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 Truth, justice, equal opportunity and the rights of every person to thrive have been replaced by an ugly and inhuman set of “values” that promotes everything we tried to throw off when first shots of revolution were first fired.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

Copyright 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Crazy Good – VBS

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!). 

The Science Guy

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.

In Christ, Travis Segar – Pastoral Intern

Grief’s Journey

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go. – Mary Oliver

 

I laid my “little” brother to rest this week. The truth is, Daniel grew to be physically bigger than me pretty fast. The truth is, in many ways the legacy Daniel leaves, I suspect, also outsizes me in so many ways. I say this not out of jealousy, but respect.

Having stood at the graves of our youngest brother, mother, and father together, I noted the solitariness of standing at his. Not that I was not surrounded by lots of loving people, especially my wife and son. Yet, there was a notable void. The grieving begins. I know it is a journey I can walk with others, but must do, in some way, alone.

The journey of grief has many dimensions and waypoints. It is filled with emotions, memories, tears, and even a little anger at times. I know this, because I have watched you all grieve your losses. I also know that grief is a journey that has a destination. God’s call will be to keep walking until mourning turns to dancing; until tears are, most often, replaced with laughter. I am on my way to letting go, as Mary Oliver puts it.

To avoid getting stuck at some rest stop of sadness along the way requires hope. Hope is a grace I cannot manufacture or purchase. It is a gift. Paul says,  “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Hope given through Christ and his death and resurrection is the only way to make the journey.

It is the odd lot of a preacher to have to preach at a loved one’s funeral. There is always a sense in which the preacher is preaching to him/herself, but it is particularly true in this sense. One of the things I said to myself as many listened was that I am not satisfied with the insipid means of dealing with death to which many cling.

I am not satisfied to hear that “it was all God’s plan. God called your brother home.” I don’t believe in that kind of puppeteer god. Death came to my brother because of disease and a world where death is unavoidable. God weeps at my brother’s death.

I am not satisfied with the notion that my brother’s “immortal soul” is now loose in some kind of ethereal existence, united with other souls all living as they did, except they cannot eat, drink, embrace or enjoy God’s creation. As Jurgen Moltmann said, “Immortality of the soul is an opinion. Resurrection of the dead is history.”

I am not satisfied to hear that I will see my brother again just as he was in a place I can’t find. I want to see my brother as God made him to be, body renewed, spirit strong and freed of whatever demons possessed him (and we all have them). I want to see his joy at being relieved of every regret and forgiven every misdeed.

My hope is built on resurrection – a physical, getting up from the ashes, embraceable body that is redeemed and renewed along with all the groaning earth and every human we have loved and hated. My hope is that I will not just be united by memory or spirit, but that we will once again eat a perfectly medium rare steak and hug each other with a brotherly embrace that tries to out squeeze the other.

With this hope, I expect I will journey through the tears to laughter; that I will take my time to mourn and share a time to laugh; that I will let it go and let God do what God does.

Pax Christi,

Tim Olson, Lead Pastor

 

copyright © 2019 Timothy V. Olson

 

 

The Mystery of God

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!

Pastor Pamela Schroeder

On Pentecost and Loneliness

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.

Pastor Pam Schroeder

copyright 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Made for Worship

psa 148 2 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 psa 148 3and 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.

cup patenYou 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

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Faith and Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Christ,

Travis Segar – Pastoral Intern

The Annual Meeting & The Body of Christ

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

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

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

BOX2

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

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

Pastor Pam Schroeder

 

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landfills & Empty Hearts

It is trash day on our street. The bins are lined up at the end of driveways like sentinels. By the end of the day, truckloads of fragrant offerings will be off to the landfill. “Every year, the United States generates approximately 230 million tons of “trash”–about 4.6 pounds per person per day. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled; the rest is incinerated or buried in landfills.” (1)  A bunch of what goes into the landfill is food we never ate, stuff we’ve grown tired of and replaced, the packaging for stuff we just acquired to replace the old stuff.

landfill

One of the new construction projects near my house is a beautiful structure. I wondered what it was to be for some time. A medical office? A new company headquarters? Turns out it is a self-storage complex: Space for stuff when your stuff outgrows your space. Turns out it is one of the fastest growing industries in the country.

We live in a culture that grooms us to have a core identity as consumers. We have become so good at it we don’t know where to put what we consume. As Pope Francis says in his encylical, Laudato Si: Care for Our Common Home“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” (Chapter 1, paragraph 21)

We are faced with an environmental crisis (if you disagree because you look around your house and all seems well, please, for the love of God, look, study, read. It is a crisis for your neighbors in this world, which means it is yours – we are our brother’s keeper). The answer to this crisis has often been framed as a simply a need for new and better technology. We just need to think better, and acquire better stuff to handle the problems. That notion is rubbish too.

francis

First off, we humans don’t respond well to anything less than an immediate threat to our selves. Joseph Sittler, the prophetic Lutheran theologian said in 1962: “I do not believe that our relationship to the earth is liable to change for the better until it gets catastrophically worse. Our record indicates that we can walk with our eyes wide open straight into sheer destruction if there is a profit on the way-and that seems to me to be what we are doing now. I have no great expectation that human cussedness will somehow be quickly modified and turned into generosity or that humanity’s care of the earth will improve much. But I do go around planting trees on the campus.”

The deeper crisis is a spiritual, moral and social crisis. The very ways we think and the systems that make us think that way are broken. Pope Francis sums up the reason we have so much trash and need storage lockers: “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume.” (Chapter 6, paragraph 204) We are empty inside. We try to fill that emptiness by gorging on food, things, activities, recreation. Our basements, garages and calendars are full of things we have and things we do. Yet, none of it satisfies because we’re chasing the wrong things, spurred on by systems that depend on keeping us feeling empty. Do more, buy more, dream of more, and you’ll be happy. But happy never comes. All that comes is the rapidly approaching cliff we’re racing toward when life will be no more.

Thomas Berry, a wise and insightful writer with a spiritual and ecological insight notes: “[O]ur human economy is derivative from the Earth economy. To glory in a rising Gross Domestic Product with an irreversibly declining Earth Product is an economic absurdity.” We measure things and success by profit and accumulation – it is all we know. We need to re-learn how to evaluate life and living.

Gus Speth is a lawyer, a former Yale University Dean and advisor to nations around the world. He puts his finger on the very heart of our environmental crisis:  “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” 

The first thing we need to stop consuming is the lie that we are consumers and life is made happier by the accumulation of things and activities.

Pax Christi,

Tim Olson, Lead Pastor

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church