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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Olive Branch, 6/27/11

Accent on Worship


With Easter occurring so late this year, and consequentially Pentecost and Trinity Sunday so late, we’ve finally said “amen” to the festival half of the year and have entered the green season, the “time of growth”. This liturgical time, coupled with our summer practicality of one service, we have the opportunity to use some settings of the ordinary that we have not sung since last summer.

First, a review of what I mean by “settings of the ordinary.” The ordinary refers to a group of songs within the liturgy that we “ordinarily sing” – which means week after week. They don’t change, and hopefully we sing them enough times to learn them thoroughly, if not from memory. Historically, this includes the Kyrie, Gloria, Gospel Acclamation (Alleluia), The Great Thanksgiving, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. For that reason, we will sing some settings through July at least – long enough for worshippers of all ages to completely learn them, even those who do not read notes!

For the past couple of years during part of Ordinary Time we have sung a setting of the Sanctus harmonized by J. S. Bach. This is an ancient melody (also used in ELW setting 4, page 153), though we’re not sure how ancient. We know it to be an early Gregorian chant, perhaps coming to the Christians as an early Hebrew chant before the time of Christ. What’s amazing about this is how the church has carried it into subsequent generations, taking on different qualities in each case. In the case of the Bach setting of the melody, it is the glorious harmonies of Bach, coupled with everyone being able to sing in a “power” range that makes it so amazing to sing. The fact that the congregation sings it strongly, with four parts, is powerfully inviting to those who are here for the first time. Everyone can sing with full strength, and they are not alone. There’s nothing like it.

When the organ was removed for maintenance a few years ago and we worshipped without organ for several weeks, we adapted and took into our repertoire an Orthodox setting of the Lord’s Prayer by Nikolai Kedrov, Sr. It, too, provides for a deep moment in the liturgy.

To those of you who read music: the choir director in me does want to say something to you – keep the half notes only half notes. There are times when you want to make them dotted half notes or even whole notes. We need to keep it moving without dragging and this is where the piece can drag. These half notes help to keep the music moving forward when they are only given two beats. To those of you who don’t read music: we’ll carry it for you. It’s our job. No worries.

We also return to Franz Schubert’s setting of “Lamb of God.” This too is best sung without accompaniment. For the Gospel Acclamation we will sing Taize’s “Alleluia.” From the “sans orgue” time, we’ve learned to jump right into this without accompaniment. May that continue!

As we live the “green season,” in addition to giving heed to “growing our faith,” let’s help our singing grow, especially the unaccompanied four-part singing. When it is meaningfully strong, anyone present (me being chief among them) gets drawn deeper and deeper into the loving arms of God’s presence together as an assembly. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in life. Sing winsomely! There’s much to sing about!

- Cantor David Cherwien

Book Discussion Group News

For its meeting on July 9, the Book Discussion Group will read. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese; and for the August 13 meeting, A Bed of Red Flowers, by Nelofer Pazira.

July 10 Adult Forum

A Minnesota Without Poverty is a statewide movement to end poverty in Minnesota by 2020. This movement incorporates a vision where all people thrive with those things that protect human dignity and make for a healthy life: adequate food and shelter, meaningful work, safe communities, health care and quality education. A Minnesota Without Poverty works to build the public will to end poverty, effect public policy, engage public leadership form all sectors of society, promote public accountability and broaden the public access for the development and economic well being of all Minnesota communities.

Ending poverty is possible and there is indeed enough—for ALL. Come to the Adult Forum on Sunday, July 10 to learn more about this important movement.

School Supplies Collection

Each year at the August Community Meal, MONAC distributes school supplies to guests and neighbors of school age. This Community Meal is one of our best- attended each year, and our goal is to help 100 children with basic supplies for the start of school. Along with designated funds (which we will use to purchase school supplies), we will happily receive donations of school supplies on Sundays July 10, 17, and 24, during the coffee hour after liturgy. Thank you for your support and please join us for lunch on Saturday, August 6.

Mount Olive to Welcomethe Haug Family

On Sunday, July 17, Pr. Arden and Janna Haug, ELCA Regional Representatives in Europe, will visit Mount Olive. Arden Haug will preach at the morning Eucharist. Following the liturgy, please join the Haug family during the education hour for a presentation on their work in Europe. The Missions committee will have Eastern European treats, and there will be good conversation and fellowship. Many Mount Olive members will remember Arden as a former Mount Olive Vicar, and the entire Haug family has been friends of the congregation for many years. The Missions committee, through your offerings, has supported the Haug family in their work in Europe. The Haug family is in Stillwater during their home assignment this summer.

Highlights from the June Vestry Meeting

This will be the last Vestry Update I write, as the duties will be passed along to new Vestry Vice President, Lisa Nordeen. At the June 13 meeting, we celebrated the service of Warren Peterson, as Director of Worship, Paul Odlaug, as Director of Stewardship, and Brian Jacobs, as Vice President. We also welcomed new Vestry members, Dennis Bidwell, as Director of Stewardship, Al Bipes, Director of Worship, and Lisa Nordeen, Vice President. An excellent light summer meal was served and business was underway promptly at 7.

The members who have agreed to serve on the new Staff Support Committee were unanimously approved. They are Al Bostelmann, Allen Dundek, JoAnn Sorenson, Mike Edwins and Naomi Peterson.

Donna Neste presented her sentiments over the future of Neighborhood Ministries, as she anticipates retirement in three years. Donna has noticed a general decline in volunteer support. She is asking the congregation to consider how we will transition her duties once she's retired. She presented examples of logistical and economical hurdles she faces on a daily basis, specifically with the youth-based programs, and she would like the Vestry and the congregation as a whole to begin considering what the current programs mean to us and the neighborhood, and if and how we should continue all or some of them. This is a topic we expect will be part of the upcoming Visioning process , given the changing makeup of the congregation and the changing dynamics of the neighborhood.

Adam read a letter from Nancy Biele, Executive Director of TRUST, with whom we now affiliate for the popular Meals on Wheels program. We expect to welcome Nancy at a future Vestry meeting or perhaps Neighborhood Ministries meeting, so that we may acquaint ourselves more fully with the expectations of both parties. Adam will follow up with TRUST regarding our working relationship with their organization.

We were again reminded that the Vestry and congregation will have to begin planning budgets and logistics for the back-to-back sabbaticals of Cantor Cherwien and Pastor Crippen, which will take place in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

We discussed and agreed on a process for placing an item on the Wish List. Suggestions will need to be brought to the Vestry by the appropriate Director after their committee has discussed and recommended the addition. The Wish List has dwindled quite a bit, as we expect a furniture shipment within days, including a table for the new Library. The Wish List management will also transfer to Lisa Nordeen, as Brian Jacobs steps down from the Vice-Presidency.

