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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bread for the Hungry

Christ is the bread of life, feeding all who hunger.  We share bread and feed the hungry at communion and at community meal; we share what we have been given.  When Jesus is involved, a little bit will go much farther than we expect.

Vicar Erik Doughty, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 17, year B; texts: Text: John 6:1-15

In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

First, a note of thanks.  This is my penultimate sermon as your vicar.  My final sermon and last day as vicar will be August 12.  Thanks to all of you; it has been a wonderful year.

This will be a short sermon.  I’d like you to consider it an appetizer, or the first course of a several-course meal.

Today we’re using a bread plate at communion that I got in Hebron, during my trip to the Holy Land.  On it is an image from today’s Gospel lesson, of loaves and fishes.  There are only 4 loaves showing on the plate, so I suppose one loaf is down in the basket, hidden by the others on top.  Come take a look at the ancient mosaic image after the liturgy.

I hope you like bread, because you’re going to be hearing about it for the next few weeks.  The lectionary turns from Mark to John (chapter 6 of John) and through the end of August we see Jesus with loaves and fishes, talking about the bread of life.  In John, Jesus performs a sign and then there’s discussion and explanation.  Today we get the actual sign, the “feeding of the 5000”.  If you don’t understand quite what’s going on, come back for the rest of the Sundays in August!

There are two “Eucharist-esque” meals in John’s gospel, meals with loaves and fishes, where the food is blessed and given.  One is here, not feeding the faithful but feeding the hungry.  The other similar meal occurs after Jesus’ resurrection, when he invites his faithless disciples (the ones who ran off at the first sign of trouble) to eat fish and bread on the shore of Galilee – a sign of forgiveness.  John’s Eucharist is not for the holy ones with a good understanding and pure doctrine; John’s Eucharist is for the hungry poor and some poor failures of disciples.

Jesus feeds them all himself, 5,000 people, 14 Mount Olives full, and he feeds them with the lunch one kid brought. This is the sign that begins the discussion; and we may never fully understand it ourselves, with weeks of sermons and study.

But we don’t have to understand bread; we just have to take bread, give thanks for bread, bless bread, share bread.  Whether at community meal when we share with those who hunger, or at our altar here where we share with those who hunger, the action is the same.  In both actions, Christ feeds the hungry, the uncomprehending, the faithful and the faithless, the sinners and saints.  Bread is not only for the holy; bread is for the hungry.

There is much more to say.  We’ll take another bite of the Word, and the Bread of Life, next week and through August.  But in our liturgy today, Christ will be bread for you, and bread will be Christ for you, and this body now gathered will go forth into the world, called to share the small amount we have with the hungry people in this neighborhood, knowing that we ourselves, poor excuses for disciples, have been fed and strengthened and graced and welcomed.  We offer what we have been given, that’s all.  But the presence and promise of Christ continues to feed hungry people from our offering that seems so small.

Friends, the glory of the Triune God is that life, and bread, and the bread of life, is for all who are hungry.  When Jesus is involved, even sharing your lunch becomes a sign of grace.  If you do not understand, then simply reach out.  Receive the bread of life, the promise of God, the Word made flesh.  Eat it.  Then go forth strengthened and forgiven, to share grace – and bread – with this neighborhood and the hungry world.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Olive Branch, 7/23/12

Accent on Worship

Maybe It’s Not Bread We’re Talking About

     Every three years the lectionary steers us to five weeks of exploring the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel in August.  Beginning with Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand on July 29, we will spend the rest of the summer reflecting on Jesus as the Bread of Life.  These five weeks can be challenging for the preacher.  Week after week we hear Jesus call himself the Bread of Life, and after a while one wonders if there is anything new to say about that.

     For obvious reasons the Church has taken these verses as a rich description of our Eucharist, the Meal of Life.  When Jesus says on Aug. 5 that he is the “living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever,” it’s hard not to consider the gift of life we receive in his Supper.  When he speaks on Aug. 12 and 19 about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, again, how are we not to think of the gift of his Body and Blood as we share in Holy Communion?

     But what is interesting about this whole episode in John’s Gospel is the deeper question John always has about belief in Jesus and what it takes for him to draw us into faith.  John speaks of signs Jesus does, signs which are intended to lead us, the reader, the worshipper, to faith.  Just prior to recounting this miraculous feeding and its aftermath, John has told us about Jesus and the woman from Samaria.  There the sign is water, and Jesus’ claim is that he is our Living Water.  But as with the bread, it’s not really about water at all.
     So at the heart of John 6 is a probing investigation into what we need for faith.  Jesus feeds miraculously, then walks on water.  Following these two remarkable events, some of the skeptics still ask him, “What sign are you going to give us, then, so that we may see it and believe in you” (6:30).  (You mean, other than multiplying food and defying physical laws and the properties of water?)  It turns out that in John’s Gospel there are always those who see and those who do not, those who believe and those who do not, and it usually has nothing to do with whether or not Jesus has done something impressive.  In John 6 more and more desert Jesus the more he talks about who he is and what he is bringing, to the point that he asks his closest disciples if they, too, will leave him.

     So as we walk with John these five weeks, that becomes our question.  What signs do we need to see or experience to believe in Jesus and have life in his name?  What is challenging about his witness that makes some leave him, and will we also leave him?  Or will we agree with Peter who said, “Lord, where else would we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (6:68)?  By the end of the Gospel, John has Jesus telling Thomas that those who believe without seeing are the blessed ones.  That’s always been our challenge, living 2,000 years after the Son of God lived among us.

     But perhaps Jesus, and John the evangelist, too, are telling us that just because you were there doesn’t mean you’ll believe.  Maybe it truly is a blessing to believe without seeing.  Because once we believe, we actually do begin to see the healing grace of the Triune God everywhere, signs of God’s salvation, and we begin to live abundant life as promised.  Peter was right, after all: where else would we go for such abiding, eternal life?

- Joseph

Adult Forum This Sunday, July 29

     “All this is from God, who reconciled us through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”  2 Corinthians 5:18

     Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only the union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?

     Join the conversation on Sunday, July 29. Our guest is Tim Feiertag, Grassroots Organizing and Training Coordinator at Lutherans Concerned North America headquarters (LC/NA) in St. Paul. Tim holds a degree in Social Work from Valparaiso University and a Master of Divinity degree from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. His involvement in Lutherans Concerned includes being co-chair of the Kansas City/Lawrence Chapter, serving on the national board of directors and as Regional Director for the Central Region. In 1998, he was elected co-chair of LC/NA, a position he held until 2002.  Across time he has participated in and conducted various trainings, from I-Wheel to RIC and Building an Inclusive Church.  He comes to LC/NA and St. Paul from the Missouri Children's Division in Kansas City where he served as a caseworker for abused and neglected children and their families.

Property Committee

     The Property Committee will meet this Sunday, July 29, at 11:00 a.m. in the Undercroft.  Those experienced in maintaining the Mount Olive facility and those who would like to become part of the property team are invited and encouraged to attend.  The meeting will be over by lunchtime.  If you have any questions, please contact me at 651 558 7979.  - - Brenda Bartz, Director of Properties

Book Discussion Group

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion group regularly meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. For the August 11 meeting they will read The Razor's Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham, and for September 8, The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. All readers welcome!

Contribution Statements

     Contribution statements for the first half of 2012 are available and ready to be picked up at church. Please take yours when you come to liturgy. If you would like yours mailed to you, just call the office

School Supplies Drive

     Summer's just begun and for the Neighborhood Ministries Committee that means looking forward to the beginning of .... school!? That's right!  

     Summer is when we start thinking about gathering school supplies for distribution to 100 neighborhood children at the August 4 community meal. While this is an item in our budget, the generous contributions we receive each year from the congregation help us to provide as many supplies as possible. Please look for a Neighborhood Ministries Committee member during coffee hour for one more Sunday - July 29 - and offer your support to this vital neighborhood ministry.

