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The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King Sunday; Year A (November 23, 2014)

Lessons:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
St. Matthew 25:31-46

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100

Prayer of the Day:
O God of power and might, your Son shows us the way of service, and in him we inherit the riches of your grace. Give us the wisdom to know what is right and the strength to serve the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

[Jesus said] 25.31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


St. Matthew 25:31-46, 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.

 

Following a Crucified King

What does it mean to call Christ our king? It seems that king is a hard metaphor for us to get our brains around these days. We’ve never had a king here in the United States. And the few kings that we know about seem to be either brutal dictators or insignificant figureheads. Yet on this Sunday, we call Christ our king, and contemplate what it might mean to live in his kingdom.

The classic image of a king brings to mind a ruler with power and might. The king ruled over the entire kingdom, and all of its subjects. Those who considered themselves citizens of that kingdom dedicated themselves to serving their king. When he gave a command, all loyal subjects responded. Whether it was serving in the military, paying taxes, obeying laws, or observing customs… the loyal citizen obeyed without a second thought.

In the Gospel lesson this weekend, we too are called to serve our king. But the kind of service into which we are invited is a service much different from that of earthly kingdoms. Our king is one who rules with grace and love, not with military might or political coercion. Our king is one who is concerned for the needs of the most vulnerable members of society. Our king is one who is willing to die for his subjects. And in this Gospel lesson, he informs us of a remarkable reality: whenever we reach out to meet their needs, we have reached out to him.

In the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus describes what lies at the heart of the community of faith. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart…” We read these words together just a couple weeks ago. Now, towards the close of his earthy life, Jesus describes what this will look like. The community of faith is one that gives food to the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, welcomes the stranger, clothes the naked, cares for the sick, and visits the imprisoned. And what is most remarkable: when we do so, we do so to Jesus, himself.

One aspect of this parable has always intrigued me. It is interesting how neither the righteous nor the unrighteous are aware of having served or having neglected Jesus. They don’t set out to minister to him or to neglect him. Instead, the very character of their lives is such that it leads them to minister to him or to ignore him. This reminds us that God doesn’t want us to set aside time now and again to serve poor, hungry, thirsty, naked and sick prisoners. God wants a servant’s attitude to be woven through the entire fabric of our whole lives. We, like those individuals in Jesus’ Great Judgment Parable, are called to be so deeply rooted in the Gospel, and so profoundly committed to lives of service, that we instinctively reach out to the needs of the community that surrounds us. Not because by doing so we hope to please God, but because that’s the kind of people we have become.

Let us seek the guidance of God’s Spirit, as we discern the ways in which we hope to make a difference in the world around us. Let us take advantage of the opportunities God has provided for us to care for the needy ones of our world: through the time and finances we give to our home congregations, through the support we offer to other organizations that are busy doing God’s work, and through the time and energy we give directly to the communities in which we live. And may we, like those righteous ones in Jesus’ parable, live in such a way that we become God’s blessing to all those who find themselves in time of need.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does this parable of judgment say about the life of faith?
  2. Why does Jesus claim that his followers minister to him when they minister to the needy?
  3. Why are some surprised to be included… and some to be excluded?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What place does community service play in the life of my congregation?
  2. What have I done to meet the needs of those who live in my community?
  3. What gifts has God given me that I could use to benefit others?

Into the Master’s Joy

Date: November 16, 2014
Liturgical Day: The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28A)

called to faithfulness
an invitation from God
enter into joy

Summary:
How we experience the ministries entrusted to us has much to do with how we understand God. May we, like the first two slaves, know that God calls us and gifts us and delights in our faithfulness. And may we enter into our master’s joy every time we seek to live as disciples of our Lord.

Download Sermon: 2014 Pentecost 28A

The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 28A (November 16, 2014)

Lessons:
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11], 12
1st Thessalonians 5:1-11
St. Matthew 25:14-30

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm
Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123

Prayer of the Day:
Righteous God, our merciful master, you own the earth and all its peoples, and you give us all that we have. Inspire us to serve you with justice and wisdom, and prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

25.14 [Jesus said] “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”


St. Matthew 25:14-30, 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.

Faithfulness, Fearfulness and the Nature of God

Three slaves. Eight talents. (By some estimates, in first century life, a talent was equal to nine years worth of wages for a skilled laborer.) The first slave receives five talents. The second slave receives two talents. The third slave receives one talent.

We see that the first two slaves have similar experiences. At once, they go and trade with their talents. They double their investment. The master returns “after a long time” and settles accounts with them. Quite pleased with them, the master responds to each slave: “Well done… you have been trustworthy… enter into the joy of your master.”

The third slave has a much different experience. He digs a hold in the ground, protects what has been entrusted to him, and returns it in full to the master. The master is deeply displeased, and announces: “You are wicked and lazy… you ought to have (at least) invested my money… take it away from him and throw him out.”

