Thoughts for Sunday

“Pray Always and Do Not Lose Heart” (Luke 18:1)

“Gospel” from Leonard Benstein’s    Mass    (1971)

“Gospel” from Leonard Benstein’s Mass (1971)

Today, more than ever, the church must be nurtured and nudged by the kind of prayer that is embodied by Jesus’ parable of the “Widow and the Unjust Judge” (our Gospel text for this coming Sunday, from Luke 18:1-8) – a prayer that is personally engaged, persevering, and courageous, especially in the face of evil and injustice. But as well, as witnessed by St. Paul in our Second Lesson for this Sunday (II Timothy 3:14 – 4:5) – as he “fans the flames of faith” in his young protégé, Timothy – we also come to understand that prayer requires the daily stewardship and support of fellow members of Christ’s ongoing body in the world. That is, our whole lives together with the whole congregation, as we gather ‘round the guiding spirit of Holy Scripture (cf. II Timothy 3:14-17). And so, prayer is a personal calling upon God, yes; but it is also a calling upon the collective strength of All in the Family – folding our hands together.

On this upcoming Consecration Sunday, I encourage you to be at worship with your whole extended family of faith … among the “priesthood of all believers” of First Lutheran Church … as we bring our pledges before God with joy and thanksgiving, in support of strengthened ministry and mission in the upcoming year: celebrating First Lutheran’s 100th Anniversary! Let us be mindful that we can do so much more together than we could ever do alone – with Christ at the center.

I’m especially pleased that our Director of Music, Zachary Brockhoff and Dr. Paul Nesheim of Augustana’s Music Department, will be sharing a “sermon in song” from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, entitled “Simple Song.” This exquisitely moving song, based on our Psalm for this weekend (Psalm 121), comes from the 2nd movement of Bernstein’s Mass, called the Oremus – which means “Let us pray.” Yes, let us pray …

“We give thee but thine own,
What-e’er the gift may be; All that we have is thine alone;
A trust, O Lord, from thee.” (
ELW #686)

 

In Christ, 

John Christopherson
Senior Pastor

The Life of Faith: From Generation to Generation

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you. Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of hands; for God did not give us a spirit  of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” (II Timothy 1:5-7; RSV)

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Have you ever had times in your Christian life when you feel like faith is flagging? When there seems to be so much doubt … and any sense of confidence is nowhere to be found? (How striking that the word confidence comes from two Latin words: con = “with” and fide = “faith”). St. Paul offers an excellent prescription for what can often ail us in such times of trial and doubt—as we continue this weekend with our preaching series on the Epistles of I and II Timothy.

First, as with Timothy, we too need to be reminded of those beloved (either now among the “great cloud of witnesses” in heaven or those who we’re still privileged to feel a touch of their reassuring hand or hear their calming voice) … those who’ve nurtured the seed of faith that was planted in our lives by God’s claiming Word at baptism. People who help us remember when we feel so dismembered. And … so it is that St. Paul would have Timothy know, and us … that in our life of ministry and future mission journeys—in all the joys and sorrows—that we are still connected in faith with grandmothers like Lois, or mothers like Eunice (II Timothy 1:5), as well as a father figure in the faith like St. Paul himself, who is writing this letter.

Second, think about such family or friends in the faith this coming weekend at worship, those who like St. Paul, even in all of their brokenness, have been used by God as “watchmen [and women]” (Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4) who’ve been steadfast in faith—with us and for us, in a Christ-like manner. Yes, even in their brokenness and ours. (Consider St. Paul’s own broken-down life at times: reflecting on II Corinthians 11:25 or 12:10). What an amazing paradox! “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity but one of strength and love and self-discipline” (II Timothy 1:7. NIV).

