Category Archives: Resurrection

One Day, Two Good-byes

Sunday will be a unique day in my life and my ministry.  In the morning I will preach my last sermon for my congregation after five years of ministry; in the afternoon I will conduct the memorial service for my mom who died at the age of 89.

I choose October 25th to be my final Sunday a month ago.  Like all good-byes I am experiencing a mixture of emotions: sadness, loss,  but also some excitement and hope as I embark on a new venture.  I have sensed the powerful prayer support of family, friends and community as I transition in my ministry. (Read more here)

Mom and GraceMy mom, Sylvelin Keller, had been a nursing home resident for the past four years as dementia robbed her of speech and memory.   She did not know my name or converse when I visited but she could still smile and laugh.  She seemed happiest when she held her great granddaughter, Grace.

I was away at a pastor’s conference last week when I received the phone call that my mother had died in her sleep.   I was both surprised and relieved.  She had always said she wanted to die in her sleep and her wish had been granted.  Before I left the conference to travel home, my bishop gathered the other pastors around me for prayer.  Again I felt the great cloud of witness surrounding me.

Suzanne, Christina and Jon loved visit from FarFar and FarMor

Suzanne, Christina and Jon loved visits from FarFar and FarMor

My daughter, Suzanne Keller, wrote a post on Facebook that describes her relationship with her Farmor (grandmother):

As a child who grew up with scholarship and the struggle to dissect understanding of things as others created them, my Farmor was the greatest force of unrelenting creation I can remember.

She made things with her hands and her heart and turned the world from a place of study to a place to leave a thousand tiny marks. She sewed, she baked, she cooked and she made memories that my dad could recount with fondness with her own two hands. She sewed and embroidered entire expanses of my childhood. She lived across the country, but with one plate of cookies created an entire iconic aspect of my Christmases. She was a craftsman of cookies and memories, a legacy of genetics and stories.

My Farfar left me his name on a chain from fighting in World War II, and my Farmor left me with a packet of recipes and the understanding that a thousand little creations can create a story.

She and Michael Brashears, the two most creative people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing, passed in October. I wrote a poem in college calling fall the dying season, but what a hateful thing having the greatest composers of legacy leave us in the same month, if years apart. What a hateful thing to lose, what a beautiful thing to be transformed.

Mom surround by her children four years ago.

Mom surround by her children four years ago.

My mother had five children, who now are scattered from Kodiak Island, Alaska to Atlanta, Georgia.  Coordinating the date of her memorial service was challenging.   Finally the date that worked was Sunday, October 25, the same day as my final worship service.  Mom had joined my congregation five years ago when she moved to Minnesota.   I had been her pastor during that time and now I needed to do her memorial service.  I did not feel the need to baptize my children or marry my son, but this is somehow different.  Maybe it’s part of the fourth commandment.  I don’t know.

All I know is that Sunday will be filled with some incredible emotions, both sorrow and joy, as I say good-bye to a tribe and to a mother.   The one sure anchor in the midst of these storms is the very name of my congregation: Resurrection Lutheran Church.

cropped-2014-rlc-logo-cropped-2.jpgJesus said  “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” John 10:25

Hope Springs Eternal

For many people in the Upper Midwest, it has been a long, cold and difficult winter. Polar Vortex sub-zero cold snaps. Snow drifts higher than our cars. Streets that seem to be perpetually rutted with snow, ice and potholes. And all the outside conditions play havoc on our interior outlook. With few exceptions, we – are – all – sick – of – winter.

So no wonder as the temperature rises, we want out. This week is spring break for many of the local schools and several families in the congregation have “escaped” to points south. But some of us who remain behind will not give way to winter.

Early Spring Ride

Early Spring Ride

Take my friend, Tim Torgerson for example. Yesterday when the temperature climbed towards 40 degrees, he pulled down his bicycle from the garage rack and went for a 23 mile ride. Most of the county roads that he rides have wide shoulders and these are cleared of snow (but not sand and gravel). He even stopped to take a picture of the snow banks along the way.

