February 21st Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeO Worship the KingChris Johansen, piano
Opening Prayer
Confession & Forgiveness
Christy Wetzig
Gathering SongCome to Me, All Pilgrims Thirsty
#777
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
GreetingJeff Wetzig
Psalm 15Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ScriptureLuke 10: 25-42Jeff Wetzig
SermonHenrik Strandskov
HymnSisters and Daughters
Tune: #461
Henrik Strandskov, text
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
CreedChristy Wetzig
Prayers of IntercessionClaire Scriba
Lord’s PrayerJeff Wetzig
Closing HymnTo Be Your Presence
#546
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Closing Prayer
Blessing / Benediction
Christy Wetzig
PostludeBethenaChris Johansen

Audio Recording – Part 1

Audio Recording – Part 2


Prelude

Chris Johansen


Opening Prayer

God of heaven and earth, open our hearts today to your heart. Grant us, in this time at least, the humility to confront your magnitude. Push us, nudge us, out of our way and into yours. Amen.

Confession & Forgiveness

P: Boldly we come before the throne of God–confident in God’s steadfast love and forgiveness in the face of our shortcomings. Let us confess our sin together.

  Silence for reflection and self-examination.

P: Dear God, 

C:  Lowering our heads before you, we confess that we have too often forgotten that we are yours. Sometimes we carry on our lives as if there was no God and we fall short of being a credible witness to You. For these things we ask your forgiveness and we also ask for your strength. Give us clear minds and open hearts so we may witness to You in our world. Remind us to be who You would have us to be regardless of what we are doing or who we are with. Hold us to You and build our relationship with You and with those You have given us on earth. Amen

                   


Gathering Song – Come to Me All Pilgrims Thirsty

1.
“Come to me, all pilgrims thirsty;
drink the water I will give.
If you knew what gift I offer,
you would come to me and live.”

Refrain
Jesus, everflowing fountain,
give us water from your well.
In the gracious gift you offer
there is joy no tongue can tell.

2.
“Come to me, all trav’lers weary;
come that I may give you rest.
Drink the cup of life I offer;
at this table be my guest.”
[Refrain]

3.
“Come to me, believers burdened;
find refreshment in this place.
Come, receive the gift I offer,
turn to me and seek my face.”
[Refrain]

4.
“Come to me, repentant sinners;
leave behind your guilt and shame.
Come and know divine compassion,
turn to me, I call your name.”
[Refrain]

5.
“Come to me, distressed and needy;
I would be your trusted friend.
Come and seek the gift I offer,
come, your open hands extend.”
[Refrain]

6.
“Come to me, abandoned, orphaned;
lonely ways no longer roam.
Come and take the gift I offer,
let me make in you my home.”
[Refrain]

Text: Delores Dufner
Music: The Sacred Harp


Greeting

We gather in the triune name of sacred Love. May God’s peace be ever with you, Christ’s mercy near at hand, and may the Holy Spirit guide and encourage you in all circumstances and in every need. Amen.

                           

      


Psalm 15

1 Lord, who may dwell in your | tabernacle?
Who may abide upon your | holy hill?

2 Those who lead a blameless life and do | what is right,
who speak the truth | from their heart;

3 they do not slander with the tongue, they do no evil | to their friends;
they do not cast discredit up-|on a neighbor.

4 In their sight the wicked are rejected, but they honor those who | fear the Lord.
They have sworn upon their health and do not take | back their word.

5 They do not give their money in hope of gain, nor do they take bribes a-|gainst the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be | overthrown


Scripture Reading – Luke 10: 25-42

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[c] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Thanks be to God


Sermon – Henrik Strandskov

As some of you know, I am the official Sign Meister of West Denmark Church. In that exalted role, my main duty is to change the message on the sign out by the road. It’s a fun job because I like the challenge of saying something meaningful in only three or four lines, with no more than 22 characters or so on each line. One of my favorites was a summertime message that referred to the clear glass windows at the altar end of our sanctuary – “NO STAINED GLASS, BUT PLEASE ENJOY GOD’S TREES AND SQUIRRELS.”

The literary form we have in today’s gospel reading is a parable. Like church signs, parables are short literary works that pack a lot of meaning into a small space. They’re usually longer than church signs, of course, and they usually have more of a plot.

Today, let’s look at the parable of the Good Samaritan, and parables in general, as much for their intellectual challenge as for their spiritual content. In fact, I want to argue that parables are verbal games and puzzles, brain teasers whose very intellectual challenges enhance the power of their spiritual message. As the Welsh theologian C. H. Dodd wrote in 1935, “At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt to its precise application to tease the mind into active thought.” 

