One Little Word

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He Is Going Ahead of You

Date: April 5, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Resurrection of Our Lord; Easter Sunday (Year B)

the resurrection
Jesus goes ahead of us
will we follow him?

The three women leave the tomb seized with terror and amazement, and too afraid to say a word to anyone. But the angel’s instructions were clear, and soon they would remember and follow them. Jesus goes ahead of them, and calls them forward in faith. As they responded, so might we. This is the gift of Easter — and it allows us to live in faith and hope.

Download Sermon: 2015 Easter Sunday B

The Work of the People

Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article for April, 2014

In a recent conversation, it was pointed out to me that the church of today has two options: the first is to pretend as though the times haven’t changed, and to worship as if we were living in the 1950s. The second is to realize that people aren’t the same as they were back then, and if we are going to reach them our worship needs to seem more like the Tonight Show than the liturgy of our ancestors.

I don’t doubt that the changing times have changed us. Many of us don’t respond to classical music the way people once did. Many of us have a far shorter attention span than was the case sixty years ago. Many of us have far more complex lives, and may very well be more distracted at worship than our parents and grandparents were. (Although it isn’t hard to imagine the owner of a family farm in the 1950s being distracted by thoughts of a sick cow, the rising or falling price of hog futures, how much grain was in the silo, and whether or not the carburetor on the John Deere needed to be serviced… Our lives aren’t as extraordinarily complex as we like to imagine they are.)

That said, it seems to me that there is a third option. We might, as a worshipping community, decide to honor the liturgy of our ancestors, and acknowledge that there is a depth and a mystery to it that most “modern” forms of worship miss. If we should make this choice, then it would be important for us to train ourselves to prepare for and enter into this kind of worship, knowing that God promises to meet us there.

After all, it is liturgy that we are proposing to do. The word has its roots in the Greek noun λειτουργία (leitourgia). In ancient Athens, “liturgy” was a public office or duty performed voluntarily by a rich Athenian. In the history of the Christian church, liturgy is the work that God’s people are called to do together each week as the Gospel is proclaimed purely and the sacraments are administered rightly (the Lutheran definition of worship, according to Article VI of the Augsburg Confession).

In some Christian traditions, worship is a relatively passive experience. Worshippers expect to be moved by what takes place on the platform, and the intent is that this draws them to a place of deeper trust in God’s promises, and stronger commitment to live as God’s people. Lutheran worship is different in this regard. It is far from passive. We assemble to work together, giving our very best as we prepare ourselves thoroughly, arrive with high expectations, and enter wholeheartedly into the liturgy of the day.

I am convinced that when God’s people are well prepared, and committed to worship with heart and soul and mind, the ancient forms of liturgy which stirred our ancestors can stir us today as deeply as they ever have. To that end, on Sundays in the Easter season, I am planning to lead a “Pastor’s Class on Worship” in the Covenant Hall. If you’d like to understand more about our Lutheran worship traditions, and prepare yourself to get more out of worship at Saint Peter, I’d love to have you join me. Put it on your calendars. I’ll see you on April 12th!

Easter blessings to you,
Pastor Dave

The Resurrection of Our Lord; Easter Sunday (4/5/2015)

Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43
St. Mark 16:1-8 or St. John 20:1-18

Prayer of the Day:
God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life. Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

St. Mark 16:1-8 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.

Terror and Amazement

τρόμος and ἔκστασις — “tromos” and “extasis.” The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (my personal favorite translation) translates these two Greek words as terror and amazement, but I like the transliteration better: trauma and ecstasy.

According to St. Mark, three women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) make their way to the tomb on that first Easter morning. They have spices with them, and are prepared to pay their final respects to Jesus. Their most pressing concern is the stone that has been rolled against the door of the tomb. Joseph of Arimathea, one of the few religious leaders in Jerusalem who seemed to have a positive interest in Jesus, had taken the body down from the cross, wrapped it in a burial linen, and laid it in a tomb. When he had finished, he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome had been looking on from a distance when Jesus died. Afterwards, Mary and Mary followed Joseph, and saw where the body was laid. So as they make their way to the tomb, just after sunrise, they are wondering how they will get inside to complete the final preparations for his burial.

When they arrive, they are surprised to discover that the stone has already been rolled away. And not only that, a young man with a white robe is sitting on the right side of the tomb. (Can you say “angel from God?”) His message is consistent with just about every angelic message in the Scriptures: “Do not be alarmed.”

To come face-to-face with an angel is an alarming experience. But in this instance, it is even more alarming: the large stone is rolled back, the tomb is open, they are in the presence of an angel, and Jesus is gone! All of this is quite unsettling, compared with what they had expected as they walked towards the tomb. But none of this compares with what the women are about to hear: Jesus has been raised. He is not here.

Tromos and extasis, St. Mark writes. Trauma and ecstasy. In retrospect, these women will describe Holy Week as a traumatic experience. Witnessing the suffering and death (and confusing disappearance) of their Lord and teacher is a deeply disturbing experience for them; one that leaves them shaken and unsettled. Yet the announcement that death cannot hold him — that he is alive — is one of the most ecstatic moments they will ever experience.

They are paralyzed with fear. So much so, that they can’t even begin to imagine themselves responding faithfully to the angel’s command: “Go, tell the others that he is going ahead of them.” Instead, they flee the tomb, and they refuse to say anything to anyone. Tromos and extasis. Trauma and ecstasy. To be face-to-face with the reality of resurrection is a life-changing and inspiring thing. A breathtaking experience.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why is this so troubling for the three women on that first Easter morning?
  2. What might they have thought the angel’s words meant?
  3. Why do the oldest versions of St. Mark’s Gospel that we know about end with this verse?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How will we respond, when we find ourselves face-to-face with the reality of resurrection this coming Sunday?
  2. Will our worship be traumatic? Will the announcement of resurrection feel ecstatic?
  3. Will we leave worship in fear, and say nothing to anyone? Or will we obey the angelic command, and share it with the world?

