One Little Word

Where God's Word Meets God's World

Category: Devotional Messages (page 1 of 43)

Weekly Devotional Message

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 9B (July 5, 2015)

Lessons:
Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2nd Corinthians 12:2-10
St. Mark 6:1-13
Semicontinuous Series:
2nd Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48

Prayer of the Day:
God of the covenant, in our baptism you call us to proclaim the coming of your kingdom. Give us the courage you gave the apostles, that we may faithfully witness to your love and peace in every circumstance of life, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:1He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching.7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.


St. Mark 6:1-13 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.

Offended by Jesus

A Catechism student recently asked me, had I been living in the first century: did I think I would have stood up for Jesus (like the Centurion did), or might I have abandoned him (like so many others did)? This seemed like a very good question to me. We’d all like to think that, given the chance, we would stand up for our faith and our Lord. But at the same time, there was no shortage of people who found themselves opposed to (or at least skeptical of) Jesus. We see that in this week’s Gospel lesson.

Jesus has just freed the Gerasene Demoniac from the legion of unclean spirits that had been destroying his life. He healed the woman who had been ill for 12 years, and raised the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus from the dead. He and his followers have been traveling back and forth across the Sea of Galilee, and at every stop he seems to do something amazing.

Then he lands in his home town of Nazareth. He has been away for some time. St. Mark reports that he had relocated to Capernaum. (See 1:21 and 2:1.) Now he is back among those who have known him all his life. They don’t think of him as the traveling miracle worker and healer. They think of him as Mary’s son; the boy next door who grew up among them, who played with their children.

He makes his way to the synagogue and begins to teach there. The people are amazed at his wisdom, and the deeds of power that have been attributed to him. They wonder how this can be. How did he accumulate so much wisdom? How can he possess such power? But before his teaching has concluded the tide has turned and they take offense at him. St. Mark tells us that “he could do no deed of power there” and Jesus was amazed at their unbelief.

We don’t hear from St. Mark what set his hometown friends off. (St. Luke tells us a little more; see 4:16-30.) But it is a pattern that repeats itself throughout the New Testament. Jesus comes, bringing news of God’s kingdom. He calls his listeners to a new way of living. He challenges the existing religious systems. He calls out hypocrisy and injustice and faithlessness.

And his listeners react. They are so offended by his words that it prevents him from touching them as powerfully as he has done in other cities.

Do we dare wonder what Jesus would have to say to us today? What would he say about the shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston? What would he say about the recent Supreme Court decisions regarding affordable health care and same-gender marriage? What would he say about our relative comfort in a time when others live in deep poverty? What would he say about the church’s reluctance to share faith with those who don’t yet know him?

“Pastor Dave, if you lived back then, would you stand up for Jesus like the Centurion did? Or would you turn away from him like so many others did?” This is a good question; one we would do well to consider.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why are the hometown family and friends of Jesus offended by him?
  2. How does this prevent him from accomplishing deeds of power among them?
  3. What must it have been like for the disciples to carry on his ministry?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How do I react when God’s word runs counter to what I prefer to believe?
  2. Do I know anyone who has been so offended by Jesus that they turned away?
  3. Do I know anyone who has been so touched by Jesus in a way that was life changing?

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 8B (June 28, 2015)

Lessons:
Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Psalm 30
2nd Corinthians 8:7-15
St. Mark 5:21-43
Semicontinuous Series:
2nd Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and merciful God, we implore you to hear the prayers of your people. Be our strong defense against all harm and danger, that we may live and grow in faith and hope, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

5:21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.


St. Mark 5:21-43, 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.

Talitha Cum

Do we observe the world through the eyes of what is old, or through the eyes of what is new?

I know that my natural inclination is for the old. I tend to have a very practical, skeptical perspective on the world. I am aware of the brokenness, and at times I wish it wasn’t so. I wish the troubled relationships that I experience were well. I wish the physical ailments that I suffer would go away. I wish my old truck didn’t make that strange, new sound when I press the accelerator. I wish the landscape that surrounds me wasn’t parched and dry and vulnerable. I wish the nations of the world were more committed to living together peaceably. I wish the church was vibrant, and more capable of sharing good news with those who don’t yet believe. I even wish the Colorado Rockies had a stronger, healthier pitching staff. I see the brokenness in all these realities, and I wish that it wasn’t so. But my hope is not always strong. I’ve become accustomed to people who are hard to love, bodies that resist healing, automobiles that continually need repair, flammable trees and ground cover, international strife, a church in decline, and pitchers who can’t find the zone.