To tease the mind into active thought . . . In other words, when you hear a parable, get that happy-dappy, been-here-done-that smirk off your face. You’re supposed to realize that maybe you don’t know precisely what it means. And that’s supposed to make you think a little bit. Now, I know I don’t have to emphasize this here at West Denmark Lutheran Church. This isn’t one of those churches where you check your brain in the narthex. But once in a while, even when we do bring our brain with us all the way into the pew –we forget to use it. As the sign said, the trees and squirrels are nice to look at through those beautifully-clear windows  –  but don’t let them distract you from the intellectual work of church.

And I’m just as guilty as anyone of watching the squirrels instead of using my brain. Why do you think I usually sit way up front? But when I read or hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, I am reminded of two times when a preacher said something that broke through my lazy-brain syndrome and, as Professor Dodd would put it, “teased my mind into active thought.”  The first time was almost 30 years ago at a family reunion in the Rocky Mountains. Before that I had always had a specific problem with the Good Samaritan story.

I admit there are other parables I have had trouble with. How about that farmer who left 99 sheep unguarded so he could look for the one who was lost. Didn’t he have to worry about wolves or sheep rustlers or something? I suppose I finally decided I didn’t know enough about sheepherding to judge the actions of the man in the parable.

But I was never able to rationalize my problem with the Good Samaritan story in the same way.

The story starts when a lawyer tests Jesus by asking how to achieve eternal life. Jesus responds like a great college professor. He says, “You’re a good student; you’ve read the assigned text. What do you think it says?”

It turns out the young lawyer really is well prepared. He not only quotes the text, he quotes two texts and combines them in an elegant little bit of prose. From Deuteronomy 6, verse 5, he takes “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.” From part of a verse in Leviticus, he gets, “(Y)ou must love your neighbor as yourself.” He puts those together, adds a little bit of his own, and comes up with, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  And Jesus, quite rightly, says, “Yeah, you got it, my friend; right answer!”

But this smart young lawyer, who knows his stuff and deep down is, I think, a pretty sincere guy – he just has to show off a little, so he keeps pushing. And so he asks, “But who’s my “neighbor”?

Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. And the parable itself seems so obvious. Of course, anyone who is hurt or suffering or in need – anyone who needs taking care of – that’s your neighbor. People didn’t say “Duh!” then, but that would have represented our attitude hearing that story as Sunday school kids. This is kindergarten theology. Oh, there are a few extra details to give the story, and the moral, some texture. Two religious types refuse to help their neighbor. So you can add, “Don’t be a hypocrite” to the parable’s message. And since one of those despised Samaritans was the good guy in the story, maybe you could add, “Don’t be a knee-jerk bigot.”

But when the actual parable ends, Jesus asks the legal expert, “Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” And that’s where I had my big problem and more or less gave up on this parable. Jesus spent all that time telling a story with a simple-minded moral, and then he ends it with the wrong question. The original question was “Who’s my neighbor?” not, “How do I be a neighbor?” Did Luke get the story wrong? Did the punch line from one parable get conflated over the decades with another parable? I’m afraid my respect for the reliability of the Gospels went way down just because the ending of the parable of the Good Samaritan couldn’t have been right.

Of course, the problem was not with the author of Luke, whoever that wonderful writer might have been, but with my own inability to let my mind be “teased into active thought.” And that brings us to our family reunion back in the 90s. One of the closing events was a family church service, and we had the great honor of having Richard Jessen, the Lutheran bishop of Nebraska, lead the service. Well, it wasn’t such an honor; Dick Jessen is my second cousin. The text that Sunday, 7,000 feet up in the Rockies, was the parable of the Good Samaritan, and Dick was the first preacher I had heard who acknowledged my problem with the text – the discrepancy between the question Jesus had been asked and the question he ultimately presented back to the bright young lawyer. Bishop Dick simply pointed out that Luke expects his readers to understand that there is an unspoken little scolding in Jesus’ words. Without saying it out loud, he is telling the legal expert – and us – that the man had asked the wrong question, the question with the obvious answer, the kindergarten-theology question, the question that was not really worthy of him. The hard question, the important question, is not a “Who?” question, but a “How?” question. How do I love my neighbor as myself? What do I have to do to “gain eternal life”? So the parable finally made sense to me – I was given permission to hear both what Jesus was saying and what he was implying; to hear that little scolding he was giving the lawyer. I think the lawyer heard it. At the end of the story he didn’t bluster, “But you didn’t answer my question about who my neighbor is!” No, he took his medicine and, probably a little sheepishly, answered Jesus’ question about what is necessary to be a neighbor to someone else – be the one who shows mercy.

