Messages, Meditations, and Musings on the Life of Faith by Rev. Dr. Scott E. Olson, Interim Senior Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church, Waseca, MN

Sunday, April 21, 2019

"Do Not Be Afraid" - Sermon for Easter Sunday, Resurrection of Our Lord

Do Not Be Afraid
Resurrection of Our Lord – Narrative Lectionary 1
April 21, 2019
Grace, Mankato, MN
Matthew 28.1-10

I think I lost joy in the 9th grade. It was still Junior High School then, because our high school was so big, even with only three grades. I was in the cafeteria during lunch when I spied a former and very well-admired teacher. I was so excited because I hadn’t seen my 8th grade biology teacher, Mr. J since I took a summer school elective. So, I jumped up and shouted his name, only to be immediately pushed back down by an iron grip to my shoulder. The iron grip belonged to Mr. P, my current English teacher. Now, Mr. P was also a Navy Air Reserve pilot whose military bearing pervaded the classroom, most notably as he called each of us Mr. or Miss. Now, I enjoyed the rigor of Mr. P’s Accelerated English class, but today I only felt was shame and embarrassment. This incident, coupled with my innate Scandinavian stoicism, shoved joy into the darkest recesses of my soul rarely to see the light of day.

The two Marys came to the tomb that first Easter morning, probably to pay their respects. The joy of sharing the Passover meal with their Teacher, friend, and leader, Jesus, had been shoved down by events of the previous days. His sham trial by the religious leaders and execution by the occupying Romans throttled joy virtually to the point of extinction. It’s doubtful that the two had remembered Jesus’ promise to rise again, but they came to the tomb anyway. So, when the earth shook, the stone rolled away and the angel appeared, the first words they heard were, “Do not be afraid,” and their world was rocked and thrown into even more confusion.

“He is not here,” the angel says, “he has been raised and is going to meet you in Galilee.” They leave the empty tomb and as they go they do so “with fear and great joy.” Then, Jesus meets them with the same words as the angel spoke, “Do not be afraid.” They did the only thing they could possibly do: they worshiped him. Jesus repeats and clarifies the angel’s message, sending them to bring the same message to the rest of Jesus’ followers. From other Gospels we know that they are hiding in fear behind locked doors. So it is in this new, post-resurrection world that women become the first apostles and evangelists.

In the resurrection of Jesus, God reached down in the deepest recesses of fear, anguish and pain to bring new life, and not just the stunning promise of the resurrection to eternal life of all whom we hold dear and who have passed on before us. God breaks open the tombs of our losses and insecurities, everything standing in the way of life. My fear of expressing joy and other emotions has served me well in many ways. I have an ability to stay calm during difficulties and I can usually keep my head when others lose theirs. But stuffing that joy has come at a great price, resulting in being afraid to experience joy lest I only to be disappointed in the end.

I am grateful that God has used various means to break me open so that I can begin to live the resurrected life. I hope that you are experiencing the joy of the resurrection today, but if not, that’s okay. Do not be afraid. The Easter message is that God does not give up on us, even in the face of death, especially in the face of death. You see, resurrection faith gives us courage to lean into the hard things in life, even when we don’t know the outcome. Wherever you are in life, whatever is happening, know that God continues to work away at your fears. Do not be afraid, for Christ is risen and new life is yours, both now and in the age to come. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

"It’s Time" - Sermon for Maundy Thursday

It’s Time
Maundy Thursday – Narrative Lectionary 1
April 18, 2019
Grace, Mankato, MN
Matthew 26.17-30

Her water has broken and the contractions are getting closer together. The mother’s body is ready; it’s time to push. It’s not time because of some arbitrary due date declared by the OB/GYN approximately nine months earlier. It’s time because the baby says so. In another scene, the convict is led away in chains, trudging down a dark hall. The final meal has been eaten and prayers have been said. It’s time for death to come, not because of an arbitrary time set by the warden or governor, but because the trials are over and the appeals have been exhausted. These are but two examples of many that describe most times in our lives. We are not as regulated by clock time as much as we think, but rather the fullness of time.