- Kathy Kruger, Neighborhood Ministries Committee member

Phil Knutson, Reception, August 5

     Phil Knutson, the ELCA representative in Southern Africa and friend of Mount Olive will be visiting the Twin Cities. All Mount Olive members and friends are invited to a reception for Phil Knutson at the home of Donn and Bonnie McLellan,  Sunday, August 5th, 5:00 p.m.

     Mount Olive has sponsored Phil Knutson's work in Southern Africa for many, many years.  He has experience working for the ELCA during the apartheid era as well as now in post-apartheid South Africa. He has been a good friend and partner to Mount Olive. Phil will share information about his work and answer questions. And we, in turn, can offer him encouragement, support, and hospitality.

     If you are interesting in attending the reception at Donn and Bonnie McClellan's home, please RSVP to Donn and Bonnie at  or call 952-452-2049.

     Donn and Bonnie McLellan will send directions. It should be a very fun, very casual reception. Thank you to Donn and Bonnie for hosting.

Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Wednesday, August 15
Holy Eucharist, 7:00 pm
Gethsemane Episcopal Church
Minneapolis, MN

The Bargain Box

     Each August, Mount Olive Neighborhood Ministries sponsors The Bargain Box, an affordable way for neighborhood families to obtain good quality clothing (new and gently used) for children of all ages to wear as they return to school in the fall. This year, the Bargain Box will be on August 4, from 8-11:30 a.m.

     You can help by donating new or gently used children’s clothes or money to purchase clothes (please include “Bargain Box” in the memo line of your gift), before August 4.

     If you have any questions about Bargain Box, please contact Irene Campbell at 651-230-3927.

August Choral Ensembles

Women's Ensemble
Interested women are invited to come and sing for the August 4 Eucharist at 9:30 am.  There will be one rehearsal on Wednesday, August 1, at 7:00, for one hour.   The group will sing several liturgical things and an anthem for women's voices,  conductor will be Christine Hazel.

Men's Ensemble
Men are invited to join together to sing for the August 12 Eucharist.  There will be one rehearsal, on THURSDAY, August 9, at 7:00, for one hour.  This group will also sing several liturgical things and an anthem for men's voices.  Cantor Cherwien will lead this ensemble.

Sierra Leone Mission Concludes

     The Missions Committee wanted to pass along the thanks of our mission partners CHECSIL in Sierra Leone for the nearly ten years of support it has received from Mount Olive as a congregation.      

     As many of you remember, Mount Olive started supporting Sierra Leone as a response to the civil war and the needs of displaced people in that country with the encouragement of Mount Olive's Caroline Roy-Macauley. During the transition period in the country, Mount Olive has provided for children's support as well as needed capital and environmental projects. The CHECSIL leadership sends their thanks for the many contributions that Mount Olive has made.  CHECSIL is now in transition as an organization, and this is an appropriate time for Mount Olive to transition from its yearly congregational donations.  CHECSIL still welcomes individual congregation member donations as well as your prayers, and the Missions Committee will be staying in contact with CHECSIL about its future developments.

Vestry Update, 9 July 2012

     The July 9 Mount Olive Vestry meeting was the first with the newly-elected and installed Vestry members in attendance.  Upon recommendation of the Nominating Committee, the Vestry appointed Elizabeth Beissel to fill the vacancy at secretary.  (After sitting in on the June Vestry meeting as a guest, Joe Beissel had decided that it would not be possible for him to fulfill his duties as secretary due to difficulty hearing.)

     In unfinished business, Paul Schadewald reported that the Capital Campaign Tithe committee will be meeting this week to review the approximately 40 suggestions that have been offered up by members of the congregation.

     Pastor Crippen will be working to determine a time for the Vestry members to meet and start on the visioning process.  Members who have just transitioned off of the Vestry will also be included in the retreat.
     Several committees have met in the last month, including the Public Relations Committee Task Force.  Their focus was an overview of the variety of different kinds of communications and technologies available to share information about Mount Olive not only with members of the congregation, but also with the community and around the world.

     Adam Krueger updated everyone on the status of Walker Methodist Church in regards to their needs.  In recent correspondence, Walker has indicated that they have enough donations and other monies to purchase another building and they may not need to utilize any of Mount Olive’s space.

     There will be several upcoming events to watch for.  Congregational Life will be hosting a garden tour on July 22 and will be going to three different houses.  There is a forum scheduled for Sunday, July 29 after the liturgy to discuss the marriage amendment that is on this fall’s ballot. The Bargain Box will be on August 4 to plan to share what you can with others.
     A representative from Trust met with the Vicar, the Education Director and the Youth team to explore the possibility of Mount Olive’s youth becoming a part of a larger program where they would meet once a month with youth from other faiths.  The hope is that this could also include options for further travel with a service component.

     This was Vicar Doughty’s last meeting with the Vestry.  Thanks were offered for all of his service during his internship year.

     The next Vestry meeting is scheduled for August 13, 2012.

Respectfully submitted,
Lisa Nordeen

Garden Party and Picnic

     Mark your calendars now for Wednesday, August 29, which is the date set for the annual Mount Olive Women Garden Party and Picnic, to be held at the home of Gail Nielsen, 4248 12th Avenue South, Minneapolis, starting about 4:30 p.m.  In order to plan for enough food, please RSVP to Leanna Kloempken at 952/888-1023, or to the church office, by or before Monday, August 27.  And yes, Gail says "men are welcome too!"

Church Library News

     One of the current book displays in our Louise Schroedel Memorial Library is for women and it's about women!  Even though the weather is very hot, and you are spending alot of time inside in the air conditioning, this may be just the time for you to invest a little reading time acquainting (or re-acquainting) yourselves with books about or by the below-named famous women:

    Women of Faith: Portraits of Spirit-filled Women, by Grace Stageberg Swenson

    Rose Wilder Lane, Her Story, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Rose Wilder Lane

    The President's Wife: Mary Todd Lincoln, by Ishbel Ross

    Bess W. Truman, by her daughter Margaret Truman

    Tramp for the Lord (sequel to The Hiding Place), by Corrie ten Boom

    Corrie Ten Boom: Her Life and Her Faith, by Carole C. Carlson

    Maria: My Own Story, by Maria von Trapp

    In the Shadow of the Rising Sun, by Judy Hyland

    Just Mahalia, Baby: The Mahalia Jackson Story, by Laurraine Goreau

    Joni: The Unforgettable Story of a Young Woman's Struggle With Quadripalegia and Depression, by Joni Eareckson

    Joni: A Step Further, by Joni Eareckson and Steve Estes

    Grace of Monaco, an interpretive biography by Steven Englund

    The New Women's Devotional Bible, NIV

     I hope many of you read the article in the July 12 edition of the Star Tribune, entitled "Friends Forever," compiled by Kim Ode.  It speaks of younger days when women, in particular, devoured popular reading books, such as the Betsy Tacy book series, written by Maud Hart Lovelace about her childhood in Mankato, MN.  Others will have allegiance to such classics as the Little House books or Anne of Green Gables, perhaps unaware of how these stories will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Another favorite for many are the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.  Check out our church library for some of these books, and other favorites that remain with us from our much-younger Sunday School days!

     Another thought along the same line is this quotation by Anthony Trollope -- "The habit of reading lasts when all other pleasures fade.  It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sent From Home

Mary Magdalene shows us the way home, that in Jesus we have our life and healing, that God has come to grace us and the world; she also models for us that we are sent from home to tell others.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, St. Mary Magdalene, Apostle; texts: John 20:1-2, 11-18; Psalm 73:23-28

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, I really like Mary Magdalene.  While the Gospels freely share many failings and much mental density found in the twelve male disciples, Mary comes off without a scratch.  In fact, she’s one of the most admirable characters in the Gospels.  All four Gospels agree that she was at the tomb of Jesus on Sunday morning, though they differ about which other women went with her.  Matthew, Mark, and John all say Mary Magdalene was also at the cross, and saw Jesus buried.  Apart from these references surrounding Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, there is one other mention of Mary Magdalene.  Luke, in chapter 8, lists her as one of Jesus’ female disciples, along with Joanna and Susanna.  And in every list of the women disciples save one, Mary Magdalene is listed first.  Any way you look at it, Mary Magdalene is a prominent, important disciple.

