I started my internship at Holy Trinity last
August. I walked in the north doors and
into the office. I introduced myself and
met everyone in the office that day. It
was a start of a journey for me and for this congregation. Holy Trinity has had interns in the past, so
you all had some idea of what to expect. But for me, this was new.
I was welcomed that first weekend at services
and then after a while I began to feel at home.
I feel like I have been part of this community for quite some time
now. A year isn’t that long in reality,
especially with some of you being members longer than I have been alive!
While I know a year isn’t that long, it also
feels like I have been here for quite some time. Time is strange that way, while it might feel
like it has been forever, it also feels like I just started.
On that first day I walked into the church
office wondering if I would find my place here.
I am leaving this place knowing that I have found a place in this world;
I feel a part of something. That is due
in no small part to how Holy Trinity welcomes the newcomer. I was welcomed into
a faith community that invites, welcomes, and honors all people and nurtures
them to grow in service with Christ. Thank you for making me feel welcome and a
part of this community.
An internship is a way for a seminarian to
gain ministry experience and competence.
Without the support of congregations like Holy Trinity, internships
would not be able to be offered to seminarians.
Holy Trinity has made a commitment to being a
place where an intern can learn and grow in a safe environment. You are shaping the next generation of
pastors as you welcome interns into your midst. Your feedback, your support,
your prayers, your welcoming spirit has been a blessing to me and will continue
to be a blessing for future interns.
Thank you to Pastor Tim and Pastor Pam for
everything they have helped me with this past year. Both of you have been wonderful role models
and have helped me to better understand what it means to be in pastoral
Thank you to the staff that have helped me
along the way. The staff at Holy Trinity
is excellent and is second to none.
To all of you here at Holy Trinity, thank you
for giving me the opportunity to grow.
Thank you for all your support and feedback. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the
Holy Trinity family for this past year.
It has been an incredible year with you all.
This internship was meant as a learning opportunity. While I have learned about
preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and the ins and outs of pastoral ministry,
I have also learned more than I could have ever imagined. I’ve learned to take
joy in community. I’ve learned to listen more than I talk. I’ve learned that
our hearts have an endless capacity to love. I’ve learned by your example how
to serve selflessly. This congregation is full of life.
Holy Trinity will always hold a special place
in my ministry journey and in my heart.
I will leave Holy Trinity learning more than I could ever imagine and
full of gratitude.
This season of the church year after Pentecost is the time
of green paraments, and a long counting of the Sundays that make up this season. We sometimes simply refer to it as “ordinary
time.” Now that the 4th of
July is over most of us are in the midst of vacation time or have already taken
that anticipated time away. Now life is
back to, well, ordinary.
Yet this time certainly wasn’t ordinary for Jesus and it’s
not ordinary for us either. If we look
at some of the gospel texts for the coming weeks we find that Jesus is
busy. This coming weekend we hear of a
question from a lawyer about how he can inherit eternal life; what is he to do
with his ordinary days in order to achieve this goal? So, Jesus teaches him about love: loving
those we don’t want to love, loving those we dehumanize, having compassion for
others who we live with in this world.
Sometimes ordinary days become so busy that we can become
distracted by many things. Listening to Jesus gets lost in all the other goings
on of summer. We hear of Jesus’ encounter with two sisters, Mary and
Martha. Martha invites Jesus into their
home but is so busy and so distracted that she forgets the beauty and joy of
having this guest in their house. Instead she whines and complains. Mary on the other hand, sat at the Lord’s
feet and listened. Perhaps this is a
good reminder to us to listen up, to savor Jesus’ word and meal in
worship. Perhaps it’s time to listen up,
to God’s creation, and give thanks for this moment in time and its beauty, for life. Creation is a manifestation of God’s love. Just
listen up to the sounds of creation: from birds chirping, to the babbling
streams, to urban geese, and the crackling of corn growing.
Another story we hear in the coming weeks is that of the
disciples learning from Jesus how to pray.
They learn that they can trust God as their parent.
