Dec. 4, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Isaiah 11:1-10

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
  and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
  the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
  the spirit of counsel and might,
  the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

 He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
  or decide by what his ears hear;
4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
  and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
 he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
  and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
  and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6The wolf shall live with the lamb,
  the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
 the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
  and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze,
  their young shall lie down together;
  and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
  and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9They will not hurt or destroy
  on all my holy mountain;
 for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
  as the waters cover the sea.

10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

1Give the king your jus- | tice, O God,
  and your righteousness to | the king’s son;
2that he may rule your | people righteously
  and the | poor with justice;
3that the mountains may bring prosperity | to the people,
  and the | hills, in righteousness.
4Let him defend the needy a- | mong the people,
  rescue the poor, and crush | the oppressor. R
5May he live as long as the sun and | moon endure,
  from one generation | to another.
6Let him come down like rain upon | the mown field,
  like showers that wa- | ter the earth.
7In his time may the | righteous flourish;
  and let there be an abundance of peace till the moon shall | be no more.
18Blessed are you, Lord God, the | God of Israel;
  you alone do | wondrous deeds!
19And blessed be your glorious | name forever,
  and may all the earth be filled with your glory. A- | men. Amen.

Romans 15:4-13

4Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, 
 “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
  and sing praises to your name”;
10and again he says, 
 “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
11and again, 
 “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
  and let all the peoples praise him”;
12and again Isaiah says, 
 “The root of Jesse shall come,
  the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
 in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 3:1-12

1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, 
 “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
 ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
  make his paths straight.’ ”
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John the Baptist Preaching to the Masses  –  Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

What I love about this morning’s texts is the repeated reference to trees, specifically to roots and stumps. Isaiah prophecies, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”  The Apostle Paul quotes Isaiah, “the root of Jesse shall come.” Then John the Baptist comes along and says, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Cutting, chopping, sprouting; we witness both destruction and growth, death and life.

Let’s start with Isaiah. The prophets fill many pages of our bibles. They were sent to both the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Passages contain stories, scolding, and words of hope recorded in the Old Testament. In today’s passage, Isaiah is presenting his audience with a mixed message. God will use the mighty Assyrians to reduce Israel to a stump.  Then God will turn on the Assyrians.  The promise made to Israel’s greatest king, David, of a family tree will not be broken after all.  The stump will produce a new shoot. This time, it will go well. Wisdom, understanding, fear of the Lord, righteousness, faithfulness will be the characteristics of the new king.  

Isaiah says what will be. John the Baptist’s speech is more open ended. The ax is lying at the root of the tree and the tree had better bear fruit. It soon becomes clear that trees and fruit have something to do with repentance.

What does repentance mean? Does it simply mean feeling sorry for our mistakes?  Is it about being a better person? Is repentance even something that we do, if our lives are now hidden with Christ? Repentance is a tricky thing to talk about as I look out on our family. For some of you, it dredges up feelings of guilt and unworthiness. It may even evoke a deathly fear of a day of judgment when God will separate good people from bad people. Didn’t we do away with repentance during Advent when we moved from purple paraments to royal blue ones?

On this Second Sunday in Advent, John reminds us that repentance is not primarily about our standards of moral worthiness. To repent is to take a clear-minded look at the ways in which one’s life colludes with the assumptions and behaviors of the old age, to turn away from such complicity, and to turn towards God and the attitudes and actions of the realm of heaven. Repentance is about God’s desire to realign us to accord with Christ’s life. Repentance is not about our guilt feelings.  It’s about God’s power to transform us into Christ’s image.  

Some of my favorite biblical scholars remind us that it is God who gets to determine the character of repentance. John the Baptist was not offering a better way to live, although a better way to live was entailed by the kingdom that he proclaimed was near. But it is the proclamation of “the kingdom of heaven” that creates the urgency of John’s ministry. 

Such a kingdom does not come through out trying to be better people. Instead, the kingdom comes. It’s coming makes imperative our repentance. John’s call for Israel to repent is not a prophetic call for those who repent to change the world. Rather, he calls for repentance because the world is being and will be changed by the one whom Johns knows is to come. To live differently, then, means that the status quo can be challenged because now a people are the difference.

To return to the tree image; we are grafted onto Christ. What is grafting precisely? Grafting is what happens when a section of a stem with leaf buds is inserted into the stock of a tree. The upper part of the graft becomes the top of the plant and the lower portion becomes the root system or part of the trunk. That makes it a pretty powerful image then—to be grated onto Christ.

What then, do we make of John’s harshness? I think that it can, at its best, shake us up, and remind us that God becoming human flesh is shattering everything old.  Christmas is quite beautiful but let us not forget that this new thing is changing the entire universe.  The world is about to turn.

The difference between John and Jesus is not their message, but the role they play in relation to that message. Today we overhear John addressing the spiritual leaders of his day, the Pharisees and Sadducees. John announces the coming judgment. John baptizes with water. His baptism is like the cleaning I had to do in my vehicle after friends tried to walk up a very muddied Table Rock trail. Jesus, on the other hand, does not announce judgment. He is the judgment. Jesus baptizes with fire. Jesus’ baptism is like purification in the form of refining or smelting metal to remove those unwanted elements. 

Every tree must bear good fruit, according to John, or it will be thrown into the fire. Drawing on prophetic condemnation of Israel’s refusal to trust God, John says the ax now threatens the very root of the tree. Israel has often been pruned by God, and the pruning has even meant exile. Yet God has never abandoned his love for Israel, creating it anew through suffering. John’s prophetic condemnation of Israel is but the form that God’s care of Israel takes—from stones, God will raise up God’s people again. Some of those stones, we will discover, are Gentiles who are grafted, according to the Apostle Paul, into the very life of Israel.

We are called to prepare, even as God is already preparing us, usually when we are unaware. This happens in radical trust that Christ himself is working to purify us and the world around us.  Christ is equipping us to become a dwelling place fit for himself.  When we remember God’s promises, we nurture this trust and God grows us into faithful servants.

Another helpful image in this story about John is “wilderness,” which can conjure up any number of memories or pictures or feelings. Jerusalem, with its magnificent temple, served well in this capacity both for Judeans and for those living in the Roman diaspora. For many, the pilgrimage to the temple was the definitive statement of their identity and allegiance. John, however, calls them away from the holy city and the temple toward the wilderness, a place of danger and testing, but also the place where Israel was formed, where God’s provision and care was demonstrated, and the people grew ready for God’s promises. In the wilderness, away from the trappings of human traditions and powers, we may see and hear God’s call more clearly. John’s ministry in the wilderness thus calls the people to remember who they were before their kings started building cities and temples, even before they had kings at all. 

Likewise, we are called in the wilderness of the season of Advent to remember and affirm that Christ has brought each of us out of bondage. Christ has completely reoriented our lives. Our own wanderings in the Christian life surely do and will include wilderness wanderings—hesitancy, resistance, doubt.  Still God promises to keep pointing the way ahead.

At our baptism we are joined with Christ to bring God’s will into the world.  Baptism does not so much welcome the baptized into an institution (as we might think of the church) but into an alternative (or countercultural) community empowered by the Spirit for life and witness.  Isaiah’s prophecy from today is read at baptisms.  “Pour your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”  

The Holy Spirit is poured in and we are washed into a baptismal life in Christ–life in a wilderness with deprivations and hard lessons, but also everlasting joy in the kingdom.  We are promised forgiveness and eternal life and we are called to imagine a new community now, in this life.  

Newly prepared to meet God-With-Us this season, we can pray with Paul that “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  We will be changed, transformed, renewed by the gift of grace.  Anne Lammot wrote, “I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”  My prayer for you this Advent that God’s grace will not leave you where it found you.

Prayers of Intercession

As we prepare for the fullness of Christ’s presence, let us pray for a world that yearns for new hope.

A brief silence.

God, you renew the church in every age. We give thanks for hymn writers and theologians (especially John of Damascus, whom we commemorate today). Inspire teachers, writers, and musicians to delight and instruct your people. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

You give us a vision of creation in harmony, when hurting and destruction will be no more. Teach us to be stewards of the earth and companions to its creatures. Restore to balance and wholeness what human greed has harmed. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

You defend the cause of all who are poor and oppressed. Raise up leaders who will govern with equity and serve the common good. Guide judges, lawmakers, and public officials to protect the rights of those who cannot advocate for themselves. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

You deliver those in need from suffering and fear. Come to the aid of any who are exploited or abused, especially children, elders, and victims of human trafficking. Provide safety and help to our neighbors without shelter, refugees, and those fleeing violence. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

You urge your people to welcome one another as you have welcomed us. Nurture ministries of hospitality and care in this and every congregation (local examples may be named). We pray for people who are homebound, hospitalized, or separated from loved ones (especially). God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

You embrace all who have died trusting in your promises, and we give thanks for their faithful witness. Sustain us in hope until we are united with them in the joy of your eternal presence. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God of our longing, you know our deepest needs. By your Spirit, gather our prayers and join them with the prayers of all your children. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen.

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Season of Gratitude

Originally published in Trinity, Nampa’s monthly Epistle/Newsletter.

