A Broken Church

luther thesesFive hundred and two years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, touching off a debate and conflict that came to be known as The Reformation. Thus ends the most predictable sentence a Lutheran pastor could type in the days leading up to Reformation Day. It would now be predictable to shout the praises of brother Martin and point to the eternal truths revealed in that historic moment. I’m not going to do that. I’m actually tired of doing that.

One could say that Luther and other reformers sensed deeply that the Church of Jesus Christ was broken. The 95 Theses were a kind of inventory of the wreckage.  You could look at the Church as an institution and find corruption and all manner of idiotic proclamations of “truth” that bore no resemblance to the gospel or the Christ who uttered it. The Church just wanted to find more ways to keep itself in power. The people were uninformed about the faith and cared little for growing as Christians. They just did what the were told to avoid the damnation they feared.

Sound familiar? We live in an age where the Church is no less broken. Maybe it is even more so. Denominations struggle to be relevant while keeping their place and power as an institution in a culture that cares not. Congregations are more concerned about “surviving,” no matter what they have to do; what they have to give away or give up, than about being the transforming body of Christ in the world.

We are deeply concerned about “Nones” (those who answer “none” to questions about religious affiliation. In fact, a significant cause of “nones” is that so many of us Christians should say “nominal” when we answer questions about religious affiliation. We are nominal in our commitment, knowledge, engagement with faith and so exhibit no compelling evidence in our own lives that would encourage someone to become engaged in faith. We are, at best, tepid.

The truth is, that like the Church of 500 years ago, the Church of today is broken. It is in need of house cleaning, change, transformation of the kind that happened five centuries ago.

I’m no Martin Luther – nothing even close. But, as I think about it, there are a few theses I would offer if we are to address the Church’s brokenness.

  1. 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.
  2. The notion that believing the right thing makes you “saved” must give way to living a life, each day, steeped in confession, forgiveness, and growing into Christ.
  3. “Saved” does not mean bound for heaven when you die. It means that your life is being ever more deeply united with Christ and so becoming ever more eternal every day.
  4. Prosperity is not the same as abundance. You can’t buy love, happiness, meaning, or anything that matters. Abundance comes from union with Christ as it is found in a community of people who live like Jesus.
  5. Our insatiable consumption and rabid individualism is killing us and the planet we inhabit – faster and faster each day. We must repent and return to sustainable, communal, earth-bound habits of living at peace with all – and with ourselves.
  6. Our politicians, our teachers, our bosses, our coaches, our celebrities cannot save us. Only God has a deep enough resume for that project.
  7. God’s economy has nothing to do with capitalism, Wall Street or “return on investment.” It has everything to do with justice, all being fed, and all sharing in the peace and joy of God.
  8. Every congregation will die; every denomination and nation will disappear. Death is not a final word and all that matters is how much love happens while you’re around. Fearing death is silly.
  9. If you hate someone, you hate God.
  10. You only matter as a person as you matter in a community. So, be humble, gracious, forgiving and never assume you are the smartest person in a room or on a social media feed. That makes you a fool.

I could go on, but that is 10% of Luther’s production. We are a Broken Church, no doubt. The Good News is that, like the Reformation 500 years ago, our Lord is a broken savior. He dies on a cross and was raised from the dead so we would never fear brokenness and pain; so that we w=could walk boldly into the fierce waters of change and nor drown.

So, this weekend, as we remember the Reformation, lets be a broken Church, dependent on a broken savior so we can save a broken world together. Amen

copyright © 2019, Timothy V. Olson

originally published at: https://pastortimothy.org/2019/10/23/broken-church/ 

The Song in My Backyard

psalm 66Early this morning, with hot, black tea in hand, I looked upon my backyard damp with rain and shadowed by clouds. It was serene, but not quiet. There was singing. I saw the lemon-lime sweet potato vine sweeping down the side of a pot on the deck. Its vivid color stood out against the gray of the day. It was doing what it was created to do. Above that luminous song, a woodpecker was wiggling into the cage containing suet, enjoying a morning meal. It was doing what it was created to do. Creation sings when creatures, and even rocks, trees and babbling brooks,  do what they were made to do. “All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” (Psalm 66:4)

I did not always notice the music of creation. Most of my life has been spent scurrying from one thing to the next, absorbed in the demands of self and others. I’ve been too busy to listen, to see, to notice. I’ve also been too busy to be what God created me to be, so my song has been silent. I had to learn to listen and to sing.

