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Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Watered Garden

The worship the Triune God desires of us is one where our lives are centered on God, our rest, our care for others, our work for justice, and when all that happens, our lives will be a watered garden in the presence of God.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Lectionary 21, year C; texts: Isaiah 58:(6-9a), 9b-14; Luke 13:10-17

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

We live in a broken world, a world where people suffer, where the creation itself suffers.  Where we suffer.  A world where evil seemingly thrives in more places than we can deal with, where we often feel powerless.  A world that we ourselves have divided into things sacred and things secular.  A world where we wonder where God is, and why God doesn’t do a better job.

We live in a world of our own making.  It is not the Eden of old, and that is certainly our fault; much as we would like to blame our forebears, we are thrown out of the garden by our own doing, our own actions, our own inaction.  We know this.

Yet when we come here in this place, on the Lord’s day, for a brief time we feel as if we are truly in a different world.  A world of beauty and grace.  A world where God’s word is “yes,” where healing truly is possible.  A world where we know that we are loved by God and that all are loved by God.  And we wonder: “why can’t this occur outside of here?”

We have a word of God from Isaiah that suggests God actually intends to make this world as it was meant to be, that what we experience here belongs out there, everywhere.  That what we see “out there” is not what is meant to be, that what we experience is not God’s will.

Because the LORD God, through Isaiah’s words, is telling us that part of our problem is that we have divided our world inappropriately.  That we call what we do in here on a Sunday worship, and what we do out there in the world something else.  That we seek God in this place but rarely expect God out there.  For God, according to this word of Isaiah, worship is far greater than we imagined.  And the way back to the created beauty of such a place as Eden is through true worship of God for whom there is no sacred or secular but only one existence in which the true God is moving and calling to us, and to all God’s children, who in turn live their lives in healing, restoring worship.

The people of Israel are sorely misled, Isaiah boldly shouts, if they believe that true worship of God is unrelated to their whole lives.

I asked the lector to start the reading from Isaiah a few verses before what was assigned so we could get a fuller context to our reading, but we could easily have gone back to the beginning of this chapter.  The LORD tells Isaiah to shout out the rebellion of the people, that they pretend to be a people who seek the ways of God, people who delight in the LORD, but God says they are not so.  They fast, they practice the proper religious rituals, but they don’t understand why God has seemingly abandoned them.  This is prophetic word from after the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon.

What is clear from the prophet in this chapter is that there is a disconnect between the worship of the people and their sense of God’s blessing on their lives and their world.  They complain, in verse 3, “Why do we fast but you do not see?  Why humble ourselves, and you do not notice?”  In other words, we’re worshipping faithfully here, and you don’t seem to care, God.  Life still has problems, pain, suffering.

What follows is the rebuke of the LORD toward these people.  In the verses preceding our reading this morning, God says that the people look to their own needs and interests on the LORD’s day.  Worse, they oppress their workers; they fast, but then go off and quarrel with each other.  They even fight and “strike with a wicked fist.”

Why on earth would God consider this worship and faithfulness? Isaiah asks.  What we heard this morning is God’s answer as to what true worship really is, what God is seeking from the people.  And, we must say, from us as well.

And it’s a lot more than we thought worship was.

“Is not this the fast that I choose,” says the LORD?  (It’s hard to be clearer than that.)  There are two elements to this “fast,” this true worship.  Both are non-negotiable.

The first element of the fast the LORD chooses, the true worship, is centered on our relationship with others.  Jesus would say, quoting the Old Testament, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It’s a powerful vision that God’s sense of true worship begins with our care for others, in three specific areas.

First, true worship begins with the breaking of the yoke, the removing of the yoke.  Using an agricultural image, the prophet speaks of a tool placed on draft animals that draws on their energy to make work happen.  So we are told that when others’ lives and energy are used for our profit, our benefit, when others suffer so that we might enjoy what we have, we are using them as slaves, as pack animals, beasts of burden.

True worship of God begins with removing such injustice from our society, from our institutions, from our world.  We cannot pretend to be free, we cannot pretend to be delighting in God, when we participate in structures that bind, oppress, and harm others.  When we take advantage of other people.

Second, true worship begins with the ending of evil between us and other peoples, when we stop pointing the finger at each other, at friends, at enemies.  There is no way we can consider ourselves truly in line with God, truly worshipping, if in our lives we point blame at others instead of ourselves, speak evil of others, and act as if we are blameless.

It’s hard to find a more direct and appropriate prophetic word about our culture and our lives than these two, both the yoke of oppression and now this “pointing of the finger” Isaiah names.  So long as we refuse to consider our participation in the evil of this world, the evil of our lives, even the oppression of others, so long as we speak ill of others, we are not truly able to worship God.

Third, true worship begins when we “offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted”.  When we bring the homeless poor into our homes, share the abundance of bread we have with those who cannot find food, and clothe the naked.  Little wonder Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats: it is in meeting such needs, even Isaiah says, that we truly worship God, truly see God.  Or as Jesus would say, “when you do this to one of these, you do it to me.”

The second element of the fast the LORD chooses, the true worship, is centered on our relationship with God.  Jesus would say, quoting the Old Testament, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

This Sabbath worship Isaiah speaks of is not the same as the rule-loving Pharisees speak of in our story of Jesus today.  For them, keeping Sabbath is following the form, the rule, more than the spirit of Sabbath.

Isaiah, rather, speaks the word of the LORD that when we spend seven days a week year round on our own interests, our own needs, our own priorities, we leave little to no room for God.  It is remarkable that in this passage keeping a Sabbath rest, taking one day in seven to focus on God, on living in the love and grace of God’s priorities, is as important as caring for the neighbor.

Isaiah’s people are “trampling” on the Sabbath.  They’re not just ignoring it.  They’re willfully doing their own things, caring for their own needs, even on Sabbath.  But Isaiah says that cannot be worship.  Until they, until we, take time for Sabbath rest every week, time to focus on God and not ourselves, we cannot truly worship.

This is part of what we are all doing here this morning, to be sure.  But it is so much more.  There is a sense in these verses of a life that is shaped and fed and described by weekly rest with God.  When you call the Sabbath a delight, when you find the holy day honorable, then, then, Isaiah says, you shall truly take delight in the LORD.  It’s hard to love the LORD your God if we never take time away from our own interests, and nigh on to impossible to care for God’s concerns if we focus only on our own.

Interesting, isn’t it, that Isaiah’s order is different than we are used to hearing: here neighbor is first, then God.  But both are necessary for the promises to be revealed, fulfilled, lived, experienced.  Because that’s the real joy of this word of God in Isaiah today: if we do these things, then wonderful things will happen.

Now, let us say this clearly: “If and then” is not a question of conditional love of God; it is a statement by the Triune God that if certain things happen, there will be wonderful consequences.

The unconditional love of God for us and for all people is not at risk here by our self-centeredness and lack of love for our neighbor or for God.  Rather, what the LORD God is saying to us in these verses is simple cause and effect: if we live in such love of neighbor and love of God, we will see amazing things.

There will be a unity to our lives where we do not see part of our lives as “ours” and “secular” and part of our lives as “God’s” and “sacred.”  All things become holy, all our lives become God’s, and everything, everything becomes worship.

When we break the yoke, stop pointing the finger, stop speaking evil, and start sharing food and caring for the needs of others, the world becomes a beautiful place, the LORD says.  Light shines into our lives and into the world.  Our bones, and the bones of our neighbors, will become strong, God says.  Ancient ruins will be rebuilt, roads repaired, safe streets created.

