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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Heart Room

God’s truth for us, that we are loved and forgiven and called to new life is freedom for us.  We are free in God’s love to reject it, to make no room in our hearts, but there is always room in God’s heart for us.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Reformation Sunday; texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 8:31-36

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’re all powerfully tired of the election by now, I’m sure.  And one of the things I’m tired of is the abuse and misuse of the concept of freedom.  Americans have a convenient way of trumpeting the words of our founders and shaping the tune to mean whatever they want it to mean.  So we find ourselves each election year struggling with this peculiar American sin of people wanting freedom to do what they want, but who don’t want others to have the same freedoms.  Or people who want to be free of the government’s influence and control, but who wish the government to control others.  People who fail to realize that denying freedom to others always restricts and abridges their own freedom.  Freedom is a wonderful thing.  But we’ve become so used to having it that we barely recognize when we misuse it, or deny it to others.

Which makes Jesus’ words so compelling as they arrive in our lives near the end of this election cycle.  Jesus promises freedom to those who live in his word.  It’s a good thing, we think, to be free.  But if that means we have responsibility for our own lives, and for the lives of others, that’s also a very frightening thing if you think about it.  So when Jesus tells us today that when we live, abide, dwell in his word we find the truth that frees us, we need to be careful to ask ourselves if we know what that means, and once we know, if we want that freedom after all.

In one sense, we’ve never lived without this promise of freedom, for most of us have lived most of our lives hearing the promise of God’s forgiveness.

Jesus brings up the idea of slavery versus freedom, concepts easily understood in his day, but perhaps less clear to us who live in a relatively free society.  Those who do not face the reality of their sin, who simply act and live without thought, who continue trapped in their broken human nature without recognizing it, live as slaves to sin, Jesus says, even though they might think they are free.

Those who always know it’s someone else’s fault when they do wrong, live as slaves to sin.  Those who judge others while justifying their own wrong, live as slaves to sin.  Those who don’t resist their own tendencies to do wrong, but go with “it’s the way I’ve always been,” live as slaves to sin.

And it’s attractive, that’s why we do it.  You never have to face the hard questions, make the hard decisions.  Just act as you want, and justify it on that basis.  Go with the flow, and you don’t have to work to be different.

And so God’s love for us in Jesus is a word of life: we can be free from that bondage.  We need not be controlled by our instincts, unable to choose.  Forgiven and loved by God in Jesus, we are free.

We’re free to make decisions about our lives, to do what we choose to do.  To take responsibility for our lives and for the world.  And that’s God’s real problem.  Once we’re free, we can still choose wrongly as easily as well as when we were unaware of our enslavement.  And that we certainly do.

God takes a great risk in freeing us: what if we don’t choose well with the responsibility we’re given?

We don’t often think of God’s faith in us, but that’s the reality of our lives.  Think of a parent’s faith in a child.  At each stage of a child’s life there are things a parent needs to learn to trust the child to do.

And for that child, the trust is the key: When I think of times my children have wanted to know if I trusted them, the worst thing I could do was voice my doubts.  I needed simply to give them the message, the concrete sense, that I did trust them.

And of course parents have doubts.  They don’t know at any of the stages of their child’s life if they can handle that new level of trust.  And children often have very high opinions of their own ability to be worthy of that trust.  But at some point if any are going to be effective and good parents, they take a leap of faith and trust their children.  They are there if they fall; they pray that they can fix things if they go seriously wrong; but they must learn to trust.

And this is God’s reality: freeing us from slavery to sin, giving us freedom to choose right from wrong, to choose to love God and neighbor or choose not to, all lead God to a leap of faith.

There is no guarantee that we will live in love with God and each other.  In fact, human history suggests that it’s a good bet we won’t.  Yet Jesus reveals to us that the Triune God has decided to take that risk.  To risk faith in us.

And the image our readings today use to show this is the image of our hearts.  God makes a new covenant, a new promise, in Jeremiah.  Where God’s law, the way of God for us in the world, is written on our hearts, so we know it intimately.  And God promises to forgive our failings, even to forget them.

But the risk is that we won’t allow this to be written on our hearts, to change our hearts and lives.  And powerfully, that’s just what Jesus says in today’s Gospel has happened.

“You look for an opportunity to kill me,” he says, “because there is no place in you for my word.”  That’s incredibly chilling, hearing these two words from God together.  “I will write this on your heart – but there is no place in you for my word.”

Our freedom means this: we can make room for God in our hearts.  Or we can close them.

We can open our hearts to see all we have is gift from God, entrusted to us, and give back joyously and generously.  Or we can close our hearts and see all that we have is ours to keep.

We can open our hearts to look at others and see Jesus, and so reach out to them in love, offer them grace and forgiveness, be God’s love for them.  Or we can close our hearts and judge others and treat them as less than we are, unworthy of our love and attention.

We can open our hearts and see our brokenness and sin, and confess it to God, trusting in God’s love and forgiveness.  Or we can close our hearts and pretend we are righteous, needing no forgiveness or correction or grace from God because we know what is right even more than God.

“You look for an opportunity to kill me,” Jesus says, “because there is no place in you for my word.”  Is there room in our hearts for God’s love, God’s direction, God’s guidance?  Or in our freedom are we keeping it closed, lest by coming in God might change us, redirect us, make each of us into a different person?

We’ve been hearing this from the Scriptures now for most of the summer and fall, that God wishes to change us from within, make us new people, free us that we might become like the children of God we were meant to be.  But are we still seeking to kill Jesus’ influence in our lives, in our hearts, if it means we’re going to be someone different, as if we have no room for him in our hearts?

This is a hard word to think on.  But as we do, we remember this: no matter whether or not we have room for God in our hearts, what we know absolutely is that there is always room in God’s heart for us.

“If you continue in my Word,” says Jesus, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  And this promise is never taken back.  This gift is never withdrawn due to rejection.  Even after the disciples’ betrayal and failure on Thursday and Friday, the risen Jesus returns to them in love Sunday, and after.  Offering them forgiveness, even breakfast, and loving them.  That love is not withdrawn.  There is always room in God’s heart for you.  And that is our hope.