I learned about the singing of every creature from Augustine of Hippo. His 4th century song still sings:

“Does God proclaim Himself in the wonders of creation? No. All things proclaim Him, all things speak. Their beauty is the voice by which they announce God, by which they sing, “It is you who made me beautiful, not me myself but you.

I learned to sing from Francis of Assisi, the 13th century saint known for his radical st.francisembrace of living like Jesus. In his Canticle of Creation, Francis sings “Be praised my Lord for Mother Earth: abundant source, all life sustaining; she feeds us bread and fruit and gives us flowers.” The tree in my yard that will soon bury me in leaves and the noisy bird that wakes me too early are my neighbors, my siblings, to be loved.

I learned to sing from Martin Luther that God is “in, with, and under” the water, wine and bread of the sacraments. Which is also true of everything created. Luther said, “God’s entire divine nature is wholly and entirely in all creatures, more deeply, more inwardly, more present than the creature is to itself.”

I learned to sing from Joseph Sittler, a legendary theologian who started talking about sittlerthe care of creation long before anyone else. He called humanity to step away from its propensity for destroying the earth. For him, the destructive threat was centered on nuclear holocaust. He was also keenly aware of humanity’s appetites. Were he with us today, he would no sing a protest song of the threat that is less dramatic than World War III, but no less a threat.

Sittler’s song declared what happens when we move from rejoicing in our communion with the created order to simply using it for our own purposes. The result is a joyless and insatiable existence.

There is an economics of use only; it moves toward the destruction of both use and joy. And there is an economics of joy; it moves toward the intelligence of use and the enhancement of joy. That this vision involves a radical new understanding of the clean and fruitful earth is certainly so. But this vision, deeply religious in its genesis, is not so very absurd now that natural damnation is in orbit, and humanity’s befouling of their ancient home has spread their death and dirt among the stars.[i]

Elizabeth Johnson in her book Creation and the Cross, echoes Sittler and informs my lament over creation robbed of its purposes and life, points out:

Not content with harming our own species, human sin spills over into the natural world, ravaging habitats and destroying other species for personal and corporate gain. We profoundly need divine forgiveness. Out of the depths we cry for salvation.[ii]

When I have written in the past about our calling to care for creation, some have thought me to be an “alarmist,” shouting that the heavens are falling like some clerical Henny Penny – scaring the kids and preaching doom. Some have thought of me as a buzzkill, harshing everyone’s happy because there is: “Nothing we can do about it. The problem is too big.” A few have implied that maybe I am suddenly “woke” to the realities of evil corporations and the dangers of consumption, inflicting a new-found fervor on the unsuspecting and unwilling.

The truth is, I’m just trying to sing my song and hear the glorious chorus of creation in my backyard and beyond. I’m trying to love brother Blue Jay and sister Phlox. I’m just trying to help you do the same. For when creations sings, all is as it should be; joy and life are once again sustainable.

Pax Christi – Tim Olson

 

Copyright  2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, all rights reserved.

 

 

[i] James M. Childs Jr., Richard Lischer. The Eloquence of Grace: Joseph Sittler and the Preaching Life (Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching Series Book 1) (pp. 208-209). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

[ii] Johnson, Elizabeth A. Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril (Kindle Locations 88-89). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

 

Born Again?

baptism windowHave you ever been asked, “Are you born again?” or “Are you saved?” If you say “Yes” to the question, the interrogation may continue with “When?” If you say “No,” the conversation may end because you are judged to be a heathen. It may however continue with efforts to get you to come to a church that has the answers to your “problem.”  If you struggle to know just how to answer these questions, you are not alone.

