Monday Prayer 9/26/2022

Holy One,

Just like that, the season changes. While half of the planet turns cold, dying away toward winter, the other half wakes to new life, blooming toward summer. The cycle of life and death begins anew.
And you are there.

When we find joy, you are there.
When we cannot be consoled, you are there.
When we know trouble, you are there.
When we know peace, you are there.

You are here.
In the now, in the then;
In the joy or the sorrow,
You are here.

By your grace, let me sense your presence. Let me recognize you in the season as it changes. By your grace, change me, too. Let me become more and more the one you created me to be. Amen.

Monday Prayer 9/19/2022

Holy One,

“There was a rich man …”
who couldn’t see his brother, naked, hungry, full of sores.
But you did.
And you valued him so highly, you gave him a name:
Lazarus – “God helps.” (Luke 16:19-20)

The psalmist cries, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” Our hope is in you, who watch over strangers, upholding widows and orphans. (Psalm 146:3, 9)

Help us to see the stranger who lands on our doorstep.
And when we are the strangers at someone else’s door,
Let them see us, and value us as you do, so that together,
We may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:16)
Amen.

Monday Prayer 9/12/2022

Holy one, this prayer has something to do with paradox. Please help me remember the brilliant idea you gave me while I was up to my elbows in dishwater and couldn’t write it down. It had something to do with Noah’s 3 sons, and a dishonest manager being commended for his shrewdness.

It had something to do with the way the world turns upside down when a queen dies, while others pass from this life to the next with barely a 5-line obituary. It had something to do with one person’s grief triggering another’s deep pain, and how we never really know which end of the equation is ours, the grieving or the aggrieved. 

It had something to do with holding two truths – or maybe more – in tension, not balance. Because they need to push and pull on each other in order to be truth at all. It had something to do with recognizing the pain we cause when we assume we are the victims, while our privilege shields us from seeing ourselves as perpetrators.

It had something to do with the way righteousness encompasses both judgment and mercy, a seed has to die for a plant to take root, something can only be lost if it belonged to someone in the first place. Death is necessary for resurrection to happen.

It had something to do with the assurance your love endures to all generations without fail, and in the end, evil will not be able to withstand such love. 

Whatever that brilliant prayer about paradox was, Lord, you already know it. Help me to see this week that Truth might be bigger than I can grasp, but just because I can’t grasp it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. So show me the little truths holding each other together in opposition, and give me grace to walk humbly with you in your enduring love. Amen.

Monday Prayer (Labor Day 2022)

Holy One,

You who birthed all things into being,

who flung the stars and separated the waters from the dry land,

were your arms tired after all that making?

Did your back ache from your labor?

Did you decide to give us rhythms of rest and work

because you, yourself, in all your infinite power, needed the same?

Grant us the wisdom to know when to work, and when to rest.

Give us newness of heart, as we begin this week.

May our labor be fruitful, and may our rest be sweet,

and may both reflect your glory. Amen.

The Final Sermon – Going Out In a Blaze of Glory

Pentecost C
June 5, 2022

NOTE: This is my final sermon before retiring from active ministry. I’ve preached Acts 2:1-21 other years, and you can find another message on this passage here. But this one is different, because it is also my farewell to a specific congregation, as well as to formal ministry.


The Greek word used in the New Testament to describe the Holy Spirit is “parakletos” –  which translates best as Advocate or Comforter. But parakletos means more than that.

It literally means “one who comes alongside.” Certainly, there is an understanding that this means to come alongside us to comfort us in our confusion and despair, or to come alongside us as an Advocate would in a court of law. But every year when I read this description of Pentecost, I’m struck by how the Holy Spirit coming alongside these gathered disciples is anything but comfortable.

We’re talking about a loud rush of violent wind sweeping in and filling the house where the disciples are praying together. This does not sound comforting, does it? And at some point, the sound of their many voices, each speaking in a different language, gets loud enough that people outside the house can hear it, and they start to gather around, wondering what it means.

And suddenly, that violent rushing wind propels them outdoors, where people from every nation can identify their own languages being spoken. When Peter stands up to explain what is happening, he addresses “all who live in Jerusalem,” so we get the sense that the wind and flames inside the house have now spilled out into the streets.

The Holy Spirit is on the move. Suddenly, the word “Pentecost” means more than a Jewish festival 50 days after Passover. Now, it means an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that signals the beginning of Christ’s church. The Kingdom of God is no longer confined to the heavenly realms – or within the walls of a building.

The Kingdom of God is not just “at hand” or “near.” The Kingdom of God is here. It is now. It is moving.

The Holy Spirit is more than Comforter, more than Advocate. The Holy Spirit comes alongside to strengthen us and give us courage for the daunting work of proclaiming Christ to a world that doesn’t always want to hear this good news. And, sometimes, the Holy Spirit gives us the swift kick we need to get up, and get moving out of our comfort zones, out of the building, into the places God wants us.

You are experiencing this, as a church. Like those early disciples, you are becoming apostles. How does that happen? When does following turn into being sent?

