From Font to Table

Each week, we publish an invitation to communion in our bulletin:

“Holy Communion is open to all who are baptized and trust that Christ is present in the meal, regardless of your tradition or affiliation. Pastors are available to talk about Holy Baptism if you desire to join in the Lord’s Supper.”

This reflects a long-standing practice in our congregations (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and its predecessors) to make the Sacrament of the Table open to all Christians, not just the ones that belong to our denomination or tradition. Not all Christians practice this “open” table. Perhaps you have been asked, informed or notified that you are not welcome to the table some place where communion is “closed.” Not until the twentieth-century did open table fellowship become a norm for many. Notice that the intention is to welcome the baptized (which is what initiates us into the church) to the table.

With increasing frequency, there are some who suggest that our “open table” is not really so open if it precludes the unbaptized. They argue that the statement is actually exclusionary because it specifies baptism as the entry rite into Christian fellowship. I understand the criticism. Others say that it does not reflect what all Christians believe or teach, especially those who do not baptize children. This means there are those who may feel or believe they are followers of Jesus but are not baptized, and so unwelcome. I understand this sentiment as well.

The first thing to make clear is that baptism, the entry rite into Christian fellowship forbaptism window two thousand years, is open to all who wish to follow Jesus and establish fellowship with his body, the church. We do openly invite all Christians to the table and we do define “Christian” as one who is baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19. The statement we offer may imply patience, but it does not exclude.

So, why do we welcome the baptized and not just everybody who might find themselves in worship? Good question. The simplest answer is that it is what our church, and many other expressions of orthodox Christian faith teach. The Use of the Means of Grace, the 1997 statement of the ELCA on worship policies, practices, and principles, states:

THE HOLY COMMUNION IS GIVEN TO THE BAPTIZED

Principle 37 Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized.

The Episcopal (Anglican) Church states in its 1979 Book of Common Prayer that Baptism is “the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God,” its inward and spiritual grace being “union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit” (1979 Book of Common Prayer, pp. 857-58).  You will find similar (and lengthier) statements for many (though admittedly, not all) Christian churches around the world.

Jesus instituted the Last Supper with the community of disciples. Had they all been baptized? Some certainly, for they had followed John. All of them? Perhaps; even likely. Most important, Jesus own ministry had begun in baptism and then led to table fellowship with his followers. Luther structures his Small and Large Catechisms to teach about the first sacrament (baptism) and the second (Holy Communion). The order is unlikely to be arbitrary.

The first, and very frank response to why I might not support changing this statement is that it is above my pay grade. This is a teaching of the church I serve and to which we belong.

I recognize that we live in what is termed (ad nauseam) a “post-modern” age. That means that trust in the veracity of institutional, historical, or passed down wisdom has all but evaporated. It means that every individual is an island of personal wisdom and is encouraged to make meaning apart from shared wisdom. It means that the reason for every teaching must be primarily about results and outcomes. We are encouraged to dismiss the silliness of prior ages and wisdom so that we can effectively market the church and Jesus to seekers. That means our teaching must avoid any offense – to me or a visitor.

cup patenPerhaps this post-modern view is a bit arrogant. In the Benedictine tradition, humility is a core value of the community. Humility teaches that one should take care to honor the voices of not just those in the room with you, but those from ages past – even if you think them quaint.

Perhaps the second question is, “What do we do when the unbaptized commune?” Nothing really, except invite them into fellowship with the church through baptism. As The Use of the Means of Grace continues:

Application 37G – When an unbaptized person comes to the table seeking Christ’s presence and is inadvertently communed, neither that person nor the ministers of Communion need be ashamed. Rather, Christ’s gift of love and mercy to all is praised. That person is invited to learn the faith of the Church, be baptized, and thereafter faithfully receive Holy Communion.

Baptism and Holy Communion are part and parcel of one another. The are both God’s Word and both constitutive of the Christian life. There is nowhere a notion that there is an either/or. Baptism claims each person as a child of God and Holy Communion proclaims all the baptised part of the body of Christ and all that means. There is a spiritual logic, if you will, to the order of the sacraments.

The Lord’s Supper is a repeatable act that nourishes and sustains the disciples of Jesus as they answer the call to bear the cross and press on toward resurrection. We need it over and over again to assure us of forgiveness; to remind us of our intimate relationship with Christ and his people; to participate in a foretaste of the feast to come – where the promises of resurrection and new life will finally come to pass.