And the miracle is, no matter how often we’ve closed our hearts to God, not only is there always room in God’s heart for us, God always takes the chance that this next time, this once, we’ll make room in our hearts, too.  Again, the risen Jesus comes to the disciples and not only forgives and loves them.  He calls them to love, invites them to follow once again, charges them with a commission to spread God’s love to the world.

Jesus takes the leap of faith once more.  And so Jesus continues to do with us each day.

Freedom is a frightening thing.  It’s easier to be a slave to sin, to shun responsibility for our actions and our lives.

But freedom as God gives us is life.  Freedom in the love of God is life.  Freedom to be the love of God is life.

Do we have any room for this in our hearts?  Our good news is that God’s heart has room for us, for you, and always will.  God has taken a leap of faith in you, in all of us, hoping we’ll respond with our love for God and for the world.  This is the truth that is Jesus.  Once we know it, then we’ll really know what it is to be free.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Olive Branch, 10/26/12

Accent on Worship

Who’s going to do what at your funeral?

     I find it interesting to learn things about human nature and behavior outside the church.  So often we can learn what true needs might be.  We can also learn that what we might perceive as needs may only compound them.  Often it’s amusing to watch people at airports.  The “hoverers” that begin lining up 30 minutes before seating begins, or the traveler who thinks getting angry with the agent is going to be helpful.

     Issues around death are especially fascinating.   One observation of the secular world becomes clear:  at the time of grief ritual is needed.  Piles of flowers will be placed at the site of a death.  Groups will gather holding candles for what they call “a vigil.”  No mention is ever made of God – but clearly, ritual is there.  They need to do something!  Mark Sedio and I were walking near Liberty Park, Philadelphia, and saw a huge group of people wearing tie-dyed shirts,  holding candles, and singing stanza 1 of “Amazing Grace” over and over again.  Mark said, “Jerry Garcia must have died!”  And that is exactly what had happened.  Those people needed ritual, they needed a song that they understood to be religious.  The only one they knew was stanza 1 of Amazing Grace, so over and over, that is what they sang.

     Many of you have thought through “plans” for your funerals.  But who’s going to do what at your funeral?  Secular society in the past 50 years has done a great job of instilling the notion that “it” is all about “us.”  Remembering the deceased and honoring them becomes the focus.  This can and is a big part of a funeral event, as is providing comfort and support for the grieving family.  There is a vital place for this in the visitation, wake, at the funeral lunch – but what of the liturgy itself?

     As people of God, we have the tools to do something meaningful and deep at our funerals.  What is that?  To whom is it directed?  Who is to do it?  We, in the church, have answers to those questions:  We do what we do as family:  Word and Sacrament.  We approach God (not ourselves).  The Gospel is preached (not so much a life history) to a gathering of people who are in a unique place and need to hear the Gospel,  and “with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven” we eat the family meal,  and sing the unending hymn WITH them.  But what is that song?

     Unfortunately, in my couple of years of being involved in funeral services, plans get made by people who won’t be there (they are the ones who have died).  Even if the family picks “favorites” of the deceased, will the others present at the service be able to enter in?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

     On one occasion, a family wanted the song “The Little Brown Church.”  I had never heard of it before; neither had the congregation.  And the family was indignant about that (perhaps projecting a little grief which isn’t a bad thing).  Of course, I was able to find it,  and we included it,  but few sang because only the family knew it and they were not able to sing at that service through their tears.  What did that do?  I felt bad for them, and did not feel very pastoral in that situation.

     Recently we had a funeral service where we had been given a list of hymns from Florence Peterson to “consider” for her funeral.  Since it was made up of hymns sung regularly at Mount Olive, we were able to take that list and build a deeply meaningful funeral liturgy.  Most could sing – and if needed, for the family on their behalf.

     This Sunday in the adult forum, I will present some new things to think about as we consider funerals – including why we, the people of God in this place, should be there for funerals whether we knew the person or not.  (Come to find out why).

-Cantor David Cherwien

Sunday’s Adult Education

Sunday, October 28, 9:30 a.m.
     This week our forum will be "Lux Aeterna: Music for Funerals,”   presented by Cantor Cherwien.

Congregation Meeting This Sunday

     The semi-annual meeting of Mount Olive congregation will be held this 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.  These amendments were included with the last two issues of The Olive Branch, and are also available in the narthex at church. Copies of the proposed budget are also available with the amendments. All voting members of Mount Olive are encouraged to attend.


     Former Mount Olive Vicar Leslie Mahraun will be ordained into the Ministry of Word and Sacrament this Saturday, October 27, at 2:00 p.m. at St. John Lutheran Church in Fargo, ND.  She has accepted a call to serve St. John as Associate Pastor. Also Vicar Neal Cannon’s brother Paul will be ordained on Sunday in Illinois.  Please remember Leslie and Paul in your prayers.

Prayer Shawl Group

     The Prayer Shawl Group gathers for knitting and crocheting, coffee, and conversation on the first Saturday of the month.   We meet at Blue Ox Coffee Company, 3740 Chicago Ave. S.  Please join us on Saturday, November 3, from 1 - 3 pm.   Don't be shy --- even if you do not know how to knit or crochet, come anyway!  Members of the group are happy to teach knitting or crocheting to beginners.

Deadline is November 1

     All Mount Olive worship assistants are reminded that they should submit their work or school scheduling needs for the first quarter of 2013 as soon as possible. If you have special scheduling circumstances from Jan.-March, 2013, please contact Peggy Hoeft ( by November 1.

All Saints

     On the Feast of All Saints, 4 November, we remember and celebrate those who have preceded us in the Faith and now “from their labors rest.” We recite their names; we light votives in their honor. And in the Adult Forum that day, we’ll have a chance to walk among some of them. There will be a display of icons of some of our forebears in the faith. We will reflect briefly on the meaning of “sainthood” and of their portrayal in icons. And then we’ll be free to view the icons, walking among the saints of old (any maybe not-so-long-ago), venerating them as we see fit.

     If you have an icon that you would like to set among others, we welcome and encourage you to do so. Please, if you bring an icon for display, help us: Bring only icons of persons, not events. Put your name on the back of the icon lest it go astray. And identify the icon: Who is it? If the person is relatively unknown, why is that person memorable? Note that we do not require that you bring hand-painted or –written icons. Most of us can’t afford those.

