Category Archives: Sermons

Sunday Sermon – Brenda, AiM

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)15th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – Sept. 21, 2014                          

Texts:Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16                                                             

Themes: God’s scandalous love and grace…how are we to respond to that when it is given to others?

Opening Prayer:   Gracious Lord, when we wander off, you find us. When we harden our hearts against our neighbors, you call us to account. When we hold back forgiveness, you send us in peace to love and serve all in need. Help us to pay attention and to seek out the least among us, leading them to safety and giving them hope. So nurture and protect all who are in need that they might know they are first in your kingdom. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, our rock, and our Redeemer. Amen.


The story of Jonah is extravagant, ironic, and playful hyperbole. In that time, the words of the prophets were not always respected or followed amongst their own people. So you can only imagine what might have been going through Jonah’s head when “The Word of the Lord” came to him to preach to his people’s mortal enemies.

Jonah ran the other way.

After running in the opposite direction of where God had called him to go – God literally “caught” Jonah’s attention. If we get sidetracked on whether or not it was a whale or the size of the fish that “caught” Jonah, we miss the main point. We worship a God who is without dimensions. A God of abundant grace!

The story of Jonah shows us that “You can run but you cannot hide from God.” And so, Jonah finds himself (after several uncomfortable detours) back on the road to call his enemies to repentance. Put into our modern day context – it might be similar to you hearing God tell you to walk right into the middle of an ISIS or Al Qaeda headquarters and tell them God wants them to shape up. Are you getting the picture in understanding why Jonah the Israelite was looking for every excuse in the book to not “preach” to his Ninevite enemies?

What to preach? (That’s the same question I’ve been asking myself all this week!) Should Jonah go in and blast the wrongdoers, the “evil ones” with judgment for justice’s sake, which if he really had to go there, is what he wanted to do. Or, should he preach love?

Hmm…what would you do?

Here is a story where an “insider” reluctantly becomes the instrument of God’s warning for “outsiders.” Jonah barely pronounces the prophetic call in a foreign culture…and they “caught on!” The shortest sermon ever recorded in scripture brought about some amazing results. One sentence! The text tells us that even the animals repented! Jonah didn’t preach longer and he didn’t preach much because deep down, he had been hoping for some of God’s fire and brimstone to rain down on his enemies. Instead, God rained down grace and mercy.

Put yourself in Jonah’s sandals. Deep down, could you ask God to rain down grace and mercy on our national enemies? Or, bless the kid in class that picks on you? Or, the company you work for that keeps cutting back on its promises to the workers? How do you respond to God’s call? Run in the other direction? Hide? Finally give in and answer? Is there anyone in your life that you would not want God to bless? Think about it. And, hold that thought as we take a glance at the parable of the


In Jesus’ day, field workers/day laborers would gather at the marketplace in the early morning hoping to be chosen for work. If you weren’t picked, you had no work. That equals no pay. In the subsistence living world of peasants and migrant workers (which still happens today and even in our own country), that meant, no money for food, no paycheck – going home to your family empty handed.

Perhaps the other workers who were overlooked in the first round of hiring were older, or too young, or perhaps they didn’t have “connections.” Maybe they had made some mistakes in the past and were trying to get their life back together. Or, maybe some health or ability issues left them waiting to be hired even though they were willing to work to provide for their families.

Hired/or called to the work field at different shifts, the land owner chose to be generous toward the workers.

As is often the case with Jesus’ parables, the point hits home somewhere underneath the obvious. This is not just a “nice” story about economics or good business practices. It seeks to teach us something about God’s field, God’s kingdom and the work we are called to do. When the paychecks were passed out to the workers at the end of the day, each received a fair day’s wage.

The land owner in the parable followed through on all of his agreements with the workers. He did not short change anyone of them!

Somehow, God’s salary schedule is different than our understanding. Full day and just a part of the day worked and all equal pay? Had there been cell phones back then, you can bet the speed dial call to the Union Steward might have been made immediately! Would we be grateful for the full day’s work and the full day’s pay to provide for our family’s needs? Of course! So, why is it so hard to be thankful when God’s mercy and grace is shown to others? Is it a question of justice or love?

Whether we have had times in our lives wandering off from God, God waits patiently and God still calls. God welcomes us and loves us, offering forgiveness, fresh new starts, grace and mercy. It doesn’t matter if our grandparents were charter members of this congregation – or any congregation – or, we are brand new to faith and a faith community. We are called to welcome all people and encourage them to share their gifts in this field, in this body of Christ without harboring resentment or envy. Envy simply robs us of the present joy we have. The gifts are God’s to give. Every person has value and is loved in God’s eyes – no matter what age, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.

As followers of Christ, we are “caught” in God’s love and “called” to live out of the generosity of God through gracious hospitality in welcoming all people. We are called to live into the generosity of God when reaching out to others in service and in help. We are called to trust in the God whose love and forgiveness, grace and mercy are without dimension.

We are called to share “the scandal of grace,” inviting others to work alongside us – no matter what time of the day they arrive – to bring God’s love to all people: even to our enemies, even to those who prefer judgment and begrudge God’s gift of forgiveness to “the other.”

The scandal of God’s grace toward the Ninevites and to Jonah, to the workers in the vineyard and to you and me, might be summed up by a favorite quote from former ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. Many of you will recognize this as we had it in our bulletins for quite some time. It goes like this:

“We finally meet one another not in our agreements or disagreements, but, at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.”

May we answer the call to live lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry
– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Genesis 50:15-21

Lectionary 24 A

September 14, 2014

Because we have been forgiven – because we have been wrapped in the arms of God’s love and filled with unexpected blessings, we, for our part must also forgive – as we say in our pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son.  There were ten older brothers, but they never quite won Jacob’s heart in the way that Joseph did.  And the reason goes back to their mothers (as in mothers plural)—because we are dealing here with a time when it was a normal practice for a man to have as many wives as he could afford.  Jacob had two wives—Leah and Rachel.  They were sisters, daughters of Jacob’s uncle Laban.  Jacob fell in love with Rachel when he met her watering sheep at a well, but because she was his younger daughter, Laban exchanged Leah for Rachel at the wedding, leaving Jacob married to the sister of the woman he loved.  But once the older sister was married, Laban agreed to let Jacob marry Rachel as well.

