Life Together – icebreaker

I thought I would share my experience with the book so far in hopes it may help. I fried my brain the first time I read the first chapter – I just couldn’t absorb or grasp it. In frustration, I put the book down for 2 days, prayed on it, and tried again. The second time, and subsequent reading went much better.
I sometimes think that the book is like a rich beef stew, full of lots of flavors and a lot of tough meat. It works best if eaten with a small spoon and chewed well for digestion.
I realized that as I was reading it the first time, I was relating it to experience as I was reading – that didn’t work. I found that if I focus on the content and digest it, and then apply it to experience, I get it.
There is so much in each chapter that it is hard to comment about a chapter. It may be easier if we discuss a topic that we find particularily special to us. As an example, The secret of the Psalter, starting on page 44. I will never read, hear, or pray a psalm the without appreciating the author’s contribution.
I hope this may help someone.
Peter Thielen

“Marks of the Christian” Lenten Journey – Day 36, Tuesday of Holy Week

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Romans 12:14)

Wisdom and Blessing

By clicking here, (Rembrandt – Prodigal Son), you will be able to see the Rembrandt painting that was being described in the Theological Thoughts of our reading for today. Over the years I have grown in my fascination with the painting as well as with the story that it is portraying. There is so much going on within this story and the way that it links with our stories that I never cease to be amazed by it.

Today, based upon the author’s thoughts in our reading, I am fascinated by the way the father not only lets go of the inheritance, but also his son. The younger son has just wished him dead by asking for his half of the inheritance, and amazingly the father obliges. And, not only does he oblige, but he also watches his son run down the road toward waste and ruin, not at all stopping him. I am amazed when I think about this in light of the cross, where humanity wishes the Father dead by putting the Son to death, not at all stopping humanity from doing such a stupid and outlandish thing. We put the Son to death thinking that the inheritance would be ours to do with as please. And yet, once given this inheritance and when we do with it as we please, we end up starving in the pig pen every time.

The father in the story never cursed the child who cursed him. He blessed the one who persecuted him, and then welcomed him back with open arms, putting a robe on him and sandals on his feet and a ring on his finger, and killing the fatted calf for him in order to hold a celebration party. This is God with us every time. It is always amazing grace that pulls amazing grace out of us for others, so that we can bless those who persecute us and not curse them.
Pastor Keith

“Marks of the Christian” Lenten Journey – Day 35, Monday of Holy Week

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Romans 12:14)

Blessing the Enemy

The enemies of Jesus put him to death on a cross. I repeat: The enemies of Jesus put him to death on cross. They spit on him, beat him, had him flogged, put a crown of thorns on his head, offered him vinegar to drink, and nailed him to a cross to die. Jesus’ enemies did this to him, and still he loved them. In fact, he was dying in order to save them as well as everyone else on the planet.

I know that those who cause distress in my life haven’t yet spit on me, let alone hung me on a cross to die. If Jesus could love and pray for his enemies, I think I can love and pray for mine too. And when I can’t, I know that Jesus will love them for me even as he loves me.
Pastor Keith

“Marks of the Christian” Lenten Journey – Day 34, Saturday

. . .extend hospitality to strangers. . . (Romans 12:13b)

Knowing God’s Hospitality

“Make yourself at home.” Karen and I have said this to many people over the years. We quickly recall students from Japan and Russia. We remember the choir members from Tanzania. The family from Covenant Players, whose precocious daughter quickly adopted me as her grandpa. There have been various friends that our children have brought into our home. To all of them, in one form or another, we have said, “Make yourself at home.” With this invitation we have intended to open our home up rather than close it off. We have always wanted the recipients of that invitation to experience welcoming space.

Needless to say that this “open home” policy has been a rich blessing to us. These strangers have enriched our lives in countless ways. We pray that our hospitality was a blessing to them as well.

I love this image that our author sets up for us today, where God has an “open home” policy with all of us. I’m a little uncomfortable with taking the idea so far as to think that we are strangers to God, because certainly, with God as our creator, there is nothing unknown about us to God. I am, however, fascinated by this picture of God opening the doors of all creation to us and saying, “make yourselves at home.” What a joy it is savor the freedom within that invitation.

