Dear Members and Friends of Glory!
As we enter Holy Week, we are drawn into the turbulent events of the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. We join the parade on Palm Sunday, watch him drive merchants and money-changers out of the temple, teach his disciples and dispute with the authorities. We gather with him for the final Passover, we taste the mystery of being one with him in bread and wine. We go to the olive grove, we try to keep awake. We sleep, he prays. We draw the sword, he tells us No, we run away, we feel the betrayal. We slink to the judgement hall, we feel the accusations, the angry crowds, shouts of “crucify” in the air, our resolve crumbling. The whip’s cracking, the soldiers’ mocking, the women’s weeping, the Savior’s groaning. We stumble after Jesus carrying the wood on his bloody back, see him fall, try to help, feeling small. Our eyes averted, our ears ringing, our hands tied, as hammers pound, nails are driven, flesh is torn. We stand apart, we cry with him, my God – Why? God abandon yourself! – for you for me, so that I might never be abandoned.
We wait, we watch, we shudder, we listen. Come down! Come down! Save the world! Save the world! No reply, only darkness, only promise: today, you’ll see… you’ll be… in paradise… with me!
Like Joseph, we plead with Pilate: Just the body, the honor, please! We watch with love, the Savior’s body, taken with care, a flood of tears, placed in a tomb, sealed with a stone. We wait, we rest, like God: There was evening and there was morning, the seventh day. We mourn, until morning. Then we sing: Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The water in the creek has started to flow mightily. A pair of geese are anxiously looking to make a nest by the pond, maybe on the beaver island! Song birds are busily singing and mating and building. The bees are buzzing and feeding on the pollen their keepers have provided for them. Only the herons have yet to return… The mysteries of creation we observe as the season changes is a tangible reminder of the resurrection life we are celebrating at Easter: always renewing us with grace and mercy, always surprising us beyond our expectations, always calling us to participate in the work of salvation. What a privilege, and responsibility, to live and worship here!
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been;
love is come again like wheat arising green.
In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,
thinking that he would never wake again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;
love is come again like wheat arising green. (ELW 379)
Reformation Challenge Update
More than forty people signed up last spring for the challenge of reading Scripture for 500 days until the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Maybe you have found it difficult to keep up with the suggested daily readings. Maybe you never got started. No worries. October is a good month to make a new start. Here are some reading plans picked out of the hundreds available on-line. As with any exercise, there will always be days you don’t feel like it. What’s important is that you settle on one plan and stick with it.
The 5x5x5 plan. Five minutes, five days a week, and five suggestions on how to dig deeper. (you can use the remaining two days to catch up or “rest”) This plan will be printed out and put on the table in the narthex. It takes you through the New Testament in one year.
The Discipleship plan. Two readings each day, 25 days a month, with five days to “rest”, reflect, or to catch up. Through the entire Bible in one year. Printed on flyer available in the narthex.
A 365 day plan using the NIV translation. Daily continuous readings from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Psalm or Proverbs. It can be started anywhere on the list. http://www.biblica.com/en-us/bible/reading-plans/
An audio version, read in a pleasant British accent. Three readings every day. Through the entire Bible in one year. Easy to use site, with read-a-long option. Uses NIV translation. http://listenersbible.com/devotionals/biy/
A good translation is important. It must be accurate and in a language you understand. One translation that is both contemporary and accurate is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), which tries to be very faithful to the words and meanings of the original text, and is also gender inclusive. So for example where the original says “brothers”, the NRSV will say “brothers and sisters”. Another very good translation is the Good News Bible, also called Today’s English Version (TEV), which uses a less literal approach to translation (so not always accurate word for word), but is easy to read. For example, in Genesis 1, where “God saw that the light was good” (NRSV), the Good News Bible says “God was pleased with what he saw”
Bible translation is very important work, because every translation is also an interpretation. Since we don’t speak the language of Isaiah or Paul, we rely on those who understand these languages to give us the sense of what they were writing. Nonetheless, some concepts, words and meanings always get “lost in translation”, while others get added. That’s why Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible was so important. Luther, his friend Philip Melanchthon, and many other scholars of the day, did tremendous linguistic work, researching the meaning of the ancient texts of the Bible and comparing existing translations. They spent years learning Hebrew and Greek, a life time praying and thinking about what God was trying to tell them, and sometimes days searching for a particular word, before putting pen to paper. The Luther Bible became extremely influential because of its freshness of expression, its faithfulness to the text, its universal appeal, and its inspired choice of words. I think Martin Luther would be thrilled to know that today there are literally dozens of English translations, and hundreds of translations of the Bible available in other languages. I think he would be even more thrilled to know that people are reading it daily.
Summer time is vacation time. Children and students are out of school. Many of us will take time off work, spending time in the back yard or doing fun things in the community. Some will take a tent or pull a trailer or move to a cabin by the lake, go hiking or fishing, or go on a longer trip somewhere else. Even retired people go on vacation, because, as some say, they are busier than ever. Whoever, where ever and whatever it is, I wonder whether we really understand what’s going on when we vacation. Are we resting from work? Or are we re-treading the tires?