Then came the children.  Leah was not the wife that Jacob loved, but she was the one who was able to conceive and bear his children—Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah—to begin with.  Rachel did not conceive; and she was jealous of her sister—as you can imagine might be the case in that kind of marriage.  Now, the sisters each had a handmaid as a slave, and Rachel, to claim children for herself, gave her handmaid Bilhah to her husband and she bore two sons for Jacob—Dan and Naphtali.  Not to be outdone by her sister, Leah gave Jacob her handmaid Zilpah, who also bore two sons for Jacob—Gad and Asher.  Then Leah conceived again and she bore more of Jacob’s children—Issachar and Zebulun, and finally a daughter Dinah.  Then, after the other women who shared Jacob’s bed had given birth to eleven of Jacob’s children, Rachel—Jacob’s beloved—finally conceived and gave birth to a son—Joseph.  Rachel was also the mother of the last of Jacob’s children, Benjamin, but in giving birth to this last child, Rachel died.

So Joseph, the eldest of Rachel’s children, was Jacob’s favorite—and should that come as a surprise.  Choosing favorites sort of ran in the family.  Jacob had been his mother’s favorite, and his brother Esau was his father’s favorite. Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had chosen between his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, and Ishmael had been sent away to make a life for himself as best he could.

As a teenager, Joseph would sometimes help his brothers with the sheep, and when he came home he liked to tell his father how badly they did things.  Then Jacob gave Joseph a beautiful robe of many colors.  Soon after that, Joseph started telling his brothers about his dreams.  “We were binding grain into sheaves in the field, and all your sheaves of grain bowed down to mine” he told them.  Then he told another dream, “The sun, the moon, and eleven stars all bowed down to me.”  And all the while, e can imagine, he was dancing around in that beautiful many-colored robe, just to remind his brothers that “daddy loves me more than all the rest of you put together.”  And so, is it any wonder that his brothers hated him?  Not exactly what you would call a healthy family system.

And you know how the story goes.  The brothers gang up on Joseph one day when he far from his father’s protection.  First they throw him in an empty well, planning to leave him there to die, and then they change their minds and sell him to some passing Midianite traders who take him to Egypt where he sold into slavery.  The brothers take the coat, stain it with goat’s blood, and bring it back to their father, convincing him that Joseph must have been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph’s fortunes in Egypt take several turns.  First he is a slave, but gets promoted.  Then he is accused of sexual misconduct with his master’s wife and thrown into prison.  As a prisoner he gets a reputation as someone who can interprets dreams, which eventually gets the attention of Pharaoh.  After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, he gets a top administrative position in change of gathering and distributing food.  Famine hits the whole region, so that Joseph’s brothers come, bowing down to him as they ask for grain from Egypt.  And what should Joseph do with these brothers who hated him so much?  They do not recognize him; but he knows them, and so he accuses them of being spies and throws one of them in jail until they can prove their story by bringing their little brother Benjamin to Egypt when they come again.  And when they do bring Benjamin to Egypt, Joseph plants evidence to accuse Benjamin of being a thief.  It is test, because Joseph knows that Benjamin will have inherited his role as his father’s favorite son, and he wants to know if these brothers will treat Benjamin as badly as they treated him.  But the brothers have changed.  They have lived with the grief of their father and the guilt of their own hatred, and they plead with Joseph to take any one of them, but to let Benjamin return to his father.  And that is when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, forgives them, and welcomes them to come and live with him in Egypt.

Joseph recognizes that out of all the evil that we do to one another, God always opens up possibilities that can transform evil into good.  And in the story of Joseph, there is more than enough evil and blame to go around.  All are guilty; all have sinned against one another; generations of parents choosing favorites among their children; jealousy within family systems; Joseph, full of pride and dreams of glory over his brothers; and the brothers, nursing their envy and turning it into hatred and violence.  Yes, all have sinned; all have done what is evil.  All deserve to be punished for their sins.

And when Jacob dies, the brothers come to Joseph and ask for his forgiveness.  They believe that it is only because of their father that he has not taken vengeance on them for what they did to him so many years before.  But Joseph had long ago forgiven them.  What was meant for evil—including Joseph’s own pride and his brother’s hatred—God transformed into something good.  God does not plan the evil.  We are in deep trouble if we pray to a god who orchestrates terrible events in this world in order to bring about good.  The evil that is done in this world happens because God allows us the freedom to make bad choices.  But out of our bad choices, God always opens up the possibility of good coming out of the evil we do.

Joseph finally figured that out, and so he could let go of the evil his brothers had done to him.  The cycles of “getting even”—an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth—always spiral out of control, and we hang on to  grudges and resentments and anger; and they control us and shape the terrible future we make for ourselves and others—and it is not good for anyone.  But letting go and forgiving, opens up the possibilities for a different future—a future that God imagines for us growing out of the troubles we have created for ourselves.  That is the gift God gives when we learn to let go and to forgive one another from our hearts. AMEN.

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Matthew 18:1-5

Rally Sunday

September 7, 2014

God’s work.  Our hands.  Many of you are wearing that theme on your yellow t-shirts today.  And it means that as disciples of Jesus, we know that God is active in the world every day – that God seeks to repair the brokenness of creation, that Jesus is present among us so that we might have life and have it abundantly, and that the Holy Spirit energizes us to participate in God’s creating and redeeming work.  Yes, we offer our hands for God’s work.  Or as Theresa of Avila put it:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world,

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

And the truly amazing thing about God’s way of doing God’s work in this world, is that God trusts you and me to be the instruments through which God’s work is done.  This church thing, as I’ve said before, isn’t about getting ourselves saved.  It’s about being on a team with God as God seeks to give life, hope, joy, and peace to all creation.  At the end of the gospels Jesus gives his disciples work to do.  “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”  “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  And because we have been given the Holy Spirit, God trusts that we are capable and that we will do the work we have been given to do.

And this work begins with welcoming.  When we welcome the children, we welcome Jesus.  And to welcome someone means to make room for them – it means paying attention to them, listening to them, and making a space for them that is truly a place for them.  We had a small dinner party at our home on Friday.  We live in a fairly small apartment, and the table we eat at normally sits up against a wall.  But we needed more space since there would be six people at the table, and you don’t just let your guests squeeze in or find a place for themselves.  No, we cleared the table and moved it away from the wall to make room for more chairs, so there was a place for everyone.  It’s a simple way we welcome people into our homes.  And Jesus calls us to welcome children and all sorts of others into the community we share with Christ.  And that usually means making some adjustments in the way we do things, so that everyone we invite will know that they are truly welcome.

