One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany; Year B (2/1/2015)

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1st Corinthians 8:1-13
St. Mark 1:21-28

Prayer of the Day:
Compassionate God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion, that all creation will see you and know your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1:21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching-with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

St. Mark 1:21-28 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.

With Authority

In some respects, St. Mark is the most dramatic of the Gospels. There is an urgency in this book (by most accounts, written 10 to 20 years earlier than any of the others) that moves the story forward, paragraph by paragraph. That urgency is apparent in this week’s lesson.

Jesus enters the synagogue in Capernaum, and begins to teach. His words, St. Mark tells us, are spoken with authority, and his listeners are astounded. In the middle of his lesson, a challenge to his authority arises. A man with an unclean spirit approaches Jesus, demanding to know why Jesus is there, and what he intends to do. The people may be astounded, but the unclean spirits are threatened. With a word (with a word!), Jesus casts the spirit out. The man convulses, the spirit cries out, and he is free! Once again, the people are remarkably impressed with his authority: “even the unclean spirits… obey him.”

St. Mark’s Gospel account was written during a difficult time in Israel’s history. Most scholars place it either just before or just after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman army in a.d. 70. In those days the Roman government was generally inclined to leave local populations alone if they weren’t causing trouble. The Pax Romana (“the peace of Rome”) was a hallmark of Roman culture. Local citizens in outlying countries were free to live as they wanted to live, and free to believe as they wanted to believe. But if conflict broke out, as it did between Christians and Jews in the months leading up to the Temple’s destruction, the Roman government was quick to dispatch troops and put down any signs of disorder.

This was a great offense both to Christians and to Jews, who up to that point continued to worship and study the scriptures together in the Temple. It led many of them to ask a very important question: “Who is in charge, in Jerusalem?” Is it the local political leaders? Is it the occupying Roman army? Is it the religious elite? Who has authority over civil, political and religious matters?

St. Mark’s answer is clear. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is pictured as one with great authority. They observe his authority in his teaching: he doesn’t quote other sources, as is the practice of so many rabbis in his day. He teaches out of his own authority, and it astounds them. They observe his authority in his healing touch: the unclean spirits seem afraid of him. They are cast out of this man with a word. If the unclean spirits are afraid, there is little need to be concerned about political or military leaders.

St. Mark portrays Jesus as one with great authority. And what’s more, those who accept that authority in their lives find that nothing else the world can throw at them can make them afraid.

There are many sources of authority in our lives as well. Governmental authorities. Economic authorities. Religious authorities. There are even sources of authority in our social and recreational lives. (Ever try to pick a fight with your child’s soccer coach?)

Among all these voices of authority, where does Jesus stand in our lives? What do we do when our Lord and our faith call us to stand in opposition to a soccer coach, or a social convention, or a religious tradition, or an economic reality, or a governmental edict? “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Are we astounded at the words of our Lord today? Are we willing to grant him authority in our lives, even over the many other sources of authority that we recognize?


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why are Jesus’ listeners in Capernaum astounded?
  2. What is the source of Jesus’ authority?
  3. How does he exercise his authority, in this text and throughout the New Testament?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Am I generally inclined to question authority or obey authority?
  2. When has my faith, or my relationship with God, caused me to question a source of authority in my life?
  3. To whom might I turn for support and encouragement, when honoring the authority of Jesus above the authority of this world becomes frightening?

Getting Ready; and Going Fishing

Date: January 25, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Third Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)

come and fish with me
tending nets; casting them out
all are welcome here

Jesus calls four fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John, who were professional fishermen: skilled at preparing nets, and gathering in fish. They would use these abilities in new ways, as they gathered people into God’s kingdom. And so do we: preparing well, casting diligently, inviting others to share our faith.

Download Sermon: 2015 Epiphany 3B

Grace to You… And Peace

Date: January 24, 2015
Remembering the Life of PJ Strauss


In baptism, PJ Strauss received a gift from God: the gift of God’s love; the gift of God’s promise that no matter where PJ’s journey took him, God would never leave him. Our faith is grounded in our belief that God’s promise is sure. God, who promises, is faithful. And today, with broken hearts and deep hope, we entrust PJ to God’s boundless grace, and God’s love that passes all understanding.

