Give Up A Grudge: A Lenten Fast

 

Saul was tall, dark, and handsome. Saul was the first king of Israel. He was a man who led his army with some success and was admired by all… well, at least for a time. One of the things that contributed to Saul’s fall from grace and his demise was a grudge he held against David, who was his successor. After David killed Goliath on the field of battle, David become part of King Saul’s household. He grew up and became a very successful military in Saul’s army. When the crowds started singing his praises, Saul began growing a grudge. It grew so dark and deep that he tried to kill David. While David had many opportunities to get rid of his patron turned persecutor, he did not take them. Saul carried his grudge to the grave.

That is the thing about a grudge, we think we hold them to hurt the person we hate. The truth is a grudge just damages our own souls as they make us dark, paranoid and driven by pain. Self-pity and retribution fill our hearts. As one saying goes, “Holding a grudge is like letting a person live rent free in your brain.” Trust me, that person you direct all that anger toward is probably not spending any time thinking about you.

The Lenten journey to follow Jesus is rooted in confession — and reconciliation. Jesus told us to forgive our enemies, to make peace with one another before we approach the altar, to initiate the work of making peace. So, I’d like to suggest that for a Lenten fast, you give up a grudge. Pick a little on or a great big boulder of one. Give it to God in prayer. Ask for the help to forgive. Give up a grudge for Lent and clear some space in your head for that unneeded tenant.

© 2017 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved

 

No Room for Hate

Last week a letter was delivered – anonymously, secretly, under cover of dark – to the Islamic Center of Des Moines. The letter was filled with hateful speech and threats. The Des Moines Register has reported on the content, and I will not give it space here. It is enough to say that any Christian should be outraged and grieved by such an attack. It is cowardly; it is of the darkness of the human heart, it is contrary to a faith rooted in the grace, mercy, peace and justice of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

There are many people who see all Muslim’s as potential terrorists and live in fear (fear is the root of hate, not love or courage). The perception is misguided. No one who is a serious follower of Jesus would wish to be defined by the Ku Klux Klan (who claim to be a Christian organization), or by the shameful acts of radical “Christians” who led the Inquisition, supported the Holocaust, and drank the Kool-Aid at Jonestown. Jesus said  “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12). We should then never ascribe to all Muslims the acts of the fanatical or the misuse of faith to justify politics and violence.

I have written to the Islamic Center on behalf of the congregation to express our support and concern. Muslim brothers and sisters are “children of Abraham” and “people of the book” – we share this in common. We must act accordingly for the sake of our faith and the sake of the world. Here is my letter to our friends:

As-Salamu Alaykum, our dear neighbors,

On behalf of the whole congregation of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Ankeny, I wish to express our solidarity and support for you in the face of recent hate mail you received. Through whatever differences we may have, we are children of Abraham and called to be a blessing to each other and the world. We desire to be your brothers and sisters in this world; to work together for the good of humanity; for peace and justice; for understanding and reconciliation.

We will be offering prayers for you in our worship. We offer our aid in any other way that you might need.Please be assured that such hatred is not held in our hearts and that such acts are not acceptable among us.

May God’s peace and love be yours.

Pastor Timothy Olson

 

© 2017 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved.

A Prayer for the State Senate

state capitol.jpg

I want to thank State Senator Jim Lykam, Davenport, and his Legislative Assistant, Kathy Ellett of Holy Trinity – Ankeny, for the invitation to be the Pastor for the Day in the State Senate. Thanks to President of the Senate, Jack Whitver for giving me voice in the assembly. I was honored to stand in the well of the Senate and pray, if only for a minute or so, representing as faithfully as I can, the Word of the Lord. My prayer was as follows:

Blessed are you, O Lord, our God!
You have created every mountain and molecule;
     you grant by grace each heart beat and breath.
You have placed humanity in the world
     to serve and protect all creation and every creature;
You bless us with abundance often taken for granted.
You bless us that we become a blessing to the nations,
     the state, and every citizen.
Remind us that in our divisions, you call us to unity.
Remind us that your heart breaks and your power works for the
         poor, the hungry, and the refugee living in the land.
When we are confident we know your will,
     humble us.
When we struggle to know what is right,
     grant us your mercy and wisdom.
When we are trapped in the struggles of power and party;
     free us and forgive us.
When our hearts grow hard,
     soften them with your mercy and grace.
Your Word shall forever stand;
     your Word of justice and peace will prevail;
Your Word was the first Word spoken;
Your Word shall be the last and final word over all things.
In the Holy name above all names, we pray.
© 2017 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved.

Crossroads: A Lenten Sermon

Lent Square

A comfortable and well laid out life is like a straight, wide highway: not many surprises and an assured destination with each of us in control at the wheel. God has a habit of setting interchanges, junctions or crossroads before us however, that beckon us to places we’ve never been by roads untraveled. “The road less traveled” is often the path to life and light – Just ask Abram and Sarai, Nicodemus and Patrick of Ireland.