It couldn’t be simpler: caring for others and dealing with all that entrenched evil is the pathway God says leads to a world as God intended it to be.

Likewise, when we take our Sabbath rest and focus weekly on our love of God, we not only are filled with that love.  We actually begin living in such a way that we are children of God, sharing all the delight that means.  We take our inheritance alongside Jacob and all the other ancestors of faith, Isaiah says.

Our lives become one with God and with each other.

When God’s people see their entire lives as worship, their entire lives as shaped by love of neighbor and love of God, things in God’s world will dramatically improve.  That’s the promise.  The world will become one with God’s will and intent.  And God’s healing will begin to flow everywhere.

The image that seems to come to my heart the most in these words is this line: “You shall be a watered garden.”

Our whole lives of faith begin with the sense of the loss of Eden, the loss of intimacy with God and with each other.  Ever since, humanity has fought with each other, fought with God, separated our lives from each other and from God, and lived as if we were in charge.

And we wonder why things are so horrible.

Now we know: if we find true worship in God’s answer, we will find our lives and this whole world becoming like a watered garden, and we will find God restoring the creation through us, through all, into the world God has intended from the beginning.

And all things will be full of the knowledge of God, all our lives, everything will be worship, and we will see things we only have dreamed until now, for “the mouth of the LORD has spoken this.”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Olive Branch, 8/21/13

Accent on Worship

A Great Gift

     Once a young J. S. Bach set out on foot for a 250 mile journey,  a four week  leave to observe Buxtehude in Lübeck.  It turned into a three-month absence for which he was punished.  Since he had hired a replacement (Johann Ernst Bach), he didn’t worry about the extension  because he had “hoped the organ playing had been so well taken care of by the one he had engaged for the purpose that no complaint could be entered on that account.”  Indeed.

     We have no way of knowing the significance of Bach’s trip,  but I’m guessing it was pretty influential for the 20-some year-old budding genius.   What’s three months in the grand scheme of things,  given the impact of this person’s lifetime of work?  Imagine if his superiors gripped on to him and his time,  thus depriving him of what most likely was significant input.

     I am lucky. I serve a congregation who understands the value of this kind of thing.  I’m hardly in my twenties anymore,  but input is still vital for me, and for all of us, actually.  The best way I learn is through experiences,  through observation,  having the chance to get out and hear and experience what’s going on elsewhere.  This will be my third sabbatical in my career,  and the second one during my time here at Mount Olive.  Each of the previous times were rich with experiences which fed our energy upon returning.  I’m expecting the same this go around.

     I’m energized by travel – by adventure.  And I will be doing a lot of it!  I will begin in Europe,  where my calling was begun – twice – first as a 13- year-old organ student in southern France,  then as a fresh college graduate studying Church Music in Berlin. I will be in Paris for two weekends,  attending 5 liturgies each Sunday (I’ve developed a Sunday itinerary that includes 3 Eucharists,  and 2 organ recitals).  I will then head to Berlin to see the people and places of my schooling 30 years ago,  and then to Leipzig,  to attend the weekend’s activities which include Motets and Cantatas.

     Following that trip, I was able to accept hymn festival invitations that I normally would not (because I GET to be here!),  and they will take me (and Susan who has also been invited to present at these) to Midland, Texas,  Lancaster, Pennsylvania,  Orange County, California,  Phoenix, Arizona,  and Indianapolis, Indiana!
     In mid October,  I will observe rehearsals and attend Evensong at King’s College, Cambridge England – an experience that I’m especially excited about.

     To top it off,  there is a wonderful series of concerts in New York City on the theme of spirituality – and I’m hoping we can go there to experience some of those in November.

     It will be a rich time – and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity, and the time.  Who knows what three months of input will do to my output in the six years that follow!

     Yet, sabbaticals work in both directions!  It is an opportunity for you to experience gifts of someone with different set of experiences, bringing new and fresh ideas to into your midst.

     In my place here at Mount Olive will be William Beckstrand.  He is an outstanding musician,  known for composition and church music!  He has served several parishes in the Twin Cities and Duluth,  and is currently a full time composer.  His gifts will be different,  and I know wonderful.  And I pray your gifts to him will also be a blessing!

     I will keep in touch.  Watch The Olive Branch for how I’ll decide to do that.

- Cantor Cherwien

Sunday Readings

Aug. 25, 2013 – Time after Pentecost: Sunday 21 
Isaiah 58:9b-14 + Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29 + Luke 13:10-17

Sept. 1, 2013 – Time after Pentecost: Sunday 22
Proverbs 25:6-7 + Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 + Luke 14:1, 7-14

Regular Worship Schedule to Resume September 8

On Sunday, September 8, we return to our regular worship schedule of two Sunday 
liturgies at 8:00 and 10:45 a.m.

Sunday Church School and Adult Education also resume on that day.

Book Discussion Group

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion group meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. at church. For the September 14 meeting they will discuss Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, and for November 9, Parade's End, by Ford Madox Ford.

Women’s Vocal Ensemble – for August 

     A women’s ensemble will be assembled to sing at the Eucharist this Sunday, August 25, 9:30 service.  We will have one rehearsal, that morning at 8:00 a.m.  (coffee provided!)  Contact Cantor Cherwien if you would like to sing, or simply come this Sunday, August 25, at 8:00 am.

Congregational Care Comes to the Forum

     The art of giving and accepting care will be a forum topic during the coffee hour on Sunday, October 13.  Many at Mount Olive find themselves in the role of caregiver while others find themselves in the often unfamiliar spot of having to accept care from others.  While we tend to think of this as an “old people’s problem”, this is a generational concern as people care for aging parents, sick friends, special needs children, and ourselves.

     Key to care is knowledge of services and programs available in our state and city and how to access them.  While most of us know a little bit about some things, laws change and it is hard to keep up.  The forum could address a variety of topics, such as:

-  End of life issues - how to plan for known and unknown entities and how to access help.  Learn about health care directives, Hospice, and plan your funeral.
-  Family support - shifting roles, new responsibilities, changes in and losses of a loved one.  What will you need to help get through the tough times?
-  Unexpected life transitions – i.e. divorce, suicide, chronic illness, parenting small and adult children, and all the unanticipated twists and turns of life.
- Spiritual resources – accepting God’s grace through the loving action of the Mount Olive community.  We all need to learn and be open to how this works.

     This is a tall order for one forum!  The final shape of the hour depends on what topical interest emerges as a “high demand” priority.  Please weigh in via phone, email, or conversation by contacting Marilyn Gebauer at 651-704-9539 or by email at  Feel free to speak with any of the other members of the Congregational Care Committee: Cathy Bosworth, Peggy Hoeft, and Warren Peterson.  

Arts on Chicago

     On the counter outside of the church office reception window, there is a basket that contains a handy pocket-sized "Arts On Chicago" guide.  Please help yourself and take advantage of the many arts offerings in the neighborhood around Mount Olive.

A Note of Thanks

     Thank you to the many friends and members of Mount Olive who lifted my health in prayer during and following my recent surgery.  Pastor's visit to the hospital along the many expressions of encouragement and good health, both in person and via cards, have indeed been a blessing and brought about the desired healing. Now to work on getting my voice back!

