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Lent Reflection Part 1 – Hearing

Pastor Erik’s Lent Reflection 2018 – Hearing

 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.  (1 John 1:1)

Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Christmas is always a special time of year not just because of all the fun activities, but because we learn and remember that Jesus Christ arrived to us as a person- as human flesh. Jesus is both -100% God and 100% human being.  During Jesus’ earthly ministry there were many people who encountered him physically. The saw him, heard him, touched him and were touched by him. Today, we can also encounter Jesus physically. For example, many of you have already felt and smelled the oily ash that was drawn on your forehead in the shape of the cross on Ash Wednesday. In a few weeks we will smell the wonderful Easter lilies, we will taste the Seder meal, and we will feel the weight of the cross as we place it on our backs and carry it during Holy Week.

This year, during Lent, I want to encourage you to think more deeply about how you encounter Jesus in a physical way.  I am writing a Biblical reflection each week that focuses on the 5 senses. This week focuses on the sense of “hearing.”

John 5:25-29

‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

John 10:4

When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Romans 10:14, 17

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

Genesis 1

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

There is authority in Jesus’ voice- authority to lead, authority to create, and authority to judge. John 5 shows us that his judgment either results in life or condemnation. But how can his voice be heard even by dead people? The details are a mystery, but what we do know is that the Word of God constantly and consistently accomplishes what it says. The Word of God spoke and the earth was created and light began to shine. The Word of God calls out to Lazarus in his tomb even though he has been dead for four days. (John 11:43). When Jesus talks about judgment in John, he places more emphasis on life than on condemnation. His ministry is centered around calling and inviting people toward life, safety and community, and people respond to the Word of God just as sheep respond to the call of a trustworthy and familiar shepherd (10:4).

My advisor from seminary recently wrote in a blog, “Being roused from sleep is almost always a startling experience. A familiar sound — a regular alarm chime, the bark of the dog, a family member gently speaking your name — makes the experience easier on the body. By contrast, shattered glass or a scream in the night starts the adrenaline flowing. Discipleship involves learning to find familiarity in God’s words, so we respond rightly. Such familiarity creates a kind of harmonious resonance, the result of growing into greater intimacy with God. It does not mean a dismissive attitude toward the divine voice as something tame and predictable.”[1] For me, I find comfort in being able to recall from memory lines from my favorite hymns and personally meaningful Bible verses. When I am feeling overwhelmed, scared, nervous etc. I can rely on these familiar words from God to give me peace, perspective and help me through any obstacle. You can rely on the same God’s Word too.

When Paul draws a connection between hearing and believing, he teaches the congregation in Rome something very important about the Christian faith. He teaches them that it involves relationship and interaction with others. It is not about isolation. Faith means something other than following theological doctrines. Faith comes from listening to another’s report. Faith comes from listening to the Word of God being spoken by someone else and entering your ears and being heard. Faith comes when people hear God addressing them. Faith implies a communion shared with a communicative, expressive God. Christ still speaks today, through the scripture readings, sermons, hymns, and prayers. Guided by the Holy Spirit, these words and messages come from the mouths of all his followers, even you personally.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4251



Lent Reflection Part 2 – Seeing

Pastor Erik’s Lent Reflection 2018 – Sight

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.      (1 John 1:1)

Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Christmas is always a special time of year not just because of all the fun activities, but because we learn and remember that Jesus Christ arrived to us as a person- as human flesh. Jesus is both -100% God and 100% human being.  During Jesus’ earthly ministry there were many people who encountered him physically. The saw him, heard him, touched him and were touched by him. Today, we can also encounter Jesus physically. For example, many of you have already felt and smelled the oily ash that was drawn on your forehead in the shape of the cross on Ash Wednesday. In a few weeks we will smell the wonderful Easter Lilies, we will taste the Seder meal, and we will feel the weight of the cross as we place it on our backs and carry it during Holy Week.

This year, during Lent, I want to encourage you to think more deeply about how you encounter Jesus in a physical way.  I am writing a Biblical reflection each week that focuses on the 5 senses. This week focuses on the sense of “sight.”

Mark 8:22-25

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

1 Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Little trees!  Mark 8:22-25 is unfamiliar for many people. It is only found in Mark’s Gospel. It not part of the lectionary so many people have never heard it or heard a sermon about it. It is short, strange and it is often overlooked. What’s the significance that Jesus needs a second chance to fully restore the blind man’s sight? Why do people look like trees that are walking around? These are questions that I invite you to think about during your Lent journey.

Perhaps the most popular or at least widely known hymn is “Amazing Grace.” We sing this beautiful hymn in worship regularly. It is also a popular hymn for funerals and other special occasions. Even people who don’t attend worship probably know it because it is heard often in popular culture. One of the verses says, “I was blind, but now I see.” It is a very moving verse, but I’ve struggled with it’s meaning. For me, “I was blind, but now I see,” describes spiritual development that goes from 0% to 100% instantly. Like flipping on a switch or turning on a lamp. For some people this may be true, but for me (and I don’t think I’m alone) spiritual development has not been like flipping on a switch. It’s been an arduous journey full of ups and downs.

Whenever I feel like I’m finally seeing life and faith clearly some new insight or experience presents itself and forces me to reevaluate and refocus. Some days are clearer than others and some days are very unclear. Metaphorically, most days I feel like the guy in Mark’s gospel who sees people as little trees. Just like the man, even though I’ve experienced Jesus I still have a difficult time seeing the world clearly.  What I like best about this story is that it shows Jesus staying with the man and refusing to give up. Jesus shows that he is committed to fully restoring the man’s sight even if it means trying again. The man doesn’t go from blind to full sight instantly. His fully restored vision takes time, and it also includes a conversation with Jesus on the journey toward clarity.

The 1 Corinthians text complements the Mark story. I think the Apostle Paul is telling us that we don’t have perfect vision.  We are all looking through a dim and cloudy glass and hence all of us have a limited perception. We don’t enjoy complete clarity and understanding. Our face-to-face time is yet to come. What I get from these texts is that it is ok not to have all the answers right now. We don’t need to be at 100% in order to be “good Christians.” There is a mysterious component to faith – a mystery that will be revealed in time. This is what it means, “God accepts us just as we are.” God is with us and walking along side us on our faith journey.  God doesn’t just meet us at the finish line.

Sunday Sermon – Pr. David

20150413_104923ALL SAINTS SUNDAY

Year B

November 1, 2015

John 1:1-45

Philippians 3:13-14

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Virginia, Minnesota

“Lazarus, come out!”

“Unbind him, and let him go.”

Two commands of our Lord. The first is to each and every one of us personally, as Jesus inserts our own name: “Lazarus, come out! Mary, come out! John, come out! Sally, come out!” “Come out into the fullness of life I have intended for you.”

