Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Home About Worship Music and Arts Parish Life Learning Outreach News Contact
Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sermon: When Adversity Strikes

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Fifth Sunday in Lent
John 12:1-8

A young adult daughter complained to her father about her life and how things were so difficult for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed to her that as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the water in each pot came to a boil. In one he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs, and in the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil without saying a word.

The daughter, who was use to her father’s eccentricities, waited impatiently wondering what he was doing. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished out the carrots and placed them in a bowl. He pulled out the eggs and placed them in another bowl. Then he ladled out the coffee and placed it in another bowl.

Turning to his daughter he asked her, “Honey, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. He brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. She smiled as she tasted it and smelled its rich aroma. Dying of curiosity she finally asked, “What does it mean?”

He explained that each of them faced the same adversity, boiling water, but each responded differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. But after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” he asked his daughter. “When adversity strikes, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a ground coffee bean?”

Our gospel reading for today takes place six days before the Passover the pressure is starting to build. In this time of adversity how do these characters respond? Which are they, when adversity strikes?

Martha is like the carrot, and goes from firm to soft. Martha is the one who, in the encounter with Jesus before Lazarus is raised from the dead, is hard and unrelenting in her faith and in her belief in Jesus. But here she has resigns herself to take the role of a servant. The adversity has weakened her.

Judas is like the egg, and goes from fragile to hard. Judas is a fragile character. He does not know exactly who he is or who Jesus is for that matter. He wants Jesus to be different than Jesus is. He likes Jesus and admires him but Judas is still not sure about him. He is trying to figure out Jesus and get on his good side so he says this perfume should be sold and the money should be given to the poor. That should be the right answer. But it is not in this case. The adversity has hardened him. Judas will do on to betray his friend.

Mary is like the ground coffee beans which change the water. Mary is the one who stands out as different in this story. She is doing something bold and brave, yet tender and caring. She is the only one, besides Jesus who knows what is going on. Mary, in an act of devotion and care, anoints Jesus’ feet, which is unusual it was the heads of kings, prophets and priests which were anointed. The adversity has changed her and she changes the situation. Mary fills the room with fragrant perfume and prepares Jesus for burial. The situation is so changed that even Jesus who is on the side of the poor, tells Judas the poor will always be with them but Jesus will not. I wonder if Jesus is reminding us that as faithful followers we will always be with the poor because that is where Jesus’ people are called to be in this new thing God is doing.

Which are you when adversity strikes in your personal life? Which are you when adversity strikes in your spiritual life? Something to ponder in these waning days of lent.

As we prepare for Holy Week, when the adversity for Jesus picks up, how do we respond when we hear of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus?

Are we like a carrot which goes from firm to weak? Are we hardened by our own experience of life so much that when we hear of Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection we respond to Jesus with a soft “whatever” response? Like we don’t really believe it and just figure it will just be one of a long list of disappointments we have experienced.

Are we like an egg which goes from fragile to hard? Are we fragile from our own experience of life so much that when we hear of Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection we respond to Jesus with a hard “so what” response? We wonder what good does that do us?

Are we like ground coffee beans which change the water? Are we changed by hearing of Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection? We will never be the same.

We all have different responses to the adversity in our lives and we may have different responses to Jesus. But since our focus during lent is Jesus, let us look to Jesus and his response when adversity strikes?

Next week we will begin to walk with Jesus through the passion, but we already know what will happen. Jesus will not soften and buckle under the pressure. Jesus will not harden and refuse to listen to God. Jesus will be changed and change the reality of life and the reality of our lives. When Jesus, the son of God comes face to face with the pain of our sin, Jesus changes the reality of life. Because of Jesus we don’t have to face adversity alone, we have already been changed. We are not yet what we shall be. We have been and we are begin changed by Jesus.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sermon: The Relationship Matters

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The parable before us today is well known. In fact it is probably the best known of Jesus’ parables even to the non-Christian world. It is a parable known by different names, “the prodigal son,” “the waiting father,” “the lost son,” “the forgiving father,” etc. It is so well known to us many are able to recite it from memory with quite a bit of detail. It is a parable which touches us as a deeply human tale. The events described in the parable touch the deepest of human emotions; self absorption, a coming to oneself, acceptance/welcoming, anger, and pleading. The characters described in the parable are ones to whom we can relate; the younger son, the father, and the older son. At some point in our lives we may have walked away from our families, maybe we have returned, maybe not. At another point in our lives we may have had a child walk away or stay present but willfully disregard us. Some of our children have come back, for others we are still waiting, some have come to their senses, others are still angry. At yet another point in our lives we may have been the faithful, under-appreciated one, angry at the unfaithful ones who come back. It is a parable that touches us in different ways at different times throughout our lives.

