Living in a Loving Community

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection…rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; so not to claim to be wiser than you are.” – Romans 12:9, 15-16.

Paper chain neighborhood and familyThese words of Paul give us pause to contemplate our relationship with God, creation and each other this Lent.  Paul is describing the marks of a follower of Jesus, and I feel convicted.  Following Jesus is a matter of living life connected to each other; those with whom we worship, those in our neighborhoods and families and those across the oceans from us.  Our connection is made obvious in worship when we begin by turning to those on the other side of the aisle from us and confess along with everyone else, “that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word and deed.”  I have sinned.  I am not surprised, but now I am thinking about it, and what that means. I have to take responsibility and realize that my actions or inactions have hurt another, that my actions or inactions have hurt creation, and that my sinful actions or inactions make God weep.

We live in a very individualistic world.  A world that says, “look out for number one” and promotes success at any cost.  The problem with individualism is that it sacrifices the experience of loving other people, it sacrifices rejoicing with them, for a “me” centered response of jealousy instead.

An individualistic world says that you need to pull yourself up by your own boot straps, and if you don’t then the problem is yours. In fact it may be their problem, but it might also be that they are not fortunate enough to have what is needed to pull themselves up.  The problem is also that Jesus doesn’t ask for us to analyze another person’s condition to determine their worthiness in our eyes.  They already are worthy and loved by God.  And God calls us to love. Period.

The Christian lives in community.  I had a seminary professor who stated quite clearly, that a person can’t be a Christian without living in community.  The two go together and are inseparable.  The Bible is about living in community.  When we live life with a focus on community, we see the world as including more that ourselves. The world is a lot bigger. The world is full of people who are also broken and in need of God’s forgiveness and healing, and God uses God’s people to bring that care and unity.    Confession opens the door for each of us to do a self-inventory of ourselves.  We see our actions can hurt others, creation and God.  Viewing the world through the eyes of one whose sins are forgiven by God leads us to being grace-filled with other people; loving without stipulation and forgiving without strings attached.  Living in community helps us to live humbly, knowing that the “Gift” the “Joy” of life is Jesus whose Spirit calls us to actions of love in response to the love we receive.

This year, our HTLC community almsgiving opportunity is to share God’s love with those throughout the world who are in need of food.  ELCA World Hunger Appeal gives these statistics on hunger:

Hunger facts

  • 821 million people around the world – that’s more than 1 in 10 – can’t access the food they need to live active, healthy lives. [1]
  • According to the most recent estimates, 736 million people live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 per day. That’s 10% of the world’s population. [2]
  • At some point in 2017 (the most recent year available), more than 40 million people in the United States were unsure where their next meal might come from. [3]
  • 39.7 million Americans were living in poverty in 2017. For a family of four, this means their annual household income was below $25,094. [4]

The world is in need of loving actions to feed the hungry in the world.  We have just confessed in worship that there are times we are selfish and think only of ourselves.  But there are brothers and sisters in need, and our hearts once again become open to the Spirit’s work.

After we have admitted our sin before God and the worship community, we hear words of absolution and pardon from those on the other side of the worship aisle.  “Almighty God grant you healing, pardon and forgiveness of all your sins.  Amen”   We can start again!  The burden we carried is removed and we can try again at love, knowing it makes a difference because we are all connected.  We can live as community connected to all people.  We are all one, created by a God who is full of mercy, love and forgiveness.

Peace! – Pastor Pam Schroeder

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[1] )Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018

[2] The World Bank, 2018

[3] USDA, 2018

[4] US Census Bureau, 2018

 

Are You Saved?

Are you Saved SquarePerhaps you have been asked “are you saved?” Perhaps the question seemed odd. Perhaps you were unsure how to answer. The question has invaded popular culture so much that it seems a lot of people, inside and outside the church, think that you can answer the question “Are you saved?” with a “Yes” only if you have prayed the “sinner’s prayer,” or have had a profound “born again” experience. Only if we have “accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior” can we know for sure that we are saved.

Are you saved?  It is an important question, but the answer differs greatly depending on your religious background.  There is more than one way to answer. Jesus provides a way for us to  answer this question faithfully (hint, it isn’t by saying some form of a sinner’s prayer).

