Thoughts for Sunday

In Sunday’s Scripture narrative, the Israelites fear they are leaderless because Moses has been gone for 40 days.  So, they revert to worshiping a golden calf!  “What were they thinking!”  Not so fast.  They’re scared and want what is familiar.  And therein lies a critical difference - - between serving idols and trusting God.  We humans easily confuse the two, however, and it’s important to understand the difference.  One is about control, the other about love.   

Here are some huge differences between idol worship and worshiping God:

  1. God is the creator (and owner) of all that is - - life itself.
  2. Life therefore is not finally our own - - we are managers of that life and asked to live in a way that is pleasing to the Creator.
  3. The core of what pleases God has been revealed in Scripture, most richly through Jesus - - we best describe it in the word “love” or “compassion”. This, in its many forms and manifestations is what the worshiper of God is called to - - a very different “bottom line” from other gods.
  4. Yes, there is reward promised - - it comes imperfectly in this life through greater joy, blessing and meaning.  But it is promised completely in the life after.

It’s fascinating to follow the logic of this and compare it with where worship (or first loyalty) leads with idols such as riches, power, fame, nation, recreation - - all good in themselves - - or, evil itself.

The Prison of Want

"Agnus Dei" by Francisco de Zurbarán

"Agnus Dei" by Francisco de Zurbarán

(EXODUS 12:1-13; CF. LUKE 22:14-20) 

This coming Sunday, God’s Word wings its way once more into our hearts as well as filling our hands with the sacrament of unleavened bread and wine (holy communion) …  as we hear again the story of God’s salvation in the central, defining event of the OT; namely, the Exodus with its entrée point of “The Passover.”  Specifically, we hear God’s concluding instruction to his people Israel as they begin their exodus journey, out of the bondage of Egypt: “In this manner you shall eat [the Passover meal of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs and wine]: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste” (Exodus 12:11). 

Briefly recall from last week, how in the concluding chapters of Genesis, Abraham’s descendants move from the land of Canaan – due to a devastating drought – into the land of Egypt.  Some four hundred years later, these descendants (the people of Israel) become a great nation (Exodus 1:7), numbering several thousand – thanks to “Uncle Joseph” who became Egypt’s Secretary of Agriculture.  But Israel’s great prosperity led to idol worship and immorality (Judges 24:14).  Soon the Egyptian Pharaoh, Sethos I pressed them into slavery and hard labor – building what we know today as the great pyramids, in order to maintain control over them.

And so, for yet another couple of generations, the people of Israel suffered great persecution, until around 1280 B.C., now in bondage to a new Pharaoh, Ramses II.  The Israelite people lifted their repentant pleas to God for deliverance … and God heard their cry (Exodus 2:4).  And by God’s freeing power, through his servant Moses (which is our story for this week) God passed over their sin in his great mercy, setting them quickly on an Exodus journey of unleavened bread, through the Red Sea and wide ‘n wooly wilderness, into the Promised Land. So some questions: 

The Prison of Slavery to Pharaoh.  How-in-the-world does this relate to our lives today? 
Might such a slavery be one of living in a daily “Prison of Want”? 
The Passover meal with its unleavened bread and wine, roasted lamb and herbs.  So where’s the Lamb in our Christian observance of this Passover meal in Holy Communion? (Read Luke 22:14-22)
Overall, how does the Exodus journey to freedom’s home connect with us today – some 3300 years later?  What are we freed from?  And what are we freed for?

  dr. j.r. chrisopherson 




Thoughts for Sunday

Last week, we read about God’s promise to Abraham, that Abraham would one day be blessed with descendants as numerous as the stars.  This weekend’s Scripture reading, Genesis 15:15-21, narrows in on one of Abraham’s most notable descendants: Joseph.  Some of you Bible students or Theater enthusiasts will be familiar with Joseph’s story, but if not, here’s a brief overview. 

Joseph was the youngest of twelve sons and highly favored by his father Jacob, also known as Israel.  When Joseph was a young man, his jealous older brothers sold him into slavery, telling their father that Joseph had died.  Joseph started off as a slave in Egypt, but soon Egypt’s most influential leaders recognized Joseph’s hard work and prophetic powers.  Joseph rose in stature and entered into a position of power as he enabled Egypt to survive a devastating famine.  Joseph’s brothers eventually came to seek help from Joseph in Egypt, not recognizing him as their brother.  Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and they tearfully reconciled themselves to one another.  The brothers quickly traveled back home to fetch their ailing father, Israel, allowing Joseph and his father to be reunited shortly before his death.  Genesis 50:15-21picks up just as their father Israel has died.  Click here to read the passage. 

My sermon this weekend will explore the theme of forgiveness as we also learn about the Facing Addiction program that is launching at First Lutheran Church and other churches across Sioux Falls, together with the recovery coaching organization Face It TOGETHER.  To get a preview of what this program is all about, click here.  

