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Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sermon from July 24, 2011 + Ordinary Time, Sunday 17 (A)

“God’s Subversive Beauty”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen

Texts: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52; Romans 8:26-39; Psalm 119:129-136

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 a war with dandelions. I hate them in my yard, I want them gone. There is a boulevard and a center island to the north of our house, however, which fill with dandelions in the spring, and send their seeds all over my yard. It’s pretty much an endless struggle.

And yet, to a child, a dandelion is worthy of a mother’s bouquet, honorable enough, beautiful enough, to be picked with care, clutched in grubby fists, and presented with the gravitas of a lover giving a dozen roses.

How can this be the same plant? Is it as simple as gardening wits have long said, that a weed is by definition a plant in the wrong place? Is beauty dependent upon location? Or point of view? Human beings are obsessed with beauty, and the glamor industry makes a fortune on that obsession. But the converse is that humans seemingly have little time for that which we deem unbeautiful. A pastor friend of mine has a side business where she brings animals to children’s parties, animals which might be considered “ugly” – snakes, tarantulas, that sort of thing – and a big part of her presentation is to help her listeners see beauty in all of God’s creation, not just the things we normally consider “cute.” My friend, no surprise, is not a fan of Roundup, either.

Jesus is playing around with this human tendency in his parables. Last week we heard a parable about weeds in among wheat. Then the weeds were bad. Now we hear about a mustard plant, which, unless you work for Grey Poupon or French’s, is normally considered a weed. Yet in Jesus’ parable it’s the star. Even more, he also likens the reign of God to things we do normally consider beautiful – hidden treasure, and an amazing pearl. He talks about the kingdom as if it is something we should long for, pant for, to use the words of our psalmist today.

But here’s the thing. There’s something important about Jesus lifting up a weed as a metaphor for God’s grace. And even his image of God the great troller, dragging a net through water and pulling up all kinds of things. The grace and love of God are truly beautiful – but they call us to move beyond a superficial sense of beauty to understand what God really means by it. And if we do that, we might just understand what this great treasure is after all.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Jesus invites us to look at the world through the eyes of God.

In this first parable, the mustard seed is not what it seems at first, not a chosen plant, a planned planting. The only way mustard seeds would have been planted by a farmer in Jesus’ day is if they were part of the bag of seeds he was sowing. This is very different from the image of weeds in last week’s parable, where an enemy planted them. Here, it’s like when we buy a bag of grass seed and look for the percentages of weed seeds in the bag. Even the finest grass seed cannot guarantee 100% of the seeds are not weeds.

So in the farmer’s grain seeds are these little mustard seeds – and they grow in the midst of the good stuff. You can see them in our farm fields today, tall, weedy things with bright yellow flowers. But here’s the deal: Jesus lifts up that weed, that unasked-for visitor, and says – look how it grows and eventually provides shelter for birds. “Do you see that?” he says. “That’s what God’s kingdom is like.”

So is Jesus suggesting that God messes around with our sense of beauty, worth, order?

We like – or at least I’ve gone on record as saying I do – orderly fields, straight cornrows. Gardens with neatly tied tomato plants, and weed-free walkways. That’s beautiful. A world where it all makes sense, and all things are good.

But God says – maybe some of those other things are worthy, too. Maybe I can do something with things you consider unworthy. Maybe you don’t really understand what I think is beautiful.

The parable of the dragnet plays with this image, too. English translators are not helpful on this one – they always seem to need to add a word to verse 47. What it says in Greek is this: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught of every kind.”

Not “caught fish of every kind.” Just “caught of every kind.” And think about it – a net cast into a lake or sea is going to catch more than fish – tin cans, discarded tires, old boots, driftwood, even weeds. And the real point of the parable: only the net owner can truly know what is good and what is not.

Looking for a white elephant gift for an exchange I was a part of, I once came across a book of crafts made from everyday objects. On the cover was a photo of a truly hideous lamp made by driving a rod through an old army boot – that pretty much sums up the artistic effort needed. “Make use of Grandpa’s army boot,” the caption proclaimed. “Create a beautiful keepsake!”

But what if that’s exactly what God is about?

Jesus is talking about the subversive activities of God – taking a weed and making something of it. Finding an old boot and using it. See, the thing about most human standards of beauty is that most of us don’t feel we fit them. In fact, all of us are imperfect, disabled, flawed, broken. (If that’s a surprise to anyone here, I’m sorry to break it to you, but there it is.)

But Jesus tells us here that God looks at us – old boots, rusty cans, pieces of driftwood, or weeds that are making disorder in the world – God looks and us and says, “I can do something with that. I can do something with you – and it will be beautiful.”

And here’s the twist of these parables: those in the net cannot make judgments on the worth of others in the net. Only the true Fisherman can. Those planting the field don’t get to decide what is weed and what is not. Only the true Farmer can. Because we don’t know what God thinks, how God values, we don’t get to make the call. We don’t get to be the judge. Because things we think are weeds, or trash, God thinks are treasures and beautiful.

And that subversive tendency of God becomes the only reason for us to have hope.

And here’s where Paul helps us today, Paul who tells us what God is about. God searches, knows, intercedes, and loves.