In chapter 8 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus comes down from a mountain and encounters a leper.  The leper asks Jesus to make him clean.  Jesus cleanses the leper.  Through this healing, Jesus saves the man.  He saves the leper from not being able to practice his faith.  Unclean people were not allowed to worship or be around others.  The leper was cleansed, making it possible for him to have a relationship with family again.  He was saved from a lifetime of not being able to be touched.  He was made whole.  The leper was saved in that moment when Jesus cleansed him from his disease. Notice: Jesus did the saving.

Mark tells us in his gospel account about a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.  She reached out while Jesus was walking by and just touched his clothes.  The moment she touched Jesus’ clothes, her bleeding ceased.  Jesus knows something has happened (Mark says that Jesus knew power had gone out from him) and he turns to find out what exactly has occurred.  He sees this woman, who had been considered unclean and untouchable for 12 years.  He speaks with her and most translations of the Bible state that he tells her she has been healed.  Another translation says her faith has made her well.  One translation even states that this woman has been made whole.

The Greek word underneath the variations is sozo, which means to save.  All those translations are correct, and they all tell us she was saved, in a very different way than a lot of people talk about being saved.  This woman’s faith – simple trust in Christ – saved her, not because she said some sinner’s prayer, had some special experience, or assented to a doctrine. In her desperation she simply cried out to one that she somehow knew could save her from her suffering and pain. Notice: Jesus did the saving.

The sermon series for Lent is “Are You Saved?”  Jesus came that all might be saved, but what does that exactly look like? As a congregation we will explore the many different ways that we are saved so that our answer to the question is not just a resounding “YES!” but so that we can develop a depth to our understanding of what we are saved from and saved for.   If you want to hear more about how we answer the question, “Are You Saved?” and the abundance of ways that we are all saved, come to worship (or listen in on the podcast if you can’t be here in person). Notice: Jesus is the savior.

In Christ

Travis Segar, Pastoral Intern

This Generous Undertaking

hand heartIn the 8th chapter of II Corinthians Paul tells the story of a “generous undertaking.” In order to build the bonds of compassion and fellowship between followers of Christ, both Gentile and Jew, Paul has started a collection of money to support the church in Jerusalem as they face persecution and famine. While spreading the good news in Macedonia – a region that is just as impoverished as the folks in Jerusalem – Paul has been overwhelmed by the grace of these poor Macedonians, “for in a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme generosity have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part… they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means.” (v. 2) Paul had not asked for them to give – they begged for the “honor.”

Why would poor people give to help other poverty-stricken people they never met? Paul explains: “they gave themselves first to the Lord and , by the will of God, to us.” (v.5) Now, the Corinthians it seems had long ago told Paul they were all in for helping out. Paul has learned, however, that they have never gotten around to giving. The Corinthians are the opposite of poor. They are wealthy and blessed. Paul urges them to get on board and to “complete this generous undertaking among you.” (v. 6)

The “generous undertaking,” as it is manifest here at Holy Trinity, is summed up in our mission statement: Share God’s Love. That’s what Paul was trying to get Macedonian and Corinthian alike to do – share God’s love. That’s what our offering does today.

In the coming year, we have financial challenges that are part of our “generous undertaking.” Over the last few years our offering to the general fund of the congregation has been flat to slightly declining: $1,073K, to $1,021K, to $1,017K and last year to $976K. This not due to a precipitous drop in active membership. The economy has been booming. We have done more to share God’s love, but have had to do so every year with less financial support.

In 2019-20, we already know that we will need to invest more in just staying the same:

  • To continue the Internship program, expenses for that ministry will rise by about 30% as we anticipate welcoming an intern that is not already restricted to living in Central Iowa and so, we must provide housing.
  • Every year since I have been with you, we have balanced the budget and controlled shortfalls somewhat by deferring maintenance of the building. We can’t do that any longer.
  • We are telling employees that we can’t afford raises, and that they need to stop working on necessary projects, because we can’t pay them for the hours they work.
  • The staff has absorbed meal preparation and other duties and simply needs help.
  • Our assistance fund – where we share God’s love by lending a helping hand – is underfunded by 50%.

There are other examples, but I’ll stop there. Here’s the thing. If each family in this congregation gave 10% (a tithe) we would receive almost $6 million each year. With just half that amount, we would gather $3 million to do the work we are called to do. Even at 2.5% average, we would increase our giving by $500,000.

God has given us much; blessed us with abundance. God has also called us to do much with what we have received. Let’s join together for this generous undertaking that will fill our city with grace, mercy, love and hope.