There are, however, circumstances that can sever us from sharing this sustaining meal. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of the grief that came from being separated from community while in prison. The faithful can experience dark nights of the soul where we wander from this lifeline meal willingly or unwillingly. In our age, people rarely come to the table with increasing frequency. When we stop coming to church, receiving the meal, where is the assurance that we have a place at the table? In the most extreme of church discipline, excommunication, the disciple is kept from sharing in the meal until reconciliation takes place.

Through all that, however, the indelible and un-repeatable mark of baptism prevails. Bonhoeffer knew his status as a child of God made in baptism was indelible. When we wander back into church after a long drought, we know we have a place not because of a feeble welcome from the usher, but because Christ has claimed us in baptism. Even excommunication cannot wipe away the mark of the cross on the forehead of God’s children. The indelible, un-repeatable proclamation of baptism lays the foundation for the constant – though interruptible – nourishment of the table.

In the ancient church, baptism took place once a year, at the great Vigil of Easter. Each Sunday, as the church gathered, the catechumens (those preparing for baptism in the weeks or months ahead) were dismissed from the assembly before communion to be taught the faith; to come to understand what they were getting themselves into! Then, after they came up from the water at the Vigil, they received the body and blood of Jesus. They were welcomed into the community of Christ through the water, through dying and rising. The indelible mark paved the way for the abundant table. They became part of the community and then shared in the body and blood of that community’s Lord.

We may not be able to answer which comes first, the chicken or the egg (though a Platonist likely knows), but we do know that the sacraments of font and table are connected, both a means of God’s grace. We practice that the indelible, irrevocable declaration of one’s identity and place in the community precedes the frequent (hopefully) and abundant nourishment of the Lord, crucified and risen. We do so for the spiritual well being of all.

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landfills & Empty Hearts

It is trash day on our street. The bins are lined up at the end of driveways like sentinels. By the end of the day, truckloads of fragrant offerings will be off to the landfill. “Every year, the United States generates approximately 230 million tons of “trash”–about 4.6 pounds per person per day. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled; the rest is incinerated or buried in landfills.” (1)  A bunch of what goes into the landfill is food we never ate, stuff we’ve grown tired of and replaced, the packaging for stuff we just acquired to replace the old stuff.

landfill

One of the new construction projects near my house is a beautiful structure. I wondered what it was to be for some time. A medical office? A new company headquarters? Turns out it is a self-storage complex: Space for stuff when your stuff outgrows your space. Turns out it is one of the fastest growing industries in the country.

We live in a culture that grooms us to have a core identity as consumers. We have become so good at it we don’t know where to put what we consume. As Pope Francis says in his encylical, Laudato Si: Care for Our Common Home“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” (Chapter 1, paragraph 21)

We are faced with an environmental crisis (if you disagree because you look around your house and all seems well, please, for the love of God, look, study, read. It is a crisis for your neighbors in this world, which means it is yours – we are our brother’s keeper). The answer to this crisis has often been framed as a simply a need for new and better technology. We just need to think better, and acquire better stuff to handle the problems. That notion is rubbish too.

francis

First off, we humans don’t respond well to anything less than an immediate threat to our selves. Joseph Sittler, the prophetic Lutheran theologian said in 1962: “I do not believe that our relationship to the earth is liable to change for the better until it gets catastrophically worse. Our record indicates that we can walk with our eyes wide open straight into sheer destruction if there is a profit on the way-and that seems to me to be what we are doing now. I have no great expectation that human cussedness will somehow be quickly modified and turned into generosity or that humanity’s care of the earth will improve much. But I do go around planting trees on the campus.”

The deeper crisis is a spiritual, moral and social crisis. The very ways we think and the systems that make us think that way are broken. Pope Francis sums up the reason we have so much trash and need storage lockers: “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume.” (Chapter 6, paragraph 204) We are empty inside. We try to fill that emptiness by gorging on food, things, activities, recreation. Our basements, garages and calendars are full of things we have and things we do. Yet, none of it satisfies because we’re chasing the wrong things, spurred on by systems that depend on keeping us feeling empty. Do more, buy more, dream of more, and you’ll be happy. But happy never comes. All that comes is the rapidly approaching cliff we’re racing toward when life will be no more.

Thomas Berry, a wise and insightful writer with a spiritual and ecological insight notes: “[O]ur human economy is derivative from the Earth economy. To glory in a rising Gross Domestic Product with an irreversibly declining Earth Product is an economic absurdity.” We measure things and success by profit and accumulation – it is all we know. We need to re-learn how to evaluate life and living.