What is the difference between the first two and the third one? Some have concluded that this is a harsh and demanding master, and the slaves are treated in accordance with how successfully they have invested the master’s money. The inference here is the more they make, the happier their master is. But it is curious to notice that the first two slaves don’t describe their master as harsh and demanding. Only the third slave describes him this way, and he isn’t exactly lifted up as a model to follow in this parable…

What if we were to think of this from a different point of view? Jesus tells us that when the coins are entrusted to these three, the first two “went off at once and traded with them.” But he doesn’t actually tell us why. The Greek word for “at once” is εὐθέως (eutheos) and means “immediately.” This word is used often in the New Testament, and it usually refers to something that is important, and in accordance with God’s purpose. Perhaps these slaves aren’t investing out of a sense of fear for what might happen if they are unsuccessful investors. Perhaps they are trading these coins eagerly, enthusiastically, and motivated to make the kind of difference in the world that their master likes to make.

It may very well be that these slaves aren’t treated based on the specific return the master received from their investments. It may have more to do with their understanding of what this master enjoys, and their desire to do as their master does. One could even imagine a slave trading with these talents, losing it all, and being praised for having given it his best.

This, at least, would account for the commendation each of them receives: “enter into the joy of your master.”

If this is the case, the operative question is: “what gives joy to the master?” Not a bad question for us to be asking. If God is our master, and the one who has entrusted to us everything we have, what gives joy to our God? And how might we manage our resources in a way that is pleasing to God?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does each slave seem to understand the nature of the master?
  2. What is most commendable about what they do?
  3. What is Jesus saying to his listeners about faithfulness?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How do I understand the nature of God?
  2. How does my understanding of God shape my words and actions?
  3. What might I plan to do today that could be pleasing to God?

Ready for the Long Haul

Date: November 9, 2014
Liturgical Day: The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27A)

called to stay awake
blessed by God abundantly
generous people

Summary:
To be ready for the coming of Christ (whether it happens at the end of all time, or the end of our individual lives) does not mean to be busy doing religious things. It means to be awake to the presence of God in our lives. Practicing discipleship habits (one of which is generosity — that’s a hint for Saint Peter members…) can help to keep us awake and aware.

Download Sermon: 2014 Pentecost 27A

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 27A (November 9, 2014)

Lessons:
Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom 6:12-16
Psalm 70 or Wisdom 6:17-20
1st Thessalonians 4:13-18
St. Matthew 25:1-13

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7

Prayer of the Day:
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need, and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

[Jesus said]  25.1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”


St. Matthew 25:1-13, 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.

Five of Them Were Foolish, and Five Were Wise

This week’s parable is about judgment, as are the other parables in St. Matthew’s “judgment section” — Unfaithful Slave: 24:43-51; Ten Bridesmaids: 25:1-13; Talents: 25:14-30; Great Judgment: 25:31-46. These parables, taken together, are about an ultimate “sorting out” that takes place, separating the faithful from the unfaithful. In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, the five who prepare themselves for the long wait (they bring extra oil for themselves) are welcomed into the banquet, while those who don’t prepare themselves (they don’t bring enough oil) are left out of the celebrating.

Why does Jesus tell this story? After all, so many of his other stories have to do with undeserved kindness. The Prodigal Son is welcomed home by the father. The Samaritan Woman at the well is promised living water. A sinful woman who barges in on a party in the home of a Pharisee is forgiven and instructed to “go in peace.” These seem to be included in what Jesus is accomplishing, despite the fact that they don’t deserve it. So why, in this parable, does Jesus indicate that what one does (bringing extra oil) determines whether or not one is included (in the wedding banquet)?

The unique aspect of this particular story is the delay of the bridegroom.

First century wedding celebrations often included a bit of game-playing. The guests would gather outside the reception hall and wait for the arrival of the bridegroom. Sometimes the bridegroom would arrive right away, and at other times he would wait until well into the night to show up. The goal of the bridegroom was to surprise the bridesmaids, and catch some of them unprepared. The goal of the bridesmaids was to be ready at any time to trim their lamps and enter into the festivities. In this story, the bridegroom doesn’t show up until after midnight — surprising everybody (and most of all, the foolish bridesmaids). Not only did the bridesmaids have to be ready, but they had to be ready over the long haul — ready for the bridegroom to delay his arrival even until after midnight.