It is easy for a sense of what is to overcome a sense of what might be.

What strikes me in this week’s story about Jesus, is the hope that becomes evident. Jairus, a leader of the synagogue (Were some of his friends and colleagues already plotting to do away with Jesus?), has a twelve-year-old daughter who is so ill, that she has come to the point of death. Yet he falls down at the feet of the Rabbi from Nazareth and implores him — begs him! — repeatedly, to come and lay his hands on the child. Jairus is filled with a deep hope: the hope that Jesus has the power to make someone well; the hope that Jesus has the power of life.

A woman has been unwell for the same amount of time as this girl has lived. Perhaps these hemorrhages have rendered her unclean, and she has been forced to live at a distance from everything she loves. At the very least, St. Mark tells us, she has endured much at the hand of many physicians, and her medical journey has ruined her life. She fights her way through the crowd, finds herself just behind Jesus, reaches out, and touches the fabric of his cloak. This woman is filled with a deep hope: the hope that Jesus has the power to make someone well; the hope that Jesus has the power of life.

There are those who are less inclined to stake their lives on this hope. “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” (v. 35) Yet Jairus and the woman resist this practical, skeptical perspective. They stake their hopes on Jesus, and on the power of his word: “Do not fear, only believe.” (v. 36) And the healing they receive causes them, and others, to be overcome with amazement.

I know, in fact, that Jesus has the power to make someone well. That Jesus has the power of life. I, too, have seen it happen. I, too, have known those who have been overcome with amazement. This week’s Gospel challenges my practical, skeptical nature — our practical, skeptical nature. And we are invited by the Lord of healing — by the Lord of life — to entrust all the brokenness of our lives to him in hope.

May the Holy Spirit fill us with the faith and trust do to so.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What brokenness did the disciples and crowd members observe in their lives?
  2. In which instances were they able to entrust that brokenness to Jesus?
  3. How did that become a blessing for them?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What brokenness is apparent in my own life?
  2. In the face of it, am I more inclined to be practical and skeptical, or faithful and hopeful?
  3. How might I live in a way that trusts in the promise of Christ?

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 7B (6/21/2015)

Lessons:
Job 38:1-11
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2nd Corinthians 6:1-13
St. Mark 4:35-41
Semicontinuous Series:
1st Samuel 17:[1a, 4-11, 19-23] 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20

Prayer of the Day
O God of creation, eternal majesty, you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm. By your strength pilot us, by your power preserve us, by your wisdom instruct us, and by your hand protect us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

4:35 On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” 


St. Mark 4:35-41 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.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Jesus is teaching beside the sea. He is sharing kingdom parables with his listeners. The kingdom of heaven is like a sower who goes out to sow…  The kingdom of heaven is like lamp under a bushel basket… The kingdom of heaven is like a seed growing in the ground… The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed… Then, without explanation, he decides it is time to leave. Time to make their way across the Sea of Galilee to the other side; the Gentile side. Perhaps St. Mark reminds us here that the ministry of Jesus will not be limited to just one people. The minute we begin to imagine ourselves as insiders, he is on the water, and heading for the other side.

So they climb into the boat, put off from the shore, and begin to row. One imagines that the disciples must have been feeling a bit triumphant. Their leader had cured many diseases. He had wowed the crowd with his surprising wisdom. The crowd had become so large that he had to sit in a boat, some distance from the shore, in order to escape being crushed. Just imagine how it is going to go when they get to the other side! More miracles. More teaching. More followers.

But the trip doesn’t go quite as planned. While Jesus takes a nap in the stern, the disciples find themselves up against a great storm. These brawny men, well familiar with the storms that develop so quickly over the water, suddenly find themselves in the midst of storm the likes of which they rarely observe. They are frightened, and wake Jesus up. They ask him (actually, it sounds as though they accuse him) whether or not he cares about them. Whether or not he loves them. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.”

