One Little Word

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Vocatio: Testifying to the Gospel of God’s Grace

Heather WalkerDate: May 30, 2015
Celebrating the Life and Faith of Heather Eilleen Walker

Today we bid farewell to one of our favorite people. A woman of deep and abiding faith. A woman of strength and courage. A woman of compassion and kindness. Heather’s suffering has ended, and she now rests in the loving arms of her God, and we are grateful for this. But we will miss her terribly, and we offer our prayers of support and encouragement to her family.
Rest eternal grant her, O Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon her.

Download Sermon: In Memory of Heather Walker

The Feast of the Holy Trinity (5/31/2015)

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:9-11
St. John 3:1-17

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.



St. John 3:1-17 New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

”The Mystery of the Holy, Eternal Trinity”

According to the Merriam-Webester online dictionary [], the first definition of mystery is “a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand.” In the Christian faith, there are a number of mysteries, or “truths that cannot be fully understood, but only be known by revelation.” One of them has to do with the nature of God. Specifically, the question is: how does one understand God who is described, in the Bible, both as the one true God, and as the God we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit?”

There is no specific answer to this in the Scriptures. The Biblical writers seem content to leave this aspect of God’s nature as a mystery for the faithful to embrace. But the early church wrestled with this question, and eventually made up a word that refers to their wrestling. The word is Trinity. It is composed of tri (“God as three”) and unity (“God as one). By some accounts Tertullian (155-230), an early leader in the church, was among the first to use this term in referring to the God of the Bible. His use of Trinity, and the church’s now long-held understanding of God’s nature, creates a paradox: How can God be both one and three?

The temptation, of course, is to solve the mystery — to resolve the paradox — between these two beliefs. You have heard it all before. God is like water: the same substance can be experienced as a liquid, a solid or a gas. God is like me: I can be experienced as a pastor, a father, or a husband. There are dozens of these attempts to make the Trinity easier to understand (most of which appear during the Children’s Message on the First Sunday after Pentecost). The truth is: none of them do justice to the deep mystery of God’s eternal nature.

If you find this difficult to comprehend, take comfort: you are in good company. During Jesus’ lifetime on earth there was a man named Nicodemus. He was a well-respected, theologically trained religious official in Jerusalem. He had spent a lifetime studying the ways of God, and seeking to live a faithful life. It seems that word about Jesus’ ministry had reached him, because late one night he makes his way, under cover of darkness, to where Jesus is. He shares his hunch that Jesus is indeed a teacher who comes from God. The healing, the teaching, the acts of compassion; clearly Nicodemus is more willing than most of his colleagues to believe that Jesus is the real thing. But when Jesus begins to teach him that faithfulness has less to do with living up to ancient expectations and more to do with the new beginnings God is trying to make in people’s lives, Nicodemus also finds it difficult to comprehend.

In a recent Denver lecture, Professor Walter Brueggemann argued that our God is not a God of certainty, but a God of fidelity. By implication, life in God’s presence has less to do with certainty and more to do with faithfulness. There are aspects of our faith that delight us and inspire us, even as they are impossible to fully understand. The holy, eternal, triune nature of God is an example of this. We may never fully understand it, but as we experience God in our lives as  a creating, saving and inspiring presence, we give thanks for the love and grace that is ours.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What Bible stories depict God as one? As three?
  2. What was Nicodemus having trouble understanding about faithfulness?
  3. How are Jesus’ words about the movement of the Spirit helpful?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What questions do I have about God’s nature?
  2. When have I experience the “mysterious presence” of God in my life?
  3. What might I do to stay open to the movement of the Holy Spirit?

Come, O Holy Spirit, Come

Date: May 24, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Feast Day of Pentecost

come, Holy Spirit
inspiring faith and witness
blow into our lives

There is a great deal of speculation, these days, as to what the Holy Spirit is doing. But Jesus makes it clear, and Luther reminds us, that the primary, proper work of the Holy Spirit is creating faith in the heart of the believer, and empowering our ability to share faith with our neighbors. So we pray that the Holy Spirit might blow into our lives, and become the source of our faithfulness.

Download Sermon: 2015 Pentecost B

The Feast of Pentecost; Year B (5/24/2015)

Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21
St. John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Prayer of the Day
Mighty God, you breathe life into our bones, and your Spirit brings truth to the world. Send us this Spirit, transform us by your truth, and give us language to proclaim your gospel, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”



The Acts of the Apostles 2:1-21. 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.