Dear Friends in Christ,

This month we are continuing our Season of Gratitude. Trinity Lutheran Church is a generous congregation. We are a community of faith committed to following Jesus, people committed to this congregation, and people committed to trying to bring in the reign of God. That is a lot for which to express our gratitude.

As the pastor of this congregation, I try to model both generosity and gratitude. I give around 10% of my income, most of it to the congregation. I share this not to boast, but because integrity is one of my core values. I could never ask others to be financially generous if I am not modeling it. I give to Trinity to model generosity, but I also give because I so deeply believe in what God is doing in and through Trinity Lutheran Church. I want to do what I can to help Trinity Lutheran, Nampa remain a vibrant congregation. Finally, I give to Trinity out of gratitude for this call, this community, and for God’s mission at work through us.

This is such an amazing community of faith. So many people are involved in all sorts of work and ministry. There are those who prepare our space for worship, those who help lead worship, and those who take Communion to members who cannot come to worship in-person. Other members help us reach out the larger community in new and old ways. Some of you tend to our physical property and make sure it is hospitable, some teach our youth, and still others write for our website and Epistle. And all of this is supported by your financial generosity, for which our leadership and I are grateful.

It is inspiring to witness so much ministry. It fills me with gratitude for each of you and for the Holy Spirit working through us collectively. And there is potential for even more ministry, more sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ with words and actions in Nampa, Canyon County, and beyond. Thank you once again for your ongoing financial generosity and thanks for being part of this Season of Gratitude.

Peace,

Pastor Meggan Manlove

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Nov. 27, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Isaiah 2:1-5

1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2In days to come
  the mountain of the Lord’s house
 shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
  and shall be raised above the hills;
 all the nations shall stream to it.
  3Many peoples shall come and say,
 “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
  to the house of the God of Jacob;
 that he may teach us his ways
  and that we may walk in his paths.”
 For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
  and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
  and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
 they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
  and their spears into pruning hooks;
 nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
  neither shall they learn war any more.

5O house of Jacob,
  come, let us walk
  in the light of the Lord!

Beating  Swords  into Plowshares

Amiens Cathedral

Psalm 122

1I was glad when they | said to me,
  “Let us go to the house | of the Lord.”
2Now our | feet are standing
  within your gates, | O Jerusalem.
3Jerusalem is built | as a city
  that is at unity | with itself;
4to which the tribes go up, the tribes | of the Lord,
  the assembly of Israel, to praise the name | of the Lord. R
5For there are the | thrones of judgment,
  the thrones of the | house of David.
6Pray for the peace | of Jerusalem:
  “May they pros- | per who love you.
7Peace be with- | in your walls
  and quietness with- | in your towers.
8For the sake of my kindred | and companions,
  I pray for | your prosperity.
9Because of the house of the | Lord our God,
  I will seek to | do you good.” 

Romans 13:11-14

11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 24:36-44

[Jesus said to the disciples,] 36“About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

In today’s text, Jesus tells his disciples about a waiting period–waiting for the coming of the Son of Man.  The comparison with the days of Noah is not the wickedness of that generation.  It’s that in the days of Noah life was going on as usual, with no striking or mysterious signs of the approaching judgment.  Like those folks, the disciples will not be able to recognize when the end is near.  Jesus wants the disciples to know that the end could come at any time. This knowledge should spur engagement in their mission.  

Jesus speaks also of one taken and one left behind in a field. Over the last century, these verses have often been read in support of dispensationalism, especially “rapture” theology. This theology attempts to plot where we are in proximity to the end—precisely what Jesus tells his disciples not to do. Jesus’ illustrations in our gospel do not likely depict a moment when the righteous are plucked up from the earth and taken to heaven, while others are “left behind” to await tribulations and final judgment. 

First, for first century audiences familiar with the ways of the Roman Empire, being left behind was surely preferable to being taken. Likewise, for the people of Noah’s day, being swept away was not a good thing. Instead, these sayings simply depict sudden, surprising separation, without indicating cause for judgment or reward on the part of those taken or left behind. 

Rapture theology, which has little or no scriptural support, may offer comfort for those who seek certainty or presume to have secured the inside track to heaven. However, the focus of this passage is on remaining vigilant amidst the uncertainty of a long wait, amidst discouraging circumstances.

It is the incapacity to attend to the important things in life that brings urgency to Advent.  It is so easy to sleep through God’s signals of alarm, to act as if today is like every other day.  If we are casual with today, what chance is there that we will be careful with our lives?  What hope is there that we can live as Christ wants us to live?

So Jesus attempts to rock his disciples and us out of these complacent ways of living and believing.  He presents us with a most dreadful picture–an intruder stepping into our bedroom while we are sound asleep.  “If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into,” Jesus says.  We do not know the time of the break in, but the break-in is the cause for a change in thinking, an adjustment in priorities.

Being prepared for the coming of the Lord takes place in daily dying and rising.  We are living out our baptism and faith in this world. When I was wandering around denominations in my mid-twenties, wondering if the Lutheran tradition I grew up in would also be the place I would settle as an adult, it was the theology around the sacraments that truly brought me home. First, as someone who loves the natural world, I loved that we put such primacy on the promises bestowed through bread and wine and simple water. And I loved that even though I couldn’t explain how exactly they work; I fully believe that I can receive forgiveness and new life through the sacraments.

But more important, I also love that whenever I am wandering around as an adult, wondering what God is calling me to, I can return to the promises you and I make in baptism. It does not matter what your stage of life is. It does not matter what stage of faith you are in. We can all try to fulfill these promises and thus bring in a little bit of the reign of God into the world.

To continue in the covenant God made with us in baptism, we promise:

To live among God’s faithful people. We need some other people in our lives who will help keep us accountable, who will set examples, who will pray when we are too beaten up and who we can pray on behalf of when they are too weary. We need to be in relationship with other people who take discipleship seriously.

We promise to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper. The story found in scripture is a living word and has something to say to us today. I try to interpret the bible in this space, but you have each promised to encounter scripture in your living rooms, or on a walk, or at the kitchen table. Living into our baptism can be a lot and so you also promise to return to this space to feast on the Lord’s supper. Here you are nourished with the bread of life.

We promise to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed. The good news of God’s abundant love is for all and so you share it wherever you are. This promise is also woven into one of our guiding principles here at Trinity. We try to live out this promise as a collective body.

We promise to serve all people, following the example of Jesus. What was the example of Jesus? Stepping out of the middle of the page over to those in the margins of society. Seeing each person’s dignity. Feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Healing the sick.

And we promise to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Sometimes we, with our little amounts of power, are called not only to serve all people, but to improve structures and systems that harm people. This is the long communal work that very few people can do alone, and which needs the Holy Spirit’s power.

We know what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime–before the coming of the Son of Man.  Because we don’t know the day or the hour, we are always to be ready—living into our baptismal covenant.   

The message of Christ’s return is not meant to frighten us. Though that is exactly how some have interpreted it.  The message of Christ in today’s text is to give us hope. The Christ who is to come is the Christ who once lived among us on earth, and who is known in the gospel story as the friend and healer of those in need. Living in hope, expecting Christ’s return, is integral to the Christian faith.  We can insist that there is more to the human story and God’s own story than what has already been experienced.

What’s more, the hope we have is not personal only.  It is definitely not private. It is a communal hope. The church is a community of hope and responsibility in the world. Nothing this morning should deflate the Christian faith of worldly care. Christian hope in the future coming and reign of Christ can generate a commitment to the future, a commitment to the public good of humanity in this world. The promises of God urge us to lean forward toward the future in its entirety.

In these dark weeks, when the days are short and we see the sun less and less, we celebrate the dawn of Jesus Christ, the true light of the world. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul says. By baptism and faith we are clothed with a person, the very son of God. He wells in us and we in him. So when people see and hear us, they see and hear the mercy, forgiveness, and compassion of Christ.  Might this Advent season be a time of immersing ourselves daily into such a way of living, spreading the good news that God is truly Emmanuel, God with us.  

Prayers of Intercession

As we prepare for the fullness of Christ’s presence, let us pray for a world that yearns for new hope.

A brief silence.

God of all, your children everywhere cry out for mercy. Awaken the global church to the urgent needs of our time. Break down barriers of culture and custom and unite people of all faiths in your redemptive and healing work. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God of wonder, the earth’s beauty and abundance is your gift. Teach us your ways of sharing resources and caring for life. Guard fragile habitats, preserve the wild places, and protect endangered plants and animals. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God of peace, you judge the nations. Beat our weapons into tools for serving the neighbor. Strengthen the resolve of all who work for an end to war. We pray for lasting peace in the land of Jesus’ birth (other places of conflict may be named). God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God of lovingkindness, you desire fullness of life for everyone. Fill those who hunger. Comfort the grieving and attend to those near death. Bring help and hope to any who are sick or needing your care (especially). God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God of community, you are present when we gather in your name. Guide congregations in transition or conflict (especially). Give wisdom to congregational councils, call committees, and ministry leaders. Keep us alert to unexpected opportunities for mission. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

God of promise, your goodness is everlasting. We give thanks for the lives of the faithful who now rest in you. We trust that you will bring us into the company of all the saints with rejoicing. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God of our longing, you know our deepest needs. By your Spirit, gather our prayers and join them with the prayers of all your children. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen.

