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Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Visible Faith

Our faith’s value and truth is seen in the life it creates, the servant love we live in the world; God’s grace shapes our heart to show such visible grace in our lives.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 22, year B
   texts:  James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-23 (several verses added into the middle of the lection); Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

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

Our faith is worthless if it doesn’t result in actions of love.

Our faith has no value for us or for God if it doesn’t shape our lives into servant lives.

These are hard words to hear. But they’re James’ trumpet call over the confusing din of Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees. James brings clarity to what we often make a distracting sideshow. How do we know if our heart is right with God? When we live God’s love for those in need.

Pure religion, James says, is caring for the widows and orphans, for all who are on the edge, all who hover at the fringes of the world, all who struggle to make it through a day. That’s it, James says. That’s how you know your faith is real.

James makes Deuteronomy simple for us: don’t just hear God’s Word, do it. Do God’s Word, keep yourself unstained by the world, and take care of people.

Otherwise, our faith isn’t genuine.

Hard as that sounds, we might be surprised at how much sense James makes if we actually read him.

We’re going to hear from James in the next weeks, and we’ll learn he gives a helpful corrective to Lutherans. We value good thinking, proper doctrine, orthodoxy. James, a letter we don’t pay enough attention to, reminds us that how we act and live is a truer measure of our closeness to Christ than whether we get our theology right.

This little letter barely mentions Christ Jesus in the way of proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation and life.

But this little letter is full of the way of Jesus, full of what Jesus actually lived and taught and urged and called to those who would listen. James never denies we are forgiven freely by God’s grace. He simply, urgently, asks: does that come out in how you live in the world?

In fact, James helps us understand God’s grace in the right way.

As long as we limit our view of the forgiveness of sins we receive in Christ to our not being punished, we limit our serving as disciples. As long as we keep a childish view of confession, that we’ll do it only so we don’t get in trouble, we miss the true depth of what God’s grace and forgiveness is meant to do.

The forgiveness and grace we receive in Christ is God’s way to reshape and heal our hearts for visible love. There’s nothing about Christ’s death and resurrection that forces the Triune God to forgive us. God could do that without the Incarnation, without the cross, without the empty tomb. God can, and does, simply forgive people and refrain from punishing them. It happened all the time in the Old Testament.

But if God really wanted humanity to return to a place of loving God and loving each other that was intended in creation, something more drastic was needed.

God needed to become one of us, teach us, show us how to live and love. God would have to take all of human hate and evil and be killed by it to show us that is the path to end human hate and evil. Not by overpowering it, but by absorbing it and transforming it with love. Changing death into life.

The forgiveness we receive in Christ’s death and resurrection is our path to a healed and new heart, our path to a life of costly love for the world and all in need.

As for God’s law, rather than arguing over which are still valid, or other points of theology, James says: act like Jesus. That’ll do.

Imitate our Lord in his love and grace, compassion and healing. Act like we care for the widow and orphan, the poor and outcast, the sick and needy, the oppressed and hated.

We have been forgiven of all we are and have done in order that we will live this very life. When we act like we’re gracious, loving, compassionate people of God, we become gracious, loving, compassionate people of God.

That’s James’ gift. Don’t talk so much theology, he says, revel in the new birth you have as first fruits of God’s creatures for the healing of this world. Act like you’re Christ – because you are – and you’ll start looking like you’re Christ.

And people will get helped. People will get well. People will get fed. People will find life. People will find hope. Which is what God really needs.

It turns out the Pharisees might have a point, though.

There are habits we have, rituals we do, that can shape our lives. Maybe not a ritual handwashing. But we are shaped by what we do.

Part is what James already has said: doing God’s Word, practicing being Christ, these are habits we need to learn. We become what we imitate and practice.

And there are habits of worship and life that make a difference in our lives acted in the world. Our worship here shapes our sense of both belonging to God and being called to be God’s presence in the world.

The rituals we do here are not important in their own right. But when they help us worship God, when they shape our hearts toward love of God and neighbor, when they help us come before God and seek forgiveness for healed and new hearts, when they help us hear God’s Word in such a way that we start doing it, they’ve done their jobs.

If they don’t, we need to re-think our habits and life, in worship, at home, at work.

Sometimes the best way is the simplest way, even if it’s hard to hear.

James shocks us when he speaks of worthless religion, of faith that has no value. But he shows a clear path to walk, where we can tell as we go whether or not it’s the right path.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ, we know this. James helps us with what’s next: how we will know that love is embedded in our hearts and lives. Do God’s Word. Keep unstained by the world. Take care of people.

It’s the way of Jesus. It’s our way to life, too.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Olive Branch, 8/26/15

Accent on Worship

Though I wouldn’t so blatantly disagree with Jesus about his teaching in this week’s reflection on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, and 21-23, I do won-der what he would have said if he had listened to some of today’s popular music, or watched some current movies.  Jesus was literally referencing food in these verses, and the Pharisees hypocrisy in creating human rules around what is pure and impure, but the message hits me in a different way. As I drive in my car and listen to the lyrics of some songs, or my friends talk about the latest happening in Game of Thrones, I am constantly aware of how precious and sensitive my heart and mind are to what goes in. Jesus said in Mark 7:20, “’what comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come…’” For me, like I believe most human beings, what goes in is often the root of what comes out.

     There is evidence of this struggle everywhere. In the recent flood of scandal and heartache associated with the exposure of Ashley Madison account holders (secret online accounts connecting married persons with opportunities for affairs), to the beating of a homeless Mexican man by two men inspired by Donald Trump’s attitude towards immigrants, there is obviously something powerful about what we choose to allow in to our bodies physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is not just bad pork or skipping a hand washing coming out of the bathroom. This is the world in which we live, and move, and have our being.  It is full of fear, corruption, hyper-sexualization, skepticism, criticism, anger, and deceit.  But that is not all that it is, and we don’t have to just gobble it up! Alleluia! We can offer something else to be consumed by others; service, hope, patience, peace, Christ.

