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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Follow Me

As he did for St. Peter and St. Paul, Jesus calls us to follow him so that we—imperfect and flawed though we may be—may witness to his forgiveness and the love of God.

Vicar Emily Beckering; St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles; texts: Acts 12:1-1, 9:1-18; John 21:15-19; 2 Tim. 4:6-8, 17-18.

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

It might be rare, especially for congregations in the ELCA, to celebrate the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul this Sunday. So why do we join with the greater church throughout the world today in remembering these saints? Is it to learn from their example? To hear of their faith in order that we might imitate them?

We are mistaken if we focus solely on what the apostles did, for their very lives witness to what the Triune God did through them. We do not keep the feast only to honor their names, but in order to attend to how God worked through them for the sake of the world so that we can hear and see and know Christ’s call for our own lives.

Jesus’ call to them is the same that he gives to us today: to follow him.

Part of these apostles’ witness is that often before we can follow Christ, we must first turn back from where we have been going, from harmful ways that we have been living.

Jesus’ first word to us today is an invitation to turn around, to change. 

This is how Jesus begins his work in the apostles: by calling Peter and Paul to turn around. He asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

It is likely that Peter could not but help remember denying his Lord as Jesus asked him three times if he loved him. Jesus, however, does not scold him or punish Peter. Instead, he asks this question, and with it, he calls Peter back to his side. Peter is called back from the fear that caused him to deny Jesus, and even more, back from the fear and shame of this betrayal so that he may once again follow him. The three questions and commands that Jesus speaks to Peter are an absolution: Peter is forgiven. Jesus has not given up on Peter, but rather is calling him back into relationship and putting him to work.

When Jesus first called Peter to follow him, he put down his fishing nets and left them behind in order to fish for people. Now, Peter must put down his failure in order to follow once again.

Jesus also brought about a change in Paul through a question. We recall from the book of Acts that on the road to Damascus, Jesus asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” In order to follow Jesus, Paul had to turn from killing the sheep to feeding them. Christ did not destroy Saul, even though he has so grossly misunderstood God’s will and work. Instead, Jesus calls Saul by name, forgives him, and gives him a new purpose.

Today, Jesus also asks us a question, “Do you love me?” With this question, we too are invited to turn from harmful patterns, from everything that holds us back from following our Lord, from all the ways that we have failed to feed the sheep, and thus failed to reflect Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Jesus calls us back from feeding ourselves, our desires, our interests by insisting on our own way, from feeding the hungry only when it is convenient for us, from not binding up the injured by ignoring the wounds of our neighbors and the wounds that we ourselves have inflicted, from not bringing back those who have strayed because we are afraid of telling the truth, from seeking the lost with force instead of carrying them in love, from all the times that we are nudged by the Spirit to reach out to someone, and ignore it because of what we think it might cost.

If we are to follow him, then we must leave all of this behind.

Yet, with the command to feed his sheep, Jesus not only turns us from harmful patterns, but restores our relationship with him and with one another. In response to all the ways that we have not reflected him or his love, Christ proclaims to us today, “You are forgiven.”

With this forgiveness, Jesus calls us back from worrying that we won’t be able to recognize him or the Spirit’s work in our lives. In our first reading, Peter didn’t recognize how God was at work for him through the angel until after he had already been rescued from prison. We don’t always need to know—and we won’t always know—how God is at work in us for our neighbors or in our neighbors for us. But the witness of the lives of Peter and Paul is that even in prison, in rejection, in failure, in denial, in death—in all the places where it is most difficult to see it—Christ is still at work leading us and all people back to the Triune God.

With this forgiveness, Jesus also calls us back from the fear that because we have failed before, we have lost value in his eyes, and from the fear that we have messed things up beyond the point of repairing, that we won’t be able to do what he asks or that we don’t have what it takes to follow him, to love as he loves. Even before Peter learns to feed the sheep, Jesus already welcomes him in and entrusts the ministry to him.

In response to our tendency to fall down, to fear, to wander away from where God would have us go, Jesus does not cast us out into the outer darkness, but turns us around, forgives us, and invites us to follow again saying, “Feed my sheep.”

Through him, we see the very heart of God; the God who refuses to lose any one of us. The God who yearns to have relationship with us and all people. Rather than force us into that relationship, however, God has chosen to invite us into it, to transform us and the world through love: a love that is shown through imperfect disciples. 

Because Jesus’ command to Peter to tend the sheep follows Peter’s denial, we know that Jesus’ choosing of Peter has nothing to do with Peter’s own abilities. There is no special worthiness on his part. He witnesses and cares for the church because Christ calls him and strengthens him to do the work to which he was called.

Likewise, as Paul testifies to us in his second letter to Timothy, the strength of his witness, his ability to fight the good fight, to finish the race, to keep faith all rests solely on Christ, who stood by him and gave him strength so that through him the message might be fully proclaimed. We are promised that as was done for Peter and Paul, the Lord will stand by us and give us strength so that we too might witness to Christ’s love.

The choice of Peter and Paul demonstrates God’s working through the weak things of this world. God chooses what is foolish, weak, low, and despised so that anyone who boasts may boast in the Lord.

This, in fact, is how God has always worked.

The entire narrative of scripture is full of broken people. God created a nation to bless all nations through Sarah, who laughed at God’s promises, and Abraham who continually tried to take matters into his own hands because he couldn’t trust. God rescued all of Israel from slavery through Moses, a murderer who would spend his life speaking God’s word even though he couldn’t speak well on his own. God led a rebellious nation through David who committed adultery and killed the innocent. God called the Ninevites and set them free from sin through Jonah, who resisted God’s call and resented God’s mercy. God saved all of creation through the Son whom we rejected. God used the witness of these two flawed saints to build the church and to bring us to faith. And now the Triune God will love the world into believing—into relationship—by loving them through us, we who are weak and broken.

We celebrate the festival of the Apostles Peter and Paul because we need to be reminded what discipleship is and isn’t, what it does and doesn’t look like to follow Christ. 

Following Jesus is witnessing to his love and mercy with our very lives.

This means time and time again to turn from saying, “Look at me,” and instead pointing and saying, “Look at Christ” when we see him at work in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Discipleship does not mean doing everything perfectly, but watching for how God’s perfect love is at work around us and through us. Discipleship is not having all the right answers or knowing where we are going, but trusting that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us to follow Christ.

We know what we are to do, how we are to witness; we have heard it three times today from our Lord, and he will continue to whisper it to us day after day and year after year as he walks with us, leading us: “Feed my sheep.”

We are to follow in Christ’s footsteps and do for one another and for this world what Christ has done for us.

Sometimes when we follow our Lord, we will be led out of prison. More often, however, Christ will lead us to give ourselves away. The death that Peter and Paul died glorified God because they reflected God’s very nature. If we follow Christ, then we will offer forgiveness when we are hurt, love when we are insulted, and seek relationship again and again even when it seems that all hope is lost. This is what it means to lay down our lives for one another, to feed the sheep, to love. By this witness, by our love, Christ will make himself known.

On this day, through the Apostle Peter and Paul, we are reminded just what God can do with the weak and broken. The Triune God takes imperfect people with tempers and thorns in their flesh who murdered and doubted and denied and uses them to invite all people into God’s work of redeeming the world. Today we are asked to do the same so that by our witness, others may come to know God’s love, forgiveness, and call in their lives.