Pastor Crippen, Donna Neste and Warren Peterson all submitted written reports. Pastor Crippen also informed the Vestry that he is one of the newest members of the National Lutheran Choir!! He will also report on his visit to the Holy Land in an upcoming Adult Forum.

Paul Schadewald reported that Arden Haug will visit the congregation on July 17 to report on his missionary work in Bratislava. Pr. Haug is a former Vicar of Mount Olive and will also preach at that morning’s Eucharist.

Eunice Hafemeister and Carol Austermann reported that Neighborhood Ministries has been approached by A Minnesota Without Poverty to look at space in Global Market for homeless or impoverished artists to display and sell their artwork as a way to build entrepreneurial skills. The Committee would be helping to pay for the space for six months, along with two other local organizations. They also reminded us of the Foods of Many Nations fund raiser to be held Sunday, June 19.

David Molvik reported that Mount Olive is going through an insurance review. Because a comprehensive review and reassessment hasn't been completed for a number of years, our coverage was lower than it should have been. We will have more accurate insurance coverage with a slight cost increase this coming year. David also wishes the Vestry to think about a policy statement to assist in determining responses to requests for building use.

Irene Campbell said her committee is beginning preparations for the youth gathering in New Orleans next year.

Warren Peterson asked the Vestry to approve the appointment of Brian Jacobs to the Worship Committee representing the Greeter Corps. The motion carried.

The installation of church officers and directors will be Sunday, June 26, at the 9:30 liturgy. The next Vestry meeting will be July 11 at 7 pm. Prep work will begin on the annual budget and annual calendar.

Respectfully submitted,
Brian JacobsVice President

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sermon from June 26, 2011 + Ordinary Time, Sunday 13 (A)

“Whose Servants?”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Matthew 10:40-42; Romans 6:12-23

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

In a previous life, as we say, I worked in several areas of food service. I was a waiter, I was a busboy; at Gustavus I worked in the dishroom for two years. My two sisters closest to me in age always seemed to find office jobs during summers and at college. Somehow, I always had hard work jobs, service jobs, often dirty jobs; when I wasn’t doing food service I worked at a filling station, and at an adult group home as an aide. I would be glad never to have to do any of those jobs again.

In food service and at the filling station we were trained to serve the needs of the customer, the guest, no matter what. Smile, bring water, ask if they are happy. Check the air in their tires even if it’s 20 below zero. Some “guests” were less than easy to serve, or to welcome. But it didn’t matter; it was our job.

And even this cup of water to a little one that Jesus talks about can be annoying. When the little one in question has gotten up three times already, and really needs to be asleep, it can tax the patience of a parent to hear a request even for just a glass of water.

But Jesus says that a way to recognize those who are of the kingdom is by their service – even in giving a cup of cold water to a little one. Welcoming others in Jesus’ name. Serving in the name of our Lord. That’s as important to Jesus as preaching and proclaiming the Good News. For in serving and welcoming that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Today we hear Jesus as he sends out his disciples to serve in his name.

He makes this startling assumption: that just as people knew God the Father when they met Jesus the Son of God (an audacious thing to say in and of itself), so also when they met Jesus’ disciples, it would be as if they were meeting Jesus.

He elsewhere says that he came to serve, not to be served, and now he is sending out his disciples also to serve. And his promise is that when people receive them, they will be receiving Jesus himself.And when those people do things because they are moved by the disciples’ witness, when they do things, in effect, in the disciples’ name, as Jesus says, they’re doing it because they are now becoming servants of the same Lord.

And so what we have today is this promise but also this call. All those who witnessed to us – parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, pastors, neighbors – all those faithful disciples, servants of Christ, were Christ to us. That’s the promise, that they were Jesus to us – not second best, but Jesus’ best plan, that his disciples would actually be him to the world.

But therein lies the call, too – now we are asked to do the same. To serve in their name, as they served us. To serve in Jesus’ name as Jesus serves. To be Jesus to the world ourselves.

When we begin to understand this, we begin to understand Paul’s concern in Romans today. He seems to be dealing with people who are delighted to be forgiven by God, but aren’t terribly interested in living different lives afterward. This kind of attitude is what Paul can’t understand – people even seemed to be suggesting that they sin more so they could be forgiven more.

But Paul says, “By no means!” When we are made new, we are also made servants of God, not of ourselves. That’s what Paul’s trying to work through with the Roman congregation – if we’re forgiven but continue to live lives of sin, we truly have not been freed from that bondage. And we’re still servants of sin, not of our Lord Jesus.

Because Jesus seems to think that following him means our whole life changes. We will recognizably be different if we follow Jesus. Jesus, by his life, and by these words here, says this is how we will be known: by our welcoming, by our serving, by our loving. By our lives of service which themselves proclaim the Good News. Just as Jesus’ life did.

It seems the question both Paul and Jesus are asking us is: Whose servant are you?

When Jesus came to us, God-with-us, he showed us the shape of our servant life. He showed us how to live. Jesus broke barriers of society, barriers of religion, simply by serving, by being loving. Speaking publicly to women, giving them the honor they deserved as children of God. Touching the outcast, the lepers, the sick, and giving them healing. Spending time with sinners, people who were unacceptable. His love broke barriers.

And in dying for the sake of this love, this welcome, this service, he showed us that our call is to give everything we have in our service as well. Service and welcome are hard because they cost. Jesus knew this. His disciples for centuries since, including those who witnessed to us, who have served each of us, knew this. We lose a bit of ourselves when we serve others in Jesus’ name. We often lose our own comfort and convenience. Sometimes we even lose our lives.

But we are loved and forgiven by the One who in dying defeated death and risen to new life transforms all our loss into life. Now he invites us to love and welcome and serve others in his name, too. And we will show our Master, our Lord, by our lives.

If we’re still serving ourselves, serving sin, serving the Evil One – it will show in our lives. If we live for ourselves alone even after knowing we are forgiven and loved by God, if we continue to see forgiveness as only dodging punishment instead of as God’s attempt to restore our relationship and make us new, our lives will show this.

If on the other hand, we are serving our Lord, then our lives will reflect that instead. Served, welcomed, loved by God, we will live lives of service, lives of love, lives of welcome. Forgiven and blessed, we will forgive and bless. Loved, we will love. Served by our Servant King, we will serve.

And in these weeks just beyond Pentecost we remember the joyful good news that it is the Holy Spirit who will bring us to this. Our gift of life in Christ fills us with the Spirit of God, which transforms and changes us to be these new people. We will become Christ in the world ourselves – not second best, but the very plan of God to bring the Good News of God’s love to all.

I know this is hard for me, and not just when I consider working the gas pumps or the dishroom.