The second is to us as a Christian community: “Unbind him, and let him go.” “Unwrap the bonds that bind them. Remove the shroud that enfolds them. Shed light into the darkness that overwhelms them. Loose the chains of oppression that ensnare them. Remove the barriers that bar them. Sever the cords of addiction that grip them. Break the cycle of violence that curses them. Give voice to the fear that silences them.” “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Twelve candles burn on the altar this morning, one for each person whose funeral or memorial service was held through Our Savior’s in the past year. Each light represents a life—and not only one life, but the many lives of the many, many people who loved or who were loved by these twelve people. Each and every one of these beloved ones in whose memories these candles burn heard Jesus call them, in many and various ways throughout their lives, especially during their times of difficulty and doubt, “Lazarus, come out!” “Come out into the light of my love. Come out into the abundant life I offer you. Come out of the blight of sadness into the fullness of joy.”

And in each and every case, these beloved ones in whose memories these candles burn experienced being unbound by you, through worship in this sacred space, through the many and various ministries of this congregation, or through agencies of the larger church. Through you, these people experienced being unbound. “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Today we make commitments that will ensure that these various ministries of unbinding will continue into the future, to ensure that Our Savior’s will continue to be a healthy community of hospitality and healing, of teaching and learning, and of service to the world.

Our stewardship theme this year is, “Looking Forward with Willing Hearts.” The Scripture verse that informs our theme is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

I was excited when I first learned that this was our stewardship verse. It was my grandfather’s favorite verse. Some of my favorite memories as a young child were sitting between my grandparents in worship in the little country church in Wisconsin, hearing the sweet soprano of my grandmother and the strong baritone of my grandfather, singing hymns of faith. I remember how my grandmother comforted me, reminding me of Jesus, as I wept over the death of two little kittens I was trying to keep alive after they were abandoned by their mother. I remember the stories of how that little congregation in the country surrounded and supported my grandparents when their barn burned down early on Christmas morning, killing all the livestock inside—and they went to church to worship! “O Come, All Ye Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant!”

And I remember how it was I came to learn of my grandfather’s favorite Bible verse, our stewardship verse. I had the privilege to preach for my grandfather’s funeral, and my uncle, his oldest son, told me the story of how Grandpa had taught him how to plow a straight furrow, as he guided the plow that the horse was pulling. My uncle got behind the plow and urged the horse on, and when he got to the other end of the long field, turned around and looked back to examine his furrow. It went this way and that way and this way and that way. When he got back to the other end of the field, in the place where he had started, Grandpa, who had observed all of this, directed my uncle’s gaze to a particular tree at the other end of the field. He said, “Don’t take your eyes off that tree, and your furrow will be straight.” Then Grandpa said, “It’s like the verse in the Bible: ‘. . . forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.’” A farmer who was also a theologian!

For my uncle, the result of Grandpa’s teaching was a straight furrow. But it was much more than that. It was a life, “. . . forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” of pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” It was a life steeped in faith and hope and love.

My uncle’s furrow may have been straight, but there is very little, if anything, about the Christian life that is straight. Life throws us many curve balls, and even some fast balls that may knock us over. There was nothing straight about my grandparent’s barn burning down on Christmas. There was nothing straight about my grandfather’s father dying after being gored by his own bull. There was nothing straight about my grandmother’s father dying from blood poisoning after butchering the Christmas beef.

There is very little if anything straight about the Christian life. Indeed, sometimes our Lord may call us to a radically different life in a radically different direction.

Yet in all of this, we look to Jesus, “. . . forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

“. . . forgetting what lies behind . . .” What lies behind can bind us, every bit as much as Lazarus was bound. What lies behind can paralyze us. What lies behind can control us. What lies behind can prevent us from moving ahead to the future into which our Lord calls us. Forgetting what lies behind involves deep forgiveness—both embracing the forgiveness of our Lord and extending that forgiveness to those around us.

“Lazarus, come out!”

“Unbind him, and let him go.”

Two commands of our Lord. The first is to each and every one of us personally, as Jesus inserts our own name: “Lazarus, come out! Come out into the fullness of life I have intended for you.”

The second is to us as a Christian community: “Unbind him, and let him go.” “Unwrap the bonds that bind them. Remove the shroud that enfolds them. Shed light into the darkness that overwhelms them. Loose the chains of oppression that ensnare them. Remove the barriers that bar them. Sever the cords of addiction that grip them. Break the cycle of violence that curses them. Give voice to the fear that silences them.” “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Twelve candles burn on the altar this morning, each representing one beloved of our Lord. Each of them had heard the call and claim of their Lord in their lives. Each had experience a measure of being unbound by the love and faithfulness of this congregation.

And, finally, at the last, according to the sure and certain hope of the resurrection as guaranteed to us through the death and resurrection of our Lord, each of them will hear our Lord cry out with a loud voice:

“Yvonne, come out!”

“Calvin, come out!”

“LaVerne, come out!”

“James, come out!”

“Beverly, come out!”

“Raymond, come out!”

“Earl, come out!”

“Roy, come out!”

“Shirley, come out!”

“Eldon, come out!”

“John, come out!”

“Luann, come out!”


Thanks be to God!

Sunday Sermon – Pr. David



Year B, Lectionary 30

October 25, 2015

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Mark 10:46-52

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Duluth, Minnesota

“Believing is seeing.”

Common wisdom says the opposite: “Seeing is believing.” But biblical faith invites us to consider the opposite: “Believing is seeing.”

Bartimaeus is blind. But he knows who Jesus is: “Jesus, Son of David.” That is: “Messiah.” The disciples, though they see, do not understand. They fail to see.

“Believing is seeing.”

The Gospel writer Mark gives us only two accounts of Jesus healing a blind man: at the beginning and at the end of the section of narrative about discipleship, chapters 8, 9, and 10, the section that includes Jesus’ three passion predictions, the three explicit statements to his disciples that he will be arrested, that he will suffer, and that he will die.

In the first account in chapter 8, Jesus and his disciples encounter a blind man in Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26). The people of the area beg Jesus to heal him. Jesus takes him aside, puts saliva on the man’s eyes and lays hands on him. Then Jesus asks, “Can you see anything.” He replies, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking” (Mark 8:24). Evidently the healing was only partial. So Jesus lays hands on his eyes again, then then the man can see clearly. What’s going on? I’ll come back to this story.

What does it mean that this section of narrative about discipleship is bracketed by the healing of two blind men?

The second blind man is Bartimaeus, the story in our Gospel today. Bartimaeus in his blindness stands in stark contrast to the unbelief of the disciples. Bartimaeus, though blind, perceives who Jesus is—Son of David—and he knows that Jesus can help him. The disciples, in contrast, fail to understand who Jesus is and argue about which of them is the greatest. Why is it that we are sometimes—or often—surprised by the faith of someone we might consider an outsider?!