Church Library News

     Our library is the recipient of a new gift book, given in memory of Florence Peterson, and we bring it to your attention now because it is so timely for what is happening in our nation's political scene just now.  The new book is entitled The American Presidents: Biographies of the Chief Executives from George Washington through Barack Obama, by David C. Whitney (Revised and Updated 11th Edition by Robin Vaughn Whitney).

      This is a remarkable resource illuminating the lives, times and legacies of the men who have shaped the office of our nation's Presidents.   A very interesting and informative read, regardless of whether it is done before or after the upcoming election.  Find it on display in our library this very Sunday.

     We close with the following quotation from Rita Dove: "The library is an arena of possibility, opening both a window into the soul and a door onto the world."  

- Leanna Kloempken

Book Discussion Group

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion group meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. For the November 10 meeting they will read, Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, and for December 8 they will read Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.

Dobson Organ Dedication

     Mount Olive's own Lynn Dobson is busy building the new Pipe Organ for the Chapel at Merton College, in Oxford England, as we speak.

     This is his first instrument on foreign soil and we rejoice with him in this project.  A contingent from Mount Olive has been invited to attend the dedication of this new organ which will be in late April of 2014.  There are a very limited number of spaces open for this trip. If you are interested in joining this happy band of travelers, please contact Tom Olsen for the details. Tom can be reached at 952-929-9781 or any Sunday morning at coffee hour.

National Lutheran Choir Presents “The Call” with Milwaukee Choral Artists

     The National Lutheran Choir and special guest ensemble, Milwaukee Choral Artists, will co-present a hymn festival entitled, “The Call,” to mark All Saints.

     For tickets visit or call 612-722-2301.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 – 7 pm
St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Sunday, November 4, 2012 – 4 pm
St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church
Wayzata, MN.

October Vestry Update, 10-15-12

     The October 15 Vestry meeting was a productive session.  Conversation continued in regards to the Capital Campaign Tithe.  The final tithe amount will be listed as $91,000 and the task force is meeting to determine the recipients of the grants being distributed from these monies.  An update will be given at the Semi-Annual Congregational Meeting.

     The Vestry invites the entire Mount Olive congregation to attend a discussion about the proposed State Constitution Amendments on October 22.  Respectful conversation from a faith perspective will be led by President Adam Krueger and other members of the Vestry.

     Minimal changes were made to the 2013 Budget during a short discussion.  The 2013 Mount Olive Budget will be presented at a preview meeting following the second liturgy on Sunday, October 21.  Voting on the 2013 Budget will take place at the Semi-Annual Congregational meeting following the second liturgy on Sunday, October 28.

     New members were approved during the Vestry meeting, as were new committee appointments.  It was agreed that it is great to see so many new members becoming active participants in a variety of ways.  Sunday, November 11 will be Volunteer Opportunity Sunday where all members can learn more about the opportunities available to serve the Mount Olive community.  It will also be the Sunday where we think about our stewardship of our wealth and consider our pledges for 2013 to the work God has called us to do together.

     Director reports included information on the planning of upcoming events such as the Fair Trade Christmas sale and the “Taste of…” dinner.  There are also new items on the Wish List (list located in church office) so members are encouraged to see if there are any that they could assist in purchasing.

Respectfully submitted,
Lisa Nordeen

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Matters of Perspective

Jesus is a new kind of king who gives us a new perspective to see the world.  He walks the path to Jerusalem towards the cross, something we would never expect our king to do.  Through this unexpected journey, Jesus changes how we view God, the world, and our identity.  

Vicar Neal Cannon, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 29, year B; text: Isaiah 53:1-12, Hebrews: 5:1-10, Mark 10:32-45

As many of you may have heard, I spent these last few days out in Bismarck, visiting my grandmother who is in the last days of her life.  Much of my family was there, and when we weren’t sharing a tear or two together, we were telling stories.  So I was sitting there, sandwiched between my two uncles, who are the greatest “story” tellers of the bunch, and they start telling me stories of all the characters in North Dakota that they had gotten to know over the years.  Some were more memorable than others, and some were more repeatable than others. One in particular stands out that I wanted to share with you all today.

They were telling me a story of two family friends.  They were an older couple who had passed away within a short time frame of one another.  And after they passed away the sheriff came in along with some family and friends, and started to kind of go through their things, as people do when somebody passes away.  These people didn’t have much.  In fact they had hardly anything.  They lived on a farm and between them shared an old beater pickup truck.  They had no TV, and only had space heaters to heat their home in the winter.  They didn’t have particularly fancy clothes, and they were living in a very modest home, so much so that their floors were basically nothing more than floorboards on top of leveled dirt.

When they were going through their things, one of the family members remembered that they hid some of their savings under the floor, and when they found it, they found $90,000 in cash that had been tucked away underneath those floorboards.  And I think this gets us all wondering, what in the world were they doing storing $90,000 in the floorboards?!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I could find a lot of things to do with $90,000 in cash.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I could burn through 90,000 dollars pretty quickly.  I’d probably go out right away and buy a new car, get myself some new clothes, and probably go on a vacation or two before the year was over.

I got to thinking about this and I realized that this must have been a matter of perspective.  From an outsider’s perspective, they were poor.  This couple hardly had any nice things.  They didn’t have enough.  But to them, and perhaps a few people who were closest to them, they had plenty. They had a roof over their heads, a bed to sleep on, family, friends, and everything they needed in life.

Oh yeah, and $90,000 tucked underneath the floorboards that they apparently they couldn’t think of a way to use.

Our Isaiah text today is all about perspective as well.  The text starts out as a confession.  The author of Isaiah introduces a servant to us, and he admits, he’s overlooked this figure.  The servant is not rich, tall, or exceptionally attractive.  In fact, the servant wasn’t well received by those around him and so he was persecuted and rejected.  Then the author goes on and describes this person.

Tell me which person in the Bible this sounds like.  Verse 5 says this person was wounded for our sins.  Who in the Bible was wounded for our sins?  Verse 6 describes us as sheep?  Who in the Bible is our shepherd?  Verse 9 tells us that they killed the servant alongside wicked people?  Sounds a little bit like the crucifixion, doesn’t it?