At least if you stick to the Holy Scriptures.  Once legend and even Church leaders got through with her, her reputation was less than stellar.  I was walking through the alley behind the church a couple weeks ago, coming back with someone from a lunch meeting at Midtown Global Market, and we were stopped by a visitor to one of our back alley neighbors.  He saw my collar and had a number of religious questions that he decided he’d avail himself of my presence to get off his chest.  At one point he said, “And what about Mary Magdalene?  She was a prostitute, right?”  I tried to explain that wasn’t the case, but he would have none of it.  He was convinced.  Given that our celebration of her feast day was coming up, I was already thinking about her, but his persistence got under my skin.

It’s the standard problem with Mary post-Scriptures.  It’s not just the prostitute misinterpretation.  There’s also the legend that she and Jesus had a marital relationship, even children, which was given all sorts of attention in the past years thanks to Dan Brown’s incredibly badly researched book The Da Vinci Code (which admittedly was a fun read, but the scholarship was horrid).  There’s a lot of misinformation on this apostle, this faithful disciple, and if you admire the person the Scriptures describe, it can be irritating.  But it also points to a problem that’s been stewing for the past weeks in our Gospel readings, the problem of how witnesses to Jesus are received in the world.

This is important for us to know, given that’s our call as well.  But let’s start by clearing some things up about Jesus’ good friend Mary Magdalene.

As I said, there are some details in Scripture about Mary.   But there’s a great deal of legend.  It’s pretty much worthless.

First, let’s address the prostitute question.  The connection of Mary Magdalene with a prostitute was first made by Pope Gregory the Great in 591 in a sermon.  He doesn’t have any more scriptural support than we can find today.  He confuses Mary of Bethany, who John tells us used a precious ointment on Jesus’ feet the week of his suffering, with the unnamed prostitute who comes to Jesus while he’s at a Pharisee’s house, earlier in his ministry, and washes his feet with her tears and with ointment, and he claims that both were Mary Magdalene.  Since then it’s become a common belief about Mary Magdalene, almost universal, that she was a reformed prostitute.

While it’s absolutely true that Jesus welcomed prostitutes, and in fact we know that all sinners were welcomed by Jesus to become new people, there’s no basis in Scripture for calling Mary a prostitute.  It’s simply sloppy, bad Scriptural work.

That story Pope Gregory referenced is at the end of Luke 7.  Then at the beginning of Luke 8 we find that list I mentioned where Luke names the women disciples, including Mary Magdalene.  There’s no reason in the text to assume she’s the unnamed woman of the previous chapter, any more than any of the other women on the list, and Luke specifically says that her healing from Jesus was that he drove out seven demons.  There is literally no reason to call her a prostitute.

And the other speculation over the centuries, fueled by those recent popular books, is that Mary and Jesus had an intimate and physical relationship.  On this the Bible is silent.  Everything said about Mary Magdalene in Scripture points to her as an important disciple, and as one close to Jesus.  As to whether they had more than that, or even married, as some legends have said, would be simply speculation and made up.  This isn’t to say it would be bad if it were true or anything – just that it’s strictly speculative, as much as if we debated the color of the robes Jesus wore.

But what is said in Scripture about Mary Magdalene is huge.  That’s what we want to know.

First, she is acknowledged by the Gospels and the Church as the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles.  Whoever else was at that tomb, Mary Magdalene went there.  And because she didn’t leave, because she had no idea what to do except stay, she was the first to see her risen Lord.  And then she went and told the other disciples.  And in a culture which didn’t accept the testimony of women in court because they were thought unreliable, for the early Church to base its formative story on the witness of a woman must have been detrimental to their preaching.  Yet it’s in all four Gospels, and that suggests she had a prominence in the early Church perhaps even more than most of the apostles.

Second, she was a disciple of Jesus and a woman and that’s important.  (As it is that he had other women disciples, too.)  Rabbis did not typically have women disciples, particularly wandering rabbis.  Women weren’t expected to learn the things about the faith that men were, to study Hebrew, and so on.  And it is certain that women who wandered with groups of men would not be considered respectable.  Yet Jesus has these women disciples, and clearly an important relationship with Mary.  They’re treated by Jesus as equal to men.  And Mary is foremost among them.

And third, what Luke says her ailment really was, demon possession, tells us a great deal about what Jesus meant to her.  Jesus literally gave her life.  He took her mind, torn about, broken, filled with pain, and restored her to her right mind.  Think of any mental illness we know today, let alone demon possession, and imagine the joy of having your own thoughts back, of being alive again.  It would be like resurrection.
But Jesus also gave her something more.  He gave her a home, a family.  Possessed people were shunned, outcast, sent away from their families.  They were torn from all the ties that gave them life and joy.  When Jesus restored Mary, he gave her both home and family with him.  We know this because she’s still there at the end.  It’s the only place for her to be.

And she gives us this gift: that we, too, can see our home in Jesus.

That’s the most powerful part of Mary Magdalene’s story, that Jesus becomes her home, her life.  And her witness to us is that is our gift from our Lord, too.

St. Augustine famously put it this way: “Our hearts are restless, till they find their rest in thee.”  Restless until they find home.  For Mary, the healing that she found in the Son of God brought her home, gave her life when she didn’t have it.  And in running to tell the others, to tell us, she’s inviting us to the same.

Like Mary, we have healing of mind and heart from Jesus, and Jesus is our true home.  The more any of us reflect on the reality of the grace and forgiveness we receive from God, the more we inevitably recognize Mary’s attitude toward Jesus and her need to be near him.  As the psalmist today sang, “It is good to be near God.”  When we pray, read Scripture, worship, gather with other believers, we are given a palpable sense of home, a sense which deepens the more that all those things center around the undying love of God for the world.

But Mary’s experience teaches us a harder thing today.  She also shows us that we don’t get to stay at home.

You notice that Jesus says to Mary after they greet each other, “Do not hold on to me . . . but go and tell my brothers.”  She wants to cling to him, and why not?  He’s her beloved Lord and Master, he gave her life when she had none, and now when she thought him dead, his body stolen, she sees him alive in front of her.  He calls her by name, “Mary,” and she knows him.  I’m sure she’d rather have stayed by his side for the rest of his life.

But that’s not possible, not on this Easter morning, and not for the rest of her life.  She becomes an apostle in that moment, one who is sent to tell the Good News.  She can’t stay with Jesus, because she needs to go and tell others.  And as far as we know, that’s her role for the rest of her life.

For we who are baptized, it’s also our role, our call.  We can’t just stay here in the comfort of God’s love.  We’re sent out to get others home.  But as we consider what that means for us, we should also notice the cost to Mary over the centuries, and to other women so called.

All the disciples of Jesus were told they would face persecution for witnessing, and as far as we can tell, most of them did.  Many died.  But half of all who eventually followed Jesus were discredited and disowned by the Church itself for nearly two millennia.

The early evidence is that both women and men were leaders in the early Church, co-workers, ministers according to Paul.  Surely Mary the apostle was among them.  But by the end of the 1st century the evidence shows that women were gradually removed from leadership in the Church.  Statements were made, policies established which tried to claim that only men could truly serve as leaders.  Efforts were made to claim that since the twelve were men, that settled the matter.

The only conclusion that makes sense is that human nature and conflict with culture won out.  Not only would it have been detrimental in a patriarchal culture to keep claiming the first witnesses of the resurrection were women, having women in leadership would have been so counter-cultural in places that it would have met great resistance.

The Church didn’t edit the Gospels to get the women witnesses out.  I suppose we can give the second century some credit for that.  But women as ordained leaders, pastors, bishops, missionaries, were non-existent a century after Mary Magdalene became the first apostle.  And it took nearly 1900 years to undo that damage.

So the question I have, which I suppose can’t be answered, is this: was this attitude toward women behind the way Mary eventually was treated by the Church?  If you’re interested in keeping women out of the priesthood, if you identify women and sexuality as the root of original sin, if you think women must not be teachers of the Church, and you’ve got the persistent Scriptural witness that at least Mary Magdalene, not to mention Phoebe and Junia and others from the New Testament, was a prominent leader, maybe you try to bring her down a peg.