     There are encouraging, if not strictly instructive words found in James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” And further in verse 27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  My car stereo is set more to KTIS than KS95, and I watch documentaries about nature instead of “The Bachelor.” It’s my small way of trying to do both and watch what ‘goes in’ so that my best comes out.

- Anna Kingman

Sunday Readings

August 30, 2015: 14th Sunday after Pentecost, 22 B
 Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

September 6, 2015: 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 23 B
Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-17
Mark 7:24-37

Special Congregation Meeting

     The Vestry has called a special congregational meeting for this Sunday, August 30, immediately following the morning Eucharist for the following purpose:

Presentation on urgently-needed repairs to the roof, masonry, and stained glass windows of the church and authorization for the Vestry to obtain a loan to cover the cost of these repairs.

     All voting members are encouraged to attend the meeting this Sunday after the morning Eucharist.

Regular Worship Schedule Resumes on September 13
Two Sunday Eucharists at 8:00 & 10:45 am
Sunday Church School and Adult Forum at 9:30 am

Annual TRUST Sustaining Contribution Drive

     TRUST and its member congregations and supporters have been serving south Minneapolis residents since 1970. Mount Olive has been a part of the TRUST network for the last several years. By now you should have received  TRUST’s annual Sustaining Contribution Drive mailing asking for your support.

     If you are able, please be generous in helping this agency which helps so many people.

Transitions Support Group

     All are welcome at the Transitions Support Group. If you’re looking for new ideas or encouragement to meet the challenges or uncertainties that are before you, join us on September 9.

     This is an opportunity to share in fellowship, prayer, and discussion with others in the Mount Olive community.

      Transitions Support Group meets on Wednesday, September 9, from 6- 7 pm at Mount Olive in the lower level Youth Room, and will be facilitated by Cathy Bosworth and Amy Cotter.

     For more information, please contact Cathy (612-708-1144, or Amy (612-710-1811,

Every Church a Peace Church September  Potluck

    The next ECAPC potluck will be held on Monday,  September  21,  beginning at 6:30 p.m. at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 4537 3rd Ave. S.*;  Minneapolis (*access to parking lot),  612-823-8205,

     The purpose of this meeting is for support, networking, delicious food, and an outstanding pro-gram! This month's program speaker will be The Rev. Nancy E. Maeker. She will address, "A Christian Response to the Wealth Gap.” Through discussion, presentation, and an interactive exercise, we will explore the causes and realities of the wealth gap, and how God calls us to care for each other and work toward enough for all.

Thursday Bible Study: Mark September 17

     The Thursday evening Bible Study returns this fall on Thurs-day, Sept. 17, 6:00 pm, for a six-week study titled “The Last Enemy.”

     The focus is on mortality, death and dying, and how the Scriptures guide us.

     More information to come.

Olive Branch Summer Publication

     During the summer months of June, July, and August, The Olive Branch is published every other week. We return to weekly publication with the next issue to be published on September 9.

     If you have information to be published in the September 9 issue, please have that information to the church office by Tuesday, September 8. The deadline for weekly publication is Mondays, beginning September 14.

Book Discussion Group Update

     Mount Olive’s Book Discussion Group meets on the second Saturday of each month, at 10:00 am in the West Assembly Area at church. All readers are welcome!  For the   September 12 meeting, they will read I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven. For the October 10 meeting they will read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers, and for November 14, they will read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.

Two Invitations

     1.  Instrumentalists!  A special plea from your cantor – please don’t wait for a formal invitation from me to participate by playing some Sunday.  I may not know you are able and/or interested in playing!  As you might have noticed, we do not have an overabundance of instrumentalists – so if you can, and would like to play, please contact me!  We’ll schedule it when it works for you, and can custom fit the music to your abilities.

     2.  Have you considered singing with the Cantorei?  There is no highly involved process in doing so, just come.  If you think you are not “good enough,” I have two words in response:  “Hog. Wash.”

   We’ll fit anyone in, we’ll train.  We rehearse Wednesday evenings at 7 beginning Sept. 9.  Many of the singers tell me it is truly worth it – the rehearsals are energizing, and actually, fun!  We begin regular rehearsals again Wednesday, September 9.

     Questions about either?  Call or e-mail!

- Cantor Cherwien

Writing for Others on September 6

     Let's start the fall season by getting together after worship on Sunday, September 6, to sit with our coffee and treats and write a short letter or two. We will join with Christians around the world in celebrating progress and calling for continued efforts in the fight against world hunger.  It's easy with help from our Bread for the World partners.

     Together we can call for sup-port of the Global Food Security Act, "a bipartisan bill aimed at combating global hunger and malnutrition by making permanent the Feed the Future initiative." That sounds pretty technical, but this is a lovely effort to build on successes, leverage sup-port and go for maximum efficiency and impact. Bread for the World gives us the back-ground and even provides sample letters. This is timely advocacy---connecting with Congress just before Pope Francis calls for such an effort when he visits later in September. Keep tuned for more information.

- Missions Committee,
Judy Hinck, Director

What is Congregational Care at Mount Olive?  

     It is Mount Olive members caring for one another in tangible ways.     People at Mount Olive have a strong history of supporting and encouraging each other through a wide variety of caring actions.  Could it be that more could be done? Were some people and families falling between the cracks, unnoticed?  

     About two years ago, Marilyn Gebauer and Cathy Bosworth began a dialogue with long time member Warren Peterson, who had been co-coordinating transportation needs for many years, and Peggy Hoeft, who contributed her experiences and vision for meeting the needs of those within our congregation. Together they wondered, could we be doing more?

