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

Sunday, May 29, 2016


We’re not in control of the things that really matter, and that’s freeing to realize, and life-giving to trust our lives into the hands of the God who can bring life even in the midst of death.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 9 C
   Texts: Luke 7:1-10; Galatians 1:1-12

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

Have you noticed that the dearer something is to us, the closer to our heart, the more important, the less we have power to control it?

Some of us never thought we could control anything. Life feels beyond control. Others of us spend years trying to control everything, as if we could make life go how we wanted. Lots of us are somewhere in between.

But for all of us, the most important things, the things that matter, are beyond our control. How people think of us. Whether those we love get sick or die, stay healthy and happy. How our life goes, what other people do to us. Evil that happens near us or around the world. We can’t control any of this.

The path of faith Jesus invites us to walk begins with this recognition. When we realize it’s Christ’s path, not ours, that we don’t have the map, and we trust that the Risen One will lead and guide us safely as we journey. When we realize it all begins by letting go of our false need to be in charge. The freedom we find in that path is exhilarating. But letting go isn’t easy.

Our friendly local centurion understood this, remarkably.

This was an officer with authority. He’d risen through the ranks to command 100 soldiers. When he told them to move, they moved. When he told them to jump, they said, “how high?” This centurion was in control.

Except there was this one thing he was powerless over. His beloved servant was sick and dying. He couldn’t command him to live, to get better. He had no authority over this.

Because he was apparently a good man, even though he was an officer of the occupying forces, he’d made friendships with the Jewish locals, had been generous with them. Through them, he heard of their teacher who had the power to heal. A power he did not have.

He remarkably even understood that this healer was outside his authority. He could have sent two soldiers and commanded Jesus to come. Instead, he let go of all his control. He wasn’t in charge. He didn’t even assume he was worthy of such a gift. He let go, against all his training and his office, and asked for help.

In Galatia, some Christians, including Paul, apparently didn’t understand this.

We’ll be hearing from this letter for the next few weeks, Paul’s view of the situation. As best we can tell about the other side, there were Christians, likely from Jerusalem, who had gotten wind of what Paul was doing in what is now northern Turkey. They heard he was welcoming non-Jews into the faith, baptizing Gentiles, teaching them of Christ, without requiring that they follow Jewish law, eat kosher, be circumcised.

So they came up there to try and control the situation. They couldn’t conceive of being in Christ without being Jewish, as Christ Jesus himself was. Their whole lives were shaped by their Jewish faith. The Messiah was a Jewish idea, after all.

These Christians, good people, deeply confused the Galatians, who had trusted Paul when he first came to them. They also, as we heard today and will hear again, deeply frustrated Paul, who also couldn’t control this situation. He was unable to return at that time and fix things, so he wrote this letter trying to bring it all under control.

Both Paul and these traveling Christians didn’t remember that no one can control the Spirit.

What is most marvelous to us, however, is that the Triune God also understood what the centurion did.

The whole plan of salvation in Christ comes from God realizing that the most important things cannot be controlled. Having all the power in the universe is of little help if your creatures choose not to love you or love each other. You could force them to do it, but then it wouldn’t be love.

The coming of the Triune God into our lives is a massive release of control. Being born as a vulnerable baby, living completely at the mercy of other human beings, the Son of God began to teach, to call people to a life of love of God and love of neighbor. What God hopes for from all God’s children.

But even when we rejected this message so much that we threatened to kill the very person of God bearing our body, God would not reassert control. The cross is the ultimate letting go, relinquishing of power and authority. If we won’t choose to love God with all we have, and won’t choose to love our neighbor as ourselves, God will not force us to do it.

The centurion models for us that God’s way of letting go is our way to life.

The first step to finding true life is admitting we can’t control, we’re powerless over the most important things in our lives. Jesus spent years trying to get this across in parables, in healing, in teaching, and his followers still didn’t understand what was happening when he was hanging on a cross.

In the light of the resurrection, they began to grasp what this Roman centurion had figured out long before: the path of faith is one where we let go of all our need to be in authority over our lives, over the world, over others, and open ourselves up to trusting God with our life.

This isn’t easy. For much of our life as we grow into adulthood we are trying to assert control over our lives, our environment, other people. We try to make life work the way we want it to. True wisdom comes from realizing the grace in letting God lead us in this path of letting go, this path to abundant life.

It is the path to life because life is found in love, and love cannot be forced.