The notion of being “born again” is rooted in scripture. In the Gospel according to John, we are introduced to a man named Nicodemus (John 3:1 ff). He is a wise teacher of the Jewish people who comes to Jesus under cover of darkness to ask questions. Jesus engages him in a conversation that leaves Nicodemus confused and scratching his head. Jesus tells him that all must be “born from above” (John 3:3). The Greek word used is deliberately ambiguous. It can be also translated born “anew” or, born “from the beginning, or in an interesting turn, born “for a long time.” And yes, some choose to say born “again” – though I’m not a fan of that choice, because to me it lacks the God-driven, long-term sense of John’s usage. If forced, I’d propose maybe, born “again, and again, and again….”

The other scriptural mention of “new birth,” is, for me, much more helpful.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3 NRSV)

Notice how it clarifies who does the “birthing.” It is not us, but God’s action.

For a certain Christian folks, being “born again” means making a decision to follow Jesus. It is often draped with emotional or spiritual experiences of conviction, repentance or spiritual ecstasy. For many (maybe most) Christians, this notion of establishing a relationship with Our Lord is precisely backwards. The “decision” that establishes my relationship with God is not mine. It is God’s. The cross saves; the cross tells me that I am, in fact, born again. The only action I take is in my response, every day, to that fact.

Baptism is, for most Christians across time and space, the event that proclaims God’s action to initiate a rebirth “from above.” We are most certainly called to respond to the grace of God’s action by taking up the way of discipleship. I think it is that second part of the “new birth” that folks who ask this question are really getting at when they ask questions about being “born again.” Does your relationship with God create a new life? A new person? That’s always a good question.

Today, September 25th, is the anniversary of my re-birth. On that date decades ago, I was washed in the water and the Church announced that I was a child of God; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God decided to raise me up. For a while, my parents rose each day faced with what that glorious announcement meant for me. When I was confirmed, I took the responsibility from my parents and heard again of God’s decision to claim me. As Luther taught, from that day forward, every day was an occasion to respond to God’s grace and mercy. I’m still doing that every day as I make the sign of the cross and begin the day with a prayer. I do it as I read the scriptures and find myself called and convicted; as I serve my neighbor because the world is not about me; as I repent of the stupidity I commit each day and am honest about my life as (Luther again) sinner and saint all in one package that God has decided to love.

This weekend, we will celebrate with a whole bunch of 9th graders as they affirm their baptisms and take up the task of that daily walk with Jesus. As they are confirmed, they will hear the announcement of God’s decision to raise them up and be given every new day as an opportunity to respond to God’s love and grace and God’s children.

No doubt, they will get asked questions. I thought I’d end by giving them answers I use.

“Are you saved?” Absolutely!

“When?” On a cross, outside Jerusalem, in the early first century.

“Are you born again?” Yes. Every single day.

“How do you know?” God sent and surrounded me with holy messengers (the Church) to tell me, over and over and over again.

 Pax Christi – Pastor Tim

 

Copyright  2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

It Is Your Call

This week a teenager from Sweden arrived in the United States – by boat. Her name is Greta Thunberg. She came by boat because it left a smaller carbon footprint than a plane. Greta has been busy. Her visit included a visit to Congress where she spoke to our leaders with passion and force. She said:

greta 2“Please save your praise. We don’t want it,” she said. “Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.

“If you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard.”

“I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.”

Listen to the science. Yes! PLEASE listen to the science and not the political posturing and denial that so deeply infects our nation. Nearly 100% of credible scientists agree that climate change is a threat that is a result of human action. Even though some politicians tried to block its release, the Climate Change Report, mandated by congress, and compiled by 13 federal agencies concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. The Iowa DNR tracks the reality of how climate change is impacting the state. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the UN has mountains of science accesible to all. There is no credible debate about the reality of climate change. There is only a debate about whether we should act. Greta Thunberg is calling for action. So should we.

Yet, without diminshing the importance of the science to understand the nature of the challenge, nor the courageous advocacy for the planet expressed by people like Greta, as Christians, it is not about the science. The care of the planet and future generations is a calling from God that is to be taken up whether we are in trouble environmentally or not.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. – (Genesis 2:15). 

