Feeding the Soul

That's a Weird Looking Seagull!

As I was sitting in my backyard talking to my sister on the phone, I noticed this very large grey bird flying above me and I thought “that’s a weird looking seagull.” Suddenly the reality of what this bird was struck me. I gasped out loud and yelled into the phone, “it’s a Great Blue Heron!!!”

For me, seeing a Great Blue Heron close to my house is not a common thing. I live in a very urban setting. Less than 100 metres from my home is a seven lane road; a highway more like it. I do not live in a pastoral setting, in fact I get excited when a squirrel visits my yard. So seeing this wonderful bird in flight over my head was something to squeal about.

I have long been enamoured with the heron. Once upon a time, someone told me that the heron is a symbol of Christ. I can’t really remember why, maybe because it appears to walk on water. Even now, though, whenever I see a heron I think about Jesus. So, when this beautiful bird flew over my head in my urban setting, deep within my soul, I thought, “Wow! Wonderful! It’s a miracle! There’s Jesus!”

Here, once again, is an example of how God breaks into the ordinary; where God flies over my head in the shape of a beautiful Blue Heron and causes a moment of awe in my life.

Sometimes, I lose my breath at the great beauty that God has given us, don’t you? God is everywhere, in every beautifully created thing and all we have to do is open our eyes. Of course, God is always with us, but sometimes God breaks into our lives when we least expect it. One normal, ordinary day, you’ll be talking to your sister on the phone in your back yard and look up and think “that’s a weird looking seagull.” Nope, that’s God, reminding us how blessed we are to be part of God’s great creation.

Rev. Nadine Nicholds

Being Who You Really Are


By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:22-23, 26 NRSV)

Prayer

Creator God, there is so much of you that millions and millions of ‘little Christs’, all different, all unique, will still be too few to express you fully. As an author invents characters in a novel you have invented all of us and who we were intended to be. May we, through the power of your Holy Spirit bring forth from us our real selves – the Christ within us.  Amen.

Meditation

Take a moment and light a candle and turn out all the lights in the room after you have read, out loud the Bible reading, and the prayer. In silence close your eyes and imagine what life might be like if we could get the person we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way, and let the Christ within us take over.  What  would that look like? What would we be like, not only for our sake , but for the sake of others everywhere? What would it feel like not to be dominated by our own heredity and upbringing and surroundings? When you’re ready, open your eyes slowly and when they are fully open focus on the light of the candle – the light of Christ. Who is it showing you – the person we proudly call ‘Myself’ who becomes a meeting place for events which we never started and cannot stop, the one whose wishes are merely desires pumped into us by others, and whose personal political ideas are actually propaganda propagated elsewhere OR when you look into the light does it illuminate something else, that we are not in our natural state nearly so much of a person as we like to believe. That if we are to know who we really are we must give ourselves up to Christ’s Personality – to Christ’s self - for that is when and where we first begin to find that we have a real personality  and identity of our own.

Now, in your calm, meditative state, feel the breath of the Holy Spirit upon your neck and let it cover you like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s evening. Let us rejoice in the gift of the Spirit we all share and allow the Spirit to awaken in us the Christ that dwells there, the Christ it is no good trying to be ourselves without.

Prayer

Dearest God, the harder I try to resist your Son and your Spirit and live on my own, the more I become dominated by those things that are poured into me by others  around me and the culture in which I live and I become a slave to ‘me’. Guide me and strengthen me, open my eyes, my heart, my soul and my mind to the light and life of your Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. John Polacok

Works of the Spirit

In the youth group that I belonged to in 1980’s, some of the favourite topics we used to ponder and discuss were: “How can God be one, yet three persons?” and “How did Cain find a wife, when he was the only human being on the earth besides his parents?” or “Is drinking alcohol really a sin?”

One question that we used to bug our youth leader or pastor with was the question of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  Some more devoted and pious youth had real problems with this one, while we others just wanted to see the helpless looks on the faces of the leaders who were supposed to have answers to everything.

When I look back to these times and topics, I cannot but smile – and be glad that the time of youth is long gone. Yet, the other day I found myself thinking once again, on the question of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. What goes around – seems to come around.

In Lutheran theology, the works of the Holy Spirit are seen as a mystery, something that cannot easily be told apart from the rest of the things happening in our lives or in the life of the church. Holy Spirit works also in and through smallest things, through people and their actions in the world.

Nowadays I hear Holy Spirit’s name mentioned in our Church more often than before. (Or maybe earlier I just hadn’t paid attention to this.) When things go smoothly, in accordance with our way, we say confidently: “The Holy Spirit is working here.” This may sound very biblical and devout; I’m not sure whether God’s Spirit should be mentioned so adamantly. I wonder if we sometimes only want to ratify our own actions and plans by using the name of the Holy Spirit.  Do we see Spirit’s work when things are not going according to our plans?

