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Sunday, December 25, 2011

This Word Is for You

The Word, the light of the world, comes to Earth and takes on flesh in Christ.  This Word is for you.

Vicar Erik Doughty, Christmas Day, the Nativity of Our Lord; texts: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14

Some of you are here because you come to every liturgy Mount Olive Lutheran Church offers – weekday Vespers, Saint’s-day Eucharist, whatever.  Welcome.  This Word is for you.

Others of you are here because every so often, about twice a year, you need to be here, with the pipe organ and the incense, the choir, the festival Eucharist.  Welcome.  This Word is for you.

And there are some of you who are here with relatives, who are not quite sure what this is all about, or who are here because the relatives do this on Christmas Day and you care about them.  And maybe you are from a different faith tradition, or no particular faith tradition.  Welcome.  This Word is for you.

Last night, if you got here early, you heard stunning choral and instrumental music.  Last night, during the liturgy, we heard from Isaiah about the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace; and in the Gospel according to Luke, we heard the evocative story of Jesus’ birth, shepherds and all – you know, on “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” it’s Linus’ monologue, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”  And then you listen to the King James Version, you get a lump in your throat and you hug the dog as you feel sappy and warm and you cry a little into your hot cocoa, right?  (Maybe I’m projecting.)

Well, today if you got here early, you got – brunch.  In today’s readings, Isaiah gives us – feet.  And John gives us the LOGOS, the Word, the light of the world, which becomes flesh and lives among us.  Luke gave us the messy birth narrative; John gives us the cosmic creative Word come down on earth.

This Word judges all sin.
This Word throws down the mighty, and lifts up the lowly.
This Word feeds the hungry and sends the rich away empty.
This Word is mercy.
This Word is forgiveness.
This Word is light which enlightens everyone.
Through this Word, every single thing was created; and this Word holds all things together.
This Word brings life, even to the dead.
This Word comes to earth to take on flesh, to know us and love us as we are.
This Word, eternal, will die because we will kill it.
This Word, light from light, will be extinguished for our darkness, on Good Friday.

And yet, that is not the end of the story.

The Word which we silence; the enlightening light which we extinguish, re-lights, sounds anew, at the will of God on Easter.

The Word chooses to speak through, to be spoken by, us to one another when we baptize, when we forgive one another, when we advocate for care of creation, for justice, for peace.  The Word speaks when we speak out for the lowly, the poor, the abused and neglected, the oppressed.  And the light shines, always, but when we share that light it shines far brighter than the Xenon headlights on your VW Passat or your MINI Cooper.  Work to end bullying?  The light shines.  Help someone out of addiction?  The light shines.  Volunteer your time at Our Saviour’s shelter?  The light shines.  Even giving a cough drop to a miserable fellow-worshipper, the light shines.  The Word, the Light, the Cosmic Christ inspires our awe . . . and shows us, speaks to us, of the many little things we can do for our neighbor.

I know you are in darkness.  For one thing, on June 25, we will have over 7 more hours of daylight than we do today!  But also, I know the darkness surrounds our lives.  LaVella Krona, a member of our community at Mount Olive, died last week.  Karen Slingsby, my partner Scott’s aunt, died in the middle of this week.  Thursday, our sexton William’s car was stolen.  (And though it’s been found, it may or may not be driveable.)  I am sure these same sorts of things happen in all of our lives – we know the darkness; we recognize it everywhere.  We get sick, we suffer anxiety, bad things happen.

And the darkness insinuates itself into our brains.  The darkness says:
You are useless.
You are worthless.
You make no sense.
You’re too fat.  Too rich.  Too old.
You’re too skinny. Too poor. Too young.
You’re too stupid.
You’re too smart.
That person who dumped you once was right.
Women are hysterical.
Blondes have no brains.
Gay and lesbian people will destroy marriage.
People of color are lazy.
 All the worst things about you define you.
You’ll feel better if you buy a few things, if you eat a few things, if you have a few drinks, if you take a few drugs.
 You do not fit in.  You belong nowhere.

But the darkness cannot silence the Word.  And the darkness cannot understand or overcome hope, or love, or faith.  Today, the Word comes among us, as one of us, for us, for all people; and we will always have hope.  Today, the Word comes among us, as one of us, for us, for all people, and we will always have faith.  Today, the Word comes among us, as one of us, for us for all people, and we will always have love.

And the Word says:
I claim you; fear not; you are mine.  You belong to me.  You are a beloved part of me.  Through me, you were created.  You are priceless, you are perfect, you are one-of-a-kind, you are precious.  You are beautiful; you are smart, and even if you are not, I love you.

The Word says, “I define you.  All that the darkness whispers – poison in your ear – I will heal, I will undo, I will re-create, I will wash away in baptismal rain.  I forgive you all your sins.  I free you to live in grace.  I call you to do justice.  I empower you to build community.  I am light, and before me the darkness flees away.  I will feed you with my own body and blood; I, the Word, sound all this into reality, and it is good.  You are mine, you are lovely, you are priceless, you are forgiven, you are free.”

Beloved, today this Word comes down on earth in Christ for you and for the whole world.  I invite you to trust the Word; and I invite you to share the Word, because the darkness will give way before it this Christmas and every day.  This Word is for you.

Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Divine Intervention

God’s intervention into our world which we celebrate at Christmas is the opposite of what most expect from a god: God comes without our knowing, in a way we’d never guess, and that is the source of all our hope.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord; texts: Luke 2:1-20; Isaiah 9:2-7

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

The Roman poet Horace in the first century BCE warned playwrights not to use deus ex machina to resolve problematic plot impasses.  Deus ex machina means “God out of the machine,” and it refers to having some miraculous or surprising or divinely-created event happen at the end of a play which resolves all conflicts and solves any problems in the plot.  (The “machine” part comes from the ancient practice of lowering actors on a crane when they portrayed gods.)  And it doesn’t have to be divine intervention – any unrealistic and convenient plot device that serves this purpose is considered to be deus ex machina.  Yet even with this warning, to this day far too often a story in a book, movie, or play has been resolved in this unbelievable manner.  The advent of the 22 minute sitcom in U.S. television, where every plot difficulty needed to be resolved before the final commercial break, pretty much guaranteed a lot of this cheap kind of writing.

The reason for avoiding this plot device is not necessarily based on its entertainment value.  There are enough movies and books and plays written which attract a wide audience because of their convoluted yet manipulatively satisfying endings.  It’s just that when one does this, one isn’t telling a true story.  Rarely in reality do complicated twists and turns of the lives of people on this earth resolve themselves simply and cleanly.

The odd thing is that quite often we expect the true God to act in this way anyway.  When people wonder “where God is” or ask “why doesn’t God do something?” it usually is in a context where God’s intervention is desired for a particularly difficult problem, where God could come down, as it were, and make all things right.  It’s a little like a child plaintively asking if something they inadvertently broke into hundreds of pieces might be fixed.  Unrealistic, yes.  But to a child, a parent has powers beyond knowledge and miracles can happen.

The wonder of Christmas for me is that it is the anti-deus ex machina in almost every way you can look at it.  If the Jewish people were looking for a true Messiah, an anointed one from God, who would rid them of oppression and restore the rule of King David, restore the kingdom of God’s chosen people, if they were hoping for God to intervene and make all things right, well, they wouldn’t have chosen the story of Jesus of Nazareth.

But in fact, we proclaim that this event of 2,000 years ago, this simple birth of a human child in impoverished circumstances in an occupied nation to two people of a long-defeated race was divine intervention of the highest order.  Not “God out of the machine” intervention, God dramatically moving in and fixing all things.  Rather, divine intervention in a way perhaps even old Horace would have approved: God enters the story, joins the plot, and walks with the people of God.  All the complications of our lives, all the twists and turns and difficulties of our journey, God undertakes.  Including the tricky and often life-threatening event of being born.

So how do we learn to appreciate this?  If we want the flashy, fix-it-all approach, and God chooses another?  I actually think that we often find ourselves in a third option, that we are living our lives the best we can, and whatever God was doing in Bethlehem two millennia ago we tend to think it isn’t likely going to change our reality – not in a flashy deus ex machina, but not in any other way either.

But I wonder, then, if we don’t have compatriots in this familiar story from Luke, companions on our journey in life, from whom we might learn to see this wonder that God is doing, this wonder we’ve come to celebrate tonight.

I find myself drawn to the shepherds this year.  Because they seem to me to look like us more than the others in the story.

If you’ve heard a lot of Christmas preaching, you likely know the reality of these folks.  You’ve heard about their lowly status.  While an important part of the economy and the faith life of the people, providing lambs for the Temple sacrifices, these were lower class people, rough, not acceptable in polite society.  You know the routine.  The fact that Luke tells us they receive the benefit of the angel’s announcement and not the nobility of Jerusalem is a significant point.

But what I kept coming back to this week was Luke’s simple words: “There were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.”  See, these folks weren’t looking for God to do anything.  They were just about their work.

When this happened they were probably sitting around a fire, most likely passing a bottle around, and telling stories about life, talking about their problems.  If they ever thought about what God could or couldn’t do for them, or what God would or wouldn’t do for the world, it would be remarkable.  It’s likely that if they ever contemplated the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob acting on behalf of the people they would have assumed it wouldn’t have helped them or changed their lives very much.

And yet, an angel comes to them, a messenger of God, and tells them some pretty fantastic news.  The angel tells them not to fear, that the Savior of the World has been born in nearby Bethlehem – and not only born, but born for them.

Most days, I think that’s our situation.  We go about our work and lives, and we really don’t expect that God will do much in the way of miraculous.  And maybe that’s good – if we’re hoping for the big flashy fix-it, I’ve already said that’s not usually how God operates.