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Commitment Sunday – Nov. 13, 2022

Prayer of the Day

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Isaiah 65:17-25

17For I am about to create new heavens
  and a new earth;
 the former things shall not be remembered
  or come to mind.
18But be glad and rejoice forever
  in what I am creating;
 for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
  and its people as a delight.
19I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
  and delight in my people;
 no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
  or the cry of distress.
20No more shall there be in it
  an infant that lives but a few days,
  or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
 for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
  and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21They shall build houses and inhabit them;
  they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22They shall not build and another inhabit;
  they shall not plant and another eat;
 for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
  and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23They shall not labor in vain,
  or bear children for calamity;
 for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
  and their descendants as well.
24Before they call I will answer,
  while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
  the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
  but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
 They shall not hurt or destroy
  on all my holy mountain,
 says the Lord.

Isaiah 12:2-6

2Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not | be afraid,
  for the Lord God is my strength and my might, and has become | my salvation.
3With joy you | will draw water
  from the wells | of salvation. R
4And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call | on God’s name;
  make known the deeds of the Lord among the nations; proclaim that this name | is exalted.
5Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done | gloriously;
  let this be known in | all the earth.
6Shout aloud and sing for joy, O | royal Zion,
  for great in your midst is the Holy | One of Israel. 

Luke 21:5-19

5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  His followers were aghast and now they are awed.  They trudged after him.  As he approached the city, Jesus declared that God’s “visitation” had come with his reign.  He declared that the very stones of the temple would testify against those who rejected him (19:41-44). Now Jesus predicts again that all the stones will be thrown down.

Jesus contrasts his teaching with those of the false prophets of his day.  They also quoted the ancient words of God.  Jesus is announcing the coming judgment, but he is also cautioning against following prophets who claim to know God’s timetable, even invoking Jesus’ name.

This text from Luke’s gospel does not authorize yet one more set of charts or timetables to read God’s clock down to the last second.  Yes, Jesus followed the true prophets of old in teaching that the struggles in history and in disturbances in nature are more than accidental.  They remind believers that God triumphed over chaos in creating the natural world.  Yet, both human and supra-historical forces are still contending for the earth. 

And so, Jesus’ followers, you and I among them, are aware that Jesus’ death and resurrection is God’s ultimate act in a struggle of cosmic proportions.  Only the final outcome is sure.  As the apostle Paul testified, “We ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)

The hope to which Jesus testifies is not a trivial denial of the struggles, the pain and agony of human life.  It is not a trivial denial of the catastrophic forces of nature. These are real.  All summer we heard from prophets who interpreted such devastations as the context of God’s saving work.  Jesus joins this chorus.  He brings it close to the concrete realities of early Christians. But he adds something else, something that serves as the hinge of today’s text.  Jesus says, “This will be an opportunity to testify” and “By your endurance you will gain your souls!”

Jesus is promising that he will give the “words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  He commissions his followers, his disciples, to be his “witnesses” (Acts 1:8).  He does not send them out alone.  He assures them of the power and presence of his Holy Spirit.  And so even the harsh prophecies of Luke 21 are filled with the confidence of Jesus’ enduring presence.

Jesus references the various trials the disciples will face.  “This will give you an opportunity to testify” (v. 13). Is it possible for us to see, claim, and testify to God’s work amid the various setbacks, challenges, and even tragedies we face? The truth is that the last three Sundays, during this Season of Gratitude, we have listened in as three Trinity members have testified—have spoken clearly about the Holy Spirit at work in the life and reach of this congregation. 

Usually when we read texts like this one from Luke about being persecuted for testimony, we must face the fact that Christians have a place of privilege in this country. Unlike places like China, we are free to build sanctuaries and worship the Triune God without fearing for our lives.  

In the days and weeks ahead, I do not believe that we will suddenly be persecuted but if we live as the church we believe God has called us to be then we might become unpopular in our community or we might at least face raised eyebrows. 

For the past few weeks we have been lifting up our ministry initiatives for 2023. Our church council reflected on our history, strengths, and assets as a congregation. We read through our larger church body’s goals. We talked at length about our current context—both our geography and this moment in time. 

Faith formation became a priority, faith formation for children, youth, and adults. For some people in our country, the fact that we want to spend resources nurturing the Lutheran Christian faith of all people may seem laughable. I can imagine questions like, “You all still read the Bible? You pray and worship? But we gathered in this space believe the gospel of Jesus Christ still has the power to transform lives, so here we go.

As our leaders pondered a ministry initiative that could benefit the larger community of Canyon County, we returned to the idea of equipping people to have tough conversations in love. There will be Christians who think this is antithetical to the gospel. After all, all we should care about is saving souls, not helping to bring the kingdom of God to our corner of the cosmos. But we believe that part of what we are transformed to do is love and serve our neighbors. So here we go.

And finally, we want to keep going—as a community of faith, as one expression of the Body of Christ, as a Lutheran Christian congregation at the corner of Midland and Lone Star. We want to be stewards of the ministry our ancestors dreamed up when they first started this congregation. We want to continue gathering in this space for Word and Sacrament ministry. To quote our mission statement, we want to continue to be “a place to gather, refresh the faithful, and reach out with word and service to all others through the Holy Gospel.” 

To have the gospel as our focal point is counter cultural. So much of what we read or watch or hear encourages us to put our trust in material things or our own individual abilities. What does it mean to turn to Jesus as our leader, the one in whom we place all our trust? And then to testify? No physical possession, no human being, not even a political candidate can guarantee our life or our future.  That is work God has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to whom we are joined in the waters of baptism.  So, what, to what does this identity lead us?

In addition to our congregational ministry initiatives, there is the regular, daily work of God’s beloved people: welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, work for justice and peace, all in the name of our source of hope, love, and peace, Jesus Christ.  

God is active in the difficult, hard, broken experiences of life, always working to help, comfort, and save. And when we recognize these things, we discover the opportunity not just to see and benefit from God’s act but also to witness to it.

Just after this Jesus says, “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and wisdom…” (v. 14-15). No, we will not be dragged before kings and governors. But we will face trials and tribulations. There are people who fear their physical safety and caring for them may be seen as wrong.  

God will not only help us to endure but also give us the courage and words with which to witness. It does not matter where we may go, or what may happen to us, or how often it may seem like the whole world is coming to an end. Jesus will be with us. Jesus will be protecting and providing for us. And we will be able to see God at work in our lives and give thankful testimony.

Jesus is not telling his followers to find some “silver lining” or “hidden blessing” during the tragedies of their lives. We are meant to look for God and, while we are looking, see God at work even in the most difficult of conditions. In the days ahead we will practice seeing and naming God at work in the everyday and ordinary parts of our lives and the lives of others. 


Jesus finishes his address with some words about endurance.  The “endurance” that “will gain your souls” is also not mere heroic persistence. The early Christians knew all about the “endurance” of toughing it out, and their endurance was often tested. But through Christ, this endurance is transformed from reliance on human strength to trusting in God’s love: “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Endurance is itself a gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christians who have been admired for their persistence regularly discount their own strength with such words as, “It was only by God’s grace that I held on.” 

David Livingstone, the legendary missionary to Africa, prayed, “Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.” And he testified, “What has sustained me is the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.’”  This is the promise Jesus conveys in the midst of his prophetic warnings of what will yet come. It is a promise for us today. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

United with your saints across time and place, we pray for our shared world.

A brief silence.

Reviving God, keep your church active in its mission and ministry. Encourage bishops, deacons, pastors, and lay leaders to risk boldly in their proclamation and fill them with wisdom and endurance for challenging times. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Renewing God, as the northern hemisphere prepares for winter, make us mindful of the ordered beauty of your creation. Teach us to treasure cycles of rest and new life. Help us care for what you have made. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Loving God, accompany all who make sacrifices for the sake of others. Safeguard first responders and active duty military personnel. Grant peace to veterans and heal any wounds in body, mind, or spirit. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Healing God, your people cry out to you. Sustain doctors, nurses, and hospital personnel in their tireless work. Uphold mental health professionals and those in their care. May the sun of righteousness rise on all who are sick (especially). Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Uniting God, unite this assembly in its shared mission and ministry for the sake of the gospel (specific ministries or initiatives may be named). Highlight ways we can better work together and give us patience to work through disagreement. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Consoling God, abide with all who grieve for loved ones who have died (especially). Comfort us with the promise of resurrection and new life with you. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Accept these prayers, gracious God, and those known only to you; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

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Installation

Faith Lutheran, Nov. 6, 2022

Lucas Shurson’s Installation

Isaiah 42:5-9, Mark 10:35-45

Our presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton reminds us often that “we are church together.” We live out being church together in a very real way on days like this one. Congregations and individuals across the Treasure Valley Cluster and synod have been praying for Faith Lutheran and for Lucas Shurson and now here we are. Hooray! Faith Lutheran has a new pastor. 

