First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1: 3-14
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 1-18
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
How did this world come into existence? Who was in the room when the button was pushed creating light from the darkness? The who pushed or helped push the button is the question that defines all religious discussion. Were there many Gods in the room as many ancient religions believe? Or was there just one God, the Father almighty who created light out of the darkness. Who was involved in the creation of the world is the question that defines all religion. Many people don’t get the Christian answer to this question. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, our God was not a “lonely” god.
This week in The Scroll, I wrote about the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Why is this question an issue?
Last week at Christmas Eve supper, I was asked my opinion about a Christian College Professor down at Wheaton in Illinois who was suspended for saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This professor Larycia Hawkins defended her position by stating that Pope Francis said the same thing. The following discussion sparked a huge debate about religious tolerance, which I would like to reflect upon today.
I believe as we reflect, we can begin by acknowledging some similarities between our faiths: Christians, Muslims, and Jews all believe God to be all-powerful, all-present, and all-knowing. We believe that God, in theory, can hear the prayers of believers from within any faith tradition. These three religions draw their family trees back to Abraham. All three religions believe that God is ultimately a God of mercy, who on the last day will judge all mankind.
The Christian God is different though because he does not stand alone at the dawn of creation. The Christian God does not only live in heaven separated from his creation. The Christian God lived as an ordinary man. For Islam, the idea of God living as a person would be impossible. For Islam, the idea of God dying on a cross would be the epitome of weakness and foolishness, they would consider such a belief to be blasphemy. Islam does not believe in the Trinity of God in three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), which is the fundamental defining belief of the entire Christian faith.
I believe the discussion of the differences between religions should not stop here. All religions and cultures contain a degree of beauty. There are positive practices that we can acknowledge from all faiths. I would never say that all religions do not contain good and kind people who make excellent neighbors. When we say Christianity is unique, we don’t’ say it because we don’t take the calling to love our neighbor seriously no matter who they are or what they ultimately believe.
One tendency that we often have in the world is to resort to a tribal mentality. We only wish to associate with those who think like us and believe like us.
As I’ve talked about before I used to be quite heavy, probably weighing nearly 100 pounds more than I did today. I knew a woman in Seminary who one time joked that “If Stew only ate with people who agreed with me, then he would be skinny.” The truth is though I’d probably also be less wise.
My fear is not that America becomes overwhelmed with followers of other religions, my fear is that we lose the conviction that our Gospel to matters to all who believe or who don’t believe.
The Gospel ultimately saves. In the words of Chad Bird, when we say all religions, worship the same thing? Such a statement that expresses the idea that we don’t care what other religions believe. When we seek to minimize or downplay our beliefs, this can be troublesome.
A few years ago, I was on vacation in Las Vegas. I had some time to kill on a Friday, so I decided to drive up to Utah a state where I had never been. I go to Saint George, Utah. I figure being in Utah I should go to some Mormon sites just because that’s what you’re supposed to in Utah. So I visit the summer home of Brigham Young, who brought the Mormon people out to Utah. So I show up at this house and begin talking to the guide who asks me what faith that I am. To which I told her “Lutheran”, and she described us as “Brothers and Sisters in the faith.” So we start the tour, I was the only non-Mormon on the tour of about ten people. The sales job then begins to start. Pretty soon everyone else on the tour gets involved in the sales job. You might figure I would be annoyed by this; only I wasn’t. If the friendly Mormons believe that they have a spiritual truth that I need to hear as a way of fixing the problems in my life, I admire them for trying to share it with me.
As we consider how we as Christians should respond to other religions all around us. We want to declare the uniqueness of our beliefs as an example of how far we are willing to go to preach the grace of a radical God.
Perhaps the central question in distinguishing between religions has to do with the direction of God. In all other world religions, people seek to bring forth their best efforts as a way of ascending into God’s presence. Muslims have very strict rules about eating pork or drinking alcohol. Following these observances would be mandatory for all believers. Whether one should eat pork or drink alcohol as a matter of health is not the issue, the issue is rather what we believe about the nature of God.
The way the Christian interacts with the world is going to look different than the way that Islam interacts with the world. The reasons and motivations for a Christian interacting with the world around them are very different. As Christian people, we are called to action. The reason for this calling is very particular. In Christianity, we begin with the premise of freedom. Within Christianity you’re calling to be a banker, bus-driver, or beautician belongs to you and you alone. We are not required to do anything because it’s the way that we’ve done it before. Your path to God’s presence might not necessarily be Charlie’s path. There is no such thing as the uniquely Christian life. In Christianity, we act because we believe that Jesus’ words on the cross “It is finished” to be real and effecting every moment of our existence. We are an imperfect faith made for imperfect people.
Our Good Friend and my frequent supply preacher Dan Tabor works as a claim adjuster for State Farm Insurance. Dan says whenever he’s talking to people there’s always a certain phrase that makes him a bit nervous that phrase is “I’m a Christian”. The only scarier phrase according to Dan is “But I’m a pastor.” Dan’s point is people will often play the religion card as a way to run from all responsibilities for their actions. Mainly since Joe never goes to Church, but Bill does go to church then Bill must always be right. Being a Christian does not prevent Bill being wrong. Bill being wrong doesn’t make him a hypocrite though it makes him an imperfect Christian who is probably stubborn. I’m sure there are people here that know stubborn Christians. I’m sure there are even stubborn Christians within this church. The type of Christians who need to keep hearing about God’s grace and mercy again and again and again.
The central Christian belief is the idea that Jesus Christ has come down from heaven to save the whole world from those in bondage to sin. “I have not come to condemn the world but rather save the world.”-John 3:17
Too often we get distracted by debates of which no certain resolution can come. Our energies should rather be focused out God’s grace and mercy upon a world that longs for it.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”- John 1:1
Everything that we believe as Christian people brings us back to the beginning itself. Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from the start of the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel doesn’t begin with a claim of a virgin birth. John’s Gospel rather begins with a more dramatic claim! Jesus was there at the beginning. Jesus was present at the creation of the world itself. Our whole salvation story centers on what we believe about creation. Creation is essential to the world. Creation is essential to God’s plan to make the world whole once again.
This Sunday morning, we are “In the beginning” of 2016. A few of you have probably set goals or resolutions for the year ahead. Chances are the best of intentions to lose 20 pounds will quickly fall by the wayside. Our motivation to exercise will probably wane as it gets windier and colder outside. As I begin my 37th year on Earth, I’m getting ready to abandon the resolution of growing taller.
The problem with all New Year’s resolutions is the people will often lack the will to carry them out because of what we cannot escape. The one prediction that I can make for the upcoming year ahead is that we will stumble an fall as people.
The truth is that we will never be able to escape the events of the past year. For some of these events, might be relationships that didn’t develop quite as hoped for or even came to end. For others, you face a time of uncertainty because of the mines. Many of us live in fear at the threat of terrorism. As we enter the Presidential year of 2016, there are probably very few politicians that people actually trust.
The birth of 2016 does not change the reality of the previous year just as the Birth of Jesus was not going to change the realities of sin and death. Adam’s curse still reigns supreme.
What every person in this room longs for on some level is a new beginning. Every person here probably has their hopes that they have for 2016. Our hope lies with Jesus being at the beginning with God. Jesus’ presence within our world will create new life within the year ahead.
The good news of the Virgin Birth is that just as Christ Jesus came from heaven to earth, we too shall ascend from the grave to heaven. Our proof of this is the Resurrection. To realize how amazing the Resurrection that is to come will be, we need to go back to the beginning.
We leave this place this morning with a promise. God is remaking our world. God’s work is not determined by the journey from January 1st to December 31st though. Our hope instead centers about being born again in the waters of baptism and reborn as inheritors of eternal life. Our rebirth is taking what is dead in sin and making it alive, once again. The story we are in the process of living out on this day, all comes back to who is in control of the button. Our God has not stepped away from it. Our Lord remains present in this place as we receive his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins on this day. Our Lord was there at the beginning, our Lord was there on the cross, and our Lord shall be present on the day of our resurrection that is to come. Amen
 John 1:1
 Genesis 1:4
 Aglialoro, Todd. “Christians, Muslims, and the ‘One God’. Catholic Answers. 25. Mar.2013. Web. Dec.30.2015.
 Aglialoro, Todd. “Christians, Muslims, and the ‘One God’.
 Bird, Chad. “Most Religions Do Lead to the Same God”. Chad Bird. 28.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.29.2015.
 Rivera, Juan. “Christianity and the other religions.” The Christian Nation.org 8. Dec.2015. Web. Dec.29.2015.
 John 19:30
 Lewis, Karoline. “A New Genesis”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN, 27.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.30.2015
 Lewis, Karoline. “A New Genesis”.
 Lewis, Karoline. “A New Genesis”.
First Lesson: Isaiah 9: 2-7
Second Lesson: Titus 2: 11-14
Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 1-20
Grace and Peace from Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
In the last nine months, everything in Mary and Joseph’s life had changed. First of all, Mary, a young girl of no more than fourteen, learns from the angel Gabriel that she will bear a child that she is to name “Jesus.” As soon as Joseph heard this news, he didn’t believe it to be so for Joseph thought Mary’s claims of virginity were nothing more than lies or excuses. Joseph took this news of a birth as an unpleasant shock. Joseph’s original wish was to divorce Mary. Joseph only ceases his initial plan once an angel appears to him in a dream.
Now Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a mere 90 miles away from Nazareth where they lived. The trip was not going to be an easy journey. Whereas typical travelers could go 20 miles a day, this trip was going to be difficult 90 miles going uphill and downhill probably taking twice as long as average. The journey would take them along the flatlands of the Jordan River, into the woods where they dreaded encountering lions, bears, and boars. Even major roads ran the threat of encountering bandits and robbers. For Mary and Joseph, this was not going to be a safe nor comfortable journey to Bethlehem.
There is no good reason that a pregnant Mary would want to travel to Bethlehem. In fact, they probably dreaded the journey. Mary and Joseph had no choice in the matter. The Roman government was forcing everyone to go back to their “official residence” to be counted. The Romans did this as a means of forcing every maximum dollar of tax revenue while also making sure that they had no shortage of troops on hand for the next battle. The Romans counted everything they could from the trees in the grove to the number of cattle owned. Here were Mary and Joseph being forced to travel to pay for the right to be oppressed by the most unfriendly of governments. The announcement of the Roman Census would have been taken as anything but good news! Think of the feeling of the Doctor calling you into his office with the need to talk. The census would have seemed to have been the definition of an event out of which no good could come. The census would serve as a reminder of a conquered people seemingly powerless to change their surroundings. Mary and Joseph’s life had flipped in the past nine months and had no clue what the next nine months might bring.
