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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Losing Control


Baptized into the life of the Triune God, we do not seek control of where and how God works, nor do we seek to limit those for whom and to whom God gives grace and welcome; we faithfully follow where the Spirit leads.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 26, year B; texts: Mark 9:38-50; Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

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 many admirable things about the 12 step recovery programs that are available to people struggling with addiction is their grounding in the giving up of control.  The first step is to admit one has no control over one’s life and one’s addiction.  This is a wisdom which transcends addiction recovery and is worthy of all to consider: ultimately we have no control over our lives, over what truly matters, and as our readings today remind us, certainly not over God.  Which leads to steps 2 and 3 in the recovery programs: recognizing that a Power greater than ourselves exists who can restore us to life, and turning our lives over to the care of that God.  If you’re not familiar with these 12 step programs, there’s no attempt to define who God is, who that Power is.  The focus is on each individual recognizing their own faith and need for God.  But there is again much wisdom in this, even for all of us who are baptized into the Body of Christ, marked with the name of the Triune God.

Joshua and John are who got me thinking about this.  Both of these great men are concerned about who’s in control, and are trying to get Moses, in Joshua’s case, or Jesus, in John’s, to share their anxiety and concern.  Remarkably, Moses and Jesus do not.  Rather, they open our minds to the possibility that we have no control over where God acts in the world, and we should be happy about that.

It seems that both the great prophet Moses and the Son of God, our Lord Jesus, are inviting us to a recovery of our own, a recovery from our addiction to determining who is in God’s care and love, our persistent need to control things that are beyond our skill, beyond our wisdom, beyond our compassion.

We begin with these Scriptural issues, the question of control and stumbling blocks.

In both the first reading and the Gospel, there are people who are acting under the grace of the Spirit of God whom faithful followers don’t recognize as authorized to do so.  Moses receives help from the LORD to do his work, with 70 people anointed with the Spirit.  They were all supposed to gather in one place; two of them stayed in the camp.  But the Spirit came upon all 70.  Joshua’s concern is that Eldad and Medad didn’t come to the meeting place, and yet they’re back in the camp prophesying anyway.  Moses wisely recognizes that the Spirit of the LORD goes where she will go, and tells Joshua not to worry about it.  In fact, he expresses his desire that the LORD would so anoint everyone with the Spirit, with no limits to who’s used by God to serve in the world.

In Jesus’ case it’s a little different.  Apparently someone who wasn’t officially part of the larger group of his disciples (not just the twelve) was doing exorcisms in Jesus’ name anyway.  John’s very concerned.  This person hasn’t heard the teachings, he’s not actually following Jesus as a disciple.  Someone should stop him.  Jesus wisely recognizes that if someone is doing good in his name it’s not likely they’ll turn against him, and tells John to let it be.  In fact, he goes so far as to say that if people aren’t against him, they’re as good as for him.

But he then he goes on to warn the disciples not to be a stumbling block to anyone, any of these “little ones,” not necessarily speaking only of children, but of all who would come to him.  It’s not only that the disciples shouldn’t try to control whom God uses as leaders; they’re also warned not to do anything which would drive away potential followers.

So it’s pretty simple: God gets to decide where grace and life go, and the Spirit will flow when and where she will.  This has tremendous implications for us in a pluralistic society and world.  We’re hearing that it doesn’t matter if we necessarily agree with people who are not of our group, or even those whom we perceive as outsiders, unauthorized people in our group.  The Spirit may come upon them nonetheless, and we’re not in control of that.

Now granted, in both cases today, this isn’t an argument for respecting other faiths.  It was Israelites and disciples of Jesus, and even the unknown exorcist was doing it in Jesus’ name.

But that respect is certainly applicable to our world situation.  Though we believe that God is truly known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word Incarnate among us, and that he died and rose to give us and the world life, though this is the truth about God’s action in the world, this faith itself commits us to another truth: if God is who we believe God to be then by definition we cannot believe that we control where the Holy Spirit will work and do things.  So it would be folly for us to assume or assert that people of other faiths are not also being influenced by the Triune God through the work of the Holy Spirit, even if they don’t know it.  If there’s anything Jesus and Moses are saying today it’s that we’re not in charge of God.

This warning is necessary because the need to control is widespread in every facet of society.  For today we can simply stick with people of faith.

Somehow we’ve gotten so arrogant in our faith claims as a human race (perhaps because we’re also fearful of being on the wrong side) that we make faith an article worthy of war as we seek to control others and defend what we believe.

It’s easy to look to our Muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East and decry this sinfulness, but it’s patently clear that it’s our sin as well.  It’s been a long time since Christians waged the Crusades against both Muslims and Jews, but we’re still acting like we’re at war.

This is the chief problem with the proposed marriage amendment, as I see it.  Clearly our practices at Mount Olive are in opposition to what the amendment proposes, and that’s a problem for many of us here.  But the real problem with the amendment is that it is an amendment proposed by one religious group to codify their particular religious beliefs into the state constitution, where they have no place.  It isn’t enough for them to believe what they will; they want the constitution to state that all must believe so.  They want to control how other faith groups view marriage.  Or at least, control whether such views should be recognized by the state.

Regardless of whether or not anyone in the state agrees with the premise of the amendment, then there is this reality: it is fundamental to our life as the United States is the principle that no religious group gets to create laws which restrict or infringe on the beliefs and practices of another religious group.  To say nothing of our constitutional commitment not to discriminate against particular groups of people in constitution or in law, which this amendment also does.

So this call to relinquish control comes to us in a world where we see Christians and other faiths consistently seeking to control others who believe differently.  Whether they exercise that need to control by attacking people militarily or by seeking to marginalize them in constitution and law, it’s the same problem.

But it’s not just the larger groups.  Each of us individually struggles with this control issue.  Whenever we wish that others would do things our way, whenever we’re angry because something doesn’t work the way we want it to, whenever we feel threatened by someone else’s views, we’re struggling with this issue.

So following Jesus and Moses, how might we live as faithful Christians and give up our attempts to control God and others?

First, it would be good if we could remove ourselves from the need to defend God, the Scriptures, the Church, or to determine who is serving God.  There seems to be a tendency, especially in recent years, for people increasingly to fear that God or the Scriptures need defending against those who might disagree.

Yet we’re not called to defend the Triune God anywhere in Scripture.  We are called to believe, to love, to witness to God’s grace.  And it’s good if we have theological debate and try to best discern God’s will for us, for the Church, for the world.  But should we meet those who believe other than we, even those of our faith who disagree with us, it’s not necessary that we work to shut them down or to restrict them.  We’re called to love them and treat them with respect.

Imagine what the environment in the world would be if simply the people of faith acted with the confidence that God’s in charge and we don’t need to fight to protect or defend God or God’s messengers.

In the same way, should some seem to speak with the Spirit of God whom we don’t know, or of whom we have not approved, it isn’t our place to try and stop them.  As Gamaliel said to the other Jewish leaders in the book of Acts when considering what to do with the early apostles, if we wait we’ll see the fruits.  If they’re with God, we don’t want to be working against them, and if they’re not, it will become evident.

Second, as baptized children of God we are called individually and as a congregation and part of the greater Church to seek to break barriers to God’s grace, not set them up.

Jesus’ chilling declaration that we’d be better off tying stones around us and jumping into the sea than to cause someone to stumble, to fall away, is a powerful word today.  Every community of any kind, every group, every institution, has its own culture and tendencies, and those can often seem to exclude others.  Some of these are intentional, some are not.

The Church is no exception; neither is Mount Olive.  What is different about the Church, and this congregation, is that we know we are shaped and called by the One who gave his life for all the world, and therefore we must always be vigilant to how we welcome, how we help others come to God’s grace in Jesus, how we hold ourselves in the world.

And what does this mean for us?

It means we’re called to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves, speak for those who have no voice, and work for justice for those who have no access to it.

It means that our words, actions, decisions, and life as people of God should always be held to this standard.

It means we never ask “what’s in it for me, what’s in it for us,” but rather, “who are the last, the least, the Christs among us who need our help breaking through a barrier, stepping over a stumbling block”?

It’s risky living this way, of course.  It means we can’t control what others do to us because that’s not our job.  But it also means that we’re living as Jesus would have us live, and we’re reaching the ones he needs us to reach, and that’s worth everything.

In the end, Jesus is asking us to lose control by trusting his love.

To give up our need to be in charge of anything related to God and the mission of Christ, and obediently seek to follow wherever the Spirit leads.  Even if the Spirit is working in people we wouldn’t choose, in groups we don’t recognize.  Even if there are some things that we lose by welcoming those whom Jesus has asked us to welcome.  Since God’s grace and plan are beyond our ability to grasp fully, and beyond our skill and wisdom to control, all we can do is be faithful in the place we are sent.

And the only way to lose control like this is to throw ourselves trustingly upon the astonishing love of God Jesus has shown us, and let our lives live in that love, shaped by it, called by it, renewed by it, that all might be reached by such love, and that the Good News be lived in this world to the farthest corners of the creation.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Olive Branch, 9/28/12


Accent on Worship

     Whenever the people of God take on a task or a leadership role, tackle a problem, or are burdened with grief or life’s problems, they are called to pray. Whenever the people of God celebrate a joyous occasion, a new beginning, or healing, they are called to give thanks and praise.  Prayer should be central to the life of a Christian, the first action, though many times it is “Plan B.”  We have all heard the expression, “When all else fails, pray.”

