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June 3, 2016, 7:54 AM

Synod Assembly Recap

This year, Synod Assembly was held May 13-14 at Shalom Lutheran Church in Pinckney.  The Assembly was pleased to welcome three plenary presenters:

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton presented on “Called Forward Together in Christ.” We broke into small groups and discussed what we thought should be the top priorities of the ELCA as a whole and how we use our resources.  For more about this, see:

Pr. Mike Ward presented on Stewardship, the “Rise Up!” Synod capital appeal and the Stewardship for A Seasons Program.  Holy Spirit and nine other congregations are working with him to pilot this program in the Synod.

Pr. Wayne Muller presented on the concept of Sabbath out of his own experiences as a pastor and chaplain in New Mexico working with people suffering abuse, poverty, illness and loss.  He invited us to reclaim Sabbath time to focus on God in our own lives as a form of lay leadership development.  Instead of sharing summaries of the reports and elections, they are available online at:;

Bishop Kreiss shared his thanks to all who helped make the Youth Gathering a success as well as his willingness to stand for re-election as Bishop next year. 

Bishop Eaton presented the ELCA Church-wide report and again affirmed the ELCA’s support for Flint. As of the end of the Assembly, over $220,000 has been raised for Flint from ELCA congregations and members from around the country. For a brief video message shared at all the Synod Assemblies, click here:

There were five Resolutions passed by the Assembly:

Resolution 1 – “Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis” expressed its gratitude to congregations and individuals who have responded to the water crisis.  It also requested continued prayer, ongoing financial support, and urged individuals to sign up for ELCA Advocacy alerts.

Resolution 2 – “Urging Action Regarding the Thrivent Choice Neutrality Policy” requested Bishop Kreiss to urge Thrivent to allow for individual freedom and choice in supporting charitable giving without restriction through its Thrivent Choice program.

Resolutions 3 and 4 – “Increased Advocacy for a Just Peace in the Holy Land” (and a supporting memorial (Resolution 4) to the 2016 Church-wide Assembly) called upon the Synod Council and Bishop to petition the US Congress to recognize Palestine as a “state” within the United Nations, ensure that Israel comply with United States laws for countries receiving financial and military aid to not engage in human rights violations and make future US  financial and military aid contingent on the cessation of illegal settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Resolution 5 – “African Descent Lutheran Lives Matter” memorialized the 2016 Church-wide Assembly to reaffirm our commitment to growing by 10% the number of African descent leaders in the ELCA as well as encouraging ELCA Seminaries to incorporate Black Liberation theology in their coursework. Next year, the Synod Assembly will be in Port Huron at the Blue water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau from May 4-6, 2017.


April 8, 2016, 11:12 PM

What are the Biblical Roots of the Liturgy?

This Sunday, the second lesson is Revelation 5:11-14, and as part of that passage, we hear words in verse 12 that should sound familiar to us, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” These words form part of “This is the Feast” which is one of the Hymns of Praise often used as part of the liturgy.

I pointed this out to our Wednesday evening Bible Study as one of the ways we model the biblical portrayal of heavenly worship here on earth.  But then the discussion turned to other aspects of the liturgy that are grounded in biblical texts.

The individual components of the liturgy developed over the centuries, but most of the texts have some kind of origin in the scriptures. The core phrases and images of the standard liturgy in Evangelical Lutheran Worship derive from the Bible and provide an important connection to the scriptures.  In addition, you may have noticed that the seasonal rites we use at Holy Spirit for the Confession and Forgiveness, prayers and blessings often parallel biblical themes for that liturgical season.  So, how much of the liturgy references scripture?  Well, here is a list with web links to those biblical passages:

GATHERING: Psalm 149:1; Joel 2:15-17; Isaiah 48:14; Matthew 18:20; Acts 2:1-13

Confession and Forgiveness

1 John 1:8-9

Greeting (The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ...)

2 Corinthians 13:13

Kyrie – Lord, have mercy

Luke 17:13

Hymn of Praise: Glory to God

Luke 2:14

Hymn of Praise: This is the Feast

Revelation 5:12-13

Salutation (The Lord be with you)

Ruth 2:4; Luke 1:28

LITURGY OF THE WORD: Matthew 4:4; John 1:1-5; Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:1-5

First Reading

Hebrew scriptures (Acts – during Easter)



Second Reading

New Testament epistles

Gospel Acclamation (Lord to whom...)

John 6:68

Gospel Acclamation (Return to the Lord...)

Deuteronomy 30:2; Numbers 14:18; Joel 2:13

Holy Gospel


The Prayers

1 Timothy 2:1-2

LITURGY OF THE MEAL: John 6:48-50; Acts 2:42

Greeting of Peace – the Peace of Christ be with you always

Matthew 5:23-24; John 14:27;
Romans 16:16

Offertory – Create in me a clean heart

Psalm 51:10-12

Great Thanksgiving

Psalm 136

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord (Sanctus)

Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 21:9

Words of Institution

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:9-13

Lamb of God (Agnus Dei)

John 1:29

SENDING: Matthew 28:19; John 20:21

Canticle – Lord, now you let your servant...

Luke 2:28-32

Canticle – Thank the Lord…

Psalm 105:1-3, 42-45

Benediction (The Lord bless you...)

Numbers 6:23-26

Dismissal (Go in peace...)

