One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

The 20th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 2C (10/2/2016)

Lessons:
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-9 (5)
2nd Timothy 1:1-14
St. Luke 17:5-10

Semicontinuous Series:
Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26 (23) or Psalm 137 (7)

Prayer of the Day:
Benevolent, merciful God: When we are empty, fill us.  When we are weak in faith, strengthen us.  When we are cold in love, warm us, that with fervor we may love our neighbors and serve them for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

17.1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” ]

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

St. Luke 17:5-10. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Only What We Ought to Have Done

You could make the case that the disciples, here, finally get it. Jesus has been teaching them about the challenges of living as one of his followers. Give to those who can’t give back to you. Be prepared to pay the cost of following me. Make a difference in the world. Be glad to welcome the lost. Practice your faithfulness shrewdly. Abstain from adultery. Care for the poor. To that, Jesus adds what seems to be the final straw: “If someone sins against you and repents seven times a day, you must forgive.” What? 7 times a day? 49 times a week? 217 times a month? 2,555 times a year? I have to forgive them every single time? Lord, increase my faith!

It seems that his listeners finally get it. They realize that the life of a Christian disciple is a difficult one. Not one they can live on their own. It will take, they surmise, a lot more faith than they currently have. You might expect Jesus to commend them for this insight. He doesn’t. Instead, he says: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed [implying, ‘and you don’t’]…”

Jesus chastises them because this way of thinking treats faith as a commodity to possess; something to draw on that will make us less human — less sinful — less in need of forgiveness — than we might be otherwise. Give us more of this, Jesus, and then we’ll need less of you. We can depend on our own faithfulness. We can depend on our own performance. We can depend on our own determination to be the people God calls us to be.

No: this isn’t the life into which Jesus invites us. Instead, faith is the capacity to trust in the promise of Christ. Faith is the invitation to know we’ll accidentally (or intentionally!) be the source of someone else’s stumbling one day, or to know that we’ll never be able to gladly forgive someone seven times a day. Faith is not a commodity that turns us into a community of spiritual super heroes. Instead, faith is what helps us to see, truly, who we are (sinners, who struggle every day with the brokenness of this world), and who God is (the one who comes to us in Christ, and empowers our witness and our service).

Remember how the Apostle Paul put it in his letter to the Thessalonians: “May the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and will do this.” [1st Thessalonians 5:23-24]

We could wait until we have more faith. We could wait until we feel better prepared. We could wait until we understand the situation more thoroughly. But Jesus challenges us to live into this cross-shaped life just as we are. And then, when it’s over, we say, “We have done only what we ought to have done.”

So, friends in Christ: go in peace; serve the Lord. And thanks be to God, who calls us, inspires us, and empowers us for faithfulness.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What indication does Jesus give his followers that faithfulness will be hard?
  2. Why do the disciples despair of his description?
  3. How does thinking of themselves as simple slaves give them hope?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do I find hard about living in this world as a Christian?
  2. When have I sensed the power of Christ, enabling me to be faithful?
  3. How can my faithfulness depend less on me, and more on God?

The 19th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 21C (09/25/2016)

Lessons:
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Psalm 146 (7)
1st Timothy 6:6-19
St. Luke 16:19-31

Semicontinuous Series:
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 (2)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, rich in mercy, you look with compassion on this troubled world. Feed us with your grace, and grant us the treasure that comes only from you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

16.19 [Jesus said,] “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — 28 for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

St. Luke 16:19-31. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

On Wealth and Faith

Pastors tend to love the fact that this text rolls around in the Fall. After all, the annual stewardship emphasis is about to begin. In the next two months many congregations will ask their members to think about how God has blessed them, and to respond in thanksgiving by making a financial commitment to support next year’s ministries. (We’ll do this here at Saint Peter during October.) What a gift it is to have a text like this. Can’t you just imagine this weekend’s sermons?