Another image for the work of God we do is the one Jesus gives his disciples when he puts on an apron and washes their feet.  We are called to serve one another.  And I believe that we can all find ways of participating in that service.  Our worship is one way we practice the servant discipleship Jesus call us to.  Worship is not primarily a time for us to receive something, but it is an opportunity to participate in the work we do together.  When you usher, or greet, or prepare the elements for communion, or help serve communion, or read the lessons, or count the offering, or help lead the music, or prepare and serve coffee fellowship following worship – you are practicing the servant work that Jesus modeled for his disciples.  Now I understand that the fellowship team leaders have a hard time getting volunteers for these tasks each month – I find that hard believe, because I see all of these as symbolic servant tasks that everyone who worships should be able and eager to take their turn in doing.  Such service in worship is a symbol of the deeper service that Jesus calls each of us to engage in.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to nourish our faith and to serve others.  In the words of the Affirmation of Baptism service we are “to live among God’s faithful people, and to hear the Word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper.”  This is how we nourish our faith, and while prayer and reading scripture are things we can do alone, mostly we come together, and we are nurtured through our fellowship and worship and community time.  And that prepares us for service.  “to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”  This is God’s work, and it is our hands and minds and energy that does this work.  And each of us takes a different piece of this work.  Some do this work mostly with their hands, some do this with their minds, some do this work through prayer, some do this work through physical labor.  We do God’s work through our work and through our play – as we provide needed goods and services to our neighbor, as we renew our lives through rest and recreations, as we build community and relationships through conversations and activities, as we volunteer for projects and programs that help people in need.  The thing is, whatever we do, with our whole life, as we act in ways that build up God’s kingdom and increase God’s will happening in this world, we do God’s work.  God’s work is what we live and breath every day of our lives.  As Paul says to the Colossians, “whatever you do in word and deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  God’s work.  Our hands.  All the time.  Amen.

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren

Matthew 16:21-28

Lectionary 22A

August 31, 2014

You have probably heard the question before.  “If you died today, do you know where you would spend eternity?”  It’s the fear question that sometimes gets asked to encourage people to think about their religion, and to dedicate themselves to truly believing in Jesus as their personal savior.  I mostly want to just walk away from that question; because I think it just gets us completely off track in the whole business of “taking up our cross and following Jesus.”

The question about where I’m going to spend eternity only gets me focused on me – it’s all about my faith, about what I believe, about what I need to do so that I will be saved.  But doesn’t Jesus say that those who want to save their life will loose it.  So if we start getting all concerned about measuring up – either in what we believe, or the good works that we do – so that we will be saved, then we are in real danger of loosing our lives completely – and being completely out of step with the walk Jesus is calling us to walk. And that’s not our worry; we live with the promise that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God.

This is the way Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians:  “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.”  That emptying of ourselves for the sake of others is how we lose ourselves for Jesus’ sake.

One of the not-so-helpful images for the church is that the church is of a kind of rescue boat.  People are all drowning in a sea of sin and separation from God.  Then we get ourselves saved by the church and climb aboard the rescue boat.  And once we’re safe on board, all that’s left is to enjoy the ride as we sail our way into eternal life.  But that focus on our own salvation doesn’t fit well with what Jesus says, that if any want to become his followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him.

And let me say a little about what it means to take up a cross.  It’s not just the aches and pains or inconveniences of life.  A cross was the Roman instrument of execution for those who opposed the authority of the Roman Empire.  It wasn’t used for common criminals – not even those who committed murder – but only for those who instigated and participated in insurrection and rebellion against Rome.  And Rome represented a world order opposed to God’s way for the world.  Roman peace was achieved through conquest and victory rather than justice and patronage rewarded those with power and wealth.  Taking up our cross means participating in the overthrow of the patterns of civilization that create injustice, violence, and isolation.  Taking up our cross means participating in the work of Christ to bring healing, hope and life that is abundant and whole for all people in the world.  Taking up our cross means allowing God to use us as answers to the prayer that the church prays continually, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Because when we dedicate ourselves to God’s kingdom and to God’s will happening in the here and now, we will find ourselves opposing the structures of injustice and violence and individualism that penetrate so deeply the world in which we live.

Taking up your cross, usually means putting your own life and your own interests aside for the sake of another.  And while it may mean getting involved in organizations that work for justice and peace, it also means setting your own life aside in order to tend to relationships that build community and hope for people around us.  I remember Bruce and Rita, who were farmers in the parish my wife and I served in South Dakota.  Bud and Francis were their neighbors; they were a generation older than Bruce and Rita and lived a very isolated life.  They had no children and pretty much stayed to themselves on their little farm. When Francis was diagnosed with cancer, Bruce and Rita found themselves setting aside their own lives in order to be the friends that Bud and Francis so desperately needed in that time.  Field-work was left undone, and during Francis’s last months, Rita and Bruce made the two hour trip to Souix Falls at least three times a week in order to just sit in the hospital room with Francis and with Bud.  And after Francis died, there were the months of helping Bud put his life back together. So during all that time, Bruce and Rita literally put their own lives “on hold” in order to live as neighbors to Bud and Frances.  They could have done much less. They could have looked after their own busy schedules. They perhaps had a choice—but as Rita told me later, “we just had to do everything we did, we were their neighbors, we were their friends.”  And that’s the thing—we don’t plan or calculate doing the good works we do or the crosses we bear, we just find ourselves doing it.  When we set aside our own life to be neighbor to someone in need, that is when we discover the life God intends for us, and God’s kingdom comes closer to us and God’s will is done in and through our lives.

