One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

The Third Sunday of Advent; Year A (12/11/2016)

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10 (8) or Luke 1:46b-55 (47)
James 5:7-10
St. Matthew 11:2-11

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up the wills of all who look to you, Lord God, and strengthen our faith in your coming, that, transformed by grace, we may walk in your way; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

11.2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

St. Matthew 11:2-11. 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 devotional message based on this text will be posted by Tuesday evening.

Preparing for Christ

John the Baptizer

John the Baptizer

Date: December 4, 2016
Liturgical Day: The Second Sunday of Advent; Year A

Both John the Baptizer and Luther the Reformer invite us into a faith where we understand God’s presence in our lives in an entirely new way. What does this look like for us today? And how does this prepare us for Christ to come?

Some discussion Questions:

  1. How has John helped me to think about myself n a different way, and prepare myself to know Jesus?
  2. In Isaiah 11:1-10, how does Isaiah describe the work and focus of God’s Messiah?
  3. In Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, what does this “Prayer for a King” say about what is important to God?

Download Presentation Slides: 2016-12-04-sermon

The Second Sunday of Advent; Year A (12/4/2016)

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7)
Romans 15:4-13
St. Matthew 3:1-12

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3.1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

St. Matthew 3:1-12. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

This weekend we take our annual two-week journey through the life of John the Baptizer. Featured in each of the four Gospel accounts (actually, the account of John baptizing in the Judean wilderness is the first story covered by all four of the Evangelists: Matthew, Mark Luke and John), John the Baptizer is a pivotal figure at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

He is described as a prophet, with camel’s hair clothing, a leather belt, and eating what he can harvest from the land. This is how prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah are depicted — the first century observer would notice this immediately. Perhaps this is why “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him.”

But what strikes our ear is not the appearance of John. It is, instead, his message. Repent. The Kingdom has come near. Prepare the way. Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Whatever doesn’t bear good fruit is destroyed. One more powerful than me is coning. He will gather his wheat, but the chaff he will burn.

It is the message of a prophet.

John’s message has much in common with the messages carried to God’s people by so many other prophets. His role isn’t to predict the future (this would be a prognosticator). Rather, as a prophet, John’s role is to point out that there are two distinct paths through life. One path leads to blessing and the other path leads to destruction. This message has heightened importance for John’s listeners, due to the presence of Jesus. These paths also diverge related to him. One path leads to knowing Jesus, and experiencing the presence and power of God. The other path misses this entirely.

So what does the path to blessing — the path to Jesus — look like? For John the Baptizer, it looks like repentance.

Repentance is a crucial theme in John’s ministry. Those of us who live in the 21st Century may not immediately understand how central this is. These days, repentance has become linked to confession, which usually leads to absolution. In some people’s minds, this is the “get out of jail free” card that comes with Christian faith. If we own up to God about what we’ve done wrong (confession), God will forgive us and let us start over again (absolution). What John has in mind is far more profound than this.

In the Greek New Testament, the word for repentance is μετανοία (metanoia). Literally translated, it refers to a transformation (metamorphosis) of the mind (noetics: the science of the intellect or of pure thought; reasoning). What John calls for is not a ritual listing of past sins, and the hope to have the charges dismissed. John calls for the transformation of how a believer thinks. About sin. About new life. About faithfulness. About God. A transformation that comes when the believer’s heart and mind are captured by Jesus, the Christ.

John came to prepare the people of his day. He comes to prepare us as well. For Christ.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why do people flock to John, where he is baptizing and preaching in the wilderness?
  2. What is his primary message to those who listen to him?
  3. How does this prepare people to experience Jesus as the Messiah?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How has my faith transformed my thinking about God, about myself and about faith?
  2. If my mind could be completely transformed by faith, how would this change my living?
  3. What will I do to open myself up to the transformation God wants for me?

No One Knows

The Return of Christ

The Return of Christ

Date: November 27, 2016
Liturgical Day: The First Sunday of Advent; Year A

Jesus teaches us that no-one knows when the end of time (or the end of life) will come, so we are called to live in such a way that we are ready. The season of Advent encourages us to do so.

Some discussion Questions:

  1. What will I do during this season of Advent to prepare myself for the day when my life will end?
  2. What word of hope does Isaiah offer to the people of his day?
  3. Can the Psalmist’s hope for peace, security, goodness and goodness be experience in our life today?

Download Presentation Slides:  2016-11-27-sermon

The First Sunday in Advent; Year A (11/27/2016)

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122 (1)
Romans 13:11-14
St. Matthew 24:36-44

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

24.36 [Jesus said,] “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

St. Matthew 24:36-44. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Be, Be, Be Prepared

“Be, be, be prepared; the model of the Boy Scouts. Be, be, be prepared; the model of the Scouts.” I don’t know how many of you are old enough to remember this little jingle, but it certainly was part of my childhood. I was a Scout, like my father before me. I still remember the Boy Scout Oath (“On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times. To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”) and the Scout Law (“A Scout is is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”) Scouting was a way that my community helped boys to prepare themselves for a life of honor and service in the world. I’m grateful for that training, and to the extent that I have been apply to apply some of these values to my life, I have benefitted from it.