I often would rather not be inconvenienced, and sometimes it’s no fun to serve, to get dirty. But when I think of the many cups of cold water I’ve received from Jesus through so many disciples he’s sent, when I think of all who have served me in Jesus’ name, and in the names of the disciples who taught them the faith, when I consider the joy that such witnesses have shown me in their lives of faith and service, when I remember that all I know about God’s resurrection love for me and the world I know because of these servants, I realize that this is the only life I want to live.

And so I pray that God make it so in me. And in case you struggle with the same things, I pray that God make it so in you as well. For in our loving, in our serving, as we live Christ’s life, we are Christ to others, just as those who witnessed to us were Christ to us. We are God’s Good News of life. And through us, God hopes to serve the rest of the world.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sermon from June 19, 2011 + The Holy Trinity (A)

“Invited Into the Dance”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Psalm 8; Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

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

Have you looked at the stars lately? If you live in the city, there’s enough light pollution that you miss a lot. But if you haven’t looked for awhile, get out of town, into the fields, and look. Psalm 8 was written by a star-gazer. Someone who looked up at the stars, and then around at the amazing wonder of creation, and said, “How can the God who made all this care for us one bit?”

That’s the real mystery of the Triune God. Not that we believe there is only one God, creator of all things, who has become known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No, the mystery is why that God cares for us, tiny carbon-based life forms on a tiny planet in the outskirts of one of millions of galaxies. “When I consider” all these things, the psalmist sings for us, I can hardly believe it.

And if that’s hard to believe, then consider what the Son of God says we tiny humans are called to be and to do: we are to represent this mysterious, powerful, creating, loving God to the rest of the world. We are to embody this mysterious love and care for the rest of the world so that everyone can come to believe what we find hard to believe ourselves – that this God is in love with them as well as with us. As the psalmist says, “how is this possible? Yet you, O God, have done this!”

It’s enough to make you quit looking at the stars. If you simply focus on things close up, you can return to the self-image of being the center of all things, all-important, with only one goal, to make life better for yourself, or maybe a small circle of others around you. Once we start looking up at the stars and around at creation, and then consider what we have come to know about God – everything changes.

But first we must recognize that all we know about God is only what God has revealed to us.

Looking at the stars or any wonders of creation only tells us there is a creator. Not much more. Even our confident use of the word Trinity is a human creation trying to sort out the revelation of God we have heard and seen and believed. It gives us something to hang our understanding on – but it’s as imperfect as any image of an original always is.

So we want to believe in God as Triune with the appropriate humility that we as created humans have no real idea at all of the grandeur and mystery of the God who made all things. We’re just doing the best we can with the revelation we’ve received from Jesus. And what we’ve received, through Scripture and through centuries of believers who’ve passed down their faith, is that there is only one God, who has made all things, but who has become known to the world in three distinct and different Voices, three distinct and different Personalities, who are related to each other and live in and with each other in only one God.

There is an ancient word describing this relationship, perichoresis, which speaks of the indwelling of the Persons of the Trinity in and with each other. The idea as I understand it is that it is in the inter-relationship of the Persons of the Trinity that the being of almighty God is found – and in some ways one could say it is most like what we see in a dance. Each of the Voices that has come to speak to humanity is in a dance of love and grace with the other Voices, and it is in that in-between space that God’s life is found. In fact, perichoresis implies both dance and rest – and in this living space the triune God exists.

And those three Voices have come to us this way:

We have heard the Voice of the Creator, the one who spoke into the darkness and brought light – and this Voice has spoken to our ancestors, to Abraham, to prophets, to rulers, even to tree-pruners and ordinary folks, according to the Scriptures.

We have heard the Voice of the Son, who was born into our world as Jesus and became one of us – surely the greatest mystery of all. This Person spoke to us most directly and showed the depth of God’s love for us in willingly dying for the sake of the world.

And we have heard the Voice of the Spirit, who came into this thing we call Church, creating us into a community, a fellowship, making us part of each other. And this Voice still speaks to us, still moves in mysterious ways in our lives and throughout the world, only identifiable by the fruits and gifts left behind.

And these three Persons live together in a dance and rest of indescribable joy and light and love, one God, yet mysteriously distinct from each other, too.

So the Son whom we know best, who was one of us, taught us to call the Creator Father, using our human relationship of father-child as a model for our prayer, and speaks to the Father himself, and can and does also promise to send the Spirit to us.

And when the dawn of creation broke, John the evangelist reminds us that not only was the Father present and working, and the Spirit, as Genesis says, but also the Son – that this dance of God’s own being was even then complex and beautiful and creating all that is and all that will be.

And now the Spirit works and moves in the world, creating and making God’s people holy, and yet the Father and Son are present in that work, too.

If this were all we knew about God it would be enough – more than enough. More than we can process and understand, certainly. More than we can image.

But even harder to grasp is what causes the Psalmist’s awe: Even given this reality of God, how is it possible that this God cares for us and calls us to serve?

What we have known and learned about this God’s love for us is nothing short of astonishing. Each of these Voices, these Persons, has shown love to this world and to us, and has called us to join in the dance of God that created and saved and now renews the world.

The Father spends most of the Old Testament desperately trying to draw the world’s people back into love, and calling them to live in justice and mercy in the world.

The Son comes to be with us in the most concrete way, and dies and rises from the dead just to show us how deep God’s love for us really is, and to call us to embody that love in the world.

And the Spirit comes to us in ways that we know in the deepest parts of our hearts, and shapes us, remakes us, re-creates us so that we can be the love of God in the world.

It is beyond understanding why God would love us and call to us in this way, and in this we agree with the psalmist. But we need to remember it is so, for the Son has told us it is so. The mysterious God who even more mysteriously loves us beyond all knowing, the God who in three Persons dances and rests within God’s own self and makes all worlds and all love, this God has opened a space in the dancing for us. The dance and rest, the living space in which God moves and lives is opened to us, the Scriptures say, and we are welcome, invited, desired to enter and indwell ourselves.

This God for some reason considers us worthy of love and attention. And even more, considers us worthy of trust to do the mission and work of the triune God. Worthy of trust that we can not only join the dance but do it well, and bring God’s unexplainable love to the rest of this world.

This is the joyful mystery of Holy Trinity. We don’t have to understand it fully – or even minimally, to tell the truth. We simply are invited to join the dance.

The God of all time not only loves us, and the whole world – having spent over 3,000 years proving it – this God now opens up room in the creative, loving, transforming dance of life that is the being of God, opens up room for us to join the dance, to sing the song of God’s love in the world. To be the song of God’s love in the world, the dance of God’s grace.

When we consider that, we can only be amazed. But it’s also the only thing we want to do. So let’s join the dance. It is the dance of life. It is the dance of God. It will change your life. It will change all our lives. And it will change the world.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Olive Branch, 6/13/11

Accent on Worship

Back to Normal?