A pastor in New York by the name of Peter Scazzero has written extensively about the topic of Sabbath and the need for a weekly day of rest. I want to share some of this thoughts with you, because I believe they also apply to vacation. A brief definition of Sabbath-rest Scazzero gives is: “Stop, rest, delight, and contemplate God for a 24-hour period”. Think about what that might look like in the context of vacation. For me it involves long hikes by myself through the trees or in the mountains, with stops to eat lunch, read a book, pray, and contemplate nature.
Resting, according to Scazzero, means saying “No to Perfectionism. Sabbath is first and foremost a day of “stopping” – even with our to-do lists unfinished. We embrace our limits. And we trust God.” I find this a hard one. I always have a huge list of stuff I feel I need to complete before I can go away. I don’t even trust myself to actually lock the door behind me. Better go back and check again…
Scazzero links Sabbath with scripture. “We need time and space to meditate on the biblical text so that it becomes part of us. We need time and space to hear God speak and to transform our lives through the text.” In the small catechism, Luther says that keeping Sabbath is to “fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” Make plans to take your Bible and reading plan with you on vacation, and find a church on Sunday, so that you can be reminded of God’s love for you!
Here is an aspect I found particularly challenging: “Sabbath by its very nature humbles us. We become acutely aware of our frailty as humans. [ …] we are a work in progress with enormous limits in our perspective and experience in life.” Vacation is about embracing our limits and accepting our dependence. Sometimes, however, our vacation times themselves become so busy and exhausting they seem more like an achievement, rather than a reminder of our limits. I will try to remember this the next time I want to hike further than is good for me.
In other words, “Sabbath is about being before we do. Sabbath is essentially about how much we cannot do because we are not God.” How often do we structure our days off and vacation time by doing more? Collecting “air reward miles” during months of hard work, and then “rewarding” ourselves by flying to some exotic destination in the hope feeling “divine”, is not what Sabbath is about. Besides that, we always fall short of the goal. How much easier, and better, if we would strive to learn our limits and use vacation to try and feel human instead of divine! For that we don’t need to go anywhere, we just have to do less and be more. We are after all human beings, not human doings.
Wishing you a summer that includes delightful, restful vacation time,
Pastor Markus Wilhelm
(Quotes are from Pete Scazzero’s May 24th e-Newsletter “Preaching out of Sabbath Rest”)
At the annual meeting I was asked what is the one thing I would like to see happen in our congregation. What is one hope for Glory? I answered spontaneously: that we would all read the Bible regularly; that we would be a biblically literate congregation and would thereby grow in faith.
As you know by now, church council has adopted the Reformation Bible Reading Challenge, and you are invited to participate. We will be reading scripture everyday for 500 days in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation in October 2017. We will read at least five minutes a day, and we will all read the same short three passages. It may seem like a small thing, but even small changes take commitment and discipline. So you are invited to sign a pledge card and bring it to the church to be placed in a special box for the 500 days. The pledge cards are available on Sunday with your bulletin. Let's see how many of us will make and keep the commitment!
Transformation happens from the inside out. As we commit with our hearts to engage our minds by reading daily in God's word, we will see ourselves transformed, growing in faith and mission. The Reformation began with scripture. As heirs of Martin Luther, we do well to follow the pattern.
So dust off that old Bible, or purchase a new one. Or go online to bible.oremus.org or to www.biblegateway.com.
The passages we are reading can be found in this newsletter on Page 11, or by going online to http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/daily.php?year=C
The World's Best Seller - The World's Worst Reader?
Most Christians own a copy of the Bible. This book has been copied, translated, printed, bought, sold, interpreted, and fought over more than any other book in history. Manyof you grew up with children's Bibles, were given an "adult edition" for your confirmation, or have bought one of the hundreds of translations and special editions that are available in the religious market place. But I wonder how many of us read the Bible daily at home? If a recent informal survey in our congregation is any indication, not very many! In fact, I'm afraid the Bible might be the least read best seller of all time!
Many of us will remember that Martin Luther translated the entire Bible from their original Hebrew and Greek languages into his native German. You may also remember why Luther did it: He wanted every Christian to be able to read the Scriptures in their own home. While not every person can invest the time to learn the ancient biblical languages, Luther argued, everyone can learn by reading or hearing the Word of God in their own language.
Glory's church council decided at their last meeting to read the Bible daily at home for the 40 days of Lent. The work of church leaders, but also the daily life of a Christian, is one of discipleship. Disciple literally means student. We are called to be students of Jesus, students of God, and that means students of God's Word. So we as council committed to making Bible reading a daily part of our lives for the period leading to Easter, using a daily lectionary plan that goes along with the weekly readings on Sundays. At our next council meeting we will talk about our experiences with this exercise.
I encourage you to join the council in their discipline. Maybe you already have a habit of reading the Scriptures daily, but maybe you struggle spending time with the Word. Why not try it for the remainder of Lent. You can use the online daily reading guide: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/daily.php?year=C. It is linked with the Bible Gateway site for easy access to numerous different translations. Better yet, look up the passage in your own copy of the Bible. That way you avoid being distracted by ads and other clutter. As you read, ask yourself what God may be saying to you. What do you find inspiring or difficult to understand? How does the passage connect to what was read and preached on Sunday? Try to recall something from your reading as you go through your day.
