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The Miracle Inside a Miracle – Sermon on Mark 5:21-43

June 28, 2015

Years ago, I was meeting with my boss, Pastor Phil Stenberg, to plan worship. As we worked together, it seemed that a constant stream of people came in and out of Phil’s office, calling him away from our work. After yet another person had stopped in, I asked him, “How do you ever get any work done, with all these interruptions?” He leaned back in his chair, smiled, and said, “The interruptions are where real ministry begins.” Continue reading

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Holy Fear – Sermon on Mark 4:35-41

June 21, 2015 – Pentecost 4B, Father’s Day

I don’t like to preach about current events. I’m much more interested in the timeless truths of the Gospel than the fleeting nature of the daily news. I’d rather tell you about Jesus than talk about the latest political crisis or natural disaster.

It’s not that I don’t think we have a responsibility to stay informed. And I know for certain that the timeless truths we find in scripture apply directly to our everyday lives. Looking at the evening news through the lens of discipleship is a great exercise for small group discussion, helping us to determine what it means to follow Jesus through the events that shape our culture and our lives together in this community of faith.

When this week’s news brought us those alarming images of a church surrounded by police tape and the faces of nine people who died there, my first impulse was to just work this into the pastoral prayer. After all, the bulletin was already printed. The scriptures were already chosen. The songs and hymns had been selected weeks ago.

There wasn’t time to change gears. It seemed the simplest thing to do was add our prayers to those of people everywhere, prayers for comfort to the grieving, prayers for justice, for God’s Kingdom to come and put an end to hatred and killing.

But my clergy colleagues wouldn’t let me get away with that. Continue reading

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Growing Like Weeds – Sermon on Mark 4:26-34

June 14, 2015 (You can view a video of this sermon here.)

A high school friend posted on Facebook the other day that wheat harvest has already begun down in southern Kansas. While our harvest up here in Minnesota might be a few weeks out yet, my friend’s comment reminds me that the cycle of planting, cultivating, and harvesting follows a predictable pattern. The steps in the cycle follow the same order, year after year.

Lots of variables can affect the final outcome of each year’s crop: weather conditions, seed quality, disease, pests. But the cycle of planting, growing, and harvesting is still the same cycle that’s been in place since God created plants. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus uses the very familiar process of plant growth to teach some important lessons about the Kingdom of God.

Whoever has ears to hear, Jesus says, listen to the Word of the Lord as given to us in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 4, beginning at verse 26. Jesus is already talking:

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “”With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. (Mark 4:26-34)

Jesus told lots and lots of parables. These stories that drew on familiar, everyday events and circumstances were his primary teaching tool. On the surface, a parable might seem to be the same as a fable – a story that has a moral, like “slow and steady wins the race,” in The Tortoise and the Hare. But they aren’t exactly the same thing. Continue reading

Gluten free Communion bread that the congregation kinda liked

i have been testing various gluten-free recipes over the past year, and each has received mixed reviews from the congregation. The Hawaiian style loaf was moist and sweet, but very crumbly, and crumbs on the carpet at my feet made some parishioners pretty uncomfortable. I’m not sure if they stepped gingerly around the crumbs to avoid making a mess for the custodian, or they were just being careful not to step on Jesus.

During Lent, we went with a soft cracker kind of bread that was very easy to make (half an hour from start to finish) and tasted good, but was a bit too chewy for some folks. At least it didn’t crumble onto the floor, since I scored the loaf before baking and then cut it into half inch squares. When I did an informal survey, asking for feedback on these two recipes, I got three different kinds of responses (not counting the “I don’t understand why we all have to get gluten free if there are only a few people who need it” answers). Great.

This month, I finally hit on a recipe that most people, even the gluten free critics, said was worth repeating. So I offer it to you here. Continue reading

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Peonies worshiping after rain

 
We had a tremendous thunderstorm yesterday. Sheets of rain blew down the street, and we wondered if we should go to the basement. Instead, we stood on the front porch, marveling at the power of the storm. When the storm had passed, there was an inch and a half in the rain gauge and the peonies in the back yard were lying smashed to the ground. I went from bush to bush, lifting and shaking the heavy blooms in hopes they would right themselves.

This morning, the peonies were still bowed down in a posture of worship. They  may stay that way. Today, may I also remain in an attitude of worship, bowed before my Maker in awe and reverence. May I keep in mind throughout this day that God is God, and I am not. Thanks be to God for rain-soaked peonies.

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Framing the Picture: An Undivided Heart – Sermon on Mark 3:19b-35

2nd Sunday after Pentecost
June 7, 2015

What frames the central truth of our lives?

Imagine a picture that has been beautifully matted and framed. The matting material has been cut with great precision, and sets off the picture from its frame with a color that both contrasts and complements the colors in the painting. The frame itself gives structure to the artwork. Its form is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The overall effect is satisfying and complete. The painting looks finished. Its frame and matting are not distracting. They focus attention on the artwork itself.

In today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark, we are given a beautifully framed and matted picture. Mark has taken great care to frame the central idea inside a pair of contrasting, yet complementary ideas. We pick up the story just after Jesus has chosen his twelve disciples. As we join these disciples at Jesus’ feet, we are about to witness our Lord face opposition from two different camps. Continue reading

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Trinity Sunday Year B

Nobody really gets the Trinity, do they?  Understanding how God can be three distinct Persons, yet One – we just can’t quite explain it. The minute we try, we find ourselves spouting unintentional heresy. 

But we can experience God’s interrelational personhood, and lots of folks will tell you it’s this interrelationality that matters. The community of the Godhead invites us all into that shared relationship, that love. I’m beginning to think this is what “God is love” really means.

In worship today, we honored our high school graduates and sent them off as apostles to their next season of discipleship. We celebrated the good news that the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, to which our congregation belongs, had a productive and Spirit-filled meeting this week. And we sang a lot. We heard the Word of the Lord. We prayed, and recited the Nicene Creed. 

We embraced, if only for a moment, the ambiguity that surrounds our idea of Trinity. We leaned a little further than we have before into the paradox of a God who is One, yet Three. 

And Love showed up.