Today I would like to focus on the relationships in this parable. In fact the parable is all about relationships.

Remember the reason Jesus tells this parable is because “all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:1-2).

So Jesus tells them three parables of something lost, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons. Now let us look at the last parable. Jesus says, “There was a man who had two sons” (Luke 15:11). Right away relationships are established, we have a father, two sons, and two brothers. Relationships are basic to life and they are the way in which we understand ourselves. Relationships are also the way we talk about the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’” (Luke 15:12) This is usually not done until the father dies. But here the younger son asks his father to die. The son wants to end the relationship with his father. The audacity of this request is not expected to be lost, the younger son wants to cut off completely from this relationship of father and son, even brother and extended family.

What is the father’s response to the impudence of this request, “he divided his property between them.” (Luke 15:12) The father dies to fill his son’s request. This is not an easy request of getting money out of a savings account or cashing out stocks or bonds. The wealth of the family is in the house, buildings, animals, and land. The oldest son would get two-thirds of the estate and the youngest a third. So this sacrifice of the father affects the rest of the family also, the whole family looses one-third of its assets. The severing of this relationship is costly for the father and for the rest of the family.

What about the younger son? “A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country” (Luke 15:13). Was it costly for him? It was, but he may not have realized it right away. In cutting off his relationship with his father and family, he has cut himself off from his insurance, social security, assurance of marriage, and physical and emotional well being, for we have to remember that in Jesus’ day all these things were wrapped up in family relationships. When the younger son left he took everything with him and cut off completely from all previous relationships and travels far away to begin a new life on his own.

This new life doesn’t work out well for him. We read: “There he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything (Luke 15:13-16). He squanders his money, how we don’t know, although his brother thinks he spent his money on prostitutes. So he runs out of money and there is a famine in the land, notice how things outside our control can be much worse when we don’t do well with that which is in our control? Now he has no money because of his own choices and there happens to be a great recession going on and he needs to look for a job in a tight job market. He takes what he can get, which isn’t great. It is the lowest of the low jobs in a Jewish culture, feeding pigs. Jews are not to handle pigs or eat pork. However, he is desperate and takes the job. He has now officially hit bottom.

Yet is it precisely at the bottom when he comes to himself and remembers who he is. He remembers the relationships from which he had severed himself. “But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands”’ (Luke 15:17-19). Things have changed he is now ready to be brought back into relationship, but it will be a new relationship. He does not expect to be welcomed as a son, he will receive a new identity, a hired hand, however he will still address his father as “father.” Now by remembering his father, he gives his father back life and restores his part of the relationship. So the son’s father who was dead is now alive.

“So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate (Luke15:20-24). Listen to all the relationship language, the word father is used four times and son used three times. The father doesn’t even listen to his son’s prepared speech, he is too busy restoring his son to son-ship. It is only the father who can restore the relationship of the son as the son. The son restored the relationship of the father and was willing to be hired hand, but the father was waiting to welcome his son back. We do not know how long he had been waiting, I think it was many years. I think he waited well beyond the time one should wait for children who walk away. But the father has been waiting for this since he “died” in his son’s eyes. The father rejoices for the son was lost but now is found, was dead but now is alive.

Even though this would be a good stopping point, the story is not over yet. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him” (Luke 15:25-28). The elder son refuses to go in, he cuts himself off from the family. This is a different cut off than his younger brother, he stays in place and cuts himself off. The father doesn’t wait for him, the father comes out to him. The father comes out and pleads with him, the father is offering the same relationship with this son, who doesn’t want anything to do with it.

Listen to his resentment and to the way he cuts himself off from the relationship. “But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’” (Luke 15:29-30). No longer does he have a relationship with his father, he calls him “you,” nor does he have a brother, “this son of yours.” He cuts off the relationship, but just like with his younger son the father will not allow the cutting off of the relationship. The father again restores the relationship.

“Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:31-32) He welcomes him as a son and reconnects him to his brother. The father states that the relationship matters more than the rules of fairness. The father at all costs works to keep the relationship with both his sons, through life and death and death and life.

This parable leaves us hanging, we do not know what happens to the elder son, does he join the party or does he walk away? It doesn’t matter. What matters is the relationship of the father to his children.

The relationship matters. That is why God sent Jesus, to show to what lengths God will go to restore our relationship with him. In our baptism in Christ Jesus we are children of God. We are brought into relationship with a loving, caring, forgiving, and giving God, who goes to great lengths to keep us in relationship. God in Christ Jesus opens his arms wide in mercy for all people.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sermon: Repent from What?

