Leaning Into the Promise of God’s Word

Watanabe, Sadao, Christ Carrying the Cross, 1968.

Watanabe, Sadao, Christ Carrying the Cross, 1968.

Each of us confronts the world with all of its possibilities of gain and loss. Risk and anxiety attend our every move. Therefore, the crucial question facing all of us – in every moment – in every time and generation – is the matter of trust. What or who can we finally trust? What is our foundation for hope in the midst of “shootings and rumors of shootings”(such as the recent mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida). This is the question of existence. It is this question which gives all of life its religious dimension. In the face of such risk and insecurity we place our trust here and now there … tempted to place our trust in the ways of our own human construction and the world – of materialism, nationalism, weapons build-up, some political party or messiah figure who promises to “save the day.” But then, ashes … ashes … it all falls down.

Join us this weekend in worship, as we hear the story of Abraham and Sarah’s tested journey of faith (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-18), a story that is spirited across the generations to Jesus pointing his disciples and us toward the shadows of a cross (Mark 8:31-38), as the biblical story becomes, once more, our story (Romans 4:23). How or why ought we to trust in the promise of God’s Word, when so many other words fail us? Cross your calendars.

j.r. christopherson
Senior Pastor

Cross, Not Glory

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Over the past few weeks people have noticed that our weekly blog post has been delivered by video. Sorry to disappoint our video fans this week. These kinds of changes don’t always transition smoothly.

This week in worship we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, where before the eyes of a few disciples Jesus changes, becomes dazzling white, and begins conversing with Moses and Elijah. The sight is awe inspiring and fear inducing. And rightly so. Unlike changes in our world that take time, planning and process, the transfiguration change on that mountain was immediate. The kingdom of God overlapping the kingdom of earth. Moses and Elijah step aside and Jesus his kingdom of mercy and grace take over.

Make no mistake, however. The kingdom of God is invading the world, but not with dazzling sights and never ending mountain top experiences. Jesus’ kingdom is established on the cross. It may not be the glory we hope for, but it is the kingdom that Jesus promises us. “Listen to him!”

Pastor Lars Olson

Our Life of Faith: Living Between Christ’s First and Second Healing Touch

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The Healing Touch (1987) by Tim Holmes. Commissioned by the Physicians
for Social Responsibility as their annual PSR Peace Award.

“And Simon and those who were with him pursued Jesus, [because he had gone out of the
fishing village of Capernaum early morning, to pray]. And they found him and said to him, 
Everyone is searching for you.’  And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns,
that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.’  And [Jesus] went throughout
all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and [healing the sick].”
(Mark 1:36-39; RSV)

To set the stage for this weekend’s sermon… St. Mark’s gospel begins with the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus like the enfolding wings of a dove (as the accompanying illustration tries to express) saying: “Thou art my beloved Son” (Mark 1:10-11).  And with these “touching words” of salvation, taking-up residence now in Jesus’ life (1:1), he moves forth to begin a ministry of teaching and healing, proclaiming: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand (1:15). 

Note the strong correlation between Jesus’ touch and the healing it brings to our oft’ frail, human condition. For Jesus touches a man possessed and he’s healed (1:21-28).  Then Jesus takes Simon’s bed-ridden mother-in-law by the hand and she’s healed (1:29-31).  But how is this true for us today?  How do we experience the healing touch, the coming of God’s kingdom that is “at hand” in Jesus?  As we live by faith, between Christ’s first (now some 2000 years ago) and second touch (when he ushers in the fullness of God’s kingdom at the end of time) … let’s consider three basic responses.

A first way in which we experience Jesus’ ongoing “healing touch” in our life today is through com-passion (meaning “suffering with”; cf. Galatians 6:2).  Paul Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist observes: “In simply being present for the other person, in simple acceptance, comes healing – no matter how great the suffering” (The Healing of Persons). Isn’t this exactly what Jesus did?  Accepting people – breaking-in from the outside – reaching-out to them – no matter their condition?

But now, secondly, where can this strength of compassion come from when we’re so banged-up ourselves?! Jesus leads us to the well-spring for this strength and renewal, as he himself seeks out a quiet place in gospel text (Mark 1:35; also 6:46, 14:32) … to pray … to stay in touch with the One who “knows our every weakness” (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16), the One who is the source of all strength and life.  Yes, Christ’s “healing touch” is always there for us in prayerful solitude.  And so we, with the early disciples ask Jesus where his power comes from; yes, “teach us how to pray’ (Luke 11:1-4).

