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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Believing Is Seeing


Our experience tells us that death is the end, and though we proclaim the resurrection of Christ, we too often live in fear as if it was not true; our risen Lord comes to us, alive, and tells us we need never be afraid, for he has come to bring life to the whole world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, The Resurrection of Our Lord C; texts: Luke 24:1-12; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Isaiah 65:17-25

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

It’s time we gave these disciples a little slack.  The men, anyway, since they’re the ones who are struggling to believe here, and since we sometimes can be a little hard on the male disciples, when compared to the faith and actions of their female companions.  The women go to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning, to finish the burial rites.  And they find the tomb open, and glowing beings dressed in white tell them that Jesus is alive, just as he said he would be.  But when they run back to tell the other disciples, they run into disbelief.  Or at least skepticism.  Luke says, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  Now Luke and John both record that Peter (and another, according to John), think enough of it to run to the tomb and see for themselves.  But their first reaction is clear: this can’t be true.

From our perspective, we can tend to be critical of the disciples throughout this week.  How could they betray Jesus?  Run away from Jesus?  And why didn’t they remember that when he predicted he would die, he also told them he would rise again after three days?

But we’re no different from these folks.  We live and operate in life on the basis of our experience.  We interpret the actions and understand the words of others based on how we think and how we are, what we have experienced, how we feel.  We tend to doubt things that we haven’t seen or heard ourselves, or have been told by someone we trust that they saw or heard it.  And if there’s anything our experience tells us about death, it is that death is the end.  It’s permanent.  And everything changes.

We’ve all experienced this.  We know this.  When people we love die, they’re no longer with us, at our table, in our living room, walking in the sun, having conversations.  We don’t see them again.  This we know.  And so did those disciples.  Of course they thought it was an idle tale, imagination, wishful thinking.  And of course they didn’t hear it when Jesus said he would rise again: once he told them he was going to suffer and be killed, that’s all they could hear.  The rest just slid past their ears.  That’s how we are.

So for us, like those disciples, it really is the same.  We know reality.  We know that death is the end.  And then we gather here today and are told something completely different.  We’re told that there is one, the One whom we call Lord and Master, Jesus, who has broken through the end wall, who has broken the power of death.

And the question for us is also the same as for those who first heard the women: do we think this is an idle tale, wishful speculation?  Or do we believe that everything is changed, and live our lives accordingly?

You see, either way, however we believe it will affect how we live our lives.

If we live with the understanding, the belief, the certainty, that death is the end, we will live in fear.  And that’s exactly our problem.  Whatever we proclaim about Easter, whatever we say we believe about the resurrection, too often we act as if we don’t believe it.  We act and live as if death is the end.  As if the worst thing that can happen to us is death.

And so we live in fear.

We make our personal decisions too often out of fear: fear we won’t have enough money.  Fear we haven’t planned enough for our future, fear we don’t have enough insurance.  Fear we might lose our jobs.  Fear our families won’t be safe.  Fear we are going to get sick.

We make our decisions as the Church too often out of fear: fear of the other, the one different from us.  Fear that there won’t be enough money, enough resources.  Fear of the culture, fear of other faiths.

We make political decisions too often out of fear: fear of terrorists.  Fear of other enemies.  Fear of the other, those different from us.  Fear of an election.  Fear of the future, fear of the unknown.

It’s hard to find an area of our lives where fear of death, fear of loss, doesn’t shape our decisions and our actions.  Even in personal relationships, we can hold back from others out of fear of being vulnerable with them.

And that’s what we want to avoid above all, being vulnerable, that is, being “able to be wounded.”  We know we are vulnerable.  We can be wounded in so many ways by so many things.  And death always stands at the back of everything.

And when someone speaks out of hope, speaks without fear, speaks of the possibilities of trusting in God and stepping out in life, there’s a part of us that hesitates.  A part of us that wants to be “realistic,” which often comes off as cynical.  Isn’t it cute that this person actually believes that God is working life in a world of death?

Because we think it isn’t true to “reality,” to the world as it is, the world as we’ve made it, the world that has the ability to wound us, and eventually kill us, we tend either to discount such faith as na├»ve or idealistic, or build walls around our hearts so that we don’t dare hope in God and then be disappointed.  Because, we say to ourselves, we know how the real world works.  We understand reality.

But this is what we cannot escape today: the idea of “reality” for these disciples was completely taken apart by the risen Jesus.

Whatever we say about the early Church, its core reality was forever altered on this day.  Everything they thought true about how the world is was shattered by the real presence of their beloved Lord Jesus in their midst.

Not an hallucination.  Not a wish-fulfillment.  Not even some non-specific sense that he “lived on in their hearts.”  He was there: physically tangible (“able to be touched”), able to eat, able to embrace.

He was alive.  And just as the reality is that death changes everything for us, this reality, that Jesus who had died was now alive before them, changed everything once again.  This is now a new creation, they realized, a new heaven and a new earth: the prophet Isaiah was right about this (in those words we also heard today).  This is now a world where death is no longer the end reality, they realized.

What we face this Easter morning because of this is a complete redefinition of “reality.”  Because it’s not what we thought.  Reality is that we are no longer faced with death as the end.  It has no ultimate power over us.

Reality is that being wounded, being vulnerable, is not a bad thing.  It’s a way to life because our God is vulnerable and was wounded for us and now lives and heals.  And only by being open to being wounded can we be open to being loved.

Reality is that there is nothing that can ultimately harm us.  So we can begin to live without fear.

There is an ancient prayer for peace which we pray at every Vespers liturgy.  And one of the things we pray for is that we “might be defended from the fear of our enemies.”

That’s the wisdom of God’s reality, the only reality that matters, as it turns out.  That we might still have enemies, and we might not always be defended from them.  They might even kill us.

But that we can and will be defended from our fear of them.  Our fear of others.  Our fear of the unknown.  Our fear of loss.  Our fear of death.  Which Paul promises us is the last enemy to be destroyed.  That is the way to peace, this prayer understands for us.

So the first thing the risen Jesus will do when he appears in the Upper Room to these very disciples on that first Sunday night – our story next week – is to give them the gift of peace.

This, then, is our peace: there is no need to be afraid.

Ever.

Paul says today that if we hope in Christ only for this life we are to be pitied.

The challenge we have today is to live as if we believe what this day is all about.  As if the hope in Jesus’ resurrection isn’t an idle tale.  But that it is hope in a new reality, God’s reality, where the wounded and crucified Lord of Life now lives, and nothing will ever be the same.  A reality where we need not be afraid.  Ever.

From this moment, this day, this experience of the new reality God had made in Jesus, all the disciples went out without fear and changed the world through the power of God’s Spirit.  Believing changed the way they saw the world, saw reality, and changed how they went out into it as disciples and what they believed and expected God could do with it.

Somehow, I think Jesus is hoping we do the same.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Olive Branch,. 3/29/13


Accent on Worship

2013 Easter Message from Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

     Easter. It is about more than an open tomb. It is the good news of the risen Christ who opens lives.

     Think about Jesus' friends after his death. Their lives were closed down by fear, disappointment and confusion. The risen Christ appeared saying "peace be with you" and opened their lives with a liberating word of reconciliation. In the same way Christ opens your life with a baptismal promise that joins your life to his death and resurrection. "You are my child. Nothing in all creation will separate you from my love."

     Even now Christ is opening your life, your daily work, your passions and imagination. Christ is opening your daily life into a holy calling that fills the world with love. At the Lord’s Table, Christ is opening you into a community that can bear even suffering with confidence, and sorrow with hope.

     The risen Christ opens the Scriptures — the full depth of God's promise made to Sarah and Abraham now coming to life in the new creation. Even when everything else is being stripped away, the risen Christ opens you to God's promised future.

     Christ opens you to God's work of forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, is opening this way of life for you.

In God's grace,

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



Sunday Readings

March 31, 2013 – Resurrection of Our Lord
Isaiah 65:17-25 + Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
I Corinthians 15:19-26 + Luke 24:1-12

April 7, 2013 – Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32 + Psalm 118:14-29
Revelation 1:4-8 + John 20:19-31



Worship for the Remainder of Holy Week

Thursday, March 28: Maundy Thursday
Holy Eucharist, with Washing of Feet at 7:00 pm

Friday, March 29: Good Friday
Stations of the Cross at 12:00 noon
Adoration of the Cross at 7:00 pm

Saturday, March 30: Holy Saturday
Lumen Christi: The Easter Vigil, at 8:30 pm, followed by a festive reception

Sunday, March 31: Resurrection of Our Lord
Festival Holy Eucharist at 8:00 and 10:45 am



Attention Mount Olive Worship Servants

     On April 15 I will begin working on the schedule for the 3rd quarter of 2013.  Please submit any requests for the months of July, August and September 2013 to me no later than April 15, 2013.      
     You may contact me via e-mail at peggyrf70@gmail.com or by phone at 952-835-7132.

- Peggy Hoeft



March is Minnesota FoodShare Month: Just a Few Days Left!

     It’s not too late to donate cash or groceries to the local food shelf during Minnesota FoodShare month in March. A donation of money more than doubles the amount of food available to food shelves, because food shelves can purchase food at discounted prices.  If you choose to give in this way, make your check payable to Mount Olive and write Food Shelf on the memo line. If you prefer to donation non-perishable groceries, they may be brought to the cart in the coat room.