Make her a prostitute, diminish her luster, treat her as a fallen woman.  We’ll never know, but since the sixth century she has been the poster child for “fallen” women instead of a model for disciples everywhere.  Whatever the intent, the actual reality is pretty clear.

And that seems like something we should be aware of.  We might not face persecution and death.  But we might still be discredited, disrespected, treated as out of our minds, for standing for the Gospel in our world and lives, for trying to make a difference.  People might not want to hear what we have to say, accept what we are trying to do.  Even before the later centuries, Mary was discounted on Easter Sunday by the male disciples.  They thought she was just imagining things as a woman.  We’ve all seen it today.  If you can’t prove someone wrong, just slander them.  Treat them as outsiders.  If you say it enough times it must be true.

So from Mary we find a couple warnings.  First, a warning that as we are sent out it might not go well for us.  But as a Church she also stands as a warning that we not discredit and discount those who witness to Jesus among us who are different from us, or whom the culture doesn’t approve.  That we do not become part of the attack on disciples of Christ that the world is making.

But the wonder is that in spite of all that has been said, Mary Magdalene still shines through Scripture and becomes a model for us.

She’s a model for us of finding home in our Lord, and having the courage to leave that home and be sent out to tell the world the good news.  It may not be easy for us.  It may mean embarrassment, ridicule.  It may mean that people won’t want to be with us or hear us.  It may mean a struggle with our culture, our society.

But when you’ve found your real home, what does it matter?  When the Lord and Savior of the universe claims you and loves you and calls you by name, what does what anyone else says about you matter?  And when he sends us out to bring others home, how can we hold back, knowing what we know, knowing what Mary knew?  That’s what Mary’s joyful discipleship teaches us.  Even though we are sent out on the road to serve our Lord, we do not go alone.  We are always at home, always at Jesus’ side.  And through us, even more will find this joy.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Who Is He? Who Are We?

In Jesus we see the true reflection of what it means to be a human being, to stand in love with God and the creation, and to be truly ourselves as we are created and called to be, no matter the cost or consequences.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 15, year B; texts: Mark 6:14-29; Amos 7:7-15

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

One of the challenges Christians have with the Bible is that it is “other” than us.  It’s a set of texts from a completely different time, two to three thousand years from our time, written by a series of authors whose life and world view were shaped and formed by completely different experiences than ours, and written to cultures that are as foreign to our culture as if they were from another planet.  And yet we read it regularly, not only in our weekly worship of God but in our daily lives, and we expect somehow that it will speak to us with God’s voice, that somehow we will be led to the grace of God which Jesus embodied and lives in the world.  This makes for difficult struggles sometimes.  If you’ve ever read a portion of Scripture and set it down and thought, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with this,” you know what I mean.

Of course there are ways around this.  Study of the different times and cultures, study of word meanings and history, all these things help us enter the text with eyes different from our 21st century minds and lives.  Sometimes that helps.  But the thing is, we claim that these ancient texts are the written Word of the Triune God for us and for our lives, and that seems a more powerful claim than historical references and understandings can make.  Somehow, this Word is supposed to speak to us, for us, about us, it is supposed to challenge us, comfort us, instruct us, it is supposed to point to our Lord Jesus Christ and his grace in our lives and the life of the world.  Simply understanding historical context or other such things doesn’t necessarily bridge the gap between the written Word of God and us.  To put it simply, no matter how much we know about Herod Antipas and John the Baptist, and Herodias and Herod Philip, and even Herod the Great, we still need to know what at all this Gospel reading today has to say to us.  Otherwise all we have today is some interesting and rather sordid history, and we can move on to our Sunday afternoon activities untouched and unchanged.

There’s a theological concept that Christians have long held about God’s law that might be of help here.  Christian theologians sometimes will compare God’s law to a mirror which tells only the truth about us.  We hold God’s law up to our lives, in our face, and what we see is the true state of things.  So, for example, we can take one of the Ten Commandments, hold it up to our lives and see what it reveals, where we fall short, where we’ve lived up to it.  It helps us see the truth of our lives.

I wonder if we could adapt this approach to today’s readings.  None of us likely will ever have experiences like Amos or John, speaking God’s truth boldly to rulers or presidents, and suffering the consequences.  None of us likely will ever be a ruler or head of state that makes rash promises or is threatened by prophets of God.  In that sense, these stories have little or nothing to do with us.  But perhaps there’s some truth in each of these characters which reflects a truth about ourselves, and which might help us hear what God would have us hear about our lives, the world, and our call as children of God.

So, let’s first lift up Herod, then, and see what we might see.

First, though, the historical background would be helpful as a start.  The short story is that this is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who was the king when Jesus was born.  Herod Antipas is not technically a king, though Mark calls him such, he’s a tetrarch, who rules over one chunk of his father’s former kingdom, under the permission of the Roman emperor.

Herod the Great, his father, had a number of sons, and a number of wives, and murdered many of his sons and even some of his wives.  One of his murdered sons, Aristobulus, had a daughter named Herodias.  She married her uncle, Herod Philip, one of Herod the Great’s other sons.  That alone was problematic.  But Herod Antipas, of our story today, seduced his brother’s wife, who yes, was also his niece, and she married him, while she was still married to his brother, her other uncle.  It’s an ugly story.

John the Baptist properly denounced these family values and said what everyone else was thinking, that this was wrong in God’s eyes in more than one way.  Herod Antipas then threw John in jail.  Now we’re caught up.

But look at what Mark says about Herod and what he thinks about John: He fears John, because he recognizes him to be righteous and holy.  In other words, he knows at a deep level that John speaks truth from God, including the truth about his illicit marriage to his niece/sister-in-law.

But Mark also says that Herod “liked to listen to John,” though he often was “perplexed” when he did.  We almost get the impression that Herod might have gone down to the jail cells and talked with John from time to time during this period of imprisonment.  So he’s jailed him, but he respects, fears, likes, and honors John.

And yet, when he traps himself by his rash promise to Herodias’ daughter, this powerful tetrarch develops a case of powerlessness.  He knows what’s right, that seems clear.  He knows John’s value and who he is.  He even likes him.  But he can’t bring himself to act in the right way.  He acts instead in an evil way.

So that’s our first mirror: how are we Herod Antipas?  How often do we know the right thing to do but out of fear or shame or cowardice we do the wrong thing?  He didn’t want his guests to think ill of him.  He didn’t want to lose face at his party.  How often is this us?  Where our fear of what others might think or do to us keeps us from following God with our lives?  Where our fear of the truth about our lives leads us to want to cover it up?  And not only keeps us from doing the loving thing, but even leads us to do evil things, wrong things?

Herod Antipas seems uncomfortably familiar.

Now let’s lift up Herodias, too easily the villain of this story.

Clearly she’s meant by Mark to be blamed for this beheading: Herod promises the moon, her daughter gets the promise, but she asks Herodias what to do.  Herodias wants John’s head.

But consider why: John has publicly humiliated her.  In speaking the truth about her bigamous relationship with two of her uncles, and speaking it publicly for the court (and probably more worrisome, the commoners) to hear, John exposed her.  Again, everyone already knew the truth.  But having someone walk around denouncing you publicly can’t be an enjoyable experience.

So she lashes out, and when she has a chance to destroy John, she takes it.  At a rational level she must know it won’t change the truth.  Or stop the talking.  But it doesn’t matter.  He must be silenced permanently.

Here’s our second mirror: when do we look at ourselves and Herodias looks back at us?  When have we been told the truth about who we are or what we’ve done and we were so embarrassed, or humiliated by it that instead of recognizing the truth we lashed out at the messenger?  For we who are not public figures more often than not this happens in our intimate relationships.  Someone has the audacity to call us on our misbehavior and instead of asking forgiveness we’re overwhelmed by the embarrassment and strike out against them.  Clearly not to have them beheaded.

But this attitude toward the truth that Herodias displays, this reaction to embarrassment, hits awfully close to home.

