Remember. Never Forget. A 9/11 Reflection

Remember. Never forget. These are the calls, perhaps even commands, of September 11 ever since that fateful day in 2001 when towers fell, lives were lost, and the world changed. We should indeed remember and honor those who died; and we should never forget the “heroes” (we call them saints in the church) who ran toward the destruction, risking their lives – which many of them lost –  to save others.
911The church is good at remembrance, we do it all the time. We remember saints (those flawed followers of Jesus who set an example for us to follow) on the day of their death. We remember the life of Jesus in our liturgical calendar.

At the center of our life together, we gather around a table with bread and wine “in remembrance” of Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection. The mystery of faith that is proclaimed as we remember is, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Notice how this remembrance looks forward, not back, at an event that continues to shape us. Notice how remembering the tragedy, pain, and death on the cross serve to fuel present and future hope. Remembrance at the table of Christ does not revisit the past grief, nor does it work to stoke unresolved blame or anger over the past event. The remembrance of the Last Supper is an active remembrance that builds hope and celebrates the new life that arises in the wake of tragedy and pain. That is instructive for our efforts to remember; to never forget 9/11.

If what we remember, what we will not forget,  is the rage and anger that filled us all that fateful day; if all we can remember is our grieving hearts and our longing for retribution; if our memory provides for seeds of hate and revenge, then our remembrance serves no purpose other than to enslave us.

If however, we can remember with all solemnity those who died in the attack and find compassion for the world through hearts open to pain; if we can remember those who gave their lives to save others, and glean from that a reminder of how we should face the current destruction of this world with courage and grace, we will have remembered well and hope will be the result.

Our world, at this moment, groans in pain through one disaster after another; it suffers under the divisions we place between each other. Remember that day in 2001 when, in the midst of all the destruction and loss, people came together and loved one another. God brought hope out of the ashes. God is doing that all the time.


Tim Olson


copyright © Timothy V. Olson, 2017


The Sentinel Speaks

Gentle Reign Square

Sermon – September 10, 2017

With hurricane, flood, fire and wind battering our land – and our senses through the media – the question always comes, “Is God trying to tell us something?” The truth is, God is always speaking, but we are a people with hard hearing. The prophet Ezekiel was called to speak to God’s people whether they listened or not; to be a sentinel announcing words of warning and repentance. What might Ezekiel have to say about hurricanes and floods and fire today? What word of warning or hope might we hear from the Sentinel? –

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Give Me A Sign

A sermon on Matthew 16:13-20 

Perhaps we all wish that God would give us a sign; our own personal burning bush or miraculous deed that would chase away all fears and doubt. Signs and miracles, however, do not lead to faith. Faith comes from a much more trustworthy source. Jesus told Peter that it was this deep trust in God upon which the Church would rest. That kind of faith is available to you.

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Signs in the Heavens: The Total Eclipse of the Sun

Watching the movement of lights in the sky, attending to the signs in the heavens, has been part of the human experience since, well, there have been humans. Whenever the normal cycle of day and night was disturbed in some way, it has been second nature to wonder what it means, why it happens and whether we should be afraid. We humans don’t handle change well. A total eclipse, for ancient people could be at worst, the harbinger of cataclysm; at best, a sign of things to come.

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In Acts 2:20, Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost borrows an image from the prophet Joel:  “The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.” (NRSV)  Joel saw the things that instill awe, reveal our smallness, or upset our routines as a sign that God was in the house; a reminder that the “day of the Lord” was in our future.

Today, we dismiss ancient wisdom about things like eclipses. We know that in the cosmic dance of planets, moon, and sun, a total eclipse of the sun happens somewhere on earth every 18 months or so. We know that it is not magic or a reflection of divine struggles between gods up in the sky. We know, yet we still marvel at the wonder of it all. We drive to places we can see it most clearly. Like our ancient sisters and brothers, we seek to experience the signs in the heavens. I think part of us still seeks meaning in them, too.

Today’s total eclipse reminds me how very small I am in the greater scheme of all there is in this universe. It reminds me that I have little or no control over a world I so desperately work to subjugate to my power. As a matter of faith, an eclipse reminds me that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a power that moves planets, and suns, and moons, and stars. In that sense, it is a moment of judgement that reveals to me the pettiness of my own sense of power and the foolishness of powers and principalities that think they run things. It is also, more powerfully a moment of grace.

Like watching the unwatchable beat of a hummingbird’s wings, or the power of a thunderstorm; like seeing the grandeur of the mountains or the smallness of an ant walking across my driveway; in the way my wife forgives and gives to me for no reason at all but love, the eclipse show me the grace infused life God has made. As I am awed and humbled by my presence before such wonder, I am reminded that I am God’s child. Grace; it is all grace.

Psalm 19 declares, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

As we ponder the signs in the heavens this day, may we learn to ponder the grace that is revealed in every moment and every thing. May we pray with the psalmist: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Peace to all,

Tim Olson


copyright © 2017, Timothy V. Olson

When Hate Comes Out: A Sermon in the Wake of Charlottesville

In my sermon this week I chose to address the hatred and violence on display in Charlottesville last week were clear and present signs of the reign of violence and hate that grips the world. Being white grants no privilege or power in the gentle reign of God. Instead, Jesus proclaims that what comes out of our mouths reveals our true selves. If hate comes out, there is hate within. In his exchange with a Canaanite woman, Jesus reveals that he is bound and determined to welcome those we hate into the reign of God – and that is good news. God’s love is big enough to cleanse our hearts of our hate and our privilege.

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After the sermon I was asked why I didn’t address the violence of the “other side.” First, I believe I denounced all violence in this sermon. Second, my task, because of the treatment of “outsiders” by the privileged in the text, called for attention to those who are privileged and powerful in our world – that bill is filled at Charlottesville by the White Right. Third, eyewitness accounts from people like Brian McLaren testify to the fact that describing this as a conflict between two armed camps is false. The lion’s share of counter protests were courageous and peaceful. Trying to ameliorate the wrongness of White hate groups by saying that there was violence on the “other side” makes this sound like an argument when it is not. It is the moral failure of our nation that it cannot simply declare White privilege and power wrong. Saying there were “sides” to an assertion of hate based on race is like saying there are “sides” when a woman or child is abused. The only “sides” are right and wrong.

May God’s gentle reign of peace prevail.

The rectangular foundations of the barracks at Dachau.

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If/Then Faith

Slave_to_None_SquareSermon on Romans 8 – July 16, 2017

We live in a world that has reduced faith to things concerned with personal spirituality that only deals with questions of “heaven.” Further, we rob the gospel of its power as we reduce faith to a series of “If/Then” equations: IF I follow the rules, THEN God will love me; IF I am a good person, THEN I will go to heaven; IF I repent, THEN God will forgive me. According to the Apostle Paul, this is, well… nonsense. The good news of Christ addresses the “groaning” of creation and each of us as we suffer under the weight of a broken world. Our “if/then” statements start with God’s action in Christ: “IF God is for us, THEN who can be against us.”

What’s Law Got to Do with It?

Slave_to_None_SquareSermon on Romans 7 – July 3, 2017

In the wake of Paul’s proclamation of God’s gracious acceptance, those familiar with God’s Word can ask, “What’s the law go to do with it, then?” In Romans 7, Paul reveals that while the law is God’s good gift to us, because of our rebellious nature and self-centeredness, we turn it into a curse. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”(Romans 7:15) What are we to do then? This sermon wrestles with that question.