Podcast Link: http://htlcankeny.libsyn.com/crossroads

Restless Hearts; Broken Lives: A Sermon for Lent 2

A fruit tree, a talking snake, and forty days in the wilderness: essential source of truth about our humanity and struggles. When we aren’t sure who we are or for what purpose we live, we are restless. The brokenness of our world and daily lives results from listening to the tempting, deceptive voices that convince us to judge others and ourselves, make us strive for a purpose that does not belong to us. Learn from Jesus how we face the hissing of temptation.

LISTEN: http://htlcankeny.libsyn.com/restless-hearts-broken-lives

Stop Judging: A Lenten Fast

Following my last post on “complaining,” I’d like to offer another suggestion for our Lenten fast: Stop judging people. Now, before I go any deeper, I am not talking about suspending critical thinking or wise discernment. I’m not talking about the kind of judgment we must undertake as we make important decisions. I’m talking about the obsessive habit we all have of rendering judgment on others and on ourselves every minute of every day; judgment that leads to no good.

We are trained by culture, advertisers, even social media to make judgments about everything. Every Facebook post calls for a “like.” Every game has a winner and a loser, which is then transferred to the playground and the board room where everybody is neatly divided into camps of winners and losers. Every thought and idea is “good” or “bad.” Life is polarized between black and white, red and blue, in and out, rich and poor.

Judging other people by their thoughts, color, beliefs, gender, or favorite sports team is an extension of binary, dualistic thinking that seeks to neatly order a very disorderly world into unsustainable, oversimplified categories. When I judge someone else and declare them “wrong,” I do so so that I am “right.” When I look longingly at someone else and judge that they are beautiful or handsome, it probably leads to telling myself that I am not. I can look at the people who live next door and judge that they have more than I do and that means something about me. So, I either consider them greedy and feel better, or I consider them blessed and I must be messing up.

Jesus tells a parable about two men who go to the Temple to pray. The first is a religious leader, a man judged by the culture (and himself) as upright. The second man is a tax collector who is not deemed so righteous. The religious official says to God, “I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” The tax collector pays no mind to the religious official and says his prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  Jesus says the tax collector is justified before the Lord. Turns out the religious official only justified himself to himself. (Luke 18:11-13) That is what judging others or ourselves does to us. Notice the tax collector directs his attention to “the log in his own eye” (Luke 6:41) while the religious official denies his sin and judges the speck in another.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and noted spiritual guide says, “The lowest level of consciousness is entirely dualistic (win/lose)—me versus the world and basic survival. Many, I am afraid, never move beyond this.”  When we stop trying to categorize everyone and everything (including ourselves) we begin to be able to embrace the wonderful diversity and wonder of the world. The ability to accept and deal with mystery and paradox; complexity and multiple meanings is a sign of spiritual maturity. It does not come naturally. It takes discipline and patience to leave behind instinctive patterns of thought that want to boil the world down to the lowest common denominator.

So, next time you find your mind categorizing the behavior of someone else, look for the log in your own eye and turn your attention to Jesus. Turns out confessing our own sins, not judging others, and paying more attention to Jesus are wonderful ways to observe Lent.

© 2017 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved.

 

Stop Complaining: A Lenten Fast

When we complain, we feed the growth of resentment within us and it begins to spread.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a forty day period of preparation; preparation for lots of things really. In the ancient church, it was a period of preparation for those who would be baptized that year (yup, they baptized but once a year) at the great Vigil of Easter. It is a time of spiritual preparation for the holiest events of the Christian year – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord. It is also an annual time of deepening our preparation to live as disciples of the Crucified One, Jesus. In some ways it is similar to fast days in the Jewish faith and Ramadan for our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Lent’s three major disciplines are: prayer, acts of love, and fasting. If you have ever eaten fish on Friday during Lent, that was a fast. Given up chocolate? Fast. Eschewed dessert? Fasting. Often, these kinds of fasts are easily broken and not deeply meaningful. It seems to me that if we really want to change our lives and maybe even change the world a little bit, we could fast from other things. So, I’ll offer some in the coming weeks. First up: STOP COMPLAINING.

Complaining is a waste of emotional energy and rarely, if ever, accomplishes anything.Complaining encourages bad habits and destructive behaviors, like gossip and “evil talk” (Eph. 4:29). Complaining keeps us from the spiritual work of acceptance and constructive efforts to actually solve problems. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer that came to be called “The Serenity Prayer.” Used extensively as a prayer for those striving to heal from addiction, the prayer is really for all of us.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

When we complain about our spouse, sibling, child, co-worker, or boss to others, we are simply refusing to understand and accept them as unique human beings. We are avoiding going to them to talk through a problem or discuss a latent hurt. When we complain, we feed the growth of resentment within us and it begins to spread.

When we complain about bad government, big corporations, faceless bureaucracies, we begin to build a world view that blames others for everything. That keeps us from working for solutions, addressing our part of the problem (and I guaranty we are always complicit), or accepting and understanding what we can’t control.

Niebuhr’s prayer has a little known second stanza. Accepting what we can’t change, changing what we can and knowing the difference is not an end in itself. This leads to a deeper and more abiding relationship to Christ. Niebuhr’s prayer continues:

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

Fast from complaining this Lent and explore how, in Christ, you can be more accepting and more motivated to change. Blessed Lent to you.

 

© 2017 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved.