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.