To those of us who feel as though we have never heard him before, to those of us who have fallen away or are tired of walking, to those of us who have heard him many times, and many ways, the call is the same. Jesus says to us, “I have called you by name. You are mine. Follow me.”

Now, what will we leave behind, and who through our love will we tell?


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Olive Branch, 6/25/14

Accent on Worship

Running the Race

     “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

     In the 1991 World Championships, Derek Redmond and the British team won gold in the 4x400 meter relay. At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Derek posted the fastest time of the first round in the 400 meters and went on to win his quarter-final. That all changed, however, in the semi-final.

     When Derek rounded the back-straight, 250 meters from the finish line, he tore his hamstring and fell to the ground in pain. Medics rushed over to him, but Derek stood up and began to limp around the track in order to finish the race.  As Derek fought through the pain and disappointment to complete the race, a man emerged from the crowd and joined him on the track: the man was his father. Jim Redmond refused security’s insistence to leave the track and instead held his son up and walked alongside him, supporting him until they finished the race together.

     The Triune God does the same for us. This Sunday, we will celebrate the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul, as is our custom at Mount Olive when a festival falls on a Sunday in the green season. From Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we will hear the promise that as we run the race of following Christ where the Spirit leads us and as we fight the good fight of loving in Jesus’ name, we are not alone. The Triune God is with us, standing by us, strengthen-ing us, and speaking through us so that we might proclaim the gospel in word and deed. As the security guards could not hold back Jim Redmond from his son, nothing can separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

     In this race, we are not promised that we will be saved from pain, be named as the winner, or receive the standing ovation that welcomed Derek as he crossed the finish line. Instead, we like Paul, like Peter, and like our Lord Jesus Christ will be poured out as a libation in order to reveal the love of God (2 Tim. 4:6). We are, however, promised with absolute certainty that just as was done for Peter, for Paul, and for all the saints, the Triune God will stand by us and give us strength to run the race that is the Christian faith so that through us, the gospel might be fully proclaimed.

     So run on, dear Saints; we do not race alone.

- Vicar Emily Beckering

Sunday Readings

June 29, 2014: Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Acts 12:1-11
Psalm 87:1-3, 5-7
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
John 21:15-19

July 6, 2014: 4th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect. 14A)
Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Olive Branch Summer Publication Schedule

     During the summer months, The Olive Branch is published every other week.

     The next Olive Branch will be published on Wednesday, July 9.  Information for that issue is due in to the church office by Tuesday, July 8.

Transitions Support Group Continues

     Participants in the recent 4 -week life transitions support group have decided to continue meeting but on a less regular basis.  They invite others who would like an opportunity to discuss concerns and receive support to join them.

     The next meeting is on Wednesday, July 16, at 6:30 in the Youth Room. Amy Cotter and Cathy Bosworth will act as facilitators.  If you have questions, please call Cathy at 612-708-1144 or email her at

School Supplies Drive

     Though summer has just begun, for the Neighborhood Ministries Committee it means  that it’s time to look forward to the beginning of school!

     Neighborhood Ministries is collecting school supplies for about 100 neighborhood children. These supplies will be distributed at the August 2 Community Meal. While this is an item in our budget, generous contributions from the Mount Olive community will help to provide as many supplies as possible.

     A Neighborhood Ministries Committee member will be on hand during coffee hour on Sundays, July 13, 20, and 27 to receive your donations.

     Thanks for offering your support to this vital neighborhood ministry!

The Bargain Box

     Saturday, August 2 will be a busy day at Mount Olive! We will be helping to get neighborhood children ready for school year with Bargain Box fitting children with new school clothes and distributing school supplies during the Community Meal. We are looking for donations of cash, gently used children’s clothes (no adult clothes, please), school supplies, and backpacks.

     If you have time to help with the meal, or assist with clothing or school supplies, please plan to come to the August Community Meals!

     Please note: Neighborhood Ministries is looking for backpacks, new and gently-used, to distribute at the August Community Meal. We want children to be ready for school! Stay tuned for more information.

- Neighborhood Ministries Committee

Food and Personal Items Needed!

      Now that school is out for the summer, many children who receive free or reduced-price lunches at school will often go hungry.  Please keep up or increase your monetary and food contributions during the summer months.  You may use your blue envelopes and designate "food shelf" as the recipient.  Food contributions may be placed in the shopping cart in the coat room.

      In our summer travels, let's remember that the complimentary toiletries provided by hotels and motels are ideal for homeless people who have little space for such items. Most of the time, we are charged for these items as a part of the payment for accommodations.  Please bring your unused toiletries to the designated basket in the coat room.

     Know that your donations help provide basic needs, as Christ would have us do.

Book Discussion Group’s Upcoming Reads

     For their meeting July 12, the Book Discussion group will read, All Over but the Shoutin', by Rick Bragg; and for the August 9 meeting, All the King's Men (restored edition), by Robert Penn Warren.

Neighborhood Ministries Coordinator Position Description Now Available

     The position description for the Coordinator of Neighborhood Ministries and Outreach has been completed and is available by contacting the church office or on the Mount Olive website.
     Congregational members who are interested and meet the qualifications are encouraged to apply for the position.  Thanks to the search committee for working hard on this step.  The next step will be to screen applicants and host interviews.  We hope to have a new Coordinator in place by the end of September.

     Committee members are  Kathy Thurston and Sue Ellen Zagrabelny (Neighborhood Ministries Committee), Cynthia Prosek and Neil Hering (Visioning Lead Committee), George Ferguson and Gretchen Campbell-Johnson (at-large), Pastor Crippen, Vicar Beckering, and Lora Dundek (ex-officio).

Every Church a Peace Church July Meeting

     The ECAPC July potluck supper meeting will be held on   Monday, July 21, 6:30 p.m., at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, 29th St. & 32nd Ave. S., Minneapolis. (612-724-3643,

     The program for the July meeting will be a presentation and discussion led by John Keller, Executive Director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM). His presentation will be "Immigration Reform:  A Christian Response.”

     John Keller has been the Executive Director ILCM since 2005; prior to that he had been a staff attorney at ILCM for six years.  In 2007, Keller was named Attorney of the Year by Minnesota Lawyers, and he received the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits 2007 Advocacy Award on behalf of ILCM for work he led in response to immigration raids in 2006.

     All interested are cordially invited to attend - and to bring friends!

Mount Olive T-Shirts

     Gail Nielsen will sell Mount Olive t-shirts for the next two Sundays, following the morning liturgy.

     The shirts are $7 each and are available in a variety of colors (almost all of the liturgical colors! Pick one for your favorite season of the church year!)

     Stop and see Gail on Sunday and get your very own!

Summer A.C.T.S. Thanks

     Many thanks to all who have volunteered so far with the Neighborhood Ministries Summer A.C.T.S. program! You have made a difference!

     We could still use one more volunteer on Tuesday and Thursday, July 8 and 10. If you can spare a little time for this very worthwhile project, please call Connie Toavs at church (612-827-5919).

