June 28th Worship

Linda is off this week, and several people are filling in! The time on Zoom at 10am will include reflections from Christy and Barb, as well as some time to discuss. You can join the live service by phone, too! See instructions at the the bottom of this page.

A mostly full recording of the service is posted here. You can also find audio of the prelude, readings, and reflections embedded in the text below.

Order of Service

PreludeEternal FatherChris Johansen, piano
Molly Tulkki
HymnMy Shepherd, You Supply My Need
vs. 1 & 3
Chris Tou, piano
Barb Kass
Christy Wetzig
PrayersClaire Scriba
HymnFor the Beauty of the Earth
vs. 1, 2 & 5
Chris Tou, piano


Chris Johansen

Prayer of the Day

Eternal God, companion of all who seek you, and seeker of all who turn away from you, draw near to us that we may draw near to you, and grant us the grace to love and to serve you that we may find in your will our true freedom; through Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.

Hymn – My Shepherd, You Supply My Need

My Shepherd, you supply my need; most holy is your name.
In pastures fresh you make me feed, beside the living stream.
You bring my wand’ring spirit back when I forsake your ways,
and lead me, for your mercy’s sake, in paths of truth and grace.

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
oh, may your house be my abode and all my work be praise.
Here would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;
no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.

Text: Isaac Watts
Music: North American traditional (Tune: Resignation)


Luke 15: 11-32

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”


Barb Kass

Two brothers and their father…. One wonders: where was the mom? Died in childbirth, or illness? Clearly no longer with the family.  The older brother is dutifully working for and with his father: did he have other aspirations? Did he love the land? The work? See the gift of working side by side with his father? Or was he caught up in the role of the oldest, the one who was always there, always helping, responsible, focused, undemanding, uncomplaining. Doing what needed to be done.

In contrast, the younger brother did not like the life of his father and brother, did not like the work, and unlike his older brother, complained and demanded his share of the inheritance so he could leave all behind and create a new and better life somewhere else. 

What possessed the father to comply with his youngest’ demands? Life had to be pretty unbearable for everyone on the farm to end up with the father giving him exactly what he asked. I cannot imagine the grief and fear that was felt as that boy took off down the driveway.

How much time passed? We don’t know. But enough to have the inheritance squandered, and to see the carefree boy quickly turn into a man as he scrambles to survive in a distant land, plagued with famine. Desperate, he goes back to the life he left- a farm.  Work which seemed beneath his dignity, now was the only thing that kept him alive, and just barely.  It is hitting bottom when you realize the animals you are feeding are eating better than you are, especially when they are pigs.

In a moment of clarity, the young man realizes he can go back home. Knowing the integrity of his father, and owning it was his mistakes and greed that jeopardized his status as a son, he crafts a statement to reflect both: Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.

How is it that the father saw him while he was a long way off? This says to me he was always waiting, always watching as days became months, became years. Faith in the unlikely, in the nearly impossible.

Here’s where I think Sabbath breaks into this story. Whatever the father was doing when he spotted his son- STOPPED.  All the daily tasks of the farm – the to do lists, plans for the day, STOPPED.  Whatever occasion the fattened calf was being saved for or what weight they hoped he’d fattened to- CHANGED to NOW.

Work changed to celebration.  Lunch became a feast! Forgiveness and restoration to the family done! And gratitude for the lost who was found flowed in abundance!

It was a surprise Sabbath for the father- a dream come true and he was ready and able to respond as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

It was a surprise Sabbath for the wayward son. He was hoping for a job, food, a place to stay. He was welcomed home with an embrace and a kiss, celebrated with a feast, and given a robe, ring and sandals as a symbol that he was recognized as a son, a member of the family.

The older son must have been on the back 40, had ear protection in, or was simply so absorbed in his work, he missed the whole homecoming scene. As he came in for lunch, something was out of the ordinary- there was sounds of joy, music and dancing coming from the house- at noon, on a Tuesday, in the middle of harvest season! He asked one of the servants what was going on and was completely incredulous at the answer: His brother had returned.

Resentment is a powerful emotion, especially when it has been a driving force in a life consumed in duty. It’s easy to hear the valid questions: Where was he when the crops needed harvesting before the rain and we had to work all night? He was off living the high life when I had to watch father be consumed with worry and grief… I have given up my whole life, my dreams, my hopes to help father run this farm. I have no life, no friends, I am too tired to do anything fun. Ever. I don’t know who is more pathetic- my brother who spent money and resources freely and recklessly with wasteful extravagance. Or my father who is celebrating his return on the same lavish scale.

A side note, both of those descriptions are definitions of the word prodigal. The story might just as well be titled The Prodigal Father!

The brother not only disagrees with what is happening, he feels it is unjust and wrong.

The father reaches out to his oldest son who would not even enter the house. It may be the most honest conversation they ever exchanged. It may have been the first time he recognized the hurt and frustration of the son, or his feeling of not being appreciated. The holding back of reasonable requests to be able to celebrate life, have fun, have friends in the face of the sadness he saw in his father probably never occurred to him.  And maybe it was the first time the father acknowledged to his son that indeed this son was always with him, and that he just assumed that the son knew that all he had was his as well.  A fact so simple and so profound that it had never been said aloud. Maybe this was the surprise Sabbath for the older brother.

Was the conversation enough to soften the resentment and replace it with new seeds of restoration of relationships and of family? The story lets us write our own conclusion.

So where are the surprise Sabbaths in our lives? Those unexpected invitations or unplanned opportunities to stop what we are doing, no matter how important it seems at the time. I think many of the opportunities are small and it’s a discipline to keep eyes and hearts open to recognizing them and welcoming their needed gifts of rest, or zest, or breath even on the most mundane day.

Bigger surprise Sabbaths might be closer to the story- the chance for a reconciling cup of tea, or an honest conversation with a neighbor or family member about racism, or CAFO’s which leads to some kind of understanding and restoration.

Yesterday James mentioned the concept of Sabbath work-  at first it seemed like an oxymoron. If Sabbath is about rest, where does work fit in? I googled rest vs restoration and found this simple reflection:

Look closely at how Jesus practiced Sabbath because therein lies a lesson. For one, almost all Jesus’ Sabbath practices, in the eyes of the religious leaders of the day, looked like Sabbath breaking. Whatever the religious minds thought Sabbath should look like, the reality, for Jesus, was quite different. 

For Jesus, Sabbath is mostly about restoration. Has a cow fallen in a well? Lift it out! Has a woman been bent over for 18 years? Straighten her up! Are people hungry? Pluck grain and feed them! Story after story carries this same point: Sabbath is for restoration. Whatever is lost, broken or sick, Sabbath is meant to make whole.

As I look again at the story of the Prodigal Son I see the father practicing Sabbath- stopping everything to thank God for great mercy. And I see that father in turn doing Sabbath work for both of his sons. Giving forgiveness, rest and unconditional love to the younger, and an invitation for restoration with the same unconditional love for the older.


Genesis 2: 1-3

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.


Christy Wetzig

So God finishes making the heavens and the earth–the text adds, “all the host of them” as if to say, “what a lot to do in six days.” It’s understandable that someone would want to rest after such a mammoth task, and yet the work just doesn’t seem that arduous. After all, God’s been merely speaking–”Let there be light,” like the conductor of an orchestra, not some construction worker busting his butt to raise a skyscraper in a day. The God who speaks the universe into existence can’t be tired. So why take a day of rest?

The notes in my Bible connect this account to other ancient Near East stories in which “divine rest is associated with temple building” [ESV Study Bible, Crossway, 2008].

So in the creation story, when creating the universe, with its hosts of galaxies, and in one galaxy: a planet called Earth, with oceans and horseshoe crabs and hummingbirds and maple grass, God is building Godself a house. Somewhere to live. A God-sanctuary. The earth, then, springs up out of nothingness not as an accident or a divine whim but as a temple dedicated to the God who created it.

How would this change our view of the world if we let this idea soak thoroughly into our beings? That God made this universe so that God could move in to it; that our land is not ours after all but in fact the land where God rests–forests made holy by God’s presence, creeks along which God sits.