But here’s the amazing thing: God still comes to us, too, even when we don’t expect it.  God has come to be with us, even when we didn’t think it was possible.

For us, like the shepherds, God’s answer turns out to be the thing we really needed.

And like them, perhaps, we didn’t know that.  We didn’t know that if God came in a different way it would make such a difference.  We who like our gods coming from machines and fixing everything, or better yet, like our own ingenuity and strength and prowess to be the answer to the world’s problems.  We who believe that only power can truly get things done.  We thought our way was the only way.  We thought we knew best what God needed to do.

And what we hear tonight is completely different: God has come, God has intervened – but as one of us.  One who understands how we get distracted by our lives, by our world.  Who understands how we begin to believe that nothing can be made right, that peace cannot come.  One who enters our existence, and joins our story – who enters the very plot of the life of the world.

This is what we can say about God’s intervention at Bethlehem from our distance of 2,000 years of time: it tells us God’s true hope for saving the world.  The reason God doesn’t come with a big rescue, a power move that makes all things right, is that God’s way is the only way to be true to our story, to the life God has given us.  By entering our story and living with us, God is able to show us a way of life that leads to life, a way of being that brings justice, a way of loving that makes peace.

For God, the only real outcome worth hoping for in coming to be with us is that we all find our way back to love of God and love of neighbor by our encounter with this Child who is born.

So even the announcement to the shepherds is significant to God: whatever the rest of their society thought of them, God’s way of life had to include even those on the fringes.  Good News for all people.  And this Child, when grown, spent most of his time on the same fringes, reaching those who had no right to hope for anything from God, those who had been told by others that they were of little or no worth.  That very fact of God’s coming is part of how God is reshaping the story of the world from within, beginning with this birth.  The triune God is declaring all of God’s children worthy of God becoming one of us.  That’s the miraculous divine intervention we experience here.

Like the shepherds, we had no idea that we even needed this from God, or wanted it from God.  But it turns out that the marvel is there is no other way we could have known God.  As much as we long for an intervention from God which cuts through all the complications of our lives and fixes everything, God’s wisdom for us is that such an intervention would not satisfy.

Nor would it achieve what God hoped.  Using power and force to achieve the love God hopes to see between us wouldn’t create such love.  It would only force us to behave as if we loved.  It’s the difference between a parent forcing a child to make up with another child, and a parent modeling forgiveness and grace in such a way that a child learns it and acts it in the world.

Or think of it this way:  In Isaiah’s great declaration we just heard, that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, the prophet declares that the boots of the tramping warriors and the garments rolled in blood will be turned into fuel for the fire.  This is at least as powerful a promise as swords being turned into plowshares, yet somehow this verse is often the overlooked part of this beautiful passage we hear each Christmas Eve.  We go quickly from the light in darkness to “Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace,” and pass this one over.

The power of this promise is that it seems to me that the only way that all army boots of all warriors would be turned into fuel to warm people, along with all their uniforms, is if the armies of the world themselves disband.  If they take off their boots and give them for burning.  And that can’t happen by force, but only by willing participation.

So if God’s ultimate desire is a loving relationship with all the people of this world, the people God has made, where we all are a part of God’s plan of justice and peace, the only way God could see that happening was by actually becoming one of us and showing us the way.
That means that only by having God walking with us as one of us could we truly know the face and voice of God, hear the words of love and grace that came from the mouth of this Child who grew up to teach us the truth about God, the truth about us.

Only by experiencing the transforming love of this One whose birth we celebrate can we even dare contemplate the love of God.  A love which is so committed to loving us that this Child ultimately faces death at our hands, only to rise from death in love and continue to call us to his side.  There is no other way God could have shown us such love.

Only by experiencing the touch of this Son could we learn what it means to be enfolded in the arms of God.  An embrace which is embodied in the gift that this Child gives in his resurrection that we are now his Body, his arms, his love.  So we are touched by God by the love the Spirit creates in our hearts, and we not only become part of God’s saving and healing of the world, we literally become God’s loving embrace to each other.

Ultimately, what we know tonight is that God in fact has done something.

For all our prayers and all the cries to God to intervene, this is God’s answer: I have come to be with you.  To love you, to lead you to a new life, and to empower you to be my life in the world.
It’s a way of intervention that takes more time than a magical wave of the wand, or an explosion of divine power.  But if the healing God is seeking for the world is to happen, it has to happen in its own way, and time.

And so like the shepherds, we come to see for ourselves what God has done.  We gather in the midst of this Body our Lord has created with our bodies and lives, and we come to the Table this Child has set for us, to see for ourselves.  To be fed with life and grace and forgiveness.  To be changed by the love God gives us.  And to be filled with wonder at what we have seen and heard, what the Lord has made known to us: God is truly with us.  And everything will be changed.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Olive Branch, 12/19/11

Accent on Worship

What annoys me the most about the Christmas season is the way some Christians tend to romanticize the birth of Jesus. They want to make it as soft and twinkly as a department store window. In reality, it was as dirty and gritty as any birth would be in a stable full of farm animals. The night was probably cold and the barn was most likely drafty. We would like to make it magical, but there was nothing magical about it. The angels came to the shepherds, not to the birth, and there is nothing in the Bible about angels singing and playing harps. They were probably quite scary, which is why an angel’s greeting before making an announcement is almost always, “Fear not.”

With that said, I love John’s Christmas Gospel. The deep mystery is in the Cosmic Christ, the Word of God made flesh. “All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being…He was in the world, and the world came into being through him.” Within these passages we read that Christ’s hand was in the creation of a universe so full of deep mysteries that man will never be able to solve them all, because they cannot even be measured. Quantum Physicists are today’s mystics for good reasons.

“Yet the world did not know him,” states John. This is just another mystery of the Cosmic Christ. The coming of the One who created all that is was not as profound as his being. His coming was a birth to a poor and temporarily homeless couple in a desperate situation. It is no wonder that the world did not know him. His birth was both a common everyday occurrence and the deeply profound mystery of which John writes.

This is not the whole story, though. Through this incredible vision given to John the reason for Christ’s coming was made clear. For those who believe are also born into the mystery of God, to become God’s children. John called Jesus “The true light that enlightens everyone.” He wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the mystery of the Incarnation, but we must also celebrate our own births into the mystery of God. For, because of the coming of Christ, we too, are made to be lights into the darkness.

- Donna Pususta Neste



Wednesdays During Advent
Evening Prayer - 7:00 pm
(One more week, December 21)



Our Saviour’s Needs

Our Saviour's Lutheran Church on Chicago Avenue (up the street toward downtown from Mount Olive) serves the homeless by providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, and a permanent supportive housing program, serving over 650 people annually. They are asking us to partner with them in this ministry.

Although the pre-holiday time is short, we are confident that Mount Olive members will, with their usual generosity, provide some of the needs of the people Our Saviour's serves. Some of these needs are:

 General needs: laundry and dish soap, underwear, linens and pillows, hygiene items, cleaning supplies, microwaves, vacuums, fans, and kitchen items. Some gently used items are also welcome, contact Our Saviour's for details.

 Financial donations are needed to help provide staffing, warm and comfortable facilities, and year-round service to those experiencing homelessness.

 Gift cards: These give residents the dignity of choosing their own purchases. Most needed are Target, grocery stores and Metro Transit.

 Day Planners are crucial to the residents' ability to keep their commitments and gain independence.

For details, contact Colleen O'Connor Toberman at 612-872-4193 X25 or volunteer@oshousing.org

Please bring your donations to Mount Olive and place them in the designated receptacle. Gift cards should be taken to the office for security. Your participation in and support for this ministry is sure to be greatly appreciated.



Vestry Update, Dec. 12, 2011

The December 12 Vestry meeting opened with a meditation and prayer lead by President Adam Krueger. After the prayer the group started with on-going business. It is with great thankfulness that Mount Olive expects to receive a check from the Juhl estate in the upcoming week.

Adam Krueger brought up that there has been interest in having an Aesthetics (and Building Use) Committee. This will be explored as a sub-committee under Properties.

Pastor Crippen announced that updated and edited copies of the recently amended constitution and by-laws will be available in printed and electronic formats, hopefully by the end of the year.Jan. 29, 2012 is Reconciling in Christ Sunday. Mount Olive does not devote Sunday worship to special initiatives, but in an Olive Branch around that Sunday special recognition will be made of this emphasis.

A concern was raised that the two back parking spaces on the east side have often been full with neighborhood vehicles when there have been Mount Olive events. We are hoping to find a way to be good neighbors but also to convey our needs for those spaces, especially on days when food preparation is happening and supplies need to be carried in from vehicles. Our sexton, William Pratley, has already been in contact with the neighbors about these spaces, and we hope he can help in furthering this conversation.

Neighborhood Ministries has had a busy month with Donna attending several activities with Bread for the World and Way to Goals. Jobs After School and Diaper Depot are both doing well.

Vicar Doughty has also had a busy November with preaching twice and leading Vespers. He is happy to report that after this week he will be able to return to driving which will help with his flexibility of home visits, not to mention shortening his daily commute.

Pastor Crippen reported that the past month was filled with the usual November festivals and events, but that going through that stretch for the second time was far smoother. He was also able to take a week’s vacation in early December.

Cantor Cherwien reports that the choir is going extremely well and is holding at around 40 members. The Advent Procession and the NLC were both successes as well, and attended by many. Currently he plans to take his sabbatical in the Fall of 2013.

For Congregational Life, Carla Manuel reported that the Advent Lunch for our seniors went very well. There were 70+ guests in attendance and the committee will plan for a similar event next year.

There has been much updating of the website going on as reported by Andrew Anderson of the Evangelism Committee. Look for this to continue throughout the upcoming weeks.

Paul Schadewald of the Missions Committee reported that the fair trade sale is going well and things are cooking up for the ‘Taste Of Chile’ event which is scheduled for March 4, 2012.