All the problems that plague us and our world can be solved by love, but not by forcing others, trying to control them. The injustice that runs through our society, where whole classes and races of people are stuck in systems that oppress them, can be changed to justice, but not by us forcing our will on the situation. When we stop trying to tell others how they should protest, how they should try to work for change, and open ourselves to hearing their story and standing with them, God will lead us and this society to justice.

The problems that we face in our lives, worrying whether others love us, fearing the illness or death of loved ones, struggles to find happiness, frustration with life that doesn’t work the way we want, whatever problems we face can be solved in the love of God. But there is nothing we can do to force them to change, to make life the way we think it should be.

When we find the centurion’s wisdom, we let go and simply ask God for help, for healing. Not because we think we’re worthy, but because we trust in the goodness of God. Even in the face of death, something we never have control over, we trust in God’s power to destroy death forever.

When we finally see that our sense of power and control is just an illusion, we find the abundant life the love of the Triune God is making in us and in the world.

We are able to trust the path of Christ we are invited to walk, not because we control the path or its outcome, but because we are led by the only One we trust for life and grace. We learn the joy of choosing to live in love, even losing our own needs and ego, because we find life on this path.

Jesus was astonished by the faith of this centurion. Probably because he kept running into people like us, who were afraid to trust, to let go.

Why don’t we surprise Christ this once and do the unexpected? We might even surprise ourselves with how freeing life can be down that path.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Olive Branch, 5/25/16

Click here to read this week's issue of The Olive Branch.

During the summer months, The Olive Branch is published every other week. The next issue will be published on June 8, 2016.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

More to Come

Christ’s promise is that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead us into truth, to new things about the Triune God and about us, to new callings. This need not frighten us; it’s the good news that the Trinity still moves in our lives and is with us on the path.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The feast of the Holy Trinity, year C
text: John 16:12-15
Jesus said to the disciples, 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth; for she will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever she hears, and she will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 She will glorify me, because she will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that she will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

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

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth.”

These are frightening words to ponder. So for most of the Church’s life, we’ve refused to ponder them. For 1,700 years the Church has been more interested in codifying the “truth,” weeding out heresy, punishing those who heard the Spirit’s call differently, rather than considering the possibility that the Triune God might have new things to say, things God is waiting for us to be ready for.

These are frightening words to ponder even at the basic level of our love for the Scriptures, God’s written Word. It’s far easier to think the Bible is the end of God’s speech to us, rather than the beginning. But if Christ is, in fact, the Living Word of God, and promises today, in fact, to continue to teach and lead us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit beyond what is written in the Bible, it’s a whole new world ahead.

Christ promises here that as we grow as the people of God, we will be drawn ever deeper into the life of the Triune God, and will learn new things.

“I still have many things to say to you; when the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you.”

There will come a time when the Holy Spirit herself will lead the Church to realize that arbitrarily assigning a male pronoun to the Holy Spirit, simply because the Church was born in a patriarchal culture, is just that, arbitrary. She will remind us that “Spirit” in Hebrew is feminine, and in Greek, a neuter noun. So there is no particular reason to translate every pronoun for the Spirit as “he” instead of “she.” Except that our forebears usually didn’t imagine God in feminine ways. Nor often do we: many of us wouldn’t have noticed had the Gospel reading included eight male pronouns for the Spirit instead of eight female pronouns.

The Spirit of truth today reminds us how often in the Scriptures she is named as the One who gives us birth, in the waters of baptism, in the life of prayer. That she is the One who births in us gifts, fruits, and draws them into the light of the world like a midwife. Today the Holy Spirit of God reminds the Church, “I am your Mother, the Giver of Life.”

“I still have many things to say to you; when the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you.”

There will come a time when the Spirit of truth will lead the Church to understand that when Jesus called the First Person of the Trinity “Father,” it was to show us the intimacy the Triune God wishes to have with us. To know our Creator as “Daddy,” “Abba,” so we understood we were loved deeply, not distant from our Creator.

At this time she will also remind us that the Son of God was born into a patriarchal culture, and perhaps knew this new Church couldn’t bear to envision more of God. And in fact, the Church proved we weren’t ready, calling the whole Trinity “Father” to this day, as if God’s wholeness is male.

But perhaps now, as Christ foretold, the Church is ready to bear a deeper, more profound truth, taught us by the Spirit of truth. That the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whose name we celebrate today, is both beyond all gender and encompassing all gender, that the fullness of humanity, from female to male, is made in the image of God.

The Spirit of truth reveals the truth about the Trinity is so profoundly beyond us we must not limit God to our own categories, but also that the truth about the Trinity is that we, all of us, created in the image of this one, true God, can see ourselves in our God when God comes to us.

“I still have many things to say to you; when the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you.”

There will come a time, a time which for many began over forty years ago, when the Spirit of truth will lead the Church to understand that all God’s children, women and men, are called to serve in the world, to all vocations for which they have gifts. She will teach us that, though ordained ministry is only one of many vocations for the people of God, both women and men are called to lead as pastors, bishops, deacons, even if for nearly two millennia the Church didn’t believe this. She will teach us that we need to draw from all kinds of God’s children for our leaders.

This time we know is now, for our two bishops, in Minneapolis, and for the churchwide ELCA, are women, and our vicar is a woman, and gifted women and men are leading the Church into new life and new grace in the Spirit, because now we are hearing from the full spectrum of God’s children in our preaching and teaching and leading.

“I still have many things to say to you; when the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you.”

There will come a time, a time we rejoice is now, when the Spirit of truth will lead the Church to understand that our gender is not the key issue in whether we can love someone and commit our lives to that person, but it is the love we have received in Christ that we then offer to another in marriage that truly matters.

So the Spirit will lead the Church to understand that, even if for hundreds of years we weren’t ready for this as Church, now is that time, and that in marriage between two people, whoever they are, God’s blessing and love for this world can live and thrive and be revealed in the lives of those two people.

“I still have many things to say to you; when the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you.”

There will come a time when the Spirit of truth will come to each one of us, when she thinks we’re ready, and invite us to deeper life in the life of the Triune God. She will show us that even if we first came to God hoping for what God would do for us, needing something, seeking something, we would be drawn deeper into the love of God we found and be changed. We would come seeking God for ourselves, and leave bearing God for others.

In that time the Spirit of truth will help each of us see the barriers we put up, our mental blocks and blind spots, our tendencies, our sins, all things in us that make us believe we’re the center of our life. She will help us take them down, move them aside, wash them away, until we see at the center of life only the Triune God, the life into which we are drawn, and we seek to draw others along with us into that life.

“I still have many things to say to you; when the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you.”

There will come a time, a time we pray deeply is now, when the Spirit of truth will lead each of us, will lead the Church, to understand that peace in Christ is for all or it is for none. That the justice of God is for all or it is for none. She will persistently remind us that God needs each one of us to bring about such peace in the world, to bring about such justice. That she has given us God’s power to bear this healing to the world.

In that time the Spirit will plead with the Church, will plead with each of us, to stop always being late to the great battles for human dignity, to stop being last to stand with those who are being crushed, to begin to be first to move, first to cry out, first to stand hand in hand with all God’s children who are in pain and suffering.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth.”

These aren’t frightening words. These are thrilling, hope-filled words. The Triune God walks with us, dances with the Church, and continues to teach and lead and guide. Just exactly what we need as the path gets harder ahead.

And we needn’t worry how to tell if the Spirit of truth is speaking or if it is another. We already know from the written Word of God that if we hear a word saying the Triune God does not love all, or a word saying we are not called to love all, it is not of our Mother the Spirit who bore us into the world in love.

So, there’s even more to come. More things than maybe we can bear today. But when we’re ready – or maybe when our grandchildren or great-grandchildren are ready – the Spirit of truth will, as always, speak up.

Let’s open our hearts and ears to listen with joy and hope, longing for God’s new creation.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Out of Control

As we move into the next, quieter part of the year, we also move into the time of contemplating the Holy Spirit’s call and pull on us, and are drawn into the action God needs us to do for the healing of this world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Day of Pentecost, year C
   texts:  Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, 25-27

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

Today and next Sunday, Pentecost and Holy Trinity, mark the end of the busiest, most intense time in our liturgical year.

The year from Advent to now is packed with festivals, seasons of anticipation and repentance, extra liturgies and devotions. It’s beautiful, fulfilling. But it can be draining.

So, in our life together, the coming of Pentecost always signals quieter, calmer times ahead. Ordinary Time, green Sundays, summer. Fewer meetings, almost no festivals. Just life in Christ, steady, peaceful.

If you’ve been paying attention this morning, that’s a little ironic. We just saw that Pentecost isn’t the end of busy time. It’s the beginning of the explosion of Christ’s life and grace into the world in the lives of believers. We celebrate the beginning of unsettling times today, not quiet times, times of the Holy Spirit burning in hearts, moving people of God to action, to begin the transformation and healing of this world we have broken.

Maybe there’s wisdom in this intersection. Moving into a simpler time right when we receive the promise of the Spirit might help us better hear the Spirit’s call, feel her nudge. Today we realize we’re not heading into a time of lounging around for six months until the schedule fires up again. But this quieter time is a chance to listen, learn, center. So when the Spirit calls, when she begins to give birth to new things, we can hear, and be ready to act.

In these coming weeks and months we can take time, catching our breath, to be open to what the Spirit is doing.

These women and men speaking in languages and proclaiming God’s life in Christ spent nearly two months after the resurrection doing little but listening to Christ. Action came today. But first they listened, learned, began to understand.

Christ’s path we are called to follow isn’t about running forward all the time, never resting. The giving of our lives in service to God, learning self-giving love for all, isn’t a non-stop activity. In fact, our ability to see the road ahead, to help each other navigate the turns, the forks in the road, potholes and threats, is severely reduced if we’re constantly in motion, doing things. We’ll miss exits and risk all sorts of damage if we always drive at 70 miles an hour.

So this coming season can be our time to pull over to the side, check the map with each other. Slow down and look both ways, listening for guidance as to our turns. Allow quiet time that’s hard to find in the busy seasons of life, quiet time for opening our hearts and minds to the Spirit’s wisdom.

This is the ancient way of contemplation, and it’s essential to our clarity of vision, our ability to help each other see and act, our wisdom about the path going forward.

Because we do at some point move forward.

Today the Triune God fulfills the promise that all God’s children will share God’s healing power for the life of the world.

As we heard on Ascension Day, God’s plan all along was not to use power to force the world into love of God and love of neighbor, the way of life God dreams for the world. In Christ, God released the need to use power to dominate, giving it all up and facing death to show us our true way of using power. The power of God’s sacrificial love, breaking the power of death, is the gift the whole world is given in the Spirit. And that gift is so that action will happen. Healing will come to the world. Transformation will begin.

That is, we’ll learn a lot when we pull over and listen, when we slow down and look. But at some point the Spirit comes to us and says, “now it’s time to act. Now let’s move.”

And there are great things expected of us, of those filled with the Spirit.

In fact, Christ says today we will do greater things even than he did.

Somehow, we’ve missed this promise. Maybe because we don’t trust we can do the things God needs. Maybe sometimes we don’t want to. But we act as if we believe things just don’t happen the way they did when Jesus was walking among us. We look at the miracles, the transformed lives, and think, well, that was then, not now.

What if we took Jesus seriously instead?

What if Christ really means that through us, through God’s people throughout this world, the whole world will be transformed and healed? That in fact, what we see happening in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost is only the beginning of what God intends to do through us for the sake of the world?

It’s a little frightening to consider.

It’s daunting to think that the Triune God who made all things actually needs us to be a part of the making of the new creation, that God’s power is only going to work in this world when it is shared through us and all people.

It’s also frightening that we can’t control God’s Spirit. Look at that first day – blowing through 120 women and men, setting their hearts on fire, sending them out of the locked room – they had no vote in the Spirit’s direction. According to Acts, this kept happening. The Spirit moved in people they weren’t ready to welcome, and the Church had to catch up. The Spirit led some to open up the rules for being a part of the body of Christ, and the Church had to catch up.

It’s frightening that we don’t get to tell the Spirit where to go and what to do. We Lutherans like our doctrine neat and tidy and boxed up. But what if the Spirit moves people to do things we’re just not ready for, then what do we do?

Today God is saying, how about be open to this radical gift that my Spirit blows where I want and does what I want and it will be life and grace? Even if you aren’t in control. That’s why once again Christ says today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

This is the beginning of the completion of God’s plan in coming to be with us.

The transformation of this world begins from within, and in Christ, God-with-us, we see what it looks like when our human life is infused with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Now we see this is to happen to us.

Today we sang with the psalmist that the Holy Spirit comes and renews the face of the earth. That’s what begins today. As we take the time to listen and sense the Spirit’s movement in our lives, we hear the direction, we find the action, we sense what is being born. And when we join in that birth, we participate in God’s renewing the face of this earth.

But don’t be afraid. The Spirit who comes to us brings the comfort and joy of God’s presence to the very center of your being and life. This is the One who moves in us and with us always on our journey, so we are never alone.