This marvelous section comes at the end of a long four-chapter part of this letter where Paul is working through the problem of human sin and the joy of God’s love.

God searches our hearts, Paul says today – God’s the one who truly knows us. So that means that when God says we are beautiful, or others are beautiful, it really counts, it matters – because God truly knows.

And God even intercedes for us, Paul says – in the mystery of the Trinity, both the Holy Spirit, who is with us always now and knows us intimately, and the Son, who lived among us, intercede with the Father on our behalf. Not only are we valued and considered worthy, we are known and understood by God.

And consistent throughout these four chapters, as in today’s section, is Paul’s confident belief that God’s love transcends all our unworthiness – sin, brokenness, ugliness – and claims us forever. Valued and worthy, known and understood by God, we are actually loved. And there is nothing, Paul says, nothing that can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Not life. Note even death. Because God, who has searched us and knows us, has said we are beautiful.

And this shouldn’t surprise us. Because that’s what God has been saying since the dawn of time. There’s something interesting about the word “tov” in Hebrew – translated “good” most often. There’s a deep aesthetic sense to this word – in fact, dominant to this word is the idea of “pleasant, fair, agreeable to the senses.” Beautiful, we might say.

Which means that Genesis 1 declares again and again that when God created – light, water, plants, animals, people – again and again God said, “this is beautiful.” Isn’t that amazing? God from the beginning found delight in this creation. And said it was beautiful. It is beautiful.

So should we be surprised that God says the same about weeds and things others throw out? God the creator loves beauty, and makes beauty. And when God says “it is beautiful,” it is beautiful.

This is the treasure, the pearl – because once we’ve found this is true, nothing else will satisfy our needs.

Once we know that God has said we are beautiful, worthy, there is nothing else that will satisfy our deepest longing. And we never want to be apart from this.

When we hear beautiful music praising God, see beautiful art depicting God’s handiwork, are blessed by beautiful people who love us in God’s name, gather in a beautiful place and pray to the God who loves us, we are touched by this beautiful grace of God.

In many ways, this is why we seek beauty in all its forms in our worship – because it brings us closest to what we have known and experienced from God’s love. And it reminds us of what God thinks of us, of the love Paul says cannot be taken from us. Being fed by Word and Sacrament, surrounded by our song and our prayer, with the presence of each other as God’s gifts of grace, this is where we know more than anywhere else that God’s subversive love has deemed us worthy, is making something of us, is seeing us as beautiful.

But remember the twist to these parables, too: when it comes to others, God’s the one who calls things beautiful. It’s easy to rejoice that we are loved by God and seek to withhold that from others because they don’t seem worthy to us. That tendency of human nature is one Jesus is trying to prod and open up for us.

And it’s interesting that he uses a word about the dragnet that we actually know in a different context. The verb translated “caught” is the same verb that gives us the English word “synagogue” – so the dragnet isn’t catching as much as “bringing together of every kind.”

You see? That’s God’s whole plan – “let’s bring together of every kind, and I’ll do something with that.” It’s why we know we’re welcome and loved. And it’s our call to action with regard to the world.

You never really know how great it is that God doesn’t believe there is such a thing as a weed, until you realize your own weediness.

The treasure of God’s kingdom is that all of us – weeds, trash, discards – are beautiful and useful to God.

Let us ask God to empower our grace and welcome, that this place is a place where all such people feel welcomed and loved as we have, and even more, beautiful and loved.

That’s the way God wants it. That’s the way God sees it. And thank God for that.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

The Olive Branch, 7/25/11

Accent on Worship

Of Parables and Metaphor

Each of the three years of the Revised Common Lectionary uses Gospels primarily taken from one of the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John is interspersed throughout the three years at various times and places. We currently are in the year of Matthew, and given that Matthew includes a number of Jesus’ parables, we’re also in a year where we encounter many parables in our Gospel readings. We’ve just finished a run of several weeks’ worth of parables. There are more to come.

Now, we know that Jesus spoke in parables. He also acted them out, lived them in how he related to people and even as he did miracles. And we know that often his listeners didn’t understand what he was about. This can be our problem, too. Most of Jesus’ parables included in the Gospels – there are around 40, depending on how you count – are familiar to us, we’ve heard them often. Some of us since our early days of childhood. We like to think we understand them. But mostly, we don’t.

There’s an odd thing Jesus says about his parables in Matthew 13. He refers to the prophet Isaiah and says, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’” (Matt. 13:13) I don’t think Jesus is being prescriptive here, but descriptive of our reality. We simply have difficulty understanding what Jesus came to teach us, and he’s aware of that. With his parables, he tries to help us see what he is teaching in different ways.

You see, we typically expect certain things of God. And we’re often wrong. Jesus uses parables to help us see the strangeness of God’s reign, the way of God which is not what we expect or sometimes even desire. So when we listen to Jesus’ parables it would be wise to be open to that surprise. To be ready to have Jesus turn our expectations upside down.