I’m aware that discussion of the Facing Addiction program this Sunday will stir up some feelings of worry and anxiety in our congregations, and I will try to be sensitive to this.  The disease of addiction can cause so much pain and heartache, and create a need for reconciliation among families and friends.  Those who have not successfully sought treatment are often aware of the pain their addiction causes loved ones.  Those who have been in recovery for some time, or those still on the journey, perhaps cringe at the thought of past behaviors and events, even if amends have been made.  Furthermore, even those who do not experience drug or alcohol addiction personally can still experience plenty of guilt when the subject is raised.  These friends and family members ask themselves: “Could I have done something differently to help him?”  or “Why didn’t I see the signs earlier?” or “I didn’t know how to be a supportive friend to ____, so I just gave up.”

Beloved children of God, fear not!  God’s mercy is far greater than our sin.  Christ is ours, forgiving our sins and comforting us with the promise of eternal life through the preaching of the word and the gifts poured out on us in the sacraments.  Though humans meant to do evil to him on the cross, God worked through his life and death for good – our good – in order to bring about eternal salvation.  He knows our faults and failures and bids us to give them up to him, that we may take hold of the new life he has given us so graciously through the Holy Spirit.  All thanks and praise to the One who is faithful in all times, in every circumstance. 

See you in church!
Pastor Katherine  

Thoughts for Sunday

“And the Lord God brought Abraham outside [his tent] and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’  Then he said to Abraham, ‘So shall your descendants be.’  And Abraham believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  (Genesis 15:5-6; cf. Romans 4:3,9; Galatians 3:6)

The Starry Night (1889) Vincent vanGogh

The Starry Night (1889) Vincent vanGogh

In our Old Testament reading for this coming weekend, our forebears in the faith – Abraham and Sarah – offer a wonderful witness as to how Christian hope can only be based on God’s promise. For our days can also become skirted by clouds that block our vision from the stars … clouds of doubt, dis-ease, despair … “How long, O Lord, must we wait?” (see also Psalm 13:1-6; 35:17-18; Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4) … But then again, it is precisely into such barren times – when the gestation period of God’s justice and mercy seem so long in coming – that God fills us up – speaking his creative and renewing word of reassurance. No, they’re not words written in the stars but written into the raw stuff of our lives – mangered and mingled under the Bethlehem star of One who says to us, as with Abraham and Sarah, again this day: “Don’t be afraid. Press on toward the promised vision. I’m with you always, even to the end of the age. Be merciful.  Feed my lambs. Teach your children in the ways of godliness.  Risk. Whoever loses one’s life for my sake and my gospel will save it. Take up your cross and follow me.  Trust in my promise, for you have my Word on it. Cross my heart.”

 Let us pray: Lord, we give you thanks for your Holy Word that breaks in upon our self-centered darkness and doubt … a Word that calls us to trust in you ABOVE EVERYTHING ELSE … Yes, the very same Word that came to Abraham and Sarah of old, to us right NOW … in-spiring us to lean upon your almighty promise: to “count the stars” rather than the cost; to “count our blessings” rather than our losses; to “count on your forgiveness and grace” and know that you make all-things-new (Revelation 21:5). Old-fashioned? NO. But eternally NEW, NOW. In the name of Jesus Christ – your Word made flesh – we pray. AMEN.

 “Look at the stars!  Look, look up at the skies.  O look at all the fire-folk of faith sitting in the air [cheering us on].”
(Gerard Manley Hopkins; The Starlit Night)

                                                                                                                   dr. j.r. christopherson    

Thoughts for Sunday

Right from the start, humans wondered, hoped, and experimented with what it would be like to be free of God’s Word. It’s so confining and limiting. What if there was a more ‘free’ way of living. Why can’t we just live by our own choices, follow our desires, and find out good and evil on our own? Isn’t there another, better, word by which to live? That’s exactly what happened. In the garden the fruit was eaten, and now the knowledge of evil is unleashed. We can’t control it. Instead, this knowledge is unleashed upon us; it frightens us, causes worry, and troubles all of human existence. What is God to do with such wayward human creatures?

—Pastor Lars Olson

The Prophetic Voice of Christ for a Complacent Church and its American Culture

In our gospel text for this weekend, Jesus says to the great multitudes who’ve been following him: “If any one comes to me and does not hate [one’s] own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even [one’s] own life … cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26; RSV).  Really?  “Hate”?  In Matthew’s account, some of this “bite” is softened with Jesus saying: “[Those] who love father or mother more than me [are] not worthy of me …” (cf. Matthew 10:37; RSV).  However, the question still remains: “Why ‘in the world’ would Jesus use such extreme language?!  What is he trying to get at here?”

 Some questions to be asking for this Sunday’s Gospel Reading from Luke 14:25-35 …

1.     Why were the “great multitudes” (Luke 14:25) following Jesus?

2.     How might this be contrasted with the earlier verse in Luke’s gospel when we read:  “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be received up [i.e. crucified], he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51; RSV.  See also 9:52-62)?

3.     There is plenty of “tough news” in this passage; but where is the “good news”?

A Prayer as we prepare our hearts and minds for this Sunday: “Teach us anew this week, O Lord, that the deepest mystery of life is that we will only be fully satisfied when we give it all away – our whole lives – as you gave your life upon the cross for us – that we might have life and salvation, always … in you.” Amen.