 “My time is at hand,” Jesus says to his closest friends/followers in our reading for tonight. Soon the final meal will be eaten, prayers said, trials over and the appeals exhausted. It will be time for death to come, but only at Jesus’ say so. The religious leaders think this will happen on their time and in their way, but they are deluded. God is not only in control of time but also works in, with, and through all time for his purposes. If Jesus’ time is at hand it is because it is the right time—God time—not because they or we say it is.

During his last meal, Jesus makes the most of the time he has left to spend time with the disciples, his closest friends. In the Passover meal they share, it’s time to let them know that they are about to be liberated from sin and death, just as their ancestors were freed from the oppression of the Egyptians 1,300 years before. It’s time for them to understand more fully that they will be sharing in Jesus’ cup of suffering in the years ahead. It’s time for them to get a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and a taste of forgiveness they’ll need because of what will happen in the days ahead.

Tonight, it’s time for some of our young people to join in that same experience as the disciples. It’s not time because we’ve set an arbitrary clock or the calendar fell a certain way; Jesus certainly didn’t set one. It’s not time because they’ve gone through some classes and studied some Bible passages. These are all fine, good, and important, but it is time not because they are ready to receive him. It is time because Jesus is ready to give himself away for these young people, and has been for some time.

In Jesus’ timeless self-giving act we are reminded that the time is near for death to be defeated. Water will pour from his side and the pains of crucifixion will intensify. Three days later it will be time for the earth to push forth new life from death, not because we say so but because God says so. Meanwhile, it’s time for us to pause and remember, to taste the forgiveness that keeps on coming no matter what we do, to gather with saints past, present, and future, and to continue our walk with Jesus to the cross and tomb. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

"Out of the Mouths of Babes" - Sermon for Palm Sunday

Out of the Mouths of Babes
Palm Sunday – Narrative Lectionary 1
April 14, 2019
Grace, Mankato, MN
Matthew 21.1-17

 “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” These are shouts from the crowds, both from those who were following him into Jerusalem and from those who were coming out to meet him. In a first century version of a ticker tape parade for a conquering hero, Jesus is proclaimed as a king, the Son of David come to rule over Jerusalem. In doing so Jesus makes a royal claim upon both the people and the city.

Yet, Jesus is not your typical king. He comes riding a donkey, not a warhorse, and riding humbly at that. He steps up from walking, not stepping down from a warhorse, showing them he’s no ordinary king. He is not going to conquer by brute force. In this triumphal entry and as events unfold, Jesus both affirms his kingship and redefines it. As we know, this king will ascend the throne of the cross and will save his people while doing so.

We know that the triumphal entry and the cleansing of the temple will put into motion events leading to his death. He turns the temple from a place of commerce and sacrifice into one of healing. But, the religious leaders cannot see what even the children are able to see: Jesus is the Son of David. Blessed is he! Out of the mouths of babes comes a truth so pure and so perceptive. Even so, they get dismissed out of hand.

Many of you might remember Art Linkletter’s bit, “Kids Say the Darnedest Things.” Linkletter would ask young children questions and they would come up with humorous but straight answers that would be both honest and incredibly funny, not to mention insightful. In one segment I watched, a young boy was asked how his parents helped around the house. He gave the typical domestic answers for a mother of his generation. When asked how his father helped out, he thought hard for several seconds and then said, “He makes cocktails.” Apparently, this ability of children to be perceptive has been going on for at least a thousand years, because Jesus quotes Psalm 8: “out of the mouth of babes.”

Yet, why are we surprised when children cut through the clutter and say things that are incredibly shrewd? But, it’s not just children that suffer that indignity is it? There are others at the margins we ignore. We discount the elderly, women, those with differing intellectual abilities, the less educated, non-white, etc. I knew a pastor whose whole demeanor changed toward someone when he discovered the guy who “only” trained horses for a living not only had a bachelor’s degree but also had a master’s degree, in his chosen field. In truth, we can be like the Pharisees.

