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

Sunday, May 19, 2019

"Dear Redeemer" - Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Dear Redeemer
Easter 5 – Narrative Lectionary 1
May 19, 2019
Redeemer, Good Thunder, MN
Romans 1.1-17

An envelope is on a stool in the center of the chancel. On the outside of the envelope the words "Dear Redeemer" are written. I pick up the envelope, sit down, open the envelope, remove the contents and begin reading:

Scott, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be a pastor through the divine humor, set apart for the gospel of God through Word and Sacrament, by will of God’s people in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and under the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, who was declared to be God’s Son with power according to the resurrection from the dead and through whom we have received grace to stir up the obedience of faith by preaching, teaching and pastoral care, including you who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all God’s beloved in Good Thunder, who have been set aside for mission and ministry according to the manifold gifts of God’s grace:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because your faith is proclaimed throughout all of Southeastern Minnesota. For God, whom I serve in the power of the Holy Spirit, is my witness that I remember you always in my prayers asking that God strengthen the ministry we share. I want you to know, Brothers and Sisters, that I yearn for a deepening of the relationship between Grace and Redeemer so that the power of the resurrection would be made manifest both here and throughout our area. I am indebted to both congregations for the witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ made manifest in our partnership.

News of your faithfulness in the gospel of Jesus Christ has reached me and others. Your desire to alleviate the hunger of the food insecure through Loaves and Fishes is well-known and your generosity is seemingly boundless. You, who appear to have very little, respond to the call of Jesus to feed the hungry and that is a tremendous witness to our Lord’s promise of abundance in the midst of apparent scarcity. Your openhandedness mirrors that of our Lord Jesus who multiplied the loaves and fishes on that hillside 2,000 years ago.

Furthermore, your contributions to the work of the larger church through Benevolence offerings to the Southeastern Minnesota Synod and the ELCA beyond testifies to your commitment to the work of the larger church in our world. Your faithfulness to share out of your blessings with others brings immeasurable comfort and joy, to me and others.

I am delighted that your spirit of generosity pervades your whole congregation as Grace and Redeemer partner to help our young people grow in faith, service and love. The presence of Redeemer youth, parents and grandparents at Grace has been a blessing to us and to others. Because of your faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, our young people are able to go on mission trips, a boundary waters canoe trip, and attend the ELCA national youth gathering. The combined Confirmation program, “Saved by Grace” is a wonderful cooperative ministry where our young people grow deeper in their love for Jesus. This blending of participants is so seamless that most people don’t know which folk belong to which congregation. The presence of people on the Transition Task force has uncovered a desire among both congregations to deepen even further our relationship. Truly God’s Spirit continues to move in, with and through our partnership.

I am not ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the uncertainty you are experiencing because of the transitions happening at Grace. This time is a bit unsettling for all of us and it is hard to wait for the process to work itself out. Rest assured that your brothers and sisters in Christ of Grace are committed to our partnership in the gospel even though we don’t know exactly what that will look like.

What we do know is that we will continue to look for what God is doing in our midst and where God is inviting us to join in God’s mission to love and bless the world, just as you have done these many years. We are confident that the gospel will continue to be preached at Redeemer and the sacraments will be administered in accordance with the gospel. We know that we will continue to feed the hungry together and that we will find ways to grow in faith, hope, and love together.

I don’t know how much time we have left, beloved of God, but I want you to know what a blessing you have been to me these past three years. Your kindness and steadfast faithfulness have encouraged me in my own life of faith. Be strong, let your heart take courage and wait for the Lord, for the one who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion.

Now, to God who is able to strengthen you according to the gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made know to all peoples, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

You’ve Got to Be Kidding - Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

You’ve Got to Be Kidding
Easter 4 – Narrative Lectionary 1
May 12, 2019
Grace, Mankato, MN
Acts 13.1-3; 14.1-20

A few weeks ago, someone suggested that we do a sermon series on humor in the Bible. Now, we already have our summer series set for this year, looking at biblical stories through the eyes of artists. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a few years. But the point is well taken: for a book that we take seriously, the Bible has its humorous moments. Such a funny series, were we to do one, would take seriously (pun intended) today’s scripture. The almost Shakespearean quality of misunderstanding of Paul and Barnabas as gods who are being offered sacrifices would delight us, were it not for the subsequent sobering stoning of the apostles.

Post-Easter, those early followers of Jesus are figuring out the implications of his death and resurrection. As we heard two weeks ago, they were commissioned to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That point was made clear last week in Peter’s vision from God that no one is unclean in God’s eyes. The gospel goes to all people. It’s been noted that Acts has three broad movements: from Peter to Paul, from Jew to Gentile, and from Jerusalem to Rome.

Peter gives way to Paul as the main character in Acts. Though the message goes to Jew first, the mission to the Gentiles takes up the greater space in Acts. And, although the mission begins in Rome, it quickly spreads outward, ending in Rome. Someone has also observed that the book should not be called the Acts of the Apostles but rather the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is mentioned 39 times in the book. If these followers are making it up as they go along, it is under the watchful gaze of the Spirit.

The death and resurrection of Jesus in and of themselves may not be funny but the unfolding the mission has its humorous aspects. It seems that the way God achieves the restoration of his relationship with humanity is with tongue planted firmly in the divine cheek. Although the mission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ begins in Jerusalem and Paul ends up in Rome, it is lowly Antioch of Syria that becomes the launching pad for the apostolic witness. Not only is it a small and newly formed church, it is made up of the most unlikely cast of characters. Barnabas is the mission developer sent from Jerusalem to start the new church. Simeon is probably a black man from North Africa. Lucius is a displaced Jew. Manaen is a childhood buddy of terrible King Herod. And Saul, whom will be renamed Paul, was a persecutor of these very same folk and is now one of them.

The story picks up steam as Paul and Barnabas enter Lystra. Because there was no Jewish synagogue, they begin speaking the gospel in the marketplace where people gather and listen to people such as them. Seeing the opportunity to show the power of this good news, Paul heals a man who has been crippled from birth. The locals, unable to wrap their heads around this new message, interpret it in the only categories they have available to them. They believe Paul and Barnabas to be their gods in human form worthy of sacrifice. However, they mistake God’s instruments of power for God himself resulting in this comedic tug of war.

It would be easy for us to laugh at them and call them ignorant. However, the fact is that we’re not only in on the joke we are part of the joke. You see, in amusing fashion, God uses unlikely people and shows up in unlikely places to spread his message of love and inclusion. This shouldn’t be hard for us to understand. Presented with new knowledge, science is continually revising its understanding of our world. For us in the church, God is continually doing new things to stretch our understanding of his love. Sometimes, all we can do is chuckle and say, “There goes God again, doing something crazy to show the power of his love.” Like energizing a small congregation in downtown Mankato that grows in faith, hope and love by continually giving itself away. You and me, part of God’s work in the world? You’ve got to be kidding! Yep, that’s our God all right. Amen.