Christmas 2015 is a time of uncertainty for many within our community. Due to a crisis within the U.S. Mining industry, many do not know where or if paychecks might come some months from now. We face uncertain times as a community as we can easily say that the downside is much higher than the upside. This uncertainty lies over all of us.
Uncertainty was what faced Mary and Joseph on this night. The night of Jesus’ birth was not going to be an easy night. The night was anything but warm or comfortable. Here was Joseph forced to take his pregnant wife to a cave to give birth on a ground surrounded by smelly, farm animals. The night stood in sharp contrast to a Christmas Eve with nice clothes and pleasant aromas. The night was desperate people being suffocated to misery by the census of an oppressive government. There was little that one could say was good about a day such as this one. The truth is Mary and Joseph’s story of trying to find purpose in the midst of turmoil is more like ours then we might imagine.
I want to tell you a story today of one of the most miserable days of my life on January 17th, 1999. The day began in Minneapolis watching the Vikings play the Atlanta Falcons with a trip to go to the Super Bowl on the line. Any Vikings fan knows this story all too well, Gary Anderson misses the kick, the Vikings lost the game in the overtime.
I’ve walked out of wakes louder then walking out of the Metrodome with 60,000 plus people on that day.
I then began the 3 ½ hour drive up I-94 to Moorhead where I went to college. Things looked pretty good until Alexandria when the snow started to fall. Snow kept falling and falling. I still had miles and miles to go. Visibility kept getting worse and worse. Nowadays I would have pulled over and gotten a motel room at the first sign of unpleasant weather. Back then, as a college kid with no money I kept driving. Pretty soon, I had no ability to see the road that lied ahead of me. All I could hope for was to see other cars along the road to guide me. I figured all I could do was follow lights.
What is the meaning of Christmas, as I ponder this night? I think of the journey of the Magi to Bethlehem guided by nothing by light. I think of the famous words from the Gospel of John reflecting on Jesus birth that proclaim “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Somehow I made it to Moorhead that night almost as if I was being guided whose presence that I could not see. My Dad had trained me to drive a few years prior, but nothing could prepare you for driving on a day such as this. How do we respond to the unexpected of life as we ponder the birth of our Savior on this night. There’s something interesting about the birth of Jesus.
Jesus’ birth reminds us how God works in some of the most unexpected ways imaginable. Jesus was born in a manger because the inns in Bethlehem were full because of a census. Mary and Joseph were so low on the social totem pole they ended up out there in spite of the size of Mary’s belly. At the manger that night were shepherds. Shepherds were basically the first century equivalent of transients or bums. The whole story centers around an unwed mother. Our story centers around the types of people seemingly shunned by the religious folk and even God himself.
Pro Wrestling Legend Dusty Rhodes when one time describing the ups and downs of his life declared “I have wined and dined with kings and queens and I’ve slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans.” Here was God coming into the world surrounded by the alley-dwelling pork and beans crowd.
I think one of the most valuable lessons of our Christmas story is that confronts the innate human belief that only greatness shall win out in the end.
Social Worker Brene Brown comments, “When I look at narcissism…I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”
Christmas reminds us that God indeed dwells within the ordinary.
The truth of Christmas is children might not become great students, superstar hockey players, or famous actors; teachers might not win awards, marriages or any human relationship will not inevitability be the things of fairy tales.
God still comes in the midst of this at Christmas to bring us hope. God does not dwell with the rich and powerful but rather God lives with the homeless shepherds, unwed mothers, laid-off miners, elderly widows, and in the midst of a crowd of ordinary, broken-down Christian people.
We will not leave tonight with our fears completely resolved. Christmas is not a magic pill. We will leave this place fearing the status of our relationships, our finances, and possibly even our health. The crowd that gathers one year from now might look very different than it does tonight. Be reminded that in the midst of our struggles, God will not abandon us.
Nine months can change everything. Nine months can bring financial windfall or financial ruin. Nine months can bring the love of your life or see that person leave never to return. Nine months can bring healing or it can bring death. Nine months can bring birth. Nine months can bring hope. Nine months can bring grace. Nine months can bring salvation. Nine months can bring light in the midst of darkness. Nine months can bring a child born in a manager. Amen
 Matthew 1:19
 Religion News Services. “A Long, Cold Road to Bethlehem: Nativity: Gospel Accounts of Mary and Joseph’s journey gloss over the arduous reality of life and travel in ancient Galilee”. Los Angeles Times. 23. Dec.1995.Web. Dec.21.2015.
 Nelson Larned, Joseph. The New Larned History for Ready Reference: Volume 2. 1924. Google Books. Dec.24.2015.
 Matthew 2:1-12.
 John 1:5.
 The following Brown quote is from Daring Greatly.
First Lesson: Micah 5: 2-5a
Responsive Reading: Luke 1: 46b-55
Second Lesson: Hebrews 10: 5-10
Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 39-45
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story this morning of a girl who was cut-off from nearly everyone around her. I want also to tell you the story of the woman who took her in when no one else would. This morning’s Gospel lesson is the tale of Mary and Elizabeth.
As we reflect upon these ladies story, consider the emotions that Mary an unmarried woman her early teenage years was undergoing. Mary’s pregnancy for many was not a joyous occasion; no one was going to believe that she was actually a virgin. Mary probably had a hard time admitting it due to the circumstances. Mary probably had to face the shame of her pregnancy alone because those around Mary were probably going to distance themselves from her.
Elizabeth was on the different end of the social spectrum from Mary. Elizabeth lived in a culture where a woman was considered a failure if she didn’t produce children. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had seemingly done everything right: they said their prayers, they watched Elizabeth’s health, and they waited until it seemed to be too late. Zechariah went to the Temple nearly every day of his life praying for a child, still praying out of habit once it was thought to be no longer possible. One day the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah announcing that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son. Zechariah’s doubt that this would actually happen was so strong that he went mute until the day of the child’s birth.
So here were two women united by their pregnancies because they had no one else but each other. No one else who would believe their story! As we look around the congregation today, not many of you probably think that you are going through what Mary and Elizabeth were going through. We don’t have teenage moms or previous barren pregnant women surrounding us, yet Mary and Elizabeth’s story matters to us on this day.
We have people within our congregation on this morning that are struggling with many of the emotions underwent by Mary and Elizabeth during the holiday season. For many people within our midst, Christmas is one of the most painful times of the year. Christmas for many people will be a painful time reflecting upon loss of their loved ones; this loss occurs on either an emotional or a physical level. Christmas breaks people like no other time of the year. People’s joyous celebrations often bring pain to the lonely, and sad. Many people go through the Holiday season struggling with the question of whether “Are they worthy of love in their lives?”
Some years ago, the band Bowling for Soup wrote a song entitled “High School Never Ends” which says how we claim to be wiser and more mature as the years pass us by, but society still defines by beauty, status, and power. So even though on the surface Mary and Elizabeth were quite different in many ways they were quite similar. Their same emotional needs were why these women needed to come together.
Ultimately in the absence of connection, there is suffering. The world is full of people trying to get and keep connection.
Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months before returning home. One interesting thing about the tale of Mary and Elizabeth is that it never has Mary telling Elizabeth her big secret of a virgin birth. Elizabeth seems naturally knows her secret. Perhaps Elizabeth’s knowledge helped convince a scared, young girl in Mary that God’s plan would eventually come to fruition in her.
As we hear the story of Mary and Elizabeth, their story might seem unique. Although their story is similar to many people’s stories of going through life seemingly more and more isolated from the world around them only to be brought back by God’s promise.
Think of the Biblical story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a Jew, who sold out to the Roman Government. All of Zacchaeus's former friends wanted nothing to do with him. Zacchaeus had experienced all sorts of rejection in life but made all kinds of money along the way.
Zacchaeus eventually becomes so desperate for love and affection that he dares to climb a tree to see Jesus. Zacchaeus probably looked like a fool to everyone watching him, but he just didn’t care. Jesus finally spots Zacchaeus. Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus is interesting in that Jesus never seeks to point out to Zacchaeus where his life went wrong. The truth is Zacchaeus knew better than anybody where his life went wrong. Zacchaeus knew his sin and shame better than anyone else, yet Jesus vowed not to leave his side. Jesus deemed that Zacchaeus was worthy of receiving love, no matter what anyone thought about his situation.
The need for connection in the midst of despair brings to my mind another Bible story that we all know. The story of the Woman at the well in the Samaritan village of Sychar in John 4. If anyone could go through life thinking that they are not good enough for Jesus, it would be this woman. The woman at the well had a string of failed marriages, and was now living with another man out of wedlock. Jesus still approached this woman. Jesus interacting with the woman at the well was probably going to cause people to start spreading all kinds of rumors about their relationship. For this, Jesus wasn’t going to care because his message is more powerful than a million people’s small words. Jesus doesn’t ignore her situation or dismiss it as a sign of the times. Jesus ironically enough never issues a word of judgment toward her. Jesus knew that this woman was vulnerable and hurting. Jesus merely seeks to tell her that the Gospel is for her. Jesus is reminding her that there is no confession or isolation too far from which a return is not possible.
When I was working in Lamberton, I had a congregation member that I’ll call Phil, who was in recovery. I didn’t know Phil very well since he was very rarely in the church. One day, Phil approaches me wishing to get together to complete the fifth step of his AA program. The 5th step is called the step of confession where we admit our wrongs to another human being. Opening this stuff to a complete stranger for Phil was going to be hard. As soon as we sit down, I let Phil know that I understood what he was going through. I talked to Phil about how easy it is to give into emotional pain having grown up around my Grandma’s alcoholism as a child. I didn’t believe Phil to be a worst sinner than any other sinner; I merely let Phil know that he had made different bad decisions. Phil’s decisions could not be separate from the human realities of how we all have pain! Each of us has hurt deep down inside! I remember several months after this visit Phil talking to me saying that this was probably going to be the best conversation of his life. No conversation between individuals was going to be more authentic as we dared to embrace each other’s rough edges and vulnerabilities. Phil was in church nearly every Sunday after that because his whole outlook on church and forgiveness changes after completing his 5th step.
The interesting thing about Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship is it bounded by their mutual trust that God will deliver them from their present isolation. God will one day take away their shame.