A third and concluding way in which we experience Christ’s ongoing “healing touch” is through his sacraments.  So … what is a sacrament?  It is a means of God’s grace through which Christ promises 1) to be present; and 2) to forgive sin.  As Martin Luther observes: “Where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation” (Small Catechism; cf. I Peter 2:4).  Forgiveness and healing go together (cf. Mark 2:5; John 5:14).  And thus, this weekend as we come together for Holy Communion with open hands, needing the healing touch of Jesus, we hear his gentle voice saying to us: “Feel my real presence here in this bread and wine … for it is my body given for you, my blood shed for you … for the forgiveness of sin”  (I Corinthians 11:24-25).

The wonder and power of this sacramental “healing touch” was so moving for the ancient church father, St. Ignatius, that he professed: “The Lord’s Supper is the antidoton, the “antidote” for death (antidoton to me apothanein; see Paul Tillich’s A History of Christian Thought, p.23).

See you at worship this weekend as we gather around God’s healing touch of Holy Communion together with the “communion of saints.”  The peace of Christ be with you.

Dr. John Christopherson
Senior Pastor

Nothing Good, but Something Greater

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Have you ever stumbled upon something greater than you were expecting? Perhaps you went to the symphony to hear some amazing musicians playing some the world’s greatest compositions, but in the middle of the performance you found yourself taken not only with the music but with the connection to amazing human genius, emotion, and being. Or maybe you went to the grocery looking for ice cream and found the new gallon sized container and just stood there in awe and wonder. 

Jesus’ disciples have been looking, searching, waiting for the Messiah (John 1:41). John pointed Simon and Andrew to him. Phillip pointed him out to Nathaniel. They were all searching for someone great, pointing one another to Jesus for they were convinced that their search was ended. They had found what they were looking for.

Or did they? They were looking for something great, but could they have even known who Jesus was? Can anything good come from Nazareth? Come and see, for he might be all that you have been looking for, and more. Jesus promises that in him, “You will see even greater things than these.”

Pastor Lars Olson

More Connected But Lonelier Than Ever

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This coming Saturday night, we will celebrate the in-breaking light of the Epiphany Season with the premiering of a special candlelight service at 6:00 p.m. entitled, [LINK] "Festival of Light."  This is a marvelous opportunity for our entire Sioux Falls community to trace, and more deeply understand, the connectedness of the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany stories – including dramatic sketches, Scripture readings, together with the music of colorful brass, percussion, flute, organ and festival choirs of all ages. The service will conclude with the [LINK] visit of the Magi. Then, on Sunday morning, at all three worship services (8:00, 9:30, 11:00), we will celebrate Holy Communion together around God’s Word from Mark 1:4-11. It’s a Word that speaks not only of Jesus’ baptism, but connects you with the promises God has made for you at your baptism – as his beloved child. “You are my beloved daughter/son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; RSV)

Now let me ask you to stop for a moment and reflect. How often, if ever, do you think about baptism in general, or your own baptism, in particular? And what, if anything, does baptism mean to you? Do you consider baptism an important event in your life or no? Finally, would you agree that baptism is the most important event in our lives? Here’s why I ask … 

I’m certainly no “techie” (just ask my colleagues!) … However, I am struck big-time, in today’s culture, by the many data related expressions of affirmation. Facebook gives us the chance to “like” movies or music or posts and to have things we write or post “liked” by our “friends” in return. Twitter and Instagram for example, invite us to collect thousands of “friends” or “followers,” most of whom we’ve never even met! Right? And ads are increasingly personalized, targeting (“geo-tagging”) our particular tastes and creating the impression that we’re the most important customer in the world. And so on.

One of the reasons I think social media and various digital platforms are so powerful is precisely because they creatively offer affirmation (here’s that word again) in plentiful doses. Deep down of course, we know that this kind of affirmation doesn’t really mean all that much. Or at least shouldn’t. And many of the folks we encounter via the web, after all, don’t really know us and we don’t know them. So how can their “likes” or “hearts” create any enduring sense of value or worth? Yet, it’s hard not to wonder what’s wrong with the picture we posted to Instagram if only ten people “liked” it when another picture gathered-in hundreds. Right?