Besides all the creatures and plants, God peoples this planet with a certain species charged to “tend and keep” this sanctuary, to “have dominion” over it, in the sense of a parent having dominion over the children. In other words, this is a priestly species, endowed with God’s own breath and image, to do a certain job–taking care of God’s sanctuary, in the same way that a priest tends and protects a temple.

How would this change our idea of what it means to be human? It’s somehow both expanding and humbling, to be the capstone species, intended to take care of everything below it.

Sometimes it seems like no matter how hard we try to take care of the earth we still mess up–we love a place and trample it to death; or we kill snakes to keep our children safe and then get invaded by rodents; or we plant a pretty tree and watch it take over the woods. Because the world is too big for our imaginations, and sometimes we get too big for our britches. We need that sense of humility, the kind that comes from the soil, humus.

I wonder if Sabbath could be, then, a time to quit striving at our contrived human goals and chew on these ideas, that this universe is God’s temple and we have a job to do in it: to minister to God by tending and keeping God’s home.

What if one day in seven we lie on our bellies in the grass and watch the worms and bugs carry on their lives among the roots and soil? What if our time of rest was a time to look honestly at the world, so that we can take better care of it? What if one year in seven we stop earning money and plant trees and prairies instead? What if one minute in seven we stop what we’re doing and listen–and breathe with gratitude and humility the air of this amazing, sanctified world?


Father of mercy, we pray today for all the people of this earth as we try to find our way through the pandemic.  We are confused and fearful.  Send good people to lead and inform us.

            Almighty father……………hear our prayer

We pray for all the children who are missing playtime and schooltime and a safe pattern to their days. 

            In your mercy…………hear our prayer

We pray for everyone in financial distress

            In your mercy…………..hear our prayer

We pray for peacekeepers and public servants

            In your mercy………..hear our prayer

We pray for parents and teachers

            In your mercy………..hear our prayer

We pray for the sick and those who care for them

            In your mercy………..hear our prayer

We pray for everyone who is separated from loved ones by disease, for everyone who is lonely and anxious

            In your mercy………..hear our prayer

We pray for this beautiful earth, her creatures her skies and waters.  Keep us vigilant in our care for her

            In your mercy……….hear our prayer

We pray for ourselves as a faith family and as your hands and feet in the world

            In your mercy…….hear our prayer

Bless and keep us, Father, train us up and give us courage

            In your mercy……….hear our prayer. AMEN                              

Hymn – For the Beauty of the Earth

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth over and around us lies:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our sacrifice of praise.

For the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night
hill and vale and tree and flow’r, sun and moon and stars of light:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our sacrifice of praise.

For each perfect gift of thine, peace on earth and joy in heav’n;
for thyself, best gift divine, to our world so freely giv’n:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our sacrifice of praise.

Text: Folliott S. Pierpoint
Music: Conrad Kocher

Instructions for listening via phone:

Call this number: (312) 626-6799
It will be long distance, if that applies (on a landline, for example).

Then, you will be asked to enter the meeting ID and password. You can find that in Linda’s email with subject, “Sunday Zoom”

We will keep you muted, but you can participate in the discussion if you’d like – press *6 to unmute – and it helps to say your name before you talk, since we won’t know otherwise!

June 21st Worship

This week will look slightly different! Linda is off, and Shawn Mai is presiding. The time on Zoom at 10am was like a traditional worship service, and the audio from that is posted right here. The text of readings and reflections can be found below the Order of Service.

Order of Service

WelcomeShawn Mai
PreludeSoftly and TenderlyChris Johansen, piano
PrayerShawn Mai
ReadingsIsaiah 35
Matthew 11: 28-30
Henrik Strandskov
Opening ReflectionShawn Mai
HymnThis is My Father’s WorldChuck Parsons, organ
PoemSabbath 1985, by Wendell BerryMercy & Abel Wetzig
ReflectionShawn Mai
PrayersNikki Strandskov
HymnO God Our Help in Ages PastChuck Parsons, organ
BenedictionShawn Mai
PostludeChuck Parsons, organ

Prayer of the Day

The sacred is everywhere,
At the heart of everything
That was, is, or to be…

Creativity God, whose renewing breath fills our planet,
may we discern this vibrant presence among us,

In these long life giving days of summer light,

In the aliveness of the landscape at the steps of West Denmark
and in the mysteries of the northern forest.

May our spirits be lifted to rejoice with the forest that surrounds us
and all the creatures this day.

May it be so.


Isaiah 35: 1-8

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;

Matthew 11: 28-30

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Shawn Mai

Good morning.  A blessed Father’s Day to all who are fathers, who have fathers, and who take on role of Father, Grandfather, uncle or mentor. 

We also recognize today the gift of light in the summer solstice.    In these long days we are especially aware of the lushness of creation, the food it provides, and the context for rest and reflection.

Pastor Linda has set up a thoughtful, reflective topic this summer.  Sabbath.  The context she tee’d it up with was provocative for me…the pandemic.  When Linda talked about a “forced Sabbath”, that got me thinking about sabbath in a very different way than I have before.   Life tends to offer up the unexpected…even unexpected rest or a “stopping” we did not see coming.

As a hospital chaplain, I work every day in a context where people are sidelined from life unexpectedly because of illness.  An unexpected diagnosis, a body part malfunction, or a nasty virus that alludes a vaccine.

I think about the dear woman in our own congregation who was out walking her dog last Advent season and unexpectedly fell and broke her leg in several different places.  She ended up immobilized at home for eight weeks through the Christmas holiday and into the new year.  The way she engaged the world, understood herself, and found value was in being active and engaged.  The fall and breaking of her bones forced her into an unexpected Sabbath of sorts.  

Collectively, we walked out of this West Denmark church last March, not knowing that we would be taking a sabbath time away from this building and our being together in person.  Today we worship apart on zoom.  A forced exile or a Sabbath time to reflect on what it means to be a faith community defined in new ways.

Sabbath- the Sabbath (/ˈsæbəθ/; Hebrew: שַׁבָּת‎) is a time set aside for rest and worship. According to the Book of Exodus, the Sabbath is a day of rest on the seventh day, commanded by God to be kept as a holy day of rest, as God rested from creation.

I dug into the word for Sabbath a bit more.  The Hebrew word for rest is nuach-to rest, to be quiet. Sometimes, it is synonymous to shabat- to cease or to rest. The Greek word for rest is anapausis meaning cessation, 

Cessastion- Stopping, halting, ceasing. 

So, today we halt.  Not everything is neat and tidy.  It would have been more convenient to know that a pandemic was coming so we could have planned for it.  But more often than not, life doesn’t unfold like we need it too. 

Also, we live in a society that isn’t necessarily wired for Sabbath. 

So today, we once again ponder the meaning of the messiness with the help of Wendell Berry and his Sabbath  Poem 1985.  The image Barry uses in his Sabbath poem 1985 is a forest.  As I ran through Straight Lake Park yesterday, I had to crawl through some downed trees, slip and slide through some mud, and I noticed the forest floor is a bit of a mess with its tangling of limbs, vines, and plants,   that make unique from any other forest floor.  That is God’s creation. 

Hymn – This is My Father’s World

This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world:
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.

Text: Maltbie D. Babcock
Music: Franklin L. Sheppard

Sabbath, 1985, by Wendell Berry

Voice 1:  How long does it take to make the woods?

Voice 2 As long as it takes to make the world.

Voice 1 The woods is present as the world is, the presence
of all its past, and of all its time to come.

Voice 2: It is always finished, it is always being made, the act
of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction.

Voice 1: It is a part of eternity, for its end and beginning
belong to the end and beginning of all things,
the beginning lost in the end, the end in the beginning.

Voice 1: What is the way to the woods, how do you go there?

Voice 2: By climbing up through the six days’ field,
kept in all the body’s years, the body’s
sorrow, weariness, and joy.

Voice 1: By passing through
the narrow gate on the far side of that field
where the pasture grass of the body’s life gives way
to the high, original standing of the trees

Voice 2:.
By coming into the shadow, the shadow
of the grace of the strait way’s ending,
the shadow of the mercy of light.

Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come in among these trees you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood [and sisterhood!] of eye and leaf.