We not only have something wonderful to celebrate, but we also have a rich collection of scriptural texts which all seem so fitting for this chapter of church life. We are at a time when it is both challenging and exciting to be the church. For myself, I have greater understanding and empathy for the Israelites’ experiences under Babylon than in any other time in my life. And with that, these past few years and our current circumstances have made me ever grateful for words of hope from God’s prophets, words like those we heard today from Isaiah chapter 42. 

The prophet reminds us of God’s character, “the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it.” The same God who gave us breath, who created the big mountain ranges and meadows we love, that same God is doing something new. “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare;before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”

So, it was for the Israelites and so it is for those of us gathered here today. Is it comforting that God is making something new or is it uncomfortable? Perhaps it depends on the day or event moment. The pace of change in our world is so rapid that maybe we want to scream, “That’s okay God. You could just leave things as they are.” But God has always brought life out of death, something new out of something old. We worship a God of resurrection and new beginnings. 

This congregation has been through its ups and downs, many times of discernment, some conflict, but you have ultimately kept the gospel at the center and God has already created new beginnings through and with you. Now one more chapter begins with this mutual ministry with Pastor Lucas.

You have known and know that what never changes is God’s presence and steadfastness. “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people.” And there it is. We worship a God of promises. We will hear promises today, promises about the life of pastor and people and your life together. All of those promises can be traced back to the promises made at the font as well as the covenants God made with people and all of creation. Those promises come down to the unwavering truth that you are loved, and God will not let you go.

How easy it is to forget those promises, or to feel that we are the first and last generation that needs to be reminded of God’s character and God’s promises. Several of the rostered leaders here today were at Hope Lutheran a few Saturdays ago and heard Dr. Nessan remind us of other times the church has weathered challenging times. It was a perspective I needed. 

Pivoting and innovating will continue to be necessary and useful. But even they can become idols. Our weekly worship and relationships with fellow and sister Christians will continually remind us that ultimately, we are bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called together, both pastor and congregation, to share this good news with our whole lives, our words, and our actions.

In the gospel lesson this afternoon, Jesus makes the good news clear. He says he came to give his life as a ransom for many. A ransom is a liberation created by divine strength, not by payment. Jesus declares that God, through Jesus’ death, will free people from oppression and captivity to another power. How this happens is a bit of a mystery, but the liberation is no less real.

Discipleship will finally mean more trouble, not less. Following Jesus is likely to be disruptive. True discipleship is characterized by a costly pouring out of one’s life for another. It may be an aging parent, a difficult spouse, a special child, another member of the Christian fellowship who has unusual needs, or any person whose situation calls for neighborly service at personal cost. Jesus came to serve and to give his life. His followers are also called to servanthood.

Know that you Lucas and you Faith Lutheran are not alone as you live out your baptismal call. The body of Christ is a body. We are truly church together. None of us can do this work alone. And we are the body of Christ accompanied by the Holy Spirit. As each of you disciples continues to take one faithful step forward, know that the Spirit is always with you, in the bread and wine, in our shared worship, and in your daily lives. Thanks be to God.

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All Saints Sunday – Nov. 6, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

1In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.

15As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17“As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”

Psalm 149

1Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord| a new song,
  God’s praise in the assembly | of the faithful.
2Let Israel rejoice | in their maker;
  let the children of Zion be joyful | in their ruler.
3Let them praise their maker’s | name with dancing;
  let them sing praise with tambou- | rine and harp.
4For the Lord takes pleasure | in the people
  and adorns the | poor with victory. R
5Let the faithful re- | joice in triumph;
  let them sing for joy | on their beds.
6Let the praises of God be | in their throat
  and a two-edged sword | in their hand,
7to wreak vengeance | on the nations
  and punishment | on the peoples,
8to bind their | kings in chains
  and their nobles with | links of iron,
9to inflict on them the judg- | ment decreed;
  this is glory for all God’s faithful ones. | Hallelujah! 

Ephesians 1:11-23

11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Luke 6:20-31

20Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said: 
 “Blessed are you who are poor,
  for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
  for you will be filled.
 “Blessed are you who weep now,
  for you will laugh.
22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24“But woe to you who are rich,
  for you have received your consolation.
25“Woe to you who are full now,
  for you will be hungry.
 “Woe to you who are laughing now,
  for you will mourn and weep.
26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

This is the first All Saints Sunday that I really paid attention to this beautiful passage from Ephesians, particularly the verses often titled as the author’s prayer. “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” The sentence made me think of the saints in my own life and to give thanks for their lives and what they have given me. 

I have remembered with deep gratitude week people like Jane Olsen, who was my fifth-grade teacher as well as a beloved member of the congregation I grew up in. Mrs. Olsen was that upper elementary teacher who was born to work with children and made so many of us life-long learners. But because she sat in the pews with us at church, because she knelt at the same Communion rail, we knew that her life was shaped by being a follower of Jesus. 

I had never thought about that connection so clearly until this week, but I think Mrs. Olsen taught me that an inquisitive mind and a love of learning were part of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. She never said this in words that I remember. But her very life displayed that a love for learning, far from being antithetical to the gospel, was totally consistent with the gospel and following Jesus.  So, I give thanks for those gifts from this saint.

I also thought about Don and Dorothy Delicate, a couple in my congregation that my parents and everyone else’s parents deeply respected and admired. If my parents looked up to them, then they were people I was also meant to give respect to and learn from. They were loving, salt of the earth people, who epitomized the word generosity. They were generous with their time and skills and love and resources. 

When I was in high school, they welcomed a college student from Uganda into their home. Simon became part of their family and part of the church family. Dorothy traveled with him back to Uganda twice. Don and Dorothy Delicate modeled the boundary crossing that Jesus himself modeled and taught. And they showed the whole community what it means to truly accompany someone. Simon was in their lives not just for a few weeks, not just for a good phot, but for the rest of their lives, messy as I am sure it sometimes was, and they learned as much from Simon as he learned from them. Don and Dorothy modeled love and real relationships throughout the entire community.

Who are the saints in your lives and what inheritance have you received from them? Take a moment and bring to mind one or two saints from your own lives.

Pause.

To remember the people who were saints in our lives is a gift. This is part of why funerals are one of the things I treasure doing as a pastor. Yes, we should of course honor and thank people while they are alive and not wait for their deaths. It’s a both/and. Thank people in life but also pause and give thanks to God after their death. 

A Christian funeral is a holy pause. It makes us slow down and recognize the life that was lived and God’s working through that person’s life. We might even be encouraged to face our own mortality—perhaps uncomfortable but a good exercise. 

To give thanks to God for the life that was lived, even if imperfect, to reflect on the gifts that life bestowed, to entrust the person to God’s keeping, to remember that this person remains part of the communion of saints, that is such a helpful practice for the living. We who are left behind need to pause and remember. We also need the ritual to help us begin moving through our grief. We need the holy pause to ponder, in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “who lives, who dies, who tells our stories.” 

A saint is one who we look to for how to live, how to bring in God’s reign. A saint is also one who is blessed by God. Jesus’ teaching in our gospel lesson underscores the peculiar, even radical understanding of blessing that animates the Christian tradition. According to Jesus, blessing is not about material abundance. Blessing is to enjoy the regard and favor of God. And the God of Israel to whom Jesus bears witness reserves special regard for the poor, the maligned, the downtrodden. This God shows particular favor to those in need. 

While this may at first seem threatening to those of us who enjoy so much of the world’s bounty, it also clarifies our calling to identify and help those in need. And it promises that God stands also with us in our moments of loss, distress, and poverty. The heart of the God we hear described in these verses is full of mercy and compassion, abounding in steadfast love.

In today’s gospel, Jesus identifies the blessed in stunning particularity.  Jesus’ words stand at the beginning of his “Sermon on the Plain.” This is Jesus’ second major policy statement of his reign. His direct speech compels the listener to ask, “Who me?” Jesus focuses first on his disciples within a great crowd. With the crowds, we overhear his words, wondering if he means it only for the twelve disciples. 

Then we find ourselves specifically included in verse 27 among “you that listen.” Jesus is not delivering an abstract definition of discipleship or sainthood. He is not listing the qualifications to “get into heaven.” He is calling all who hear to become faithful and effective agents of God’s reign here and now.

The problem is not that Jesus’ words are hard to understand. The problem is that their clear meaning is so challenging. The “rules of engagement” of Jesus’ reign stand in sharp contrast to the presumed rights of the prosperous to wealth and good times, “because I earned it!” In their practice of non-violence, Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. enacted Jesus’ words as a social critique and strategy for change. Gandhi admired Jesus, but when asked his opinion of Christianity, he reportedly said, “Oh, it would be wonderful!” In hearing Jesus’ words, rich and poor alike glimpse a realm at odds with the way things are.

What do we make of the “woe” statements? One scholar [Skinner] says a better translation might be, “Yikes! … Jesus urges his hearers to reassess their lives in light of God’s unfolding reign. It seems to me that Jesus’ woe statements are revealing something—that the things we assume are advantages are actually illusory. What if money, comfort, self-won security, respectability, and the like are things that kill our souls—not just in some far-off afterlife but right here, right now? What a tragedy to mistake them for benefits given by God, then. As the passage continues, we get a better sense of how to keep our souls alive and not be tricked by counterfeit blessings.”