The movie Good Will Hunting tells the story of Will Hunting an orphan that grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. What made Will Hunting unique is that he is a genius. A genius that seeks to run away from his gifts at every opportunity because of his pain. When he meets a girl, he lies to her about having twelve brothers because Will didn’t want to admit to being an orphan. Will goes through life terrified that the secret of his past will be exposed opening himself up to another painful rejection. Will’s natural instinct is to run from any personal commitment. Will Hunting was caught up in a never-ending cycle of shame-isolation-loneliness. Will would always respond to this period though either cigarettes, alcohol, or fighting. The break though in the whole movie occurs when Will’s therapist one day embraces him while assuring him “It’s not your fault.” You are not to blame for how other people have made you see yourself.
Will Hunting is not unique. I remember the night before my sister Anne started at Concordia, she asks me “What if I don’t make any friends?”. Anne’s question seemed like a strange question at the time considering she was the prom queen at a relatively large high school; Anne is plenty outgoing yet even Anne struggled with these questions of “Who will accept me?”
Mary faced this question during her pregnancy. Mary knew that a higher spiritual purpose was at work within her. The words of Isaiah 61 shed insight on this question “He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound”. People being set free because of the coming birth of the Messiah above all else is the reality of the Christmas season.
There is no better person to make this point then Linus of Charlie Brown fame. Everyone knows Linus for his famous security blanket. Linus would never be seen anywhere without the blue blanket. Lucy, Snoopy, and Sally try everything to get Linus to drop his security blanket. Linus’ blanket for some served as a source of his ridicule, but Linus could never let it go. The truth is Linus is more like us than we might imagine. We all have our blue blankets. We all have our ways of shielding ourselves from the truth of the world around us. For many people, this might be their spiritual pride as they to cling towards bitterness, anger, and judgment towards other people. For other people, it might be spiritual despair wishing to cut ourselves off from the world around us for fear of never getting hurt. Blue blankets take many forms.
This year has been fifty years since the Charlie Brown Christmas first came on the air. As the Christmas pageant falls apart, Linus the one who was thought to lack courage interrupts. Linus starts reading the Christmas story from Luke 2 when he starts reading something happens as Linus says the words of the angel to the shepherds “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Linus drops his blanket in front of the entire world. Linus is exposed. Linus’ sin and shame is on the stage for the whole world to see.
This scene brings us back to our Gospel lesson for today. The thing about the Gospel of Jesus is Jesus sees us as we are, Jesus doesn’t demand that we cover ourselves in his presence. Jesus sees our shame, sees our guilt, and declares your sins to be forgiven.
Mary approaches her cousin Elizabeth today in the weakest and most vulnerable positions. Mary approaches Elizabeth as a scared, young girl with the weight of the world upon her shoulders. Mary had her secret, yet then she saw Elizabeth. When Elizabeth came into Mary’s presence, the lesson says that “She is filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Mary was not going to be alone through her ordeals. In Elizabeth, Mary was going to experience unconditional love and acceptance to heal her from the pain of the world around her. Just as we shall experience the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus to heal us from the pain of the world around us. What Christ’s acceptance of us should allow us to find grace not only in our imperfections but the imperfections of others.
We know the end of this story. Elizabeth gives birth to a son named John. John would become famous for his baptisms. Mary gives birth to a son named Jesus. The tale of these women’s pregnancies is not a story of healing or everything instantly becoming right within their lives. The tale of Mary and Elizabeth’s pregnancies is a story of the redemption of God bringing unto these women his grace and salvation.
Mary was always going to have walk around with the emotions and physical scars of her pregnancy. Elizabeth would never be able to escape the painful years of seeking to conceive a child within her youth. Mary and Elizabeth though would be made whole.
The story of Mary and Elizabeth points to many of the ways in which God is working within our world today. God is working in the lives of people that many might choose to isolate or cast out. The new reality of God’s grace is that the people that we consider to be shameful, God considers them to be holy. This new reality of God’s grace is all around us even as difficult as might be for many of us to see on this day. Amen
 Luke 1:39-45
 Jones, Judith. “Commentary on Luke 1:39-45(46-55).” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. 20.Dec.2015. web. Dec.15.2015.
 This paragraph was influenced by a reflection by Dr. Jeannie Miller Clarkson entitled “Speaking to Christmas Pain Brings Christmas Peace” . JeannieMillerClarkson.com. 10.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.15.2015
 Bowling for Soup. “High School Never Ends.”The Great Burrito Extortion Case. Jive Recors. 2006. CD.
 Zimmerman, Aaron M.G. “Brene Brown and the End of Shame”. MBird (Mockingbird Ministries). 1.Nov.2012. Web. Dec.15.2015.
 Luke 19:1-10
 John 4:1-30
 This thought process on the difference between shame/guilt comes from Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. Penguin Random House. 2012.
 Kozo Hattari, Makala. “What Good Will Hunting Teaches Us About Men, Shame, and Suicide. “ Good Men Project. 12. Nov.2014. Web. Dec.15.2015.
 Isaiah 61:1
 Soroski, Jason. “Just Drop the Blanket: The Moment You Never Noticed in A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Crosswalk . 14. Dec.2015. Web. Dec.15.2015.
 Luke 2:10
 Soroski, Jason. “Just Drop the Blanket: The Moment You Never Noticed in A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
 Luke 1:41
 Jones, Judith. “Commentary on Luke 1:39-45(46-55).”
First Lesson: Zephaniah 3: 14-20
Responsive Reading: Isaiah 12: 2-6
Second Lesson: Philippians 4: 4-7
Gospel Lesson: Luke 3: 7-18
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Sunday, I attended church at our sister church in Stacy, Minnesota in Saint John’s Lutheran. During the sermon Pastor Ed Wheatley told the tale of a funeral for a woman named Dolores that had happened the day before. No matter how many funerals you’ve attended, I bet you’ve never attended a funeral like this one. Dolores had a grandson let’s say in his early 20’s that was going through some rough times in life. The grandson had been spending the last few weeks before his grandmother’s funeral protesting down at the fourth precinct in Minneapolis regarding the police shooting death of Jamar Clark. The grandson becomes overwhelmed by all the emotions of the past few weeks at his grandmother’s funeral. The young man pretty soon cannot be calmed or controlled by those within the church. The local police had to be called in to constrain him. Words were doing no good, so the cops had no choice but to fire rubber bullets at the young man inside the church as a way of hoping to restrain him. Pastor Wheatley commented that this was the first known shooting in the history of the church.
What this story highlights is the uncertainty of the world around us. The most common of occasions can quickly turn into the scariest of realities.
This story brings us into the frame of mind for our advent season. We might not be able to explain Advent well, but the message of Advent is the darkness that is all around us. You see this darkness when you turn on the nightly news, we encounter this darkness when you experience people’s personal pain with no good words of comfort, and we are seemingly often overwhelmed with senseless death. What we must remember is that at times such as these is that our expectations of this world are ultimately not God’s expectations.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Luke 3. It contains a story from the life of John the Baptist. In the lesson for today, some very interesting people approach John the Baptist to ask the question “What sir shall we do to inherit eternal life?”
These were not the type of men that you would expect to approach John the Baptist. These men approaching was the equivalent of members of ISIS coming near a prominent Christian minister today to inquire regarding the significant answers of life and death. The men that approached John the Baptist were tax collectors and soldiers who worked for the hated Roman government. These men made their living as reverse Robin Hoods stealing from the poor to give to the rich. These men were the Pro-Wrestling villains who everyone boo’s as soon as they walk into the arena. Here they were coming to locust-eating, wilderness living John the Baptist.
This was a definite clash of extremes when it came to how they viewed the world: power versus piety. While these men might have seemed like a strange sight in the presence of John the Baptist. These social and religious outcasts were the type of men whom John often preached. John preached to the riff-raff of society. John preached to misfits. Plenty of people probably didn’t want John the Baptist to go to the types of people that he went to. John is preaching to those who endure the struggle between judgment and hope nearly every single day of their lives. John’s aim is to break down the walls of spiritual pride that exist within so many by bringing grace to those society deemed to be the most heinous of sinners. John is saying to these people that God does not see you like everyone else may see you.
John’s whole preaching is about seeking to prepare those within the world for a stronger, better world. John is seeking to prepare people for the one who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist is seeking to remind people that the future is less uncertain than it may seem.
The big story of the last week was the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The aftermath of the shooting was predictable with people’s instant reactions having to do with either redoing our gun policy or immigration policy. These responses seem to me to miss the mark as the mess in San Bernardino isn’t a problem that we can easily fix by assigning free-will to inanimate objects, nor by only allowing the right kind of people into this country versus the wrong type of people. What the San Bernardino shooting reminds us is that the world is how much of an epidemic that sin is in the world around us even as people fight their hardest to deny its existence.
In the wake of the shooting a headline in the New York Daily News blasted out “God isn’t fixing this?” The problem with headlines such as this is they assume that God is standing idly by as the world descends into darkness. The problem that too many people have is they believe Adam and Eve never fell from a tree, so they don’t know how to respond to events such as these other than blaming certain people or even God himself. What the headline failed to recognize is what our Gospel lesson for today tells us about God’s response to sin and evil.
On this day, John the Baptist was preaching to a fractured world. John the Baptist was still inviting his people’s worst enemies into his presence. John the Baptist was seeking to give them a way forward in the midst of their despair. John the Baptist was seeking to proclaim that even when times are the darkest, the savior is on the horizon. The savior who would soon be known as Jesus was coming not just to judge the world but ultimately grant unto the world forgiveness.
Today in our Gospel lesson the tax collectors and soldiers ask, “What must we do?” These are the questions that plenty of people have been asking within the last week as people debate hot-button issues such as gun control and immigration. What might John the Baptist preach to us on this day as we grapple on this day? John would tell us to repent of the spiritual pride that we cling to claiming to have all the answers. We must remember that whenever we enter into any discussion that WE ARE NOT GOD!
We must acknowledge that as broken as the world around is we do not have the power to fix it. Our limited power though does not mean that we lack hope. We do have hope! This hope is soon about to come down from heaven by way of a child. John the Baptist’s preaching on this day is to those who came to him wanting change. John’s preaching is for those who yearn for a new way of life.
How can we make sense of this Advent season? How do we make sense of a world filled with shootings and political discord? As stated by C. J. Green Advent is “a season that reminds us that there has to be death before there can be life. There has to be struggle before there is triumph.” No one in this room has survived 30, 40, 50, 60 years of marriage without our sorts of challenges coming before you together. What Advent reminds us is that no matter how much the world surrounding you, might be beating you down that there is hope that is present as we gaze unto the sky looked at by shepherds at night. Advent serves as a reminder that the time of death must occur before the day of resurrection.