I was reflecting on how it will be nice, once we have celebrated the Holy Trinity on June 19, to be back to normal, back to Ordinary Time for awhile. There is a beauty to the rhythm of the Church Year, but by the time the first six months are finished, I’m usually ready for some months with no festivals.

But then I thought about those words, “back to normal.” And it seems to me that is never what we are as people of God, and that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, still in the afterglow of Sunday when we heard that marvelous story of the coming of the Spirit to those first believers, I wonder what normal is for disciples of Jesus. With the sound of wind, the sight of flames on or around their heads, and the gift of language to tell the Good News of Jesus to all in Jerusalem – that was a remarkable day, that birth day of the Church. And those disciples never got “back to normal.” Read the account in Acts 2 – 3,000 new believers on the first day, the disciples bravely out in the streets and in the Temple telling that the crucified Jesus is raised from death and is Lord and God. Very soon some of these believers were persecuted for their witnessing, some jailed, and some killed. I wonder if they sometimes wished it could be “back to normal.”

I doubt it. Not that there was always something wrong with “normal.” For some, it was a working merchant life as independent fishermen. For others, especially the women, there were families to raise, and daily housework to do. For many, “normal” used to be a state of pain and fear due to illness, or possession, or poverty. So some of “normal” was good for these disciples, some bad, but for all this was their reality: once they met Jesus they were changed forever. And once he was raised from the dead, they would never know normal again.

I don’t think we’re in danger of having 3,000 new believers be baptized in one day, or should be expecting tongues of fire at our times together, but in the same way those early disciples were changed forever so are we. The Spirit is calling us to new things here at Mount Olive, and I look forward to our discerning together how we can begin to reach out to our neighborhood in better ways and can even more effectively share the Good News of God’s love in Jesus in this congregation and in this city. Normal life cannot be lived keeping to our own back yards, or our own church building walls. Once the Spirit has enflamed us with God’s love, filled us with faith in the risen Jesus, and showered us with gifts, we will never be the same.

It could be frightening, what the Spirit calls us to be and do. Sometimes those early believers must have been scared. But like them, we know that the Triune God is with us always, blessing us with love and sending us out to share that love. We know that we have life in our Lord Jesus as we gather around Word and Sacrament each week and as we are sent out by the Spirit into the world. We know that we are loved by the God of the universe, forever and always, and changed into children of God. And who’d ever want to go back to normal after that?

- Pr. Crippen

Praying for our Graduates

This Sunday, June 19, we would like to remember all of Mount Olive’s graduates in the Prayers of Intercession at the morning liturgy.

If you, a member of your family, or someone else from Mount Olive is graduating from a post-secondary school (college, seminary, graduate school), please drop a note to or call the church office before Thursday, so that they may be included in the prayers on Sunday.

Foods of Many Nations

This MONAC fundraiser will be a great opportunity to sample foods of a variety of countries and cultures right at your church! This event will be held following the second liturgy this Sunday, June 19, in the Undercroft. It will feature samples of some signature foods of many different countries. Participants will be invited to visit various stations to sample a small serving at each station. (We promise you will get enough to eat!) Cost for this event will be $12 for adults and $5 for children. The proceeds will be used to purchase needed kitchen equipment. Come prepared for an eating adventure!

Music & Fine Arts Bonus Event:Arias, Duets, and More!
Sunday, June 26, 2011 – 4:00 p.m.

An afternoon of delightful singing is planned for June 26! Angela Neiderloh (mezzo soprano) and Matthew Hayward (lyric baritone) team up for a summer afternoon concert.

Angela Niederloh has been acclaimed by The New York Times as “a charismatic mezzo soprano,” and Matthew Hayward is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most versatile young artists of his generation. Both travel singing in prestigious opera productions across the country including Baltimore, San Francisco, and the Met in New York.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity!

July 10 Adult Forum

A Minnesota Without Poverty is a statewide movement to end poverty in Minnesota by 2020. This movement incorporates a vision where all people thrive with those things that protect human dignity and make for a healthy life: adequate food and shelter, meaningful work, safe communities, health care and quality education.

A Minnesota Without Poverty works to build the public will to end poverty, effect public policy, engage public leadership form all sectors of society, promote public accountability and broaden the public access for the development and economic well being of all Minnesota communities.

Ending poverty is possible and there is indeed enough—for ALL. Come to the Adult Forum on Sunday, July 10 to learn more about this important movement.

Thanks, Gene!

I was one of many people who walked out of church a couple of weeks ago with an armful of gorgeous iris, generously shared by Gene Phelps. The Epistle lesson this past Sunday reminded us that God gives unique gifts to each of us to share with one another, and I am so grateful that Gene shares his green thumb gift with all of us.
- Lora Dundek

Church Library News

Do you remember reading about the “old town crier” who walked about his village, ringing a bell and crying out daily announcements of interest as well as upcoming events? Despite an obvious difference in time and locale, I feel a little bit like that "town crier" since I am entrusted with the pleasure of announcing the grand opening and rededication of the newly restored Louise Schroedel Memorial Library, which will be held on Sunday, June 26, 2011. Get out your blackberries and your planners and mark the date immediately, as you won't want to miss this memorable occasion!

Much has been accomplished to restore the library to its former usefulness and also help it embrace a somewhat more contemporary look. We continue to work to strengthen our Reference section and update our card catalog and we are also pleased to again present a CD collection for your perusal and check-out. Something new to be added to our library (if not available by our opening, at least in the near future) will be a DVD collection. This will necessarily have to be a very modest beginning because of our limited budget. Someone has asked me about donating DVDs from their personal collection, and this may work, but we urge caution. Please remember our specialized purpose and be very selective indeed. Some possible examples that might be acceptable for our new collection would include The Bible, The Life of Christ -- where he walked and ministered, Great People of the Bible, Martin Luther, great theatrical or musical performances and other specialty topics that may portray high moral, ethical, inspirational or educational influences. These are just examples and not "set in stone" so if you have a DVD donation that falls somewhere within these parameters and is in good condition, please speak to me or to Dwight Penas, who is willing to help as an advisor with this new project, before your donation is ready to be made.

As you will likely remember, our library contains numerous books given in memory of a loved one or honoring a special occasion or event. We encourage that, of course, as the situations in your lives occur. We will also maintain a special “wish list” which you may consider when you plan to make a book donation.

Now it is time to thank some special people who deserve accolades. This includes Carol Austermann, who reupholstered 4 chair cushions for older chairs and to an unknown donor for a new library table; to Bonnie McLellan, who provided help updating our card catalog; and to the continuing help of David Molvik, Mabel Jackson, and our sexton, William Pratley, who have been of assistance over numerous weeks. In addition, Nancy Flatgard has recently been enlisted to help with retrieving books and CD's that were missing from our collection at the time the library was dismantled. Please help us by checking your homes for books or other media that has our library's ownership stamp in or on it, and return as soon as possible, to the church office next week (clearly identified from whom) and after the library's opening, a book and media return container will be outside the library door each Sunday when the library is staffed.

