For All the Saints

I love All Saints Day. It is, hands down, one of my favorite festivals in our liturgical calendar, right up there with Christmas and Easter. This year was no different: from the return of our brilliant white and gold worship paraments after their long hiatus, to the beautiful sounds of Masterworks musicians as they enriched our worship with pieces by W.A Mozart, Andrew Miller, Morten Lauridsen, and Gerald Finzi, it was a great day to be in church.

We come together on All Saints Day to remember those who have gone before us in faith: the great and well-known heroes of church and society, yes; but also, and just as importantly, those family members and friends who have gone before us in faith, touched our lives, and left an indelible imprint on our very being.

I am always presented with opportunities to remember my grandparents: I can’t smell a pot roast without thinking about Grandma and I can’t see a John Deere tractor without thinking about days spent mowing grass with Grandpa. They are such an important part of who I am and who I aspire to be that I don’t need a festival or an occasion to remember them. I just do.

All Saints Day is different. On All Saints Day, we remember our loved ones in a special and unique way. We remember that, even though they have died and are no longer with us, they have not left us completely and they have not left us forever. This is particularly poignant in the imagery of the hymns typically sung on All Saints Day, which paint a wonderful image of Christian believers from all of time and history (the saints who have died in faith) united with the church on earth (us, the saints gathered in worship in 2019) together singing the praises of the God who is always all about bringing new life out of death.

The images from the book of Revelation paint spectacular pictures of this unity across time and space:

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.”

 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:3-6)

I think this is a big part of why I love All Saints Day so much. It serves as a real reminder in our increasingly individualized society that ultimately we are all in this together. We are together as the gathered saints of God at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. We are together with all of our various Mission Partners. We are together with ELCA congregations across the country and in the Lutheran World Federation abroad. We are together with the other 2.7 billion Christian saints throughout the world. And yes, we are together with all of the faithful who have died and entered eternal rest.

So, who do you remember this week? Who is it that you wish you could see and touch just one more time? On this week after All Saints Day, take heart! In Christ, our loved ones continue to be with us today as fellow members of the Body of Christ, singing their praises with the heavenly host. And in Christ, we will be reunited with all the Saints on the last day because death does not have the final say.

For all the saints past, present, and future, thanks be to God.

Peace +

Garth Englund, Pastoral Intern

The Installation of Garth Englund, Intern

There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

washing machineThis weekend as we gather for worship, we will install our new intern Garth Englund.  Installations are important.  If you were to do a word search on “installation,” you would find listed; appliance installation, TV installation, followed by installation of a pastor, then installation of other church leaders.  Although this list contains quite a variety of installations, there is one thing all installations have in common.  An installation is the putting in place of something or someone.  But what does that mean when we are referring to a pastoral intern?

First, just knowing that an Installation is part of the worship service informs us that something significant is taking place and it involves a community.  It marks a new day and a new direction in the life of this congregation.  It tells us to look and see the work God is up to.  The people of Holy Trinity have a gift in nurturing pastoral interns in a way that gives them experience in pastoral care, preaching, teaching and administration.  You are encouragers. The Intern Committee provides constructive feedback and assists the intern in recognizing goals and working toward achievement of those goals.  You are a blessing to the Intern who is walking a new path in a new setting.  So, the Installation informs us, the people of Holy Trinity that we are charged with something very important, that of nurturing and uplifting Pastoral Intern Garth Englund for the next year, as he learns about being a pastor.

Secondly, Intern Garth will be charged with the duties of his new role;

  • To learn and serve among the people of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
  • To carry out his ministry in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the confessions of the Lutheran Church in harmony with the ELCA.
  • To be diligent in his study of the Holy Scriptures and faithful in his use of the Means of Grace and prayer.
  • To grow in love for those he serves, strive for excellence in his skills and adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a godly life.

This charge is taken seriously, and so deserves the witness and support of the people of faith as we aid Intern Garth in living out these duties.