Jesus declares to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well”—literally—“your faith has saved you.” In Confirmation we are learning about the Reformation. One of the foundational verses for Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church is one that the girls in Confirmation have committed to memory: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God . . .” (Ephesians 2:8). (The boys in Confirmation have memorized different verses, all significant to the Reformation.) Jesus declares to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well”—literally—“your faith has saved you.”

The genuineness of the faith of Bartimaeus is that, having received his sight, he follows Jesus. The genuineness of faith is not how well we know our Bibles, or how many verses of Scripture we can quote, or how well we pray, though all these things are beneficial. The genuineness of faith is in following Jesus. How many people, after encountering Jesus, walk away, even those who walk away sorrowful, like the rich man in our Gospel two weeks ago?

The last three words in our Gospel for today are “on the way.” Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way. On the way is the way of discipleship. It is a journey, not a destination. And all are invited, regardless of status. Our Confirmation young people are on the way, and the way does not end when Confirmation ends, rather, it’s a milestone on the way.

Perhaps more than being a healing story, our Gospel story today is a call narrative—a call story: three times in verse 49, Mark writes the word call: “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you’” (emphases added). Jesus calls Bartimaeus and his call is mediated through the disciples. Have you ever considered that you—as a congregation as well as individuals—are mediators of God’s call on others?

As a congregation, you are in the process of discerning extending a call to a pastor. The call comes through you, but the call originates in God. The call is authenticated by God. The call is empowered by God.

As individual Christians, we all have the high calling to be mediators of God’s call to others. Consider in your own heart when you have been a mediator of God’s call to another.

Many people stand outside our circle of fellowship. Some of those are seeking Jesus, even if they don’t articulate their seeking in those words. But they are seeking. Perhaps they, like blind Bartimaeus, are making a disturbance, causing a problem, making a nuisance of themselves. Perhaps we, like the disciples, would try to silence them, as the disciples sternly warned Bartimaeus to be silent. Perhaps we try to shut them out, or to put roadblocks in front of them. But Bartimaeus cries out all the more. Those on the outside seeking Jesus cry out all the more.

Have you considered that Jesus may be calling us to be a mediator of God’s call to those on the outside? Who are those “making noise,” trying to get our attention, when we would rather silence them?

A few weeks ago, our Confirmation young people wrote some of their deep questions about faith and life and God on post-it notes; they are displayed on a bulletin board toward the west wing of the building. Youth Director Meagan compared the posting of these questions to Martin Luther posting his 95 Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, an event we celebrate today and every Reformation Sunday. We join thousands of congregations across the globe celebrating Confirmation/Affirmation of Baptism, on Reformation Sunday.

Have we as a congregation and as individuals taken the questions and cries of our young people seriously? Have we been mediators of God’s call on their lives? If we don’t take the questions and cries of our young people seriously, how are they to take the church seriously?

Back to the story of the blind man of Bethsaida who was healed twice. It’s the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus had to heal a second time. Did Jesus not get it right the first time? Did Jesus mess up? Was his power inadequate the first time? What’s going on?

The two healings of blind men bracket the narrative about discipleship. Despite Jesus’ three-time explicit teaching about his impending suffering and death, his disciples fail to understand. They fail to see. They lack the faith to see—to understand. They are like the blind man from Bethsaida, who sees at first, but only in part. He sees men, “but they look like trees, walking.”

Perhaps we are like the disciples. Perhaps we see only partially, or not at all, or fail to understand, or get it wrong more than we get it right, are always jockeying for position, arguing about who is greatest (but perhaps arguing in a more Scandinavian passive-aggressive manner!).

We are all blind, like the man in Bethsaida who was healed twice, or like blind Bartimaeus. In our First Lesson from the Jeremiah, God sings through the prophet of a time when God promises to gather the lost remnant, including the blind and the lame (Jeremiah 31:8). The Good News is that Jesus calls us, in whatever state of blindness we may be, whether we don’t have a clue who Jesus is, or whether we see partially, like the blind man of Bethsaida, who sees men who look like trees walking. The Good News is that Jesus calls all of us who cry out to him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Like Bartimaeus, we are all blind beggars. It is said that, at the death of Martin Luther, a note was found in his coat pocket written in his hand: “We are all beggars, it is true.” Martin Luther, declared by TIME magazine to be the most influential person of the entire second Millennium, summed up his life: “We are all beggars, it is true.” Like blind Bartimaeus, we cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Thanks be to God!

Sunday Sermon – Pr. David

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Year B, Lectionary 29

October 18, 2015

Mark 10:35-45

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Virginia, Minnesota

“Don’t you wish your mother were here?!”

I think we were still in our 20s when my wife, Lynn, and I visited her home in Charles City, Iowa. Damon, one of her best friends from high school, came over, along with his mother, a good friend of Lynn’s mother. Damon and Lynn had performed many skits, variety shows, and musicals together in school and they were catching up on old stories. There was a lot of laughter.

It wasn’t long, however, when it became the two mothers who were telling the stories, each about the many accomplishments of her own offspring, so that it turned into a kind of back-and-forth duel: “My son, Damon . . .” “Well, my daughter, Lynn . . .” There seemed to be no curb on hyperbole; each zealous mother tried to outdo the other, it seemed to me.

Until, finally, Damon turned to me and exclaimed, “Don’t you wish your mother were here?!”

Mothers can be ferocious promoters of their own children.

I tell this story because our Gospel story from Mark is retold by Matthew, whose Gospel came later. It seems Matthew must have been embarrassed by the question of the disciples, James and John: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. . . . Grant us so sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” So when Matthew tells the story, it is not the disciples who ask the question; rather, it is their mother (Matthew 20:20-22). Matthew would blame their mother for their obtuseness as well as their self-promoting agenda.

As Oprah once famously said, “The time finally comes when we have to stop blaming our mothers for everything that’s wrong with our lives.”

Our Gospel writer, Mark, would agree. Throughout his telling of the Gospel story, Mark holds nothing back in depicting Jesus’ disciples as they truly were: fearful, disbelieving, jealous, and slow to understand.

Today’s Gospel story comes immediately on the heels of Jesus’ third passion prediction—his open and straight talk about how he will suffer and die in Jerusalem, and on the third day be raised. And in each and every instance, the disciples don’t get it. In fact, it is almost as if they refuse to believe it.

You will recall that, in the instance of the first passion prediction, the disciple Peter rebukes Jesus (Mark 8:31-32). We can hear him say, as the Gospel writer Matthew puts it, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22). We wonder if he is thinking, “If this can happen to Jesus, then it might also happen to us.”

In the sequence of the second passion prediction, the disciples are arguing amongst themselves who is the greatest (Mark 9:30-34).

Today’s Gospel story comes immediately following Jesus’ third passion prediction:

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” (Mark 10:33-34)

It doesn’t get any clearer than that!

Yet immediately James and John put themselves forward requesting places of honor.