Some of my professors at the seminary and most of the scholars I have read would probably take some issue with what I’m about to say next, but this is one time where the Sunday school answer is OK.  These lines make us think of Jesus.  As a Christian, I can’t help but see anything but Jesus in this verse.  It looks and smells and tastes like Jesus to me.

And I find it really interesting and helpful to us that our author admits that this servant of God just doesn’t look like much of anything at all.  The servant doesn’t look like the arm of God, but yet by the end of it all the author admits that there is something special about this character.  Something that changes the way he sees the servant.  The servant gives our writer a new perspective, a new lens to see God and the world.

And when I was reading this, I began to wonder if we would have the right lens to see Jesus today.  I mean, if you’ve been a Christian for a long time you’ve heard a lot about Jesus, what he was like, the things he taught, and if you put it together that Jesus was Middle-Eastern, you might have an idea of what he could look like, and what kind of things he might say, but what if he was in the back of the room?

Would we be able to pick him out? Would we welcome him right away?  Or would we be suspicious and unsure of him because he’s a stranger?

I think this comes down to what we’re looking for.  Sometimes when we think of Jesus we think of the divine Jesus, with light coming from his body, clothed in splendor and majesty, just like the songs, because, after all, Jesus is our king and lord.  But if Jesus came to us, as he was when he lived on Earth, he might just look like an ordinary guy.  And I wonder if we would notice him.

In our gospel lesson today, the disciples James and John have seen a whole lot of things from Jesus already.  Jesus, just a few short chapters before, gives a blind man sight.  He has performed a number of miracles and people are wondering who he is.  Who is this guy?  And the disciples think they have a pretty good answer.  He is the Christ.  The son of God.  He is given miraculous abilities and is clearly being lifted up by God.  Peter affirms this in the previous chapter when he calls Jesus the Messiah.

But James and John recognize this too because they have seen the things that Peter has seen.  And they start thinking to themselves that Jesus is more than an ordinary guy, Jesus is a king.  And what are kings good for?  Well, kings have power and authority, and so kings are good for asking favors.  So James and John go to the king and they ask him for a favor.

But here’s the problem.  Jesus is not the kind of king they are expecting.  Their minds are stuck on human kings.  But Jesus is a new kind of king.  Jesus is a servant king. And the disciples still don’t get it even though Jesus, for the third time in Mark, shows them where he is going, and he points to Jerusalem, and says there the Son of Man is going to die.

This changes the way that we see things.  When Jesus becomes a servant, this changes the way that we see God.  Before, God was on high, a cloud on a mountain, he was distant and over there sitting on a throne.  But what happens when God puts on flesh and looks like a person?

I think this is what is so moving about our text in Hebrews today.  The text tells us that Jesus went through everything that we go through as humans, all of our pain and suffering, and hardship, and God heard Jesus’ cries and tears. But what does it mean when Jesus cries?  We don’t want a Jesus who cries because to cry means too close to the human heart.  Sometimes I think we are a little more comfortable with a God that is far away.  To cry also means to be human, to some it even means to be frail, but we want our God to be untouchable.  But the problem is that when Jesus puts on flesh, he is frail.  He hurts, the same way we hurt.

This is what James and John are having trouble with in our text today.  They want Jesus to be their kind of king, but Jesus shows them that in his kingdom, influence comes through service, not power.  So when Jesus gives sight to the blind, heals the sick, and walks on water, they see his power, but they can’t comprehend his service.

So James and John approach Jesus to sit at his right and his left, Jesus says, you don’t know what you’re asking.  Do you see where I am going?  I am going to Jerusalem to serve the world.  And do you know what’s going to happen there?  I am going to be killed. And then he goes on and says that they have to drink this same cup and be baptized with the same water.  James and John, say they can drink from the same cup, but it’s clear here that Jesus is trying to flip their perspective.  Jesus is trying to show them that being his follower is not a road for self-glory.  This is a servant’s road.

And this changes how we see ourselves doesn’t it?  Because following Jesus cracks us open and makes us look at ourselves.  When we get a little too full of ourselves, Jesus brings us back to earth.  It reveals our flaws but at the same time it reveals our worth.  It tells us that God values humanity enough to be with us.

Following Jesus means that we see our communities and neighborhoods differently, because when we see how much the Triune God values the world and chooses to be in the world, it helps us to see the value of our neighbor more fully.  By asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left, James and John seek to be above their peers and their neighbors.  So Jesus changes their perspective, and tells them to be last.

Think the different ways we treat our neighbors here at Mount Olive.  What is the community meal about if not a new way of seeing our neighbors?  The community meal is not only a way to serve this community, but it’s also a new way of being with the people in this neighborhood and valuing the people here.  If you have not been I encourage you to go sometime and get to know some of the people and their stories.  Some are homeless, some are down on their luck, some are families struggling to make it.  And in following Jesus we choose to be with them and for them in loving service.

My friends, let us walk the path to Jerusalem with Jesus.  Let us see the world through this lens.  Because when we do we see everything differently and we see Christ more clearly.  Christ shows us that authority comes from service, not power.  That love comes from being with our neighbors, not above them.  Let us gain a new perspective.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Jesus’ invitation is to enter the kingdom of God, the rule of God, by letting go of all that hinders us from following with our lives, and recognizing that this kingdom is now, not future, and lived in community.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 28, year B; text: Mark 10:17-31

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

There are two powerful elements in this encounter between Jesus and the young man which are deeply compelling.  First is the earnestness, the eagerness of this young man.  He runs up to Jesus, he wants answers to his question from a teacher he calls “good”.  This is someone who wants to be where he is, and is completely engaged.  And the second is that Mark tells us this tiny detail: Jesus looks the man in the eye and loves him.  It’s the one time that Jesus calls someone to follow him where a Gospel writer adds that Jesus was filled with love toward the person.  Jesus recognizes that this questioner isn’t testing him, but is truly interested and serious about his question, and Jesus is filled with love toward him.  And so Jesus also takes him seriously in his answer.  The sadness of the story is that the young man didn’t follow, he went away.  It surely wasn’t the only time it happened, but it must have been very difficult for Jesus to watch him go.

The issue for us today is pretty simple: what if we were that young man?  Because we are that young man.  We have questions of our Lord Jesus, important questions.  And when we come to ask them, Jesus looks into our eyes with love and invites us to follow.  And the question lingers in the air: what will we do?