     After an initial introduction at a Sunday morning Adult Forum, the Congregational Care Committee evolved.  Since then Amy Cotter began sharing her learning in Spiritual Direction with the Transitions Support Group and, most recently, Heather Halen has been contributing her knowledge of and experience with End-of-Life Planning.  

     At present the following services are supported via the Congregational Care group.  Would you please review this list and let us know if you are aware of other unmet needs and/or concerns in our congregation?

Meals provided for new parents and members experiencing life-changing events.
Transportation to worship and medical appointments, for those unable to drive.
Support via a group, for those experiencing stressful life events (i.e. chronic illness of self, partner/spouse/parent/child), serious illness and/or death of a loved one.
Workshops on Health Care Directives
Adult Forum Presentations:
Panel consisting of Mount Olive members sharing their experiences during times of personal crisis – what was helpful and/or needed.
End of Life Planning Conversations:  End of Life Decisions with Pr. Crippen,
(View at:

Contact information for Congregational Care group members:

Amy: , 612-710-1811
Cathy:,   612-708-1144
Heather: 612-822-0953
Marilyn:,  612-306-8872
Peggy:, 952-835-7132
Warren:, 952-935-9262

Church Library News

     All are invited to visit our parish library soon where a new display of books awaits your browsing or specific topic use.   This display is comprised of three different components, the first of which are books given in memory of someone from our congregation who is no longer with us but whose memory is dearly beloved to us all; the second group of books are given to our library by specific donors, and the third group of books are chosen to provide topical or inspirational help to our readers.

        Just A Minute: Devotions for the Rushed, by The Rev. Paul Peterson -- given in memory of Florence Peterson
        Contemporary Writers on the New Testament, by Alfred Corn, ed. -- given in memory of The Rev. Robert Bartels
        International Children's Bible Handbook, by Lawrence Richards -- given in memory of Walter Iverson
        The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats -- given in memory of Ellie Siess
        The NIV Complete Concordance, by Edward W. Goodrich and John R. Kohlenberger III -- given in memory of The Rev. Paul Engwall
        'Tis a Gift to be Simple (Embracing the Freedom of Living With Less), by Barbara DeGrote and David Allen Sorensen --- given in memory of Paul Holt
        N-O-A-H: The Real Story -- given in memory of Paul Holt
        My Little Flowers, Gifts of the Moment, (daily meditations) -- given in memory of Geri Bjork
        I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, by Malala W. Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick -- given in memory of Geri Bjork
                (These memorial books have been given or placed by Leanna Kloempken.)

        Come to the Table (Food, Fellowship and a Celebrating of God's Bounty), by Benita Long, ed. -- donated by Lora and Allen Dundek
        The Myth of a Christian Religion, by Gregory A. Boyd -- donated by Dwight Penas
        The Revelation to John, A Commentary, by Martin H. Franzman -- donated by Dwight Penas
        The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians, by Robert Eisenmann -- donated by Robert Gotwalt
        Our Mama is a Beautiful Garden, by Katy Tessman Stamoch -- donated by Leanna Kloempken
        The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, by N.T. Wright
        At Home with Jesus: Devotions for Children, by Joselyn W. Moldstad
        A Complete Idiot's Guide to the Lives of the Saints, by Paul Williams

        Are you looking for a place to donate some of your gently-used books?  Consider donating them to the Friends of Andersen Horticultural Library's book sale at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, who will accept books until September 15, with the actual sale of books set for October 2-4. For more information call 612-301-1239.

        Finally, a quote from a Your True Nature, Inc. bookmark --- "Advice from a butterfly: Let your true colors show. Get out of your cocoon, take yourself lightly, look for the sweetness in life, take time to smell the flowers, and be sure to catch a breeze!"

-Leanna Kloempken

News From the Neighborhood                                        

Another Neighborhood Garage Sale!

     Our first garage sale last June was a great success and our friends and neighbors asked when we will host another.  The answer? SOON!

Neighborhood Garage Sale II
Saturday, September 19, 9:00 am - 3:00 pm

1. Be a vendor.  Rent a parking space for $5.00 and “set up shop”
2. Be a shopper
3. Be a volunteer—we need help setting up and taking down plus monitors and guides throughout
    the day
4. Be a supporter and help spread the word.

     Questions?  Contact any Open Space team member to join in or for further information:  Tim Pipkorn, Larry Duncan, George Ferguson, Connie Marty, Julie Manuel, Carol Austermann, Paul Nixdorf, Patsy Holtmeier, and Anna Kingman.

     “Open Space”is a part of Neighborhood Ministries.

The School Year is coming! We Need Tutors! 

     That means it’s time to prepare for a season of tutoring the fun kids of our neighborhood and church. Tutoring takes place on Tuesday evenings from 7:00-8:00 pm, with an activity and game until 8:30 pm. It's a fun, easy way to connect with kids who desire and deserve some extra help and attention as they journey through school and growing up. Materials and support will be provided.

     We will begin again on Tuesday, September 29. If it's something you're interested in being involved in, ask Anna Kingman or call 612-827-5910 or email It's a great use of time and talents!

Men's Clothes Needed!

     Do you have gently-used adult men's clothing you could to donate to a worthy cause? YouthLink is an agency in downtown Minneapolis that works with homeless youth aged 16-23, and right now they are in serious need of donations of young men's clothing in good condition. They are especially in need of larger sizes, but will be grateful for any and all.

     If you've got some clothes to donate, please bring them to the coat room at church by this Sunday, August 30. Be sure to label your bag or box “YouthLink.” Julie Manuel has volunteered to deliver them for us.

     Thanks for anything you can do to help!