For Sister Teresa it was a matter of listening to the voice of Jesus calling her to deeper service to the poor.  First it meant leaving her home in Albania and teaching at the school of the Sisters of Loretto in Calcutta.  But in that school, she was teaching mostly those how could afford a private Catholic school.  Then she heard Jesus calling her into the slums, and there she taught children who were living in deep poverty.  But then Jesus called her more deeply into her care for the poor.  She said that one day she came upon a woman, half eaten by maggots and rats lying in the street.  Sister Teresa went to her and sat with her stroking her head, until finally the woman died.  And this was the ministry for which Mother Teresa established an new order, the Missionaries of Charity – to minister to the unwanted, the unloved, and the uncared for – to give shelter and comfort to the sick and dying destitute.

When we are baptized into Christ we are called to follow him as his disciples.  We are called to live in ways that bring in his kingdom and in ways that oppose the injustice, violence and self-centeredness of our world.  The way of Jesus is the way of justice, peace and caring community.  When we take up our cross and follow Jesus his compassion for all the victims of our self-centered world becomes our passion.  And in that compassion we become companions of one another and such companionship has the power to transform the world

So may you be filled with the deep compassion of God, so that you may set aside your own self-interests for the sake God’s will.   May you become instrument of God’s compassion for those in need, whether across the street or across the oceans.  And may God so wrap you in God’s own compassion that you find there the person God truly made you to be.  AMEN

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren

Matthew 16:13-20

Lectionary 21 A

August 24, 2014


When you look back at your life, are there moments when you just had a real sense of clarity?  Perhaps when you fell in love and realized that this person was the person you were ready to commit yourself to as a faithful companion for the rest of your life.  Perhaps it was sorting out your skills and passions and focusing on the career you were committed to pursue.  Perhaps some experience was for you an encounter with some great need in the world, and you were overcome with a passion to do something about it.  I think we have such moments of clarity in our lives when focus and commitment give direction and purpose to our lives.

That was the kind of moment the disciples experienced with Jesus as Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus is leading them to that point of clarity.  He has been teaching and he has been demonstrating God’s will through all kinds of signs and wonders.  And a number of times, when the disciples are close getting it, they still just don’t understand.  So Jesus withdraws.  He goes away where he can be alone with his disciples.  According to Matthew, Jesus has been trying to do this for two whole chapters – ever since the report of the death of John the Baptist in Chapter 14.  But the crowds keep following – into the wilderness, across the water, and even into the Gentile districts.  But finally, in this thoroughly Roman city north of Galilee, Jesus is able to be alone with his disciples for some clarity and discernment.

And it is a catechism session – questions from the teacher.  Time to test the students and find out what they understand.  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  “But who do you say that I am?”  And Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

It would take an intensive Bible study session to unpack the meaning of all these titles.  But to say Jesus is Messiah or the son of God means that he has authority over our lives — he has authority to transform our lives so that we might enter into life in the kingdom of God.  The early church was known as “The Way,” because they followed the authority of Jesus as the way to entering the kingdom of God here and now.  And it’s not just getting to heaven when we die.  The way of Jesus is how God’s kingdom comes alive in this world.  When Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah and son of Giod, he means that Jesus is the one whose command he will obey and the one he trusts to bring God’s kingdom to life.  It is a moment of clarity for Peter and the disciples.  If Jesus is the Messiah, he has authority to direct their lives into the way of God.

And Jesus responds saying, “you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.”  And it is within the church that we grow in giving Jesus authority in our lives.  Because Peter isn’t the only rock; in his letter he says “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”  So together, as we seek to live the way of Jesus, the kingdom of God comes near to us.  And what is that way?  I like to think about the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.”  So, how do we envision heaven?  Will there be poverty there?  Or hunger or war or sickness?  Will there be wealthy gated communities with many roomed mansions for some, while others in heaven sleep in cardboard boxes?  And if that’s not the way God will arrange things in heaven, why do we permit such conditions, such inequality, here on earth?  The task of the church is not to just sit back and feel good about God’s love for us.  The task of the church is to let God’s love flow through us and empower us to transform the world around us.  As Paul says to the Roman’s, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.”

I like a cartoon I once saw.  The first character says, “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why he allows poverty, hunger and injustice, when he could do something about it.”  The second character asks, “Well, what’s stopping you?”  To which the first character replies, “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”

The thing is, we have the capacity to live in ways that bring God’s kingdom to life.  We can make a difference – and Jesus shows us the way.  When we follow Jesus, when we bring our whole lives in line with the way he leads, the kingdom of God is present for us.  For the disciples at Caesarea Philippi it was a moment of clarity – of knowing the work God had given them to do – of coming together to become the church where the way of Jesus was lived – of being transformed and becoming the body of Christ.

May that moment of clarity come for you so that you can become the living stones you are called to be and the Body of Christ, so that God’s will might be done through you on earth as it is in heaven.  AMEN. 

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren – August 17th

Lynne hadn’t been to church for a long, long time.  But for some reason, on a cold winter day and a new baby daughter in her life, she decided it was time to connect with the church again.  Maybe it was just that she knew she needed to find a church where she could have this baby baptized – her son from her first marriage had been baptized, and she had sent him to the release time program at one of the churches in her little town.  But Lynne wasn’t a member of any church and she hadn’t been to church for a long, long time.  It takes a bit of courage to go to church when you haven’t been there for so long; but she was determined.  She checked the worship time for the church that had her son’s release time classes, she bundled up the baby, and she drove over for the service.  But when she got there, the ushers looked at her and told her that this worship service was only for members.  Now, I suspect there was some miscommunication here – that it was only the communion part of the service that was only for members, but the impression Lynne got was that she was not welcome to attend that church.  She went back to her car, she told me, and just sat there and cried.

Now those are the kind of experiences that pretty much put an end to any kind of involvement in the church, except for those who are very, very determined.