Music & Fine Arts to Present The Uptown Brass

     The Uptown Brass Quintet will appear in concert at Mount Olive on Sunday, April 21, 4:00 p.m. (not April 14, as previously published!).



Book Discussion Group

     For the April 13 meeting the Book Discussion group will discuss In the Company of the Courtesan, by Sarah Dunant.  For the May 11 meeting we will discuss Children of God by Mary Doria Russell.  This is the sequel to her novel The Sparrow which we read earlier.



Mount Olive Friendly Phone Call Ministry

     A new congregational ministry at Mount Olive is about to begin. The ministry is intended to help the congregation keep in closer contact with members who have difficulty getting to church or who are living alone.

     We are in process of identifying people who might like to receive a call on occasion and those who would act as callers. If you are a person who would enjoy receiving a regular phone call and would enjoy staying in touch with a member of the congregation, or if you would like to be a caller, I’d like to hear from you.

     To participate, please call Sue Ellen Zagrabelny at 763-420-8377 or you may contact her by email at skatzny@yahoo.com.



Semi-annual Congregation Meeting to be Held Sunday, April 28

     The Vestry has announced the date of the April semi-annual congregation meeting to be Sunday, Apr. 28, after the second liturgy.  Among the items on the agenda will be election of officers and directors, whose terms will begin on July 1.  Any wishing to suggest names to the nominating committee for the positions of president, vice-president, secretary, and directors of congregational life, evangelism, or neighborhood ministries are encouraged to contact Adam Krueger, congregational president.

     Also on the agenda are several constitutional and bylaw amendments presented to the congregation by the Vestry, available in the narthex at church.  The first page, the constitutional amendments, is a second hearing of amendments presented and approved at the October semi-annual meeting.  Should these be approved again, with at least a 2/3 majority of those present and voting, they will be formally ratified.  The second pages are bylaw amendments which only need the one hearing and vote at this meeting.  Included in these amendments are bylaws establishing a business and finance committee, directed by the treasurer, and some corrective edits to several directors’ bylaws.



Night on the Street

     On Friday night April 19, Peter Crippen and Eric Manuel and their mothers, along with members of Trust Youth group and more than 400 other teens from 30 Twin Cities congregations, have committed to spend the night in a church parking lot near downtown Minneapolis to learn about youth  homelessness. Together they will learn what life is like for teens on the street.

How do homeless teens make it from day to day?
What resources are available to them?
What can be done to help those who have no place to call home?

     For that evening, they will stand in a soup line for dinner and spend the night sleeping outside in cardboard boxes.

     They are doing this not only to increase awareness of youth homelessness, but also to raise money to help in efforts to end the problem. Participants been asked to raise enough funds to provide one week’s worth of safe and supportive services for a homeless youth. That’s $140.00 for seven days!

     If you are able to help us meet that goal, please see Peter or Eric on Sunday  morning, or drop off a check in the church office, payable to Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, with "Night on the Street" in the memo line. All donations to A Night on the Street will go to Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, a faith-based nonprofit housing organization. The event has corporate sponsors, so every dollar we raise will go directly to serving the youth!



Thanks to the Cleaning Crew!

     Many thanks to Peggy Hoeft, Steve Pranschke, Katherine Hanson, and Beth Gaede, who cleaned our chancel, transepts, and narthex, and polished the brass candelabra and fittings in preparation for our Holy Week and Easter liturgies. Special thanks to Timm Lindholm and T.J. Schnabel for the many hours they spent treating the chancel paneling and furnishings, pulpit, and lectern with Liquid Gold. This was a huge undertaking, and the results are impressive.



Visioning

     At Mount Olive we have just completed a successful multi-year Capital Campaign, Pastor Crippen is well into his third year as our pastor and has a strong sense of who and where we are, and our Neighborhood Ministry Coordinator, Donna Neste, has announced her retirement in 2014.  This is the time to discern God's vision for our shared ministry in this neighborhood and the world.  Listed here are opportunities for you to gather as community so the heart and soul of Mount Olive can discern what God would have us do in this place at this time.

     To Pray and Gather for three congregational meetings this spring:  We ask each member to pray for this process over the next few months and participate in three congregational meetings to build community around our vision process.  Come together after the second liturgy on April 7 and May 5 and the only liturgy on June 2.  A light lunch will be served.

On April 7 we will create a time-line of our history in this place with the neighborhood.  We need the memory of those who have been here many years as well as the questions and insights of those who have become members more recently.
On May 5 we will identify our core values that will help us determine how to move forward in the process.
On June 2 we will hear a report from our community observers and community interviewers and then actively brainstorm ideas about God’s vision for our future as God's people in this place.

     To Listen and Observe:  We need members to go to pre-determined locations around the church’s neighborhood in groups of three to observe what they see and hear and then meet in someone's home and pray together.  We call these members  Community Observers because they will not speak to others, just observe.  We are asking them to commit to 2-3 visits as a group between April 14 and May 12.  The purpose is to simply observe and pray, to let your eyes and heart be open, not judge or find a solution.  We need 90 volunteers (30 groups of 3)!

     To Listen and Interview:  We need members to interview identified community leaders about what they see in and hope for the neighborhoods around Mount Olive.  We call these members Community
Interviewers and are asking them to commit to 2 visits between April 14 and May 12.  Sample interview questions will be provided.  The purpose is to understand what is being offered and what gifts and challenges they see.  We need 25 volunteers!

     On April 14 there will be training for all Community Interviewers and Community Observers after 2nd service from 12:30 to 1:30 pm.  A light lunch will be served.

     Sign-up sheets for all of these activities are at the church office with a more detailed job description.  Or please talk with any member of the vision team.

     There are also copies of the neighborhood report that we commissioned the Precept Group to do for us around the church and parish house (narthex, reception areas, chapel lounge, office) or ask a team member.  It shows faith preference, diversity, issues they care about, income level and more about the people who live within a two mile radius of the church.

     It is exciting to think about being deliberate in seeking what God has planned for Mount Olive, her people, and our neighborhoods.  Won’t you be a part of discovering what that might be and how it could look for our life together? Plan now to join us!

- Team members: Andrew Andersen, Judy Hinck, Adam Krueger, Connie Marty, Peter Tressel, Carol Austermann;  Staff members: Pastor Crippen, David Cherwien, Donna Neste.



Theology on Tap

     Good news Theology on Tap Enthusiasts - For our April 11 Theology on Tap, Jessinia Ruff has agreed to babysit young kids at Mount Olive!  She'll watch your kids from 7:15-9:15 p.m. so you can come join our community discussion.  Please contact Vicar Neal Cannon (vicar@mountolivechurch.org) ahead of time if you would like to use Jessinia as a baby-sitter that night so we know how many kids to expect.  Cost for the night is $10 for 1 kid, $15 for two, and $20 for three or more.

     Theology on Tap is a group at Mount Olive that meets once a month at local bars/restaurants to enjoy a good beverage and dialogue about faith and life (no preparation or book reading required, only your personal knowledge and insight).  Contact Vicar Neal Cannon (vicar@mountolivechurch.org, 612-827-5919 x12) if you would like to join us or have questions about Theology on Tap!

April Event Details
Who: Anyone 21+ is welcome to join
Where: Old Chicago – 2841 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55408
When: Thursday April 11, 7:30-9:00pm
Discussion Topic: TBD
Facebook Page & Group: Mount Olive Theology on Tap-  “Like” the Page to get updates on Theology on Tap
Contact: Vicar Neal Cannon (vicar@mountolivechurch.org)



Hebrews Study on Thursday Evenings Starting April 11

     The third Thursday Bible study series of this year begins on Thursday, April 11, and runs for six weeks.  Meeting in the Chapel Lounge from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Pr. Crippen will be leading a study of the book of Hebrews, an early Christian sermon preserved in the New Testament.  As usual, there will be a light supper when we begin.  If anyone wishes to provide the first meal, please let Pr. Crippen know.  All are welcome to this study opportunity!


Benefit Mount Olive Foundation With Your Thrivent Choice Dollars

     For those who are Thrivent Financial customers, you can benefit the Mount Olive Foundation at no cost to you with your Thrivent Choice Dollars.  But you must act very quickly as the deadline for doing so is March 31, 2013.  Here's how to do it:

     1.  Put www.Thrivent.com in your browser and search for "Choice Dollars" on the web site.
     2.  Log into your existing account or create a new account.
     3.  Search for "Mount Olive Lutheran Church Foundation."
     4.  Click on the "Direct Now" button and you have completed your gift!
     What an easy and painless way to benefit Mount Olive's endowment.  Again, please act before March 31, 2013.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Guilty Until Declared


In the Passion of the Son of God there is a complete reversal of the reality of the world: guilty are declared forgiven, welcomed into grace, innocent willingly offer themselves as guilty for the sake of the guilty.  In this we find the fullness of God’s being and grace.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Sunday of the Passion C; texts: Luke 22:14 – 23:56

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 is something troubling about the way great tragedies are reported and discussed in our country.  Frequently the words “innocent lives” are used when someone brings a gun into a school or a mall and indiscriminately shoots and kills, when a terrorist sets off a bomb, when any thing horrible is done by someone to someone else.  After these tragedies it’s just as troubling that there seems to be a rush to know “why” the perpetrator did what they did, what is to blame: is it random, were they evil, were they abused, were they mentally ill?