Music and Fine Arts Series 2015-2016

     Attached to this newsletter email you will find the brochure listing this year’s lineup of concerts for the 2015-2016 season.  In addition to the Advent and Lent Procession Services, the season kicks off on September 20 with the Charles Lazarus Jazz Quartet, then on November 15, Alice Parker returns to lead another signature “Sing!” On January 31, 2016, the choral ensemble From Age to Age will offer a concert, on April 10, The Songs of Africa will perform.  Then topping the season off will be a festival Bach Tage (the tenth one!), featuring cantata 76, “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God.”

     Members of the Music and Fine Arts committee will be in the narthex collecting support for the series on Sundays, September 6 and 13.  These events are offered as a gift to the community free of charge, as a result of your support.

     Yes, we can “fix the roof” AND offer a concert series!!!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Where Else?

What Christ asks of us terrifies us, but so does not being in God’s love; so we trust that our transformation is in the hands of the One who died and rose for us, the One who loves us forever.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 21, year B
   texts:  John 6:56-69; Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

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

Let’s praise Peter for once.

As always, he speaks for us, looks like us. He’s often our bumbling foil; laughing at him helps us laugh at ourselves. Today he is a gift. Today Peter names our deep, abiding fear so we can look at it ourselves.

So far, religious leaders have rejected Jesus. Many of the crowds he fed have left him, with no repeat performance coming. Today actual disciples leave him. These are people who “went about with him.” Who’d left family and home and followed him as master. That’s who’s leaving now.

Peter’s scared. You don’t want to be the last one on a sinking ship, and now friends are sneaking off. He’s scared of what Jesus is teaching, as they are. They left because Jesus’ teaching got difficult, unacceptable. Peter and the twelve had to have thought the same.

But Peter knows Jesus. He knows, somehow, he is God’s Holy One. And, thank God, he says, “where else can we go? You’ve got the words of eternal life.”

We can’t dodge this crisis. Jesus won’t let us.

Today we have to give up the sugary-sweet picture of Jesus the good teacher, who says nice things we can memorize or put on pillows, who has some good ideas. Today he crosses a line.

It was bound to happen, given that he will end up at the cross, condemned. It begins here. Jesus puts before his disciples two paths.

On one path we believe Jesus is the Son of God, who, in dying and rising, gives his flesh and blood for the world, gives eternal, transforming life. On the other, we think Jesus is out of his mind, believing himself to be something he cannot be.

There’s no middle path to take.

We can’t separate Jesus the teacher from Jesus the Savior, he’s one Christ, one Lord.

For the Hebrews, body and blood together meant the totality of the person. Jesus says he must be completely taken in, believed, swallowed. We can’t take him apart into believable pieces and hard parts we’re going to ignore.

Jesus makes it very hard for some to keep following him when he forces us to face that he is offering himself, completely, for our transformation. Because that will mean changes we might be unwilling to accept.

That’s what’s so difficult. We’d like to stay the same, to keep all we are.

But it doesn’t appear that’s an option.

When I led youth groups at Christikon, the Lutheran mountain camp in Montana, the first night the guides would put the trail packs out for each group and have them put all of the things they’d brought onto the packs. Then they’d shock the kids by tossing aside everything that wasn’t coming. Deodorant, shampoo, extra shirts and extra underwear, flip-flops, hair dryers. The kids were stunned at what they couldn’t take along for this journey into the wilderness.

That’s a tiny bit of the fear we have when we realize what following Jesus means we’re letting go of.

Our self-centeredness will have to be left at the side of the road. Our easy irritation at some people has to go. Our low self-esteem and sense of worthlessness can’t stay in our bags. Our prejudices and biases can’t be kept, even in the smallest amount. Our desire for material things at the expense of others has no place. Our need to have things our own way, or our fearful inability to ask for what we need from others, will be set aside. When we take Christ into us for our life journey with him, we let go of a lot.

And that’s difficult to accept. We’re like Joshua’s people, swearing to serve God and keeping our idols packed in our suitcases. Just in case.

So Jesus’ question to the twelve has to be ours: will we stay? Or will we go?

If only we could come to Jesus, get a promise of life in heaven after we die, feel encouraged for the next week, and that would be it, we’d be fine. If we could keep him at arm’s length from the rest, that would be good.

But Jesus insists on offering us eternal life, the very life of the Triune God. There’s no way that won’t change us. We are not who we were made to be; we will be changed fully into the image of God that was ours at the creation.

We don’t have an option of Jesus Lite. Only the life of God poured into our hearts and lives, filling us with the Spirit and transforming us into Christ for the world.

If that’s so, we have to be with Peter. If this is what Jesus can do, where else can we go?

We’ve lived enough to know that what the world offers doesn’t satisfy us. Being allowed to be ou selfish and self-centered, getting whatever we want, seeking things that promise to change our lives for the better, none of this really fills us. Advertisers can sell all they want, the culture can tell us all it can, but in the quiet of our hearts and the dark of the night we know we need more. No product or service or lifestyle or chemical or self-help or anything else answers our need.

But we do know Christ Jesus is the Holy One of God. We know that in his death and resurrection all things are being made new, and even death is powerless. We know he makes it possible for us to be with God. He embodies God’s love for us.

We might not be ready for the changes the Spirit is going to make. We might be frightened that we’re called out of our comfort zones and habits and ruts into new paths with scary challenges.

But we know no one else we can trust like our Lord Jesus. We’ve never heard anything close to the promise of life he gives us and the world. So where else can we go?

Christ Jesus is where we find life. That’s all we know. But it’s enough.

Today Peter still has no answers to his fears. No idea what his life will look like if he continues to follow. He’s still very afraid.

But he knows this is God’s Holy One, and this is where he has to be. This is where we have to be.