How ironic it is that those disciples closest to Jesus, his “inner circle” of Peter, James, and John, those who share some of Jesus’ most intimate moments, are precisely the three specifically implicated in seeming to reject Jesus’ predictions of his suffering and death. Or do they just not get it?

The disciples want prestige; Jesus offers servanthood:

“. . . whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

This past Friday night, I went to the movie, He Named Me Malala. It is a documentary of the life of Malala Yousafzai, the teenaged girl from Pakistan who was shot in the head and left for dead by the Taliban because she spoke out for the education of girls and refused to be silenced, even under threat of death. In 2009, the summer Malala turned 12 years old, she wrote a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym, telling about life under the control of the Taliban in their efforts to eradicate education for girls, as they publicly intimidated individuals and families and bombed schools. The next summer a New York Times documentary brought Malala international recognition, and, despite the threat of violence from the Taliban, she continued to speak out against the Taliban and to advocate for education. In 2012, when she was only 15, she was shot through the head, and, for many days, her life hung in the balance. Her recovery was nothing short of miraculous, though she is left with some permanent impairment. Rather than being silenced, the assassination attempt has emboldened her more than ever, though she is not able to return to the country she loves and calls home. In 2014, she was named co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest Nobel laureate in history, at age 17.

[My wife, a retired high school English teacher, never ceased to grieve over how much so many of her students resented being in school.]

Since seeing the movie, I can’t help but compare the courage of a teenaged girl to the faithlessness of Jesus’ disciples.

But the story’s not over.

Jesus says to James and John, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized . . .” Jesus speaks metaphorically of suffering. Even Jesus himself grieves over the cup of his pending suffering; in the Garden of Gethsemane, he implores, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me . . .” (Mark 14:36). But then he continues, “. . . yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

The disciples would indeed drink the cup of suffering that Jesus drinks, and they would indeed be baptized with the baptism of suffering with which Jesus is baptized.

A striking photo hangs both in the office and in the pastor’s study here at Our Savior’s: the cross hanging over the altar at the front of the sanctuary. Two spotlights illuminate the scene, one from each side. The resulting two shadows outline a cross to the right and another to the left of the central cross. I am reminded of the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion on Golgotha, with three crosses, one to Jesus’ right and the other to his left.

Two criminals died with Jesus on Golgotha. But the disciples would, each in their turn, take their turns in drinking the cup and being baptized in suffering. James—the same James in our Gospel story—would be the first disciple to die, not on a cross, but by the sword. Peter, according to tradition, would be crucified upside down. He insisted he was unworthy to be crucified upright, as his Lord was. Indeed, all the disciples would suffer persecution and all but one would be put to death for their faithfulness. As the story unfolded, the portrayal that Mark paints of obtuse and faithless disciples proves, in the end, to be incomplete. All served their Lord with devotion and even joy.

The only disciple not to be killed for his devotion to Jesus, according to tradition, was John, the John of our Gospel story today. Some scholars believe it was the same John who left us with these words: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (I John 3:16). John saw it; he witnessed it; and he experienced the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

If the disciple John in our Gospel story reflects each of us in our own halting and feeble discipleship, we can take heart and rejoice that this same John who penned these words, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us . . .” helps us to see who we may become in our own response to Jesus: “. . . whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

Thanks be to God!

Sunday Sermon – Pr. David

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Year B, Lectionary 27

October 4, 2015

Genesis 2:18-24

Psalm 8

Mark 10:2-16

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Virginia, Minnesota

Two weeks ago I asserted that the Bible gives us Jesus, and then Jesus, in turn, gives us the Bible, the Bible according to Jesus. Last week, I reiterated the assertion, and then added that this does not necessarily mean that Jesus gives us a softer Bible, an easier Bible. On the contrary, sometimes Jesus “ups the ante.” Today’s Gospel reading is one of those times.

This is a difficult and even painful text. I remember another time when this same text came around and my mother was visiting from out of town, sitting in the front row of the sanctuary to hear me preach. My parents have been divorced since 1972. What would I say to my mother about this text? I know a Lutheran pastor who is divorced who will not preach this text; when it comes up he invites a guest preacher and sits in the midst of the congregation, needing to hear words both of Law and Gospel. He knows the Law—he has lived it; he wants and needs to hear some words of grace.

I will never forget the heartache of a woman in a congregation I once served who, some time before I knew her, had divorced her abusive husband, with whom she had had children. It happened that he eventually wanted to marry again, and his fiancé was Roman Catholic. The man wanted an annulment of his first marriage, and the process was excruciating for his ex-wife. It seems that Pope Francis is working toward making annulments less painful.

The Pharisees in our Gospel come to Jesus to test him, hoping to entrap him. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus responds, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus retorts, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.” Then Jesus cites a portion of the Second Creation account from Genesis, chapter two: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Then Jesus ups the ante: “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

In Jesus’ playbook, there is no provision for divorce. At least not in the Gospel of Mark. When Matthew tells this same story, Jesus makes an exception to his prohibition of divorce when there is “unchastity”—infidelity (Matthew 19:9). If this exception—this loophole—is an addition from Matthew and not from Jesus himself, Matthew seems to be embracing Moses’ allowance for divorce.

A little context is helpful. During Jesus’ time a debate about divorce was raging among some of the Jewish scholars of the Torah—the Books of Moses—the first five books of the Old Testament. One school wanted to restrict Moses’ allowance of divorce to unchastity only. Another school of teaching wanted to expand the allowance and add another category: “any matter.” “Any matter” could include spoiling a meal. It seems that a man could divorce his wife for burning his dinner. The Pharisees want to entrap Jesus, to draw him into the conflict.

A woman dismissed by her husband would be untouchable and almost always relegated to a life of poverty, with no source of livelihood. She would be outcast and destitute.

The stakes are even higher when there are children involved. This is at least the third time in three chapters in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus lifts up children. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

What is at stake for Jesus in his teaching about marriage and divorce, in large part, has to do with the wellbeing of all parties involved, especially those who are vulnerable: the women and children. The consequences of divorce for women and children were nothing short of catastrophic.

More context: In the Gospel of John, chapter 8, the scribes and Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. Again, they seek to test Jesus. The law of Moses required the death penalty for adultery

– at least for the woman – death by stoning. Jesus says to them: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one all the accusers go away.

When Jesus and the woman are alone, Jesus says, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir.” “Neither do I condemn you. Go on your way and from now on, do not sin again.”

A word of grace. A word of forgiveness. Adultery is not the last word. Divorce is not the last word.

Jesus quotes the Second Creation story. There are two Creation stories in the Bible and they are very different from each other. We run into trouble in both stories if we attempt to read them as either history or science; neither story was intended for either of those things. The intent of the Creation stories is to tell us something about God and God’s desire to be in relationship with humanity and all of Creation. Put another way, Creation’s intent is praise of God and the wellbeing of humanity. The wellbeing of humanity means being in right relationships with God and one another. Jesus, along with the prophets before him, would insist that those right relationship need to be intentional about including the wellbeing of the vulnerable ones, especially women and children.