Gus Speth is a lawyer, a former Yale University Dean and advisor to nations around the world. He puts his finger on the very heart of our environmental crisis:  “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” 

The first thing we need to stop consuming is the lie that we are consumers and life is made happier by the accumulation of things and activities.

Pax Christi,

Tim Olson, Lead Pastor

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

New Heaven, New Earth

During the season of Easter (which lasts into June, not just one Sunday), we will gather in worship under the theme New Heaven, New Earth. This image set the tone in the very first reading of scripture we heard as Easter dawned. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)

This new creation is evidenced in all four of the gospels as they tell of the resurrection. Each state that the women went to the tomb “on the first day of the week” either very early, or while still dark. The language launches us backward to the opening verses of Genesis where creation begins on the first day of the week in chaos and darkness. A new creation is happening in the resurrection of Jesus.

New Heaven SquareWhat this new creation is all about is anticipated in other places. Isaiah sees the end to violence and lives lived in oppression; a creation where wolf and lamb peacefully coexist (Isaiah 65); where swords are beaten into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4); where all the nations of the world are gathered in peace at the feast table of the Lord. (Isaiah 25).

In 2 Peter 3:13, we hear of a world where God’s agenda of peace justice and righteousness are the norm and standard: But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Perhaps the most compelling vision of the promise of God’s creative activity is in the last book of the New Testament. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1,3-5)

So, how do we respond to these visions and proclamations of a “new heaven, and a new earth?” On the one hand, if you love life the way it is and hope that heaven is simply a continuation of all that already is, this word of newness can be unsettling. We humans hate change and the loss of control. It sounds like lots of change beyond our control. It is.

One of the spiritual challenges of faith is to always be discontent with the status quo. I am not who I shall be, and certainly not what God calls me to be. The world may seem comfortable in front of my TV watching Netflix, as I much snacks I don’t need. But that patina of comfort and success is very, very thin. It rubs away with even a tiny amount of reflection and spiritual elbow grease. My comfort is often at someone else’s expense. My “happiness” is a mask for the anxiety, pain, and trouble boiling beneath. I’ve just gotten good at denying it.

If we are aware of suffering – our own and the world’s, then these images of a new heaven & earth might make us throw up our hands in joyous dependence and passively wait for God to just get ‘er done. I can surrender to my helplessness and wait for God to install the big fix.

The truth is that this new creation is already begun. In the resurrection of Jesus, God began the process of pulling, pushing, recreating us and everything into something new. The signs of that new creation are all around us if we look. When healing happens – new creation. When peace triumphs over war and violence – new creation. When tears are wiped away and mourning turns to dancing – new creation is already here.

That said, the new creation is not yet a fulfilled reality. We are living in the already/not yet of God’s new heaven and new earth. That means we are anything but passive. We have seen verified the veracity, the truth, of the vision of a new heaven and new earth resurrection. Knowing how the future will unfold, what the outcome is, we become active in anticipation of a new heaven and new earth that will triumph over the brokenness of this world.

We are to live as joyful malcontents. Malcontent because we are dissatisfied with every rotten and stinking thing about this world and refuse to accept it as normal. Joyous because we know how the story ends. Our ethics and moral values are shaped by the future vision of peace, justice, healing, life, and everything else shown in the vision of a new earth and heaven. We wait, not passively, but actively bringing about and proclaiming God’s new creation. We are part of the process of creating a new heaven and new earth.

Pax Christi, Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Why is Holy Week Important?

Last Sunday, we began worship waving palms as we remembered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  We, like the crowds, were all for him.  He is our guy we proclaim!  He is the one who will bring the Romans down.  He will bring us freedom.  He would change the world.  The days of oppression will be behind us. How fickle the crowds can be.  Human behavior today isn’t any different.  Our support for a leader can falter depending how the wind blows.  We prefer to follow the crowd than to think for ourselves, and so the festivity of welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem leads to a different kind of kingship than the people envisioned.

dali st john crossThis Sunday, we will celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.  Churches will be filled as we worship the risen Christ who overcomes death’s grip and gives us life.  On Sundays we celebrate.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  But what happens during the rest of this holiest of weeks, from the waving of the palms until the singing of Alleluia’s, looks a bit different.  From Monday – Friday, Pastor Tim, Travis and I might be with people who experience hardship caused by lack of financial resources.  This week I spoke with a woman who is unable to pay her utility bill due to her husband’s health problems.  She cannot work as stress has stripped her of an appetite and she has lost 30 pounds causing her to be drastically underweight and aggravating her muscle disease.   Recent weeks paint a picture of our church building filled with grieving families as a loved one is laid to rest.   Other times we may be visiting people who are in the hospital, nursing facilities or people at home dealing with chronic illness or facing death.