This is the One who gives us God’s power to be a part of the making of God’s new creation. And astonishingly, will help us do greater things than even Jesus, help us complete Christ’s mission, until this world is once more blessed to be whole and healed in God’s life and grace.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, May 8, 2016

An Overheard Prayer

Jesus draws us into the life of God and into the life of community. United in a common witness to God, we ourselves become witnesses for one another.

Vicar Anna Helgen
   The Seventh Sunday of Easter, year C
   texts: Acts 16:16-34; John 17:20-26

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.

Have you ever overheard a conversation between two people and caught an interesting glimpse into their relationship and life together? Perhaps a couple arguing at the grocery store. Or maybe while at the pharmacy you notice a woman helping her elderly mother with a prescription. Or two kids playing make-believe in the neighborhood. We can learn a lot about a relationship simply by observing how two people interact with one another. 

It’s sort of like hearing someone pray for us. When someone prays for us it can feel like we’re overhearing a prayer. Because while we’re included in the prayer, we’re not the speaker. We’re not in control, and it can feel vulnerable and scary. We don’t know what this person might say about us on our behalf. And we don’t know how God will respond. 

On the other hand, being prayed for is a wonderfully humbling experience. We catch a glimpse of what someone’s relationship with God is like and by hearing their prayer, we are invited into that relationship, too. It’s a relationship that is not our own, and it might feel foreign to us to enter that space. But through prayer, we are welcomed into a holy and intimate relationship as we experience the interconnectedness of our beings with one another and with God.  

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus has already shared a meal with his disciples and washed their feet. He’s given them a new commandment to love one another just as he loves them. And now, before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, Jesus takes a moment to pray. He first prays for himself, then for his disciples, and finally for those who will come to believe based on the words of the disciples. He prays for people like you and me! For our grandparents. For the future generation. For those who still do not believe.

Mary Hinkle Shore, one of my professors at Luther Seminary, writes, “We overhear a prayer on our behalf and are not called to action in that moment as much as wonder that the Father and the Son spend their time discussing the likes of us and our little community of faith.” This prayer is not a call to action. It is an invitation to wonder. A welcoming of discovery. And it’s a prayer for us today.

The other night, my husband Kurt was telling me how frustrated he is with the configuration of workstations at his new office. He said something like, and I quote: “The dual monitor arms aren’t designed such that they provide independent side-to-side, back-and-forth, and up-and-down adjustment. There’s only a single articulated arm per monitor, so when I’ve raised them to the right height there’s a six-inch gap between them.” I gave him one of these looks like...really? I was confused. It all sounded like a math proof to me. He rephrased what he’d said after he saw the look on my face, but then I realized something: Kurt is an engineer. This is how he talks. It’s the language he knows and understands. It’s his truth. 

Jesus sounds awfully confusing in this prayer—almost like he is speaking another language. But Jesus, too, speaks from a place of deep knowledge, understanding, and truth. Jesus reflects on his very life— life that is lived in community with the Trinity—and prays that this life, this unity that Jesus shares with the Father and the Spirit, might be for us, too. 

So what does it mean as a community to become one with God and each other? How do we experience unity? 

It means first that we come to know God ourselves and that starts with this prayer. Jesus makes no assumption that we know God. But he prays both for those who know him now, like the disciples, and for those who will come to know him and believe in him through their testimony. So knowing God begins in a community of faith. 

We come to know God through the witness of the disciples, through people like Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and Peter—those first witnesses of the resurrection. Their witness continues in the stories of the apostles, like Paul and Silas, who pray and sing hymns in jail while the other prisoners listen in. The stories in Scripture teach us how the disciples and apostles come to know God.

We come to know God through the witness of everyday saints. People like your neighbor who has taken up gardening after her husband died and now shares her rhubarb and peonies with you. Or the school crossing guard who protects your children as they’re on their way to school. Or maybe your friend who is not afraid to be candid, even though the truth might sting. The saints help us to know God in our ordinary lives.

And we come to know God through our own witness here in this place. All the elements of our liturgy give witness to the God we know through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They point to a God who is with us…
In the singing of hymns and the silence of prayer. 
In the sprinkling of water and the aroma of incense. 
In our confession of faith and our abounding doubt.
In the bread and the wine. 
In our gathering together as community.
Worship helps us to know God more deeply.

Once we come to know God ourselves—and recognize that knowing God is an ongoing relationship, or a process of becoming—we make God known for others. We draw others into the life of God, into the life of community, and we ourselves become witnesses. 