Come and visit our library often (it's for our entire congregation, remember!) and bring your children. They are almost never too young to get into “the church library habit” each week. Remember that we are located at the very end of the north corridor but we are also reachable by two passageways from the east assembly room and this may prove easier for some of you. There will be some special “give aways” that Sunday of our grand opening, Pastor Crippen will lead us in a library rededication and we promise some special refreshments as well. And now, there is just time to say “Thanks be to God!”

- Leanna Kloempken

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sermon from June 12, 2011 + The Day of Pentecost, year A

“We Believe in the Holy Spirit . . .”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23 (citing John 16 and John 3 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

Sometimes the Holy Spirit is the forgotten person of the Holy Trinity for Lutherans in our preaching and teaching. It’s not that the Spirit is missing from our theological heritage – some of the most powerful and beautiful writing Luther did is found in his explanation to the Third Article of the Creed in his Catechisms. It’s just that with our focus on the saving work of Jesus, we sometimes ignore or discount the work of the Holy Spirit.

In part that’s because it’s relatively easy to declare with clarity what Jesus has done – that we’ve been saved by his work for us, completely by grace, and that we can do nothing to earn it. Doctrines can be built upon this foundation, and have been. It’s much harder to declare with certainty what the Spirit has done or is doing. Luther rightly connects the work of the Spirit to the existence and continued life of the Church. But there is also the scriptural promise that the Spirit of God moves in mysterious ways, where God wills, and in ways we cannot control or always fathom. And it can seem threatening to us to hear people speak of being “led by God’s Spirit,” speaking of a deep awareness of the Spirit of God in their lives.

How different it is for us than for those first believers on that day of Pentecost. How could you miss that God’s Spirit was there – the sound of a rushing wind, the flames over their heads, the many languages. Transformed from folks staying behind closed doors to bold witnesses out on the streets, these followers had no difficulty seeing the coming of the Holy Spirit and sensing their transformation.

Today is the Day of Pentecost, the day we remind ourselves that those events of 2,000 years ago are not history but present reality. We claim that Jesus still breathes into us the Holy Spirit of God just as he did in the Upper Room on Easter night. We claim the Spirit’s presence in our lives just as it was on the first Pentecost. So why is it so hard for us to believe it?

Well, for one thing, that first Day of Pentecost taught us that the Spirit leads us into the future without full disclosure.

This is what was happening that day of Pentecost. Ignore Peter, the main speaker, for a moment. Think about some of the others who were there, or might have been.

Was a young man named Stephen there, a Greek Jew in Jerusalem for the festival, who heard this amazing preaching? Is it possible that he was one of the 3,000 converted that day? And if so, could he have known that he would very soon be the first to be killed for the faith that was now giving him such joy, such life?

And was another young man named Saul listening that day? Angry that the preaching of Jesus hadn’t ended with his death, was he at all impressed by what he heard? Or more incensed and determined to defend God and his Jewish faith against these unbelievers? And if so, would he have believed that not many years later he would actually be arguing with this same Peter that even non-Jews should be welcome into Christ’s Church?

Think of all those believers preaching that day. Tradition says most of them were eventually killed for their faith, their preaching. Could they have known what was ahead? Would it have mattered?

And the Spirit still works in this way. We may feel called by God to act, to move – but God rarely gives us the full future, or a view of the end of our discipleship. And that can be frightening for all of us.

Maddie and Kaiya, you have said you are ready to stand before us, your brothers and sisters, and affirm your baptism, claim the faith that has been growing in you since baptism. You will make promises to serve God with your lives, to commit yourselves as witnesses. You are ready to do this because the Holy Spirit has been present in your lives since your baptism, and has been leading you to this moment.

But like those first disciples filled with the Spirit, you have no idea what future lies before you. You both have a sense of some of your spiritual gifts, and it’s a delight to hear you both speak of them, but you don’t know what paths lie before you as seek to use these gifts. It is a perilous thing you do, a perilous thing we all do, to say “yes” in response to God’s “yes” to you of love and grace. Because you are saying “yes” to the Holy Spirit leading you. And like the rest of us, you have no idea where that might be.

But a second problem we have with believing in the Spirit of God is that in doing so we give up our control over what the Spirit can or cannot do.

In John 16 Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Think about that for a moment – Jesus is telling the church, telling us, that we cannot know everything God wills for us, we cannot know all the truth at once. God the Spirit will need to continue to be with us and guide us to that truth, over time, when we’re ready.

We tend to fear that as humans – when it comes to God most people, and most institutions, prefer to codify all their sense of truth, and protect it, and make sure it never is changed. We take the gift of God given us freely without any work on our part, and try to control truth, try to control God.

And we live in a post-enlightenment world, where this kind of talk – that the Spirit of God leads people and tells them things – is seen by many as verging on mental illness. But even we are influenced by the world’s view, so we discount it when people claim to have heard God’s Spirit guide them because we’re suspicious of such confidence, such otherworldliness.

But what if Jesus truly meant this – that we cannot own the truth, or package it, because we need to be open to the Spirit’s leading us in new ways? What if he truly meant to breathe the Spirit into all the believers in such a way that cannot be controlled, where God does what needs doing in us and in the world without asking our permission? It’s a little frightening – but it’s also a gift of life, God’s life, blowing in our world.

The very reality of faith in the Holy Spirit is that we admit God cannot be controlled. The Spirit blows like the wind, Jesus says in John 3, wherever the Spirit wills. God is working in people in ways we cannot predict. God is leading people to things we may not have imagined or planned for, things we cannot control. And yes, it is a little frightening – but it’s also a gift of life, God’s life, blowing in our world. So our call this day of Pentecost, and always, is to listen together for continued guidance and direction from the Holy Spirit, trusting that Jesus’ promise will be kept, and we will be led into the truth God needs us to know.

As Kaiya and Maddie make their affirmation today they model for us this leap of faith.

Without knowing what lies ahead, they say “I believe,” and “I will follow.” They open themselves to the gift and leading of the Holy Spirit. And could we have such courage ourselves, we might also take more seriously the reality that God’s Spirit continues to blow in our lives like that first day. Not as flashy and impressive visually, perhaps. But still there.

We know from those first believers that we cannot see the whole story, the whole direction God’s Spirit might be leading. We know we cannot control the Holy Spirit, or even always know who is being led by the Spirit and who is not (though the Scriptures do give us ways to test that.)

But we know what Paul says today is true: in our baptism into Christ we are made one by the same Spirit, and our unity is found in the Spirit of God binding us together, and together we will be led to the truth God thinks we are ready to know, and into the paths God would have us go.