So, while this kind of affirmation may be somewhat superficial, it’s at least better than nothing. We crave that recognition/interaction because we are, at heart, inherently social critters. Almost every element of our being reflects God’s observation in Genesis that ‘it’s not good for us to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18). And so the affirmation, relentless as it is ubiquitous, social media creates the perception that we’re linked or connected to a community of all these like-minded, like-able people who really value or like us. If you, like, know what I mean.

But is this perception or illusion? In a book that was published in 2015 by Dr. Sherry Turkel, a Psychology prof. at MIT, entitled, Alone Together (TED Talk link), she’s discovered that people today report feeling simultaneously more connected and lonelier than ever before. Why? Because while we may crave affirmation (those superficial kudos of “likes”), what we really need is acceptance (valued just as you are, warts and all, by God). Come and hear more about this amazing gift, that no matter how unacceptable we are – being guilty as sin – we are still accepted and beloved by God, the very Creator of the whole Cosmos! This is what’s at the heart of baptism. And for a generation that’s been sold a cheap affirmation as a substitute for genuine acceptance, there’s no more powerful or important word.

May the light of Christ shine on you in this season of Epiphany,

 j.r. christopherson
Senior Pastor

Simeon’s Song: A Peculiar Carol

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“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy Word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence

 of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
                                                
                                                      (Luke 2:29-32; RSV)  

Over the past few days, while pondering the upcoming Gospel text for this weekend (Luke 2:22-40), from St. Luke’s nativity narrative, a question came to my mind that I’ve never really thought of before. Here’s the question: “After all the festive celebrations of candlelight services last Sunday on Christmas Eve, services that included the singing of uplifting carols such as Angels We Have Heard On High or Joy To The World … and after all the exchanges of brightly colored presents and fun-spirited time with family and friends … well … what-in-the-world are we doing here in this gospel text, talking about death?!” Huh? After all, St. Luke’s account of Simeon’s troubling song is simply haunted by the specter of death. Right? And so, alongside the other Christmas carols we’ll like be singing this weekend, this one sounds peculiar if not flat-out odd, almost dissonant (to use a musical expression). So, let me ask the question very simply, once more: “What’s all this talk about death doing in the middle of our Christmas celebrations of birth and new life?” 

Many of us know all too well, how the loss of a loved one makes this Christmas Season particularly difficult. And most of us are reminded of those we’ve loved and lost simply by singing a stanza from a hymn, the touch of a favorite ornament or an absent stocking on the mantle, the taste of peppermint stick … some fleeting but vivid memories of Christmases past. Well, guess what? Simeon’s no different. He’s an old man now (note the marvelous depiction of Simeon as interpreted by Rembrandt). And Simeon’s been around the block more than a few times. And so we can imagine that he’s tasted love and loss, joy and despair, hopes and fears, just like you and I. And so he sings of death simply because he can’t help himself, because he, like us, lives with death every day. “Thou sure and firm set earth; Hear not my steps, which way they walk; For fear the very stones prate of my whereabouts” (Wm. Shakespeare’s Macbeth; II,i,56).

But, take note here. This is more than merely stark realism. For St. Luke is clear that Simeon is able to speak of death so honestly only in the light of the coming of the promised Messiah; only, that is, by the con-fidence (with faith) that in this helpless child, God has come to redeem Israel and save the world (cf. Paul Tillich’s “Love Is Stronger Than Death” in The New Being, p.172-174). “Lord,” Simeon sings, “now you can let your servant go in peace; for your word has been fulfilled.” Simeon perceives, you see, that in the Christ Child, God has kept God’s promises (e.g. Isaiah 7:14; 9:1-7). That in this new-born baby, set for the rising and fall of many, God has acted “once and for all” (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 10:10; I Peter 3:18) to address the question and specter of death with the promise of new life.

Thus, we continue to sing Simeon’s Song, all these many years after the events of St. Luke has recorded for us, simply because it bears witness to God’s great love for us – a love that even death cannot destroy (Romans 8:37-39). For, like Simeon, we also need to hear and see (the proclamation of God’s Word) and touch and feel God’s promise (receiving the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), the promise that God will be with us and for us forever, the promise announced in the birth of that holy babe in a manger, now held lovingly in Simeon’s arms and ours. I hope to see you at worship this weekend, in hearing God’s Word for you; yes, to set the New Year upon a solid foundation …

A Blessed Christmas to you and Hope-filled New Year.