As Lutherans we believe in the priesthood of all believers, and the ability of every Christian to hear what God is saying. You don't have to take your pastor's word for it! So I encourage you to bring your Bible with you to church, join me for the Sunday morning adult faith building hour, or drop me a line to discuss anything you find difficult or inspiring. Join the discussion about the meaning of Scripture. Admittedly, the Bible is not always easy to understand. It is after all a library of different books that were written between two and three thousand years ago. But it is "the inspired Word of God, through which God still speaks" (Article II, Section 3 of our constitution). And as with many other things: practice makes perfect.
As you make Bible reading a habit, expect to be inspired!
"I waited patiently for the LORD" Psalm 40:1
Are you a "patient of the LORD"?
The noun "patient" denotes someone who is sick. Spiritually and biblically speaking, however, a patient person denotes someone who is healthy. To be patient is to have a wholesome attitude. The Bible is full of positive examples of people who were patient: Noah, building the ark, even though there was no rain. Abraham and Sarah, waiting for a child into their old age. Moses pleading with God for the Israelites for fourty years in the wilderness. David, waiting for his turn to become king after Saul. Jeremiah and most of the other prophets, pleading with and praying for their people throughout their lives. The people of Israel waiting for the Messiah.
If patience means being spiritually healthy, then impatience means the opposite: being unhealthy. We live in a sick culture, where everything was supposed to happen yesterday, and where the expression "24/7" makes waiting feel almost like an insult and resting like a crime. Think of how impatient you get when you don't catch the shortest line at the supermarket check-out, or when a website takes a few seconds to load! Ten million instant results at the click of a button and we still can't find what we're looking for. People talk about "the Christmas rush", as if everyone is rushing not to have everything ready until December 25th, but to have it over. The faster we go, the less time and patience we have.
God requires patience. However, patience itself is not something we can produce or get better at by simply working hard at it. Patience is a gift of the Spirit. It comes to us as we realize that all is a gift. Christmas is the gift of the giver of all gifts. Christmas is the presence of the present, the here and now of the One who always was and always will be. It is eternity breaking into the present.
The church is like a hospital for "non-patient" people. Here we are called to wait patiently on the LORD. Advent is a time of waiting patiently, of practicing patience by taking time. Time to pray, time to worship, time to listen to those around us, time to read Scripture, time to serve, time to heal. Advent means Jesus is coming, coming again, and again and again. God is always coming, and it takes time. It takes patience to wait for the Lord. God is not at our beck and call. When we're impatient, it's good to remind ourselves that time itself is a gift. Being ready for God doesn't mean being on our toes 24/7 or always having our lives "together". It means waiting patiently for God, and valueing the gift of time, allowing eternity to work on us.
It has been two years since I began my ministry with you. Some days it seems like the time has flown by. As we have gotten to know each other better, we have sometimes had to be patient with each other and with ourselves. That's as it should be. We should also remind ourselves that there have been some wonderful things that have happened. We have gained some wonderful new members. We have celebrated ten years of being a congregation. We have grown in our ability to minister to people at the time of death. We have seen children baptized and confirmed. We have worshiped together in meaningful and beautiful ways, week after week, and on special occasions. We have served the community through the food-bank, the inner city lunch at the Bissell centre, the We Care Kits for children in need, etc, etc.. Last not least, we have embarked on a refugee sponsorship. What a beautiful way to celebrate the arrival of Jesus this year! Jesus was born in conditions not unlike those of the millions of refugees who have had to flee from violence, chaos and the effects of political and military interference that is tearing apart countries like Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, Afghanistan, and, yes, Myanmar/Burma. "Our" family from Burma has been living in a refugee camp in Thailand for fourteen years! The two teen children were born in the camp and have never known anything else but the squalid conditions of a camp without running water and proper sanitation, without electricity, proper schooling, or freedom to travel and work. We can't help everyone nor change the condition of the whole world. But we can do one beautiful thing and share of our abundance with this family. It makes a world of difference to them. We have a very capable committee leading us and many additional supporters. I'm especially pleased that some new people have become active among us.
Some of these new people have asked to join our congregation. So we will have a membership Sunday on January 31st, which we will celebrate with a potluck lunch. If you would like to join Glory Lutheran Church and have not yet talked to me about it, please do so soon. Some paperwork may need to be completed. On the four Sundays leading up to membership Sunday, I'll be conducting a class during the Adult Education Hour to help those joining, and other interested people, learn more about the Lutheran church and our congregation.
May your Advent and Christmas be filled with patience as well as peace, hope, love and joy!
In Christ’s Service,
Pastor Markus Wilhelm
Word and Actions
Actions speak louder than words. Or so the saying goes. You should not only "talk the talk“ but "walk the walk“. There is truth to these words. However it is also true that actions are based on words and words determine our actions. Words can determine either good or bad actions. In an age of mass communication and internet, we are bombarded daily with a flood of words, messages that compete for attention and call for action.
Two words that come up in many news stories and conversations these days are "refugee" and "migrant". Migrant comes from Latin migrare, "to wander across". A migrant, according to Webster, is "a person who moves regularly in order to find work". There are many migrants who come to us from the Philipines, Mexico, Newfoundland and other places to work in our nursing homes, coffee shops and oil-sands. But they are not refugees. If they are from another country, they might apply for citizenship but not as refugees.