    The last day of  Summer A.C.T.S. will be July 18.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Godly Eyes and Heart

To follow Christ is to be transformed in how we see and how we love, to see with the eyes and love with the heart of Christ; such transformation might in fact cost us, as it did our Lord.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Second Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 12 A
texts:  Matthew 10:24-39; Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-18; Romans 6:1b-11

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

For someone who follows Christ, who claims to be a disciple, there may be something troubling about these readings.  In all these words we hear from God’s Word there is a consistent theme that believers who seek to be faithful to the true God either are facing great adversity as a result, as with Jeremiah and the psalmist, or are warned to expect it as a certainty, as Paul and Jesus so clearly speak.

So what are we to think if our lives of discipleship have not experienced setbacks like that, persecution, animosity, as a result of our faithful living?  To hear these words and consider one’s life as a Christian can be to wonder if we’ve sometimes missed the point altogether.  That is, if your experience is like mine, and you don’t recognize the pain and difficulty of what is being shown here.

Here’s another way to look at it.  Jesus says that if he, our Master and Lord, is called “Beelzebul” by others, we shouldn’t expect any less ourselves, as his faithful disciples.  So when was the last time someone said you were from the devil because of how you lived your faith?

That’s actually a helpful thought, though, isn’t it?  Because there is at least one situation in the lives of many here where, if the language wasn’t actually naming us demonic, it was at least clearly stating that we were not faithful to Scripture and so were against God.  Close enough to Beelzebul, at any rate.  That, obviously, is in relation to the long-standing position of this congregation, and in many of our personal lives, to claim that welcoming those of different sexual orientations is not only God’s call, it’s Scripturally warranted, and the way our Lord Christ would have the Church live in the world.  For many, that caused rifts and accusations even in their immediate families, many here lost jobs and careers as a result, or family and congregational ties.

That’s not insignificant, and it’s hopeful to me.  Because apart from that particular issue, I can honestly say that I don’t recognize the pain and anguish of Jeremiah in the cost of his speaking faithfully what God has called him to say, and I don’t recognize the ostracism and family splits that Jesus speaks of.  And even on the issue of welcoming all, I have to say it hasn’t been a terrible cost to me personally, unlike the experience of many of you here.  In that, you are my models and my teachers, and I’m inspired by your witness to the cost of faithful discipleship, a cost we are led to believe we should expect, rather than be surprised by.

So the question remains, even if some of us have experienced just what our readings say is possible, and the question is this: if following Christ Jesus faithfully leads to a cross, to suffering on behalf of others, and we don’t find such a cross in how we are following, do we need to ask if we’re following in the right direction, going the right way?

That is, if sacrificial love is the mark of the Christian, and we can’t think of when we are called to sacrifice regularly on behalf of others, lose ourselves for another, risk ourselves for Christly love of the other, are we missing something?  And even if for some here that has happened in the past, should we not all expect it to continue into our present and future, on all sorts of issues, if we are being truly faithful?

It might be that Jesus gives us a direction for our answer in his first words today, that the disciple and the master eventually begin to look alike.

It’s why he says if he’s called the devil, we should expect to be, too.  But on a deeper level, that’s our entry into understanding true discipleship.

Jesus, the Son of God, lives in the world with God’s priorities, God’s way of seeing the world and loving the world.  Eventually that puts him, as it did Jeremiah, directly in conflict with others who would protect their way of seeing the world.  The cross, for all it means on a deeper level, is at the start the sign of Jesus’ faithfulness to his Father.  Because of how he lives and loves and reaches out with God’s Word, he is killed.

So our first question isn’t the consequences of faithful discipleship, it’s the question of whether we look like our Lord Jesus or not.  If we do, then Jesus says, we should expect adversity.

But perhaps we should back up even one more level, because looking like Jesus in our behavior starts before the behavior itself.  What is clear is that the behavior of Jesus is the result of his deeper identity within the Triune God, as the Son, especially in the way God sees and loves the world.

So if we are beginning with the question of whether or not we’re recognizable as followers of Christ Jesus, we start not with our behavior but with the way of seeing and loving that leads to faithful behavior.

To be like our Lord and Savior, then, is to see as he sees, and love as he loves.

Our natural tendencies are actually the reverse of that.  If you look at how we normally act toward others it looks something like this:

When it comes to needs and wants, we tend to think of our own first, and make them a priority over the needs of others.  So we’ll say or think, “I know you think you’ve got it bad, but you should try what I’ve got going in my life.”  Or we’ll be so focused on our problems or our pain that we don’t even see the pain and problems of the other.

On the other hand, when it comes to sinfulness and wrongdoing, we look in the opposite direction.  We tend to want to focus on the wrongdoing and offenses of the other and give those priority over any reflection on our own.  So Jesus actually has to say that we’re like people who look at the speck of wood in our neighbor’s eye while overlooking the 2x4 sticking out of our own eye.  And it’s true.  We’ll completely miss ways in which we hurt or offend others and quickly note every time someone hurts or offends us.

Jesus calls us to the opposite way of seeing and loving, to God’s way.

First, to train ourselves to love as Christ loved, that is, to love others and seek their good before we seek our own.  To look to the needs and suffering and pain of others first, before our own, and to do this because we, as disciples of the Christ who loved the world so much he offered his life for all, we can do no less, can love no less.

And second, to train ourselves to see our own sin first, and address that, while forgiving others.  To begin to understand Paul’s admonition that we seek death to our old way of being in the world because it cannot live in a disciple of Jesus.

That means painful honesty with ourselves about the ways we hurt others and hurt God, and clear vision of the truth about ourselves, while offering forgiveness, grace, and understanding to others.  And we do all this because we, as disciples of the Christ who asked forgiveness for those who were killing him, we can do no less, can love no less.

This is the way of transformation the Holy Spirit seeks to create in us, and it will be a transformation.  The more we seek this way, the more we will see and act differently in the world.  We’ll begin to see the world as God sees the world, and love the world as God loves the world.  And act accordingly.

And that’s when we’ll find out the cost of such a new life.

The cost of being made new, being made into people like Jesus is that the world doesn’t like people like Jesus.

The world is comfortable with the way the world works, and people don’t like others to shake up the status quo.

Think of a parallel example of transformation we know, when someone goes through rehabilitation from chemical addiction.

For many who are successfully going through rehab and the 12 steps, while it’s a transformation of their life, it can be a real challenge to live in this new way among their family and former friends.  Sometimes recovering people are actually counseled to avoid former friends, who won’t understand or welcome the change and will work to bring the person back into addiction.

And often enough families can be uncomfortable with the “new” person in their midst, because their way of openness and understanding can seem to disrupt family systems that can’t handle such a way.  Sometimes families can even wish that the loved one return to drinking or drugs because they liked things the way they were.

Change is threatening to people.

And change into the way of Christ is also deeply threatening, if we live transformed lives.

To be people who are unafraid of losing everything in a world that protects itself and operates on threat, is to be people who are impossible to control or manipulate.  And that’s threatening to others.

To be people who insist on God’s justice and peace being extended and shared among all people in a world that is built on getting your own and not worrying about other people, is to be people who make others feel embarrassed or judged for their selfish attitudes.  And that’s threatening to others.