- Adam Krueger

Mission spotlight: LWF–Jerusalem

     Mount Olive’s Missions Committee each year selects new and continuing national and global projects for relatively modest direct grants that are in addition to our mission support through the ELCA. Our funding—on behalf of the congregation—of the Lutheran World Federation’s Jerusalem work, which falls under LWF’s Department for World Service, supports Palestinian refugees and others through the 100-year-old Augusta Victoria Hospital (which, happily for us, is located on the Mount of Olives!), a vocational training program for young men and women, scholarships, and work in peace, justice, and reconciliation. Last year LWF’s Jerusalem program (which now extends to serving Syrian refugees in the Zaatari camp in northern Jordan) served nearly 28,000 people at the hospital, more than 700 in the vocational program, and awarded scholarships and material help to almost 3,500 people. Mount Olive’s role in this troubled part of the world may be small, but we are there.

Neighborhood Ministries Newsletter
Available This Weekend

     Greetings from Mount Olive Neighborhood Ministries, the Neighborhood Ministries quarterly newsletter, will be distributed following the liturgy this Sunday, August 25.  If you will not be in church that day and wish to pick it up, it will be in the church office and also in the narthex.

Pictorial Directory Information

     Photography for the new Mount Olive On Line Pictorial Directory will begin the first week of September with EARLY dates in August.


     If you would like to have the picture for your household taken before kids depart for college or if you are not available during the month of September for a photography session, please call the church office at 612-827-5919, or contact Paul Nixdorf at   612-296-0055   or by email to  to arrange for a photography session before the end of August.

     We will be producing an online digital directory.  This online directory will be password-protected so that access is limited to Mount Olive folks who are issued a password through the church office. For those who do not have computer access a hard copy will be available.

     Photography sessions will take place at Mount Olive Lutheran Church. Arrangements will be made for photographs of shut-ins.

     An email will be sent to each household of the parish giving instructions as to how you can sign up for a photography session.  There will be time slots for photography sessions during the month of September on weekday afternoons and evenings.  Time slots will be available on weekends.

     For those households that do not have e-mail, a letter will be sent via US Mail with instructions for scheduling their photography session.

     After the initial period of self-initiated photography session sign up, follow up contacts and phone calls will be made to arrange for those households that have not scheduled their session.

     In the week following your photography session, you will be asked to select one of the photographs taken of you or your household for the directory.  Each person/household will be given a digital copy of the photo selected for the directory.  There will be an opportunity to purchase prints and or digital copies of your photos should you want to do so.

     We need volunteers for the following jobs related to the project:
a) Hosts during the photo sessions at the church
b) Data entry and photo management that can be done from your home online
c) Follow up phone scheduling.

     If you would be willing to assist with one of these jobs, please contact Andrew Andersen at, or Sandra Pranschke at

First MFA Event for 2013-14 Season
The Portland Cello Project
Friday, September 13, 7:30 pm

     Mount Olive Music and Fine Arts presents cellists doing innovative things with music!! The Portland Cello Project has wowed audiences all over the United States with extravagant performances. The group has built a reputation mixing genres and blurring musical lines and perceptions wherever they go. No two shows are alike, with everything from Beethoven to Arvo Pärt to instrumental covers for Adele, Kanye West and Pantera. Check them out at

     A reception follows in the Chapel Lounge. This event is free and open to the public, and a free-will offering will be received to support the Music and Fine Arts program.

Summer Worship Schedule Draws to a Close

     Sunday, September 1 (Labor Day weekend) will be our last day on summer worship schedule. Beginning Sunday, September 8, we resume our regular worship schedule of two Sunday liturgies at 8:00 and 10:45 a.m.

Stop and Shop

     Summer art fairs are over and The Art Shoppe in the Midtown Global market is well stocked! Beautiful and unique works of art from over 60 artists are waiting to be purchased and worn or used by you and your friends and loved ones.

     Come and shop in the air-conditioned comfort of the Midtown Global Market!

Freedom of the Christian: Bible Study on Thursday Evenings Starting Sept. 19

     The first Thursday Bible study series of this year begins on Thursday, Sept. 19, and runs for six weeks.  Meeting in the Chapel Lounge from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Pr. Crippen lead a study of the book of Galatians, one of Paul’s most vital and important letters.  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!

TRUST: Coming Activities

     Cooperative Older Adult Ministries (CoAM) will sponsor a new Life Enrichment Series beginning October 7. This educational series will focus on the relations between the U.S. and other countries, such as China and Egypt. Mount Olive member, Dan Burow, will speak on the founding of our country and the Revolutionary War.

     Two tours will also be offered in the coming months. The first is an autumn train excursion on October 24, cost is $57 per person. The second is  a trip to see a Christmas play, “Sorry, Wrong Chimney,” presented by Day Trippers Dinner Theater on December 12. The cost for that trip is $51 per person.
     For more information about these and other TRUST happenings, see the bulletin board downstairs near Donna’s office.

Friendly Callers Meet for Check-In This Sunday August 25

     Mount Olive’s Friendly Callers will meet for a brief check-in August 25, following the 9:30 Eucharist.  We will meet near the Library for a short stand-up meeting to check the progress of our Friendly Calling Program and to offer each other support.  Any questions about the Friendly Callers can be directed to Sue Ellen Zagrabelny at 815-997-6020.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Looking to Jesus

Following Jesus, according to Jesus himself, according to our forebears in faith, according to the reality of life in this world, is fraught with challenges, divisions, pain and suffering at times; yet we follow Jesus who walked it himself, and will bring all to completion and heal all the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Lectionary 20, year C; texts: Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Note to the reader: 
This sermon begins with a retelling of a story first told by Jack Hitt, on This American Life, National Public Radio.  I read it from a transcript of the 500th episode, which was a compendium of previous shows, and which aired July 12, 2013.  It is truly an oral story, and will likely have more impact if heard first and not read.  At the transcript on the show’s website,, there is also a link to the audio of the whole show:  This segment begins at 35:35, a little over halfway through the show.
Listen to him tell it.  You’ll be glad you did. – Pr. Crippen

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

I heard a story on the National Public Radio program This American Life a month ago and I’d like to share it with you.  I’m going to read the actual transcript since it isn’t my story, and since I also couldn’t retell it any better than the speaker.  It’s a story by a man named Jack Hitt, and he tells it about his four year old daughter. [1]

“It all began at Christmas two years ago, when my daughter was four years old.  And it was the first time that she had ever asked about what did this holiday mean?  And so I explained to her that this was celebrating the birth of Jesus.  And she wanted to know more about that.  And we went out and bought a kid’s Bible and had these readings at night.  She loved them.  Wanted to know everything about Jesus.  So we read a lot about his birth and about his teaching.

“And she would ask constantly what that phrase was.  And I would explain to her that it was ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  Then we would talk about those old words and what that all meant.

“And then one day, we were driving past a big church, and out front was an enormous crucifix.  She said, ‘Who is that?’  And I guess I’d never really told that part of the story.  So I had to sort of – ‘Yeah, oh, well, that’s Jesus.  And I forgot to tell you the ending, yeah.  Well, you know, he ran afoul of the Roman government.  This message that he had was so radical and unnerving to the prevailing authorities of the time that they had to kill him.  They came to the conclusion that he would have to die.  That message was too troublesome.’

“It was about a month later after that Christmas we’d gone through the whole story of what Christmas meant.  And it was mid-January, and her preschool celebrates the same holidays as the local schools.  So Martin Luther King Day was off.  And so I knocked off work that day and I decided we’d play, and I’d take her out to lunch.