Your own experiences may see a week that is filled with joys and sorrows.  Sometimes we wonder, “Where are you God?” in the midst of the chaos, stress, relationship issues.  It is then that we realize we can’t do life by ourselves.

Holy Week shows us another side of God.  On Maundy Thursday, Jesus, aware that his closest friends will abandon him in the coming hours, eats a Passover Dinner with them.  It is an intimate meal where he shares bread and a cup, filled with love for each person present.  He takes this opportunity to teach them since he knows his time is short.  Jesus takes a towel, ties it around his waist, and washes the feet of each disciple.  This is a job that is normally designated to the slave in the household; not a leader, not a teacher.  So, Jesus teaches them what love looks like, and how love acts.  Then, on Good Friday, Jesus shows that love on the cross.  The crowds and even his closest friends are gone.  Hanging on the cross Jesus suffers humiliation, pain, and isolation from God.  According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus cries the words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God why have your forsaken me!”  Soon it is finished; breath is no longer needed.  Death has come and his body is prepared, wrapped and placed in a new tomb.  Saturday is a day of silence, rest.  We hear nothing from God.  But God is at work in God’s way.

I find solace in a Savior who knows and experiences life as I do. I trust a Savior who understands human emotions, who knows humiliation. I need a Savior who experiences pain and suffering; a Savior who understands isolation and rejection; a Savior who understands me with all my quirks; a Savior who even questions and doubts God the Father’s presence; a Savior who died in all his humanness, but also will rise because he is God.  I find consolation in knowing that as I experience the highs and lows of life, and all that comes with it, I am convinced that nothing can separate me from the love of God – not suffering, dying or death, because Jesus, God incarnate, has been there and has risen.  I am convinced that I have a Savior who loves me, more than I can ever love him back.  I need Jesus each day of the week, not just on Sunday, because Jesus is about life everyday. Jesus gets right down in the trenches of everyday life and lives it with me.  I meet Jesus much more in the suffering and challenges of life than I may even be aware.  Holy Week shows me a different kind of Jesus, that’s one reason Holy Week is important.

In Christ, Pastor Pam Schroeder

 

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Silence

I recently stumbled on an article that was published some time ago by the Harvard Review.  The title, The Busier You are the More You Need Quiet Time, sums up the article, .

The authors seem to think they have found some new truth that no one else has realized: We need quiet time.  Interestingly enough, it is new, at least to the culture we live in today. These authors have “discovered” something that Christians have known for centuries.  Silence is good for you.

We need silence in our busy lives.  We live in a culture where there is pressure to do more and be more.  This means we are always busy and we tend to have less time for ourselves, less time to be still, and less time to just be.

Some of us find the idea of silence hard to fathom.  We think that there would be no way for us to be able to spend some time alone and be silent, even if we wanted to be silent.  The struggles of life make it hard to think that there would be time in our busy schedules to even pencil in silence for 10 minutes. psa 62

Others of us, think that carving out time to be silent would be a dream.  We know we are tired and know that we need something to energize us.  But we don’t know what exactly would help our tired bodies and souls.

Silence offers a retreat from too much artificial sound.  Traffic and machinery noise marks our culture and often is oppressive not only for our physical and emotional health but for our spirits as well.  The incessant chatter of advertising hype and program sounds on radio and television add to the static. Music, which can soothe the soul , unfortunately, is often distorted into a noisy and manipulative marketing tool.  In a world overstuffed with noise, persuasive speech, even sermons and prayers, can bounce back from our ears like repetitive advertisements–becoming clanging cymbals, signifying nothing.

One way to practice silence (and solitude) is to be quiet in a quiet place for some time. Perhaps you take a walk on a nature trail or sit beside a lake or a creek. Or a quiet spot in a park or your backyard may work well. Even a secluded chair inside your house may work — as long as all your communication and media devices are turned off!  It can start off small, with a few minutes, and then gradually get longer and you learn just be still in the moment.

The point of our time in silence is to do nothing.  The point of our time in silence is not to make anything happen.