Neighborhood Ministries is collecting donations for Our Saviour’s Shelter. Please contribute. The Art Shoppe at Midtown is planning to become a LLC. In the near future, a series of bylaws will be presented to the Vestry for our approval. This is a joint partnership between Mount Olive, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and A Minnesota Without Poverty.

David Molvik has reported that Room 12 is almost ready for the Diaper Depot. He also has been working with the elevator company to bring ours up to code with new door sensors and emergency telephone.

Dennis Bidwell shared the list of individuals interested in volunteering for different responsibilities at Mount Olive. He encouraged the Committee Directors to peruse the list and contact the people that are on the list this week. He also announced that as of Dec. 2, 2011, 114 members have pledged $411,803.00 for the upcoming year.

Al Bipes reports that the hanging of the greens will take place on Dec. 18 and the trees will in place on the 19th. We also rejoice to host the ordination of Matthew Tingler to the ministry of Word and Sacrament on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 4:00 p.m. The next Vestry meeting will take place on Jan. 9, 2012, at 7:00 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,Lisa Nordeen



Knitters and Crocheters Wanted!

Do you love to knit or crochet? Then your talents are needed!

The Minnesota Council of Churches has a program that provides hats, mittens, scarves, socks and other winter wear to new immigrants who come to be resettled in Minnesota. Many immigrants arrive with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when they left the refugee camps, and those are often in warmer climates. Case workers often meet them at the airport with coats, hats, mittens and other warm gear!

We are collecting donations of hand-knit or crocheted hats, scarves, mittens, and socks for this effort - all sizes are needed! If you like to do yarn work and are able to make a winter thing or two to donate to this effort, simply bring your items to the church office before the end of the year. We have already filled two boxes and have a third box started!

If your December is too busy to give extra time to this particular effort, we will start another push for knits after the first of the year.

If you have any questions about this project or if you are in need of supplies or patterns, please contact either Kate Sterner (katesterner@gmail.com) or Cha Posz (chaposz@gmail.com, or at the church office, M-F, 612-827-5919).



Book Discussion Group

For it's meeting on January 21 (postponed one week this month due to the annual Conference on Liturgy), the Book Discussion Group we will read William Faulkner's A Light in August. And for the February 11 meeting the selection will be Native Son, by Richard Wright.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

With God, All Things

Too often we feel that it is impossible for God to bring salvation, to change the world, our lives – but as Gabriel reminds, with God, nothing is impossible. Our lives are therefore Advent lives, waiting with hope for what we know God will do.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Fourth Sunday of Advent, year B; texts: Luke 1:26-38, Magnificat, Luke 1:47-55 (today’s psalm)


Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

“This is impossible,” she must have thought. “There is no way God can make this happen.”
Well, you can imagine the shock for this young woman, really, a girl. Fourteen years old, engaged to be married, with her whole life before her. Suddenly this shining, heavenly being is standing in her room, claiming to be the angel Gabriel. And he’s telling her that she’s found favor with God and will conceive a child, and her son will be born in nine months. He will be great, the Son of God, and will rule on King David’s throne forever.
Well, that’s a lot to take in at once, isn’t it? What’s interesting is that Luke doesn’t tell us that Mary’s troubled by the idea that she might be the mother of the Son of God, or all of the attributes of Jesus the angel claims. She says “how can this be?” – in effect, “this is impossible” – but what she means is that she can’t figure out how she would have a baby. She may not know much about divine rule, and Sons of God, but she knows that she’s a virgin. She might be a peasant girl, uneducated, but she at least knows it takes two to make a baby. It’s kind of touching to me that her only concern is over the basic human issue of how children are conceived. How can God make this happen?
And Gabriel said, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

“This is impossible,” he must have thought. “There is no way God can make this happen.”
Well, you can imagine the shock for this old man. He’d served God faithfully his whole life as a priest, he had a loving wife, but sadly, no children. Now, when he’s serving in the Temple, this shining, heavenly being is standing before him. An angel named Gabriel, he calls himself. And he’s telling Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will become pregnant, and bear a son. This son will be a source of great joy and gladness. That he could believe. But the angel said he would not be an ordinary son. He would be like the prophet Elijah, going before Israel to turn them to the Lord, and prepare people for the Lord’s coming.
Well, that’s a lot to take in at once, isn’t it? Even if you’ve longed for a child for fifty years, how was this old man supposed to deal with this? And again, like Mary, he doesn’t focus on the challenge of the idea that his son would be a great prophet of God. Again, it’s biology. Even in his fear and shock, he recognized the chief problem with the angel’s announcement: he and his wife were very old. Only young people have children. “How can this be so?” How could God make this happen?
And Gabriel said to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

“This is impossible,” he must have thought. “There is no way God can make this happen.”
Well, you can imagine the shock for this man. From the shock of God speaking from a bush that burned but wasn’t consumed, to the terror of standing up to the Pharaoh of Egypt, whom he knew from his time growing up in the palace, to the wonder of their release from slavery, Moses had indeed seen a lot of amazing things from God. But now the people were trapped, facing water on one side, and the armies of Egypt on the other. There was no way out, no direction for them to go. The laws of physics were immutable, and if they couldn’t cross the water or defeat the armies – neither of which were possible – they would die.
Well, it was a lot to take in, a lot to grasp, wasn’t it? After so much, to be at an absolute impasse. And if Moses didn’t find the words to say, “This is impossible,” the people certainly did. “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt for us, so you wanted us to die in this wilderness?” And Moses felt the pain of that accusation. Yes, he thought God had led them this far. But surely there was nothing God could do now – how could God fix this?
And Gabriel said to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

“This is impossible,” she must have thought. “There is no way God can make this happen.”
Well, you can imagine the shock for this woman, really for all the disciples. Three years in the company of someone whom they believed to be God’s Son, blessed by his grace, his presence, his love, Mary of Magdala thought that she had found the source of life from God. And now this horrible week had come, and he had done nothing to prevent it. Many of the people she trusted among his followers had run away, and there were rumors that some had denied him, even betrayed him. Now he was dead, and all her hopes that God was coming to heal the world in this Savior were dashed. So Mary, with nothing else to do, comes to the place he was buried, a garden of sorts, on Sunday morning. And finds it worse than she thought it could be: the cave is open, the stone rolled away, and his body is gone.
Well, that’s a lot to take in at once, isn’t it? A week like that would shatter the best of us. Even had there been a body in the tomb, Mary knew the laws of the world. Dead people stay dead. Well, not always – Jesus had himself raised three people, she had witnessed that. But when the one who raises the dead is dead himself, well, who will raise him? What can God do to change this now?
And Gabriel said to Mary, the mother of our Lord, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

“This is impossible,” we think. “There is no way God can truly make this happen.”

Oh, it sounds pretty impressive, what Mary says God is doing in Jesus. It’s beautiful poetry, and we love to sing it. God has looked with favor on his lowly servant. God has shown strength, and will scatter the proud. God will bring down the powerful, and lift up the lowly. God will fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty.

The song resonates with our hopes for peace and justice in the world, our dreams that Jesus has actually come as our Savior and the Savior of the world. At this time of year more than any we hear again and again the promises that God is doing something, bringing about a new creation.

But those promises, on many days, seem impossible, as impossible as the promises seemed to Mary, and Zechariah, and Moses, and Mary Magdalene. Because we simply don’t ever get to a point where we see a world at peace, where even enemies are reconciled.


We read and hear the promise of wolves and lambs lying down together, of paths forged through the wilderness, of life in the midst of a world of death. But we know what is possible and what isn’t. We know the laws of physics, and the laws of human nature, and the laws of inertia. And we know – things just stay the same, and the mess continues.

And it isn’t just out there in the world that we fear God might not be able to keep these promises. In our lives, when we face difficulties and concerns, how often do we truly believe God can help?

We say, “I’m stuck in my sin, my habits. I can’t change. Impossible.” We say, “I’m unhappy with my life and who I am. There’s no way to make it better. Impossible.” We say, “I want to get along better with others, with my family, but it doesn’t ever seem to change. Impossible.” We say, “I’m afraid of the terrible things that could happen. I can’t hope or expect for better. Impossible.”

But Gabriel said to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

And don’t we know that to be true? Haven’t we heard, don’t we realize?

The Israelites went into the midst of the sea on dry land and were saved. An old man and an old woman had a son who grew up to proclaim and even baptize the Messiah. A virgin had a baby boy who grew up and was executed for preaching the Good News of God’s grace for the world, and in that garden on Sunday morning he called Mary Magdalene by name, and was alive, risen from the dead.

This is not a message of “possibility thinking.” If we just think good thoughts things will happen. No, this is about what God can do. Gabriel is clear: With God nothing is impossible.” God can and will and has done the impossible. And it is a marvel in our eyes.

But here is what Mary would learn: God’s way of doing the impossible isn’t necessarily our way. With marvelous grace and courage, Mary agreed to be a part of God’s salvation. And it was hard. She had no idea.

Not just the obvious hard things were ahead – telling her parents, her fiancĂ© about this unexpected baby, which risked her being stoned to death. But also just what it would be to be the mother of the Son of God – to struggle with how he grew, to worry about him and even disagree with him about how he was doing his ministry. To have to be at the foot of the horror of a Roman cross and see her first-born die a brutal death.
Mary had no idea how God would save the world or her through her son, who was also God’s Son. Nor do we. But the clue might be in the presence of this angel Gabriel himself, who says that nothing is impossible with God.

Gabriel shows up to ask something of Mary. Of Zechariah. And interestingly, an angel spoke to Moses from the burning bush before God did, and an angel spoke to Mary in the garden. But the point is not that a heavenly messenger is needed – in those cases there was apparently extra need for God to speak clearly. The point is, in all those cases, and in every way God is saving the world through the risen Jesus, God needs our help.