Having no answers, we turn to the One we know is God’s answer to this world’s pain. Having nowhere else that offers us real life, we turn to the One who will fill us with God’s life, and give us purpose and joy in our journey. Fearing change, we turn to the One who is life and love, and trust that changing into Christ, into that One, will be grace, even if it’s not easy.

Lord, you have the words of eternal life. There’s nowhere else we can go. Nowhere else we want to go.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sacred Places

When we listen to each other’s stories, and sing, and praise God, and share the Eucharist, we come together at Lady Wisdom’s feet. The wisdom of God is revealed, and we are united in the spirit of God. Ordinary places are transformed into sacred places.

Vicar Meagan McLaughlin
     Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 20, year B
     texts: Proverbs 9:1-6, Psalm 34:9-14, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58

Wisdom and Life to you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Shortly after I started my year here, one of you said to me, “We LOVE our interns! And then their year ends, and they leave. And then we get a new one! We LOVE our interns!” I knew then, if not before, that being a teaching congregation is an integral part of who Mount Olive is. There is a rhythm to the process of internship that is lived out not just by Intern and Supervisor and Committee, but by all of you, in different ways. It is not easy or comfortable, to live in that rhythm, but for all of its challenges, you embrace it, and for that I am very grateful.

A Lakota elder shared with a group of United Theological seminarians recently that Lakota tradition tells us that our stories are rooted in place, not time. And according to that tradition, the valley below Fort Snelling is the birthplace of creation, a sort of Garden of Eden, and it is also the birthplace of many Lakota people whose mothers travelled days and weeks to get to that place so their children could be born there. No matter how much time passes, their stories and the story of creation itself are alive there in that sacred place.

A part of Mount Olive’s story is that it is a place that gives birth to interns. And in this sacred place, for a century, we—you—have broken bread, shared the Eucharist together. Through the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, we live in Jesus, and Jesus lives in us, and because of that, we all live forever. This is sacred space. The stories of 46 vicars are rooted in this place, now. No matter how much time passes, their stories are alive here.

As I leave Mount Olive, to return to seminary and then seek a call in a different place, through the mystery of the Eucharist that establishes a communion among us and Jesus our God, a part of my story stays here with you. A part of my story is mingled with the stories of all who have been a part of this community for over 100 years, and in a special way with the 45 vicars who have come before me, with all of you who have listened to my story, and all of you who have shared your stories with me.

And in a week, your new Vicar Anna Helgen will join you here, and her story, too, will become woven into the sacred place that is Mount Olive. It will be up to all of you to figure out how you will distinguish Anna Helgen from Anna Kingman!

It is fitting that the readings for today speak to us of insight, maturity, trust in God. Internship is an intentional time of learning and growth, being called to the house of Lady Wisdom, to sit at her feet and listen for the will of God. Paul enjoins the Ephesians, and us, to live wisely, understand the will of the Lord, and sing praises. In your company, I have certainly had a chance to gain wisdom, experience the work of the Spirit, and sing praises to God!

As I prepared to preach today, my last time at Mount Olive, and as I move on from this place, these scriptures are a reminder to me that, as much as you all have taught me, I am not done yet. None of us are done yet. Regardless of our age, or our experience, or our education, we all have a lot to learn. We all need God’s guidance.

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” Living wisely is not passive, and it is not easy. Living wisely requires first of all that we see the world and ourselves as it is. There is great beauty and love and goodness here, in the world our God has made, and there is beauty, love, and goodness within each one of us. There is also brokenness—as Paul says, “the days are evil,” both in us and in our world. Wisdom sees the full truth, the beauty and the brokenness, and pursues the will of God in light of that truth.

Living wisely is not a one-time action, like a class we can take and graduate from, or an internship we complete, and we are done and wise and know the will of God forever more. We are called to live wisely. All of us are perpetually called to spend time at Lady Wisdom’s feet, listening to her stories. We are called to come together, again and again, to share in the Eucharist. We come to be closer to God, to allow the spirit of God to enter into our very being, and to grow in wisdom and understanding. We come together, knowing that we are hungry, to be fed the body and blood that make us whole, and one, in Jesus.

One of the biggest challenges to this is that, if we are wise, we will respond to Lady Wisdom’s call to “the simple!” Before we can enter into full communion with God and each other, before we can gain wisdom, we have to understand that we need God, and that we have things to learn from God and one another.

In other words, we need to be humble. My favorite definition of humility is “being right-sized.” That means that we resist the temptation to either make ourselves out to be bigger or smarter or wiser than we are, or to write ourselves off as not having anything to contribute to the kingdom of God in this world. In humility, we see ourselves as we are, in all our humanity, knowing we are no better or worse than anyone else. For those of us who like to know where we stand in the rankings, who prefer certainty to uncertainty, this is a challenge, one that seems to go against everything we have been taught. But it is the way of wisdom.

Wisdom sees the full truth, beauty and brokenness, and pursues the will of God in light of that truth. When we show up as we are, in all our beauty and brokenness, we are open to learn, and can be fully present to one another. When we show up as we are, and invite others to show up as they are, and we listen to each other’s stories, and sing, and praise God, and share the Eucharist, we come together at Lady Wisdom’s feet. The wisdom of God is revealed, and we are united in the spirit of God. Ordinary places are transformed into sacred places.

We enter into sacred places, and are moved to action. Living wisely is not passive! Wisdom sees the full truth, and pursues the will of God in light of that truth. We understand something of God’s will for us in that moment, and then . . . . . we pursue it. We pursue peace. We pursue justice. We do what we are called to do to contribute to the kingdom of God in our communities.

We will not do it alone, and we will make mistakes, because we are human, and it’s not about being perfect, after all. It’s about creating places where stories can be shared, and songs can be sung, and the will of God can be revealed. Sacred places, that honor and give birth to life. Lady Wisdom is calling us to learn and grow and change, and none of us are done yet.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Favored Lowliness

The mystery of the Incarnation begins with this young woman, Mary, who was able to see the eternal God coming to her and working within her own abilities, her ordinary gifts, her humanity, to save the world.

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

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, who has looked on the humiliation of his slave.”

We heard “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant,” which is good, and interprets the context. But the harsher reading gets us deeper into Mary’s truth.

Mary recognized that the one, true God was identifying with her. This magnificent song is a praise of what happens when God does that. It begins with God looking on our humiliation. Looking with favor on our lowliness. This young woman grasped what it takes many of us a lifetime to comprehend: if God was going to be born in her, then God was going to be working in person in humiliation and weakness to save the world.

Maybe she didn’t grasp it fully at first. But she said yes to the one thing that was asked of her, the one thing: she agreed to be a mother.

She agreed to do what women before her and after have done so often.

As a man, I can’t claim that bearing a child is easy. But Mary said yes to what was a normal thing, something she had already anticipated, hoped for, as her future, something many women had done, including her mother, grandmother, and relatives like Elizabeth.

There was little else given to her. God gave no particular parenting instructions for this child. There was no provision for the child’s food and clothing. No inheritance set aside, no housing, no special gifts.

Mary said, “let it be as God says,” with little guidance for what came next.

But she realized this: what God needed from her was something she could do.

Mary’s call was to be herself. Through that, God would save.

She would bear this child as women do, with the help of women around her, at home, and in Bethlehem. She would do what her body was designed to do.

She would parent this child, as parents always do, with little to go on but her own love, wisdom, common sense, and the advice, wisdom, and love of her family.

She would travel to see relatives, as people often do. She would make a pilgrimage with her son and husband to Jerusalem, as people did. She would deal with life and being the mother of this child to the best of her ability, as mothers do everywhere.

And she understood that this was all God needed. She wasn’t asked to do anything beyond her normal, human capabilities. She was asked to be Mary, mother of Jesus, wife of Joseph, child of Nazareth, herself.

And that would be the way God would begin the salvation of the world.

That’s the grace that surrounds us on Mary’s feast day: the Triune God saves through the ordinary lives of human beings.

Now we celebrate Mary as Theotokos, as Queen of Heaven, as the Mother of Our Lord, lots of capital letters, much praise and glory. In truth, the glory of Mary is found in God’s full identification with the humiliation of our humanity.

What she sings, of God lifting up the poor, casting down the proud, feeding the hungry, sending the rich away, could sound like a revolution of violence and power. In fact, it is a revolution of humiliation of the One who made all things.

God my Savior has looked upon my humiliation, Mary sang, looked with favor on my lowliness. God has decided to enter the humiliation, the lowliness of human life, in all our fragility and brokenness, to bring human life back into the life of God.

If we want to see where God is working, it’s no consolation prize to say, “look at what God’s people are up to.” It’s the place God will surely be seen. It’s the grand prize truth of what the birth of the Son of God to Mary means for the world.

This means we also are not asked to do what we cannot do.

That’s the gift Mary gives us with her “yes.” She reveals how utterly basic it will be for us to be a part of God’s salvation of the world.

We are not called to be someone else, with someone else’s gifts. We are not called to have great worldly power, unless we have it. (And if we do, God will use that, too.) We are, like Mary, simply asked to be ourselves.

To see ourselves as part of God’s great overturning of the ways of this world, and keep that awareness in our hearts and minds as we act, decide, live, love. Mary parented Jesus to the best of her ability, but with that one addition, that she understood her involvement in a greater plan of God. She still had to change his diapers, feed him, teach him, maybe even scold him. She likely parented with similar skills and attitudes as her parents had, as we all do. But with one difference, she knew God was working through her to love the world.

We have the same gift. We live, love, decide, act, work, play in this world as we are able, with the gifts we’ve been given, but now we know something else. Now we know the Triune God is working through us to bring life and love to this world.

God looked on our humiliation, our human-ness, and said, “That’s where I will work.”

It’s terrific news. It’s enough to give each one of us purpose and meaning to every moment of our lives, to give import and grace to every interaction we have with another child of God.

It’s also alarming news. To think that what we are doing in this moment, or the next, is something God is working in to make life happen can be intimidating, even frightening.

So we remember Mary. She smiles at us in love and says, “it’s not as scary as you think, and the joy of knowing God believes you are necessary, of feeling at God work in you, is immeasurable. So all will be well. Go ahead and say yes.”

God give us the courage and spirit to do just that.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, August 9, 2015


When we eat our life’s bread, our Lord Christ, we take God’s very essence into us and we are drawn into the reality, heart, peace, and life of the Triune God and become part of Someone greater than we, yet including all.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 19, year B
   texts:  John 6:35, 41-51; 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

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 all long to know that we matter, that we’re noticed, that someone thinks we’re important.

Our society idolizes the individual, urges us to claim our rights to be whatever we want to be, but at our depth we fear we are alone. What if we don’t show up and no one notices? What if we’re in pain and no one cares? What if we’re struggling and people just pass us by?

People of faith join communities of faith looking to belong, to matter. But it’s amazing how people start to change, and bend over backwards for others they hardly know. People look out for each other in a place like this, pray for each other, notice when people are missing. We come here to find a place for ourselves, but we change.

Paul explains with this truth: “we are members of one another.” The body of Christ is our deeper truth, not our individuality. The more we live into this body we are changed. We do things differently, choose differently, live differently, because it’s no longer about me, or you, but about us. We are members of one another.

Without fully knowing it was happening, we’ve lived what Jesus teaches today.

We have taken Christ Jesus into us as bread of life and he has changed us. This is a deep, confusing teaching, but we’ve started living it.

It’s like what happens whenever we eat. Our body is changed by the foods we eat, whether it’s a meat-heavy or vegetable-rich diet, lots of carbohydrates or sugar, our body chemistry, health and life change.

That’s what happens when we take Christ’s essence and life into us, as our bread of life. We are not who we were before. This is hard to grasp; Jesus lost lots of followers when he spoke like this. People don’t want to be changed. People don’t want to hear strange, disgusting teachings like “eat my body, drink my blood.” People don’t want hard-to-comprehend teachings, just simple answers.

But Jesus is being simple. He says if we can imagine drawing his life into ours, we will discover he is drawing us into the life of God, and we will never be alone, never be afraid of being lost, never wonder if we are valued or important to others again. And even though it’s been happening partly without our knowing, if we look now we can see at least four ways Christ transforms us by drawing us to God.

When we eat of our Lord, take this bread of life into us, we are drawn into God’s reality.

When Christ fills us we are drawn out of our own sense of what is real and what isn’t. The barriers between us and God fall and we see things not as we always have, but as God does. The barriers between us and others fall because we share God’s vision together.

So we’re able to look at the pain of the world as God does and see not only that it needs to be dealt with but also that we have the ability to do something. We’re able to look at the problems of the world and see what we’ve done to make them and start to work in the other direction.

When we are drawn into God’s reality it becomes ours, and with our community of faith we start seeing our path clearly together, not hundreds of different paths.

And when we eat of our Lord, take this bread of life into us, we are drawn into God’s heart.

When Christ fills us we are drawn out of our sense of what is lovable and what isn’t. The barriers between us and God fall and we love things not as we always have, but as God does. The barriers between us and others fall because we share God’s love together.

So we lose our fear that we can’t be loved by others in the joy that we are surrounded by God’s love. Our decisions, our actions, our way with everyone, from family to friends to co-workers to strangers are shaped by love, not fear or selfishness.

When we are drawn into God’s heart we find we are loved forever, and our whole world view becomes deep and abiding love for others in the limitless love of God.

And when we eat of our Lord, take this bread of life into us, we are drawn into God’s peace.

When Christ fills us we are drawn out of what is troubling us, making us anxious, afraid. The barriers between us and God fall and we feel things with the confidence that comes from living in the peace of God. The barriers between us and others fall because we live together in God’s peace and stop being afraid of each other, of ourselves, of life.

When we are drawn into God’s peace we find a place we couldn’t have found on our own, a place of calm in the midst of storms, a place of silence in the midst of shouting, joined together in God’s peace, and we know that all will be well.

And when we eat of our Lord, take this bread of life into us, we are drawn into God’s life.

When Christ fills us we are drawn out of our sense of the limits of life and death and its finality. The barriers between us and God fall and we see life not as the years we have to live, but as a quality of how we live. The barriers between us and others fall because we realize we share a life together in God that is profoundly more vital than each of our lives apart.

When we are drawn into God’s life we find what Christ means by eternal life. Life in the life of God connected to everyone else and connected to God, we are never alone, we never need to fear, not even our death, because together we are part of God’s life that is now and always.

John doesn’t tell us of the Lord’s Supper, just this teaching. Maybe that’s because the Lord’s Supper was intended all along to remind us of this.

On the night of his betrayal Jesus gave us this meal, calling it his body and his blood, perhaps because he was thinking of this teaching and realizing how difficult it would be for us to grasp. We’re so individual and independent, it would be hard to get what it meant to be drawn into the very being of God through Christ.

Jesus said do the Lord’s Supper to remember him. What if the point of tangible bread and wine was that we would, over time, deepen in our remembering of this prior teaching and our living into it? That we would come to this Table seeing it not as an end in itself, but God’s food that transforms us, food that truly is Christ Jesus in us, food that draws us into the reality, heart, peace, and life of the Triune God for our life going forward.

We would realize we are Elijah in the wilderness, and Christ is urging us, “get up and eat. You need to eat me for this journey of faith, and this bread and wine will help you know what it is to truly take me into you and be changed.”

So now we get up and eat. We take our Lord’s body and blood into us. And now we know what that means for the rest of our lives.

It means that all the barriers between us and God, between us and others, are coming down as we are drawn in, and changed.

It begins here in this place, as we live more deeply the truth that we are “members of one another,” as we deepen in our imitation of God, as Paul invites, living and breathing in God’s reality and heart and peace and life.

It will continue beyond this room, though, because once there’s nothing that keeps us apart from each other, once we all matter to each other, and we all belong to God, once our being in the body of Christ is far more important than any of our individual lives, it’s a small leap to recognize we belong to and are a part of everyone on this planet. To begin to live lives that show that what happens to everyone matters, that there is no one who doesn’t count, no one who isn’t noticed.

What that will look like for us lies ahead. The Holy Spirit will show us. But today we know that’s our path, and we once more will eat and drink our Lord Christ into ourselves for that journey, but now more fully aware of what this food will do for us.

It is grace and life beyond anything we could have imagined.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Believe In

Our life in faith is summed up in believing in, trusting in, God-with-us for all we need, not for all the answers, not for all things, but that in Christ we are joined to the life of the Triune God and we find life.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 18, year B
      texts:  John 6:(15-21)(22-23)24-35; Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

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

How can you make someone king who’s already ruler of the universe?

The crowds want Jesus to be their king, or a new Moses, and take care of all their needs. Jesus already is the Son of God, ruler of all things. He doesn’t need or want the role they would give him.

What of us? Do we want a ruler of this world who will take care of all human problems? It’s a moot question; there is no leader who could do that job. So we, too, are faced with understanding the kind of ruler the one true God is for us and the world.

