Rally for Single Payer Universal Health Care
National Day of Action
May 30, 2009
West Steps of the State Capitol Building; Denver, Colorado
Introduction, by Roya M. Brown
David Risendal is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and currently serves at
Saint Peter Lutheran Church in Greenwood Village. He has been a pastor for 25 years, having
served 14 years in Phoenix and 11 years in Greenwood Village.
Pastor Risendal grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, the grandson of Swedish and Norwegian
immigrants. Three generations of his family have lived in that small Midwest town, and this has
provided him with a strong sense of community. He is glad to share, this morning, some of his
impressions of what it means to live in community – and the responsibility we have to one
We are honored to have him with us this morning. Please join me in welcoming Pastor David
Health Care as Social Responsibility
It is great to be outdoors, and among friends, on a beautiful Colorado morning. Thank you
for being here, and for your concern about how the people of our communities receive health
care. I’d like to extend that word of thanks to my neighbors on the other side of Lincoln Street
as well to those who are gathered here on this side. We are all members of this community,
and I am convinced that we will never discover the most effective approach to addressing our
nation’s challenges until we all have a seat at the table. So welcome to all of you.
As Ms. Brown stated, I am Pastor Dave Risendal and I currently serve Saint Peter Lutheran
Church in Greenwood Village. But I am here today not to speak on behalf of my congregation.
Truth be told, I serve a delightfully diverse congregation – and we are at least as diverse
politically as we are in any other dimension. I’m here today to share my personal conviction
that it is essential for us, as people living together in community, to organize ourselves in a way
that nobody among us has to go without access to quality health care.
I’d like to begin today by telling you a story – that’s what we preachers do. In my tradition,
we usually visit with our church members in October to talk with them about how much money
they will be able to contribute to the congregation during the coming year. One year, in
October, as we were preparing to do that, I told the people of my congregation this story about
a wealthy church member who was approached by the fund raising committee to give a major
gift to the congregation.
They visited the man in his home, and as they sat together in the study they made their
case, and asked him if he would be willing to contribute in some way. He thought about it for a
moment, and replied in an irritated manner, saying: “Did you know that my oldest child is
struggling with emotional and psychological challenges, and living full time in a care facility?”
Somewhat sheepishly, they replied, “No, we didn’t know that.” He then said, “Did you know
that my mother is suffering from a debilitating disease which requires her to have round-the-
clock nursing care in her home?” Feeling even more sheepish, they said, “No. We had no idea.”
Then he said, “Did you know that my business partner’s home was nearly destroyed by a
tornado, and he is having to rebuild it from the foundation?” Now wishing that they had never
bothered this unfortunate man in the first place, they said, “Oh my, we didn’t know that.”
Finally, the man said to them, “Well, if I didn’t give any of them a dime, what makes you think
I’d give anything to the church?”
I like this story because of what we can learn from the ways that this man misunderstands
the opportunity that lies before him.
First of all, he misunderstands what it means to be in community with others. By
definition, to be in community means to share a common life with others. In the 17th Century,
John Donne said that “No [one] is an island,” and he was right. i To be in community means to
be in communion with one another; to be connected with one another; to be invested in one
another. We live in a time and place when some among us imagine that we are all independent
of one another – there is a sense of rugged individualism that permeates the west. But in times
of difficulty – in times of challenge – we discover that this attitude doesn’t serve us well. It
wasn’t so many years ago that here in Colorado we used to see “We Are All Columbine”
bumper stickers on many cars in our community – a public statement that none among us are
islands to ourselves, but that we are bound to one another in community, and have not only
the responsibility, but the privilege of caring for one another, and advocating for one another’s
In my tradition, we study the writings of a first century evangelist name Paul. He had a
long and somewhat tense relationship with a group of Christians in the Greek city of Corinth.
This was a group that had been experiencing a great deal of division, which led to suspicion and
antagonism and disrespect. Paul counseled them to think of their community as a body, and to
realize how they were connected to one another. He taught them that in a body, if the hand
experiences trauma, the entire body experiences trauma. If the foot experiences trauma, the
entire body experiences trauma. ii That was helpful advice for those first century Corinthians,
and it is wise counsel for us today as we consider what it means to live in community. When
any one among us is not well, we are all not well. We ignore the disadvantage of own neighbor
at our own peril.
The character of a community is revealed by how it tends to the most vulnerable ones in
its midst. If we are to be an expression of true community, we must make sure that every one
among us has access to quality health care services.
The wealthy man in my opening story misunderstands what it means to live in
community. He also misunderstands what it means to be wealthy. In my tradition we
understand ourselves to be “blessed to be a blessing.” We believe that everything we have,
everything we experience, everything we control, originally comes as a gift to us from a
gracious God. We further believe that it is given to us not only for our personal well-being, but
also for the benefit of all creation. Consequently, we strive to be faithful in giving to others:
giving in proportion to what has first been given to us. In other words: the more we have
received, the more we are responsible to give. I don’t expect you all to share my religious
perspective. But I do invite you to consider that to have an abundance of wealth means to have
an abundance of opportunity to make a difference – to promote a sense of true community
with those who live with us in this world.