To be people who see our own sinfulness and regularly ask forgiveness of others, who seek to grow to be more Christlike in our actions and choices and thoughts, even people who actually forgive others, in a world that holds grudges and counts offenses, is to be people who reveal in our lives the destructiveness and smallness of the world’s way.  And that’s threatening to others.

So Jesus says, be ready for that.  It’s a mark that you’re following me if you find such a cross.  We should expect it.  Sacrificial love for the world should mean sacrifice for us.

And actually, that leads to another source of resistance: ourselves.  Seeing and loving in a way that looks to the needs of others and is critical first of our own sinfulness is a little like dying to who we were.  Paul’s right.

So we might find ourselves the greatest resistance to walking the faithful path, because it will cost us to see differently, love differently.  We lose our insistence on our own self-centered way, and that’s uncomfortable and often painful.  True honesty about our own selves before God is rarely easy.  We might be our own worst opponents in this faithful path.

But here is the hope today: our faithfulness and our path are in the way of our Lord Christ, whose love for us and the world made this path, and who is always with us on it.  We can never lose sight, even in these somewhat frightening words of Jesus, of the fact that it’s Christ Jesus, our risen Lord, whom we are following.

The one who tells us, shows us, embodies for us, the love of almighty God who notices every little bounce every sparrow makes on the ground (a likely better translation).  Think of what that means, that God takes note of every little bird and every little movement of every little bird.  That’s the one we’re following, whose love for us therefore cannot be doubted.  For we are loved even more than sparrows.

We are following the one whose love for us and the world led to the cross, and in rising from death ended the power of pain and suffering and sin and even death to do anything to us.

So even if we find that in following Christ and looking like Christ even some in our family can’t abide us, or love us, even if we find that we don’t like what it asks of us, we know that God loves us fully and always, and that all will be well.  And that goes for anyone else who might hate us or run over us or marginalize us or ignore us or make fun of us because we are becoming more and more like Christ Jesus.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

And let’s also remember this about the one we are following, the one we seek to be like: the Son of God says that the love of God is for all things, even little sparrows.  That means even those who hate us for who we are are loved by God, and in God’s plan of salvation, and will be continually sought and eventually found by the roaming Spirit of God who seeks to bring all sheep back to the Good Shepherd.

Because of all this, our Lord says today, “have no fear.”

This transformed life we seek, this life of discipleship and sacrificial love the Spirit is calling us to live and is seeking to grow in us, is a life lived in the undying, powerful love of God revealed in Christ Jesus.  Nothing can ultimately harm us, and all is in God’s care.  Let’s not forget that.  And let’s put aside our fear.

And let’s also remember that we are called together in this, as a community.  The life of discipleship is not a solo life; following Jesus is never an individual activity.  We are called to live this life together, to encourage each other, to speak “do not be afraid” to each other as we walk this path as faithfully as we can.  We are all in the hands of the Triune God whose love for us and for this whole world is unshakeable.  Let us walk together, then, and seek this faithful, sacrificial life, and the fullness and joy it is intended to have for us and for the world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, is beyond all human knowledge and thought; yet astonishingly this one God comes to us, becomes known to us a Father who loves, a Son who gives grace, and a Spirit who brings us into communion with each other for the sake of the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, The Holy Trinity, year A; texts:  Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

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

Recently astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Telescope released a photograph of nearly ten thousand galaxies that the telescope had photographed over nine years.  What’s astonishing to me about the picture is that it’s in full color, and the shapes and sizes are an incredible variety.  What the astronomers are doing is opening up the way they look at Hubble images to include information received on the whole spectrum of light, adding in the ultraviolet end of the spectrum, where previously all they had studied was visible and near invisible infrared light.  Opening up the whole spectrum has given the astronomers a huge amount of what has been missing information.

But for those of us who simply look at the picture and are used to white dots in the sky, all I can say is that it’s breathtaking.  I could never adequately describe what it’s like to see it. [1]  What is even more moving to me is that there are some who have already imagined a creation far more beautiful and breathtaking than we could see with just our eyes.  The painter Vincent van Gogh, in The Starry Night, saw for us what now the Hubble sees for us, and he showed it to us on his canvas.  Great artists of all media visual and aural have this ability, to see and perceive the depths of the beauty of the creation, and when they give us their art, point us to the same perception and sight.

For those who believe in God, the awe and wonder in such visions, whether from digital photos of outer space or pigments in oil on a canvas, or melody and harmony that seem to come from outside our very world, in such vision and sound and beauty we see God.  And, like our psalmist today, we gasp at our smallness and at God’s greatness, we are sometimes even struck silent in praise.

There is much that has been said about having proper fear of God, and most of it is unhelpful.  Because to truly understand what the Scriptures mean by fear of God is to simply find the proper awe and respect at the vastness and beauty of the God who has made all things.

That is to say that on this Sunday when we celebrate that the true God is Triune, we really do not celebrate a doctrine.  True fear and awe of God precludes any doctrinal certainty and the reality of God is beyond doctrine. We like to speak theologically – to speak words about God, literally – but in truth, given the vastness of the creation and the Creator all that vastness implies, we can really know nothing about the true nature of God.

In fact, humility and awe before the Creator of all would be in order.  To recognize that there is literally no way we can comprehend who God is, how God is, when God is, except that which God reveals to us.

In this, it is helpful that our first reading was that long beginning of Scripture, the first chapter of Genesis.  Beginning from nothing, God speaks, God sings, and all things come into being.

Genesis 1 helps us find the appropriate humility and awe, as in this familiar narrative God is put over all things, where God belongs.  In a world where people worshipped all sorts of gods, including the sun and the moon, Genesis speaks of God who existed before all things, and created all things, including the many things worshipped as god by others.

In a beautiful, subtle way, the author of this chapter doesn’t even name the sun and moon, for those names themselves were names of the corresponding gods.  No, says this ancient writer, the true God made those things, the big light during the day and the little light during the night, and all the stars.  What you think of as gods are only creations of the true God, to enlighten the whole creation.

And the same thing happens elsewhere in the creation story: anything you might praise or fear is still just a creature.  So sea monsters, Genesis says, the fear of the great unknown, the chaos “out there,” these are just creatures of the true God.  This chaos – seen also in storms, volcanoes, earthquakes, wild beasts, freezing blizzards, anything we fear – Genesis says all this is under God’s control.  And all the beauty – animals, plants, stars, fish, birds – all these, worthy of praise, are still just creations of the true God.

All things begin with the creating song of God, sung into the world, into the void, into the chaos.  So once more we are where we began, as we conclude the story of creation, in a place of awe and wonder.  To fear God is to recognize how truly small we are, how truly great God is, which we know and see and experience in this amazing, beautiful, frightening, sustaining creation.

Yet – and this is the truly stunning thing – we dare to claim that this awesome, unknowable God comes to us and even loves us. 

The psalmist speaks our overwhelmedness.  This star-gazer and poet starts with this awe at the creation, but then asks the truly profound question: how is it possible, who are we humans, that you care for us?  It’s the question we’d never ask if we hadn’t experienced God’s love and care, but it’s the question that must be asked.  The psalmist, though, knows it is true, for the song says, “Yet.”  “Yet you have made us a little less than divine.”

