Sermons

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 27, 2021
Mark 5:21-43

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw Jesus, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24So Jesus went with him.
    And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32Jesus looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
    35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43Jesus strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

We all have our varied experiences of crowds – at sporting events, festivals, political rallies, marches, clogged freeways in our cars, sometimes even church events.

And we all have our particular reactions and responses to crowds. Some find them exhilarating. Others can feel claustrophobic when confronted by so many people. And many points in between on a continuum.

After sixteen months of physical distancing because of the pandemic, being in a crowd, especially one where people are not wearing face masks, would probably feel very disorienting to many of us, myself included.

I invite you to recall an experience of your being in a crowd of people. Get in touch with your memories of the physical sensation of being there, perhaps especially the sensate overstimulation of it all.

Now let’s place ourselves in our mind’s eye in the story from today’s gospel reading from Mark. As you hear the highlights of the story again, feel the energy of the throngs of people and goings on.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 20, 2021
Mark 4:35-41

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

35When evening had come, Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Many years ago, I had a wonderful boat ride on a very placid Sea of Galilee while on a tour of the Holy Land with a group of Lutheran pastors. It was idyllic as we celebrated Holy Communion on the boat – a replica of ones Jesus and his disciples might have used centuries ago.

But we were told how storms could suddenly rage down the mountain valleys to turn a normally placid, shallow lake into a churning, dangerous sea.

That’s the kind of storm Jesus and the disciples found themselves in as reported in today’s story from Mark’s Gospel.

In the biblical worldview, the sea was a metaphor for a place of danger, of unknown, malevolent creatures and forces, a symbol of chaos and evil.

Thus, we can find ourselves in storming metaphorical seas on the boats of our lives individually, communally in the church, and in nation and world.

Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2021
Mark 4:26-34

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

26Jesus said, “The dominion of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, the sower does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once the sower goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
    30Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the dominion of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
    33With many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Many of you who are watching this sermon video or reading the text of this week’s sermon, for one reason or another, have not yet had occasion to be with us in our outdoor church for Sunday worship in person. This is just to let you know that it’s been quite something, a lovely thing, to be gathered again as God’s people and to do so outdoors around our community garden, our “Plot Against Hunger,” which harvests vegetables for those who are hungry in our community.

When we gather outdoors around our vegetable garden, we are a living parable, a parable in action, rather like the parables of Jesus recorded in Mark’s gospel passage for today – the parable of scattering seed on the ground and the beloved parable of the mustard seed. As I proceed with this proclamation, I risk allegorizing the parables – a “no, no” according to biblical scholars. Perhaps at my best, my musings will continue the parables’ expansive meanings.

Thus, I invite you to reflect with me. In our “Plot Against Hunger,” our congregation’s gardeners literally scatter the seeds – or plant the seedlings – and they go home to sleep and get up the next morning, and so it goes for the weeks and the months of the growing season.

This earth on our church property produces of itself, the stalks, the head, the grain in the head. Then comes harvest time when our gardeners gather the produce to offer it all to community organizations who then distribute it to those in need.

And even if we are well-versed in botany and all the natural sciences, there is still a good deal of wonder and mystery about how all of this fertile growth happens, just as the parable says. Of the growth, the parable in Mark reports, “the sower knows not how.” And yet it happens, thanks be to God.

Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 6, 2021
Mark 3:20-35

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus went home; 20and the crowd came together again, so that Jesus and the disciples could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And Jesus called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a dominion is divided against itself, that dominion cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against Satan and is divided, Satan cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
    28Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
    31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

We were in fifth or sixth grade when my friend, Danny, introduced me to the verse from the Bible that appears in today’s gospel reading from Mark: “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

I’m sure I had no idea of what blasphemy meant, but I certainly knew it was not good! Danny was not accusing me, but informing me, maybe giving me a warning. But I was a very scrupulous child and serious about the Christian faith, so it didn’t take much to ignite the flame of fear. The idea of an unforgivable sin set me on a real tailspin for a while. Had I somehow sinned against the Holy Spirit and thus would not be forgiven?
That question with its possible answer was un-nerving to me in my vulnerability as a child who was eager to do the right things.