Reflection, continued

Berry reminds us that at a certain point we must leave our expectations at the door.  Expecting nothing, remembering nothing.

Life happens and recreation will happen.  Maybe Sabbath is also rest from our illusion of control.

Last summer Mike and Barb experienced the sudden alteration of the forest they live in. 

As far as what we are doing with our forest post blow down it is as simple as this. I was told by an agro-forester from UW Madison to do as little as possible with the remains. The forest wasn’t destroyed it was made young. She said that I am now managing a young forest instead of an old forest. We don’t want to disturb the soil or run over young trees with big equipment. Without a canopy sunlight will be hitting the floor so too many trees will come up too close together. There are not enough grazing animals going through the woods to thin the overgrowth so there will be some hands on management to do. Also no fires sweeping through which has the same result. Ecologically informed stewards are going to have to do the work along with nature. 

Mike’s reflection on their approach to a forest forever changed I find instructive as we face unprecedented times of forced Sabbath and the impact, not of an 80 mile an hour wind but of a microscopic virus that can change our internal landscape.

Sabbath is a time to stop.  To listen.  To breathe.  To accept.  To let go.  To grieve.  To wait for the next unexpected, creative adventure.  To pray.

Hymn – O God Our Help in Ages Past

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home:

Before the hills in order stood or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God, to endless years the same.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all our years away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the op’ning day.

O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last and our eternal home.

Text: Isaac Watts
Music William Croft

To participate in Zoom using a phone:

If you’re on a cell phone, you should be able to tap one of the “One-tap mobile” numbers in the email. It looks like a complicated number, but it will dial the number, then pause (that’s what the commas tell it to do), and enter the ID, pause, etc. automatically. You’d just have to wait, and you’ll be in eventually.

If you have a landline (or a cell phone without the email on it to tap), then any of the regular phone numbers should work. They’ll just be long distance calls (for example, if you lived in Chicago, then the Chicago number would be a local call). On a cell phone, or landline with nationwide calling, it shouldn’t make a difference. You’ll need the Meeting ID and Password from the email, too, and enter that when it asks.

You can also join on the computer, and use the phone for audio (if you don’t have a microphone on the computer). Join the Zoom on the computer first for video, then when it asks about audio, click “phone call” instead of “use computer audio”. It should give instructions on how to call in – use any of the phone numbers provided there.

The following link has more information on joining by phone – scroll to “Joining by phone only” if you aren’t planning to use a computer for the video:
Note: you can mute/unmute on the phone by pressing *6

May 17: 1 Corinthians 13


Reading1 Corinthians 13
(text below)
Nikki Strandskov
Reflection(text below)Mike Miles
Reflection(text below)Nancy Moe
Prayers of IntercessionNikki Strandskov
HymnWill You Come and Follow Me
#798 vs. 2, 3 & 5 (text below)
Chris Tou, piano


1 Corinthians 13

1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.


Mike Miles

Getting married? Asked one of your friends to be the officiant but your fiance’s parents are a little put off because they aren’t ordained? The wedding is out in the woods and you are walking up to the front to the ringing of a Tibetan prayer bowl? Your parents are okay with it but just told you Grandma isn’t coming unless there is a reading from the Holy Bible to consecrate the nuptials?

No problem. Just Google ‘best bible verses for a wedding’ and number one on the list is going to be I Corinthians 13 (I did it and it is). It’s got some really sweet sentiments about love that shouldn’t offend anyone and it never even mentions Jesus.  You might want to edit it down just a bit because of some crazy stuff but it should make everyone happy and help keep the peace with the new in-laws.

The thing is, these verses are not about sentimental love that makes us all warm and fuzzy. The church at Corinth was seriously divided on so many issues that Paul has to conclude this letter to them, “if anyone does not love the Lord Jesus- a curse be upon them.” Or as Clarence Jordan puts it in his Cotton Patch translation- let them be damned!

So what’s going on here? I believe this would fall under the “it’s all Greek to me department.” There are several Greek words used in the New Testament that are translated into the word ‘love’ that carry starkly different meanings. This confusing exchange between Jesus and Peter, after the resurrection, illustrates how much can be lost in translation:

…Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John do you truly love me more than these? “Yes Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “yes Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time,” Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” 

John 21: 15-17

What’s going on here?