In this, Jesus’ parables are more metaphor than allegory. Even though there are a handful which the Gospels end up explaining in straight allegory (e.g., “the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom”), most times we shouldn’t expect to understand Jesus’ parables that way. Most times he simply lifts up a metaphor in all its potential richness and says, “look at this. Do you see how that is? That’s what God’s reign is about.” And in most of these parables, as we live with them and let the image simply move in our minds and hearts, we find the sense of what Jesus is saying far more multifaceted and rich than simply “this is what this parable means.”

So enjoy Jesus’ stories as we move through the season of Ordinary Time. Let the Holy Spirit open the eyes of your heart and mind to dwell in the images he shows, and lead you to a deeper understanding of God’s way of life. After all, that’s why he told these stories in the first place.

- Joseph

Sunday Readings

July 31, 2011 – Ordinary Time: Sunday 18

Isaiah 55:1-5 + Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5 + Matthew 14:13-21

August 7, 2011 – Ordinary Time: Sunday 19
I Kings 19:9-18 + Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15 + Matthew 14:22-33

Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Monday, August 15, 2011
Holy Eucharist at 7:00 p.m.

Attention, Women!
Gail Nielsen cordially invites all w
omen to her home for a Garden Luncheon on Wednesday, August 17, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Men are welcome, too! There is no charge for the luncheon, but a freewill offering will be received to help defray the cost of the food.

Please RSVP to Gail Nielsen if you are interested in coming, 612.825.9326 – feel free to leave a message.

Seminar at Sea

Please join Pastor Joseph and Mary Crippen for a Seminar at Sea, sailing in the beautiful Caribbean Sea for 7 days. Pr. Crippen will provide three lectures on “Jesus, the Rapture, and the End Times,” and participants will have a short reading list in preparation. Departure date is January 28, 2012. Inside cabin prices from $699, balcony cabin prices from $1099 - taxes and airfare additional.

For full information and details, call Tom Olsen at 952-929-9781, or speak with him at church.

Thank You to the Heat Hosts

Last Monday morning Donna received a flurry of emails that began with Dwight Penas' suggestion that Mount Olive open its doors for people needing a break from the heat during last week’s heat wave. Cha put out an email request for volunteers to host this venture, and Donna created a schedule of two hour shifts that would run from eight in the morning to seven in the evening. The staff decided not to wait for volunteers but to open on Monday, since at least one staff member would be available throughout the day. A sign was posted on the door inviting people in for the cool air, a drink and a snack.

Unfortunately, there were few takers and the volunteers were the only ones enjoying the cool air. But everyone felt this was a wonderful idea and suspected the reason so few darkened our door was because no one knew about our offer unless they were walking by. There are few people on the street when the temperature is in the 90s and the dew points are pushing 80. By the end of the day on Wednesday, with the knowledge of the temperature and dew point dropping, the Thursday volunteers were contacted and told that they did not have to come in.

This is an idea that should not be abandoned. It was suggested that an announcement be made at the MONAC Community Meals that when the temperatures are hot, Mount Olive will be open during the day for people to come and enjoy the cool air. If we have other weeks of hot weather another request can be sent and calls made to all people who have offered or who came in and sat this past week. If it is just a day of heat, the staff can still graciously invite people in who need relief.

Thanks to all the “heat hosts” who so graciously gave of their time: Adam Krueger, Donn & Bonnie McLellan, Katherine Hanson, Art & Elaine Habardier, Dan & Marcia Burrow, Judy Graves, and Wes Huisinga.

Thanks also to all those who were scheduled, but did not get a chance to host: Gail Nielsen, Neil Hering, Jo Sorenson, John Crippen, Kathy Thurston, Dan Adams, and Judy Hinck.

Farewell Open House

Lutheran Social Services’ President and CEO Mark Peterson, is retiring. All are invited to come and celebrate Mark's 25 years of service to LSS. A brief program will be presented at 5:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served.

The Open House will be held on Wednesday, August 10, from 5-7 pm at The Center for Changing Lives, 2400 Park Avenue in Minneapolis. For additional information, please contact Lolyann Connor at 651.969.2273 or

Beyond Peacocks and PaisleysTextile Exhibition

Please join us after worship on Sunday, August 28, 2011 for a visit to the Goldstein Museum. Mount Olive member Don Johnson has collected textiles from the Indian subcontinent (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan) for 50 years and a selection of pieces from his collection forms the exhibit "Beyond Peacocks & Paisleys: Handmade Textiles of India and its Neighbors."

Don will be available to give tours of the exhibit elaborating on the pieces displayed. His collection is fascinating. We will depart after the service on Sunday and have lunch at India Palace in Roseville before proceeding to the Goldstein Museum to view the exhibit.

If you would like to attend, please let Carol Peterson or the church office know by Sunday, August 21 so we can get an accurate count of who would be attending and details to you of event logistics.

Repairer of the Breach
(Isaiah 58:9-13)

The prophet Isaiah names us as the “Repairer of the Breach” - that great chasm between God and Creation. We are the repairer of the breach when we “offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.”

MONAC is working to repair that breach in many ways. One way brings opportunity for small business development to artists living in poverty by setting up an art shop in the Midtown Global Market. Mount Olive’s deepest values lead us to a life that places love, generosity, social justice, thanksgiving, and joy at the center of our lives – that center where we can repair the breach – that center where we love God and love neighbor.