The implication that we seem to live with is that some people deserve to die, and some people do not.  There are “innocent” people who deserve all good, and “guilty” people who do not.  Of course we’re not so crass as to state that boldly all the time.  But in our words and actions we show this is our view.  There were 27 who were killed by the shooter in Newtown, but only 26 bells were tolled on the Friday after the shooting, and 26 is the number of victims often listed.  Somehow there wasn’t room to include in compassion and grief the mother of the shooter, who was the first to be killed.  Again, most are too civilized to speak this aloud, but surely there is blame being laid at her feet, therefore she doesn’t fit our neat “innocent lives” group.  And of course no bell would ever be considered for the shooter himself.  Our artists have challenged us to reconsider all this, writers like J. R. R. Tolkien and Victor Hugo, for example, who have written great stories which open the question of who does and who doesn’t deserve to die, to be punished, beyond the simplistic frontier justice we seem so enamored of in our culture.

Today it is the evangelist Luke who challenges our prevailing attitude, so much so that he overturns our entire worldview, leaving it a shambles.  In its place is a view of the gracious and awe-inspiring love of the Triune God for a world filled with guilty people, guilty people who get off, who avoid punishment.  In its place is a view of the supreme Innocent One who takes all that guilt upon himself, though undeserving of it, and changes what it is to speak of “justice” for all time.

Luke shapes his story like none of his fellow evangelists when it comes to this reversal, for he repeatedly raises the question of innocence and guilt throughout his narrative.

Luke is the only one who tells us that Pilate repeatedly declared that there was no legal basis for a death sentence upon Jesus.  John recounts this once, Matthew and Mark never.  But Luke has three separate times where Pilate essentially makes a grand jury ruling, “there is no basis for this sentence, this charge.”

In addition, when Luke speaks of the two who were crucified with Jesus, he calls them, literally, “evildoers”.  (Our translation renders this “criminals.”)  Matthew and Mark say they were robbers, much less serious.  John just says there were two.

Lastly, while Jesus is declared “not guilty” by Pilate three times, three times Luke refers to the two fellow accused as “evildoers,” criminals.  And in case we didn’t pick up on this, only Luke tells us that the centurion who crucified Jesus declared his “innocence,” as NRSV translates it, and what he’s literally saying is that Jesus is “righteous,” “just,” dikaios.

There are therefore people dying on the cross in Luke who are guilty and deserve it.  And there is one who is dying who absolutely doesn’t deserve it.

But that’s just the beginning.  Just as critical as these declarations of guilt or innocence by the narrator, Pilate, or the centurion, there are the other startling declarations from the central figure himself, again found only in Luke’s account.

The first is the most powerful statement of the grace of God in the entire Gospel, and that’s saying something, for this is a Gospel rife with grace.  Remember that Luke has told us from the beginning who Jesus is, the Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, anointed to bring the good news of the reign of God.

And as this Son, filled with the Spirit of God, is being nailed to the cross, he speaks to his Father, but not in hatred.  He asks forgiveness for those who are killing him.  “Father, forgive them,” he says.  “They don’t know what they’re doing.”  Think of the shattering implications of such an act, such a prayer, from such a person.

Then, again, only in Luke, when Jesus is being mocked, one of the evildoers also mocks him, only to be rebuked by his fellow evildoer.  And here in a nutshell is all of Luke’s theological view of this crucifixion, this death.  The evildoer says that he and his fellow have been “condemned justly,” they are getting what they deserve for their actions, and that is death.  But this one, he says, “has done nothing wrong.”

We deserve to die.  We have no cause for complaint.  But this one is innocent.  That’s the center of the crucifixion in Luke.  But there’s a second, world-upturning declaration: the evildoer asks Jesus to remember him “when you come into your reign, your rule.”

Just “remember me,” that’s all he asks.

And without a question about deserving or undeserving, repentance or confession, without any question at all, the dying Son of God says, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

So for the record, in addition to an innocent person dying without deserving it, we also have this innocent person offering the forgiveness of almighty God to those who killed him, and the welcome of almighty God to one who actually did deserve to be killed for his crimes.

It’s more than we ever could fully comprehend.  And it changes everything.

What Luke forces us to reconsider by his telling of this story is literally everything we believe to be true about guilt, innocence, punishment, and grace.

This is consistent with the rest of his Gospel, and the book of Acts, but it’s no less difficult for that.  The coming of the Son of the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit, is the beginning of the reign of God on this earth.  The healing and teaching, the grace and welcome this eternal Son of God brings in Luke’s telling is a deep and abiding cause of joy for us as we read it.

But now we see this Righteous, Innocent One suffer and die.  And the wicked, evil ones are forgiven for it.  It offends our sense of justice, our sense of right and wrong.  It sounds just like what happens in the parable of the Prodigal Father, and once again we find ourselves on the side of the elder brother and his outrage at this injustice.

That is, until we realize that we are the guilty ones.  We are the ones who “know not” what we do.  It doesn’t matter to Jesus if we see ourselves as the younger brother in his story or the elder brother.  Because all the brothers in the world, all the sisters, are lost, broken, guilty.

Whether we can justify ourselves in our own minds as “innocent” or not is not relevant.  Whether there are some who to our minds are clearly “guilty” is also not relevant.  In the realm and reign of God, the Son of God came to seek and to find the lost.  And then to celebrate.

And the sooner we admit our lostness, our guilt, our sinfulness, the quicker we understand and grasp the indescribably astonishing truth of God’s love for us.  “Father, forgive them,” Jesus says about us.  “They don’t know what they are doing.”  Except when we do, and we say, “we are justly worthy of condemnation.”  Then Jesus says to us, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

There are no loopholes.  All are guilty.  But Luke has left no loopholes in grace, either.  All are loved and forgiven.  That is our thing to ponder on this Passion Sunday, as we enter once more the gates of Holy Week.  Everything is upside down, and no one gets what they deserve: not the innocent Son of God, not guilty humanity.

And so we go from here in wonder, with much to consider, much to think about.

If our lives are built around the idea that we get, or we should get, what we deserve, well, can we ever say we deserve all good from God, much less forgiveness?

And yet Luke says that’s the whole point of the Innocent One, the Son of God, offering his life.  To declare all who are guilty innocent, free, loved.  To start the party of celebration that those who were lost to God are now found, and the feasting in heaven may now begin.

This week will give us much more to consider.  But with this as our hope, it will also give us the possibility of life now and always.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


Friday, March 22, 2013

The Olive Branch, 3/22/13


Accent on Worship

     We’re at the gate.

     It’s a week of high drama.  We’re going to be together a lot, again rehearsing the steps that bring us to the next gate:  the fulfillment of the baptismal promise of new and everlasting life.

     In a normal schedule, our weekly Sunday liturgies are a time to recharge the faith batteries so that we can go back to our lives and contexts carrying out what we’ve learned and live the values we have professed.  Not as easy as it sounds.  We’re here for one morning, then go about our work/play for the remaining 6 ½ days.  Easy to forget.

     Holy Week is our time to almost reverse that pattern.  We should spend a half day out “in the world” and the rest here.  This could be our super battery charge that needs to last us not only 6 ½ days, but forever.  It’s reigniting our trust in the promise that we won’t need to fear the worst of fears: death itself.

     The week’s journey is a reminder that this is no simple endeavor.  It does mean death.  Following Christ means going through things we’d probably rather not do, and we’d consider joining Peter in saying, “Who?”  Death is indeed a reality, as is pain, suffering and sometimes terrifying reality of decision making.  (To follow, or . . . not).

     We have liturgies every day during Holy Week.  Monday through Wednesday at noon, a prayer service is offered.  (Even if you’re not there, we’re praying for you).  At the center of the day – a trek here puts prayer at the core of the day, the core of daily life.

     Thursday is the family meal – and we make an effort to bring as many here who might otherwise have difficulty getting to an evening service.

     Friday noon is a most dramatic and powerful prayer service – Stations of the Cross – with its improvised organ interpretations of each station and hymn stanza.  The room gradually fills with smoke as the story builds to its climax – the death on the cross.  During that service, the organ goes silent until the Easter proclamation.

     Friday evening we return – for the liturgy of the adoration of the cross, and the powerful reproaches from the cross: “Oh my people, what have you done to me?”

     Saturday, of course, is the high drama of the Easter Vigil – the stories told of God’s saving grace  in the starkness of the darkened room – with our re-commitment of our baptismal vows,  and the explosion of praise at the Easter proclamation.  After this, we gather socially to celebrate with champagne and food!  Why not? We have something exciting to celebrate!

     Then … we come back Sunday for more!  All with a feeling of happy tired.  If all that doesn’t re-charge us, what will?

     See you.  Again, and again, and again, and again.  How about eight days in a row?  Maybe your friends and co-workers you’re with all week will do as the Exodus story wonders in Thursdays readings when you say “Gotta go”:  they might ask “why” do you do this?    Ah…..There’s the chance to explain.