I want to close this morning by telling you the story of the Mayfield family. The Mayfield family’s year was a disaster. Both parents had to quit their jobs. Mom had a really traumatic pregnancy, nearly dying at child birth having to he hospitalized for several days. They had to move across the country saying goodbye to friends and a job they loved. The newborn baby never did learn to sleep any good. Their van died for good. They were forced to move to a cramped, apartment. Dad got a new job, but debt still reigned supreme. Every month they hoped they could get off food stamps, yet it hasn’t happened yet. Mom working as a writer struggled to compose her thoughts to paper. Both Mom and Dad struggled with sleep. The Mayfield’s were so beaten down by it all that they became increasingly isolated from their family and friends. Every day became a fight for survival. Everything that could have gone wrong in the last year did go wrong. Worst of all a car had crashed into their daughter’s bedroom wall. After a few days away from the worst home life that anyone could imagine, the Mayfield’s returned to their apartment.
The Mayfield’s in the midst of disaster begin to see the signs of hope. They see hope whenever they see the baby’s dimples. They see hope whenever their daughter makes new friends. They see hope when neighbors drop by food that they’ve never tasted before. They see hope when the newborn baby begins to crawl. They see hope when their life comes together enough to show up in a church on a Sunday morning.
You see as the Mayfield’s had a year that was probably worse then your year they came to realize something about their lord and savior, Jesus never left their side. Jesus stood beside them in the arena that we call “life.” You see Advent is above all else a season of hope. Within Advent, we come to terms with the most complex of human emotions: the sadness of the forthcoming holiday season, the waiting for things to turn around; and the longing for all things to be made new.
As I reflect on our Gospel lesson for today, I reflect upon the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
Advent reminds us that as shootings take place all around us, as Politicians say all kinds of nasty things about each other, as the worst of sinners stand before us. As the world around us crumbles, something different lies just around the corner. A new birth is on the horizon. Christmas is indeed coming soon. Amen
 The story comes from Pastor Wheatley’s December 6th, 2015 sermon at Saint John’s.
 Luke 3:16
 The headline comes from the December 3rd edition of the New York Daily News
 Burk, Denny. “Christmas means that God is fixing this”. Denny Burk.com. 3.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.12.2015.
 Luke 3:10
 Green, C.J. “The Life, Death, Life Cycle”. Mockingbird. 9.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.12.2015.
 Mayfield, D.L. “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card.” DL Mayfield.com. 9.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.11.2015.
 Mayfield, D.L. “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card.”
 Mayfield, D.L. “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card.”
 Mayfield, DL. “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card.”
 Isaiah 9:2
First Lesson: Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Responsive Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13
Gospel Lesson: Luke 21: 25-36
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you a Thanksgiving story involving a Northern Minnesota family the Peterson's. The Peterson’s family probably isn’t too different from your own family. You had the uncle who drank too much at Thanksgiving dinner and made all sorts of inappropriate comments. You have the nephew who’s every step around the house threatened to knock something valuable over. The Peterson’s had their arguments about politics and their petty jealousies that they hoped wouldn’t explode. All that people didn’t say about Grandpa Peterson’s will was probably for the best.
There was one member of the Peterson family that created emotions like no one else in Bubba. Bubba was in his early 40’s with blonde hair and scruffy facial hair that stayed in relatively good shape. Bubba had a pretty wife who submitted to his every word and three very blonde daughters. Bubba was a religious man. Bubba attended a Bible college, was a Deacon at his local Evangelical Free Church and quoted the scriptures whenever he got a chance. You very well might have a family member like Bubba.
When the Peterson family got together this year: Bubba had plenty of things that he wanted to talk, I mean to preach about gay marriages, ISIS and a society that got less and less Christian with each passing year. Whenever you got Bubba going, he would always point to some world leader being the newest version of the Anti-Christ. Whenever Bubba spoke, he was convinced that all these things of which he spoke pointed to a reality that the world would soon be coming to an end. A funny thing about all of Bubba’s talking is that very little of it centers around grace, forgiveness, or salvation. Bubba’s talking all implies that if someone is a real Christian that what they better do is shape-up or ship out.
Now most people in the room would try to get Bubba to change the subject waiting for Pumpkin Pie to be served. There were a few members of the Peterson family though that hung on every word of Bubba’s preaching with great fear and trembling. The thing about Bubba, his critiques of the world, were such that people were going to listen to him.
Human nature quickly convinces itself that life is no longer worth living at any number of moments. For some, their life might be over when their spouse vanishes one morning never to return again. For others, life is over when they receive a medical diagnosis letting them know that their life will never be the same again. For others, their life might be over when their employer can no longer issue them a paycheck. For others, life’s end seems to be nearer witnessing a culture whose moral failings seem darker day by day.
People like Bubba realize that the Bible talks about the end even more then it tells about the beginning. Jesus talks about the end quite a bit within his ministry. One of the most famous speeches that Jesus gives about the end is the Parable of the Fig Tree.
“For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”-Luke 21:35-36
Jesus within this parable is seeking to remind his audience of the nature of upheaval within this world.
Let me tell you the story of Raymond and Dawn. Raymond was a terrific engineer who made a very nice living. Raymond was president of his church council and active with the local Lions’ club.
Raymond was able to retire soon after his 58th Birthday. Dawn and Raymond had made all sorts of grandiose plans to travel the world together. The future was bright till something strange started happening to Raymond, his usually sharp memory began forgetting things one after another. Raymond goes to the doctor who diagnoses him with early onset Dementia. Within a year, Raymond can’t find his way home from the store. Within two years, Dawn is unable to take care of Raymond. Within three years, Raymond is unable to recognize Dawn. Within four years, Raymond has passed. Dawn’s hope and dreams are no looking very different than years before. What this story reminds us is that even our greatest of optimisms can be crushed within a moment.
The community of faith that Jesus is addressing in our Gospel lesson for today is not unlike Christians like Bubba and Dawn. They are struggling nearly every day of their existence with the question of when Jesus will come back to make the world right and whole once again. Jesus chooses a unique image to address this problem in a “fig tree”. The significance of Jesus talking about the “fig tree” is the fig tree’s budding is a reminder that summer is around the corner. The fig tree budding is similar to the signs in the sun, moon, and stars that remind us that our God has not forgotten a broken world.
The reality is within the course of our lives that we will encounter some Bubbas. Bubba might be a family member, Bubba might be a next-door-neighbor, or Bubba might be a preacher at a funeral.
What we can say to Bubba is that there is plenty in this world in which we grieve. We see power abused every day by those who cling to it. We see no evidence of any utopia coming on the horizon. What we do cling to in this world is hope. Our hope is found that in as many terrible things as we experience in this life: wars, persecutions, earthquakes, and all sorts of nasty death. These things might seem to be the definition of hopeless events, yet within them we find hope. Our hope is found that Our Lord is present in these very moments of intense personal pain. When Jesus speaks to us today he is not seeking to predict the future, but rather he is attempting to state the truth of life as we know it.
The problem with Bubba is he only sees life in the present in all the ways that we fall short. Bubba assumes that Jesus Christ is not here yet, but will soon be returning. When in reality, Christ Jesus is present pointing us towards God’s future. Christ Jesus is in our present when we are baptized into his death within the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Christ Jesus is present when we receive his supper reminding us that our lives cannot be apart from the presence of death, but that one day this death shall give way to resurrection. Christ Jesus is present at the very moments of our greatest weakness pointing us towards the hope of his Gospel through Word and Sacrament.
One interesting thing that we should note about the Bible is one of the most common phrases within is “Do Not Be Afraid.” Jesus says these words when walking on water; Jesus says these words when encountering his disciples immediately after his resurrection. God says these words to Abram right before delivering unto him his covenant. Our God knows your fears and anxieties. Our God gives us the signs of water, wine, and wheat to remind us that the world will once again be alright.
On this day as Christian people, we begin our Advent season. What we remember is that our religion is not obsessed with everything wrong in the present. We have more important battles to fight than over Thanksgiving turkey. Our religion consists of looking towards the future. We are not a people of life than death, but rather a people of life then death then finally resurrection.
What we remember on this day is “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”- Luke 21:33.
We take confidence that the Lord’s words assure us that our mission goes way beyond trying to save the world from all the ways that it falls as Bubba imagines. Our mission is not to attempt to recreate the world in our own image. Our mission is rather to bring broken, imperfect people the love of Jesus Christ.
As we gather around Thanksgiving tables this weekend, we see that people out there are getting more and more broken every day as they see the ways that they seemingly don’t measure up. The truth is Christmas is coming soon around the corner. People that are close and dear to you are going to have bad things happen to them. What we will have to remind them is although the world has changed, it is certainly not over. Our Lord is present not only in this place but their suffering. What this presence is seeking to remind us is though which may appear to be dead shall soon be resurrected.
“Weeping may endure for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”-Psalm 30:5
 Inspired by Harrison Goodman post “Sometimes I Wanna Punch Norman Rockwell in the Mouth” . Lutheran Pastor Says Blog. 20.Nov.2014. Web. Nov.25.2015.
 This paragraph was inspired by Chad L. Bird’s “The Church of Chicken Little” . Flying Scroll: Musings and Poetry of Chad L. Bird. Nov.20.2015. Web. 23. Nov.2015.
 Luke 21:35-36
 Lose, David. “Commentary on Luke 21:25-36”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. 29.Nov.2009. Web. Nov.25.2009
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Pages 479-483.
 Lewis, Karoline. “Why Advent”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul. 22.Nov.2015. Web. Nov.23.2015
 Bird, Chad L. “The Church of Chicken Little”.
First Lesson: 2 Samuel 23: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 132: 1-12, (13-18)
Second Lesson: Revelation 1: 4b-8
Gospel Lesson: John 18: 33-37
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This morning I wish to tell you a rags to riches story. This is a tale that isn’t your typical rags to rich tale as it’s a story of rags to riches to lion’s den back to riches once again. This morning I wish to tell you the story of Daniel and the lion’s den.
Daniel’s story begins with a king named Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar conquers the land of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are forced to spread throughout all the earth. A select group of men from the Jewish people was chosen to live in Babylon: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You might know Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from fiery furnace fame. These Jewish nobles journeyed to receive an education in Babylon. The transition to life in Babylon was hard as these men were devout Jews in their observances of the faith. They refused to eat any food that wasn’t kosher leading to initial conflict with their king. Things would soon turn around for Daniel.