The reason things seem to be healing slowly, the reason that peace seems to be coming in such fits and starts, the reason that our lives don’t instantly and miraculously improve and become perfect, much less the world itself, is that God, for better or for worse, prefers to bring about healing and life through us.

The people of Israel would come out of slavery with a leader, a person, Moses, who was asked to say “yes” to doing this. The parents – Mary and Elizabeth, and their husbands, Joseph and Zechariah – needed to be a part of these two boys, raising them, agreeing to be a part of God’s plan to bring Good News to the world through them. And Mary Magdalene didn’t get to see the risen Jesus just for her own joy – immediately he sent her to tell the others, and she became the first apostle.

That’s what Mary the mother of Jesus and the others have to say to us today: God can do the impossible, but be ready to be a part of that. Watch for what God needs you to do to bring God’s grace and healing to the world. Be ready for your chance to say “yes” to bearing Christ into the world, to holding out your arm and staff over whatever sea spreads before you, to telling the world that he is risen.

With God, nothing is impossible – but we’ll be a part of that possible, that healing.

And in the end, that means we learn that most of our lives are lived in Advent.

Most of our lives are lived waiting to see the fulfillment of all God’s promises, waiting to see where God will do the impossible. Until we are brought to the life prepared for us after this life, we live in Advent times, and it can be easy to be discouraged, to be afraid, to say, “This is impossible.”

But we live in Advent not as people lost in the wilderness, but as Mary after her yes. We live within God’s pregnant life in the world – because that’s what the coming of Jesus was. It was the beginning of the Good News, as Mark says. It was the beginning of God’s healing of the world. It was the beginning of the end of death. It was the beginning of the reign of the Prince of Peace. This life is all about that pregnancy, that life of God growing in the world which is not always seen, and often misunderstood. But the birth will come.
That we know. Because Gabriel told us, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”


In the name of Jesus. Amen

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Olive Branch, 12/12/11

Accent on Worship

Pregnant Waiting

Mary was pregnant during three Christmases. (That would be my Mary, my wife, not Mary the mother of Jesus!) Hannah was six months along at the Christmas of 1988. And Peter was nine-plus months along at the Christmas of 1996, born on Dec. 30 that year. (Rachel was one month along in 1993, so not very obvious.) Being Joseph and Mary, we got our share of ribbing, especially during Hannah’s pregnancy – the first-born child, Mary great with child at Christmas, you know the routine!

This year during Advent we spend a little time with the other Mary, the more famous one, this coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We will once again sing her song, the Magnificat, and hear the promise of the angel Gabriel to her that she will bear God’s Son to the world. As it turns out, pregnancy is a very helpful image for not only the coming of God into the world in person, but also the whole way God intends to save the world in Jesus.

Think about human gestation for a moment. Nine months of waiting for a birth, and then we still really don’t know what this life will be in the world. There’s joy at all the stages, including the nine months. But the birth doesn’t instantly answer everything. As I have watched and helped our children grow, every day is a new day of discovery, of vision of what they will become, of living with who they are. I have no doubt that they are gifts of God and through them God will do good things in the world. But what that will fully look like will not be known for a very long time. Now, as with each of us for that matter, all we see are glimpses of the impact each of us makes.
And so it is with God’s coming. It’s not only significant that God chose to come as a helpless infant, risking everything on human kindness and compassion, and on the idea that someone would care for this baby until he grew up. It’s deeper than that. God’s salvation of the world in Jesus is very much like a pregnancy, birth, and growing up: we know that Jesus is the life of the world, but we’re still waiting to see the fullness of that reality, the completion of that gift. Mary’s song speaks of God transforming the world order, casting down the proud, feeding the hungry, changing everything. And as in pregnancy and childhood, we’ve passed a lot of stages in this plan of God in Jesus, but there’s still more to come, more to see, more to have done. In part because it’s God’s chosen way not to come in power but to come among us and to effect this salvation from the ground up. But also in part because God is also doing this salvation in and through us, and that takes time. Lifetimes of time, lifetimes of love and grace, lifetimes of working for justice and peace on God’s behalf. For 2,000 years of lifetimes God’s been doing this, and now through us. We cannot see the full picture, only glimpses. But the glimpses are what gives us hope.

And so we wait, now. We wait for the fulfilling of God’s promise of life for the world. But we wait with hope, because even now we see the fulfilling happening, bit by bit, person by person. We wait with hope because we know that the baby born to that Mary long ago did marvelous things, defeating even the power of death. And we wait with hope because that child, that Son of God, now calls us to be a part of God’s plan of transforming.

Come, Lord Jesus! Continue to live in us, and strengthen us to act while we wait, until you return!
- Joseph



Sunday Readings

December 18, 2011 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 + Psalmody: Luke 1:46b-55
2 Romans 16:25-27 + Luke 1:26-38

December 25, 2011 – Christmas Day
Isaiah 52:7-10 + Psalm 97
Titus 3:4-7 + Luke 2:1-20




Wednesdays During Advent
Evening Prayer - 7:00 pm
(November 30 - December 21)



This Week’s Adult Education

Sunday, December 18
“Hymns of Justice for Advent,” presented by The Rev. Dr. Paul Westermeyer, from Luther Seminary.




Hanging the Greens

Part of our Christmas preparation at Mount Olive is to gather following the second liturgy on the Fourth Sunday of Advent to hang garlands and wreaths in the nave and narthex. This year the date is Sunday, December 18. Please plan to stay and help on that Sunday, beginning at about noon. You will experience good fellowship as we prepare to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.



Sunday, December 25, 2011 (Christmas Day)
and Sunday, January 1, 2012 (The Name of Jesus)

Mount Olive will celebrate a single liturgy on each of these Sunday mornings, at 10:00 a.m.



Fair Trade Craft Sale – One More Week

Plan to do some of your Christmas shopping at the Missions Committee Fair Trade Craft Sale. Purchase beautiful and unique Fair Trade items handmade by disadvantaged artisans in developing regions. With each purchase, you help artisans maintain steady work and a sustainable income so they can provide for their families. Lutheran World Relief works in partnership with SERRV, a nonprofit Fair Trade organization, to bring you the LWR Handcraft Project.

The crafts will be available for purchase after both services for two more weeks, December 11 and 18 (cash and check only). Fair trade coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate from Equal Exchange will also be available. Check out the attachment/insert for additional gift items for sale.
This is not a fund-raiser, just an opportunity to buy good products for a good cause.



Matthew Tingler to Be Ordained Dec. 18

Matthew Tingler has received a call to serve as pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Nashua, New Hampshire. All are cordially invited to attend his ordination on Sunday, Dec. 18, 4:00 p.m. at Mount Olive.

Rostered leaders are invited to process. The color for this liturgy is red.



Knitters and Crocheters Wanted!

Do you love to knit or crochet? Then your talents are needed!

The Minnesota Council of Churches has a program that provides hats, mittens, scarves, socks and other winter wear to new immigrants who come to be resettled in Minnesota. Many immigrants arrive with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when they left the refugee camps, and those are often in warmer climates. Case workers often meet them at the airport with coats, hats, mittens and other warm gear!

We are collecting donations of hand-knit or crocheted hats, scarves, mittens, and socks for this effort - all sizes are needed! If you like to do yarn work and are able to make a winter thing or two to donate to this effort, simply bring your items to the church office before the end of the year. We have already filled one box and have a second box started!

If your December is too busy to give extra time to this particular effort, we will start another push for knits after the first of the year.
If you have any questions about this project or if you are in need of supplies or patterns, please contact either Kate Sterner (katesterner@gmail.com) or Cha Posz (chaposz@gmail.com, or at the church office, M-F, 612-827-5919).



Our Saviour’s Needs

Our Saviour's Lutheran Church on Chicago Avenue (up the street toward downtown from Mount Olive) serves the homeless by providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, and a permanent supportive housing program, serving over 650 people annually. They are asking us to partner with them in this ministry.

Although the pre-holiday time is short, we are confident that Mount Olive members will, with their usual generosity, provide some of the needs of the people Our Saviour's serves. Some of these needs are:

 General needs: laundry and dish soap, underwear, linens and pillows, hygiene items, cleaning supplies, microwaves, vacuums, fans, and kitchen items. Some gently used items are also welcome, contact Our Saviour's for details.

 Financial donations are needed to help provide staffing, warm and comfortable facilities, and year-round service to those experiencing homelessness.

 Gift cards: These give residents the dignity of choosing their own purchases. Most needed are Target, grocery stores and Metro Transit.

 Day Planners are crucial to the residents' ability to keep their commitments and gain independence.

For details, contact Colleen O'Connor Toberman at 612-872-4193 X25 or volunteer@oshousing.org

Please bring your donations to Mount Olive and place them in the designated receptacle. Gift cards should be taken to the office for security.

Your participation in and support for this ministry is sure to be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

Christ's coming incarnation is a scandal; the Holy One will become one of us, even while we are muddy and stuck, un-holy with sin. The light of Christ dawns and we see Jesus, embodied in the baptized people of God, the Church, and in the people we meet every day, whom we serve as Christ. We rejoice in the light of Christ as we are forgiven and freed to serve others.

Vicar Erik Doughty, Third Sunday of Advent, year B; texts: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28


In the name of God, the beginning and the end, our salvation + and our hope.

First, a brief liturgical-historical note. If your advent wreath at home looks like THIS, with three purple candles and a rose-pink candle. . . today’s the day you get to light the pink one. For full details about why, ask Dwight. (He knows!)
Now:

Who do you think you are?

That was a question posed to me when I first entered the process of becoming a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Part of our process is to sit with non-ordained and ordained members of what’s called a “candidacy committee”. And these folks are asked to begin speaking with a candidate about their life, their sense of vocation, their theology, and other stuff like that.