- Cantor David Cherwien



Sunday Readings

March 24, 2013 – Sunday of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a + Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11 + Luke 22:14—23:56

March 31, 2013 – Resurrection of Our Lord
Isaiah 65:17-25 + Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
I Corinthians 15:19-26 + Luke 24:1-12



Paschal Garden

     Members of the Worship Committee will be on hand for one more Sunday, March 24 (Palm Sunday) between the liturgies, to receive your donations to purchase Easter flowers for this year’s Paschal Garden.



Holy Week Worship Schedule

Sunday, March 24: Sunday of the Passion
Holy Eucharist at 8:00 and 10:45 am

Monday, March 25: Monday in Holy Week
Daily Prayer at 12:00 noon, in the side chapel of the nave, near the columbarium

Tuesday, March 26: Tuesday in Holy Week
Daily Prayer at 12:00 noon, in the side chapel of the nave, near the columbarium

Wednesday, March 27: Wednesday in Holy Week
Daily Prayer at 12:00 noon, in the side chapel of the nave, near the columbarium

Thursday, March 28: Maundy Thursday
Holy Eucharist at 7:00 pm

Friday, March 29: Good Friday
Stations of the Cross at 12:00 noon
Adoration of the Cross at 7:00 pm

Saturday, March 30: Holy Saturday
Lumen Christi: The Easter Vigil, at 8:30 pm, followed by a festive reception

Sunday, March 31: Resurrection of Our Lord
Festival Holy Eucharist at 8:00 and 10:45 am



Need A Ride During Holy Week?     

We know that several in our community find it difficult to travel to church for evening liturgies for a variety of reasons. We’d like to help! If you need a ride to Maundy Thursday Eucharist (7:00 p.m.) or any other liturgies of Holy Week, just let us know and we will find a ride for you. Simply call the church office (612-827-5919) or Warren Peterson (952-935-9262). Also, if you are willing to offer a ride to someone who needs one, please call the church office.



Semi-annual Congregation Meeting to be Held Sunday, April 28

     The Vestry has announced the date of the April semi-annual congregation meeting to be Sunday, Apr. 28, after the second liturgy.  Among the items on the agenda will be election of officers and directors, whose terms will begin on July 1.  Any wishing to suggest names to the nominating committee for the positions of president, vice-president, secretary, and directors of congregational life, evangelism, or neighborhood ministries are encouraged to contact Adam Krueger, congregational president.

     Also on the agenda are several constitutional and bylaw amendments presented to the congregation by the Vestry, attached to this Olive Branch as a separate document.  The first page, the constitutional amendments, is a second hearing of amendments presented and approved at the October semi-annual meeting.  Should these be approved again, with at least a 2/3 majority of those present and voting, they will be formally ratified.  The second pages are bylaw amendments which only need the one hearing and vote at this meeting.  Included in these amendments are bylaws establishing a business and finance committee, directed by the treasurer, and some corrective edits to several directors’ bylaws.



March is Minnesota FoodShare Month!

     It’s not too late to donate cash or groceries to the local food shelf during Minnesota FoodShare month in March. A donation of money more than doubles the amount of food available to food shelves, because food shelves can purchase food at discounted prices.  If you choose to give in this way, make your check payable to Mount Olive and write Food Shelf on the memo line. If you prefer to donation non-perishable groceries, they may be brought to the cart in the coat room.



Music & Fine Arts Event Date Revision

     The Uptown Brass Quintet will appear in concert at Mount Olive on April 21, 4:00 p.m. (not April 14, as previously published!).

     These brass virtuosos are all members of the Minnesota Orchestra and will present an exciting concert of gorgeous brass sonorities featuring great music ranging from Bach to Piazolla.



Book Discussion Group

     For the April 13 meeting the Book Discussion group will discuss In the Company of the Courtesan, by Sarah Dunant.  For the May 11 meeting we will discuss Children of God by Mary Doria Russell.  This is the sequel to her novel The Sparrow which we read earlier.



Night on the Street

     On Friday night April 19, Peter Crippen and Eric Manuel and their mothers, along with members of Trust Youth group and more than 400 other teens from 30 Twin Cities congregations, have committed to spend the night in a church parking lot near downtown Minneapolis to learn about youth  homelessness. Together they will learn what life is like for teens on the street.

How do homeless teens make it from day to day?
What resources are available to them?
What can be done to help those who have no place to call home?

     For that evening, they will stand in a soup line for dinner and spend the night sleeping outside in cardboard boxes.

     They are doing this not only to increase awareness of youth homelessness, but also to raise money to help in efforts to end the problem. Participants been asked to raise enough funds to provide one week’s worth of safe and supportive services for a homeless youth. That’s $140.00 for seven days!

     If you are able to help us meet that goal, please see Peter or Eric on Sunday  morning, or drop off a check in the church office, payable to Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, with "Night on the Street" in the memo line.  

     All donations to A Night on the Street will go to Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, a faith-based nonprofit housing organization. The event has corporate sponsors, so every dollar we raise will go directly to serving the youth!



Visioning

     At Mount Olive we have just completed a successful multi-year Capital Campaign, Pastor Crippen is well into his third year as our pastor and has a strong sense of who and where we are, and our Neighborhood Ministry Coordinator, Donna Neste, has announced her retirement in 2014.  This is the time to discern God's vision for our shared ministry in this neighborhood and the world.  Listed here are opportunities for you to gather as community so the heart and soul of Mount Olive can discern what God would have us do in this place at this time.

     To Pray and Gather for 3 congregational meetings this spring:  We ask each member to pray for this process over the next few months and participate in three congregational meetings to build community around our vision process.  Come together after the second liturgy on April 7 and May 5 and the only liturgy on June 2.  A light lunch will be served.

On April 7 we will create a time-line of our history in this place with the neighborhood.  We need the memory of those who have been here many years as well as the questions and insights of those who have become members more recently.
On May 5 we will identify our core values that will help us determine how to move forward in the process.
On June 2 we will hear a report from our community observers and community interviewers and then actively brainstorm ideas about God’s vision for our future as God's people in this place.

     To Listen and Observe:  We need members to go to pre-determined locations around the church’s neighborhood in groups of three to observe what they see and hear and then meet in someone's home and pray together.  We call these members  Community Observers because they will not speak to others, just observe.  We are asking them to commit to 2-3 visits as a group between April 14 and May 12.  The purpose is to simply observe and pray, to let your eyes and heart be open, not judge or find a solution.  We need 90 volunteers (30 groups of 3)!

     To Listen and Interview:  We need members to interview identified community leaders about what they see in and hope for the neighborhoods around Mount Olive.  We call these members Community      
Interviewers and are asking them to commit to 2 visits between April 14 and May 12.  Sample interview questions will be provided.  The purpose is to understand what is being offered and what gifts and challenges they see.  We need 25 volunteers!

     On April 14 there will be training for all Community Interviewers and Community Observers after 2nd service from 12:30 to 1:30 pm.  A light lunch will be served.

     Sign-up sheets for all of these activities are at the church office with a more detailed job description.  Or please talk with any member of the vision team.

     There are also copies of the neighborhood report that we commissioned the Precept Group to do for us around the church and parish house (narthex, reception areas, chapel lounge, office) or ask a team member.  It shows faith preference, diversity, issues they care about, income level and more about the people who live within a two mile radius of the church.

     It is exciting to think about being deliberate in seeking what God has planned for Mount Olive, her people, and our neighborhoods.  Won’t you be a part of discovering what that might be and how it could look for our life together? Plan now to join us!

- Team members: Andrew Andersen, Judy Hinck, Adam Krueger, Connie Marty, Peter Tressel, Carol Austermann;  Staff members: Pastor Crippen, David Cherwien, Donna Neste.



Mount Olive Friendly Phone Call Ministry

     A new congregational ministry at Mount Olive is about to begin, developed by the Congregational Life and Neighborhood Ministries Committees. The ministry is intended to help the congregation keep in closer contact with members who have difficulty getting to church or who are living alone.

     We are in process of identifying people who might like to receive a call on occasion and those who would act as callers. If you are a person who would enjoy receiving a regular phone call and would enjoy staying in touch with a member of the congregation, or if you would like to be a caller, I’d like to hear from you.

     To participate, please call Sue Ellen Zagrabelny at 763-420-8377 or you may contact her by email at skatzny@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Midweek Lent 2013, Mount Olive + Words for the Pilgrimage (a walk with Hebrews)


Week 5:  “Follow Him”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen; Wednesday, 20 March 2013; texts: Hebrews 13:1-3, 7-16, 20-21; John 15:8-17

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

Much notice has been made of Pope Francis’ early signs that he might be a different kind of pope than his immediate predecessor, especially his non-verbal actions that seem to signify a different way.  Internal sources say that he did not ascend the papal throne after being elected as he received the greetings of his brother cardinals, but remained standing on the main floor, addressing them as “brothers,” not “your lordships”.  He’s reached out in graciousness to the press, to people of other faiths, and has continued his previous practices of not covering himself with all the trappings formerly considered due his office.  The word used a great deal in describing his early actions is “humility.”

The writer to the Hebrews would be surprised, I think, that we are surprised by this.  This author would be a little nonplussed to discover that when the pastor charged with leading the largest communion of Christians on earth, the priest called the vicar of Christ, acts in a way that reminds people of Jesus Christ, people are astonished by it, remarking on it.  For Hebrews, it should be expected, and not just of the Bishop of Rome.  For Hebrews, this is the shape of the life of all Christians, that we imitate our Lord Jesus Christ in our actions and in our love, and we imitate those who have gone before us who modeled that same way of Christly life.