 – Pastor John Christopherson

Healthy Cooking Classes with Sanaa

Come, watch and learn about cooking healthy meals in this two-week cooking series with Sanaa Abourezk, owner of Sanaa’s Gourmet Restaurant. Sanaa shares about healthy eating and cooking while on a budget. 

Sanaa is a gourmet chef, author, nutritionist and blogger who is passionate about the art of cooking and teaching great recipes. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering and a Master's degree in Nutrition. Her training includes cooking school in Florence, Italy, and the famous Cordon Bleu Baking School in Paris, France. She has worked as a nutrition adviser for the South Dakota Department of Health, where she advised clients on nutrition, cooking, and healthy eating. A talented creator of healthy and delicious recipes, she has published three cookbooks. Sanaa has appeared and competed on the Food Networks “Beat Bobby Flay” and has been featured in the “Real Food Traveler.”

“I am a person who believes in the role of good healthy eating for our body, soul and our quality of life. I would love for people to go back to the kitchen and start using simple, inexpensive ingredients and start to cook and eat healthy and having pleasure doing it.”  
– Sanaa


Tuesday, Sept. 13, 6-7 p.m. “How on earth do I even start eating & cooking healthy?”
Sanaa will explain eating on a budget, balancing nutrition, how to prepare a proper food pantry and how to choose the healthiest ingredients for your dishes. She will prepare a few fresh and easy recipes for everyone to sample, and answer questions.

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 6-7 p.m. “How do I put all that nutrition information together to make a fabulous meal?”
Sanaa will prepare some of her fabulous healthy gourmet dishes for sampling and teach us how to make those not-so-healthy recipes a little healthier.  You may bring some favorite recipes and Sanaa will show you how to make simple changes to make them healthier.  She will cover cooking gourmet food on a budget and cooking for one.

Register today! The classes are free but you must register to attend. Please stop by the church Information Desk, call 605-336-3734, or register here. Register early, class size is limited.

Thoughts for Sunday

In Luke 12:49-56, Jesus challenges our thinking with three provocative statements summed up by the words "fire," "baptism" and "division."  If these were the only words of Jesus we had, you'd think he was talking about an American political campaign!  We're forced to interpret them in light of other things he said.  Here is my take: "Fire" can destroy, warm, light the way or fuel great things.  Maybe Jesus means all of that and more.  He wasn't killed for being bland but clearly challenged as much as comforted.  Martin Luther caught this when he divined how the Word of God works in our hearts – sometimes as Law (what we should do or shouldn't and didn't) and Gospel (good news, forgiveness, promise).  That would explain why the "fire of God's truth" has a way of stirring things up, saving, inspiring, confronting, even destroying – no wonder Jesus causes divisions.  That's not his point, but in a sinful world, that's what will sometimes happen.  His "baptism" refers to his coming immersion in the human condition – his death on the cross and resurrection.  Interesting that he speaks of "stress" in anticipating it.

– Pastor Peter Strommen

“The Holy Trinity: God ‘With Us,’ ‘For Us,’ and ‘In Us’”

Some seventeen hundred ago, so the story goes … the brilliant bishop and father of Western theology, St. Augustine of Hippo (North Africa) … set out to write a book on the Holy Trinity (De Trinitate, ca. 420 A.D.) on the basis of Holy Scripture and history of Christian thought. The reason for such an enormous venture (ca. 400-420 A.D.) was Augustine’s deep conviction that this doctrine – regarding the triune nature of God – is a foundational tenet at the very heart of the Christian faith. Augustine knew well that it’s one thing to say you believe in God; but what finally matters is the kind of God you believe in …

Gifts of the Spirit

This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost. It is one of the most important days of the church year, in which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to create the church of Jesus Christ. The event is recorded in Acts 2 as a violent rush of wind from heaven. It shocked the disciples, who then began speaking in tongues, or languages from other parts of the world. This gift foreshadows what is to come for the apostles, as well as pointing out the true work of the Spirit. The apostles will be sent by the Spirit into the world, to preach the good news in any language needed. And the Holy Spirit will give gifts, "Spiritual Gifts," needed for this one task.

An Analysis of St. Paul’s “Argument”

A.    The gospel is anchored in the resurrection of Jesus (v. 1-11)

B1. But if this did not happen then the gospel, with all its benefits, is null and void (v. 12-19)

B2. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of ‘the resurrection of the dead,’ the final eschatological event (of God’s future kingdom “breaking in” to the now), which has now split into two; the risen Jesus is the ‘first-fruits,’ both the initial, prototypical example, and second, is also the means of the subsequent resurrection of his people, because it is through his status and office as the truly human being, the Messiah, that death and all other enemies of the Creator’s plan are to be defeated (v.20-28).

Can You Hear The Word? A Saving Sigh – Part 2

To set a brief context for our gospel story from Mark, chapter 7… Jesus is exhausted, for he’s just completed a long journey along the coastal region of the Mediterranean. He’s moved northwest from Galilee, preaching and teaching – moving throughout the countryside of Tyre and then up to the city Sidon (which represented one of the most extreme expressions of paganism). Why might this be?