So the bishop’s assistant, Jane, said, “Tell us about your sense of call.” And I quoted this Isaiah text from today. She stopped me midway through it, and another member of the committee, scandalized, gasped, “Who do you think you ARE? Jesus?!??”

I have to say I was surprised. I knew that Jesus quoted this text about himself - but it just never crossed my mind that this was not the vocation of all the baptized. In baptism, the spirit of the Lord IS upon us - moving us to do all those things Isaiah talks about!

John the Baptist scandalized his own “candidacy committee”, the priests and levites - the crowd his own father was from. They come to him wanting details about his identity, and what he’s up to - Who do you think you are? Moses? The Prophet? The Messiah?

And John says “no, no, no” - he points beyond himself to “one who stands among you,” one greater than he, One whom he does not name, the light which is coming into the world. We do not get the impression that the religious powers of the day are less scandalized after speaking with John than before the conversation begins.

The scandal, though, is not really about John himself. Nor was it about me! It’s really the scandal of the incarnation that freaks people out. It is that WE are one way Christ is coming into the world - and Christ is also coming into the world through those we serve.

In Christ, God becomes one of us; which is bad enough, say these horrified observers. But then Christ goes on, through crucifixion and resurrection, sending the Holy Spirit to constantly be with us, to guide the community of the Church. And Christ starts being present all OVER the place, especially in *ordinary* people and things.

We even speak of Christ present in such mundane things as bread and wine; or even, Christ in that scruffy homeless fellow on the street. And Christ addicted to meth, attending N.A. meetings in our undercroft. Christ within other Christians with whom we vehemently disagree. Christ within atheists (wouldn’t it make them grumpy to know it?)!

It IS scandalous. It IS a little crazy. It is prodigal, meaning ridiculously generous; it is radical; whoever heard of one whose title and being is Holy, getting the Divine fingernails dirty? Our Holy God is so concerned for the life of the world, our Holy God jumped (and jumps) right into the mud where we live our lives.

So when John the Baptist is bearing witness to the light that is coming into the world, and when John speaks about the one among you . . . yes, he was talking about Jesus the Christ. And remember where Christ is?

In you.
In the poor person, living in a shelter.
In the one who can’t pay the mortgage.
In the depressed person, who feels especially low during the holidays.
In the wealthy person, too. The One Percent, even.
In the single person whose friends are their family of choice.
In the employed people and the unemployed.
In all the baptized, for sure.
In all who have need of any kind. When we serve those in need, we serve Christ, remember?

So . . . the light of Christ dwells in all the baptized for whom Christ died. That’s where Jesus chooses to be. And even in those not-baptized - Christ is there for us to serve, and respect, and love.

Maybe that light is dim. Maybe Christ’s light in some looks like one of the blue candles along the side aisles; you can just barely make out a flickering light in there - but it’s there. Yes! It’s in there. Stronger than you think, it just keeps burning.

So when we bear witness, like John, to the light of Christ, we are not just talking about academics and we are not talking about something utterly ethereal. We are talking about Christ whose light and image and presence is with, and for, every person who ever lived.

We point, along with John, to Christ and we say to our struggling neighbor, “this light gives life. This light changes what it touches; it heals and gives strength and hope, for this life and beyond. And this life is already present *within you*. Christ is already working to bring holy, life-giving, redeeming light to YOU, messy muddy mixed-up human.”

So who do you think you are? And who ARE you? You are a mess, dear friend. So am I. Muddy with sin, fallible, prone to pride or perhaps to self-effacing humility (just as bad). You (and I) are in bondage to all sorts of things, stuck in so many ways. We need to know a way out - but knowing will not save us, either.

And so, seeing us in all our helpless flailing, Christ the Word becomes one of us. Christ’s light is beginning now, on the Third Sunday in Advent, to dawn over the horizon, that we may look east, see it and rejoice, with new hope. We will stand in our muddy shackles of sin and sing anyway, because this is light we recognize as salvation - our king, the Christ child, the daystar and light of lights eternal, is on the way for us.

But that word “us” is important. Christ the light of the world is not coming only for “us” in this beautiful church at the corner of 31st and Chicago. Rather, Christ the scandalous incarnate One is coming to save *ALL* of us - for those of us here, for those of us in the surrounding neighborhood, for all people in all times and places, for the living and the dead. Including the drug dealer over at the bus stop, in whom Christ is present.

THAT’s the scandal of the Incarnation. That the Holy One loves all people so deeply, Christ chose to be Emmanuel, God With Us, even while we are as un-holy as we get.

That’s also wonderful news. It means that anytime we need Christ, Christ is already present in us and in other people who will help and heal and care for us. When we have opportunities, ourselves, to serve and listen and care, we may be able to feed that flame, and hold up the light of Christ within us, to better light someone’s path. We bear the light of Christ; we share the light of Christ. We embody Christ to others, and when we serve others we serve Christ in them.

Who do you think you are? I will tell you good news, news to rejoice about. You are free to be scandalously, incarnationally, Christlike; prodigally gracious, ridiculously welcoming, hospitable beyond all reason; to live out justice, peace, mercy, love.

So when we chant “The light of Christ,” and respond, “Thanks be to God,” we are rejoicing in Christ’s presence in the world, and in the opportunity and freedom we have to serve others - all of which is graced to us by God in Christ.

And when in Vespers we sing “Joyous light of glory” we are praising the light which sets all people free, which we see in one another, the light to whom John pointed - “among you stands one whom you do not know.”

All of us, in daily life, get to bear witness to this joyous light of glory. Especially as we process through Advent toward the East, the darkness fades and we can see that others around us embody Christ to us, and that we may - knowingly or not - embody Christ to others, letting our light - and Christ’s light - shine.

Who do you think you are?
You are a person Christ came to earth FOR.
You are forgiven and freed by Christ, Emmanuel, the light coming into the world.
And you are a member of Christ’s body on earth right now. It is with your love, your hands, your actions and words that Christ will reach out to a world unused to rejoicing.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Olive Branch, 12/5/11

Accent on Worship

I once heard the comment: “Do Lutherans believe they have the only true faith?” The answer: “Yes. But they also know they are not the only ones who have it.” Then there’s the Monty Python show where someone proclaimed to a large group: “You are all individuals!” To which one lone voice said “I am not!”

There’s the temptation for us to try to change everyone else into being like us; to believing in God the way we do, even understanding God the way we do. And we also think we need to be all that is of the world that we’re not – in hopes of them “connecting” with us.

There has been the suggestion by the church culture of the past 20 years or so, that the church’s liturgy and song tradition is incapable of connecting with those who are “in and of the secular culture.” That growth would happen through adopting a commercialist approach to music and liturgy. Through music, we can attract people who can then hear the Gospel. Any collective memory of meaningful song (which spans more than 2,000+ years) is abandoned – whether it is of a collective memory of the whole people of God, or of any given specific community of faith. So the church becomes like a commercial chain: the same anywhere you go. In this model, there is a huge emphasis on the smile and rhetoric cleverness of the pastor, and the beat of the musician. You just have to pick which retailer of God’s love fits your taste.

At the same time, some communities of faith can presume that their understanding, interpretation, their embodiment of liturgy and its music is THE correct and only true one. This is equally troublesome. What is “catchy” is seeing any group of people do something they are passionate about. Young people like what someone enthusiastically shares with them. The older we get, the more important memory is. What people connect with and meaningfully do and sing is going to look and sound different from place to place, based on who they are, who has taught them what, and the resulting span of its memory banks.

It’s less important what style or how a community embodies its liturgy. It is the meaningful participation that’s “catchy”. In this model, the emphasis is placed on the people in the pews, and the clarity and certainty with which they place the God they are worshipping above all things in life.

Here’s my take. It’s rather simple, and inspired by Dwight Penas’ excellent adult forum conversations the past three weeks.

1. The Liturgy and music we do here is meaningful, and perhaps unique. It may or may not be what is done anywhere else, but it IS done here and done to the best of our ability. It has no agenda other than to praise God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, and to rehearse who we are for when we continue “service” to the world. And we do this together. Our songs are drawn from a large memory bank which spans thousands of years, and is continually growing.

2. Jesus’ command is simple. “Feed my lambs.” Some talk about our neighborhood as if the assumption is that in order to connect with them they need to become members and worship God with us. But Jesus said what we need to do is tend to their needs. To me it’s less about having them come to us and more about us living with them. Appreciating who they are, AND appreciating who WE are, sharing what is needed with each other. It is this work for which the liturgy prepares us. Without it, is what we do in the liturgy truthful? So it’s not as much about having the neighborhood in our liturgy (although certainly possible), but about the liturgy sending us to be of the neighborhood.

3. We ARE different from much of the world. We actually celebrate Advent, and not Christmas, until Dec 24. This is so even if we are surrounded with Christmas, and some of us hosting “Christmas Festivals” outside Mount Olive’s walls (!!!). The world will understand the Nativity as it does – we can be who we are without expecting the world to agree with us. At least they’re aware of the concept of the season! We choose not to turn our liturgy into the Tonight Show at 8 and 10:45 am. It’s the people’s participation that points to the central things.

Let’s be bold. Blessed blue.

- Cantor David Cherwien



Sunday Readings

December 11, 2011 – Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 + Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24 1:3-9 + John 1:6-8, 19-28

December 18, 2011 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 + Psalmody: Luke 1:46b-55
2 Romans 16:25-27 + Luke 1:26-38



This Week’s Adult Education

Sunday, December 11
“An Introduction to the Gospel of Mark,” presented by Brad Holt



Wednesdays During Advent
Evening Prayer - 7:00 pm
(November 30 - December 21)



Hanging the Greens

Part of our Christmas preparation at Mount Olive is to gather following the second liturgy on the Fourth Sunday of Advent to hang garlands and wreaths in the nave and narthex. This year the date is Sunday, December 18. Please plan to stay and help on that Sunday, beginning at about noon. You will experience good fellowship as we prepare to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.



