Thoughts for Sunday

Shame, Enemies, and Rejoicing

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Advent is truly a time of preparation, expectation, and longing. Advent carries a somber tone and soon-but-not-yet feeling, yet these descriptors give us the idea that there is no joy presently and we are just waiting for the real event to begin. That, I suppose, is why Advent is for most people just a placeholder for Christmas. It is the starvation diet you endure in order to pig out at the party. No wonder there is such a strong pull to call Advent the “Holiday Season”—because everyone is always looking for more joy!

Fear not, and rejoice! The Prophet Zephaniah (3:14-20) has come to rescue you from the dark, dreary, and joyless Advent. Sing loudly with exaltation and gladness. Shout with all your heart about the great and powerful God who has claimed you, for God is doing the same about you. God rejoices over his people and saves them from shame and despair, changing them into praise, renown, and jubilation.

But you say, “But I don’t always feel it.” Of course not. Don’t be fooled so easily. We don’t always have the joy of Christmas or the warmth of summer or the constant care and support of family and friends. When we do, it’s natural to sing and rejoice, but Advent and Zephaniah remind us that we don’t praise God only when we feel and experience good things. We rejoice even in exile and longing.

Sing aloud, shout with joy! For in all times we have a great and mighty God who loves us in Jesus Christ.

~Pastor Lars

Beginnings and Endings

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

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This assigned text from the book of Revelation signals the conclusion of the church year: Christ the King Sunday. It bears witness that God in Christ is the Author and Redeemer of all things: the Alpha (the first letter of the Greek alphabet, symbolizing “beginnings”) and the Omega (the last letter of the Greek alphabet, symbolizing “endings”). This is to say, every “tick” and every “tock” of time and history has its source and being in God. And nothing, not even the “dead ends” of death or decay in our lives, are beyond the redeeming reach of God’s restorative power.

One of Martin Luther’s famous sayings is that: “Next to Holy Scripture, music deserves the highest praise” (TR 4441, 7034, 968). And so I’d like to draw upon God’s great gift of music, come this Christ the King Sunday, to serve as an instrument in sounding God’s Word of saving grace for you…moving up and down life’s scale.

I’ll begin the sermon with a true story about an old cowboy named Bill, whom I met back in 1980, while riding on an Am Trak train that took me from St. Paul, MN, to the northwest corner of Montana. Something happened in our conversation that triggered some thoughts, now some 40 years later, that I’d like for you to mull over between now and this weekend at worship.

Here’s the heart of it…The musical scale, on which is built every melody ever hummed or sung or written or played, is a simple mathematical structure of 8 steps (sing them with me): DO-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA-TI-DO. The first and the eighth step sound the same don’t they? DO-DO. The beginning and the end are alike. Right? We can hear that likeness and continuity between start and finish. And in relation to God the same is true (cf. Revelation 1:8).

The Bible itself reflects this reassuring message at its start and at its finish. Think about it…From the very first page to the last, God is at work in a way that’s wonderfully consistent: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This is the first verse of the Bible. Near the finish, almost at the end of the book of Revelation, St. John the seer says: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…for the home of God is among us…mourning and crying and [death] will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

In the same way, the Bible speaks of Jesus as the “pioneer and perfecter” of our faith; the King James Version says “author and finisher” (Hebrews 12:2), the first and the last – the One who begins and the One who completes our trek, our pilgrimage that comes from and returns to God (Psalm 121). And so, in the beginning: “the heavens and the earth.” And in the end: “a new heaven and a new earth.” DO-DO. Let this sound a wonderful homing, tonic chord for your soul this day – in this Season of Thanksgiving – joining into one grand scale, from heaven to earth come down, all the Re-s, the Mi-s, and the Fa Sol La Ti-s!

I greatly look forward to sharing the STORY with you this coming, Christ the King Sunday.

j. r. christopherson
Senior Pastor

Love in the Ruins

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A Reflection on Mark 13:1-13 by Pastor Katherine Olson

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs…The one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:7-8, 13b)

A few days ago, actor Liam Hemsworth publicly shared this picture of his home in California, which was devastated by one of the recent wildfires. In the pile of ashes and rubble, a sign that once adorned his wall could still be read: “Love.” In a posting that accompanied the photo, Hemsworth went on to praise the firefighters, emergency workers, and volunteers who came together to help in the community’s time of crisis.

This photo reminded me that devastating things do happen in our world, but God’s love remains forever. God’s love for us cannot be defeated in any war, or be extinguished by any fire. For thousands of years, Christians have found comfort in Jesus’ words in Mark 13 as they have faced times of instability. It’s a comfort to hear of our Lord speak of such realities that plague our world and remind us that these things will not be the end of us. Instead, they are “birth pangs.” (v. 8) Out of such painful turmoil, God will deliver us into new life.

It is hard to understand why these realities exist in our world, but one clue comes to us in verse 10: “The good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.” God is working in this age (marked in part by sin and suffering) to bring people of every nation to repentance and faith through Jesus Christ.

As God continues to work in the midst of this uncertain age, we commit to remaining faithful, not being led astray (v. 5-6). We meet times of anxiety and uncertainty with confidence and courage, knowing that God’s Holy Spirit has been given to lead and guide us (v. 11). We commit ourselves to preaching the gospel and engaging in acts of service for the sake of our neighbor. We remember that God’s love comes to us even in the ashes, as it has come to us most especially in the cross of Christ.  

See you in church,
Pastor Katherine