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December 8, 2016, 9:26 AM

Hurry Up and… Wait

I’ll admit it, I do not like to sit and wait.  I especially do not like having to wait unexpectedly when deadlines approach and when I have “things to do.”  I suspect I am not alone in this opinion.  Often, we wait only because we have to.  Waiting makes us anxious or annoyed that precious time is being wasted.  But waiting is not a bad thing.  Waiting gives us a chance to pause, to ask questions, and to anticipate the future. 

And so, as we encounter the readings from Matthew and the prophets this Advent, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves, what do they say to us this year?  Where are we in these stories?  How are these stories with us today?  Since Advent means “coming,” in what ways will Christ be coming to us at Holy Spirit in the year ahead?  

The human experience of longing is at the center of Advent.  Children long for Christmas—and the presents that come with that day.  But as we grow older, don’t the presents lose their luster—at least a little?  Instead of presents, we long for answers to life’s questions.  We discover that possessing something does not still our desire; we long for something more. Advent allows us a time each year to become more attentive to the things we still long for in life.  Maybe we long for justice and righteousness like the prophets Malachi and Jeremiah did.  Maybe we long for a future that is more than the sum of past and present.  Maybe we long to heal broken relationships, or to renew relationships that somehow got lost in the “hustle and bustle” we subject ourselves to.  Maybe we just long for peace—peace within ourselves and peace in world divided by opposing political views.

This longing in Advent is a sign of the church at odds with our culture.  In a time that says “you can watch your favorite shows and movies ‘on demand’” Advent says “Wait.” (You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. -James 5:8, NRSV)  To the commercials that say “you can turn your phone into a virtual reality headset now,”1 Advent says “hope for something you may never see in this life.” (The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” Isaiah 11:6, NRSV).  To an era that says “conform,” Advent says, “You have shown strength with your arm and scattered the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.  You have filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-3, NRSV).

Blue as a color for Advent gives us direction for our longing, for blue is the color both of the sea and the sky.  Our yearning reaches to the profound and to the lofty, to the very depths of our being and to the glory of heaven.  It is a longing for what we were intended to be as individuals and as the community of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church.  Blue symbolizes our hope for what we could become and for what is making its way into the present.  As Romans 15: 4-6 reminds us on the Second Sunday of Advent this year, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (NRSV)

As we anticipate and long for the coming of our Savior this Advent season, ask yourself, “what is it that I am waiting for this Advent?  What is it that I hope Christ will bring as he comes to me in the year ahead?” 

 -Pastor Nathan

1If you have no idea what a virtual reality headset is, here is a sample commercial: ).
Image credit: 

November 4, 2016, 8:26 AM

From Conflict to Communion - Together in Hope

As a follow up to my article from October, I wanted to ask the very Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” with regard to the Joint Lutheran and Catholic commemoration of the Reformation in Lund, Sweden.  Gathering under the theme "Together in Hope" and building upon a document prepared by Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians titled "From Conflict to Communion", this gathering of Lutherans and Roman Catholics from around the world was historic.  Still, some will say, “not much” in response to the question, "What does this mean?"  And in some respects, they are correct.  There was no doctrinal shift, no surprising announcement that Lutherans are now welcome to commune in the Roman Catholic Church.  However, there were some significant developments from an ecumenical perspective. 

First, Lutherans and Roman Catholics agreed to approach their dialogue out of those things that we hold in common instead of what divides us.  As Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President, Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land said in his opening remarks, "With joy we have come to recognize that what unites us is far greater than what divides us."  This approach led to an important announcement at the event in Malmo following the service—more on that below.  It also led to statements of repentance from both communions:

Quoting “From Conflict to Communion” LWF General Secretary Martin Junge said, “In the sixteenth century, Catholics and Lutherans frequently not only misunderstood but also exaggerated and caricatured their opponents in order to make them look ridiculous. They repeatedly violated the eighth commandment, which prohibits bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.”  Representing the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Koch then acknowledged, “Lutherans and Catholics often focused on what separated them from each other rather than looking for what united them. They accepted that the gospel was mixed with the political and economic interests of those in power. Their failures resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. We deeply regret the evil things that Catholics and Lutherans have mutually done to each other.”  This act of repentance is significant because it acknowledged the ways in which both sides failed to live out of the unity we are working toward.

Third, as part of the joint statement signed at the service, Lutherans and Roman Catholics committed to sharing in Holy Communion as an end goal of these dialogues.  This is important because those who are unfamiliar with ecumenical dialogues often assume that unification into one church is the goal.  IT IS NOT.  Lutherans and Roman Catholics value the diversity within the Body of Christ, and that does not mean we all have to agree on every theological point in order to share Holy Communion with each other.  For example, it means that Lutherans can lift up the role of women in ministry and Roman Catholics can abide by their dogma around an all-male priesthood.  It means that Lutherans don’t have to accept the teaching authority of the Pope as the final authority.  We do need to have serious discussions about these and other issues that divide us, but unification into one denomination is not the goal.  Rather, a shared Eucharistic Table is what we see as the culmination of our ecumenical efforts.

