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Monday, February 28, 2011

Sermon from February 27, 2011: Eighth Sunday after Epiphany, A

“On God’s Hands”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen (Text: Matthew 6:24-34; Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131)

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

There’s a beautiful moment in John’s Gospel as he tells the story of Jesus’ night of betrayal. Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, and has given them the commandment to love, even as he tells them he is going away. Peter promises to stay with him always and is immediately told by Jesus that he will deny Jesus three times before the rooster crows the next morning. But right away Jesus follows those hard words with these words to Peter, and the other disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1) He meets their anxiety and fear, even at their own failings foretold by their beloved Lord, with peace and assurance, and this exhortation: do not let your hearts be troubled.

I kind of feel that same word from Jesus today. These are such important words to hear today after weeks of hearing Jesus elevate what it means to live in covenant with God, hearing Jesus describe what righteousness looks like to God, hearing Jesus call those who would follow to seemingly impossible tasks. Now, on this Eighth Sunday after Epiphany, we hear this: “Do not worry.” Literally, “don’t be anxious.” “God will provide.” It’s a breath of grace which we’ve longed to hear.

And yet if we listen carefully, Jesus is calling us to let go of a deeper, more paralyzing anxiety than simply concern that we can’t live up to his ethical standards, his modeling of what it means to be human. He’s talking about who we trust for our lives, about First Commandment questions: which master do we serve, and can that master truly free us from anxiety and fear to live lives of joy and hope?

And goodness knows we have plenty of anxiety and fearfulness.

But sometimes it feels a little inappropriate to focus on our anxieties. Imagine how you’d hear Jesus’ words, or the words of our other readings, if you heard them this morning in your house in Tripoli, or in your refugee tent in any number of places in the world. Jesus says not to worry about what you will eat, what you will wear. God will provide. How do you hear that when you have no home? When you haven’t had a meal for days? When your children, your family, have been wiped out? When your own government is killing anyone and everyone who dares protest a hateful regime? In some ways it’s hard to hear today’s Gospel and not feel guilty – we have so much, why should we be anxious?

And there’s another problem: our contribution to the suffering of others. How do we deal with these verses knowing that often our standard of living and our wealth comes at the expense of others? And this relates to Jesus’ image, too – he uses birds as examples of those who are fed and cared for by God without being anxious. But even among the birds it’s not all light and peace: if, for example, you have a bluebird house, you’ve got to be vigilant because house sparrows will drive out bluebirds and destroy their nests to make their own homes. Even among the animals there are some who deprive others of God’s provision and care.

So not only do we hear these verses as people who have much less reason to be anxious than do others, we hear them as people who participate – knowingly and unknowingly – in depriving others of God’s provision.

But that doesn’t mean we have no fears. We, too, are all vulnerable in our own way. We have our own reasons for anxiety and fear. To begin with, we have anxiety over the plight of others – we do care that others are starving and homeless, in our own nation and around the world. We do care, deeply, when disaster strikes and destroys the lives of hundreds, or thousands, making them mourners and refugees. And we are deeply anxious about how we might make the world a better place, so that hunger and disease and war and poverty are no more, so that all might enjoy God’s provision for all people. We feel anxiety and fear, because the task seems so enormous, and it’s getting worse all the time.

And it is also true that we have anxiety in our own lives, issues of trust, for we, too, face the chaos and turmoil of an uncertain world. In our economy, many are one paycheck away from losing their homes, and live with the uncertainty of knowing if jobs will be secure. Rising prices, collapsed housing market, world terrorism – so many things lead us to anxiety.

We know, and sometimes fear, that we’re only a phone call away from hearing that someone we love has a terrible disease. Or that something bad has happened that could not be prevented. Just this past week, a 23 year old man whom I taught Catechism as a fourth grader, whom I confirmed, and who was a light and a grace in his world was killed in a random, senseless accident while he was cross-country skiing. And the sixteen year old driving the truck which killed him now has a completely different life to face. And as Mary and I heard, my anxiety over my children, especially the two girls who are not at home with us, was so high – how can we live in this world? How can we protect those whom we love?

We’re all vulnerable and often feel as if we’re just a step away ourselves from being in serious trouble.

So it’s good to hear Jesus’ words today: Don’t be anxious, trust in God.

And Isaiah and the psalmist tell us to think of God as our mother. Isaiah says it’s unfathomable that a nursing mother could forget her child, but that even if that unthinkable thing ever happened, the prophet says, God will never forget. In an almost unspeakably beautiful image, God says our names are inscribed on God’s hands, we belong to a God who will never forget us. Like a middle schooler who writes important information on her hands with a ball point pen, God writes our names on the palms of God’s hands. God’s love for us is that of a mother who will always be there for us.

And so the psalmist invites us to find peace and quietness in God’s care, like a child nursing at its mother’s breast. So often parents – mothers and fathers – will carry their youngest children in worship and they come to communion with the child sleeping in their arms. Often the child is still sleeping as they leave worship. On more than one occasion I’ve thought, wouldn’t it be great to be able to have someone carry you in their arms again and let you sleep? That’s what I want sometimes! What an image of trust and love. Of course, they’d need to be giant-sized to carry us, but still . . .

But that’s what the psalmist invites us to find today – that we can trust God and know that God is carrying us, close to the heart, as a mother carries her nursing child. And the nursing image is good, too – not only are we safe and secure, but we are fed and nourished in God’s love as well.
But this makes Jesus’ initial point this morning deeply critical: just who do we trust for our life, our good? He says we can’t serve two masters, God and wealth. We have to pick. He’s not saying that we shouldn’t get food or buy clothes or do the things we need to do to care for ourselves and our loved ones.

What he’s saying is we can’t trust ourselves to take care of things. We can’t trust our wealth. We can’t trust the world. Jesus is saying there’s literally nothing we can do to prevent harm coming to those we love, ultimately. There’s no material thing we can purchase or make which will ease our anxiety about all those things we are anxious about. There is no work we can do, no security we can achieve, no insurance we can buy which will make all things new, which will ease our fears.

So Jesus tells us that the sensible thing then is to stop trying to serve all these other gods. He invites us to put our trust in the only One who can really take care of us, the only One who knows us and still loves us, and the only One who has defeated even the power of death.

We are loved by the motherly love of God who will not ever forget us. We are loved by the fatherly love of God who will always provide what we need. And in that love, we find the joy of simply living in the present, in the now, like the birds and the flowers – living in the sheer joy of God’s love for us which forgives and renews us and which always will be ours.

And this love in which we live and trust – it’s not a home where we hide from the world.

It’s the home which nourishes us to go and be God’s love to others in their chaos. At the end of this section, Jesus invites us to seek God’s rule and reign, and God’s righteousness. Perhaps that’s really what the psalmist and Isaiah are leading toward as well. That we first learn to trust God, and rest in God’s motherly love and care. And then we go out to do God’s righteousness.
No, we can’t change the world in one day, eliminate all fear and anxiety in one day. But Jesus reminds us of this great freedom, that we don’t need to worry about tomorrow. Take today as today, and let tomorrow take care of itself. In that freedom we can seek to live God’s righteousness, as Jesus has been describing these past weeks, a righteousness which we both live and are given by the work of God’s Spirit.

Step by step, one piece at a time, we can be part of God’s provision for the children of the world instead of being the ones who prevent it. And our trust in God can free us, too, from anxiety that we can’t do enough, or can’t do it all. We are to be salt and light for the sake of the world, but we’re not called to do it all, for God’s provision and care is sufficient for all. All we’re called to do is to invite others into God’s motherly embrace, even while we find our refuge there. So don’t worry – you are written on the palms of God’s hands and will always have God’s love. Let that take away your anxiety and send you out to let others know it as well.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Week's Liturgies

Sunday, February 27, 2011: Eighth Sunday after Epiphany

Holy Eucharist at 8:00 and 10:45 a.m.
Compline, led by the Minnesota Compline Choir at 8:30 p.m.