     Our God is relational, and prayer is nothing other than a relationship with God.  The great leaders and prophets of the Bible had two things in common: they were far from perfect, (most of them would not be the leaders we would choose) and they all had a close relationship with God.  In the first reading for Time after Pentecost Sunday 26, Moses is deep in prayer.  He complains and requests.  It is all prayer and it is all answered.  However, the fact that his prayers are answered is not the most amazing thing about this text.  The amazing thing is that he is so comfortable with his Lord, his Creator and Savior, that he is downright cross with God and not afraid to show it. Our Lord longs for us to share our whole life with him, all our joys, sorrows and frustrations.  This is an honest and true relationship and it is true prayer when we share our whole selves with God.

     James writes in the second lesson for the day, “Are any among you suffering?  They should pray. Are any cheerful?  They should sing songs of praise.  Are any among you sick?  They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” Jesus, unlike all the other prophets, was perfect, but he had one thing in common with those who came before him, a close personal relationship with his heavenly Father.  He prayed.  We are called to do the same.  

 - Donna Pususta Neste



Sunday Readings

September 30, 2012 – Time after Pentecost, Sunday 26
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 + Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20 + Mark 9:38-50

October 7, 2012 – Time after Pentecost, Sunday 27
Genesis 2:18-24 + Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 + Mark 10:2-16



Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
Thursday, October 4, 7:00 pm
Bring your pets to church for
this annual service of blessing!



Sunday’s Adult Education: Sunday, September 30, 9:30 a.m.

     This week our forum will be "Music Ministry in Prison," presented by Bea Hasselmann, the founder/director of the Metropolitan Boys Choir, who has undertaken a ministry of music among inmates of the Minnesota Correction Facility at Red Wing. In this presentation, Ms. Hasselmann will discuss the power of music and her work with the men at Red Wing.



Book Discussion Group

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion group meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. For the October 13 meeting they will read Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier, and for November 10 they will read, Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray.



Music and Fine Arts Series Launched

     Brochures for the 2012-2013 Music and Fine Arts series have been mailed – hopefully you’ve received yours.  If not, they are certainly available around the church.  Pick one up.  Share one.

     Your support is helpful in offering these gifts to the greater Twin Cities community in two ways:  the first is in attending and assisting us in hosting these events, and second, your financial support is critical.  You may leave your donations in the baskets on Sunday, or mail them to the office.

 The first event is on October 14, 4:00 pm, with Peter Oustrousko and Dean Magraw.  Don’t miss it!



Congregation Meeting October 28

     The semi-annual meeting of Mount Olive congregation will be held on Sunday, October 28, following the second liturgy (beginning at approximately 12:15 p.m.).  The main purpose of this meeting will be to approve a budget for 2013, and to consider several constitutional and bylaw amendments the Vestry is recommending to the congregation.  All voting members of Mount Olive are encouraged to attend.

     The constitutional recommendations were sent to all members via email and snail mail. Extra copies are available in the narthex at church. Please read this document carefully in advance of the meeting.



It’s a Wedding – And You’re Invited

     The Mount Olive community is invited to share in the marriage celebration of Matt McCuen and Katie Krueger on October 13, 2012.  The liturgy will be held at 3:00pm at Mount Olive with light hors d'oeuvres immediately following in the Chapel Lounge.  No gifts please!  If you are unable to attend, Katie and Matt appreciate your prayers and best wishes.



Save Your Manufacturer’s Coupons

     Please save the coupon sections from your newspapers and mailbox (Red Plum, Smart Source, and P & G Savers). Through TRUST, a program called “Store to Door” redeems these coupons for general operating funds. Cut out the coupons you need, leave the rest of the book intact, and bring them to church. These coupon books can be placed in the white box in the coat room.



Prayer Shawl Ministry

     The Prayer Shawl Ministry will gather monthly to work on prayer shawls. We meet the first Saturday of the month from 1-3 p.m.    The location is Blue Ox Coffee Company at 3740 Chicago Av. S.      Please join the fun on October 6.



Vestry Update, Sept. 10, 2012 meeting

     The September 10 Vestry meeting primarily focused on creating the 2013 budget for review and approval at the upcoming Semi-Annual Mount Olive Congregation meeting (October 28).  Each Director presented their area of the budget and the Vestry was able to discuss each proposed line item.  A preview of the 2013 budget is scheduled following the second liturgy on October 21.  During this forum, congregational members may ask questions  of the Vestry.

     The Capital Campaign Tithe has been met and the task force expects to distribute the gifts in 2012.  An update will be given at the Semi-Annual Congregational Meeting in October and a special congregational meeting scheduled to authorize the gifts after the Vestry reviews them at the November meeting.
     The Vestry approved five changes to the Mount Olive Constitution and By-laws to go before the Congregation in October.  Each clarifies the intent or adds new information into the document.  With these updates, the Constitution and By-laws more closely follow what Mount Olive current does in both policy and procedure.

     Please keep your eye out for a proposed meeting to address the Voter ID Amendment and the Marriage Amendment from a faith perspective.  With the upcoming election in November, the Vestry has endorsed a gathering of Mount Olive members to engage in discussion about how to view these amendments through a Lutheran based faith lens.

     The last part of the meeting included updates from Committee Directors and concluded with a prayer by Pastor Crippen.

     Please also note that a draft of the complete minutes from the Vestry meeting is available for review on the bulletin board in the church office.



Monday, September 24, 2012

The Olive Branch, 9/21/12


Accent on Worship

A Teaching Parish

     It’s been nearly a month since Vicar Neal Cannon began with us, and in that month he’s gotten married, so it’s been a busy one for him.  People have had a chance to meet and greet him and his wife Mary in these first weeks, and he seems to be settling in.  This rhythm of saying farewell to one vicar while preparing to welcome another is a new one for me, but not for this parish.  Neal is our 42nd vicar at Mount Olive (if I’ve done the counting properly), so this rhythm is well-established among many in this congregation.

     But it seems good to remind ourselves as we begin another year with another vicar of the nature of this ministry among us.  We are a teaching parish which commits itself to welcome a new seminarian each year and to live with him or her for a year in a relationship of mutual learning and ministry.  This is a crucial year for seminarians, as they explore and experience parish ministry in depth in ways they haven’t before, and learn their gifts and limitations in ways they cannot simply do in class.  It is also crucial for us, as we open our lives and our congregation to welcome these people among us.  They learn from us; we learn from them; together we are privileged to serve God in this place.

     It is worth keeping in mind our congregation’s call to teach.  Sometimes it seems people are nervous about “letting” the vicar do something without someone like me looking over their shoulder or checking everything.  This is part of the learning, that a seminarian tries things out, attempts to do ministry, and the chips fall where they may.  Sometimes things are successful, sometimes they are not.  In all cases learning can happen.  Our job is to help each vicar in that learning.

     To that end, I encourage all members of the congregation to consider offering Neal, and future vicars, feedback and responses to ministry they do.  The Internship Committee (Steve Manuel, Miriam Luebke, John Crippen, Ro Griesse, Warren Peterson, Peggy Hoeft) will be doing a number of formal evaluations, including written evaluations of each of his sermons.  But all of us are called to be a part of his learning and a part of his teaching.  Any responses he can receive will help him learn, and will shape his future ministry as a pastor.  It would be wonderful if when he teaches, a number of folks would write a simple reflection or feedback about how they received it.  It would be helpful if people in the pews (besides the committee) would once in a while give him written feedback on a sermon (we have simple forms if you’d like to use one, printed and in the office), more than “nice sermon.”  If there are things he does well in any kind of ministry here, let him know.  If there are things you think would help him learn and grow, it would be a generous gift to share that as well.

     This can be a wonderful place for a seminarian to learn.  The more intentional we all are to be faithful sisters and brothers to our vicars as well as compassionate teachers, the better we will serve our call to be a teaching parish for future pastors of this church.  Thank you for all you do in this important ministry!

- Joseph



Sunday Readings

September 23, 2012 – Time after Pentecost, Sunday 25
Jeremiah 11:18-20 + Psalm 54
James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a + Mark 9:30-37

September 30, 2012 – Time after Pentecost, Sunday 26
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 + Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20 + Mark 9:38-50


Sunday’s Adult Education: Sunday, September 23, 9:30 a.m.

     This week we will view a film, “The Creed: What Christians Profess, and Why It Ought to Matter.” Produced by actor, director, and writer, Tim Kelleher, The Creed is a remarkable film about why the radical claims made in the Nicene Creed are so important to all of us.

     Next Sunday, September 30, our forum will be "Music Ministry in Prison," presented by Bea Hasselmann, the founder/director of the Metropolitan Boys Choir, who has undertaken a ministry of music among inmates of the Minnesota Correction Facility at Red Wing. In this presentation, Ms. Hasselmann will discuss this project -- how she came to it, how it works, what its benefits are.



Prayer Shawl Ministry

     Do you knit or crochet?  Yes?  Then mark This Sunday, September 23 on your calendar because you are needed at the next meeting of the Mount Olive Prayer Shawl Ministry group.   We will meet at 9:30 a.m. in the Undercroft.

     Don't know how to knit or crochet?  No problem.  We can teach you!    So grab a cup of coffee and join the meeting to learn more about this rewarding ministry.

     If you need additional information or have any questions about this project, contact Peggy Hoeft (peggyrf70@gmail.com).



Book Discussion Group

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion group meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. For October 13, they will read Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier, and for November 10 they will read, Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray.



It’s a Wedding – And You’re Invited

     The Mount Olive community is invited to share in the marriage celebration of Matt McCuen and Katie Krueger on October 13, 2012.  The liturgy will be held at 3:00 pm at Mount Olive with light hors d'oeuvres immediately following in the Chapel Lounge.  No gifts please!  If you are unable to attend, Katie and Matt appreciate your prayers and best wishes.