The thing is, we forget that the margin of society is where Jesus hung out and, frankly, probably still does. Think about the kind of people we tend to save our praise for: rich, celebrities, sports heroes, etc. Yet any change of substance has come from those voices on the edge. Think about Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, and that lowly Augustinian monk from a backwater country, Martin Luther. Substantive changes come from these areas because that’s where God tends to work, doing new things, upsetting the status quo and encouraging us to come along.

I can tell you many stories of times when I’ve missed hearing something important because I dismissed someone out of hand. I’m not proud of it so I ask God for the grace to be fully present with everyone I meet. As we move forward with our goals as a congregation for the next 3-5 years, let us seek out those voices for wisdom. We can practice by listening to these voices as we go to cross and tomb. Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest heaven! Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

"Seeing Jesus, Being Jesus" - Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Seeing Jesus, Being Jesus
Lent 5 – Narrative Lectionary 1
April 7, 2019
Grace, Mankato, MN
Matthew 25.31-46

During the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century, there was an argument among the Reformers about Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine of Holy Communion many of whom delighted in disputing all things Roman Catholic. (It may come as a shock that early church leaders argued among themselves.) One reformer, arguing against real presence, said that it was only a spiritual presence while another arguing similarly said that that we are lifted to the throne of Grace where Jesus is. Their reasoning against “real” presence was that Jesus was at the right hand of God and therefore couldn’t be present in the bread and wine of Communion.

Martin Luther, arguing for Jesus’ bodily presence,—and ironically on the side of Roman Catholics—countered this by saying that God’s right hand is wherever Jesus happens to be and added for good measure, that Jesus can be wherever God wants him to be. Furthermore, although God can be anywhere, God says that if we want to find him we can surely find him in the sacraments. For those of you who keep track of such things, this was known as the Ubiquity Controversy, with Luther arguing for a unity of the persons of the Godhead and their ubiquitous presence.

With a careful reading of Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and goats, Luther also could have said that if we want to find Jesus we can find him in the midst of “the least of these my brothers and sisters.” This is a hard parable, especially if we try to read too much into it or, perhaps, not enough. Though this is a judgment parable, I think that it’s less about the end times than it is about today. That’s not to say that judgment isn’t important; in fact, judging plays an integral part in understanding this parable.

There are a number of interpretations that try to explain how this spoke to Matthew’s community. For instance, the “member of my family” could refer to Christian missionaries and the sheep and goats are Gentiles who either do or don’t welcome them. Now, these are very interesting and even helpful, but I want to explore what the parable means for us now. To do so, I want to clear the decks of two misconceptions. First, I don’t for a minute think either Jesus or Matthew want us to engage in husbandry. In other words, we don’t need to assess whether any of us are sheep or goats. That’s not our job. That’s the job of the king when he comes in his glory at the end of time. Second, I don’t think that either Jesus or Matthew want us to worry about our salvation. Although we are on the way to the cross, we know the end of the story. Our salvation has already been won for us. It’s done.

So what can we take away from this parable? First, Jesus foremost stands among and identifies with those on the margins of society: the broken, hurting, powerless, and defenseless. Do you want to see Jesus? Then look on the edges of our community; that’s where he’s working. Second, through the device of judgment, Jesus gets our attention with the message that he cares deeply about injustice and suffering in the world and he wants us to care just as deeply. He wants us to see Jesus in the marginalized and then be Jesus to them. Jesus is not a politician sitting in some ivory tower or out playing golf with the rich and connected. Jesus is among the disenfranchised of society and in us working on their behalf.

If you are one who is hurting today, for whatever reason, and feel that you are on the outside, please know that you are not alone, that Jesus is close at hand. However, if you are someone whose life is going pretty well but you’d like to make a difference in our broken world, look around and join in the work God is calling us, seeing Jesus and being Jesus.

For those of you here today, you have a chance to see Jesus and be Jesus as we engage in our directions for ministry process following worship. We need to test whether our core values of compassion, hospitality and community are authentic and we need your help doing it. If these values do belong to us, then we need to figure out how God is calling us to live out those values. Please join in seeing Jesus and being Jesus. Amen.