Love, agape, is unconditional, sacrificial love. The love that God has for us. It implies action, unmitigated compassion, more than feelings. This is what Jesus keeps asking Peter, “Do you agape me?”

Peter was never very bright so his answer was, yes, Jesus I phileo you which is essentially saying I like being your friend. The reason Peter’s feelings were hurt the third time is Jesus asked the question using phileo instead of agape and it finally sunk in that he didn’t understand the depth of love to which Jesus wanted him to go.

The new commandment that Jesus gave them at the last supper was to love each other as he had loved them. Loving your neighbor as yourself was no longer enough. The new Covenant spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah had been fulfilled in the resurrection. The love of God is now written on the hearts of all who are willing to recognize it.   Unconditional, compassionate love for all is the new normal.

So back to Corinth. They didn’t get what the ‘agape’ of God meant in their new reality so they became  distracted by cosmetic divisions rather than focusing of the universality of love. As my musical mentor Mark Murphy puts it, “If love is not the answer then you’ve just asked the wrong question.

“I belong to Paul.” “I’m more impressed with Apollos.” “I follow Jesus (so there).” “I’m a mystic so I speak in tongues.” “I’m a gifted speaker so I’m going to preach.” “Somebody has to call attention to how unfairly the Romans treat us so why don’t you be the prophet?” “Who wants to cook at the soup kitchen, there’s a lot of people out of work?”

Why is it that what sets us apart always seems more compelling than that which should bring us together? Even before the pandemic, the issues that divide us as a nation were becoming as exponential as reproducing viruses: Left/right, Republican/Democrat, rich/poor, black/white, American/Mexican, Christian/Muslim, rural/urban, coastal/fly-over, vegan/carnivore.

Now we have to sort through who is for tyranny and who for liberty, is it better to have a job or protect our health, do people need financial support or does business need it more, do masks help or hurt, is there plenty of food or are we running out?

The Chinese character for the word ‘crisis’ is a combination of two words-danger and opportunity. There is plenty of discussion bantering about regarding potential lessons to be learned once ‘we’ get to the ‘other side’ of this ‘thing going on’. Where one lands is dependent on way too many variables for me to keep track of.

No matter what happens, my understanding of what discipleship to Jesus entails makes me want to err on the side of love. I don’t need to like everyone who is trying to maneuver the chaos but I do need to love them. I can’t pretend to know what this kind of love looks like in practice, but I do know that undeserved suffering, on behalf of people who somewhere along the way became engaged in way too much deplorable behavior, is somehow an important part of the answer.

One of the mantras that swirls around my attempts to be conscious is a poem from May Sarton. Many of you have heard this before.

We change people, if we do at all, by being something irresistible, not by demanding something impossible.

I hope for all our sakes, that Jesus got it right when he took the stand he took against the principalities and powers of darkness. The new command he left us with is to love each other the same way he loved us. Who’s in?


Nancy Moe

Agape is the love inside us that we give freely to others regardless of our relationship to them. We want to help them, cooperate with them, or do good deeds towards them. Them is referring to people, nature and animals.

Food, in my house, is the language of love. I learned this from my Mom who learned it from her Mom. The food that comes into the house is grown sustainability, most often in a family garden. Cooking is done in a way that maintains the most the food has to offer. My concerns are for meals that are varied, flavorful, interesting and pleasing to look at. That is all about the food. Here is the best part…who the food is for. Mostly my family but often for friends and sometimes for strangers. I love to learn about guests food preferences so that I can make a meal that is pleasurable to everyone!

I make mistakes and sometimes fail in my goals for cooking. I’m always cooking by experience and experimentation, even when guests are expected. When dinner is served and loved, I say “Good, enjoy it now I’m not sure I can make it again”. Even when the food is not loved, there was love in the trying.

In a world where there is so much noise, gongs and clanging cymbals and many untruths are spoken, I can share food I prepare with kindness and generosity. Food prepared with love.