Download Sermon: Strauss, PJ – sermon

The Third Sunday after Epiphany; Year B (1/25/2015)

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1st Corinthians 7:29-31
St. Mark 1:14-20

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, by grace alone you call us and accept us into your service. Strengthen us by your Spirit, and make us worthy of your call, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1:14 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.”16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea-for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

St. Mark 1:14-20 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.

A New Kind of Fishing

Imagine what a day it is for them. It starts out as every other day started out. Early in the morning, long before sunrise, and long before many of their friends and neighbors wake, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Zebedee and the others crawl out of bed and make their way down to the boats. When they get there, they make the nets ready and push off from shore. It is a long, cold morning of throwing nets, hauling in fish, sorting good fish from everything else that was gathered in, and setting them aside to prepare them for market. After the fish are brought to shore, cleaned, and sold, then it is back to the boats for another run at it (if there is time) or preparing the equipment for the next day’s work. It is hard, demanding work: exciting the first few times, but hardly a novel or exciting experience for men who have been at it as long as these have.

On the day our Gospel lesson recalls, however, things happen a bit differently. Continue reading

Good News

Date: January 18, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Second Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)

touched by God’s presence
messengers bearing good news
a gift to the world

Philip, one of the first ever to give witness to Jesus, draws his friend Nathaniel into the Christian movement with the simple invitation: “Come and see.” We play a similar role whenever we say, “This is how my faith has blessed my life. You ought to take a look at whether or not it could bless you too.”

Download Sermon: 2015 Epiphany 2B

The Second Sunday after Epiphany; Year B (1/18/2015)

1st Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1st Corinthians 6:12-20
St. John 1:43-51

Prayer of the Day:
Thanks be to you Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful redeemer, for the countless blessings and benefits you give. May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day praising you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

St. John 1:43-51. 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.

Come and See

“Come and See,” says Philip to his good friend Nathanael. Philip has just told Nathanael about a man he met. The man’s name is Jesus, and this man asked Philip to follow him. Philip is sure he is the Messiah: the one the prophets and Moses predicted would come. Philip wants to follow him, but there is something he has to do first. He has to go and find his good friend Nathanael, and tell him about it. If he is right – if this traveling Rabbi from Nazareth actually is the Messiah – Philip wants to share that with Nathanael. Continue reading

United in Baptism; Assured of God’s Grace

Date: January 11, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Baptism of Our Lord (Year B)

united with Christ
a community of faith
grounded in God’s love

In Baptism, God pronounces a deep and lasting love for us. This is what lies at the heart of our worship and our caring. We remember this by marking ourselves with the sign of the cross; a tradition that invites us to celebrate what God has done for us in Christ.

Download Sermon: 2015 Epiphany 1B

The Baptism of Our Lord; Year B (1/11/2015)

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
St. Mark 1:4-11

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

1.4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 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.”

St. Mark 1:4-11 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.

Baptism: the Heart of our Faith

Baptism lies close to the heart of our faith.

I am aware that there are many “versions” of Christianity that have a presence in our day. Joel Osteen would have us believe that God wants every Christian to be prosperous. Mark Driscoll promotes the notion of “Muscular Christianity.” In his day, Robert Schuller was convinced that Christian faith led to the power of positive thinking. While these particular systems of belief seem compelling to many Americans as they seek to live out the American Dream, they have little to do with Biblical faith, and the crucified and resurrected Christ.

A friend of mine was fond of saying, “If it sounds like a deal, it isn’t the Gospel.” He was right: each of the above “versions” of Christianity sounds more like a deal than the free, undeserved gift of God. Gin yourself up to some level of faithfulness, and you will be rewarded (by God) with wealth, strength or success…

This is why the gift of Baptism is such an important one. It reminds us of who God is, and who we are. Continue reading

A Vital Faith

Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article for January 1, 2015

Our Youth & Families Ministries Team is so excited about an “experiment” in worship and learning that we are offering to the congregation during this year’s season of Lent. An article on page two of this newsletter explains it in more detail, and there will be more information shared in the coming weeks, but let me offer you one reason to be excited about it – at least my reason to be excited about it. Continue reading

The Second Sunday of Christmas; Year B (1/4/2015)

Jeremiah 31:7-14
or Sirach 24:1-12
Psalm 147:12-20
or Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21
Ephesians 1:3-14
St. John 1: [1-9] 10-18

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, you have filled all the earth with the light of your incarnate Word. By your grace empower us to reflect your light in all that we do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14 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.


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