Category Archives: Sermon Segments

THE BEGINNING…OF WHAT? Sermon by Rev. Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor, Wartburg Seminary

Text: Mark 1:1-5; Isa 52:7-10
Tired, dusty feet honed and callused by desert sand
A voice proclaiming hopeful and yet fearful tidings….Turn, turn your feet and your hearts…get ready for the in-breaking of the reign of God.
More feet–wet feet wading in the Jordan
Voices confessing sins, hearts awaiting the One to baptize in Spirit and in fire.
Fresh feet as yet unmarred by suffering, unblemished feet wading into the Jordan to be baptized by John;
A voice from heaven as the heaven rips: You are my Son, the Beloved; in you I am well-pleased.
Hot, tired feet driven into the wilderness, defiantly standing firm, refusing the temptation to stand down, massaged by the angelic host.
Energized, fleet feet on the move.
The voice of the One whose body those feet anchor speaking into being the in-breaking of God’s reign in word and deed, challenging the power of forces of evil allied against that reign.
Feet that before the story comes full circle will lead a rag tag bunch of followers on a circuitous route through Galilee and down to Jerusalem.
Feet—talented, tired, beautiful, battered, bruised feet nailed to a cross.
The sound of the temple curtain ripping; life-less feet carried down from the cross and buried in a tomb.
And then, silence.
Three days later…..fearful, frazzled feet furtively moving through shadows to the tomb, feet bearing women firmly determined to anoint the dead body one more time.
A voice crying out:
The beginning of the story of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, footloose and fancy free, on the move into all the shadowy desert places where feet are shaky, the wildernesses where fears abound, frustrations frazzle, feet fall down—the broken places of our world, our bodies and our hearts as well.
The risen Christ, footloose and fancy free breaking through the very barriers that hold us back and tie us down and tempt us to stand down.
The risen Christ, footloose and fancy-free with life-giving, death-defying hope, love, and courage for God’s fearful, frazzled people of every time and every place
The beginning of what? The beginning of the new world-changing day to which you and I are invited—no, more that, the new world-changing day to which you and I are called and challenged and sent to participate.
It’s no secret that Mark’s Gospel ends as abruptly as it began.
Our last sight—that of the women running as fast as their fearful feet will take them leaves open the ending of the story because the story has not ended—it lives on in and through you and me and all God’s people of every time and every place.
Beautiful, talented, sometimes tired feet—your feet and mine. …. feet that have borne us through our joys and sorrows, our anxious days and those we have eagerly anticipated. …feet washed in the waters of baptism, bearing you, God’s beloved, talented daughter and son, you in whom God is well-pleased……
…..and yet sometimes, when work pushes us further than we think we can go or uncertainly weighs us down like a menacing cloud hanging over us or when death tries to do its worst, those beloved feet get downright battered and bruised.
But through it all, the voice continues to ring: He is not here….he is risen….go and tell. Jesus the risen Christ, footloose and fancy free on the move for and to and through you and me.
The risen Christ, footloose and fancy free, on the move walking on our sometimes tumultuous roadways with us, massaging our battered feet and bruised spirits, making himself known in bread and wine, fueling our spirits and energizing our tired feet with God’s very own life-giving, life-sustaining power for today and tomorrow and every day ahead.
Jesus the risen Christ, footloose and fancy free, on the move refreshing and renewing, energizing and equipping beautiful, talented, tired feet for the mission to which their bearers are called.
The ancient prophetic oracle, spoken originally to give confidence and courage to exiles whose tired, talented beautiful feet were about to get to go back home says it so well : “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings, causing us to hear salvation.”
Jesus Christ, crucified and risen footloose and fancy free, entering into the shadowy places of our lives and our world with light and love and peace…..energizing our feet for the ministries to which we are called…………

What more can we add to that except to thank God for God’s inexpressible Gift. Amen.

CHRISTIAN UNITY by Jennifer Dahle, M.Div. Jr.

Segment of a sermon Jennifer  wrote for a prayer service centered on Christian unity. Her sermon was chosen to be given in Oklahoma City this past spring.