Book Discussion Group

For their December 10 meeting, the Book Discussion group will discuss German Boy: A Child in War, by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel. For their meeting on January 21 (the third Saturday due to the annual Conference on Liturgy), they will discuss William Faulkner's A Light in August.



Fair Trade Craft Sale

Plan to do some of your Christmas shopping at the Missions Committee Fair Trade Craft Sale. Purchase beautiful and unique Fair Trade items handmade by disadvantaged artisans in developing regions. With each purchase, you help artisans maintain steady work and a sustainable income so they can provide for their families. Lutheran World Relief works in partnership with SERRV, a nonprofit Fair Trade organization, to bring you the LWR Handcraft Project.

The crafts will be available for purchase after both services for two more weeks, December 11 and 18 (cash and check only). Fair trade coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate from Equal Exchange will also be available. Check out the attachment/insert for additional gift items for sale.

This is not a fund-raiser, just an opportunity to buy good products for a good cause.



2012 Conference on Liturgy: Liturgy Shapes

This year’s Conference on Liturgy, “Liturgy Shapes,” will be held here at Mount Olive on January 13-14, 2012 (one week later than usual). This conference will address the ways in which our liturgical practices shape our ideas about God, our ways of reading the Bible, our experiences of community, our understanding of the world, and our response to our neighbor’s needs. We are delighted to welcome The Rev. Dr. Gordon Lathrop back as our keynote speaker for this conference. Workshop sessions will be led by Senator John Marty, Pastor Joseph Crippen, and Susan Cherwien. The conference brochure is attached to this week’s Olive Branch email, and additional copies of the brochure and registration are available at church or by following the link on the homepage of Mount Olive’s website: www.mountolivechurch.org.

Cost for Mount Olive members is $35 per person.



Alternative Gift Giving

Are you looking for something different to do this year for Christmas gifts? Take part in a growing tradition by giving gifts that help those in need. The Missions Committee is promoting the idea of alternative gift giving this Christmas. For example, for $15 you can “buy” a school uniform in honor of a loved one for a student in India so that the student can attend school. We have catalogues from different charitable organizations that you can use or you can order from the organizations’ websites. Some of these organizations are:

- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (www.elca.org/goodgifts)
- Lutheran World Relief (http://lwrgifts.org)
- Heifer Project Int’l (http://www.heifer.org)
- Common Hope (http://commonhopecatalog.myshopify.com)
- Bethania Kids (http://bethaniakids.org)



Attention, Worship Assistants!

Is your server’s alb looking a bit tired? Soiled? In need of a minor repair or two? If so, Carol Austermann can help! Please give her a call if her services are needed, 612-722-5123.



Gloria: And on Earth, Peace
National Lutheran Choir Christmas Festival

In a world troubled with strife, the angels sing the song "Gloria" announcing the birth of the one who brings what we still need today: peace. In the beautiful ambience of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, the Christmas Festival creates a journey - musically and for the listener and literally for the choir itself as it moves all around these spaces. All three local performances held at the Basilica of Saint Mary, 88 N 17th Street, Minneapolis, MN.

4:30 pm Friday, December 9
8:00 pm Friday, December 9
8:00 pm Saturday, December 10

For tickets, please call the National Lutheran Choir office at 612.722.2301, or visit them on the web at www.nlca.com. Tickets will also be available at the door.



Knitters and Crocheters Wanted!

Do you love to knit or crochet? Then your talents are needed!

The Minnesota Council of Churches has a program that provides hats, mittens, scarves, socks and other winter wear to new immigrants who come to be resettled in Minnesota. Many immigrants arrive with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when they left the refugee camps, and those are often in warmer climates. Case workers often meet them at the airport with coats, hats, mittens and other warm gear!

We are collecting donations of hand-knit or crocheted hats, scarves, mittens, and socks for this effort! All sizes are needed! If you like to do yarn work and are able to make a winter thing or two to donate to this effort, simply bring your items to the church office before the end of the year. We already have a box started!

If your December is too busy to give extra time to this particular effort, we will start another push for knits after the first of the year.

If you have any questions about this project or if you are in need of supplies or patterns, please contact either Kate Sterner (katesterner@gmail.com) or Cha Posz (chaposz@gmail.com, or at the church office, M-F, 612-827-5919).



Church Library News

The newest display in our church library calls attention to some good reading for men and here are just a few examples:

Fifty to Forever - The complete sourcebook for living an active, involved and fulfilling second half of life -- for you and for those you love by Hugh Downs.
The Last Hero: Charles A. Lindbergh, by Walter S. Ross
Time Out! A Men's Devotional, compiled by Clint and Mary Beckwith
Third Base Is My Home, by Brooks Robinson and Jack Tobin
Empty Sleeves, by Phillip Rushing
All the Master’s Men: Patterns for Modern Discipleship, by Kendrick Strong
Andrew, You Died Too Soon: A Family Experience of Grieving and Living Again, by Corrine Chilstrom (from a family well-known to our Mount Olive congregation)
Staubach: First Down, Lifetime to Go, by Roger Staubach, Sam Blair and Bob St. John
Johann Sebastian Bach, translated by Hannedieter Wohlfarth (a student of Bach)
Paul, the Teacher: A Resource for Teachers in the Church, by Kent L. Johnson.

Our library is decorated for Advent and we are pulling more Advent and Christmas books all the time. Please stop back soon to spend some time finding something on display or in the shelves that may be just what you have been seeking. Again, remember the two passageways from the East Assembly Room and the distance will not seem so far away.

In closing, I share an interesting quote from Lord Byron: "I do not know that I am happiest when alone, but this I am sure of, that I never am long in the society even of her I love, without a yearning for the company of my lamp and my utterly confused and tumbled-over library."

- Leanna Kloempken



Our Saviour’s Needs

Our Saviour's Lutheran Church on Chicago Avenue (up the street toward downtown from Mount Olive) serves the homeless by providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, and a permanent supportive housing program, serving over 650 people annually. They are asking us to partner with them in this ministry.

Although the pre-holiday time is short, we are confident that Mount Olive members will, with their usual generosity, provide some of the needs of the people Our Savior's serves. Some of these needs are:

 General needs: laundry and dish soap, underwear, linens and pillows, hygiene items, cleaning supplies, microwaves, vacuums, fans, and kitchen items. Some gently used items are also welcome, contact Our Savior's for details.

 Financial donations are needed to help provide staffing, warm and comfortable facilities, and year-round service to those experiencing homelessness.

 Gift cards: These give residents the dignity of choosing their own purchases. Most needed are Target, grocery stores and Metro Transit.

 Day Planners are crucial to the residents' ability to keep their commitments and gain independence.

For details, contact Colleen O'Connor Toberman at 612-872-4193 X25 or volunteer@oshousing.org

Please bring your donations to Mount Olive and place them in the designated receptacle. Gift cards should be taken to the office for security.

Your participation in and support for this ministry is sure to be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Here Is Your God

John the Baptist proclaims Good News: God is coming to be with us, in person, and a way for God needs to be prepared in the wilderness of our hearts and lives. A grand housecleaning of the heart is invited so we can be ready for God’s coming.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Second Sunday of Advent, year B; texts: Mark 1:1-8; Isaiah 40:1-11

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

I confess, I tend to tolerate John the Baptist more than admire him, though I must say that he’s portrayed in John’s Gospel in a way that I find moving and inspiring. But the Second Sunday of Advent is always John the Baptist in the three synoptic Gospels, and it’s hard to get warmed up to him. He’s much more frightening than inspiring. There’s the outlandish garb – camel’s skin coat – and the strange food – locusts and wild honey. And his preaching is repentance, and it feels like each year at this time we hear threats of punishment and destruction from God if we don’t get our act together.

But something struck me this week that I hadn’t really put together before: in Mark’s Gospel, John appears downright friendly. It’s Matthew, who most scholars believe wrote after Mark, who adds the parts of John’s preaching where he calls those who came for baptism a “brood of vipers.” And Luke, who most believe wrote even later, includes that part, and adds the consternation of the listeners, who ask, “What should we do?”

And then there’s Mark, who begins his Gospel not with birth stories of Jesus or John, not with wedding stories of Joseph and Mary, not with genealogies and histories of Jesus’ background, or even grand theological themes of creation and Word, but with this: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And then he launches into his telling of John’s ministry. The context is that this is all “good news.” In fact, that word, “Gospel,” came to be used to describe this very genre of writing Mark was creating here.

And John the Baptizer in Mark simply preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. No fire and brimstone. No ax at the root of the trees. And no broods of vipers. It’s good news, it’s Gospel: John is preparing for the Messiah by inviting people to repent, to turn around their lives, so that they can receive forgiveness of sins.

Now, with his clothes and his food choices, maybe you still won’t invite John to your family gatherings this Christmas. But Mark shows us the core of John’s message in a way that does feel like good news.

And the question John raises in Mark, which the other Evangelists continue, is this: what is your wilderness, and how will it be prepared?

It’s funny, Mark’s biblical work is a little shaky here. He attributes the quote to Isaiah, but only the second part is from Isaiah, the part about the voice in the wilderness. The first part, about sending God’s messenger, is really from Malachi, and next year it will actually be our first reading for the Second Sunday of Advent.