We have been exploring the ways in which Hebrews invites us to consider our lives as pilgrimage from our earthly city to the city that is to come, language which now we hear in today’s reading.  But as this author concludes this sermon of Hebrews, we are reminded that not only is this not an individual journey each of us makes on our own, but we are actually obligated to serve each other on that journey, just as our Lord has served and continues to serve us.

Hebrews begins the final chapter with exhortations to pay attention to each other, exhortations to mutual love, hospitality, doing good and sharing all we have.

Up until this point it could be possible, though not wise, to have read much of Hebrews’ argument from an individual perspective.  This whole sermon that is Hebrews invites the hearers to follow Jesus through the wilderness of life.  To see him as our access to God, our entrance into the holiest of places.  And even to see those who have gone before us as surrounding us in encouragement.  And without care, one could take that strictly in an individualistic sense.

But now in the final persuasive argument of this sermon, the author makes it explicitly clear, if it wasn’t before, that we are called together to be like Christ ourselves, for each other and for the world.

The last verses of chapter 12 really are better attached to chapter 13, by setting up the exhortations of 13 with this exhortation: therefore since we are receiving an unshakeable kingdom, let us give thanks and offer our acceptable worship to God.  And our response, our worship to God, Hebrews says, is serving others, after the model of Jesus.

Here this serving is called love, both inside the community and outside, though the translation we know commonly doesn’t show the parallel very well.  We are invited to “mutual love” and “hospitality to strangers” in our translation.  There’s more here if we dig.  “Mutual love” is philadelphia, the love of the brothers (and sisters, we would add.)  But this word is more about a bond of connection, a deep tie, than emotional feeling. [1]   We are in Christ together, and we are to let that bond of Christly love between us continue.

“Hospitality to strangers” is interestingly philoxenia, love of strangers.  So there’s a parallel construction here: we love our sisters and brothers in the community, are bound to them.  And we love strangers, are bound to them.  In fact, we might best translate this “care for each other and care for strangers.” [2]

Both directions are central to our life on the pilgrimage.  We cannot be individuals in Christian community, worshipping for ourselves, believing for ourselves.  We belong to each other in ways we did not devise, through the waters of baptism and the joining of our lives to Christ: we are made one.  So Hebrews says: live that way.

But we cannot simply look to each other, close the circle, Hebrews says.  We are also bound to the stranger, whomever it is we encounter.  By so caring for the other, welcoming them into our midst, we serve God with a worthy worship.  And we might even be entertaining messengers from God, angels, Hebrews says.

The care we give is further expanded to cover all who are in prison and tortured, all in need we might say.  Reminding us of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25, Hebrews lifts our vision from ourselves to others in our community and outside, for no one is outside our call to care and love in Jesus’ name.

It is in fact, because of whom we follow, our pioneer, the center of this whole writing, that we are called to such love and care.  We are called to go where he goes.  And that’s not always to nice places.

Hebrews uses a powerfully arresting image to bring this home.  In the Israelite camp in the wilderness, the layout was one of circles of holiness, centered on the Tabernacle.  Unclean things were taken outside its boundaries. [3]  So the leavings of the sacrificial animals whose blood was brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for atonement were burned outside the camp.

Hebrews has already said we have no need for such sacrifices, for our High Priest offered himself.  But here Jesus isn’t the High Priest, he’s the refuse: Jesus went outside the camp, outside the city gate, to sanctify us by his blood, Hebrews says.  He went to the garbage heap, where unclean things are burned, to be burned himself in order to make all things clean.

And so we are told to get out there, too.  To go where he goes.  So Hebrews has told us on the one hand that Jesus has entered the Holy of Holies for us and opened it to us forever.  But now we see that he leaves the center, the place of God’s presence, and brings God’s presence outside the city to the worst of the worst.

We know from our own work and homes that tough, disgusting jobs sometimes need to be done.  It always makes it harder for us to avoid them if our superiors or colleagues or family members are unwilling to avoid them.  That’s where we are in the whole of our lives, this author says: we have a boss, a Lord, a Master, who goes to the darkest, dirtiest, worst places to bring the love and grace of God.

Outside the city, to the place no one wants to go.  Since he’s there, how can we stay where we are?  “Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured,” our preacher says.

It’s a powerful argument that compels us out of our complacency to act, to move, to reach out to others.  It’s like when someone starts cleaning up a house and you’re sitting on the couch with the paper.  It takes a relatively high level of stubborn rudeness to remain there while hard work is being done around you.

Hebrews reminds us that our call to care for each other and the stranger will likely lead us to places of discomfort and pain.  But our Lord has already gone there, and is there still.  You see, the Pioneer of our journey isn’t only making the path easy for us.  Sometimes he takes us off the path into the bogs and swamps, into the infested places, because there’s someone there who needs our help and care.

In the end, Hebrews simply reminds us of Jesus’ original call to us, that we love one another and the world as he has loved us.

Do good, share what you have, Hebrews says, care for each other, care for the stranger, don’t care for money or your comfort here.  Love one another even if it means losing, being hurt, because that’s what our Leader has done and is doing.  And if we’re following him, it’s not just for our comfort, it’s for the sake of all on this pilgrimage.

Because we are all on our way to a city that is to come, we’re in this together.  And with our Lord guiding us, “making us complete in everything good so we may do his will,” with such help and strength we can help all on this pilgrimage of life, that nobody gets left behind, nobody falls to the wayside, but all make it safely to the city that is to come.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


[1] Craig R. Koester, Hebrews (The Anchor Yale Bible), copyright © 2001 by Yale University, as assignee from Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.; p. 557.
[2] Ibid, p. 557.
[3] Ibid, p. 570.



Sunday, March 17, 2013

Responsive Abundance


God has done a completely new thing in the Son’s extravagant offering of his life for the sake of us and the world, and that abundant offering moves us to offer praise and thanks in extravagant abundance for the sake of God and the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, 5 Lent C; texts: John 12:1-8; Isaiah 43:16-21

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 sometimes have an awkward, if not outright negative reaction to extravagant gifts.  There is often in our culture a sense that when we receive a gift that seems exorbitant, generous, costly, we are required to say, “Oh, you really shouldn’t have.  This is too much, too much!”  In fact, we sometimes can find ourselves thinking or saying that even for gifts that aren’t so much.  A wise person I knew once said that it is as important to learn to receive well as it is to give well.

What’s interesting about this beautiful act of Mary of Bethany toward Jesus is that the response of the recipient is gracious and grateful: Jesus praises Mary for her generosity.  It’s others in the room that offer their criticism, in this case, Judas.  When Matthew and Mark tell this story, it’s “the disciples” who criticize, but John has a point to make about Judas, including his exclusive tidbit that Judas was a thief who stole from the shared purse used to feed and care for the poor.

It seems clear that Judas isn’t really concerned about the poor, but Jesus’ answer is often seen, incorrectly, as an instance of him not caring, either.  Of course he’s really saying that his own impending death and subsequent absence from his disciples is cause for their attention now, while caring for the poor will always be their job, their mission, their concern.

It is, however, Mary’s gracious, astonishing action that dominates our attention today.  It raises in us questions of our own response to the presence of the Lord, to the grace of God, and our place on the spectrum running from Judas’ disdain to Mary’s adoration.  Even Judas’ concern for the poor invites us to ask how we distinguish between gifts to God that in their own right are worthy and gifts we might give to the poor in God’s name.

Since we can scarcely take our eyes off of Mary in this story, let’s look at her more fully.

When we look at her gift we need to see it through her eyes rather than through our sense of its foolishness or wastefulness.

We do note first, however, the shocking extravagance of this gift, the careless regard for cost that is exhibited in this action of great care.  This perfume Mary takes up is worth about ten months’ wages of a daily laborer, the kind of people Mary knew well, the kind of people who spent time with Jesus.  In fact, many of his disciples likely weren’t earning that kind of daily wage, and were in various stages of poverty.

But even a daily worker couldn’t conceive of having ten months of wages set aside in savings, let alone deciding to buy perfume with it.  At that economic level, you eat what you earn, and are glad if what you take home in wages at the end of the day feeds you and your family.  So Judas’ concern for the poor has two truths in it: they literally could have fed a lot of people, a lot of families, with that money; and everyone who lived on the edge financially who heard his complaint could be sure to at least share his shock at the cost.

But Mary takes this perfume that cost so much and dumps it out, pours it over Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair.  She throws it away, seemingly, and though John tells us that the house was filled with the glorious scent, still, we might easily fall onto Judas’ side of this conversation.  It certainly makes Matthew’s and Mark’s assertions sensible, that “the disciples” complained, not just one.  Mary seems careless about the value, careless about the waste, careless about the hungry people she must certainly know.

Caring or careless: that’s the key distinction here, isn’t it?  Mary cares more for Jesus than for the cost of her gift.  That’s the point of concern for those critical of her.

We need to note, however, that Mary’s generosity arises out of her gratefulness to Jesus and her sense of what is now happening.  In the first place, this happens immediately after Jesus has raised Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, from the dead.  In real time and in John’s Gospel, it is the event that precedes this dinner party for Jesus.  We can almost see this party as part of the family’s gratitude for Jesus’ miracle of restored life.  Mary’s overflowing generosity comes in part from this gratitude and love.

