The Song in My Backyard

psalm 66Early this morning, with hot, black tea in hand, I looked upon my backyard damp with rain and shadowed by clouds. It was serene, but not quiet. There was singing. I saw the lemon-lime sweet potato vine sweeping down the side of a pot on the deck. Its vivid color stood out against the gray of the day. It was doing what it was created to do. Above that luminous song, a woodpecker was wiggling into the cage containing suet, enjoying a morning meal. It was doing what it was created to do. Creation sings when creatures, and even rocks, trees and babbling brooks,  do what they were made to do. “All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” (Psalm 66:4)

I did not always notice the music of creation. Most of my life has been spent scurrying from one thing to the next, absorbed in the demands of self and others. I’ve been too busy to listen, to see, to notice. I’ve also been too busy to be what God created me to be, so my song has been silent. I had to learn to listen and to sing.

I learned about the singing of every creature from Augustine of Hippo. His 4th century song still sings:

“Does God proclaim Himself in the wonders of creation? No. All things proclaim Him, all things speak. Their beauty is the voice by which they announce God, by which they sing, “It is you who made me beautiful, not me myself but you.

I learned to sing from Francis of Assisi, the 13th century saint known for his radical st.francisembrace of living like Jesus. In his Canticle of Creation, Francis sings “Be praised my Lord for Mother Earth: abundant source, all life sustaining; she feeds us bread and fruit and gives us flowers.” The tree in my yard that will soon bury me in leaves and the noisy bird that wakes me too early are my neighbors, my siblings, to be loved.

I learned to sing from Martin Luther that God is “in, with, and under” the water, wine and bread of the sacraments. Which is also true of everything created. Luther said, “God’s entire divine nature is wholly and entirely in all creatures, more deeply, more inwardly, more present than the creature is to itself.”

I learned to sing from Joseph Sittler, a legendary theologian who started talking about sittlerthe care of creation long before anyone else. He called humanity to step away from its propensity for destroying the earth. For him, the destructive threat was centered on nuclear holocaust. He was also keenly aware of humanity’s appetites. Were he with us today, he would no sing a protest song of the threat that is less dramatic than World War III, but no less a threat.

Sittler’s song declared what happens when we move from rejoicing in our communion with the created order to simply using it for our own purposes. The result is a joyless and insatiable existence.

There is an economics of use only; it moves toward the destruction of both use and joy. And there is an economics of joy; it moves toward the intelligence of use and the enhancement of joy. That this vision involves a radical new understanding of the clean and fruitful earth is certainly so. But this vision, deeply religious in its genesis, is not so very absurd now that natural damnation is in orbit, and humanity’s befouling of their ancient home has spread their death and dirt among the stars.[i]

Elizabeth Johnson in her book Creation and the Cross, echoes Sittler and informs my lament over creation robbed of its purposes and life, points out:

Not content with harming our own species, human sin spills over into the natural world, ravaging habitats and destroying other species for personal and corporate gain. We profoundly need divine forgiveness. Out of the depths we cry for salvation.[ii]

When I have written in the past about our calling to care for creation, some have thought me to be an “alarmist,” shouting that the heavens are falling like some clerical Henny Penny – scaring the kids and preaching doom. Some have thought of me as a buzzkill, harshing everyone’s happy because there is: “Nothing we can do about it. The problem is too big.” A few have implied that maybe I am suddenly “woke” to the realities of evil corporations and the dangers of consumption, inflicting a new-found fervor on the unsuspecting and unwilling.

The truth is, I’m just trying to sing my song and hear the glorious chorus of creation in my backyard and beyond. I’m trying to love brother Blue Jay and sister Phlox. I’m just trying to help you do the same. For when creations sings, all is as it should be; joy and life are once again sustainable.

Pax Christi – Tim Olson

 

Copyright  2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, all rights reserved.

 

 

[i] James M. Childs Jr., Richard Lischer. The Eloquence of Grace: Joseph Sittler and the Preaching Life (Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching Series Book 1) (pp. 208-209). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

[ii] Johnson, Elizabeth A. Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril (Kindle Locations 88-89). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

 

It Is Your Call

This week a teenager from Sweden arrived in the United States – by boat. Her name is Greta Thunberg. She came by boat because it left a smaller carbon footprint than a plane. Greta has been busy. Her visit included a visit to Congress where she spoke to our leaders with passion and force. She said:

greta 2“Please save your praise. We don’t want it,” she said. “Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.

“If you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard.”

“I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.”

Listen to the science. Yes! PLEASE listen to the science and not the political posturing and denial that so deeply infects our nation. Nearly 100% of credible scientists agree that climate change is a threat that is a result of human action. Even though some politicians tried to block its release, the Climate Change Report, mandated by congress, and compiled by 13 federal agencies concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. The Iowa DNR tracks the reality of how climate change is impacting the state. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the UN has mountains of science accesible to all. There is no credible debate about the reality of climate change. There is only a debate about whether we should act. Greta Thunberg is calling for action. So should we.