Feast of St. Francis of Assisi: Thursday, October 4, 7:00 pm

Bring your pets to church for this annual service of blessing!



Save Your Manufacturer’s Coupons

     Please save the coupon sections from your newspapers and mailbox (Red Plum, Smart Source, and P & G Savers). Through TRUST, a program called “Store to Door” redeems these coupons for general operating funds. Cut out the coupons you need,  leave the rest of the book intact, and bring them to church. These coupon books can be placed in the white box in the coat room.



Welcome, New Members!

     We give thanks to God for these new sisters and brothers who will be received into membership at the 10:45 Eucharist this Sunday, September 23:

Anders & Valerie John-Amala (their son Elijah was previously received by Baptism)
Cathy Bosworth & Marty Hamlin (associate members, will be received in October)
Sue Browender
Martin Connell & Greg Terhaar (associate members)
Ronald & Barbara French (associate members)
Marilyn Gebauer
Jennifer Kaufenberg (daughter Tate will be received by Baptism at a later date)
Mark Lofstrom
Julie Manuel
Marty & Rebecca Melang
Tim & Amy Reddy
Janelle East & Bern Youngblood

     Join us for lunch following the second liturgy to greet our newest members!



A Note From the Property Director

     Thanks to all the helping hands for their assistance on the September 8 Clean-up Day!  We made great progress on getting the church ready for the fall activities.  Another Fall Clean-up Day is scheduled for Saturday, October 20.  Watch the Olive Branch for more details.

- Brenda Bartz, Property Director

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Win or Lose


Jesus Christ’s preference often seems to be for the last and least in our society.  Jesus himself chooses place himself on the cross, the last place anyone would want to be.  From Jesus we learn the value of placing ourselves last and least in the world.

Vicar Neal Cannon, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 25, year B; texts: Mark 9:30-37; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8b, Jeremiah 11:18-20

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

Something you should know about me, your new vicar, is that I am very competitive person. I hate to lose. Growing up, my brother and I would play basketball against each other in the driveway at home. It always started friendly, but on more than one occasion ended with a black eye, or some bruised ribs. I’d like to think that as an adult I’ve got this under control. But then I start playing cribbage against my wife … and I start seeing myself fall farther and farther behind on the board ... and my blood starts to boil, and I get a little bit quiet. At least when I lose to her, only my ego is bruised. Maybe you can relate.

I’ve known people in my life that aren’t like this. My Mom, for example would tell me after my basketball games in high school that she rooted for a tie because she didn’t want the other team to feel bad. Which of course, just made me more angry when I lost.

And I always thought that was a bit extreme, but Jesus in our story today takes this to a whole other level. He says, if you want to be first, you must be last. I think as Christians, we think we get it. We’ve heard it before. Serve your neighbor, welcome the stranger … yeah, yeah, vicar, we know.

But if we really think about how that’s lived out in our lives … I think we’ll realize that we don’t actually agree with Jesus all the time ... because being in last is the worst! You don’t want to be last in line for tickets, nobody wants to get picked last, and you’ve probably heard the phrase, “nice guys finish last …” Come on… Jesus. Get with the program.

So what is with Jesus’ fascination with being last?

The Old Testament text and the Psalm don’t seem very helpful at first to answering why Jesus chooses to be last. In fact, Jeremiah and the Psalmist want to defeat their enemies, they want to win.  “Let me see your vengeance,” says Jeremiah, “in your faithfulness, destroy them,” says the Psalmist. “Yikes!” says the Vicar, “how am I supposed to preach on that?”

Sometimes it seems like the God of the Old Testament has nothing to do with Jesus ... until we look a little closer.

For our Old Testament lesson today, we are thrown into Jeremiah today and we’re in the middle of a story. You see, Jeremiah was being persecuted for telling his people the truth, he was telling the people that God was angry. The people were creating idols of wood and stone and jewels, and as Jeremiah tells us earlier in his book, people were sacrificing their children to these idols.

No wonder God was angry… and Jeremiah was angry too.

And in response to Jeremiah telling Israel that God is angry and they need to change their ways, the people plan on killing Jeremiah. So Jeremiah says to God, “God, I want your justice visited upon them! All I did was tell them the truth, I told them what you told me and now they want to kill me!” And God says, “You’re right. They’re wicked, they have evil hearts, something drastic must be done.”

But then something interesting happens in the following chapter. Jeremiah asks God why do bad things happen to good people like me? And, why do bad people flourish while the righteous die? If God is “just” then good people would be winning and bad people would be losing. It’s that simple. Right?

And God’s reply is a bit cryptic. God agrees that the people are doing evil deeds and that must stop, but God also says that Israel is the beloved of God’s heart and God’s heritage. It’s like God’s mourning their loss, not celebrating a victory.  God even implies that things will get worse for Jeremiah when his people are suffering.

So who’s the winner here? It seems like the people are going to suffer, and Jeremiah is going to suffer, and God is going to suffer along with them.

And at this point … the winner in me just wants to yell, “God, you just won! Why are you putting your head down?” You beat the bad guys! It’s like God can’t stand it when anyone loses.

What’s more, later in Jeremiah God says, I will remember their sins no more. But here’s the problem. If God doesn’t remember what they did, how can they be punished? How do we know who the righteous and unrighteous are if God makes, everybody righteous? Who’s the winner, and who’s the loser here? Jeremiah and our Psalmist get what winning is all about. They are eager for God to strike down their enemies. Why isn’t God?

This got me thinking, I wonder if we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe the question isn’t, whose winning, and whose losing, or why do bad things happen to good people. Maybe the question we need to ask is, what does winning look like to God?

God helps us when he says to Abraham all the nations on Earth will be blessed by your offspring. He doesn’t say, all your children will be blessed by what you’ve done. He doesn’t even say that his country will be blessed by his offspring. No. He says that the whole world will be blessed. And I wonder, is that what winning looks like to God? That everyone is blessed?

Then we of course have to ask, what does losing look like to God?

In the Beatitudes, God blesses all the losers. I don’t mean to say this glibly, but seriously, God blesses those who we might consider to have lost. God blesses those who mourn, or those who have lost a loved one. Jesus says the meek will inherit the Earth: since when have the meek won anything? Don’t the meek get steamrolled by Donald Trump on The Apprentice? Yet our God says they are blessed.

At another point in the New Testament, Jesus tells us a parable us a parable of a Shepherd watching over his Flock. And Jesus tells us that when one sheep wanders away from the Flock, that the Shepherd leaves the 99 in search of the one …

It seems to me that God can’t stand it if even one person loses.

God is telling us something. God hates it when anyone loses. So much so that when we have lost, or that we are lost, that God will find us, and bless us even in our darkest hour.

I think our New Testament and Gospel readings today give us some more clues as to what winning looks like to God. Our text from James says, “17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

I find this statement to be fascinating for our lives today. Think about this, how often are we really willing to yield? How often can we put aside an argument or a fight and really listen to what the other person is saying and care about our enemy in spite of our differences.

This is not about being right or wrong, this is about giving up the fight for the sake of loving the person in front of you. This summer I was a chaplain at Good Samaritan in Minneapolis, and my job was basically to go from room to room and visit with residents, all of whom had extreme mental and/or physical illness. One of the first things they taught us and one of the things I had the hardest time learning, was to put aside your own opinions and beliefs and quit trying to fix people. You see it is easy to give people answers. Eat better, quit smoking, pray more … but our job was to sit with people, and listen to them, and share with them what they were going through.

And I think that is what James was talking about here. He’s asking if we can put ourselves aside, if we’re willing to yield to people for love’s sake and the sake of the gospel. So when James says that God’s wisdom is “without prejudice” he means that true wisdom that comes from God shows mercy and compassion to another without any regard for that person’s status, what they’ve done, or even for the person’s moral character. God shows compassion, to his friends and his enemies, to the people that we want to lose, and to the people we hope will win.

So finally we come to our Gospel lesson today and we find Jesus again telling his disciples that he will be killed and in three days he will rise again. And the disciples don’t get this. Dying on the cross is equivalent to losing their battle. They can’t lose. The good guys just started winning. The blind can see, the deaf can hear, and the word is being proclaimed! How could Jesus lose now, just when it seems victory is in hand? And as if they wanted to prove to Jesus that they didn’t get it, they start arguing with each other about which of them is the best. So he says something that seems backwards. He says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

What the disciples don’t understand, and what we still struggle with today, is how Christ’s loss becomes the world’s gain. Because when you choose to lose, it destroys our me vs. you world view, and creates a world about us, and we don’t know what that looks like.

And he picks up a little kid, and by the way, kids are in the lowest place in ancient Jewish society below even servants and slaves, and he says, “whenever we welcome a child, whenever we feed the hungry, whenever we speak up for the marginalized, whenever we love our enemy, whenever we welcome whoever is last and least important in our eyes, we welcome God.”

Today, I hope we consider that winning and losing is not what God is about. And even if we’re in the right and we are the good guys, like Jeremiah and the Psalmist were, it shouldn’t be about me verses you it should be about us. You see, I think for Jesus and for God, it is not enough for a few people to win. It’s not a real victory for God and Christ unless everybody wins. Because the cross that Jesus takes up is about forgiveness, and love, and mercy. It is for the healing of the world.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Off Center


Jesus modeled God’s selfless, other-centered love in becoming one of us, dying and rising; followers of Jesus are called likewise to set themselves out of the center of life, the center of reality, and look to the good and need of the other.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 24, year B; texts: Mark 8:27-38; Isaiah 50:4-9a

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

In 1543, as he lay on his death bed, we are told that astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus had placed in his hands the newly-published copy of his life’s work, a radical re-thinking of the place of Earth in the heavens.  Copernicus argued that in fact the Sun was the center of the heavens, not the Earth, and the Earth orbited the Sun, along with the other planets.  His theory wasn’t immediately rejected by the Church, but nearly 75 years later it was declared to be “false and altogether opposed to Holy Scripture.”  Of course, with the later help of others like Sir Isaac Newton, it eventually became accepted that he had gotten it right.  Except for the idea that the Sun was the center of the heavens.  By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, astronomers began to realize that even our Sun was simply one star among many, and now we understand that our Sun is at the edge of a huge galaxy of stars called the Milky Way, a galaxy which itself is not very close to the center of the universe.  So in less than 500 years, Earth has been moved in human thought from the very center of all that exists to a tiny planet on the fringe of all that exists.