And there it is; right there in the beginning. Humanity’s relationship to creation is a call to “till and keep,” not to own and consume. That calling (a vocation) to live in a loving relationship with all creation echoes throughout scripture (Psalm 8; Psalm 104; Psalm 148; Romans 8).

Faith begins with recognition. We recognize that we did not create, earn, or gain ownership of all that we have and all that we are. We recognize that it is by God’s grace alone that we exist, breathe, eat, live and, yes, die.

The second movement of faith is to respond to God’s love and grace by answering the call to be what God made us to be. We are the caretakers of God’s creation. We are not owners, for title never transfers from divine to human hands. We are accountable to God for how we love each other; and how we love all creation. Loving all creation and every creature, human and otherwise, is the path to loving God. We are called to leave the planet better than we found it.

To ignore our call is not just a choice we are allowed to make without consequence. In psalm 148 windowDeuteronomy 30:15 ff, Moses sets before the people a clear calling to follow God’s path, which leads to life, or to choose another path, which leads to death. If you listen to the science, failing to address climate change does not lead to abstractions. It leads to death, disease, refugees. It leads to the collapse of agricultural and economic systems. These will be the consequences (judgment) of choosing to ignore our call to “till and keep” the earth. 

Here is what is NOT our call: To choose to ignore the “groaning of creation” and continue to violate the earth and cause suffering of our nighbors with our addiction to life as we blithely live it. Here is our call: to choose life and love of every neighbor; every creature and created thing so that we might be God’s “tillers and keepers of the grace we’ve been given in holy trust.

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

The Creature and the Cross

htlc cross 2This coming weekend we will observe a festival day that has been observed for centuries. Since perhaps the early Fourth Century, the Church has observed Holy Cross Day. The cross is important because Christ hangs upon it. This is enough of a reason for us to make everyday, Holy Cross Day. On top of that, however, is what we believe Christ accomplished; what he was doing as he suffered and died in such a grotesque and painful way.

The answer to the “why?” of the cross that most of us learned has something to do with how the death of Jesus paid a debt for us. That he died to pay for our sins to satisfy some cosmic, divine debt that had to be paid. If that is what you were taught and believe, you can thank a man named Anselm (1033-1109) who was Bishop of Canterbury and one of the most influential theologians the Church has produced. His theory about what Christ did on the cross came to be known as the “satisfaction” theory of the atonement.

Oddly enough, his thought on this subject remains a theory. The Church has never adopted his teaching as a doctrine. It sits beside other theories about “atonement” (what Jesus accomplished on the cross). But, this is the one people seem to know best. So, here’s the news flash in all this: I don’t think Anselm really got this thing right. That is not to say his thought has no merit. It does. The cross does indeed address the sin of the world and mine in particular. But that is a small sliver of the story and not entirely helpful in our age.

To say that, on the cross, Jesus died to pay for my sins alone restricts the power of the death and resurrection to, well, just the death part and to forgiveness alone. It fails to unite death with the resurrection, and so, leaves much unaddressed. It also only speaks to one form of suffering – my guilt; and it addresses only the sinner. What about the victims of sin? Those who suffer at the hands of others? Does not a crucified Messiah have something to say about being a victim of the powers and principalities in his cry, “My God! My God. Why have you forsaken me?” 

When Jesus is raised from the dead, does that not change deeply what happened on the cross? The world said a very loud, “NO!” to Jesus and his whole life, ministry, and message. Those in power smugly thought they had put things “right” by killing the troublemaker. Resurrection, however, was God’s “YES!” proclaiming the world guilty and Jesus right; revealing the sin and evil of the powers that be. On the cross Jesus still reveals the arrogance and pride of those who would cut off helping the poor and needy; who would abandon the widow a refugee; who fail to tend to the least and lost of the world. If you are for that which creates victims and counts winners and losers, you are on the wrong side of the cross.

