Category Archives: Church Year

A Prayer for Christmas Day 2022

O Holy Mystery,
infinite, almighty, encompassing the universe,
you came to us as human infant,
God made flesh, glory tucked between your tiny toes;
Love latching onto life –
vulnerable and helpless,
and yet our only help.


Now, in the quiet aftermath of all our frantic striving
to celebrate your birth with our best,
the very best of our best,
we kneel before you,
exhausted,
spent.


Whether we were ready or not, you came.
Whether we are ready or not, 
come once again, Lord Jesus.
Latch onto our lives. 
Fill us with the mystery of your love, 
God made flesh.

Amen.

Monday Prayer

12/19/2022

We’re coming down to the wire, God. This is the point in Advent where, if I haven’t done it by now, it isn’t going to happen. Those dreams I had of creating the perfect Christmas for my family, my church, myself …. they were lovely, weren’t they, Lord? 

But maybe they weren’t the dream you’ve been dreaming all along. 

Like the dream you gave Joseph. 

Your dream disrupted Joseph’s dreams of the perfect marriage, the perfect family, the perfect life …

Yet Joseph didn’t argue with you (the way I would).

As far as we know, Joseph stayed silent (the way I would not).

Joseph simply obeyed. Mary may have said, “Let it be with me according to your word,” but Joseph quietly acted, even if he didn’t completely understand what you were about to do. 

And you chose Joseph, of all the possible people in Nazareth, to be the one who would teach Jesus how to be human.

So, Lord, help us to discern your dreams for us, and make us willing to obey you, just as Joseph did.

Give us courage to abandon our old dreams, dreams that focus on what we want for ourselves, instead of what you want for us. For we know that what you want for us is far greater than anything we can imagine.

Help us to embrace the new dreams you put into our hearts and minds, dreams for peace, for justice, for lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things, dreams for sharing the good news that You are with us, Emmanuel, and you will save us from our sins when we turn to you.

And then, Lord, teach us how to be human, too. Just as Joseph taught Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Amen. 

Growing Pains: A Sermon from the Book of Acts

This sermon was preached for Winthrop Evangelical Covenant Church on October 23, 2022, as part of a series on Understanding the New Testament. A video of this message is available here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s an honor to be with you today, as you continue your journey through scripture to discover God’s great plan of redemption. God is on a mission to redeem the world, and God is fulfilling that mission through the church, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, to recap the last few weeks, or bring you up to date if you are joining us now for the first time, we know that:

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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

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

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.

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.

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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.

Remember you are baptized! Reflection on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

January 9, 2022
Video

Look! The wise men have arrived at the manger. It just so happens that this service is being recorded on the Day of Epiphany! (practice saying it) An epiphany is a moment when something is revealed to you. It’s an “Aha!” moment when you recognize something that didn’t make sense before. We celebrate the day of Epiphany on January 6th, as an “Aha!” moment when people realized Jesus was God’s own Son. Specifically, Jesus was revealed to people who weren’t Jews – Gentiles like us. But today, we are celebrating TWO things – not only Jesus giving the wise men their “Aha!” moment, but also Jesus being baptized, and revealed as God’s Son by the Holy Spirit.

Do you know your purpose in life? Do you have a clear idea of why God made you, and what you are supposed to do with this one precious life you’ve been given?

Jesus did. He understood that his primary purpose was to bring us humans into right relationship with God. That was the whole reason he came into the world – God With Us, Emmanuel – not to condemn the world (John 3:17), but to save it. To accomplish that, he had to become one of us.

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all,
“I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

The first thing Luke wants us to know is that John the Baptist isn’t Jesus. That may seem like a no-brainer to us, but at the time these events take place, people weren’t so sure. People think maybe he IS Messiah. But John compares what he is doing to what Messiah will do in terms of the elements. “I can get you wet,” he says, “But Messiah will do much more than that.”

John’s emphasis is on action – what Messiah will do. John may bathe you with water to symbolize the washing away of your sins, but the One who is coming will breathe Holy Spirit into you and burn away all the chaff.

Jesus is not only immersed in water,  he is immersed in the light of God’s presence, and the breath of Holy Spirit. His baptism is not for the forgiveness of sins, like all those other people coming to be baptized. Jesus is baptized into his mission, the mission the Father has given him – to redeem the world, to save us from our sins.

And God is pleased with him. “This is my son, whom I love, and with whom I am well pleased.”

When we allow ourselves to become fully immersed in God’s mission to make right what is wrong, to heal what is hurt, to save what is headed for destruction, we can know God’s pleasure just as surely as Jesus did there on the banks of the Jordan river.

When we commit ourselves completely to following Jesus – not only in baptism, but in every aspect of living, we can experience the full depth of God’s love for us.

See what love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God – and that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Let’s pray.

Almighty and loving Father, we want to dive in, but we aren’t sure how deep the water is. We want to submerge ourselves in your life-giving floods, but we are afraid of drowning, Lord. Help us to know the peace that comes with trusting in you. Give us the courage to dive into your promises and help us submit our wills to your will. Make us your own. Fill us with the life-giving breath of your Holy Spirit. Let your fire burn in our hearts, we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

I invite you, if you have some water at home with you – a bowl, a pitcher or a glass of water – to dip your fingers in it and remember your own baptism. And be thankful!

Now, on this Baptism of our Lord Sunday, I am going to try to get you wet… because I want everyone to feel the water, and to know that God loves us so much, he washes away our sins in the act of baptism, and makes us his very own. So, remember that you are baptized! And be thankful! (asperges).