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Sermon by Rev. Ronald Nelson

My Guru, Roger Karban said, something like this, “if you listen to the William Tell overture and do not think of the Lone Ranger, you are very knowledgeable of classical music.” Like-wise, he said, “if you read Matthew 16:18 and do not think of the Roman Catholic papacy, you are a true Scripture scholar.”

Therefore, we Lutherans must be good Scripture scholars and old enough to remember “hi-yo-silver! Away!” Roger, a Roman Catholic, says, “we Roman Catholics have lost Matthew’s real message.” But let us not break our arm patting our Lutheran backs and let us look at this lesson today.

My first congregation that I served was of Danish persuasion, thus “Built on a Rock” by N. F. S. Grundtvig would have had to be sung today. The lectionary I use and the one in the ELW use two different lessons for the first two lessons, so I will try to stick with the Gospel. It is against my better judgement, but when the Anglicans and Lutherans persist in mucking up the lectionary, what is a guy to do?

Today’s reading from Matthew is generally considered to be the chief evangelical text for our understanding of the Church’s foundation. For Roman Catholics, they look at Peter as the rock, for us we say Faith is the rock and the Church carries that Faith forward.

When I look at Grundtvig’s hymn, he seems to say Christ is the rock, without ever saying it. Matthew’s story from the beginning has drawn us in with the Good News announcement of salvation that is to be for us in this one who we call “Immanuel – God with us,” [1:21-22]. Yet the central question still has to haunt us. The Sermon on the Mount has been delivered, Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing is well underway and yet John the Baptiser still asks the question that is at issue for every one of us hearing the Good News today. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

And what is Jesus’ reply? “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” [11:3-6] This lesson is a pivotal time for Jesus’ ministry. Now is the time for Jesus’ disciples who have followed him to come clean and acknowledge the identity of this Jesus who has called them, and to follow his lead in the mission to the world. They/we have heard the stories of Jesus’ teaching and now we are asked the pointed question, “but who do you say that I am?” So Peter speaks for the disciples, for the community then and for us now. “Jesus is the Messiah.” “Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one.”

At the end of the Gospel, Jesus commissions these disciples as representatives of this new community to go in his name and to make disciples of all nations. This Faith, this Church, this community of believers are bound in Jesus’ mission. This community, the church, is endowed with the promise of a rich gift, the “keys” of the kingdom which is identified as the community’s invitation and mission to exercise the power of forgiveness in the binding and loosing of sin in the name of God.

For the writer of Matthew this is the call and responsibility of discipleship.

I believe this is what we as the Church have forgotten. Please turn to page 114 in the front of the hymnal. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine on you with grace and mercy. The Lord look upon you with favour and + give you peace.” One of my biggest problems with the Church is emphasized by what I hear at the benediction, which is often said by either clergy or lay,

“May the Lord bless….

May the Lord’s face….

May the Lord look….

And give you peace.”

Look in your hymnal, does it say, “may”? No, it says the Lord “does” give us….

My red ordination stole has keys as the symbol on it. I as a pastor represent the church to which God has given the keys to the kingdom, the power to forgive. The question is then, what would it look like for us to claim such a blessing and to have such an imagination as to join in this confession and this community. What if we were to know ourselves to be called by this promise and given this identity as disciples and ambassadors of the reign of God? What if we could just catch even a glimpse of what it means to be a part of this new community, authorized and empowered as agents to exercise the task of forgiving and welcoming in the name of God who desires “mercy and not sacrifice.” [9:13]. What if our hope was constantly part of that vision, that to the ends of the earth, the will of God might indeed be realized. That not one of these little ones should be lost to the saving love of God?

The problem for us, is just like the disciples, with, for a brief moment at least, the exception of Peter, the disciples do not have an opinion of their own. They say, “Messi, the Argentinian soccer player, has never offended anyone, because he has no opinion.”

So here we are as Christians. I believe Jesus wished his people were hot or cold. Instead, their discipleship was unremarkable. How we identify with Jesus should be based on personal encounters with God, and how we are informed by our readings of Scripture and in dialogue with others.

Yes, we need lifelong conversations with God whereby we adjust what we think we know. Our denomination, our church, our pastors, our mothers, fathers, siblings, teachers, and others will have their opinions, but in the end, we have to decide for ourselves how we identify this Jesus.

We cannot be like Messi and many others, with no opinion. A living God is a dynamic God and not a static God whose clearest communication happened in the past. We say Jesus is the Messiah of the living God. When we say Jesus is the Son of Man, we mean that God continues to act. God does not have to resurrect John the Baptiser, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or any other prophet to speak. God never ceases to exist, and to create, and to anoint. God can resurrect the dead, but resurrection is not his only option. Jesus continued to dialogue with Peter, God continues to dialogue with us. God is a living God, a relevant God, a contextual God. God speaks a relevant word that reflects the contexts in which we live and the challenges that we face.