Daniel served in King Nebuchadnezzar's court. Nebuchadnezzar though was having a problem. Nebuchadnezzar was having all these dreams that he couldn’t make sense. Nebuchadnezzar's dream had four kingdoms after his kingdom falling before God’s kingdom endures forever. Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams was such that even Nebuchadnezzar begins to worship Daniel’s God. Nebuchadnezzar soon dies. Nebuchadnezzar’s son though did not follow in his way. The Babylonian Kingdom soon fell just as Daniel predicted. Daniel was now under the rule of the Persian King Darius the Mede.
The thing to know about Darius the Mede is that he wasn’t an evil king. Darius liked Daniel quite a bit! Darius elevated Daniel to high office within his kingdom. Darius wanted to put Daniel in charge of all the administration for his kingdom. Daniel’s story of interpreting dreams and rising to second in command to the most powerful man in the world mirrors Joseph’s in many ways.
Daniel’s story though was not going to be smooth or easy. Darius’ fellow officials got jealous of Daniel. They couldn’t believe that Darius would appoint a “Jew” to such a high office. Daniel’s co-workers resented him because he had an attitude or spirit that they did not possess.
Darius’ officials and Daniel’s enemies begin to hatch a plan. At first they try to find signs of Daniel being dishonest or corrupt. Daniel was a political figure though on whom they could find no dirt. Daniel’s enemies finally discovered what they thought was a weakness within him. Daniel was like really, really religious. Daniel would pray towards Jerusalem three times a day. Daniel prayed three times a day without exception; it didn’t matter what else Daniel had going on in his life. Daniel’s enemies decide to trick Darius the King into issuing an edict that any member of Darius’ kingdom could not pray to a foreign God for thirty days. Daniel’s enemies knew that he would not compromise his faith under any circumstances. Daniel is shortly after that caught violating the king’s edict, so Daniel is sentenced to go to the lion’s den. King Darius didn’t want to send Daniel to the lion’s den you see. Darius had to do for if he violated the laws of the Persians then he would lose authority over his people.
Darius thought Daniel was a goner in the lion’s den. Daniel’s enemies thought he was a goner in the lion’s den. Daniel, however, was calm as he could be. Darius was struck by how calm Daniel was through the whole ordeal. Right before Daniel entered the lion’s den, Darius cried out “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you.” The king’s men escort Daniel into the lion’s den. The king’s men place a giant stone before the door. Darius then left Daniel for the night. Daniel had no means for escape; Daniel merely had to rely on his faith that God might deliver him.
Darius the King couldn’t sleep all night long because of his worries about Daniel. Imagine a friend or loved one of yours in surgery where the outcome is uncertain. These were the emotions felt by Darius on this night. Darius’ reaction says something important that even as Darius was the most powerful man in the world that he lived. There were limits to Darius’ power!
Finally, the morning comes; Darius travels down to the lion’s den. Darius fully expects to find Daniel eaten up by lions when he arrives. Darius shouts out “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?”
What Darius heard next stunned him, Darius heard Daniel’s voice “O king, live forever!” An outcome that Darius previously could not imagine had become reality.
You see as soon as Daniel entered the lion’s den an angel of the Lord also arrived. The angel shut the lion’s mouth so that the lion would not harm Daniel.
Darius is joyous that Daniel was alright. Darius released Daniel from the lion’s den. Darius then cast Daniel’s enemies into the lion’s den. The story ends with Darius declaring that all his royal people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.
Now that you know Daniel’s story how should we interpret it? Daniel’s story is a tale of God’s presence in the face of the end. Daniel’s story seeks to reinforce how God can rescue us from the most seemingly insurmountable of situations even death itself.
Daniel’s story is a story of power within this world. King Darius could have anything he wanted at the snap of his fingers. King Darius’ power though had his limits. Darius had to send his best administrator to the lion’s den against his wishes for fear of a popular uprising. Darius was forced to wait for Daniel's fate nervously throughout the night. The most powerful man in the world had to pace his bedroom like a son awaiting word on the verdict of his father’s surgery. Darius himself needed a higher power. Darius knew that as mighty as he was that even his kingdom could one day fall.
Daniel’s story heavily influenced Christians in the first century as they received the long awaited Messiah. These Christians had seen mighty kingdoms from Babylon to Persia to Greece and eventually Rome fall before their very eyes. Daniel’s vision had become a reality. One day, God’s Son will rule over all the Earth.
Why was Daniel so calm and willing to die? Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.” There was not one place that Daniel was afraid to go in life because of his faith.
Daniel believed that even if he went forth to his death, his God would deliver him on the other side. Even though none of us will probably be thrown into a lion’s den like Daniel, this doesn’t mean there is not plenty to learn from his story.
What Daniel’s story reminds us is that we will always face moments of uncertainty and moments of terror in their eventual outcome. We pray on this day for the future of this community that we love as we reflect upon the idle at North Shore Mining. We pray for those who don’t know their economic futures on this day. We have no doubts that there will be some scary nights ahead just as the night in the lion’s den was for Darius and Daniel. What we should be assured of is that our God does not stand idly by in the time of our fear. Our God can rescue us at the times when rescue seems hopeless. God’s response to our hopelessness is what we call grace!
Apple Founder Steve Jobs once stated, “Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.
Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”
Some of the most powerful words that Jesus speaks within the Christian scriptures are in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation when he declares “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”-Revelation 22:13.
Jesus is reminding us that no matter what forces out there are threatening to destroy your faith and your soul on this day they shall not ultimately win out.
“My Kingdom is not from this world,” says Jesus. As we celebrate this Christ the King Sunday, we remember how different God’s kingdom is from our own. Our kingdoms shall fall! Our rulers shall tremble! Our God will still deliver people even from the mouths of lions! Amen
 Daniel 3
 Daniel 6:3
 Daniel 6:3
 Daniel 6:4
 Daniel 6:10
 Daniel 6:5
 Daniel 6:14
 Markquart. Ed. “Books of the Bible: Old Testament Daniel”. Sermons from Seattle. Web.
 Daniel 6:17
 Daniel 6:20
 Daniel 6:21
 Daniel 6:22
 Daniel 6:25
 Dr. King said this in a speech in Detroit in 1963.
 The following was said by Jobs during his Stanford Commencement Address on June 12th, 2015.
 John 18:36
First Lesson: Daniel 12: 1-3
Responsive Reading: Psalm 6
Second Lesson: Hebrews 10: 11-14, (15-18), 19-25
Gospel Lesson: Mark 13: 1-8
“And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”- Mark 13:1-2
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Disaster had struck! Giant stones laid everywhere! The disaster was their 9-11. The following was their Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The emotions that people felt were similar to the emotions felt by those in Paris in the last few days as they witnessed unbelievable terror. The reactions onlookers felt were the same as you would feel watching the only church that you had ever known burn to the ground. The temple was destroyed. The center of a nation’s worship life lies in ruin. The temple collapsing was the day from which there would be no recovery. The Romans had reoccupied holy ground. Christian persecution was going to run rampant once again. The temple collapsing was the worst possible of all outcomes.
This event known as “The Siege of Jerusalem” took place in 70 AD about forty years after Jesus’ death. We might not know the history of Jerusalem’s siege, but we know its story. Think of the moment of your life that you dread again and again. The moment to think of is probably the time of total upheaval in one’s life.
For people in this congregation, it might be the day of the plant closing. I remember Gary recalling one day to me how Courtney and he drove around the time of the plant closing just counting “for sale” signs hanging on the outside of houses. Reserve Mining closing would be the day of upheaval from which there was no easy recovery.
My Grandma will always recall to me the moment that she found out her husband had died in a boat. Grandma’s life would never be the same from that day forward. Grandma has told me time and time again how many days she had spent wishing for a different outcome.
The other Saturday, I’m driving to Bemidji for the State 9-Man. I’m between Cherry and Hibbing when I receive a call from Julie Koepp saying that her father Harold had been diagnosed with cancer. This cancer had no treatment as it had spread to the kidneys, lungs, and liver. These moments are the moments that we dread as human beings.
There is something very noteworthy though about the “temple” falling to the ground. Jesus had predicted it happening about forty years before. You see Jesus knew what the future to his followers was going to bring: earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, and famine. Jesus knew that when he made this prediction, people were going to dismiss him as a nothing more than a doom and gloom preacher.
Jesus knew he had to make this prediction. Jesus knew what the reaction to this event was going to be panic. People were going to shout out “The End is near!” Every generation has its Jerusalem burn to the ground. As long as there has been a Christian Church its members have been convinced that they are living in the final generation.
Every group of people experiences the nastiness of violence. Every human being experiences pain that seems to be unbearable. Our natural reaction to such events is to become convinced that The End is upon us.
I think we as Christian people often get Jesus’ statements about the End Times wrong. Our Gospel lesson serves as an example of this. Jesus isn’t so much seeking to give Christians a timetable for the end as even Jesus himself says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Jesus is rather seeking to get Christian people to prepare for the end by speaking to God’s response to the forces of evil that threaten to overpower them such as sin, death, and destruction. Jesus is seeking in times of turmoil to encourage steadiness in the Christian faith.
Why does the temple falling matter to your life? The answer is because we all have temples, our sources of stability and comfort that we have watched fall before our very eyes.
Let me tell you a story told by Tim Zingale, There once was a little girl no more than eight years old. This little girl’s prized possession was a little rag doll. The doll wasn’t much to look at, but this girl had made it with her own hands. This girl cared for this doll no differently than a mother would for a child. One weekend, she and her family was taking a trip out of town. The little girl wanted to bring the rag doll everywhere that she went, but her mother told her that she couldn’t as the doll was fragile and could be damaged within their travels. The girl reluctantly leaves the doll at home. Over the weekend, disaster strikes the little girl’s home. An unexpected storm hit the river valley where the girl lived. Houses all throughout the little girl’s neighborhood were flooded. The little girl saw her house and feared the worst! She ran upstairs to her room. The girl was devastated to find that the flood had washed away her little rag doll. She sobbed and she sobbed over not finding her doll.
After a few days, the girl was nearing the point of acceptance of never seeing her doll again when she wanders downtown. She looks into the window of a salvage store that had collected items from the flood debris. In this window lay the girl’s little rag doll. Twenty-five cents was on the price tag. She rushed home and scoured the house from every cent that she could find. The girl then ran back down the store as fast as she could. She put her twenty-five cents on the counter and began holding the doll like a mother reuniting with a son home from war.