Led By The Spirit

Many years ago I witnessed a conversation between my Pastor and another member of our church. The member was going on at length about what the church was doing wrong, and what it needed to do, in order to put things right again. The Pastor asked him how he had come to that conclusion. The member responded that the Spirit had led him to it. The Pastor (somewhat uncharacteristically) asked him, “What spirit?”

I didn’t realize it at the time — I thought the Pastor was just being a smart aleck — but he was asking the classic Pentecost question: “How does God the Holy Spirit inspire human beings?” Put more bluntly: “How can we tell if we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit, or some other spirit, or simply our own personal agenda?”

I am reminded of the story I once heard about a Pastor and his wife who were struggling in their marriage. She thought he was ignoring her needs; he thought she was being too demanding. At one point she said, “How come the Holy Spirit often calls him to go hunting with his friends, but never calls him to spend a weekend with me?”

When we talk about God the Holy Spirit, it is easy to deceive ourselves. Our strong sense of purpose might be a gift of the Holy Spirit; it might also be our own broken nature, rebelling against God. Our insight into a situation might come from the Holy Spirit; it might also come from our personal biases, affecting how we see things. Our inspired new idea might be a gift from the Holy Spirit; it might also be a product of our own life experiences. There is no small amount of mystery involved when the Spirit is at work, and we do well to remember that.

In this week’s first lesson, we read of the day when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples, and empowered them to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the international cast of characters who were gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish Festival of Pentecost. Some wondered, at first, if it actually was the Holy Spirit (or was it, as they suspected, the result of drinking too much?). Eventually, Christians concluded that it was the Holy Spirit, for one reason: the Holy Spirit of God was seen to be accomplishing God’s stated purpose. In his farewell address to the disciples, Jesus says to them very simply, “You will be my witnesses…” On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to overcome the barriers of language that existed, and they did just that. They witnessed to what they had experienced in Christ, and some 3,000 people became Christians.

In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther described the work of the Holy Spirit in this way: “… the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith.” Accomplishing God’s stated purpose, indeed!

When we find ourselves wanting to claim that the Holy Spirit has spoken to us, we might do well to consider our own convictions with a hermeneutic of suspicion. But when we find ourselves strengthened and enthused to do those things which God has already called us to do, then we can declare, with much more conviction, that the Holy Spirit is at work.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What signs were present that the Holy Spirit was at work on that first Pentecost Day?
  2. What were the results of the disciples’ actions?
  3. What did the Holy Spirit do in order to make it possible?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is God calling me to accomplish with my life?
  2. What would be signs that I am focused on that calling in a faithful way?
  3. When have I perceived the Holy Spirit at work in my own life?

Jesus Prays… for Me!

Date: May 17, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Seventh Sunday of Easter

on Maundy Thursday
words of comfort, peace and love
Jesus prays for us

Prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian life. We are called to pray, and we are privileged to pray, for the church, the world, and all who are in need. But what a powerful thing it is to know that Jesus prays for us! We take strength from his prayers, and seek to live as his faithful followers.

Download Sermon: 2015 Easter 7B

The Seventh Sunday of Easter; Year B (5/17/2015)

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1st John 5:9-13
St. John 17:6-19

Prayer of the Day
Gracious and glorious God, you have chosen us as your own, and by the powerful name of Christ you protect us from evil. By your Spirit transform us and your beloved world, that we may find our joy in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

St. John 17:6-19 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.

Complete Joy

Date: May 10, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Sixth Sunday of Easter

as I have loved you
joy found in serving others
the call to Christ-love

What makes for a joyful life? It is not found the quest for possessions and experiences and successes. It is found in the willingness to give of ourselves in service to others. In this, Jesus says, we can find complete joy.