This morning he and I went for a run together, outside. Yes, there is still plenty of ice and snow on the running trails. Yes, with daylight saving times it was still dark at 6:45 am when we started out. But we were determined to avoid the dreaded treadmill and so we pulled on our spiked shoes, reflective vests and hit the road. Neither of us slipped or fell and we did enjoy a spectacular sunrise.

Life Wins!

Life Wins!

Spring is coming to Minnesota, slow, but relentless. We take great hope in the promise of green grass, budding trees and fragrant flowers. Heck, I would relish some good old-fashion mud right now.

The hope of spring reminds of a deeper, stronger hope. The promise of Christ’s resurrection. No matter how dark our lives may seem at times, Christ promises us new life. “I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25.

What do you yearn for?

Lord Jesus, my hope rests in you.

Easter Search

Worship Team from Resurrection Lutheran Church

Worship Team from Resurrection Lutheran Church

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  but when they went in, they did not find the body.  While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.  The women  were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men  said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”  Then they remembered his words,  and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.  (Luke 24:1-11)

Today I am honored to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with the people of Resurrection Lutheran Church.  Together we will remember that he is risen and will celebrate with joy.  Alleluia!

Christ’s joy and life be with you this day and always.

February is the Longest Month

The month of February is not the shortest month, but the longest for me. The length of a Minnesota winter has always been a big psychological barrier. I did not embraced Nordic skiing this winter and now my winter running has been interrupted by a nagging hamstring injury. For the past month as I watched the snow piles rise in the church parking lot I wondered if spring will ever come.

Saint Ambrose beyond the snow.

Saint Ambrose beyond the snow.

Yet I hope in the promise of spring. The evidence of it may be fleeting, but I am confident that the snow will melt, the trees will bud and my winter coat will be shed.

In a similar way, I take hope in God’s promises of scripture. The Bible is not a set of apps that I can download into my life. I cannot go to the “Google Playstore” and find a verse or two on depression or happiness and plug them into my life. No, the Bible is more like a story into which I am invited. As I live God’s story I discover that no matter how chaotic or troubling the plot may be at times, the Author remains faithful to the story of redemption and new life.

Just as I know that spring will come to Minnesota, I know that Jesus rose from the dead and comes to bring life. Beyond the snows of winter lies the promise of new life.

This is written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

Walter Brueggemann wrote these word of questions and hope regarding the Bible thirty years ago.

The central concerns of the Bible are not flat certitudes . . . but assurances that are characterized by risk and open mystery. The quality of certitude offered by the Bible is never that of a correct answer but rather of a trusted memory, a dynamic image, a restless journey, a faithful voice. Such assurances leave us restless and tentative in the relation, and always needing to decide afresh. Rather than closing out things in a settled resolution, they tend to open things out, always in fresh and deep question and urgent invitation. The central thrust of the Bible, then, is to raise new questions, to press exploration of new dimensions of fidelity, new spheres for trust. Such questions serve as invitations to bolder, richer faithfulness. Such questions also serve as critics exposing our easy resolution, our faithless posturing, and our self-deception. If the Bible is only a settled answer, it will not reach us seriously. But it is also an open question that presses and urges and invites. For that reason the faithful community is never fully comfortable with the Bible and never has finally exhausted its gifts or honored its claims. (The Bible Makes Sense)

Lord Jesus, continue to write hope upon my heart.

Prayer Challenge

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion - ...

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion – 3) Painter: Jacek Andrzej Rossakiewicz (b.1956) Year: 1990 Characteristics: Oil on canvas, 245 x 137 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus made radical promises regarding prayer.

  Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. (Matthew 7:7)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

Jesus promised that his disciples could “ask whatever they wish” and God would make it so. Such bold promises challenge my observation of the church and the world. So many prayers seem to go unanswered or forgotten.

I am not talking about what I consider “childish” prayers, like winning the lottery or finding a parking spot at the shopping mall. I am thinking about those real prayers of the heart, when day-after-day you pray for the healing of a loved one. A friend is afflicted with cancer or an addiction, a spouse is battling depression or a child is traveling in the wrong crowd and we pray. We pray asking God to bring healing and peace to this person believing that this is God’s will for God’s people. Jesus certainly brought healing to those in need; healing and wholeness is what God desires for all of creation, especially his children.