Our psalm for today, Psalm 8, is a psalm of Creation. It begins and ends with praise of God: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (By way, that’s not a question; rather, it’s a declaration!) Then our psalmist asks a question that humans have been asking since the dawn of time: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?” I remember the first time I took our two sons to the Boundary Waters. It was a beautiful night as we lay on our backs on a large rock at the edge of the lake, the stone still radiating the heat of the day’s sun. We could hear the night sounds of the wild, the water gently lapping against the shore. As we gazed with awe into the star-studded sky, with the universe stretching beyond our ability to see, beyond our ability to grasp or even imagine, I asked aloud the psalmist’s question: “In light of this immense Creation, who are we that God should be mindful of us?”

This past winter I visited our daughter in California over the New Year. She and I and my teenaged grandson made a day-trip to the science museum in LA and we attended a documentary film about the Hubble Space Telescope. The images from outer space are spectacular—breathtaking. We learned that astrophysicists calculate that the universe is more than 14 billion years old. Think back to our psalmist, writing some 3000 years ago when the concept of the universe was much smaller. Imagine what song our psalmist might sing if he or she had known that the universe is at least 14 billion years old!

Does that unimaginable time frame diminish us in God’s eyes? Or does it “up the ante”? If God’s purpose in Creation is to be in relationship with humanity, then does it not heighten that relationship even more than our psalmist could have imagined?! If, as the psalmist sings, we are made “little less than divine,” or “a little lower than the angels,” then might it be that we are the culmination of Creation in God’s eyes—the culmination of 14 billion years?!

The psalmist sings: “You have made them [humanity] rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet . . .” In the language of the Creation stories, God has given us “dominion”—or another word: “stewardship.”

But sin enters the picture in our exercise of dominion—stewardship. Just as sin enters into the relationship of marriage, so sin is at work in our dominion over—our stewardship of—Creation.

The Creation stories—and our psalmist—tell us that our lives—and creation itself—are encompassed and enfolded in praise of God. God’s intention in Creation is that we be in right relationship with God and with one another, starting in our homes. That right relationship includes being in right relationship with God’s Creation—to be stewards, caretakers of this beautiful Garden God has given us.

Our readings today encompass care for the weakest and most vulnerable to praise of God for the gift of Creation, for the gift of God’s great love for us.

And all of us—and all of Creation—sinful and broken as we are, join in praise of God who loves us!

Thanks be to God!

Sunday Sermon – Pr. David

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Year B, Lectionary 25

September 20, 2015

Jeremiah 11:18-20

Psalm 54

Mark 9:30-37

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Virginia, Minnesota

Youth Director Meagan Esterby gave me an assignment this past Wednesday. She asked if I might teach the opening session of Confirmation this coming week. If you were in worship last Sunday, you recall that many of our young people received age-appropriate Bibles, depending on their age or grade: three-year olds, third graders, and sixth graders. Sixth graders are starting their Confirmation journey and their new study Bible will be their guide, not only through their years of Confirmation, but also through their life’s journey.

The assignment Meagan gave me was this: In 20 minutes or less, give our young people an introduction to the Bible—and that 20 minute limit includes a four-minute video. That leaves me with 16 minutes. Now when I was a freshman at Luther College, I took an intro to the Bible course that lasted the entire year. And Meagan wants me to offer an introduction to the Bible in 16 minutes! Yikes!

If you were to give the Bible as a gift to a young person, where would you suggest that person begin? In the beginning? That would make sense if the Bible were a novel, but it’s not. In fact, the Bible is not any one kind of literature. It’s a collection of many kinds of writings. It’s a collection of 66 books in all. It’s a library. And in this library we find history, liturgy, songs (even colorful and suggestive love songs), theology, teaching, ethics, wisdom, and biography—and more! Where do we begin?

A careful reading of the entire Bible reveals a variety of points of view, a variety of images of God, even areas of discrepancy and disagreement. Some have attempted to distinguish and contrast the images of God between the Old and New Testaments, for example, by suggesting that the “God of the Old Testament” is a God of vengeance, while the “God of the New Testament” is a God of Love. We’ve all heard it; some of us may have said it.

Two verses from our appointed Scripture readings for today are evidence of this notion. The beleaguered Old Testament prophet Jeremiah laments to God about his detractors and cries out, “. . . let me see your retribution upon them . . .” (vs. 19b). Our psalmist sings, “. . . strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless have sought my life . . .” (vs. 3) and challenges God: “Render evil to those who spy on me; in your faithfulness, destroy them” (vs. 5). Despite these and other similar passages, to conclude that the God of the Old Testament is a God of vengeance is a false and grotesque caricature of God.

One of the preeminent Old Testament scholars in the world in the last century published a book in 1979 entitled: What Does the Old Testament Say About God? The Old Testament says many things about God, some of them seemingly contradictory, but, according to Claus Westermann, the author, the primary thing the Old Testament says about God is that “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” A far cry from the Old Testament portraying a God of vengeance!

Last Sunday we considered Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” We learned that the New Testament offers many and various viewpoints on that issue. The history of the Church for 2000 years has witnessed that various Christian groups, denominations, or sects tend to foster one particular image of Jesus over others. These various different understandings of Jesus have resulted in innumerable struggles and even violence through the centuries.

So when we read the Bible, where do we begin? And when we have answered that question and we launch into this marvelous book, we are confronted with things that are difficult to understand, things that don’t make sense to us, things that seem to contradict each other. How do we make sense of all of it? So we must eventually come to another critical question: Is all Scripture created equal?

Now this may sound like a scandalous question. But let’s consider some specifics. For example, the Bible says that there are certain foods that we’re forbidden to eat. Pork is one (Deuteronomy 14:8). A week ago Wednesday we enjoyed grilled pork chops during the Quilter’s lunch. The Bible says that we’re not to wear clothing made from a combination of different fabrics (Deuteronomy 22:11). The slacks I’m wearing are made of polyester and wool. The Bible says that women, after giving birth, must wait a prescribed period of time before going to the temple to worship (Leviticus 12:2-5). The Bible says that women are to remain silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35). The Bible says something shocking about rebellious young people—do we know any rebellious young people? Or have we ourselves been a rebellious young person? The Bible commands us to take rebellious young people and stone them to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)! No doubt you have your own list of confusing and problematic texts from the Bible.

Is all Scripture created equal? The answer is clearly and emphatically No.

We know that Scripture is inspired by God. But what does that mean? (The video we will show during Confirmation as part of my 20 minutes will get at this issue of inspiration.) This book we claim to be the norm and guide for our life of faith is a collection of writings from many different authors over more than a thousand years. Have they all experienced God in the same way? Have we all experienced God in the same way? Do we all have the same understandings of God?