“And we were sitting in there, and right on the table where we happened to plop down, was the Arts section of the local newspaper.  And there, big as life, was a huge drawing by, like, a 10-year-old kid from the local schools, of Martin Luther King.  And she said, ‘Who’s that?’  And I said, ‘Well, as it happens, that’s Martin Luther King.  And he’s why you’re not in school today, because we’re celebrating his birthday.  This is the day we celebrate his life.’

“And she said, ‘So who was he?’  I said, ‘Well, he was a preacher.’  And she looks up at me and goes, (excitedly) ‘For Jesus?’  And I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, actually he was.  But there was another thing that he was really famous for, which is that he had a message.’  And you’re trying to say this to a four-year-old.  It’s very – this is the first time they ever hear anything, so you’re just very careful about how you phrase everything.

“So I said, ‘Well, yeah, he was a preacher, and he had a message.’  And she said, ‘What was his message?’  And I said, ‘Well, he said that you should treat everybody the same, no matter what they look like.’  And she thought about that for a minute.  And she said, ‘Well, that’s what Jesus said.’  And I said, ‘Yeah, I guess it is.  I never thought of it that way, but yeah.  And that is sort of like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”’

And she thought for a minute and looked up at me and said, ‘Did they kill him too?’”

Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!  From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided.”

We have so much difficulty hearing these words.  Too often we inwardly wish that we could skip them and read past them.  We’d like to dodge any suggestion that Jesus asks something of people that doesn’t unite but divides, that might even break up families.

Yet this little girl, who apparently from the story at any rate had little religious upbringing, this four year old child heard of Jesus and what he taught and what happened to him and knew two things intuitively and definitively about Martin Luther King, Jr.: One, what Dr. King said was the same as what Jesus said.  And two, it wouldn’t be surprising if he was killed for it just like Jesus was.

Why is it so hard for us to take Jesus seriously here?  Why do we pretend he was this innocuous, easy-going person?  He was killed for what he taught: does that tell us nothing?

Do we want to forget that the reason he’s so anxious and even angry in this story is that he knows he’s heading toward his death, something that will be brutal and horrifying, something that he wishes could be over and done with?

We are too often like Simon Peter, who prompted this whole little tirade by his oblivious and blind question a few verses earlier.  After the parable we heard last Sunday, about being good slaves who are always ready for the master to return, even as a thief in the night, Peter asks, “Are you telling this parable for us, or for everyone else?”

In other words, “you’re really worried about all those other people not being ready, right Lord, not your beloved inner circle of disciples?”  The verses between last week’s Gospel and today’s are Jesus’ blistering response to Peter.

He tells another parable about slaves being ready, but with a twist.  In this parable, there are some slaves who know their master is returning, but when he’s delayed they decide to party, eating and drinking until they’re drunk, beating their fellow slaves.  When the master returns, they are horribly punished.

But the punch line is that because they ought to have known better, they are worse off than those who ignorantly aren’t doing the work of the master.  “To whom much is given, much is required” comes at this point.  And what Jesus would have us and Peter know is this: for those who know what discipleship is, who know what the master would have us do, and choose not to do it, for those it will be far worse than for those who never heard.

It’s likely that if we do fail at our service, our discipleship, our faithfulness, it is because we’d rather avoid the consequences Jesus speaks of for those who follow, consequences even a four year old child can grasp.

The letter to the Hebrews is no less honest or difficult than Jesus today.  Same with Jeremiah.  In that amazing laundry list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews the terrible things that happened to those who were faithful is astonishing.  I’m no expert in advertising, but if you’re trying to attract believers, talking about tortures, being sawn in two, and living in holes in the ground is not likely to win converts any more than promises of division within families.

And the LORD says through Jeremiah that prophets who talk dreamily to people might win the favor of the people but not of God.  Yet speaking the word of God is always going to get the prophet in hot water with everyone else.

Gideon, on the Hebrews list, was a hero of mine as a child, but there’s a part of the story we often forget.  Right after he is called by God to lead the Israelites against the oppression of the Midianites, the first thing he is asked to do is tear down his father’s altar to Baal, and the sacred pole next to it, using his father’s second best ox.  Then he’s to chop up the altar and the pole, and burn that second best ox on the wood as a purifying sacrifice to the LORD.

It turns out his father defends his actions to the enraged townspeople, but how do you think Gideon initially felt about that request?  To follow the LORD is to potentially stand against even your closest family.

We cannot pretend either that these are ancient anomalies or that they are not so.  The history of the Church, the history of our own lives, is riddled with divisions and pain caused by people seeking faithfully to serve their Lord and Master Christ Jesus.

The whole church on earth is split into two parts, and a thousand years later we’re still divided.  The western part of that church is split into hundreds of pieces and five hundred years later we’re still divided.  Congregations kick people out for professing their understanding of the Gospel, congregations split, denominations sever ties with other denominations and self-implode over questions of true discipleship.

We don’t need Jeremiah, Hebrews, and Jesus to tell us this is so.  There is a harsh reality that following the way of Christ is not only hard, individually and collectively, but that it leads to divisions, pain, suffering and all sorts of difficulty.

So what are we supposed to do?  Three things seem to rise before us.

First, we might wish to learn that avoiding division is not a worthy goal as we seek to be faithful.  Jesus and the others aren’t being prescriptive here, saying that the hope of following Christ is that divisions occur.

At the same time, what is clear is that if we are making our decisions so that no one is offended, so that all are always unified, we’re probably not being faithful servants of Christ.  We may not want to disagree with each other, or other Christians, and we certainly don’t try to do things that cause division.

But if Jesus is describing reality here, which all evidence says he is, we also cannot let our fear of division or setback or suffering keep us from doing what we believe our Lord and Master is calling us to do.

Second, this means, obviously, that we are better off when we follow where our discernment tells us God is leading, regardless of consequences.  This means that we need to learn how to discern faithfully the calling of the Triune God.

We need to learn how to understand when we are at a crossroads, where to look for guidance and advice, how to listen to other believers and each other and to the Church, and how our Lord Christ speaks to us.

But when we have done that to the best of our ability, and when we feel we know where the Spirit is leading, we’d best do it, rather than play the part of Peter and say, “this is really for others to do, right?  We’ll play it safe, if you don’t mind.”

And this applies individually and collectively, to our own personal faith journeys and spiritual lives, to the life and journey of this and every congregation, and to the life and journey of all the ways we are joined to other believers in this world.

Third, when we look back at what Hebrews says, we find that division and pain are not the end, that there is something more.  “Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” Hebrews writes, “let us look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”.

Both words are critical.  Jesus is the pioneer, we see that in today’s Gospel.  He goes before us into the world, facing what is often a hard road, with people seeking to destroy him because he embodies the love and grace of God for all.  He is our pioneer, today rather frustratedly and urgently calling to us, but always calling us to follow, even though the road is likely to be hard.

This is a great promise: whatever we might face in being faithful, our Lord has faced worse, and so walks with us.  Even to death, so there is nothing anyone can do to us that is worse than what the One who leads us experienced.

But Jesus is also the “perfecter,” which literally means the “completer,” of our faith.  Hebrews says that the faith journey of those heroes listed was not perfected, that is, completed, without the current generation.  Therefore, says Hebrews, salvation is never completed until all are brought together as one by the Christ who on the cross draws all people to himself.

Whatever divisions we have, whatever pain we suffer, whatever problems come from our faithful discipleship, they are never the end, never the final word.  The final word is always that through the cross and resurrection Jesus has in fact brought peace, not division, and has perfected, completed the salvation God has begun in him.

Make no mistake, the life of discipleship Jesus envisions requires courage of us.

We know that we will receive that courage as a gift of the Spirit when we pray, and so it is meet and right that we so pray.  Let us do that.

But let us also resolve that we face Jesus and his call honestly and openly, without dodging or ignoring, without seeking an easy way around.  It will not be easy for us.  It never is.  Even a child can tell us that.

But we have our Pioneer who goes before us and who in his death and resurrection completes the plan of God which will bring all into the life and grace of the Triune God.

“Yes, Peter; yes, all of you at Mount Olive; yes, all my children,” Christ says, “this parable is for you, not just everyone else.  But be not afraid, for I have overcome the world.  Come, follow me.”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


Thursday, August 15, 2013


The titles the Church has given to St. Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, suggest not only who Mary is but speak a truth about who we are, and the honor given her by God is an honor we also share.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, the feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord; text: Luke 1:46-55

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

 “O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, lead their praises: ‘Alleluia!’
Thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious, magnify the Lord: ‘Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!’”

The English Hymnal of 1906, edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Dearmer, is a seminal and important work in the life of the Church at large, not just the English church, and has given us rich hymnody in our own Lutheran worship books.  These words, which we sang at the start of our liturgy, were first sung from this hymnal, and were composed by J. Athelstan Riley, who was the chair of the hymnal’s editorial board.  Riley, in turn, based this particular stanza on ancient Eastern Orthodox prayers to St. Mary, the mother of our Lord, prayers which are still sung in Orthodox churches today.

There is something subversive about these words when they are included in Lutheran books of worship, as they have been since 1958 in this country, and when they’re sung by Lutherans who are dismissive of giving any special honor to Jesus’ mother, who might consider it too Roman Catholic, whatever that means.  Because this entire second stanza is about Mary, calling her “higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim,” and inviting her, now, to lead the heavenly host in praise of the Triune God.  The hymn assumes she holds an elevated status, reminds us that she bore the eternal Word, and works on the premise that she now leads the praises of God in heaven.

That we sing such praise of a human being leads us to consider what we mean by it.  The Church, especially in the East, names Mary “Theotokos,” God-bearer, for she carried the very Son of God in her womb.  Our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers, when they pray to her, call her “Mary, full of grace,” and around the Church, save in most Protestant circles, she is thought of as “Regina Coeli,” the “Queen of Heaven.”  All of these names are referred to in our hymn stanza which perhaps many of us have sung without knowing what we were singing.

In our tradition we have only recently been coming back to an understanding of why the Church in so many places has honored Mary above all others, a sense which the Lutheran Reformers always had, but which subsequent generations of Lutherans in many places let fall to the side of the road.

Those same reformers suggested that the saints are a gift to us in at least three ways: they cause us to give thanks to God for showing us such examples of divine mercy; our faith is strengthened when we see the grace of God acting in their lives; and lastly, we learn to imitate their faith and any other of their virtues. [1]

In these three things, our question deepens.  What do we mean when we sing such praise of Mary?  And what does it mean for our lives, our faith, our discipleship?  The answer seems to be circular in nature: when we praise Mary thus, we eventually come to see ourselves in her, and our lives as hers.

We begin with Theotokos, God-bearer, “thou bearer of the eternal Word.”

There is a profound reality about Mary that is almost impossible for us to comprehend and that is utterly unique: she is the only human being to have been physically joined to the Triune God, carrying in her very womb the child who is fully human and fully divine.

Whatever we might think of her, this truth, that she is Theotokos, has to be central.  There is in Mary a human being like no other.  Little wonder that the Church saw in her a link, a connection with God: one of us, yet one with better inroads.

While her son, Christ Jesus our Lord, is the Incarnate Word in our midst, and the One who brings humanity into relationship with the Triune God, Mary is the first of us to experience this relationship, the first of us to know this, and the only one of us to physically live this.  And for that we rightly honor her and think well of her.

In her “let it be with me according to your will,” she welcomed God’s grace into her humanity and brought the possibility of life in Christ to us all.  This generosity of sharing, this gift to the world is forever to be praised.

And yet, as we look at her and consider what her son has taught us and brought to us, we realize this truth: she is not the only God-bearer.

The witness of Christ himself, the witness of the Scriptures, and the witness of the Church for 2,000 years is that we are baptized into Christ so that we in turn bear Christ in the world.  Not physically, growing a child inside our bodies through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  But physically, living with the Holy Spirit transforming us literally from within into people who in our bodies, words, hands, lives, love, grace are Christ, are divine children, are, like Mary, invited to generously share Christ with the world.

In Mary we see ourselves: we are God-bearers to the world, we bring the news of God’s love which death cannot destroy, God’s grace which is sufficient to cover all our brokenness, God’s life which is for the whole world.

And Mary is also “full of grace,” “most gracious” in our hymn.

There is an obvious reference here: in carrying Christ Jesus in her womb, she was literally full of God’s grace, God’s Incarnate Grace.

But in her person, her willingness to do this, her hymn of praise which not only magnified the Lord but the Lord’s gracious overturning of the world, she models for us a life of grace.

She feels the pain of a family who isn’t wealthy enough to have enough wine for their party and brings it to her son, that he might do something.

She feels the grace of God in coming to this world through her and sees the possibility of God graciously raising up the lowly, feeding the hungry, and bringing justice through her work.

And she lovingly brings this child to adulthood that he might be the Life of the world in his death and resurrection, facing that horror and subsequent joy alongside us and waiting with his disciples for the coming of the Spirit 50 days later.

But of course as we see all this grace in her, we are reminded that it is ours as well, that God has so filled us with grace.  Just as we are bearers of Christ, we are vessels of grace in this world.

Blessed by the presence of God, we become that presence in the world.  Overwhelmed by the forgiveness of God, we offer that forgiveness to the world.  Transformed by the grace of God, we are part of God’s continuing gracious transforming of the world.

In Mary we see ourselves, full of grace, given to the world.

And because she is who she is and did what she did, she is “higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim,” we sing.

We are not privy to the mysteries of God’s heavenly domain, though we live in the kingdom as it lives here with us on earth.  But we cannot help but think of Mary as this hymn does.

Is there any other human being or angel who did what she did, lived what she lived, gave what she gave?  If in fact there are people who are lifted up in praise around the throne of God, which we cannot know for certain, we likewise cannot think of another who would be higher.

And yet when we sing the words of Psalm 8 we are reminded that David saw all of humanity, all of us as a little lower than the angels.

So in one sense when we sing this of Mary we sing it with a little confusion.  It is truly a noble place to be just lower than the angels: who are we, we say with the psalmist, that God would so honor us?  Yet higher?  Can we say that?

Yet what Mary teaches us most of all is that we do not claim such honor, nor does she.  It may be well for the Church to sing it of Mary: it would be unseemly and ungallant not to honor her.  But her gracious “yes” to God, her hymn of praise, her life lived in service to her son, our Lord, was not a life of being above others.

Everything about her that we know from Scriptures is that she lived as she sang in those words which formed our Gospel tonight: she saw herself in this call of God not an exalted queen but a humble servant through whom she was blessed to bear God’s healing for the world.

And in Mary we see ourselves, not as exalted, but as lowly, not as higher, but as servant.

And so the mystery of Mary is the mystery of us.

In living as humble servants of Christ, bearing God’s love and presence into the world, we, like Mary, are privileged to see the wonders of God come to pass through us.  We are astonished to see that as flawed and broken as we are we are not only healed and loved, but through us God is reaching the world.