The Olive Branch, 2/22/11

Accent on Worship

There is a deep wisdom in the teachings of Jesus. Some have called him the greatest wisdom teacher who ever lived. However, there are some sayings of his that don’t seem to be practical. In the Gospel for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Jesus asks his followers, (therefore us) to make ourselves completely vulnerable to not only those who want to take advantage of us, but also to love those who are out to do us harm. Peace Theology is based upon this teaching of Jesus.

So let us examine the practicality of loving your enemy. Throughout history, you find that most nations react to an enemy attack by attacking back. The nation that eventually triumphs in these acts of violence then extracts some kind of settlement from the other nation, usually an important piece of land that holds rich resources, or land that is strategic in commerce or defense, like a sea port. This causes all kinds of bad feelings for the losing nation which, in turn, leads to bigger wars and more carnage. Examples of this abound throughout history. I cannot tell you how many times I heard in college history classes that “this war led to that war and this armed insurrection led to this crushing violence and generations of greater oppression.” One of the most recent and destructive examples is how World War I fostered the rise of Hitler and caused World War II.

When the U.S was attacked by terrorists on 9/11, we went to war in the Middle East. By doing so we created many times more terrorists and a far more dangerous situation for the west. Greg Mortenson is in Afghanistan, a nation with which we are at war, building schools in the poor mountainous villages there. He is winning the hearts and minds of the people, (something our military claims to want to do), one school at a time and deflating the power of the Taliban. There are presently several former members of the Taliban teaching in the schools that Mr. Mortenson has built. More and more villages are resisting the call of the Taliban because of Mr. Mortenson, and even Taliban terrorists are discovering a different route to empowerment because of him.

History has numerous examples of non-violent movements which have been successful. One of the most famous examples is our own nation’s civil rights movement and one of the most recent examples is the people’s success in ridding their nation of a brutal dictator in Egypt. And there are hundreds more such examples, large and small.
Jesus taught that you do not fight evil with evil, and you do not resist violence with violence. It seems impractical, but history has shown that non-violent resistance is more successful in ending violence, forgiveness and seeking reconciliation leads to peace. I wrote of nations here, but it also works with individuals.

- Donna Pususta Neste



Sunday Readings

February 20, 2011 – Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 + Psalm 119:33-40
I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 + Matthew 5:38-48

February 27, 2011 – Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 49:8-16a + Psalm 131
I Corinthians 4:1-5+ Matthew 6:24-34



Sunday’s Adult Education
9:30 a.m. in the Chapel Lounge

Sunday, February 27: “The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers,” led by Luther Seminary professor Dr. Lois Farag.


Socks Appeal

Many thanks to all who responded so generously to the request for donations of socks for the homeless through Our Saviour’s Housing. Neighborhood Ministries Coordinator Donna Neste delivered six big bags of socks to Our Saviour’s this past week, where they will be distributed to those who need them


Bring Your Palm Branches to Church
If you have palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday liturgies, please bring them to church and place them in the basket provided on the cabinet in the narthex.

These branches will be burned at the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper on March 8. The ashes from those burned palm branches will become the ashes for our Ash Wednesday liturgies the following day.


Field Trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

A special event is planned for Sunday, March 20, and you're invited to participate.

There is a fascinating exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, entitled The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. These small sculptures have adorned a French royal tomb since the late 14th century. They depict mourners of all walks of life expressing their grief in various ways. This is a fitting exercise for Lent, as we are continually reminded that we are dust, and to dust we will return.

We will depart from Mount Olive after the late worship service, stop for lunch and then proceed to the MIA. There we will see the Mourners exhibit, and then be joined by a docent for a private tour of art that express spirituality in some form. Cost of lunch is on your own, and admission to the MIA is free. If you are interested, please RSVP to the church office (612.827.5919 or welcome@mountolivechurch.org) or contact Lora Dundek (lhdundek@usfamily.net).

For more information on the exhibit, check out the MIA's website at http://www.artsmia.org. Please join us!


Final Week for “Bridging the Gap”

This is the final week of our appeal for funds to pay off our recent building improvements. Make sure your gifts or pledge is received by this coming Sunday, February 27.

The response so far has been remarkable, once more demonstrating the commitment and generosity of the people of Mount Olive. If you haven’t done so yet, join this effort to close out the building fund loan and leave us debt-free going forward.

This “Bridging the Gap” appeal was set in motion by a $25,000 matching fund created by the Mount Olive Vestry and Foundation from the recent bequest by the estate of our late brother in Christ, Earl Juhl.

The gifts and pledges are being recorded as they come in, and a final report will be in The Olive Branch next week. Brochures with a commitment form are available at church on the shelf outside the office.


Wish List Update

Many of you will soon see new folding tables in our East Assembly Room soon, thanks to an anonymous donor. As the library is being reassembled in its new location, a very affordable library table is being sought via the Wish List, and we'd very much like to see that donated within a month or two, when the library nears completion. I'm sure you'd all love to try out the new upholstered stack chairs in the East Assembly Room. We are in need of 17 more of those, so that coffee hours and Vestry meetings can be held more comfortably.

Please check out the Wish List, located in the office next to the Coffee Hour and Altar Flower sign up charts. If you wish to donate an item, sign your name and contact number on the line provided. You will be contacted regarding final pricing, as delivery fees may apply. Please make your check payable to Mount Olive and place it in an envelope designating it for the "Wish List," and include a note about the item you are donating.

Additional items will be coming from the Worship Committee to donate certain altar items. Keep your eye on the Wish List and help us make our dreams come true!


Highlights from the Vestry Meeting

The Vestry met on February 14 for a productive meeting. The final wording of “Lutheran Youth, the Call to Kill, the Call of Jesus” resolution was discussed with Al Bostelmann. The Vestry voted to endorse the resolution. The resolution will be a topic of discussion on the 13th of March, either during the Adult Forum or during the coffee hour following the second liturgy that day.

Much of the Vestry meeting involved a presentation of Pastor Crippen regarding the internship position, including proposed amendments to the Mount Olive Constitution and Bylaws to promote transparency and support for the Internship Committee. The Vestry voted to present the proposed amendments to the congregation at its April meeting for review, and at its October meeting for ratification. The proposed amendments are a result of a tireless review of the internship program and the issues that occurred during our transition year. It is with enthusiasm that the Vestry supports moving ahead with the internship program, knowing that God’s grace will see us through and will help us continue this valuable teaching opportunity for seminary students.

The list of current Vestry positions and terms was reviewed, and a Nominating Committee for various open positions will soon be formed.

A report from Art Halbardier states that the $25,000 match from Earl Juhl’s bequest has garnered a great deal of support and pledging to the new Bridging the Gap campaign, and Mount Olive will meet its goal of paying off our building debt at the conclusion of that campaign.
The Vestry and Mount Olive were thanked by Bill Bernisins from “Every Church a Peace Church” and Rev. Daniel Rift from “ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal” for our gifts of support.

Several staff reports were given. Pastor Crippen reported on a number of items, including anticipating a welcome of new members in early May and plans for midweek Lenten worship and preaching. Cantor Cherwien thanked us for the blessing of the annual staff Christmas gifts from the congregation. He added that his was a blessing on recent travel to Rome. He wanted us to know that he tracks his contract requirements and there have been certain Sundays bunched together where he used personal time to lead hymn festivals and other commitments requiring his travel. He also reminded us of his upcoming sabbatical in 2013, so the Vestry can prepare to budget regarding that leave.

Andrew Andersen says that his committee is about 2/3 finished with the review of the active church roster and they are continuing to work on the new website.

Diana Hellerman reported that Godly Play continues to move along nicely and the children look forward to the program. Attendance is steady to increasing slightly.

Paul Schadewald reported that the “Taste Of Chile” will be moved out to late spring/early summer. A Lutheran Volunteer Corps reception may be scheduled soon.