In silence we’re learning to stop doing, stop producing, stop pleasing people, stop entertaining ourselves, stop obsessing — stop doing anything except to simply be our naked self before God and be found by God.

In Christ,

Travis Segar – Pastoral Intern

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Crucifixion & Creation

This year Easter is sandwiched between Crucifixion and Creation. The Friday before Easter, as always, is Good Friday – the day we remember the crucifixion of God, the rending of the Divine Love of the Holy Trinity, as the Son cries out to the Father, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” This year, the Monday after Easter is Earth Day. As Christians, this day calls for us to consider the suffering of God that happens as a result of the destruction of the gracious works of God – the creation itself. There is a juxtaposition of the suffering of the person of God and the suffering of the works of God on either side of the promise of life.

dali st john crossJohn’s gospel tells us of “the Word” that exists before all things, that created all things. Jesus is “The Word made flesh” and on Good Friday is nailed to a cross (John 1:14). Through that same “Word made flesh” John says, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:3) When creation is degraded and destroyed by over-consumption, greed, addiction to comfort or whatever, the works of Christ are destroyed.

It is pretty easy for me to delude myself into thinking that I had (or have) no role in the crucifixion of Jesus; that it was “those” ancient people who were too afraid, too comfortable, to uninformed, too busy, too self-absorbed to choose God over Caesar. Yet, I wonder if today it isn’t all those same things that keep us from caring for the earth, tending God’s works – we are just “too” – something. It seems to me you can kill someone off either by killing their body or destroying their work. Maybe that is true of God as well. Nailing Christ to the cross and filling the oceans with plastic, the air with dirt, the ground with pesticides is all the same thing – sin. And it all causes God to suffer at our hands.

The Resurrection tells us that God will not be so easily removed from the human condition; God will not give up on this sorry human project; that humanity does not get the final word – that belongs to God; it is God. In the promise of resurrection, we find a God willing to forgive even divinicide. A crucified God will not stay dead!

What of the degradation of creation? We must never give in to despair because God’s promise to “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5) is grounded in the resurrection itself. That is not a license to sit idly by and wait for God to do something, nor a free pass from the consequences of assaulting our neighbor – the creation. The judgment for our destructive bent toward all life is perhaps inevitable. Joseph Sittler, a prophetic Lutheran voice in the care of creation said, “The reprisals of God’s creation against its abuse may be slow and invisible for generations, but God is just. Sooner or later nature reacts against its exploitation.” He said that in the 1960’s – I’m not sure things are so slow and invisible today. There will be suffering as a result of our actions, and many -perhaps most – will suffer.

As we stand looking upon the crucified body of Jesus and listen deeply to the groaning creation (Romans 8:22) as it longs for redemption, we can make a new beginning in hope; hope grounded in a God who suffers with us and because of us and then shows us the love of resurrection. Sittler again: “God’s creations in the world are his voice, appealing to you and to me not only to join all people of good will in doing what intelligent things we ought to do about the creation, but one thing especially: to love the world and care for it to the glory of God.”

Pax Christi, Tim Olson – Lead Pastor

Joseph Sittler quotes are from The Eloquence of Grace:Joseph Sittler and the Preaching Life, ed. James Childs and Richard Lischer, Cascade Books, October 2012 – Kindle Edition (p 78 & 82)

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Thoughts and Prayers

Large chunks of Nebraska, Iowa are under water. We offer our thoughts and prayers. The people of New Zealand are still reeling in the wake of a mass murder of Muslim citizens by a hate-filled man who held to the evil, blasphemous ideas of white supremacy. We offer our thoughts and prayers. As a congregation, we are preparing to lay to rest two members of the community and we offer their families and loved ones our thoughts and prayers.

Some condemn offering “thoughts and prayers”  as wishful thinking, others as a way to avoid actually doing something about a problem. Even pastors and religious leaders have been suspicious of offering “thoughts and prayers” in the face of school shootings, natural disasters and the chaos of each day.

It is true that we often offer “thoughts and prayers” when we don’t know what else to say, maybe even with no intention of actually praying. That’s really a lie, not a prayer. We may offer up a quick, “Lord, help them” or a “thank God I’m not having to face that struggle” and call it good. I call that a “drive-by” prayer. I am guilty of such prayer more often than I like to admit, I think.thoughts and prayers cartoon

Sometimes, a situation is just flat-out horrible or painful and we have no power to do a thing about it. So, we offer “thoughts and prayers.” Maybe because we desperately want to do something – anything – so we can not feel so helpless. But maybe, just maybe, it’s because when we feel helpless we appeal to a God who can do what we can’t. When “thoughts and prayers” are condemned for expressing helplessness, I tend to think that it is precisely what we should be doing.