The Canaanite woman in today’s gospel has such determination.  Her daughter is tormented by a demon, and this mother knows that in Jesus there is hope for her daughter.  She comes, shouting her need before Jesus and his disciples.  But the disciples know right away – she is not one of us.  She is a Canaanite woman, an outsider, and the healing of Jesus is only insiders – for members of the Jewish community – no outsiders are to be included.  And to our surprise, Jesus acts out the prejudices of his community.  He tells her that he was sent “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Now, there are a couple of ways to understand what Jesus is doing here.  Some would say that Jesus is simply acting out the prejudice that his disciples live in – that he resists her request so that she will demonstrate her persistence – that the disciples need to recognize that he is intentionally including people that they would automatically exclude out of their long-standing cultural prejudices.  This understanding suggests that Jesus intends all along to heal this woman’s daughter, but needs to draw out the woman’s faith and demonstrate to his disciples that they needed to include all people – especially those they would otherwise tend to exclude.  Another interpretation argues that Jesus actually learns from this woman – that she convinces him that God’s grace is to be extended to all people.  Some people are rather uncomfortable with this interpretation because it suggests that Jesus grows in his own understanding of God and God’s grace through his years of ministry.   His first reaction to the woman is his automatic prejudice against Canaanite people, which was just so deeply a part of his Jewish culture.  This woman’s insistence on being worthy to receive at least a morsel of God’s grace forces Jesus to go behind the cultural prejudice of his people and remember God’s love for all people and that the prophet Isaiah said of God’s servant, “it is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise of the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

But however you understand what’s going on with Jesus in this story, the end is the same – all are welcome!  And our work as disciples is to insist that all are always welcome in our churches – that we do everything we can to remove the barriers that make some people feel like that are not truly welcome – that we work diligently to weed out any prejudices we might hold that might exclude anyone from God’s grace – that we strive always to welcome the stranger and those who are different and to bring them into the circle of support and love we share together through Jesus.  Yes, that is the point – all are welcome, no exceptions, and we are the hands and voice of welcome that God uses so that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth and everywhere in between.

Ruth Rudnick was one of those faithful disciples who understood this gospel and did what she could to live it.  She was a member of the congregation I served in Bovey and she was the unofficial greeter at that church every Sunday.  And Ruth’s way of doing that was to make sure that everyone who walked through the door of that church was greeted by her with a hug.  She was there on the Sunday that Lynne was crying in her car.  And for some reason that Sunday morning, Lynne did not give up on going to church.  She perhaps shared some of the determination of the Canaanite woman in our gospel.  She cleared her eyes and thought that maybe there might be a church in the next town where she could worship.  So she drove to the next town and stopped in front of the Bethel-Trinity Lutheran church Bovey.  She was a bit apprehensive as she got out of her car, not knowing whether this church would be any different from the one she’d just been at.  But when Lynne came through the door of the church, there was Ruth extending her generous hug of welcome to this stranger and her baby.  Then Ruth introduced Lynn to the others already gathered, and then she took little Samantha around to meet everyone in the church.  Lynne had more tears that morning as she sat in the pew; but this time they were tears of joy, because she had been welcomed into this church with such open arms.

May we become God’s arms of welcome, and may this house proclaim from floor to rafter; all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.  AMEN.

Wednesday Sermon – Brenda Tibbets, AiM – August 13th


Wednesday Worship, August 13, 2014                                                                                      

Text:    Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Next to the story of The Good Samaritan, The Parable of the Prodigal is probably one of the most well known teaching stories of Jesus.  So well known in fact, that often when we come to hear it told again, we have already arrived at our own interpretation and our own conclusion as to what the point is.

The richness of the Parables, however, is that they constantly challenge us to listen again – to think again.  It is as though Jesus holds a mirror to our face and says, “Come closer.  Let’s take another look.”

So because this story is so familiar, let us take another look to see what God wants us to hear in this place and in this time.

In taking another look, we notice that this parable takes place in a particular context.  How shameful and shocking that Jesus is sitting with…well, you know, people that are less than “desirable” in a proper society.  Not only was he sitting with them, but he has also eaten with them.  Really!  How could he?  Table fellowship with people who did not follow the holiness codes or proper etiquette?  Unthinkable!  Simply scandalous!

Jesus’ behavior and the company he kept provided “The Good Proper Folk” with a smorgasbord of gossip.  Certainly, there was no end to the speculation as to what Jesus might do next.

Luke’s gospel tells how Jesus handled the grumbling Pharisees and scribes.  “So he told them this parable…”  Not only did Jesus tell them the parable of the shepherd seeking out the lost sheep, he went on to include the story of a woman who searched high and low to find a lost coin.  In our modern day context, how far would we go to search for a lost pet?  How many times would we turn our homes inside out to find a lost diamond from a wedding ring or a hunting compass given by someone special?

Those parables hold up a mirror that is clear.  Yes, we would all do that!  We understand the panic that comes in losing some THING that is precious.  We would certainly call or tweet all of our friends and post it on Facebook that we had finally found what we had been looking for.  Kind of a “No Brainer”, wouldn’t you say?

And then, Jesus holds the mirror a little more closely.  OK, you show all this concern for animals and objects.  What about people?  In particular, people who make poor choices?  People who live lifestyles that you don’t agree with?  People who end up in less than desirable circumstances  whether by choices made by themselves or choices made by others that affect them?  Then what?  Do you care or would you rather label them and stand away from them?  Then,  Jesus upped the ante.  This time it wasn’t livestock or pets or personal property.  He challenged them by saying, “There was a man who had two sons…”

How we hear and understand the parables depend so much on our own context, our personal and community life experiences.  As such, our understandings can change as to which character we might identify with at different times in our lives.

Mark Allen Powell, a contemporary theologian, did an experiment on the story of the Prodigal.  He did a controlled study of 100 students in St. Petersburg, Russia, in Tanzania, and in the United States.  Powell asked them what this biblical text meant to them.  The Russians focused in on the dire affects of the famine.  The Tanzanians focused in on the failure of the surrounding community that allowed someone in their midst to be starving and no one gave him anything to eat.  Probably this should be no surprise to us, the U.S. students zeroed in on the money – and how it was spent.  How about you?  What do you hear in Jesus’ Prodigal story and with which character do you identify?

The longer we’ve walked on earth, it is very possible that we have, at some point or another, identified with all three:  the reckless younger son, the resentful, responsible elder son, and the waiting parent.  In the past couple of years, I have heard this story in a new light as the mirror was held ever closer to my own household.


God, has an impeccable sense of irony at times.

It was a beautiful spring day and I was down in the West Wing getting set-up for a Wednesday night worship.  We were going to begin a 3 week series on “The Prodigal Son.”  I was diligent in doing my prep work.  I had read the scripture text multiple times.  I read what the commentaries had to say about each of the characters and the possible meanings, customs, etc.  I had the DVD cued up to the proper place.  I had even consulted Webster’s Dictionary on the meaning of the word “Prodigal” (which by the way, means extravagant…)

And then, my cell phone rang.

