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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)

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