All Saints Day is a witness to God’s way of blessing the world. It is not simply reinforcing the entitlement of the privileged to the way things are. It reveals God’s justice fulfilled in mercy—right here and now. The Saints we recognize as the church and those we remembered today in our mind’s eye likely blessed the world with their very lives. We say, thanks be to God.

In 1864, William Walsham How, a bishop in West Yorkshire, England, pointed to the blessing and benefits of remembering the departed saints triumphant. His words were our opening hymn. He points to the communion of saints, living and dead, “Oh bless communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; Yes all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.” 

He also provides the crucial reminder that resurrection is real and certain, a promise affirmed by the bodily resurrection of Christ. “But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day; The saints triumphant rise in bright array; The King of glory passes on His way.”

We cannot replace the saints who have gone before us. But we can remember those lives who blessed others, some who blessed our own lives. We can imitate their most virtuous and heroic qualities. As one pastor wrote, “We can fan into flame the small spark in the saints-in-the-making who come after us.” (Jane Lyon)

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

United with your saints across time and place, we pray for our shared world.

A brief silence.

Holy One, your church rests on the faithful who came before us. Give bishops, pastors, deacons, and lay leaders the will to carry the church forward and discern your will for the future. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Holy One, the earth is yours and all that dwells within it. Care for places ravaged by natural disasters (especially). Quell raging fires and halt destruction caused by flooding. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Holy One, you raise up leaders to guide your people. Kindle in them a passion to care for others, a desire to seek the common good, and the courage to love their enemies. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Holy One, you bless those who are poor, hungry, and reviled. Provide food, housing, and security to all who are vulnerable or in crisis. May those who have more than enough give generously. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Holy One, hold us in community with one another. Nurture a spirit of abundant hospitality and intentional inclusion among us, welcoming the gifts of adults and children. Inspire creative visions for our life together. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Holy One, we remember in thanksgiving all those who have died. (Here the names of those who have died in the previous year may be read.) Wipe away our tears and comfort us with the promise of everlasting life in you. Lord, in your mercy,

receive our prayer.

Accept these prayers, gracious God, and those known only to you; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

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Oct. 23, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, our righteous judge, daily your mercy surprises us with everlasting forgiveness. Strengthen our hope in you, and grant that all the peoples of the earth may find their glory in you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Joel 2:23-32

23O children of Zion, be glad
  and rejoice in the Lord your God;
 for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
  he has poured down for you abundant rain,
  the early and the later rain, as before.
24The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
  the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

25I will repay you for the years
  that the swarming locust has eaten,
 the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
  my great army, which I sent against you.

26You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
  and praise the name of the Lord your God,
  who has dealt wondrously with you.
 And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
  and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
 And my people shall never again be put to shame.

28Then afterward
  I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
 your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
  your old men shall dream dreams,
  and your young men shall see visions.
29Even on the male and female slaves,
  in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

30I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 32Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lordshall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

Psalm 65

1You are to be praised, O | God, in Zion;
  to you shall vows | be fulfilled.
2To you, the one | who answers prayer,
  to you all | flesh shall come.
3Our sins are strong- | er than we are,
  but you blot out | our transgressions.
4Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your | courts to dwell there!
  They will be satisfied by the beauty of your house, by the holiness | of your temple. 
5Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of | our salvation,
  O hope of all the ends of the earth and of the oceans | far away.
6You make firm the mountains | by your power;
  you are girded a- | bout with might.
7You still the roaring | of the seas,
  the roaring of their waves, and the clamor | of the peoples.
8Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your | marvelous signs;
  you make the dawn and the dusk to | sing for joy. 
9You visit the earth and water it abundantly; you make it very plenteous; the river of God is | full of water.
  You prepare the grain, for so you provide | for the earth.
10You drench the furrows and smooth | out the ridges;
  with heavy rain you soften the ground and | bless its increase.
11You crown the year | with your goodness,
  and your paths over- | flow with plenty.
12May the fields of the wilderness be | rich for grazing,
  and the hills be | clothed with joy.
13May the meadows cover themselves with flocks, and the valleys cloak them- | selves with grain;
  let them shout for | joy and sing. 

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

6As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Luke 18:9-14

9[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Pharisee and the Publican 

John Everitt Millais
Tate Britain
London, England 

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The Apostle Paul wrote that the gospel is a stumbling block. One theologian added that the danger is stumbling over the wrong thing. There is something similar going on in today’s parable from Luke’s gospel.

It is difficult to avoid interpreting the parable in simplistic terms. We too easily judge the Pharisee to be a self-righteous hypocrite. Most significant, we assume that this is a parable about morality, and we assume that the moral of the story is to be humble. 

We might as well end up praying, “Lord, we thank you that we are not like other people: hypocrites, overly pious, self-righteous people, or even like this Pharisee. We have learned that we should always be humble.” 

How can we avoid this kind of reading of the parable? It might help first to note that everything the Pharisee says is true. He has set himself apart from others by his faithful adherence to the law. That’s not really so bad. So much of what he lists is good. He has lived a righteous life. But that’s not how the story ends.

After the two prayers Jesus says, “I tell you this man [the tax collector] went to his house justified rather than the other for all who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” It sounds like Jesus is advocating for humility pretty strongly, but what does that mean exactly? 

The Pharisee’s problem is not that he is showing off. It is what he truly believes in his heart—that his stack of good deeds is enough to save the world. And he believes it is enough if only everyone else would do what he does. 

What God says in and through Jesus is that human goodness is never good enough to make us right with God. Human goodness cannot reconcile the world. Basically, if the world could have been reconciled by good advice from God, the world’s problems would have been solved just after Moses made it down Mount Sinai with the 10 Commandments. 

The law, the commandments, are efforts at morality, humility, spirituality, and above all, are efforts at religion. They have value, no doubt about that. They help us live in community with one another and they can help societies flourish for all. But they don’t help us be justified by God. So, God does not risk trying to save the world by human good behavior. God says that the tax collector, who simply looks at his shoes and says, “I’m no good” is justified. Now why is that?

It is no accident that this exchange takes place at the Temple. On the grounds of the Temple, people were intimately aware of who they were. They were aware of what status they had, of what they could expect from God. At the Temple there were insiders and outsiders. According to these rules there was no question of where the Pharisee and tax collector stood. 

But when Jesus dies, all this changes. As the gospels report, the curtain in the Temple is torn in two at Jesus’ death. This symbolically erases all divisions of humanity before God. This might be pushing our interpretation, but perhaps that act is foreshadowed in our parable today. Jesus proclaims justification not for the one favored by Temple law, but the one standing outside the Temple gate, and aware only of his utter need.

This is what makes parables so tricky. As soon as we give into the temptation to divide humanity into any kind of groups, we have aligned ourselves with the Pharisee. Whether our division is between unrighteous and sinners, or even between the self-righteous and the humble, we are doomed. Anytime you draw a line between who is in and who is out, you will find God on the other side. 

Read this way, the parable reveals that it is not about self-righteousness and humility any more than it is about a pious Pharisee and a desperate tax collector. Instead, this parable, is about God: God who alone can judge the human heart; God who determines to justify the ungodly. 

At the end of the parable, the Pharisee will leave the Temple and return to his home righteous. This has not changed. He was righteous when he came up and righteous as he goes back down. The tax collector, however, will leave the Temple and go back down to his home justified, that is, accounted righteous by God. How has this happened?

The tax collector makes neither sacrifice nor restitution. On what basis is he accounted righteous? On the basis of God’s divine rule! We find ourselves, yet again, with nothing to claim but our dependence on God’s mercy. When this happens and we forget if only for a moment, our human-constructed divisions, and stand before God aware only of our need, then we, also, are justified by the God of Jesus. We too are invited to return to our homes in mercy, grace, and gratitude. 

It’s parables like this one that at the end of the day I absolutely love. There is a lot that I preach from the pulpit that people who are not people of faith would agree with—how we might love our neighbor, reminding us of those who live on the margins, care for the natural world, what it looks like to live in community. For me, I’m always preaching with the lens of my Christian faith. 

But today’s parable is about the lens itself and really nothing else. It is about a God whose abundant love is almost offensive to humans because it is so vast. We are reminded that we worship a God not only of second chances, but third and fourth and fifth, and seventy times seven chances. We might love this holy one but we do not always like this God’s method of operation. If you’re like me, you don’t like God’s methods until you have done something so awful or you have left something undone which you so regret, then you pray, “God be merciful to me, a sinner” and God hears your prayer and welcomes you home.

One of my favorite commentators wrote that what Jesus is saying in this parable is “that as far as the Pharisee’s ability to win a game of justification with God is concerned, he is no better off than the publican. As a matter of fact, the Pharisee is worse off; because while they are both losers, the tax collector at least has the sense to recognize the fact and trust God’s offer of a free drink. The point of the parable is that they are both dead, and their only hope is someone who can raise the dead.” (Capon)

On Saturday I went to the cluster event at Hope Lutheran and listened as a colleague described reading a book and feeling immense guilt that they are not doing enough about this issue. It reminded me of my new bedtime meditation, a sort of examine of the day that is ending. The application asks me to remember when I clearly encountered God. There is time for confession—for sins of commission or omission. It does not matter the day, every day, even my best days, there is something to confess. Words of scripture, different passages each evening, are woven throughout the devotion. But every night, the same words end the prayer: “God of all seasons, the sun has set, the night has gathered in, my soul sinks slowly into Your rest, trusting now in the resurrection to come.” 

