One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

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

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

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

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

paragraph-line

 

The Acts of the Apostles 2:1-21. New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Led By The Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

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

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

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

Jesus Prays… for Me!

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

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

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

Download Sermon: 2015 Easter 7B

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

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

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

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


St. John 17:6-19 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Complete Joy

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

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

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

Download Sermon: 2015 Easter 6B

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

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

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

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


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

Complete Joy

Norman Rockwell,  1937

Norman Rockwell, 1937

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

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

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

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

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

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

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

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

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

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

Pruning to Grow

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

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

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

Download Sermon: 2015 Easter 5B

Spring: A Time of New Beginnings

Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article for May, 2014

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

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

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

The Fifth Sunday of Easter; Year B (5/3/2015)

Lessons:
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:25-31
1 John 4:7-21
St. John 15:1-8

Prayer of the Day:
O God, you give us your Son as the vine apart from whom we cannot live. Nourish our life in his resurrection, that we may bear the fruit of love and know the fullness of your joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 

- – - – -

St. John 15:1-8 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.

Pruning the Vine

I love the way Jesus teaches. He’ll throw out a parable — often a shocking or disturbing story — and after it rolls around in your mind for a time, you get what he means. Because of the vivid nature of the images, the message stays with you for a good, long time. All someone needs to do is mention the title, and you remember the point immediately. The Good Samaritan… it doesn’t matter what side you’re on; what matters is whether or not you demonstrate love. The Workers in the Vineyard… it doesn’t matter how long you worked; what matters is the owner’s generosity. The Unforgiving Servant… forgiveness is not intended to get you off the hook; it is intended to transform you, and cause you to become a forgiving person.

Or he’ll make use of a metaphor: I am the Good Shepherd… one who loves the sheep, watches over them, and leads them to wellbeing. I am the Light of the World… one who illumines the way for his followers through the darkness that surrounds. Like the parables, these images stay with us, and inform the way we understand Jesus.

I wish this week’s metaphor was as clear and compelling. Continue reading

Our Good Shepherd

Date: April 26, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Jesus: Good Shepherd
leads us in our life and faith
the way of God’s grace

Summary:
Jesus leads us in life, guiding us to God’s grace, and those places where our soul is fed and strengthened. He calls us to faithfulness, and this is our witness to the world. As we come to know the Shepherd’s voice, other come to see the faith that is ours.

Download Sermon: 2015 Easter 4B

The Fourth Sunday of Easter; Year B (4/26/2015)

Lessons:
Acts  4:5-12
Psalm 23
1st John 3:16-24
St. John 10:11-18

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord Christ, good shepherd of the sheep, you seek the lost and guide us into your fold. Feed us, and we shall be satisfied; heal us, and we shall be whole. Make us one with you, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

10:11 [Jesus said:] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”


St. John 10:11-18, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

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