Martin Luther can help us. Luther tells us that the Bible is the “cradle” for Jesus. The Bible gives us Jesus. The Bible shows us Jesus. The first verse of the Gospel of John, the author writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the 14th verse of that same first chapter, the author asserts: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” That Word is Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God “incarnate”—“made flesh.” This morning we sang the hymn, “O Word of God Incarnate.” The hymn is not about the Bible; the hymn is about Jesus. In the sixth chapter of John, all the crowds have left Jesus, no longer interested in what he has to say—they don’t understand and they find his teaching scandalous. Jesus says to his disciples, “Don’t you also want to go away?” Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

So where do we begin in reading our Bible? Let us begin with Jesus. According to Jesus himself, all the law and prophets of the Old Testament before him point to him. Jesus is the culmination and fulfilment of what God has been doing in the world. Jesus becomes the interpreter of Scripture.

Jesus says over and over in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you.” Jesus not only interprets Scripture, and reinterprets Scripture, but he also repudiates Scripture. “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye . . .’ but I say to you, do not resist evil and turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38). Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies,’ but I say to you, Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:43).

The Bible gives us Jesus. And Jesus then gives us the Bible. But it’s the Bible according to Jesus. It’s the Bible read through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Any other reading or interpretation of the Bible is not the truth about Jesus or the truth about God.

But even the Bible according to Jesus has proven to be confusing. And that confusion goes all the way back to the disciples. Last week, we found Peter rebuking Jesus and then Jesus in turn rebuking Peter. Peter didn’t like what Jesus was telling them about what it would mean for Jesus to be the Messiah. Now again today we find Jesus scolding the disciples for misunderstanding him and his ministry.

A little context is helpful. Between last Sunday’s Gospel reading and today’s, Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain where he was transfigured before them. His face and clothing shown bright as lightning. Not only that, Moses and Elijah, both dead for centuries, appeared with him, and the three of them were talking together. The disciples were astonished. The disciples saw Jesus in his heavenly glory and splendor. Maybe, they thought, Jesus didn’t really mean it when he said he must suffer and die. Maybe he—and all of us—will be exalted and given honor and glory.

So it’s not surprising that the disciples are arguing amongst themselves on the road, with the three who witnessed the transfiguration telling what they had seen (we wonder if they kept the secret). No doubt the three of them put themselves at the front of the line for glory. They refused to believe, again, Jesus telling them that he must suffer and die.

I wonder if Peter, James, and John told the others what God had spoken on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses represented all the law of the Old Testament, and Elijah all the prophets. Then there was Jesus. God speaks from the cloud that overshadowed them: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).

Listen to him. Listen to Jesus. All the law and all the prophets are to be interpreted through Jesus. All Scripture is interpreted through Jesus.

And this is what Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

To illustrate his point, Jesus takes a little child and puts it in their midst. It’s helpful to know that children were not doted on in first century Palestine the way they are now. Children were mostly a burden and a nuisance. But not to Jesus. He takes a little child and puts it in their midst.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Pastor Mike Carlson from St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi was here this past Wednesday to speak to the Confirmation youth from all the area churches. Pastor Mike is a child of Our Savior’s, having been confirmed here. The sanctuary was packed last Wednesday. He told a story about once taking a baby from its mother’s arms during worship and handing the child to the crabbiest person in the room.

We could try that now, but there aren’t any crabby people here. We can’t claim Jesus as Lord and be crabby! And children are welcome here! Because Jesus says so.

The entire world was shocked, horrified, and unspeakably grieved at the photo of a dead three-year-old Syrian child lying face-down on the beach on the coast of Turkey, having drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, along with his mother and five-year-old brother. The photo has moved the world to compassion and action. The image confronts all of us: globally, nationally, communally, and individually. How do we receive such little ones as these?

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Thanks be to God!

Sunday Sermon – Pr. David

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST

Year B, Lectionary 24

September 13, 2015

Mark 8:27-38

Pastor David Tryggestad

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church

Virginia, Minnesota

“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

Our youngest son got engaged this past Monday. He called from Minneapolis later that evening and said, “Dad, I proposed to Emily tonight and she said Yes!” My wife, Lynn, and I have hoping and praying for this day for a long time. More than once we’ve told our son, “Soren, if you don’t marry Emily, we’re going to disown you and adopt Emily!” The question, “Will you marry me?” is one of the most important questions we can ever answer.

I wonder if the question Jesus asks his disciples—and us—is even more important: “Who do you say that I am?”

But before we take a look at that question—the second question Jesus asks the disciples—let’s look at the first: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples respond: “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” As Jesus’ ministry progressed, more and more people began to ask, “Who is this, who heals the sick? Who is this, who forgives sins? Who is this, who raises the dead?”

“Who do people say that I am?”

Thirty years ago, Jaroslav Pelikan, one of America’s leading theologians, a teacher at Yale, published a book entitled Jesus Through the Centuries, in which the author lifts up major images or understandings of Jesus through twenty centuries of scholarship and art. Pelikan identifies 18 different notions of Jesus and devotes a chapter to each. Some of them include: “The Rabbi,” “The Turning Point of History,” “The Light of the Gentiles,” “The King of Kings,” “The Cosmic Christ,” “The Son of Man,” “Christ Crucified,” “The Bridegroom of the Soul,” “The Prince of Peace,” “The Liberator,” and so forth. No doubt we could all add to that list. From my own pietistic background and from my own personal experience, I would add, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”

Now to Jesus’ second question, the one he asks of each of us: “Who do you say that I am?”

I believe that this question is one of the most important questions each of us answers in our lives, perhaps the most important question, even more important than “Will you marry me?” I believe that the way we answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?,” influences every aspect of our lives, each and every day.

Jesus’ disciple Peter got the answer right: “You are the Messiah.”

But while he got the answer right, he got the meaning all wrong. As we see, Jesus went on to tell Peter and the disciples what it would mean for him to be Messiah:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed . . .”

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus. We can hear him protest, “No, Lord, this can never happen to you! No, Lord, this is not what it means to be Messiah! No, Lord, this is not what it means to be the Son of God! No, Lord, this is not what it means to be my Lord!”

This is the same Peter who protested that Jesus should never wash his feet at the Last Supper: “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8).

“Who do you say that I am?” Peter got the answer right: “You are the Messiah.” But he got the meaning wrong.

Here at Our Savior’s we kicked off the Confirmation program this past Wednesday. Youth Director Meagan led young people grades five through ten through an engaging evening of fun getting-to-know-you activities as well as some introductory teaching about what Confirmation is all about. Poke your nose around any Confirmation program in any Lutheran church anywhere across the world and you’re bound to learn something about Martin Luther, particularly his Small Catechism. Even if you don’t remember much at all about the Small Catechism, even though you may have memorized it cover to cover when you were in Confirmation, no doubt you remember the question he asks over and over: “What does this mean?”