Will You Come and Follow Me, vs. 2, 3 & 5

“Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer pray’r in you and you in me?”

“Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the pris’ners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?”

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Text: John L. Bell
Music: Scottish traditional (Kelvingrove)

May 10: Mark 9 & 1st Corinthians 1

Part I

PreludeWaltz in A-flat Major; BrahmsChris Johansen, piano
WelcomeShawn Mai
Call to Worshipfrom In the Morning I Will Sing
by Marty Haugen
Molly Tulkki
Chris Tou, piano
PrayerShawn Mai
First ReadingMark 9: 34-35Christy Wetzig
Psalm 63Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Second Reading1 Corinthians 1: 10-18Christy Wetzig

Part II

SermonShawn Mai
Prayers of IntercessionChristy Wetzig
HymnNow Thank We All Our God vs. 1 & 3
(text below)
Chuck Parsons, organ
BenedictionShawn Mai
PostludeChuck Parsons, organ

Now Thank We All Our God, vs. 1 & 3

Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who, from our mothers’ arms,
has blest us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son, and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven,
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heav’n adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

Text: Martin Rinkhart; tr. Catherine Winkworth
Music: Johann Crüger

Sermon                   Shawn Mai

Grace to you, and peace, from God the creator, Jesus the Christ, and Spirit who sustains us.  AMEN.

If you are listening to this sermon on our podcast for the first time, West Denmark also gathers for a more informal live worship on Zoom on Sunday morning.  In lieu of a formal sermon, members of the congregation reflect in a more lectio Divina style on the texts for the day.  

Last week the Sunday morning church discussion went in an interesting direction.  I don’t remember who launched the idea, but it was something akin to paralleling being infected with the virus as a metaphor to our being infected with the Divine (those are my words).

I’ve been thinking about this parallel all week.

What resonated for me from the metaphor is my theological belief that a spark of the Divine lives within each one of us.   There is a God protected place within each one of us that is a part of God and that co-creates our life.  It is what makes my Shawnness, and your Christiness…your Mikeness and your Jayness.

I believe this part of us is named during the sacrament of Holy Baptism: “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”  Our belovedness is named in these words.

On this Mother’s Day I’m remembering my mother.  Specifically, I’m remembering the story of my birth.  It is told that when I was born and the doctor told her that she had given birth to a boy, she reached up and kissed the doctor.  She had three girls already and now she had a son.  It was from my mother that I got a sense of my belovedness.  

One of my favorite pictures from childhood was taken not long before my mom died when I was 13 years old.  My mom and dad are standing on the porch of our house and there is a blurry figure in the bottom right hand corner of the picture.  It is me obviously on the move doing something goofy.  My mom has this look of adoration in her eye as she is in the middle of a big laugh, being entertained by her son.   

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is not primarily about people’s belovedness.  In fact, the letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth deals with the paradox of who we are as creatures of God.  As Luther aptly captures in his view of human beings, we are both saint and sinner.  

Each day of our life we work through the tension of living out these tensions.  It can be downright hard being a human being.  It can be confounding to sort out the questions of who are we? and why are we here?   Some days this may seem clear to us and some days we may utterly perplexed by the questions?  Some days I feel a great sense of worth and purpose and the next day I can feel like a worthless piece of…., well you know.

Today’s texts lift up the paradox in our Christian faith.  The first shall be last, the last shall be first.  Arguments with the disciples about who is the greatest.   Tension in the Corinthian community about who baptized who.  

Today a virus is the source of tension in our society regarding how much of a danger we are to one another.  Do we continue to isolate from one another and keep our businesses closed or do we relax restrictions and get the economy going again and avoid total economic collapse?

I’m not going to use this time to answer that question or make some sort of argument, but I am going to invite us to live in the tension of the question.  Who are we and why are we here?  What informs how we understand the answers to THOSE questions?

That is where faith comes in.     Raising our consciousness about what stories we live out is hugely important.  As human beings, our primal responses are rooted in the unconscious beliefs we carry around.  They are the sources of our fears, anxieties, perspective making, courage, imagination, creativity, phobias, behaviors.  