Carol Austermann and Eunice Hafemeister reported that, although we’ve severed our ties with the South Minneapolis Meals on Wheels program with which we were previously involved, their committee would like to move ahead with joining the Trust organization, , a cooperative of like minded churches in south Minneapolis which offers a similar program as well as other community projects. The Vestry voted to move ahead with aligning with Trust and Neighborhood Ministries can look into becoming involved with Trust’s Meals on Wheels program, as well as other neighborhood ministries. Neighborhood Ministries also indicated that a 2nd monthly community meal may be warranted and looks like it is feasible.

David Molvik reported that the new picture hanging system is installed for artwork in the Chapel/Lounge and a similar system will be hung in the East and West Assembly Rooms. He reminded us that 20% of our Capital Campaign Tithe has been paid out. We will need to review what causes the remaining 80% will benefit.

Adam reported on behalf of Paul Odlaug that our interim financial secretary has opted to resign. We are in need of someone who is willing to take on the position in order to relieve John Mayer from his years in that position. Offering envelopes will be changed to reflect Bridging the Gap donations come July.

Irene Campbell reminded the Vestry of the annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper sponsored by the youth.
Warren Peterson asked and the Vestry approved that Kandi Jo Benson Nelson be added to the Worship Committee.

Good news from Paul Sundquist’s report...January put us in the positive column of giving over budget. As well, last year’s line of credit was paid off!

Brian Jacobs reported that Diana Hellerman donated yet another Godly Play item, with the hopes that it would stimulate Wish List donations for Godly Play items. Also, an anonymous donor has donated new folding tables for the East Assembly Room.

The next Vestry meeting is set for March 14.

- Submitted by Brian Jacobs, Vice President


Looking Ahead to March

Tuesday, March 8: Shrove Tuesday
Youth-sponsored Shrove Tuesday Supper beginning at 6:00 p.m., followed by Burning of Palms.

Wednesday, March 9: Ash Wednesday
Holy Eucharist with the Imposition of Ashes, Noon and 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, March 13: First Sunday in Lent
Mount Olive Music and Fine Arts’ Lent Procession (lessons and carols for Lent), 4:00 p.m.


Thrivent Financial: Thrivent Choice Dollars

If you are a member of Thrivent Financial, you may be eligible for Thrivent Choice dollars and can designate them to Mount Olive. We are now listed as one of their preferred organizations. It’s simple to do. You can direct Choice Dollars online or call 800-THRIVENT (800-847-4836) and state “Thrivent Choice.” Several Mount Olive members have already participated, and this is a wonderful way to give extra funds to the church budget and is one of the benefits Thrivent offers to members.


Book Discussion Group
For its meeting on March 12, the Book Discussion Group will read The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard. And for the April 9 meeting, they will read and discuss the poem Gilgamesh.

This group meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. All readers are welcome!


Shrove Tuesday Supper

Come and celebrate Shrove Tuesday with the youth of Mount Olive, preparing for the fast with a feast on Tuesday, March 8, 2011, at 6:00 pm.

Tickets prices are $5/adults and $3/kids in advance ($7 and $5, respectively, at the door).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sermon from February 20, 2011 + Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, A

“Holy and Perfect”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen (Text: Matthew 5:38-48; Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18)

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

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Do you ever think of that? Do you consider what you might be like in a year from now? Or in five years, God willing that you still are here? What’s the long term hope you have for the kind of person you might become? Does it matter if you’re 80 years old? 40? Do you still hope to change, to become something different?

Who do you want to be when you grow up?

Do you ever think of that? Who would you like to be like? Who are your role models, the people you admire and would like to emulate? Are they different today than a few years ago? Do you even think about this? Are you at such an age that you no longer look to others to imitate, to follow?

The funny thing about us humans is that we ask questions like that of children – preteens, teens, even college age adults. And then we stop asking. It’s as if we only have the imagination to consider that maturity is something attained or found at age 24, that hopes and dreams to become something, to become someone are only the province of the young.

That makes Jesus a bit of a quandary for any of us who have passed our mid-twenties, I would say. I’m 48, so does that mean for the last two decades I’ve had nothing to aim for, no growth to seek, no maturity to find? Of course not, we say – obviously one matures and grows as one ages. But I suggest that we often don’t subject ourselves to serious contemplation of our models and our goals the older we get. We live our lives, and try to be good folks, but we don’t often engage in conversation with each other about such things. Older adults seem far more prone to say “that’s just the way I am” instead of “I would like to be something more, something different.”
Yet we expect young people to be open to just such thoughts as the latter sentiment. And as I said, that makes Jesus problematic for we who have passed well beyond our second decade of life. Because Jesus seems to think there is no age at which we should stop seeking maturity, no time when we set aside role models and aspirations to become better people.

It’s what’s behind his audacious statement today: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And we recoil at such a statement – hiding behind such platitudes as “nobody’s perfect” or “well, he really didn’t mean perfect.” And on a Sunday when this statement of Jesus is the last word we hear from Scripture and the first one we hear is from God, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” we are bookended by two claims on our life to which we seemingly spend little time aspiring.

As people of God who claim this written Scripture as God’s Word for our lives, that seems unwise. Rather than ignoring such demands, or pretending they don’t mean what they clearly seem to say, it would be better for us, or at least more honest for us, to face them and to try to understand what they might mean for our lives.

And what we learn is interesting: we’ve misunderstood the whole idea of what holy and perfect mean, and Jesus intends to help us back to the truth.

We’ve come to consider these qualities as unattainable and somehow because of that, undesirable. So as I said last week, “holy” is used in derogatory phrases such as “holier than thou”: holiness as arrogance and self-righteous morality. And perfection is seen as impossible, so it becomes offensive when asked of us – and standards are lowered because they can’t be reached anyway. We see this in schools and in competition, but we also see it in our expectations of moral life together. So when someone finds a bag of money at a McDonalds, as happened a few years ago, we laud and praise them for returning it as if that were not simply a basic expectation of our human life together.

But “holy” and “perfect” are actually different things to the writers of Scripture than we often think. To be holy is, as Leviticus says, to be like God – but holiness has a deeper sense for God’s people. Again and again, to be holy is not to be better than others as such, it is to be imbued with the qualities of God, and to be set apart for God’s purposes. This is something Luther picks up on in his description of the work of the Holy Spirit in article 3 of both Catechisms: the Spirit sanctifies us, makes us holy, to be God’s people, to do God’s work. We are anointed in baptism, made God’s holy people, as 1 Peter reminds us, to proclaim the good news of God who has brought light into darkness. To be holy is to become people whom God sets in the world to bring people to God.

And likewise “perfect” isn’t what we’ve come to understand. The Greek word here is a word which is better understood as “complete, full, mature.” For those English majors in the congregation today, it’s “perfect” as grammarians use it in naming the perfect tense. What’s interesting is that of the nineteen times the term is used in the New Testament, seven of them are translated in the NRSV, our standard translation, as “mature,” and three others as “adult” or “full” or “complete.” Fewer than half are translated “perfect.”

Which doesn’t mean anything changes about the word, but it’s a reminder that translation is an imperfect game, and that the word in Matthew doesn’t necessarily carry all our English connotations for perfect, which tend to be things like “mistake free,” “highest quality,” “flawless.” It seems far more likely that what Jesus is saying here is this: Be mature, fully mature, fully what you were created to be, just as God is fully mature. Be like God, complete, full, and mature.

For me, that’s a significantly different feel and sense. And it makes Jesus far easier to understand. This whole sermon we’ve been hearing these past weeks is a manifesto for Jesus – it’s his statement of how he will live his life among us.

All of these claims to a new way of life, the way of God’s rule and reign, are Jesus’ statements about who and what he will be, what he has come to live among us. A life which is merciful, peacemaking, which treats anger as seriously as murder, which seeks reconciliation with sisters and brothers. And today, a life which takes that reconciliation deeper, to enemies, and brings love into the conversation for the first time in Matthew’s Gospel. A life which models the life God intended for us to live, and the only way God sees that will lead us out of the destructive patterns of retribution and selfishness which break apart and demolish our world and each other.