Peter got the answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” right; but he failed Martin Luther’s question: “What does this mean?”

It seems Peter had other ideas about what it might mean for Jesus to be the Messiah, ideas that had nothing to do with suffering and death. We wonder if Peter’s notions of Messiah were in part grounded in self-interest. If Jesus as Lord were going to deny himself and suffer, then perhaps those who follow him might be in for some of the same.

Jesus knows what’s on Peter’s mind, so he makes himself quite clear: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

During our Wednesday evening worship service this past week, Leighton, one of our young Confirmation members was present. I made the comment that when I was his age, I thought I had wanted to become a medical doctor when I grew up. But then, as I grew older and started to have biology in high school and began to dissect animals and reptiles, some still alive, I decided that I didn’t like the sight of blood. I wanted to be a doctor, but I misunderstood what being a doctor meant. I had not asked the question, “What does this mean?”

Perhaps Peter didn’t like the sight of blood.

During the time I served as pastor in Duluth, our congregation hosted a monthly evening worship based on the practices of a Christian community in Taizé, France, including prayer, reading of scripture, singing simple and repetitious songs, and incorporating silence. In addition to lighting scores of candles throughout the sanctuary, we placed an icon of Jesus front and center, in order to help us focus our hearts and minds on our Lord. One evening I had placed a large hand painted reproduction of an ancient icon depicting Jesus on the cross, with blood flowing from his head, his hands, and his feet. His face shown of despair and agony. It was a graphic depiction of suffering. Afterward, one of the leaders of the planning group protested that she didn’t like looking at the painting, that it was too depressing, that it was too graphic.

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed . . .”

“Who do you say that I am?” How do you answer that question? And we can follow with Martin Luther’s question, “What does this mean?”

I was in conversation with someone near and dear to me just a few weeks ago and we were talking religion and faith. She said something we’ve been hearing a lot recently: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

Martin Luther would ask, “What does this mean?”

I wonder if being spiritual but not religious means that I can make up whatever I want and believe whatever I want. I wonder if being spiritual but not religious means making Jesus into our own image—or making God into our own image.

The problem with Jesus, as far as Peter was concerned, is that we cannot make Jesus into our own image. Rather, it’s the other way around. One of the hymns we sing during Lent is “On My Heart Imprint Your Image.” The Apostle Paul admonishes us, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . .” (Philippians 2:5).

So what does it mean for us as individuals and as a congregation that Jesus says to us: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

One thing it means is that Jesus sets the example; we don’t. Jesus sets the agenda; we don’t.

A number of years ago a story circulated among all the pastors and all the congregations of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod. It was a story about a congregation that took Jesus’ example of self-denial and servanthood seriously. It seems that this particular congregation had been the victim of some significant vandalism. The perpetrators were later apprehended, but rather than pressing charges, this congregation offered to embrace them, to bring them into their midst, to engage them in meaningful ministry, to include them in genuine community. This congregation chose to risk being vulnerable.

This congregation is you.

This past Wednesday, I was welcomed by the quilters. They fed me without my having to do anything! I didn’t even have to wash the dishes. Our quilters make 200 quilts a year to give away. Hospitality and generosity.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

This past year has been one of transition for all of you. No doubt there are many and various notions of what it means to be the church and what your future might look like. We might all answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” the same way Peter did: “You are the Messiah.” At the same time, we might have among us various answers to the question, “What does this mean?”

Going back to the laundry list of titles of the chapters that Jaroslav Pelikan assigned in his book, Jesus Through the Centuries, one jumps out at me: “The Crucified Christ”—or “Crucified Messiah.” To the disciple Peter, “Crucified” and “Messiah” were an oxymoron. To be Messiah could not possibly involve being crucified. For one thing, it might have implications for those who follow Jesus. It might have implications for us.

We worship a Crucified Messiah. He asks each and every one of us: “Who do you say that I am?” It is perhaps the most important question we will ever answer. And Jesus asks it of us every day of our lives.

A word about our song, “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.” I learned it 20 years ago on a mission trip to Monterrey, Mexico. We were among the poorest of the poor. We visited a worshiping community at the outskirts of the city dump. We saw a newly-wed couple rummaging through scraps of refuse to pull out discarded wooden pallets and corrugated metal to assemble their new home. The streets were dirt; the floors were dirt; and the only running water was a spigot of cold water from a public faucet at the end of each street. Yet these very people came together to lift their voices in worship and praise: “Lord, I lift your name on high . . . you came from heaven to earth . . . from the earth to the cross . . .”

“Who do you say that I am?”

Thanks be to God!

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Mark 6:14-29

Lectionary 15 B

July 12, 2015

Behind today’s gruesome story of the death of John the Baptist is the story of political and family intrigue that could fill up years of soap opera plots. There are struggles for power and for the patronage of the Roman Emperor that entwine the descendants of Herod the Great in constant conflict. And it’s hard to keep track of all the Herods in the gospels. Herod the Great was the King who ordered the deaths of the children of Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Herodias, is his grand-daughter and her grandmother was a descendant of the royal priestly family that had ruled Judea for a hundred years before Pompeii conquered it and made it a Roman province. As a teenager, Herodias married her uncle, Herod Philip, who was then in line to succeed his father, Herod the Great. (Herodias’s father would have succeeded Herod, but when Herod discovers an assassination plot, he kills those of his sons who have plotted against him.) Just before Herod the Great’s death, her husband Philip also falls out of favor with his father, and the kingdom is divided among four other sons of Herod. This leaves Herodias far from the position of power she had imagined for herself. Herod Antipas—the Herod in our gospel today—is one of the four sons who inherits dominion of the Jewish kingdom. He rules over Galilee and the province that is east of the Jordan River—a territory on the border between the Roman Empire and Arab kingdom of the Nabateans. To secure that border for Rome, Antipas marries the Nabatean princess to form of alliance with the kingdom of her father. But both Herodias and Herod Antipas want more power for themselves. So Herodias divorces her powerless husband in order to offer her unique ancestry to one of the four ruling tetrarchs of Judea. Herod Antipas sees such a marriage as a way to increase his own power.   And so, he divorces his Arabian wife and marries Herodias. For the Nabatean king, this breaks of the treaty and it eventually results in a war on the Roman frontier. This war goes badly and Herod requests assistance from the Roman Emperor, Tiberius. Two years later, Herod falls even farther out of favor when the new Emperor, Calagula, sides with his childhood friend Herod Agrippa (a nephew of Antipas) and exiles Herod Antipas and Herodias to Gaul where they both die within a year. It’s a complicated story and could make quite an extended soap opera.

It is the story of the rise and fall of the politically ambitious – and we still hear these stories today – and they are maybe not all that different. They maybe don’t involve murder, marriage and divorce, but manipulation for power still goes on.