MONAC has committed Mount Olive to assist artists in poverty to set up shop so that work is restored as a way out of poverty, so that assets are built, and communities are revitalized through person-to-person support imbedded within A Minnesota Without Poverty.

On Sunday, July 31, some of the artists will be at the Adult Forum following worship so that we as a congregation can talk about our work with them at our neighbor, the Midtown Global Market. Come to this Forum that we all might work together as a way to repair the breach - for all our sakes.

Book Discussion Group News

For its meeting on August 13, The Book Discussion group will read A Bed of Red Flowers, by Nelofer Pazira.For the meeting on September 10, they will read Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison.

Church Library News

As you know, the grand opening and blessing of the newly-restored Louise Schroedel Memorial Library was held Sunday, June 26. It was a pleasure to greet so many congregation members who came back to visit our library that Sunday and those thereafter. We were especially happy to hear such comments about our library as "bright", "pleasant" and "inviting."

We hope many of you who did not have the opportunity to visit the library earlier will make a point to do so soon and those who did come to have a quick look at our new space will come back soon to spend more time investigating what's there that could be appealing and helpful to each of you.

There are also some "freebies" left over from the grand opening, i.e. scratch-‘n-sniff bookmarks (gingerbread and watermelon) and library inscribed pencils, which remain from another library anniversary. Another little surprise, which the children may especially enjoy, is that there are now two library mascots who have taken up residence in our library. Look for them soon -- their names are Olive and Oliver! (Thanks to Dan Olson for his creativity).

Please remember that our library still contains a receptacle for Stamps for Missions. Special thanks goes to Marcia Burow who has faithfully and periodically sent our cancelled stamps to benefit Bethel in Bielefeld, Germany. This takes so little time for us to do and it is so helpful to the Bethel residents.

In an effort to acquaint you further with the volunteers who have been or will be taking rotating duty at the library's check-out desk on Sundays (besides myself) is Dan Olson, Mabel Jackson, Donna Wolsted, Nancy Flatgard and Brooke Roegge. As we continue toward an even busier schedule in the fall, we could use more helpers, but especially need someone who would take seriously the responsibility and the importance of the church library ministry. Speak to me if you have an interest in the above possibility.

This spring a mailing from the Library Foundation of Hennepin County featured a timely slogan worthy of our consideration as well. "Knowledge is free at the library. Bring your own container!"

- Leanna Kloempken

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Olive Branch, 7/11/11

Accent on Worship

For all the saints who from their labors rest . . .

Mary and I are godparents to one of our nieces whose name is Madeleine, a French form of Magdalene. In my family growing up, our parents always made a celebration on our baptismal anniversaries, and Mary and I have continued that with our children. We will also celebrate Madeleine’s baptismal birthday of course. But given her connections with Mary Magdalene, I’m also going to introduce her to the idea of a name day, and we’ll do with her some sort of recognition of July 22, the feast day of Mary Magdalene. I’m not sure if I’ll start this summer – she’s only 2 – but certainly by next summer.

I was thinking about this in part because July 22 is coming up, and also because one of the things I’ve appreciated about worship at Mount Olive is our regular notice of the calendar of festivals and commemorations, the calendar of the saints. It may seem like a little thing, but it’s a gift to our lives that we list the week’s commemorations and when the lesser festivals – apostles and other celebrations like Holy Cross – fall on green Sundays we celebrate them. There are even some whose days we remember with a Eucharist whenever they occur, saints such as Mary, Francis of Assisi, and Luke. So we’re currently between our celebration on Sunday, July 3, of Thomas, Apostle and our joint celebration with Gethsemane Episcopal Church of the feast of Mary, Mother of our Lord, on Monday, Aug. 15, at 7:00 p.m.

I especially am glad that many times our assisting ministers name the week’s commemorations aloud in prayer, so we have a chance to bring these saints to mind. The gift of our calendar is that weekly we are reminded of these saints who have gone before us and modeled for us faith and discipleship. The writer to the Hebrews spoke of a “great cloud of witnesses” who surround us and encourage us in the faith. By remembering these witnesses in prayer and in our liturgies, we stay connected to the Body of Christ which extends far beyond those in the room with us, far beyond those alive today, and back two millennia, centuries of faithful disciples who now rest in the Lord but still have things to teach us and are able to inspire us.

There is not always agreement among different Christian communions about which days to remember which saint, and there are some who are remembered in one tradition and not in another. Evangelical Lutheran Worship has our current Lutheran calendar in the front part of the worship book, pages 15-17. In 2008 Lutheran pastor and scholar Philip Pfatteicher published New Book of Festivals and Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints, a thorough and well-documented revision of his previous work. Saints of calendars from East to West are included, with descriptions of their lives, suggested propers, and a reading either from their work or related to each of them. It’s well worth having both as an informational resource and a devotional guide.

May we always remember with reverence and affection those saints who have gone before us, those who are on calendars, and those in our own lives, who continue to surround us with witness and who are gathered around the throne of the Lord, and let that witness inspire and shape our lives of faith.

- Joseph

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 for two more Sundays: July 17 and 24, during the coffee hour after liturgy.

Thank you for your support and please join us for lunch on Saturday, August 6.

