Work in Progress

Advent calls us to prepare not just our homes for Christmas, but our lives for the fulfillment of the Reign of God when Christ comes in glory. Trouble is, we often feel rather helpless and passive in the face of that event. Is waiting just standing around until God makes all things new? For Paul, the Christian life is a work in progress: “the one who began a good work in you will not fail to see it through to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) We are already the beloved of God, and not yet the people God calls us to be. 

A sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent – Philippians 1:3-11

Don’t Worry. Be Grateful.

Jesus says, “Don’t worry.” That is harder than it sounds. We worry about food, clothing, housing and a host of other things that seem to matter more than anything else. Thanksgiving seems to provide a one-day break to give thanks for what has gone right in life and suspend worrying about what could happen for at least an afternoon. What if gratitude is more than that? What if gratitude is a means of worry-free living?  Listen to the sermon here!

Welcome for All. Love for Each.

We say a lot of things as the Church. Many of the things we say are important. The writer of I John reminds us, however, that “we should love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (I John 3:18) When we speak words of welcome, forgiveness, faith they are truths that are meant for all. Love however, is a particularity; something we do to and for the person in front of us. As baptism proclaims love to a particular person, and the wine and bread are given “for you” to individuals, love is enacted for each. A sign on the church that says, “all are welcome” is meaningless to those seeking welcome because it does not address the “each.” A theological statement that says the poor should be fed bears no weight until assistance is given to fill a hungry belly. Welcome is for all. Love is for each.

 

copyright © 2018, Timothy V. Olson

Whip-Wielding, Table-Turning Messiah

For most folks, “Gentle Jesus” is the image we carry of the Messiah. The whip-wielding, table-turning, angry Jesus who cleanses the temple seems to be an aberration. When Jesus finds that the noise of livestock and clatter of coins is louder than the prayers; when he sees that the name of God is being used for personal gain, he gets angry, righteously angry. We do the same kind of things today. So, what does “cleansing the temple” mean for us?

Forsaken

When most of us think about spiritual things, we think of self-improvement, or happiness, or success. Faith should lead to joy and glory. Religion should help us avoid the “bad things” in life. The scriptural witness however, doesn’t support these notions. Instead, Jesus invites Peter to follow to the cross. Peter doesn’t want to go. Psalm 22 begins with the words, “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?” – the dying words of Jesus. The psalm answers this lament by pivoting to praise and the promises of God from this heart-wrenching lament.  In the midst of our suffering, we don’t reject God, but embrace God all the more.

 

copyright © Timothy V. Olson, 2018

Ashes, Dust & St. Valentine’s Day

Paul urges us, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20) This is not a requirement of faith or a means of earning God’s love. It is a call to be what we already are, to act out of our status as God’s “Ministers of Reconciliation” which has been granted through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Answering this call is precisely why we remember St. Valentine. He was a martyr who gave his life to follow Jesus. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a time of renewal and repentance as we acknowledge the first truth of being “reconciled to God.” We are not God and we shall die. This is very good news…

Unholy Spirits – Mark 1:21-28

When we hear stories about Jesus casting out demons, I’m not sure we know quite what to do with them. Is this possession as illustrated by Hollywood, complete with spinning heads, shaking beds, and evil voices? Or is it just an ancient way of pointing out what they did not understand – mental illness, convulsions or some other such disease? Those kinds of questions obscure two basic truths of these strange stories. First, evil exists and if we are not “possessed” by the Holy Spirit, we are likely to be possessed by something unholy. When I see a world full of violence, abuse, horrific stories of awful deeds done by humans to humans, even children, I find myself asking “What possesses people to do these things?” And there it is – something that drives us to rob life, liberty and peace from others takes our identity as holy people away. Second, fascination with what is unholy in these stories often leads us away from the central truth – God in Christ, revealed in Jesus has power to cast out the unholy and grant peace and life in its place.