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

Copyright 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Why is Holy Week Important?

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ, Pastor Pam Schroeder

 

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

A Place Called Home

When I open the door from the garage into my home our dog, Theo, greets me with a wiggly welcome and wagging tail that tells me he is happy to see me. I am home. When I come home my wife greets me with a smile and a warm welcome (as soon as she can get around the dog). I am home. I smell the smells of home; see the light reflecting off the walls colored by the paint we chose. I am home. My books are on the shelves, the chairs are contoured to me. I am home. To become homeless, well, that would mean much more than losing the roof over our heads. It would mean losing the place where I most belong in this world.

homeless jesusThat I have this place in the world that is so much more than shelter; that I have a home where I am safe and where I belong is a matter for which endless gratitude should be given. Sometimes I do give thanks. Other times I take it for granted and think of it as something I own, something I earned and deserve. That, of course is a lie. To have a place in this world we call home is a huge blessing and God’s gracious gift.

The Holy Scriptures that form us as the people of God have a deep reverence for a place called home. They also have a special compassion for those who do not have such a place. After all, the people of the Exodus wandered for forty years in a wilderness, hoping for a home. The people of Israel and Judah lost their ancestral home and were dispersed and exiled. They longed for a place called home. Jesus himself was born in a stable, because there was no home to welcome him. He said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) Paul, followed Jesus right into the street: “To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless.” (I Cor. 4:11) In the end, none of us really are home yet. We are on our way home to what waits. Until then, some of us have some pretty nice rest stops along the way.

Family Promise of Greater Des Moines is our mission partner. Next week we will welcome up to three families who are not just without permanent shelter, but have no place to call home; no place where the dog welcomes and the furniture and decorations say, “you belong.” For a week we will provide shelter, food and at least the warm welcome that you might get when you get home. We will provide a rest stop on a wilderness journey that, by God’s grace, will lead them home, a place they belong. Remember, it is by God’s grace we all have a place called home.

Help us provide for those travelling home by answering God’s call to serve next week through Family Promise.

Pax Christi,

Pastor Tim Olson

 

Are You Saved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ

Travis Segar, Pastoral Intern