But he also completely changes Isaiah’s focus and metaphor. This part of Isaiah, our first reading today, is typically considered to be written by a prophet later than Isaiah, in part because it takes place during the exile, not before, when the first 39 chapters of the book occur.
And it’s a beautiful promise of comfort: God is coming to bring you home, across the wilderness, back to the land of promise. The mountains will be leveled, the valleys raised, and a pathway will be made through the desert wilderness, so God can easily come and save the people. The wilderness is external – it’s between God’s people and home – and the physical separation of exile is also symbolic of the distance they feel from God, and from God’s grace.

But notice what Mark does with this – and Matthew and Luke follow suit, as does George Frederick Handel in Messiah. They take a metaphor of comfort in God coming through the desert and making a safe pathway home for God’s people in exile and interpret John’s call to repentance through that metaphor.

But John’s not as obviously proclaiming comfort (though he is, and we’ll get to that), and the people aren’t in exile. Yes, they’re under Roman oppression. But this is no external wilderness that John is declaring needs a new interstate highway. No, the wilderness is now inside the people – it’s internal, it’s their hearts which need preparing for God’s coming.

Yes, John is tied to Isaiah’s prophecy, but in a way that completely changes its original purpose and intent. The promise of Isaiah now becomes John’s call to individual people to prepare themselves. It’s not about another nation holding them as slaves far from home. It’s a question of what inside them is holding them slaves, a question of what inside them is broken, and corrupt, and needing to be turned around, needing repentance.

Which begs the question of us: what is the wilderness in our hearts and lives that needs lifting and leveling and smoothing and roadbuilding? Repent, John preaches – turn around, change direction, because you’re going in a way that leads away from God. John’s standing on the lip of a washed out bridge and shouting to the traffic, “Turn back, because this is a way of death.” That in itself is good news – because the option is to go over the precipice or to change direction. Pretending all is well is only a recipe for disaster.

But it’s also good news because it is repentance in the hope of forgiveness and grace from God. Whatever it is in your heart that keeps you from God, let it go, John says – and God’s love will be yours. Whatever it is in your lives that is wilderness and danger and broken paths and life-threatening, whatever “rough places” need to be smoothed out, whatever it is, clean it up, John says – and God’s way into your life will become open. Whatever it is that keeps you from God, now’s the time to stop it, change it, remove it, level it, bury it, move it aside, John says. Because God’s rule and reign are coming to you, and you want to be ready.

That’s actually the real joy of all this (and why Mark calls it “good news,” “Gospel”): God is going to come down that pathway and bring life, and forgiveness, and certainly blessing.

Mark says a few verses later that Jesus repeats John’s call to repent, but he adds, “the kingdom of God is near!” That’s the amazing promise, the truly Good News of John: the reason for the repentance is yes, forgiveness. But that serves a deeper end: God is coming down the highway!

John the Baptizer is setting us up for the astonishing news that God has decided to come and live with us. God will be one of us, will bless our existence by taking it on himself. God will draw humanity into the very life of the Trinity by bringing deity into the messy life of human beings. John’s message is almost unbelievable: God wants to be with you. God wants to live with you and be your God. God wants to live in your hearts and lives.

So, John says, you might want to clean house. Cut the underbrush. Clear the pathway. And of course, that’s exactly what we want to do.

But there’s one other thing we need to do, too.

What’s left is this: get up to a high mountain and tell someone else. Say, “Here is your God!” That’s what Isaiah says our call is.

This rescues us from hearing John’s message as a personal message only, one-to-one, me and Jesus. No, we are called to turn to God, to ready ourselves for God’s coming. But also to tell everyone we can this good news. This is the consistent and regular call to all disciples of Jesus in Scripture – after hearing, after knowing God’s grace, after following, go and tell.

Go and tell.

Get up on a mountain and shout the good news, or stand by a river and call it out, or go to the bus stop or the street corner, or the grocery store. Or listen to a hurting friend with God’s grace. But let other people know this Good News: God has come to be with us, and has come in forgiveness and love.

Invite others to turn to God, and clean up their lives, not because they should fear God’s wrath, but because God is coming in forgiveness and love and they want to be ready.

It’s far too much good news to be ours alone. It’s far too much good news to be silent about it. So now we become John, the voice in the wilderness, crying “God is with you. Here is your God!”

I suspect the reason for Mark’s choice to omit the threatening parts of John’s preaching when he wrote his Gospel is that he didn’t think his readers needed it.

He thought John’s message was such good news, such grace, such life – God’s kingdom, God’s rule and reign was near and at hand, and God wants to dwell with us – that people wouldn’t need threats to turn their lives around. Just pure good news.

And the way he describes the response to John suggests he was right: he says people from “the whole Judean countryside” came out to John, and “all the people of Jerusalem.” Really, Mark? Everyone in Jerusalem? Well, maybe he got a little excited and overestimated the numbers. But his point is clear: this is such good news, people drop everything to hear it, to come to it, to find it.

So let’s get up on our mountain and say to the world, “Here is your God.” “Come and see – God’s love and forgiveness have come near to you.” This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God indeed.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Olive Branch, 11/28/11

Accent on Worship

This Sunday we will meet John in the wilderness, proclaiming repentance; and Isaiah, proclaiming comfort; and we will listen to words from 2 Peter about God’s patience with us. Advent is all those things-- comfort, repentance, patience. As we sing through the night in minor key, the Daystar will come in his own time, changing the tone of our lives. He will come as a weak, world-changing baby, surprising everyone, including his zealous and perhaps slightly odd cousin John. (Locusts and honey? Hmm.) The incarnate one for whom we wait is likely to be where we do not expect him, and is not strong in the world’s way. How will you prepare to be surprised?

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

--Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

from Literary Companion to the Lectionary, Ed. Mark Pryce, Fortress Press 2002

- Vicar Erik Doughty



Sunday Readings

December 4, 2011 – Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-11 + Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a + Mark 1:1-8

December 11, 2011 – Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 + Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24 1:3-9 + John 1:6-8, 19-28



This Week’s Adult Education
Sunday, December 4

“Why Do We (at Mount Olive) Worship the Way We Do?” part 3 of a 3-part presentation
by Dwight Penas


Wednesdays During Advent
Evening Prayer - 7:00 pm
(beginning November 30)


Annual MOGAL Holiday Cookie Bake
Please join us! Everyone is welcome!


This Sunday, December 4, 2011, following the second liturgy (about 12:30 pm) in the Undercroft, all are invited to join the MOGAL group for the annual holiday cookie bake. Each year we gather for a bowl of soup for lunch and then bake a variety of holiday cookies for delivery to Mount Olive members and friends who are home bound, living in care facilities or unable to worship with us because of health circumstances.

Bring the ingredients or the prepared cookie dough for your favorite holiday cookies. We bake the cookies in the church kitchen ovens and then box the goodies for distribution. If you prefer, you may bring cookies that you have baked at home to include with those we bake at church. If you are not a baker and would like help with some of the prep, cleanup, and boxing you are welcome to join us too!!!

Please call the church office at 612-827-5919, if you plan to attend so that we can make enough soup.



Book Discussion Group

For their December 10 meeting, the Book Discussion group will discuss German Boy: A Child in War, by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel. For their meeting on January 21 (the third Saturday due to the annual Conference on Liturgy), they will discuss William Faulkner's A Light in August.



Advent Luncheon for Seniors
Wednesday, December 7, 11:30 a.m.


Have you received your invitation in the mail? If so, be sure to RSVP to the church office as soon as possible, if you haven’t already done so.

Are you age 65 or older and did not receive an invitation in the mail? This only means that the church office does not have your correct date of birth – you are invited, too! Simply call the church office to RSVP (and be sure to take that opportunity to give us your date of birth!).



Fair Trade Craft Sale

The Missions committee is hosting a Fair Trade Craft Sale. Purchase beautiful and unique Fair Trade items handmade by disadvantaged artisans in developing regions. With each purchase, you help artisans maintain steady work and a sustainable income so they can provide for their families. Jhonson Augustin from Haiti says, “This work is our tool to fight poverty. We want more orders to make money to repair and replace what we lost (in the earthquake).” Lutheran World Relief works in partnership with SERRV, a nonprofit Fair Trade organization, to bring you the LWR Handcraft Project.

The crafts will be available for purchase after both services on December 4, 11, and 18 (cash and check only). Fair trade coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate from Equal Exchange will also be available.

This is not a fund-raiser, just an opportunity to buy good products for a good cause.



2012 Conference on Liturgy: Liturgy Shapes

This year’s Conference on Liturgy, “Liturgy Shapes,” will be held here at Mount Olive on January 13-14, 2012 (one week later than usual). This conference will address the ways in which our liturgical practices shape our ideas about God, our ways of reading the Bible, our experiences of community, our understanding of the world, and our response to our neighbor’s needs. We are delighted to welcome The Rev. Dr. Gordon Lathrop back as our keynote speaker for this conference. Workshop sessions will be led by Senator John Marty, Pastor Joseph Crippen, and Susan Cherwien. The conference brochure is attached to this week’s Olive Branch email, and additional copies of the brochure and registration are available at church or by following the link on the homepage of Mount Olive’s website: www.mountolivechurch.org.

Cost for Mount Olive members is $35 per person.



Alternative Gift Giving

Are you looking for something different to do this year for Christmas gifts? Take part in a growing tradition by giving gifts that help those in need. The Missions Committee is promoting the idea of alternative gift giving this Christmas. For example, for $15 you can “buy” a school uniform in honor of a loved one for a student in India so that the student can attend school. We have catalogues from different charitable organizations that you can use or you can order from the organizations’ websites. Some of these organizations are:

 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(www.elca.org/goodgifts)
 Lutheran World Relief (http://lwrgifts.org)
 Heifer Project Int’l (http://www.heifer.org)
 Common Hope
(http://commonhopecatalog.myshopify.com)
 Bethania Kids (http://bethaniakids.org)



Gloria: And on Earth, Peace
National Lutheran Choir Christmas Festival


In a world troubled with strife, the angels sing the song "Gloria" announcing the birth of the one who brings what we still need today: peace. In the beautiful ambience of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, the Christmas Festival creates a journey - musically and for the listener and literally for the choir itself as it moves all around these spaces. All three local performances held at the Basilica of Saint Mary, 88 N 17th Street, Minneapolis, MN.

