Sermon for Bethany

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Bethany Lutheran Church in Lindsborg, Kansas, on September 20, 2009.  This marks the congregation’s 140th anniversary and previous pastors are being invited to preach during this year.  Pastor Jim served as associate pastor from 1977 to 1979.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Thank you for remembering me and the time I spent in your midst early in my ministry.  It was 30 years ago that I preached my farewell sermon to you before moving to my new call in San Diego, California.  Though my time here was so short, just 2 years, the people of Bethany and Lindsborg gave me more good preparation for being a pastor than you will ever know. 


I was from the big city, Los Angeles.  You taught me the wonderful values and experiences of living in a small town.  You honor your pastors, you invite them into your homes, and you call them without hesitation in times of crisis.  You invite them to have a meal with you,  just because. 


You called me to be associate pastor for Christian Education and Youth.  You let me do some memorable youth activities.  We had a great haunted house out in the country, using the Shields old farm house.  We loaded the youth and sponsors on hay wagons and transported them.  That was fun.  We had the first youth dance in the history of the congregation.  And that was a bit controversial, since some remember when the church frowned upon dancing. 


I have a precious memory of the folks who worshipped here from the Care Home run by the Westblade Family.  Adults who needed some extra care and attention.  When they came to communion and received the body and blood of Jesus, I looked into their eyes and saw how special it was for them.  I have told that story over the years when people asked me about first communion for children.  It isn’t how much head level knowledge you have, it is about how special you think Jesus is. 


Don Bengtson asked me  how was it that I ever got hooked up with Bethany since I grew up in California.  Here’s how the good Lord works:  I was ordained by Bishop Carl Segerhammar.  His son, Kemp Segerhammar, followed my father as pastor in Glendale, California.  The next bishop was Lloyd Burke who grew up in New Gottland.  He was the one who recommended I interview here  because he knew I would relate well to college students.


A final note of biography:  Carol and I serve as co-pastors in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Last Sunday our congregation celebrated their 20th anniversary.  They have had good solid growth and now are about the same size as Bethany.  Our congregation is still in the stage of becoming what it will be.  We started a preschool last year…we will sponsor our 3rd annual health faire next month…we just expanded our building by 13,000 square feet (and now have to pay for it)..Our guest preacher last week was Pastor CeCee Mills, an African American Lutheran Mission Developer from Chesapeake, Virginia.  We have covenanted with this congregation as a partner. 


Let’s get to the heart of the message today.  Please bow your heads with me in prayer:

Lord God, please kindle our hearts and inspire our minds to listen and reflect upon your words that have eternal meaning.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.


We’re now in the 9th chapter of Mark’s Gospel.  Beginning last week, the Gospel takes a decided turn in direction.  For the first 8 chapters we’ve seen Jesus doing lots of miracles and teaching the people.  Now he sets his course for Jerusalem and the cross.  He wants to get his disciples ready for all this and he begins emphasizing what he expects of all his followers, including us.  The picture that is presented of the disciples is not a complimentary one.  They resist this future for Jesus and them; they had thought he would be a different kind of messiah – powerful, successful, and they would have wonderful places in his new kingdom.  Instead he speaks of betrayal and suffering and death and resurrection. 


Mark gives us this delightful bit of irony.  After Jesus told them about what was coming in Jerusalem, he asked the disciples behind closed doors, “What were you talking about on the road today?”  I am sure he already knew.  They were silent, Mark says, because they had argued with one another who was the greatest.


Then Jesus teaches them about humility and true greatness by pointing to a child.  And Jesus took the child in his arms and said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my arms welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me by the one who sent me.”


I am wearing a stole today that has the faces of children on it.  All colors of children, red and yellow, black and white and brown.  It is a reminder  to me that our mission from Jesus is to reach out to all.  That we don’t play favorites.  That at the foot of the cross of Jesus, all of us are equal.


Let me conclude with a delightful story of someone who understood something about humility and showing love to a child:


A mother wanted to encourage her young son’s progress at the piano.  She purchased tickets to a performance by the great pianist of yesteryear, Ignace Paderewski.  When the night arrived, the two found their seats near the front of the concert hall.  The boy stared in wide-eyed amazement at the majestic grand piano on the stage.  The mother began talking to a friend sitting nearby and she failed to notice her son slip away.  As  the house lights dimmed and the spotlight lit the piano, the woman gasped as she saw her son at the piano bench, innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”


Before the woman could retrieve her son, the famous concert pianist appeared on stage and quickly moved to the keyboard.  “Don’t quit – keep playing,” he whispered to the boy.  Leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand began filling in the bass part.  Then with his right arm, he reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running obligato.  Together, the old master and the young novice mesmerized the crowd.


So the message for today: No matter how insignificant, or “amateur-ish” you may feel today, the Master has these words for you and me, “Don’t quit – keep playing.”  He will add whatever is needed to turn your efforts and mine into a masterpiece. (1)




(1)  God’s Little Devotional Book, Honor Books, 1995