Contribution Statements

Statements for the first half of the fiscal year are available on the table near the coat room. Please pick yours up soon!

Mount Olive to Welcomethe Haug Family

This 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.

Adult Forum July 24: Our Malaria Work

Christ calls us to care for our sisters and brothers who are poor and sick. Come to the Adult Forum on July 24 to learn how we in the Minneapolis Area Synod (one of five 2010 ELCA pilot synods) are joining together in prayer, learning, giving and telling to reduce the prevalence of malaria in Africa by 2015. This will be an opportunity to gain basic information about Our Malaria Work, and learn about approaches and interventions. Fikru Eticha, a public health nurse, originally from Ethiopia and a current Luther Seminary student, will share his powerful personal and professional stories about malaria’s devastation. Mary Simonson Clark, the Minneapolis Area Synod’s Our Malaria Work Coordinator, will facilitate the discussion. Come and learn how you can join in giving a healthier future to our neighbors in Africa through the Our Malaria Work project.

Before and after adult forum, the Missions Committee will be displaying a mosquito net in the reception area and taking donations toward the Our Malaria Work project. Did you know that the cost of one life-saving mosquito net is a mere $10? Please consider giving a donation to this effort.

New Art in Chapel Lounge

Earlier this summer, several framed prints of pages of the St. John’s Bible Project were made available to Mount Olive at a reduced cost by Carter Avenue Frame Shop in St. Paul. Mount Olive Music and Fine Arts gratefully purchased these prints for our permanent collection of art, and they are now displayed in the Chapel Lounge. Stop and see them if you haven’t already.

Book Discussion Group News

For its meeting on August 13, The Book Discussion group will read A Bed of Red Flowers, by Nelofer Pazira.

For the meeting on September 10, they will read Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison.

The Art Place

Mount Olive Neighborhood Ministries will help staff a booth at the Powderhorn Art Fair this year. This booth will feature artists who will have a shop in the Midtown Global Market called “The Art Place.”

The Art Place is a joint effort of A Minnesota Without Poverty, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Mount Olive Neighborhood Ministries. The Powderhorn Art Fair is Sat.-Sun., August 6-7, from 10 am to 5 pm. Come see the art! Volunteer to help staff the booth and help to overcome poverty! If you have any questions about this project, please call Carol Austermann at 612-722-5123, or Eunice Hafemeister at 612-721-6790.

Much additional information about The Art Place will be shared an the Adult Forum on Sunday, August 7.

A Note From the Halbardiers

Dear Mount Olive friends,
June began with the incidental discovery of a tumor on Elaine’s left kidney. June ended with surgery to take the kidney, which will likely be all the treatment required.

Throughout this month, we have discovered anew the strength and comfort that comes from knowing that our faith community – in its many and varied voices – is praying for us in ways that would probably never have occurred to us had we asked for specific petitions. You are appreciated more than our words can ever describe. Likewise, Pastor Crippen was a faithful visitor before and after surgery. Thank you, all. God bless you. You have been a blessing to us.
We want to acknowledge in particular Connie and Rod Olson, who readily agreed to pick up leadership of the monthly meal Mount Olive prepares for the residents at Our Savior’s housing, with Gene Phelps and Donn and Bonnie McClellan. Please step forward to help them in the coming months as you have helped us in this important outreach ministry.

- Elaine and Art Halbardier

Seminar at Sea

Please join Pastor Joseph and Mary Crippen for a Seminar at Sea, sailing in the beautiful Caribbean Sea for 7 days. Pr. Crippen will provide three lectures on “Jesus, the Rapture, and the End Times,” and participants will have a short reading list in preparation.

Departure date is January 28, 2012. Inside cabin prices from $699, balcony cabin prices from $1099 - taxes and airfare additional. For full information and details, call Tom Olsen at 952-929-9781, or speak with him at church.

Sermon from July 10, 2011 + Ordinary Time, Sunday 15 (A)

“Guaranteed Harvest”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Isaiah 55:10-13; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Psalm 65

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

When I was young, living on the prairies of southwestern Minnesota among lots of farmers, we always heard the saying that the corn should be “knee-high by the Fourth of July.” But having served as a pastor in a rural congregation, and having lived the better part of my adult life near farm fields, I’ve noticed that the current corn hybrids have made a mockery of that standard. Corn is often chest high or better by July 4.

But not this year. With the wet spring, and I’m assuming later planting times factor in as well, the corn has been tiny. In fact, near the end of June this year there were plenty of fields I passed on my drive into church that didn’t look like they’d make the old standard. Now it seems as if most did, and the corn is starting to look pretty good.

But you never know, do you? Rain comes and rain goes. Sometimes you have too much sun and heat, sometimes not enough. Sometimes the rainstorm brings hail. Farming crops is a huge leap of faith. You prepare the soil, you put the seed in, you care for it. But ultimately the crop is in God’s hands. So you pray.

Today’s Gospel, the first reading, and the psalm, all sound familiar themes for people in the Midwest: rain, seeds, growth; risks like weeds, rocks, pests. And harvest. Only the harvest Jesus and the prophet Isaiah are talking about isn’t corn, or beans, or wheat. It’s faith and trust in the hearts of people. It is a harvest of children of God who love God and each other and bear the fruit of faith, living in peace and harmony with God and each other.