It’s a hard blow to realize that we’re not the pinnacle of creation.  One of the reasons the Church always seemed to resist such data as scientists discovered it over the centuries was in part because of our understanding of the Incarnation.  Surely if the God who created the universe blessed our existence so much by becoming one of us, then we must be the best, the brightest, the highest of all creation.  To consider that we might be living in the boondocks of the universe, to say nothing of the idea that we might be only one of millions of other species of intelligent life scattered across millions of light years can be threatening to some people of faith.

But if that Incarnate One himself, Jesus our Lord, is to be believed today, it’s not merely foolish that we ever thought so highly of humanity.  According to Jesus, his coming as one of us was such an act of self-giving, of losing of one’s self on the part of the Triune God, that it calls those of us who would follow Jesus to the same kind of self-loss, self-sacrifice.  Rather than see our discipleship as a sign of favor and importance, Jesus invites us, urges us, to see our discipleship as the beginning of the moving of ourselves from the center of our universe, and a changing of our focus instead to looking to the reality, the needs, the pain, the suffering of others before our own.

This is such an important point for Jesus, and it’s so often missed.  But it’s core to what Jesus himself experienced.

It’s tempting to think that we’re a big deal because God became one of us.  But perhaps it’s the opposite.  Surely we can say with confidence that the Triune God thought enough of us to become one of us.  John 3 makes that clear, that the Son came because of the Father’s love for us.  A love so powerful it hoped to bring us all to healing, to salvation.

But perhaps we might want to realize how unlikely such attention by the Creator of all things this really is.  Consider the size of the universe, the immensity of space, the uncountable galaxies that exist, let alone stars.  We could learn a lot from the psalmist of Psalm 8 who, in the face of such contemplation, said, “Who are we that you would care for us?”  That the Creator of all that is cared about the bipedal beings on a planet on the edge of the universe enough to become one of us in order to bring us back is nothing short of astonishing.

Yet it is also, from God’s standpoint, a huge step down.  When I was young, people would say: “Think of how different we are from ants.  If you were to imagine what God did, it would be like us becoming ants, so the ants could understand what we really were like, and so on.”  That kind of made sense to me.  But given the expanse of the creation, surely it’s more like comparing us to single-cell amoebas.  Or something even smaller, less coherent.  In the life of this world, we’re actually closely related to ants.

And yet . . . and yet.  The Triune God was willing to lose all to become one of us.  To join our existence, take up our lot, all for the sake of bringing us back into love with God and each other.  To suffer our indignities, to be limited like we are.  And ultimately to permit us to kill him.  This is the One, the Son of God, Jesus, whom we follow.

And so Jesus calls us to do the same.  If we see this reading from Isaiah today as one of many referring to Jesus, and his willing suffering on our behalf, Jesus today invites us to see it as referring to us.  “If I’m willing to lose everything to be with you, teach you, love you, even my life, then I need you to follow that way,” Jesus says.  To be willing to lose all.  That’s what discipleship is.

What Jesus says is clear: following him is not a path to self-aggrandizing, not a path to wealth, not a path to importance.  My followers, he says, become the least, not the greatest.  They turn their cheeks to those who strike them, as he did.  They lose instead of trying to win.  They don’t think of themselves first, but they think of others.

His is not a message for those who would make governments enforce particular religious beliefs by constitutional amendment or by law, or those who would declare that the ultimate goal is that Jesus’ followers rule the world.

He says, “take up your cross,” be willing to face the worst in following me.  Be willing, as I was, to lose everything.  Because – and this is the key – because to bring the healing he needs, the love God envisions, the grace Jesus’ death brings, it will take all of Jesus’ followers to reach all who need such gifts, and those followers will need to be willing to let go of all their needs to accomplish this mission.

But what we are being called to discover is not a false humility or self-denigration, nor is it an explanation for various sufferings we might have.

Too often we’ve taken the expression “take up your cross” and applied it to daily pains and annoyances.  Even real suffering.  We’ll say, “that’s just my cross to bear,” speaking of whatever it is that causes us difficulty.  But as real as pain and suffering are, that’s not at all what Jesus means by this expression.

In “taking up our cross,” Jesus means us to take up suffering and loss for the sake of others and for the sake of the world.  If any of us do bear a cross, it’s when we move ourselves off of the center of our lives and look to where we can be God’s grace and love to others.  It’s certainly not the unlooked for and uncontrollable suffering that exists in the world, hard as that might be.

But a worse problem is the false sense of martyrdom that this call sometimes evokes in Christians, the manufactured humility.  As much as I’m amused by Garrison Keillor, I’m increasingly tired of his caricature of Midwestern Lutherans.  And it’s probably because it’s an accurate assessment of the reality.  There is in us a tendency to talk down about ourselves, minimize our accomplishments, act as if we’re called to think poorly of ourselves in order to follow Jesus.

But even though it’s an accurate take, I think it’s dangerous for us to admire it, or to consider it a virtue, which seems to be an element of our reaction to such humor.  If we were to take the best of what Keillor offers, we would use his humor to laugh at a situation as a way to start changing who we are.

Jesus isn’t asking us to play the part of martyrs, sighing and letting others have their way, while being certain that it is noted by all how much we’ve given up.  Nor is he calling us to think ill of ourselves, knock ourselves down, act as if we’re worthless, crummy people.  Jesus loved humanity enough to become one of us and die for us – that’s honor beyond anything in the universe.  And lastly, we’re not called to play-act humility, to pretend to be humble and lowly as if others can’t see through it.  We’ve all seen that in others, and it’s revolting.  It’s just as bad when we do it, but we often can’t see that as clearly.

And none of these ways of acting out Jesus’ call today look at all like what Jesus is doing, or calling out in us.

In fact, what we are called to do is to see the world without ourselves as the center, the focus, the important thing.  To have our own internal Copernican revolution.

It’s actually as simple as that.  Jesus says, “What if you didn’t filter everything you experience through the question of what’s in it for you, how it affects you?  What would that be like?”  It’s a call to transcend ourselves and learn a way of life where we don’t focus our thoughts, plans, hopes, dreams on what we want and need, but on what God needs, and what God’s world needs.

Every once in a while the Holy Spirit saves time and doubles up on inspiration.  That happened this week, when both your cantor and your pastor were walking down this path separately.  When we met to talk about hymns on Wednesday, and I was telling David where I thought this sermon was heading (much of which you’ve now heard), so he could think about what hymns would work with that, he said that was something he’d been thinking a great deal about with regard to worship and music.  You can see his reflections in the Olive Branch which just came out on Friday.

And he’s right: in worship we are at our best when it’s not about “me” but “us.”  When we put our selves aside for the sake of us.  And even more deeply for the sake of the God around whom we are gathered to worship.

Because that’s the deeper truth here: we move ourselves off the center of our lives and put the Triune God there, where God belongs.  We learn this best in worship, but it’s a learning Jesus today calls us to take with us every moment of our lives.  If the God who made all that is, who loves us with a death-defeating love, who fills us with life and grace, if this God is the center of our thoughts and being, then we will also be focused where God needs us, on those whom our God loves.  Until we’re able to free ourselves from self-centeredness we cannot truly love God as God loves us, and we cannot truly follow the Son of God as disciples.

It’s just as shocking to understand this as it was to begin to see that the Earth might not center all things.

But once we move ourselves off of center, we begin to live the way we were meant to live, and we see its abundance.  We find the joy of self-giving, the hope of being able to see ourselves as given to the world for healing and life.  Best of all, we begin to see how we might actually follow Jesus fully, because we begin to understand how he lived for others, for us, for the world.

Let us pray that the God who once gave up everything for us would help us likewise shake free of our self-centeredness, our antiquated view of our internal universe, and move our lives to circle the astonishing, loving, and gracious Triune God who made all things.  And let us pray that in so doing, we become fully disciples in the mission to bring all the creation back into place, and all God’s creatures into the life and grace God intends for all.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Olive Branch, 9/14/12


Accent on Worship

     I remember a scene.  I was at Central Lutheran Church for a worship event, Paul Manz was the organist.  I remember the hymn was “For All the Saints.”  Dr. Manz led us with a stately speed (which I found wonderfully majestic).  The person next to me, however, had a different idea.  She was literally squirming, muttering “Come on …!  Move it!!  A little faster!!” Wow. I also remember thinking,  It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong about how fast that hymn should go,  her choices at that point were one of two options:  to sing with the rest of us (at the tempo we were singing) or,  not to sing with rest of us.

     The readings for this and next week underscore something I learned in the above situation.

     When we gather for worship with its various activities, including singing, there’s an important dimension that we can be aware of: it’s not about us.  We have to put “self” aside in order to become “us.”  If we are going to express our faith “with one voice” we need to be in the same key, at the same tempo, singing the same song.