And, what amazes me is the openness that God offers. If our guests decided to destroy our place, not only would we rescind our invitation to them, but we would work diligently at getting them to leave. Our invitation is open only to the extent that these strangers behave themselves. Not so with God. With God there is complete freedom to make ourselves at home in whatever way we choose, no exceptions. Sometimes we experience it as maddeningly crazy. Sometimes it is the loveliness of pure grace. Whatever shape it takes, God demonstrates that the root of hospitality is love, and that freedom is a central aspect of love. How grateful we are that in God’s infinite love we are still welcomed, even when we try to make ourselves strangers, and that nothing in all of creation can separate us from that love in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Pastor Keith

“Marks of the Christian” Lenten Journey – Day 33, Friday

. . .extend hospitality to strangers. . . (Romans 12:13b)

Seeing the Familiar Stranger

It is the oddest feeling. Karen and I like to use bed and breakfast places when we are on vacation, and sometimes these places are little more than an extra room in someone’s home. We walk into their home, the house of strangers, and are ourselves strangers. Yes, there is a business transaction occurring, but it still feels so odd to be welcomed into the house of a complete stranger and made to feel at home. Every time we have had a wonderful experience and, if it works out, look forward to a return trip to each of these places.

One of the more noteworthy occurred at a B & B in Minnesota not far from the headwaters of the Mississippi. We stayed at that place for almost a week. Although only committed to giving us breakfast, the host invited us to dinner one evening. When the extended family started to arrive to celebrate the Fourth of July, we were accepted as though we were life-long family friends. This type of hospitality has occurred so often in our lives we can’t even begin to count, and each time it is precious beyond measure.

If strangers can treat each other this way, just imagine how we will be treated when we enter into the next life, with Jesus, our old and dear friend, (as well as brother), welcoming us at the door.
Pastor Keith

“Marks of the Christian” Lenten Journey – Day 32, Thursday

. . .extend hospitality to strangers. . . (Romans 12:13b)


The big African man came up to me and hugged me, introducing himself as my twin brother. He is an Anglican priest who was now a traveling religion/philosophy professor. He had that kind of sense of humor, as well as that kind of hospitality. He was a favorite when he preached on weekday mornings, and did a wonderful job translating a sermon our bishop preached one morning when he visited the Cathedral Congregation in Dar es Salaam. I had met his wife, Grace, earlier over breakfast one morning. She had plopped herself down at my table and visited with this lonely American pastor. She works for an evangelical association in Africa and is a lay preacher. It was nothing short of amazing how quickly and deeply we became friends, and as I write this now, my heart aches a bit because I miss them terribly, especially with the assumption that our paths will probably never cross again. So, the next time I will see my twin brother is in heaven? Yeah, probably.

I was blessed with many such encounters during my sabbatical that I will treasure forever. Such wonderful hospitality. Paul says that a mark of the Christian is extending hospitality to strangers. Indeed, the world becomes such a wonderful place when we do just that.
Pastor Keith

“Marks of the Christian” Lenten Journey – Day 31, Wednesday

Contribute to the needs of the saints. . . (Romans 12:13a)

Giving Yourself

I’ve got James ringing in my head. “So faith, if it has no works, is dead. . . Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:17&18) And why such works? It is because we are joined together in Christ. It is because Jesus has said that he is in the “least of these, his brothers and sisters.” (Matthew 25:40) Jesus has made it clear: As we give of ourselves to others we are giving ourselves to Christ.

Sometimes the giving breaks our hearts, as we give to grateful needy children. Sometimes the giving breaks our sense of fairness, when no gratitude is present, but rather an attitude that the gift is somehow deserved. It is when we look at the cross that we come to more fully understand the brokenness that can accompany giving, a brokenness that we embrace when we “take up the cross and follow him.” (Matthew 16:24) From the cross, Jesus teaches us what giving of ourselves in love for the world can look like.
Pastor Keith

“Marks of the Christian” Lenten Journey – Day 30, Tuesday

Contribute to the needs of the saints. . . (Romans 12:13a)