Next, I think we can consider John and Amos as one mirror.

Both are prophets of God, both speak to rulers, both are told to be quiet in one way or another.  And significantly, neither backs down.  Amos reminds King Jeroboam’s lackey that he isn’t on the royal payroll, that he’d rather be back home in the southern kingdom tending his flocks, but that God told him to do it, so he has to do it.  John presumably persisted in his preaching until Herod had little choice but to jail him.

And this becomes the interesting mirror for us: is this ever our experience?  And it’s related to last week’s story of disciples being sent out.  When in our daily lives are we called to speak the truth for God, and what does that mean for us?

Do we ever feel the sense Amos felt, that we are compelled to make a difference, to speak up for justice and righteousness, regardless of cost?  Do we ever feel the sense John felt, that the world was and is a disaster and it needs to be cleaned up to prepare for God’s coming into the world?  Or do we even ever feel the grace the twelve felt when they were sent out two by two to heal and cast out demons?  Do we feel we are empowered to do the same ministry Jesus did, or do we imagine that job must be someone else’s?

And what about the truth when we have to face it?  Do we stand firm, regardless of consequences, or find other ways like Herodias and Herod?  Surely Amos and John must have been tempted to back down or change their tune, but they didn’t.  And in speaking God’s truth to a world which needed to hear it, these two who really had no power ended up powerfully changing things, whereas the power people in these stories were powerless to stop God’s truth.

By now you may have noticed the odd absence of Jesus in our discussion so far, and perhaps a similar absence in the Gospel story.  It’s a fair question, though: what does the Son of God have to do with any of this?

Well, for one, Jesus is the source of our sending.  Amos and John presumably had a direct sense from God about what they were called to be and do, and so, too, we are given our orders by our Lord and Savior.  Like the disciples who were just sent out by twos a few verses earlier, so we in our baptism are given the call by Jesus to go out and proclaim the coming reign of God, and to bring the grace of God.  So Jesus gives us assignments similar to Amos and John.  The good news about that is that we know exactly what we are to do, like Amos and John.  We have a clarity of call.

But second, we also have a model for how to do this call, how to live.  Jesus, more than Amos and John, models the life of a child of God, standing in a broken, evil world with the grace and love of God, no matter the consequences.  Jesus doesn’t call us or even model for us the fiery preaching of John and Amos, though some of his followers might have that gift and that call.  Jesus rather models for us a life of forgiveness and grace, a life where we are known by the love we have for each other and the world, a life where we stand for the transforming love of God in our words and in our actions, no matter what.

And last and most important, Jesus gives us the power to be who are meant to be, who we are called to be.  The whole telling of the episode of John’s beheading comes from Herod now wondering who Jesus is.  But he wonders because of what Jesus’ followers are accomplishing.  Quite unexpectedly, especially after Jesus’ failure at Nazareth, the sent disciples return with amazing stories of how they were able to cast out demons, heal in Jesus’ name, preach repentance.  They were so impressive that news reached Herod not only of Jesus’ preaching and power but his disciples’ preaching and power.  And he wondered where that all came from.

And so we are promised to be effective in the world.  I sometimes think we underestimate the power of the Spirit we are given to be new people and faithful witnesses to God’s work in Jesus in the world.  It’s so strong that we ought to be making people wonder where it comes from, like Herod did.  There’s no reason we can’t expect abilities beyond what we think we have.

And certainly we can expect the courage, wisdom and grace we need to act differently than Herod and Herodias, to face uncomfortable truths about ourselves with confession and trust in God’s forgiveness.  To be able to face such truths and find a way to become, with the Spirit’s power, different people, holy people.  Just as we certainly can expect the same courage, wisdom and grace to boldly be God’s servants as Amos and John were, no matter the consequences.

In the end, the mirror we want to look into is the face of Jesus.

That’s the true gift of the Scriptures, the written Word of God.  When they lead us to Jesus, they also lead us to our call.  We are made Christs ourselves in baptism, and when the Triune God looks at us, what we look like to God is in fact little Jesuses, little Christs, anointed ones in the world.  That’s what God’s Word tells us.  And that’s also our model to which we aspire.

And the remarkable thing about Jesus, as we saw with his disciples in this sixth chapter of Mark, is that when he sends us, or any disciples, out, he changes them to be able to be who they are sent to be, called to be, created to be.  In other words, he changes us so that when we look in the mirror we actually see our true selves, the only truth that really matters, beloved children of God who are loved and who are called to love.
That’s a power that makes the powers of this world powerless, and a grace that, when shared by all of the graced children of God, can change the world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Olive Branch, 7/9/12

Accent on Worship

     “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  What if this postal carrier’s “creed” was about church and its worship?
     Indeed – I see a variety of methods being put to use by churches these days – ways to entice people to fill the pews (if they have them).  Ways to ensure convenience and comfort, and certainly a promise of a subjectively pleasing, favorable experience – certainly better than Competition Lutheran Church down the road.  Then hopefully they will choose them and come back.  Snow, rain, heat, or deep darkness would not be helpful to this approach.

     Summer – especially with congregations like ours without air-conditioning – really puts that to test.  What brings us here?  Comfort/convenience can’t be it.  I’m amazed that Sundays with snow, pouring rain, or even excessive heat, people come.  They sing.  They praise. They listen.  They partake in the Holy Meal.  There is a huge difference here – it is “who” these activities are about.

     Summer points out that it clearly is not about us.  It is indeed about God.  It’s precisely that God calls us out of convenience – calls us out of our sense of narcissism into a sense of what God needs, and what our neighbor needs.

     It is fun when you throw an open invitation party and lots of people come!  And the collective experience does bond us together – including experiencing each other’s joys and woes.  But when we gather for liturgy, it is not WE who threw the party,  it is God.  God is host – we are the grateful recipients of the tremendous gifts God has to offer to us and to the world.  How do we respond?  (“Could you make it a little more comfortable for me?”  “Could you say this and that instead?”  “Could you really just tell me what I want to hear?”  “Can you serve Pinot Noir instead of Merlot?”  “Could you sing the song my mom sang to me?”)  It’s easy to come down with a bad case of “I, Me or My” disease.

     How about responding with a sense of gratitude and excitement as WE spread GOD’s invitation to venture beyond ourselves?  In spite of temperature.

     It is reassuring to see us “sweat for Jesus one hour a week” (quoting saint Dorothy).  It is reassuring that week after week, so many do respond and not just for themselves.  It is reassuring that after crises like September 11, 2001, attendance in some places like here did not swell,  because we are largely already always here.  Our prayer and sense of need intensified, but we were already here.  So was God.

     Now don’t hear me saying we should never get air conditioning.  Sometimes it can be physically dangerous and human bodies aren’t used to heat the way we were even 30 years ago.  What I AM saying that it wouldn’t matter:  we’ll still be here with or without it.

     And for me it is not only reassuring to hear so many sing out like you do here – not for me, not for yourselves, but for God.  God really matters to us, and that’s why we’re here.  In spite of the heat.


- Cantor David Cherwien

Sunday Readings

July 15, 2012 – Time after Pentecost, Sunday 15
Amos 7:7-15 + Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14 + Mark 6:14-29

July 22, 2012 – St. Mary Magdalene, Apostle
Ruth 1:6-18 + Psalm 73:23-28
Acts 13:26-33a + John 20:1-2, 11-18

 Missing the Font?

     Mount Olive’s baptismal font is being restored and re-built. It will be back in the nave by mid-summer.

Attention Worship Assistants!

     Here is the link to the most current version of this quarter’s Servant Schedule online:  Click on the large red bar that indicates “View Current Servant Schedule.”

     Take a few minutes to note when you are scheduled to serve, and mark your calendars accordingly. Save this page as a bookmark or favorite in your browser, and you will always have the most current schedule available.

     Hard copies of this schedule are available in the narthex, in the church office, and on the table next to the server’s albs in the back hall at church, if you would like to pick one up. If you would like a schedule mailed to you (via snail mail), please call the church office.

Garden Tour Fundraiser

     See some beautiful gardens and support a worthwhile project!