Dr. John Christopherson
Senior Pastor

Christmas Presence

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Christmas Presence
Shining
Upon You Now
and Throughout the New Year

A few days after Christmas, now some twenty years ago – while our little family was still living in Bozeman, Montana – I read the closing line from an obituary in the local newspaper: “On June 10th, 1939, she married. … And the couple lived together in Bozeman their entire lives.”

Her name was Anne Dornbos.  She had been a widow for many years, living alone in a little house, without any family.  In recent years, it had become something of a tradition for Cathy and I to pack the kids in a small sled and pull them “over the river and through the woods” … across town … to deliver Christmas cookies and cinnamon rolls to Anne.  But this year, Anne was Home (among the heavenly host) before we were able to make our delivery to her house on South Willson Ave.  “And the couple lived together in Bozeman their entire lives.” 

For some reason, this closing line from Anne’s obituary still strikes a chord deep in my heart, with the abiding warmth of the true Christmas Spirit.  Perhaps it’s because Cathy and I had come to cherish the calm, cradling mountain majesty of the Rockies over the chaos of The Big City (our former Chicago life) and all of its supposed “culture” … the sense of simplicity that transcends complexity … or enjoying, as we do again in Sioux Falls, the open prairie land of the Dakotas and the down-to-earth folks who reflect the honest humus of our humanity.  Like a Per Hansa or Beret of an O.E. Rolvaag novel.  Yes, such giants in the faith who still roam the earth. 

Deeper still, this homing, warming “comfort and joy” has to do with the sense of being wrapped once again in the serene serendipity of swaddling cloths spelled-out in, of all places, an obituary: “And the couple lived together in Bozeman their entire lives.” 

Isn’t this what the God-named-Emmanuel finally reveals most fully to us in the Christmas event and let’s shine into the upcoming season of Epiphany Season?  For you see … the baby Jesus couldn’t get into an inn (Luke 2:7c) – not even the Holiday Inn?  This comes from the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah who says: “Who am I?  Am I just a traveler on this land who stays at an inn?!” … Jesus couldn’t get into an inn, you see, because he’s not a traveler.  He’s not just movin’ on.  He has to be born on earth because he’s not going to pack-up and leave the next morning.  This is a permanent presence – a gift of God in person, con carne, “God deep in the flesh” (Martin Luther; cf. Luke 2:7; John 1:14; Colossians 1:15-20), for all our human frailty and need.

Yes, indeed … in person! … here’s the good news of the Gospel (cf. Mark 1:1)!  There will be no walking out of God’s promised presence, no walking out of the covenant.  There will be no abandonment – for all who feel lonely, left behind, outcast.  This is not some tourist.  This is One who is born on earth.  And the reason that Jesus – the Christ Child – couldn’t be born in an inn is because the only people who stay in inns are people who move out.  They stay a night and then they leave.  But “this, this” (v.1 of “What Child Is This?”) does not leave.  And we have God’s personal, incarnate Word on it – from cradle to cross.  O, heav’n and nature are still singing!  “And the couple lived together in Bozeman their entire lives.” 

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In the Spirit of this Christmas and Epiphany Season … wherever you are, wherever you may go in the New Year … may the light of Christ “SHINE ON YOU” and be gracious to you (Numbers 6:25) – knowing that you are never alone (Psalm 23:5; Matthew 28:20b; John 14:18f).  For the One named God-with-us, Emmanuel is always with you.  “And they lived together in Bozeman [Bridgewater, Beresford, Bogota, Berlin, Bergen, Bangladesh, Bethlehem …] their entire lives.” 

As a family of faith, among the people of First Lutheran Church, and beyond … our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, calls us to share his life and light (John 1:1-5; 8:12) … which breaks into a resounding song: “Joy to the world!”

A Blessed Christmas and Hope-filled New Year,

Dr. John Christopherson
Senior Pastor

Expect God’s Favor!

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Expectation is a big part of what Christmas has become for many people. There is an air of entitlement in our expectations as well. Many come to expect all they could want will be waiting for them under the tree on Christmas morning. Those absolutely perfect gifts you expect will be delivered.

The underlying tone of this expectation is receiving favor. To receive favor is best described as preferential treatment shown by somebody.  When we receive favor from someone else, we take on a connection with them. But we also know what it feels like not to be favored by someone; cast aside, of no value.

The words declared by Isaiah break into our own existence and declare that good news has come for those that are burdened or oppressed. To expect the Lord’s favor. However, when we hear this, our minds can go to work in two ways. One, we would ask: What is the Lord’s favor and how do I get it? And we set off on the zealous task of trying to gain God’s favor for ourselves. Or more likely our skepticism kicks in and we take a good look around and say, “Yeah right. With all that I am suffering, how is God showing ME his favor!”