Last week we heard Jesus give his final instructions to the disciples as they watched him disappear into the clouds. We saw them return to Jerusalem with joy, praising God, and we looked on as they gathered once more in a room together, praying to receive what Jesus had promised them, power from on high. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blows them out into the city to share the Good News, and the church is born.

Somewhere in there, they’ve been transformed from frightened followers to bold announcers of the gospel. Somewhere in there, they’ve changed from apprentice craftsmen to master builders in God’s kingdom here on earth. They’ve joined Jesus in the work of healing and driving out demons and preaching Christ. They are no longer disciples, but apostles; no longer following behind, but being sent out ahead. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit propels them out into the streets of Jerusalem in a blaze of glory.

The Holy Spirit is still at work, despite repeated human efforts to quench it. The Holy Spirit will not be tamed. God’s Spirit cannot be limited by our feeble attempts to control it, to keep it within polite boundaries. Just as the Holy Spirit propelled those first apostles into the streets of Jerusalem, it propels you into the streets of Willmar, Minnesota, to share the good news that Jesus is Lord, and the kingdom he came to inaugurate is present among us now.

Over the past two years, you have walked with me, as I have walked with you, learning and teaching each other what it means to follow Jesus, and to be sent by him. We may have disagreed on some things. We certainly rejoiced over others.

I know I have grown deeper in faith and stronger in love of God and neighbor, and I hope many of you can say the same. And while, for this season together, you have given me the authority to serve as your pastor, I have sought to be faithful to the authority God placed on my life when calling me into ministry.

In a couple of weeks, you will welcome a new pastor, and I know you will place your trust in her as your spiritual leader. This is as it should be. You are ready for a new chapter in the story of Willmar United Methodist Church, and I am confident God plans to make it a good one!

But here’s the thing: the core of the good news of the Kingdom of God is found right here, among you all, in the people who choose to follow Jesus, loving God with all your hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and loving your neighbors as Christ has loved you.

You are the gospel. You are the good news. You are the ones going out in a blaze of Pentecost glory. You are the ones who are being sent, propelled by the Holy Spirit into the world around you, to speak in ways others can hear, and to love as Jesus has loved you. As you approach this Table today, know that you are receiving nourishment for the journey. Christ gives himself to you. Christ goes with you, even as the Holy Spirit sends you forth.

So, one last time, let me offer this invitation to you …

“Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may. Come to testify not that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ, and desire to be his true disciples. Come not because you are strong, but because you are weak; not because you have any claim on the grace of God, but because in your frailty and sin you stand in constant need of his mercy and help. Come, not to express an opinion, but to seek his presence and pray for his Spirit. Come, that we may be one in Christ Jesus.” – Covenant Book of Worship, p. 112

Rhubarb Pudding Cake

It’s been great living in a parsonage the past two years, while I served as an intentional interim pastor. Someone else does the mowing and snow removal, the commute to work is a two-minute walk, whatever the weather, and there are little gifts left behind by former pastors – like the apple tree and the rhubarb. In four days, the moving van will take our things away to make room for the next pastor, so before I pack up the baking dishes, I need to use up some rhubarb, which is at its peak right now. Good thing there’s a potluck where I can share the goodness!

How you make this cake depends on how much rhubarb you have. If it’s a plentiful harvest, and you can gather 3 cups of chopped rhubarb stems at once, use a 9×13 dish and the quantities in bold type. If you only have 2 cups, use a 9×9 square pan (or 8×10 if you have it) and the quantities in parentheses. Either way, this cake is delicious warm or cold, with vanilla ice cream or plain.

INGREDIENTS

3 c (2 c) chopped rhubarb stems
2-2/3 c (1-3/4 c) sugar, divided
5 T (3T) butter, softened
1-1/2 tsp (1 tsp) baking powder
1/4 tsp (1/4 tsp) salt
3/4 c (1/2 c.) milk
1/2 tsp (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract
1-1/2 c (1 c) sifted flour
1-1/2 T (1 T) cornstarch
1 c (2/3 c) boiling water


Preheat oven to 375˚ (F).

Lightly butter (or coat with cooking spray) the dish. Spread the rhubarb evenly in the bottom of the baking dish.

Combine 1 c. sugar with the softened butter, then add the baking powder, salt, and sifted flour, the milk, and the vanilla. Pour this batter over the rhubarb (add a little milk if it’s too thick) and spread to cover the fruit.

Mix the cornstarch with the remaining sugar, and sprinkle this over the batter. Pour the boiling water over everything, and put it immediately into the preheated oven.

Bake 45 minutes, until golden on top. Cool slightly to serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Leftovers should be refrigerated, and will be just as delicious cold as the cake was fresh from the oven.

I will add a photo when it comes out of the oven!

Good Friday

Dark.

Not dusk,
no moon or stars, as on a clear night;


No.

This dark was thick, oppressively thick;

All the goodness that ever existed
had been sucked out of the world.

