More than Miracles

One of categories of questions at least this pastor gets asked deal with who God loves and hates; who is in and out; who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. It seems actually to be an obsession in our age. Maybe it always has been so. The answer to this question can be approached from all sorts of angles. Today, I would submit that is we pay attention to the miracles shared in scripture, we might get a clue to the answer. Now, miracles often send us on squirrel hunts and down rabbit trails. Miracles are often thought of as divine interventions that subvert the laws of nature, somehow. I don’t think that is right. At least that is not the whole story. In fact, the most important thing about miracle narratives is what they tell us about God. In this sermon, I try to look beyond the surface of the miracles of Elijah and Jesus to see the God who is central to the story. I take my cue from Jesus himself. It really is about more than miracles. It is about the way God loves us… all of us. Take a listen. More than Miracles: Who Finds Favor with God?

Pax Christi, Tim Olson

 

Memory & Memorial Day

As Memorial Day approaches it is important to remember. We must remember with accuracy, not nostalgia, lest we negate the loss and suffering of the past. We must remember with solemnity, lest we stoke the passions that give rise to the horror of war. We must remember so that we can look ahead and see around us both the rise of hatred and judgment and the gentle work that advances peace. Most of all, we must remember that as people of faith, God has shared in every death and tragedy we have inflicted upon ourselves – the death of Jesus Christ testifies to this. We must also remember that God is constantly working to bring about peace. So, as we remember most that God’s work has always been and will always be a call for us, as the spiritual sings, to study war no more.Remembering the dead mocks their sacrifice and becomes self-serving if we continue to embrace violence and reject forgiveness and reconciliation.

I recently came across a video look that presents the facts about the losses of war, especially World War II. The data and presentation was overwhelming – devastating really. Please take the time to watch so we can all remember rightly, honor the sacrifice and work for peace. A Video of The True Cost and Horror of War

Pax Christi,

Tim Olson

Antisocial Media: Mental Health in a Facebook World

“Social media” refers to an ever-growing set of apps, programs, sources and websites that seek to create “social” connections. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and others all work to connect and maintain connections between people. They build a virtual “society” where all kinds of things – for good and for ill – and can happen. It seems to me that “social” implies a positive, healthy construction of networks, relationships – or as we call them on Facebook, “friendships.” However, I’m not so sure that the effect of “virtual society” is always healthy. Perhaps then we need to acknowledge that our technological efforts to connect, actually disconnect us. Maybe instead of healthy, supportive interaction, the result is often more dark, foreboding and even injurious. In that sense, we can also see these technological means of connection as “antisocial media.”

Let me illustrate. My birthday approaches. I have two Facebook feeds – one professional and one personal. One of them (if I have things set up correctly) will announce that date to my “legion” (hah!) of “friends.”  Last year, I noted that for a reason that I cannot explain, I began to keep track of how many “friends” wished me “happy birthday.” I was able to catch this little piece of self-evaluation; this perhaps unhealthy desire for attention, and stopped when I noticed what I was doing. However, the realization was revelatory. In a way that I do not apply to any other dimension of my life (receiving cards, phone calls, even emails) I started on a path to self-evaluation based on the attention I received on Facebook. Really? For me. It was a moment of insight. But what about people who have just a shade less self-confidence? What if we don’t catch ourselves? The results can be devastating.

The self-evaluation and antisocial aspects of virtual societies are societies too often based on comparison. We post a picture or a “status” that celebrates an accomplishment or achievement. Many celebrate with us. But what about the times when we see things that cause us to feel diminished that others can celebrate and we cannot. In real society (community) we learn to moderate our joy when dealing with friends and loved ones who are in a place where our joy might cause pain. I can celebrate a goofy thing my dog did with those who appreciate it, but spare the friend who just put their dog down. I can enjoy a lovely wedding anniversary and measure that joy when I’m with the dear one who is going through a divorce.

This is much harder to do on social media. The broadcast nature of the medium means everyone gets the same information and there is little or no compassion or care in the message. When I am present in a group and see someone stung by something shared, I can read faces and body language, even tears. I can deal with that as a human. Social media, because the interaction is done in isolation and one dimensionally, so to speak, means that I can’t sense a harm done.