In Christ,

Pastor Tim

 

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Take My Life…

giving handsThe old hymn sings. “Take my life that I may be, consecrated Lord, to thee…” This is the song of a disciple who has come to realize that to follow Jesus is to place your whole life, your whole being, into the hands of the Redeemer. It is, perhaps, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when he spoke of “Costly Discipleship” and “Costly Grace.” We give our lives to Christ because Christ has already done that for us.

Giving “my life” to Christ is a great spiritual image to propel us deeper into the life available in and through Christ alone. Yet, “my life” can sometimes be a little abstract. It can be a purely “spiritual” or “inward” notion that lacks concrete definition. The hymn goes on: “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold…” Now, that’s concrete. I can see my life as a gift from God. Seeing my money, my wealth as anything other than “mine” is hard. The truth is, it all comes from God and is all dedicated to God, if we dare to follow Christ with our lives.

Giving to the church is a touch subject for many – touchier than even sex and politics. This shouldn’t be the case because, first and foremost, giving to the church is a faithful response to what God has given us. Every breath, every heartbeat, our daily bread, and every paycheck is a sign of God’s gracious love. Certainly, we work hard, using the gifts and skills God has given. Yet, without God, none of it is possible. An offering is giving God something back.

Giving to the church is giving to God. When the impoverished Macedonian people scraped together a generous offering for the starving folks in Jerusalem, Paul wrote, “For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints–  and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us… (2 Corinthians 8:3-5)  

Giving to God’s work in the church blesses us. Scripture challenges us, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” (Malachi 3:10) This is not some strange “investment theology” where offerings are returned in a transaction. It is a witness to the spiritual truth that generous hearts grow full of love, while stingy ones whither.

 Giving to the church is a responsibility. To offer worship, pastoral care, learning ministries, and all the other things the congregation does for members, in the community, and the world, we need to spend about $1.5 million each year. That is about $1,875 per family. Thankfully, we don’t “bill” a fair share. We faithfully pray for God’s grace to be shown in the generosity of each member as they have been gifted and called.

Giving to God answers a call. Scripture teaches that at least the first ten percent of what we receive in all things is to be dedicated to God’s work through God’s people. If every household in the congregation tithed, we would receive $6.7 million a year – think of what a difference we could make.

Planning your gift helps you and the congregation. People who make commitments to give (which are always changeable and not promissory notes) become more generous and spiritually vital. The studies prove it. When the congregation knows what to expect, leaders can be faithful in planning for the future. None of us would take a job knowing only that we would be paid “what I can afford, when I can afford it.”

As we walk through our Let Your Light Shine generosity emphasis this year and considering how we will all give back to God our offerings in the coming year. I’m praying for all of us to open our hearts and hands, signing “Take my life, Lord.”

On behalf of the congregation, I’m asking you to make a plan to give generously in the coming year. Don’t let someone else give for you, join in the mission of the Body of Christ not just in thoughts and prayers, but in generosity as well.

The peace and love of Christ to you.

Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright 2019 © Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Ankeny, Iowa

Mardi Gras – Come, Celebrate!

mardi gras Mardi Gras, I am told, simply means “Fat Tuesday” in French. The celebration concludes on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, so it is a kind of last hurrah before the fasting and discipline of Lent.

This year, we are going to celebrate Mardi Gras on Sunday, March 3rd in worship and with a New Orleans style meal featuring pulled chicken, red beans & rice, and jambalaya. We’re inviting folks to bring a side dish or some version of the King Cake – a New Orleans tradition for Mardi Gras Dessert. We’ve posted recipes and a place to RSVP on our website.

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Grace Notes

Christians, especially Lutherans, believe that we exist; that we live; that we breathe; that we are saved by grace – the unmerited love of God revealed in Christ. Grace happens all the time, in each moment, in every place. For a specific group of us, it happens in and through the people and mission of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Ankeny, Iowa.

“Grace Notes” will be a way for the pastors, staff, and leaders of this congregation to communicate about the grace we witness and share with one another and with the world. We hope that this will be another way for us to communicate with each other as the body of Christ in this place and time. You can subscribe to Grace Notes to the right. We’ll be sharing it through social media, on the website, and the weekly ePistle. If you’d like us to talk about something in particular, drop us a note through this site. We’ll do our best!

Grace to you, and peace!

Pastor Tim Olson