In the second place, this happens immediately before Holy Week.  Six days before Passover, John says.  Now, Jesus has been telling the disciples that he is going to Jerusalem and will be put to death by the leaders of the people.  In the synoptic Gospels, the male disciples at least seem to act as if they’re not really listening to Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, in the previous chapter, when Jesus announces he is going to Bethany to help his friend Lazarus, however, his disciples, including the men, try to dissuade him because his life is threatened.  When Jesus persists, Thomas encourages himself and the others that they should all go and die with Jesus.  So in John’s telling, even the men are a little aware.

But clearly Mary’s more deeply in tune with Jesus’ mood and the political and religious tensions of the day.  She anoints Jesus for burial, he says.  She perfumes his feet and the whole room to prepare him for what is to come.

Which leads to the third thing Mary understands: she understands her role as servant of Jesus.  It is John who tells us that Jesus does this very same action for the disciples, though without perfume, on the night of his betrayal.  He washes their feet, and calls them to do the same for each other.  Mary anticipates that action by nearly a week, and washes Jesus’ feet with perfume and her hair, showing herself as the servant disciple Jesus wishes the others to become, the ideal disciple.

Mary’s insight and actions actually help us re-imagine what the LORD is saying through Isaiah today.

At one level, this beautiful text can be understood as a message promising the return of the exiles.  In this section, the first part of Second Isaiah, the prophet who spoke comfort to the Israelites in Babylon, the LORD God of Israel once more claims what is always God’s name-tag identification for Israel.  Since the Exodus, whenever the people of Israel needed to identify their God, or God needed to self-identify, it was always, “The One who brought us out of Egypt, out of slavery, into the land of promise,” or similar phrases and images.

So it’s no surprise to see the LORD say today, “I am the one who makes a way in the sea, who casts down chariots and armies.”  Of course: that’s who God is.  What is surprising is what’s next: God says, “Don’t remember that any more.  Forget all that stuff.”  This is the defining moment of salvation for Israel, the deliverance at the Red Sea and the entire Exodus.  And now in exile, God says, “Yes, that was I.  But forget about that.”

And that’s because God is about to do a new thing, a greater thing than the greatest thing.  And the new thing is described as a way in the wilderness, water in the wilderness, to give the chosen people drink, to sustain them.  Given its context, of course we can see this abundant grace of God, this promise, as referring to the return from exile.  They will have a path made for them through the wilderness, they will go home.

But in light of the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God, Christians have seen that “new thing” as far greater than the return from exile.  Death is reversed, the new reign of God has arrived, and the life in the Spirit is given.

At this point, on the verge of Holy Week, the fullness of this abundance is not yet known.  But somehow, Mary gives a gift appropriate for such an abundant grace that is to come, such a new thing.  Perhaps only such an extravagance could begin to approach an appropriate response for such love.  In light of the cross and empty tomb, Mary’s generous foolishness seems a perfect choice.

And though she didn’t know fully what was to come, she did know that in this Master of hers life came to her brother and was restored to their family.  The deaf heard, the blind saw, the lame walked.  And her brother lived.

And she knows, even if she doesn’t yet understand, that somehow this Master, this Son of God, whom she loves, is facing death.  So she gives him beyond the best.  She pours out all her love in a gift that is beyond understanding, just as her Master is going to pour out his love in a way that is beyond her understanding.

What Mary gives us is a model and inspiration for our own extravagant response.

We of course know what is to come for her and the others, for Jesus.  We know the marvelous end of this story and the beginning of the new story of God’s reign begun in Jesus.  We know more than she does at this point that Jesus’ sacrifice of himself was truly a new thing, the new covenant Jeremiah foretells, a new thing where the God who can bring a people out of bondage and return a people out of exile offers himself for the sake of those people.

This cross to which Jesus is heading is his choice, his willing giving up of all divine right and power and authority.  He does this, John says, to draw all people to himself.  To redeem, not to judge.  To save the world, not to condemn it.  The LORD was right back in Isaiah, but only after Easter do we fully understand how utterly new this is.  That the almighty God who made all things would set aside power in order to win us back with sacrificial love.  To seek and to save the lost, Jesus says.  To find us.  To find all.

What Mary teaches us is the proper response when such a Lord is present, when such a Christ is with us: there is nothing we give that is too extravagant, too priceless.  So when we worship, like Mary, we bring the best we can bring.  We have a choir that rehearses hours on one piece of music that lasts three and a half minutes at our liturgy, a waste of time to an efficient world.  But the gift of our best, our all, to the God whose love transforms us.

We take time in liturgy weekly to be with God, praise God, lament to God, be fed by God, to gather in God’s presence and give our best.  There are some who would see this as a waste of time, too.  But we have found that the love of the Triune God is so profoundly deep we are included in that love, broken and sinful that we are.  We have nothing better to do than be here to worship such a God.

We “waste” money on expensive candles and use them up in our worship, people among us “waste” a lot of time and care to bake bread which will be gone in ten minutes of Eucharist, because this is the best we can offer.  There would probably be cheaper options, but we don’t choose them.

And for your information, Judas, we also give of what we have to help others, feed others, love others because of this transformative love we have received.  Perhaps we could learn from Mary to be more extravagant with this, more wildly giving, that is true.  But the poor we always have with us, and we will care for them because we are loved by God with a death-defeating love.

And speaking of Judas, we also know this mystery and marvel: With such a new thing that God has done, such a new thing that includes even we who are broken and sinful, perhaps there is even room for Judas in it.  There was for Peter.  If Jesus truly came to seek and to save the lost, who is more lost in this story than Judas?  Cannot the One who is to be lifted up and draw all people to himself also bring Judas into his cruciform embrace?

We know it is so.  And that gives us more reason for abundant response like Mary’s, abundant joy, abundant grace to share with all who fear they have no place in God’s gracious abundance.

Perhaps what Mary invites us most today is to quit looking at her and start following her example.

The abundant love of God in a world that claims there is a scarcity of love, the overwhelming outpouring of the grace of God in a world that keeps score of wrongs and judges others, this is the reality that our Lord Christ has made known in his death and resurrection.  We are invited by Mary’s example to respond with the same abandon, the same joy, in worshipping the One who has done a new thing and is making all things new, and so participate in that making, that gracing of this world, this new creation.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Olive Branch, 3/15/13

Accent on Worship

A Reason to Worship

     There is a group on Facebook for ELCA clergy, and as much as I’d like to participate, I can’t read a single post and its comments without getting so frustrated I leave the post.  Typically people post questions of theology or practice, and seek responses or conversation with other ELCA clergy, which sounds good in theory.  But in practice, there’s always someone who gets sarcastic or snotty in their comments and dismissive of the one who posted, or commonly, of leadership in the ELCA.  It’s very tiresome.

     In the last week or so, someone posted a question about the liturgy of adoration of the cross, and wondered how people in the readers’ congregations did this, did they kneel, prostrate themselves, touch or kiss the cross, none of the above, or what?  It was a good question, and I almost posted an answer that at Mount Olive all of these things can be seen at our Good Friday liturgy when I saw that someone else posted just about the same thing.  I didn’t need to be redundant.

     Then I looked down the list of comments and saw: “I don’t care for such ‘man-made’ things,” a commenter who went on to mock even the conversation.  And there it was.  A posting dismissing what is valuable to the spiritual life of other Christians, even other Lutherans.  One can almost set one’s clock by such regularity.  In this case it was the dismissal of another congregation’s worship life based on some sense that the commenter had a “pure” worship, untainted by any human choice.  Of course, that can’t exist.  All our worship is human-made, though focused on God.

     But I thought of this as we consider on Sunday Mary of Bethany and her anointing of Jesus with perfume the value of which was the equivalent of nearly ten month’s wages for a daily laborer.  In John’s account Sunday, Judas complains that this could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  (Matthew and Mark both say “the disciples” complained.)  Mary is mocked for her act of devotion to her Lord, when in fact she may be the only one who’s paying attention to what’s about to happen.  This is on the verge of Holy Week, and Jesus has been foreshadowing his suffering and death, and the male disciples seem blithely unaware most times.  Mary, having just received her brother back alive from Jesus, decides to do an utterly extravagant and foolish thing.  She anoints Jesus with precious perfume, worth far too much.  But she does this because she is focused on Jesus, because he is her Lord, because she can sense something awful is about to happen, and because when you have the Lord with you, you worship him.

     We could learn from these disciples’ negative example when we consider other people and their worship.  Certainly our worship priorities and what we do at Mount Olive are easily mocked in some circles.  But how often do we do the same, criticizing others for their way of devotion?  Perhaps all Christians would do well to be silent when a Mary worships the Lord in a way we don’t understand or appreciate, and trust that perhaps she knows what to do when the Lord is near.

     At any rate, that’s where the Spirit seems to be leading me.  To remember that when we have the Lord with us all we can do is worship.  And to remember that others might express that worship in ways different from mine, and have different priorities.  But to rejoice that worship is happening all the same.  And perhaps the Spirit could help me, and us, find a little of Mary’s joyful extravagance as we consider worshipping the God who in Jesus has given us life and grace.