Please join me in prayer: “O Lord, what great mystery and paradox is here! That there are places in our hearts and lives of faith where only brokenness/weakness can get in. Where glory and might cannot enter. Knowing this, you have sent your beloved Son—our Savior, Jesus Christ—in the likeness of a suffering servant (Isaiah 50:4-9a), taking on our frail flesh and the sin of the world. And Christ, having laid aside his majesty and taking the form of a servant, being obedient even unto death on the cross, was crucified in weakness/brokenness (Philippians 2:5-11). And on him, you have laid the chastisement that has made us … WHOLE. Yes, remind us, O Lord, as with your apostle, Paul … in his own life of faith, that: ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ (II Corinthians 12:10b. RSV).

Glory be to God.

Pastor John Christopherson

The Heart of the Gospel: Jesus Came to Save the Lost

“The saying is sure and worthy of acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners [who are lost].” (I Timothy 1:15a; cf. Luke 19:10; Mark 2:17. Emphasis added in brackets. RSV)

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It was a beautiful fall day. And Mother Nature was all-decked-out in her finest fall fashion – with glorious prints of bright gold, purple, and maple reds. It was also to include one of the most tender moments I’d ever experience in my years of parish ministry…

Now, nearly fifteen-plus years ago, I’d gone to visit a member of our family of First Lutheran at Dow Rummel Village (here in Sioux Falls). Ralph was now in his mid-90s. And as a former school principal, he was still known around the Village for sporting a “suit ’n tie” every day. (Sweet!) When I arrived … shortly after the noon hour … the nursing staff said they were surprised they hadn’t seen Ralph at lunch. He never missed. And he always loved to “work the crowd” with his attentive ear and sharing a few Norwegian jokes.

“Pastor John,” they said, “we don’t know where Ralph is. However, his friend, Norm has gone to look for him.” “Where is Norm now?” I asked. (Since I’d known Norm from back in my college days at Augie, when I’d worked at his clothing store. And he was likewise famous for wearing rather loud Hawaiian shirts!) The staff continued … “Well, last we heard, Norm was heading over to Covell Lake – thinking perhaps Ralph had gone over to feed the geese and then became disoriented. (Ralph had early onset dementia.) So, I began to make my way across the campus to Covell Lake, which is only a couple of blocks away.

As I approached the lake, here came Norm and Ralph … walking homeward from the banks of the lake … side-by-side. Ralph of course in his “suit ’n tie” and Norm in a bright and garish Hawaiian, floral print shirt. … Norm, with his gentle spirit, had his arm draped over Ralph’s shoulders for reassurance. And as I met them, I reached out to take Ralph’s free hand that was trembling like a leaf. “Are you OK, Ralph?” He paused, his eyes filling with tears. “I didn’t know how lost I was until Norm found me.”

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If you know anything about the backstory of St. Paul (please read Acts 9:1-22; 22:1-16; 26:9-18; and Philippians 3:4f), he was anything but someone who considered himself lost: either existentially or theologically. He was so convicted in his own self-righteousness (using his Ph.D. as a Pharisee and knowledge of the Jewish tradition in vain attempts to cover his pride) that Paul even had himself commissioned to schlepp all over the Mediterranean in order to hunt down and persecute those who’d converted to the Christian faith (e.g. Acts 26:12).

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And so it is, as we commence with our preaching series on the “Pastoral Epistles” of I and II Timothy (this coming weekend’s text is I Timothy 1:12-17) … that we listen in to St. Paul composing his first of two letters to a young protégé in the gospel, Timothy. It is here that Paul is confessing how it was that not until God found him (Paul) – knocking-him-off his “high horse” and eating a few “road apples” (Acts 26:14b) – that only then did Paul fully realize how lost he truly was. “I didn’t know how lost I was until [God, in all of God’s mercy] found me.”

And so, let me leave you with this question in the meantime: “Have you ever experienced a time when it was only in being found that you realized how truly lost you were?” My friends, this is the heart of the gospel that St. Paul is bringing home to us this day, as with Norm and Ralph … “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners [finding us, in all our lostness]” (I Timothy 1:15. Emphasis added in brackets. RSV).

Walking together in Christ’s love,
John Christopherson, Senior Pastor