Reformation Sermon

Grace to you and peace….

Back in 1965 i was born

And from that year until 1972

I lived in a little town of …..

Called elk point

Elk point is located

on the south-eastern tip

Of South Dakota

That little part that sticks down

As a peninsula

Between two rivers

The Big Sioux

And the Missouri

My house was maybe a mile or two

Away from the Missouri

the river that Lewis and Clark

Would have travelled on

As they sought to find the northwest passage

As they sought to find a way

To the Pacific Ocean

In September of 1804

They would have paddled by

where my home

Would one day stand

I’ve often said about elk point

In my imagination it is

just like Mayberry….

Of the Andy Griffith show

—if you’ve ever watched that….

The Main Street is about the same size—small!

It was a place I remember

being filled with many “characters”

Not unlike the characters

In Andy Griffith

including my favorite character

old George Halvorson

Who held court every day

In his hardware store – w/ the guys….

Around an enormous pot-bellied stove

today – if you go into the Ace Hardware store

they will tell you- that the world is the lesser…

…because they no longer meet

they even have a toy

pot-belly stove in the window

as a tribute to Old George…

Every since, I have fashioned myself

As a little Opey

Running around town

Not with a Sheriff for a father

but – a public figure

a pastor in town

Which – in that day and age

Was a position of respect

I’m not sure our culture

respects pastors

…or sheriffs…

Like we used to

well – anyway

Last week on Wednesday

just as i was sitting down to write my sermon

A college classmate of mine- Barb

Sent an email…and in it… she

Reminded me of Elk Point

And that river

And the story of Lewis and Clark

Barb told about a book

she had been reading


Canoeing the mountains

A book she said

that speaks to some of the challenges

we face

On this 500th anniversary

Of Luther’s nailing the 95 theses

To the door in Wittenberg

It’s a book written by Tod Bolson

And it uses the analogy

of Lewis and Clark’s expedition

To challenge us

to recognize the fact

That what got us this far

Is not going to be able to get us

Where we need to go

This book makes the point

That the landscape in front of us

Is significantly different

Than the landscape behind

When Lewis and Clark set out on their expedition

They were under the impression

the lay of the land

In the unexplored west

Was similar to the the lay of the land

they experienced back east

Behind them

They anticipated being able

To canoe through the northwest passage

and reach their ultimate goal

the Pacific Ocean

But instead of encountering

a northwest passage

the year after

they passed that gentle bend

in the Missouri river

where Elk Point stands today

They encountered

the rocky mountains

And soon realized

would not be able to canoe

In the mountains

What had gotten them that far

Was not going to take them

To where they needed to go

They came to the point

Where they realized

They had to abandon the canoes

They had to abandon

The comfortable

Familiar way of traveling

In order – to get through

the Rocky Mountains

On what must have seemed

Like an almost impossible portage

In front of them

They also needed to listen

to some new voices

Voices they hadn’t listened to

In the past

In Lewis and Clark’s case

It was the teenage

Native American mother

Named Sacajawea

The point of the book Barb

reported on to me…

Was to say…


Our churches are encountering

A Rocky Mountain range

We’re encountering today

A different landscape

a different culture

Than existed back in 1965

When the church was a central part of the culture

Those were the days

When – not only was there no school on sundays

There were no sports activities

Businesses were shuttered

church was a mainstay

In the cultural life across the country

recently i stumbled across

an old newspaper from the 1940’s

and in it were the program listings

for the main twin city stations

i noted that sunday morning

started off – with the norwegian lutheran service

then they switched to the swedish lutheran service

and finally

just before lunch on Sunday

the sermon at central lutheran church was listed

Does that sound like the scenery

We’re living in today?

On this

The 500th anniversary of the reformation

It is a time for us

To recognize the fact

That we are encountering

Very different times

And very different terrain

Than we have in the past

Bishop Tom Aitken knows it

he told us about some of those harsh realities

in his sermon a couple weeks ago

soon there will be 1,000 empty pulpits in the ELCA

and churches that are struggling

for nearly a 1,000 different reasons

but that basically boil down

to a love of what got them there

and an unwillingness to face facts

about what’s ahead

but the sooner facts are faced…

The better the chance we all have

To open our eyes

To the practical realities

Of what lies ahead for us

and firmly fix ourselves

On what we need to

And make sure we let go

Of things

we need to let go of

while we’re doing this

We also listen to some new voices

Voices we haven’t been used

To listening to before

it’s the reformation task…

for every time

and every generation

i mean – can you imagine

the church officials in Luther’s day

saying …we can’t let go of the practice of indulgences

we can’t let go

of that income stream

yeah – it’s not in the bible

yeah – it’s threatening and intimidating

but look what the beautiful church

look at St. Peter’s basilica..

we’re only 10 years into this construction project

we need the threat of purgatory

if we’re going to complete this …

we can’t listen to this young upstart

who is he – to say

that this tradition in the church is wrong?

he has no respect for authority

he has no appreciation

for the things we consider sacred

(as it was…it took another 109 years…

after Luther objected

for St. Peter’s to be built…)