With those words, I’m reminded that in the waters of Holy Baptism I have already drowned with Christ and been given new life. The new life was not mine to give or earn; it could only be received from God alone through Jesus Christ. 

There is so much good that congregations can and are doing in this new chapter of life. Scripture, our source for so much, grounds us and hopefully drives us to be leaders in reconciliation, participants in caring for the natural world, and protecting human dignity, to name some big ones. For me and for you, all of that good work stems from the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. You are justified by God’s grace alone, nothing else. It is not up to you; thanks be to God. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection you are justified and made alive each day. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

In gratitude and humility, let us join together in prayer on behalf of all of God’s creation.

A brief silence.

God of mercy, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your name. Inspire your church to serve and love all people with the unceasing grace you extend to us. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of all creation, you formed a world where even the sparrow finds a home. Preserve the beauty and diversity of all creatures with whom we share the earth. Lead us to protect all living things. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of peace, you are an ever-present help in time of trouble. Rescue families and nations torn apart by violence and warfare (especially). Unite all people toward common goals of reconciliation and peace for every person. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of hope, you stand with the suffering and give strength. Comfort your people filled with fear or anger, anxiety or shame. Bring healing to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit (especially). Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

God of restoration, you call us to trust in you and not ourselves alone. Make this congregation a community of humility and repentance, ready to encounter you in love and follow in your ways. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

God of eternal life, to you be the glory forever. We give you thanks for (James of Jerusalem and) all who have fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith, and now live with you. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

With grateful hearts we commend our spoken and silent prayers to you, O God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

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Oct. 16, 2022

Prayer of the Day

O Lord God, tireless guardian of your people, you are always ready to hear our cries. Teach us to rely day and night on your care. Inspire us to seek your enduring justice for all this suffering world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Jeremiah 31:27-34

27The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. 28And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. 29In those days they shall no longer say: 
 “The parents have eaten sour grapes,
  and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
30But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Psalm 119:97-104

97Oh, how I | love your teaching!
  All the day long it is | in my mind.
98Your commandment has made me wiser | than my enemies,
  for it is | always with me.
99I have more understanding than | all my teachers,
  for your decrees | are my study.
100I am wiser | than the elders,
  because I observe | your commandments. 
101I restrain my feet from every | evil way,
  that I may | keep your word.
102I do not turn aside | from your judgments,
  because you your- | self have taught me.
103How sweet are your words | to my taste!
  They are sweeter than honey | to my mouth.
104Through your commandments I gain | understanding;
  therefore I hate every | lying way.

2 Timothy 3:14–4:5

14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
4:1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

Luke 18:1-8

1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Jesus tells a parable about two people.  First there is a truly disgusting judge. He is a sleazy jurist, probably put in his position through some political shenanigans.  The widow is the woman who always gets the raw deal, because she has nothing—no husband, no inheritance, no social standing.  What hope does she have before this judge?   

She does have one thing.  She can pester. Leaving messages on his answering machine, constantly banging on his door, giving him no peace — she is persistent.  Finally, the judge says to himself, “Even though I could care less about God and can’t stand humanity, I will give this woman what she wants, just to get her out of my hair.”  

Maybe in this story, Jesus wants us to understand that, even though the world may look broken, unjust, and corrupt, if we keep working at it, if we persistently believe the world to be a basically good place, things will work out.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  

But if that were the parable’s lesson, this would not be, “Pray always and don’t lose heart,” but merely “Keep at it, be persistent, and things will eventually work out for the best.” If that were the point, Jesus would have said we should keep at prayer, harassing God until we get what we want. But Jesus told this parable, “In order that we might pray always without ceasing and not lose heart.” 

This is a parable about the character of God. It’s about a judge. If this sleazy judge will open up his hand to those who seek justice, how much more so will God?  Think of prayer, not as asking God to do this or that for us, but rather as asking God to be God, to be who God is. 
This parable is a story, not so much about the efficacy of prayer, but about the character of God and the kingdom God wants to usher in. The judge revealed his sleaziness. God reveals God’s goodness. 

For me this parable is primarily about the relationship between prayer and justice. And when I speak of justice I mean fairness, equity, making sure everyone has enough, biblical justice. I have learned a great deal about the relationship between prayer and justice the past few years.

In February 2020, I was in California for a training with Lutheran church leaders from across the American West. We were preparing to lead groups on Zoom through a series of spiritual practices. We all thought we were going to be part of a big and relatively new experiment—could we create genuine community online? Little did we know that the rest of the world was going to quickly join the experiment.

Central to the spiritual practices I led my Northwest Intermountain Synod group through was the relationship between prayer and doing justice. Readers of Richard Rohr’s daily devotions might use the language of contemplation and action (like the name of the center Rohr founded in New Mexico). 

Every Sunday, after a time of checking in, I led the group through a spiritual practice, different each week. Then we would reflect together on our experience. Finally, we would discuss what action the spiritual practice might be leading us into the next week. Often the commitment to action was small—take time to listen to someone, ground myself before a meeting, go on a walk to clear my head, be truly present to another person.

These 12 faith practices are not a list of things to check off. This was not a different spin on earning eternal life or forgiveness through good works. I see the practices as a response to the abundant love of God we have already received. Trying them, making them part of our life of faith, nurtures our relationship with God, a relationship we are already in. Participating in these faith practices in community, rather than individually, helps create new relationships with other disciples, other people trying to follow Jesus. Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly to me, the spiritual practices impact our relationships with self.

I led a second group through the spiritual practices last year and am getting ready to start leading my third group. A huge piece of the experience has in fact been listening. We do a lot of listening—to one another, to God, and to our own selves. And this brings me back to the relationship between action and contemplation or prayer and justice. Listening is crucial to both prayer and justice. It is, in my humble opinion, a key part of following Jesus. A huge part of the Christian calling is to listen—to the Word of God through scripture, to neighbors and strangers and friends, to the stirrings in my own soul, to other followers of Jesus, to people who society tries to mute, and to the Holy Spirit.

With all of that as context, let’s look at the parable again. It’s natural to want to see ourselves as the widow in Jesus’ parable this morning. And for some of us, that may be a faithful interpretation for today or some time in our past. For those in our city, county, and world with very little power and agency, all they can do is cry out for justice—cry out to those with more power and cry out to God.

However, most of us gathered here have at least a little agency, and a little power. We are, therefore, not the widow or the judge. We are somewhere else in the parable. We may be the ones with power to have prevented some of the widow’s despair. The question for us, reading this parable about prayer and justice, is how does the one inform the other? Put another way, how do our prayers transform or shape our quest for justice, our discipleship? 

When I once asked a college student attending worship here what she appreciated about worship at Trinity she stated, “You cannot pray the prayers of intercession Sunday after Sunday and not be transformed.” We follow a pattern each week which includes intercessions for the church, the well-being of creation, for peace and justice in the world, for the poor, oppressed and lonely, for all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, and for our congregation. 

Yes, we have a list of people connected to our congregation who we might remember silently in our hearts, but the prayers are never a list of merely our material wants. And I can say, as someone who grew up in this tradition and has prayed these petitions with assemblies for over 40 years that they have in fact continually transformed me and my view of the world.

One writer suggested that prayer, in the context of this morning’s parable, is a way to describe confidence in and openness to the support of God.

Luther theologian Dietrich Bonoheffer once said that “Our being Christian today will consist in only two things: in praying and in doing justice among people.” He too saw the connection. When you pray every week or every day for justice to be done, for the lowly to be lifted up, for unjust systems to be dismantled, for the weak to the be strengthened, for the powerful to be brought down, for parts of creation to be made whole again, then you want to be part of making all of that happen in whatever small way you can. 

You might help people register to vote or get to the poles. You might read about candidates and issues we are voting on with the lens of faith. You might earn or spend money in new ways. You might give your time to causes aligned with the Gospel and our prayers of intercession. As one person put it, “crying out to God” must be correlated with practices consistent with the dogged pursuit of justice.” (Green)

Later in this service we will pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come…”  See?  First the Lord ’s Prayer talks about who God is, before it asks God to do anything like give us bread or forgive us our sin.  We wouldn’t even bother God about bread were it not for our abiding conviction that we are God’s creatures and that our Creator cares. 

In praying we show our confidence that this God hears, and cares, and acts. When we pray for something as mundane, as essential as “daily bread” it is making a rather amazing statement of faith in the goodness of God. Prayer is our way of responding to God’s love. We join our God who cares about bread, and rain, and peace, and forgiveness. Prayer is the courageous determination to let God be God and to become part of God’s kingdom breaking into this world.

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

In gratitude and humility, let us join together in prayer on behalf of all of God’s creation.

A brief silence.