Text: I Cor. 15:51-58.

“Listen! I will tell you a mystery.”  A mystery that will happen in the twinkling of an eye, a mystery filled with trumpet blasts and the raising of the dead to immortality, a mystery filled with the transformation of the living, when corrupted flesh is made incorruptible and the power of death, sin, is broken forever. In that moment God will fully reveal Godself, and we will eternally live out our new identity in Christ. This mystery contains an ending that is so wonderful it is beyond our wildest imaginings! BUT, while we are caught up in our contemplation of this future moment we must not forget that our mystery, just like all mysteries, begins with a death, the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death is the key to our future transformation and our starting point when speaking of Christian unity.

I recently had an opportunity to visit Taize, France, a community that invites young people, year round, from all around the globe, to partake in worship, reflection, and work. Take, for instance, the story of Sebastian, a 17 year old boy from Chile who is studying abroad in Prague, and decided to visit Taize. One evening I found myself discussing with Sebastian the similarities and differences between the Lutheran and Evangelical churches. For Sebastian, this was a sensitive subject because in Chile there is a great divide between the two and tensions are high. He constantly finds himself put down by his family and friends because he enjoys worshipping at both churches while they do not. When I asked him if Prague was any better, he said it was worse. Beautiful churches sit virtually empty on almost every corner because most of the population is atheist. According to Sebastian, the people of Prague become very angry when you try to speak with them about God. In fact, the other young people he goes to school with in Prague spent the better part of a month calling him dirty names because of his Christian beliefs and his desire to talk about them.

It was at Taize that Sebastian experienced peace, love, and reconciliation, and he felt renewed. No one at Taize cared what church he attended. No one refused to speak with him about faith and God, nor did they avoid his questions. He found himself surrounded by young people whose primary concern was living for a short time in community with other Christians, other seekers, and other young people searching for a place where they were accepted without question. All that was asked of him was to help keep the bathrooms clean. Sebastian was content to join in the prayer of the brothers and found joy living in communion, united with his brothers and sisters in Christ.

  After visiting Taize, I found myself asking the question, why is ecumenism so easy at Taize, and so hard for the rest of us? Especially when you consider that all Christian denominations recognize the importance of Christ’s actions: his life, death, and resurrection. We agree that it is through Christ that we will undergo this mystery of transformation that Paul speaks of. We trust in Christ. I wonder, however, if we have a tendency to put our trust in our own traditions and denominations over and above the Word of Jesus Christ. In today’s text, Paul claims that “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Our persistence in creating distinctions amongst ourselves can take our attention from God and hinder the unity that God wants us to embrace.

 A man I spoke with at the World Council of Churches in Geneva said that it is our job as churches, in terms of creating unity, to “plant the seeds of the trees under whose shade we may never sit.”  We work together now for justice and peace, all the while knowing that “nothing we do here on earth affects what God has already done for us.”

God gives us victory through Christ. We don’t earn it and we definitely don’t deserve it, but we are free. Free to serve the Lord who is in the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the oppressed. We are free to live in community with each other. This is the good news. God loves us in spite of ourselves, and continues to work in us and through us. The incarnate Jesus Christ disrupts and ultimately breaks the power of sin and death on our behalf. This truth is what we keep at the center of our prayer for unity as we follow our call to move forward, to be in communion with each other, and to seek Jesus in the broken places of this world, as he seeks us.


FREEDOM TO LOVE AS GOD LOVES by Lynn Robinson, WTS, 2012

 As a sixth grader I stood in front of the 12th stop in the cycle of the Stations of the Cross. It was a time to reflect and commemorate the death and life of Christ standing at each station. As a sixth grader I was already experiencing the joys and sorrows, the anguish and grief of life: abandonment, abuse, hunger and thirst.  I felt compelled to stop and look at Jesus hanging on the cross: nails in hands and feet and crown of thorns.