John the Baptist objects to the marriage between Herod and Herodias. On the one hand Herodia’s husband, Philip, is still alive, and there are prohibitions against such a marriage in Jewish Law. But there is more than personal morality at stake in John’s confrontation with the King Herod and his wife. This royal couple is manipulating political power for their own gain, and they are doing so without any regard to the consequences for the people over whom they rule. On his birthday, Herod has a banquet for his courtiers and officers, and for the leaders of Galilee. It is a group that plays the same political games that Herod and Herodias play. And John speaks against the injustices of these power-building alliances. John holds up honest living over against the power-grasping lives of the rulers and the wealthy. During his ministry, when the crowds ask him what they should do, he says, “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do the same.” He tells tax collectors to “collect no more than the amount prescribed,” and he tells soldiers not “to extort money … by threats or false accusation.” But that focus on honest living and caring for your neighbor, is finally a threat to those who focus so much energy on gaining power and wealth for themselves – those that want to get what they can get by any means necessary.

Mark inserts the story of the death of John the Baptist, into the middle of the story of how Jesus sends out his disciples to proclaim God’s message. The verses before this story are the sending out, the verses following it are the return of the disciples. In between the sending and the return is the story of how, for John, being a faithful messenger of God’s word resulted in his death. The point, in telling the story this way, is so we do not forget that discipleship is not always easy, and that being a faithful disciple sometimes means confronting the injustices of those who are powerful in this world. Amos is sent by God to confront the injustices of politics and religion that trample the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land. He asks that justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Moses is sent to confront Pharaoh and free those who have been made slaves in Egypt. Esther risks her life to speak on behalf of her people. And down through history, many of the martyrs of the Church are those who spoke out against injustice and confronted those with power. In 12th century England, Thomas Becket confronts the power of King Henry II, and soon after Henry’s henchmen come to Canterbury Cathedral and kill the archbishop. In 20th El Salvador, Oscar Romero is appointed bishop – he is a scholar and it is hoped that he will keep the church out of the revolutionary politics of that country. But as Bishop, he pays attention to what is happening to the people and he confronts the rulers with the injustices they work against the peasants. And soon after the henchmen of the powerful come and assassinate Bishop Romero as he celebrates communion with his people.

The mission of Jesus’ disciples to call people to repent – to call them to turn around and embrace the rule of God’s justice – to call them to live honestly and with compassion for their neighbors – is not without its dangers. And sometimes, when you think you are making progress, things suddenly turn. Herod liked to listen to John, but the powerful often get caught in their own power-games. He takes an oath in the presence of the political-military-business establishment gathered for his birthday. That power system ties his hands, and he does what is evil in spite of himself. Those who invest themselves in political and economic power-games find it hard to turn and embrace to rule of God’s justice. But as disciples, we are sent to confront the powers of injustice in the world, and to envision what God’s justice means for our time.

And the promise for us in the midst of our discipleship is that we are claimed forever through Christ. “Just as God chose us in Christ … and destined us for adoption as God’s own children through Jesus Christ.” And yes, it is Christ who finally accomplishes all things. And he frees us from getting caught up in the deadly power games that only destroy, so that we can experience the loving presence of Christ, holding us in his love. For then, it is no longer out of fear, but with joy that we seek with the prophets and all the martyrs of the church, “to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” Amen.

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Mark 6:1-13

Lectionary 14 B

July 5, 2015

“Jesus began to send [his disciples] out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”

Since the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last month, over a half a dozen Black churches have been burned.

In the 1950s and 60s the confederate flag became a symbol of protest against the civil rights movement and it was raised over capital buildings in many southern states. That flag has become a symbol of racism and white supremacy much like the Nazi swastika is a symbol of anti-Semitism. While flags have been removed from state capitals in the last two weeks, Amazon reports that sales of confederate flags increased by over 200% in the week following the shooting in Charleston.

And racism is not only an issue for people in the South. The disparity in test scores along racial lines in Minnesota indicates our failure to provide education that overcomes the racial divisions of our society. And unemployment among racial minorities is two to three times that of the white population. Even the infant mortality in Minnesota is significantly higher for non-white populations in the state. Those statistics are signs of the more subtle forms of racism that infect our nation.

All the judgments we make about groups of people, based on isolated incidents or comments we’ve heard and accepted as true without thinking, feed into the racism that infects our nation and world. And all of us know the times we have been guilty of letting our own thoughts, attitudes, and behavior be influences by the subtle an the overt racism around us.

But Jesus sent out his disciples and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

Racism is one of those unclean spirits over which Jesus gave his disciples authority. One way to think about spirits – unclean or holy – is to think of them as the attitudes that are reflected in the lives of people. The fruits of the Holy Spirit according to Paul’s list in Galatians, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are signs of the kind of spirits that shape our lives. But when hatred, violence, division, anger, self-righteousness, bigotry, and similar behaviors and attitudes take control of people’s lives, it is the work of an unclean spirit. Dylann Roof may have been an unstable individual with a gun, but he was also acting out the racism of people around him, and the church burnings, which were a terrorist tactic of the KKK in the 1960s, also grow out of that unclean spirit of racism.

But Jesus still sends out his disciples and gives them authority over the unclean spirits.

But how do we make a difference? We must begin, I believe, with prayer and self-examination. How have we allowed ourselves to come under the influence of this unclean spirit? Only prayer will reveal that to us, and only through prayer can we open ourselves to the healing that Jesus seeks to work in our lives. And this is day by day work, because this unclean spirit slips in through the cracks and corners of our lives, and only through daily repentance and daily returning to the new self God has made us in baptism can we hope to keep this unclean spirit cast out of our lives. And Jesus send his disciples out with authority; which means we have authority to challenge and correct the comments around us that are infected with this unclean spirit of racism. And this is important work for us to do as people of this church – we have authority to hold one another accountable. The shooter in Charleston grew up in an ELCA congregation, and while the church cannot be held responsible for the actions of all its members, perhaps there is more that we can do to name and to cast out the unclean spirits that produce hatred and violence in our society.

In her statement following the shooting in Charleston, ELCA presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, calls the church to a time of self-reflection and repentance. She writes:

It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.

Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel. The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.

We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?

The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence. Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday. Emmanuel, God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church – and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism.

I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified. Speak out against inequity. Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth. Above all pray – for insight, for forgiveness, for courage.

Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy).

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

On this Independence Day weekend it is good to reflect on how the American Spirit draws us to live out our higher ideals. The Spirit of America inspires us to welcome and value the diversity of people and cultures that come together in this great country. That is the spirit that Abraham Lincoln referred to as “the better angels of our nature.” Such spirits, I believe, work in service to the Holy Spirit, so that the fruit of the spirit can flourish in our lives and drive out every unclean spirit – for you are sent by Jesus with authority over the unclean spirits that infect our lives and our world. AMEN.