Here We Stand

Last week, I wrote about the Reformation. That probably means that I should find another topic for this week. But, hey, I’m a Lutheran Pastor and I have thought a lot about the ways the Reformation of the Christian Faith 500 years ago plays out today. So, bear with me.

Last Sunday, as we celebrated the Reformation, I’d like to think that our congregation was engaging that spirit of the day in a concrete way. As Martin Luther once said, before his accusers. “Here I stand,” we did something similarWe held a congregational meeting. We voted to adopt a public statement of Welcome & Inclusion and to become a partner with Reconciling Works (among others) to be a congregation Reconciling in Christ.  The statement we adopted says:

STATEMENT OF INCLUSION & WELCOME – HOLY TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH

Grace, peace, and welcome to you in the name of the blessed, Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We are people simultaneously faithful and afraid; broken and redeemed; joyful and struggling to keep it together. Together, we strive to share God’s love by loving our neighbors and loving creation. Even though we don’t know you yet, we already love you. 

You are loved. We believe you are a beloved child of God created in God’s image.

You are loved. We believe Jesus loves you and taught us, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

You are loved. Your race, gender identity, mental or physical ability, sexual orientation, marital status, financial situation, social standing, education, cultural background, immigration status, or any other category or label cannot separate you from the love of God, nor keep you from being what God called you to be.

You are loved. No matter where you are on your faith journey, no matter the questions you bring, no matter the doubts or struggles you bear, there is a place for you here to ask, seek, and share.

You are invited. We strive to create a safe, inclusive, and affirming environment where all are invited, and each is accepted and embraced. We invite you to receive and share God’s love as you are, for who you are.

The People of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

I’d like to think that for all the LBGTQ+ people who have been shamed, rejected, and RIC_logo_printostracized by the Church; for all the unmarried pregnant young women who were driven away; for the poor who didn’t smell right and were shown the church door out; for the people who were the wrong color who were stared at; our action nailed a protest to the door of the Church saying that we will no longer operate that way in this place. (Of course, it will take vigilance to live this out).

Last week I wrote 10 Theses for our own reformation Number 1 was: The use of religion as a means of keeping people out, apart, inline, under control is over, folks. We need to stop with the judgmentalism, the hate, the exclusion if we say we worship a God of Love. This action is part of our response.I’d like to think that through the work of the Spirit, the faithfulness of God’s presence, we tacked up a notice that we plan to take up the cause of welcoming the creatures and creation God made instead of keeping them out.

That is what I think. Here we stand, with the people who are so often excluded, shamed, pointed at and hated. It is where Jesus stood, so we’re in good company. Thanks to the people of Holy Trinity for joining in God’s reformation of the Church.

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

Give Them Something to Eat

Image result for elca world hunger appealLooking into the faces of thousands of hungry people, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “You give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16; Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13) The disciples respond, in essence, saying, “Seriously?! Impossible.” So, Jesus feeds them all. Fast forward to today. The Church now, the body of the resurrected Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, stares into the face of millions who are hungry and suffering. Jesus again commands, “Give them something to eat.” I’m here to tell you that the response if quite different than those disciples.

I’m in Chicago as I write. I’m here at the invitation of the ELCA World Hunger Appeal to join with others from across the country to finalize recommendations for the Appeal’s Domestic Hunger Grants. I was not invited because I have some special gifts or influence. No, I’m here because the people of Holy Trinity are among the most generous congregations in the ELCA when it comes to giving to the World Hunger Appeal.

Over the last week, I have reviewed twenty of the 100 grants that have made it through the process thus far. Five teams review twenty grants each. I need to tell you that Jesus’ command to “give them something to eat” is being carried out by disciples all over the place. The miracle of the feedings of Jesus continues.

From small food pantries that are expanding to deliver food to people who can’t make it to the site to educational programs that teach young people about hunger, advocacy and grow tons of vegetables for local food pantries; from new programs to address root causes of hunger like affordable housing, health needs, and job training to a congregation that needs to redo a kitchen so it can expand its food pantry to provide hot meals and fresh food to the neighborhood; from urban centers that are food desserts (access to food is beyond workable transportation limits) to rural programs tending the folks left behind, Christ’s body is busy giving those in need something to eat – and a place to sleep, help with clothing, job training, education and training to speak out to the powers that be.

The grants I am reviewing address many aspects of hunger that accompany people in the struggle beyond simply giving out food. Theses dimensions include: Community Organizing; Education; Food Production; Food Security; Health; Housing; Peace, Justice, and Human Rights; Public Policy Advocacy; Sustainable Livelihoods; Water

Through our food pantry, Thrive Assistance Program, partnerships with Free Store, Family Promise, Mosaic, our God’s Work. Our Hands effort each year, and much more, we too respond to Jesus’ command: “Give them something to eat.” Through the nearly $60,000 we have given to the World Hunger Appeal in the last couple of years we are helping congregations, agencies and organizations all across the country do the same.

Even as we do respond, the command continues because the hungry still gather. I pray that we dig ever deeper to answer the call of the savior – Give them something to eat.

Pax Christi,  Pastor Tim Olson

Radical Hospitality

One of the stated values of our congregation is Radical Hospitality.  Hospitality is a habit, a practice, that is woven throughout the biblical story. From Abraham’s gracious reception of three guests at Mamre (Genesis 18), to Joseph’s welcoming his brothers – and all who came – in time of famine (Genesis 41:57); from the open table fellowship of Jesus to the sharing of all things in common of the early church (Acts 2) hospitality of a radical sort is practiced.

In the Abraham story, when three people show up at his tents (who turn out to be messengers of God), Abraham does not simply offer a bit of bread and some water; a bit of shade for protection from the sun. He drops everything and prepares a meal from the best of his flock. He waits on them personally. Jesus not only welcomes everyone to his table but leaves them with a piece of himself as he teaches, heals, and announces the reign of God.

This radical hospitality is an act of faith, a practice of discipleship, because it mimics divine grace. God, in spite of our stubbornness and resistance, welcomes us into the life of the Holy Trinity and lavishes abundance upon us each day, if we have eyes that will see. That is radical hospitality.

Last Sunday, as I walked into the Café Koinonia after worship, a large, lively, crowd was gathered. There was laughter; kids were running to grab one more donut; friends supporting friends – the very things that warm a pastor’s heart. Then I felt a chill. I saw a couple I did not recognize sitting at a table alone. I was pretty sure they were guests and no one in the room had noticed. I began to move toward them and scanned the room for someone who could welcome them besides the pastor (because being greeted by a guy who gets paid to do it is not radical). Just then, a couple who had lots of other friends in the room spied the guests and made a beeline for them. Greetings and introductions ensued and divine love – radical hospitality – made an appearance.

I share this because Pastor Pam and I have noticed this scenario too frequently lately. Guests, or people who don’t know lots of folks sitting alone.  No one should be alone in this place. I know that on Sunday everyone wants to connect with friends and catch up on the latest news. I also know that as everyone left worship and took the first ten minutes of coffee and donuts to connect with someone they didn’t know, our congregation would be stronger; we would be better at our mission of sharing God’s love; we would be practicing radical hospitality.

Radical hospitality reflects how much room there is in the heart of God for everyone, no matter how distant or broken. Practicing radical hospitality trains us to open a bit of our hearts to brothers and sisters who bear God’s love. Who will tell people that they are God’s beloved? For Abraham, it was three strangers. For the folks sitting alone in the Café, it could be you.

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

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