It’s complicated, though, isn’t it?  Complicated by what Jesus says next, about how hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom.  Because it’s as if Jesus sees right into our hearts and knows exactly why we hesitate.  He knows before we even hem and haw what is holding us back.  It’s our wealth, our security, our belief about ourselves and what we deserve and who we are.

But maybe it’s good that he anticipates our response.  Because now, now we can reconsider.  We don’t have to answer the way we were going to.  We don’t have to walk away.  But to change our response, we need to get some things straight.

First, Jesus’ invitation to the kingdom is now, not future.

Remember what Jesus says at the beginning of this Gospel of Mark, “the kingdom of God has come near.” (1:14)  The same thing is happening here.  The kingdom of God, the reign and rule of God, are something Jesus invites us to enter now.  It’s a question of understanding differently what we means by being “saved,” which becomes clearer when we understand what Jesus means by “kingdom”.

This young man understands it differently than Jesus.  He’s thinking about what laws he needs to keep to “inherit eternal life.”  The implication is that he’s thinking about how he can be sure to have life after he dies.  For him, being saved, having eternal life, is a final destination question.  In other words, he’s thinking the way many Christians think.  How do I make sure I get to heaven?

But Jesus refocuses him immediately, because Jesus is thinking about the now, about the reign of God which he is beginning now.  Jesus understands this is a good man, he keeps the commandments.  But he’s not getting what it is to live under God’s rule.  Please note what Jesus knows, though: this is a good man.  He really does want to please and serve God.  But he wants it without knowing just what it will take to do that, to serve God with his life.

What Jesus needs him to realize is that living under God’s rule is trusting God for all things, not trusting his wealth, or his law-keeping, or his intelligence, or anything else.  These things are blocking him from living a life which sees everyone as a brother and a sister, living a life of joy which trusts that God will provide, living a life in God’s kingdom.

So this is the first learning from Jesus: this kingdom is now, is near, is here.  He wants us to know that the point of following him is to learn what it is to live with God in love and live in love with God’s people and God’s creation now.  To experience in every way what it is to live as God created us to live.  Not to live in such a way that we’re trying to keep the rules and make sure we get a good spot in the life to come.  (Even the disciples James and John will struggle with this, as we’ll hear next week.)

When Peter says to Jesus that they gave up everything to follow him, Jesus agrees, and says they’ll get that back and more – now, now, in the present age.  And then in the age to come, eternal life.  Yes, that is part of the promise of Jesus’ resurrection.  But let’s be clear: Jesus believes and says again and again that there is a quality of life in the kingdom which is ours to enjoy and cherish in this life.  A quality of life to which he invites this young man.  A new way of being and living in God’s love.

Second, the kingdom is not only now, it’s communal.  It’s about following for the sake of the whole community.

That’s what this man’s view of faith is keeping him from seeing.  He’s interested in finding out what law keeping he needs to do to be right with God himself.  Me and God, how can I do the right thing to get this “eternal life” you’re talking about, Jesus?

But Jesus tells him that he’s focused on too small a view.  The invitation to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow, is an invitation to follow God’s rule for the sake of the whole community.  To see himself and his salvation as only happening within a whole community of believers, one where the poor are taken care of, where all are fed.  One where people are not reliant on their own ability and wealth, where people enter with nothing and find everything.  A community which models for the world the way people were created to be and to live, and which by its existence can transform the rest of the world.

That’s what Peter and the others are receiving, a whole community.  Yes, they may have left family and home to follow Jesus.  But now they have more sisters and brothers than they can count.  Homes in any community they enter, simply by finding other followers.  A community that gives them life and support and sustenance.

When God claims a child in baptism, and we welcome them into the kingdom of God, we are speaking on behalf of the entire Body of Christ, to which each of us belong, and this community of believers extends around the world, so that we are never alone, never apart from disciples of Jesus wherever we go.

Jesus’ invitation to this young man, and to us, and to all disciples, is to enter a way of life which is for the sake of the whole community, and which trusts and relies on God for everything, and trusts and relies on the community Jesus creates.

But here’s the third and hardest thing we need to get straight in our hearts and in our heads: the question before us is what’s keeping us from taking up Jesus’ invitation?

There’s no question that we are wealthy, though we always can think of people we know who have more.  We, as much as any generation of believers in any place on earth, are challenged by our belief that we need to keep ourselves secure by our wealth.  We want to be with God, we want a life of faith, but when it comes to giving up everything for the sake of following, we can’t imagine how we’d do that.  People even struggle to see how they might give 10% of what they have to God’s work and ministry; imagine what it would be like to be asked for 100% by Jesus.

But I don’t think it’s a question of all of us needing to leave here and sell everything and give it away.  It’s more a question of knowing what’s keeping us from following with everything we have.  It’s a question of knowing what owns us instead of the other way around.

Put it this way: to find out what it means to “leave everything” for the sake of living in Jesus’ kingdom, find out what your “everything” is.  It’s likely going to be the thing you get most defensive about when you are challenged to let it go.  The thing you most want to protect and keep from interference by anyone else.

And for most of us, one of those things is wealth.  It’s amazing how people can want God to tell others what to do about their lives in so many ways, but when Jesus again and again challenges our use of wealth we say, or think, “what I do with my money is my own business, and no one else’s.”

But for most of us, like this young man, there are also other “everythings,” things that we have that we can’t let go of but which are in our way.  Personality habits.  Behaviors.  Selfish decision-making.  Attitudes or beliefs.  Any number of things that we know are blocking us from fully following Jesus, fully living in the kingdom, but we’re just not ready to part from them.

That’s why Jesus says it’s so hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom.  They’re a model of not being able to let go.  Because the more you have, the less you need others.  The pains and sufferings of the world are not your own, they’re someone else’s.  And maybe you and I will be willing to give a little to help another person.  But that’s not being saved.  That’s not life in the kingdom.

Life in the kingdom is fully entering into the community, taking on the other person’s problems and sufferings as our own, and being a part of them.  Giving up everything that prevents that, and if some of that is our wealth, using that wealth to make others in the community better.  It’s seeing everything as connected, everybody as connected, and living in love of God and love of neighbor not as a motto but as a way of life.