Because that’s what Jesus promises to us today and always – that we are not alone, and that the Spirit of God will continue to breathe into us and lead us into life. And that – that we can believe with joy.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from June 5, 2011 + The Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)

“Life In-Between”
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Minneapolis

Texts: 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11; Acts 1:6-14

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 have to admit that I’m not a big fan of preaching on the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Easter is a week of weeks – seven Sundays celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord – and that is well and good. But there’s something odd to me about the seventh of these Sundays.

In the first place, as the Gospel reading each of the three years we get different parts of what we’ve come to call Jesus’ “high priestly prayer,” a prayer in John 17 which follows his final discourses to the disciples on the night of his betrayal. This is a complex prayer theologically, and hard to follow even if one has the text to read. Of all the Church Year, the Gospel readings for Seventh Easter are in my opinion the hardest to understand and track just by hearing. So this preacher tends to think most are going to hear me announce at the conclusion, “The Gospel of the Lord,” and are going to think, “what did Jesus just say anyway?”

The second difficulty with this day is that we’re finished with the Ascension but have a week to wait to celebrate Pentecost, so this Sunday has an unsettled, unfinished feel, a sense of waiting while nothing is happening. At least it often does to me. I tend to want to overlook this Sunday and get to the next festival, the good stuff, Pentecost.

But the author of First Peter got me thinking differently this week, and I’m not sure why it took so long for me to get to this. What Peter seems to suggest is that we are living our whole lives in fact in an in-between time, in an unsettled, unfinished time, between the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the conclusion of God’s plan for this world. And Peter doesn’t seem terribly surprised or even concerned about this (in fact, he says we ought to expect this), except to give good advice to believers about how to live in such times. And that connected for me this week with Jesus’ words in the third verse of John 17 today – he suggests that eternal life is not something for which we need wait, but something we can actually experience now, here, in the in-between times in which we live.

So we start with Jesus before we hear from Peter. And Jesus tells us the truth about eternal life.

This might be the thing Christians get confused about the most. Our confusion wasn’t helped when English translators used to translate this phrase as “everlasting” life. That’s certainly one aspect of its meaning, but “everlasting” tends to get us thinking about life after death, life in the presence of God which never ends. Again, that’s part of the promise of this term. But it’s not what John’s Gospel understands the real gift of Jesus is.

For John, again and again he talks of Jesus’ gift of “life” to us and the world. And often he uses the phrase “eternal life.” But if you read carefully, eternal life is not just about life after death. In fact, the quality of eternal life seems the really important thing, not the length. For John, Jesus offers us a new existence, an authentic, real life – abundant life Jesus calls it once – lived in the love of God the Father, made known to us by God the Son, and anchored in the coming of God the Spirit.

So Jesus today says, in prayer to the Father: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John follows the Old Testament writers in understanding knowledge (“to know God”) as relationship, not intellectual assent to something.

So living in eternal life is living in a relationship of love with the Triune God, as Jesus has carefully delineated in the previous three chapters of John, a life of abiding in the vine that is God, of being in love with God and each other. So eternal life isn’t about our time, chronological time, extended infinitely. It is about beginning to live in God’s time, in God’s life, in this relationship Jesus makes possible.

This is so important, because if we can end our confusion about what is meant by eternal life, we can begin to understand how God intends to help us live in it. With this deeper understanding of eternal life we don’t risk assuming that salvation only means life after death. In other words, we are not only filled with hope for those who have died and gone before us. We also find powerful meaning to the life we are living here.

It may be in-between times, and it may be unsettled. But Jesus intends it, this life, to be filled with the richness of God in spite of our circumstances, and in every way that matters not only a foretaste of the life to come, but that very life itself.

And in this context, Peter makes his presence known.

For he gives us four things to do in the in-between times, which, when we combine them with the activity of the first believers in Acts today, give us a shape of how this eternal life can be.

The first thing he urges us to do is to humble ourselves before God.

To know the only true God, as Jesus says, is to begin to remember our proper place in the world – we are creatures, not God, and therefore our lives are not our own. There’s actually a sense of peace and comfort in this – we don’t need all the answers to life because life is not ours to control. If we live a life in God – in whom we live and move and have our being, as Paul reminded us last week – we find relief in remembering that God is in charge and in control. But it’s also an honesty that helps us experience life as God intended it – living with an awareness and a joy in the reality that the God of the universe is, well, the God of the universe, and that we are merely creatures who live in God’s grace and love. Life cannot be full and rich if it is lived in a lie, if we think we are the beginning and end of all that is.

The second urging for Peter comes from this humility: cast all your anxieties on God, for he cares for you, we are told.

For believers, recognizing the lordship of God, humbling ourselves before God, is the only true way to live, but it also is helped by knowing that the God who raised Jesus from the dead loves us with a deathless love. We can, as Peter says, cast all our anxieties and fears on God and trust in God’s love and care because not even death can stop God’s love for us. Peter envisions for us a rich life where we not only admit that God is God, but we also trust God to be God, to take care of what really matters. Our lives are often riddled with anxieties, and here we learn we can trust God with them. The things which cause the anxieties might not go away, but the anxiety will, and that’s enough.

Third, we are urged to discipline ourselves, to keep alert.

This is the place of the life of faith – this is where we live our lives. We are disciples, followers of Jesus. And so we are invited to discipline – to order our lives by the way of Christ, to live as Jesus lived, love as Jesus loved. The eternal life Jesus has for us is this life: an authentic life lived in the discipline of faith and love. Even if there were no life after death, this life would be worth more than any we could live, because disciplined life in Christ is a life of grace, forgiveness, healing, hope. It’s real life.

But we also discipline ourselves because of the enemy, the fourth of Peter’s encouragements.

The biggest problem of these in-between times is that there are forces of evil, small and great, which work in the world and cause great suffering and pain. It’s not necessary that we embrace Peter’s imagery of the devil as a roaring lion seeking prey to acknowledge the reality of forces of evil which work in the institutions and structures of this world, the reality of the spiritual powers of evil as Paul himself describes which are active as well, and of the evil that works even within our own hearts. Luther’s famous trio – the devil, the world, and our sinful self – sum up concisely the reality that we need to be prepared to stand against evil wherever it is found. The discipline of the Christian life is part of our defense, as is our trust in a God who loves and cares for us and can deliver us from evil.

And then we have one more thing that Peter doesn’t mention here.

The believers, according to Luke in Acts, spent their in-between time in prayer, “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” is what Luke actually says. And in this all four of Peter’s encouragements are found and brought together and eternal life is truly lived and known – we live lives of prayer in these in-between times because we acknowledge the dominion of the Triune God, we need to cast our anxieties into God’s hands, we seek the discipline of a life of faith, and we wish the strength to resist evil. Constantly living lives of prayer is constantly living with the awareness that our lives are lived in a relationship with the God who loves us. And that is eternal life, Jesus says.