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Third Sunday in Lent
Luke 13:1-9

When bad things happen there is no shortage of people who will pontificate about why the events took place, the most famous person in the U.S. for doing this is Pat Robertson, founder of the 700 club. Here are a few of his comments about events (, accessed March 2, 2010):

  • Shortly after a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, potentially killing half a million people, Pat Robertson said Haitians had made a "pact with the devil" and have been "cursed" ever since.
  • On his "700 Club" program Jan. 13, 2010, Pat Robertson said, "They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'we will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' the devil said, 'ok it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."
  • Two days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Pat Robertson had fellow televangelist Jerry Falwell on his "700 Club" program. Robertson agreed with Falwell when Falwell said God allowed the attacks because of moral decay - specifically the ACLU, abortionists, feminists and gays. Robertson later distanced himself from the remarks.
  • After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Robertson suggested that God was angry over abortion. "I was reading... a book that was very interesting about what God has to say in the Old Testament about those who shed innocent blood... Have we found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster? Could they be connected?"
In the Star Tribune the other day one reader stated, “The world now waits to hear what moral failing Pat Robertson will ascribe to the people of Chile to justify the earthquake there” (Star Tribune. March 2, 2010, A-10). Some may call Pat Robertson a prophet, speaking the words that he does, however some may call him some other things.

I think Pat Robertson really needs to meet Jesus, and hear what Jesus says in our gospel reading for today. Jesus looks at a couple of bad things that took place, but Jesus came up with a different response than Pat. It is interesting to note that these events are not found anywhere is scripture or history, but Jesus knows about them and refers to them. Jesus says, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No” (Luke 13:2-5).

The Jews connected sin and suffering. We have only to begin the book of Job to see this. Job’s counselors continue to go after Job to find some secret sin to explain his present suffering. It is called the doctrine of retribution, or bad things only happen to bad people. Eliphaz, one of Job’s counselors said to him, "Who that was innocent ever perished?" (Job 4:7). This is a cruel and a heartbreaking doctrine, which Job knew well and challenged vehemently. And Jesus too, denies it.

Jesus says it was not because they were worse sinners or offenders. It is NOT because they were worse sinners. But Jesus turns to repentance, “unless you repent you will all perish like they did.” Jesus is speaking to “you” who are in range of his voice, the possibility of destruction is still a possibility for you. “These grim deaths are not ‘explained’ in themselves, but they are occasions for Jesus to confront the hearers with the call to faith and obedience” (Teide, Luke, p. 248).

But repent from what? I mean we are really not as bad as so-and-so (insert name here) what do I have to repent from? I am not as bad as Pat Robertson, or murders, or adulterers.

Repent from what? I wonder if repent in here means to stop thinking about bad things happening to bad people and stop judging other people. Jesus may be saying, “look at yourself and repent, you know you do this and it is not right.” It is interesting to note that right after these words of Jesus, he heals a woman on the Sabbath and the leader of the synagogue judges him for “breaking the law” (Luke 13: 10-17).

Repent from what? I wonder if we are to repent from thinking we are God. Or getting in God’s way. Or thinking our way is better than God’s. Or maybe, that my ways are God’s ways.

Repent? Maybe there is a need to look deep inside oneself and not focus on others. After all, a lesson we have learned from Job (and Jesus too), is that only the one who suffers can find meaning for their own suffering, meaning cannot be imposed upon by others. Only looking inside of oneself can we see that which is getting in our relationship with God and from what we need to repent. “Unless you repent, you will all perish,” there is a spiritual urgency here.

Now Jesus closes this teaching with a parable of an unproductive fig tree. It is a parable which at the same time offers grace and warning.

The parable offer grace, it offers a second chance. A fig-tree normally takes three years to reach maturity. If it is not fruiting by that time it is not likely to fruit at all. But this fig-tree was given another chance. It is Jesus' way to give chance after chance, look at Simon Peter and the Apostle Paul. God offers a chance to those who falls and rises again.

But the parable also warns that there is a final chance. If we refuse chance after chance, a day will finally come, not when God has shut us out, but when we by deliberate choice have shut ourselves out.

I see in this parable that Jesus is the gardener in our lives who steps in to tender and nurture, digs up the roots, shifts the ground adds a little manure, to give us a chance to bear fruit. We are rooted in baptism which is all about making us new and giving us another chance, day after day.

Let us take time this lent to reflect and repent and listen to Jesus invitation to come to him, your life depends on it.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

Copyright 2014 Mount Olive Lutheran Church