And that’s exactly how evil works and what evil does – it accuses us falsely, and scripture is easily warped, misused, and abused in the service of evil and its false accusations.

The Holy Trinity, May 30, 2021
John 3:1-17

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish people. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the dominion of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the dominion of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
    11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son-of-Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son-of-Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
    16“For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
    17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Last weekend, we returned to the fullness of our sacramental life as a congregation outdoors. On the Vigil of Pentecost, we celebrated the baptism of Axel Norwood Hedberg in the company of his extended family and some members from Resurrection. On the Day of Pentecost, we celebrated Holy Communion for the first time in over a year of fasting from our Eucharistic feasting.

Today’s readings for Holy Trinity Sunday help us make sense of what went on last weekend and what continues in our midst today as we celebrate the worshipful fullness of our life together.

Yes, today’s festival of the Trinity commemorates a doctrine, a teaching about God. But more significantly today’s festival celebrates the realities of the living God as we remember, acknowledge, confess and give praise to the God in three persons whom we’ve come to know through Jesus Christ.

So, let’s delve into today’s readings for the light that they shed on our sacramental life.

Day of Pentecost, May 23, 2021
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said,] 26“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, the Advocate will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
    16:4b“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to the one who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send the Advocate to you. 8And having come, the Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
    12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, you will be guided into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak out of the Spirit’s own authority, but will speak whatever the Spirit hears, and will declare to you the things that are to come. 14The Spirit will glorify me, taking what is mine and declaring it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, you will be guided into all the truth.” (John 16:12-13a)

I believe that this statement from Jesus recorded by John is among the most important in the Christian scriptures because it points to the evolving and unfolding qualities of the history of the church and of our understandings of the faith.

That is to say, the Spirit of truth has indeed been guiding Christians in the church into all the truth for some two thousand years.

This Spirit guided the church into truth in the development of the canon of scriptures, the books of the Bible that we hold dear.

This Spirit was at work in the early and ancient Councils of the church that led to the articulation of the Nicene, Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds, which are summaries of Christian truth that we still confess and to which we still adhere.

Which is to say, the Spirit of truth nurtured the church’s understanding of Christ as fully human and fully divine.

The Spirit of truth guided the development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons, a focus for our time together next week on Trinity Sunday, and the name of God into whom we are baptized.

Fast forward a few centuries… I believe that the Spirit of truth was vocal in the dynamics in Christian life that led to the Reformation in the West when the centrality of the doctrine of justification by grace effective through faith was recovered.

Advancing a few more centuries, I also believe that the Spirit of truth helped pave the way for the ordination of women, and the inclusion in the church’s ministries of persons from the LGBTQIA+ communities.

And more. You get the point. These highlights of church history are very much a partial listing of how, I believe, the Holy Spirit has been guiding Christians in the church into all the truth for two millennia, just as Jesus promised as reported in John’s gospel.

This guiding light of truth we celebrate on this Day of Pentecost.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2021
John 17:6-19

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus prayed:] 6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

You know me well enough as a preacher now to recognize that I am captivated by words, and how significant words in the appointed Sunday readings command our attention. Two weeks ago, it was the word “abide” that continued to echo. Last week, “joy” drew our attention.

This week, it’s the personal pronouns in today’s gospel reading from John: I, you, we, they, mine, yours, their, and on and on.

I have a sense that I have focused on personal pronouns in a previous sermon with you. But today, as far as I am concerned, we cannot escape attending to the personal pronouns in the passage from John, because according to my count, there are some 90 forms of personal pronouns in this comparatively brief passage of 14 verses. Generally, a word is significant if it’s used more than two or three times. Again, there are about 90 forms of personal pronouns in today’s gospel. That’s huge.