God is a living God not bound by a written page or even a sacred text.

We must have opinions on God. What we do on earth matters and it has an impact all around us. And then interestingly, Jesus said, “Their lives will speak louder, more truthfully, and more effectively than their words.”

The bottom line is that God said, “we shall not build churches that oppress the poor and women and turn a blind eye to sexual violence.” On this “rock,” let us build assemblies that demonstrate belief in a living, incarnating God, a God of freedom and not of oppression, and above all a God of justice, and love and peace. Each one of us must pray for the call within the call, the grace within the grace. We must pray to find fullness that can only happen if we are willing to come in empty of our own agendas. Then we can discern where we see the creative movement of God stirring among us. What does it mean, in concrete and specific terms to proclaim the Good News of Jesus the Messiah in our communities, our work, our nation, our world?

Yes, the conviction that Jesus is the Messiah is the place to start. Then we must consider, in the light of this conviction, how do we live in faith that says the Messiah is present among us today? In the end, a life of faithful service may be the best answer to that awe-inspiring question, “Who do you say that I am?” we answer by saying who we are, and more importantly by what we do.


To God we belong

And to God is our return.


by Rev. Ronald Nelson

The Lessons during the summer are so meaningful, I only wish we could have them during Advent and Lent instead of the Lessons we use during Advent and Lent. If I was younger, I might try to turn the church year upside down or move to Australia.

Well, enough of my silliness. We need to start today with the refrain from Psalm 85.

“Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.”

Let us look at the prophet Elijah in our First Lesson. After escaping from the wicked

Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, Elijah hunkers down under a broom tree and tells God,

“Just let me die.” Some days are like that, eh?

But what does God do? God sends Elijah on a 40-day hike. Now I do not know about

you but a 40-day hike would surely do me in. In fact, 40 minutes are more than I want to

do. So, Elijah finds a cave and waits for God, expecting a powerful divine event that

would drive the king’s army and chariots to shame. Elijah heard a mighty wind, felt an

earthquake, and saw a fire. But none of those acts revealed God to Elijah. Instead, God

finally came to him in a whisper reminding him, reminding us, that a relationship with

God is never a compulsion but something that comes in kindness and peace.

Today’s Gospel develops a similar theme. After Jesus had broken the bread with the

crowd and the disciples had distributed the food, Jesus sent the people and the

disciples away and went off to pray. While the disciples were in the boat, doing exactly

what Jesus had told them to do, they found themselves in danger. Even today, the Sea

of Galilee is known for its night-time storms. So just like Elijah, the disciples were caught

in the wind and the storm. When it seemed like things could not get any worse, they

thought they saw a ghost. Then they heard the same voice that had recently told them

to share all they had with the hungry crowd.

“Be of good cheer! It is I! Do not be afraid.”

That is when Peter gets into the picture. He is already facing death on the sea in a

storm, so why not go for broke.

“If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

So Jesus said, “Come.” Remember a couple of hours earlier, the disciples had given

away all the food. They had done a good deed and what did they get for it? They were

going to drown; they were going to die. It sure pays to follow Christ, eh?

So what does peter have to lose, he jumps out of the boat, actually takes a step or two

and does what any of us would do, especially if we are not wearing a life-jacket, he

begins to sink. He then screams, the last thing he should have done. What happens

when you are in the water with your mouth open? Think about it. Jesus simply says,

“Why did you doubt?”

You can imagine the jokes around the campfire, after that. “Jesus knew where the rocks

were to step on,” is probably the most favourite one.

Nothing in this story indicates that the disciples thought God had sent a storm or that

God had wanted the king and queen in the first story to try to kill Elijah. [I am sure you

have heard those interpretations.]

Much like the troubles of today, the first was a natural phenomenon and the second was

a result of human failings. [these stories were not/are not teaching us that God tests our

faith.] But the tests of life do help us discover what we believe about God and ourselves.

[I will never forget my first class on the Bible at Augsburg University in 1958. Yes, it was

a Lutheran University so we were required to take a class on the Bible. I was not

planning on the seminary then. Anyway the teacher said, “the world was not created in

six days.” After the class was over or maybe even before the class ended, 18-year-old

students ran to the president of Augsburg saying, “the teacher had just destroyed their

faith.” Dear old Dr. Bernhard Christianson said, “I am sorry but that is what we believe.”