Download Sermon: 2015 Easter 6B

The Sixth Sunday of Easter; Year B (5/10/2015)

Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
St. John 15:9-17

Prayer of the Day:
O God, you have prepared for those who love you joys beyond understanding. Pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all we can desire; through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[Jesus said,] 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

St. Mark 15:9-17 New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Complete Joy

Norman Rockwell,  1937

Norman Rockwell, 1937

“I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…” So went the old Vacation Bible School song we sang every summer at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota. Those were joyful times. I grew up in an idyllic small Midwestern river-town. I was surrounded by family members who loved me and friends I enjoyed. I was healthy, and comfortable, and had a strong sense of God’s presence in my life. It was an easy and enjoyable time — not exactly Rockwellian, but not far from it. In those days I came to think of joy as the emotion I felt when heading up to the golf course for an early round with Dad, or jumping into Lily Lake for a late-evening swim.

It was years later that the subsequent verse, “I’ve got that love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart…” caught my attention. I came to realize that joy — complete joy — does not come from experiencing a life of comfort and ease, but instead is the consequence of a life shaped by the sort of love that Jesus demonstrates for us.

These past couple of weeks, as we’ve continued our Easter  celebration of the Resurrection on Sunday mornings, our Gospel lessons have carried us back in time to the Thursday before Christ’s death and resurrection. He gathers for supper with his closest followers. (How would Norman Rockwell have depicted this scene?) He knows that “his hour had come to depart from this world.” (Jn. 13.1) He knows that one of his own, Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, is about to betray him. (Jn. 13:2) And so he takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:4). His self-giving Passion has begun, and the character of his love is becoming clear. It is a love he freely gives to the world (Jn. 10:18) It is a love he both shares with us and commands us to practice (Jn. 15:12)

The sacrificial love of Jesus is what most clearly depicts the Christ-life. The invitation to sacrificial living is what calls his followers forth in faith and in life. And here’s the truth about joy: complete joy comes from following this call to sacrificial living. Jesus is clear in verse 11: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Complete joy comes not from the commitment to make our personal lives the best they can be. Complete joy comes from the willingness to give of ourselves, to make a difference in the lives of others, and in doing so to experience the presence of Christ.

That’s why Len Sweet says, “Every television commercial you have seen is an argument that the Gospel isn’t true.” Complete joy doesn’t come from driving the best automobile or wearing the best clothes or eating the best food or taking the best vacation. Complete joy comes from living the Christ-life. Complete joy comes from giving of ourselves to others.

May you know joy — complete joy — the joy that comes from giving to others.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is “less than ideal” about Jesus’ life on Maundy Thursday; the day before he dies?
  2. How is Jesus able to experience complete joy even in the midst of his difficulties?
  3. How do these words help the disciples know complete joy instead of fear and despair?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is my society’s definition of “complete joy?”
  2. How do these words of Jesus give me a different image of complete joy?
  3. When I have experienced the complete joy that comes from faith and generosity?

Pruning to Grow

Date: May 3, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Fifth Sunday of Easter

God, the vine grower
pruning the vine for new growth
an image of faith

In the image of the vine grower and the vine, Jesus teaches us that sometimes pruning needs to take place before new life becomes possible. What needs to be pruned from our lives? What new life is God seeking to make possible among us?

Download Sermon: 2015 Easter 5B

Spring: A Time of New Beginnings

Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article for May, 2014

It is a time of new beginnings for the Risendal family: we are moving again. This move is a short one – about four blocks south from our current home. It seems like a lot of work for such a small distance, but it is a smaller place (with a smaller mortgage!), and we’ve already had the chance to view a couple of gorgeous sunsets from the back porch. The official move day is Saturday, May 2nd, and we’d like to invite you to help us move some of our stuff (9:00 a.m.), join us for a barbecue picnic (2:00 p.m.), and participate in a house blessing (3:00 p.m.). R.S.V.P. with me (a.s.a.p.) so we know how many lunches to prepare.

Spring is a time of new beginnings. On the farms that surrounded my hometown, Spring was a time for sowing crops. Riding bikes on the county roads, we could smell the rich, tilled earth. I’ve long been impressed with the way those Minnesota farmers poured their hearts into making ready for the new growing season. From the Fall tilling through the Winter planning and culminating with the Spring planting, hours and hours are invested in maintaining equipment, preparing soil, purchasing supplies and planting seed. It is an extraordinarily risky business: bad weather, broken equipment or family illness could lead to a diminished harvest and financial disaster. But the farmers I knew began this cycle every Spring because of their confidence that God was calling them to this vocation, and promising to work through them to feed the world.

Easter is also is a time of new beginnings. Continue reading

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