It was my sister-in-law wondering if I had heard from one of my adult kids.  The tone of her voice warned me it wasn’t good news for me and my husband.  The story unfolded.  Our son had been arrested and was in jail.  My first thought was, “Come on, God!  Now?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  He’s arrested right now as I’m getter ready to teach on the Prodigal son??!!”

Suddenly, the parable was no longer about someone else’s family.  The parable was becoming all too real, all too close for comfort.

Due to circumstance beyond our control, we were not allowed to have contact with our son until the day of his court date and he was brought in front of the judge to hear the charges against him.  It takes time for court systems to process paperwork and there are specific rights under the law as to how long a person may be detained.  But the weekend was coming…we hadn’t heard and we were nervous.  Finally, a hearing date was set for Friday morning.  After the hearing and after being interviewed by the probation officer, our adult son was relinquished into our custody.

Never before had I witnessed such a visible change in a person’s demeanor and body language as when my husband and I walked the long, marbled courthouse corridor to the place where our son was waiting on the hard bench.  Total abject shame.  And all I could think of was, “This is our boy.  This is our son.  This is the one we have worried about and prayed for – and loved…That hasn’t changed nor will it change.”

I walked over to him where he was sitting and quietly said his name.  He wouldn’t look up.  So I told him to “Stand up!”  He did.  And all I could do was to put my arms around him, crying, and tell him, “Don’t you know how much we love you?  We love you and we’ll get through this together.”  In that instant, the Parable of the Prodigal became totally real in every sense.    Rather than teaching it, I was being taught.


God is actually “The Prodigal” throughout this parable Jesus told.  Our heavenly Father is the One who is the source of prodigal/extravagant love.  The source of extravagant forgiveness.  The One who waits and watches…and welcomes, with outstretched arms telling all of his children, the reckless and the resentful alike, God calls each of us by name and asks us to look up as well.   “Don’t you know how much you are loved?  Come in.  Let me take you home.  Let’s get you put back together.  You need a bath – and in my baptismal waters, all shame and disgrace are washed away.  I will clothe you with the clean clothes of new life and fresh beginning.  I bet you are hungry, too.  Here is my table and the meal is ready.  This is what love and forgiveness look like.  This is what it tastes like: and I want you sitting with me and with the entire household.  You are marked with the cross of Christ forever.  You belong to me.  Trust me.  We will work this out – together.”

Life experiences change the context in which we hear scripture and see ourselves in the parables.  The Parable of the Prodigal is your story.  It is my story.  It is God’s story.  People in trouble who make the news are now seen as somebody’s kid.  And God knows that somebody’s kid’s name and waits for them with open arms, too.

I’m not here to judge the parenting they’ve received or the choices that have been made.  Consequences still happen and restitution must be followed through.  But God’s invitation is for all people.  God’s grace goes above and beyond what we understand or can even imagine!  We need only look up and accept his invitation, his pleading to come.  St. Paul writes, “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 

God’s prodigal love and forgiveness is for you!  We must celebrate together when the lost are found and the dead are brought back to life!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry

Sunday Sermon – Brenda Tibbetts, AiM

8th SUNDAY after PENTECOST                                                                                                                               

Aug. 3, 2014 – Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Virginia, MN

TEXTS:             Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Matthew 14:13-21

THEMES:         Invitation.  God provides. We are invited/called to help in sharing God’s providence, to participate in the restoration, the building of God’s rule.

OPENING PRAYER:                                                                                                                                    


Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace.

What are you hungry for?  Another way of asking the question might be “What makes your heart sing? “ That is a question asked of clergy as they apply for sabbatical grants.  It is a question that I keep coming back to as well.  What makes your heart sing?  In other words, what feeds your spirit?  What gives you that extra burst of energy and a sense of deep satisfaction in your soul?

A delicious meal spent in the company of wonderful friends?

Hitting that walk-off home run and celebrating the win with your team mates?

Helping someone in need when you have the resources to help with what they need?

Holding a new baby?  Watching your grandchildren grow?

Surprising someone with an anonymous gift you know they need?

The one verse of scripture you’ve read many times but for this moment, it touches your heart?


Whatever it is that we think makes our heart sing, is also that which we pursue to feed the hungering in our soul.

Isaiah tells us the source to find satisfaction for our souls, our bodies, our relationships – the LORD of invitation and mercy.  The Psalmist too, reminds us that all we have is from God, who delights in providing for all of God’s creation – at just the right time.  God knows our every need.  God provides – even in times of our doubting.  God provides.  The Miracle of Trust.

Jesus said, if you want to know what God is like, look at me, my life, my compassion.  As we journey this summer through the parables, today’s parable of the Feeding of the 5,000 is well known.  But as well known as it is, it is a good thing to unpack it a bit more.

Matthew’s gospel gives us the setting.  Jesus has just learned of his cousin John the Baptist’s violent death.  Jesus desires time alone for grieving and for pouring out his heart to God his Father.  And yet, for anyone of us who have experienced grief in our lives, we know that life doesn’t stop and stand still while we are grieving.  Life goes on. The Miracle of Trust.

The Feeding of the 5,000 is the only parable of Jesus to show up in all four gospels.  What does it reveal about God, about Jesus about who we are called to be in the world?  The disciples and the crowd converge on Jesus.  Yet, even in the midst of Jesus’ deep grief, he had compassion for the crowd with all its needs, hopes and desires.  He had compassion on them.

Jesus saw the need.  He had compassion.  And he invited others to participate in the ministry of providing the good news of God’s love, God’s providence to a needy crowd, a hungry world.  If we get hung up on how the miracle happened – with only 5 loaves and 2 fish – we will do just that, get hung up on asking the wrong question.  The miracle of feeding that many with so little has nothing to do with how it could have happened, but why it happened.  Jesus said, “You feed them.”  How many of us would have been spluttering, “But Jesus, are you crazy with grief and not thinking clearly?  We don’t have enough.  We don’t have enough.  We don’t have enough.”

Jesus didn’t buy their thinking or buy into their fear.  He told the disciples to bring whatever little they found or had to Jesus.  Jesus looked to heaven…and he blessed it…and he broke the bread.  And he gave them to the disciples… (Where have we seen and heard that before?!)  And the disciples were sent out to feed the crowds.  “And all ate and were filled: and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.  And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”  (Mt. 14:20-21)  The Miracle of Trust.

