Powerful Call to Service in Sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

In the January 28 sermon at Westminster Presbyterian Church Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen delivered a powerful call for all to go out into the world and serve those in need.[1]

Reading from Holy Scripture

The Bible text was Luke 4:14-30 (NRSV):

  • “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.”
  • “When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”

  • “And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers[a]in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

The Sermon: “What Is Jesus Up To?”

“The preacher that day in Nazareth was on a roll when he came to town. He’d been on a speaking tour throughout Galilee, visiting the villages and synagogues there, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and things were going his way. The response was good. He was being praised everywhere. His reputation was growing.”

“esus is strategic in starting his ministry. He comes out of 40 days in the Judean wilderness and does not go home first. Instead, he goes to the larger towns in the area and begins preaching there – in Capernaum and Magdala, home to the woman we will come to know as Mary Magdalene.”

“Two years ago Beth and I walked from Nazareth down to the Sea of Galilee. It took us four days. On the pilgrimage we visited the ancient synagogues of Magdala and Capernaum where Jesus had taught before going home to Nazareth. Those villages were quite different from his hilltop hometown. They were on the Sea of Galilee, along busy trade routes, coming from Egypt and going on to Syria. In contrast, Nazareth was off the beaten path, high in the hills. It was a small, isolated village – maybe 300-400 people – full of conservative, traditional Jews, and somewhat closed off, sheltered from the rest of the world.”

“By the time Jesus finally gets back to his hometown he’s made a real name for himself in the more cosmopolitan region along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The people of Nazareth have heard all about him. They expect him to do for them what he has done for those down in Capernaum and the other towns.”

“Jesus goes to his family synagogue on the Sabbath Day. He’s going to be guest preacher there. He’s handed the scroll of Isaiah and unrolls it to a familiar passage about the hoped-for Messiah who would open a new era, a new day of justice and peace among the people of God. And then he begins his sermon this way:”

“’Today,’  he says, ‘This scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

“So far, so good. Hometown boy makes a name for himself.”

“It will be the first and only time he ever gets that close to an outright claim to the messiah mantle. He should have stopped there, but Jesus keeps going. Jesus is up to something else, and that’s when he gets into trouble. The preacher’s good run is about to come crashing to a halt – and I have great sympathy for him.”

“God, he says, is breaking into history and calling them to account for the way they live. To illustrate this, he mentions two times in Hebrew history when God had intervened to save the people from certain destruction, through famine or drought. The problem is that both times God chose to work not through the most pious believers, like those seated in the synagogue that day, but, rather, through unexpected people, even reviled people – a non-Jewish widow and a non-Jew with leprosy, neither of whom had any standing whatsoever among those assumed to be God’s people.”

“That was too much for the congregation in Nazareth. First to equate himself with the long-awaited Messiah – sounding like blasphemy! And then to imply they were not among those through whom God would work – sounding like heresy!”

“Professor Tom Long says of preaching that at its heart is ‘the astonishing cry of the witness, ‘Something has happened! Everything has changed!.’”’ (Why I’ve focused on form and function,” Christian Century, 12/20/17, p. 29)

“That’s what the preacher is up to that day in Nazareth. That’s what Jesus is saying. Something has happened. Everything has changed!”

“But his listeners have neither eyes to see nor ears to hear. Their hearts are closed. That will be the story of the rest of the ministry of Jesus.”

“Those who are the most religiously observant will not be the ones who believe that something has happened and everything has changed. It will be the women and children, who don’t count for anything in that time, whom he honors. It will be the people rejected because of disease or disability or age or status in life, whom he heals and loves. It will be the sinners condemned by everyone else, whom he accepts. They will hear him. They will believe. Their lives will be changed.”

“But the people in Nazareth in the synagogue that day aren’t ready for that. They’re furious at Jesus for suggesting they’re not in God’s good graces. In their fury they push Jesus out of the synagogue and into the streets and to the edge of town and nearly throw him off the cliff.”

“Surely that experience reminded Jesus what he had just gone through in the desert temptations, when the devil took him to a high tower and told him to jump and the angels would save him. We don’t learn what saves him that day in Nazareth, but he breaks free and walks away, unscathed, and heads back down toward the towns along the Sea of Galilee.”

“In a way, the townspeople do exactly what Jesus calls them to do: they leave the confines of the synagogue and go out into the streets, out into the town, out among the people who are at the center of God’s concern. A summons to go out into the city should sound familiar to us at Westminster – something of a recurring theme these days.”

“If they are ‘to bring good news to the poor’ and ‘proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind (and) let the oppressed go free,”’that will not happen inside their house of worship. We will never address the crying needs of so many in our world if we sit behind these walls, comfortable in our religious rituals and never go outside to encounter the world. And if we do go outside we will not be able to do much by ourselves.”