Many years after that reunion in Colorado, I learned about another way of looking at parables, and this parable in particular, while sitting in our usual pew in our church in Brunswick, Maine. The preacher was our pastor and friend, Mary Baard.

As an aside, I have to tell you about a little coincidence. As I was writing this last week, our copy of the Intercounty Leader arrived. The subject of the lead obituary was Luck-native Fern Hammerstrom Baard, who was Pastor Mary’s mother-in-law.

Back to Mary’s sermon. She discussed St. Augustine’s interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable. St. Augustine saw the story as an allegory, with each element being a specific metaphor for some aspect of Christianity. Here is part of Augustine’s interpretation. Remember that the parable starts with a man being attacked by thieves while he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.

 “Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace, from whose blessedness Adam fell; Jericho means the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, and dies. Thieves are the devil and his angels. Who stripped him, namely; of his immortality; and beat him, by persuading him to sin; and left him half-dead, because in so far as man can understand and know God, he lives, but in so far as he is wasted and oppressed by sin, he is dead.”

It goes on like that. Mary’s emphasis in her sermon that Sunday was where Augustine included us, that is, members of the Christian church. Can you guess? I’ll give you a hint: We’re not the Samaritan; in the allegory, the Samaritan is Jesus himself.

Augustine did not invent the idea of interpreting the parables as allegories. Apparently that had been around since the time the ink was barely dry on the Gospels. One hundred years before Augustine, in the first half of the two hundreds, the church father Origen wrote down his allegorical interpretation of the Good Samaritan, and he himself said that he was just recording what earlier Gospel interpreters had written. According to Origen, “the man who set forth is Adam, Jerusalem is Paradise, Jericho the world, the thieves the invisible or hostile powers, the priest the Law, the Levites the Prophets, the Samaritan Christ, the wounds disobedience, the beast of burden the Body of Christ” and so on. In other words, even the Samaritan’s donkey gets a starring role.

Frankly, I’m dubious about the validity of allegorical interpretation of parables. Okay, I’m more than dubious. Admittedly, Jesus himself gave an allegorical explanation for some parables, such as the parable of the sower and the different types of soil. But the danger is to take the allegories too far, as, I think, Origen and Augustine did. The Saturday discussion group yesterday talked about overthinking some religious concepts. I believe that’s what happened here and, from what I’ve read, continued for a millennium and a half, as Christian scholars continued to beat the parables to death with allegorical correspondences.

But I’m trying to stress the intellectual challenge that parables can provide – as we said before, they can tease us into active thought. So if nothing else, it can be fun to consider these somewhat overblown allegories and maybe use them to squeeze a little more meaning from a parable we thought we were familiar with. For instance, I asked you earlier to think about where St. Augustine put you in the story. Well, he didn’t identify us as individuals, but indirectly, as members of the Christian church. In the allegory, the inn where the Samaritan takes the injured man is the church. And that’s a nice idea – that the church is the place of refuge where those who have been beaten down by circumstances can find healing. And that places a responsibility on the church and on us as its members to carry out that healing. When I was presented with that idea, the parable took me to a place I hadn’t expected. Unfortunately, St. Augustine goes on to say that the innkeeper represents the apostle Paul, and he uses some heavy-duty theological reasoning to make that metaphor work. Well, that’s going a little too far for me. But that’s okay. I forgive St. Augustine for his allegorical excesses because he helped me let this familiar parable surprise me a little. So, thanks, Augie. And thanks to Bishop Jessen and Pastor Baard for showing me ways that a simple story I thought I knew had some hidden riches.

I’ve used up my time this morning without saying anything about the second part of our Gospel reading, the story of Jesus’ visit to the sisters Mary and Martha. I say a little about it in the upcoming hymn, which I wrote for my daughter Cordelia’s college baccalaureate service 16 years ago. But I’ll just leave you with one additional idea to “tease you into active thought.” Bible scholars recommend that when you try to understand a Gospel passage, you should always look at the context – what comes right before and after it. In this case we have to ask ourselves why the author of Luke put the Mary and Martha story immediately after the Good Samaritan story. In a way, they contradict each other. In the Good Samaritan, we learn how to do the work of being faithful people, how to extend the hospitality of the church to everyone in need. In the Mary and Martha story, on the other hand, we are told that the sister who is doing the work of hospitality – preparing the meal and making the house welcoming for their holy guest – is choosing the lesser good. She is gently rebuked while her sister, who just sits and listens, is praised.