So now we know what’s at stake.  The question is, what will you say to Jesus?

This young man walked away.  He couldn’t imagine letting go of the wealth that gave him security, the law-keeping that defined him, his way of life that kept him who he was.  Jesus was inviting him to become someone completely different.  And he couldn’t do it.

In the next weeks we’re moving toward our semi-annual meeting, and a stewardship emphasis in mid-November to plan for our work together next year.  As we begin this time of our life together, it’s going to be easy to think it’s all about money.  Budgets are made, plans are engaged, and we ask each other to pledge wealth to do this work together.  And there’s no question it is about money in some ways.  And each of us should pledge with the thought in mind, what is Jesus asking me to let go of so that others might have life?

But it’s more a question of faith when we really come to think about it.  What Jesus invites us to live in is a relationship of faith and trust in God, and a life in a community of believers, not a group of individual believers.   Do you see the difference?  When we learn to let go of our dependence upon ourselves and our own wealth or skill or habits or intelligence or good works, we learn the joy of life in this kingdom, this community of God’s rule.  Our faith deepens and grows as we learn to trust.  And yes, it will come as our financial giving increases and we take more and more risks for the sake of others, for the sake of God.  But the end result is God deepens our faith.

So what will you say to Jesus?  He already knows it’s going to be hard for you, for me, we who have so much we can afford to cling to many things.  But remember, he’s looking at you in love, and inviting you to a life lived with God in trust which perhaps you’ve never even imagined was possible.  God bless us all as we hear Jesus’ invitation to this life, and give us the grace and faith to follow.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Olive Branch, 10/12/12

Accent on Worship

“So teach us to number our days so that we might apply our heats to wisdom.”  - Psalm 90:12

     The Psalm today tells us to number our days, and I thought it would be interesting to take a literalist approach to this passage.  The average human being lives about 25,000 days in their lifetime.  How we view this number is entirely a matter of perspective.  To help you understand what I mean, lets put this number in terms of money.  Some of the wealthiest Americans can blow through $25,000 in a single shopping spree!  They can go buy a car, a house, or blow it all on fur coats without thinking twice.  Now consider people who make $25,000 per year.  For these people, every penny counts. The way that they use that money could make the difference between making rent or not the next month.

     Numbering our days helps us to realize the value of every day of our lives.  It’s not a morose proposition, but recognition of the importance of life as a gift.  Looking at life this way, we have to consider how we are spending our time.  What do we devote our lives to?  Would we change anything if we could?  Are there things we would get rid of or reduce in our lives, or other things we would increase?

     In our gospel text today, Jesus reminds us of our finiteness when it comes to salvation, “for mortals, this is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” We can’t manipulate the number of days we have on Earth, we also can’t manipulate our own salvation.  In the same way, every day of life is a gift that we receive, so too our salvation is a gift from God.  In our own finiteness, we attach ourselves to the infinite grace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God!

- Vicar Neal Cannon

Sunday’s Adult Education: October 14, 9:30 a.m.

     This week our forum will be "What Do We Do When We ‘Do This’?” – part 2 of a 2-part presentation on Eucharistic images, led by Dwight Penas.

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.  These amendments were included with the last two issues of The Olive Branch, and are also available in the narthex at church. All voting members of Mount Olive are encouraged to attend.

Concert This Sunday

     This Sunday, October 14, Mount Olive Music and Fine Arts will present Peter Ostroushko and Dean Magraw in a concert of original music, with some glimpses into the realm of world music. The program is free and open to the public, and a light reception follows the concert.

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 this Saturday, 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.

Yarnworking Group

     Don’t forget our monthly gathering at 1:00 pm this Sunday, October 14. Bring a lunch if you haven’t eaten by then, bring a current project, and plan to spend a couple of hours visiting and knitting or crocheting. We have plenty of extra supplies on hand, so if you are interested in learning how to knit or crochet, talented teachers will be on hand to teach you.

     Over the past year, this group has made winter wear – hats, mittens, and scarves –  for distribution through the Twilight Children orphanage in Johannesburg, South Africa, The Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Resettlement Program, and for The Marie Sandvik Center here in Minneapolis.

Youth News

     Upcoming events for youth include a day of service at Feed My Starving Children on October 26 from 8-9:30 pm with the TRUST Youth.

     Mount Olive Youth and children will host coffee hour this Sunday, October 14, after the early service.  The youth committee will meet afterwards in the upstairs lounge.

     Parents of children and youth at Mount Olive who would like to plan or be involved with activities and events should call or email Beth Sawyer ( to get on the mailing list and to share their vision for their kids at Mount Olive.

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.

Contribution Statements

     Third quarter contribution statements are available to be picked up at church.

     These are summary statements, reflecting the total given toward various funds from January 1 through September 30, 2012. If you would like a detailed (itemized) statement of giving by week, please call Cha in the church office and she will mail one to you.

     The statements are in a labeled box next to the coat room area, and they will be there through the month of October. Year-end statements will be printed in early January.

Congratulations, Nick!

     John Gidmark joyfully announces the marriage of his son (and Mount Olive member) Nicholas Gidmark, to Stefanie Hyde, this Saturday, October 13, 2012, on the grounds of Stefanie's mother's 1689 farmstead in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

     Nick and Stefanie will treasure your spirit and your prayers.

The Way to Goals Snack Chart is Up

     Way to Goals Tutoring began their new season last Tuesday, October 2,  with 15 students and nine tutors. We meet once a week during the school year. The snack chart is posted on the Neighborhood Ministries bulletin board.  If you would like to contribute to this program by bringing a snack and beverage for 25 persons on one of those Tuesday evenings, please sign your name next to the date of your choice and bring your snacks to the church at or before 7:00 p.m. that day.  This is a great help to our tutoring budget.  If you have any questions, feel free to call Donna at church, 612-827-5919.  

Meals on Wheels

     Thanks to the following folks from Mount Olive who delivered Meals on Wheels through TRUST, Inc. this past quarter: Gary and Nancy Flatgard, Art & Elaine Halbardier, Bob Lee, and Rod & Connie Olson.

Amendments Discussion
     Please join members of the Mount Olive Vestry and Pastor Crippen for a conversation about the proposed amendments to the Minnesota State Constitution.