For me it’s a daily reflection on where I am experiencing connection and disconnection in my life.   My lifelong work is sorting out what stories I ground myself in.  My birth story with my mom is one of those stories I choose to believe.  That story grounds me in a sense of my worth which, in my best moments I believe and live fully out of, and in my worst moments totally forget and flap in the wind, lost and udder less.  Those moments are not pretty.

A faith story that grounds me is my baptism.  I was baptized on August 12, 1964 at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in Gwinner North Dakota.  Those are just circumstantial facts.  The story about what I believe about my baptism and my purpose in life is rooted in a Jewish creation story.  IT goes like this…

Once there was this great ball of light that was everything.   Then, like in all good Jewish stories,  there was an accident, and the light shattered into thousands of shards of light…these thousands of shards of light, the wholeness of the world, the light of the world, fell into all events and all people in the world where they remain hidden to this very day.  

According to the holy story, the whole human race is a response to this accident.  We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all people and in all events…to make it visible once again…  thereby, to restore the innate wholeness of the world.

We are involved in a collective task that is in Hebrew called:


It involves all people who have ever been…who are here now…and who are yet to be born.  WE are all healers of the world.  And now for the other side of the story:

It seems the particular gift of the church at Corinth is to shed light on the truth of paradox.  WE have the power to bring together and heal and at the same time we have the power to draw apart and divide.  In today’s world it is where Fake News is born.  

Initially when I read the reading from 1 Corinthians for today, I did a great big eye roll.

The eye roll felt familiar.  I began to think about the politics of our day.  I don’t much like getting political in sermons but give me a moment to make a point.  

I have a hard time sorting out my confusion when  I hear our country’s leadership talk one day about the numbers of infections and deaths that could explode if we go back to our regular routines while at the same time stoking the cries of those decrying the use of masks, wanting to open up America, and not wanting someone telling them what to do…. I look at the divisions in the church in Corinth a little differently.   I become curious about a human dynamic.  

It’s in the same writing to the church at Corinth that Paul uses a metaphor that makes sense to me:  But we have this treasure in jars of clay.

I am not a philosopher, but the image of a clay jar makes sense to me.  

In third grade a girl in my class had a pottery cup that held the pencils in her desk.  I coveted that piece of pottery so much!  One day she dropped it and it broke.  She was going to throw it away, but I begged her to give it to me.   It was Shelly Butler, who already thought I was a big dork, but I still groveled for this trash she was going to throw away.  

She didn’t quite understand why, but she gave it to me.  I glued it back together and you’d thought I’d won first prize in a drawing for Willy Wonka’s chocolate bar.   The pot was broken and worthless to Shelly Butler but glued back together became a prized possession for me.

WE live in a tension that is called being human.  What one person thinks is important, another person couldn’t care less.  

One philosophical term I came across as I reflected on this over the course of the week was dialetheism.  Wikipedia defined it as “Ambiguous situations where humans can affirm both a proposition and its negation”. The example they used made sense to me: “if John stands in the doorway to a room, it may seem reasonable both to affirm that John is in the room and to affirm that John is not in the room.

So, whether you call it paradox, dialetheism, fake news…

FOR ME, a person who likes to believe I’m always right, its confounding.  

But it’s a thing.  It’s a dynamic that Paul is writing about to the church at Corinth and Jesus is pointing out to his disciples as they figure out who is greatest.   My brain aches when I think too hard about it but apparently, it’s why the first will be last and the last will be first.  

All that arguing and thinking too hard tosses me back to my images and metaphors.  

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

It probably also relates to the story I cling to about my birth and my belovedness.  My mother may have thought I was quite the gift but If you asked my sisters about my belovedness, they would say I was a bit of a spoiled brat.  Both are probably true.  

So, I’m going to go back thinking about being infected with the divine.  That gives me something to do.  I can continue to free up that part of myself, my best self, and keep befriending it.  

It’s like the sun and how great a sunny day can feel.  Paradoxically, a cloudy, rainy day can feel depressing and hopeless.  It doesn’t mean the sun isn’t there…it’s just momentarily blocked.  The clouds don’t make the sun any less a reality.  

Again, from Paul:

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.