So what I’m saying is, I think I’m making peace with the oddness of the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

Because in many ways it parallels our life experiences, and in stopping today before we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit next week we have the opportunity to consider our lives which in the main aren’t about festivals and celebrations. They are lives which are ordinary, sometimes unsettled, often unfinished, with a sense of waiting while nothing seems to happen.

But our joy is that eternal life – life lived knowing the only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, life lived in full awareness of God’s love for us, life lived with purpose and meaning as we are part of God’s healing of the world – eternal life is ours now.

It may be the in-between times. But thanks be to God that we are already living in the life our Lord has won for us and gives us freely.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sermon from June 2, 2011 + The Ascension of Our Lord

“It is necessary”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Acts 1:1-11 (with references to Matthew 28 and John 16)

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

It’s kind of an amusing picture that Luke gives us in Acts 1. Jesus has ascended into heaven and the disciples stand looking at the sky. Gawking at the clouds, wondering what to do. Apparently they stand there long enough that the angels – well, Luke calls them two men in white robes, but one wonders who else that could be – the angels feel compelled to appear and ask the disciples just why they’re standing there, gazing up to heaven.

It’s a good question for us to answer as we celebrate the Lord’s Ascension. It would be easy to see this as a day of sadness – Jesus left the earth to return to the Father, and wouldn’t it be better if he were still walking the earth with us? And don’t we also stand looking at the heavens – if not literally then spiritually – when things go wrong, wondering where God is, why God allowed this or that, what God intends to do to make things right?

But the question is a good one: why stand there looking for God’s Son to return when in fact we’ve been promised that we will receive the power of God ourselves, when in fact we’ve received a call to do God’s work?

We’re not that different from the disciples, or anyone expecting salvation and help from God.

Humanity tends to like magic more than relationship from its gods. Throughout history prayer is often shaped as a way to get God to do what we want. And Jews and Christians aren’t immune to this – the desire for a Messiah who would restore Israel, who would end oppression and make all things new and just take charge, comes from the same hope.

Even after they face the reality of Jesus’ death, once he is raised, Luke says, the disciples ask, “Now will you restore the kingdom of Israel?” They still haven’t caught on. What the cross and resurrection showed them, and us, is that God’s plan for redeeming the world is far more complicated than magical restoration, or even divine intervention with power. Meanwhile, the disciples stand there, gawking at the skies, wondering what they’re going to do.

But we’re doing the same thing, looking in the wrong direction for God’s answer. Like young children who hope that if they sit in the mess long enough their parents will pick them up and make it all right again, we prefer God to be the one who does the heavy lifting. As if the cross and resurrection of Jesus are not the chief answer from God to the pain and suffering of this world.

The parenting image is apt here – because a good parent wants his or her child to start learning for themselves, learn responsibility for their actions, and become part of the solution to what needs solving in the world. And so God, too, desires that for us. All of Jesus’ ministry and teaching prepared us for it, if only we could see it. And his Ascension makes it necessary, because he’s left us to do the work. Which makes the Ascension itself necessary for our growth and our call.

This is not a sad day because it’s the day of our commissioning, the day of our calling, the day we get the news as certainly as we can: God’s work will continue with us.

In Matthew’s account of the Ascension, Jesus in fact gives what we have come to call the “Great Commission.” But in John’s Gospel, Jesus makes it even clearer when he says: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7

It is to our advantage that he goes away – because the Spirit cannot come without it. In the mystery of the life of the Trinity we cannot understand why this is so. But the promise is real: in leaving us physically, Jesus makes it possible for us to be with him always in the Spirit. And that, in truth, is what makes God’s continuing work in us possible.

For better or for worse, God’s plan of salvation is to save the world one believer at a time, through the love we are given. Instead of becoming an earthly King with infinite power over this earth, Jesus ascends – he goes away! – and tells us, in effect, to “keep up the good work.” Jesus leaves so he can send the Spirit to us, to give us the power of God for this work. He leaves so we can continue God’s plan.

But God’s plan is still not to magically fix everything. God’s transformation of the world will happen in the same way Jesus worked, through self-giving love, through re-creating relationships between the people of the world and God. Jesus’ cross isn’t a misstep or a mistake – it’s the beginning of the whole plan of God to bring the world back to God. Through Jesus the Son, the triune God offers this loving relationship freely and with forgiveness. Through us, those who believe, God spreads that news.

It’s not terribly efficient by the world’s standards, but the means are as important as the end to God. Forcing the world to love each other and God could be done, but it would not be worth anything. Jesus showed the power of God by his sacrificial love. And now for us, for the world, the only way to show God’s power is by our love. By our lives. By the Spirit making us new from within so that we can love others, even though that is not the way of the world, because through this love everything can be changed.

So we gather tonight not to gape at the heavens wondering when God will come back.

We gather here tonight, the people of God who have claimed the name Mount Olive for our fellowship (or at least those who came before us did), and we remember that on the Mount of Olives our Lord left us so that we might continue his work. We remember that we are named for the place when it all became abundantly clear: God needs us to continue the work of Jesus.

And here’s the best news: we’re only 10 days from celebrating how God will make this happen. We are promised that same Spirit of God Jesus has, to do this love, this work. We are promised God’s abiding presence so we are not alone or abandoned.

So wait for it. Watch for it. Pray for it. Then let’s spread the love of God – because that’s been the plan all along.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sermon from May 29, 2011 + The Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)

“No More Orphans”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: John 14:15-21; Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22

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

A couple weeks ago one of the comics in the StarTribune had a series where an extended family was watching the Disney movie Dumbo. And one of the mothers watching commented on the consistent theme in Disney movies, the absence of mothers. With four children, spaced about 8 years apart top to bottom, Mary and I spent a good number of years watching Disney films, and Hannah’s birth coincided with the revival of Disney and a run of some very good movies over the past two decades. But after awhile we noticed the same thing about these movies – missing parents. From The Little Mermaid to Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast to the recent Tangled, for the heroes and heroines of these movies at least one and often both parents were missing. And the first generation of great Disney movies had its share of orphans, or partial-orphans, too – Dumbo, Cinderella, Snow White, Bambi – who can forget Bambi? As a matter of fact, most of the fairy tales I loved to read as a child, and still enjoy, have the same characteristic. The young protagonist often is on their own in the world, without parents to guide, protect, love and embrace them.

It seems clear from the way these stories, new and old, have captured the imagination of children and parents alike for centuries, that the idea of being orphaned strikes a deep chord in the human heart. If we are to think of an obstacle to put before a young character in a story, something to be overcome, time and again human storytellers have started with the loss or absence of caring parents.