It is then that the same power of God evident in his healing touch once again becomes present. By Jesus’ word, the great storm is stilled, the hearts of those traveling with him in the boat are calmed, and their ultimate response is one of shock and awe: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Who is this indeed! No less than the Son of God. No less than the King of kings. No less than the One who is and who was and who will be to come. On that stormy afternoon Jesus shows his followers that they need fear no evil, for God is with them, to comfort and to calm and to protect them.

And with us as well. Many times life’s journey resembles a storm at sea: when health fails or death is near, when marriage and parenting become a challenge, when making a witness to our faith puts us at considerable risk, when standing up for what’s right makes us stand out from the crowd… in those times we may feel as though the waves are crashing and the boat is sinking. Yet we don’t travel alone along life’s journey. We travel accompanied by the presence of Christ, who stilled the seas and calmed the hearts of his followers, and promises to do so for you and for me today.

Thanks be to God for this good news!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What must the disciples have been feeling as they embarked?
  2. Why did this storm scare them so completely?
  3. How did this experience with Jesus strengthen them in days to come?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When has my life felt as though it was filled with storms?
  2. How has my faith been a source of calm for me?
  3. In what ways has God answered this question for me: “Do you not care that I am perishing?”

The Third Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 6B (6/14/2015)

Lessons:
Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 (12)
2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17
St. Mark 4:26-34

Semi-continuous Series:
1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
Psalm 20 (6)

Prayer of the Day
O God, you are the tree of life, offering shelter to all the world. Graft us into yourself and nurture our growth, that we may bear your truth and love to those in need, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

4:26 [Jesus] also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.


St. Mark 4:26-34 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.

Of Dandelions and Mustard Seeds

I’m not a fan of dandelions, and I’m not exactly sure when that came to be. I was aware of these small yellow flowers as a young boy. Like most boys I brought home a bouquet of dandelions for my mother a time or two. I thought they were pretty, and a field filled with dandelions seemed natural and attractive to me in those days.

My distaste for dandelions probably began to take form when I became a homeowner. I like a deep-green lawn, free of weeds and bare spots. Dandelions in the midst of a carefully tended lawn are an eyesore to someone who has a vision for what the back yard should look like, and an indication that the person in charge of the lawn is not doing a very effective job of it.

My family and I recently moved from a home that had a 5,600 square foot back yard. To me it wasn’t a back yard: it was a battlefield. When we moved in seven years ago the back yard was filled with dandelions. (The home had been a rental for years, and none of the renters ever had a heart to fight the weeds.) During the time we lived there, I tried everything I could think of to get rid of those dandelions. I tried to fertilize early in the Spring with something that had a pre-emergent component. I purchased bottle after bottle of weed killer. The past couple of years, i got down on my hands and knees to pull 25-50 dandelions a day. No matter what i did, they seemed to come back over and over again. It was a war that I never won.

It is said that a weed is a plant which grows where someone has decide it shouldn’t. That’s how i thought about those dandelions. And that is how first century people thought about the mustard plant. it too was considered a weed. Nobody who was of sound mind would plant mustard seeds, any more than a homeowner today would plant dandelion seeds.

It is with a wink and a nod that Jesus tells this parable about the mustard seed. The smallest of all seeds on earth; it grows to become the greatest of all shrubs. (Shrubs? What about the towering Cedars of Lebanon? Couldn’t Jesus have used that analogy?) Truth is: it grew to be one of the most troublesome weeds. People may have thought he was crazy as he wound out this tale. Or perhaps they saw the wisdom in what he was saying. Mustard seeds seemed to have the capacity to multiply and grow despite the land owner’s best efforts to suppress them. As do dandelions. And as does the Kingdom of God.

We are called to plant seeds of God’s kingdom in all that we do. We are also reminded that kingdom growth is due to the miraculous work of God. We do our best to make a strong beginning, but the outcome is both gift and miracle. The kingdom of God grows like a field contaminated with mustard plants, or a back yard filled with dandelions.

God, help us to be faithful in sowing seeds of love and grace in this world. Help us be diligent in creating ministries that are as strong and as effective as they can be. And grant us the patience to allow your gracious, miraculous power move through them. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do these two kingdom parables have in common?
  2. What other current parables to a mustard plant come to mind?
  3. What is Jesus trying to say to his disciple with these two stories?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What seeds of God’s kingdom have I been involved in planting?
  2. When have I seen the kind of growth that only comes from God?
  3. For what ministries and/or individuals am I praying today, that they might have new life?