Jesus today calls us to God’s full maturity as one who shows us that even for humans this is possible. This is not God demanding something from on high. It is God-with-us showing us that it can be done. Showing us how it is done.

And so our call is to become this ourselves. And that shouldn’t surprise us, unless we’ve decided that we have no need to grow, no need to aspire to something better, no need to become something different.

If that’s the case, however, it makes no sense that we come here each week to hear from God’s Son about the life in the kingdom. Why do it if we don’t expect to be invited to live that new life? Surely Jesus’ original followers understood this better than we. Why else would people have followed Jesus? Not just for a ticket to heaven – he hardly talked about that. They got guidance, direction – they came because he spoke of a new thing, a new way, a new life that seemingly could change the clearly broken way of the world. And they wanted to learn to live that life, that way.

And it’s also the best way to understand a key reason for God’s incarnation among us. Why else would God have come in person? To begin the process of recreating us to be what we were meant to be. This is the new thing God keeps talking about: that we mature into people who understand the world and each other in radically different ways. God’s ways.

Where we do not offer violence for violence. Where we respond to enmity and hatred with love and prayer. Where we answer injustice by taking it on ourselves even further – going that extra mile with extravagant graciousness. Jesus understood and lived this. So did Dr. King. So did Gandhi. So did the leaders of the Egyptian revolution.

This is the maturity to which we are called – what God intended for us all along. Think of God’s pain – seen in the flood story – as this world is filled with people who cheat and hate and kill, who are selfish and ignore God while treating others with contempt. A world where it’s dog-eat-dog, everyone for themselves – a world as we see today. God’s answer? To start individually and communally reshaping people from within, with new hearts, and to help them grow to God’s maturity, a maturity which transforms the world.

Because all this is for the sake of the world – that we become signs of God’s manifest grace for all. Salt, and light.

That’s why we’re set apart – made holy. Such living will have a massive impact – think of all the nonviolent protests that have transformed whole nations. Such transformation can happen in our local places, our lives, our work, our world.

Far from being unrealistic, Jesus’ plan, Jesus’ call to us is the only way that can truly change the rules of the world’s game. Sometimes we may seem alone in this – but that’s OK. “As far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” Paul says in Romans. What others do we can’t control. Jesus never promises that our enemies will love us back or not harm us. He certainly experienced that. But think of the impact his teaching and life have had for the world in 2,000 years. What Jesus is saying is, “Multiply that by all my disciples and think what could happen.”

And make no mistake, this is the work of God in us – the Holy Spirit sanctifies, makes us holy, sets us apart not to be apart but to be a sign for the sake of the world. We are brought to maturity by God’s Spirit that we might transform the very fabric of our culture and our world. This holiness, this maturity is something we acquire, we are given.

It happens in our baptism as we are set apart, as Charles will be this morning. And it happens as we worship, as we gather in prayer, as we live with each other.

On February 2nd, I took out the white chasuble to vest for the Eucharist on the Presentation of Our Lord. I hadn’t worn that chasuble since January 9th, the festival of the Baptism of Our Lord. But when I took it out of the closet more than three weeks later, I could still smell the incense – it wafted up from the folds of the fabric, and having clung to those fibers for nearly a month, it now came into my nose and lungs and I remembered our worship, and our prayer to God.

In a way, that’s what happens to us as we worship every time – something of God clings to us and carries out into the world. Not that we might seem holier than others – but that we are being shaped by God into God’s image, our original design and intent. Something about us is different. And with the grace of the Holy Spirit, others will notice that. And experience God’s grace through us.

So what do you want to be when you grow up? Who do you want to be?

Jesus invites us today to say, “like you, Jesus.” Jesus invites us to aspire to grow up, to mature, to become more and more like the God who saves and loves us. No matter how old we are, there is more that the Spirit can perfect in us, complete in us, and there is more grace that we can be to change the world.

This is the gift God gives us as we gather to worship God – we are given grace and forgiveness and blessing, yes. But we are also continually remade, covered in God’s holiness, which clings to us and shapes us and matures us as we leave here, that God’s grace and blessing might continue to transform this broken world.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Olive Branch: February 14, 2011

Accent on Worship

Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t do well with Commandments. I don’t like being told what to do – a fact that my husband knows all too well. So I’ve been really challenged by the Biblical Lectionary texts this season. I’ve lost track of the number of times recently that we’ve heard about commandments, or statutes, or ordinances or laws. Now Jesus takes the Commandments much further, into territory that it seems impossible for us to go – to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, to turn the other cheek, not only to avoid adultery, but even to avoid looking lustfully at another person, and on and on.

At face value, all this seems so one-sided. This week we observe a holiday that celebrates relationships. As I’ve heard so many commandments, I’ve felt a little put off by the image of God handing down rules and regulations for us to obey. Where’s the “relating” in that? Where’s the give and take in that? Where’s the conversation and negotiation in that?

Interestingly enough, the Latin word for “command” is the same as the word for “commend”. That word is commendare, which means “to give over, to entrust, to commit to another’s care.” This is so much more helpful in my understanding of a loving God – that we are entrusted with these laws and statutes; they are given to our care. And the amazing thing is that we are free to choose or reject them. If we follow them, God says that we choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19)… life, strong community, and supportive relationships. I envision the loving God, the loving parent, in an anxious and breath-holding moment, to see what choice we make, and to rejoice when we make the choices that fulfill God’s hopes and dreams for us.

We, in turn at Compline pray, “Into your hands O God, I commend my Spirit.” We give over to a powerful and loving God this most precious part of ourselves – our spirits, that which gives us life, trusting that God also chooses life for us. God entrusts us with words of life, and the Word of Life in Jesus Christ. Now that’s a “Commendment” that I can truly celebrate.

- Lora Dundek


Sunday Readings

February 20, 2011 – Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 + Psalm 119:33-40
I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 + Matthew 5:38-48

February 27, 2011 – Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 49:8-16a + Psalm 131
I Corinthians 4:1-5+ Matthew 6:24-34


Sunday’s Adult Education: 9:30 a.m. in the Chapel Lounge
A schedule of upcoming Adult Forum offerings is available in the Chapel Lounge.

Sunday, February 20: “Spiritual Formation: Solvitur ambulando,” part 3 of a 3-part series, led by Pr. Crippen.


Two Weeks Left for “Bridging the Gap”

Our appeal to wrap up the funding of our recent building improvements is going very well! Mount Olive folks are proving once again they are outstanding in generosity and commitment. If the trend of the past four weeks continues, it appears we will succeed in meeting the goal of this appeal.

The goal of this “Bridging the Gap” appeal is to pay off the construction loan for the remodeling of the parish house and Undercroft kitchen as soon as possible in order to be free of debt. The appeal was sparked by a $25,000 matching fund created by the Mount Olive Vestry and Foundation from the recent bequest by the estate of our late brother in Christ, Earl Juhl.

The gifts are being recorded as they come in, and a full report will be in the Olive Branch in two weeks. There is still time for you to participate. Gifts or pledges to this appeal can be made until February 27, 2011.

Brochures with a commitment form are available at church on the shelf outside the office.


Hold the Date!

A special event is planned for Sunday, March 20, and you're invited to participate.

There is a fascinating exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, entitled The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. These small sculptures have adorned a French royal tomb since the late 14th century. They depict mourners of all walks of life expressing their grief in various ways. This is a fitting exercise for Lent, as we are continually reminded that we are dust, and to dust we will return.

We will depart from Mount Olive after the late worship service, stop for lunch and then proceed to the MIA. There we will see the Mourners exhibit, and then be joined by a docent for a private tour of art that express spirituality in some form. Cost of lunch is on your own, and admission to the MIA is free. If you are interested, please RSVP to the church office (612.827.5919 or welcome@mountolivechurch.org) or contact Lora Dundek (lhdundek@usfamily.net).

