperanza Lutheran Church, where I served as the founding pastor from 1988 to 1998. I am so touched by the way God continues to stir this community, and to work through them as they make a difference in south-east Phoenix. May they continue to come and see God’s deep grace in their time together. And may they continue to go and tell the world what faith in Christ is all about.

Download Sermon: 2015 Transfiguration B

The Transfiguration of Our Lord; Year B (2/15/2015)

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2nd Corinthians 4:3-6
St. Mark 9:2-9

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

9.2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

St. Mark 9:2-9 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 Old and the New

I was born in 1957, and in some ways I am very nostalgic about the 1950s. I imagine it to have been a simpler time than today. Some things took more effort, of course: push mowers, coal furnaces and hand-washed dishes come to mind. But without the internet in your pocket, only three channels on television (a couple more if you were able to get VHF and UHF signals), and news broadcasts only twice a day, there was a lot more time left over to take a bike ride, explore the ravine down the street or play a round of golf.

August 25, 1957

I’d still love to own a ’57 Chevy some day (although my godfather’s ’56 Ford Galaxy was a pretty sweet ride…), but I’m also aware that the past can never be preserved, and the faithful person is the one who learns to live most fully in the present. Continue reading

Where God Is at Work

Date: February 8, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)

going out in faith
loving the community
the work of our Lord

Throughout history, God has often been at work in unexpected places and in surprising ways. These days, as church and culture experience so much change, perhaps God is at work in places that might surprise us. Where might these places be? And how might we become part of it?

Download Sermon: 2015 Epiphany 5B

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Year B (2/8/2015)

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1st Corinthians 9:16-23
St. Mark 1:29-39

Prayer of the Day:
Everlasting God, you give strength to the weak and power to the faint. Make us agents of your healing and wholeness, that your good news may be made known to the ends of your creation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

St. Mark 1:29-39 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.

Raised up to Serve

Isn’t it odd that we know next to nothing about the families of those who became followers of Jesus? (Except, of course, for the fact that James and John had a father named Zebedee who was a fisherman, and an unnamed mother who petitioned Jesus to give them places of honor in his kingdom.) We don’t know if Bartholomew had a brother, if Matthew’s mother was still around, if James (the son of Alphaeus) was a Jr. or if Simon (the Cananaean) had a son.

We do know, however, that Peter has a mother-in-law and, presumably, a wife. Peter’s mother-in-law stands at the heart of this week’s text. Jesus has been teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, and has healed many who are there. After a time, they leave the synagogue and make their way to Peter’s home. When they arrive, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a very high fever (as if, the Greek word suggests, she is on fire). Jesus takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. As far as her family and friends can tell, she is completely healed. She immediately makes her way into the kitchen, and begins to serve all those who had gathered there with Jesus. Continue reading

The Purpose of Lent

Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article for February, 2015

Lent is a 40-day season preparing us for the commemoration of Holy Week and Easter. It begins with Ash Wednesday (February 8th this year), and concludes at Passion / Palm Sunday (March 29th this year). Lent is a time of fasting, prayer and repentance – all intended to help us become more aware of our sinfulness, and more appreciative of God’s forgiveness and grace.

The practice of observing Lent seems to have taken root in the church during the early 4th Century. Its purpose was twofold: to make up for the “waning zeal” that leaders were noticing in the church, and to provide a longer period of instruction for the increasing numbers of converts to the faith.

True to these beginnings, today’s church continues to see in Lent a rich opportunity to increase our understanding of and our enthusiasm for the faith we have in Christ. Continue reading

One Little Word

Date: February 1, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)

an unclean spirit
be silent, come out of him
power of the word

At the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus demonstrated the power of God’s word. Believers continue to experience this power today, as it brings healing and comfort and insight. In this way the presence of Christ continues with us today.

Download Sermon: 2015 Epiphany 4B

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