Refugee comes from Latin fugere, "to flee". A refugee is someone who is in need of protection, someone like Aylan Kurdi, the three year old boy who drowned along with his mother and brother off the coast of Turkey trying to flee from the violence in their home county. They were hoping to join their father's sister, living in Vancouver for the last 20 years.
The UN refugee convention was a response by the world community to deal with the unprecedented number of refugees following World War II. This convention helped in the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans fleeing the violence and destruction of that conflict over 60 years ago. Many came to Canada. In order to be granted asylum, an applicant is screened by government officials to see that they fulfill the above criteria. Once approved, refugees have a right to asylum in states that have signed the refugee convention.
The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c125.html
How we talk about people has a great deal to do with how we act towards them. Calling refugees migrants is not only incorrect but influences how they are viewed and treated by others. Furthermore, calling thousands of individual persons waves of refugees, or a flood of migrants, is perhaps a sign of how overwhelmed many feel, but it obscures the fact that each of them is a child of God, loved by God, a person Jesus died for, and whom we are called to love as we have been loved.
May God give us the words that inspire actions that reflect God’s love for all.
Giving Glory to God in Times of Change.
A few weeks ago a colony of thirty great blue herons died in connection with an abandoned oil sump pond in northern Alberta. There are only about one hundred such colonies in Alberta, according to a radio interview with an expert from the U of A. Think about how special and unique the piece of land is that our church sits on! One of a hundred great blue heron colonies make this their home. Wow!
This week I went and checked on “our own” colony at the back of Glory’s property. I saw no trace of them. This could be due to the extremely low water table in the creek. They may have gone elsewhere to look for food. Or maybe it was simply time for them to begin moving south for the winter. In any case, it also made me think of this corner of the county as important habitat for this elegant bird.
Herons are among our biggest and most graceful birds. They are beautiful to watch, if you can discover them with their long neck and yellow bill extended, standing still like a branch in the water, or perched on a treetop. They are magnificent flyers. And like every other animal, they are an indispensible part of the mysterious system of nature. Today, as the pace of human development and climatic change has reached unprecedented speed, they are one of countless examples of our world under threat.
Christians believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. We believe that humans are not the owners of the earth, but its stewards or caretakers,
called to “till and keep” the garden of creation (Genesis 2). God has created this amazing planet, just as he created countless galaxies, stars and planets beyond our
reach and responsibility. We are to take care of this planet, each of us in our particular area of responsibility, and collectively as a society.
Yet we live in a world of sin. Sin is when we live as if we are our own masters. The serpent promised humans that they would be “like God” if they ate the forbidden fruit
(Genesis 3). Sin leads to three kinds of broken relationships: the relationship between humans and God, the relationship between man and woman, and the relationship between humans and the earth. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God, fearing his punishment. They blamed each other for their failure to obey. Thorns and thistles made life difficult on the land, and eventually humans died and returned to the dust. Sin affects everything in creation and beyond.
Hearing or thinking about the environmental crisis, we can be filled with either a sense of resignation, of outrage and panic, or of disbelief and denial. When we hear about 7 oil spills, wild fires, failing crops, acidifying oceans, global warming, or about poor people trying to flee from the effects of climate change, we must remember that we belong to God the Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth and to his Son Jesus. When God’s creation cries in pain, those who belong to God can only cry with it. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”, Jesus promised. When sisters and brothers in the global south seek refuge from the ravages of war and draught, followers of Jesus can’t turn a blind eye. “Whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did to me”, Jesus said. Sorrow and a sense of deep loss, regret and contrition are how the Holy Spirit works repentance in us. But the Holy Spirit also works in us the power to change. We are not powerless, if we surrender ourselves to God the Father Almighty. The God who created the universe, whose glory fills every galaxy and
every atom, is with us. He sent his Son to live and die and rise again for us. This does not mean God excuses what we are doing to the planet, or that we should count on God magically to solve the problems we’ve created. But it means that when we turn to God in our helplessness and sorrow, we are met with the mercy and compassion of Jesus and set on a new path of obedience by his Spirit.
Jesus said:” If anyone wants to be my follower, let him/her deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35).
What might it mean for us to “deny ourselves”? Scientists, activists and climatologists have been saying for decades that we need to reduce (the first of the three “R’s”!!!) our use and waste of the earth’s resources, thus to “deny” ourselves. Like Jesus, they challenge the culture of self indulgence. Unfortunately, Christians in the prosperous countries of the world have largely forgotten what self-denial means, opting instead to go with the flow of consumer society. Indeed, our current economic and energy systems are set up in a way that swimming against the consumerist stream is very difficult. Living and worshiping in a province whose primary industry is the fossil fuel industry, resistance may seem self-defeating, because so much of our comfort and prosperity depends on it. But we are called to do some hard reflecting on where our commitments lie as followers of Jesus. Jesus didn’t give us any other option. We need to think about what we are called and able to do differently, even as we are still perhaps employed in the fossil fuel industry and enmeshed in the economics and politics that support and depend on it. We
are never without choices and options as to how we think, speak, vote, or act.