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news…” The good news is that God never leaves those whom he favors, and those he favors are those whom He has revealed his Son, Jesus Christ. To know his favor is to know your sins are forgiven, and that your identity is found in Jesus Christ. His favor is known in faith, and in the calling, gathering, and enlightening through the work of the Holy Spirit and his Word so that in those times in your life when you struggle, he equips you through faith in Christ to have hope and peace, and that you will see the light of Christ even in your darkest places.

In this Advent time, we wait for God’s promise of his favor to come….in the form of a baby lying in a manger. Expect God’s favor!

What shall I cry?

Waiting is more than just standing in line at the supermarket wishing everyone would hurry a little bit. That can be annoying, but at least there is an end in sight. Waiting in a much deeper sense is enduring suffering, wondering when help will arrive. That's the situation the prophet Isaiah is sent to speak about in our Old Testament scripture this weekend. In the midst of exile, stuck in a far off land, the people of God are trapped in a generations-long wondering about when, or if, any help will come to them. There they sit on the edge of despair as a conquered people without power, strength, will or resolve to change their fortunes. 

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We all know something like this. Trapped between what we wish and what we experience, stuck with the knowledge that we lack the power to make things as we like. Yes, we don't like to admit it and we do a marvelous job convincing ourselves that there is something better just over the horizon – if just we could make it that far. "Just put one foot in front of the other and we'll make it there together" is our hope until even those hopes are dashed. A crushing disease, or a terrible accident? Enormous expectations, or unrelenting abuse? When there is no hope left in us, then who will come and help? What shall I cry?

This is Advent, when those who wither like grass wait upon and watch for the coming of Christ Jesus, as we hear God speak to the stuck, trapped, and oppressed, "Comfort. Comfort. Comfort. I am coming for you."

Pastor Lars Olson

Keep Awake

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Dear Friends in Christ,

Here we are, at the start of what the church calls Advent* and the world calls The Christmas Season.  In this weekend’s Scripture readings, however, we do not encounter visions of sugarplums or the sound of sleigh bells. Instead, we hear cries of lament and suffering from the prophet Isaiah: “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” the prophet wails. And then in the Gospel reading, Jesus warns that this age is quickly coming to an end, and we are to be alert and ready. He says, “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come. Keep awake.” (Mark 13:33, 37b)

To “keep awake” is to live with the intensity of living in the last days, while still tending to the good work God has given us. Surely you have been asked a question like, “What would you do if you knew you only had a month to live?” Your priorities would sharpen, your awareness would be heightened, you wouldn’t take so much for granted. However, living with this kind of intensity for an unknown period of time is, frankly, not possible. Gratefully, Jesus has given us more than exhortations, teachings, and warnings to help us keep our focus. By his coming into our world, by his death on the cross and triumphant resurrection, he gave us his very own life to hold onto when our faith, our trust, our hope, our own life reaches its limits and comes to an end. 

Once, Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he believed the world would end tomorrow, and he responded, “I would plant a tree today.” When Jesus bids us to live awake, on the watch, he is calling us to invest in the present and trust in the future that God alone holds. So let us live awake, alert, attentive to what God is doing through Jesus Christ – the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things. He was and is and is to come.  Amen!

Pastor Katherine

* P.S. The season of Advent is not only counter-cultural, but mysterious to Christians of all ages as we embrace themes such as waiting, hope, preparation, and anticipation among the “busy-ness” of this world. Concordia Publishing House has produced a 2½ minute video which serves as a lovely introduction to the season. I invite you to view it here.

Are you a sheep or a goat?

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Just when we are celebrating on Thanksgiving all of the blessings which God bestows upon us, Jesus’ teaching in our gospel text, Matthew 25:31-46,  goes back and not only challenges our Thanksgiving sensibilities, but actually offends us. Just when we are thinking we are doing pretty good in this life, and our “scorecard” looks pretty good, Jesus not only talks about the sheep and the goats; he tells us that he will divide all of humankind, blessing the sheep with the peace and glory of being in His presence for eternity, and cursing those who are the goats for all of eternity.