“Ministry in the 21st century necessarily draws us out of the protection of our own way of doing religion and into coalitions with people of other faiths or of good will. This afternoon’s interfaith gathering in our sanctuary, Bold Hope in the North, will help prevent homelessness because we’re working with thousands of others whose religious practice requires them – as does ours – to leave their houses of worship and work together in the streets of the city for the common good.”[2]

“If we want to  join Jesus in proclaiming ‘the year of the Lord’s favor’ we will find ourselves having to stand up for things we had at one time counted on someone else to deal with. We will need to speak out against what we had previously accepted or ignored or let slide. We will go places we have not gone before.”

“We know those places, and we try to avoid them. It’s simpler to hide behind the mantle of our professed religion and go through the motions than it is truly to practice our faith. And it’s always easier to see that kind of hypocrisy happening in others, especially if they are within our own tradition, than to see it in ourselves. I am guilty of this.”

“This week when I read about Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, saying that evangelical Christians were tired of being ‘kicked around’ by the previous administration in Washington and, referring to the current administration, ‘are finally glad there’s somebody on the playground…willing to punch the bully.’ I reacted to that.”

“When asked about the injunction to turn the other cheek, Perkins said, ‘You know, you only have two cheeks. Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.’”

“Tell that to Jesus as he’s pushed out of the synagogue by his pious countrymen and nearly thrown off the cliff, as he’s persecuted and hounded by the religious and political authorities of his time, and as he’s walking up the hill to Calvary.”

“Too often self-described evangelicals seem willing to set aside the kind of biblical mandate Jesus lays on us in Nazareth for short-term political gain. Not all evangelicals agree; in fact, there’s quite a discussion among them now. Many of them are wondering if the term ‘evangelical’ still has any shred of meaning.”

“But before we judge our sisters and brothers in the faith too harshly let’s remember that Jesus was speaking not only to them, but to us, as well. We should take care not to become obsessed with the speck in someone else’s eye and not notice the log in our own. In the cultural and political and religious climate of America today it is so easy, and – shall we not confess it – sosatisfying, to see all that is wrong in somebody else, in the other, those with whom we disagree.”

“The danger with putting on such blinders, of course, is that we can’t see where we fall short, as well. And then we become the righteously offended worshippers in the synagogue in Nazareth. We imagine Jesus is talking about someone else, not us, when he repeats those words from Isaiah about bringing good news to the poor, and when he says that God will choose to work through not those in the synagogue, not those in the sanctuary, but through the last people we would expect.”

“’Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,’ Jesus says of Isaiah’s words. Something has happened. Everything has changed!”

“That synagogue scene is the start of the public ministry of Jesus. He’s not come to Nazareth to meet the religious expectations of his fellow townspeople or to play into their prejudice and affirm it. He’s not there to talk about religious things at all, really, about tithing, or keeping the Sabbath, or following the religious proscriptions about eating and farming and marriage and sex and family life – there were rules for everything, 613 of them in the Torah – but Jesus does not turn to them in his one and only sermon in his hometown synagogue.”

“That’s because Jesus isn’t focused on religion for its own sake. And he’s especially not interested in religiosity, that is, adhering to the rules, keeping the tradition, following the path trod for centuries, but missing the point of it altogether. As if nothing had happened and everything were the same.”

“If our faith doesn’t shake us up and wake us up and turn us around then we’re not paying attention. And in Jesus’ eyes there’s nothing worse than mouthing the faith and not meaning it. His most strident words in the gospel are reserved for hypocrites, those who profess religion but have no intention of practicing what God desires of us.”

“Jesus is challenging those of us who would follow him to reexamine our lives. Not somebody else’s life; our lives.”

“I know at certain points in my life I’ve found it was time to take stock of how I was living. Most recently that occurred when my parents died. Those of you who have gone through the death of a loved one know what I mean: something happens and everything changes. And we find ourselves asking big questions about the purpose of life. We look for new approaches, make new discoveries about ourselves, draw new conclusions about what really matters. We wonder what difference we’re making in life.”

“And if we profess to follow Jesus, as most of us do, we might ask how we’re part of the unfolding reign of God of which Isaiah speaks.”.

“Jesus is not concerned with getting the doctrine right. He’s focused instead on getting the practice of our faith right. He wants to get relationships right – not only personal relationships, but relationships among the human family, within our communities. Our faith is fundamentally about God’s hope for humanity, about just relationships among neighbors and among nations, about loving the most vulnerable among us – not about a religious creed or system, and getting it just right.”