For almost two years now, our national bishop, Susan Johnson, has been “fasting for the climate” on the first day of each month. This was a campaign started by Lutheran youth from Norway who attended the climate conference in Warsaw in 2013. The youth encouraged all Lutherans to join them in showing solidarity with those people most affected by changing climate. “This fast is a simple, regular and spiritually renewing expression of solidarity with those most vulnerable to climate change and prayerfully connects me to the global Lutheran family,” says Bishop Johnson.
Personally I don’t do well with fasting from food. After some reflection, I decided to do a weekly “carbon fast”. I’ve committed to riding my bicycle to the church once a week until the international climate conference in Paris this fall. Even though spinal problems have made cycling difficult during the last year, I have felt quite good over the past few months and decided to give it a try. I enjoy riding most days. But even on difficult days, the ride gives me an opportunity to reflect on the hardships so many are living with who don’t even have a car, as well as those creatures that suffer because there are so many.
Maybe you can’t cycle or fast. But think about what you can do to practice justice and sharing, it might be walking, it might be letter writing, it might be donating, it might be fasting from the use of disposable products. There are countless changes we can make. So I invite you to join me in taking some concrete action, even if symbolic, of committing to follow Jesus in this time of crisis. Let me know what you decided to do (or stop doing) and how it’s going.
The name of our church expresses well the goal not only of our worship, but the goal of the history of the world and all of creation: To give Glory to God. Every man, woman and child, as well as every bird, fish, worm and bacteria, in fact the very dust of the ground, is destined to give glory and praise to God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and conquered death by his resurrection, is leading us to lead the world and all her people and creatures to this goal.
As St. Paul wrote:
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. …
Therefore we do not lose heart. … For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, 16-17)
In Christ’s Service,
Celebrating Confirmation - The Affirmation of Baptism
How many people fit into a smart car? Well, the trunk holds three teenagers, the front "seats" two teens and two adults. With some adjustments we might have fit one more person in. Our confirmands passed the smart test and proved that small is big enough.
Most days our faith is like a smart car. Big enough to get us where we need to go and small enough to remind us that all depends on grace. In fact there's usually room for at least one more person beside us, and the groceries. On Sundays our faith requires a bus, as we worship in larger numbers, but even so, it's not the size of the bus or the number of people that matter. It's that we are gathered as the family of God, in the name of Jesus, who cares about each one of us.
"Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there", Jesus said.
The smart car comes with a radio, a CD player and a USB port, so you can listen to the news, your favorite music, or a podcast. With only two people on board, it's easy to agree on what to play. With five teens and two adults cramming the dashboard it gets a little more difficult. But then it's good to remember that it's not about what's coming out of the speakers, but about where the car is going.
In the church, the more people we are, the more opinions we can have about what we want to hear. Some like organ music, some like drums and guitars, some like both, some a blend of everything, some like it a capella. Some prefer to just listen to "the news", others would like to bring in their own programming. Some come for the conversation with the others and some just enjoy the silence of the ride. We have many options and sometimes the "dashboard" gets crowded and everybody wants to turn a particular knob or push a certain button. Of course the church is not about the onboard entertainment. It's about where we are going. It's about the kingdom. It's about making room for others to join the ride, and about agreeing that we go where God wants us to go.
I am thankful for Glory Lutheran Church. God has brought us this far by trust in his guidance. Not because of how great we are, or how deserving, or by what we have managed to accomplish, but simply because of God's love and grace towards us. The church in terms of its organization is a God-given vehicle. It serves the purpose of getting us closer to the kingdom of God, the world as Jesus imagined it, the world where everyone is welcomed and given room. For that God didn't give us an Airbus A380 aircraft. But maybe something more like a smart car. Or maybe like a ... (you decide). In any case: strong and big enough to get us where we need to go, small enough for us to be close to each other and know that all depends on grace, and fun enough for us to enjoy the ride. I think the confirmation class got it...
Note: No rules were broken and no teenagers were harmed in the making of this article.
Celebrating Confirmation - The Affirmation of Baptism
In a few weeks time five young people will conclude a two year program we call confirmation. They will stand in front of the altar and will be asked certain questions about their faith. For example:
"Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?"
"Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?"
"Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy Baptism: to live among God's faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?"
These words correspond to those spoken at the child's baptism. At that time the parents and god-parents answered on their child's behalf and promised to raise her/him in the context of the church and faith. Now it is the young persons' turn to affirm, or claim, these words for themselves.
Confirmation, or the "Affirmation of Baptism", is a traditional rite of passage for youth, of which there are many in various cultures around the world. In the Lutheran church it has served as an entry point into full (and voting) membership and, in the past, also as admission to Holy Communion. You may be surprised to know that it is actually not in the Bible. That's why Martin Luther removed it from the list of sacraments. It was not commanded by Christ. Confirmation is therefore of a very different order than baptism and communion. It is useful, but not necessary. So it is good practice to call it "affirmation of baptism". We affirm the action of God in bapism. God made his eternal, unalterable promise to each child. On the day of confirmation we respond with Yes! Amen! And we pledge ourselves to live in this covenant relationship with Jesus Christ.