     For that person next to me at Central, she probably learned “For All the Saints” at a quicker pace. Perhaps it was jarring for her to slow down.  And I’ve learned that most assemblies are made up of individuals whose experiences and learning sources were elsewhere – all with different understandings of issues like how fast, what key, or even which hymns they know and love.  It’s not that anyone is absolutely right (although I am always right, of course).   For the sake of unity, one decision needs to preside to bring us out of individualism and into community as one voice.  Otherwise each song becomes an aleatory hodge-podge of individuals in competition with each other.

     That is where my mind went with the next couple of Gospel readings. This week, “Deny yourselves and take up the cross,” then next week the disciples arguing about who was the greatest, all speak of setting aside “self” for the sake of the community of Christ.

     Any choir becomes an excellent illustration.  If everyone tries to be a soloist, if everyone sings at their own speed, it’s a mess.  One person decides and all join in as one.  Even if it’s not YOUR favorite hymn, or if it’s a different tempo than what you learned, or if it’s in a key different from your memory – your choices are one of two: to sing, or not.

     We pray for the first.

- Cantor David Cherwien



Sunday Readings

September 16, 2012 – Time after Pentecost, Sunday 24
     Isaiah 50:4-9a + Psalm 116:1-9
     James 3:1-12 + Mark 8:27-38

September 23, 2012 – Time after Pentecost, Sunday 25
     Jeremiah 11:18-20 + Psalm 54
     James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a + Mark 9:30-37



This Week in Adult Education

     This Sunday, September 16, Pastor Crippen will present part 2 of a 2-part series, “An Introduction to the Book of James.”



New Members

     New members will be received on Sunday, September 23. If you are interested in becoming a member of Mount Olive, please speak to Pastor Crippen soon!



Welcome Our New Members

     Please join the Mount Olive Vestry for a welcome brunch with our new members on Sunday, September 23, following the second liturgy (approximately 12:30 pm). We will gather in the Undercroft for introductions, a light meal, and conversation.

     RSVP by Friday, September 21, to the church office (e-mail: welcome@mountolivechurch.org, or call 612-827-5919).



Prayer Shawl Ministry

     Do you knit or crochet?  Yes?  Then mark Sunday, September 23 on your calendar because you are needed at the next meeting of the Mount Olive Prayer Shawl Ministry group.   We will meet at 9:30 AM.

     Don't know how to knit or crochet?  No problem.  We can teach you!  If you need additional information or have any questions about this project, contact Peggy Hoeft (peggyrf70@gmail.com).



Coffee Hours This Sunday

     This Sunday, September 16, members of the Worship Committee Altar Guild will host the Coffee and Fellowship following each of the morning liturgies. These two committees wish to use this opportunity to acknowledge the countless hours of service provided by the many volunteers at Mount Olive.

     We are still trying to determine just how many consecutive years Marcella Daehn has served Mount Olive on both the Altar Guild and Worship Committee. She has decided to retire and pass the baton to others. Marcella is certainly not the only long serving volunteer in our midst. So we take this opportunity of her retirement to thank her for the example she has set for us all, and to thank all who have served and continue to serve.

     Well done, good and faithful servant(s)!



Book Discussion Group

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion  group meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. For the October 13 meeting they will read Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier.



October 2 is Drawing Near

     Tuesday October 2, is the first day of Way to Goals Tutoring for this year, and I am looking for a few good men and women to be a positive force in a child's life by becoming a volunteer tutor.  If you have a heart for children this is the job for you!  This is a once a week commitment on Tuesday evenings from 7:00-8:30 p.m.  You will spend one hour with your student and the last half an hour enjoying a snack and fun activity, or just visiting with the other students and tutors.  The youth are in second through sixth grade.  The season goes from the first Tuesday in October through the last Tuesday in May.  We do not meet when the Minneapolis Public Schools are off and a few other Tuesday evenings. If you would like more information or you are interested in volunteering please give me a call at church, 612-827-5919.

- Donna Neste



Name Change and Request for Helpers

     The Worship Committee recognizes the valuable service the greeters are performing during our worship services, and most of you realize it goes far beyond greeting folks at the door.  Greeters arrive at least thirty minutes prior to the services, ensure bulletins and other informational brochures are available to the worshipers.  As well, they ensure doors are unlocked, lights and fans turned on, and windows opened or closed.  They may also be asked to perform some minor duties for the other worship assistants, depending on the logistics of the service.  They keep track of and record the numbers in attendance. They are also responsible for the offering collection, the procession of the gifts to the altar, as well as coordinating the flow of traffic to the Eucharist.  At the end of the service, they see that the offering is transferred quickly to the safe and conclude their duties by tidying the pews in the nave.  They also often field questions of newcomers, and now and again may have to respond to minor emergencies.  In other words, the greeters are much more than people who just greet at the door.  They are ushers, gracious hosts, ambassadors.  Therefore, it was decided in the most recent Worship Committee meeting that there will be a name change in the servant roster from "Greeter" to "Usher."

     With all of that in mind, we are always looking for new ushers, especially those who can serve with flexibility for both services, as well as evening services.  Those who serve in the evening would be asked to learn how to close the building, therefore adding some additional duties, similar to the previous "Building Keeper" position. This commitment is available for new and current ushers.  If you are interested in learning the building keeper duties of the ushers and have a flexible schedule that allows you to serve in the evening, please let Brian Jacobs know.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How We Can Tell


James tells us how we can know if our faith is alive.  He teaches us that our faith, while a gift, is a dead possession if it is not producing new life and healing for the world, to all people, regardless of who they are.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 23, year B; texts: Mark 7:24-37; James 2:1-17; Isaiah 35:4a-7

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

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s obvious.  Jesus is clearly from God, God’s Son as proclaimed.  It’s very simple when you have Isaiah and Mark, both in the same book, held in one hand.  Isaiah promises that when God comes to save – and these were needed words, important promises to the chosen people who feel separated from their God – when God comes to save, says Isaiah, the deaf will hear.  The blind will see.  The lame will leap like deer.  And in Mark we see Jesus do just that – the deaf hear.  The blind see.  The lame walk.  Jesus is God’s promised healing.  That’s obvious.

What’s also obvious is this.  Though we have the advantage of the Scriptures completely telling the story of Jesus and his love for us and the world, telling of his death and resurrection, promising us new life now and life after death in a world to come, though we have 20-20 hindsight on all the people of the Bible, we are more often than not living like the desperate chosen people to whom Isaiah speaks.  We act as people of faith who are still worried.  People who are fearful.  People who wonder when and if God will come to this world, to us, and make a difference.  And people who act as if faith has no connection to the way we live.

And it’s odd.  We use words again and again that sound like we believe Jesus is risen and offering us love and life.  We speak of grace, of Gospel, of Good News.  We claim that the Church is God’s gracious ambassador to a broken world, offering life in Christ to all.  We speak of our faith as if it’s something precious to us.  But too often we live with each other and in this world as if we haven’t ever really received such grace, such Gospel, such Good News.

Well, it may be partly because we haven’t spent enough time with the letter of James.  You know what they say, Brother Martin didn’t like it.  His famous observation that James is a letter of straw has led Lutherans to discount it, ignore it, act as if we needn’t pay attention to it.

But James talks about visible signs of one’s faith.  How you can see if faith is real, if faith is alive.  Luther, understandably, got nervous about mixing up works that we do with the grace and love of God that is ours freely.  But if you look at his criticism, he may have been missing James’ point, and even he saw great value in James.  It certainly can be argued that we Lutherans have missed the point of James all this time at any rate.  And that it has cost us.

Because without James’ reminder, faith can become abstract, a concept, a doctrine.

And that’s our great temptation as Lutherans – we can talk about faith until we’re blue in the face.  But we don’t share our faith very well, or very often.  And it doesn’t always shape our lives in the world.

And so we find it endlessly important to debate the smallest of points with each other.  Now, we should value intelligence and good understanding.  But we have made bickering an art form.  Because we have made faith and grace “concepts” instead of realities in our lives, we even fight to the death, almost.  People feel they are defending God, defending truth.  So Lutherans who otherwise seem sane can justify any unkindness, any mockery, any slander, any abuse on the grounds that they are fighting for the truth.

And what’s worse than that, too often we’ve valued such “right thinking,” such “knowing” far more than living our faith.  As long as we’ve got our understanding in order, all is well.  Even if it doesn’t change who we are.  How we live our lives, how we treat others.

Here’s all that James is saying.  This is very simple.  He says, “Faith is good.  It is gift.  But if it is received, if it is real, if you know it, you will look different.  Act different.  Be different.”

James is not substituting works for grace.  Not even remotely.  He’s just saying that once you’ve lived in Graceland (to use a phrase a friend of mine finds helpful), once you know that you are loved completely by God, you will be different.  Nothing will be the same.

James is criticized for not teaching anything of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, but we know nothing of what he would say about that, because that wasn’t the point of his writing.  His point is to challenge people to see that their faith is dead when people are hungry, when people have no clothes, when people don’t know God’s love, and all Christians want to do is talk to them.

Simply, for us as Lutherans, it means this:  If we believe in grace, we want to live in grace, and with grace, and through grace.  Faith as concept says, “God loves all.”  Or argues about that.  Faith as reality lives God’s love for all in the world.  That’s the difference.

It turns out that James and Jesus are in full agreement with how faith is lived.

We see this in other kinds of healing Jesus did, healing that wasn’t necessarily the physical healing promised and fulfilled in Isaiah and Mark today.  Jesus took proud people, people who knew everything, people who were on top, and helped them see that they were loved by God simply for who they were, not for what they had or did, something James sees as well.  And that healing led them to share all they had with the poor and needy, to see them as sisters and brothers.  People like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, important leaders, became servants of Jesus, even caring for his body and its burial and serving the Church after the resurrection.  People like Paul, highly educated, a Roman citizen, a leader among the Pharisees, who became Jesus’ apostle of grace after being a persecutor of the early Church.