For all the baptized, that they become skilled in compassion and grace and equipped to share the good news with all. Grant your followers persistence in proclamation and prayer. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

For air and sky, clouds and sun, that they provide rain to parched land and relief to flooded ground. Renew and restore our polluted atmosphere and empower us to be worthy stewards of creation. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

For judges, juries, and all who work in the judicial system, that they desire wisdom, seek truth, rule with fairness, and have the courage to do what is right. Eliminate oppression and injustice in our criminal justice system. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

For all who are lonely, especially those who have newly arrived in an unfamiliar city or country, political prisoners without recourse to justice, hospital patients without visitors, and any who are ill or grief-stricken. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

For those in our congregation and community engaged in advocacy work (local ministries may be named), that with the persistence of the widow, they lift their voices in seeking justice on behalf of others. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

For those who have taught us faith and now rest in your heavenly peace (especially), that we remember and give thanks for these saints who shared the gospel through word and deed. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

With grateful hearts we commend our spoken and silent prayers to you, O God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

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Oct. 9, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation. Keep us safe from all that may hurt us, that, whole and well in body and spirit, we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

1These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Psalm 66:1-12

1Be joyful in God, | all you lands;
  be joyful, | all the earth.
2Sing the glory | of God’s name;
  sing the glory | of God’s praise.
3Say to God, “How awesome | are your deeds!
  Because of your great strength your enemies | cringe before you.
4All the earth bows | down before you,
  sings to you, sings | out your name.” 
5Come now and see the | works of God,
  how awesome are God’s deeds | toward all people.
6God turned the sea into dry land, so that they went through the wa- | ter on foot,
  and there we re- | joiced in God.
7Ruling forever in might, God keeps watch o- | ver the nations;
  let no rebels ex- | alt themselves.
8Bless our | God, you peoples;
  let the sound of | praise be heard. 
9Our God has kept us a- | mong the living
  and has not allowed our | feet to slip.
10For you, O God, have | tested us;
  you have tried us just as sil- | ver is tried.
11You brought us in- | to the net;
  you laid heavy burdens up- | on our backs.
12You let people ride over our heads; we went through | fire and water,
  but you brought us out into a place | of refreshment. 

2 Timothy 2:8-15

8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11The saying is sure: 
 If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12if we endure, we will also reign with him;
 if we deny him, he will also deny us;
13if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
 for he cannot deny himself.

14Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Luke 17:11-19

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Christ and the Ten Lepers  —  Codex Aureus Epternacensis, Freising, Germany

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Jesus is continuing to teach his listeners and followers about discipleship, clear and simple. Ever since he turned his face towards Jerusalem, Jesus has been telling parables, teaching his followers how to pray, and healing people. All of it has been in the service of explaining and showing what precisely it means to follow Jesus, to be part of his reign of God work, to be a disciple. The same is true of our story today, especially if we pay attention to the details.

As the story unfolds, ten lepers were cleansed on their way to the priests. And why did only one turn back to praise Jesus? Maybe some of the former lepers were rule followers. Even though they were cured on their way to the priests, they thought to follow Jewish law and go see the religious authorities just in case. Maybe they didn’t make it to the priests but instead went home to rejoice with their families or friends—showing them the sores that were cured, the feet and hands that grew back.  And maybe, just maybe, weeks or months later they caught up with Jesus and fell on their knees and shouted their thanks and praise.  

The story points us not to what those cured lepers did not do but what the one leper did.  It may be impossible to imagine any cured leper being more or less thankful than another, but perhaps he was. Lepers were, as we can imagine, banished from their communities, so much so that the only people they could turn to for companionship with other lepers. But this one leper was an outsider in his outsider community. Why? Because he was a Samaritan.  

The tension between Jews and Samaritans has roots in a somewhat complicated history, which is worth studying. For the purposes of understanding today’s text, what’s important is that during the time Jesus is teaching, Jews would have considered Samaritans their enemies. So, when I say that the Samaritan leper was an outsider in his outsider community, I mean that he was twice ostracized.  Then all at once he is cured—restored at least to the human race.

He runs back to Jesus and thanks him and it seems that in the thanking and in the praising, he is made well, no longer simply cured of his disease, but made well, whole, complete; and all of this despite being a foreigner and enemy. And he gives thanks not to the universe, not to some abstract thing, not to a pantheon of Roman Gods—Jupiter, Mars, Venus, but to the very man who has cured him.

The one who returns to Jesus does so because he recognized that he was “healed.” He does not return to be healed. He returns, instead, to give thanks and praise to God. This is no small act. It is also not something entirely new in Luke’s particular gospel. Beginning with the shepherds in the fields, continuing with Simeon and Anna at the infant Jesus’ presentation in the temple, to witnesses of Jesus’ miracles, and finally to the centurion at the foot of the cross. Like others who come in contact with Jesus, the healed Samaritan who returns to Jesus shows us that the proper response to any act of grace is thanks and praise to God.

I want to go on a short interlude here because of how this text has sometimes hit me in the past. Many of you know that I have been treated successfully with medication for Epilepsy for many years. My story with that illness is long and hard and so far has a pretty great ending in which I was not cured, but was certainly healed and restored to a relatively normal life. Fortunately, no one every approached my family members or I and just said, “if you only had stronger faith, you would be cured of this illness.” And there are people with Epilepsy who never get the right medication, treatment, or surgery. But they can still have abundant life. They can still be full members of society, not ostracized. That restoration and healing work is ours to do—those of us gathered here who claim to follow Jesus.

To be sure, it is not that faith played no part in my journey with Epilepsy, and I would speak for both of my parents here too. Much as I like our Psalm for the day, with its remembrance of the deliverance through the Red Sea, today’s gospel actually makes me think of Psalm 136 with its continuous refrain about God’s love enduring forever, a truth that has sustained so many who are depleted and worn down.

“O Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good, for God’s love endures forever. O give thanks to the God of gods, for God’s love endures forever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for God’s steadfast love endures forever.”  Over and over that line is repeated, almost pummeled into the prayer: for God’s love endures forever.

If we know that God’s love endures forever, why do we not praise God? So many reasons. Take your pick. We get distracted by life and we forget. Long ago we simply had the distractions of family and maybe co-workers. But now there are so many messages coming at us through our screens, billboards, radio, and television. Everyone wants a piece of our time, money, attention and yes, praise.

Something else that keeps us from praising God is as old as the Ten Commandments. The idols may look different today than they did in Sinai, but we still contend with a variety of other gods—money, power, status. There is a reason the first commandment is the first: You shall have no other gods. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther wrote, “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” When we have other gods, we naturally give praise to other gods.

And of course, we do not praise God because life is hard, and we get weary and worn. Illness (physical or emotional), the loss of a job, the loss of a life, the loss of a future, betrayal. Sometimes the circumstances of our life are beyond difficult and there simply do not seem to be any acts of grace for which to give God praise. 

And yet, despite the fact that we are weary, forgetful, and that we turn to other gods, God’s love endures forever. And God just keeps showing up. God continues to heal and restore us. What is so remarkable to me about God’s action is how ordinary it usually is. I loved my mom and my short trip to the Wallowa Mountains and all we learned about Chief Joseph and the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce. Like the trip with our teenagers to Minneapolis-St. Paul in July, I think travel, with the intentionality to learn about those who are different than us, is going to continue to be important for healing to take place in this world. 

And yet, I am also a recipient of healing and restoration that are very ordinary: conversation with a friend, sharing a meal with loved ones, a hike exploring the beauty of the natural world. 

This is God’s M.O. so I should not be surprised. But our disappointment in God’s use of the ordinary is also nothing new. We want dramatic gestures and special words. We want the power of this world. And instead we get a four-word promise, “God’s love endures forever.” Instead of amazing rituals, we get a simple baptismal font. Instead of complicated proclamations with lots of fanfare we are invited to a meal of bread and wine. We call the sacraments Means of Grace. With earthly elements and a few words, “for you, for the forgiveness of sin,” we are transformed once again.

At the heart of Holy Baptism is the Prayer of Thanksgiving, during which I say, on behalf of our entire assembly, something like, “Blessed are you, O God, maker and ruler of all things. Your voice thundered over the waters at creation. You water the mountains and send springs into the valleys to refresh and satisfy all living things.

Through the waters of the flood you carried those in the ark to safety. Through the sea you led your people Israel from slavery to freedom. In the wilderness you nourished them with water from the rock, and you brought them across the river Jordan to the promised land.

By the baptism of his death and resurrection, your Son Jesus has carried us to safety and freedom. The floods shall not overwhelm us, and the deep shall not swallow us up, for Christ has brought us over to the land of promise. He sends us to make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

God doesn’t need to be reminded of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, so why do we say this prayer? We need to be reminded. The Prayer of Thanksgiving helps us remember. And whenever we hear the prayer, whenever we wash our face and remember our baptism, whenever we remember, we cannot help but give thanks and praise for all that God has and will continue to provide.  And, whenever we give thanks, we are made well, made whole, made complete.

Prayers of Intercession

In gratitude and humility, let us join together in prayer on behalf of all of God’s creation.