Naturally if the person resists God’s healing, God will not force mercy. Often a person wrestling with addiction has to hit bottom before they can see how powerless they are in their addiction. God does not force healing.

Still many of us pray daily for God’s healing and we do not experience it. Oh, there are those occasions when miraculous healings occur. Thanks be to God! I have participated in prayer services where God’s power has restored the sick to health. Yet such answers seem almost arbitrary because others have not had the same prayers answered even when their faith was strong and their prayers persistent.

I do not know the answer to my own question, other than to look to Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed for his own cup of suffering to be taken away, yet the next day he walked to the cross and death. His prayer was real and deep. And though he did drink the cup, his prayers gave him the strength and power to walk to Golgotha . . . . and three days later, the empty tomb.

And that is what we each need: the strength and courage to walk the path God has given us. So, like Jesus, we pray, “your will be done.”  The final answer to all prayers comes in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life in him.

Lord Jesus, your will be done in my life.

Baptism ABC: D is for Dying

Our mortality is difficult to face. Even more difficult is to contmeplate the mortality of our children. Yet the ritual of baptism faces the reality of death head on.

When my daughter Suzanne was about two years old, she was diagnosed with mitral valve insufficiency, which means she had a small hole in her heart. The cardiologist told us that she would need open heart surgery to repair her heart. Such surgery required stopping Suzanne’s heart and placing her on a heart/lung machine while the surgeon closed the hole. Such surgery had become routine in the early 90’s, yet nothing is routine when it comes to one’s own child. The news rocked my world.

That night I stood over her bed as Suzanne slept. I prayed for Suzanne and her upcoming surgery. I prayed concerning my own fear and apprehension. Tears welled up.  Then I contemplated the promise God made to her in her baptism.

Baptism holds a bold declaration and even bolder promise. In his letter to Romans, Paul writes

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

Paul uses the act of baptism by immersion, where the baptized person is completely submerged under the water. This immersion is a symbolic burial, just as Jesus died and was buried. In baptism we die with Jesus. Paul goes on to write that in baptism, “our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).” Baptism recognizes our mortality comes from our sin, our rebellion with God, and overcomes the power of sin by burying our sinful self with Christ. In stark terms, baptism declares us dead.

Christina and Suzanne at Jacks Baptism

Daughters Christina and Suzanne enjoy their nephew Jack at his baptism

But it goes beyond that declaration to a more glorious promise. Not only are we buried with Jesus, but, like Jesus, we are raised to newness of life. The central belief of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead. In baptism we are joined to his resurrection. Symbolically this is expressed in an immersion baptism when the newly baptized is raised up out of the water, breathing the new life.

As I stood over my daughter’s bed, contemplating her pending surgery, I remembered this promise. She was alive in Christ and was already experiencing the newness of life. Even if she were to die in surgery, she was Christ’s child and held by the promise of eternal life.

Her surgery went well and she recovered quickly (though, as with any trauma, she did have some emotional residue that was challenging for her and her family at times). Today, twenty years later, she is a vivacious, creative young woman who I deeply love. I am glad that she remains on this earth.

Lord Jesus, let me die to sin and walk in newness of life with you today.

After the Fire

Yesterday I returned from a wonderful trip into the Boundary Water’s Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota. Pictures and a complete trip review will be forthcoming. Overall it was a wonderful trip — great fellowship with the men of Resurrection, great wilderness solitude and great exercise.

One strong impression came on the first day. After loading our canoes at the Kawishiwi Lodge at Lake One near Ely, MN we enjoyed an early morning paddle along a shoreline covered with green pine trees. After we crossed the first set of two short portages to Lake Two, we immediately we encountered a different sight. The shoreline had been heavily impacted by the Pagami Creek Fire last year. Large sections of the forest were burned to the ground, with only small patches of green trees still standing. It was a stark reminder of how fragile a wilderness environment can be.

But it also was an example of how resilient the forest can. Even as we paddled past acres of dead trees, we saw thousands of small shoots of green shrubs, flowers, and trees pushing up through the charred soil. In time the forest will restore itself. Fire is part of its life cycle.