     The gathering will be held in the Chapel Lounge at Mount Olive from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm on Monday, October 22, 2012.

     Pastor Crippen will speak briefly about the proposed Marriage Amendment and the Voter ID Amendment.  Adam Kruger will serve as discussion moderator.

     Refreshments will be served.

     If you are undecided on these ballot issues and need more information, or if you desire to understand the various points of view please feel free to attend.

The Properties Committee Welcomes Your Help

Clean-up Day Saturday, October 20
     On Saturday, October 20, the Properties Committee invites you to help with Fall Cleaning in the Mount Olive building.  Activities start at 8:30 a.m. and wrap up mid-afternoon.  The work tasks, materials and supplies will be ready and waiting in each room for anyone who can volunteer an hour or two (or more!) for a deeper cleaning in all areas of the facility.  Come early or stay late and you can join with Mount Olive’s guests for the Community Meal, too.

Calling all Painters!
     The Properties Committee has a few painting projects on its “To Do” list over the next few months.  If you have enthusiasm or expertise in swinging a brush or pushing a roller and would be willing to help, please contact Brenda Bartz, Properties Director, at 612-824-7812 or  Projects will generally be scheduled for Saturdays, but final times and locations of tasks will be scheduled around the team’s size and availability.

Thanks for your time!

Budget Preview Meeting To Be Held October 21

     The Fall semi-annual Congregational Meeting is often filled with budget questions, many of which seem rushed by the press of other business.  So this year we would like to try giving members an opportunity to ask questions in advance of the meeting by having a budget preview meeting.    

     Vestry members will be on hand following the 2nd liturgy (beginning a little after Noon) on October 21 to answer questions and receive recommendations often given at the annual meeting.  Hopefully this will provide continued and necessary transparency into the budget process as well as free up time at the semi-annual meeting to approve the budget for 2013 as well as deal with a number of constitutional/by-law proposals and receive an update on the Capital Campaign Tithe.

     The proposed 2013 budget will be finalized at the October 15 Vestry meeting and will be included with the October 19 issue of The Olive Branch.  Please take time to review the proposed budget, make a note of any questions or recommended changes and bring them with you to church on October 21.  Then after the 2nd liturgy grab a cup of coffee and join Vestry members in the Chapel Lounge to give voice to your questions and recommendations so we can have the best possible information for the semi-annual meeting on October 28.

Adam Krueger, President
Mount Olive Lutheran Church Vestry

Dobson Organ Dedication

     Mount Olive's own Lynn Dobson is busy building the new Pipe Organ for the Chapel at Merton College, in Oxford England, as we speak.

     This is his first instrument on foreign soil and we rejoice with him in this project.  A contingent from Mount Olive has been invited to attend the dedication of this new organ which will be in late April of 2014.  There are a very limited number of spaces open for this trip. If you are interested in joining this happy band of travelers, please contact Tom Olsen for the details. Tom can be reached at 952-929-9781 or any Sunday morning at coffee hour.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What Does This Mean?

We read the Scriptures as disciples of Jesus, the living Word of God, and are guided in our reading and understanding by our fellowship with the Triune God that Jesus has given, and by the love of God Jesus has revealed to us and called forth from us.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 27, year B; text: Mark 10:2-16

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

If you want, you can blame Martin Luther if you’re feeling a little uncomfortable with that Gospel reading, or if you wish you’d been warned we were going to hear hard words from Jesus before coming today.  If Luther hadn’t insisted that each Christian ought to be able to have their own copy of the Scriptures, in their own language, and be able to interpret for themselves God’s Word for their lives, we’d not have this problem.  And if he hadn’t insisted on the Scriptures being read in the people’s language at worship, you might not read these words or hear them at all.  But here we are, with a second week of hard words from Jesus.

I think we need to take this opportunity and consider how we interpret the Scriptures.  What Jesus said about divorce, remarriage, and adultery couldn’t be clearer.  Yet I’m sure that if I announced from this pulpit today that from this moment on I would not preside at a marriage involving divorced people, and that I was beginning a campaign to get the ELCA to remove divorced clergy from the roster, I might be in danger of losing this call.  I expect that a lot of you would be angry and hurt by such a proclamation.

Now this is what we must understand together, and what each of us must individually consider.  I’ve no intention of making such an announcement.  But if it would anger you, or cause you to want me not to be your pastor, I’d like you to try and think why.  Why.  Because Jesus is pretty clear here.

Now, I’d say there are few, if any, people at Mount Olive who do not take the Bible seriously as a norm and guide for life.  Yet we disagree on things, even amongst ourselves here.  How is this possible?  And how do we read what Jesus says today and act differently than what he says, and still claim the Bible as our norm for faith and life?

We need to take a moment to recall how Lutherans interpret the Bible.

We don’t ignore anything, everything is considered God’s Word.  This is really important as a starting point.  So we can’t skip this passage.  We look at this passage, like all of them, very carefully.

But we look at it with at least three basic interpretive lenses:

First, Jesus is the living Word of God, to whom the written Word, the Bible points.  Therefore, Lutherans would say, everything in Scripture must lead to a deeper connection with our Lord and Savior and an understanding of God’s amazing grace in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We call this a canon within the canon – Lutherans read the Bible through the lenses of God’s free grace in Christ, and consider those many powerful passages about God’s grace not only most important but also the ones which encompass the whole purpose of the Bible and shape its message for us.

Second, Lutherans read the Bible with a sense of context – both the context of the times in which the book was written and the people to whom it was written, but also the context of any passage within the whole of Scripture.

Third, leading from that, Lutherans let Scripture help interpret Scripture.  We try very hard to understand the connection of the whole of the Scriptures to any text, and use the Bible to help interpret itself.  That means that at our best we don’t proof-text.  We don’t take one verse out of any context and make grand claims for its ability to norm us.  We try to use the whole of Scripture.

An example is a seminary classmate of mine who’s a woman and a pastor, who once told me she wouldn’t have accepted ordination if the only reason the church did it was by ignoring the passage that says women should be silent.  What made her feel she could answer God’s call were the many passages describing women in pastoral ministry, the many places where the equality in the family of Christ was proclaimed, and so on.