God’s gives what we need. God
forgives our sins, which is an example for us in extending forgiveness to
others. We are reminded that God does
not bring us to a time of trial – God is not a tempter or a teaser. We can come to God in prayer at any time,
because God wants a relationship with us and loves to hear from us. Time in prayer is precious time and can take
Jesus invites us to live life in the ordinary days; to
observe life, listen, see, feel the beauty of this world. Jesus invites us to live life in the ordinary
days; to love those with whom we share this beautiful planet, to have care and
concern for those who are cast off by our country or the world. God’s children are the presence of God in our
midst. We exist for each other. We exist to live in community with each
Albert Einstein said in The World as I See It;“We exist for each other; in the first place, for those on whose smiles and welfare all our happiness depends, and next, for all those unknown to us personally, who whose destinies we are bound up by the tie of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of others, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”
As we settle into the rest of the summer, perhaps we can reflect on what Jesus has given us in order to make our ordinary days extraordinary. We can use the gift of listening, and for that matter, all our senses to appreciate and care for creation. We can ponder the gift of being connected with every other human on this planet at this time in history. We can give thanks for the gift of having a God who loves each of us and wants a relationship with us; a God who gives. Our God is extra- ordinary. God comes to live among us and now has sent the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts to life, as we work for God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace for all of creation! There is nothing ordinary about that!
Being faithful and patriotic on a national holiday.
I am proud to be an American citizen, even if my pride is
not expressed as jubilantly as Lee Greenwood’s song. I pray for God to bless
America (even as I pray for all the nations of the world). Even if I do not fly
the flag at my house, I pay my taxes, obey the laws of the land and vote after
careful, prayerful, thoughtful reflection. I sincerely believe that it is among
the many blessings GOD has granted me, that I am an American.
This weekend I am sure I will be asked why we didn’t sing
any national songs, even though they are in the hymnal. I will again try to
explain that in the church calendar it is not Independence Day, but the 4th
Sunday after Pentecost and Jesus wants to talk about sending our disciples. I
will try to point out that we gather on Sunday to worship God, not a nation and
that part of the church’s mission is to give thanks, AND call to account the
injustice and suffering caused by our nation, just as Jesus and the prophets of
For me, the 4th of July is about celebrating the
revolutionary principles that have held us together as a people. I was taught
that even though the story of George Washington and the cherry tree might have
been mythic, truth was woven into the fabric of the nation. I revered a nation
who had welcomed my immigrant ancestors when they came here to find opportunity,
fleeing poverty and famine. It was driven into my heart that liberty and justice
was for all – not some; and that “all” meant “all.” No one was above the law
and, as was powerfully demonstrated by a President in my teen years, that the
powerful would be taken from their thrones if they ignored our democratic
All that said, I have to say that as much as I respect and
value this country, it seems to me like I don’t really know my own country
anymore. Truth, justice, equal opportunity and the rights of every person to
thrive have been replaced by an ugly and inhuman set of “values” that promotes
everything we tried to throw off when first shots of revolution were first
fired. Men, women, and children who
have been drawn to the promise of America are being kept in concentration camps
where they are treated as criminals and dehumanized. Hate groups press agendas
that urge us all to choose a side and hate neighbor, with apparent support from
the powers that be. Our leaders lie so rapaciously and with absolutely no sense
of guilt or shame. The result is a moral collapse and loss of meaning for
anything. We have been led not to the brink of despair, but into the pit from
which there seems no escape.
That means that for this person of faith, the 4th
of July is bittersweet – with maybe a growing taste of bitter and some notes of
despair. Here is where you may choose to sharpen your knives and say, “Love it
or leave it!” I’ll simply say to adore something so blindly that we cannot
accept the fact that everything in this world is broken; that there are things
rotten in America, just as there are good, is not patriotic, it is idolatrous.
Luther taught that we are all simultaneously sinner and saint – and that
includes the nation. Until humility, honesty, and confession take their place
again in the heart of the nation, we are lost.
When Jesus was asked by those trying to trap him, “Shall we
pay our taxes to the Emperor?”, Jesus requested a coin and asked, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” “They
answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor
the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew
22:21) So, what exactly belonged to the Emperor and what belonged to God? What
was created in the image of the emperor? Just the coin. Everything else belongs
The biggest spiritual problem in our nation today is 1) we
think the USA allows God to exist, when it is just the other way around; 2)
that God’s purposes are the same as America’s; that faith includes worshipping
the flag as much as worshipping Jesus. This idolatry is making us arrogant and
tearing us apart. God is, always, and must be, first, or we are worshipping a
false god, and it might be named the USA.
Caesar established the city of Philippi as a place where loyal, retired legionnaires from the Roman military could live rewarded with property and live well as citizens of Rome. Being loyal to Caesar and a citizen of Rome meant everything to them and that city. When Paul came along preaching about the Christ, he found that the message could easily be snuffed out because it ran up against the culture of patriotism. Here is what he told them: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21) Translation: I may live in America, but I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven; my leader and chief is Jesus.