For us, on this day we honor Mary what we sing of her calls us to our true selves.  There is deep mystery here, much we cannot grasp.  Even as Mary needed to ponder things in her heart, so too do we.

Yet our sister Mary shows us a way to unutterable joy, that in us God is coming to this world, and through us, mystery of mysteries, wonder of wonders, God will continue to heal and save this world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

[1]  Article XXII, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), and parallel article in The Augsburg Confession (1530)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Count the Stars

The world is surrounded in darkness; sadness, evil, and brokenness.  So how do we know that we can trust God?  How do we know that God really loves us?  In the midst of darkness in this world, God comes to us in the nighttime of our lives, shows us the stars, and reminds us of God’s faithfulness and love for us.

Vicar Neal Cannon, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 19, year C; texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

I’ve always been a little bit creeped out by the dark, it makes me edgy.  During my summers in college I worked at a camp called Voyageurs Lutheran Ministry.  I almost always felt safe there, except when it got dark.

You see, my counselor cabin was at the bottom of a very steep hill.  Much of the hill was lit up, except when you turned onto the path towards my cabin.  On that path, there was only one light and for some reason there was a motion sensor on it, except sometimes it worked in reverse so when you walked by it would actually turn off.  And when it did, it would be pitch black, and I’d be in the middle of the woods, by myself.

And even though I knew that camp like the back of my hand, when the lights went out I immediately became a little bit nervous about my surroundings and my imagination would start to run wild.  Twigs breaking in the woods suddenly became wild animals watching me from a place I couldn’t see.  Footsteps in the distance were no longer perceived as a possible friend, but a possible enemy.

In all, I trusted the camp a lot less when it was dark.

Darkness gives us a lot of doubt.  It makes us doubt the things that we think we know.  It makes us look at the world suspiciously.

Of course, this is not just about daylight vs. nighttime.  Darkness is also a metaphor for evil, brokenness, and sadness in the world, and there is a lot of darkness.  World-wide statistics point that out.  For example, did you know that 21,000 children die every day.  Similarly on a daily basis 21,000 people will die from hunger today.  And what’s more, each year 677,000 children are abused in America, growing up in homes where they aren’t safe

When we hear about this kind of darkness that covers our world, it’s easy to become skeptical or cynical about those things that we thought we knew.  Growing up in America, many people went to Sunday School learning songs like, Jesus loves me, this I know, and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

But if the whole world is in Jesus’ hands, why are so many people dying unnecessarily?

This kind of skepticism and cynicism is reflected in national studies that show an increasing trend in people who are claiming to be ‘agnostic’ or to have no affiliation with the church or ‘organized religion’.  Many of these people are disillusioned with religion, and are asking, if God really loves me then why is there so much darkness?

This is a valid question.  Wars, genocide, disease, corporate greed, individual greed, injustice of all kinds run rampant in our world.  You don’t need me to tell you this because this is not a problem that is far off.  It is a problem that is here, with us right now.  Many people here have endured life with depression, anxiety or illness.  Most of us, if not all of us, have dealt with an untimely or unexpected loss of a loved one.  Still others of us have painfully suffered from, or watched loved ones suffer from addiction or self-destructive behavior.

Now, everyone reacts to pain and suffering differently, especially when it comes to matters of faith.  While some people to reject the idea of a loving God, others, I’m sure many here, lean on God and their faith in order to weather turbulent times.  We come to church, we pray, and maybe even find a person of faith to give us comfort.  But at the same time even those who cling to faith in turbulent times can wonder how God could possibly be present, or even possibly be real in the face of extreme devastation.

That mix of devastation and doubt makes up the nighttime of our lives.

These are the times where we feel like darkness and evil surround us.  These are the times where our faith is tested in extreme measure.  These are times where we wonder if our prayers have gone unheard or if we can ever really proclaim again that, Jesus loves me, this I know.

We are not alone in feeling this way.  The Bible is full of people who, in their darkest hours, lament to God and wonder out loud where God is in the midst of great evil and suffering.

After losing his livelihood, his family, and his health, for example, Job demands that God take his life and complete his suffering.  “Oh that I might have my request, and that God would grant my desire; that it would please God to crush me, that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!”  The Psalms ask over and over, “Why do you hide your face from me, O God?”  We even hear this lament in the voice of Jesus on the cross as he cries, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Yet, it’s in these moments of darkness, of utter bleakness and loss, that God comes to the world and says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

And that is exactly what happens in our Genesis text today to Abram and Sarah.   Here are two people, who have been told by God that they are to be parents of many nations, but now Abram and Sarah are both too old to conceive and they think they’ve lost their chance.

Can you imagine how devastated they must feel?  During Biblical times, it was incredibly important to have children.  Having a family meant having workers in your fields and homes.  It meant having someone to pass your legacy down to.  Many even believed that having a large family meant that God blessed you, while those who weren’t able to conceive believed God cursed them.

Abram and Sarah might be thinking that they’ve let God and maybe even the nations down in some way.  Maybe they feel saddened by the belief that they will never get to raise their own children.  However they felt, they’re surely going through a period in their lives where they are questioning God’s promise.  They’re going through the darkness and they can’t possibly see the road ahead, where God is asking them to go.

“Do not be afraid, Abram,” says the LORD. “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  But Abram expresses his doubt with this answer.  “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?  You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”

It must be nighttime when this interaction occurs, because God takes Abram outside and he says something really interesting.  God says, “Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.  So shall your descendants be.”

Go outside where it is dark and count the stars.  This is how God responds to Abram’s lament.  I find this fascinating because God doesn’t say “hope comes in the morning” or “wait till first light,” like Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings”.  No, God comes to Abram in the darkness, and it’s in the darkness that God gives Abram an incredible sign of hope.  “Count the stars,” says God, “So shall your descendants be.”

In the face of Abram and Sarah’s struggle, to hear that God is still present, to know that God is still there and has a plan to bless them abundantly, must have been a comfort to them that night.  Though they didn’t know how or why, and though they had struggles and doubts, Abram and Sarah from then on knew that anytime stars were out, that it would be OK.

Hebrews tells us that faith is the “conviction of things not seen.”  The remarkable thing about this is that – if faith is the conviction of the unseen, then it takes place in the dark.  Faith happens in the midst of doubt and evil, not in the absence of those things.  And like Abram, it is in the dark that God comes to us with hope in a promise of God’s enduring faithfulness and love towards us.

Faith then is not something we can do ourselves.  Faith is given to us through a promise when God comes to us in the darkness and says, “Count the stars, if you are able.”  This kind of trust is not a belief in our faithfulness to God.  This trust is a belief in God’s faithfulness to us, especially when we are surrounded by darkness.

It is incredibly difficult to trust God in our darkest hour, when we cannot see the path ahead of us.  Like Abram and Sarah, often all that we have is a promise.  But how do we know that we can trust this promise?  Abram and Sarah were eventually given a miracle that proved God’s faithfulness, but how do we know that God will be faithful to us?

As Christians we see that God’s promise of faithfulness is fulfilled already, on the cross.   By giving his Son for the world God has already proven his faithfulness to us.  And what’s more, in the empty tomb we know that God has defeated darkness and will defeat darkness in our lives today.  Because if God can turn the cross into a symbol of great love and joy, then God can take this present evil and turn it into a blessing too.

Few will ever experience the kind of miracle that Abram and Sarah experienced, but through the cross we can proclaim together that, Jesus loves me, this I know.  And in the empty tomb we can proclaim that God does in fact have the whole world in his hands.