Like Mary, we tell our friends, “I have seen the Lord.”
Like Lydia, we invite others into our homes for fellowship.
Like the jailer, we wash one another and provide healing.

With those who have gone before us and those who will come after us, we unite ourselves in a common witness to God so "that [we] may become completely one.” 

United in a shared witness, we grow into community with one another. 
We grow in our ability to stand together despite that which could divide us. 
We deepen our love for God and our love for neighbor. 

As we hear this pray today, we participate in God’s life and in the lives of one another, so I invite you to listen again. To wonder, to discover, to become of one heart and mind with God and with the world, and to dwell within the mysterious and perfect unity of God’s own being. 

Jesus says, 
"I ask not only on behalf of these, 
but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 
that they may all be one. 
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, 
so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 
The glory that you have given me I have given them, 
so that they may be one, as we are one, 
I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, 
so that the world may know that you have sent me 
and have loved them even as you have loved me. 
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me 
because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 
Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; 
and these know that you have sent me. 
I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, 
so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Looking the Wrong Way

Christ Jesus goes away on this day so that we can be filled with the Spirit and continue the ministry of self-giving, wounded love that is the only way the world will be healed.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Ascension of Our Lord
   texts:  Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53

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

Having Jesus around was great for the disciples.

Whenever there was a crisis, Jesus could handle it. If decisions needed to be made, Jesus would make them. If someone needed help, bring them to Jesus.

It was good. These women and men spent their time being taught by God’s Messiah, surrounded by God’s grace and love. They didn’t have to worry about much if they stayed close to Jesus.

The crucifixion was a horrible blow to this peace of mind. But then Jesus was alive, raised from the dead. They had him back. All would be right again with Jesus in charge.

This is to say, it makes sense that after Christ ascended into heaven, the disciples, women and men alike, stood on the Mount of Olives gaping at the sky. “He’s leaving? What are we supposed to do? What do we do now when things get challenging?”

And that’s precisely the point.

The Church from the beginning has struggled to grasp why God became human.

We want answers as in the days of Jesus’ ministry, answers that neatly give God all the world’s problems, answers that say, when someone comes to us we can turn to God and say, “here you go,” answers that say, in a crisis we can look to the sky and say, “now what?”

Except the point of God taking on human life and living among us was to show us in person God’s way, the way of love of neighbor, so that we would do it. To teach us in person how we could love as God loves, so that we would do it. To save the world not through a transaction over sin but through a transformation of human hearts, healing the creation through us, who from the beginning were supposed to be caring for this creation and for each other.

And if that was the point of the Incarnation, there would have to be an Ascension. At some point, the Son of God would have to return into the full life of the Trinity and say, OK, folks, now it’s up to you.

The Church also has an enormous problem understanding God’s role in suffering and evil.

We usually set this scenario and despair: “if God is all-loving, and if God is all-powerful, and if there still is horrible suffering and pain, then God’s the problem.” There are lots of ways Christians rationalize and explain this, sometimes in defense of God, sometimes in prosecution of God. None help. Because there’s a fundamental flaw in the whole argument: the equation is incomplete.

Yes, God is all-loving. Jesus taught us that again and again. Yes, God is all-powerful. The Triune God made all things, universes, galaxies, mitochondria. That’s a lot of power. And yes, there’s enormous suffering and pain in this world that causes us, and all people, to feel grief, sadness, anger.

What’s missing in the equation is how God understands power and how to use it. We assume that since God has the power to make a universe, God has to use that power to deal with human suffering, sin, and evil. When we see all that causes pain to so many, we look up at the sky and say, “Where is God?”

But we already saw God’s answer to human suffering and pain when we looked up at the cross.

On the cross, the God of the universe set aside all that power and became vulnerable, helpless, before human evil.

The Triune God set aside all weapons, chose not to exercise brute force, and, bearing our own body, faced humiliation, torture, and death.

We get angry with God for not intervening in human suffering because we imagine the only way God would intervene is the way we would: by exerting force, domination, punishment.

But on the cross the God who can do all that says, “That’s not my way.” My way is to redeem all things by offering myself. My way is to save you by loving you until you destroy me, and then coming into life again and continuing to love you. My way is to show you in my very life and death that this is how all of you will also end human suffering and pain. By taking it on yourself. By standing with those who suffer. By loving those who hate. By getting in the way of evil to keep it from someone else. By being my loving presence to those who are in pain.