 God so loved the world that God sent God’s only Son. I thought, “God, if this is true, if you are real and are who they say you are, and if you possess such love, then I want to know it. God I want to know that I am included in that love.” And as I prayed I felt a strong inward response saying, “I am real and you will know me. I love you and you will tell others about me.”

 Crowds followed: the despised ones, those kicked around by the nations, laborers enslaved because of the demands of the ruling class. Looking around in the world today, the crowds could be made up of those who are marginalized, oppressed, hated, homeless, victims of genocide, victims of racism and classism, a woman who might soon be beaten to death in her home, the hungry, the poor, the grieving families who’ve suffered loss of loved ones in the name of country, in the name of  self-preservation; those in the wilderness between Mexico and the United States; those standing their ground; those on the ground; the politically correct, the high, middle and low on the economic ladder. Can it be said that all want to see Jesus?

 But Jesus said, “Time’s up.” The time had come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. The continuous, unlimited power to draw us through this present world and on into eternity comes from Jesus laying down his life for us. No one could take it from him.

 In spite of the conditions of the world and the crowds’ context, the death of Jesus, the true light which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. The ones who believe need not walk in the power of the world, living in darkness. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overtake it. In the death of Christ the believing ones can have communion and fellowship with God in Christ and be children of light for themselves and for the world.

 In the language of liberation theology: the inexplicable, reprehensible, oppressive spirit of racism, classism and gender inequality is no longer empowered to determine voice, identity or station of persons. God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Living according to the world’s expectations, the world’s vision and the world’s way of doing things destroys life. We are called to be countercultural. Loving the world as God loves the world, in Christ reconciling the world in love, is a reckless counterculture love. It is eternal.

 Christ, lifted and crucified will never stop drawing us in because God in Christ has reconciled all to God’s self. It is finished. It is complete. Walking in darkness means our vision is restricted to that darkness.  We serve God in Christ when we follow after Jesus in love.  God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

 There will be many occasions where conditions in the world trouble the soul but the believing ones continue to walk in the light of liberty and freedom.  In the world there is the darkness of isolation, abandonment, marginalization and compartmentalization, mistreatment and misunderstanding, and yet none of these conditions inhibit the love of God in Christ or relationship with God in Christ. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ there is freedom to love one another just as God in Christ has loved us.




Segments of a Sermon preached in Wartburg Seminary Chapel, Spring, 2012

John 12:1-11

The anointing of Jesus is a familiar text. It appears in all four gospels.

In the gospel of John, Mary anoints Jesus.  She is named.  Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus had come to the home of Lazarus when he heard of Lazarus’ death.  When he arrived, Martha was the first one to come to Jesus. Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would rise again. Martha misunderstood him and thought he meant Lazarus would rise during the resurrection on the last day. When Mary came to Jesus, she fell to his feet weeping and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary knew the power of Jesus and her faith moved Jesus deeply. He commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb.

Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were friends. It was this deep friendship that brought Jesus back to the house of Lazarus six days before the Passover. This was not the safest place for Jesus to be, but it was where he wanted to be; with his friends. He may have been invited as a way for them to thank him for saving Lazarus, but for Jesus, he was there to say good-bye.

The people around the table could not believe what they were seeing. Only slaves washed the feet of guests; and a woman never touched a man, except her husband, and that was only in private; only a woman of loose morals let her hair flow freely; and the cleaning of  feet was never done with perfume.  What was Mary thinking? If she had anointed his head, it would have been similar to what was done at the installation of a priest, prophet, or king. When people died, that was the time to anoint their whole body. So, what was Mary trying to convey by what she did?

Mary had probably heard the rumors that Jesus was going to die for going against the government and stirring up the people. Jesus death would be by crucifixion. Mary knew about crucifixion. She knew that those who die that way were not given a proper burial. She had seen convicted criminals hang until birds and small animals have picked their bones clean. She ached at the thought of her precious Jesus dying that way. She did all she could to show her love, her loyalty and her faith in Jesus. She knelt at his feet and ministered to him.  She prepared him for his burial.