That tiny word “yet” changes the whole thing.  It’s the profound word that we still do not understand.  God is transcendent, immense, unknowable, vast, astonishing, beautiful, frightening, beyond us.

Yet.  Yet.  God somehow loves us.

Even Genesis 1 opens up this wonder, for the Creator actually speaks to the human beings.  In the whole of this narrative it might be the most eye-opening thing: this Creator God makes humanity, and then, for the first time in the story, instead of singing and speaking things into creation with the divine voice, God speaks to the people.  Gives them promise of food and sustenance, enough to live on in this beautiful creation.  And calls them to care for the creation, to tend it, to have dominion over it, the first commandment given these new creatures.

There is no sense to this relationship, the psalmist might say.  Yet.  Yet.  It is so, wonderfully and mysteriously it is so.

But it is Paul, in his brief benediction, who truly moves us to the silence of wonder.  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he says, “the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Stop and hear that once again.  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The love of God.  The communion of the Holy Spirit.”  These things are with you, with me.

That’s what Paul says.  Maybe because we hear it every Eucharist, we don’t truly understand how remarkable it is.  If God is transcendent, immense, unknowable, vast, astonishing, beautiful, frightening, beyond us, how do we dare believe that we receive such gifts from God – grace, love, communion – that we deserve such gifts?

Yet, the psalmist says.  Yet, it is so.

And it is wonderful in our eyes.

This is the center of what our faith knows about God: we can and do know nothing about the true nature of the Triune God, we know only what this God has brought to us in coming to us.

But that is, astonishingly, grace: we who are nothing and tiny are in the grace of the Son of God, whose forgiveness is as undeserved as it is unexpected, and it transforms our lives and the way of the world.

And it is, amazingly, love that God brings: we who are but specks in the vastness of the galaxies are loved by the Creator of all things, loved enough that this Creator took on our flesh and lived among us, and in dying and rising showed us the true shape of divine love, of the way of the universe.

And it is, wonder of wonders, communion that God brings: we who struggle to live in relationship with each other, let alone God, are given the gift of communion, fellowship, with each other through the Spirit of God who moves in and among all people, so that we are brought closer and closer together in love for our neighbor and in love with God.

Do you see how unknowable God is, and yet how stunning it is that we know this much, and that what we know is such life and hope for us?  We could sit in awe and wonder at that one verse of Paul all our days and not begin fully to grasp how truly outlandish it is that we say it and believe it.

Yet, the psalmist says.  Yet, it is so.

In this wonder we begin to understand what Jesus is asking of us.

In this ending to Matthew’s Gospel, we see disciples, even doubters, sent to pour out this love and care into the world, to bear the Triune Name into the world.  Making disciples is not, as the Church sometimes has thought, tallying up more and more people on membership rolls or thinking we’re saving anyone.  The world needs a Savior and thankfully, they have one.  And it isn’t us.

But this Savior does send us out.  He sends us to make disciples the only way it can happen: by our living as disciples, bearing the name of God into the world, washed in the waters of our baptism.  In our lives of faith and love, our lives of discipleship, we witness to this improbable “yet” of the psalmist, and through meeting God’s love in us, people come to know God.

They know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ through us, wonder of wonders.  They experience the love of God through us, amazement of amazements.  And they are welcomed into the relationship of love the Spirit has made, the communion of the faithful, through our love and welcome, miracle of miracles.

That’s the mission our Lord Jesus needs of us, to bear this astonishing truth about God into the world with our lives along with that little word “yet.”  So that God’s love reaches to all nations, all peoples, everyone.

This is our wonder on this Sunday we celebrate the God-ness of God, the unknowable mystery: the incarnate love of this Triune God still inhabits the creation.  And all is being restored.

It turns out there is a massive word, “yet,” that changes all reality, that the transcendent, immense, unknowable, vast, astonishing, beautiful, frightening, beyond us God who made all things actually does care about this world, these people God has made, this whole creation.

And has poured grace and love into us, into it, and brought us together in communion for the sake of the world.

And we get to go out and live that with our lives, show it with our love, make it real with our grace.  That’s the gift of “yet.”  That’s the life we get to share, so that all may know.

It’s almost too much to believe.  Yet.  Yet, it is even so.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


The Hubble image (larger versions available at the hubblesite link):

The Starry Night (1889):

A painting of a scene at night with 11 swirly stars and a bright yellow crescent moon. In the background there are hills, in the middle ground there is a moonlit town with a church that has an elongated steeple, and in the foreground there is the dark green silhouette of a cypress tree.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Olive Branch, 6/11/14

Accent on Worship


Sunday’s activities here every week don’t just happen. It’s astounding how many are involved in plans, preparations, implementation, etc. Everything from planning each service, preparing, proofing and printing the bulletin, cleaning, scheduling the worship leaders for each service, Altar Guild’s preparations, Sacristan setting up and arranging the space, vestments made ready, coffee hosts preparing food, adult education planned and presented, the Godly Play leaders trained, and parents communicated with – the list can go on and on, and no doubt someone is thinking “Hey what about what I do?” We need to thank God for all of this.

     And of course, there are the musicians to add to that list. Most of the time, music the choir sings began its learning process several weeks prior. We began learning last Sunday’s music on April 30.

     I am feeling gratitude for the group of people who sing in the choir. They make a special trip in every week, and spend close to two hours in rehearsal preparing for what they contribute to our liturgy.

     Many of them also are very involved in other committees and volunteer work at church and some weeks are here many days of the week. In addition to its weekly schedule of Wednesday rehearsals and Sunday
participation, this year the choir had many “extra-curricular” events in which they gladly participated: several wedding liturgies, a City-wide Hymn Festival at Central Lutheran, four Music and Fine Arts events (two procession services, the Conference on Liturgy Hymn Festival, and two full-days for Bach Tage. During Holy Week we joke about putting cots in the choir room.

     Another group for whom I’m feeling special gratitude is those who prepare food for so many events. Receptions, meals, breakfasts – it’s a huge amount of work preparing the food, and the less-fun-to-do clean-up afterwards. On one day this past month one crew prepared and cleaned up a breakfast, community meal, and a wedding reception – all in one day!

     I hope you join me in thanking God for all that they, and everyone who helps implement what we do on Sundays.

     Why do we do all of this? We do it because God means that much to us. God’s loving grace evokes a desire to “go out of our way” and add inconvenience to our schedules, so that we, too, can share our sense of gratitude, praise, and sense of Grace as God’s people in this place.

     Indeed: “Thanks be to God!”

- Cantor David Cherwien

Sunday Readings

June 15, 2014: The Holy Trinity
Genesis 1:1—2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

June 22, 2014: 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Lect. 12A)
Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Mount Olive Church Picnic June 22

     Mount Olive will have a Church Picnic this year on Sunday, June 22, from 3:00-7:00 p.m.  John and Patsy Holtmeier welcome all to their (spacious!) backyard at 601 Drillane Road in Hopkins.

     Games and hilarity for kids and adults will be held from 3:00-5:00 p.m., including a Bean Bag Tournament, Zip Line Run, lawn games, and more.  A potluck picnic will begin around 5:00 p.m., and the day will close with a hymn sing on the lawn.  All are invited!  Sign-up sheets for attendance, food preparation, set up, etc. will be at church for one more Sunday, June 15.