What Jesus is seeking to remind his followers of in our lesson for today is the point of the story of the little girl and the rag doll that no matter how bad things seem today that God is still working towards the day when everything shall be alright once again.
Let me tell another story as told by Mickey Anders, A young woman volunteered to help tutor children in a large city hospital. This tutor was one day instructed to visit a nine-year-old boy. The tutor contacts the boy’s teacher to learn that she should work with him on nouns and adverbs. As the tutor tries to find the boy’s room, she quickly realizes that the boy is a patient in the hospital’s burn unit. The tutor’s eyes are jarred upon seeing such a young boy severely burned and in great pain. She would have left the room if she could, but she knew that boy needed her, so she gathered courage.
The tutor introduces herself and proceeds to give the most awkward lesson that she could ever imagine on nouns and adverbs.
The next morning one of the nurses from the burn unit calls the tutor up on the phone. “What did you do? The tutor is immediately distraught over all the ways that she failed the boy, she began sobbing over the phone.
The nurse interpreted to say that she didn’t understand. The nurse said the boy’s attitude did a complete 180 since the tutor’s lesson. He decided to fight back on his treatment; the boy’s attitude had turned from one of hopelessness to hope.
The boy said something very simple changed his attitude “Why would they send a tutor to work with a dying kid on nouns and adverbs.”
Jesus in our lesson today is saying that even the most seemingly impenetrable things in our lives will one day fall to the ground just like stones in these great buildings.
We as Christian people often misunderstand the End Times. We view the End Times with dread because too many people don’t get how God is working below the surface.
Jesus does predict the temple to fall. The temple does fall. Christian persecution increases. About twenty years after the Destruction of the Temple, John of Patmos writes the Book of Revelation. Revelation is a book that acknowledges that things are bad; the future does contain a significant degree of uncertainty. Yet ultimately in the end, Our God will restore the whole of his creation. Our God will restore the Garden of Eden and bring back the Tree of Life. The road to get there certainly will not be easy and Jesus is seeking to acknowledge this in his words to us today!
People will scoff upon hearing this promise. Plenty of people have gone through life disappointed by God’s lack of imminent return before. There’s something worth saying to these people on this day.
“Yet, you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”-James 4:14.
We claim control all we want over how the world should work; yet our goodness, power, and grace pales in comparison to what our God promises to pour out upon us. God will come through for us and the evidence of this is the Cross to which we cling.
So what do you say in the presence of the End Times, this brings me back to going to see Harold. So as I’m driving to Bemidji, I’m pondering what exactly do you say to Harold when you see him the next day. I then realize that all I can do is point him towards Christ’s promises given unto Harold in his holy body and blood. Remind him that his God will come through in the end. Harold had communion Sunday night. We had a good visit on Thursday evening. He was gone very early the following Monday morning.
My sense of peace for moments such as these which are never easy is the belief of all that the Resurrection reminds us that the world needs to end to bring us back to the beginning. You can’t have Resurrection without Death. You can’t have Hope without Despair. You can’t have Grace without Sin.
As we leave this place this morning, we remember that the world is fragile that this much is certainly true. The reason that we obsess about the End Times is we possess nothing beyond faith in God’s promises. Our faith will indeed shake in the presence of our temple falling moments. Jesus is telling us today that this is ok. Jesus’ promises shall still stand. We draw comfort on this day in the promises that we are about to receive this is Christ’s body and blood given and shed for you. We draw hope and comfort that just as times seemed darkest on the Good Friday of our lives, our God promises that this darkness shall not remain and we shall soon see the morning dawn. Amen
 Mark 13:7-8
 Mark 13:33
 Zingale, Tim. “The High Priest”. Yahoo Group: Pastor Tim Zingale’s Sermons. 13. Nov.2006. Web. Nov.10.2015
 Anders, Mickey. “Everything Nailed Down is Coming Loose!”. Lectionary.org. 2000. Web. Nov.10.2015
 Revelation 22:2
First Lesson: Ruth 3: 1-5; 4: 13-17
Responsive Reading: Psalm 127
Second Lesson: Hebrews 9: 24-28
Gospel Lesson: Mark 12: 38-44
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story of a woman not unlike a woman that many of you might know. This woman’s name is Naomi. Naomi’s life for most of it seemed to be going along good but not great. Her husband was a farmer who made a decent existence. She had a couple of sons. Naomi’s life was about to take a turn for the worst. Naomi’s life was about to face one disaster after another.
Disaster 1- Famine strikes the land where Naomi lived. Naomi’s life quickly went from the stable to the unstable. Naomi’s whole family was going to be forced to move to the land of Moab. No one would have lived in Moab by choice. Moab was a violent and dangerous place. The people of Moab didn’t just sacrifice individual human beings; they sacrificed entire villages to appease their Gods. Moab was a strange land filled with people unlike Naomi in any way, yet Naomi’s life would now be in Moab.
Disaster 2- Naomi’s husband dies. Ten years later then Naomi’s first son dies. A few years after that Naomi’s other son dies. Naomi was now as poor as any woman could be. Naomi had no income, no social security, no pension, no immediate family, nor any means of support. The only people that Naomi really even knew in Moab were her daughters in law Ruth and Orpah.
Naomi could have easily been the little old lady left to die alone with hardly anyone noticing. Naomi decides that Moab is no longer for her. Naomi hears that the famine is over in Judea. Naomi hopes to travel back to her homeland hoping to get some support from distant blood relatives. Naomi might get charity at home, but never in Moab.
Naomi’s Daughters in Law begin to travel with her out of Moab. Naomi stops them. Naomi wishes for them to remain in Moab living their own lives. They were young and they didn’t need to be surrounded by an old anchor like Naomi. They would never find men to marry in Naomi’s land. The cultures were just too different. One daughter in law Orpah returns home at Naomi’s pleading. The other daughter in law was a stubborn woman named Ruth. Ruth refused to leave Naomi’s presence.
I said earlier that we all know women like Naomi. Women that figure that time has passed them by. Women that think that they are just running out the clock on life. Women that figure they’re better off being alone. Women that assume that they have nothing else left to give. Who you probably haven’t met is a woman like Ruth. Many of us have heard horror stories involving someone else’s mother in law. There is no less steady relationship than the one between mother in law and daughter in law, yet Ruth would not leave Naomi’s side.
Ruth begged Naomi not to leave her “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”.” The promise Ruth of loyalty made to Naomi would have seemed like the promise of a crazy woman!
Naomi probably thought Ruth to be a foolish woman wasting her life on her decrepit, mother in law. Ruth was a young widow who could land a nice husband and enjoy a comfortable life in her homeland. No other widow it seemed would display such loyalty to their mother in law in the last years of her life. Ruth’s promise to Naomi though would not waver.
So even though Naomi had Ruth by her side, Naomi returned home a bitter woman. When her relatives and former friends saw her, they did not recognize her because she had aged so poorly. She no longer wished to be called Naomi which means “pleasant,” she wanted instead to be called Mara which means “bitter.”
Naomi was truly a bitter, old woman. Naomi was at the point in her life where she figured that she had nothing more to give. Naomi believed that God had indeed abandoned her to die.
The thing about Naomi is that she had legitimate reasons to be unhappy about the direction of her life. People will empathize with Naomi because everyone on some level probably had legitimate reasons to be unhappy with their lives. Naomi’s story speaks to all sorts of widows out there.
Here was Ruth vowing to stay with her mother in law, who seemingly had previously shooed her away like a stray dog. Ruth now worked in the fields day and night hoping to support her and Naomi. Ruth wasn’t going to make much doing this, but something is better than nothing.
Ruth’s work ethic though one day gets her noticed by a man named Boaz. Boaz was a few years older than Ruth. But the thing to know about Boaz is that he was one of the most eligible bachelors in all the land. Boaz had a good reputation; he owned the fields where Ruth worked, and people knew Boaz for his kindness. As Boaz saw Ruth work away in the fields he wondered “What’s her deal?” Boaz began asking around when he heard about her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi. Boaz became intrigued by Ruth. Boaz first offers Ruth water to drink. Boaz then gave Ruth the gift of extra barley to take home to Naomi.
Ruth goes home to Naomi talking about what a nice man that Boaz was. Naomi after earlier in the story figuring that she served no purpose now had her purpose come to the surface.
Naomi was going to help Ruth with a matchmaking plan. The thing to know about the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz is that it takes place during the Harvest. Boaz was going to be spending days and nights during the harvest at the threshing floor. Boaz was even going to sleep at the threshing floor. Naomi instructs Ruth to sneak into the threshing floor to lie at Boaz’s feet. Ruth’s moves were the definition of aggressive. Ruth was the aggressor in the relationship with Boaz at Naomi’s wishes. Ruth is saying to Boaz “marry me” in as forceful of terms as possible. Thankfully, Boaz felt the same way about Ruth. Boaz knew that Ruth might not have been his type being a woman from the land of Moab, yet Boaz is smitten with a woman so hard-working and loyal to her mother- in- law.
The story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz ends happily. Ruth and Boaz marry. Ruth and Boaz have a son named Obed. Whereas Obed might not be a famous name, Obed had a little more famous son named Jesse. Even if you don’t know Jesse’s name, you might know his son’s name. Jesse had a son who would be the greatest king that the land would ever know in David. David united the people like never before. The greatness of Naomi’s family tree though was just beginning. Centuries later, another descendant of Naomi’s would be born in the same town of Bethlehem to which she returned. This descendants name would be Jesus. The story of Naomi had indeed come full circle.
You see the story begins with Naomi thinking that she was told old to offer anything of value. Naomi had given up. In her descendant, Jesus he would encounter a lot of the same types of people: lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners and others on the margins of society. Jesus promised to be faithful unto people like these, regardless of whether the believed it to be possible. Whereas Naomi thought she had been abandoned, Ruth promised to be faithful unto her in both life and death. This is the same type of promise that her descendant Jesus gives unto us, today. Naomi’s story will play out like many of all our stories.
How does the story of Naomi relate to our lives? We all know someone like Naomi. We might even think of ourselves like Naomi. We wonder what the closing chapters of life’s story might have for us as a people? As long as God has us in this place, we have something to give.