When Jesus once healed a blind and mute man  the Pharisees’ immediate reaction was: “by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” (Mark 3:29) Jesus summoned and confronted them, saying that they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They saw white as black – the purest good as the darkest evil. I think that we may, in fact, make the same mistake as Pharisees did, but conversely. We claim that we see Holy Spirit working where the Spirit may not be working.

We would so much like to see our deeds and plans as part of God’s mission that secretly we may think that just uttering the name of the Spirit brings the Holy Spirit to bless our work. But I think that all we can do is to do the best we can, and pray that it would be in line with God’s will and that the Holy Spirit would guide and lead us. Let us not harness the wind of God – the Spirit – to our own mindset.

Rev. Olavi Hepomaki,
St. James Lutheran in Baden

Sing a New Song!

In the book, Have a Little Faith, Mitch Albom is asked by his childhood rabbi to say his eulogy.  Not knowing him that well anymore, Mitch decides to get to know the rabbi a bit better. On one visit, as they sit together, Mitch sees on a pile of stacked papers a file folder marked with the title “GOD”. Mitch is curious and his eye keeps wandering to the file folder. We learn later on in the book,  it turns out the rabbi has clipped and saved newspaper articles, ideas, excerpts from books, people’s lived experiences and his own, and placed them in that folder.  The rabbi, his whole career, his whole life long, had been looking for where God was active in the world.

Clipped from a newspaper, for my own file folder (though mine is entitled “Sermon Illustrations”) is an article from the newspaper dated April 27, 2012: “Mass Killer Rejected in Song”.  Organized through social media sites like Facebook, some 40,000 people gathered in downtown Oslo, and in squares across Norway, to sing a song to mass murderer and fanatic Anders Behring Breivik.  It is a song Breivik has said he cannot stand, claiming its message has weakened Norwegian society (his target:  immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants, and Norwegians who support immigration). “They gathered by the tens of thousands, aiming to face down terror with the power of music.” The song they sang that day was by American folk singer and songwriter Pete Seeger called, “My Rainbow Race”:
“A sky full of stars, blue sea as far as you can see.
An earth where flowers grow, can you wish for more?
Together we shall live, every sister, every brother,
Young children of the rainbow, a fertile land.”

None of us could blame those who lost children on Utoya Island or lost loved ones in the government building bombing if they had anger or hatred in their hearts. We would understand, and know that it is part of human nature, to want to respond with that same anger, hatred, and even vengeance. But this is not the path that Norwegians want to take.

Instead, they sing a different song.  Standing in the rain by the thousands, they sang of a country they want to see; about a land where they and their children can live in safety and peace.  Standing together, they sang so as to not let a fanatic’s hate draw them in and change them. They sang to remind themselves of who they are and who they want to be. To sing this way takes a tremendous amount of courage. It also takes a tremendous amount of faith. 

“Sing! Sing a new song! Sing of that great day when all will be one! God will reign, and we’ll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love...” (We Are Called, ELW #720).  This, too, we sing.
I know this is one story I will keep in my file folder, from now on marked: “GOD”.

Katherine Altenburg

"And on this rock I will build my church..."

What does the future hold for the Church? We are facing great changes in the future. By the Church I mean all of Christendom. As individual denominations we all face different issues, struggles, and challenges. Some denominations will not survive and some congregations will not be here in 10 years. It is a stark reality that many of us do not want to face or deal with it. We feel powerless and fearful that we are losing something near and dear to us.

 
I know… I hear the voices of those who have grown up in their local church and raised their families there. They have invested a lifetime of memories and faith in their local church which is their local family of faith. I have been the pastor to some of these congregations. It is like watching a member of your family die. It is changing our lives and our communities.


Many of us spend a great deal of time and energy analyzing the problem. We blame the modern culture around us; we blame the changing community life; we blame the changing populations; we blame the attitudes of the youth who seem to lack religious commitment; we blame sports played on Sunday; and we spend a lot of time reminiscing about the past glory of the church. While it is natural to try to find the reasons for the problem of declining churches, it is completely pointless and fruitless. Blame will not change the future. And if we wallow in blame it will create bitterness and resentment. Blame is never Holy Spirit directed.