What has made America demonstrate greatness of any kind has been the grace of God and the ways in which, as a nation, we have contributed to the cause of God’s reign of peace, justice, mercy and grace to others. This has made us, in some ways, a powerful nation. But we must recognize that our power has also been advanced by the assertion of power over others – whole people, nations and individuals – citizens and others who have been enslaved, killed, forced out, ignored and robbed of their voice and rights. The role of the faithful is to celebrate the blessing God grants through this nation and to work tirelessly to call the nation to account for what does not stand in God’s reign.
So, don’t for a minute think that I’m not going to celebrate
the 4th of July. I will not go out and by a new mattress or car to
honor the nation, as the ads suggest. I will not thump my white, male chest
with pride, because pride is a sin and I had nothing to do with the place of my
birth. What I will do is take time to,
with solemnity, give thanks for all that makes this nation blessed (for God
alone is great). I will also pray for those who suffer from the injustice and violence
and hatred perpetrated in the name of the USA. Then I will pray for us all. The
next day, it will be back to work as a citizen of heaven who, with thanks,
happens to be American.
It is summer time here in Iowa. That means all
sorts of different things are happening for people. For some, this is vacation
season. They get the family together, load everyone up into the car, and take a
road trip somewhere.
For other people it’s the busy season at work.
This is when the vast majority of their work and income occurs. Landscapers and
ice cream shops are really busy this time of the year.
For us at Holy Trinity it’s also a busy time of year. This week is Vacation Bible School (VBS) and it has been a crazy week. The normal way of doing things is tossed out the window and things get crazy in all sorts of different ways. Crazy busy; crazy organized; crazy fun. Even the Science Guy gets crazy (that would be me!).
If you were in worship this past weekend, you
were able to see all the decorations around the church in preparation for VBS. And
that wasn’t even all of them. The sanctuary has been turned into an awesome set
and the kids (and adults) are having fun.
VBS is crazy – which is just one reason it is so
fun for the kids. VBS isn’t just fun though. It makes a huge impact in the life
of a child. I get a front row seat to see how VBS helps a child learn more
about their faith in Jesus and to help strengthen their relationships with him.
VBS also sticks with people way into their
later years. Even if they don’t think they remember all the times they went to Vacation
Bible School when they were kids.
I was with a group of seniors for an offsite
worship service a couple months ago. There are no hymnals there so we bring
along some song sheets so that everyone can sing. It was my job to bring the
song sheets. I didn’t realize until after I had already arrived for the service
that I forgot them on my desk.
It wasn’t an option to drive back for them. So,
we changed up the songs we sang that day. We chose songs that I remember
singing as a child (and they were old when I was a kid). These seniors (some of
them well into their 90s) remembered them as well. “This Little Light of Mine”,
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, and “Jesus Loves Me” were sung and
everyone remembered the lyrics.
When we sang those songs, those seniors
remembered all the actions too. Even the most stoic among the bunch was smiling
and having fun. Laughter and fun were had by all. The songs took them back to
childhood. They helped them remember what it was like to be a child all those
years ago. It reminded them of the faith they learned, just like the kids this
week in VBS.
It’s just one of the many reasons why we have Vacation
Bible School here at Holy Trinity. It’s important for the kinds, but not just for
the current generation. Just like the seniors who were singing songs from their
youth, someday these kids will remember their time spent in VBS. They’ll
remember the songs, they’ll remember the dancing, they’ll remember the friends.
They’ll remember all the lessons they learned about Jesus and the love that he
has for his children, whether those children are 6 years old, or 90 years old.
This weekend is Holy Trinity Sunday. This is the one Sunday during the entire Christian year that is devoted to a doctrine of the church. It’s a Sunday where we celebrate God as we imagine the majestic nature of God the Three in One and the One in Three. The mystery of our God is hard to grasp because it is beyond what our human minds can comprehend.
The Holy Trinity is proclaimed multiple times during worship; at the beginning of worship the Presiding Minister greets the congregation in the name of the Trinity, and worship concludes with a Trinitarian blessing. How many times do you hear the Trinity invoked in worship? It is not just at the beginning and the end. You might want to pay attention this week. Why is it important? Trinitarian language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is neither magical or hierarchical, but is instead and invitation to a deeper relationship and encounter with God who is by God’s very nature, a God who is about relationships. The Holy Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are in relationship with each other, and with us as a community of believers.