     In the event of rain on the 22nd, a modified picnic will be held that day in the Undercroft from 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Olive Branch Summer Publication Schedule

     During the summer months, The Olive Branch is published every other week.

     The next Olive Branch will be published on Wednesday, June 25.  Information for that issue is due in to the church office by Tuesday, June 24.

Vicar learns New Role

     Al Bipes, director of the Worship Committee, has been working with Vicar Beckering to learn and be able to do the duties of sacristan at one of our regular Sunday Eucharists.  Sunday, June 15, they will switch roles, with Al taking the role of Eucharistic Minister and Vicar Beckering serving as sacristan.  The hope is that this could be a new piece of training for our vicars going forward, near the end of their year with us, to better understand all the preparation and work needed for our liturgy to flow smoothly.  It is also the hope that through this learning, our vicars can leave here with some tools they can use to help members of their congregations take ownership and responsibility for preparing and leading worship themselves, and help them develop and train strong lay leadership in worship, especially in places where it has not previously been a practice.

Transitions Support Group Continues

     Members who found the recent 4 week life transitions support group helpful have decided to continue meeting but on a less regular basis.  They invite others who would like an opportunity to discuss concerns and receive support to join them.

     The next meeting is on Wednesday, July 16, at 6:30 in the Youth Room. Amy Cotter and Cathy Bosworth will act as facilitators.  If you have questions, please call Cathy at 612-708-1144 or email

New Vicar Assigned

     Mount Olive has received our assignment for next year’s vicar, the seminary intern who will serve with us.  Her name is Meagan McLaughlin, and she and her wife Karen live in south Minneapolis.  She grew up in Edina, and has worked as a school teacher and in social outreach at the Basilica, among other things.  She is a student at United Seminary, but taking her Lutheran core classes at Luther Seminary and seeking ordination in the ELCA.  Vicar Beckering’s last Sunday among us will be August 17, and Vicar McLaughlin will begin the next week.  When she arrives, much more in the way of introduction will be forthcoming.

Book Discussion Group’s Upcoming Reads

For their meeting on June 14, the book discussion group will read, The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson; and for the meeting on July 12, they will read, All Over but the Shoutin', by Rick Bragg.

Sign Up Now for Summer A.C.T.S. ! (Adults, Children Teaming to Serve)  June 16 – July 17

Thank you to those who have signed up to participate in Summer A.C.T.S.   Twenty youth are signed up and ready to begin work next week.  Sixteen adults and three teenagers have signed up for shifts but there is still room for a few more.  The most urgent needs are Monday and Wednesday, June 16 and l8; Tuesday and Thursday June 24 and 26; Monday and Wednesday June 30 and July 2; Tuesday and Thursday July 1 and 3; and Tuesday and Thursday July 8 and 10.  Please call Connie at the church (612-827-5919) or e mail her at if you can help.

Getting to Know You …

John Wall:  Born in Virginia, Minnesota, baptized at Zion Lutheran (Suomi Synod), confirmed in the Presbyterian Church, confirmed (again) at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, I left for Gustavus to earn a degree in church music. Shortly before graduating, I was confirmed (3rd time) in the Episcopal Church, and married my first wife in Christ Chapel. After a year at Seabury-Western Episcopal Seminary, Evanston, we moved to the Cities where I began service as choir director /organist from Redeemer Lutheran in Minneapolis, Good Samaritan Methodist and St. Stephen’s Episcopal in Edina, St. Luke’s Roman Catholic and Edgcumbe Presbyterian in St. Paul, to Emerson UCC in Richfield and elsewhere. In the 1990’s I also worked for Gould and Schultz Pipe Organs. In 1988 my wife Carol Anne and I married at St. Clement’s Episcopal, St. Paul. We live in St. Paul with our two Chinese daughters, Sarah, 15, and Rachel, 12, each baptized at an Easter Vigil at St. Mary’s Episcopal, St. Paul. Carol Anne works at Securian and as adjunct writing professor at Metropolitan State. My love of psalmody and the Benedictine Rule brought me to this year’s Conference on Liturgy and my first Sunday morning at Mount Olive – I just keep coming back. Having ended 50 years on the organ bench, composing music and working on liturgy, God put me in a pew among you. My spiritual aliveness comes also from service to my fellow addicts now at the international level on the Literature Committee, so from liturgy to literature I am filled with gratitude.

The Bargain Box

     Saturday, August 2 will be a busy day at Mount Olive! We will be helping to get neighborhood children ready for school year with Bargain Box fitting children with new school clothes and distributing school supplies during the Community Meal. We are looking for donations of cash, gently used children’s clothes (no adult clothes, please), school supplies, and backpacks.

     If you have time to help with the meal, or assist with clothing or school supplies, please plan to come to the August Community Meals!

Please note: Neighborhood Ministries is looking for backpacks, new and gently-used, to distribute at the August Community Meal. We want children to be ready for school! Stay tuned for more information.

- Neighborhood Ministries Committee

Food and Personal Items Needed!

      Now that school is out for the summer, many children who receive free or reduced-price lunches at school will often go hungry.  Please keep up or increase your monetary and food contributions during the summer months.  You may use your blue envelopes and designate "food shelf" as the recipient.  Food contributions may be placed in the shopping cart in the coat room.

      In our summer travels, let's remember that the complimentary toiletries provided by hotels and motels are ideal for homeless people who have little space for such items. Most of the time, we are charged for these items as a part of the payment for accommodations.  Please bring your unused toiletries to the designated basket in the coat room.

     Know that your donations help provide basic needs, as Christ would have us do.

Calling All Graduates!

     On Sunday, June 22, we will recognize and remember in prayer those who are graduating this spring … but we need to know who you are! If you are graduating from high school, college, or graduate school (or if your family member is), please call the church office with your name and the name of the school, so that your name can be included in the prayers for that day.
     We would love to celebrate your achievement with you!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

In Our Own Language

The Holy Spirit moves with abandon, and we cannot control what she does; but filled with the Spirit we can open our mouths and lives and in our own language tell God’s deeds of power so that all can see the Spirit’s work themselves.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, the Day of Pentecost, year A; texts:  Acts 2:1-20; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

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 mocking world.  A world where if someone doesn’t understand another person’s point of view, or passion, or excitement, often enough the first person makes fun of the other one.  “How can you like that?”  “Why do you spend so much time doing that?”  “That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?”  Humans sometimes find it difficult to honor that which we do not know, respect that which does not inspire us ourselves, and be gracious about something that seems utterly foreign to us.  It’s easier to jibe, to make fun, to act as if we’re superior.

What we do in this room today, for example, would seem mightily strange to many in our culture, even to some other Christians, our gestures, rituals, practices.  What other Christians are doing this morning might seem just as foreign to us, even if they worship in this very same city, in the same language as we.  I suspect that some of the school classmates of these three fine young people might think it strange that they got up this morning, got dressed up, put on white robes, and will stand in front of God and this congregation and claim their faith, promise to serve God with their lives.

Well, it might be a little comforting to you three, and to all of us, really, that we’re not the first to be thought strange, worthy of a little derision.  On the first Pentecost of the Church, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on 120 believers in the midst of tens of thousands of pilgrims thronging the city, they acted with such openness and lack of inhibition, such delight and joy, that lots of those who heard them thought they were drunk.  I’m sure that wasn’t said with any kindness, either.