Gracious God, we give you thanks for bishops, pastors, and deacons (church leaders may be named). Inspire leaders of the church to proclaim your mighty deeds, that your saving faith may be known to all. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Majestic God, we give you thanks for land and water, seedtime and harvest. Break down boundaries we construct between ourselves and the rest of your creation. Bring renewal and restoration to places affected by pollution and deforestation. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Mighty God, we give you thanks for those in our community, nation, and world who work for justice and peace. Guide those who govern to act on behalf of those marginalized by race, ethnicity, or religion. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Merciful God, we give you thanks that you hear the cries of those in need. Restore to community those who are stigmatized by illness, feel rejected, or who live in isolation. Send healing to all who suffer (especially). Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Faithful God, we give you thanks for the healing ministries of this congregation. Equip those who visit, care, and pray for the sick (especially). Give insight to doctors, nurses, home health aides, and all practitioners of medical arts. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Eternal God, we give you thanks for your faithful people who have gone before us to your glory. Renew our trust in your eternal promises of mercy, redemption, and new life. Hear us, O God.

Your mercy is great.

With grateful hearts we commend our spoken and silent prayers to you, O God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

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Oct. 2, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Benevolent, merciful God: When we are empty, fill us. When we are weak in faith, strengthen us. When we are cold in love, warm us, that with fervor we may love our neighbors and serve them for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19The thought of my affliction | and my homelessness
  is worm- | wood and gall!
20My soul continually | thinks of it
  and is bowed | down within me. 
21But this I | call to mind,
  and therefore | I have hope:
22The steadfast love of the Lord| never ceases,
  God’s mercies never come | to an end; 
23they are new | every morning;
  great | is your faithfulness.
24“You are all that I have,” | says my soul,
  “therefore I will hope in | you, O Lord.”
25You are good to those who | wait for you,
  to all that | search for you.
26It is good that one | should wait quietly
  for the salvation | of the Lord.

2 Timothy 1:1-14

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2To Timothy, my beloved child: 
  Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Luke 17:5-10

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Today is our last Sunday in The Season of Creation, an ecumenical movement begun in 1989. It began with Sept. 1, a day of prayer for creation and culminates Oct. 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. Our Season of Creation will conclude Wednesday evening on the lawn with our annual Pet Blessing. 

The planners of The Season of Creation, writing about the 2022 theme The Burning Bush, remind us that “the fire that called Moses as he tended the flock on Mt. Horeb did not consume or destroy the bush. This flame of the Spirit revealed God’s presence. This holy fire affirmed that God heard the cries of all who suffered and promised to be with us as we followed in faith to our deliverance from injustice. In this Season of Creation, this symbol of God’s Spirit calls us to listen to the voice of creation.” Listen to the voice of creation.

Surprising even to me, this week I was drawn not to the passages from Luke or Lamentations, but to the reading from Second Timothy. The salutation, full of confidence, opens this personal letter. Paul’s apostleship is confirmed, rooted in no other than Christ Jesus and even “by the will of God.” “The promise of life” seems to assume Paul’s impending death (according to the church’s history, Paul was beheaded near Rome). This promised life is eternal life beyond this world, full of joy and peace, which must be the ultimate source of courage and encouragement in overcoming continuing pain and suffering. 

In the second part of our passage, the intimate spiritual-parental relation between Paul and Timothy is recounted. Significantly, we are introduced to Timothy’s own matrilineal life of faith. What is intriguing is the reference to the “ancestors” of faith and Timothy’s grandmother, Lois. As Romans had a suspicion of new religious cults but put high esteem on ancient religions, this reference may have served as a fine apologetic tactic vis-à-vis the anti-Christian, hostile environment. 

This move is, to some extent, what I am trying to do today and tried to accomplish during this Season of Creation. Anyone who thinks care for creation is new to Christianity or humanity in the 21st century, is sorely mistaken. The urgency may be different, but the words of Hildegard of Bingen, Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, and Timothy Egan remind us just how far back all this reflection goes. As the apostle Paul could point to Timothy’s grandmother Lois, so we can point to these ancestors in this movement of listening to the voice of creation. 

To that list, today we lift up two more. Francis of Assisi is known for his joy and delight in God’s creation and is often portrayed in art rather sentimentally surrounded by birds and other creatures. However, his wisdom regarding creation was based not on what was perceived as beautiful. Instead, his delight in God’s creation was grounded in his theology.

He recognized the ‘imprint’ of God in every creature – a deeply sacramental view of creation. And his devotion to Jesus who became our brother led him into a sense of fraternity, not only with people but also with all things, animate and inanimate. Towards the end of his life he composed the ‘Canticle of Brother Sun’ in which every creature as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ gives thanks and praise to God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of life. 

Francis Canticle reminds us, as do several of the psalms, that creation sings its own song of praise to God. Duns Scotus, a late thirteenth century Franciscan theologian, speaks of every creature in its unique ‘thisness’ pointing towards, or ‘doing’ Christ, who is the goal and purpose of creation, cf ‘…all things have been created through him and for him’, Col 1.16. Our own care for creation involves us seeking/desiring our true fulfilment in Christ and learning to sing in harmony with the rest of creation – rather than imposing our ‘solutions’ to the crisis which the world is facing.    

In addition to St. Francis, today our musical offering lifts up additional voices, voices of our Indigenous brothers and sisters who use the phrase, “In sacred manner.” Susan Palo Cherwin wrote the text after she took a course called “Fate of the Earth.” I know that many Indigenous people pray this prayer, but, perhaps because Western South Dakota will always be home, when I hear these words, I think first of Black Elk and his vision.

Black Elk says, “And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.”

Black Elk Speaks is the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk, who lived from 1863-1950, and his people during momentous last years of the nineteenth century. The book offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk’s searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, recorded and conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made the book a classic. 

Sounding like a kindred spirit to St. Francis, Black Elk said, “I could see that the Wasichus [the White people] did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation’s hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. They had forgotten that the earth was their mother.” 

Some colleagues might think I am foolish to return to the passage from Second Timothy and its words about suffering, but I think they help us address something important about care of creation. Some suffering is inevitable—the death of a loved one who dies of old age, a once every century flood. Some suffering is preventable and as people called to help bring in the reign of God, we are called to help prevent it—I would put in this category food scarcity, more frequent extreme weather events, the growing wealth gap. 

And then there is suffering that comes with following Jesus—you speak up when a family member uses a racial slur and it costs you in the relationship, you house an undocumented immigrant—welcoming the foreigner. As we suggested to Confirmation students last Saturday—you haul your trash around with you for a week. 

Writing in a very different time than our own, Paul, or one of his followers, is writing about this last kind of suffering. The last part of our passage is encouragement for the continued courageous missional life in the Holy Spirit, in the midst of persecution. 

It cannot be overemphasized that this third part considers pain or suffering encountered in the life of faith not to be the unfortunate result of unattractive, forced or illegitimate religious life, but the true mark of faithful, grace-filled living in Christ. In other words, the letter seems to say suffering is a natural part of faithful living and since Christ has already overcome it so can we. 

If Christ has already “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” why do we still have suffering in life, particularly persecution due to faithful living? The passage itself does not provide a quick answer for it. In 1 and 2 Timothy taken as a whole, we may sense that these letters see suffering or defeat of it from a cosmic kairos perspective. That is, in the eyes of Christ who lives through eternity now, all the suffering or pain lose their control and are already crushed in his dominion. 

All of the Pauline letters and our passage this morning seem to solemnly state that pain is real pain, shame is shame, and suffering is so very real, which could be very devastating for those going through these things; Paul found himself in distress and agony on many occasions. Yet, no pain or persecution will have its final victory over the faithful who endure it. The kairos time and events are also real. And it is already happening. If only we have eyes to see it with the help of the Holy Spirit, the passage finally seems to say, all should be well even in the midst of all the chaos and mishaps—which are, by the way, always normal in any type of ministry. 

I can’t say what this Season of Creation has meant to each of you. For me, as proclaimer, it has been a call to look at my every day actions and how they impact my neighbors near and far and who they impact the natural world. The season has reminded me that in this work, as in the work of alleviating food scarcity and the housing crisis, we share the company of the communion of saints. I am not the first or last to make care of creation part of following Jesus Christ. On some days, the fact that this work is more urgent than ever has made me so discouraged. On other days I have found great hope in all the people and communities who are so creative and passionate.

With that contrast of despair and hope in mind, let’s hear once more from Black Elk’s vision: “You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see.” 

Prayers of Intercession

As scattered grains of wheat are gathered together into one bread, so let us gather our prayers for the church, those in need, and all of God’s good creation.

A brief silence.

We pray for your holy church in every place and for those who serve following the example of Christ (rostered and lay leaders may be named). Help them to live by faith and walk by the light of your gospel. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

For parts of the world ravaged by natural disaster (especially): relieve those affected by floods, wildfires, droughts, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

For every nation and for those entrusted with authority: grant our leaders self-discipline in all things, and inspire them with love for your people. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

For victims of violence, abuse, and neglect: heal those who have been harmed and protect those who are vulnerable. For all who are sick (especially). God of grace,

hear our prayer.

For this and every congregation: rekindle your gifts within your people, and inspire councils, committees, and individuals to plan and work together that all may know your love. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

In thanksgiving that you have abolished death, and for the saints who have died (especially). Bring us all to eternal life with you. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Gathered together in the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit, gracious God, we offer these and all our prayers to you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Amen.

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