So what is really at stake here? This is a well-known text and normally motivates our thinking into action. We attempt to stave off being judged as a goat by trying to “do” the things Jesus talks about; feed the hungry, clothe the poor, take care of the widow, visit those in prison. We again look at our scorecard and say, “hmm…if I just add a few more good deeds, then I can surely justify myself and my life.”

However, there is a twist. In the middle of our mind setting off on the path of do-gooding, Jesus says, “the righteous will say, 'When did we do this?'” The offense of Jesus teaching is his exposing our self-righteousness, our ability to think we can earn God’s favor; that by doing good things for others, we actually gain points on our heavenly scorecard. He tells us it was not because we strove to be Mother Theresa, but that he used us when we did not know it or take credit for it – these times happened as the fruits of faith. Jesus names those who did not even know they had given of themselves in such a way as to not take any credit, and gives them an identity of righteous.

As we gather around the table this Thanksgiving weekend, let us give thanks for all of the blessings known and unknown to us. Not that we would dwell on the physical blessings of possessions, but that we would really recognize that in the ebb and flow of life, Jesus gives us our greatest blessing, himself. He gives us the gift of faith to know and trust in him so we might get just a small foretaste of the feast to come when we live in eternity with God.

Join us this weekend for worship as we hear what Christ has done!
Happy Thanksgiving, and many blessings on you and your families!

Jeff Backer, Intern Pastor

Simple Gifts, Amazing Possibilities: Giving “Passing the Buck” A New Definition

“For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted them his property; to one he gave five talents [“equaling a hundred years wages’], to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.  He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more.  So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more.  But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. … Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. … He who had received the one talent cane forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so, I was  afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.’  But his master  answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant. … you ought to [at least] have invested my money with the bankers [with a modest interest].  So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has made ten talents. …
And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness …” – 
Matthew 25:14f; RSV

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 Indeed. This is a troubling parable.  It’s one of four concluding “parables of judgment” in Matthew’s gospel, which Jesus teaches his disciples – just a few days before he suffers death on the cross [for our sake]. It doesn’t deliver what we expect. But while it alarms us (and it should!), it also brings us into serious reflection on what it means to be a true disciple. One who lives between Christ’s first advent and his second advent/coming.  Matthew’s gospel makes it repeatedly clear that the life of discipleship is costly, it means taking serious risks (cf. II Samuel 24:24).  Moreover, this “Parable of the Talents” [see Arland Hulgren’s excellent commentary, The Parables of Jesus, p.271-281] is not about what must be done in order to be saved or on repaying a debt, but on responsible ministry and mission in light of the Master’s/Jesus’ return.  As St. Paul would also remind us: “We have this treasure [i.e. the gospel of Jesus Christ] in earthen vessels [i.e. us!] (II Corithians 4:7). The grace in this parable – as it always is – comes up-front, in the form of the gifting of talents to ALL of the servants. The question remains … “Are we, especially in modern mainline Protestantism – that is waning in the winds of increasing religious pluralism, moral relativism, secular humanism – say nothing of personal complacency and messed-up priorities … “O, I’m just so busy” BUNK! – also like the servant sitting over the talent buried in the ground, not risking and not gaining or sharing, cuz we’re ‘afraid’?” (Which if you think deeper into this parable, the servant sounds a lot like another man who had all kinds of excuses and “passes the buck” … or should we say, “buries it.”  Cf. Genesis 3:9-12, 23.)

Let me leave you with this thought … in this season of Thanksgiving … and for you, among the family of First Lutheran Church, a time for tithing and pledging for ministry and mission’s sake … consecrating anew the many, many amazing talents (in all kinds of forms) that God has given us -  yes, the One from who ALL blessings flow.  We who are in Christ have an enormous, uncountable, unimaginable treasure – in Jesus and his saving love for us, and all people! The only “catch” with this treasure is that the only way to keep it is to give it away.  (Remember the song “The Magic Penny” we sang in Sunday School or Grade School?)  Then it comes back – doubled, tripled, and quadrupled in the form of others who will love Jesus with us.  So give.  Invest in the kingdom of God.  Not because you have to, but because you get toGive like you give to your children, because you love to see them healthy and happy. Tell others, like you tell stories of your favorite novel or vacation or your grandkids – without reserve or shame, like you can’t help yourself.  Give like you’ve been given to: when God sent his son to die on a cross for us.  Who can imagine such a gift? The litmus test of truth is with those who give abundantly in return – “whatever the gift may be.” Yes, to those of us … all of us, to whom much no, EVERYTHING has been given.  Thanks be to God!  From whom all blessing/talents flow … See you this weekend in praise and thanksgiving to God …

John Christopherson
Senior Pastor

Are You Prepared?