     This garden tour is a fund raiser to purchase a rolling overhead door for the serving window in the East Assembly Room. This would allow folks to work on the counter without disturbing those who may be meeting in that space.

     The tour will take place on Sunday, July 22, after church.  Participants will  be served brunch at the first garden stop, travel to another garden or two, and end the tour with a garden party at the last stop.  The charge for the tour will be $25.00 per person.  More information will be available soon, but in the meantime, mark your calendar! We hope many will be able to attend.  We had a great time with this fundraiser two years ago and we are sure that this year will be just as much fun.

     Rides will be provided for those who need or want them. Please call the church office if you would like a ride, and someone will get back to you to make arrangements.

Book Discussion Group

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion group regularly meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. For the July 14 meeting, they will read The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope, and  for August 11 they will read The Razor's Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham. All readers welcome!

The Bargain Box

     Each August, Mount Olive Neighborhood Ministries sponsors The Bargain Box, an affordable way for neighborhood families to obtain good quality clothing (new and gently used) for children of all ages to wear as they return to school in the fall. This year, the Bargain Box will be on August 4, from 8-11:30 a.m.

     You can help by donating new or gently used children’s clothes or money to purchase clothes (please include “Bargain Box” in the memo line of your gift), before August 4.

     If you have any questions about Bargain Box, please contact Irene Campbell at 651-230-3927.

Property Committee

     The Property Committee will meet Sunday, July 29, at 11:00 a.m. in the Undercroft.  Those experienced in maintaining the Mount Olive facility and those who would like to become part of the property team are invited and encouraged to attend.  The meeting will be over by lunchtime.  If you have any questions, please contact me at 651 558 7979.
 - Brenda Bartz, Director of Properties

Adult Forum July 29, 2012

     “All this is from God, who reconciled us through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”  2 Corinthians 5:18

     Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only the union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?

     Join the conversation on Sunday, July 29. Our guest is Tim Feiertag, Grassroots Organizing and Training Coordinator at Lutherans Concerned North America headquarters (LC/NA) in St. Paul. Tim holds a degree in Social Work from Valparaiso University and a Master of Divinity degree from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. His involvement in Lutherans Concerned includes being co-chair of the Kansas City/Lawrence Chapter, serving on the national board of directors and as Regional Director for the Central Region. In 1998, he was elected co-chair of LC/NA, a position he held until 2002.  Across time he has participated in and conducted various trainings, from I-Wheel to RIC and Building an Inclusive Church.  He comes to LC/NA and St. Paul from the Missouri Children's Division in Kansas City where he served as a caseworker for abused and neglected children and their families.

School Supplies Drive

     Summer's just begun and for the Neighborhood Ministries Committee that means looking forward to the beginning of .... school!? That's right!  

     Summer is when we start thinking about gathering school supplies for distribution to 100 neighborhood children at the August 4 community meal. While this is an item in our budget, the generous contributions we receive each year from the congregation help us to provide as many supplies as possible. Please look for a Neighborhood Ministries Committee member during coffee hour on July 15, 22, and 29 and offer your support to this vital neighborhood ministry.

- Kathy Kruger, Neighborhood Ministries Committee member

Capital Campaign "Tithe" Update

     The Tithe Task Force will meet over the summer to continue working on the process for capital campaign tithe allocations.   We are pleased to report that Celia Ellingson volunteered to join the task force and was approved by the Vestry.  The Task Force also wants to thank the congregation for suggesting worthy nonprofit organizations and initiatives that might be appropriate for the capital campaign tithe. Nearly 40 organizations or initiatives were suggested by congregation members or by the neighborhood ministries committee or by the missions committee.  We will continue to update the congregation during the summer and fall about our progress in considering how Mount Olive can faithfully act as stewards of the capital campaign gifts.

Heat Advisory Volunteers Needed

     We would like to open Mount Olive's air conditioned building to those who need a break from the heat when it is extreme, like it was for most of last week. Volunteer hosts are needed. This task involves welcoming those who come, showing them to the west assembly area, and offering a cold drink and a place to sit for awhile.

     We hope to provide this relief whenever a heat advisory is issued for Minneapolis. If you are interesting in being a heat relief host or if you have any questions at all about this project, please call Donna Neste at church (612-827-5919), or send her a note (  Hopefully we can find a few volunteers who might be able to make themselves available for a couple of hours at a time on short notice.

August Choral Ensembles

Women's Ensemble
Interested women are invited to come and sing for the August 4 Eucharist at 9:30 am.  There will be one rehearsal on Wednesday,  August 1,  at 7:00 for one hour.   The group will sing several liturgical things and an anthem for women's voices,  conductor will be Christine Hazel.

Men's Ensemble
Men are invited to join together to sing for the August 12 Eucharist.  There will be one rehearsal,  on THURSDAY, August 9, at 7:00 for one hour.  This group will also sing several liturgical things and an anthem for men's voices.  Cantor Cherwien will lead this ensemble.

Thank You Very Much!

     Mary and our family and I want to thank you, our sisters and brothers at Mount Olive, for making it possible for us to move from Northfield this past month.  I don’t know how many of you were aware that when you called me, the Vestry set aside a budget for moving and decided to carry it over until we were able to sell and buy and get moved.  It was incredibly kind and helpful of them to do that on your behalf, and we are very glad to be close by now.  Our house in Northfield sold, which is a huge relief, and we’re pretty much all unpacked now.  It feels much more “settled” for us in more than one way.  There have been many who have asked over the past 20 months how my commute was going, but the truth is, Mary’s been commuting to Bloomington for nearly 13 years, so this is probably a greater gift for her than for me!

     Our new address is 6821 W. 82nd Street, Bloomington, Minnesota 55438.  It takes me only about 15-17 minutes to get to church now, and the remarkable thing is that this gives me at least 6 extra hours a week that I was previously using to drive.  I should be able to catch up on some reading this summer!  

     Again, thank you all so much for all your kindness and support since we’ve come to be with you, and especially for this move.  God’s blessings be with you all!

– Pastor Crippen 

Meals on Wheels

     According to Betsy Peregoy, Program Director for TRUST, Inc.’s Meals on Wheels program, the following people from Mount Olive delivered meals during the second quarter of 2012: Nancy & Gary Flatgard, Elaine & Art Halbardier, Bob Lee, and Connie & Rod Olson. In her note Betsy says, “All of us at TRUST are grateful for their dedicated service!”

     And the members of Mount Olive are, too.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sharing Weakness

It is easy to believe we are too weak, too ineffective, to share the Gospel with the world, with others; Jesus, however, has faith in us that we can do this, and sends us out, sharing our weakness, and so bringing his grace to the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 14, year B; texts: Mark 6:1-13; 2 Corinthians 12:(1) 2-10

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

 “And he could do no deed of power there; . . . he was amazed at their unbelief.”

That’s a pretty astonishing sentence Mark writes.  Because the people of Nazareth didn’t believe he could be who he was, Jesus was unable to do “deeds of power” among them, with a couple exceptions.  How is it possible that anything wasn’t possible for Jesus?  Matthew, whom we believe wrote his Gospel after Mark’s, and who used large parts of Mark as the basis for his writing, seemingly couldn’t bring himself to accept what Mark said.  In his hand, the story reads that Jesus “did not” do any deeds of power.  Not “could not.”  And Luke, who likely wrote a little later than Matthew, simply omits the whole sentence and the question of whether or not Jesus did or did not do miracles in Nazareth, and why he did or did not.

But there is no escaping the reality in all three of the synoptic Gospels’ accounts of this homecoming of Jesus: it was an utter failure.  Luke even says that after Jesus pushed back at their rejection they tried to throw him off a cliff, murder him.  His own people!  Remarkably, Jesus actually did some miracles before the rejection, because all three agree that the people were astonished at what he did, and by what he said, and at his reputation.  But it was who he was that hindered them, a hometown boy whose family they knew, who now was teaching with wisdom, doing wonderful deeds, and carrying a growing reputation as a holy man.  Their need to see him as the woodworker, the local, known to them, and have him be who he’d always been to them, was more powerful than their ability to believe in him.  And so his visit home was a disaster.