Next, the Installation reminds everyone that each person has a vital role to play as the church moves forward for the glory of Christ.  We open ourselves to receive Intern Garth as one sent to serve in this church.  We open ourselves to pray for him, to help and honor him for the work he is about to do, and we will strive to live together in the peace and unity that Christ gives.

Yes, God is at work!  Some of you have been able to spend time with Garth during the short time he has been with our congregation but many of you are just beginning to get to know him.  His life has been a journey that did not take him directly to a calling towards ordained ministry, but a journey of twists and turns that eventually led him to this congregation.  I encourage you to ask him about his call story.  Let him hear yours.  Let him get to know you.  One of the greatest joys of ministry for myself and any pastor is the love we experience in sharing God’s love together and reach out to others.  I am confident Intern Garth will experience your love and care for him, as you have shared it with our interns in the past.

garth-1

At the end of the Installation, Intern Garth will be declared “installed as pastoral intern” and a blessing will be given.  Everything will be put in place.  A relationship is formed and blessed by God.  God will work through our relationship together as a community serving Intern Garth, Luther Seminary, and the whole church of God.  We give thanks that God has equipped us for the ministry of Internship, and welcome Intern Garth to Holy Trinity.

In Christ, Pastor Pam Schroeder

From Font to Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE HOLY COMMUNION IS GIVEN TO THE BAPTIZED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is Holy Week Important?

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ, Pastor Pam Schroeder

 

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Thoughts and Prayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pax Christi – Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Are You Saved?

Are you Saved SquarePerhaps you have been asked “are you saved?” Perhaps the question seemed odd. Perhaps you were unsure how to answer. The question has invaded popular culture so much that it seems a lot of people, inside and outside the church, think that you can answer the question “Are you saved?” with a “Yes” only if you have prayed the “sinner’s prayer,” or have had a profound “born again” experience. Only if we have “accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior” can we know for sure that we are saved.

Are you saved?  It is an important question, but the answer differs greatly depending on your religious background.  There is more than one way to answer. Jesus provides a way for us to  answer this question faithfully (hint, it isn’t by saying some form of a sinner’s prayer).

In chapter 8 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus comes down from a mountain and encounters a leper.  The leper asks Jesus to make him clean.  Jesus cleanses the leper.  Through this healing, Jesus saves the man.  He saves the leper from not being able to practice his faith.  Unclean people were not allowed to worship or be around others.  The leper was cleansed, making it possible for him to have a relationship with family again.  He was saved from a lifetime of not being able to be touched.  He was made whole.  The leper was saved in that moment when Jesus cleansed him from his disease. Notice: Jesus did the saving.

Mark tells us in his gospel account about a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.  She reached out while Jesus was walking by and just touched his clothes.  The moment she touched Jesus’ clothes, her bleeding ceased.  Jesus knows something has happened (Mark says that Jesus knew power had gone out from him) and he turns to find out what exactly has occurred.  He sees this woman, who had been considered unclean and untouchable for 12 years.  He speaks with her and most translations of the Bible state that he tells her she has been healed.  Another translation says her faith has made her well.  One translation even states that this woman has been made whole.

The Greek word underneath the variations is sozo, which means to save.  All those translations are correct, and they all tell us she was saved, in a very different way than a lot of people talk about being saved.  This woman’s faith – simple trust in Christ – saved her, not because she said some sinner’s prayer, had some special experience, or assented to a doctrine. In her desperation she simply cried out to one that she somehow knew could save her from her suffering and pain. Notice: Jesus did the saving.

The sermon series for Lent is “Are You Saved?”  Jesus came that all might be saved, but what does that exactly look like? As a congregation we will explore the many different ways that we are saved so that our answer to the question is not just a resounding “YES!” but so that we can develop a depth to our understanding of what we are saved from and saved for.   If you want to hear more about how we answer the question, “Are You Saved?” and the abundance of ways that we are all saved, come to worship (or listen in on the podcast if you can’t be here in person). Notice: Jesus is the savior.

In Christ

Travis Segar, Pastoral Intern