A friend of mine recently shared an article about this matter from the perspective of one who struggles with depression.”5 Reasons Why Facebook Can Be Dangerous for People with Depression” by Lorne Jaffey, helps us think about how social media affects not only those who struggle with depression, but all of us when we are in a vulnerable, dark moment of self-doubt or pain.

Now, you may respond that it is not your problem how people receive what you share or that people have to manage their own anxiety. Indeed, there is some truth to this. However, as one who tries to allow Jesus to pattern my living, I think compassion, humility and love take precedence over my “right” to say whatever I want whenever I want.

This all makes me think more deeply about what we post and when. It makes me think about the usefulness – and the misuse – of social media as a tool for ministry and friendships. Maybe if I would never think of bragging in person, I should refrain on Facebook. Maybe if something is too personal to tell real people, I should refrain from a Twitter post. Maybe not every opinion or thought I have is necessarily helpful when shared in virtual society. That me be another topic for another day.

Pax Christi – Tim

Religious Climate Change

When it comes to being the church and sharing the good news, everything has changed. Like the environmental climate is undergoing big changes, the climate for being the church has changed. I recently shared some thoughts about this with good people of the Evangelical Church in America in Region 3 (Minnesota and the Dakotas).

The video was produced as a part of a conference that was streamed from Gustavus Adolphus College called “Grace Based Evangelism”

Guilty Bystander: Confessing My Apathy

When the harvest does come; when the new life does finally produce bushels and bushels of your love, why then do I allow the crop to rot in the field while I sit idly by and wait for someone else to harvest? Or worse, why do I never leave my recliner to go into the field? God, help me.

Lord, it’s me again. Tonight, I think I have to confess that I am a guilty bystander – not an innocent bystander – a guilty one. I’m the opposite of a Good Samaritan. I’m the cast of the final episode of Seinfeld, sitting in jail because I just, well, stood by.

I see the suffering of the world; I hear the cries of injustice and suffering; I smell the stink of decay and death; I feel the coldness of a world that lacks even common decency on my skin, in my heart. And yet, with my senses all alert, I more often than not, do little or nothing about any of it.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, author and survivor of the Nazi death camps Elie Wiesel has said, “The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.” If he is right, then perhaps one of the greatest sins against the God of love is apathy.  Hate bothers to expend the energy to turn a child of God into an object of scorn. Apathy… well, it just refuses to give a rip. I confess that this analysis – this accusation – cuts me to the bone with its sharp edged truth.

I know well that there is no room for apathy in a life of faith. Apathy is condemned in the words of I John: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (I John 3:17)  How does the rich man, who plainly sees Lazarus starving at his gate as plainly as he sees his own image in the mirror every morning, do nothing to love his neighbor? (Luke 16:19 ff) I understand the reality. But it about more than just understanding, isn’t it? How do I let things slide so easily?

I John calls – demands – “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” And yet, I am too often unmoved by this demand; this holy, Christ-like demand. Why?

To be honest, it seems to me an overwhelming demand. There is so much suffering in the broken and busted world and frankly God, I’m busy. I can’t fit it all in. How can I solve the problems of the world with my calendar already full of things you call me to do? Well, to be honest, maybe you don’t call me to do all those other things. Maybe I use that as a little bit of an excuse. Honestly, I guess, my schedule is often full not of things you call me to do, but the things this world expects me to do; things I think I must do. The loud voices of Madison Avenue, pundits, social media and my deep desire to be accepted call me to fill my calendar. I’m really bad about saying no and making you a priority. I have to confess that while I’m busy, it is not with things that may be on your list of priorities for my life.

And yes, before you say it, Lord, you don’t ask me to solve the problem of world hunger or poverty or human trafficking. I John just points me to the one in need who is standing right in front of me. You don’t call me to solve the problem, just to be part of the solution with what you have already given me.  My apathy Lord, I confess, is sometimes due to my own lack of priorities.

So, OK, it is not that I am too busy. But it is still hard. I love the life you have given me and I really need to be a good steward of what I have, don’t I? The problems of this world are always, it seems, interruptions in the order of my day. Acting differently today than I did yesterday is a disruption and it seems to me to risk losing track of other important things. OK, I’ll be honest – we both know how we humans feel about change. As your servant, Richard Rohr has said, “The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling, or changing, or dying. The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo – even when it’s not working. It attaches to past and present and fears the future.” (Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life)

Acting is one thing. But acting differently is change, and I really prefer the status quo. Respectfully, God that is a problem I have with you. You are really not a God of the status quo are you? I mean, resurrection is an ultimate stand against what was for something totally new. So I get it, but I don’t like it. How can I see the person suffering before me and not be the agent of new life and hope for them if I believe in the resurrection? Because I’m comfortable – and that is a terrible reason. For my love of the past and satisfaction with the way things are; for my resistance to change and new life, I must confess.

Lord, is it that I just don’t care? I think I do. I hope I do. I care about the things that are wrong with this world; the people who suffer. I feel pain in my soul when I see what goes on. But I still don’t do anything. Maybe it is deeper than not caring. Dare I admit to you that I’m afraid? Afraid that if I do anything, that what I do, we do – even in your name – just doesn’t matter? There. I said it.

If doing what you call me to do doesn’t matter, then perhaps I must confess not my apathy, but my despair; my hopelessness. I must confess then that I have come to believe that the suffering and evil of the world is more powerful than you; that I believe in the rottenness of this world more than I believe in or trust your love. And if that is true, I’m in trouble, Lord. Because that means that what you did on the cross doesn’t matter either.

Mercy, Lord – to say that my actions don’t matter also means that I don’t matter. And that is what I fear the most – meaninglessness. I mean, you created me; you reside in the deepest part of me. How can I think I don’t matter? How can I not matter if you are part of me? And then the question comes back, How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” The truth is that when I do not act in your name I evict you and you cannot abide in me. Wow. For that sin I must confess.

You once told a parable about sowing seed on different kinds of ground that made it impossible for the good news, the new life, the reign of God to take root and thrive. (Mark 4) I love that parable. It has taught me to be aware of the ways that the concerns and cares of the world; the fears of my own heart; the noise of the voices of hate and sin can lead to desolation. As I stand before you tonight, I wonder if there is not another dimension of this parable that could be added. When the harvest does come; when the new life does finally produce bushels and bushels of your love, why then do I allow the crop to rot in the field while I sit idly by and wait for someone else to harvest? Or worse, why do I never leave my recliner to go into the field? God, help me.

For my apathy, despair, and hopelessness; for my refusal to let you in to my thoughts and my actions; for my excuses and for leaving the fruits of the kingdom rotting in the field, I confess, gracious Lord. Redeem me and take root in my life; take up residence in me so that I may love as you love. Amen.


 

Copyright © 2016 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved. Any use of this material must be attributed to Timothy V. Olson. To reproduce this material in published format, please contact Tim.

Addicted to Judgment: A Confession

“…judging someone “stupid” helps me feel smart.”

This is a reflection offered for Lenten Midweek services at Holy Trinity on February 24, 2016. The texts considered were: Romans 14:7-13 & Matthew 7:1-5

 

Lord, I know I’m not supposed to judge other people.  Your word is clear and consistent. You say, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) Paul urges, “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13) and “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself…” (Romans 2:1)

Sometimes I tell myself that you aren’t so clear about the matter. I can see words of judgment uttered by your very own prophets, from Amos to Zephaniah, upon all sorts of people for all sorts of things. You stand against injustice, oppression and the mistreatment of the poor, widow and alien in the land. These prophets condemn and judge what stands against you. Shouldn’t all your people be on the lookout for what seems to stand against your will? But then again, the prophets didn’t really speak for themselves, did they? Most of them resisted saying anything at all. They were called by you to speak your words of judgment – I am not. Actually, I, through my baptism, am called to a “ministry of reconciliation” according to Paul.

The truth is that, when I think about it at all (and I don’t normally, I must confess) not judging people is a most difficult command. I do it all the time…. With everything! Maybe it is because I need to make sound judgments about the “things” in my life. My car lease is coming to an end. I need to judge what cars seem good and what seem bad. I have to prepare for retirement, so I have to judge between one investment and another (and a little divine guidance would be appreciated here)! I have to assess what seems to be the right political and social position on a host of matters so I can vote and participate in life. It all comes so naturally. Maybe I just do the same with people. But people are not products. I know that, but I treat them like things anyway.