To listen to Jesus this morning, it doesn’t look like a very favorable forecast for a good harvest. And for you and me, who live in a world which challenges our faith and causes us doubt, which gives pain along with joy, we can understand that. Now in fact, there is a promise in God’s Word today which gives us hope for a much better harvest.

But let’s work with Jesus’ image for a little bit first, that faith starts with a seed.

This metaphor of Jesus was familiar to his hearers – they knew what it meant to plant tiny things and have to trust in a future result because you can’t always see what the end result will be.

It’s a great image for faith. If you’ve ever grown anything, even planting a seed in a Styrofoam cup in elementary school, you know it’s amazing to see what comes from those tiny seeds. Big six-foot cornstalks from a tiny kernel, enormous sunflowers from a little shell of a thing.

The reason the metaphor is so apt is that when faith is growing, like a seed, you can’t always see what the end result will be. In faith – ourselves or the faith of others – as in gardening, we can’t always tell what the fruit will be like from the seed. And when seeds are planted, remember, they are hidden. So it is only with patience that we can see God’s results.

There’s another thing about this seed image of Jesus’: it’s amazingly inefficient farming. The sower throws the seed everywhere, not just in one place. This was the practice in Jesus’ day, but still – it’s worth considering what he’s saying.

I love the orderliness of farm fields – the rows of corn and beans, the regularity of the design. When Mary plants flowers and perennials and the areas around our house, it’s always intentional and carefully thought out. Not so with this sower of Jesus’ parable.

Jesus insists that God scatters the Word everywhere, not only to a select group of people in perfect circumstances. So with this image we are encouraged to believe that God has in fact planted seeds in places we do not control, that there are fields God is working apart from us. We still are tasked in our field, in our place – but God’s Word is scattered throughout this world without even our say so.

But what are we to do with the rest of Jesus’ metaphor – that there are good soils and harsh soils, threats to growth of faith, threats to discipleship?

It would be easy to push the metaphor beyond Jesus’ intent here and make it a simple moral tale: don’t be bad soil. But look at what’s really happening in each of these locations.

Things threaten the growth of faith, to be sure. There is hard ground, places where when God’s Word is preached it seems to bounce off of concrete or asphalt, life that is harsh and unyielding and ungracious, and people in such straits have hardly opportunity to grasp it before it’s snatched away.

There is thin soil, life which is precariously balanced on the edge, where the Word barely has a chance to grow and without roots is vulnerable to the first difficulty or stress.

And there is thorny soil, life that is complicated, life that has worries and concerns that seemingly become so great that faith becomes impossible to imagine or sustain.

But there is great compassion in Jesus’ telling – he clearly understands why faith seems to struggle, why people can have difficulty following. This is the voice of the Teacher who looks sadly at the rich young man when he decides he cannot follow Jesus if it means giving up his wealth – Jesus loves him, and is filled with sorrow to see him go. But he also understands why he goes.

It seems that here Jesus is more interested in helping the listeners to this parable reconcile the power of God’s Word with the apparent lack of production of faith. The disciples in particular have followed Jesus and heard him preach to all sorts of people. They’ve even gone out and preached themselves, or will soon.

And the results are indifferent – some believe, some don’t. Some begin to follow and fall away when it gets challenging and threatening, others never seem to catch on at all, others fret about so many things they have a hard time following and trusting.

And even within the disciples they might recognize the effects of the choking concerns of the world (could those who left family and home to follow Jesus just simply forget those responsibilities and cares, or even should they do so?), or the power of the fear of the heat of the sun of persecution and retribution and its impact on their less than deeply rooted faith.

It doesn’t seem that Jesus’ point is to moralize or even to criticize as much as to help us understand. And what he would have us know is more about God than about us. In fact, as one commentator has said, this parable is best described not as a parable about good soil, but a parable about the Good Sower. “This sower is not so cautious and strategic,” he writes, “as to throw the seed in only those places where the chances for growth are best. No, this sower is a high-risk sower, relentless in indiscriminately throwing seed on all soil – as if it were all potentially good soil. . . . Which leaves us to wonder if there is any place or circumstance in which God’s seed cannot sprout and take root.” (1)

Now that’s something to think about with this parable. And that’s where Isaiah comes in and gives us the Good News.

Because through the prophet Isaiah, God the Farmer, God the Gardener, God the Sower, promises that this Word will bring fruit.

These words from Isaiah 55 have long been important to the ministry to which God has called me. As we prepare to receive a Vicar here again, I’ve been thinking back to my internship year. And I remember especially fretting about my sermons early on. The questions I seemed to ask myself were impossible to answer: Did they like it? Did it make sense to them? Will they change? Will they be transformed by it? Will they learn?

But at some point in that year I ran into Isaiah 55, especially verses 10-11. And I stopped asking those questions. They weren’t necessarily bad ones – I’m sure the disciples asked similar things. But they weren’t the right questions. And I realized that I didn’t need them anymore.

Because here God promises that his Word will do whatever God wants it to do. God brings the growth, not any preacher, not any of us when we witness. It’s not my job to make God’s Word speak in people’s hearts and grow faith – that’s God’s job. And I’ve truly never worried about the task of preaching since then.

And that promise is not only for preachers. It’s God’s full answer to the parable we’re considering. “My Word will not return to me empty,” God says; “it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” – as Jesus says, thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.

What a magnificent promise. God will guarantee the harvest. God will bring faith and love to grow in our hearts. And God will bring fruit from all the seed that is scattered in this world, wherever it is, however it got there. The Spirit of God is working and alive and will bring this growth.

This is Good News for us and for the world. When we feel that we have been mired in sinful habits and problems and will never change, or when we struggle with faith and life, when we feel weak in the face of what life has in store, we can trust that God is still at work, growing faith, giving us life. God’s Word will bring forth faith and its fruits in you. In me. In the world. It is guaranteed.

Even when we look around and see only the challenges to faith, when we see Christians acting in ways not of Christ, when we worry that the forces of hatred and oppression and violence and anger and selfishness – all the things that threaten life and joy – are stronger than anything we can know, God says: in the end, I get what I want. My Word will do what I need it to do, for I have overcome the world.

And so we rejoice. We rest assured of God’s gardening skills and nurturing love.

Our faith is still growing in us, in spite of anything we might think or see or experience. And the seed of God’s Word, the spread of God’s love, is happening in the world, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

But what we can do is pray that we might also become sowers of this seed ourselves, indiscriminately throwing the seed of God’s love wherever we go, trusting that God will grow the fruits of harvest there, too. Because that’s part of our fruit, that we bear the seed of God’s Word in the world. And while we pray we can rejoice, shout for joy and sing as the psalmist says, because God is growing a harvest that overflows with plenty. That is guaranteed.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

(1) Theodore J. Wardlaw, in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, vol. 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, general editors; Westminster John Knox Press 2011; p. 241.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sermon from July 3, 2011 + Thomas, Apostle

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen,
Texts: John 14:1-7; Judges 6:36-40

“Questioning Jesus”

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

This past week Minnesota’s governor was heckled and hissed at in his own office by members of the opposition party as he made remarks on the state of the budget.
Regardless of one’s views on why the state’s elected leaders could not come to agreement on a budget before shutting down essential services, it’s hard to miss that we’ve become a culture where respect for authority and office simply don’t exist anymore. Less than two years ago a member of the U. S. House of Representatives shouted “you lie” to the President of the United States during the president’s speech to Congress. Last week a respected journalist and commentator, and an editor of TIME magazine, was suspended by his cable channel superiors for using a vulgar expression on air to describe the president’s performance in a news conference.

Disrespect in politics isn’t a new thing. Longtime friends Thomas Jefferson and John Adams resorted to truly foul name calling and mudslinging as opponents in the presidential campaign of 1800, for one example. But it seems that until recently at least direct speech toward people in authority was kept respectful and polite, if speeches on the stump were not. It used to be felt that one’s office deserved a certain amount of deference and honor, even if one disagreed with the politics of the one holding the office.

What’s interesting is that it seems to me that speech toward God is still respectful and deferential among believers at any rate, almost to the point of reluctance to speak any concerns to or about God. I still find faithful Christians reluctant to criticize God or to challenge God or even to question God, even if they might have good reason to do so. Now, I’m not going to advocate we begin treating the Triune God with rudeness, vulgarity, and disrespect. But on this feast day of Thomas, Apostle, we find ourselves commemorating a disciple who modeled for us a fearless willingness to question, to ask what he needed to know. Thomas, like his friend Philip who often did the same, trusted Jesus enough – even though he considered him Lord and God – to challenge Jesus to explain himself, to help him believe. And given that Jesus always answered Thomas with kindness and grace, and with an answer no less, perhaps we might learn from Thomas to risk the same once in a while.

In truth, Thomas isn’t the first one in Scriptures to model this for us.

The Old Testament is full of witnesses who challenged God, questioned God, tested God. God’s greatest followers are some of the most prominent challengers.

Abraham, the father of the nation, went face-to-face with God about Sodom and Gomorrah, trying to urge God to put aside anger and wrath for the sake of the innocent.

Moses and God are like Abbott and Costello in the wilderness, bickering and criticizing each other, but mostly criticizing the people of Israel.

Job famously challenged God to a day in court after facing seemingly endless tragedy and suffering – he wants to know where God is in all this mess.

Jacob wrestles all night with someone – an angel, perhaps, but he thinks in the end it was God – and refuses to let go until God gives him a blessing.

Even Gideon today tests God – God’s promised to be with him as he leads the people of Israel against the Midianites, and Gideon just wants some reassurance that he’s not going to war without God’s help.

One Jewish writer I’ve read said that Jews feel as if it’s their right to talk back to God, to engage God this way. As he put it, Jews feel as if God’s the one who chose them, not the other way around. And since they got picked by God, they feel that gives them some freedom to question what God’s up to from time to time.

I realized recently that I likely learned this myself from a similar source. I played the character Tevye in our High School production of Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye talks to God throughout the entire play. He misquotes Scripture, and can be sanctimonious to others in his confidence about God’s ways.