Yet, without diminshing the importance of the science to understand the nature of the challenge, nor the courageous advocacy for the planet expressed by people like Greta, as Christians, it is not about the science. The care of the planet and future generations is a calling from God that is to be taken up whether we are in trouble environmentally or not.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. – (Genesis 2:15). 

And there it is; right there in the beginning. Humanity’s relationship to creation is a call to “till and keep,” not to own and consume. That calling (a vocation) to live in a loving relationship with all creation echoes throughout scripture (Psalm 8; Psalm 104; Psalm 148; Romans 8).

Faith begins with recognition. We recognize that we did not create, earn, or gain ownership of all that we have and all that we are. We recognize that it is by God’s grace alone that we exist, breathe, eat, live and, yes, die.

The second movement of faith is to respond to God’s love and grace by answering the call to be what God made us to be. We are the caretakers of God’s creation. We are not owners, for title never transfers from divine to human hands. We are accountable to God for how we love each other; and how we love all creation. Loving all creation and every creature, human and otherwise, is the path to loving God. We are called to leave the planet better than we found it.

To ignore our call is not just a choice we are allowed to make without consequence. In psalm 148 windowDeuteronomy 30:15 ff, Moses sets before the people a clear calling to follow God’s path, which leads to life, or to choose another path, which leads to death. If you listen to the science, failing to address climate change does not lead to abstractions. It leads to death, disease, refugees. It leads to the collapse of agricultural and economic systems. These will be the consequences (judgment) of choosing to ignore our call to “till and keep” the earth. 

Here is what is NOT our call: To choose to ignore the “groaning of creation” and continue to violate the earth and cause suffering of our nighbors with our addiction to life as we blithely live it. Here is our call: to choose life and love of every neighbor; every creature and created thing so that we might be God’s “tillers and keepers of the grace we’ve been given in holy trust.

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

The Creature and the Cross

htlc cross 2This coming weekend we will observe a festival day that has been observed for centuries. Since perhaps the early Fourth Century, the Church has observed Holy Cross Day. The cross is important because Christ hangs upon it. This is enough of a reason for us to make everyday, Holy Cross Day. On top of that, however, is what we believe Christ accomplished; what he was doing as he suffered and died in such a grotesque and painful way.

The answer to the “why?” of the cross that most of us learned has something to do with how the death of Jesus paid a debt for us. That he died to pay for our sins to satisfy some cosmic, divine debt that had to be paid. If that is what you were taught and believe, you can thank a man named Anselm (1033-1109) who was Bishop of Canterbury and one of the most influential theologians the Church has produced. His theory about what Christ did on the cross came to be known as the “satisfaction” theory of the atonement.

Oddly enough, his thought on this subject remains a theory. The Church has never adopted his teaching as a doctrine. It sits beside other theories about “atonement” (what Jesus accomplished on the cross). But, this is the one people seem to know best. So, here’s the news flash in all this: I don’t think Anselm really got this thing right. That is not to say his thought has no merit. It does. The cross does indeed address the sin of the world and mine in particular. But that is a small sliver of the story and not entirely helpful in our age.

To say that, on the cross, Jesus died to pay for my sins alone restricts the power of the death and resurrection to, well, just the death part and to forgiveness alone. It fails to unite death with the resurrection, and so, leaves much unaddressed. It also only speaks to one form of suffering – my guilt; and it addresses only the sinner. What about the victims of sin? Those who suffer at the hands of others? Does not a crucified Messiah have something to say about being a victim of the powers and principalities in his cry, “My God! My God. Why have you forsaken me?” 

When Jesus is raised from the dead, does that not change deeply what happened on the cross? The world said a very loud, “NO!” to Jesus and his whole life, ministry, and message. Those in power smugly thought they had put things “right” by killing the troublemaker. Resurrection, however, was God’s “YES!” proclaiming the world guilty and Jesus right; revealing the sin and evil of the powers that be. On the cross Jesus still reveals the arrogance and pride of those who would cut off helping the poor and needy; who would abandon the widow a refugee; who fail to tend to the least and lost of the world. If you are for that which creates victims and counts winners and losers, you are on the wrong side of the cross.

Then there is all of creation. Jesus is a creature nailed to the cross by evil. Jesus, the dali st john crossChrist, is also “the Word” that spoke creation into being; “the Word” that sustains life and light; “the Word” that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). In the mystery of  the Incarnation, both creature and Creator are hung to suffer and die. On that cross is not only Jesus of Nazareth. carpenter, healer and all around “good guy.” On that cross hangs the creator of the world and so, all that is created. When Paul says, “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains…” (Romans 8:22), the agonized cries of Christ on the cross give voice to the suffering of every creature, rock, tree that face the suffering brought by sin.

These are but the beginning of what the cross represents to people of faith. The cross is the lens through which we “live, move, and have our being.” It is right to honor who dies there, who overcame it, and what God did upon that lonely tree.

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

 

 

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!