We may want God to act as we would act if we had all God’s world-making power. But we cannot say that God has not acted just because God chose a different way. We can only try to understand, and see if we are drawn to follow.

This doesn’t mean we can’t ever look up at the sky and yell at God.

We don’t need to defend God or God’s choices to anyone, and God’s big enough to handle any criticism. Sometimes God does intervene, and miracles happen, and sometimes God doesn’t. It’s legitimate to scream our frustration to God when that happens. If Jesus, the Son of God, could do it, as he did on the cross, it’s fair game for us.

But we don’t stop there. Because there’s always that angel from God standing next to us who, at some point, will say, “Why are you just looking up to heaven? Go back to the city and wait, and God will give you what you need to change this. To begin the healing of the world.”

That’s the grace Jesus gives in leaving: the Triune God is sharing this world-making power with all of us, to heal all things.

In Christ’s ascension, we, like those first women and men, wonder “what now?” We, like they, ask: Who’s going to help these people? Who’s going to figure out what to do in this next crisis? Who’s going to sort out the problems that we have?

And today God’s answer is, “well, you are.” That’s been the plan all along. That we would be so changed by God’s power-relinquishing love that we would bear the power of God’s love into the world on God’s behalf. We would carry God’s vulnerability, God’s willingness to be wounded, into the world to bring life to our sisters and brothers in pain. We would share God’s strange way of using power by setting it aside.

Christ trusts us a lot in leaving us in charge. We’re going to mess up some of these crises. We’re going to find wrong answers to problems sometimes. We’re not always going to know what to do to help someone who comes to us. But Christ trusts us with this ministry. And that’s enough to go on.

And there’s one more grace we have.

Those women and men were sent back to the city and told to wait, because the Holy Spirit was going to fill them with the power from God they needed to do this work their beloved Jesus had begun.

We have ten days until our celebration of Pentecost. We’ve already experienced the coming of the Spirit, all our lives, so it’s not exactly the same for us. But these ten days are a good reminder that sometimes we have to wait before we receive all we need from God. And they’re a reminder that we’re not in this ministry alone, ever. That the Triune God’s answer when we look to the skies is to send us the Spirit so we can have the strength and grace we need to carry on as God’s love in the world.

Jesus once told us it was to our advantage that he went away, so that he could send us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. (John 16:7) That’s the gift. By leaving us to continue the healing of the world, Christ also makes it possible for us to do it by coming in the Spirit. And we also get this: in taking on this ministry of wounded love to save all things, we get to become the people we were always meant to be.

So wait, and listen: you will be clothed with power from on high in the Spirit, and then, well, anything can happen!

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Unconditional Peace

We find peace in Christ when the Spirit comes to us, reminding us, teaching us, empowering us, to be the peace of God in the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year C
   texts:  John 14:[add 15-22] 23-35; Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

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

Jesus offers us peace the world cannot give, he says. Given the utter lack of peace we experience in the world, is this actually peace the world cannot have?

Peace between nations, peace in our cities, peace within families, peace of heart and mind: do we know such peace? From the depths of our hearts to the breadth of this planet, do we see it? Christ may be Prince of Peace, but is that just a pretty title?

The peace he promises today he gives on the night of his betrayal, Thursday night. Three days later, Sunday night, risen from the dead, his first words are “Peace be with you.” In between was heartbreak, suffering, death. There was little peace for these followers those three days.

So of course Christ would re-gift peace to them after all that. But this blessing, the “peace the world cannot give,” he gave before the worst three days of their lives.

The world gives deeply conditional peace. Peace of heart is only possible, the world says, if all things are well and we’ve got all we ever wanted. Peace between people is only possible, the world says, if everyone agrees, if no one raises questions of injustice, if the ones in charge stay in charge and everyone goes along.

If Jesus offers a peace that endures horrible things, as he gave his friends, that is a peace the world cannot, does not, give.

The question is, does Christ give it either?

If we struggle to be at peace in our hearts because of all we face in our lives, because of the lack of peace in our family, the lack of peace in the world, we are not alone. But if we come here and have to pretend that what we see out in the world isn’t important, or hide that we might not feel at peace inside, we’re building our faith on a lie.

The gift Jesus gives us is that here we see clearly he’s aware of our our anxiety and doubts and fears. Twice in this discourse he offers peace. Twice he says “do not let your hearts be troubled.” On Palm Sunday, and now here, he says “do not be afraid.” Jesus is tuned into the hearts of his followers, and knows they’re struggling with what is happening, and will struggle more ahead.