For more information on the exhibit, check out the MIA's website at http://www.artsmia.org. Please join us!


Art Exhibit in the Chapel Lounge: Serigraphs of John August Swanson

John August Swanson paints in oil, watercolor, acrylic and mixed media, and is an independent printmaker of limited edition serigraphs, lithographs and etchings. He addresses himself to human values, cultural roots, and his quest for self-discovery through visual images. John August Swanson’s work is on display for the month of February, 2011.

This Week's Liturgies

Sunday, February 20, 2011
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Holy Eucharist at 8:00 and 10:45 a.m.
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism will be celebrated at the late liturgy.

Sermon from February 13, 2011 + The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, A

“A Matter of the Heart”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen (Text: Matthew 5:21-37)

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

Well, at least we can stop blaming Martin Luther for all this. I mean, his treatment of the Commandments in the Small Catechism clearly extends their reach to beyond the original intent. So not only are we to refrain from bearing false witness against our neighbors, we are to defend them, speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything. Not only are we to keep from stealing from our neighbors, we are to help them improve their living situation and their ability to earn a livable income. Under Martin’s deft hand, the Commandments become not only prohibitions but commands to very challenging behavior.

As it turns out, Martin was only building on what Jesus did. In this section from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus apparently is ratcheting up the intensity and scope of several key commandments – the Fifth (anger against a sister or brother is like murder); the Sixth (even thinking about adultery is committing it, and remarrying after divorce is also breaking it); and the Second or Eighth, depending on how you look at it (it’s not just taking God’s name wrongly or bearing false witness that is out of bounds – anything other than simple, true speech is not of God.)

So as Lutheran Christians we seem stuck at both ends of that phrase – both our Lord Christ and our chief theologian have just made the Ten Commandments almost unattainable by us. How on earth can we keep such a law?

I would suggest that’s not the real question here. The question is this: are Jesus and Martin Luther truly just making the law unattainable – either to show us how desperately we need God’s forgiveness or to create a new standard that makes the old law look like child’s play? Or are they suggesting that behind the law is a deeper concern of God, something that cannot be reduced to lists of right and wrong, or to simple rules? If elsewhere Jesus claims that all God’s law is summed up in love of God and love of neighbor, then the latter possibility seems to be the true one. Both Jesus and Martin Luther understood far better than we usually do the whole purpose of God’s law, and what it means for our lives as disciples.

First, that God gives the law to guide us back into right relationship with God and each other.

Even at Sinai, the giving of the Commandments was a part of God’s creating a people, a community which cared for each other and worshiped God with all their lives. The Ten Commandments are at their root describing such a community: The first three describe our relationship with God. The second seven describe our relationships with each other.

When we look at the bigger picture of the Scriptures, God’s law is never intended in the legalistic way we tend to think of law. For us as citizens of the United States, for example, about the only time we think of the law is in terms of someone breaking it. Perhaps even we ourselves – when we take a yellow light a little too late and realize it’s turning red as we enter the intersection, we remember the law, and if you’re like me, we fret about it. But mostly the law is not a part of our daily thinking or involved in shaping our lives.

But God’s law is different, or at least it was intended to be. It was intended as God’s way of shaping the people of God for their purpose to be God’s light in the world, and a blessing to the nations. To shape their relationships with each other and with God.

And it is with each other – this is a community God is making, and this law is meant to be lived communally. It’s interesting to look at Jesus’ words carefully. In this section he is consistently using the plural form of “you” when speaking of each commandment. And then the singular form when giving examples.

So we might say it this way: “You all have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you all.” He means the community to understand this as their call, their task. Then when he gives examples, it’s individuals who are addressed. “But I say to you all that if you are angry with a brother or sister.” You, singular. The life is ours to live together, but each of us lives within that community with our individual lives.

That seems significant to me. None of us are called or able to live each of these ways perfectly. Together we hold ourselves accountable and we help each other. We model to each other. We shape each other. We become a community where we take anger and hatred as seriously as murder. Where relationships are valued and respected and honored. Where truth is told without dissembling or ornamentation.

And we help each other to live in this way – this is how our relationships, our love of each other, is shaped and is meant to be lived. Jesus says that love of neighbor is equal to love of God – we cannot do these things alone, nor are we asked to. Together we are shaped by the Spirit into loving, gracious, people.

Second, if it’s a community thing, this is how we become salt and light, the call we heard last week: we are examples of the way of Jesus for the sake of the world.

And we might find this awkward. Our culture is peculiar in that it struggles to know what to do with people who act ethically and graciously. Either it’s so astonishing that it makes the news when a community or an individual acts this way – think of the amazement people had about the Amish community which forgave the people who shot and murdered their children in their school – or it’s seen as threatening. So people who make counter-cultural decisions to love, to be gracious, to put aside anger, are seen as a threat, as “goody two-shoes,” “holier-than-thou” people. And folks are eager to look for flaws which can be declared as proof that these people are “no better than anyone else.” We have so many clich├ęs and phrases for this phenomenon because it’s so pervasive.

All of which might make us hesitate to think of our faith community as a model of anything. Either our awareness of our own truth, our own sinfulness, keeps us from seeing this. Or our concern that we’d be seen as self-righteous.

Be that as it may, it is what Jesus asks of us. From the beginning, Israel was to be a light, a blessing to the nations. Now the Son of God has called us to that task. So in John: “they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another,” Jesus says. It is how we live in community which enlightens the world.

A community where we take seriously our love for each other so much that we address our anger before it harms the other. Where we don’t make our offerings before God until we’ve reconciled with each other. Where we take our relationships so seriously and so lovingly that we respect and honor each other – and each other’s partners. Where we take the truth so seriously and so lovingly that we needn’t couch our conversation in vows or promises – we speak yes and no to each other in love and grace.

Such a community in a world like ours would be remarkable. It would be a witness. It might even bring God’s light into the darkness of the world.

And third, we live this way because our Lord, the Son of God, has called us to this – and has fulfilled it for us.

We do not understand this way of life apart from the cross of Jesus. His life was this life – and he died living this life. His witness changed his disciples and the world. And his forgiveness of us is at the heart of this call. We are called to be a Christ community, a people of God who look like Christ and so witness to the world. We are forgiven by Jesus for just that reason: that we might become such witnesses through the grace and forgiveness we are given.

Because we are called to honesty, and because we are shown the heart behind the law, there are no pretenses here. We confess our sins because we know that even if we think we’ve followed the letter of God’s law, we have failed to follow the spirit of the law Jesus shows here. We see the heart of God’s plan for how we are to be with each other and with God, and we know we have failed to live that way.

But it is the Son of God we follow, whose forgiveness and life given us in his death and resurrection continue not only to call us to this heart of God, this new life, but also give us the power to become such witnesses, such disciples.

It’s all a matter of the heart. And so we pray with King David – as we will again on Ash Wednesday – for new hearts.

To have God continue to make clean hearts in us, new hearts which are shaped in love for God and love for neighbor. Which are shaped to be in this place a community of witness and grace for the sake of the world – not because we are holier than anyone else but precisely because we are not, and we speak truth here, and we seek God’s forgiveness and grace here. And in that forgiveness and grace we are shaped to be salt and light for the whole world. Or at least our little corner of it. And through us, God’s blessing continues to spread to all people.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

This Week's Liturgies

Sunday, February 13, 2011
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Holy Eucharist at 8:00 & 10:45 a.m.

The Olive Branch: February 7, 2011

Accent on Worship

In the zone

We’ve been hearing a lot about discipleship lately. Close to the word discipline. An ongoing, passive thing – and a good thing – following Christ; a way of being. As I thought about what I might write about for this week’s Accent on Worship, I thought about the ways discipline, or discipleship applies to worship. I’m calling it “getting in the zone.”