+ In Jesus’ name,
Joseph



Paschal Garden

     Members of the Worship Committee will be on hand this Sunday and next, March 17 and 24, between the liturgies, to receive your donations to purchase Easter flowers for this year’s Paschal Garden.



Sunday Readings

March 17, 2013 – Fifth Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21 + Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14 + John 12:1-8

March 24, 2013 – Sunday of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a + Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11 + Luke 22:14—23:56



Midweek Lenten Worship
Wednesdays in Lent
Noon – Holy Eucharist
7:00 pm – Evening Prayer



This Sunday’s Adult Forum

     Sunday, March 17 – “Symbolism in Bach’s Mass in b minor,” presented by Art Halbardier.



Semi-annual Congregation Meeting to be Held Sunday, April 28

     The Vestry has announced the date of the April semi-annual congregation meeting to be Sunday, Apr. 28, after the second liturgy.  Among the items on the agenda will be election of officers and directors, whose terms will begin on July 1.  Any wishing to suggest names to the nominating committee for the positions of president, vice-president, secretary, and directors of congregational life, evangelism, or neighborhood ministries are encouraged to contact Adam Krueger, congregational president.

     Also on the agenda are several constitutional and bylaw amendments presented to the congregation by the Vestry, which were attached to this issue of The Olive Branch as a separate document in the weekly email.  The first page, the constitutional amendments, is a second hearing of amendments presented and approved at the October semi-annual meeting.  Should these be approved again, with at least a 2/3 majority of those present and voting, they will be formally ratified.  The second pages are bylaw amendments which only need the one hearing and vote at this meeting.  Included in these amendments are bylaws establishing a business and finance committee, directed by the treasurer, and some corrective edits to several directors’ bylaws.



Dusting and Polishing Day

     The Altar Guild will host a chancel-cleaning event Saturday, March 16 (tomorrow!), from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. Bring your favorite duster and polishing rags, and help prepare our worship space for Holy Week and Easter. Questions? Contact Beth Gaede: bethgaede [at] comcast [dot] com.



Words for the Pilgrimage

Wednesdays in Lent: February 20, 27, March 6, 13, 20
• Noon – Holy Eucharist, followed by a soup and bread luncheon
• 6:00 p.m. – Soup, Bread, and Table Talk
• 7:00 p.m. – Evening Prayer

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”  Hebrews 12:1b-2a

     Christian believers have long likened our life of faith to a journey, a pilgrimage through this world.  On our Wednesdays this Lent we will explore words from an ancient sermon written to “the Hebrews.” These are words which use the same image, that of pilgrimage, and which provide guidance, direction, hope, and encouragement for this pilgrimage of life, as well as warnings and exhortations.  The book of Hebrews will be our companion on our journey, not a tour guide, but a fellow-traveler with us as we seek to live faithfully in this world as disciples.

     At noon, the preaching will be at the Eucharist; in the evening it will be during the soup supper, with conversation to follow.



Music & Fine Arts Event Date Revision

     Please note that the Uptown Brass will appear in concert at Mount Olive on April 21, 4:00 p.m. (not April 14, as previously published!).

     These five world-renowned brass virtuosos are all members of the Minnesota Orchestra and will present an exciting concert of gorgeous brass sonorities featuring great music ranging from Bach to Piazolla.



Book Discussion Group

     For the April 13 meeting the Book Discussion group will discuss In the Company of the Courtesan, by Sarah Dunant.  For the May 11 meeting we will discuss Children of God by Mary Doria Russell.  This is the sequel to her novel, The Sparrow, which we read earlier.



From the Vision Leadership Team

     A member of Mount Olive recently asked about our current “visioning” process after reading about it in The Olive Branch.  He said the very concept got him thinking about visions and wondering if there might be people in the congregation or known by members who see visions today.  It wouldn’t be surprising if there were.  There is a strong and long history in both Christian and Jewish tradition of God giving visions to select individuals in particular ways that edified and strengthened the Church.  Consider the prophet, Isaiah, or Hildegard von Bingen, a twelfth century Benedictine nun.

     “Isaiah, Mighty Seer of Old” is a powerful hymn to Isaiah’s vision of the throne room of God that continues to inspire Christians of all ages with its imagery and majesty.  Likewise the writings of Saint Hildegard have seen a remarkable rise in popularity in recent decades as people find themes in her visions that speak to many modern concerns: bringing science, art, and theology together; social justice and the duty of seeing that every person has opportunity to use their God-given talents; nature as God’s creation entrusted to our care to be used for our benefit but not to be mangled or destroyed.

     If there are people with even a hint of such vision in our midst, it is crucial to include what they "see" in Mount Olive’s visioning process.  The challenge, of course, is to engage them and provide opportunities to share their vision.  We may not know who they are or even whether they are.  They could be quite average or they might appear rather strange.  They may be heavily involved in parish life or somewhere on the fringes.  They may not even know themselves that God wants to use them in this way.

     We trust that God has a plan for Mount Olive and has important work for us do.  So we have committed to seek out opportunities for our people to catch and share their vision for what our ministries might look like.  We want each and every member to be involved in the process, allowing God to speak to us through prayer, Word, and Sacrament, observations of life in our neighborhoods, interviews with community leaders, and three focused congregational meetings.  Each of these will offer an opportunity for God-given visions to be shared, heard, and nurtured. Watch The Olive Branch in coming weeks for ways in which God might use you to reveal his vision for Mount Olive.



March is Minnesota FoodShare Month!

     It’s not too late to donate cash or groceries to the local food shelf during Minnesota FoodShare month in March. Minnesota Fooshare is the largest annual statewide food drive, mobilizing over 2,500 congregations, businesses, schools and civic organizations.   The Minnesota Council of Churches is just one of the sponsors of this annual event, which has a rich 31-year tradition celebrating the generosity of Minnesotans.  Hunger, however, is another fact of life in Minnesota.  According to Second Harvest, 100 million meals a year are missed by the citizens of this state.  Minnesota FoodShare serves 300 food shelves that in turn serve individuals and families in need of food.  The goal this year is $1 million in donated gifts.  A donation of money more than doubles the amount of food available to food shelves, because food shelves can purchase food at discounted prices.  If you choose to give in this way, make your check payable to Mount Olive and write Food Shelf on the memo line. If you prefer to donation non-perishable groceries, they may be brought to the cart in the coat room.


Have You Noticed?
Capital Campaign Tithe Display


     The current display in the Display case next to the Coat Room (between the church narthex and parish house) currently features information of an the last chapter of  Mount Olive’s most recent Capital Campaign, begun in 2007.  This effort, in which members and friends of the congregation raised over $1.1 million, made the renovated and welcoming spaces of the parish house, office spaces, and kitchens possible without incurring additional debt.  But in true Mount Olive fashion, the congregation chose to also set aside a tithe of the capital funds for use outside our walls.

     With $111,000 to share, it was decided to fund a few larger projects and multiple smaller projects and people and organizations were invited to submit requests to be reviewed by a team comprised of people from the Neighborhood Ministries and Mission committees as well as members from the congregation at-large.  The goal was to fund capital projects that embodied the ideals of the congregation and might also provide opportunities for future partnership with funded organizations.  Knowing that not all requests could be funded the application and review process was also seen as an opportunity to expand our knowledge of organizations serving God’s people both locally and internationally.

     The display case highlights the organizations that received funding as well as their response to your generosity.  A quick summary of the work these gifts enabled:

• Aliveness Project-a local agency serving persons living with HIV/AIDS is in the process of relocating and our gift was matched 100% to move them closer to the reality of occupying and furnishing these new spaces.

• Alliance Housing develops, owns and operates affordable housing in south Minneapolis.  Our gift will help furnish the apartments slated for East 26th and 17th Ave S.

• Bethania Kids is a long-time favorite mission of the congregation to the children of India.  Your funds to them are enabling them to open a new childcare center in the state of Orissa to provide medical and educational support and benefit to the people of this region.

• Common Hope, a mission to the people of Guatemala, received a grant to launch a new initiative that would assist families of young children provide the literacy skills necessary to succeed in school by providing training and children’s books.

• Division of Indian Work, Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches serves the social needs of urban American Indians while honoring their cultural traditions.  The funds they received enables them to update their computer lab used by young people to increase their technology and job skills.

• Lutheran Summer Music program received funds that allowed them to upgrade their again technology and broaden their reach to the youth of the church and also acquire a complete Bach Cantata collection that will serve not only as a resource to their ongoing work with youth, but also be available for loan to congregations unable to purchase music of this caliber of their own.

• Lutheran Social Services-seed funding to help build the Center for Changing Lives on Park Avenue.  This multi-function facility provides space for worship, meeting, and serving the needs of those who come to LSS for help.

• Minnesota without Poverty was granted funds to improve the Art Shoppe, a venture MOLC has been involved with from the start that enables artists to market their creations and realize an income from their work.  Funds will be used to make their store (in the Global Market near the church) more accessible for the artists and patrons alike.

• Our Saviour’s Community Services is another long-time partner with MOLC.  Their English Learning Center was in need of some new tables and updated materials to continue to be effective in helping adult immigrants and refugees gain fluency and increased independence and your gifts made that possible.

• St Paul Partners is a non-profit based in St Paul that enables the people of Tanzania to have universal access to safe water and health education.  Funds provided from the Capital Campaign Tithe have been dedicated to the construction of a new well in the Iringa Region of Tanzania.