Does the promise we make at confirmation change God's opinion of us, or do we get better grades from God for having gone to confirmation classes? Sorry, no, not at all. God's opinion of us does not change because of anything we do. It is always the same: You are my son/my daughter, whom I love. That's what your baptism means. Nothing will effect that declaration, nothing will change God's mind in this matter.
That's what makes the life of a Christian so different and so much more exciting than a life without Jesus. We can go through life without having to worry about what God thinks of us, because we are baptized children of God. Making the team, being popular, having a big income, getting awards doesn't make any difference to who we really are. Failing, losing, even dying won't change God's opinion of us. Jesus died on the cross to tell us that. And he rose from the grave to confirm that for us.
On the day of their confirmation the young person will kneel down and the pastor will pray over them for the gift of the Holy Spirit to "confirm her/his faith, guide her/his life, empower her/him in her/his serving, give her/him patience in suffering, and bring her/him to everlasting life." This is a very meaningful prayer for a youth becoming an adult. It places into God's care all that we as parents and god-parents could hope for our children, and allows us to let go. Ultimately it is God who confirms by his Spirit what we received from God in our baptism. And we affirm it simply by saying: Yes. Amen. Let it be so!
We are celebrating the tenth anniversary of Glory, the congregation, not the building, which formed out of the crucible of a breakup. Without a building, without a pastor, without a bank account, without a hymnal, without a plan. That’s how God started this congregation. Or rather that’s how God continues building his church. Because that has always been the way God builds the church. The first disciples of Jesus didn’t have buildings, staff, money, material, and well laid plans either. But they had the experience of the bloody death of Jesus Christ and his glorious resurrection. The breakup of Jesus’ body on the cross was the departure point for the mission of the church. The resurrection of Jesus was the startling surprise that the breakup of death brings people to life together. Pentecost was the signing of the charter, not with pen and ink on paper, but by the Spirit’s fire on the hearts of the believers. Since then God has continued to build his church in the same manner. And the building materials God uses are people. We have all heard the saying: ”The church is not a building.” There’s a song about that: “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together…” The history of this congregation proves the point
I give thanks for this church. For the congregation of Glory and each of you individually. For the denomination of sisters and brothers in the ELCIC. For the whole people of God in Christ around the world, the “holy catholic church”. I give thanks for the faith and love that is evident among us, the worship and service and witness that we provide for each other and for those around us. And I give thanks for the physical building as well.
At ten years of age we are an organizational pre-teen. Childhood is nearly over, but we have much to learn still, much to grow into to become the mature body of Christ. As we look back to where we’ve come from, we should also dream about where we are going and what God’s dream is for us. What is Christ’s mission in the county of Strathcona? What is my own goal for ministry? Where do I feel called to serve? What do I still have to learn? What are my gifts that I can share with others? Who can I invite to the table? How must we change/grow/mature/die so that others will be enabled to be fully whom God created them to be?
I leave you with one of my favourite images for the church, from 1 Peter 2:
“Come to him [Jesus Christ], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.… You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
Lent, a time to "Pray and Praise"
Just as I was preparing to think about Lent, my bank sent me a glossy brochure encouraging everyone to "Turn buy into fly, faster". It was an advertisement for a credit card that collects "air miles" everytime it is used. The fine print of course reveals exorbitant interest rates. If you can't or forget to pay on time, you pay big time. You might say the bank is hoping to "try to make you buy, faster than you can pay".
We don't belong to the banks. We belong to Jesus Christ our Lord who "ransomed us from the futile ways inherited from our ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ." (1 Peter 1:18-19) Lent reminds us that we have been bought with a price. Consumer culture tries to own us. But God's culture sets us free. The consumer culture says "buy and fly". The church says "pray and praise". The world says "hurry", the church says "slow down". Fasting is an age-old way of reminding ourselves of this. Whenever we restrain ourselves from shopping, when we turn off the ads, when we give up coffee, chocolate, or TV, or gaming, or the internet, or we restrict our carbon output by driving or flying less, we tell the world who we belong to. By fasting we nurture the alternative economy and culture of God. By consuming less, and/or switching to products and behaviors that are less harmful to others or the environment, we put our freedom into practice.
Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the forty days of Lent teach us that everything is paid for, there is nothing owing, nor is there anything we can earn. There is neither debt nor credit with God. Lent is about letting that sink in by reflecting on the suffering and death of Jesus, who "paid it all". Our simple soup suppers and Lenten services on Thursdays are opportunities for us to slow down and step out of the world of "buy and fly", and into the world of "pray and praise". Join us!
As we approach All Saints Day, November 1, and remember those who have died, I want to share with you some words I have found helpful. They are by Berthold von Schenk, an American Lutheran pastor, 1895-1974.
"When we are bereft of dear ones, it is a tremendous shock. For a time we are stunned. Not everyone can feel at once their continuing companionship. We should not for that reason despair. An adjustment must take place in our lives, reaching deep into our habits, emotions and thoughts. Some souls may make this adjustment quickly. For most of us it comes slowly and hard; many an hour is filled with loneliness and agonizing doubt.
