Sermon by Pastor Kris Tostengard Michel

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together today to get through this thing called life” – to sing our praise to God and call on him in prayer, to seek healing and forgiveness for our broken lives, and to be sent out in love. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last year at this time, we lost a dear person in this community. Our church council president, Lee Henderson, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Just shy of 60 years old, Lee left behind his wife Polly, three young adult daughters and their spouses, and two grandchildren. Yesterday, his daughter Mari posted this on her Facebook page:

“One year ago today, I lost my dad. I could go on and on about the events and moments I wish he hadn’t missed, but instead I will talk about the one word my sisters, mom and I have grasped onto all year to survive: (the word is) gratitude.

  • I am filled with gratitude for the wonderful relationship I had with my dad….
  • I am filled with gratitude for all the characteristics I share with my dad…as well as what he taught me – how to be generous, humble, hardworking, and most importantly, how to shoot the perfect jump shot.”

Lee was a good guy. He was talented and generous, a leader in the community and in this place. His impact was felt nowhere more deeply than in his own family.

When my kids were little, someone told me that our kids get a Master’s degree in us, their parents. Kids are like sponges, and while their parents are busy keeping multiple balls in the air at once, our kids are watching and observing, imitating and learning from us.

Mari learned from her dad how to be generous, humble and hardworking; she surely watched him do those things, but she also did them alongside him. And when it came to shooting the perfect jump shot, well, you can be sure that it wasn’t purely theoretical – something she learned from a conversation in the living or a lecture hall. They got out on the court and practiced shooting. She developed her arm and created muscle memory. She learned by doing, and her dad was there to encourage her and show her the way.

We’re in the midst of a sermon series right now called, “It’s Down to You,” and we’re asking, what does it mean to live when we know that life, not death, wins? How does faith get played out when we live on this side of the Easter promise?

As Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a close, he drew his disciples in close. When the crowds had fallen away, he took them to a room and shared a meal, and then he showed them what love looked like – just like a parent mentoring a child.

  • He got up from the table,
  • Took off his outer robe and tied a towel around himself.
  • Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

Jesus showed them love. He did something a master or a leader or a teacher would never do. He humbled himself and served. He showed them that the power of God empties itself and takes on weakness. “I have set for you an example,” he said. “If you know this and do this, you will be blessed.”

This winter, Gretchen Quie died, too; she was part of our Minnetonka campus and the wife of former governor, Al Quie. An artist from a very young age, Mrs. Quie was an accomplished painter and potter. She was the mother of five children, and grandma of 14 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

The Quies were married for 67 years, and when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease ten years ago, Governor Quie became her primary caregiver. In Mrs. Quie’s obituary, her son Joel described the change that he had seen in his father: Governor Quie had been a “strong statesman and (an) outdoorsman,” and then when his wife became ill, he “totally embraced (the) new role of being soft and tender.”

Shortly after Gretchen died, Al Quie was interviewed by Lori Sturdevant from the Star Tribune, and he talked about the last ten years. His caregiving had, of course, curtailed his involvement in things he cared about, but there was no need to feel sorry for him. He said he had felt blessed to be able to care for her. “’Caregiving is a spiritual discipline,’ he said. When the love someone has for you is great,…that love compels you to respond when that person is in need. Your own love grows as you do. ‘It’s so meaningful. It stimulates you,’ he said.”

It turns out that caring for his wife had given him a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ command to, “love one another as I have loved you,” and he had found what Jesus said to be true – that if you know these things and do them, you will be blessed – that caring for a sick loved one offers a lesson in love and humanity and that Christ’s great love for humankind compels us to show kindness to others.

Jesus knew that we get formed as his disciples by doing so he showed them an example and said, “You’ll be blessed if you know these things and do them.”

His example was an act of being humble and becoming a servant. We find ourselves in that situation at times as we love and care for the people around us, when family or friends or others need us to go the extra mile. Sometimes we’re the recipient.

But when we look at who else is at the table when Jesus washes their feet, we realize that it’s not simply among a group of like-minded people with good intentions. The greatest scandal of the story is not that Jesus takes the role of a slave and washes the dirty feet of his disciples, but that he does so knowing that they will fail him miserably. Peter will deny him, and Judas will betray him. And yet, he stoops down and loves them anyway. He not only does it but insists on doing it. Jesus shows us that loving takes means taking the role of a servant and caring for others’ needs without expecting anything in return. He shows us that it’s not about feeling affection but about the act of doing.

Here’s the thing: we won’t love perfectly, but love does flow through us, and it’s powerful when it does. It has the power to heal and to make whole that which was broken. It has the power to forgive and to change, to bring life from death.

We love because God first loved us. God sent Jesus to show us that we are loved, that this love changes us, empowering us to love others, and that even when we struggle to love – and we do – God continues to love us and work through our lives to bless the world God loves so much.

When Jesus gathered with his disciples, he called them to “love one another.” It’s not a solitary thing but something we do together as part of a community. Inside your bulletin today is a ‘gift and interest’ survey that names a variety of ways in which you might want to serve. We invite you to consider how you might want to serve in this community. Fill it out and drop it in the offering plate when it goes by, or hand it to an usher as you leave (fill it out online here). We’ll take note of your interests and let you know when an opportunity presents itself.

We live on this side of the Easter promise knowing that life not death wins. For Lee and Gretchen and all of the beloved departed who have gone on before us, they live forever in the presence of God, enfolded in God’s love. We live with that promise, too, and it changes us now, calling us into lives of love and service.

Please pray with me…

Gracious God, you call us to lives of service. By your Spirit, fill us with gratitude and courage, enabling us to respond with the love you have given us. Teach us your way in the world, and make us your faithful disciples. In the name of Jesus, Amen.