Jesus took no-account people, people who were stepped on, downtrodden, and lifted them up with love, something James exhorts his people to do today.  They, for the first time, knew they were important.  And look what they became.  Mary Magdalene, the first apostle and preacher of the Resurrection.  Joanna, Susanna.  All the women who were key leaders.  And poor fishermen, illiterate peasants, who became inspired sharers of the love of the risen Christ in the world, who gave their lives to tell that love, who left fear behind in the joy of faith in Christ.

But we have to take a moment now and look at one odd part of today’s Gospel, because it appears that even Jesus might have had to learn to look for broader consequences of the love he came to bring, changes to his idea of who will get it than what he began with.

It’s a strange story, and we’ll never know if Jesus was just testing this poor Gentile woman whose daughter was possessed, or if he genuinely was focused only on Israel at that point.  But because of that incredibly brave foreign woman, we are able to see something astonishing.  Jesus, this Jewish Messiah, begins doing among the Gentiles what he was already doing among the chosen people.  The deaf man healed today was in Gentile territory, so likely a Gentile himself.  And Jesus next does another miraculous feeding with loaves and fish, but this time in Gentile territory.

Whatever the reason for Jesus’ apparent partiality, it’s gone now.  And suddenly it becomes clear: the grace of God in Christ is for all people, no matter what.  There are no divisions, there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus, as Paul would teach the Church.  And this leads someone like James to chide his people for acting as if they have faith, but living in such a way that it isn’t clear they follow such a Jesus, serve such an inclusive God.

So this is how we know that Jesus is real, Jesus is God’s Son, Jesus is God’s eternal love for us and the world.  By how we are changed by our faith in him.  And by how we live.

It’s how we know our faith is alive, James says.  When like Jesus before us, we open our arms to all who need God’s grace and healing, we’ll know.

So, when people who think that the only way they can be OK with God is to get it right, and they’re convinced that they always are getting it right, when they are changed, we’ll know.  When these people realize instead that they are loved by God for who they are, not for their perceived rightness, and that they are called to love in return, then we’ll know.

And when people who have been told all their lives that they are worthless know God’s love, we’ll know.  People who have been put down and sent away, who can’t believe they could be loved by anyone and so often are not able to love others themselves, when these people realize instead that they are loved, and blessed, and important, and begin to share that love in return, then we’ll know.

And finally, this: when each one of us is healed of the things that block us from living in love, we’ll know.  When that which prevents us from acting in love, giving of ourselves in love, is removed, and we begin to share the love of God that we first saw clearly on the cross – a love that knows no limits, that has no fear, that trusts and gives and changes the world by giving – when we see these things happen in us, and love starts to flow from us, then we’ll know.

This is how we’ll know our faith is alive, when we are changed by it.

And we do not need to be afraid.  If we make mistakes in our loving – and we will – we’ll trust that God will forgive us, just as we trust in God’s forgiveness of anything else we have done.  If we face fear in our lives, such as facing pain or suffering or even death, we’ll know that we are not alone, because the God of the universe holds us firmly by the hand.   And when we see someone hungry, we won’t argue about what faith is.  We’ll live in our faith and give them some soup.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Poisonwood Bible, she tells that at one point the Southern Baptists had spent a whole convention debating over a very important theological doctrine: they were debating the size of heaven, how many cubits wide it was, and so on.  What made me want to weep in her story was the response of a little girl.  All she was afraid of was this: once you are done measuring, will there be enough room for me?  That’s the concern of our woman for her daughter today, the concern of the world as they hear our proclamation but look at our lives, the concern of James for the lives of his people.  If our failing to live the Good News causes any little one to wonder if there’s room for them in God’s love, we don’t have any reason to believe we even know what Good News is.

Let’s not be afraid to live grace, live faith, instead of keeping them as concepts.  When we do, we will find the healing love of Jesus that has no end, and we will wonder how we ever lived any other way.  Once you’ve lived in Graceland, there’s no place else that will do, for anyone.  Because it’s for everyone.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Olive Branch, 9/7/12


Accent on Worship

     While I’m sure it is not unusual to see the new Vicar aimlessly walking the halls looking lost and confused, your newest Vicar, Neal Cannon (that’s me), will have a little extra of that this year.  That’s because not only am I orienting myself to a new call, church, and people, but I am also adjusting myself to a new marriage and home!  Soon after I began at Mount Olive (August 26), I moved into a new duplex (September 1), and will soon be  married to my beautiful fiancĂ©e, Mary (September 8).  This process has been a whirlwind of activity and change, but I have been blessed by God with amazing friends, welcoming neighbors, and the Holy Spirit who has guided me along the way.

     I was born just outside of Crystal Lake, Illinois, four minutes after my identical twin brother Paul (who is also a pastor, now serving his first call in Crystal Lake at the church where we were baptized!), to my mother Julie, a nurse, and father Charles, an airline pilot.  I have one older sister, Susie, and one younger sister, Marybeth.  Together, we moved from Crystal Lake to Cincinnati, Ohio, where I developed my life-long love of the Cincinnati Bengals, my favorite professional football team.  Our stay in Cincinnati was not long, however, and our family moved to Park City, Utah when I was in the third grade, where we remained through high school.

     After high school, I attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD where I received my undergraduate degree in Business Communications.  During each college summer I worked at Voyageurs Lutheran Ministry in northern Minnesota as a counselor, BWCA canoe guide (where I learned to love the outdoors), and on program staff.  After college, I felt a call towards youth ministry and began work as the middle school youth director at Roseville Lutheran Church, where I have worked for the past six years.  While I loved my job there, I began to feel another tug in my life towards seminary and pastoral ministry.  That tug led me to Luther Seminary in St. Paul, where I dived in to theological and pastoral learning these past two years.

Through it all, I have come to love Lutheran tradition, theology, and people.  I am excited to land at Mount Olive Lutheran Church where I will learn from you and with you about this great God of ours, and his Son Jesus Christ.  Praise be to God!

- Vicar Neal Cannon



This Week in Adult Education

     This Sunday, September 9, Pastor Crippen will present part 1 of a 2-part series on “An Introduction to the Book of James.”



New Olive Branch Publication Schedule 

     Beginning with this issue, The Olive Branch schedule returns to weekly publication. The publication date of the weekly newsletter is moving from Mondays to Fridays.  The result will be that members will receive news of the congregation and other information just prior to Sunday’s liturgies and fellowship, which is more timely, and copies of the newsletter may also be given to visitors at worship and still be fresh information that morning.



Name Change and Request for Helpers

     The Worship Committee recognizes the valuable service the greeters are performing during our worship services, and most of you realize it goes far beyond greeting folks at the door.  Greeters arrive at least thirty minutes prior to the services, ensure bulletins and other informational brochures are available to the worshipers.  As well, they ensure doors are unlocked, lights and fans turned on, and windows opened or closed.  They may also be asked to perform some minor duties for the other worship assistants, depending on the logistics of the service.  They keep track of and record the numbers in attendance. They are also responsible for the offering collection, the procession of the gifts to the altar, as well as coordinating the flow of traffic to the eucharist table.  At the end of the service, they see that the offering is transferred quickly to the safe and conclude their duties by tidying the pews in the nave.  They also often field questions of newcomers, and now and again may have to respond to minor emergencies.  In other words, the greeters are much more than people who just greet at the door.  They are ushers, gracious hosts, ambassadors.  Therefore, it was decided in the most recent Worship Committee meeting that there will be a name change in the servant roster from "Greeter" to "Usher."

     With all of that in mind, we are always looking for new ushers, especially those who can serve with flexibility for both services, as well as evening services.  Those who serve in the evening would be asked to learn how to close the building, therefore adding some additional duties, similar to the previous "Building Keeper" position.  This commitment is available for new and current ushers.  If you are interested in learning the building keeper duties of the ushers and have a flexible schedule that allows you to serve in the evening, please let Brian Jacobs know.



Book Discussion Group

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion group meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. For the September 8 meeting they will read The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. For the October 13 meeting they will read Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier. All readers welcome!



Olivites in the News

     This month’s edition of Metro Lutheran features an article about Susan Cherwien, written by former Mount Olive member, Mike Sherer.

     (While you’re looking at the newspaper, be sure to check out who was “Caught Reading Metro Lutheran” – you’ll see some familiar faces!)



Prayer Shawl Ministry

     Do you knit or crochet?  Yes?  Then mark Sunday, September 23 on your calendar because you are needed at the next meeting of the Mount Olive Prayer Shawl Ministry group.   We will meet at 9:30 AM.
     Don't know how to knit or crochet?  No problem.  We can teach you!    So grab a cup of coffee and join the meeting to learn more about this rewarding ministry.

     If you need additional information or have any questions about this project, contact Peggy Hoeft (peggyrf70@gmail.com).




A Word of Thanks 

     Many thanks to Marcella Daehn, Beth Gaede, Peggy Hoeft,  Tim Lindholm and T.J. Schnabel, Bonnie McClellan, and Sandra and Steve Pranschke, who contributed nearly 20 people-hours to clean our chancel, transepts, and narthex, and polish the brass candelabra and fittings. Our worship space positively glows!



October 2 is Drawing Near

     Tuesday October 2, is the first day of Way to Goals Tutoring for this year, and I am looking for a few good men and women to be a positive force in a child's life by becoming a volunteer tutor.  If you have a heart for children this is the job for you!  This is a once a week commitment on Tuesday evenings from 7:00-8:30 p.m.  You will spend one hour with your student and the last half an hour enjoying a snack and fun activity, or just visiting with the other students and tutors.  The youth are in second through sixth grade.  The season goes from the first Tuesday in October through the last Tuesday in May.  We do not meet when the Minneapolis Public Schools are off and a few other Tuesday evenings. If you would like more information or you are interested in volunteering please give me a call at church, 612-827-5919.