     So on behalf of the countless lives touched by your generosity and compassion, in the moment and in the future, thank you.  Stop by the display case to read more about each of these projects as well as to hear from those who have benefited directly from this extraordinary effort.  To God alone be glory!



Liturgical Servers: Important Notice about Albs

     Acolytes, sacristans, assisting ministers, anyone who wears an alb, please check your alb’s condition.  Easter is coming and these garments need to be clean and wax-free, so let me know if yours is not.  If you are wearing alb #19, please let me know, because it needs to be replaced.

– Carol Austermann



National Lutheran Choir to Present Bach’s Mass in B Minor
Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 7:00pm
Central Lutheran Church, Minneapolis


     Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor (BWV 232) stands as one of the landmark creations in music history. The work was among the last composed by Bach before his death in 1750. The Mass was never performed in its totality during Bach's lifetime and it disappeared for much of the 18th century. Felix Mendelssohn, among others, was responsible for a revived interest in Bach's work and so there were a number of performances of the entire Mass in the early 19th century.

     Soloists Susan Palo Cherwien (soprano), Susan Druck (alto), Matthew Anderson (tenor), Paul Max Tipton (baritone) and many of the region's finest orchestra musicians will accompany us for this one-night-only performance.

     For ticket information, call 612-722-2301 or visit their website: www.nlca.com.  Don't miss it!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Midweek Lent 2013 + Words for the Pilgrimage (a walk with Hebrews)


Week 4:  “A Great Crowd”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Wednesday, 13 March 2013; texts: Hebrews 11:1-3; 12:1-2, 12-13; John 17:1a, 6-19

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

Last weekend a number of people from Mount Olive were privileged to worship at Great Vespers at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in St. Paul, where our administrator Cha Posz is a member.  Some of us arrived an hour early and were able to witness a baptism as well.  It was a beautiful evening and the hospitality and welcome of the people of Holy Trinity was gracious and warm.

As in most Orthodox places of worship, the walls and ceiling of the nave and chancel were covered in icons, and the icons at Holy Trinity were almost overwhelmingly beautiful.  We spent a little time after Vespers with Fr. Jonathan as he gave an introductory talk about them.  The place of the icon in Orthodox liturgy is a topic which requires far more time than we have here today.  But I wanted to share one impression that I had throughout the evening, as a Western Christian worshipping for the first time in a place where these faces surrounded us all, faces mostly of Biblical figures, but also some of more recent years.  At more than one point in the Vespers, I looked around and was deeply moved by the sense that I was experiencing a little of what the author of Hebrews was describing, that I was “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.”  These people of faith whose faces, and in some cases, whose words, were before and behind and beside, surrounded our prayer and our song, even encouraged and strengthened our prayer and our song.  It was an experience of the holy that I’ll not soon let go.

This might be the best part of this sermon to the Hebrews, the part we’re considering today, the claim by this ancient preacher that we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us as we journey through our lives.  One almost gets the image of a great stadium with this author’s language of running “with perseverance the race that is set before us.”  It’s as when in the Olympics, the marathon runners run their course with crowds encouraging them from the side of the road all along the way, and then at the end the runners arrive in Olympic stadium to a massive roar from the rest of the spectators who are gathered to cheer the finish.  It’s thrilling beyond description to think of our lives as so surrounded, so supported, so encouraged along our road, and to consider the greeting we will find at the finish of our own race.  And as we experience that pilgrimage of our lives, at whatever place we now find ourselves, it’s tremendously comforting and a great gift from this author to us.

There are several ways in which this great cloud, or perhaps we could say, great crowd of witnesses are God’s gift of grace to us on our journey.

The first is the witness of faith that those who have gone before us offer us.

The preacher to the Hebrews makes this point movingly in chapter 11, after the opening verses we heard just now.  After introducing the topic of faith, Hebrews moves to a great litany of people of faith who are for us models of faith and trust in God’s goodness.

Abel, Enoch, Noah.  Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph.  Moses, the people of Israel at the Red Sea, Rahab.  Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah.  David, Samuel, all the prophets.  All these people, like those in the icons at Holy Trinity, are offered to us as witnesses of what it is to live in faith.

“Faith,” Hebrews says, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  That’s a little hard to hold some days.

And these witnesses that Hebrews offers us, along with a list we would also add from the New Testament, were we to write this chapter, people like Mary Magdalene, Peter, Thomas, Mary and Martha, Stephen, Paul, these witnesses are our encouragement.  Because they are like us and yet lived in faith, we can learn from them and be encouraged and strengthened by their witness and experience.

And we have beyond these biblical witnesses those whom we call saints, some known to us and others known to the world, who are also such models and witnesses.

As I understand it from Cha, in the Orthodox church only those who have formally been called saints are referred to with that term.  In the West, we use it more freely to include both those officially recognized by the Church and those whose lives are lived in Christ, even to we ourselves as baptized children of God.

But that means that we in effect each make our own list of witnesses who have helped us.  Some are those shared by many, people like Francis, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, Julian of Norwich, countless saints whose lives have been and continue to be witnesses to us of what it is to live in faith.  The Church has an abundance of blessing in the sheer numbers of such witnesses.

But then we all have our more quiet list of those saints who have modeled the faith to us in our lives or to our families, those whom perhaps few others know but without whom we would not believe as we do, would not be able to journey as we do.

And this is the great crowd which shows us a life of faith in the wilderness, which helps us see a path, helps us understand our own faltering steps.

But this preacher doesn’t limit the crowd to those who have witnessed in the past.  There is also confidence that we all are companions to each other on this journey, in profoundly important ways.

The gift of the community of faith that Jesus gives is that we do not journey through this wilderness of life alone.

As some of you know, I’ve been in a spiritual direction group with three other pastors and a spiritual director for 14 years.  It’s been a tremendous gift of companionship having these four people on my journey of faith and in my ministry.  And that has been the metaphor that has best described the experience: these are companions who walk on the same path as I, and they are looking ahead with me.  They help me see potholes, catch my arm when I stumble, and help me as I reach a crossroads to discern which path seems best.

This is what Hebrews says we all are for each other.  We are given the gift of community in Christ, and this is no small gift.  As companions in our journey together, we surround and care for each other and look to the needs and concerns of each other, we “lift drooping hands,” as the writer says, “strengthen weak knees, make straight paths for the feet”.  This is Jesus’ gift of the Body that he creates, that others help us as we walk the path of our lives, help us navigate the tricky parts, even help smooth out the rough parts, as Hebrews says.  Knowing that we do not walk alone, but are strengthened by our fellow travelers sustains and refreshes us again and again for the journey.

But if you look at these words, this is not only comfort, but exhortation, that we take seriously our role as companions of others on the journey.  Hebrews exhorts us all to be this to each other, not simply to bask in receiving it from others.

And at our best, as a community of faith, we both receive and give help on our pilgrimage, because we do it together.  And that companionship is also simply the comfort of having fellow travelers, who share our stories, pass the time, laugh with us and cry with us, who make our journey lighter by being with us and we with them.

There is one more element we’ve not considered about this “crowd” of witnesses, and that is the word “cloud” that Hebrews uses.

When the writer says we are surrounded by so great a “cloud” of witnesses, we are given an image which suggests the very real presence of those who have gone before us, the hosts of heaven.  This is not simply the role we’ve already considered, that these are past witnesses of faith, either in our lives or the history of the Church and before, the people of Israel.  This is something much more.

There is in Hebrews, and subsequently in the theology of the Church these past 2,000 years, a pervasive sense that those who have gone before us are even now surrounding us and encouraging us.  This is the role of saints as those who cheer on the sidelines at a marathon.  They who have gone before us and who are at the throne of God now surround and cheer us on in our race, our journey.

There is much we don’t know about what it is like to have died and still have the world awaiting Jesus’ return and the full restoration of the kingdom.  There are some who pick up on hints in Paul that we simply all sleep, and all are raised at the last day.  That may well be.

But there are also these hints, which the Church has deeply rooted into its theology and powerfully in its hymnody, that those who have died and gone before us are not asleep but actively worshipping at the throne of God even now, and as Hebrews suggests, surrounding us.

Hymn after hymn speak of the saints who worship God and who are joining us in prayer and praise.  Our Eucharistic prayers frequently invite those who have gone before us to join in our prayer and thanksgiving.  And frankly, many of us have experienced a sense of this presence, this surrounding cloud, as comfort and hope in our journey of life.

Therefore, Hebrews says, let us run with perseverance this race set before us.

With such witnesses past and present, models and encouragers, cheerers-on, we now take our turn in the journey, and focus ourselves on our pioneer, the perfecter of our faith, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose death and resurrection we also hope and find life.  He is the One who, as we hear in his prayer in John, specifically asked the Father to support us as a community, that we might be together even when he is gone.  He is the One who asks this of the Father in order that we, his community, might have his joy completed in ourselves.

This is the joy which sustains us in our race, our pilgrimage, our journey.  We are not alone, with Christ ahead of us and all the witnesses around us, and so we move forward with hope and confidence toward the life God is even now making in us all.  And best of all, toward that life which we will only know fully when we finally arrive at the stadium and finish our race to the cheers of those who have already finished and are celebrating our arrival.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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