4:30 pm Friday, December 9
8:00 pm Friday, December 9
8:00 pm Saturday, December 10

For tickets, please call the National Lutheran Choir office at 612.722.2301, or visit them on the web at www.nlca.com. Tickets will also be available at the door.



Attention, Worship Assistants!

Is your server’s alb looking a bit tired? Soiled? In need of a minor repair or two? If so, Carol Austermann can help! Please give her a call if her services are needed, 612-722-5123.



Hot off the Press!

The greeters will be handing out the fall issue of "Greetings from Mount Olive Neighborhood Ministries" after both Eucharists this Sunday, December 4th.



Sunday, November 27, 2011

Staying Awake

We simply don’t know how much time we have – personally or eschatologically – so we are strengthened by our God to make the most of the time we have, to live today as if that is the only day we have.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, First Sunday of Advent, year B; texts: Mark 13:24-27; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (adding James 4:13-15 as well)

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Every once in a while I have a bad dream about preaching, usually on a Thursday or Friday. I’ll dream that I’ve slept late on a Sunday, and it’s 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. Worse yet, I haven’t written my sermon, so I’ve not only missed the first liturgy but I have no idea what I’m going to say at the second. Sometimes in this dream I have no dress clothes to wear (it’s usually that I’m missing pants, or in a less stressful version, my shoes), or I’ve left my robes somewhere else and they’re not at church. There are usually several levels of unpreparedness in these dreams, and a deep anxiety. And I always wake with relief to find out that I still have time to get ready to preach, and that I have clothes and shoes or whatever else I need to do my job. I feel the relief to the depths of my soul – I have more time.

When I was in college I had essentially the same dream, except it was about final exams, or major papers needing writing. Apparently I have an internal anxiety about preparation, about being ready. That’s why Advent is a good time for someone like me. Advent is a time of preparation, the most obvious preparation being getting ready to celebrate Christmas. But the Church has primarily used the time of Advent to remember to prepare not only to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, but to be ready for his second. These short four weeks are one of our yearly wake-up calls to remind ourselves that our time here is limited, that one day the Lord Jesus will return, or we will go to join him, that one day we will wake up and find out that it isn’t a dream, that there is no more time.

This First Sunday of Advent continues a theme we heard as the last Church Year ended, that at some point, there will be no more time to serve our God. It is that urgency Jesus is trying to convey in his teaching today: “Keep awake,” he says. Now, if only we could learn how we can stay awake, learn to do what needs to be done while we still can do it.

The hard part, of course, is not knowing the time. We don’t know how long we’re going to have to stay awake.

Advent is four weeks, Christmas is a set date – you can plan your get-togethers, your gifts. But the apostle James would remind us that even with set dates we don’t know the real time. James says in chapter 4 of his letter: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’ ”

James is right. And people used to take him at his word. They’d say “the Lord willing” whenever talking about future plans. But you don’t hear that much anymore. People make plans as if there are as many tomorrows as they need. I know I do.

And yet, we don’t need James, or Jesus in our Gospel today to convince us of the folly of that. Our experience will tell us that our time is uncertain.

When I was in my first parish, something happened after the First Sunday of Advent that brought this home to our whole congregation. I’ve remembered this ever since, of course. But this week I went back to find out what year it was, and to look at the sermon I preached on this Sunday back then. And I realized it was more powerfully a wake-up call than I ever remembered.

It turns out it was the First Sunday of Advent in 1993. It was November 28, and like now, we were entering Year B, so it was actually this Gospel reading. I want to quote you a couple things I preached that day 18 years ago. I said: “I have plans that reach into 1994, and I’m sure many of you do. And yet we never really realize how quickly things can change, and how soon our plans become worthless. And how unsure our length of time on this earth is.” And later I said, “Accidents happen so quickly, and change our lives permanently. And people die without warning all the time.”

The first thing I had forgotten about that sermon (and probably why I said what I said) was that in the week before Thanksgiving one of our teachers at the K-12 school in Cleveland had died suddenly, though I don’t recall the reason. And I had said in that Advent sermon that at the memorial service at the school I found myself sitting behind and a little to the left of her grieving husband and thinking how a week ago he never thought he’d be sitting here on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I’m sure he and his wife had all sorts of plans – where they would be, who was cooking, what the menu was, which family would be there. None of which they would now be doing.

The reason I went looking for this sermon, however, was Scott. He was a man in his late thirties or early forties whom I had baptized only two months earlier. He’d married one of our members, and had come to faith, and it was a joy for the whole congregation to celebrate his baptism. He was in church on this Sunday, and heard me talk about accidents happening so quickly and changing our lives permanently.

The next day he was killed in a highway accident. He was a truck driver, and his quick-thinking reaction to someone else’s careless driving saved the life of another person, but doomed his vehicle and himself. His life was going in a great direction, then . . . Now, it was then and is now a joy to me that he was in church the day before that happened, and I know that he knew he was in the hands of his Lord. But it was such a stark reminder, such a horrible blow.

As I said, I’ve always remembered Scott’s death in the first week of Advent, and it has shaped my Advent life ever since. But the second thing about this sermon that I didn’t remember until this week was that this was Advent 1993. And that I said in that sermon, “I have plans that reach into 1994, and I’m sure many of you do. And yet we never really realize how quickly things can change, and how soon our plans become worthless.”

Because I not only did not know that Scott had only a day left. Here’s what else I didn’t know on that First Sunday of Advent 1993:

Mary was pregnant. I’m sure we figured that out within a couple weeks, but at that moment we had two daughters and no idea that 1994 would bring us the gift of Rachel in July. Now she is 17 and I can’t imagine life without her, but with all our bold plans we had no idea what was ahead. A huge joy and grace were ahead – and we were oblivious.

But 1994 was also the year we found out my mother had ovarian cancer. One week after Rachel was born, she got that diagnosis. And I realized last week as I was looking at my sermon from November 28, 1993 that her cancer was already spreading throughout her body on that day and we had no idea. She had no idea. And whatever plans we had, well, they were about to change. A huge pain and struggle lay ahead – and we were oblivious.

That’s what makes life so hard. We like to plan. We need order in our life so we can cope better. But our experience is, no matter how much we plan, we never know. And all of us here have experiences like these where this powerfully comes home to us.

And then there’s this: that only deals with part of the picture, that we don’t know the hour of our dying. In Advent we also remember that we don’t know when Jesus will return, when all things here will end. And even though Isaiah and the psalmist today call eagerly for the Lord’s return – that God would come down and save us – we don’t know when that will be. And even though Jesus gives signs in texts like our Gospel today – enough signs to get some people to try to figure out the date – he also is clear: no one knows the day or the hour, not even Jesus himself.
So we’d be foolish to live as if we have all the time in the world to get ready to meet our Lord. We’d do well to be prepared, as best we can. The question is, how?

Well, it’s all about making the most of the time we do have, about doing our faithful work while we have the time to do it. It’s about living in the now, the present, as if it’s all we have. Because it is.

The first thing is that we begin to learn to live by faith. People who, like James, say “the Lord willing,” and understand that our lives are lived in God. And that’s enough. We trust that our time is in God’s good hands. So yes we plan, but always knowing that we don’t own our time, God does. And to that end, we constantly seek the presence of God.

I think this is more the sense of the psalm today – that we just want to have God with us. To spend the time we have with God, and the relationship God has established with us. To seek God in the Word, in worship, at this Table, in Christian friends. To get to know the God who loves us in Jesus.

Then our lives will be lived in the One who holds our time for us. And then when we meet our Lord, either in death or in the second coming, we will be meeting a well-known friend, a trusted Master, not a stranger.

The second thing we can do to stay awake is to stay awake – that is, to live our lives in a state of preparedness. Have our affairs in order, not just on our death bed, but now. Which raises some questions: Are there wrongs you have done that you need to make right? Are there people whose forgiveness you need to ask? Are there things you need to stop doing? Things you don’t want to be found doing when your Lord Jesus returns? Are there things you’ve felt God was calling you to do and be in this world, in your life, that you haven’t done yet? Are there things you need to bring to God for forgiveness and assurance that you are loved and blessed by God?

Then do all these things, Jesus would say. And we should prioritize. Remind ourselves of what is most important in life, and then spend time on that. Family, loved ones – these are our gifts. Our relationship with God, and God’s people around us.

And the third thing we do to stay awake is to live a life knowing we’re already a part of God’s coming kingdom. We seek God’s power and love to help us live the life of a child of God. We love and care for people as if it were their last day on earth, rather than believing we have time later. And we resolve to let Jesus’ will and love enfold us and guide us how to live. That’s what Paul’s talking about today: God will strengthen you to the end, Paul says, so that you will be blameless on the day of Jesus Christ. So we ask God for such love and grace to live in the kingdom already, even while we wait.

Jesus invites us to stay awake, be alert – and making the most of the time we have is how we do that.

The time we have could last a long time, or it could be short. But as a Christian living in God’s time, I can say this: I have today. If the Lord wills it, I’ll have tomorrow. But today I know I have. So today I’ll love and serve the God who loves me beyond death. And that’s all I need to know.

Next week, if the Lord wills it, we’ll gather together here again and continue our preparation for Christmas and our preparation of our lives. But for today, in the time we have, let’s live prepared lives in God’s time; and even more, let’s live in the joy that even though we don’t know the day or the hour, we know who it is who is coming for us.

Knowing that, it’s almost worth looking forward to, isn’t it?

In the name of Jesus. Amen


 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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