The bottom line is: we don’t know where life’s journey will take us. We don’t know if we’ll have more than our share of trouble or ease; failure or success; bad health or good, grief or joy… If we hope to thrive, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we’ll need to prepare ourselves, hold to our principles, and take comfort from being (or becoming) the people we are called to be.

The early church thought in these terms. They believed that Jesus, who had ascended to be with God, would return to be with them then. I’m sure some of them must have wanted to know when and how this would happen. It seems that even those listening to Jesus in Matthew 24 want to know. The disciples come to Jesus privately and ask him, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the signs of your coming and of the end of the age.” [Mtt 24:3]

What is his answer? He teaches them that there will be no lack of turmoil during the final years, but there is no way to know when it will arrive. Jesus himself doesn’t even know. It will be like the days before the flood, when people’s minds were focused on eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. They had no idea what was coming.

What is the best a believer can do? Be, be, be prepared. We draw near to God in worship and devotion. We work to see that our witness is as true and faithful as it can be. We care deeply for others in this world. We treat those around us with honor and dignity. How does Jesus put it? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Mtt 22:37-38]

This, of course, is a message which lies at the heart of the Advent season. During these days of preparation we seek to be, be, be prepared for the coming of Christ into our hearts and homes. We’ll worship, study, pray, reflect and serve, seeking to carve out at the center of our lives a place for the Newborn King to be born anew.

Join us in the journey, will you? Whether at Saint Peter, or in your own congregation, let us make these days of preparation a time of waiting and watching and preparing for the arrival of the Christ. Be, be, be prepared. Christ is coming, indeed.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What are the disciples asking of Jesus in St. Matthew 24:3?
  2. Why did the early church find it important to prepare for the return of Christ?
  3. How did they prepare themselves?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What questions do I have about the Bible’s teaching regarding the end of all time?
  2. How might I prepare myself, in case my life should end?
  3. What could I do during Advent, to enhance my preparations?

Jesus: God’s Kind of King

Christ the King

Christ the King

Date: November 20, 2016
Liturgical Day: Christ the King Sunday; Year C

Jesus’ first century listeners know much about the rulers of their day — and so do we. Yet Jesus will proclaim and live out a different way of ruling. He will rule not with power and might; not with violence and terror; but with unconditional love, transforming grace, and heartfelt compassion. And he calls us, his loyal subjects, to follow him in doing so.

Some discussion Questions:

  1. How does the kingship of Jesus rule our hearts and our lives?
  2. How does this differ from the way contemporary rulers govern?
  3. What does this mean for our day-to-day living?

Download Presentation Slides: 2016-11-20-sermon

The Last Sunday after Pentecost; Christ the King Sunday, Year C (11/20/16)

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46 (10)
Colossians 1:11-20
St. Luke 23:33-43
Semicontinuous Series:
Jeremiah 23:1-6
St. Luke 1:68-79 (69)

Prayer of the Day: O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy.  We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory.  Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [ 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

St. Luke 23:33-43. 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 Kind of King?

Christ the King

Christ the King

In the Lutheran church we recognize the fifth Sunday before Christmas as the last Sunday in the liturgical church year. (The new year begins with four Sundays of Advent, as we prepare for the celebration of the Christmas season.) This Sunday is actually a festival. It is called Christ the King Sunday, or in some traditions, Reign of Christ Sunday. It is a relatively young festival, instituted by the Roman Catholic Pope, Pius XI, in 1925.

1925 was the year when Benito Mussolini dissolved the Italian Parliament and became dictator of Italy. It was a time of great uncertainty. Mussolini took advantage of the division and dissension the country was experiencing, amassed power around his Fascist party, and soon began to invade neighboring countries. By the late 1930s he would become one of Adolph Hitler’s strongest and most important allies.

Much of Europe was still reeling from World War I, and many people worried about the impact someone like Mussolini could have on the world. Pope Pius XI was worried too, and in a papal encyclical he warned believers about the increasing secular nature of Europe, and the danger of following the whims of dictators.

In response, the church established a feast which honored the kingship of Christ. Pius XI understood that when nations are spinning out of control, it is even more important for Christians to remember that there is a King above all other kings, who calls us to lives of faith and hope and peace and righteousness.

And so this day comes around each year, providing believers with a different image of what it means to have a king. Christ is pictured not on a heavenly throne, surrounded by the trappings of a powerful kingdom. Christ is pictured on a cross, suffering and dying — loving and forgiving — as an embodiment of God’s profound and sacrificial love for humankind. There is a power in this image of Christ as King, but it is a subversive power. It subverts the rule of violence in the world, and asserts that love will have the final say. Not the sort of love which blithely claims that everything is fine, but the sort of love which empowers people to risk their very lives in service of what is good and right and just.