But the thing about the moving of the Holy Spirit in our midst is that she gives birth to life that is different, that is not like life we’ve known before.  We may not be able to suddenly speak in ways a German or a Senegalese could understand in their language, though that would be wonderful.  But when the Spirit blows through the Church, she leads us into a new life, and that life is often strange and different.

And not everybody’s going to understand.  Some might even make fun.  And sometimes that’s just enough for us to hold back, to resist the Spirit even, or to keep quiet.

So here is our question on this Day of Pentecost: what would we say and do if, to quote Acts today, we spoke in our own language God’s deeds of power?  Can we even imagine doing it?  Do we know what we would say if we did?

Whatever we can say about that day, it seems clear that the Holy Spirit could not and cannot be controlled.

Sounds of rushing wind, flashing light that looked like flames of fire, and 120 people speaking in ways that people of at least 15 different nations and languages could understand, though these speakers were uneducated.  This day was out of control.

This lack of our ability to control the Spirit is part of our hesitance to admit we know where the Spirit is moving.  Doctrine we can control.  Dogmas and teachings, too.  We can and sadly do fight about them, even.  We can control how we structure our work, how we shape our ministry.  We can control what we say, when we say it, to whom we say it, most times.

Maybe that’s why sometimes it seems we Lutherans – who really like to be in control – are really good at talking about the work of the Son of God and a little quiet about the work of the Holy Spirit.  You can get into a good fight about your atonement theology, though I doubt our Lord would be pleased with you.  But when it comes to the Spirit, whom Jesus said is like the wind, where we can only see where she’s been, it’s a lot less certain.

And that’s frightening, to feel that we’re out of control.  We certainly can’t control if others in our own community even feel the Spirit’s movement and drawing.  Just the idea that God speaks to hearts through the Spirit is a little daunting, for ourselves, but also for others.  What if they start acting in ways we don’t think are proper or right, or start seeing God lead us in ways that feel risky or challenging?  We can be nervous about that.

But what’s really challenging is realizing that the Holy Spirit has always been moving in the world in ways far beyond our control.

We can’t control where the Spirit goes, whom she touches.  So we have to be open to seeing the Spirit move even among people who aren’t like us, who think differently, maybe even believe differently.  But if we believe the Spirit is alive and breathing through the world, that’s exactly what we should expect.

We can’t control what the Spirit does, either.  She could be – and certainly is – inspiring all sorts of things that we can’t manage or maintain, in all sorts of people that don’t look to us for permission.  The Spirit will go where she will go, and we can’t control that.  And that’s often enough reason for us to act as if we don’t see the Spirit.  To be fearful to speak, to tell what the Spirit is doing.

In part because foolishly we might think if we don’t talk about the Spirit, she’s not actually going to be messing around in our lives and in the world.  This doesn’t make any sense, I know.  But it seems it’s what we imagine.

But we also fear this: what if someone tells us we don’t get to say it was the Spirit?  That happens a lot.  People believe the Holy Spirit spoke to their group, or to them personally, and someone shoots it down, saying it’s not something you can claim.

And there’s maybe good reason for that.  People can do lots of bad things and claim the Spirit for leading them to that, can claim God’s authority over their power mongering or manipulation or antagonism.  And obviously we need to learn how to discern what is truly of God and what is not.

But what if the Spirit truly is speaking and leading and giving birth to new things?  Do we ever get to say that out loud, claim it?

And we fear this: what if someone thinks we’re unbalanced, needing help if we talk about the Spirit as actually working in our lives?  I don’t mean this as a joke at all.  Some of the great saints who lived in the past spoke and acted in ways that today might lead people to want to medicate them.  And what gifts would the Church have lost if that had happened?

Of course there are real mental illnesses, and there are medications that are very helpful.  But if just thinking that God actually and literally speaks to us could be construed as unbalanced, how will we ever dare listen for the Spirit’s leading?

The problem is, we all know the Spirit is moving and acting and changing us.

We experience it in this place, in our worship, in our life together, and out in the world.

This place, this community is not the same today as it was ten years ago, fifty years ago.  We have learned new things, become new people, grown more into the way Christ would have us be, and welcomed all sorts of other new people who were led here by the same Spirit.  We’ve got much more to grow, of course.  But if you’ve been here long enough, you’ll be able to find ample evidence of the graces of the Holy Spirit moving and shaping us.

And the same is true for each of us, too.  In our Tuesday Bible study it became clear to me this week that there is no problem for most of us to think of times we’ve felt God’s Spirit move us, shape us, change us.  Or to think of stories of when others we know have had that happen.  None of us are the same today as we were last year, or five years ago.  The Spirit has deepened our faith, shaped our behavior and our lives, moved us to grow in discipleship.

Just look at these three confirmands today as prime evidence, how they’ve grown and matured, how the Spirit has brought them to a point where they can stand up in faith and claim their life in Christ.

No, there’s no doubt the Spirit is moving in and among us.  But somehow we’re not talking much about it.

So let me ask us all again: what would happen if we spoke in our own language God’s deeds of power?

If we, like these three, stood up before the congregation or our friends and said what we believe, and where God has been moving?

What would happen if we spoke of this to others, witnessed to what the Spirit is doing in our lives and in the world?

Well, I think, as on that first Pentecost, people would start to believe, would start to see the Spirit working themselves.  Because when I can’t see where the Spirit is, I know that it makes all the difference in the world when one of you witnesses to me that you’ve seen her at work in your life.  And I can see where I didn’t before.  That’s how it goes, how it works with us.  When you hear these confirmands speak, you absolutely will see signs of the Spirit’s work.  And you might even start realizing where you’ve seen her in your life as well.

So let’s see what happens if we just start telling what we’ve seen, what we know.  If, in our own language, we start speaking God’s deeds of power to others.

Telling them and each other of the love of God we’ve seen change lives.  Telling them and each other of the way grace and forgiveness can transform even seemingly impossible situations.  Telling them and each other of the times we felt as if the Spirit of God was leading us to something and we found life and hope and purpose in it.

It’s possible we’ll be made fun of.  It’s possible we’ll be told we are wrong.  And if we’re that uninhibited, people might even think we’re out of control.

But that’s not the worst thing in the world.  What would be far worse would be our seeing and feeling and knowing the grace and love of the Holy Spirit and keeping it to ourselves out of fear.  What would be far worse would be our resisting the movement of the Spirit in our hearts to become different people because we’re afraid people won’t like us if we do.

And it’s possible that if we speak what we’ve seen, lives could be changed, the world could be changed.  It happened before.  Paul says today that to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  That’s why we speak, witness, tell.  Because the Spirit is giving birth to new life for the whole world, for the good of all.  And we have witnessed this in our own lives.  It’s time we let someone else know.

It’s a really good thing that on the Day of Pentecost we ask the Spirit again and again to come and fill us and inspire us.

Because that’s what we’re going to need.  We’re going to need the help of the Spirit of God to not only see where she’s been in our lives and in the world, but also to help us boldly act like those first believers and speak in our own language God’s deeds of power that we have seen.