Out of the ashes of this failure comes the last thing we might expect.  Jesus decides to invest his 12 inner followers with his authority and send them out to do what he’s been doing.  He sends them out to heal and to cast out demons.  They even proclaim repentance, preaching the sermon he’s been preaching.  Just when they see him fail, he sends them out to do the same mission.

I wonder if that was helpful or harmful to their sense of that mission.  Did it make them more fearful (if Jesus can’t do it how can we?) or hopeful (even Jesus struggled sometimes so we can’t always expect to do well)?  I don’t suppose we can know what it was like for them.  But it seems to me that it’s very helpful to us, from our perspective two millennia away.  Because there’s no escaping that we’ve been baptized into this mission, too, that we are sent to proclaim God’s Good News in our words and in our deeds, collectively and individually, in our homes, at our work, in our neighborhoods.  And most days I don’t think I’ve got much chance to do a very good job of it.  Or more accurately, most days I don’t think I do a very good job of it, chance or no.  But if Jesus sometimes failed, too, well, maybe that’s a good thing.  In fact, maybe that’s the best thing of all.

In sending them out after his Nazareth mess, Jesus seems to be telling them that success is not necessarily his standard.  Faithfulness, however, is.

He tells them to expect rejection, in fact.  But they are still to go, trusting God will be with them.  In contrast to the people of Nazareth and their lack of faith in Jesus, Jesus here shows tremendous faith in his disciples, in us.  He sends them out in pairs, suggesting that we are to work together to do our mission, we’re not expected to do this alone.  And he sends them without supplies or support except staff and sandals, suggesting that we do this mission expecting that God will provide the resources we need.

But the important thing is, he sends them out.  He trusts them.  He trusts us.

And given that he’s just experienced the failure of rejection, he tells them they might want to expect that as well.  But rather than keep them back out of fear of such rejection, he sends them out.  And it’s Paul who today seems to say that is our normal state of mission as well.

Paul today makes it clear where we will be operating in terms of success and failure, and where God’s true power and grace are found.

The context is that Paul, absent from Corinth, is having his teaching and even his own person undermined and mocked by people Paul calls “superapostles.”  These are folks preaching in Corinth who are rival missionaries to Paul, people who are elegant in manner and speech, people who boast of incredible spiritual powers and experiences.  They’re flashy and fancy, and they’re making Paul look bad.

Intentionally, it seems.  They’re contrasting their spiritual strength and knowledge and clever speaking with Paul’s apparent stumbling and less than polished approach.  This is hard for someone with an ego like Paul’s, and that ego struggle shows throughout these chapters.  But ultimately, Paul remembers that he is not relying on his own skills but on the grace of Jesus Christ.

You see, what’s interesting is that most scholars seem to agree that Paul is talking about himself here in these first verses of chapter 12.  He’s the one who had the spiritual vision, where he was taken up into heaven in some mysterious way.  He tells it in the third person because he’s trying not to be like the superapostles and boast about his spiritual prowess (though the boasting does sort of rear its head, especially in verse 6.)

But what he tries to make the Corinthians understand is this: whatever his spiritual strength is, whatever mystical experiences he’s had, even whatever his standing as a good Jewish person and teacher (which he outlines a little earlier), none of that is what gives him confidence.

In fact, he tells them that he’s struggled for a long time with a “thorn in his flesh,” some mysterious ailment, that makes his life harder, his work difficult, and that drags him down.  He asked for it to be removed, but three times received a clear message from the Lord that it would not be.

And that, he says to them, is actually the gift.  Whatever the weakness, the thorn, was is irrelevant: the gift is that in his weakness and pain he found the strength of God’s grace.  “My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord told him, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Remember what we learned some weeks ago about “perfect”?  It means “completed, finished.”  Paul has learned that when he is weakest, God is strongest.  When he fails, God succeeds.  When he struggles, God strengthens.  And God’s power is perfected, completed, finished, in the depths of weakness, not in spiritual prowess.

It’s why the cross is so central to Paul: Jesus, the Son of God himself, found his greatest strength in becoming completely weak.  He defeated death’s power itself by letting death’s power defeat him, and in that weakness brought life to the world.  He set aside all power to be completely lost for us, that we might be found.  And in our weakness, Jesus completes his power as well, and does God’s will.

So here’s what Paul seems to be saying, in the context of Jesus’ sending of the disciples: Don’t wonder whether or not you will fail, and worry if you do.  Expect to fail.  Expect to be rejected.  Expect to be weak.  That’s where you’ll find God’s grace.

So what are we given by Jesus and Paul as we go to serve, what staff and sandals are given us for our journey?

First, we are sent with the expectation that it’s not going to be easy.  Sharing the Good News with others who expect us to be “normal” people may lead to exactly what Jesus and Paul experienced.  It will likely be uncomfortable at times, sometimes we won’t know what to do, sometimes we won’t want to do what we know we are called to do.  But Jesus knows just what that’s like, so does Paul, and they say that it will be OK.

Second, we are sent knowing that not all will accept us.  It will be hard sometimes to stand in the world as a sign of God’s grace and love in Jesus, and face people’s inability to accept us.  Our motives might be suspected, our best intentions misunderstood, and our attempts to do the loving thing, or to speak God’s word in a situation, might be seen as intrusive, as our attempt to seem better than others, or any number of other things.  But Jesus knows just what that’s like, so does Paul, and they say that it will be OK.

Third, we are sent knowing we might fail.  Trying to make a difference in the places we’ve been planted might meet with resistance, rejection, with failure.  We might not be able to do anything where we are sent.  In fact, it’s what we should expect.  But Jesus also knows just what that’s like, so does Paul, and they say that it will be OK.

It will be OK, finally, because fourth, we are sent out knowing that we will find the power of our Lord Jesus Christ in the very heart of our weakness.  In the times we most struggle, that is where we will find our Lord, who’s been there before and changed everything.  In the times we most fear, that is where we will find our Lord, who faced the most frightening things and transformed them in love.  In the times we are rejected, that is where we will find our Lord, who in being rejected found a way to accept all of God’s people into abundant life.

Here is our Good News: we are sent to be God’s Good News in the world in our weakness, in our failing, in our feeble attempts to be of service, and that is just fine.

The point is not that any of us become superapostles, glibly and beautifully succeeding in sharing the Good News, drawing huge crowds, saving the entire world from disease and hunger, evangelizing all people.

The point is that we go out and put our lives on the line wherever God has planted us, telling in our words and in our bodies that God’s love is for all people, that God’s grace is sufficient for all, that God’s goodness is in all.  That we bring healing and life in the name of Jesus because we are sent to do so.  And if we fail, if we struggle, if we forget, if we cower, if we hide – all this is our weakness.

And Jesus knows what to do with weakness.  He shares it, transforms it with the power of his life and love, and brings grace.  Because as he has said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  So we go from here to serve the Lord, rejoicing with Paul and the disciples that we can do that mission we were baptized to do.  We know we can do it because Jesus has faith in us that we can.  And that in his completed power, God’s grace will heal the world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Touched by Jesus

Jesus heals, saves, and overcomes barriers that exclude people from community.  Because Christ has touched and saved us, we are called as the body of Christ to welcome all people into community and faith together with us.

Vicar Erik Doughty, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 13, year B; text: Mark 5:21-43

Yesterday my partner Scott decided it was time for a road trip and a hike. So we drove south to Nerstrand, to Big Woods State Park, and hiked a trail. We thought we were prepared, but it was pretty hot even under the forest canopy, and as we hiked back up the hill from Hidden Falls, ducking the clouds of mosquitoes, and bearing in mind how my Aunt has been dealing with lyme disease from a tick, I thought to myself, “I don’t mind being out in nature as long as it doesn’t TOUCH me.”