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“Be Prepared” is the way the Boy Scouts remind themselves to be ready, on the lookout, set to do their duty at any moment. Do you have the right skills? What equipment will you need? Better get prepared! Bring matches, but learn to start a fire without them. Carry a sleeping bag, but know how to build a shelter if needed. Be prepared for anything.

But can you prepare for anything and everything? Goodness knows we try. When all our plans fail and our fears overtake us, we are left wondering where to turn.

This week in worship, we hear from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. This is the earliest Christian letter in the Bible, where we get to hear the early challenges to faith in Christ. It seems that even those who believe in Jesus are dying, suffering and experiencing the troubles of the world. Jesus doesn’t seem to be very good protection from the struggles of life. There is no Jesus shield around churches that keeps the problems of the world away from us.

God’s encouraging word, however, is that we are not saved by our preparedness. For even those who have died are safe in Christ. The trials of the world may overtake us, but the good news of Jesus Christ gives us hope – a great hope that even death itself cannot take from us.

See you this weekend,
Pr. Lars Olson

The Beatitudes: Blessed Are the Upside Down

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When you were young, did you like to stand on your head? I know I did. There was something about it that made life a bit more lively. Grass hung in front of my eyes like Tarzan’s jungle. Trees grew “down” not “up.” The house seemed in danger of falling-off our corner lot. And the sky was a blue lawn that went on forever. For as long as I kept my balance I could dance on the clouds with my high-top Converse tennis shoes – while birds and planes flew under my feet. So, looking back on it now, some 50 years later, I’d sum-it-up this way: I liked standing on my head cuz it made me see old things in a new way. A world where trees grew-down and houses might fall-up. Where anything seemed possible. Blessed are the upside-down in life.

As I studied and listened to the gospel text for us this weekend (Matthew 5:1-12), it came to me that Jesus might have said to all those folk, sitting there on the northwestern shore of Lake Galilee. “OK, everyone. Before I share a beatitude/blessing, I’d like for you all to roll forward and stand on your heads.” Why?

The reason for Jesus saying this is because that’s exactly what he was about to do for them. Jesus was turning the known world upside-down … with what is basically a “transvaluation of values” (cf. Reinhold Niebuhr’s Beyond Tragedy, p.197-213). He was turning the world and all of its “ertly” values (Martin Marty) upside-down – including power, strength, wealth, or even health – in order that those who’d been buried at the bottom-of-the-heap suddenly found themselves closest to heaven; while those who thought they were king-of-the-hill found themselves flat on their backs, looking-up … now, perhaps for the first time, wondering. Hmm?

Jesus’ beatitudes turn us upside down so that we can begin to see that those who’ve been bruised for their faith (might this be you?) are not the “sad ones” but the “glad ones” because they’ve found something worth being bruised for – “for righteousness sake,” for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 5:10). That those who are merciful are simply handing out what they’ve already received in abundance (John 10:10) … You know, the world looks rather funny upside down; but maybe that's just how it looks when Jesus begins to plant our feet in heaven (sub specie aeternitas).  Turned upside down by the only One who really knows which way is UP!

I hope to see you “turning-up” and maybe even “upside-down” (!) at worship this weekend.

In Christ’s enfolding love, always …

j.r. christopherson
Senior Pastor

Forgiven… 

“One little word will fell him….” from A Mighty Fortress is Our God ELW #503

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All of humankind seeks relief from the burden of sin. Whether you experience this as sickness, stress and worry, or even death; we go through life often trying to placate ourselves in other things to find just a moment of relief.

Five hundred years ago, the Roman Catholic Church had used these feelings of oppression to profit from. Johann Tetzel, a charismatic Dominican friar, was sent throughout Germany to utilize the fear of God’s wrath in order that the church may raise money. Tetzel sold indulgences, a certificate stating the remission and forgiveness of sin. One might even purchase this great gift for someone else. In essence, the indulgence stated that God’s grace and mercy could be bought, nullifying the cross of Jesus Christ. It is in response to the sale of indulgences that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, on the castle church door, effectively starting the Reformation.

The message of the Reformation is that Christ has claimed you as His own, died for the remission and forgiveness of your sins, and raises you to new life. Sin, death and the devil do not have a final word over you, Christ does… and it is just one little word, for you… FORGIVEN!