Even with this terrible thing coming, he honors their concern, feels it. And he reassures them and us that he can and will still give peace.

That night and the next two days they must have thought the opposite was true. But when they met Christ alive again, they began to understand. Their circumstances, and the circumstances of their world, still didn’t look like peace. But as they entered deeper and deeper into life in Christ, they found a peace that transcended circumstances, and had the power to change them, even change circumstances. They found a peace that was without conditions.

Now, if we could only find that so we’d actually be at peace.

As it turns out, our Lord has taken care of that, too.

Today Jesus promises he will send the Holy Spirit to be with us, to remind us of all he has said. Listen: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I give to you.”

Christ’s peace comes directly from this gift: we don’t have to keep everything straight that we have learned and known in Christ. The Holy Spirit will teach us along the way, and remind us of all Jesus told us that we so often forget.

Don’t underestimate this. We so often talk about discipleship and faith in ways that make us more anxious than at peace, because we struggle to be what we keep hearing we are called to be. But we have a Lord who helps us, who sends us the Spirit of God, to gently remind us of all that we have known but that we sometimes lose along the way.

This is an astonishing gift. And here is what the Spirit reminds us:

The Spirit reminds us that we are not alone.

A lot of our fear is that we don’t have Jesus ready at hand in a way we can easily see. So much of these followers’ anxiety in these verses is related to him leaving, and them fearing being alone. So Jesus takes care of that. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he says. As if it’s his job to make sure we’re OK, that we’re not feeling isolated and lost.

We aren’t alone, that’s the first reminder. The Holy Spirit comes into our hearts and minds every day, and that is the source of a true peace regardless of circumstances. In fact, Jesus promises that he and the Father will make a home with us, too. That the Triune God will live with us.

There is peace in this: whatever we are facing, God never abandons us.

The Spirit also reminds us of how to love like Christ.

Jesus’ words last week brought great anxiety over the implications of his command to love in our lives. It’s too easy to forget how clear Jesus is about love of neighbor, how insistent he is that it is the shape of our lives, it’s too easy to turn inward. So we are filled with worry about this.

We’re also distracted by the problems of life, by the problems our neighbors, even our family, create for us, and to lose track of our call to love as Christ loves.

But the Holy Spirit is our teacher and reminder not only of what Christ has taught us, but what it means for our lives. We don’t follow a God who gives a job description for “Servant Disciple” and leaves us to figure it out. Our Lord has a job, too, to gently nudge and move us into love. To teach us the ways of love we too easily forget. To remind us when we’re distracted of what our calling is.

And the Spirit also empowers us in this love. A little later Jesus talks about us staying connected in him, like a branch to a vine, so we can have the strength to love as we are called to love.

There is peace in this: the Holy Spirit will remind us what we learned and help us live as we are called.

And the Spirit reminds us that our Lord is coming back for us, that there is a new creation being made.

Just as the Holy Spirit opened John’s eyes to a revelation of the world to come in the new creation we just heard, so the Spirit opens our eyes to see that the world is going to be brought into a new life.

The Spirit, the Comforter, gives the peace that God has not abandoned this world, no matter what we see, and is even now making things new. Preparing a new creation that will be, as we heard today, a gift and blessing for all nations and peoples. For us, and for all, there is room in God’s house.

There is peace in this: in our darkest hours, we have hope that God is still working for the healing of all things.

We often speak of God’s unconditional love. Today Jesus promises unconditional peace.

This is the deep peace those who are in Christ have known for millennia, a peace that Paul tells us “passes understanding,” a peace that transcends our current situation. It is a peace without conditions, a peace given us by the Triune God through the Holy Spirit, a peace that doesn’t have to wait for everything to be perfect to be real and life-changing.

This peace is ours when we know we are not alone, but walk with the Spirit beside and within us.

This peace is ours when we are guided and empowered by the Spirit to live abundant, loving lives.

This peace is ours when we are reminded by the Spirit of the healing to come for all people.

When our hearts have this peace, we much more easily become Christ in this world that knows little peace. We become peace-bearing people who bring God’s justice and peace to our families, our city, our world. At peace in Christ, we become beacons of the Good News by our very lives. And other people find peace in God through meeting us.

Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Our God is bringing peace. And in fact, it’s already here.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

Copyright 2014 Mount Olive Lutheran Church