The name of the Triune God is used when we baptize, and it is used when we bury. Both times bringing joy and gratitude to a God who reaches out to us in life and hope, and never lets us go. In the ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship) there is a portion of the funeral liturgy that is at the beginning of the service which claims our belief in the Holy Trinity. Hear the grace poured out in our loving God:
Eternal God, maker of heaven and earth, who formed us from the dust of the earth, who by your breath gave us life, we glorify you. Congregation responds: We glorify you.
Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life, who suffered death for all humanity, who rose from the grave to open the way to eternal life, we praise you. Congregation responds: We praise you.
Holy Spirit, author and giver of life, the comforter of all who sorrow, our sure confidence and everlasting hope, we worship you. Congregation responds: We worship you.
The Creeds of the church tell us about the nature of the Trinity. They were prepared as a defense for the Christian faith against the many false teachings prevailing at the time. But heresies are just as prevalent today, we just don’t name them that as often as perhaps we should. The Creeds also bring us together with other denominations who confess their faith through the same creeds. They also serve in helping each of us to understand our faith so that we can defend it and share it. They are statements of what we believe. I invite you to use the Apostles or Nicene Creed in your daily devotional time to grasp the majestic nature of God, the inclusiveness of God.
The majesty and the mystery of our universal God are what gives hope to the world. Trinitarian God, we glorify you, we praise you, we love you and we give you thanks!
A little over a year ago, the global health company Cigna released results from a study which surveyed the impact of loneliness in the United States. This study was conducted in partnership with the marketing research firm, Ipsos. The study used the UCLA Loneliness Scale to assess subjective feelings of loneliness and social isolation. More than 20,000 adults over 18 were enrolled in the study. The results revealed that nearly half of Americans report feeling alone or left out. Only one in four people feel as though there are people who understand them. (You can read the study: https://www.cigna.com/newsroom/news-releases/2018/new-cigna-study-reveals-loneliness-at-epidemic-levels-in-america) I think you get the picture.
Loneliness is at epidemic proportions. We seem to have so many easy ways to
communicate with one another: texting, Facebook, Twitter and other avenues. Yet, it seems that we are lonelier than we
were before, especially when the posts on social media show other having a
“good time” without including yours truly.
We are involved in so many activities.
It seems that children and parents are always with others at the ball
diamond or in the pool, and parents are on the sidelines rooting on their favorite
player. Yet, we’re still lonely.
A spouse dies, and life is so different. The one you could share your heart’s desire
with is no longer there to listen. A marriage
drifts to the point that you no longer know who your spouse is, and you don’t
know how to fix it. You feel so
alone. Alone in your grief and sorrow.
So, what does loneliness have to do with Pentecost? Although we can’t escape the stress, sorrow
and loneliness of our broken humanity we can bring healing and work toward
wholeness through the work of the Holy Spirit.
This Sunday is Pentecost and we remember the many and various ways that
the Spirit comes to us, lives among us and in us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus
says ”I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with
you forever.” After Jesus ascends to the Father, he promises
he is not leaving his disciples alone.
The intimate relationship that Jesus has with the Father is imitated in
what’s to come. When Jesus is gone and
the Holy Spirit comes, the community of faith; the Church; will become the
instrument of God’s love. The Holy
Spirit dwells in God’s people and God will be enfleshed in the work of the
faith community as we are his hands and feet.
The same type of community that exists between Jesus and the Father will
now exist between the community and the Holy Spirit.
If you don’t believe me, read the book of Acts. See the
Spirit at work. Look at our congregation
(community), when we gather in small groups to share time eating dessert,
drinking coffee, or in Bible study gathered in love to build each other up and offer
support. We become an intimate group
caring for one another. We know the
Spirit’s presence when the group is about loving each other and reaching out
with that love to others. The group has
a relationship which takes away the pain of loneliness.
Perhaps you see that love manifested in caring for one
another at worship. Maybe it’s sitting
with someone who is at worship by themselves.
Perhaps it’s supporting a young parent who wishes their little one was
quieter. You may be the person wo offers
heartfelt words of understanding and support as they bring their child to
church. Perhaps it’s a visitor who
builds up the courage to stay for coffee and donuts. You are that welcoming person who invites the
guest to sit at the table with you.