- Donna Neste



Attention All Worship Assistants!

     The new schedule for September-December is now posted on the church website. Please check it soon to find out when you are scheduled: http://mountolivechurch.org/worship_servants.html
(click on the red box labeled, “View Current Servant Schedule”).



Every Church a Peace Church September Potluck Supper Meeting

When:   Monday, September 10, 6:30 pm
Where:  Living Table United Church of Christ, 4001 38th Ave. S.; Minneapolis 55406
            612-729-7556;   http://www.spiritucc.org
Who:  You and ... someone from your church ... or another church? ...Your own pastor? …
            interested friend, neighbor or relative?
Why:  Support, networking, delicious food, and an outstanding program!

The program for this month is a presentation and discussion led by Michael Bayly entitled, "Justice, Peace, and the Minnesota Marriage Amendment: Understanding and speaking about the proposed constitutional ban on same-sex civil marriage from a justice and peace perspective.”
     For more Information, please visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MnECAPC/message/157  or send your questions via email to: ecapctc@yahoo.com.



Thank You

     Thank you to all those new volunteers who helped with the Community Meal this past Labor Day weekend (and a continual thank you to those who come faithfully on those special Saturdays.)
- Mount Olive Neighborhood Ministries Committee



Rachel Crippen blog from Austria
     Some folks have asked the Crippens about how Rachel Crippen’s youth exchange year in Austria is going.  The easiest way to find out is have her tell you, since she’s blogging about her experience online, and including lots of photographs.  Go to www.rcrippen.blogspot.com and it’s all there.  Past entries are listed on the sidebar, and people can leave comments if they wish, or even “subscribe,” which means getting e-mail notices whenever she makes new entries.  Pastor Crippen and his family are grateful for all the kind thoughts and all the prayers people are offering as she has this great experience.



Wear Your Nametags!

     As a way to help Vicar Neal become familiar with our names, it would be very hospitable if we could all consider wearing our nametags on Sundays for the next several weeks. If you don’t have a nametag, or if yours has been lost or misplaced, please contact the church office for a new one.



Church Library News

     I am pleased to finally be able to share some news of progress regarding the inclusion of a DVD collection for adults in our library. All summer we awaited the arrival of an ordered media spinner rack and finally accepted a substitute so that we could enter the fall season with something to use to display our newly processed DVD collection.
     So can now announce the following acquisitions in this beginning DVD collection:


  • WALKING THE BIBLE -- a journey by land through the five books of Moses
  • THE QUEST FOR NOAH'S ARK
  • JESUS -- HIS BIRTH AND MINISTRY (Reader's Digest Series -- Great People of the Bible)
  • JESUS -- HIS FINAL DAYS AND RESURRECTION
  • THE APOSTLE PAUL
  • ABRAHAM, SARAH, ISAAC, JACOB AND JOSEPH
  • MARY OF NAZARETH
  • THE GIFT OF JABEZ
  • EARTH FROM ABOVE SERIES -- EARTH -- Part I
  • EARTH FROM ABOVE SERIES -- EARTH -- Part II
  • EARTH FROM ABOVE SERIES -- SEAS AND OCEANS -- Part I and II
  • EARTH FROM ABOVE SERIES -- Water
  • EARTH FROM ABOVE SERIES -- Biodiversity
  • SECRETS OF THE OCEAN REALMS SERIES -- Encounters of the Deep
  • SECRETS OF THE OCEAN REALMS SERIES -- Nature's Amazing Events
  • SECRETS OF THE OCEAN REALMS SERIES -- Nature's Incredible Designs
  • JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME SERIES -- Europe and The Middle East
  • JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME SERIES – Africa and Asia
  • JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME SERIES – Australia to the Americas
  • ADVENTURES IN SEARCH OF THE PAST (Reader's Digest Series) -- Mysteries of the Americas -- Vanished Civilizations
  • ADVENTURES IN SEARCH OF THE PAST -- Mysteries of Europe and the Mediteranean -- Myths and Legends
  • ADVENTURES IN SEARCH OF THE PAST -- Mysteries of the Orient -- Ancient Journeys
  • JOY TO THE WORLD -- featuring The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra
  • BRETHREN -- by White Knuckle Media
  • NBC NEWS PRESENTS -- THE GREATEST GENERATION with Tom Brokaw
  • THE GREATEST GENERATION SPEAKS with Tom Brokaw (also D-Day, a Leap into History)
  • THE GREATEST GENERATION with Tom Brokaw  (Memories of World War II)
  • AMERICA -- THE STORY OF US
  • Disc I -- Rebels, Revolution, Westward Division
  • Disc II -- Civil War, Heartland Cities, Boom Bonus
  • Disc III -- Bust, World War II, Superpower, Millenium
  • NEVER STOP SINGING -- A Celebration of Minnesota's Choral Legacy
  • A ST. OLAF CHRISTMAS IN NORWAY
  • CHRISTMAS AT ST. OLAF -- 2007 (Where Peace and Love and Hope Abide)
  • JACK HANNA'S ANIMAL ADVENTURES -- On Safari with Jack; Little Seen Africa; Africa on the Edge; Safari Through the Masai Mara; Phinda, Land of Adventure; and Jack's Camp

     We hope that soon we will begin to acquire DVDs for children as well as update our collection of children's books.  I would welcome a volunteer (or more) to assist in this process, especially if you have an association as an elementary or special education teacher or would have other expertise with children's literature to share.  Please contact me at my home or in the Library many Sundays.

     Kudos to Target Corporation and The Minneapolis Star Tribune for presenting “A Family Reading Adventure” this Saturday, September 8, at the Hyland Lake Park Reserve. Details have been in the Star Tribune newspaper the past two weeks and we hope many families will have an opportunity to take part in this special event.

     We close with two appropos quotations --  "Libraries Change Lives" and "In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends" by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

- Leanna Kloempken


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Olive Branch: Labor Day Weekend Edition


Accent on Worship 

Bread for Eucharist

     We’ve just finished a month in John’s Gospel, the sixth chapter, where every week at Eucharist we’ve heard Jesus call himself the Bread of Life, and offer himself to us as food for our lives.  Now we’re moving back into Mark’s Gospel for our Gospel readings, but it seems appropriate to continue our conversation about the kind of bread we use at Eucharist here at Mount Olive.

     As you know, we’ve been using loaves of bread for our Eucharist here since Lent, and this was a trial, to determine if this is something that might enrich our worship, to determine what logistical issues would need addressing, and to determine if this is something we might wish to continue.  We began the trial using many different recipes during Lent, hoping to find one which seemed to work well.  Then in the Easter season we took one recipe which seemed the best for our use, and used it each week, with a couple bakers from the congregation providing the bread.  Finally, this summer we had about 15 different bakers providing the bread, mostly from the one recipe.  We also asked for feedback from the congregation, which many provided, and when asked to put it in writing, most did.  The Worship Committee and I read all the written feedback carefully, and at several meetings shared other feedback we’d heard as well.

     This has been a good thing to do.  Many people have responded positively to the use of loaves instead of wafers, and there have been some who have indicated clearly their preference for wafers.  I particularly was pleased with how many people took the opportunity to offer to bake our bread, another chance for people to contribute to our worship life, and how eager people were to do it.  Using one loaf for each liturgy deepened our sense of the one Body into which we are baptized, and the richer symbol of each of us eating from one loaf was a powerful reminder to many who responded.

     So the question is, where to go from here?  After listening to the discussion at the Worship Committee, and the feedback from the congregation, several things are worth noting: first, this has been a good addition to our liturgy for many, and the presence of a loaf of bread as the way we eat of the Lord’s meal has been a blessing.  Second, there is a rich and appreciated tradition of receiving the Lord’s meal here at Mount Olive using wafers of bread which is worthy of keeping a part of our life.  Third, and perhaps most important, it must be said that this has been a generous conversation no matter what people’s thoughts were.  People were able to express their opinions and their perceptions while at the same time understanding that they had sisters and brothers here who might not see it the same way, and I find that a great blessing in our life together and a gift from God for how we have any kind of conversation with one another.

     It seems clear to me that at this point in our life we are both ready for the use of loaves at Eucharist and also desirous of retaining our consistent way of receiving the bread that has fed so many for so long here at Mount Olive.  So we will do both.  For the time from Advent through Holy Trinity (and also festivals which occur outside that time) we will use loaves of bread, and for the season of Pentecost we will use wafers.  This will roughly divide the year in two.  That means that this Sunday, Sept. 2, we’ll return to wafers.  Apart from returning to loaves in Advent, we’ll have loaves on All Saints’ Sunday and Christ the King.  One of our learnings was that there are several logistical questions we still need to solve to help the Altar Guild and the sacristans and me as we work together to serve with loaves, and we’ll take what we’ve learned and sort that out before All Saints’.  In fact, the majority of concerns raised in this whole conversation related to logistical and procedural questions, and I’m hopeful that we will be able to sort most of that out.

     One thing that became apparent to me and to the committee is that this discussion opened up some very fruitful avenues of conversation about the Eucharist in general, and it is our hope that such conversation and learning will continue.  (For example, the question of “one bread, one cup” yielded some vital dialogue and discussion and also led many to wish for more opportunities like that.)  There will be several Sunday forums this fall which will center on the Eucharist and its meaning in our worship and our lives, and I invite all to come and learn together.  This gift of the Meal of Life from our Lord Jesus is something we could ponder, celebrate, discuss, cherish, and share for many lifetimes and still have wonders to know.  I hope many take advantage of the opportunity this fall to explore some of these riches together.  And thank you all for your partnership in this conversation, and in our life together.  It truly is a blessed gift of God.