If anything, I think, that is when I began to have ideas, maybe, seminary would work for


Yes, tests in life help us discover what we believe about God and maybe even more

important, what we believe about ourselves. Elijah discovered that God’s whispering

was more powerful than wind, earthquakes, or chariots. Why, because in the midst of a

noisy, violent world, we have to strive to hear God’s whisper. Then, when we hear

God’s whisper, we realize, it demands some intention and attention. The disciples and

Elijah learned that God does listen to our pleas. The disciples wanted an end to the

storm and instead Jesus invited them to walk in the troubled waters of life. Rather than

meeting our expectations, God offers to save us but in ways we might think impossible.

De Chardin said, “what paralyzes life is lack of faith and lack of audacity.” Jesus taught

the disciples that faith is an audacious way to live. A bit like deciding to walk on water,

half-measures simply will not do it. It takes faith to put our whole heart into praying,

“Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.”

You see, every description of Jesus’ life in the Gospels has theological meaning related

to God and the people of Israel. Today’s readings are powerful ones. The first one

reminds us that God’s voice is heard not only in cataclysmic events but in still, silent

moments. Many people are quick to interpret natural disasters like hurricanes, floods,

fires and droughts as messages from God, usually condemning whatever behaviour the

interpreter has decided God should condemn - homosexuality, abortion, birth control,

the list is endless. That is clearly false prophecy, claiming God’s authority for one’s own

prejudices or favourite topic.

What our world really needs is witnesses to the possibility of living the Gospel values.

Much of our world is drowning in overconsumption and media distraction. People are

perishing from irrational violence and intolerable poverty, all in the shadow of

scandalous wealth. Too many human beings, each of whom has a name and a face

cherished by God, languish on the margins of a busy world with no-one to gaze on them

with the tenderness that alleviates loneliness, even if it cannot cure their ills or relieve

the pains of aging. We are not being asked to walk on water, but to act like we believe

that God’s love for us is more powerful than chaos, evil, and apathy.

The Gospel challenges us to take the storms of our day with a love and hope that will

risk going overboard. The headwinds are fierce, but the force of God’s spirit is still

greater. The wonderful thing about these incidents is they are not success stories. They

are salvation stories. It is okay to be frightened in a storm. And to call for help is a real

sign of faith.

We can hide from the storms of today or like the Elijahs and the Peters we can be

drawn out to face life itself. When we do that, we will not triumph with every attempt, but

this is about salvation, not success.

We admire those in the past who have faced crises and have been faithful. Yet our own

immediate crises can seem so different, so insurmountable because now it is happening

to us. We face a divided country, cultural shifts that challenge our institutions. We

witness global conflicts and economic insecurity. We face an unprecedented challenge to

our common good. There are prophets campaigning for every direction and outcome.

We need to show that we trust God to help us face the storms and come through with

courage. A cloud of witnesses, like always, surround and affirm the words of Jesus,

“take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” Yes, today’s readings remind us that God speaks

to us and beckons us in so many unexpected and surprising ways. Some of us, may

respond better to an almost indistinguishable whisper, while others need a wake-up call

that requires great courage on our part – Like Peter’s call to walk on water.


To God we belong,

And to God is our return.


There was once a farmer who had discovered a wonderful seed. It grew

bountifully and adapted to the soil. It produced a wonderful harvest. But

the farmer knew he had a problem: his neighbours were not so lucky. For

some of them it was their own fault – they had not been as diligent as he

had. For others it was just bad luck – an illness had distracted them from

their fields, or they had fallen on hard times. But if they continued to grow

poor quality seed his own would be in jeopardy. The bees or the wind

would blow their seed into his fields and mix up with his. His only

solution was to share his seed with them: they would benefit from the

bounty and his own seed would be preserved. All the farms would flourish

because of his generosity; and someday, when he needed it, they might

also share their seed with him.

The farmer was just practicing good agricultural science: as gardeners will

know, seeds often cross, with mixed results. But of course, the story is

also a parable for neighborly behavior: when we share what we have with

others, we enjoy a fruitful bounty that often returns to us two-fold.

Our parable in the gospel this morning would have resonated with the

crowd before Jesus, who lived and ate the success of their farms. They

understood the cost of seed tossed carelessly, so it is eaten by the birds, or

falls on rocky soil, or is lost in thorny bushes. Without the time to grow

roots, without the ground that welcomes it, that seed fails. But seed grown

where the soil is good and substantial, thrives.   

Jesus uses the parable as a lesson in faith. A shallow understanding of the

gospel cannot endure; the person who hears the gospel and receives it

joyfully, but does not take on the responsibility of it, cannot sustain their

faith. The ones who find a good place to grow, and tend carefully to that

growth, that seed will bear fruit.