And to that reality in our human hearts, that we can think of nothing harder for a child than to be without parents, Jesus speaks these words today: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” And even for some of us who are no longer children, that is a powerful, powerful promise. That the gift of the Holy Spirit of God will fill our hearts and minds and be present with us; that even though Jesus is returning to heaven, he will not abandon us.

For any of us here who have lost a parent, or parents, to death, we cling to these words for life.

For any who have seen the death of a treasured mentor or teacher, the same reaction is there. For any who have felt abandoned in life, alone, not belonging to anyone or any family, again, it’s the same reaction. Joy, to learn that we are not orphans. That we belong to God in Jesus.

And the promise is fulfilled, right now, as we are in this room. Look around you – Jesus spoke the truth. We are not abandoned. Ever since I’ve come to Mount Olive a constant theme I’ve heard from members here is that this a place of welcome for them, that even though many here have not felt welcome, a place to belong, in other parts of the Church, here they have.

You are a part of this family, this house of God, this body of Jesus. In this place, today, the Spirit is moving, living, giving breath to us, hope to us, love to us. In this place Jesus is – Jesus is. We are not orphaned – we have each other. And we have the Lord. You belong here – if you’ve been here for five decades or five months, it’s the same. Member or guest, it matters not. Here you belong. And here we meet God who has not abandoned us.

Paul says the same thing to the Athenians today – and claims a kinship with them as well. He quotes their own philosophers and essentially says, “You are not orphans, because we are God’s children together.” That’s what he means anyway, when he tells them that they and all people are the offspring of this God, the one they didn’t know before, who created all things. “We” are God’s offspring, he says – as their philosophers also had said – but then includes them with him as children of the unknown God he is making known to them. We are inseparably linked to the Creator who loves us, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul says, and all of us are in this family, all of us belong. I can’t think of a more important message for us to hear, or a more important message for us to share.

You belong to God – and all belong to God. This is our joy, our hope, our life, our reason for being. And in a world of dispossessed peoples, of homeless people, of broken families, of centuries of war and oppression, of disconnects between peoples and nations and even neighbors, a world filled with orphans, this is the hope we have that desperately needs to be shared.

St. Francis of Assisi famously once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”

I have long felt this important – that our actions speak louder than words. But as I look at Peter and Paul today, and consider the desperate need for people to know they belong to God as beloved children, I wonder if we might need to look at the other side, whether we might need to remind ourselves of that second part, the using of words.

I was reminded once by a colleague who grew up in a tradition other than Lutheran that from an outsider’s perspective we Lutherans preach dramatically with our actions. We are in fact people who live out in our lives the Gospel we know. We may not be comfortable talking about the Good News, but Lutherans definitely have a history and a pattern of living God’s love, embodying God’s grace. Around the world, and even looking just at this country, from an agency like Lutheran Social Services which has an enormous impact on this country far greater than our numbers would indicate, to Mount Olive folks who tutor neighborhood children or serve neighborhood meals, we proclaim God’s love for all.

It’s good to know from folks who come to us from other traditions that they see this in us and see us as a blessing. And if we had to choose, living a life of love and service is far more significant than speaking a good line without action to follow it up. But do we have to choose?

We may not use words as much because our theology is so grounded in grace and trust in God’s love that we don’t have the fear some Christians have of not reaching people in time. There’s a famous story about the early twentieth century evangelist Dwight Moody. He stated his calling in this way: “God has given me a lifeboat and said, ‘Moody, save all you can!’” Someone once came up to him and criticized him for how he did his work, saying, “Sir, I do not appreciate your way of doing evangelism.” Moody is said to have replied, “Sir, I much prefer my way of doing it to your way of not doing it.”

Our theology differs from Moody’s, and that shapes how we do or don’t do outreach. But we at least need to ask ourselves, “Are we doing it at all?” Lutherans don’t see ourselves as having lifeboats, saving souls in a sea of destruction. Rather, we believe God has the whole ocean, that God’s hands support all things, so that no one is ever outside God’s grace and care.

And that’s wonderful – but because we don’t have an anxious theology as Lutherans, it can feel a little bit as if we have no reason to speak the Good News to anyone, to invite anyone, to seek out anyone. And we need to consider how we speak this good news so that the world might know it belongs. Might know that in God there are no more orphans. What a difference it would make if Christians were the ones proclaiming that all were God’s children, all loved, all welcome in Christ, instead of having the reputation of being exclusive, judgmental, and certain of our status as the only loved ones of God.

Peter invites us to do this today, to always be ready to speak of the hope we have, but to do this, he says, with gentleness and reverence.

And Paul’s example today in Athens in our reading from Acts is powerful for us, and worth considering. Paul basically does what Peter advises. He first walks around the city, getting a sense of who they are, how they worship; he listens to them, in effect. If you read a few verses before today’s reading you see that he’s deeply distressed by all the idols.

But he doesn’t harangue or scold them – he takes it as an opportunity to honor them. “I see how extremely religious you are,” he begins. He treats them with respect. So he listens reverently – getting a sense of their faith and desire for God – and speaks reverently – honoring who they are with his speech.

But he also is gentle in listening and speaking. His gentle listening is seen in his ability to identify them as fellow children of God, even in the midst of all the idols which are shocking to him. And he preaches to them, but in language they all recognize and know, finding words they can understand and to which they can relate, instead of forcing them to understand things his way. This speech is full of literary references from familiar Greek authors. He uses their words, their images, their understandings, and from that begins to tell them about Jesus, his resurrection, and the life God has for them. And he claims that they and he are one, all belonging to God together.

And that is what we have to follow, this model. A willingness to listen with gentleness and reverence, and then to speak with the same gentleness and reverence to the other, respecting our neighbor as the presence of God in our lives, and loving them as Jesus loves us. From there, Jesus promises, the Spirit will help us with the words we need. All we are asked to do is share the hope that is in us.

It’s a joy to know we belong to God, that we are sisters and brothers here together, that we are no longer orphans.

But if we keep that joy to ourselves, it becomes rotten, and sterile, and not worth anything. On several occasions in the New Testament, a writer explains that the reason for sharing the Good News is to make the writer’s joy complete – recognizing that without sharing this hope we have we have no reason to hold it ourselves. That our joy will only be complete when all know this Good News for themselves.

Think what it would be for you, for me, if we saw everyone, everyone – near and far – as beloved sisters and brothers, fellow children of God with us. What it would be like if we truly believed that there were no such things as orphans with God and we were bound and determined to live this reality and speak it as often as we could. This is our call, that we share our Easter hope and so make our joy complete, and God’s joy.

I don’t know who you will meet this week or next, but I pray you will bring this hope with you, and share it certainly by your actions. But also that you will be open to finding gentle and reverent ways to speak of this hope, too. There are no more orphans in this world – all belong to God as beloved children. It’s time we started letting people know this wonderful news.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

Copyright 2014 Mount Olive Lutheran Church