It might get a little out of control.  But think what God could do with that!

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, June 1, 2014

As We Are One

Unity in Christ is not sameness in Christ; in our baptism we are made one with each other even as the Triune God is one, a oneness of love not of identicality.  And this unity is given by God, made by God, done by God.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, year A; text:  John 17:1-11

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

Reading a history of 2,000 years of the Christian Church is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.  Though one starts with the love of God made known in Christ Jesus, somewhat quickly thereafter it degenerates into power struggles and hatreds over faith in the same Christ Jesus.

I recently read such a comprehensive history; I also recently taught a Forum on the Nicene Creed.  Today we hear our Lord Jesus pray, on the night of his betrayal, that all his followers would be one, even as the Father and the Son are one.  What I read and what I studied for that class would seem to clash deeply with our Lord’s prayer.

Much of the life of the Church over the centuries has been given over to the task of enforcing unity (always assuming the enforcer has the truth and the enforcee does not.)  So we have creeds that speak the agreement of the Church on the nature of the Triune God.  This is good.  But at the cost of a large number of faithful disciples of Jesus being cast out as heretics.  The more power the Church assumed, the more forcefully the Church mandated unity.  Not too long after the Emperor Constantine made us the favored religion, believers adopted the murderous and violent ways of the world into which our Lord sent us out in love and peace.  We started killing each other when we disagreed.  Because, you see, unity is what our Lord wants.  So let’s give it to him.  At whatever cost.

It is often said that it is a scandal the Church is so divided in our time.  East from West, Rome from Protestants, Baptists from Lutherans.  Denominations and sects proliferate all over the planet.  Yet Jesus prayed that we be one.  Scandalous.

I wonder.  I wonder very much.  I wonder if in fact our Lord is actually pleased with at least part of our situation.  That is, the part where if some of us see the truth about the Triune God revealed in Christ in one way and others in another, we aren’t fighting a war or burning at the stake to prove who’s right any more.  Given the richness of human experience and the variety of the gifts of the Spirit, perhaps our Lord in fact expected that we would no more agree at all times with each other’s theological point of view today than did the authors of Matthew and John, or did the apostles Peter and Paul.

There is still a fundamental scandal, of course, that the many and various groups of Christians by and large can’t stand each other, relatively few are in full communion with each other, and some of them can’t even get too close to each other lest they start fighting.

In short, perhaps the true scandal is not that we have disagreements and denominations, but that we do not love each other.  That we sit in our own self-centered theological enclaves and throw potshots at the others; sometimes being good to those who seem to have similar enclaves, but disdainful of those who do not.  (Let us be honest: how often do we hear a Christian speak in public who disagrees with us or offends us and think, well, they’re not really Christian after all, not like us?)

In our liturgy I invite our confession of the Nicene Creed with the words of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, from the fourth century: “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess the Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided.”  The liturgy says we can only begin to confess our faith if we begin by loving each other.

That would be a good start, would it not?

Jesus prayed to the Father “that they be one, as we are one.”  What if what he meant was in love?

The deeply mysterious life of the Triune God is lived between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and according to the witness of the New Testament, is simply and only love.  The Father loves the Son who loves the Spirit who loves the Father who loves the Spirit who loves the Son who loves the Father.

Whatever we know about how God is one God, yet three Persons, we know because of the witness of the Son, who lives in the bosom of the Father, that the heart of God for us is love.  So the heart of God within God’s own self is also love.  Did not the elder already teach us this in 1 John?

Yet that oneness in love does not mean identicality.  The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father.

Whatever we know about how God is one God, yet three Persons, we know because of the witness of the Son that Father, Son, and Spirit are also not the same.  What is revealed to us, what we’ve experienced, is what we know of God, and from the beginning the Church has experienced the difference of each while affirming the unity of all.

This is mystery, so much so that in a couple weeks we will have a festival just to revel in the mystery of the Triune God.

Yet Jesus said, “As we are one, may they be one.”

What if unity in Christ also doesn’t mean sameness in Christ?  Just as the unity of the Triune God doesn’t mean sameness?  What if being the Body of Christ with many members, eyes, hands, feet, all sorts, means many points of view, many insights, many ways of being faithful followers?

That is, it may be the world desperately needs both Baptists and Lutherans.  Romans and Protestants.  Western and Orthodox.  It may be there are things these sisters and brothers need to teach us that we cannot hear if we do not begin to love them.  It may actually be a strength that we’re not mandating by force that we agree all the time.

In fact, it certainly must be that the Spirit speaks in different ways to the children of God baptized into the Triune Name.

It seems to me that we’ve confused the important thing: there is a truth about God in the world that is revealed in Jesus the Son that heals the creation – with the impossible thing: that we can definitively know and own that truth, and worse, defend it.

That is to say, to claim that our unity in Christ does not require sameness is not to say it doesn’t matter what we believe or teach.  It means that our unity is in Christ, not in our understanding, and that’s a very different thing.

And if we are like God in our variety, Christ also seems to want us to be like God in the unity of our love.  The unity of the disciples of Christ on earth is in the love we have received from God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and enflamed by the Spirit’s gift-giving.  Just as the Triune God’s unity is lived in love.

Jesus couldn’t be clearer, much as we close our eyes and hope it goes away: the only sign of our discipleship to the world is our love for each other.  What if John 13:35 would be proclaimed to all the world, so that everyone knew that disciples of Jesus could only be recognized by how they loved each other?  Would the world see any?

And can we honestly say that we in our own little group of agreement – 61 million Lutherans among 2.2 billion Christians – are enough to bear Christ’s justice and love in the world, without loving collaboration with all the disciples of Christ?

“As we are one,” Jesus said.  The prayer is that we are one as the Triune God is one: different, varied, but one in love.  Different gifts, different understandings, but one in love.

“As we are one,” Jesus said.  What if he really meant that?

Oh, and as long as we’re paying attention to Jesus here, could we notice what he’s doing?  He’s praying, not commanding.

The Son is asking the Father in prayer (in the mystery of the Triune God) to make this so among us.  That is, our unity in love for each other is not something we can even do, much less enforce.  It, like everything else, is gift, grace, empowerment.  The Son is asking the Father to send the Spirit (if we look ahead in the prayer) to come and make us holy that we be one as God is one.

So could we stop thinking we’ve got a choice in this?  That we have a say?  That we are in control, not the Triune God?

This is all simple, it is not new, it is something we confess all the time: in our baptism into Christ we are made one with God and with each other.

That means all the baptized children of God, made one by the power of God working in water and Word through the grace of the Holy Spirit in us.  Our unity is not based on our agreement or intelligence or brilliant theology, it is our reality in baptism already.

All we need to hear is that the Spirit is calling us to love each other in that unity, to let the Spirit lead us deeper and deeper into the loving dance that is the life of the Triune God, and that is given us as our dance in this world, that we also become one as God is one.

So that ultimately all will know God’s love.  You see, once we start moving to this impulse of the Spirit, flowing in this love for each other as disciples of Christ across all denominations, then maybe we’ll begin to find the maturity we’re going to need to love those of different faiths.

Because I’m quite certain Christ Jesus has that in mind for us as well.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

Copyright 2014 Mount Olive Lutheran Church