Yet this gospel is not only a definition of strong discipleship. We are not

only the seed, but the sowers. Indeed, if we grow our faith well, we are the

farmer with the wondrous seed, enough to share with everyone, and called

to do so. “Go out to sow,” Jesus tells us. Try to share the fruits of our faith

in word and deed – the kindness, generosity, and hope of the gospel - with

those whom God puts in our path; to share the love of God so abundantly

given to us. 

A seed doesn’t thrive on its own. Even in nature it needs bees and wind,

sun and rain. And so it is with our own sowing. We must be intentional

and deliberate with it. Some days, the sun will not shine; some days the

nourishing rain will fall too hard, or too lightly. Yet without those strong

roots, that seed will perish. To sow requires action. It involves reaching

out to people; it involves serving, and caring, and risking—all sorts of

things like that. However, if we try to do this - if we try to offer ourselves,

our time, our energy, our caring - to others, then before very long, we’re

going to wonder whether it’s worth it; we’re going to wonder whether

anything of value or meaning is going to come from all of our efforts. We

might neglect our sowing, our fields lying fallow. So sowing requires not

only faith and action, but endurance. 

The first people who heard this story knew all about a sower going out to

sow. They saw it happen, they did it, year after year. They knew that seed

was usually sown by broadcasting it. Meaning, the farmer would walk

along and toss it out in every direction. The land was plowed later, after it

had been sown. This means that when you were tossing out the seeds, it

was virtually impossible to tell what sort of soil it was landing on. It all

looked pretty much the same from the point of view of the one who was

out there planting. 

So, everything that Jesus said about problems—thin soil, rocks, fat birds,

thorns, weeds, whatever—this was old news to them. That was the way it

always worked. A lot of what they sowed was wasted. They knew that.

Now, if the important part of this parable were about the soils, and the

difficulties that come with planting anything, and the dangers involved,

and the seeds that would be wasted, then there was nothing new or

interesting in it—the people listening already knew all about that.

However, there is one thing that was really shocking to the first people

who heard this parable. That was the yield, the harvest. Seven or eight-

fold was hoped for. Ten-fold was phenomenal, and anything above that

was simply unheard of. 

The poorest yield in the parable was beyond their experience—and the

greatest almost beyond comprehension. To promise this sort of result was

more than optimistic—it was to live in a whole different order of creation,

a completely different kind of vision.

To sow with this sort of hope and vision is to have the perspective of the

Reign of God. With this vision you don’t mind the rocks or the birds or the

thin soil or whatever else may get in the way. All of that stuff just doesn’t

matter. It is swallowed up in the promise of the whole enterprise. This

perspective, the promise of a vast harvest, is the heart of this little story.

After all, we already know that much of what we do is wasted. We know

that very well. We already know what it is like to try and try and try to

care and to make a difference and not get anywhere, or not be noticed, or

not succeed, or (perhaps worst of all) not even be appreciated. We know

what it is like to reach out a hand and pull back a bloody stump. We know

all about that. If the parable is only about that, then it doesn’t have

anything new or interesting to say to us, either.

Instead, remember that the point of the parable, and the point of what we

do, is that, by the grace of God, the harvest will be great beyond measure,

great beyond belief, great beyond imagining. What God will make of our

efforts is more than we can imagine. Much will be wasted, but that’s all


And the one who sows—that’s us—does not need to worry about that. The

one who sows is simply called to scatter the seed—to love and to

serve—and to trust. The rest will be taken care of. This is not because of

our abilities; it is because of the grace of God. The task that falls to us is to

plant the seed well, tend to it, and share it. To find community that has

good soil; to reinforce our faith with the diligent practice of the gospel; to

spread that among the space we inhabit in this world. 

This perspective of hope and confidence is the gift of the parable.  We are

to love and to serve in broadcast fashion—knowing full well that most of

what we do won’t amount to anything, that bad things are going to

happen—planes go down, bombs go off, children in Africa will not get

proper education, tyrants will sometimes win. A lot of what we sow is

wasted on fat birds and wicked weeds.  But that is not ours to control; it is

not ours to fix; and our parable this morning would go so far as to say it is

not even ours to worry about.

Each one of us individually, and all of us together, have at our feet fields

to walk and seed to sow. We are called to do that. This parable is a gift to

lighten our step and extend our reach in those moments in life when we

feel we cannot even move. It gives us the wonderful gift of perspective. So

we can wave at the birds and smile at the weeds—they are not our


Our task is simple: to be the farmer who, having grown her own bounty,

shares it with her neighbors. The seed of the gospel will find a way.

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