Prudence

Have you ever noticed the “virtue windows” in the sanctuary narthex, where the doors lead us out to Dakota Avenue? Their unique messages and designs have always caught my eye, including this window celebrating the virtue of prudence.

Prudence is one of those quiet, unassuming virtues that doesn’t get much attention in our modern culture, but I see this positive quality displayed in the lives of many of the folks I have come to care about at First Lutheran. When one exhibits prudence, one is behaving cautiously, wisely, and diligently—with a regard for the future.

These are the grounds on which Judas attacks Mary of Bethany in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. He observes her anointing Jesus’ feet with costly perfume, and he (like a 90’s era Dana Carvey imitating President George H.W. Bush) waggles his finger and accuses, “That’s not prudent!” He points out that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor—a bogus objection considering he was the one who regularly helped himself from the disciples’ common purse.

Jesus defended Mary’s extravagant, generous gift. In doing so, perhaps Jesus shows us there is a need to be prudent with the use of prudence. It is good and right to live one’s life wisely and diligently, with a regard for the future and a healthy dose of self-control. But there are times when God’s love may compel us to actions that are less than prudent—especially for the sake of blessing others.

The act of love given by Mary to Jesus—as she anointed his feet just before his burial—was beautiful and right, but it wasn’t prudent. So too, the love Jesus has for his own is not exactly prudent. The selfless, gracious mercy he gave to sinners would cost him his life.

With this prodigal love of God in mind, I’ll be preparing my sermon for Sunday. Join me in pondering, and I hope to see you in church this weekend.

Pastor Katherine

P.S. Seminarian Adam Guthmiller will be delivering the sermon on Saturday, and I’ll be preaching on Sunday. Consider attending the Saturday service at 5 p.m., and come again to one of our services at 8, 9:30, or 11 on Sunday morning (and don’t forget we have the 11 o’clock KSFY broadcast and YouTube channel as well). Attending two services over the weekend, hmm.  Wouldn’t be prudent….but could be good for the soul!

When Really Bad Things Happen: From Siloam to Sioux Falls

Pablo Picasso,  Guernica , 1937

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

In our gospel text for this coming weekend, we witness something akin to a group of angsty folk approaching Jesus at HyVee, pointing out all the horrific headlines on the tabloids at the check-out counter: “FBI Arrests Unabomber After Blowing Up Bridge on I-90 ~ 27 Dead” or “Scoutmaster Goes Bezerk With Bazooka At Tuthill Park.” (ala Luke 13:1) “So?” Jesus answers. “You think that because these [folks] suffered such a horrible death, they were some kind of super-sinners? No way! But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (ala Luke 13:2). There are at least two levels here.

Level #1. Right out of the chute, Jesus’ point is hardly “If you can just manage to repent of your sins, you won’t die.” For you see, at some level – at least since the time of Job’s so-called “friends” in the Old Testament – we think that “death” is something God sends only to bad guys. Remember the famous book title a few years back: When Bad Things Happen to Good People? Well, if we’re totally honest with God and ourselves, we must confess deep down that none of us is “good” … we’re ALL guilty-as-sin (Romans 3:23). “So,” says Jesus: “Repent of your smug Schadenfreude (i.e. taking pleasure in other’s pain ~ Sigmund Freud).” Repent of your holding onto the illusion you can somehow avoid or control death – whistling in the dark, pointing fingers, and telling tabloid horror stories. Basically, Jesus is telling all of us angsty folk at life’s “check-out” line: “Since I’m going to die for you and with you, maybe you should stop trying to keep death at arm’s length in your pointing. You have nothing to lose but your horror.”

Level #2. Jesus’ response then to the crowd is not meant to aid reason or solve “the problem of evil.” But he’s disarming it. In an intervention aimed below his listener’s heads, Jesus touches the panic they have inside their hearts – about all the awful things that are going on all around them and us. He’s not going to honor the illusion that we can somehow protect ourselves by rationalizations or pointing fingers, but he does honor the vulnerability that our fear can open in our hearts. It’s not a bad thing for us to feel the full freight of our frailty in our lives. It’s not a bad thing when the law drives us toward the cross in seek of our tremendous need of forgiveness. It’s not a bad thing for all of us to count our breaths out in the cold and dark, not if it makes us turn to the saving light that this Lenten Season is leading us to.

All this is to say: pay attention to this place that fear has torn open in your hearts. It’s a holy place. And yes, it may hurt you to be honest about what you see and feel. But it’s not the kind of hurt that leads only to death, but new life (cf. Proverbs 21:21; John 3:36, 20:31; Acts 11:18; Romans 6:4). And if we look to Jesus’ cross, we will see in the mystery of his death that we’ve always been home free – free from Pilate’s bloody goons and free from falling walls – by the power of Christ’s resurrection.

God’s grace and peace to you in this Lenten Season.

j.r. christopherson
Senior Pastor

Metaphors Matter

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are 
sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen  
gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Luke 13:34;
RSV)

John's Blog 3_14, eNews (1).png

Out of the swirling smoke of northern California’s wildfires last November came a story that can still be found – with variations on a theme – on social media. It’s a story of a firefighter … checking for hot spots … slowly making his way through the ashen devastation of what just days before had been a family farm. As he passed a pile of rocks, once part of the foundation for a small barn, he could hear some chirping sounds coming from underneath a charred carcass. As he turned the carcass over with his shovel, he was amazed to see four little chicks scurrying around in the ash and dust. And then, as the little chicks grew still, they helplessly turned and stared up at him. It was then he realized that the charred carcass was the remains of a mother hen who’d given her life to save her little ones. An ultimate sacrifice. 

I’m wondering, I’m just wondering if this precious little story isn’t something of a parable for our lives – especially as a people of the Judeo-Christian faith – as it comes together with our gospel text for this Second Sunday in Lent (Luke 13:31-35). There are a lot of metaphors or images for God “out there” that speak of God’s distant or transcendent relationship to our lives. Like “The man upstairs” or Bette Midler’s famous song, “From a Distance.” But this isn’t the whole truth of the matter, as born witness by the full canon of Scripture. Take careful note of this as we join together in this Lenten season, in First Lutheran’s congregational study of the Book of Psalms. For example: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1; emphasis added.) Or, consider the well-beloved assurance given in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil; for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4; emphasis added). 

My friends, it’s not enough to say that you believe in God. What matters, finally, is the kind of God in whom you believe (James Barr; The Scope and Authority of the Bible; 52; cf. Terrence Fretheim; The Suffering of God, p.1). The images or metaphors of God with which you live really do matter and they will shape your life – your identity, your ethics – for good or for ill.

Think with me on what this image of Jesus as a “mother hen” in Luke 13 might be saying in terms not only of the nature of God, but the kind of relationship God has with us and for us. And what does Jesus mean when he says, “Tell that ol fox [King Herod], ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course” (Luke 13:32). What might this “third day” be pointing to? 

So … what’s the big deal about metaphors or images of God? When it’s a matter of God coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ, who has died and been raised for you and all people, for the forgiveness of sin and a life of salvation … yes, it’s for you. Come and worship this weekend, and hear this Word of God’s promise … a Word that speaks of God’s wondrous sacrificial love for you

Under the shadow of Christ’s wings and his cross, 

j.r. christopherson
Senior Pastor