Nothing.
Empty.
Dark.
And we were
suddenly,
completely
alone.

Dark.


It was so….
Dark.

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

– Latin 12th c.; German, Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
Translated, James W. Alexander (1804-1859)

He Knew – Maundy Thursday

Read Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; John 13:1-17. 31b-35

We may think of the Last Supper the way Leonardo da Vinci portrays it in his famous painting: Jesus seated at the center of a long table with his disciples on either side of him. But that’s probably not the way the room was set up. Several tables would have been arranged in a “U” shape, with couches around them, for the guests to recline as they ate.

Find your place at one of these tables. As the host, Jesus is sitting near the end of the U shape, and John is on the end, next to Jesus. John is in the “right-hand man” spot, ready to get up and provide anything the host requires during the meal. Since he is sharing a dish with Jesus, Judas must be reclining on Jesus’ left, which is the guest of honor spot. … Peter is probably on the other end of the U shaped arrangement, where he can get John’s attention and keep his eyes on Jesus throughout the meal.

Jesus has washed the feet of each disciple, demonstrating the kind of servanthood he wants them to show one another. But after he has washed their feet and returned to his place, Jesus becomes troubled, and announces that one of the twelve will betray him. It’s the guest of honor, the one who is dipping his hand into the same dish as Jesus.

Just as Jesus could wash Judas’ feet, and feed him the bread and cup he shared with all the disciples at his last meal, he expects us to offer grace and hospitality to all our sisters and brothers, even the ones who insult us, even the ones who talk about us behind our backs. Even the ones who don’t much like us. Jesus “loved them to the end” – every one of them – so that we might love one another in just the same way.

John closes this chapter with the new commandment from Jesus to love one another, just as Jesus has loved: fully, to the end, every one of us. Our identity at this Table is not so much in the noun “disciple,” but in the adjective, “beloved.”

Original artwork by Rev. Chris Suerdieck, used with permission

Rocky Road – Wednesday of Holy Week

Read Psalm 70 and John 13:21-32

The farmer from North Dakota shook his head as he looked out the bus window. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many rocks,” he said. We were in the middle of day three of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and I realized a farmer from North Dakota probably had a unique view of the landscape of Israel.

Rocks mean work. Rocks must be cleared before plowing and planting can happen. And the farmer was right: rocks were everywhere we looked. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus talked about seed landing on rocky soil. Here was clear evidence that Jesus used common experience to get through to his listeners. They would have known exactly what he meant by “rocky soil.” Rocks dotted every green hillside, every lush valley. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many rocks.

The season of Lent is nearing its end. We often describe the season of Lent as a journey toward the Cross, a path we follow to become more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

But that path can be a rocky one. Judas had a hard time keeping up, because Jesus wasn’t going the direction Judas thought he should. Judas stumbled over his own ideas about what Messiah should be. In the end, it cost him everything.

The roads Jesus walked were not always smoothly paved. When we choose to follow Jesus, we accept the challenge of walking where we might not otherwise want to go. The season of Lent gives us an opportunity to examine our hearts, and to recommit ourselves to the Way of the Cross. This Way is often steep and difficult to follow. It may be littered with rocks that can trip us up if we aren’t careful. But Jesus leads us on, giving us sure footing if we look to him.

Will you join the journey to the Cross, and learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” – Matthew 11:6

Original artwork by Rev. Chris Suerdieck, used with permission.

Tuesday of Holy Week – We Would See Jesus

Read Psalm 71:1-14 and John 12:20-33

During the middle of the 20th century in America, churches across America posted John 12:20 in the pulpit where the preacher could see it. “Sir, we would see Jesus” encouraged a whole generation of preachers to remember their primary task: showing Jesus to people who need a Savior.

Original Artwork by Rev. Chris Suerdieck, used with permission

In fact, the entire Gospel of John was written with this very purpose in mind. Near the end of the book, John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

If “seeing is believing,” we can imagine the Greeks who came to Philip were hoping for more than a glimpse of a celebrity. They were hoping for more than an autograph. They not only wanted to see Jesus, they wanted to believe.

The literal translation of the phrase “we would see Jesus” or “we wish to see Jesus” sounds awkward to our ears. But to get a better understanding of what these Greeks meant, the literal translation might be helpful. Here’s what they were saying: “Mister, we are willing to be perceiving Jesus.” Not just “we’d kinda like to see this Jesus guy” or “we want to see him so we can tell our friends back home that we did.”

We are willing. Our desire includes the understanding that this encounter is going to change us in some way, and we are willing to take the risk. We are willing to be perceiving. We want more than the opportunity to lay eyes on Jesus. We want to perceive him, to know him, to understand him, to recognize him as the Son of God. And we realize this isn’t a one-time-and-we’re-done sort of thing. It’s an ongoing relationship. We are willing to be perceiving Jesus now and indefinitely into the future. Mister Philip, sir, we want more than a backstage pass.
We are willing to know Jesus personally, whatever that means.
Are you willing?

Want to go deeper? Here’s a full sermon on this text.