By ourselves we can never make this adjustment. We must come to a sense of the continuing presence of our loved ones, and we can do this if we realize the presence of our Living Lord. As we seek and find our Risen Lord we shall find our dear departed. They are with Him, and we find the reality of their continued life through Him. The saints are a part of the Church. We worship with them. They worship the Risen Christ face to face, while we worship the same Risen Christ under the veil of bread and wine at the Altar. At the Communion we are linked with heaven, with the Communion of Saints, with our loved ones. Here at the Altar, focused to a point, we find our communion with the dead; for the Altar is the closest meeting place between us and our Lord. ...
Our human nature needs more than the assurance that some day and in some way we shall again meet our loved ones "in heaven". That is gloriously true. But how does that help us now?
When we, then, view death in the light of the Communion of Saints and Holy Communion, there is no helpless bereavement. My loved one has just left me and has gone on a long journey. But I am in touch with her. I know that there is a place where we can meet. It is at the Altar... The nearer I come to my Lord in Holy Communion, the nearer I come to the saints, to my own loved ones. I am a member of the Body of Christ, I am a living cell in that spiritual organism, partaking of the life of the other cells, and sharing in the Body of Christ Himself.
There is nothing fanciful or unreal about this. Indeed, it is the most real thing in my life. Of course, I miss my loved one. I should miss her if she took a long holiday trip. But now, since she is what some people call dead, she is closer to me than ever. Of course, I miss her physical presence bitterly. I miss her voice and the sound of approaching footsteps. But I have not lost her. And when my sense of loss becomes too great, I can always go to our meeting place at the Altar where I receive the Body and Blood of my Lord that preserves my body and soul just as it has preserved her unto everlasting life. Do learn to love the Altar as the meeting place with your beloved who have passed within the veil. Here again the Sacrament is the heart of our religion. The Blessed Sacrament links us not merely to Bethlehem and Calvary, but to the whole world beyond the grave as well, for at the Altar the infinite is shrined in the finite; Heaven stoops down to earth; and the seen and the unseen meet."
Quoted from "For all the Saints", A Prayerbook for and by the Church. pp. 1376-1378
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. There's a picture in my mind that has stayed with me for the last two weeks. It sums up what I'm thankful for, what church is about, and what the world needs more of. It was on the afternoon of September 13th, at our summer BBQ-season wind up. Several older adults, men and women old enough to be grand- , maybe even great-grandparents, hunched over half-finished bird houses, holding a nail between their fingers, steadying the pieces, while a small child using both hands was hammering on that nail with great determination. At first I cringed a little thinking about the finger-nails. But then I thought about the lessons these children and adults were teaching each other. The young ones were learning to build a birdhouse, to hold a hammer, to hit an actual nail.
The adults were learning to have nerves, to be patient and to co-operate. Together they did something useful, building a summerhome for birds to build a nest and raise their own young ones. And together we were the body of Christ, the family of God.
I'm thankful to be part of a community where pictures like this are a common sight. Where intergenerational interactions happen, sometimes even without any specific planning. "See, how they love one another", people said about the first Christians. "Love one another with mutual affection", Paul wrote to the church in Rome. It's what the church is about. And it's what the world needs. Humans are great at compartmentalizing and categorizing and subdividing. People are said to be "young" or "old", "middle-age", "teen", or "pre-teen", and we're taught to make certain assumptions about them based on their age. Various cultures are generated for different age-groups mostly through marketing, which deepens the isolation. The church as the body of Christ counters that trend by declaring us one in the Lord. God called Sarah and Abraham in old age to be the ancestors of our faith. And Jesus, who never married, nor had children, welcomed and blessed children, saying, "the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." God made us, who are unrelated by our own blood, relatives by the blood of Christ.
I'm also thankful for the beginning of confirmation classes and three new students that joined this month: Wes Gregersen, Dayna Nelson, and Stephen Glor. I'm also thankful that Diaconal Minister Keirra Maher is team-teaching with me this term. And I could go on to name a number of other things I'm thankful for, but I think you get the picture, which, they say, is worth a thousand words.
"What's one thing you really like to do?" I asked a child during children's time one Sunday late in August. The answer surprised many: "I like school." After seven weeks of summer holidays, this boy was ready to go back. You could see the anticipation in his eyes. Friends he had not seen all summer would be there, the teachers would welcome him back, he would be one grade higher than last year, in a different room, in a new desk.
There would be stories about summer adventures to share with others, new kids to get to know, new things to learn, new subjects to explore. What is there not to anticipate about going back to school!
In September many of us also anticipate going back to church. And when we think about it, what is there not to anticipate and love about going back to church? We have friends here, friends of the Lord. We will be welcomed back by our leaders, we will be able to join in a new year of Sunday school, Youth group, Adult faith class, Fifty Plus activities, Choir, Praise band, Committees, Service Groups, etc, etc. Many of these groups took a summer break and will be glad to get together again and to welcome new participants. There will be things to share and new things to learn and explore.