Which is exactly what is happening during the time when St. Matthew wrote his Gospel. Many first-generation Christians had come to believe that Jesus would return before the end of their lives to bring all of creation to a conclusion. But by the early nineties (when many scholars suspect Matthew wrote this account), decades have passed since the resurrection, and Christians are beginning to wonder, “How long will this take? We thought it was only a matter of months, but…”

In a time of adjusting to the “delayed” return of the Messiah, these words of Jesus become important to St. Matthew. They don’t suggest that time is short, and believers ought to hurry up and get prepared before it is too late (a common mis-interpretation in our time). Instead, they suggest that the faithful Christian is in it for the long-haul, not the short-haul. The focus of a faithful Christian life is not living in fear that the end might come any moment (although, in fact, it may). The focus of a faithful Christian life has to do with preparing well, and being ready for a lifetime of faithfulness.

So how is it that we prepare well? How is it that we are like the wise bridesmaids who take “flasks of oil with their lamps?” How might we, in the words of the old Spiritual, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning?” We commit ourselves to daily prayer and Bible study. We allow weekly worship with God’s people to play a central role in the rhythm of our lives. We commit ourselves to lives of love and service to our neighbor. We stretch ourselves to become generous people. We gather regularly to encourage one another in faith. We practice these habits of discipleship, and build up the store of faith and trust that we will need for the long-haul.

The question is not, “Will we be included or excluded?” The question is, “How will each of us develop the resources we’ll need for a life of faithfulness in Christ’s name?” Thanks be to God who calls us to this life, and through the Holy Spirit strengthens us for the journey.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do the ten bridesmaids all have in common?
  2. What distinguishes the five from the five?
  3. How might Jesus’ listeners have understood this story differently than St. Mathew’s readers did?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Do I tend to think more in the short-term (Christ is coming soon…) or the long-term (I hope to stay faithful for years to come…)?
  2. What discipleship habits or faith practices have helped to strengthen my faithfulness?
  3. What habits or practices do I want to strengthen in this coming year?

Thankful

Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article for November, 2014:

In the summer of 1620 Pilgrims traveled across the Atlantic Ocean from England, arriving on this continent late in the fall. Looking out on a new world, there were blessings to celebrate. They were thankful for peace. They were thankful for a land where they could be free from religious oppression. They were thankful for the many opportunities awaiting them.

The winter of 1621 brought much sorrow, though. Not finding a suitable place to settle on land, they spent the winter on the Mayflower where they suffered from scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. By spring, half of those who made the trip had died. Yet amidst the sorrow, they paused to thank God for their blessings.

Gratitude is not a response that arises whenever the balance of good and bad tips towards the good. Gratitude is an ancient spiritual practice. It is an attitude towards life that transcends the circumstances of the moment. More than that: it is an attitude that transforms the way a believer experiences life. To be a faithfully grateful person is to live in a unique manner.

The Apostle wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [1st Thessalonians 15:16-19] It is God’s will that we be a thankful people. Not only when life is going as we hoped it might, but always.

That is why we pause to give thanks every year. Not just during the years that are better than most, but every year. So with this in mind (during a year when my family has arguably experienced both the good and the bad), I find myself thankful for:

  • The love of God, which grounds me in grace and peace.
  • God’s call to service, which gives meaning and purpose to my life.
  • A family in which I regularly experience love and companionship.
  • A congregation that is faithful, generous and compassionate.
  • The opportunities our sons have in education, sports and music.
  • Volunteers at Saint Peter who week-in and week-out give of themselves in ministry.
  • My health (which has had a few blips this year, but is relatively strong).
  • The beauty of the Colorado Rockies (the mountains, not the baseball team, although this family does enjoy the team…).

Gratitude is an ancient spiritual practice. The traditions of our country may encourage our gratitude on Thursday each year. But the traditions of our faith encourage us to be a grateful people, giving thanks in all circumstances, and allowing our gratitude to shape our experience of life. I hope you will take some time, this month and every month, to give thanks to God.

Thankfully yours,
Pastor Dave

All Saints Sunday; Year A (November 2, 2014)

Lessons:
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Saint Matthew 5:1-12

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lesson:

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

St. Matthew 5:1-12, 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.

Blessed Are They

In the congregation where I grew up, All Saints Sunday was a time to read the names of those who had died in the previous twelve months, while a solemn bell tolled in the background. My grandmother’s name was read when I was twelve years old — I still can feel the agony of waiting for her name (she died on New Year’s Day, but the names were read alphabetically), and the pain of hearing her included in the list of those who were gone. To this day, I have a visceral reaction to that litany. It seemed then, and it seems now, more a “litany of woe” than a “litany of celebration.” Continue reading

Sola Scriptura; Sola Gratia; Sola Fide

Date: October 26, 2014
Liturgical Day: Reformation Sunday (Year A)

God revealed in Christ
the truth that will set us free
scripture, grace and faith

Summary:
On Reformation Day we explore why it’s “a great day to be Lutheran.” Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia and Sola Fide were hallmarks of the 16th Lutheran Reformation that continue to shape our life together today. They are what make it a great day to be a Lutheran!

Download Sermon: 2014 Reformation A

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. Continue reading

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

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