So remember, when it is dark out, God says do not be afraid.  When things get scary, and feel hopeless, God says “I am your shield.”  Then God takes us outside and asks us:
Do you know how faithful I am to you? Look up, count the stars.
Do you want to know how much I love you?  Look into the sky, count the stars.
Do you want to know the plans that I have for you?  Look towards heaven, count the stars.

All of a sudden the darkness isn’t so scary.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Olive Branch, 8/7/13

Accent on Worship

Be Not Afraid!

     Many of us know and take both pride and delight in the enthusiasm of one of our youngest members when the gradual (or Gospel Acclamation) for the day is “Be Not Afraid!” The exuberance shown by the child embodies the message of that song.

     What a joy it would be to be fearless.

     But let’s face it: We live lives filled with fear. One political philosophy asserts that we have society at all only because we make implied “contracts” that I won’t kill you if you don’t kill me. This is the culture in which we live.

     Or is it? Or at least, must it be?

     Do not be afraid, the LORD says to Abram before launching him on his journey.

     Don’t be afraid to give, Jesus tells his hearers and followers.

     Take a chance; fear not, said Gabriel to the mother of our Lord.

     Our call as Christians is to live by faith and thereby to set aside our fears. But that’s easy to say in the abstract. There are very real threats in the world; only a fool would pretend otherwise.

     But the promise of the Gospel is that we need not give in to those real fears. We may live unbounded by fear. How? Why?  Because we have a God who regards us in our low estate; who will protect us as we journey where he sends us. This is the God who reached into death to demonstrate his ability to defeat the very source of all fears.

     What seas might we (as the Israelites before us) pass through if the roiling waters didn’t petrify even the best swimmers among us? What reconciliation might we attain if we didn’t fear being stabbed in the back or even misunderstood by someone of another background? What miracles might this “one nation under God” achieve if our politicians risked their careers by funding a peace academy instead of  several billion dollar on war machines that the Pentagon doesn’t even want? What good might we individuals do with our money if we didn’t fear running out of money in our retirement?

     We will hear our Lord caution us to read the signs of the times. What will we see? The promise of the Gospel is that, in our songs and in our lives, we may match Rose decibel for decibel: Be not afraid! We are not afraid.

- Dwight Penas

Sunday Readings

August 11, 2013 – Time after Pentecost: Sunday 19
Genesis 15:1-6 + Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 + Luke 12:32-40

August 18, 2013 – Time after Pentecost: Sunday 20
Jeremiah 23:23-29 + Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29—12:2 + Luke 12:49-56

Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Holy Eucharist at 7:00 p.m.

Godly Play for Grownups

    Our summer 4-part series "Godly Play for Grown-ups" concludes on August 18th.  You are invited to come and experience a parable in a new way. Enjoy a quick cup of coffee after liturgy if you wish, and then come downstairs to Godly Play Circle One.  We will welcome you to the circle at 11:10am.

Book Discussion Group

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion group meets on the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. at church. For the August 10 meeting we will discuss Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and on September 14, Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.

Organ Recital by Christine Skogen to be Held Sunday, August 18, 3:00 pm

     Christine Skogen came to Minneapolis summer of 2010 with the intention of learning to play the organ.  Since then, she has been the student of Cantor Cherwien and has worked extremely hard, learning an enormous amount in this relatively short time with us.  This fall she will begin undergraduate studies at Luther College, studying organ with Dr. Gregory Peterson.

     She will perform works by Bach, Brahms, Reger, and Vierne. A congratulatory and farewell reception will follow the program. If any would like to give her a personal note of encouragement or a gift to assist her with books and expenses at Luther, there will be a basket for these at the reception. All are invited!

Men’s Vocal Ensemble – for August 11

     A men’s ensemble will be assembled to sing at the Eucharist this Sunday, August 11, 9:30 service.  We will have one rehearsal, that morning at 8:00 a.m.  (coffee provided!)  Contact Cantor Cherwien if you would like to sing, or simply come Sunday August 11, at 8:00 am.

     Women! There will be a women’s ensemble assembled to sing for the liturgy on August 25. Protocol will be exactly the same: one rehearsal on the 25th at 8 a.m. with music available upon request beforehand by contacting Cantor Cherwien.

Congregational Care Comes to the Forum

     The art of giving and accepting care will be a forum topic during the coffee hour on Sunday, October 13.  Many at Mount Olive find themselves in the role of caregiver while others find themselves in the often unfamiliar spot of having to accept care from others.  While we tend to think of this as an “old people’s problem”, this is a generational concern as people care for aging parents, sick friends, special needs children, and ourselves.

     Key to care is knowledge of services and programs available in our state and city and how to access them.  While most of us know a little bit about some things, laws change and it is hard to keep up.  The forum could address a variety of topics, such as:

-  End of life issues - how to plan for known and unknown entities and how to access help.  Learn about health care directives, Hospice, and plan your funeral.

-  Family support - shifting roles, new responsibilities, changes in and losses of a loved one.  What will you need to help get through the tough times?

-  Unexpected life transitions – i.e. divorce, suicide, chronic illness, parenting small and adult children, and all the unanticipated twists and turns of life.

- Spiritual resources – accepting God’s grace through the loving action of the Mount Olive community.  We all need to learn and be open to how this works.

     This is a tall order for one forum!  The final shape of the hour depends on what topical interest emerges as a “high demand” priority.  Please weigh in via phone, email, or conversation by contacting Marilyn Gebauer at 651-704-9539 or by email at  Feel free to speak with any of the other members of the Congregational Care Committee: Cathy Bosworth, Peggy Hoeft, and Warren Peterson.  

Guests from Germany

      You're invited to meet Pr. Helge Voigt, a friend of Mount Olive who is currently a pastor in the Leipzig Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany.   Pr. Voigt has worshiped with us in the past and he and his family will be visiting in the Twin Cities for two weeks in August.   There is a gathering planned for them at Mount Olive on Wednesday evening, August 14, at 7 p.m.  Refreshments will be served.

     Pr. Voigt grew up in the former Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany) under the Communist regime, in a non-religious family.  He served in the East German military and was a soldier at the time that the Berlin Wall fell.  He has some interesting stories about that harrowing time and also about how he became a practicing Christian called to the ministry.  He serves several parishes in and around Leipzig, including one which houses the organ that Mendelssohn played as a performer.

      Plan to come to meet Pr. Voigt, his wife Anke, and their daughters Marie (age 17) and Hannah (age 12).    If you get a chance, RSVP to the church office or email Lora Dundek at  If you forget to RSVP, come anyway!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chasing after the Wind

Ecclesiastes tells us that all earthly things are fleeting and meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  Simultaneously Ecclesiastes says that all of life is a gift from God.  Remembering this, we are called to seek and stand in awe of the eternal and Triune God above all earthly things.

Vicar Neal Cannon, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 18, year C; texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

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

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  It’s beautiful poetry that is both haunting and prophetic to our culture and context today.  Now, I’ve done a fair amount of study and research on the book of Ecclesiastes, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the book of Ecclesiastes, is super depressing, because it’s is a book about the meaninglessness of life.  No seriously, that’s what it’s about.  Our text today speaks of the vanities of greed, money, and storing up vast amounts of wealth, and if the writer stopped there, there would probably be nothing especially unique about this text.