Naturally, my first thought went to singing. In a perfect world, we would all naturally want to erupt into song together. Same key. Same song. Same tempo. Same subjective responses to everything we sing, maybe even with the same reasons for those subjective responses (“I love that one because…”). We have to sacrifice a lot of that in order to sing together. The reality is that we have to DECIDE to sing along with everyone else – proactively! Along with that decision, it means letting go – letting go of inhibition, letting go of the centrality of self in favor of community. We collectively offer a gift from the center of our being, body mind and soul. My hope is that we decide to do this fully, and not half-way. That is “the zone” of song, even if individually we’re not in a mood to do so. We’re doing it for God, and for our neighbor who likely is in the zone and needs our help. Maybe they can’t sing and need us to do it for them. In any case, it’s truly letting go of self in these instances.

Deciding to come to worship is perhaps one of the most astounding things. There are many other options for our time, but deciding to be here for all liturgies is a discipline. We do it perhaps for ourselves, but mostly for God, and for each other to be sure. Discipleship means we’re in “the zone” of regularly being here – reliably. When we’re not “in the zone” this is still where we need to be. We stay in the practice of letting go of what we want in favor of what we need.

The liturgy and its shape provide the opportunity to enter into a focus. There’s a flow: one thing flows into the next providing for an uninterrupted train of thought. That is why we do not have announcements, verbal instructions, etc. The liturgy protects us from focusing in on things or people interjected by even well-intentioned leaders and participants.

“In the zone” also means deciding to not get lured into distractions beyond our control. Being in the city certainly provides an abundance of potential distractions. Traffic,

boom-boxes in cars throbbing as they wait for the light next to our nave, helicopters and jets flying over us at low and loud levels, the list can go on. I remember a sung response being immediately followed by the blaring horn of a fire-truck (with siren as well). At least the horn was in the same key as our gentle response (was it “Lamb of God?” Can’t remember).
We also have various potential distractions from within our building – people arriving late or leaving early, coughing/sneezing, children, even the occasional accidental cell phone ring– all are there. But, where does our focus stay? We can choose to stay in the zone, focused on what we are doing in worship in spite of these temptations to pull us out of the zone to admonish a distraction. It’s another choice we often actively have to make. Should we call the fire department and say no sirens during worship?

Some of these things may indeed distract us in an acceptable way. When I hear a helicopter, I pray for the person being air-lifted to one of the close-by hospitals. With a fire truck, I think of the originators of the emergency call, anxiously waiting for the arrival of the fire fighters. With children, I thank God for their presence!!

Let’s choose to stay in the zone. God is above all these distractions. As one person put it, every liturgy should be cherished as if it were our last. What kind of zone would that put us in if we knew that to be the case? It might be.

- Cantor David Cherwien


Sunday Readings

February 13, 2011 – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 + Psalm 119:1-8
I Corinthians 3:1-9+ Matthew 5:21-37

February 20, 2011 – Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 + Psalm 119:33-40
I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 + Matthew 5:38-48


Sunday’s Adult Education
9:30 a.m. in the Chapel Lounge
A schedule of upcoming Adult Forum offerings is available in the Chapel Lounge.

Sunday, February 13: A forum on ministry to the Latino community


Book Discussion Group’s Upcoming Reads

For its meeting on February 12 the book group will discuss Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, and for the March 12 meeting, The River of Doubt by Candice Millard.


Neighborhood Ministries Newsletter

Our Neighborhood Ministries Newsletter, Greetings From Mount Olive Neighborhood Ministries, is hot off the press. They will be distributed by the Greeters after both liturgies on Sunday, February 13.


Upcoming Music & Fine Arts Events
February 1-28, 2011: Art display: Serigraphs of John August Swanson

John August Swanson paints in oil, watercolor, acrylic and mixed media, and is an independent printmaker of limited edition serigraphs, lithographs and etchings. He addresses himself to human values, cultural roots, and his quest for self-discovery through visual images. John August Swanson’s work will be on display for an entire month, open before and after the February 13 MFA event, as well as on Sundays and other days of a church function. (This display was postponed in 2010 due to construction.)

This Sunday, February 13, 2011, 4:00 pm: Minnesota Boychoir, Mark Johnson, Conductor

The Minnesota Boy Choir makes a return to Mount Olive for this mid-winter concert. Internationally renowned, the Minnesota Boychoir is the oldest continuously operating boy choir in the Twin Cities area, tracing its roots back over forty years. Join us for a concert of diverse repertoire. A reception will follow the concert.


Sox Box

Our Savior's Shelter is collecting socks for those who are homeless. Any and all sizes are needed.

Please bring your donations of socks to Mount Olive and find the “Sox Box” in the East Assembly Room to receive them. Your generous response is anticipated and appreciated.


Upcoming Adult Forums

Feb. 13 A forum on ministry to the Latino community
Feb 20 Pr. Crippen (Part 3 of a 3-part series): Spiritual Formation: Solvitur ambulando
Feb. 27 Prof. Dr. Lois Farag (Luther Seminary Professor who is a Coptic Nun): Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers
Mar. 6 Rabbi Earl Schwartz on Interpreting the Psalms
Mar. 13 To Be Announced
Mar. 20 Prof. Dr. Dirk Lange (Professor of Liturgy at Luther Seminary who was once a monk at Taize): The Spirituality of Taize (Part I)
Mar. 27 Prof. Dr. Dirk Lange (Part II)
Apr. 3 The Saint John’s Bible: What It Is and How It Came to Be
Apr. 10 To Be announced
Apr. 17 Palm/Passion Sunday: Offering of Letters for Bread for the World
Apr. 24 Easter Day: No Adult Forum


Guidelines for Management of the Newly-Renovated Spaces

Below is the final section of the new space usage and furnishing guidelines recently adopted by the Vestry. For questions, please contact a Vestry member, or David Molvik from the Properties Committee. In an effort to preserve the integrity of the new spaces to keep them looking as uncluttered as possible, the Vestry has adopted the following guidelines for bulletin boards and other hanging objects in the building:

Items such as artwork, bulletin boards, signage and other wall-hung items must be approved before posting.

• No bulletin boards will be hung on the walls in the hallway between the chapel lounge and the west hospitality space. Other suitable locations for bulletin boards exist and will be identified by the Facilities committee.

• A system for hanging artwork will be purchased and all artwork hung in permanent installation or for art shows will utilize this system, unless other arrangements are needed, and only after the approval of the Facilities Committee.

• Displays of literature, brochures, posters, etc. should be confined to the appropriate bulletin boards, literature racks or on the welcome/reception desk.


Wish List Update

We have had yet another anonymous donor generously give new folding tables for meeting use to be used in the East Assembly Room. These will be new, clean, made of molded plastic, and lightweight! We currently have received three of the twenty upholstered stacking chairs to be used around those tables for meetings. You might see them in the East Assembly Room. Try them out and compare them to the old folding chairs, and you'll see what a difference they will make to the look of the room, as well as to the comfort of those attending meetings. If you are interested in donating a furniture item, these would be at the top of the wish list right now. We have also placed a wish for an additional six that could be used in the nearly finished library, should the current library chairs not be suitable.

We have received five of the eight upholstered guest chairs to be used interchangeably among the office and the chapel. These are highly mobile and can be used anywhere for any function, and fit right in to the current decor.

You may have noticed that the mix of old and new furniture in the West Reception Area looks a bit mish-mashed, and if anyone were interested in donating coffee tables that would match the new sofas, those are listed as well. Otherwise, we'll make do with what we have. We've also changed the size and style of the library table. This will be mahogany, to match all the other items, and will easily seat six. If you'd be interested in investing in this item, that will help get our library off to a running start! We're also listing a much-needed coat rack to be used in the office. Thank you for all of your recent gifts and feel free to keep them coming. Each item adds a bit of extra polish and comfort to an already most enjoyable renovated space.