What can we do? First we must remember Jesus’ promise to us. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18  So the gates of Hades (hell) will not overcome the church. Does that mean low attendance, not enough money, or no pastor can overcome His church? No, they won’t… if hell cannot beat us, these other things cannot either. If this promise is true then what does Jesus mean here by “my church”? Is it the denomination that we are in? No, these are institutions created by humans. Is it the building that we have worked so hard on to keep going through the years? No, these are constructions built by humans. Is it the people we have attended services with throughout our lives? Yes, but not only them- we belong to the Church that has a worldwide membership.


The key to understanding the times is not to focus upon the buildings, organizations, or denominations. The key to thriving is to focus upon what we are building upon- or better yet- whom we build upon. All other things are constructions of humans. We Christians build upon “the Rock”.  Luke 6:47-49: I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete. We build upon Jesus; he is the rock that the apostle Peter would place his trust, and build his life on. Let’s focus our energy, not on blame or schemes, but upon Jesus and his words to us.


So no matter what happens to the local church congregation, you will still remain in Jesus’ church that will stand throughout time and space. You will keep your membership in this church forever and it will never fail or close.

Rev Paul Jensen

Your Old Friend Isn't Such a Friend Anymore

Psalm 146: "Don't trust leaders; don't trust any human beings - there's no help
with them!...The person whose help is the God of Jacob - is truly happy! God: the maker of heaven and earth...God: who is faithful forever....God: who gives justice to people who are oppressed and bread to people who are starving!" (The Common English Bible)

Once upon a time, in the city where I live, it was easy to get a piece of land to
build a church. But the 1960s and 70s are long gone. Now my congregation is
looking at buying a building, and there's a snag: city councils don't want to give
up property for an organization that doesn't pay municipal taxes. Approvals and
zoning changes are hard to get. Churches are discouraged. In other words:
compared to condo developments and dollar stores, church steeples are just not
worth that much anymore! Is that a bad thing? Maybe not! Now, at least, we Christians can get down to our real "business". From the ranks of the powerless, we hear again, in this Psalm, and in the miracles and teachings of Jesus, and everywhere in the Bible, that God has a special heart-place for the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed.

Big business, big banks, and the usual "successful" ventures of the world have
sometimes been "fair-weather" friends to us. We've been blinded by the
corporate ways. Psalm 146 reminds us of what we should have known all along - that our ONLY help is not in fame, fortune, or numbers, but in the God of
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Luther, and of those who have worshipped before us
and with us. God is our help - our ONLY help. God is our strength. In the eyes of the world we are seen more and more as powerless. We engage in the Gospel, which is "foolishness", as St Paul put it. But our foolish message of the suffering and cross is always wrapped up with the foolishly hopeful message of
resurrection.

"Even the foolishness of the cross is wiser than the wisdom of the world". In
these hard times for our churches, may we not only take solace from that fact,
but even strength. May we go out and be part of God's mission to those who, like us, never were friends of the powerful.


Rev. Matthew Anderson

Your Old Friend Isn't Such a Friend Anymore

Psalm 146: "Don't trust leaders; don't trust any human beings - there's no help
with them!...The person whose help is the God of Jacob - is truly happy! God: the
maker of heaven and earth...God: who is faithful forever....God: who gives justice
to people who are oppressed and bread to people who are starving!" (The
Common English Bible)

Once upon a time, in the city where I live, it was easy to get a piece of land to
build a church. But the 1960s and 70s are long gone. Now my congregation is
looking at buying a building, and there's a snag: city councils don't want to give
up property for an organization that doesn't pay municipal taxes. Approvals and
zoning changes are hard to get. Churches are discouraged. In other words:
compared to condo developments and dollar stores, church steeples are just not
worth that much anymore!

Is that a bad thing? Maybe not! Now, at least, we Christians can get down to our
real "business". From the ranks of the powerless, we hear again, in this Psalm,
and in the miracles and teachings of Jesus, and everywhere in the Bible, that
God has a special heart-place for the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed.
Big business, big banks, and the usual "successful" ventures of the world have
sometimes been "fair-weather" friends to us. We've been blinded by the
corporate ways. Psalm 146 reminds us of what we should have known all along -
that our ONLY help is not in fame, fortune, or numbers, but in the God of
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Luther, and of those who have worshipped before us
and with us. God is our help - our ONLY help. God is our strength. In the eyes of
the world we are seen more and more as powerless. We engage in the Gospel,
which is "foolishness", as St Paul put it. But our foolish message of the suffering
and cross is always wrapped up with the foolishly hopeful message of
resurrection.

"Even the foolishness of the cross is wiser than the wisdom of the world". In
these hard times for our churches, may we not only take solace from that fact,
but even strength. May we go out and be part of God's mission to those who, like
us, never were friends of the powerful.