But Ecclesiastes continues by saying that hard work and toil are meaningless; wisdom is meaningless; knowledge is meaningless; pleasure is meaningless; advancement is meaningless; and according to the writer, even justice is meaningless, because it is human justice and not God’s justice.  All this is to say, if you ever sit down to read Ecclesiastes on your own, I suggest that ahead of time you schedule counseling sessions with Pastor Joseph.

Ecclesiastes tells us that life is a chasing after the wind.  I love this image of chasing after the wind, it reminds me of Sisyphus in Greek mythology.  As the story goes, Sisyphus was a king who was constantly deceiving the gods and humanity alike in order to achieve power, seduce women, and live forever.  And as Greek mythology tells us, Sisyphus was punished by the gods for his deceit, cursed into rolling a boulder up a hill to the crest of a hill for all time, only to watch it fall just before he reached the top for all eternity.

I think that the writer of Ecclesiastes must have been a little bit like Sisyphus.  We’re told that the writer was also a king and a person of vast wealth, wisdom, and power.  This is a person who had attained everything a human being could desire on Earth. But when the writer of Ecclesiastes looked back on his life, he determined that all his Earthly accomplishments were meaningless, like pushing a boulder to the crest of a hill, even though it is destined to fall to the bottom.

Sisyphus syndrome, as I like to call it, is a common problem in our culture.  Many of us, young and old alike, try to imitate the cultural image of celebrities, models, or athletes that we can never truly duplicate.  Still others of us chase after social status of various kinds only to be caught in a rat race of perception and self-doubt.  Sometimes we really pride ourselves on being intelligent and well read, but our intellect can be taken away by a brain injury or Alzheimer’s.  Occasionally we chase pleasure and experience in life, only to have it snatched away by the sad realities of a broken world.  Then again sometimes we work, and toil, and build an empire of our own wealth and achievement only to reach the end of life and realize we can’t take it with us.

Its all “vanity of vanities!” Ecclesiastes says.

But even though the book of Ecclesiastes can be a little bit of a downer to read, I think we will find a lot of truth in what it is saying, which is essentially that everything that we do or possess on Earth has an end because all things on Earth come to an end.  When we look back at the end of our lives, we can’t take our accomplishments, our reputations, or really anything with us.

So if life is as short and meaningless as this particular writer seems to think, then shouldn’t we just enjoy life while we can?  Shouldn’t we live life to the fullest?

In an interesting twist, the writer of Ecclesiastes actually doesn’t disagree with this.  The writer says that we can do nothing better than to enjoy our work, eat, drink, and be merry.  The writer even goes so far as to say that it is a gift from God to be able to do so, but ultimately concludes that this too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

It’s a depressing thought, and looking at our lives in this way would cause us to echo the exasperation in the writer’s voice, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

If this is true, it makes us ask ourselves, “does anything have any meaning in the world, or is my life just a chasing after the wind, too?”

The parable that Jesus tells today is strikingly similar in mood to Ecclesiastes.  In this story a man approaches Jesus and asks him to help divide his father’s inheritance and Jesus essentially says, “Why are you bothering me with this?  What am I, your judge?”  Interesting to note is that rabbis such as Jesus were often asked to act as judge or arbitrator over a dispute.  So it’s not out of line for this man to ask Jesus this question.  Yet, Jesus seems put off by the notion that he would judge such trivial matters.  “Life is more than possessions,” Jesus says.

Explaining himself further, Jesus goes on to tell a parable about a rich man who stores up his grain so that he can retire early, relax, and enjoy life, maybe spend some time fishing at the cabin up north.  And I think many of us would say that there is nothing wrong with this.  In fact this is the American dream; to be able to work hard, get ahead in life, and be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor.  We might even say that the rich man is doing the right and prudent thing by saving his money.  Any financial officer today would certainly agree that the rich man is being wise.

What’s more, there’s nothing explicitly evil that the rich man does.  We are not told that he harms anyone else, we’re not told that he acts unjustly.  He’s just putting money is his 401K.

Yet God clearly scolds the rich man.  And we’re left asking, what is the issue here?

As Christians, we’ve come up with all sorts of bad things the rich man could have done wrong.  One theory is that the rich man is selfish because he never talks about anyone but himself.  He never speaks of his workers, neighbors, friends or family.  Other theories point to the potential impact the rich man had on the economy and still others point out that nowhere in his plans is God included.

All of these are valid theories.  But what Jesus makes clear is that his concern is that the rich man is chasing after something that doesn’t last.

As humans, we often cling to things that don’t last.  For example I saw an article on a news site the other day that said, “Raquel Welch, still beautiful at age 70!”  And the picture of Raquel showed her in a tight fitting dress, and her skin was pulled back taut, and to be honest her face looked plastic with all the expression of a porcelain doll.

It was obvious from the picture and the caption that maintaining beauty meant looking young at any cost.  And it makes me wonder, is this beauty to us, always looking young and thin with a painted on smile?  The more I thought about it, the more this became a sad thought because it was clear that there is an American perception that youth is beauty.  Not just Raquel, but our culture, fights getting old, or at least looking old, and it feels like we are chasing after our youth and it is something we will never catch, like we’re chasing the wind.

What Jesus and Ecclesiastes powerfully remind us today is that there are things that we chase after in this world that eventually fade away.  Beauty, wealth, health, image, power, social status, youth, pleasure, etc., all are fleeting things, and to spend our lives chasing after them is chasing after the wind.  Like Ecclesiastes says, these things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but the point is that they don’t last.

Fortunately, neither the writer of Ecclesiastes nor Jesus gives us a ten point plan or the purpose driven life to grant us meaning to our lives.  Instead, Ecclesiastes responds to mortality and the ‘meaninglessness’ of life by saying one simple thing.  “Stand in awe of God.”

Stand in awe of God.  It’s one of the few things that Ecclesiastes doesn’t call meaningless.  At first, it might not seem very helpful, it doesn’t seem to give us meaning to our lives, but it actually makes a lot of sense.  Ecclesiastes’ response to mortality, to things that end, is to stand in the presence of the infinite, to abide with God, to worship and be in God’s presence.  Jesus puts it a different way but essentially says the same thing.  Jesus says, be “rich towards God”.

And in this, both Jesus and Ecclesiastes clue us into what really matters.  And they tell us that God matters because God is eternal.  Faith, hope, and love: These are things that no thief can steal and that no moth can destroy because they come from the eternal God.

That is why Paul also exhorts us to keep our eyes on Christ.  “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  Paul says that when we seek the eternal and Triune God of the universe, we find true meaning.  In seeking Christ, we learn God’s heavenly justice, and are given God’s eternal faith, hope, and love.  We learn to love our neighbor and pour ourselves out for the world, as Christ does even now through the Holy Spirit.

And what’s more, we also learn the true value of earthly things.  So in Christ we find the true meaning of beauty and pleasure.  In Christ we learn to use our wealth, power, and status to serve others.  In Christ we learn that worldly things and even our very lives are a gift from the eternal God.

In chasing after human things we become like Sisyphus, oppressed and rolling our boulder almost to the crest of that great hill, only to see it fall again and again.

Jesus and the writer of Ecclesiastes warn us that by chasing things in this world we are chasing something we can never catch, we are toiling after something we can never have, or trying to be something we can never be.  But in following Christ, we put down our boulders and are freed from these meaningless vanities so that we may stand and receive something eternal and incomparable to anything found on earth.

And so when we face meaninglessness and our own finiteness, may we seek the Triune God and receive meaning in God’s eternal richness of love.  And in doing so, may we all stand in awe of something that lasts forever.


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