Many debate how that many people could possibly have been fed with such a small offering.  I wonder if we are asking the right questions in regard to the hungers of our hearts?  Are we looking to God for our daily needs?  Are we seeing the crowds Jesus sees, with hearts of compassion?  Can you hear Jesus’ invitation for you to let go and offer your gifts, and in the offering/the sharing, all are blessed?  Offer your fears to the Lord, and in return through our giving, there is always more than enough…

The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “Hey, yo – listen up!  Why are you spending your money for momentary pleasures that don’t fill you up, and why are you working like crazy for that which does not satisfy?  The LORD invites you to listen, and come to him” and we will know the steadfast, sure love, the everlasting covenant of God’s love that satisfies our deepest needs, hopes and desires.

Where are you looking for deep satisfaction?  Come.  You are invited to the Lord’s Table to “Taste and see that the LORD is good” where we are loved and forgiven, strengthened and fed; like the disciples, to go and give the crowds something to eat…some word or deed that depicts God’s love for the whole world.  Some listening ear or volunteer work that models the compassion of Christ.  In the giving of yourself in the service of Christ, you will hear your heart sing.  The Miracle of Trust.  Amen.

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren Anderson-Bauer

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Seeds of the kingdom of heaven had been sown in and around Martha’s life for over eighty years.  And she, in her turn, had scattered many, many seed—in her family, in her community, and far beyond.  Martha was a gardener and she knew about seeds—and she knew the miracle God could work when seeds were scattered in the soil.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which when sown in the field, grows up and becomes a large shrub, where birds can come and rest in its shade.

There were many seeds that had gotten planted in Martha’s life.  Her parents and grandparents had planted countless seeds of love in her heart.  She was a child during the depression years.  Her father had tried to farm, but he couldn’t make enough money, nor could he find much other work, so when the bank foreclosed on the farm, Martha’s family crowded into her grandparents home.  It was a big house, and it needed to be, because her Aunt Margaret’s family also needed a place to live.  But even in that stressful situation, her mother and father, her grandma and grandpa, and her aunt and uncle, all had their way of putting a smile on Martha’s face.  She remembers how Uncle Gus would give her horsy-back rides on his knee until she giggled so hard she would fall off.  That attention—that loving attention given to a child—is nothing les than the seeds of kingdom of heaven. For when you spend time with the children in your life—whether your sons and daughters, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, or simply the neighbor kids—you plant the seeds of the kingdom of God.  From that love and attention, children learn that they are precious, valued, and loved; and that goes a long way in helping them believe that they are precious, valued, and loved in the eyes of God.  So, as Martha grew up, the love she received as a child helped her to believe that God also loved her and cared for her.

Stories of God’s love had also been planted in Martha’s heart.  She remembered sitting on her grandpa’s lap as he read Bible stories from a book filled with wonderful pictures.  And there was church and Sunday school; and as Martha grew up, her heart was like a field, opening itself for the sowing of the mustard seeds of God’s kingdom.  And not only were seeds sown in her, but she, in turn, began sowing seeds of the kingdom in the lives of those around her.  There was a neighbor girl, Jennifer, that she played with sometimes, who didn’t know much at all about love.  Her parents never seemed to have much time for her, and they were always yelling—either at each other, or at their children.  Martha knew that life wasn’t easy for her friend; and so she scattered, as best she could, seeds of God’s kingdom.  She played with her friend, and whenever she could, Martha invited Jennifer to her house to play.  She even succeeded, with a little help from her mother, in getting permission to pick Jennifer up for church and Sunday school on Sunday mornings.  Such inviting—which began with Martha’s warm-hearted way of befriending others, and which usually led to accompanying them to church, and which often included a meal at her home of a restaurant following church—such inviting became a regular habit for Martha as an adult.  It was one of her ways of sowing the seeds of the kingdom of God.

Sometimes, of course, church was something that really didn’t connect to Martha’s daily life.  God was always important for her—and it was important for her to be in church to hear God’s word of grace and love; and she did her best to treat others well, as Jesus commands.  But the church, as a supporting community of believers, was not a piece of the picture that Martha thought about much.  It took a crisis in her own life for Martha to realize that the kingdom of God could actually come alive as the church—as the community of people who could become a source of shelter and support in times of distress.

The crisis for Martha came in 1984.  It was not a death or a serious injury.  She knew the church was a support for such times of crisis.  No, Martha experienced the sheltering support of the church in a time when she was sinking into despair over a sense of her own failure.  Martha and her husband were farmers.  They had gone through many ups and downs; and yes, they had made some mistakes; but in the 1970s, the farm economy was so good.  They were proud of their farm and of the improvements they had made on it.  And then the opportunity came to buy the old family farm—the one her husband lived on briefly as a child, and which had slipped out of the family during the depression.  It was the homestead that their children’s great-grandfather had built.  It was a dream come true to once again have the family name attached to that farm.  So they mortgaged, and bought the old homestead.  They shouldn’t have done it—because when grain and cattle prices dropped, along with land values in the early 1980s, they lost nearly everything.  All they had left were a few acres of their original farm.

Martha felt so defeated—such a failure; and she was so angry—at the banks and the powerful movers and shakers of the economy, but mostly at herself.  She stayed home almost all the time, and found excuses even to stay away from church. She was certain that every eye that met her, wherever she went, would condemn her for her failure.  She had been too proud of her successes, and now that everything had suddenly ended in failure, her heart sank into darkness and despair.  But almost immediately, as word spread about their bankruptcy, the kingdom of God—planted in her community and grown up with sheltering branches—began to give Martha shelter and shade.  Prayers encircled her and her family every day.  Hardly a moment passed in that community, when somebody did not think about Martha, and extend to God a prayer on her behalf.  And when she didn’t appear at church, friends from her Bible study, one by one, stopped by—to listen, to show their support, and to give her their shoulders for her tears.  And so, Martha was tenderly sheltered by the kingdom of God, and it carried her through that time of crisis.  And that experience was another seed of God’s kingdom, planted anew in Martha’s heart.  It helped Martha to become an even stronger branch of support for others, not only during those crises of death, illness, or injury; but also for those less tangible crises that trouble people’s lives—job-loss, addiction, divorce, and depression.