So how do we read these verses today using these lenses?

First, these are Jesus’ words.  Jesus said them.  And we know Jesus very well.  Jesus, the Living Word of God, is risen from the dead and gives us life even though we are broken people, living too often as opponents of God.  He offers grace and forgiveness to all, even criminals crucified next to him.  So when a couple comes into my office, with one or both of them having been divorced, and they are seeking marriage, my sense of Jesus’ grace, of all that Jesus asks of me as a pastor and a disciple, throughout all of the Gospels, calls me to be open to that request.

We can’t read these words apart from our full knowledge of everything he is and all that he models for us, or from our full understanding of how Jesus then calls us to live, to pray, to love.  In just this small section, we see Jesus indignant that children are being kept from him.  That indignant Jesus, who wants no one excluded from God’s grace, is the same Jesus who says these hard words.  And that matters.

Second, there is a context here.  Jesus is actually protecting women in this passage.  We discover this when we explore the divorce practices in Jesus’ times.  Women could be divorced summarily by their husbands under Jewish law, by the husband simply declaring several times that he divorced his wife, and then handing her notice.  In this culture, if the woman didn’t have a son to protect and support her, divorce would leave her destitute, a beggar, an outsider.

And notice Jesus’ last sentence:  “If she divorces her husband . . .” and so on.  This is eye-opening.  Women didn’t even have the right to divorce their husbands then.  Yet Jesus assumes an equality of standing, even in his prohibition.  Women and men are equal under God’s law, a radical departure from tradition.

And last, Jesus is speaking here to support marriage, to underscore its divine approval, to strengthen families.

Third, Scripture helps us interpret Scripture.  It’s true Jesus is clear here.  Just as he is also clear throughout the Gospels that we are not to judge others.

Just as he is clear when he tells us to forgive each other in unlimited ways.

Just as he is clear when he says the sum of the law of God is to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Given this repeated mandate, I believe we simply have decided not to make a bad situation, or a painful situation, worse, by refusing to give second chances.  We’ve decided to offer forgiveness in Jesus’ name and to be gracious.  This doesn’t mean we like divorce.  I don’t know many Christians who’ve been divorced who do.  But it does mean we’re honest about it.  I still teach new couples that they should plan never to divorce, or else it will come too easily.  It still is not God’s will for marriage.

But we also know that sometimes divorce is the only option that seems possible, sometimes it’s tragically imposed, and sometimes it even must happen if a spouse is abusive.  Divorce is not always the worst evil in every situation.  There are simply too many times when we do not feel capable of being judge over each other on this.

But that doesn’t mean we’re ever completely certain that we are right in how we consider divorce.  And that’s important to remember.

Because of Luther, each of us can interpret the Bible for ourselves.  And as the Church, we collectively discern and interpret the Scriptures.  It’s a great gift.  But it’s also a huge responsibility.  We always interpret prayerfully and carefully, asking the Spirit to lead and guide us, and show us what we are called to be and do.  But we can still be wrong.

That’s why we belong to communities of faith, why we pay attention to what others in the greater Church are saying, why we find places where we are gathered together by the Holy Spirit.  So we check our interpretation with each other.  So we can struggle together, whether as a small group in a congregation or a council of bishops and leaders of the whole Church, or anything in between.

That can correct us when we falter.  But it also can be that, even within a community of faith like Mount Olive, and even in the greater Church, we will not agree on the proper way to do things, the godly thing to do.  As in this case, where the way most U. S. Lutheran congregations deal with divorce is not universally accepted as legitimate across the whole Church.

And that means we must know when it’s OK to disagree and when it isn’t.  What Lutherans have said is that we make our distinction based on whether it is central to the Good News that the Triune God has saved us in Jesus the Son.  The Augsburg Confession says that it is enough for unity in the Church that the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are administered according to that Gospel.  What that means is that anything that affects our teaching and hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus for all people and for us is central.

All the rest is not essential for agreement.  It doesn’t mean other things aren’t important.  But it does mean we do not necessarily have to agree in order to remain together.  And ethical stances fall into this category more often than not.  Whether we accept and re-marry divorced people does not affect our salvation in Jesus.  Therefore we can and do disagree on this in the greater Church.

So what do we do if we’re ever wrong?  What happens then?  Well, it’s always good to ask that question of ourselves when we interpret Scripture.  I always try to keep a part in the back of my mind that says, “Keep listening, just in case you’re wrong on this one.”  It’s healthy for us to have that humility before God and before this Word, and before each other.  And so we keep listening to each other, and to the Church as we go, in case we’re wrong.  We’re not all going at this solo, and we need to listen to the Church Jesus has given us.

Even so, we might individually or as congregations or denomination, disagree with the rest of the Church.  If it’s not on an issue of central importance to the Gospel, even that can be OK.  But when we do, we must take extra care that we believe we’re listening clearly to the Spirit’s guidance.

But finally, it’s important that we learn to pray, read, discern, and then make our decisions and act.  We can’t just sit still and never act or do.  If we’re right, we thank God, whether we’re acting as individuals, congregations, or as the whole Church.  If we’re wrong, we trust in God’s gracious forgiveness and guidance to get us back on the path, individually or collectively.  As the Reformation showed, even the Church sometimes goes collectively astray and needs to be brought back.

But we know this is true, because Jesus, God’s Son has shown it again and again: The Triune God will not abandon us in our wrong decisions.  And please hear this:  the only way any of us will have eternal life is by Jesus’ forgiveness of all we have done.  If after prayer, conversation, and discernment, for example, I make a wrong call, I absolutely trust that Jesus will be able to forgive it as much as any other sin I have committed in my life.  I’ll have plenty in my bag that will need to be forgiven when I come to those gates; anything additional that I didn’t know about I’ll still need to trust to Jesus’ forgiveness.  And so will the whole Church.

God has given us a great gift in this written Word that leads and guides us.

And I’m convinced the more I do this ministry that Jesus meant it when he said the Spirit of God would lead us into truth when we’re ready for it.  As we live together in this community and as a part of the greater Church, let us always pray for God’s guidance and direction through the living Word, our Lord Jesus, to better understand what the Scriptures would tell us about how to live faithful lives as disciples and share God’s love with the world, and to fully live the abundant life he offers through this.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


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