But he talks to God like an old friend – sometimes complaining, other times thanking, sometimes just talking about the day. And what’s striking is that even when he’s complaining to God about something he thinks God hasn’t done well, he trusts in the relationship enough to continue living in faith. He says his piece, and then goes on with his life, trusting God will take care of all things.

And as I was thinking about Thomas this week, I realized that playing Tevye long ago had profoundly shaped how I prayed and how I thought about God. I didn’t recognize the connection to Tevye until now, but I’ve long felt comfortable enough with God to say my mind, to ask what I needed to ask. To trust in God’s love enough that I could say what I thought needed to be said, question what I thought needed to be questioned.

And I think I might have learned that from Tevye.

What changes with the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, is that it is clear Jesus intends to establish a relationship between God and the people of the world.

We see it even in today’s Gospel – Jesus says what John the evangelist has proclaimed since chapter 1 of the Gospel: to know Jesus is to know God the Father. So while the people of faith in the Old Testament in some cases learned to trust their relationship with God in spite of God’s power and might, Jesus now invites us all to do so. To pray, as he taught, to our Father in heaven for all that we need. To trust that we are so loved by God we can say what we need to say, pray with persistence, ask, seek, and knock, as Jesus encourages, and know we will be answered.

Still, it is believers like Thomas who show us this can be done. Today is classic – Jesus is talking about going away, and preparing a place, and says “you know the way to where I am going.” You have to believe that the other disciples were thinking what Thomas asked: “Lord, we don’t have any idea where you are going. How can we know the way?” Like his desire after the resurrection to physically see and embrace Jesus before believing Jesus is alive, Thomas here speaks again for all of us when we hear Jesus say things and we don’t get it. He’s the one in the class who quietly raises his hand and says, “I don’t understand.”

And in both cases, Jesus responds with promises that 2,000 years later are still precious to us. To his need to see and hold Jesus, Jesus says “Blessed are those who do not see me and still believe,” and so gives all of us who didn’t live in those days hope and confidence. And here Jesus says to Thomas: “You know the way because you know me. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I’m the way you need to the Father.” If Thomas doesn’t speak up, doesn’t ask, maybe we never get these two amazing promises.

Like Martha before him, who by questioning Jesus’ apparent carelessness with her brother’s illness elicited Jesus’ promise to all of us to be the Resurrection and the Life, Thomas shows that when we trust in this relationship Jesus has established with us, we can ask what we need to ask and receive answers.

Though with Martha and Thomas – and really all the disciples – we receive not necessarily “answers” as much as a person who is the Answer. Jesus offers himself to Martha as resurrection and life. He offers himself to Thomas as way and truth and life. He offers this relationship as the way to abundant, real life.

Even to disciples who are afraid to ask, he offers himself to be trusted. Just before today’s reading he’s told Peter that Peter will betray him before morning comes. But immediately after saying that he follows with our first verse today: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. Yes, Peter, it will be bad. But trust me. I will take care of this. I will take care of you.”

That’s the true gift of Jesus: we trust him to take care of all things.

And we can trust him enough to still love us, even when we don’t understand, even when we have to ask questions.

A dear friend of mine once spent 45 minutes on the phone with me after her mother died yelling at God, saying how angry she was, how much she thought God had screwed up. Near the end of the one-sided conversation she got quiet and said, “I don’t think I have any faith anymore.” I said, “well, if you’re someone who doesn’t believe in God, you’ve got a lot of anger and criticism for someone who doesn’t exist.”

“I don’t think you have a problem with faith,” I told her. “You believe in God just fine. You just think God messed up, and needs to be accountable for that. And I think God’s plenty big enough to handle your anger.”

And of course it was true. She had, and still has, strong faith. And she was and is in good company. Thomas would understand her. So would Martha, and Philip.

Because Jesus shows us that God’s love for us is so great God wants a relationship with us. We talk a lot about God’s love being stronger than death, able to bring us to life in the midst of death. And that is true.

But if Jesus is to be believed, God’s love is stronger than even our anger, our hatred, our confusion, our frustration with God. Believe in God, believe also in me, Jesus says. Say what you need to say. Do what you need to do. Even if you deny me, I will still love you.

If Jesus hopes for us to have a relationship with the Father through him, with the gift of the Spirit keeping us in that faith, then it is to be a relationship, with all the emotions, questions, trust, fears, and ups and downs all relationships have. And like Thomas, if we trust that relationship enough to ask what we need to ask, we might just be surprised by God’s answer.

It is good that here when we worship we remember the mystery of God, the transcendence of God.

And on a day like today when we use incense we’re even more aware of the otherness of God, who is awe-inspiring, and has made all things. This is well. This is good.

But here, as we greet each other who are named the body of Christ, as we share in real food, bread and wine, as we are filled by the Spirit, we are reminded of Thomas, who dared trust that Triune God with his questions and his fears, who showed us that this mysterious God has come to be with us truly.

We are reminded that God’s love for us is unbreakable, and can handle whatever we need to say or ask. And in Jesus’ response to Thomas we find our truth: he is our Way, and our Truth, and our Life. Through him, we find our way to God’s eternal love. And we find in him our Answer, the only one we ever needed.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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