A Broken Church

luther thesesFive hundred and two years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, touching off a debate and conflict that came to be known as The Reformation. Thus ends the most predictable sentence a Lutheran pastor could type in the days leading up to Reformation Day. It would now be predictable to shout the praises of brother Martin and point to the eternal truths revealed in that historic moment. I’m not going to do that. I’m actually tired of doing that.

One could say that Luther and other reformers sensed deeply that the Church of Jesus Christ was broken. The 95 Theses were a kind of inventory of the wreckage.  You could look at the Church as an institution and find corruption and all manner of idiotic proclamations of “truth” that bore no resemblance to the gospel or the Christ who uttered it. The Church just wanted to find more ways to keep itself in power. The people were uninformed about the faith and cared little for growing as Christians. They just did what the were told to avoid the damnation they feared.

Sound familiar? We live in an age where the Church is no less broken. Maybe it is even more so. Denominations struggle to be relevant while keeping their place and power as an institution in a culture that cares not. Congregations are more concerned about “surviving,” no matter what they have to do; what they have to give away or give up, than about being the transforming body of Christ in the world.

We are deeply concerned about “Nones” (those who answer “none” to questions about religious affiliation. In fact, a significant cause of “nones” is that so many of us Christians should say “nominal” when we answer questions about religious affiliation. We are nominal in our commitment, knowledge, engagement with faith and so exhibit no compelling evidence in our own lives that would encourage someone to become engaged in faith. We are, at best, tepid.

The truth is, that like the Church of 500 years ago, the Church of today is broken. It is in need of house cleaning, change, transformation of the kind that happened five centuries ago.

I’m no Martin Luther – nothing even close. But, as I think about it, there are a few theses I would offer if we are to address the Church’s brokenness.

  1. The use of religion as a means of keeping people out, apart, inline, under control is over, folks. We need to stop with the judgmentalism, the hate, the exclusion if we say we worship a God of Love.
  2. The notion that believing the right thing makes you “saved” must give way to living a life, each day, steeped in confession, forgiveness, and growing into Christ.
  3. “Saved” does not mean bound for heaven when you die. It means that your life is being ever more deeply united with Christ and so becoming ever more eternal every day.
  4. Prosperity is not the same as abundance. You can’t buy love, happiness, meaning, or anything that matters. Abundance comes from union with Christ as it is found in a community of people who live like Jesus.
  5. Our insatiable consumption and rabid individualism is killing us and the planet we inhabit – faster and faster each day. We must repent and return to sustainable, communal, earth-bound habits of living at peace with all – and with ourselves.
  6. Our politicians, our teachers, our bosses, our coaches, our celebrities cannot save us. Only God has a deep enough resume for that project.
  7. God’s economy has nothing to do with capitalism, Wall Street or “return on investment.” It has everything to do with justice, all being fed, and all sharing in the peace and joy of God.
  8. Every congregation will die; every denomination and nation will disappear. Death is not a final word and all that matters is how much love happens while you’re around. Fearing death is silly.
  9. If you hate someone, you hate God.
  10. You only matter as a person as you matter in a community. So, be humble, gracious, forgiving and never assume you are the smartest person in a room or on a social media feed. That makes you a fool.

I could go on, but that is 10% of Luther’s production. We are a Broken Church, no doubt. The Good News is that, like the Reformation 500 years ago, our Lord is a broken savior. He dies on a cross and was raised from the dead so we would never fear brokenness and pain; so that we w=could walk boldly into the fierce waters of change and nor drown.

So, this weekend, as we remember the Reformation, lets be a broken Church, dependent on a broken savior so we can save a broken world together. Amen

copyright © 2019, Timothy V. Olson

originally published at: https://pastortimothy.org/2019/10/23/broken-church/ 

Give Them Something to Eat

Image result for elca world hunger appealLooking into the faces of thousands of hungry people, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “You give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16; Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13) The disciples respond, in essence, saying, “Seriously?! Impossible.” So, Jesus feeds them all. Fast forward to today. The Church now, the body of the resurrected Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, stares into the face of millions who are hungry and suffering. Jesus again commands, “Give them something to eat.” I’m here to tell you that the response if quite different than those disciples.

I’m in Chicago as I write. I’m here at the invitation of the ELCA World Hunger Appeal to join with others from across the country to finalize recommendations for the Appeal’s Domestic Hunger Grants. I was not invited because I have some special gifts or influence. No, I’m here because the people of Holy Trinity are among the most generous congregations in the ELCA when it comes to giving to the World Hunger Appeal.

Over the last week, I have reviewed twenty of the 100 grants that have made it through the process thus far. Five teams review twenty grants each. I need to tell you that Jesus’ command to “give them something to eat” is being carried out by disciples all over the place. The miracle of the feedings of Jesus continues.

From small food pantries that are expanding to deliver food to people who can’t make it to the site to educational programs that teach young people about hunger, advocacy and grow tons of vegetables for local food pantries; from new programs to address root causes of hunger like affordable housing, health needs, and job training to a congregation that needs to redo a kitchen so it can expand its food pantry to provide hot meals and fresh food to the neighborhood; from urban centers that are food desserts (access to food is beyond workable transportation limits) to rural programs tending the folks left behind, Christ’s body is busy giving those in need something to eat – and a place to sleep, help with clothing, job training, education and training to speak out to the powers that be.

The grants I am reviewing address many aspects of hunger that accompany people in the struggle beyond simply giving out food. Theses dimensions include: Community Organizing; Education; Food Production; Food Security; Health; Housing; Peace, Justice, and Human Rights; Public Policy Advocacy; Sustainable Livelihoods; Water

Through our food pantry, Thrive Assistance Program, partnerships with Free Store, Family Promise, Mosaic, our God’s Work. Our Hands effort each year, and much more, we too respond to Jesus’ command: “Give them something to eat.” Through the nearly $60,000 we have given to the World Hunger Appeal in the last couple of years we are helping congregations, agencies and organizations all across the country do the same.

Even as we do respond, the command continues because the hungry still gather. I pray that we dig ever deeper to answer the call of the savior – Give them something to eat.

Pax Christi,  Pastor Tim Olson

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!