Look at the rich man. He held on to his goods, and ended up tortured in Hades, while Lazarus (a good but poor man, who was unencumbered by the wealth that you and I have…) went on to Paradise. So, friends, if you want to escape that kind of torture, give lots of money to the church (we’ll give some of it to the poor, and get you off the hook) and you’ll be in good shape once you’re dead.

What a perfect text! A little guilt. A little fear. And countless congregations will be financially solvent for at least another year…

But unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), the text doesn’t exactly move us in this direction. Two subtle clues let us in on that. First of all, where does this poor man end up? He ends up in the bosom of Abraham. He ends up gathered into the heart of one of the wealthiest men in the book of Genesis. Elsewhere, Abraham is humbly described as a Wandering Aramean (Deuteronomy 26:5), but the writer of Genesis describes him as a man who has in his possession “sheep, oxen, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.” Not a man who has given everything he owns away to support the poor. Not a man who, like Lazarus, has nothing to his name. Clearly the possession of wealth isn’t what rules out salvation in Jesus’ view.

The second clue is the name given to the poor man. Lazarus is the Latin form of Eleazar, and means: God is my help. What is unique about this individual is not his poverty or his poor health; not even that he spends most of his time lying in the front entrance to the rich man’s home. What matters is that he is a man who looks to God for help. He doesn’t depend on his own resources, or his own ability. But he knows that his only help is in God’s grace and in God’s power.

This, of course, is the struggle for the rich man. He has come to depend on his own ability to protect and preserve himself and his family and his possessions. As he turns in on himself, he consequently turns away from God, who has promised to watch over him, and accompany him. In turning away from God, he looses the only hope that can survive the end of this life.

Is it wrong to be rich? Certainly not. But it comes with its own set of complexities. Wealth (and the longing for wealth) can capture our attention like few other things are able to.Wealth can create the illusion that we are able to provide for our own security. Wealth can distract us from the sort of careful attentiveness to God’s presence in our lives that the faith demands of us.

The Rich Man and Lazarus remind us that no matter how rich (or how poor) we are, what is most important is this: the grace of God which embraces us, and assures us of our future with God. May we never be so rich (or so poor) that we lose sight of this truth.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does Jesus tell us about the Rich Man?
  2. What does Jesus tell us about Lazarus?
  3. How might Jesus’ listeners (the Scribes and Pharisees: described earlier as “lovers of money”) have responded to this story?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. In what ways is my life like that of the Rich Man?
  2. In what ways is my life like that of Lazarus?
  3. How can I turn away from an unhealthy dependence on my own wealth, and towards a healthy dependence on God’s grace?

The 18th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20C (9/18/2016)

Lessons:
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113 (7)
1st Timothy 2:1-7
St. Luke 16:1-13

Semicontinuous Series:
Jeremiah 8:18–9:1
Psalm 79:1-9 (9)

Prayer of the Day:
God among us, we gather in the name of your Son to learn love for one another.  Keep our feet from evil paths.  Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

8.4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

5 saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;

and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,

6 buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Amos 8:4-7. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

God’s Work. Our Hands.

According to H. George Anderson, former Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, in the Middle Ages wealthy citizens gave to the monasteries who, in turn, gave to the poor. In the reformation, the princes found excuse to confiscate church property, and the poor were left without support. Luther saw this early on, and in Leisnig he tried to address it with a ‘”fraternal agreement” where the community would take over the care of the poor from the monasteries. Attention was given to root causes as well as relief. A council was organized in Leisnig, with representatives from the poor included. (It is estimated that in Luther’s day, 30% of the population were considered poor.) Continue reading

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19C (9/11/2016)

Lessons:
Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-10
1 Timothy 1:12-17
St. Luke 15:1-10

Semicontinuous Series:
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14 (2)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, overflowing with mercy and compassion, you lead back to yourself all those who go astray.  Preserve your people in your loving care, that we may reject whatever is contrary to you and may follow all things that sustain our life in your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

15.1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

St. Luke 15:1-10. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

Joy in Heaven

The one thing we know for sure about God is that there is nothing we can know for sure about God. That is the wisdom behind the theological principle which goes by the name Deus Mysterium (“the mystery of God”). We cannot, and we never will, come to know God fully. All that we know of God is what God has chosen to reveal to us. The rest of God’s nature is shrouded in mystery.