A few days later, Jesus knelt before the disciples and washed their feet.  Was he following Mary’s example? Was Jesus that moved by the way Mary ministered to him that he wanted to do the same for those who had been his loyal followers?  Mary had taken a great risk that evening. She had gone against cultural norms. She did it in front of those who would criticize her.  But, she was doing what Jesus had done throughout his ministry. She was going against the norm to care for the one she thought needed her care the most. Her actions were in sharp contrast to what was expected of her. Her love for Jesus was all that mattered and she wanted that love to show in her actions. Mary gave everything she had for Jesus. She poured herself out to show her faith. She believed; she was generous, and she was devoted.

Jesus became flesh for us and the feet of his body were anointed by Mary. Mary used her hands to honor Jesus’ body and used her hair as a towel. We have been given gifts by God to use to the glory of God. We use those gifts in all we do. We minister to those around us. We all face brokenness and look to each other for support. When one part of the body hurts, we all hurt.  Jesus was hung on the cross for our salvation and as resurrection people we continue to be fed the body and blood of Christ each time we come to the table and are nourished for the days ahead. We all were created in God’s image to do God’s work in this world. It is not an easy task. What Mary did that night no one would have imagined.  What Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection is more than we could have ever imagined.

LIKE A NURSING MOTHER by Susan Friedrich, M.Div. Senior

Segments from a sermon preached Oct. 24, 2011 at WTS 

I Thessalonians 2:1-8 begins with an address to “adelphos.” Because Paul used this term to address both men and women, it is translated as “brothers and sisters.” Paul used “adelphos” often with the people to whom he wrote,  but Paul takes it a step further when he describes the ministry of Timothy, Silvanus, and himself as being gentle like that of a nurse, “tenderly caring for her own children.”

A nursing mother is one who gives herself to her child, physically providing the means by which the child will thrive and grow. It is an intimate relationship that is by nature mutual. A nursing mother will not forget her child any more than her child will forget her.

Having spent the better part of ten years of my life nursing my own four children, I have a pretty good idea of what it means to be in that kind of relationship. When I thought about it, though, I have to admit some surprise that Paul would even think to claim such a role for himself and his ministry team. Be honest now, how many of you of the male persuasion have told or would think of telling your congregation that you are like a nursing mother to them? Well, Paul had no gender bias in claiming any parental roles for himself because in a few verses later he will describe himself as a father, “urging and encouraging” (2:12) his children. Nursing mother, father… it all works for Paul. So, what is this all about? It’s about the gospel of God

The giving and receiving goes both ways. When leaders in the church are willing to give their own selves along with the gospel, a community can find themselves participating in God’s mission in amazing ways. In the book, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, Philip Hallie tells the story of how an impoverished French village with a population of 3,000 people saved the lives of about 5,000 refugees, most of whom were children, in the German occupation of WWII. As Hallie later talked to those who lived in the village during those years to try to understand why they did this when other villages around them did not, they told him, “It was Pastor Andre Trocme.” (Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, New York: Harper and Row, 1979, introduction in 1994, 46.) 

How did Pastor Trocme work such ministry in a village that, as the young pastor had described in his notes when he arrived, was moving toward “death, death, death, and the pastor was entrusted with helping the village die”? Well, Trocme  gave himself along with the gospel.

Hallie writes: “When you give somebody a thing without giving yourself, you degrade both parties by making the receiver utterly passive and by making yourself a benefactor standing there to receive thanks—and even sometimes obedience as repayment. But when you give yourself, nobody is degraded—in fact, both parties are elevated by a shared joy. “When you give of yourself, the things you are giving, to use Trocme’s word, become fruitful. When the pastor in the village of Le Chambon gave himself along with the gospel, the result was new life.

Our ministry is to be shaped in the image of Christ. Our relationships with one another are formed in love and vulnerability. Gentleness is not a technique, but a commitment. Just as Jesus gives himself, Paul gives himself. In that commitment we see an example of servant-leader, pastoral care-giver, even nursing mother.  These are roles that bear God’s living Word in the context of community, images of living out the gospel in a world being made new in Jesus Christ.