Rev. Matthew Anderson

Theology of the Cross

“Why did we have to change Palm Sunday?” she asked the Pastor, with some sadness in her tone. “It used to be such an up-beat Sunday! A lot of us were confirmed on Palm Sunday! Now we sing a few ‘Hosannas’ and then, almost immediately, we bow our heads in sorrow at the cruel death of our Saviour.”

“Actually,” said the Pastor, “our worship on Palm / Passion Sunday reflects a very important Lutheran teaching! Rather than trying to explain that teaching, let me tell you a story. I don’t know where I heard it – but I like it!”

It’s about an old rocking-chair that sits in the office of a high school principal in southern USA. When visitors ask the principal about it he explains that it belonged to his grandma. She used to rock him in it, whenever he felt ill. Sometimes the principal tells the whole story – that just above the chair a crucifix hung on the wall. How one night his grandma told the little boy, now-principal, the story of Jesus, and how Jesus died nailed to a cross like that one.

The little boy didn’t sleep well that night; the story of the cross troubled him, a lot. So, early the next morning, before anyone else was awake, he climbed up and took the crucifix off the wall; using his grandma’s letter-opener, and he tried to pry the nails out of the hands of Jesus! When he couldn’t do it, he cried and cried, and that was how his grandma found him. She hugged him as he sobbed and said, through his tears, that it was wrong, cruel, that Jesus should die that way. So she told him, lovingly, some more of the story. She tried to help him understand: she promised that, as he grew older, he would come to understand more about the bad things in the world, and also in our own lives; but also about God’s deep, deep, love; and how Jesus was willing to suffer and die for us all. When you understand all that, she said, the cross will become for you a beautiful sign of the greatest love there is; and you will be happy to wear it; even to mark it on yourself with your own hand, just as a minister did when you were baptized.

As Lutherans, we understand that it is tempting to want to only celebrate what seems like the ‘good stuff” – we often call that a “theology of glory.” Sometimes that is what Palm Sunday feels like. But the rocking chair story reminds us that “the really good stuff” is the Passion story. Or, as we often say, “The Theology of the Cross.”

Text: Philipians 2: 5-11

Rev. Phil Heinze, Eastern Synod Director of Public Policy

 

My Faith Story

This summer has been a difficult one for our family, and I was feeling that my faith was hanging on “by a thread”.

One evening, my daughter and granddaughter were waiting for me. My six year old granddaughter excitedly said, “Look up, look up at the sky Gramma!” The sky was filled with the most amazing sunset that I have ever seen! What was more wonderful, was that this particular daughter and granddaughter saw God’s work and shared it with me.

This event helped make that thread of faith a little stronger.

Lois Heaslip

You are reading a series of Women's Faith Stories

 

My Faith Story

I used to watch CSI pretty regularly on TV. In one episode, Grisham and his team were called in to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, probably around the age of 10 or 11. She had, as I recall, an older sister (or friend?) and an older brother. The brother had an illness that required periodic blood transfusions, and the family was having problems finding a donor whose blood was a match.

The older sister told the investigators that the girl had been abducted by someone in a car.  This was, in time, proven to be false. It was also revealed that the parents had chosen to have the girl in hopes that her blood type would match her brother’s. She was the donor, and periodically had to give her blood to keep her brother alive. In time, Grisham discovered that the girl was dead, and his investigations revealed the brother as the killer.

In the last scene of the TV drama, Grisham finds the boy in a church, alone in the quiet. He sits beside him and the boy tells his story. He saw how his sister suffered each time she had to give blood, and how she was becoming weaker all the time. He could not continue to take her blood anymore and he knew his parents would not stop. To end the horrible situation, he killed her. He knew he had done wrong and he knew Grisham was there to arrest him; he accepted the situation.  He said to Grisham: “I know you don’t believe in God, Mr. Grisham, but you do his work.” The look of surprise on Grisham’s face, and maybe even discomfort, was interesting to see.

This scene has stayed with me for several years. I find myself remembering it and the boy’s words and thinking about them, puzzling over them. I find myself thinking, God works through everyone, even those who do not believe. We can’t really know how God is working. We can’t judge. We have to let God lead; sometimes in order to follow we need to wait and see.

I’m not sure I really understand. To me, faith is a life journey, often with detours and doubts, and in the end, sometimes all I can do is trust God. Isn’t that trust what faith really is? This journey of faith is an interesting journey, often joyful, even with the doubts and uncertainties. It’s odd, but it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to think that my whole lifetime will not be long enough to explore my faith questions. Every time I think a question is answered, more open up. But I find that I like that. This episode of CSI opened up many thoughts and questions.

Bette Rempel

You are reading a series of Women's Faith Stories

Pages