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

We Already Love You.

loveThe mission of our congregation is quite simply stated: Share God’s Love. God, in and through Jesus Christ has, without doubt, loved us to death. Each breath, heartbeat, and our daily bread are given to us in love. Our reconciliation with God is a gift of love. Christ commands us to love others and the creation as we have been loved – without restraint or rules. That is pretty simply stated too. The difficulty is in the doing, isn’t it?

Loving others unconditionally is hard. First, it is hard to love others when I’m so busy loving myself and what is mine. I don’t have the time or the energy to focus on someone else, especially if I don’t even know them. Second, the songs on the radio and the latest Netflix production continue to teach me that love is a feeling; a heart-warming rush of emotion that will inevitably end with a “somebody-done-somebody-wrong” song.

The truth of the matter is that love is what we have been given and we are called, cajoled, commanded to share that love others – even before we get to know them. Think of Jesus. Before Jesus ever met the leper and healed; before he ever talked with Zacchaeus up in the tree; before he encountered any of the wayward people who became his disciples; before he announced in his dying, “Father forgive them…” he loved them. His disposition toward every bird, rock, loaf of bread and person he encountered was love. Even though he hadn’t met you, he already loved you.

For more than a year now, we have been working to meaningfully proclaim our love for any and all we meet, just like Jesus. The reason we do this is because the Church at large, and we in particular, have not always shared God’s love with people who desperately needed to be loved by God and God’s people. Instead of loving people before we met them, we all too often judged them before we met them – and then excluded them from the beautiful community God desires to build here in this community.

imagesBelow is a statement developed by a team of dedicated members, shaped by input from people who offered critique, discussed by members who came to forums, reviewed and revised by the Council that we will work to adopt as a clear and concise declaration that we plan to live out Christ’s command to love – even before we meet someone. It is a declaration for those who search for God’s love and it is a means of holding us accountable to be who we say we are.  If you have not already done so, please take the survey of support that was sent out this week.

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

STATEMENT OF INCLUSION & WELCOMEHOLY TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neighborly Love

Have  you ever walked through your neighborhood and met someone from church who you didn’t even know lived nearby? Perhaps you recognize them but don’t know their name.  You share a casual greeting and then go on.  It’s times like this when the size of our congregation becomes apparent.  It is next to impossible to know everyone who worships at Holy Trinity. Yet, wouldn’t it be nice to connect with those from the congregation who live in our own neighborhoods?  To be neighborly, to care for each other, to share a cup of coffee or just some time?  It is our oneness in Christ that is the core of our relationship with each other and it is the Spirit who brings us together.  We are a gift to each other by being the image of God to each other.

In a world where loneliness challenges the emotional health of many people, the church community can bring a breath of life.  Jesus’ words enrich our life when we  follow his command.  After washing the disciple’s feet, he gave them a new command saying, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34b). The Gospel of love that Jesus lived and commended to his followers, then and now, is a gift for us to live and share with all people.  It brings life, to us and to others.  We can be life-givers to each other in our neighborhoods.  

You are invited to get to know your neighbors from Holy Trinity by joining a neighborhood small group.  This group would be composed of about four households or so, who are members of Holy Trinity and live in your neighborhood.  One household will be the  facilitator household.  The facilitator will contact the group members at least four times a year.  Perhaps it’s to gather for a meal, Saturday coffee, or Sunday brunch after church; whatever seems to be of interest to your group.  Maybe it’s as simple as an email in the dead of winter to check on each other and see how each person is doing.  Maybe it’s to prepare a meal for the couple that just had a new baby in your neighborhood group.  Perhaps it’s a card or contact after a hospitalization.  The purpose of the group is to share God’s love with each other through care and compassion and may be expressed differently depending on your groups desire.

The facilitators will meet with Pastor Pam to identify potential group members and discuss how to get started.  Would you be interested in being a facilitator for your neighborhood group?  If so, go to the website to sign-up.  We plan to start with about a dozen small groups this fall. 

CS Lewis said, “(F)riendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out.  It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”  Discover the blessings of a neighborhood group. In Christ, Pastor Pam Schroeder

Greetings! My name is Garth Englund

Greetings!! My name is Garth Englund and I could not be more excited to serve as your Pastoral Intern for the coming year.

While I am looking forward to meeting and getting to know all of you in person, I wanted to take a minute to give you a brief introduction to myself. I am currently a student at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where I have been living since starting school nearly two years ago. I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where my grandmother, parents, and younger brother still live. My call to pastoral ministry dates back to middle school when my grandmother noticed a keen interest in liturgy and hymns and suggested that I would definitely “become a pastor someday.” My journey has not been without detours, however. After graduating high school, I felt called to the world of business, and so I pursued an undergraduate degree in finance and ended up with a career in aerospace, where I have been working for the past eight years.