“The preacher that day in Nazareth was digging deep and hitting home:  ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

“It was not about their religion. It was about their lives. It was, and it is, about our lives.”

“Something has happened. Everything has changed.”

“Thanks be to God.”


Yes, everyone in the world, Christian or not, should go out into the world and help others. Yet no one can do everything that needs to be done and that thought often is daunting and debilitating. Therefore, one needs to go through a process of discernment to determine what your vocation is or should be and then you need to go out and work to further that vocation. Also one needs to recognize that your vocation may change over time. Just get started.[3]


[1] The service’s bulletin  and the sermon text are available on the church website.

[2] See Minneapolis Interfaith Gathering To End Homelessness, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 29, 2018)

[3] See these posts to this blog: My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); Another Powerful Worship Service about Vocation (Feb.  2014); Other Scriptural Passages About Vocation (Feb. 17, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014); Where Is the Sense of Vocation in Roger Cohen’s Writings? (Dec. 7, 2016).






Minneapolis Interfaith Gathering To End Homelessness 

On January 28 nearly 1,000 people gathered at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis to support the Emergency Rental Assistance Program of Downtown Congregations To End Homelessness (DCEH).[1]

The gathering was  emceed by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey  and  joined by senior clergy from the downtown congregations (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) and two former NFL Vikings stars: punter Greg Coleman and defensive end Mark Mullaney. Testimony was offered by two individuals who had been helped by the DCEH.

Music was provided by local artists J.D. and Fred Steele, who are members of the popular singing group The Steele Family; Amwaaj Middle Eastern Ensemble; MacPhail Community Youth Choir; Mill City Singers; Street Song MN; and Klezmer Cabaret Orchestra. Teen artist Kaaha Kaahiye shared her spoken words. Below is a photograph of J.D. Steele and Becky Bratton with the Mill City Singers:

Attendees enjoyed delicious food from Holy Land Market and assembled dignity bags for people who are homeless (consisting of hygiene products, socks, hand warmers, food, etc.).

The event showcased Minnesota interfaith cooperation one week before the Super Bowl football game just several miles from this church and was co-sponsored by the Super Bowl Host Committee. An amusing promotional video for the event had Greg Coleman coaching clergy getting ready for a fictitious football game with the cheer “One Hope, One Mind, One Spirit.”


[1]  Hopfensperger, Faith and football combine at unusual Super Bowl event, StarTribune (Jan. 28, 2018).


Discovering the Ideas of Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson

Recently two prominent columnists, David Brooks of the New York Times and Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, simultaneously have discovered the ideas of Jordan Peterson, about whom I had known nothing. I now know that he is a University of Toronto psychologist, author of a popular new book, “12 Rules for Life:  An Antidote to Chaos,” and popular YouTube analyst of classical and biblical texts and critic of identity politics and political correctness. [1]

David Brooks’ Observations

For Brooks, Peterson’s “worldview begins with the belief that life is essentially a series of ruthless dominance competitions. The strong get the spoils and the weak become meek, defeated, unknown and unloved.” Peterson argues, says Brooks, that “for much of Western history, Christianity restrained the human tendency toward barbarism. But God died in the 19th century, and Christian dogma and discipline died with him. That gave us the age of ideology, the age of fascism and communism — and with it, Auschwitz, Dachau and the gulag.” Now “we’ve decided to not have any values. We’ll celebrate relativism and tolerance.”

Peterson, according to Brooks, rejects these views. Instead, Peterson emphasizes that “life is suffering” and that everyone needs to “choose discipline, courage and self-sacrifice.”

In Brooks’ opinion, “much of Peterson’s advice sounds to me like vague exhoratory banality. Like Hobbes and Nietzsche before him, he seems to imagine an overly brutalistic universe, nearly without benevolence, beauty, attachment and love. His recipe for self-improvement is solitary, nonrelational, unemotional. I’d say the lives of young men can be improved more through loving attachment than through Peterson’s joyless and graceless calls to self-sacrifice.”

Peggy Noonan’s Observations

Noonan distills Peterson’s new book this way: “Know life’s limits, see and analyze your own, build on what you’ve got and can create. And be brave. Everything else is boring and won’t work.”

These views come from his “respect for the stories and insights into human behavior—into the meaning of things—in the Old and New Testaments. (He’d like more attention paid to the Old.) Their stories exist for a reason, he says, and have lasted for a reason: “They are powerful indicators of reality, and their great figures point to pathways. He respects the great thinkers of the West and the Christian tradition.”

Therefore, says Peterson through Noonan, ”Admit “you will die and on the way to death you will suffer; throughout you will be harassed by evil, both in the world and in your heart. . . .Accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open. . . . Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant. . . .Become aware of your own insufficiency. . Don’t lie about anything, ever.”