Then there is all of creation. Jesus is a creature nailed to the cross by evil. Jesus, the dali st john crossChrist, is also “the Word” that spoke creation into being; “the Word” that sustains life and light; “the Word” that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). In the mystery of  the Incarnation, both creature and Creator are hung to suffer and die. On that cross is not only Jesus of Nazareth. carpenter, healer and all around “good guy.” On that cross hangs the creator of the world and so, all that is created. When Paul says, “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains…” (Romans 8:22), the agonized cries of Christ on the cross give voice to the suffering of every creature, rock, tree that face the suffering brought by sin.

These are but the beginning of what the cross represents to people of faith. The cross is the lens through which we “live, move, and have our being.” It is right to honor who dies there, who overcame it, and what God did upon that lonely tree.

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

 

 

You’ve Got the Rhythm!

I usually have a playlist to listen to when I am exercising on the elliptical machine.  The rhythm of the music keeps me moving in the right direction of accomplishing my task of burning those calories and strengthening those muscles.  Oh sure, I could do the exercise without the music, but it’s the rhythm of the music that motivates me to get exercising and to keep it up.

There is a new rhythm to life that occurs when the school year starts, when the air begins to cool, when summer wanes, and our evenings darken earlier.  Fall brings football, music and band lessons.  Clubs that haven’t met for the summer are starting to pick up momentum again.  This week church school, adult learning, and affirmation of baptism classes begin.  It’s the time of the year for making choices and setting priorities for the fall and winter months.  It’s the time to set the rhythm for the next nine months.

Luke shares wisdom that is helpful to all of us as we set our priorities and select the rhythm for our lives by sharing Jesus’ frank words about discipleship.  In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus urges us to count the cost of following Jesus.  It’s a path that involves giving up what’s not important, it’s about sacrifice, and it’s about serving others.  It’s the road less traveled when the norm is not to be involved in a faith community.  Count the cost when meetings interrupt your sabbath time, when commitments take you away from worship.  Count the cost.  Following Jesus is following a God who is love and humility.  We learn about loving Jesus and each other in worship.  We learn about God’s love and humility in church school and adult learning.  We learn how  people of faith can make a difference in the world. None of us have discipleship all figured out.  We learn about serving others in a variety of ministries with which we have a relationship with others.

We all struggle with priorities. This fall I urge you to consider making Jesus a priority.  Let Jesus set the rhythm in your life, and your family’s life and see how that rhythm works for you.  Granted there will be a cost, but it will bring real life.  We can say “yes” or “no” to being disciples.  Moses urges the Israelites who are about to enter the promised land to choose life by loving the Lord, obeying God and holding fast to God.  Those who choose life, choose God.  Those who choose to follow Idols, as Moses claims are destined to “A life of death and adversity”.  We have an abundance of idols in this world.  Idols are really anything that we place above God.

I commend you to pray about the rhythm that brings life to you and your family and live life accordingly.  Count the cost of what will bring life.

Grace and Peace to you my sisters and brothers as you discern the rhythm of your life and the cost of whatever you follow.

In Christ, Pastor Pam Schroeder

No Time Left

I spied him in the grocery aisle on a Sunday evening as I stopped to pick up orange juice and paper towels. “You look tired,” I said. He nodded, rubbing his eyes, making them redder than they already were. “I am,” he responded. “The weekend wore us out. I was with two of the kids as we packed in a tournament, two practices, and a dance recital.” He pointed with his head toward the parking lot, “They are asleep out in the van. The wife is somewhere west of here coming home from a contest with the oldest. I haven’t seen them since yesterday.”

“Do you get to take a day to rest?” I asked, feeling suddenly tired with him. “Nope,” he sighed. “Back to the job in the morning. Oh yeah, and a concert tomorrow night” as he scrolled his phone. He said, “We’ll get back to church one of these Sundays,” with an uncomfortable note in his voice. “No worries,” I said. “Just get some rest.”

calendarI have had a version of this conversation dozens of times, with dozens of people whose calendars are full, bodies and minds are exhausted, and spirits are running on empty. The big question, of course, is “What do we do about it?”  The Scoutmaster says your kid has to make Scouting a priority. The baseball coach and the soccer coach say that unless the sport comes first, the kids will lose, and nobody can be a loser. Homework should come first, but the recital is just a week away. Then the Church asks, “Did you want your child to be confirmed?” I understand. I really do. I’ve been there. I am there. And I am worried about you.