But it was time…

time to let go of indulgences

it was time to let go of the veneration to saint’s relics

it was time to let go of a lot of things the church treasured

like canoes…

…on the front range of the Rockies…

when you need to go west

it was time to let it go

it was time to listen to the new voice

of Martin Luther, and Melancthon,

and Calvin & Knox and Wycliff

and so many others…

it’s the reformation task….

needed in our church culture today

I would dare say

It is also true here

At Lord of Life

I received a communication

Not so long ago

From someone

who gave permission for this to be shared

this person — SO wanted Lord of Life

To reflect what they had experienced

When they joined the congregation

And I get that

I’ve heard the stories

Nostalgic stories

Stories that have made me wish

I could travel back in time here…

to take a look

I can also-similarly

Almost imagine Lewis & Clark reflecting

On how great paddling on the Missouri was

back in the good old days

When they were passing by the mouth

Of the Big Sioux river…

that place – that must have been idyllic Louis and Clark

that place – was absolutely idyllic for me…

I understand where that comes from

I get it….

but we’re not going to return

to that place

change happens – and we can’t go back

i was reflecting on this sermon

with a leader

after i preached it wednesday night

and this leader

—who has been around here for a while—

said something to the effect…

i’ve just been astonished

at the amount of looking back

that has been happening

here at Lord of Life…

i can’t figure it out

so – i know i’m not alone in this observation

In saying that

I want to quickly remind us all

That we have a wonderful future

an incredible future – i’m convinced

One of the things

That i loved the most

About this analogy

My friend, Barb, was making

Is that i know something

About those rocky mountains

I know something about

The terrain that Lewis and Clark found themselves in

Once they faced up to the truth

Once they gave up the ways of their past

While letting those canoes go

Might have been a scary thing

Some incredible experiences were ahead for them

I have been in every state

east of the rockies

Except the state of Maine…

all of it is beautiful

But i have seen nothing in comparison

To the views I’ve witnessed

In the Rocky Mountains

What a hope-filled vision for the church

Barb has written about…

What grand and wonderful times ahead

We can have

If we let go of the canoes that would weigh us down

our congregation

in the last three years

has grown immensely in our capacity to be flexible

and strategic

in our ministry

there’s always something here to grab us

ways for God to use us

when i came here

people were talking about not finding a place

to get involved

because the clipboard…

didn’t make it to them that week….

we now give you a card every week

that says …

here’s how you can get involved

now we can point you to a place

that aways has things for you to sign up for

a place you can get to…

24 hours a day – 365 days a year….

and if you don’t see anything there

leave a comment on a connection card

we’ll create a ministry – to get your involved

we’ve grown in our capacity to be nimble

and responsive

and to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks

that’s awesome

that’s a beautiful view of a congregation going places

and as we climb together

the view will only get better…

yes – we have things to let go of

but we’ve also got great places to grow to….

when we listen to the new voices

we need to listen to

voices like our new youth member

on the church council

Sarah Nesheim will be confirmed today

and soon she’ll take her place on our council

this is the first time that we have a specific position

for a youth member of the council….

it’s because we need to listen to new voices

as we set about finding our new way

Into a new future

On this

The 500th anniversary

Of the reformation

There is only one more thing

To be said in this sermon… That is really important

One thing that is absolutely critical

It was for Lewis and CLark

It is also for us

And that is to remember

The ultimate goal

And to be firmly fixed

on the intended ultimate destination

That needs to drive

Everything else

In our life together

If Lewis and Clark had gotten to the mountains

And said..

Oh – we love these canoes so much…

we just can’t part with them…

they are just so valuable

they are just so precious to us

We just can’t let them go

let’s hold reunion paddles…

lets find a spot – where we can recreate

the way things were…

when we were paddling in Missouri…

and Nebraska…

let’s just stay here…

…make it like it was…. can we?

That would have been a great tragedy

It was their commitment to the goal

Of getting to the Pacific Ocean

That gave them the clarity needed

To do what needed to be done

for us

that clarity of purpose is found

In our scripture for today

Romans…chapter three:

For we hold that a person is justified

by faith

apart from works

prescribed by the law.

this was a guiding purpose that moved

—not Lewis and Clark—

But a couple other traveling companions…

Luther and Melanchthon…

That – was

What caused Luther to nail 95 arguing points

To a door

This central truth

remains for us today

The end goal

Our version of the Pacific Ocean

a community

Not built on our own works

Not built on our own merits

But understands we are justified

By the grace of God

Through faith alone….

faith alone…

faith alone….yeah, but….



yeah, but…


a community bathed in grace…

A community that lives out

The word of Jesus…

abide in my word….

…and you will know the truth,

and the truth will make you free.”

if the Son makes you free,

you will be free indeed.”

We are a place…

In which we participate

in this amazing journey to freedom

the freeing from the bondage…

of sin…

and all that would weigh us doen…

That God gives us in Jesus Christ…

That was Luther’s purpose…

It is our guiding purpose

It is the pacific-ocean-like goal of ours…

And as long as we hold everything else

A little loosely

As long as we listen

to new – help filled – voices

Ones that can carry us

Further to our goal

We will do alright

for the next 25 years

— in our ever-reforming congregation

for the next 500 years and beyond

in our ever-reforming church


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