When “thoughts and prayers” are dismissed as meaningless, I think it is because most of us misunderstand prayer — even pastors and the pious. Thinking that God and Amazon have much in common (they don’t) we make our order and then complain about the service when our wise request is not delivered as ordered. We end up thinking like author Nicholas Sparks, in Three Weeks With My Brother “I don’t pray because it doesn’t work. Prayer doesn’t fix anything. Bad things happen anyway.” Bitterness and unbelief follow. When I find myself annoyed by yet another offer of “thoughts and prayers” I have to ask myself if somehow I have lost faith in a God who answers them – somehow, someway.

If we think that offering prayer is mostly about changing, cajoling, or manipulating God to pay attention to something we think that the Ground of All Being and Existence has somehow missed, then we have misunderstood the purpose of prayer and our relationship to God. Prayer is not a magical ritual that brings about miracles. It is certainly far more than making myself feel pious or better about things.

Soren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”  When I say, “I will pray for you,” what I should be offering is to enter God’s presence with you and your struggles on my heart and on my lips; to open myself to care for you as God does. Prayer for another should never be done without a great deal of seriousness, for in prayer – true prayer – God will call, challenge and change us to be the answer to prayer.  Eugene Peterson says it this way: “The task is not to get God to do something I think needs done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can participate in it.”

Ultimately, prayer is not words, but silence. Yes, we have prayers that we say, all the time. Jesus gave his disciples (and us) the Lord’s Prayer, which is certainly words. Yet, the purpose of the words is to place us in God’s presence with God’s will and desire in our hearts. Jesus prayed that the cup of crucifixion be taken from him, but then centered himself squarely in God’s will. The words point us to a silence that opens up to God’s presence for God’s sake alone. Eugene Peterson says it this way: “Prayer is the way we work our way out of the comfortable but cramped world of self and into the spacious world of God.”

“Thoughts and prayers” understood as a movement into the presence of God with an open heart, mind, and agenda is to allow that open places to be filled with God. It is not impotent, nor does it replace action. It leads to it. No action of ours can be grounded in God without prayer. Peterson again: A changed world begins with us … and a changed us begins when we pray.

“Thoughts and prayers” offered in the experience of helplessness, to establish a connection with others who suffer, done in the manner and name of Christ, transforms us. “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Pax Christi – Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

A Place Called Home

When I open the door from the garage into my home our dog, Theo, greets me with a wiggly welcome and wagging tail that tells me he is happy to see me. I am home. When I come home my wife greets me with a smile and a warm welcome (as soon as she can get around the dog). I am home. I smell the smells of home; see the light reflecting off the walls colored by the paint we chose. I am home. My books are on the shelves, the chairs are contoured to me. I am home. To become homeless, well, that would mean much more than losing the roof over our heads. It would mean losing the place where I most belong in this world.

homeless jesusThat I have this place in the world that is so much more than shelter; that I have a home where I am safe and where I belong is a matter for which endless gratitude should be given. Sometimes I do give thanks. Other times I take it for granted and think of it as something I own, something I earned and deserve. That, of course is a lie. To have a place in this world we call home is a huge blessing and God’s gracious gift.

The Holy Scriptures that form us as the people of God have a deep reverence for a place called home. They also have a special compassion for those who do not have such a place. After all, the people of the Exodus wandered for forty years in a wilderness, hoping for a home. The people of Israel and Judah lost their ancestral home and were dispersed and exiled. They longed for a place called home. Jesus himself was born in a stable, because there was no home to welcome him. He said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) Paul, followed Jesus right into the street: “To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless.” (I Cor. 4:11) In the end, none of us really are home yet. We are on our way home to what waits. Until then, some of us have some pretty nice rest stops along the way.

Family Promise of Greater Des Moines is our mission partner. Next week we will welcome up to three families who are not just without permanent shelter, but have no place to call home; no place where the dog welcomes and the furniture and decorations say, “you belong.” For a week we will provide shelter, food and at least the warm welcome that you might get when you get home. We will provide a rest stop on a wilderness journey that, by God’s grace, will lead them home, a place they belong. Remember, it is by God’s grace we all have a place called home.

Help us provide for those travelling home by answering God’s call to serve next week through Family Promise.

Pax Christi,

Pastor Tim Olson

 

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