The result of this kind of life is, as The Guess Who sang when I was a kid, “No time left for you.” – or anybody else. (And yes, I realize how I have dated myself as a dinosaur with that reference – you can find the song here.) No time left for you. No time left for your family. No time left for God. And in the end, with life carefully cataloged in calendars of paper or digitized for eternity, filled with all the things we did (or missed) there is just no time left. That thought may make us think we should redouble our efforts to fill every moment with something – anything – so our lives matter.

“And (Jesus) said to them, “Take care! …one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) I’m certain that this could also say that life does not consist of the abundance of events. Keeping up with the infamous Jones family next door does not only apply to cars, boats, and vacations. It means keeping up with the activities and achievements of others. And whether it is competition with you neighbors or giving in to the harping demands of coaches, teachers, directors, or whomever else may be jockeying to get a hold of your time, we end up being in bondage to time and the demands of others.

In the very first chapter of Genesis, God rests on the seventh day. This does not suggest sabbathGod was tired, or creation was finished. “Sabbath” most basically means “stop.” It is strongly associated with freedom. God stops. God quits working because God is free to do so. You are created in God’s image! So, you are free to say no too!

Barbara Brown Taylor says it this way: Stop for one whole day every week, and you will remember what it means to be created in the image of God, who rested on the seventh day not from weariness but from complete freedom. The clear promise is that those who rest like God find themselves free like God, no longer slaves to the thousand compulsions that send others rushing toward their graves.”

Eugene Peterson, prolific author and Christian pastor says, “If you don’t take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge. You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.” To have no time left for God, for being instead of doingis to give in to the tyranny of time and miss the most essential blessings of life.

You have been given the power to resist the constant demand for time; the constant rush to “do.” When you dare to buck the system by saying “No!” you will find blessing. You may draw a few insults, some shaking heads, and push back from some, even your own kids.  But you will be blessed and will teach them something deep and abiding that will still hold true when their “doing” days are done. I issue a challenge. Take your Sundays back, and reserve them for freedom and worship. “When practiced, Sabbath-keeping is an active protest against a culture that is always on, always available and always looking for something else to do.” (Stephen W. Smith, Inside Job)

Pax Christi – Pastor Tim Olson

Faith and Questions

questionsRecently I was asked to be the person who got to answer questions from the 6th and 7th grade confirmation classes.  It’s affectionately called “stump the pastor” (in this case “stump the intern”). And the students did a great job of asking questions and trying to stump me.

One theme of questions kept popping up. It was the theme of science and theology (specifically the Bible) and how they interact.  The questions ranged from “Does the Bible say the Earth is flat?” to “What about dinosaurs?”

Some of these questions were the same questions I had while growing up.  I had questions, but I didn’t have a place where I could ask them.  My confirmation class and youth group didn’t provide the space to ask these types of questions.

I think this might be a common experience for some people; that growing up there questions 2wasn’t the space to ask questions about our faith and the Bible.  These students are getting the chance to ask these questions.  While some people don’t need to ask questions, other find it extremely important.

If we have questions, it is important to ask them.  Job asked his questions.  Jonah asked his.  Moses asked his.  Nicodemus was afraid of being seen asking his questions, so he came to Jesus in the middle of the night to ask his, but he was able to ask them.

Some people are afraid to ask the questions because well, they are afraid of the answers.  They are afraid that if they ask the wrong question, they might get the wrong answer.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  We don’t have to be afraid to ask questions when things don’t make sense to us.  We don’t have to be afraid of what we discover in the process. Sometimes what we need isn’t the answer to our most pressing questions.  Sometimes what we need is the journey to find the answers to our questions.

God will honor the questions.  God is not afraid of our questions.

 

In Christ,

Travis Segar – Pastoral Intern

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