John records Jesus addressing God in prayer in this passage, a prayer he prayed in the presence of his disciples during the lengthy farewell discourse in John that occurred on the night of Jesus’ betrayal.

Listen again, briefly, to get a sense of the extent and significance of the presence of personal pronouns here: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (John 17:6)

And again, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11)

It’s normally pretty easy to overlook personal pronouns in discourse. In doing Bible study, pronouns may not be the first words one examines for discerning the meaning of a passage. But not in this reading for today with 90 forms of personal pronouns.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2021
John 15:9-17

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in my Father’s love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” This is a lovely saying of Jesus that John records in his gospel.

Who doesn’t want joy that is complete? I’ve noticed a lot of commentary in the things I read on those who research happiness, scholars trying to explore just what happiness is. Researchers conclude that happiness is an elusive phenomenon and very difficult to define and challenging consistently to experience.

Finland was recently once again determined to be the happiest nation on earth – much to the mystification, apparently, of the Finns who admit to being often rather melancholy.

It may be that happiness research is driven by the fact that we seem to live in a particularly joyless era, made the more so by the ill effects of this long-lasting pandemic. Thus, questions of joy, of happiness, of contentment are front and center in these days.

Just what do these terms mean? For example, is joy the same as happiness?

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021
John 15:1-8

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said:] 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2My Father removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit my Father prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

If we took the time to read again this passage from John’s Gospel, engaging it slowly, savoring it, what words would stand out and continue to echo, reverberating in our minds and hearts?

Surely one such word is ‘abide.’ Listen again to Jesus’ words reported in John: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me…. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

The word, ‘abide,’ appears 8 times in this brief passage, clearly an important word in John.

Abide. What does it mean? If we allow our minds free play, other related words appear on our mental horizons which help reveal the meanings of abide – to remain, wait, delay, dwell, remain behind, survive, expect, to suffer, stay, continue, endure, last, pause, reside, sojourn, stand firm. And more perhaps.

Abide is an Old English word. And the New Testament Greek word also has many the senses of the words I just listed.

What’s striking to me is just how countercultural it is to abide. Abiding involves slowing down, staying in one place for a while.

Our fast-paced, multi-tasking contemporary world and its routines seem to demand the exact opposite of abiding.

We are today beckoned to live like humming birds in almost constant motion, flitting from one thing to the next.

Scholars and pundits and we in our common experience are beginning to become increasingly aware of the toll our multi-tasking busyness is taking on our mental and physical well-being.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 25, 2021
John 10:11-18

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said:] 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

This day in Eastertide is Good Shepherd Sunday. Hence the inclusion in today’s readings the beloved Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters….” And on this wonderful psalm goes.

It does sound wonderful, doesn’t it? To lie down in green pastures. Picture that in your mind’s eye, occasions when perhaps you have laid yourself down in a meadow on a bright, sunny, warm day genuinely to relax and to be at peace.

The language sounds so gentle. The image so compelling. To lay oneself down for a nap or a good night’s rest after a long, hard day.

But lying down has other not so pleasant connotations. As when our beloved ones are laid to rest after death. Or in my Pittsburgh days where and when cremation was not common and visitation in funeral homes was the norm to view someone “laid out” in the coffin. Enquiring about which funeral home to visit, members routinely asked me, “Pastor, where is he or she laid out?”

Another unpleasant connotation is when something or someone is laid off or laid aside, laid down to be forgotten.

Or take the bedtime prayer that I grew up with – and maybe you did, too: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Wow. What an early childhood lesson in mortality to pray that prayer every night…. When my niece and nephew were young, my brother and sister-in-law changed the “if I should die before I wake” part to this: “guide me through the starry night, and wake me when the sun shines bright.” That’s much more palatable to our sensibilities.

But in a culture that routinely avoids the subject of death, maybe childhood lessons in our mortality are not such a bad thing (but maybe not in a child’s prayer every night just before bed).

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