Now matter how old a person might be the words of Jeremiah ring true “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
The story of Ruth and Naomi might appear to be a story of God and suffering and how things will work out in the end. That’s not Ruth and Naomi’s story though that story rather belongs to Job. The story of Ruth and Naomi is ultimately a story of the value that God places upon our elders. Ruth saw in Naomi what she could no longer see in herself. Ruth saw wisdom and understanding brought about by a life that no one would desire to live. Ruth saw God’s purpose in Naomi’s life at a point where Naomi had given up. Naomi and Ruth’s actions impacted those around them long after either of them were around to witness them. So the point is don’t give up on the days that you have left. Our actions today can influence thousands of years from now.
Why are you here today? I can not give the answer to this question. Perhaps you’re here to teach the Christian faith to a grandchild or a friend either in good times or suffering. God might even have you around to play matchmaker.
God has a plan and purpose for your life even if you might be like Naomi thinking that time has gone past you. Above all else the story reminds us that our God will come through in the end for his people. The following is the Biblical story of Naomi and Ruth as told in the Book of Ruth. Amen
 Ruth 1:17-18
 Ruth 2:1-18
 Hoffracker, Reverend Charles. “Naomi, Ruth, Boaz and You.” Lectionary.org. 2006. Web. Nov.2.2015.
Hoffracker is citing from Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids. MI. 1980. p.102
 Ruth 2:19-23
 Ruth 3:1-5
 Ruth 4:17
 Gerhardy, Vince. “A Love Story”. Lectionary.org. 2006. Web. Nov.2.2015
 Jeremiah 29:11
 Markquart, Ed. “Ruth: Old Testament Series: Ruth 4:13-17”. Sermons From Seattle.com. Web. Nov.3.2015.
First Lesson: Isaiah 25: 6-9
Responsive Reading: Psalm 24
Second Lesson: Revelation 21: 1-6a
Gospel Lesson: John 11: 32-44
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Friday, I was down in Esko helping Jeff Asmussen call the Silver Bay-Floodwood section championship game on the radio. For four quarters, it was a back and forth affair. Now there were forty seconds left in the game. The play was 4th and less than one yard. Floodwood was fifteen yards from the end zone and going to state. The game was the definition of a nail-biter. In true Silver Bay fashion, Carter Leblanc burst through the Floodwood line makes the tackle, officials measure, and the Mariners are going to win the game! Ozzie and I start high-fiving and probably display a questionable level of appropriateness for radio. I then remember that our videographer was all alone on top of the press box taping the game all by his Mariner lonesome. So I leave the booth to give him a high-five. The emotions of the “victory” were such that he’s crying out “tears of joy”. These tears were for his friends and how much excitement this event was going to bring to the school and people in the community.
Silver Bay going to State in football was unexpected, last year the Mariners were 3-6. Cromwell was considered to be the unbeatable power in the section. Here people were celebrating a reality that could have only been reality months before in one’s dreams explaining the tears.
Let me tell another story, shortly after leaving home for college, my sister Anne was having a 16th Birthday party. I knew that Anne’s birthday was going to be a really big deal in her life, so I would make the four hour drive home from Moorhead for it. Anne was so surprised that I would go out of my way for her; she burst into tears as I came walking into the door. Anne’s emotions were a byproduct of regardless of someone being absent in a given moment, they were promising to come through for you in the end.
Today, we gather as a Christian people to reflect on death: we remember seven saints of Sychar that have gone before us in the past year. Today’s lesson comes to us from Revelation 21. Let me tell you a little bit about this chapter of the Bible.
Revelation was written to people who stared at death every moment. Revelation was written by John the Apostle as he was exiled on the Greek Isle of Patmos for his faith. John writes Revelation to seven churches in modern-day Turkey who had seen their friends, families and neighbors suffer and die for the Christian faith. These people had shed all sorts of tears over their powerlessness to control the present, so John seeks to lay out a vision for the future.
This vision according to John will only be fulfilled after years of hardship, but this vision will ultimately result in a “new heaven” and “new earth”. Our passage today lays out a vision of a fallen creation being done away with, for a new creation to emerge.
Where many Christian people misunderstand, salvation is in its meaning. Revelation doesn’t describe salvation as merely coming down to individual people. Revelation 21 when all of creation will be redeemed, once sin and death finally leave the world behind for good.
The new creation or “New Eden” signifies the defeat of all who oppose God’s purposes. The promise of the new creation is that there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, or no more pain for the former things of this world have passed away.
This week in Confirmation, we were having a discussion about scary things from the Bible in honor of Halloween. We discussed things like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the number “666”, and Armageddon. Scary concepts like these are how people often think about the end times when the end times are rather defined by the Scriptures differently. The Scriptures portray the end times not in terms of fear but rather in terms of promise.
I think of the famous funeral words from 1st Corinthians 15 “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
As we gather today, we do grieve. We grieve those that have left us in the past year. We grieve that our lives shall never look the same ever again. But we remember that the tears that we shed are not permanent. On this day, we eagerly await our Resurrection, a day when every tear is wiped from our eye forever.
We celebrate that those who have gone before us are recipients of a promise that is proclaimed in our lesson “Behold, I am making all things new. Write this down, for these things are trustworthy and true.”
Today we remember those who have gone before us as we look towards this powerful vision of the future on All Saints Sunday. Let me say a few words about each of our departed saints.
Bertha Savonen: When I think about Bertha, I will always think about Bertha and Toivo. I remember the visits over on Garden Drive where Bertha, as you can imagine, would do nearly all the talking. Toivo sat in his chair with a twinkle in his eye hearing Bertha once again tell the tale of going sky-diving on her 80th Birthday. Once Toivo died two summers ago suddenly, not a visit went by where Bertha didn’t mention her longing to reunite with Toivo. Bertha also loved being a part of Sychar’s Mission Circle. On Bertha’s fridge hung a picture of Bertha, Esther, and Lorraine when they came down to visit her. Bertha cared deeply about the people of this church. What I will always remember about Bertha is when planning the funeral with Darlene her daughter, Bertha’s one wish for her service was that they have Zup’s cater it because Bertha knew how hard it was for the church women to serve in the kitchen. Bertha wanted to show her appreciation to them.
Lois Kind: Bob’s favorite story to tell about Lois was about the time when he was a highway patrolman and he pulled Lois over down by Gooseberry Falls and she never let him hear the end of it. It was difficult for Lois being married to a cop because she was such a worry-wort whenever Bob went out on call. For Lois’ compassion was such that she would pray for the deer outside once she thought it was getting too cold. Lois’ daughter Gail drove up from the cities nearly every weekend for the last several months of Lois’ life. Gail and Bob sat by her dying bedside for weeks and weeks. Gail told me that the reason she did this was because Lois would have done the same for anyone. In Lois’s last days she kept repeating the same phrase over and over again continually citing from the 23rd Psalm how “She shall dwell in the house of the Lord” after passing through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Mabel Jacobson: Mabel was a charter member of Sychar. We will remember her and Leroy for the many years that they ran Jacobson’s hardware in town. Mabel was a proud Norwegian and Saint Olaf grad”. This week, I talked to Mabel’s close friend Dorothy Ives about what she remembered about Mabel to which Dorothy recalled what a “true friend” that she was. How Mabel was so easy to have a conversation with about nearly any subject. Whenever I would go see Mabel what I will remember is what an interest she took in asking me about all areas of my life, but always giving the freedom to not have to give an answer.
Lorraine Hendrickson: Lorraine was a woman of “great faith”. Once Lorraine was unable to read from her Bible, she would listen to her Bible again and again on CD. When I went to see Lorraine, she would always have a particular part of the Bible to which she wanted to listen, and she nearly always had a question about the Christian Faith that she wanted me to give an answer. Lorraine was a formalist as she would not call me “Pastor Stew” for her it was always going to be “Pastor Carlson” no matter how I introduced myself.
My favorite Lorraine story is this. Lorraine was 92 years ago; she had fallen and ended up in the hospital in Two Harbors. When I entered Lorraine’s room, I had to announce who I was. I notice Lorraine had a picture that I didn’t recognize by her bed. I ask, “Who is this?” It turns out that Lorraine had met a 90-year-old boyfriend at the assisted living in Two Harbors. I have never seen such a happy hospitalized woman in my life as she starts telling me all about him while beaming. Lorraine’s boyfriend had even come to the hospital to see her as she recovered from the fall. So let Lorraine serve as an example that you’re never too late to have someone special to come into your life.
Arnold Overby: The one thing that I will say about Arnie is that he truly lived out his convictions regardless of what people thought of them. We will remember Arnie as a long-time history/ geography teacher and passionate environmentalist. One of Arnie’s former students recalled getting into trouble during his class and being forced to sit by herself in the back. She was then compelled to run the film projector and pay attention. This student today now works for the Minnesota Historical Society because of Arnie. We will remember Arnie for his love of Polka music and inline-skating. Arnie was a faithful member of the Thrivent Board for a number of years. Arnie and his wife Marlene were responsible for the Adopt a Highway stretch that Sychar has maintained since the mid 1980’s in the Split Rock area.
Darrell Carter: We will remember the humorous Darrell Carter as part of vaudeville act of the last thirteen years of his life “Darrell and Carol.” Holy Hilarity Sunday was one of their favorites of the church year. Darrell was arguably the best dancer at Sychar as we got to witness Carol and him dancing up a storm during Rally Sunday 2013. What I will remember about Darrell is that when he would go through the receiving line at church, I would always ask him “If he was staying out of trouble?” Darrell never answered the question but would instead flash his mischievous smile at me.
Kent Shamblin: Kent admitted that in the later years of his life Marion would get on his case about being a “grouch” to which Kent replied he just choose to be selective about his commitments. I had spent quite a bit of time visiting with Kent over the last several months of his life. Yet when I read Kent’s obituary I was blown away by the depth of his civic commitments: president of two Lutheran churches including this one, president of Saint Paul Winter Carnival, numerous non-profit boards including a stint with Saint Thomas’ Center for Non-Profit Management.
Kent really cared deeply about this church. When Kent was living at the nursing home in Stillwater, he would always bring up who we could get to serve as the officers of the church. Kent was an extremely thoughtful man, who sent me some of the nicest notes of appreciation that I have received within the ministry. Kent last preached here in November of last year. The reason that people enjoyed Kent’s preaching so much is that he was very contentious about the faith that he was going to proclaim. Before Kent’s last sermon we had a very engaging email exchange over how we proclaim the Gospel as Christian people. What it all comes down to is the promises that we here on this day.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”-1 Thessalonians 4:13
The ultimate point of our lesson is that at the times when we’re unable to make sense of it all. Our God is there. Our God is there eager to wipe away our tears and promising to turn them one day into tears of joy as our eyes lay sight upon the “new heaven” and the “new earth”.