Come, gather in worship and celebration this weekend as a family of faith. We welcome guest preacher Dr. Steve Paulson, professor at Luther Seminary and world-renowned Lutheran theologian as he will proclaim God’s Word for us that it may come through your ears and take residence in your heart in faith. 

Jeff Backer, Intern Pastor

“First Things, First: In Jesus’ Name”

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One of the classic films of our time (right up there with Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman) that really nails our human condition – in all of its angst and superficities of self-centeredness – is Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). A subplot in the story surrounds a stressed-out, Rolaids-popping, high-powered TV producer, who lives in Manhattan. His name is “Mickey.” As a big-time hypochondriac, Mickey has convinced himself that: “I’ve got this brain tumor the size of a basketball!” When his bluff is called by his doctors in ordering a brain CAT scan, Mickey tries to calm himself by saying: “Hey, everything’s going to be OK. I mean, you’re in the middle of New York City for heaven’s sake. This is your town. You’re surrounded by people and traffic and restaurants.” But the dark humor here is that these things are not all that reassuring. Mickey then embarks on a crazed quest to find true and lasting meaning in life. His job and the big bucks and all kinds of stuff just aren’t cutting it.

For the person watching the film, there’s the realization that the need for meaning is not a biological need. Neither is it a psychological need. It’s a religious need; a matter of ultimate concern in our lives; of what finally and truly matters most; where our first priorities ought to be. It’s a thirsting of the soul. The poignancy and dark humor (much like something out of a Flannery O’Connor novel) reach their climax in Mickey’s New York apartment – where he’s just returned from shopping …

The camera lens closes-in … on a darkened kitchen area … where Mickey slowly begins to unpack a brown paper bag – setting each item gently on a small table. The first thing he unpacks is a crucifix, looks at it and then sets it down. Next, he reaches in the brown grocery bag and pulls out a Bible. But before one can even ask the question: “Maybe Mickey has found the answer to his search for lasting and true meaning …” He pulls out a huge jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise from the bag, and then quickly tops-off-the-pile with a loaf of Wonder Bread (cf. John 6:35). As you can well imagine, at this point in the film, the audience is rolling in the aisles with laughter. However, in spite of all the humor, this is a very serious and telling commentary about us modern folk. Right?

Now … the voices that challenge Jesus in our Gospel text for this coming weekend, from Matthew 22:15-22, are the same kind of angsty, nervous voices that seek to entrap and entangle us; voices of 21st century Pharisees and Sadducees. Voices of legalism and authoritarianism recouched in terms of conditions and success. “You must do this, first. No! You must do that, first!” Jesus silences such voices by pointing-out all the Wonder Bread and Mayonnaise of worldly things that we’ve piled on top of what is most important – that which is most needful (cf. Luke 10:42), namely, God’s Word for us. Come and hear this Word anew, for you, this coming weekend at worship.

j.r. christopherson
Senior Pastor

Jesus’ Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Read Matthew 21:33-46

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In the Gospel text for this week, Jesus continues to address the question asked by the chief priests and the elders of the Temple, “By what authority…..” He offers yet another lesson based on the allegorical vision of God and his kingdom as a vineyard, but now shifting the focus away from inspecting the fruit of the vineyard, but focusing on the tension that arises between the owner of the vineyard and the tenants/workers that tend to the vineyard. It is very easy to understand whom the characters represent in this parable, even so much that the text ends by saying, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.”  However, this parable reaches right into our lives and our relationship with God, and it names us as well.

When we read that after the owner has sent multiple servants to deal with the tenants, only to have them beaten and killed, he sends his own son, “because they will respect him.” We find that absurd! Why would the owner do that? It does not make sense. It is completely unexpected. They reject the son, take him, and kill him, expecting to receive the son’s inheritance.

This is exactly what God did in sending His only Son into the world. Jesus Christ brought the fruits of the kingdom with him, which is God’s amazing grace and mercy, so that God’s people would know his goodness, and what do we do? We kill him, we push Christ out of our own lives, rejecting him again and again, rather than repenting and turning to him.

Is Jesus Christ the cornerstone of your faith? Without Christ, the wall of faith tumbles. Though we reject him time and time again, God gives us the Son’s and His inheritance just the same. Though it is absurd, we get more than we expect or can even imagine.

Come to worship this Sunday and receive the fruits of the kingdom which Christ gives of himself.

Jeff Backer, Intern Pastor