One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

The Third Sunday in Lent; Year B (3/8/2015)

Lessons:
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1st Corinthians 1:18-25
St. John 2:13-22

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously. Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace, and teach us the wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

11:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1st Corinthians 1:18-25New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Power

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,
and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1st Corinthians 1:18, 25

These words, the first and last verses from this weekend’s second lesson, are nothing less than breathtaking.

The foolishness of the cross, and the weakness of God: on these two ideals we stake the very future of our lives. Or at least we are invited to do so, because this is both the most inspiring aspect of Christian faith, and the most difficult belief to embrace.

Our world, of course, is built on exactly the opposite premise. This was the case for the first century Corinthians as well. A great, thriving center of commerce and trade, the people of Corinth understood what made their world tick. Everybody knew who the “wise and discerning” business owners were in their community. They struck a hard bargain, they made a good profit, and they lived a luxurious life. So too, today. Those who are able to understand and put into practice “the wisdom of the world” can work within that wisdom to find economic, social and political success. Those who discern how to manage economic and social structures can work them to their own advantage. Get a good education. Determine what your gifts are. Connect with the right people. Work hard. Take advantage of every opportunity. Success will come your way. This is the way of the world, but much as we might twist the message of Scripture in service to this ideal, it is not the way of our God.

Instead, our God is one whose wisdom is seen in foolishness; whose power is seen in weakness. God has dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Nazareth, who was wiling to give his life on the cross that we might be put right with God, and who invites us to pick up our cross and follow him. The Apostle is right to note that the world thinks of this as foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Power hidden in weakness. Wisdom hidden in foolishness. A truth that is hard to see. A truth that is even harder to live. Yet a truth that leads to life eternal.

As Hollywood has recently reminded us, on “Bloody Sunday” — March 7, 1965 — state troopers showed up on the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma, Alabama, armed with billy clubs and tear gas. Their intent was for the power of the state to be on full display that day. But what the world remembers is the power of those who stood up against racism and injustice. Willing to give their lives if necessary, bloodied and beaten by law enforcement officers, their non-violent stand became a rallying cry for the civil rights movement. The weakness of their sacrifice proved stronger than the power of the state; the foolishness of their commitment overcame the wisdom of the culture; and the movement for civil rights and equality advanced.

Or rather, consider the words of Pope Francis. He has been a surprise to Christians and non-Christians alike, but we shouldn’t be so surprised. He is a man who knows Christ; a man who understands the Apostle Paul; a man who has seen time and time again that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom; that the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we proclaim Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly. We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, all of this, but we are not disciples of the Lord.

The most powerful reality there is can be found in the foolishness of the cross; in the weakness of God. May it also be found in us!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does Paul’s vision of faithfulness contrast with that of his day?
  2. What is inspiring about weakness and foolishness when we consider what God has done?
  3. How does this view of faith undergird the ministry Paul carried out?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What about weakness or foolishness is displeasing to me?
  2. Have I ever known someone who modeled a power that comes from sacred weakness?
  3. In what ways might this Bible passage inform my own personal faithfulness?

From Death to Life

Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article for March, 2015

Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

Death and taxes, they say, are the two unavoidable realities of life. We’ll save the conversation about taxes for another time, but one can’t venture far into Lent without coming to terms with the reality and the unavoidability of death.

We live in a culture that is determined to avoid death at all costs – or at least put it off as long as possible. Health care costs in the U.S. for 2014 are estimated to be nearly $3 trillion; that is more than $9,000 per person per year, and 17.6% of the country’s GDP. What’s more, studies reveal that Medicare spends 28% of its budget on patients’ last six months of life.

These numbers don’t surprise my family. During a recent stay at Swedish Hospital I ran up a tab of more than $175,000. I can honesty say that as my doctors presented treatment options to me I wasn’t thinking about how much they would cost, or whether those funds could make a greater impact in a different setting for other people. I had only one question in mind: “What will give me the best chance for a long, healthy life?”

Yet even though we are immersed in this avoid-death culture, we hold to a faith that reminds us of this reality: death is the natural consequence of living. We will all die.

Remember that your are dust, and to dust you shall return.

During the season of Lent, we face this truth head on. We consider those little deaths that take life away from us, a bit at a time, day after day. We consider the day when we will take our final breath. There is no escaping it, and so we begin each season of Lent with the sign of ashes, and these haunting words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Yet just as the story of Jesus’ life doesn’t end on Good Friday, neither does our journey of Lent end with ashes. We are reminded that we have a God who knows death intimately; who has endured the pain of an agonizing death. This God promises to accompany us through death and beyond death. The journey through those little daily deaths is promised in the words of the Maundy Thursday absolution: “In obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.” For every sin committed by us or against us, God promises the possibility of forgiveness and a new beginning. The journey beyond our final death is promised in the Easter Sunday proclamation: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” For every believer who lives, a life beyond death, in the mystery of God’s presence, is promised.