Peterson’s ideas and new book sound intriguing. I am adding the book to my reading list.


[1]  Brooks, The Jordan Peterson Moment, N.Y. Times (Jan. 25, 2018); Noonan, Who’s Afraid of Jordan Peterson?, W.S.J. (Jan. 25, 2018).

Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

This year’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday on January 14 was a very special occasion for Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.[1] We welcomed the pastors and members of our local partner congregations, Liberty Community Church and Grace-Trinity Community Church, to hear the sermon by Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II , the highest official (Stated Clerk) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denomination.[2] The Biblical passages for the day were 1 Samuel 3:1-10 and John 1: 43-51.

After the worship service, we explored the spaces in our new addition whose front exterior is shown in this photograph.

The following is a summary of this historic day by the church’s communications consultant, Kathy Graves, with the first photograph by Westminster member, Tom Northenscold, and the other two by Rev. Brennan Blue.[3]

The Worship Service

“A celebratory, soulful group of musicians from Westminster and its partner [congregations] welcomed people to worship. . . [followed by a reminder from] Tim Hart-Andersen, senior pastor at Westminster. . .: ‘Today is just the beginning. Many of us have worked long and hard to get to this moment, but our vision of a parking lot has grown into a vision for transforming our presence in the city. Our work is ahead of us.’”[4]

Alika Galloway, co-pastor of Liberty, Minnesota’s only primarily African-American PC(USA) congregation, shared the successes of her church’s 21st Century Academy, a rigorous after-school and summer academic program partially funded by [Westminster’s] Open Doors Open Futures. Daniel Vigilante, pastor of Grace-Trinity, described the support his congregation received from Westminster’s campaign. Five years ago, the congregation had expected to close because of dwindling numbers and resources when Westminster and Grace-Trinity formed a unique partnership. Today, Grace-Trinity is thriving and nearly self-supporting.”

“Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II [in the  photograph to the left] spoke [in his sermon] of the need to ‘get real about those being left behind.’ He urged the congregation to listen to what God is calling them to be, especially in the beautiful new spaces created by Open Doors Open Futures. “’Be consumed not with the love of this building but by a love of this community,’ he told worshippers. ‘Use this space wisely. You have much and have already used it for the glory of God. Take it and do a whole lot more. Let the world know you are standing firm.’”

“Worship concluded with [a call-and-response reading of the unique] “Litany for a New Day,” which offered these words [by everyone in the congregation]: ‘We hope this is where new life happens, where friendships are made and children are loved, where hands serve and prophetic voices are nurtured out of silence, where good news is proclaimed in a broken world and radical hospitality is our daily practice, where you, O God, are worshipped and another generation experiences resurrection.’”

The Reception

“Following worship, the congregation cut the ribbons’ on the expansion, which were actually handcrafted banners created by [Rev.] Beth Hart-Andersen from textiles donated by Westminster members and which were carried down the Trinity Staircase of the new space by Westminster youth as shown in the photograph to the right.

“Drummers [then] led a procession of nearly 1,100 people out into the new wing and down the four-story “Trinity Staircase” (and adjacent elevators) into the new 300-stall underground parking garage. Outside temperatures below zero led to a brisk and festive blessing of the garage.’

“As the youth group sang “Amazing Grace,’ they made their way back up to the first floor to inaugurate Westminster Hall with the premiere of composer Tom Trenney’s ‘I Will Make a Way,’ a setting of Isaiah 43:19, commissioned by Westminster for the occasion. Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, Westminster’s director of choral ministries, led the Westminster Choir in a performance that showed off the magnificent acoustics of the space as shown in this photograph.[5]

“’The new hall will allow the church to diversify its worship offerings as well as fulfill long-unmet needs for community meetings and congregational celebrations. ‘Westminster Hall is the heart of the new first floor expansion,’ said Hart-Andersen. ‘It will allow us to worship in a new key. The city is right here,’ he said, gesturing to a full-length wall of glass overlooking Westminster Plaza on Nicollet Mall. ‘We can see the city and it can see us.’”

“The hall comfortably accommodates up to 400 people. State-of-the art lighting and acoustics allow for a wide array of programming. Sunlight passes through a tree-like canopy overhead, speaking to passages in scripture that reference the power and symbolism of nature and life’s cycles.”

James Dayton, the lead architect, thanked the congregation for its steadfast support of the project. ‘My firm does this work every day, but you don’t,’ he said. ‘You had to learn a whole set of skills. And you did. This building makes manifest the faith of this congregation. Thank you for allowing us to be part of this.’”