- Joseph

 

Last Week of Summer Worship Schedule for 2012

     This Sunday, September 2, will be the last week of Summer Worship schedule for this year. Beginning Sunday, September 9 we resume our regular worship schedule of two Eucharists each Sunday morning, at 8:00 and 10:45 a.m.  Church School and Adult Education is held between services, beginning at 9:30 a.m. each week.



Meet the Vicar

     This Sunday, September 2, following the morning liturgy, all are invited attend the annual Labor Day forum, “Meet the Vicar.”  This will be a great opportunity for all to meet Mount Olive’s new vicar, Neal Cannon.



New Olive Branch Publication Schedule 

     Beginning with next week’s issue, The Olive Branch schedule returns to weekly publication. The publication date of the weekly newsletter is moving from Mondays to Fridays.  The result will be that members will receive news of the congregation and other information just prior to Sunday’s liturgies and fellowship, which is more timely, and copies of the newsletter may also be given to visitors at worship and still be fresh information that morning.



New Members to be Received September 23

     New members will be received on Sunday, September 23. If you are interested in becoming a member of Mount Olive, please speak with Pastor Crippen after liturgy, or call him at the church office, 612-827-5919.



Help, Help, Help!
     Our next Community Meal, free to all who come in our doors, will be held on Saturday, September 1. Some of our regular Community Meal workers will be on vacation that day. If YOU can help with the meal (prep, feeding our guests, or clean up) please call Carol Austermann at 612-722-5123.



Singers, Take Note!

     Cantorei rehearsals resume this coming Wednesday, September 5, at 7 pm.  The choir always welcomes new singers, so if you haven’t sung with the Cantorei before but are interested in giving it a try, please join us!






















Sunday, September 2, 2012

Of Hearts, Lips and Hands


Our baptism anoints us for a life being Christ in the world, where we live lives which fully integrate our hearts, our heads, our hands, and our voices to bring the Good News of God’s grace into the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 22, year B; texts: James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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

We’ve had a rash of horrible violence again this summer, where we barely process one shooting spree when another one comes along.  What’s strange about the aftermath, beyond the obvious ridiculousness that we apparently still aren’t permitted to have a rational debate on gun control in this country, no matter how many of these incidents occur, is that the media instead spends a great deal of time trying to sort out whether anyone could have predicted that this person would do such a thing.  Somehow we seem to want to know that there was something wrong here, that a normal person wouldn’t do this, that the signs were all there if only someone had seen them.  In the case of the Marine veteran this past week, apparently he didn’t keep it a secret and even posted online that he was going to do something horrible.  But in many cases, including the one in Colorado, it seems we get the standard line, “He was really quiet, a nice person; no one had any idea he could do something like this.”  How many times have we heard it in any number of different tragic scenarios: “He was a nice neighbor, he helped the kids”?

Clearly there is something about the human nature which permits us to show one side to other people, while feeling and thinking something very different inside.  In literature, Robert Louis Stevenson explored this idea with the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, who have become iconic emblems of this phenomenon.  But even in our own lives, where we’re not turning into nightly monsters or going on shooting sprees, we have a tendency to not have integrity between our inner selves and our outer lives.  Whether or not we admit it about ourselves, when someone whom we trust or love, a friend or a family member, or someone to whom we look as a trusted authority, someone whom we have come to admire, shows that they are not as good a person as we thought, we feel betrayed, let down, we consider ourselves foolish to have allowed ourselves to be duped.

The point is, we know this phenomenon exists.  So when Jesus and James today begin questioning our integrity, when they speak of hearts being in different places than words or actions, we understand what they’re talking about.  We may not agree they’re speaking of us; that we must consider today.  But this is not uncharted territory.  And given how badly we feel when we encounter this in others we have trusted, perhaps we can understand the intensity with which this point is made in both these readings today.

James and Jesus actually come from opposite sides of the same metaphor to say the same thing, to call us to an integrated life in Christ.

We’re going to spend all of September hearing from the letter of James in our worship, and this theme we hear today will continue in various ways in the next weeks.  Today he speaks of being doers of the Word, not just hearers.  Next week he’ll talk about our faith only being worth anything if it’s seen in our works, in caring for those who need help.  On Sept. 16 we’ll hear his admonitions on our words, our tongue, and how we speak in the world.  In the fourth week he turns to the problem of conflict and antagonism between sisters and brothers in the same community.  Finally, we’ll hear some comforting words about how we might pray for and support each other in our need and suffering, even illness and death.

But today he sets it all up by describing people who “deceive” their own hearts by thinking they’re religious but not living or acting in that way.  Along with admonitions to put aside wickedness and to be quick to listen and slow to speak, setting aside our anger, he comes to the main point:  “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

James is speaking to disciples who have heard the Word of God but for whom it isn’t evident in their lives.  For James, they’re saying that their hearts and minds are with God, but their actions aren’t showing it at all.  So they’re deceiving their own hearts.

Jesus, on the other hand, sees the same problem from the other direction: people whose actions are good, but whose hearts are wicked.  This is part of a long section where Jesus challenges the leaders of the people on their criticism of his disciples for not following proper rituals, of handwashing, of which foods to eat, and so on.

It’s important to note that Jesus isn’t necessarily criticizing the rituals themselves.  Each of the ritual actions and structures the Pharisees helped set up were intended for good, as ways to be sure the people of God kept the law of God.  The laws in the Torah are many and complex.  So many systems, including a special ritual handwashing before meals, were set in place to keep people from sinning.

Jesus doesn’t seem interested in shutting these down.  Rather, he’s bothered by the hearts of the people who are criticizing his disciples’ practice.  So he tells them that instead of worrying about all these externals, they might want to look into their hearts, because that’s where all the bad stuff is found.  Fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

It’s a standard first century list of vices.  But Jesus says that the source of such evil is inside.  And he challenges his disciples, and the Jewish leaders, to pay attention to where their hearts are.  Just doing the rituals God has commanded, or even the ones people have set up to help obey God’s laws, is no substitute for having our hearts cleansed and changed.  Because the state of our inward lives is far more indicative of who we really are, Jesus says.

Both Jesus and James help us see the disconnect in our own lives, the gaps between our inner selves and our outer lives, and they call us to honesty about who we really are.

And for both of them, the key question is one of deceit, lying to ourselves.  We might be feeling very good about our faith and our lives, and where our heart is, but if we’re not acting on that to care for others, there’s no point to our religious lives at all, James says.  Ultimately, he says, we’re deceiving our hearts to think that we need do nothing.  He goes so far as to say that if you want real religion, care for orphans and widows and keep your lives clean, and that’s enough.

On the other hand, we might find ourselves doing lots of things that look Christian, like worship, prayer, even Bible study, but our hearts might be in a completely different place, Jesus says.  If what we do in this room each week doesn’t change our hearts, make us new people, cause us to be different in the world, there’s no point to it, Jesus would say.  Then we’re only honoring Jesus with our lips, but our hearts are far from him.
So the question is, can we be honest with ourselves, about our own lives and about the life of the congregation and the greater Church, to seek God’s healing and restoring of an integrated life?

We will be confessing our sins before each liturgy this month, in part because of James’ pointed concerns and the importance he makes of our integrity, and our need for honest assessment of our broken reality.  So when we confess, when you confess, when there is that silent time, what goes through your mind?  What do we consider?

Are we merely looking for a divine “Get out of jail free” card, hoping that if we’ve done things wrong we won’t be punished?  Do we, as we considered last week, seek forgiveness from God but without wanting God to change or transform us in any way?

James tells us today that every perfect gift, every generous act of giving, is from above, from our heavenly Father.  His whole letter is about such generosity, such giving, and he starts by saying its source is God.  What if in our confession we not only confessed things we’d done, but we also confessed our lack of integrity, the gap between our thoughts and our actions, our hearts and our words, and asked God to bring these together?  If we considered our confession not only as a series of things we did wrong that need to be wiped out, but a whole state of our being – whether individual, or the congregation, or the whole Church – which needs not only forgiveness but transformation?

Were we to confess in that way, we’d better be ready for what happens next.  We’d better be ready to be changed, and become new people.  Because that’s the gift God has prepared for us.

What we hear today is that we are not what we are meant to be, but the first step is happening, the recognition of the truth about ourselves.

Today we admit that we do not have the integrity of our lives that is meant to be our gift in our baptism.  That we have hidden agendas, gaps between our inner selves and our outer lives.  And that we are called to integrate our whole selves into the kind of person Jesus was, the kind of person we want to be.  Into the kind of institution the Church could be, but rarely is, the kind of congregation which could change the world were it to exist.

It’s a question of lining up our hearts and voices, our hands and minds, that they all reflect the grace of God which gives us life and hope and joy, the grace we come here each week to receive, praise, celebrate, eat, sing, and share.  If this experience each week does nothing to our hearts and lives, nothing to bring us to integrity of life as a congregation and as individual people, then Jesus’ criticisms are apt and true.

But in fact, we have already experienced that change, that transformation as we worship and are fed.  With the help of James and Jesus, we know there is much more God needs to do, there is integration yet to come.  But with hearts cleansed in confession, souls fed with Jesus’ body and blood, and voices filled with the grace of God which surpasses all understanding, we go from here each week joyfully anticipating what God will do next, what the Spirit will continue to do in us, until hearts, hands, voices, and minds are joined in bringing God’s Good News to all the world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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