Far from avoiding death, our faith embraces the reality of death, and celebrates a God who has overcome it; who has promised to lead us through it. This is the good news which gives us hope, even in the midst of the most difficult of times.

Join us this season, as we journey from death to life. In this journey is the fullness of the promise of our faith. Christ is risen, indeed. For us and for all. Thanks be to God!

God’s Peace to You All,
Pastor Dave

The Second Sunday in Lent; Year B (3/1/2015)

Lessons:
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
St. Mark 8:31-38

Prayer of the Day:
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life. Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you…

15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; 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.

Promise

Our God is one who makes promises. Our faith is built on the premise that “God who promises is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23) This is evident from the very beginning of the story, when God establishes a covenant with Noah, promising to accompany him through the waters of the flood and into a new life (Genesis 6:18), and later promising never again to destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 9:11). Continue reading

Prepare

Date: February 22, 2015
Liturgical Day: The First Sunday in Lent (Year B)

preparing ourselves
walking together in faith
the season of Lent

Summary:
The forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness was a time when he was being prepared for his public ministry. Likewise, we spend time each year (40 days, in fact) preparing ourselves to be God’s faithful people. May this be a good Lent for us all, as we grow in faith, love and joy.

Download Sermon: 2015 Lent 1B

The First Sunday in Lent; Year B (2/22/15)

Lessons:
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1st Peter 3:18-22
St. Mark 1:9-15

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, heavenly Father, in the waters of the flood you saved the chosen, and in the wilderness of temptation you protected your Son from sin. Renew us in the gift of baptism. May your holy angels be with us, that the wicked foe may have no power over us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 1.9 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.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 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.”

St. Mark 1:9-15 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.

Ash Wednesday; Year B (2/18/2015)

Lessons:
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
or
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 51:1-17
2nd Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[Jesus said,] 6.1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Come and See; Go and Tell

Date: February 15, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year B)

come and see this grace
celebrating God’s presence
go and tell the world

Summary:
This sermon is for the people of Esperanza Lutheran Church, where I served as the founding pastor from 1988 to 1998. I am so touched by the way God continues to stir this community, and to work through them as they make a difference in south-east Phoenix. May they continue to come and see God’s deep grace in their time together. And may they continue to go and tell the world what faith in Christ is all about.

Download Sermon: 2015 Transfiguration B

The Transfiguration of Our Lord; Year B (2/15/2015)

Lessons:
2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2nd Corinthians 4:3-6
St. Mark 9:2-9

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

9.2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

St. Mark 9:2-9 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 Old and the New

I was born in 1957, and in some ways I am very nostalgic about the 1950s. I imagine it to have been a simpler time than today. Some things took more effort, of course: push mowers, coal furnaces and hand-washed dishes come to mind. But without the internet in your pocket, only three channels on television (a couple more if you were able to get VHF and UHF signals), and news broadcasts only twice a day, there was a lot more time left over to take a bike ride, explore the ravine down the street or play a round of golf.

August 25, 1957

I’d still love to own a ’57 Chevy some day (although my godfather’s ’56 Ford Galaxy was a pretty sweet ride…), but I’m also aware that the past can never be preserved, and the faithful person is the one who learns to live most fully in the present. Continue reading

Where God Is at Work

Date: February 8, 2015
Liturgical Day: The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)

going out in faith
loving the community
the work of our Lord

Summary:
Throughout history, God has often been at work in unexpected places and in surprising ways. These days, as church and culture experience so much change, perhaps God is at work in places that might surprise us. Where might these places be? And how might we become part of it?

Download Sermon: 2015 Epiphany 5B

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Year B (2/8/2015)

Lessons:
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1st Corinthians 9:16-23
St. Mark 1:29-39

Prayer of the Day:
Everlasting God, you give strength to the weak and power to the faint. Make us agents of your healing and wholeness, that your good news may be made known to the ends of your creation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

St. Mark 1:29-39 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.

Raised up to Serve

Isn’t it odd that we know next to nothing about the families of those who became followers of Jesus? (Except, of course, for the fact that James and John had a father named Zebedee who was a fisherman, and an unnamed mother who petitioned Jesus to give them places of honor in his kingdom.) We don’t know if Bartholomew had a brother, if Matthew’s mother was still around, if James (the son of Alphaeus) was a Jr. or if Simon (the Cananaean) had a son.

We do know, however, that Peter has a mother-in-law and, presumably, a wife. Peter’s mother-in-law stands at the heart of this week’s text. Jesus has been teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, and has healed many who are there. After a time, they leave the synagogue and make their way to Peter’s home. When they arrive, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a very high fever (as if, the Greek word suggests, she is on fire). Jesus takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. As far as her family and friends can tell, she is completely healed. She immediately makes her way into the kitchen, and begins to serve all those who had gathered there with Jesus. Continue reading

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