The promise that we here today is that what lies before our eyes in the grave, is not what heaven and earth shall become.
So as we leave this place on this day, we remember those who have gone before us: Bertha, Lois, Mabel, Lorraine, Arnold, Darrell, and Kent. We remember them as sinners of God’s own flock, yet saints of God’s own redeeming. We give thanks for how they impacted not only this church, but the world around them. Yet as we grieve their losses, we reflect on God’s promises that “one day all things shall be made new”-Isaiah 43:19. We shall not ascend into heaven, rather heaven will come down to us in Christ Jesus. We await the day when the savior walks into our presence and gathers us into his arms forever. Amen.
 Revelation 21:1
 Koester, Craig. Revelation and the End of All Things. Eerdmann’s Publishing. Grand Rapids. MI.2001.pages 191-192.
 Revelation 21:4
 1st Corinthians 15:51-52
 Revelation 21:5
 Psalm 23:6
 The following story comes from Jennifer Ehlen-Niemi posted on the Cavallin Funeral Home Website on June 10, 2015.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Responsive Reading: Psalm 46
Second Lesson: Romans 3: 19-28
Gospel Lesson: John 8: 31-36
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling a story based on a real story. There was a church that I’ll call First Lutheran Church that sat in a town that I’ll call Leidner. Leidner was your typical Minnesota German farming community with the church made up of generations of the same large extended families. First Lutheran had gone through a decade of pastoral turmoil. Pastors had either been forced out or left for better jobs. Leidner was now going through another pastoral transition. Leidner was filling the pulpit Sunday after Sunday with whomever they could find that would be willing to preach. Nick had recently agreed to fill the pulpit. Nick was a chemical dependency chaplain in a neighboring community. Nick had all sorts of good qualities; he was kind, he was active in the community, and everyone knew how much Nick and his wife cared about people. Nick gave a decent enough sermon. Nick grew up in Leidner and had all sorts of family living there. People from First Lutheran Church began to wonder about Nick. They wondered if Nick could be their new pastor. A few individuals from the Call Committee decide to feel Nick out about the situation. Nick would proclaim his interest in the call at First Lutheran Church, which seemed like good news until Nick declared a couple stipulations. Nick wasn’t going to baptize babies nor confirm kids. Nick didn’t believe that either of these things had support in the scriptures. One of the members of the Call Committee called a former pastor to ask what of hiring Nick to which their former pastor Larry said “As long as you stop baptizing babies, you cease being a Lutheran Church, you might as well just call yourself First Church of Leidner and stop the charade.”
Today, we celebrate Reformation Sunday. We celebrate the famous event of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses which people consider to be the birth of the Lutheran Church. The truth is, though; we are not Lutherans because of anything within the 95 Theses. Our Lutheranism has an entirely different basis.
Some of the most common conversations that I have in the ministry are in regards to Confirmation. People will often say to me “I wish I had learned more in Confirmation.” You ask people what separates Lutherans from Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, or Non-Denominational Christians the answers are often difficult to express other than we like the Hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
What I want to do this morning is an attempt to sum up the Lutheran Faith in fifteen minutes, hence the sermon title. The key to understanding the events that we remember this morning in Luther forming a new church can all be summed up in “What we believe about Baptism.” You understand our beliefs about Baptism then you know Lutheranism. The reason that Baptism is so important to use is that it proclaims everything that we need to know about God’s relationship with us.
To understand our beliefs about Baptism look no further than Luther’s Small Catechism from which I quote.
What does Baptism do?
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
How can water do such great things?
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism.
So what is the meaning of Baptism? This week a friend of mine linked to an old article on the website First Things. A woman named Amy Julia Becker writes the article. Becker recalls how a few hours after the birth of her daughter, her husband breaks the news that they think Becker’s daughter Penny had Down Syndrome. The most difficult thing in the hours after receiving this diagnosis was hearing other parents cry out “she’s perfect” upon holding their babies in their arms when Becker knew her baby was anything but perfect.
Becker then began to ponder that Penny’s Down Syndrome was a reminder of a harsh spirituality reality that the whole universe is out of whack. We see this truth whenever we turn on the nightly news. Becker could see evidence of humanity’s brokenness whenever people would be awkward in responding to the daughter. Becker eventually came to see that Down Syndrome’s meaning we can perhaps find in that our imperfections remind us of the need for each and every one of us to receive God’s redemption.
The story with Down Syndrome babies, Alzheimer's patients, and Infants is pretty much the same. Their hope rests in God’s goodness, not their ability to articulate the how and why?
Today’s lesson comes to us from Romans 3.
The key verse is Romans 3:23-24 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
These verses describe the whole Christian experience. We all sin, we all have pain. God bestows unto us his salvation as a “free gift”. None of us will appear to be worthy on the last day, yet God will declare us worthy on the last day and Baptism serves as our sign of this. We do not baptize ourselves; rather God baptizes us. Baptism is the sign and seal of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus.
What Baptism reminds us is that there is no such thing as a perfect person. A two-year-old is just as much a real Christian as anybody else.
Let me tell you a story about a girl that I met hiking that I’ll call Annie. Annie grew up Missouri Synod. Annie went through Confirmation but was bored out of her mind during it. Annie then after high school left the church for some years and engaged in many of the rebellions of youth. As Annie entered into her mid 20’s, she decided to try to reconnect with her spirituality. Annie starts reading the Bible seeking to grow in her faith. Annie decides that she should be re-baptized as a mark of dedication of her new level of spiritual commitment. She then asks me whether I would baptize her in the Baptism River up by Finland?
My response was when you are Baptized as an infant this is when “you become a child of God”. Baptism is not about your dedication to God, rather it is about God’s dedication to you.
The reason we baptize infants is because none of us can even begin to imagine every twist and turns that our faith journey might take.
Where plenty of Lutherans misunderstand Baptism is thinking about it as a one-time act, Baptism is instead a daily event. We die nearly every single day to Sin.
Last Saturday, I was at the Gophers-Nebraska Football game. Nebraska was pounding the Gophers all over the football field. I had to watch Nebraska fans celebrate before me. I know what I wanted to say, but then I remember that I’m a sinner and what I want to say is that which should not be said. I know that I’m a sinner no matter how much I pray, read the Bible, or even regardless of how well that I preach. I die every day to my sins, yet God in his gracious response to me brings me forth to new life in Baptism through in the words of Titus 3 “A washing of renewal and rebirth”.
We hold Baptism in such high importance because of what it says about a Christian’s life. 1. We do fail. 2. We do sin in thought, word, and deed. 3. We can not escape ourselves, no matter how hard we try 4. Our great spiritual hope is that our God will pour out upon us his mercy and his grace.
We cannot separate our understanding of Baptism from our understanding of sin. All sin is brought forth by either spiritual pride or spiritual despair. Spiritual pride is our trying to rebuild the Tower of Babel. We put together a list of our accomplishments as a means of trying to impress God. Nick, who I talked about earlier, had an great resume as a Christian. I wish that I was as good a guy as Nick. The problem with guys like Nick in how they see God is always going to be spiritual pride. There can often be problems though with being too successful a Christian in that you lose sight of what makes Christianity.
Martin Luther was not a successful Christian. Martin Luther was rather an “honest” Christian. Luther only posted the 95 Theses after spending nights sleeping on concrete floors hoping to motivate himself to do better. Luther’s problem was not spiritual pride, but rather spiritual despair the concern of Luther being too far gone that God could not possibly save him. When Luther finally did encounter the Gospel “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther had been set free from a tremendous burden that it was not about Luther at all. Luther was free from not having to judge even himself, Luther’s eyes from that day forward would be perpetually pointed in the direction of the Cross. Baptism is ultimately express of The Cross because it reminds us of our God pours out his blessings unto the unworthy.
Let me close with a final story that I’ve told before. My first week in the ministry in Lamberton, Minnesota. A guy that I’ll call John dies. John wasn’t much of a church member; John wasn’t much of a husband, the one thing that people knew John for was how mean a drunk that he could be. John was going to be my first funeral as a minister. I’m talking to a guy that I’ll call Ed. Ed was one of the most influential members of this church. Ed was a big land-owner that is huge in a farming community. Ed was one of the church’s biggest givers. Ed asks me why we have John’s funeral within the church then Ed starts giving me a list of all of John’s faults. I knew that everything that Ed was saying was true. I said to Ed ministry that “John needs God’s Grace just like the rest of us.” I wasn’t going to get up there and proclaim where John was going to go upon death. What I was going to say though is God will save who he wants. Salvation comes via way of God’s decision, not our own. If God chooses to save lousy Christians like John, along with good Christians like Ed, the only hope that either of them will have in either life or death comes from God’s grace and mercy.
We struggle with Baptism because we want Christianity to be comfortable when in reality Christianity is never comfortable. We always seek to trust in our accomplishments, rather than to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to leave it all up to God. I had to DO something…so should you are the cries that failed Christians tend to hear.
The great spiritual truth as Amy Becker came to realize about her daughter Penny is none of us is perfect. This imperfection if why our faith is always pointing towards the cross. One day, Becker is sitting down reading a book with her daughter Penny about Jesus blessing the little children just like her. At which point, Penny bowed her head and began to pray. This scene reminded Becker that one day the world will be whole once again, but it will be God’s doing not ours.
“Let the little children, come to me,” Jesus said. “Let the Alzheimers Patients, come to me,” Jesus said. “Let the troubled monks like Martin Luther, come to me,” Jesus said. “Let the broken sinners, come to me when they have nowhere else to turn.” Baptism reminds us that we don’t know how and why we ultimately believe. We merely trust God’s promises to come through for us in the end just like he promises in our Baptism. Amen
 Becker, Amy Julia. “Babies Perfect and Imperfect”. First Things. Nov.2008. Web. Oct.22.2015.
 Becker. “Babies Perfect and Imperfect”.
 I found this point made in the comments section of the article “What I Like About Lutheran Baptism” by Chaplain Mike on Internet Monk published on May 25th.
 Chaplain Mike. “What I Like about Lutheran Baptism”
 Titus 3:5
 Genesis 11:1-9
 Becker. “Babies Perfect and Imperfect”.
 Matthew 19:14
 Paraphrase of Matthew 19:14
 Paraphrase of Matthew 19:14
 These paraphrases make the point about God is the actor and we are the audience in not only Baptism but also salvation.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.