By juxtaposing the two stories, Luke asks us, as Jesus asked the lawyer, “How do you interpret it?”

And to answer that question, we have to take our minds off the squirrels and engage in some active thought.

And that’s the sermon for February 21, 2021.

Hymn – Sisters and Daughters

1.
Sisters and daughters, come to the celebration;
bring lamps and oil to make it bright.
Where there are shadows, you will illuminate them –
darkness will flee before your light.
Lift your lamps to bless this household;
lift your lamps to grace this feast:
Let them shine on mighty and lowly people –
searcher and teacher, sinner, priest.

2.
Bearers of goodness, keepers of heaven’s bounty,
nourish your talents so they thrive;
They are your gift and also your obligation;
share them and make the Word alive:
They will gleam like that coin of silver –
lost in darkness, joyfully found;
When you invest your hearts in the lives of others,
treasures of righteousness abound.

3.
Martha and Mary honored their holy caller,
one with her hands and one her heart.
Martha chose duty, serving with loving labor;
but Mary chose the better part.
Feed and clothe and shelter the helpless;
they are God within your reach;
Then stop to listen: Even the least of these has
bibles of wisdom she can teach.

4.
Sisters and brothers, you are God’s holy children,
able to hear creation sing.
Duty or worship, labor or contemplation:
What are the off’rings you must bring?
Mercy for the troubled in spirit;
justice for the captive in need;
Then, hand in hand, walk humbly beside your God
wherever your life’s path will lead.

Text: Henrik Strandskov
Music: W. Moore (Holy Manna)


Creed

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.


Prayers of Intercession

The response today after …’Good Creator’……….is “Hear our prayer”

God of mercy and compassion, hear our prayers of thanksgiving and petition today. We gather as close as we are able in your holy name

God of Mercy, look on the people in the Texas blackout. Hasten the help they need, encourage neighbors to generosity. Stir up the authorities that can help in the present and plan for their future. As the world grows smaller we find neighbors everywhere we look. Give us the courageous love to care for each other.

Good Creator……….hear our prayer

God of healing, hear our prayers for all people who are suffering illness of any sort. Send them good care, hope and peace in their suffering. Please bless the fair distribution of the Covid vaccine everywhere and relieve the fear that shadows us. We pray especially for our family and church friends, for Pastor Linda and those we name before you now.

Good Creator……….hear our prayer

Father of Peace, watch over everyone who lives with violence, oppression and intimidation. Give your peace beyond our understanding, soften hearts, relax clenched fists, open minds to holy peace and reconciliation for all creatures.

Good Creator……….hear our prayer

We thank you, Father, for our lives set here in your beautiful creation. We thank you that where we live is still green and fruitful and we confess our complicity in spoiling other lives and places by our greed. It is so hard to see forward in this ecological crisis and hard to know how to help. Help us wake up and step out to put an end to poverty and pollution, to move from privilege for a few towards equity for all.

Good Creator……….hear our prayer

We thank you, Father, for the spirit of wisdom that you pour on all people. We thank you for the prophets and teachers, poets and disciples who speak of healing, faith and peace to humankind. Open every heart to holy wisdom and respect among all peoples.

Good Creator……….hear our prayer

Thank you, Father, for the technology that keeps us together in spite of the pandemic. It saves our spirits from isolation and discouragement and even gives us a new sense of who we all are. Make all people wise to the blessings and the costs of technology. Teach us to use it wisely. Thank you for this new adventure in being a church.

Good Creator……….hear our prayer

AMEN


Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen


Hymn – To Be Your Presence

1.
To be your presence is our mission here,
to show compassion’s face and list’ning ear,
to be your heart of mercy ever near,
alleluia!

2.
To be your presence is our mission bold,
to feed the poor and shelter homeless cold,
to be your hands of justice, right uphold,
alleluia!

3.
To be your presence is our mission blest,
to speak for all the broken and oppressed,
to be your voice of hope, your love expressed,
alleluia!

4.
We are your heart, O Christ, your hands and voice,
to serve your people is our call and choice,
and in this mission we, the church, rejoice,
alleluia!

Text: Delores Dufner
Music: Charles V. Stanford



Closing Prayer

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so
guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so inhabit our
wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to
you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always
to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Benediction

Go with the strength you have.
    Go simply
    lightly
    gently
Go in search of Love.
And know the Spirit of God goes with you. Amen

Postlude

Chris Johansen