When tragedy hits, we human often have a short-sighted vision of its consequences. We see only the pain and sorrow and rarely have the ability to see how good can arise from it. This is natural. Yet we have God’s promise that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Even when a forest is crushed by a fire, new life can begin. Even when God’s own Son is executed on a cross, resurrection becomes reality.

Lord Jesus, continue to remind us that all will be well with you.

American Optimism And Christian Hope

ImageAs I mentioned in my sermon yesterday, title Abounding in Hope, our American culture promotes optimism for a better future. To use an old proverb, we tend to promote the idea that the glass is half-full, not half-empty. To quote President Ronald Reagan, “Well I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”

Part of our American optimism comes from our predominant Christian heritage. Hope is a central virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ. But there is at least one key distinction between American optimism and Christian hope. American optimism places our basic trust in ourselves and our ability to solve our common problems. We see a challenge, roll up our sleeves and get to work, whether it is placing a man on the moon, fighting terrorism or recovering from natural disasters. As Americans we believe in the possibility of creating a “better life” for ourselves, by overcoming obstacles and challenges.

Christian hope has a different focus. Our Christian hope is not in ourselves, but in our God who loves us and saves us from ourselves. We believe God is at work in the world, calling all people to God’s rule of justice and peace. We know that there will be struggles and difficulties. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8:34). The cross is hardly a symbol of optimism.   Paul goes so far as to say that he boasts in his struggles.

we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

As an American Christian I do not reject an optimistic glass-half-full attitude. There are many problems in our world that need a positive can-do attitude — poverty, hunger, and racism to name a few. However I also know that as follower of Jesus Christ, there will be times and situations that I cannot overcome. The primary ones are my sin and my death. No amount of optimism and self-encouragement will help me here. My only hope is Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection are my source of hope today and forever.

How do you connect or distinguish American Optimism and Christian Hope?

Lord Jesus, continue to fill my heart with hope in you.

Soaring On Eagle’s Wings

This morning was our final day of Vacation Bible Adventure at Resurrection Lutheran Church. The Bible story was Jesus’ death and resurrection. The children carried the cross through the worship area to our story room so as to remember how Jesus carried the cross out to Golgotha. We heard again how he was nailed to the cross and died for our sins.

But God proved his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Roman 5:8).

To help dramatize this concept each child placed a black strip of plastic on the cross, a symbol of our sin and brokenness.  Then we prayed our confession of sin and heard again the promise of our forgiveness.  Jesus’ death cleanses us from sin.

We then went outside to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. We remembered that our church is called Resurrection and every Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead.  We are resurrection people and we demonstrate that Jesus’ lives by our lives of love and service.

The culmination of our celebration was the launching of model rockets, remembering one of our Biblical promise from the week, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall soar with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31). What a joy to share this week with the children, youth and adult volunteers.

Lord Jesus, You are the resurrection and the life.  Launch me into your resurrected life, that I soar on wings like eagles.

Through A Mirror Dimly

Drew Jonell’s recent photograph ignited some deeper reflections for me on Jesus’ resurrection and my faith.

First, we see our risen Lord in “a mirror dimly, but then we will see face-to-face” (I Corinthians 13:12). We can never fully comprehend the wonder and reality of Jesus’ resurrection; he moves beyond our limited understanding of the universe. I once thought that if one had a video camera set up outside the tomb on Easter morning, one could “record” the resurrection and place it on you-tube for all to see. But with today’s CGI special effects one could not trust such a video. People still need to make a faith step.

Second, the dark window frame is in focus, just like I tend to focus on my immediate needs, situation and experiences. I can become self-absorbed. Even this blog can become an exercise in seeking attention for myself. Yet I must confess that I am called to be a frame that holds the glass through which the sun shines. God can use me, in spite of myself. The resurrection calls me to see life beyond my closed “tomb” like world, out in the glorious light of Jesus’ ever living presence.

Third, the morning sun shines bright, even though it is partially blocked by the frame. Jesus is alive, and though my witness may be streaked and pitted, his light will shine through. Peter, James and John were all flawed witnesses, yet the good news of the crucified and risen Lord shone through their testimony. Even the skeptic Thomas came to faith.

What do you see with the eyes of faith?

Lord Jesus, open my eyes that I might see you today.

Drew Jonell is a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church and you can see more of his creative photography here.