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.

 

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 Annual Meeting & The Body of Christ

It’s that time of the year again, graduations: attending parties, yard work and the May annual congregational meeting.  Now, if your first response is, “I don’t want to go to a meeting. Besides, they don’t need me there anyway,” then I encourage you to read on.

BOX 1Paul called the Church the body of Christ,  giving us an image of the church not being a building but of being a living breathing organism, with its breath coming from the Spirit and the pieces of the body coming from the members of the congregation.  Just as the body has many parts, so does the body of Christ.  We each are similar in that the Spirit of God is the author of the many gifts of the community.  I think of our wonderful musicians, the gifted team that worked on the “Open Arms Campaign,” or the dedicated team working on our Statement of Welcome. Each effort relies on the individual God-given gifts of the members of these teams.  We all are Called to follow Jesus when we are baptized, and each week we are fed and nourished at the Lord’s Supper.   We are similar, but we are each also unique.  Each of us bring gifts, those skills and temperaments’ that help us to support the body, and as a result praise God.

Paul says in I Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  Paul considers it absurd that a part of the body would consider going it alone; that the body would not function as a unit; as a whole.  You see, Paul doesn’t believe that the arrangement of the one body with its many members just happened.  Paul believes this body of Christ has its origin in the one God who is the creator of the universe, and it is this one God who gives us purpose.  In Ephesians, Paul say, “We are the body” and “Christ is the head” and so as a body, God has arranged us each in the position that God chose.  Each being of great value.  From the beginning of time, God has mixed us together to care for one another, to suffer with one another, and to rejoice with one another.  That is what the body of Christ does when we live in community.

BOX2

This body of Christ, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, uses its body to share God’s love.  You are needed this Sunday after the 10:00 worship service to attend the annual meeting of the congregation.  During this time we will rejoice together in how this body loves. We will support one another as we follow the Spirit’s call to change and move forward.  We will care for one another as we make decisions and remain faithful to God’s call to each part of the body.

This is not just another meeting.  This is responding to God’s baptismal call in your life to be a part of the congregational decision-making.  You are part of the body of Christ!

Pastor Pam Schroeder

 

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

This Generous Undertaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Tim

 

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Take My Life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The peace and love of Christ to you.

Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright 2019 © Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Ankeny, Iowa

Mardi Gras – Come, Celebrate!

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

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

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