The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost — Proper 5B (6/7/2015)

Lessons:
Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13 — 5:1
St. Mark 3:20-35
Semicontinuous Series
1 Samuel 8:4-11 [12-15] 16-20, [11:14-15]
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, [11-13] 14-17

Prayer of the Day
All-powerful God, in Jesus Christ you turned death into life and defeat into victory. Increase our faith and trust in him, that we may triumph over all evil in the strength of the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

3:20 …the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

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St. Mark 3:20-35 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.

Responding to the Spirit; Doing the Will of God

I want to talk about Jesus’ relationship with his family this week. This, and his relationship with those who were listening to him, learning from him, and following him (as opposed to those who were thinking he was out of his mind, or in cahoots with Beelzebul) is the heart of the text. It is what I believe St. Mark is trying to help us understand in this section of the Gospel. The problem is, there is this little road bump in verse 29.

We’ve all heard it before, although I’d be willing to wager that few of us could actually find it in the Bible without a little help. In response to the charge that Jesus is doing Satan’s work and working under Satan’s authority, Jesus says, “…whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

It is a frightening verse. Continue reading

The Feast of the Holy Trinity (5/31/2015)

Lessons:
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:9-11
St. John 3:1-17

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 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.

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St. John 3:1-17 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.

”The Mystery of the Holy, Eternal Trinity”

According to the Merriam-Webester online dictionary [www.merriam-webster.com], the first definition of mystery is “a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand.” In the Christian faith, there are a number of mysteries, or “truths that cannot be fully understood, but only be known by revelation.” One of them has to do with the nature of God. Specifically, the question is: how does one understand God who is described, in the Bible, both as the one true God, and as the God we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit?”

There is no specific answer to this in the Scriptures. The Biblical writers seem content to leave this aspect of God’s nature as a mystery for the faithful to embrace. But the early church wrestled with this question, and eventually made up a word that refers to their wrestling. The word is Trinity. It is composed of tri (“God as three”) and unity (“God as one). By some accounts Tertullian (155-230), an early leader in the church, was among the first to use this term in referring to the God of the Bible. His use of Trinity, and the church’s now long-held understanding of God’s nature, creates a paradox: How can God be both one and three?

The temptation, of course, is to solve the mystery — to resolve the paradox — between these two beliefs. You have heard it all before. God is like water: the same substance can be experienced as a liquid, a solid or a gas. God is like me: I can be experienced as a pastor, a father, or a husband. There are dozens of these attempts to make the Trinity easier to understand (most of which appear during the Children’s Message on the First Sunday after Pentecost). The truth is: none of them do justice to the deep mystery of God’s eternal nature.

If you find this difficult to comprehend, take comfort: you are in good company. During Jesus’ lifetime on earth there was a man named Nicodemus. He was a well-respected, theologically trained religious official in Jerusalem. He had spent a lifetime studying the ways of God, and seeking to live a faithful life. It seems that word about Jesus’ ministry had reached him, because late one night he makes his way, under cover of darkness, to where Jesus is. He shares his hunch that Jesus is indeed a teacher who comes from God. The healing, the teaching, the acts of compassion; clearly Nicodemus is more willing than most of his colleagues to believe that Jesus is the real thing. But when Jesus begins to teach him that faithfulness has less to do with living up to ancient expectations and more to do with the new beginnings God is trying to make in people’s lives, Nicodemus also finds it difficult to comprehend.

In a recent Denver lecture, Professor Walter Brueggemann argued that our God is not a God of certainty, but a God of fidelity. By implication, life in God’s presence has less to do with certainty and more to do with faithfulness. There are aspects of our faith that delight us and inspire us, even as they are impossible to fully understand. The holy, eternal, triune nature of God is an example of this. We may never fully understand it, but as we experience God in our lives as  a creating, saving and inspiring presence, we give thanks for the love and grace that is ours.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What Bible stories depict God as one? As three?
  2. What was Nicodemus having trouble understanding about faithfulness?
  3. How are Jesus’ words about the movement of the Spirit helpful?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What questions do I have about God’s nature?
  2. When have I experience the “mysterious presence” of God in my life?
  3. What might I do to stay open to the movement of the Holy Spirit?

Continue reading

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?” Continue reading

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.

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. 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. 

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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

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