Continue reading

Truly This Man Was God’s Son

Date: March 29, 2015
Liturgical Day: Palm Sunday (Year B)

a soldier’s insight
truly this man was God’s son
salvation beheld

This week we turn to an ancient, powerful, familiar text: the suffering and death of Jesus. As we experience this text in preparation for the week that will come, we pray to see it as with fresh eyes, that like the centurion who watched these events play out, we too might see that in this suffering and in this death is nothing less than the presence of God.

Download Sermon: 2015 Passion Sunday

Passion / Palm Sunday; Year B (3/29/2015)

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
St. Mark 14:1-15:47 (or St. Mark 15:1-39 [40-47])
Processional Gospel
St. Mark 11:1-11 (or St. John 12:12-16)

Prayer of the Day:
Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

15:1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection.

So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14 Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take

it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

St. Mark 15:1-39 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Holiest of Weeks

This coming Sunday holds two distinct celebrations for us. First: it is Palm Sunday — the day we remember Jesus’ last triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds may turn against him come Friday, but on this day they welcome him on a highway carpeted with palm branches and coats, and with shouts of, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosannah in the highest!” Second: it is Passion Sunday — a day to remember not just his triumphal entry, but his entire experience during Holy Week. We’ll make our way from the Palm Sunday parade through the events of the week, as they lead up to his suffering, death and resurrection.

This week stands at the very heart of our liturgical calendar, just as Jesus’ selfless love and God’s limitless power stand at the very heart of our faith. Our task on Sunday is not to understand our Lord’s passion, or somehow to transform its mystery into doctrines and beliefs. Our task is to walk with Jesus. To stand beside him on Sunday as the crowds call out his name, and welcome him with enthusiasm into the Holy City. To sit with him on Thursday, as he gathers for one last meal with his followers. To follow him up the long Via Dolorosa (Latin for way of grief) as he makes his way to the cross. To honor him with our presence as he dies on the cross, and is placed in a tomb. To weep for him through the long hours of Holy Saturday.

Eventually we will celebrate as the angels announce, on Easter morning, “He has been raised. He is not here.” But this week is a time to focus on his suffering, his love, and his willingness to love us by giving the ultimate gift. Jesus, the Christ, the Suffering Servant of God; may his love for us transform our living, now and always. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What might the suffering and death of Jesus have meant to his followers?
  2. What was it like for them to be close to him throughout Holy Week?
  3. How must they have been feeling on Saturday, having witnessed his death?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What role do the suffering and death of Jesus play in my own faith?
  2. How do I understand the connection between his death and my forgiveness?
  3. How will I honor him in this coming week, as I prepare for the arrival of Easter?


Date: March 22, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year B)

God’s purpose for life
Jeremiah calls to us
forgiveness and love

Jeremiah calls the people of his time (and us!) to a faithfulness that will be made even more clear by Jesus some six hundred years later. God is entering into a new covenant with us; one that is grounded in forgiveness, and live out as God’s word is written on our hearts and as we come to know God person-to-person. This, indeed, is our purpose in life.

Download Sermon: 2015 Lent 5B

The Fifth Sunday in Lent; Year B (3/22/2015)

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
St. John 12:20-33

Prayer of the Day:
O God, with steadfast love you draw us to yourself, and in mercy you receive our prayers. Strengthen us to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, that through life and death we may live 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.

31:31-34 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 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.


Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling

The Prophet Jeremiah is widely known as “The Weeping Prophet.” Serving God from approximately 626 to 586 b.c., his words for the people of Judah were often words of judgment and doom. During his lifetime great nations like Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia were vying for control of the region. Babylonia eventually gained the upper hand, and Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem on two separate occasions, eventually carrying off its leading citizens. Jeremiah himself fled the Babylonian armies (at the age of 70) and ended up dying in exile in Egypt.

Jeremiah may primarily have been a prophet of doom, but most Biblical scholars consider chapters 30-33 of the book named after him as a distinct section, and it has been referred to as “The Book of Consolation.” The future restoration of Israel is the primary theme of this section. Jeremiah interprets their destruction at the hand of the Babylonians as a sign of God’s judgment, but promises the people that God has restoration in store for them and their nation. Continue reading


Date: March 15, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year B)

proclaim the Good News
Christ’s death and resurrection
a gift from our God

The good news of the Gospel is not an invitation to reconsider what we believe. It is the proclamation of what God has done; a proclamation we have all received; a proclamation we are all called to share.

Download Sermon: 2015 Lent 4B

God’s Love and Our Call

Date: March 11, 2015
Liturgical Day: Wednesday before the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year B)

serpent lifted up
a sign of God’s love and grace
look up and have life

An odd, old story from the Hebrew Bible reminds us that God has a long history of (1) having high expectations for those who believe, and (2) loving them more that they might ever imagine. Perhaps there is something we can learn from this story!

Download Sermon: 2015 Lent 4B Wednesday

The Fourth Sunday in Lent; Year B (3/15/2015)

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
St. John 3:14-21

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death. Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3:14 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. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

St. John 3:14-21New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

For God so Loved the World

“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.” This is, arguably, one of the most ubiquitous texts in the New Testament. Google “John 3:16” and you get 73,900,000 results in 0.18 seconds (including dozens of images of former Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow). Turn on ESPN and you are bound to see it behind the catcher, or just off the putting green, or (in some instances; see image to the right) even on the field of play. Luther refers to it dozens of times in his writings and his teachings. He encouraged people to think of it as “The Gospel in Miniature.” Continue reading

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