Today’s Gospel shows the care Jesus has to touch and heal a whole community, Jesus’ care for insiders and outsiders, unclean and clean, and about the power Jesus has to save everyone, regardless of category. These texts are about the power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, which is so strong it overcomes sickness, restores the outcast to community, resurrects the dead, then calls upon Christians to share. With Jesus there is no untouchable or unclean person. With Jesus, every person is called into community, into faith, into extending that same care to others. With Jesus we get called into that same work of welcome, of touch, of breaking down barriers of exclusion, for the healing and salvation of the whole world.

There IS a danger in today’s texts, and it is this: that we will read this Gospel lesson as a story of a miraculous healing for two individual people a long time ago; and if we apply it to our own lives we will say the lesson to be learned is, “If only I have enough faith in Jesus I will be cured of my diabetes, my high blood pressure, my HIV, my cancer. This Gospel’s about a personal faith, and if I’m not cured it means I just wasn’t good enough and didn’t believe hard enough.” That is dangerous territory.

I tell you that is dangerous territory, because it plays into some of our favorite sins - first, the sin of making everything about the self, about me; and second, the sin of putting ourselves in the place of God, claiming we know why healing happens to one person and not another. It’s worth noting, against that “I just need to believe harder,” thinking, that immediately before this story Jesus was on the other side of the lake, casting out a whole army of unclean spirits from a guy who definitely did not profess faith in Christ. It may be consequences of your actions that make you or keep you sick - but lack of faith is not a reason we can diagnose.

Our Gospel has two desperate people coming to Jesus. One is a man, an influential religious leader, who wants his twelve-year-old daughter to be healed. He goes through the proper channels of access to power; we could say he follows the correct liturgical method. And Jesus responds and starts to go with him.

Meanwhile, a woman who has had “a flow of blood” for the entire twelve years Jairus has raised and loved his daughter - it seems likely this woman had continual menstrual bleeding or some such thing-- who because of this bleeding is ritually unclean according to the laws of the Torah, and she cannot be part of the religious community that Jairus himself leads - this woman is desperate too, and the channels of access to power are not available to her. The proper thing for her to do is stay a long distance away from society, from any crowds, and to make sure she doesn’t touch anyone, lest she make them ritually impure.

But the desperate, outcast, excluded, ritually unclean woman hears of Jesus; feels a wild hope; says to herself, “If only I can touch his garment, I will be saved.” And that’s exactly what she does. She sneaks up behind Jesus through the crowd, and touches his garment. And she is immediately saved. The bleeding stops, she knows in her body that she has been healed and saved.

And Jesus, from whom the work, the power, has come, stops in the middle of a crowd like the one you walk in at the State Fair or maybe on the sidewalk in a busy city or a crowd in front of the stage at a concert - where you cannot move any direction, where you are jammed in like sardines - Jesus asks the ridiculous thing, “Who touched my clothes?”

And his incredulous disciples answer, “Are you crazy? Look at all these people!” Because of course, EVERYbody touched his clothes! But Jesus knew, and so did the woman; so she comes, fearful, because she knows she shouldn’t have been in a crowd in the first place. She tells him everything, and Jesus listens to the whole story. And then he tells her that her faith has saved her, and she should go away and exist whole. He says this IN THE CROWD. IN FRONT OF Jairus and EVERYONE. According to Leviticus 15:25, he ought to rebuke her for being in a crowd, for touching people, especially for touching HIM, a rabbi, a man, for making everyone in the crowd unclean. But the power of Jesus is stronger than any uncleanness, and the sort of Messiah Jesus is not only saves people, but overcomes the traditions that exclude others. Jesus heals her publicly so everyone knows she’s healed, saved, and part of the community now. With Jesus there is no untouchable or unclean person.

Even while Jesus is speaking to this woman - who has now been publicly healed, saved, and restored to community - messengers come for powerful Jairus, saying, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any more?” But Jesus, who had listened to the outcast woman’s entire truth, her whole story (while Jairus stood there, perhaps impatiently) -- Jesus will not listen to claims of death. And besides, Jesus is much, much more than a teacher. He ignores the messenger and says to Jairus, “Fear not. Believe.” They go on to the dead girl, through loud crowds of mourners, through mocking laughter when Jesus says he will wake her.

The bleeding woman was healed very publicly; this time, it’s very private - Jesus and a select few disciples and a couple family members. Jesus “takes possession” of the dead girl’s hand - grabbing onto what is the ultimate in “unclean”, a body which death has taken, Jesus now claiming that child under his authority - orders, “Little girl, stand up!” And she rises. The power of Christ is greater than the power of death. But Jesus says, “No one should know of this, give her something to eat.” As though the word would not spread?

Jesus comes to the powerful elite man to raise the dead; and Jesus restores, heals and saves the desperate bankrupt poor woman. Jesus disregards all the barriers that have separated and excluded. Jesus is the living power and love of God for them, stronger than our prejudice, stronger than any illness, and when we die (as we all will die) Jesus takes us, too, by the hand and says, “Rise up!” and we will rise. That’s the best news ever, for each of us - that death is overcome by the power of God in Christ Jesus. That we will be raised to life by the power of God in Christ Jesus. Alleluia? Alleluia!

..... But in the meantime, on a “green Sunday”, after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is loose among us, what does this mean for our lives as a community of faith?

With Jesus there is no untouchable or unclean person. That means we should be thinking about who our own community excludes. A lot of us here look a lot alike. A lot of us here think a lot alike. We’ve successfully broken down barriers in this religious community; there are others we struggle with still. Mount Olive welcomed each of you; what radical welcome; what hospitality, what work of healing and what welcome to community is next for this congregation? Are we as welcoming to our neighbors as we could be? Are we too comfortable in our sanctuary? A little odd to ask on a hot day like today, but still - what if we took our liturgy to the streets, processed around a few blocks for festival days, did faith in public view? What if we welcomed Latino people who love the faith and are very comfortable crossing themselves and bowing, to live faith with us? That there is an MCC church down the block has not stopped us from welcoming GLBT people; our welcome is not contingent upon what other people are doing nearby. Is God calling us to squirm a little bit with our next level of welcome?

When you hear “Go in peace, serve the Lord,” my friends, that is a call to you who have been welcomed and saved to go out and welcome all people to this place, to bring everyone in to gather ‘round this altar, to continually work in the power of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to undo the barriers we find we have built. We are called to hold the hands of those whom death or illness or shame claims, to be community within, and to share the grace of God with all who drive or walk past this corner, all who we work with and live with in daily life.

And that is what Paul says in our second lesson. “You have begun to share,” he says, “Now keep going, don’t stop; finish doing what you say you’ve begun to do. There are poor people? Well, share with them, so that you have enough and they have enough.” And I would say, “You have a welcome at this church? Great! Share that welcome with those who are outside the boundaries. Think of the grace you have found here, the good it does in your life that you have a community of love and support on which you can depend when times get tough. Each of you - each of us, me too - are here in the city not just to do good works but to invite people into community, that they may get sandwiches and diapers AND ALSO so that they may share their gifts with this community, that all of us together may be saved and healed and restored to community, all of us together may have a little something to eat; all of us together may encounter Jesus disregarding whatever would keep him from extending the holy power of God to all the world, through you and me.

Beloved, we will be raised from death by the power of God, at the call of Christ. Here we gather in a beautiful church with a fantastic liturgy, music which carries good news, and a community that works to do good things. Today we are called to reach out, to share all of that bountiful good which God has done here, with those who do not have it, those who are not part of us or who have been excluded. I do not promise you it will be comfortable. But I tell you I believe it is what we are called by God through these holy texts to do.

The good news of Christ, of healing and restoration and community and resurrection, is good news to be shared generously, as it was shared also with us. Let it not be said that we are a church that’s OK being on the corner of 31st and Chicago, as long as the neighborhood doesn’t touch us. We as the body of Christ are called to hold the hands and listen to the stories of the desperate ones in our congregation, and also those who are our neighbors. With Jesus there is no untouchable or unclean person. We have been welcomed while we were just as untouchable, and Christ has saved us, by his own blood, to serve and welcome, build community and bring hope both within this holy space and to the world outside our doors. Do not doubt, Christ says; only believe. You faithful ones of this community: Imagine what Jesus will do next.


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

Copyright 2014 Mount Olive Lutheran Church