Yes, Martha sowed the seeds of God’s kingdom, for she had had so many of those seed sown in her; and she grew to trust, more and more, the sheltering support it gives in this life.  And that is how Jesus said it would be.  Often the seed seems so small—hardly significant—paying attention to a child, befriending a neighbor, listening to the pain of a friend.  But these are the seeds we plant, and when we plant these seeds, the kingdom of heaven grows right here among us and it becomes a shade where we can rest and be strengthened for our work of sowing the seeds of God’s kingdom in the lives of those around us.  AMEN.

Sunday Sermon – Brenda Tibbetts, AiM

6th SUNDAY after PENTACOST – Year C

July 20, 2014 – OSLC, Virginia, MN

TEXTS: Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

THEMES: Is. – “Do not fear or be afraid,” says the Lord. “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god – there is no other rock, I know not one.” Ps. – “Great is your steadfast love toward me…you, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and be gracious to me, give your strength to your servant…” Rom. – “We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; …For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Mt. – “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers…let anyone with ears listen!”

 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God..” Romans 8:22-27 Let us pray…


Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace. Amen.

Today let us choose and cling to hope. Hope in the God who is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and searches the heart…

In light of the news coming out from Gaza, Ukraine, Niger, Pakistan, Syria, and other war-torn places of violence, it is “easy” (and tempting) to claim we know for certain where those weeds of destruction have been planted in God’s global field. It is easy to spot those glaring human rights violations, condemning “their” actions and give labels to groups. Derogatory labeling makes others “less human” while at the same time labeling the opposition with names of gallantry makes group “more than human”. Yesterday’s Freedom Fighters become today’s rebel insurgents. What will they be called tomorrow? The labels are dependent on which group matches your personal political viewpoint.

Killing innocent children I the air or on the beach while hiding behind launching pads or walls is just plain wrong. I think we would all agree – it ought to provoke a global humanitarian outcry. Yes, we are very astute in spotting the enemy’s weeds growing in God’s global field.

But just how astute are we, in spotting the weeds of destruction and disharmony in our own country, in our own community, or even in our own lives and relationships? What seems good and harmless on the outside may not always match the intent of the heart. And we too often judge one another based on outward appearances.

Where are the weeds of divisiveness allowed to grow alongside the wheat? Or the weeds of envy, anger, lack of self-control, addictions, untruthfulness or unwillingness to forgive? Where do we launch destructive rockets through our words, our texts or our postings? Are these weeds in our lives recognizable to others who look out at the fields of our faith community?

“Parables are designed to shake us up. They make us look at the world in a different way. If it makes us ‘uneasy’, the parables have done their work.” (Amy-Jill Levine)

It is always far easier and far more comfortable to look at the world’s field’s rather than our own. Yes, it is wrong to shoot rockets at innocent children – no matter where they are; but what about those children coming across our own southern-most borders? Are we to label them “What” or “Weeds”? Again, often according to personal political affiliation? The fact remains – they are children, for God’s sake!, and these children deserve to be treated compassionately and as reflections of God’s own image.

When parables make us uneasy, they are doing what they were intended to do – make us take a second look at our lives. Indeed, the Word of God is living and active and it does something in us.

I won’t even begin to say that I have a clue as to how the border situation should be handled – any more than I would have the wisdom to say how nations should respond to the other acts of violence taking place in the world. When innocent children are involved, it is complex – and it should be compelling us to prayer and action.

The news headlines flash for the purpose of selling and titillating until the next big headline comes along…Yet, I wonder how I would react if I were in those places dealing with violence every day. Have you ever done that? Wondered what you would do it those were your children? As a parent in north Minneapolis, Chicago, Ukraine, Gaza, Jerusalem, Honduras, Guatemala, Nigeria – what would I do to protect my children? To what lengths would you or I go to keep them safe and provide for them their daily needs, education…and most importantly, hope? All of a sudden, the news stories are seen in a different light. I’m not sure I would be able to tell the wheat apart for the weeds. All of a sudden, I recognize news of violence is closer to home.

One spring, I was over-zealous in weeding my garden. As a result, I lost a bunch of my favorite Monarda (or Bee Balm) plants just beginning to poke out of the group. It taught me to be more patient in letting them grow so I could indeed, tell the difference between those flower seedlings and the weeds. That’s what Jesus was talking about in this parable. We aren’t the ones to make those distinctions. Jesus tells us justice will come – in God’s time. But justice (or lasting peace for that matter) does not happen without judgment. And the good news is, we are not the judge.

We live in the “meantime” of planting and harvest. We are called to grow in God’s hope, mercy and steadfast love now. We are called to share those crops of God’s love with one another now.

Perhaps you have seen field upon field of sunflower plants. It’s a gorgeous sight – the bright flowers lifting their multi-colored faces to the sky…following the movement of the sun. We are called to be like that in the fields God has planted us in. Blossoms of hope that follow God’s Son bringing light and hope to God’s global fields struggling against the invasive weeds of destruction.

As we bathe in the light of God’s love and soak up nourishment rooted in the soil of God’s word, we can help strengthen others to continue to meet Jesus and to follow the living Christ, whose love is stronger than death…We can prayer and encourage others to pray back the enemy’s weeds in order to bear witness to the world, to our community, to our homes – that God’s peace, mercy, and Shalom will ultimately be a reality for all of God’s people God is worthy of our hope and our trust.

Today we chose and cling to hope. We celebrate the gift of new life and hope in the baptism of Conner this morning. We say Yes to God’s gift of forgiveness and new life in the meal to which Jesus invites  us. We claim the promise given in God’s word – “Do not be afraid. I am with you always…the Spirit helps us in our weakness – interceding on our behalf, and on behalf of the world and all creation, with sighs too deep for words.” Share the hope! Thanks be to God. Amen.

Let us pray: “O Lord God, where hearts of fearful and constricted, grant courage and hope. Where anxiety is infectious and widening, grant peace and reassurance. Where impossibilities close every door and window, grant imagination and resistance. Where distrust twists our thinking, grant healing and illumination. Where spirits are daunted and weakened, grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams” We ask this in the name of the One who himself, bears the marks of human violence and overcomes the powers of darkness, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (ELW p. 76)