One with the Saints

“Do this in remembrance of me.” When we gather for Holy Communion, it is not just an act of mind, using our memories to recall something that was done long ago in a far away land. The “remembrance” in Holy Communion is also, and more importantly, a rejoining of the members of Christ’s body. Each time it is a re-gathering of the body of Christ. It is a re-membering of that body. Each time we celebrate Holy Communion we are reminded just how close and connected we are to one another. The body and blood of Christ that becomes one with you is the same body and blood that becomes one with me. This connection we have in Holy Communion, this connection we have in Christ makes us family; brothers and sisters in the eternal family of God’s kingdom. And, this connection is timeless as well, because Christ is timeless. So, not only are we joined together as the saints today, but we are also joined with all the saints who have gone before us. The Apostles Paul and Peter and Matthew are our brothers. Mary Magdalene is our sister. All those saints who have gone before us are family. Their story is our story. Together we are all members of Christ’s body; all blessed as his Holy ones, his saints.
Pastor Keith

“Marks of the Christian” Lenten Journey – Day 29, Monday

Contribute to the needs of the saints. . . (Romans 12:13a)

Service to the Saints

One of the journaling questions in our reading was, “Where have you encountered rejection because of Jesus?” Being a pastor comes with a certain stigma. I know that I my profession is not the only one that carries with it a certain stigma. Police officers, doctors and undertakers all share in a stigma that naturally comes with the profession. It is, however, not limited to these professions. I met a restaurant owner having a meal at another restaurant. It begged comment from me, but I did so with an understanding heart because of my experiences.

For me the most blatant expression of the stigma comes when I attend something like a graduation party and I can visibly see the discomfort of those gathered around the quarter barrel. Too often their body language says, “There goes the party.” My heart goes out to my children who feel that divulging the fact that their dad is a pastor can sometimes be a deal-breaker for potential dates. Way too many times the entertainment media portray pastors as simpletons; people who don’t quite dwell within the reality that everyone else lives in and therefore are inconsequential. Many times I have wished that a chaplain would be a regular part of the cast in a hospital TV drama. (Father Mulcahy doesn’t count, although there were a few good moments with his character.) (I’m done whining now.)

At it’s heart, these “rejections” have come because, as a pastor, I obviously represent the presence of Jesus, and there are some places, or moments in life, or with some people where the presence of Jesus is not welcome. I’m glad it is nowhere near as severe as some Christians have it in other parts of the world. I saw glimpses of it during my time in Tanzania in places where Christians were an overwhelming minority. Some of them went through what was being described in our reading today.

I maintain this is why Jesus makes it clear that the body of Christ is within in the church. It is not limited to one person, but is most profoundly expressed within the community. One of the many reasons for this is that we need each other. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) We need each other in order to witness the truth of this promise. We need to support and serve each other, even as we are called out into the world to serve all humanity.
Pastor Keith

Sermon Discussion from Sunday, April 10

John 11:1-45, Jesus raising Lazarus

This was another long text from John’s gospel and it was full of many, many different preaching possibilities. The one that got me going today was the way in which Lazarus was hearing and responding to the voice of the Shepherd. In chapter 10 of John’s gospel, we hear Jesus calling himself the Good Shepherd, and how the Shepherd calls the sheep by name and how they respond by following the Shepherd. I was intrigued that this came right before today’s text, and that in this text we have one of the few moments where Jesus calls someone by name. One can easily assume it was a demonstration of what Jesus was talking about in prior chapter. So, what really amazed me with that how Jesus was showing us that there is nothing in all of creation, (Romans 8:38-39), including death itself that can make us deaf to that call. Here was Lazarus, quite literally moldering away in the grave for four days, as dead as dead can be, and even HE hears and responds to Jesus calling his name. That’s how it has been, is, and will be for us.

Sheep don’t make themselves hear the shepherd’s voice. They don’t try to improve their listening skills, nor do they try undo them. They just hear the voice. That’s it. This is how it is with us as well. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, initiates the contact. Jesus is the one who grabs our attention by calling out our name. Jesus is the one who gifts us and blesses us. The sheep are pretty much incapable of forcing the shepherd to do anything.

So, OK, we might try to improve our listening skills with worship and prayer and the reading of Scripture and service to other, but it is good to know that hearing the voice is not dependent upon us, just as it is not up to the sheep to make themselves hear the shepherd’s voice. Lazarus wasn’t trying real hard to listen for Jesus’ voice. He was dead and had been for four days. You can’t get any less active than that! And yet, there he was, hopping out of the grave because he heard Jesus call his name.

That gives me hope, and I hope that it does so for you too.

I look forward to reading your comments.
Pastor Keith