That’s the Spirit advocating for love.
Perhaps it’s going out of your way to greet someone you haven’t seen in
church before to make them feel welcome.
That’s the Spirit working through you to build a loving community. Words
of love come from the Spirit and always advocate for love.
Loneliness is a terrible feeling, but the Holy Spirit, the
One who loves like Jesus, the One who is the life-giver, the one who builds
community is at work here at Holy Trinity through you and each person who the
Spirit has welcomed into this place. The
Holy Spirit uses the Church to bring healing to a lonely world. When the Spirit is leading, we have
confidence that we can follow!
A blessed Pentecost my sisters and brothers! In Christ.
Psalm 148 calls upon all heaven and earth to worship. It is not just people; not just believing people. It is every single thing that “is.” The shout of worship begins in the heavens with the angels (v. 1-2). It flows through the sun and moon and stars. (v. 3-4). Verses 7-10 beckons:
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
So, how does a mountain, a fruit tree, a creeping beetle, and the white breasted nuthatch I saw in my backyard “Praise the Lord?” James Mays, in his commentary on the Psalms* writes: “The stormy wind fulfills his command by being a stormy wind. The creation and the creatures praise in their very being and doing, by existing and filling their assigned place.”
So, how does a mountain, a fruit tree, a creeping beetle, and the white breasted nuthatch I saw in my backyard “Praise the Lord?” James Mays, in his commentary on the Psalms* writes: “The stormy wind fulfills his command by being a stormy wind. The creation and the creatures praise in their very being and doing, by existing and filling their assigned place.”
Israel has been given a vocation of praise according to verse 14: “He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to them.” This means God’s people are the voice of all creation’s praise. We are given a vocation, a purpose, to give voice to creation’s praise, even as that praise is embedded deep within.
We worship God when we are what we are created to be. We are created to love, to tend and care for creation, to live with others in community. At the heart of things, however, we are called to worship – to praise God by being God’s people. St. Augustine said it this way: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
Augustine also knew that because we are willful and easily distracted; because we often mistake ourselves and our desires for God, we can turn this impulse to worship in the wrong direction. In his Confessions, he shares this discovery: “But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in Him but in myself and His other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error.”
As one anonymous writer has said, “What we worship determines what we become.” When we worship God, we keep becoming what God created us to be. When we worship other things we find no rest, only pain from gods who demand too much and return too little. It is no wonder that with lives full of work, activities, bills, – all demanding our devotion, our commitment, our allegiance – we suffer. We are not what we were meant to be.
The gifted writer and professor, David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), in This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life offered this contemporary analysis in the midst of his own brilliance and struggle: “Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship… If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.” Augustine’s counsel? “If the things of this world delight you, praise God for them but turn your love away from them and give it to their Maker, so that the things that please you may not displease Him.”
Summer is upon us and we will find even more reasons to make worshipping God less a calling and more an extracurricular activity. Instead of allowing our praise of God to infuse the summer events, work, and vacation with joy and meaning, we will spend our impulse to worship on the things themselves and find little that lasts.
We will offer worship on Wednesday evenings when the weekend is full. We will gather on Saturday evenings when Sunday is just to packed with fun. We will be here every Sunday gathered in small and large numbers to do what God made us to do and to be what God called us to be. Don’t mistake a blessing for the source of all blessings.
You can’t really worship God revealed in Christ on a golf course or in a fishing boat, no matter how many times we tell the joke or make the excuse. As C.S. Lewis said “In the process of being worshiped… God communicates his presence to (humanity).” And God knows (and we know deep down) that we need God’s presence more than we need anything else.
Pax Christi, Tim Olson, Lead Pastor
*James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. (Louisville: John Knox Press) 1994. p. 445
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.
John’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)
“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.
These 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:
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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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.
Christians, especially Lutherans, believe that we exist; that we live; that we breathe; that we are saved by grace – the unmerited love of God revealed in Christ. Grace happens all the time, in each moment, in every place. For a specific group of us, it happens in and through the people and mission of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Ankeny, Iowa.
“Grace Notes” will be a way for the pastors, staff, and leaders of this congregation to communicate about the grace we witness and share with one another and with the world. We hope that this will be another way for us to communicate with each other as the body of Christ in this place and time. You can subscribe to Grace Notes to the right. We’ll be sharing it through social media, on the website, and the weekly ePistle. If you’d like us to talk about something in particular, drop us a note through this site. We’ll do our best!