Although I loved my job, as time went on, I realized more and more that for me true joy and peace came through my faith and activities in the church. I realized how important Christian community is, because of the way it adds meaning and supports people through the highs and lows of life’s journey. Finally, in 2016, thanks to the guidance and support of a pastor who saw in me the gifts for ministry, I decided to respond to God’s call and the rest, as they say, is history.

My time so far at Luther has provided me with the opportunity to strengthen my faith, to learn more about the Bible and theology, to build meaningful Christian community, and to begin to learn what it means to serve as a Christian public leader in the twenty-first century. It has been a great experience of immense personal growth. From the beginning, however, I must confess that it is Internship that I have been looking forward to most of all. I am excited to get back into the parish, to be with you all in worship and fellowship, to learn about God’s Word together, and experience all that God is doing at Holy Trinity and the community beyond.

As far as hobbies and interests go, I enjoy being outdoors, the mountains, reading historical fiction, liturgy, craft beer, and Denver sports (Go Broncos!). Cooking, especially on my BBQ, is one of my favorite activities and often serves as my chosen way to relax after a long day or a long week. Some of my happiest moments come from sitting at the table sharing a meal with family and friends and I hope that the coming year provides opportunities to share many meals together, both at the Lord’s Supper and in fellowship outside of worship. My ministry with you begins on August 19 – until then, know that my thoughts are of you and my prayers are for you. See you soon!

In Christ, Garth Englund

Radical Hospitality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

copyright 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

I Am a Racist

I am a racist. I was born to it. So were my parents, and their parents before them. The potential for racism is woven into my humanity. The presence of racism in my life is as pervasive as the air I breathe.  

First, racism is an expression of one of the most basic forms of sin: self-justification. “Us and them” dichotomies are always about improving my standing at another’s expense. Racism is an “us and them” construct that is based on the lie that the color of your skin is constitutive of your humanity. As Merriam-Webster defines it, racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates defines it more broadly: “Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.”  My capacity to be a racist (or misogynist, or elitist, or any kind of “-ist”) is grounded in my desire to divide my world into us and them for my own benefit. “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

Second, I can’t escape the racism of the culture around me. An old Hasidic proverb says: “To a worm in a jar of horseradish, the whole world is horseradish.” If you live in America, racism is like the horseradish surrounding the poor worm. You just don’t know anything different. You can’t even see the sin, unless you get to the edge of the jar and can somehow look to the other side of the glass. Even then, escape is nearly impossible.

The truth of our racism as a nation is inescapable. Toni Morrison, Pulitzer Award winner, professor, poet and bestselling author, says, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” Jim Wallis, author, pastor and leader of Sojourners, in his book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America states the truth in a way that always shakes me to the core: “The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another.”  Imitating Isaiah 6:5 – I am a racist, and I live among a racist people. (Isaiah 6:5)

I want to be clear. I am not a White Supremacist actively seeking the destruction of other races. Neither am I one who rationally believes any of the nonsense about how racially different people are, inferior, flawed, lazy, stupid. I have confronted racist behavior in public, in my congregations, and in my personal life. That said, I have also failed at times. I have failed to say “NO!” when I get offered something before a person of color standing in the same line. I have remained silent when someone utters the racial epithet or tells the cruel racial joke. I have been the recipient of grace and blessing when I didn’t even realize it was taken from someone who had darker skin.

Just because my best friend is black does not mean I’m not a racist. It is simply that by the grace of God (which this friend embodies) I’ve been able to transcend the sin of my people and my soul in what is a small step for humanity, but a big leap for me. Just because I have worked and labored in congregations and classrooms with people of color with good result, does not mean I’m not stained by racism.

Dealing with racism begins with admitting its strangling hold on our culture, our nation and my own soul. Dealing with racism starts with my own repentance – every day – as I resist and reject falling into the cultural notions about my “inherent superiority” because of my color (or lack thereof). Dealing with racism is becoming aware that telling people to “go back to where they came from” is a hurtful and historically racist thing to say and stopping myself from saying it for that very reason.

Lenny Duncan, an ELCA pastor writes in his book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in America, “Passivity is the new engine of systemic racism. You just have to believe that this is the way things are.”  Being an active racist who utters inflammatory words or engages in hateful, violent behavior and being a passive racist who does nothing or ignores the truth fuels the same sin and feeds the evil that still works to destroy us.

I am a racist. I am called by my faith every day to beat back the lies and evil that try to tell me I am superior to someone because of my skin color; to resist racist speech, thought, violence, injustice in my own life and the life of the world. My place is to stand with those victimized by racism and against those who perpetuate it. Of this, I am certain, because Jesus is my Lord (a Palestinian) who told me to love everyone – no matter what.

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them”
― Elie Wiesel

Pax Christi – Tim Olson, Lead Pastor

More Than I Imagined

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 ministry. 

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.

Please keep our family in your prayers.

In Christ, Travis Segar

What’s So Ordinary about Ordinary Time?

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 many forms.

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 other. 

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!

Faith and the Fourth

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 Israel did.

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 ideals.

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 to God.

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.

Pastor Tim Olson

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