God is shrouded in mystery (Deus Mysterium), yet God is revealed to us (Deus Revelatus), and so every week we turn to the Scriptures to discover what is revealed there about God. This week we read from the thirty-second chapter of Exodus and the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke. We find that two profound aspects of God’s nature are revealed to us in these texts. Continue reading

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

United PassMy family and I are heading to Minnesota tomorrow morning for my mother’s memorial service. Those of you who read my devotional message last week, or who worshipped with us at Saint Peter this past Sunday, will understand why I laughed out loud when I received our boarding passes this morning.

Next week I’m  preaching on pre-war Martin D-18 guitars…

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18C (9/4/2016)

Lessons:
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1 (3)
Philemon 1:1-21
St. Luke 14:25-33

Semicontinuous Series:
Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (1)

Prayer of the Day:
Direct us, O Lord God, in all our doings with your continual help, that in all our works, begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name; and finally, by your mercy, bring us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

St. Luke 14:25-33. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

A Cross Shaped Life

Is living as a faithful follower of Jesus a relatively easy thing to do in our day, or does it take an extraordinary effort to do it justice? This is a question that has been on my mind this past year. Continue reading

Humility

Date: August 28, 2016
Liturgical Day: The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Summary:
For those of you who were at our 10:45 a.m. service today and wonder what pictures I was trying to display <g>, or for those of you who were at our 8:30 a.m. service and want to see the quotes I referenced — here they are.
A sermon on humility: not seeking to advance ourselves before others, but being content with who we are, where we are, and how God created us to be.

Download Sermon: 2016-08-28 sermon

The 15th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 17C (8/28/2016)

Lessons:
Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112 (4)
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
St. Luke 14:1, 7-14

Semicontinuous Series:
Jeremiah 2:4-13 or Sirach 10:12-18
Psalm 81:1, 10-16 (16)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace to those who are humble. Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

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

 

Humility, Exaltation, and the Presence of Christ 

DIATSAI don’t want to take my belt and shoes off. I don’t want to remove my plastic bag of 3 oz. liquids. I don’t want to put my laptop computer and my step counter in a separate plastic bin. But what I really don’t want is to find myself in between those nylon straps, shuffling back and forth for up to 45 minutes, like so many cattle. What I want is TSA Pre! It has been granted to me a couple of times (undoubtedly with the hope that this might whet my appetite to actually pay for it…). And oh, what a difference it makes. I make my way to the far left line, queue up behind two or three others, and watch as the hundreds of people to my right anxiously make their way towards the TSA agent, all the while worrying about whether or not they arrived early enough to get through the line and get to the gate before their flight departs. I don’t want to wait with all of them. I want TSA Pre!

Which is, I suspect, what Jesus is talking about in this weekend’s Gospel lesson. Continue reading

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16C (August 21, 2016)

Lessons:
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8 (4)
Hebrews 12:18-29
St. Luke 13:10-17

Semicontinuous Series:
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6 (6)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright. Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

13:10 Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.


St. Luke 13:10-17. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

What Is Healing?

“A woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” We certainly wouldn’t describe it with those terms today. We might speak about the effects of an injury, or a degenerative condition, or a birth defect. Whenever someone struggles with a difficult physical (or emotional, or intellectual, or spiritual) reality, it is worth the effort to find language that takes the condition seriously, yet doesn’t blame or label the person involved. They didn’t worry so much about this in the first century. For them, either people were the way God intended them to be, or an evil spirit of some sort had caused them to be otherwise. Continue reading

Devotions for Saturday, August 13, 2016

12:49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (St. Luke 12:49-56). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Discussion: How has my faith been a source of hope and peace during troubled times?

Prayer: O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

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