Luke 7:50


I hope you see now (if you didn't before) that every time we gather in worship, we hear far more than a few passages of scripture from a lectionary passage.  We add our voices to the saints and angels singing, "blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).  For indeed, through baptism, we are a part of that heavenly chorus. Thanks be to God!

-Pr. Nathan

March 10, 2016, 10:40 AM

The Stations of the Cross Explained

Since Holy Week is fast approaching, and we have already done a “Frequently Asked Questions” insert in the bulletin explaining the origins of the Passover Seder, I thought I would offer some brief history and reflections on the “Stations of the Cross”, which will be our Good Friday noon service.  (Come and invite a friend!)

So what are they?  The Stations of the Cross combine art, literature and movement to symbolically recreate Christ’s walk to the cross.  Except, we do it within the walls of the church building, so that we can join in the “pilgrimage to Jerusalem” and be drawn closer to Jesus as we remember his very real walk to the Cross.

From the time of the first Apostles, Christians have wanted to go to the Holy Land and walk the path that Jesus walked, especially the path to the foot of the cross. Then, when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313, his mother, Helena, set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to officially mark and build churches at significant places in Jesus’ life.  Even to this day, pilgrims follow Helena’s journey and worship in the churches she established.   

The earliest diary of a pilgrimage is given by a young woman named Egeria around 394. She writes in detail about the Holy Week liturgies that occurred in sequence at different churches (stations) in Jerusalem as each related to the story of Jesus’ Way of the Cross.  Later on in the 5th century at the monastery of Santo Stefano in Bologna, Italy, a group of connected chapels was constructed by Petronius, Bishop of Bologna, which was intended to represent the more important shrines of Jerusalem, and as best we can tell, served as the basis for later Stations of the Cross.

Over the centuries, many different forms of the Stations of the Cross arose. The official set of stations was finally established in 1731 by Pope Clement XII and consists of 14 scenes:

1. Jesus is condemned to death,
2. Jesus carries his cross,
3. Jesus falls the first time,
4. Jesus meets his mother,
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross,
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus,
7. Jesus falls the second time,
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem,
9. Jesus falls the third time,
10. Jesus' clothes are taken away,
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross,
12. Jesus dies on the cross,
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross, and
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb. 

You may have noticed, reading through the list, that not all of those stations are scriptural—they are certainly based on early tradition—but five are not specifically found in the Bible.  That has led to some variations in the number and selection of scenes.  In 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced a “scriptural stations of the Cross” based completely on the Biblical record.  (This is the version we will use on Good Friday at noon.)  But regardless of which version one uses, the point remains the same: the Stations are a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer and meditation on the suffering and death of Jesus, which is why it is especially appropriate for Good Friday during the hours of noon to three when Jesus lay dying on the cross.

I think the Stations of the Cross also help us understand the concept of “sacred space” as well.  We all know there are certain things you are/are not supposed to do in church (though, we all might include different things on our lists).  But the space isn’t sacred because we paint the walls with “holy” paint, or use “sanctified” concrete in the construction.  It is holy because it is a place where we encounter God in Word and Sacrament.  It is holy because we set it apart from the busy-ness of life for prayer and mediation.  It is holy because we find ourselves in this space for many of the most vulnerable moments of our lives: for confession and forgiveness, for baptisms, for weddings and funerals.  And so, when we pray the Stations of the Cross, what we are (maybe unknowingly) doing is joining our vulnerability with Christ’s, and kneeling in prayer there—beneath his cross.

May God continue to bless you all with grace and strength through your own pilgrimage this Lent!

-Pr. Nathan

February 22, 2016, 9:42 AM

A Traditional Franciscan Blessing 

Some members asked for a copy of the traditional Franciscan blessing that I used as my conclusion to the sermon on Sunday.  Here it is:

"May God bless you with discomfort, at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears, to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy. 

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done."

You can find a few different version online as well.  Here are a couple sites that give more background about it:  and....


-Pr. Nathan

February 12, 2016, 4:17 PM

A Note on the Purpose and Scope of this Blog

Before I begin, a note on the purpose and scope of this blog: Because we do not publish a printed newsletter at Holy Spirit, but rather rely on more extensive weekly announcements, I have been working on an accessible way to post a regular “Pastor’s article” for the congregation.  One way I thought of doing this was to post at least a monthly article on this blog tied to our website.  Thus, these posts will often take on the form of a monthly article meant to encourage and inform the people of Holy Spirit Lutheran in Grand Blanc about matters of faith and life particularly in our context as an ELCA Lutheran church in the metro Flint area.  However, I imagine there will be other readers outside the congregation as well, which I will keep in mind as I write--and I hope you will as well. 

In addition to articles that I write, there may also be some links to other blogs and news information that I find meaningful enough to share for your encouragement.  I will structure such links in the context of a short post that explains what the article is about, but make it clear that the link is to the work of another author.

The site also has “RSS Feed” capability, so by signing up for the RSS feed, you should receive an announcement to let you know every time new information is posted.

Finally, please note that this blog is a work in progress.  It may morph in scope and purpose in time; I will do my best to make it clear if or when that happens, but as with all things at Holy Spirit Lutheran, we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work to transform us in ways we don't always see or realize in the moment.  Thanks for reading, and may the words shared in subsequent posts enrich your faith and life!

Peace and Blessings in Christ,

-Pr. Nathan

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