I also must admit… and this we need to keep between us, Lord… that I have discovered that; calling someone fat, helps me feel skinnier; judging someone to be less than me helps me make more of myself. Because I know, down deep that you know my faults and I’m just wearing a mask when I judge others. I guess that is what you meant by telling us to take the log out of our own eye before tending to the speck in somebody else’s. The truth is, the speck in my neighbors eye, when it comes to sin at least, is for my neighbor deal with, not me.

You know what else is useful about judging others Lord? I’m sure you know this. It keeps me from having to love them. Heck, it keeps me from having to even care about or pay attention to them. I like to fit people in boxes and build walls of protection to keep safe and to keep my life in control. Free me from interruptions and the intrusion of people! Perhaps the only thing harder than stopping the judgment of others is loving them – which, I know, you also command – but that is a confession for another day.

Loving others is risky and opens me up to pain and suffering. It sets me up to have my agenda, my needs, my wants, and my TV time interrupted by others. Judging others keeps me safe from all that. I know, Paul tells us that We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.”(Romans 14:7) He says it is to be all about you and you are all about love. We live for, with, and under you. But, I don’t know about anybody else… (Well, I think I really do know quite a bit about everybody else)… but I find passing judgment on others easier than sharing love with them.

Don’t think I don’t see what you do when I’m in full judgment mode; when I’m rating to others about others; when I’m completely absorbed by my addiction to judgment. The inability to love others and take you place as judge place turns my judgment back on me, Lord. You withdraw, for I have no room for your presence, your voice is drowned out by my own noise and ranting. You are available, but there is only room for one judge in my life, and if I’m filling that job description there is no room for you. Perhaps that’s what you mean when you say that when we judge others we will be judged. The walls I put up between me and others with every brick of judgment, with every stereotype, with every insult and cut-down also separates me form you. I wither from self-inflicted cheap-shot wounds.

In the end, Lord, while I wish to ignore it or strike a bargain with it, Paul’s words about your judgment of my judgment are troubling. He said, “…we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (Romans 14:10) That kind of terrifies me. It is not you that terrifies me, so much. I have seen your love for me on the cross, in your dying, rising and in your grace given each day. No, what terrifies me is that ALL will stand before you. There is no straight shot to the hellish principal’s office for those who offended me – and I assumed you too. All people – even those who I have found it so easy, so satisfying, to judge and dismiss stand before you. All get a shot at your grace and mercy. I fear that if you can’t help me with this addiction to judgment, I will stand before you surrounded by people who I am sure do not deserve to be there. And then the only thing left for me to judge as unrighteous, and unworthy will be the one who let all those reprobates into your presence – and that would be you. And then I’m lost. But I guess we’ve done that to you before.

Forgive me for my judgments and release me from addiction to judging others. Let me be addicted to love instead, please.

 

copyright 2016, Timothy V. Olson

On Gratitude & Thanks

As we all make preparations to celebrate the national day of Thanksgiving, I find myself pondering what it really means to be thankful. Some of the pondering is related to preparing to preach later this evening. But my thoughts are also of a more general sort. As I watch commercials begging me to come and spend for things I don’t have as soon as I’m done giving thanks for what I do have, I wonder if gratitude is really about the stuff we possess.

John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople in the late 4th and early 5th century, is always a challenging source in my pondering. I ran across this quotation:

“Go outside into a field. Ask yourself: “To whom does this field belong?” And you will reply to yourself: “It belongs to me” or “It belongs to so-and-so.” Then ask yourself: “To whom has this field belonged in the past?” If you know the history of that field, a list of names will appear in your mind. Then you will realize how little ownership means. That field has seen countless generations of people claiming ownership of it. Countless generations of feet have trod on it, have plowed its soil, and have sown and harvested grain. If the field were sentient, do you think it would feel owned by the person who claims ownership? Of course not. The field would feel that it owned itself and was welcoming the person who claimed ownership merely as a visitor. That is the way we should always think of ourselves on this earth: we are merely visitors, here for a short span to learn virtue; then after that span we shall continue our journey toward the kingdom that lasts forever.”   ((2012-07-20). On Living Simply (Kindle Locations 311-314). Liguori Publications. Kindle Edition.)

Can we even imagine gratitude not tied to our “possessions” – which Chrysostom says are not really our possessions? Can I settle for giving thanks that I am on the journey and leave it at that? Just questions to ponder on this eve before our day of Thanksgiving.

A blessed Day of Thanksgiving to you in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. – Tim