Honking Saxophones

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 24 September 2017 11:48.

Pentecost 16 A       Matthew 20:1-16

If the Old Testament were compared to a beautiful symphony orchestra, with repeated themes and variations, then the book of Jonah would be like a honking saxophone stuck in the middle of it, sounding a discordant note that insisted on being heard.

Every Sunday School child knows that the Book of Jonah is about a man who God rescued after he was swallowed by a giant fish, most often considered to be a whale. You might also know that God sent the fish to swallow Jonah in the first place, and did so because Jonah was trying to run away from God, to avoid doing what God wanted him to do. And usually, that’s as far as our Sunday School lessons about Jonah take us. The story of Jonah is mostly used to remind us that we can’t run away from God.

But that message is not a noisy saxophone sounding in the Old Testament symphony. That’s the symphony itself. “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” That exact phrase, in fact, that refrain appears nine times in the Old Testament – first in Exodus, again in the Psalms, and on into the later prophets. It is always spoken as warm and comforting news to people who have in one way or another fallen short of God’s expectations of them and are delighted to discover that God has given them a second or third or umpteenth chance to start over. It’s a warm and comforting assurance about the kind of God we have, the only kind that offers any hope to people who both understand God’s holy will and their own failure to live in line with it.

“The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”  In the Old Testament symphony, that is a lovely and oft-repeated refrain ….until the Book of Jonah starts honking its own discordant version of this marvelous truth, namely, that a God who is gracious and merciful to us, slow to anger over things we do, and abounding in steadfast love for us, is also likely to love everybody else just as much as us; and be just as gracious and merciful to every penitent soul, even toward those we’d rather not see included in that wide holy embrace. Furthermore, Jonah keeps honking, God sometimes even sends us directly to our enemies to tell them just how gracious and merciful and eager to forgive and start over our God can be.


Our Job

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 03 September 2017 20:42.

Pentecost 13 (A)  Matthew 16:21-28


On this Labor Day weekend, when our nation pauses to celebrate meaningful work and those who do it, it might help us to hear God’s word for us in today’s Bible readings more clearly, if we listen to them as a job description for the baptized, the labor that amounts to a fitting response to the love God has poured out on the world and into us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.


Listen to how Jesus describes it. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Without being very specific, Jesus surely is offering a job that he wants us to know won’t be easy. It will require self-denial, sacrifice and obedience. The labor of a Christian life in this world is hard, sometimes painful, perhaps sometimes so costly that you might wonder if it’s worth it, but it’s also and above all an invitation to live your life close to Jesus, to follow him, walk beside him through this world on the way to the new world he promises.


On Labor Day Sunday, Jesus’ words remind us that we who have been baptized into his church have work to do, challenging, meaningful, hard yet holy work.



The Wideness of God's Mercy

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Friday, 18 August 2017 15:24.

Pentecost 11 (A)     Matthew 15:21-28

"There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice which is more than liberty."

In a few minutes, we will all sing those words in a hymn that reminds us that God’s estimation of who is worthy of God’s grace and mercy, and whose lives matter, and who gets included and treated fairly and equally, is always wider and more expansive than ours, and that part of living in this world as people of God is to feel God pushing that expansion of his mercy and ours further and faster than we often want to push it.

We set up governments on principals of justice and liberty, but even when they function well, they remain poor shadows of what God intends. ("There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.")

And when that government and its leaders don’t function as they ought to at all, the gap between God’s mercy and the mercy we exhibit as communities and nations and a world narrows dangerously. We divide into camps. We divide by color, by nationality, by belief system, by race, gender and whatever else, and before long evil forces like bigotry and racism and even Nazism are emboldened and emerge from the shadows to remind us that they’ve never really gone away, and can still be persuasive ideologies to many, especially those feeling unheard and alienated.

The events of last weekend in Charlottesville, and even more the inconsistent, muddled and defensive response of our President to them, has left it to others, including and perhaps especially leaders of the church to clearly and unequivocally denounce the hatred and bigotry of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups in our country, as well as to confess the remnants of such evil that remain even in us and are still deeply woven into our nation’s political, religious and economic life.


What Are You Doing Here?

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 13 August 2017 15:16.

Pentecost 10 (A)     Matthew 14:22-33

Today’s Bible readings are filled with people in trouble: people in real trouble and very afraid; people of faith to be sure, but also of little faith, faltering faith, their fears leaving them feeling distant from God and all alone.

The first of these troubled people is the prophet Elijah. Our first reading finds Elijah in a cave, on Mt. Horeb, the mountain where God had long before spoken to Moses in a dramatic display of wind and fire and thunder. Elijah had fled there after Queen Jezebel, furious over the defeat of the prophets of Baal, had unleashed her bloody vengeance on God’s prophets and now had her sights set on Elijah. So when God comes and asks Elijah “What are you doing here?” …hiding in a cave? Elijah’s answer reveals both his lonely fear and his faltering faith.

“The leaders of your chosen people have turned on those trying to be faithful to your covenant. They’ve killed your prophets. I’m the only one left and now they’re after me.”

As you heard, God asks that question not once but twice, and gets the exact same incomplete answer from Elijah both times. Elijah honestly describes the circumstances that brought him to Horeb, but he does not truthfully say what he was doing there. The honest answer was that he was hiding there, …and hiding because he was afraid. And he was afraid, because he felt all alone with no way forward. He was a faithful man who had run out of faith, and having run out of faith, he went looking for faith. He ran to the place where he knew God first created faith in his people. Simply put, what Elijah was doing at Horeb was looking for God. 


You Give Them Something To Eat

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker on Sunday, 06 August 2017 09:27.

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost (18A) - Matthew 13:13-21

Packing is hard. It’s a bigger task than I’d expected. At Christ Lutheran, we have a nice, three-bedroom parsonage just off of Maple Street, which is where I have been living for four and a half years. It’s a much bigger home than I have needed, and I promised myself I would not fill it with unnecessary possessions in the time I was here. You can guess how well that worked out. In less than a month, I will be moving all of my worldly goods into a dormitory room smaller than the size of this chancel. And so I’m finding I need to get rid of a few things.