We can’t make God be what we want. So we need to know who God really is, and if that’s enough.

That’s not easy to do.

In the wilderness and Galilee we see the usual approach.

The Israelites were happy to follow Moses when things looked great: leaving slavery, moving to a new land promised by God, life will be good. Until Pharaoh heard and increased their suffering. They finally got out, and again it was good, until they realized they were in the middle of a wilderness with no food. Now they hate and revile Moses, and the God he represents. They complain, and God provides manna and quails.

Jesus faces lesser expectations, as the crowds weren’t journeying to a promised land. But they brought him all of their needs, and he fed them, did healing, taught them about God. Now, on day two, they want more signs. After all, satisfied hunger returns the next day if there still is no food.

We do this. When things are good, we’re happy and we trust God. When things get difficult, we begin to ask the questions about God’s true intention, God’s ability to help us. We start to complain in the wilderness, asking for signs that prove we can trust God.

It’s easy to understand why.

The human needs on this planet are tremendous; just a short list includes war, hunger, poverty, illness, oppression, prejudice, injustice.

After that list, our needs almost seem unmentionable, but they’re ours and they’re real. People we love get sick, every week we pray for new people. We’ve just faced the death of loved ones in our community; that will keep happening. Some of us struggle with illnesses like depression, some of us legitimately worry about making ends meet, some of us fear a threatening world. We don’t have to compare our needs to a starving family to recognize we have needs that on any given day can seem overwhelming, painful, frightening.

If the Triune God isn’t going to meet those needs, it’s normal to wonder if we can trust such a God. If we don’t get our answers, if things don’t improve, if we struggle day after day, how can we trust God?

What sign will you give us so we can believe in you, God?

Wouldn’t it be more sensible to look for an earthly ruler who could actually take care of things?

Jesus says we’re not thinking big enough.

The Israelites are only worried about the lack of food. Despite all God has done for them, they fret that it doesn’t include a plan for feeding them on the journey. They’re following the One God to a place they’ve never seen in the belief it will be their land, and they think somehow God forgot to pack lunch. They’re not thinking big enough.

The crowds compare Jesus to human leaders. Could he be our king? Are there signs he’s at least as powerful as Moses was for our ancestors?

They’re not thinking big enough, Jesus says. First, it was God who gave them manna, not Moses. Also, that God is “my Father,” Jesus says. Then he lays it out: “I am . . . the bread of life.”

You don’t say “I am” in a way like that to people who know the proper name of the God who brought them out of Egypt is “I am,” and not expect them to make that connection. Jesus’ great I Am statements in John are drumbeats of identification of Jesus with the one, true God, and this is the first clear one.

So Jesus is saying, “forget for a moment about another lunch, or even the little bit with the missing boats and walking on water. Forget about comparing me to Moses. In me, in my presence, God is here. I am. I am the bread you need. The life you need.”

In fact, he tells them the only “work” they have to do for God is believe in the One God sent. Believe in me. Because I am.

And Jesus says that’s enough for them and for us.

If we can believe in him, trust he is sent by God, trust him when he says, “I am enough,” it will be, he says.

John tells us later that these signs – water into wine, multiplied bread and fish, walking on water, and more – are given us so we can believe “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, have life in his name.”  John 20:31

The signs aren’t the point, they point to the real thing, so we can believe, and have life in his name. We don’t stand at sign posts on the road and wait for another, we go where they point.

Jesus says that he is what we need, that this relationship with the one, true God he is bringing to us and the world will be life for us, in spite of our needs and fears and struggles. He calls us to trust that when we come to him, believe in him, our hunger and our thirst will go away.

That sounds great. At some point, though, what difference does that really make? For the world’s problems? For our problems? Do we have enough to go on to not only believe in God-with-us but trust that will be enough?

In this place we have learned that we do.

I’ve been away from you for three months and have had time to think and ponder what it is God has made in this place. I had the privilege of spending some time with a long-time member on Friday where we talked about the same thing. This is a truth about this community of faith: here in this place we gather because we believe in the promise that the one true God, the Triune God who made us and saves us, will meet us here. And we will find life.

We are comfortable with mystery here. We have lots of good theologians here, lots of faithful disciples who might not call themselves theologians (even if they are) but have come here for years to meet God. We have people who are seeking, questioning, we have people who come here and find a safe place, find peace. What joins us all is that in this place we don’t fret about getting all the answers.

We come here because we meet God here, in Word and song and prayer and silence and beauty, and we are filled with the forgiving love and grace of God. We have signs, too: bread and wine, water, the physical grace and presence of brothers and sisters who care for us and surround us as Christ by their lives.

And that’s enough to satisfy us.

We know we are called to do things, and here we find guidance. We know there are problems in the world and our lives, and here we find paths to answers, people who help, promises that God is working to make a difference.

But ultimately, we gather here comfortable with not knowing all, open to mystery, not needing answers because we know and expect God will be with us. And God is. And it’s enough.

In this place a great gift that is passed down is this invitation to trust, not complain.

Here we meet people who have walked this path enough to know that a relationship with the Triune God based on God’s undying love and transforming forgiveness, a life with God’s life flowing in us through the Spirit, is enough to handle any circumstances, enough to challenge any to deeper discipleship and work in the world, enough to calm anxiety and bring peace, even in the face of death.

At any given time some of us forget this, because life happens. We gather here because there is always someone in this place who will remind us that in the life Christ gives us we have food and drink enough to satisfy all our needs. There is always someone here who will help whichever of us is inevitably struggling like the crowds and the Israelites.

Jesus says it’s enough for us to believe in him, to come to him, and if we trust him, we’ll find our hunger satisfied, our thirst quenched.

So, Christ Jesus, we are here. Come to us now and fill us with your life. It will be enough.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


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