We who are starting out the journey through the 21 st Century together live amidst
unprecedented affluence. We also have an unprecedented ability to make a difference for
those who are most vulnerable in our society. Let us see our individual blessings not as
possessions only to be used for our own personal (perhaps even selfish?) betterment. Let us
also see our individual blessings as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those
who are in greatest need. If there are those among us who don’t have access to quality health
care, the mantle falls on those of us who are more fortunate – those of us who are more
affluent – to organize ourselves in such a way that changes this.
The character of a community is revealed by how its most fortunate members reach out
beyond themselves and make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable ones among
The wealthy man in my opening story misunderstands what it means to live in
community. He misunderstands what it means to be wealthy. Finally, he also misunderstands
what it means to live in difficult times. Even if this story had played out differently and he had
been generous with his daughter, his mother, and his partner, the opportunity to be generous
with his church in a difficult time is for him an opportunity to make a strong statement about
what, in life, is most important to him.
These may be challenging financial times in our country. But in challenging times, people
of courage, people of hope, people of integrity do not shrink from their responsibilities. In fact,
the opposite is true. In challenging times, people of courage, hope and integrity find an
opportunity to make witness to the depth of their character, and the strength of their
convictions. By reaching out, even when it isn’t easy to reach out, we offer to the world a sign
of how important this is to us – of how seriously we take our responsibility as American citizens,
and as members of the communities in which we live.
I am convinced that in these troubled financial times, we have a profound opportunity to
show the world how important true community. To show the world how serious we are about
caring for one another. To show the world how committed we are to make sure that no one is
left behind. To show the world how intent we are to ensure that nobody suffers because they
cannot afford to receive the care of a doctor, a nurse, a physician’s assistant, an X-Ray
technician, a psychiatrist, or any other health care provider.
So while some will say that this is no time to be making a significant commitment to put
our heath care house in order, we know differently, don’t we? We know that it is more
important now than ever to make sure that every citizen of this land, and especially the most
vulnerable among us, has access to quality health care services.
The character of a community is revealed by how it extends itself for the well being of all,
even in – perhaps especially in – the most challenging of times.
Colorado is my adopted home. I grew up in Minnesota. I’ll never live there again. Frankly,
the winters chased me away. I love it here in Colorado where we can get a foot of snow on
Monday, and be golfing by Thursday. In Minnesota, the deep freeze can hit around Christmas,
and you don’t see anything melt until Easter. But in Minnesota, that demanding weather has
had a unique impact on how communities have developed. It isn’t easy to live in isolation in a
Minnesota winter. In the early days it was impossible. You need a neighbor, now and then, to
help push a car out of a snow bank, or clear snow off the front sidewalk. You need a neighbor,
now and then, to bring in a stack of firewood or help patch a roof. In those harsh winters, my
neighbors in Minnesota learned both how to lean on one another, and how to be a leaning post
for a neighbor in need. This dynamic had a powerful and lasting impact on the people I grew up
around. Their selfless love for one another shaped those small communities in important ways.
They do, indeed, care for one another, through the thick and the thin of it.
Those who settled here in Colorado long before most of us showed up knew that as well.
They survived the rigors of the frontier largely by their ability to lean on one another, and to be
one another’s strength. That’s what it means to be community, in the richest sense of the term,
and that’s how I encourage you to look at the local, state and national community in which we
The character of a community is revealed by its member’s capacity to take an interest in
one another, and learn to depend on one another.
That’s what we’re about this morning. We are here to consider what it means to be a true
community. A true community may have a great deal of diversity within it. We may have
various religious sensibilities, we may have divergent interests in how to spend our free time,
we may even have a broad spectrum of ideas about how engaged government ought to be in
the lives of a country’s people. But we will never experience the depth and the meaning that
community can provide, until we do everything we can to care for one another – until we
realize that if any one of us is unwell, we are all unwell.
Let us be a community of depth and character. Let us be a community, committed to see that
every member has what she or he needs to be well. Let us be a community in which quality medical care
is available to every single person who needs it. The character of a community is revealed by how it
cares for the most vulnerable ones in its midst. May the character of our community reveal that
we are a people of courage and hope and integrity, who insist that in terms of medical care,
nobody is left behind.
Pastor David J. Risendal
John Donne, Meditation XVII, from “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions” (1624)
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be
washed away by the sea, Europe is the less...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in
1 Corinthians 12:14-22
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a
hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say,
“Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If
the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the
sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all
were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye
cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the
contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…