"I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD." Psalm 122
This fall Glory Lutheran Church will take part in "Back to Church Sunday", a world wide invitational initiative on September 28th. Two weeks prior, we will each get an invitation card to give to someone we want to invite to worship with us that day. Historically, Lutherans are not known for being "inviters." In fact, according to statistics, the average Lutheran invites a non-worshiper to church only once every 25 years, and it takes an average of four invitations for an individual to attend once. I'm convinced that we at Glory are not average Lutherans. And I also believe that statistics are meant to be disproven. Hopefully we will all re-connect to someone and invite them to come with us on that particular Sunday. You can read more about "Back to Church Sunday" elsewhere in this newletter.
The Back Thirty
As many of you are aware, all spring and summer we had a colony of great blue herons nesting in a couple of trees in the very back of our property. They now seem eiher to have started their fall migration or been chased away, possibly by the hawks in the area. Over a period of about four months we were able to watch these magnificent birds breed and raise their young, a process that is not easily observable as they are reclusive and shy birds. The two cormorants are still around. You can sometimes see these pitch black birds fly across our driveway and along the creek towards the back. Several families of mallards and other ducks (northern shovelers, perhaps) are still paddling around on the beaver pond, and the young hawks have learned to catch gophers on the hay field, while filling the sky with their sharp screech. A young white-tailed deer was spotted - literally. The remains of a coyote's dinner were discovered, and the beavers, of course, have been busy like beavers. Myriads of mosquitos were fed by humans and in turn fed the dragonflies and frogs. The dragonflies and frogs then were eaten by... the herons. Other birds seen over the spring and summer included robins, red-eyed vireos, cedar waxwings, pigeons, barn swallows, yellow warblers, and even a pair of pelicans. What a great neighborhood we have! Glory be to God!
"O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." Psalm 104
On June 1, 2014, we celebrated the baptism of Will Ard in the beautiful creek that flows through our church property. Instead of a small bowl, we used a whole beaver pond of water. It flows naturally from the surrounding countryside through the meandering bed of Old Man Creek, which eventually drains into the North Saskatchewan river a few miles to the northwest. Will’s background is Baptist, he greatly appreciates God’s creation, and was one of the first member of our church to discover the beauty of the Old Man Creek. Will had started asking about the possibility of his baptism taking place outdoors during the long months of winter. I agreed, provided we wait until the ice has melted.
A full immersion in a natural creek… What a powerful reminder that God our creator loves us deeply, so deeply that we can immerse ourselves into this love, letting it flow right over our heads.
We stood at water’s edge under a cross made of aspen logs, we read the prayer from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book that begins:
“We give you thanks, O God, for in the beginning your spirit moved over the waters and by your Word you created the world, calling forth life in which you took delight.”
Hearing the water flow and the birds sing, feeling the sun and the breeze on our skin, aware of the newly sown fields around us, we could pray this prayer with new insight.
As Will, his sponsor, and I stepped into the cool water, our feet sank into the mud. It squished out between our toes, reminding us that we ourselves are made of the mud of the earth, dust mixed with water, enlivened by the breath of God. We felt connected to all of creation, to the beavers, the ducks, the fish and the herons that call the creek their home. We also felt our connection to Jesus. Jesus himself was baptized in a natural body of water, the Jordan river. And like the birds that surrounded us at the creek, thus a dove descended on Jesus, signifying the Holy Spirit. I think Jesus smiled when he saw us step into the creek that day, invoking his name. God the creator laughed with us as we came out dripping wet. And the Holy Spirit was surely present as the words of Scripture and the prayers were spoken.
As we welcomed Will into the mission we share as the body of Christ, “bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world,” we felt immersed in God’s mission of redeeming all of creation from the powers that work against it, protecting the delicate balance, beauty and abundance of life that surrounds us.
As the congregation sang, prayed, laughed and cried under the open sky that day, it seemed as if for a moment not only the sky was open, but heaven itself.
Today I spent the morning at a cafe the Moravian Church is running on Broadmoor Blvd. called Common Ground. The volunteer staff offer Fair Trade coffee, delicious baked goods, soup and sandwich, and a bright friendly meeting place for all kinds of people: individuals just relaxing, parents with kids, students doing homework, book clubs discussing literature, or pastors studying the
texts for the coming Sundays. That's what I was doing with a few colleagues. Though from different denominations, we share a love
for Christ, a passion for preaching and an appreciation for good coffee. That's common ground.
The ground before the cross is level, the saying goes. The cross of Christ is the common ground God created. The amazing thing is God shares his holy common ground with us in Jesus Christ. God meets us where we are, forgives us, and creates community between us.
When we do something together with other Christians, like Y.C. or the Synod Convention, we stand on common ground. When Pope Francis on a recent visit to Jerusalem embraced a Jewish Rabbi and a Muslim Imam that disputed territory suddenly became common ground. As we learn about the aboriginal people of Canada through the art display in our church we acknowledge that this land is
common ground for us to live on. As we learn about the environment, our impact on land, water and soil and the interdependence of all of nature, we discover common ground with all humanity and all other life forms. As we overcome our fear and listen to each other in caring conversations at home, we create common ground in our family. As we share worship and work as a church we become common ground as a community. Common ground is where the seed of the gospel of Jesus can sprout and grow.
"Lord, let my heart be good soil, open to the seed of your word", one of our worship songs says. Let this be our prayer. Let us search for common ground in all aspects of life. May God make us grow in faith and love, service and witness throughout the summer.