“’Westminster is a church open to creative new ways to serve and engage the city,’ said Hart-Andersen. ‘This new wing gives us the tools to do that: easy access, multi-use space, enhanced technology, inspired green design, and much more.’” (A subsequent post will discuss how that new space will be used.)


[1] The live stream of the service is on the church website, and the bulletin for the service should soon be there as well..

[2]  Rev. Nelson is the son, grandson, and nephew of Presbyterian pastors and the first African- American to lead the denomination, which has a 300-year history in the U.S. As Stated Clerk his duties include interpreting assembly actions, representing the church on various denominational and ecumenical councils, witnessing on behalf of the church to social justice

[3] Graves, Westminster Presbyterian Church opens doors on expansion to historic downtown Minneapolis building, Presbyterian Outlook (Jan. 19, 2018); Powell, Westminster Presbyterian to serve as a cornerstone of justice, Presbyterian Mission (Jan. 17, 2018).

[4] The musicians were Sam Reeves, Jr., pianist and Liberty Church’s  Minister of Music; Brian “Snowman” Powers, a Louisiana-bred saxophonist, composer and music producer; and Chris Koza, a singer-songwriter-guitarist and member of Grace-Trinity Community Church.

[5] The Westminster Choir also was joined by the church’s Global Choir (in which this blogger sings bass), and Youth Choir while the children’s Choristers danced for a performance of “Bonse Aba,” a beautiful traditional Zambian anthem, whose native language words translate in English as, “All that sing have the right to be called the children of God.


Pope Francis’ Offers Advice for Everyone 

On January 6, Pope Francis offered advice for everyone in his homily at a Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.[1]

The Papal Mass was celebrating the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord when the Magi followed the star to find Jesus and bring him gifts. The homily focused on those three actions of the Magi: seeing the star, setting out to find him and bringing him gifts.

Seeing the Star

“But why, we might ask, did the Magi alone see the star? Perhaps because few people raised their eyes to heaven. We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up. (Emphasis added.)

Jesus’ “star was not eye-catching, did not shine any brighter than other stars. . . . Jesus’ star does not dazzle or overwhelm, but gently invites. We may ask ourselves what star we have chosen to follow in our lives. Some stars may be bright, but they do not point the way. So it is with success, money, career, honors and pleasures when these become our life. They are meteors: they blaze momentarily, but then quickly burn out and their brilliance fades. They are shooting stars that mislead rather than lead. The Lord’s star, however, may not always overwhelm by its brightness, but it is always there, ever kindly: it takes you by the hand in life and accompanies you. It does not promise material reward, but ensures peace and grants, as it did to the Magi, “exceedingly great joy” (Mt 2:10). But it also tells us to set out.” (Emphasis added.)

Setting Out

His star demands a decision to take up the journey and to advance tirelessly on our way. It demands that we free ourselves from useless burdens and unnecessary extras that only prove a hindrance, and accept unforeseen obstacles along the map of life. Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go, not sit around but take risks, not stand still, but set out. Jesus makes demands: he tells those who seek him to leave behind the armchair of worldly comforts and the reassuring warmth of hearth and home. Following Jesus is not a polite etiquette to be observed, but a journey to be undertaken. God, who set his people free in the exodus and called new peoples to follow his star, grants freedom and joy always and only in the course of a journey. In other words, if we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a Child. Yet those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that Child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.” (Emphasis added.)

Bringing Gifts

“The Gospel becomes real when the journey of life ends in giving. To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus. For he says: ‘The gift you have received, give freely as a gift’ (Mt 10:8). To do good without counting the cost, even when unasked, even when you gain nothing thereby, even if it is unpleasant. That is what God wants. He, who become small for our sake, asks us to offer something for the least of his brothers and sisters. Who are they? They are those who have nothing to give in return, the needy, the hungry, the stranger, the prisoner, the poor (cf. Mt 25:31-46). We give a gift pleasing to Jesus when we care for a sick person, spend time with a difficult person, help someone for the sake of helping, or forgive someone who has hurt us. These are gifts freely given, and they cannot be lacking in the lives of Christians. Jesus reminds us that if we only love those who love us, we do as the pagans do (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Today let us look at our hands, so often empty of love, and let us try to think of some free gift that we can give without expecting anything in return. That will please the Lord. And let us ask him: ‘Lord, let me rediscover the joy of giving’”. (Emphasis added.)


[1] The Holy See, Homily of Pope Francis (Jan. 6, 2018); D’Emilio, Pope: don’t be misled by making money and career your life, Wash. Post (Jan. 6, 2018).

Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Challenge To Be Always Reforming

On October 8 Associate Pastor Sarah Brouwer preached a sermon entitled, “On the Road: Beginnings Are Good” at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Here are the Holy Scriptures for the day and extracts of that sermon.[1] Below is an aerial photograph of the new addition to the church and of Rev. Brouwer.





Listening for the Word

Readings of the Holy Scripture:

 Genesis 1:1-5, 26, 28, 31 (NRSV):

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’  and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’”

“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’”

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Luke 24:13-16 (NRSV):

“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”


“You may have heard this phrase among proud Presbyterians before: ‘Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda,’ the church reformed and always reforming. Even now, this latin phrase is a rallying cry for reformed people–a motto to remind us of who we are and who we intend to be.”

“Although we aren’t quite sure where it came from, it was written about quite frequently in the mid-20th century by theologian Karl Barth. Barth preached and taught during both world wars. He witnessed how the church, instead of being reformed, was conforming to anti-Semitism. Barth was considered theologically conservative, because he blamed more liberal theology for morphing God conveniently into the supporter of institutional agendas, like the Nazis. Barth fought for the oppressed through theology that was not popular during his time.”

“Barth was not a reformer for the sake of reforming; he didn’t insist on change for the sake of change. There was a global crisis happening, which the church became apologetic for, and Barth was called to respond. Throughout history, this church reformed and always reforming has sometimes been misused by people trying to obtain power, or exclude others. But, when reform  is legitimate and successful, it always seems to happen beyond the control or desire of the church as it is, and it usually has in mind those who have been left behind.”

“Now, here we find ourselves in 2017, at Westminster, a congregation right in the middle of yet another monumental shift. We believe that God is calling us to become more intentionally open and diverse, and responsive to the city around us. And because of an extraordinary gift, the project next door and the incredible mission opportunities with it are taking shape. Through the work of Open Doors Open Futures, and given our unique downtown context, and the juncture within the larger church and in our current culture, I am confident that none of this is coincidental. We stand on the precipice of large-scale change. It is upon us for a reason, and we have been called to the exciting task of deciphering what God is doing among us.”

“The disciples in Luke’s Gospel were at a critical turning point in their life, as well. It was Sunday, and they had spent the weekend grieving Jesus’ death. They heard the tomb was empty, but that was about it- they didn’t yet understand what had happened. Cleopas and another disciple were presumably making their way home to Emmaus, a walk that would have taken a couple of hours, leaving them plenty of time to recount the traumatic events of the last few days.’

‘The text says that as they were walking Jesus came near to them, but they were kept from recognizing him. It’s a strange turn of phrase. My educated guess says they weren’t the only ones on the road, walking home from Jerusalem that day, and they were in deep conversation, unaware of who was around them. But, let’s be logical here, they also weren’t on the lookout for a resurrected body. Their expectations had been foiled, and they no longer had a messiah who would usher in a new reign for the people of Israel.”

“This change in plans was devastating, and, as far as they knew, it put an end to their ministry. I can imagine there was a great amount of resignation between them. They had seemingly given up everything to follow Jesus–family members who counted on them had been left behind in pursuit of this religious radical named Jesus, now dead. And they were facing the facts of the situation. As Sarah Henrich writes, they had to ‘get real, grow up, and get back to work.’”

“As I read and reread these verses, where the disciples seem to have yielded to what they thought happened, I began to think about how hard it is for our own minds and hearts to be changed. We too can be in the dark about what God is doing. We miss resurrection, we move on with individual priorities, become resigned to the way things are, and we continue to hold on to biases that close our hearts. These disciples challenged me to consider: when was the last time I was truly changed?”

[I concluded that it was] “an intense seminary class in dismantling racism and bias. We met with some of the most diverse populations I’ve ever encountered, had some of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever experienced, and, it made me realize how much I didn’t know, how many biases I did and continue to have, and that it would be a lifelong pursuit not only to work on those biases, but to be honest and vulnerable about them and bring others along in doing it with me. I also learned an important lesson about ministry, which is that there is a difference between making change happen, and making space for God’s people to be changed.”

There “are, daily, new opportunities to choose how we will have our being in this world, and how we will posture ourselves–as individuals, and at this juncture in our history, as a community of faith. Will we continue on just as we are, using our new space to discuss our own opinions in the dark while the world clamors for good news and resurrection? Our reformation heritage, misinterpreted, can tell us that we alone are the change agents–that we are the ones with the lens that brings God into clearest focus. But Barth and Luther and Calvin would be the first to say that isn’t true; they weren’t the owners of change. They were reformers as a response to what God was doing in them, and what was happening in the world around them.”

As one of our elders recently observed, “as we open our doors to the future, is the expectation that Westminster will be a telling presence in the city, or is it, that God’s city will also become a telling presence to us?”

