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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.

Welcome to Holy Week 2022 – Palm Sunday


Read Luke 19:29-44.

Luke’s gospel doesn’t include waving palms or shouts of “Hosanna!” in the story of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. I mentioned in the Palm Sunday sermon that the story we know can make it hard for us to accept the story we hear. But what about the other stories that are happening at the same time?

For example, it might be important for us to know there were two parades into Jerusalem that day. While Jesus entered Jerusalem from the east, approaching the Temple from the Mount of Olives, Herod entered the city from the west, demonstrating his military strength and allegiance to Rome.

Throughout this coming week, you will need to make some choices. Which parade will you join? Which leader will you follow? Each day this week, I will post a scripture passage to read, a short devotional, and original artwork generously shared by Methodist pastor Chris Suerdieck. May your Holy Week devotions bring you nearer to Christ.

Art by Rev. Chris Suerdieck, used with permission.

Unbinding Your Heart: A Converted Community – sermon on Acts 2:14, 32-39

March 13, 2022 – Lent 2C
Video

The story of Pentecost boggles our minds to this day. In Acts 2, we read about how the Holy Spirit comes and touches all of the disciples. They suddenly are able to speak in different languages. Many people, 3000 the text says, get baptized and start following Jesus that day.

The miraculous stuff of this story steals the show. It’s usually what we focus on when we think of Pentecost. But there’s something more ordinary going on that we need to see. In the midst of all the hubbub, in the middle of the bold signs of God’s presence, something is quietly happening that is essential to the story.

Continue reading

The First Sign – Sermon for Epiphany 2C on John 2:1-11

January 16, 2022
Video

We are in the season after the Epiphany, when Jesus is revealed to the world as God’s Son. The themes that weave through this season include revelation, glory, baptism, and Christ as the Light of the World. There is a sense of celebration in this season, a sense of joy being released into the world as we recognize who Jesus is.

I don’t know about you, but these days I could use some joy. We wear ourselves out struggling with issues of greed and poverty, power and powerlessness, fear and anger, and an overwhelming sense of futility and weariness. People 2000 years ago had to deal with these same things. And yet, in the midst of it all, there was room for celebration. There was room for joy. And Jesus was right in the middle of it.

Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole (Hot Dish)

This is adapted from another recipe that made 14-16 giant servings, and used a boxed fast cooking rice blend. Go search for it on myrecipes.com if that’s what you are looking for. This makes a healthy amount of food for 6-8 people, served with a nice salad and some crusty bread. Since we live in Minnesota, where every casserole is called a hot dish, and where most wild rice is harvested, you might want to call this a hot dish, too. Or casserole. It’s good, either way!

2 c. cooked brown rice
2-3 c. cooked wild rice* (See cook’s notes, below)
3 T. butter
2 large celery ribs, cleaned and diced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 c. cooked chicken, cut into cubes or bite-size pieces
1 can cream of mushroom soup (cream of chicken also works)
1 8 oz. can sliced water chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped
1 c. plain, non-fat Greek yogurt, or 1/2 c. sour cream**
1/2 c. milk (use this to rinse out the soup can)
salt and pepper to taste
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese, plus another 1/2 c. for the topping
1 c. bread crumbs
2-4 Tbsps. sliced almonds, toasted***

Toast the almonds and set aside to cool. Cook the rice (if you don’t have any leftover in the fridge, as we usually do) – note that wild rice and brown rice cook differently, so don’t try to cook them together unless you are using one of those boxed mixes. If you are doing that, one box of Uncle Ben’s cooked to package directions, will be enough.

Cook a couple of large boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a quart or so of water or chicken broth (with a couple of bay leaves if you have them). Remove the chicken to a cutting board to cool (reserve the broth for another use, like maybe cooking the wild rice?), then cut into cubes.

Sauté the celery and onion in the butter in a large skillet. Remove from heat. Add the chopped chicken, soup, water chestnuts, yogurt/sour cream, and milk and stir to combine all ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 2 c. cheese, just to blend. Transfer everything to a buttered 9×13 baking dish. Top with bread crumbs.

Bake at 350° for 35 minutes, or until top begins to brown and the casserole is bubbly around the edges. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 c. cheese and the toasted almonds over the top, return to the oven for 5 minutes, until cheese is melted and it all looks toasty.

Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before dishing it up.

You can put together everything but the bread crumbs and cheese/almond topping, cover tightly and freeze this for later. Thaw it in the fridge overnight, and maybe allow some extra baking time to make sure the center gets hot.

COOK’S NOTES:

* Cooking wild rice is not hard, it just takes time. My son’s father-in-law insists the only proper way to cook wild rice is to pour boiling water over it to cover, let stand until water is absorbed, and repeat this process until the kernels “bloom” (pop open, but remain firm, not mushy), then fluff with a fork.
I’m sure he’s right, but I find putting a cup of well-rinsed wild rice in a pan with 2-3 cups of water, bringing to a boil, then reducing the heat to simmer until the desired doneness is reached works just fine. This makes 2-3 c. cooked rice. You may need to add more water, or you may find that not all the water gets absorbed when the kernels start to bloom. When the skins start to pop open, the rice is done, either way. You can also soak it overnight to reduce the cooking time.

** I use plain non-fat Greek yogurt for just about any recipe calling for sour cream. The flavor and consistency are nearly identical, without the calories or fat. If you insist on using sour cream, use only 1/2 cup.

*** toast almonds 4-6 minutes in a 350° oven, or 2-3 minutes over medium heat in a skillet, stirring and shaking constantly – remove from heat as soon as they start to turn caramel-colored, or you’ll burn them!