Of course, furniture is not the only thing on our wish list. Diana Hellerman has graciously donated many items for her dynamic new education endeavor of Godly Play. However, your willingness to donate to the cause will help offset Diana's expenses and allow for more purchases for an already ambitious program. Many Godly Play items are listed for your consideration.

If you choose to make a donation for any of the items on the Wish List, please place your name and contact number next to the item you wish to donate. You will be contacted regarding total amount as shipping charges may apply. You may then write your check to Mount Olive, place it in an envelope and indicate it is a donation to the Wish List for the item you are donating. The counters will direct your donation to the proper account and you will see your donation reflected on your annual tax statement. The Wish List is located on the office bulletin board next to altar flower donations.


Hold the Date!

A special event is planned for Sunday, March 20, and you're invited to participate.

There is a fascinating exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, entitled The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. These small sculptures have adorned a French royal tomb since the late 14th century. They depict mourners of all walks of life expressing their grief in various ways. This is a fitting exercise for Lent, as we are continually reminded that we are dust, and to dust we will return.

We will depart from Mount Olive after the late worship service, stop for lunch and then proceed to the MIA. There we will see the Mourners exhibit, and then be joined by a docent for a private tour of art that expresses spirituality in some form. Cost of lunch is on your own, and admission to the MIA is free. If you are interested, please RSVP to the church office (612.827.5919 or welcome@mountolivechurch.org) or contact Lora Dundek (lhdundek@usfamily.net).

For more information on the exhibit, check out the MIA's website at http://www.artsmia.org. Please join us!


Powderhorn Night of Peace

All are cordially invited to attend a community social gathering to promote a peaceful atmosphere for all families and neighbors in Powderhorn. This gathering will be held this Sunday, February 13, from 6-8 p.m. at 3400 15th Ave. S. (beside the park building).

Music, entertainment, food, and a bonfire will be provided. Bring a bowl, spoon, and a candle – and be sure to dress warmly!

Sermon from February 6, 2011 + The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (A)

“Low Sodium and Energy Saving Bulbs No More”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen (Text: Matthew 5:13-20)

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

Did you hear Jesus? He was talking about you.

He wasn’t asking you anything. He was calling you something.

Jesus turned to his disciples, he turned to us, he turned to you, and he said, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Not a command, but a statement of fact. You are.

Jesus was saying that with you – with you – he is bringing light to the world. With you – with you – he is salting the earth. He did not say “try really hard to do this.” Our Lord, your Lord, says this is what you are. What I am. What we are.

You are salt. You are light. Did you hear him?

You are salt.

Salt is such a simple compound – two elements toxic to human consumption when separate, but absolutely essential when combined in one compound. Little grains of nothing – but so powerful. Salt is such a small thing, but it changes everything around it in profound ways. In Jesus’ day, its chief role was to keep the rest of the food from going bad – to keep things wholesome and healthy. And you can’t eat salt straight. But just a little salt in the recipe, and all the flavors are brought out. Even sweet dishes benefit from a little salt.

It’s a good thing, I would argue, that we Christians are learning that we’re not the only game in town; living in a pluralistic society is far better for our witness. I doubt if any of us got stuck this morning in the Sunday morning rush hour. And we clearly live as one group among many who differ from us. This is a good realization for us.

In fact, it may be exactly what Jesus expects of his disciples. Not that we dominate and overpower, that we are in control But that we act, to borrow another one of Jesus’ images, as leaven in the loaf, we live as the influence of Christ in the world. Theologian Krister Stendahl once said, “Jesus said, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ But who wants the world to become a salt mine?”[i]

Because a little salt goes a long way. There are close to three hundred of us here this morning, and more at congregations all over the city. And spread out over where we all live our lives, we can do powerful things in Christ. In a world where the values of the society seem more and more to be self-centered and short-sighted, you and I are the small grain of salt that says other things are more important. We are called by Christ to be ones who keep things from going bad, who bring the flavor of God’s love and grace into a world which desperately needs that flavor.

And a little goes a long way. You are salt.

You are light.

And light finds its importance not in itself, but in what it reveals. You don’t stare at a lightbulb. Light is valuable in that it enables us to see something else. Like salt, a little light goes a long way. Think about lighting candles in the darkness of an Easter Vigil – it’s amazing how such tiny flames can light up even the largest of dark spaces, and we can see each other’s faces.

And light lets us see things for what they really are. You are the light of the world, Jesus says. Without your light, the world will not be able to see. So until it meets someone who returns love for hatred, the world will have no way of knowing it’s hateful. Until it meets someone who returns nonviolence for violence, the world will have no way of knowing it is mired in violence.

When we are light – when we live the grace and hope and love we have received here out in our lives – we show a different way, a new way to live. And we expose things that were hidden in darkness so they can be changed.

You are the light of the world. Your life is light.

Now, did you hear what else Jesus said to you? To me? Be who you are. Don’t hide it, or diminish it.

Jesus says you and I are the light he is sending into the world. We are necessary. If you hide it, keep the light of the Good News you have received here inside – the world will stumble. There is this mystery of our call, that you may be the only light that will work in a certain place. Your place. Or the only salt that will preserve life and give flavor which changes everything where you live or work. The world needs you and me to be redeemed, to be a disciple of Jesus, so it can find its way back to God, too. And so it can be filled with the flavor of God’s love and grace.

And we will witness – for good or for ill – by our lives. That’s inevitable. The world will and does judge the truth of Jesus by the kind of people that faith in Jesus makes. If we aren’t casting light, and providing life, people will notice. Methodist bishop and preacher William Willimon once said, “Disciples who don’t look like disciples, churches who have chameleon-like blended into the wallpaper of secular culture are not much help in showing any one the way out of the dark.”[ii]

You are light, says Jesus. But under a bushel, it helps no one see. You are salt, says Jesus. But flavorless particles make no difference in the food of life.

In many ways, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount flows from this, as we’ll hear in the next few weeks, as Jesus tries to describe what it means to be light and salt. It’s how he helps us understand his call to us to live a life in God’s covenant far beyond what the Pharisees or scribes ever imagined. They followed God’s laws in a way that suggested a checklist – tick off the things that you have done so you know you are right with God.

Jesus isn’t interested in any lists – he wants our all. To be light, to be salt, is to be a disciple, to be filled with God’s Spirit and change the world. It’s intimidating, even frightening to consider the completeness of this call, its extent to the uttermost edges of our lives. Everything we do or say, the way you make decisions, the way I live my life, the words we use, the jokes you tell – all these things are no longer simply personal matters. They are part of your witness, my witness. That’s a little scary. As we learn discipline, as we are discipled by Jesus, there is no stopping halfway.

But notice: Jesus doesn’t say we are come to fulfill all God’s law. He said he has come to do it. Theologian N. T. Wright puts it this way: “Jesus brought [this] all into reality in his own person. He was the salt of the earth. He was the light of the world: set up on a hill-top, crucified for all the world to see, becoming a beacon of hope and new life for everybody, drawing people to worship his father, embodying the way of self-giving love which is the deepest fulfillment of the law and the prophets.”[iii]

You see? Jesus is all these things, and has fulfilled all things. And risen from the dead, he declares that you are now the same, baptized into his life and death and resurrection: you are now light. You are now salt.

And yes, this new calling far exceeds what the scribes and Pharisees taught. The forgiveness to which we so dearly cling, which we so desperately need, restores us to this light and salt. And the Spirit of God shapes us into what Jesus has already declared us to be.

So that makes Jesus’ call even simpler to hear, doesn’t it?

Did you hear him? Because he was talking about you.

The Light of the world has made you his blessing to the world, his light. The Salt of the earth has put you as a transforming agent in the world, his salt. He says that is what you are.

So be what you are. That’s all we’re asked here today – that we be who we are already declared to be by our Lord. That we boldly live our lives as disciples, knowing we are a witness by those lives, knowing we are forgiven and blessed and given grace and are a sign of that forgiveness and blessing and grace to all.

There aren’t many of us. But a little light and a little salt go a long way.