“The story of creation in Genesis always brings words of blessing, but it feels especially appropriate as change is upon us, and we find ourselves in the midst of a new creation. You see, our creation story begins in the dark, in what seems like the unknown. But even in these first verses we understand that God is intentional, there was never nothing with God, but always something, waiting until just the right time to be changed into what is good. God calling creation good is more than that. It is akin to outstanding. This is our beginning. And thus our beginning always has been and always will be beautiful.

“You and I, we come from a beautiful beginning. And we shouldn’t forget that. As the world continues to present itself as anything but good, we trust in a God who takes what is—death– and starts fresh, makes something new out of it, changes it, and changes even us. ‘The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.’ These things are not erased, but transformed. Creation reveals not just God’s capacity for change, but God’s desire for change that is good”

“In the last couple of weeks, in the wake of natural disasters, and another mass shooting in Las Vegas, I have sensed a collective numbing of our nation. What is happening around us often does not reflect the goodness of God’s creation. Staying in the darkness of our privilege, heads down facing the road like the disciples, feels much safer. But we believe in a creative God–one who speaks words and does not stay silent, who creates not because of ability but because of a desire to change, who does not allow the chaos of the formless void to pull us under, but transforms it and calls it good. This same God sent Jesus to walk alongside his disciples until they recognized him, and showed them the change they were capable of if they trusted in the power of resurrection.”

“We are capable of that kind of change, too. Change that starts within, that is deeply influenced by God’s world around us. In January, when we step foot into the space next door, my greatest hope and prayer is that we will not be the same people we were before. Who we were does not get left behind, but it does get transformed. That is our call. As reformed people. As God’s people.”

“What we are building next door is a sanctuary–a sanctuary for the city that is physically accessible, and spiritually open. And our worship discernment team has been working hard to imagine what kind of  worship will happen there. What they are creating will be good, in the best sense of the word. What has been most surprising and good about working with this group is how much we have all been changed by the process, and how our posture toward the world has changed, too. We are creating space for lives to be transformed by God. This worship is not for us, only, it is for the unchurched, the de-churched, the nones, the poor, the wealthy, the old and the young, black and white, LGBTQ, and whoever else is seeking the good news of the Gospel, and we don’t know yet who else.”

“I would like to think that if Barth had been asked what the next 100 or 500 years of the church were going to look like, his answer would not have been concrete. I’m sure he had his hopes for it–more justice oriented, more gracious and welcoming. But, as a true reformer he would have also known that even he could not predict what God would do, and how God’s people would be changed. He knew the future of the church depended upon a people who could look up from the road they were on. And as reformers of the 21st century, this is where we must begin, too. From creation to resurrection, from reformation and into the future, God’s people have made the most faithful changes when they have been open to God first changing them.”

“Beginnings can be mysterious and always start in the dark. But we also trust that beginnings are good, if we are open to what God is creating, changing, transforming and resurrecting within us.”


“The church reformed and always reforming” is a significant reminder for why I am a member of a Presbyterian church. It is a human creation, is not perfect and always subject to changes to meet new circumstances and to correct outmoded or erroneous ways.


[1] The bulletin for the service and the text of the sermon are on the church’s website.





Global Music on World Communion Sunday

As mentioned in a prior post, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s celebration of World Communion Sunday on October 1 featured a sermon on where was the Reformation headed today.

As that sermon mentioned, the service included global music. Our Westminster and Global Choirs joined together to sing five anthems from other countries and to lead the congregation in singing five hymns from around the world. [1] Our leaders were Dr. Melanie Ohnstad, Organist and Minister of Music and Arts; and Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, Director of Choral Ministries; Barbara Prince, Director of Global Choir; and Jeffrey Gram, percussionist.


The Introit or hymn which is sung at the start of a worship service was “Somlandela,” a traditional South African anthem that was arranged by Barbara Prince. It had one verse in Zulu, another in French and one in English, the last of which stated, “I will follow, I will follow Jesus, I will follow everywhere he goes.”


The Offertory anthem was “Indodana,” also from South Africa in traditional isiXhosa, which is one of the country’s official languages and spoken by about 18% of the population, and arranged by Michael Barrett and Ralf Schmitt. Luckily for me as a bass singer, most of our lines were “oo” and “oh”with “Zjem Zjem zja baba” (three times) and “Ho Baba Baba, ho Baba Baba, Je ho Va!” (twice). Just being part of the choir’s singing this beautiful piece brought tears to my eyes. [2]

The church bulletin provided the following English translation of the lyrics: “The Lord has taken his son who lived amongst us, the son of the Lord God was crucified. Hololo Father Jehovah, Zjem zja father.” (“Hololo” and “Zjem zja” are expressive words with no English translation.)