Christ the King Sunday is a perfect time for us to consider what it means to be welcomed into God’s love just as we are, and then sent into the world as a reflection of Christ. As you and I are sent, how will our lives reflect his passionate commitment to forgiveness (even forgiving those who were crucifying him) and to new life (even welcoming a convicted criminal to Paradise)? We are all subjects of this King, and he may well lead us in other directions than worldly leaders might lead us. The question is: will we have the faith and courage to follow?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What kind of kings ruled in first century Palestine? In first century Rome?
  2. How do God’s intentions for believers become revealed in Jesus, crucified on the cross?
  3. In what ways did the early church choose to follow Christ instead of the Emperor?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does it mean to be subjects of a crucified king?
  2. How does both Jesus’ living and his dying instruct us about our own lives?
  3. What “powers that be” are trying to seduce me away from honoring Christ as my king?

Continue reading

A Story to Tell

First Century Temple in Jerusalem

First Century Temple in Jerusalem

Date: November 13, 2016
Liturgical Day: The 26th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 28C

In the face of very difficult times, Jesus promises to be with his followers, and empower their witness to God’s power and love. They had a story to tell, and so do we. In our own divisive time, God unites us around our faith in Christ, and empowers us to share it with the world.

Some discussion Questions:

  1. In a very dark depiction of world events, what hope does Jesus offer to his followers?
  2. How do  Malachi’s words foreshadow what Jesus will eventually say to his followers?
  3. What has God done in our lives that causes us to shout for joy and burst into song?

Download Presentation Slides: 2016-11-13-sermon

The 26th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 28C (11/13/16)

Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98 (9)
2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13
St. Luke 21:5-19

Semicontinuous Series:
Isaiah 65:17-25
Isaiah 12:2-6 (6)

Prayer of the Day:
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

21.5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

St. Luke 21:5-19. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

That Which Is Eternal

Today is election day in the United States. Unless you’ve been hibernating for 18 months, this certainly doesn’t come as news to you. But it is a powerful reality which shapes the way we read this week’s lesson from the 21st chapter of St. Luke.

We have been focused for many months on who will hold office in the coming years, and how their service will shape the future of our country. The claim has been made that if one party or the other gains too much power, it will lead (depending on your personal political preferences) to disaster or renewal for our nation. The truth is: this 240-year-old country is far more powerful than that. No one politician, or one group of politicians, will single-handedly lead to the destruction or the survival of the United States. This grand experiment, including its commitment to a peaceful transfer of power, is designed to survive the best and worst of those elected to lead it. No matter how capable or incapable the present elected leadership corps, the next election cycle brings with it the possibility of new direction and new life. The United States of America will survive, whatever happens today. Continue reading

An Open Letter to My American Friends

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I am grateful to have so many friends: childhood friends, church friends and Christian friends (some of whom are both), college and seminary friends (one of whom is both), bluegrass friends, flyfishing friends, facebook friends… This letter is to my American friends.

I Voted

I Voted

So if you are an American, and if you are my friend, I have two requests of you:

1. Vote Today

We live in one of the greatest democracies that has ever existed. It is designed to be a representative democracy. Citizens of this country have the privilege of deciding who will make laws, set policy, and guide our country into its strongest future. Exercise your right, and make your voice heard. If you haven’t voted early, make sure to get to the polls today, no matter how inconvenient it might be for you.

2. Act Like U. S. Citizens 

I have been following the pundits constantly for weeks, and I honestly don’t know how this year’s presidential election is going to turn out. The Democrats may take it. The Republicans may take it. There is even a long-shot possibility that it may go to the House of Representatives. But most likely one candidate will receive enough support tonight to have more than 270 votes in the electoral college, and on January 20, 2017 will become our President. Our president.

Act like a U.S. Citizen.

Act like U.S. Citizens.

This means it is time to stop acting like partisans, and time to start acting like U. S. citizens.

So hold your breath all evening today, as the results trickle in. And if you need to, crow a bit or whine a bit tomorrow. But by Thursday, it is time to pray for our president elect, and demand that all of our legislators — those we may have supported and those we may have opposed — get down to the hard, complicated, messy work of leading this country into its most faithful and productive future.

And to those of you who are and/or will be serving in the legislative or executive branches of our federal government: do your job. If the American people decide to elect all Democrats or all Republicans, feel free to act in a fiercely partisan matter. Don’t compromise. Hold to your principles. Overcome those who disagree with you. Take this country in the direction the voters have empowered you to take it.

But if Democrats and Republicans are elected in relatively equal numbers, your job is to work together to represent us all, as you set the agenda for this country’s future. Our country thrives when we take into consideration the best ideas from the left and the best ideas from the right, and discover ways to move forward together. This is how our founders designed the system, and many of us expect you to live into this ideal. Propose, debate and pass a federal budget. Deal honestly and seriously with issues like immigration, health care, national security, the economy, the environment, human rights and international relationships. Hold votes on nominees for Supreme Court vacancies. Speak your minds clearly, and spend an equal amount of time listening to those whose vision for our country differs from yours. You will discover that in working together you can lead us to a much better place than if you spend the majority of your time trying to score points with your most ardent supporters.

And just for extra measure: take at least 36 months before you begin to demonize one another and weaken our country again. We’ve given you the chance to serve — it’s the least you can do — it’s what adults do.

These are critical times, and our nation faces many challenges. These challenges will not be met unless all of us, elected and non-elected, learn how to work together with honesty, integrity and courage. Each of us plays a role in this.

If you are my friends, you know what to do.


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