Did you hear Jesus? He was talking about you. So be who you are.

In the name of Jesus. Amen



[i] Essay adapted from an address delivered in 2001 as the Edward L. Mark Lecture at Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church, printed in the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin, Winter 2007.

[ii] Pulpit Resource, vol. 24, no. 1, Jan-Mar 1996, pp. 20-21.

[iii] Matthew for Everyone, Part One, © 2002, 2004 Nicholas Thomas Wright, Westminster John Knox Press, Lexington, KY, p. 41

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sermon from February 2, 2011: The Presentation of Our Lord

Sermon from February 2, 2011 + The Presentation of Our Lord
“In His Temple”
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen (Texts: Luke 2:22-40; Malachi 3:1-4)

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’m having a hard time knowing what to do with Egypt. There are so many realities which assail us daily, realities of conflict, tension, hatred, violence. And we’re familiar with the litany: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Israel, Palestine. But now we add Yemen to our consciousness, or at least to mine, because I hadn’t been thinking about Yemen. Tunisia. Jordan dismisses its government. And Egypt. I’m embarrassed to say that all I could have said for certain about Egypt a week ago was that I knew Hosni Mubarak was their head of state. I had no idea of the issues which are now coming to a head, or what their political system was like, other than I assumed it was far more enlightened that it apparently is. And now I find myself wondering what’s next – if the government changes, if this progresses, what will take its place? Democracy? Or more militaristic fundamentalism? What will happen to the U.S. relationships in the Middle East, especially with Israel, if Egypt isn’t a buffer and an ally? Will Egypt remain an ally?

And here’s the troublesome thing: it’s already more than I’m capable of tracking simply to try and keep up with what I thought I already knew about the Middle East. Now to add three or four more boiling pots to the already crowded cook stove – it’s overwhelming.

The problem is that the more you read and learn about these hot spots the less hopeful it looks. Casting more light on the situation shows just how deep the cracks run, and how extensive the rot and infection really is. I’ve already shared this with the Vestry, and I’ll be sharing more of this with the congregation as it gets closer, but I’ve been invited to join a group of Lutherans on a visit to Israel in May, led by a group which is interested in getting American Christians better informed about the situation in the Holy Land. In particular, to help us see all sides of the conflict instead of one or the other, which seem to be the usual church positions in the U.S. I’ve started on the reading list, which is intended to give us a feel for the way it is to live there, and so far the more I read the less I can see how this can be resolved. The pain is so deeply felt, the fear so deeply rooted on all sides, and on all sides the wickedness of human nature exploits the situation for personal gain regardless of consequences. And on all sides the ordinary people who just want to live their lives in peace with their neighbors of all creeds and backgrounds simply don’t seem to have a voice. It looks like an absolutely impossible situation. So to add four more countries into what we should know about, into this already volatile mix – how on earth can we find any hope?

All this leads me to a very real gratitude to the Church for having a Church Year, with various festivals scheduled. Because without that discipline, I wouldn’t be reading Simeon’s story today and facing the question of how his hopeful view of this baby has any relevance to our world today. Without our festival calendar I wouldn’t be thinking about how we can sing of Jesus being a light to the nations with anything resembling integrity. Celebrating the Presentation doesn’t make the questions any less difficult or real, but it does help us focus our questions with our perspective of faith. Particularly on what, if anything, we think and believe about God’s involvement or role in this child, and in our world. We sing the Nunc Dimittis every week as we walk through this Epiphany season, and twice tonight. And the question is, do we actually believe and hope that what we sing of God, of this child, is coming to pass?

So, with thanks to the lectionary for what we are given to read on this 40th day of our celebrating the birth of Jesus our Messiah, here are two things which give me hope, two things which might bring a little light to what seems to be endless darkness.

The first is this: The baby comes to the Temple of the Lord for the first time, but not the last. And his whole purpose is to open God’s grace to all people.

I keep coming back to Isaiah’s vision of chapter 6, seeing the LORD in the temple. And it’s such a massive vision, that just the hem of the LORD’s robe fills the Temple. And now this aged prophet Simeon says he’s looking at God’s salvation. And it’s a tiny little baby.

The LORD of all is come to the Temple built to worship the LORD. The LORD has come home. And has come not in great glory but as a child, born of a human mother.

But this baby is also come to signify the end of the Temple as the location of God, and to signify the end of God belonging only to one people and one place. Every time Jesus comes to the Temple there is confrontation with the status quo, and ultimately Jesus comes to offer a different vision than the Temple for what God is doing.

Temples of any god served several functions: a place to worship that god, a place where the religious elite were in charge, and a place thought to be the home of that god – and they were strongly tied to that place, to that geography. That meant what happened to the temple was seen as happening to the particular god. So if you desecrate your enemy’s temple, you humiliate your enemy’s god. If you destroy your enemy’s temple, you destroy your enemy’s god.

Within decades of Jesus’ resurrection, the Temple was actually destroyed by Rome. But Jesus already was pointing to a world where the Temple was left behind. And he could do this because it was his Temple. He was and is the Son of God. And he’s changing how God comes to the world.

First, in the Temple he’s recognized as God’s Son as a baby. The next time we see him in the Temple, he’s 12 and arguing for days with the teachers in the Temple – asserting his authority even at a young age. Then when he’s an adult he charges into the Temple and drives out the moneychangers, and directly challenges the authority of the Temple leaders. At his death, the curtain to the Holy of Holies is torn asunder. And with his resurrection, he is proclaimed Lord of all. And is in fact, the Light of the nations Simeon foretold.

Because here’s what we proclaim about this Jesus: in him is all of God’s will for the world. And it’s not centered on a particular place belonging to a particular people, where only those who worship in that particular place are blessed and worthy of life, while all others are condemned. Jesus is the new Temple. He is the embodiment of God in the world and is worshipped as such.

And he has come, as Simeon says, to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles, “to the nations” as we sing in the translation in our worship book, – to the non-Jews. And he is to be the glory of his people Israel. All are to be included in this light and glory. All are given life through Jesus.

Jesus is the end of parochial gods who can be possessed and controlled, and of religion which excludes others. Instead of every people having their own gods and their own temples, and hating and destroying each other, God is come in Jesus to save all.

It has not yet come to pass, but everything we say about Jesus opens us to the possibility of reconciliation and mercy with all the children of the world. If God is truly doing this, then people of all faiths have the possibility of reconciliation with each other. And that’s worthy of our hope.

And here’s the second thing: we have Simeon and Anna to help us learn to wait for God.

These people are marvels – think of the decades they’ve been waiting just for a sign that God was coming to heal the world. Simeon’s age isn’t disclosed, but the context suggests he’s old, near the end of his life. Anna’s easier – she’s 84. And if she was married at about 13, as would be customary, and then widowed seven years later, that means she’s been serving and waiting in the Temple for 64 years. Six and a half decades.

And what did they do? Well, they served God. They worshipped. They prayed. They presumably helped others with their service. And they waited. For years. For decades. And they believed God would come and bring about “the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem.” The only thing they might not have known was that it would go far beyond Israel and Jerusalem.

But these two venerable saints give me great hope tonight. Hope that if we wait, we will see God’s light shine for all. While we wait, we have much to do, as they did. We need to worship and pray, so we are fed and sustained by God. And we need to do God’s work while we have the time and the ability. But Simeon and Anna promise us that waiting for God will one day mean we see God’s healing grace.

In fact, we see it every day.

But when we consider the dire situation of this world, tonight we are reminded that what we see every day will one day spread to all places and all people. We shine the light we have been given into the dark spots of our world, our own corner. We act with the grace and forgiveness we have received in the places we’ve been planted. And the light spreads. And God keeps working.

And we wait. For God surely is making all things new, even if we cannot always see how. God’s love surely includes all peoples, even if they don’t want to admit it. We wait, because we’ve already seen that the Light is come, and is here. And we know it cannot be overcome.

In the name of Jesus. Amen
 

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