Holy Communion

During the distribution of the bread and the cup for communion, we sang three anthems.

The first was “Nasibi (My Portion),” a Palestinian Hymn arranged by Maggie Hamilton. Its Refrain was in Arabic (English translation: “The Lord is the only strength of my heart, so says my soul”). The text, which were sung in English, was the following:

  • “The Lord is my portion for evermore, so says my soul. In heav’n above, who else have I? Who else, on earth, might I desire? The Lord alone is all I need, true treasure of my soul. For God, I’ll give my wealth away, strew valleys with unwanted gold, that God may be my only prize, my portion and my share.”

The second was “O Jumalan Karitsa” by Matti Rantatalo and sung in the original Finnish language with the following English translation in the church bulletin: “O, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins the world, have mercy on us. O, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, give us peace and blessing.”

The third anthem was “Ukuthula,” another South African piece sung in Zulu. Again, the English translation was provided in the bulletin: “Peace in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings peace. Redemption in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings redemption. Praise (gratefulness) in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings praise (gratefulness). Faith in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings faith. Victory in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings victory. Comfort in this world of sin (Hallelujah) the blood of Jesus brings comfort.”

Congregational Hymns

The global theme of the service also was emphasized in the following five hymns.

“In Christ, There Is No East or West” (No. 317 in Glory to God: the Presbyterian Hymnal) whose first verse states, “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” This and the other verses were written in 1908 by John Oxenham (a/k/a William Arthur Dunkerly) and the music is an African-American spiritual, which was the very first such music used in a mainline North American hymnal in 1940.

 “O Lord, Have Mercy” (No. 578) is the traditional “Kyrie eleison:” “O lord, have mercy, O Lord have mercy, O Lord have mercy, have mercy on us.” The hymnal also contained the verses in Greek and Guarani, which we did not sing.

“Sheaves of Wheat” (No. 532) has music and text (in Spanish) by Cesáreo Gabaráin, a Spanish priest and composer, but we sang the English translation by Mary Louise Bringle. The first verse goes this way: “Sheaves of wheat turned by sunlight into gold, grapes in clusters, like rubies on the vine, feed our hearts as the precious blood and body of our Lord: gifts of heaven from earthly bread and wine.”

“Holy, Holy, Holy” (No. 594) has music and text by Guillermo Cuéllar, a Salvadoran composer, with English translation by Linda McCrae. The choir and the congregation sang the refrain in Spanish: “Santo, santo, santo, santo, santo, santo es nuestra Dios, Señor de toda la tierra. Santo, santo, es nuestro Dios. Santo, santo, santo, santo, santo, santo es nuestro Dios, Señor de toda la historia. Santo, santo es nuestro Dios.”

“May the Love of the Lord” (No. 549) has music by LIM Swee Hong, an Asian Christian, and text by Maria Ling, who are the parents of a son who stopped breathing at one day old , but who was revived by the prompt action of nurses. The hymnal has Chinese and English lyrics, the latter of which says, “May the love of the Lord rest upon your soul. May God’s love dwell in you, throughout every day. May God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God’s Spirit be upon you as you leave this place.”


In the shorter, earlier worship service that day the Global Choir with augmentation by some of the Westminster Choir members sang all but “Indodana” of the anthems and only one of the hymns (“In Christ There Is No East or West”), but we also closed that service by singing the Refrain with the congregation joining in the stanzas of “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!” (No. 591 in the Hymnal), which has a traditional Caribbean melody with stanzas by Marty Haugen. The words of the first stanza are these: “O God, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life. Let your words be our prayer and the song we sing: hallelujah, hallelujah!”

There were so many things happening in these services, I once again discovered by reviewing the service, re-reading the pieces that we sung, researching about the composers and lyricists and writing this blog post enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the services.

Although I joined the Global Choir in 2014, it was created in 2001, and for the regular church calendar (September through May), we sing nine times in the early worship service in the church’s Chapel. Just contact the church to join the Global Choir! All are welcome.


[1] The church’s website has the bulletin for the main service.  A video of the service also is there; go to http://westminstermpls.churchonline.org/ and click on the icon with three white dots and lines at the top of the video screen; next you will see small screens with the dates of services; then select “Oct. 1, 2017.”

[2] Beautiful performances of “Indodana” by (a) the combined voices of the University of Pretoria Camerata, the Missouri State University Chorale, and the Emory and Henry College Choir at the University of Pretoria Musaion, (Pretoria, South Africa) and (b) South Africa’s Stellenbosch University Choir are available on YouTube.