Finally, at Malmo, the Vatican and LWF signed a “Declaration of Intent” between Caritas Internationalis and LWF World Service.  Building upon our common calling to serve others in Christ’s name, the international aid arms of each denomination are committing to “actively look for opportunities to work together increasingly in countries affected by conflict and war, and where large numbers of refugees are on the move.”  LWF World Service Director Maria Immonen continued by saying, “The poor are expecting this of us. The world is expecting us to work more closely together. We need to bring hope, inspiration and faith in humanity through our work together.”  The churches named as a first priority responding to the crisis in Syria. (For more, see: and )

These developments may seem small or slow for some, but in the world of ecumenism, they are giant leaps forward—especially when one considers where Lutherans and Catholics were fifty years ago.  And ultimately, it is up to us to move the dialogue forward.  The joint statement is not simply a document for theologians.  In fact, it ends with a call to all of us: "We call upon all Lutheran and Catholic parishes and communities to be bold and creative, joyful and hopeful in their commitment to continue the great journey ahead of us. Rather than conflicts of the past, God’s gift of unity among us shall guide cooperation and deepen our solidarity. By drawing close in faith to Christ, by praying together, by listening to one another, by living Christ’s love in our relationships, we, Catholics and Lutherans, open ourselves to the power of the Triune God. Rooted in Christ and witnessing to him, we renew our determination to be faithful heralds of God’s boundless love for all humanity."  May it be so, and may we be called to serve as disciples of Christ—together in hope.

(For the full text of the joint statement from the service in Lund, click here.)

(For the full text of "From Conflict to Communion" click here; it is a PDF download on the right of that page.  This resource is the theological foundation for the joint commemoration.)  

November 3, 2016, 8:28 AM

A Big Deal  on Reformation Day

“What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change. Remembrance makes the past present. “
- From Conflict to Communion, a joint publication of the Vatican and Lutheran World Federation

On Reformation day, the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church will hold a joint commemoration of the Reformation in Lund and Malmö, Sweden. Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge will lead the Common Prayer service in Lund and then an event in Malmö. (The services will be live-streamed. You can view the live-stream if you wish.)  Update: the service is available at:  

This commemoration will highlight the ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans over the past fifty years.  While the  churches are still far from “full communion”, theses events are certainly significant steps forward for not just Lutherans and Roman Catholics, but all Christians as we both celebrate the unique gifts of each denomination and the unity we already share in Christ as his followers.  Last June on his flight back to Rome from Armenia, Pope Francis even praised Luther.  He told reporters, "The church was not a role model, there was corruption, there was worldliness, there was greed, and lust for power. He protested against this. And he was an intelligent man." (quote from: 

As we look to the future of the church, this event and others like it will mark what kind of church we hope to be for the next 500 years.  The Christian church as a whole has been blessed and enriched through our Lutheran theological perspective; that is our heritage—that is what we remember and commemorate this day.  We do not celebrate the divisions and in some cases, the violence undertaken by Christians against other Christians in our past history.  Rather, we look to the future with hope for what Christ will do through his disciples of every denomination to proclaim his good news of forgiveness and eternal life.


September 2, 2016, 12:16 PM

A Summary of Churchwide Assembly Actions

During the week of August 8-13, nearly 1000 elected “voting members” of the ELCA met in our triennial “Churchwide Assembly”. 
The Churchwide Assembly is the “highest legislative body” of the ELCA, which means that it makes changes to the model constitutions, receives memorials (suggested actions) from Synods, adopts Social Statements, budgets and other governing documents, elects churchwide leadership and helps set the ministry priorities of the overall church for the coming three years.  So since it is important, I thought I would share some highlights from the weeklong meeting:  


At the Churchwide Assembly, the voting members:

  • Accepted the "Declaration on the Way". This jointly written document between US Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians outlines 32 "Statements of Agreement" where Lutherans and Catholics do not have church-dividing differences on topics about church, ministry and the Eucharist. The document also presents some of the major differences that remain.  You can download Declaration on the Way at: 
  • Approved the ELCA's strategy to Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO). The ELCA developed this strategy based on our Church’s commitments to uphold and guarantee the basic human rights and safety of migrant children and their families. The strategy: addresses the root causes of migration in countries from Central America and Mexico and the treatment of migrants in transit; works toward just and humane policies affecting migrants in and outside the U.S.; calls us to work with affiliates and partners to respond to the migration situation and advocate for migrant children and their families.
  • Approved the Ministry of Word and Service roster. When the ELCA was formed, there were various names and roles for individuals who carried out recognized word and service ministries (historically known as deacons in the church), but who were not called to preside at communion.  The ELCA received all of these individuals from predecessor denominations,(variously called associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers) and maintained separate “rosters” for each.  Now, we are uniting the rosters into a single, roster of Ministry of Word and Service and calling everyone on those rosters “deacons” beginning in 2017.  See this page for more:
  • Approved the 2017-2019 budget proposals. While the budget is annually overseen by the Churchwide Council, the Churchwide Assembly approves plans for forthcoming triennium. What is important to note here is that the ELCA Churchwide organization has a budget of approximately $65 million annually—of the 1.8 BILLION collected through all ELCA congregations combined. This funds Churchwide staff, all our Missionaries, Global church work, redevelopments and new congregation starts, Churchwide meetings, dialogues and much more.  We do A LOT with the resources we have; and that does not include approximately $25 million a year for ELCA World Hunger programs in the US and around the world.  For more about how the church uses its financial resources, click here: 
  • Approved various memorials – or proposals – from the ELCA's 65 synods. In addition to memorials considered "en bloc," the assembly separately approved the following: deepening relationships with historic Black churches; toward a responsible energy future; repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery; peace with justice in the Holy Land; justice for the Holy Land through responsible investment; African Descent Lutherans; call to discernment on U.S. foreign and military policy; welcoming refugees; and supporting military personnel, veterans and their families.  See this page for more: 

In addition to all this, there were opportunities for amazing worship, education about a variety of topics going on throughout the church at the first ever “Grace Gathering” in conjunction with the last half of the Assembly, and a bunch of other business matters including election to various boards and committees and adoption of amendments to the ELCA Constitution.  All told, it was a very productive and positive Churchwide Assembly, and a reminder, to use Presiding Bishop Eaton’s words, that “we are church together!”

-Pr. Nathan


Photo credits go to the ELCA Media department.  Photos from each day are available here: *Top Photo: Bishop Mike Rinehart Welcomes Voting Members to New Orleans.  *Middle Photo: Roman Catholic Bishop Dennis Madden receives a chalice as a gift in response to the acceptance of Declaration on the Way.  Bottom Photo: SEMI Synod Bishop Don Kreiss leads the Assembly in evening prayer.

July 14, 2016, 9:35 AM

Welcome and Grow

“Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.” –Luke 10:38  (From the Gospel reading for July 17, 2016)

I was recently reading a couple of articles about church growth, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement with much of what they were saying.  I know too that growth may seem counter-intuitive to think about this during the summer months, but the truth is a lot of transitions happen during the summer months as people move for new jobs before school starts in the fall.  In addition, many people travel during the summer months and by extension become visitors in worship, so I thought I would share some scriptural foundations followed by some thoughts and suggestions about ways in which we can welcome others and grow together in faith.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  -Romans 15:7

First, expect visitors and be intentionally welcoming of them.  Say “hello” to others and make sure they know where they are going.  By the time visitors make it into the sanctuary, my hope is that they have received three warm welcomes—one from the greeters as they walk in, and two from other members of the congregation.  It may not seem like a great distance, but that 30 (or so) feet from the entrance to the sanctuary can seem pretty daunting if you haven’t been in a while, and all you get are stares instead of friendly faces, smiles and sincere greetings.  After worship, if there is someone you don’t know, introduce yourself and invite them to join you at your table for refreshments.  And the next time you see them, go up to them and welcome them (even if you don’t remember their name—re-introduce yourself and say something like, ‘I’m sorry, could you remind me of your name again.”)  

“Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.'”  –Matthew 22:4

Second, be invitational.  The days are gone when you can assume everyone goes to church, so don’t be afraid to invite others to come to Holy Spirit.  This goes for not only to people outside the church but also to members of the church you haven’t seen in a while.  It may not even be for worship—consider inviting someone for an event like our Food Distribution, or Vacation Bible School (August 1-5 starting at 6:00 pm), or the Big Band Dance (July 23 from 8:00-11:00 pm) or Bible Study (Wednesdays at 6:45) or Young at Heart, or a Cultural Awareness workshop, even a Thrivent Class (coming this fall)… I hope you get the idea that there is a lot that goes in our community of faith, and even if the invitation isn’t for worship, it might either become an invitation to worship with us, or a reminder to the invitee to attend his/her own congregation.  And if you want to take some object to make the invitation easier, we can get you a “Welcome Bag” to bring along.

“What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” -1 Corinthians 14:26

Third, make worship an engaging experience.  Worship is more than just good music, or an interesting sermon, or receiving Holy Communion.  We can all contribute to making our worship an engaging experience in the way we share the peace, offer prayers and engage in responses.  We include punctuation in the responses for a reason—so when you see, “Thanks be to God!” at the end of the service, it’s because that response is intended to express thanksgiving and gratitude to God for what we are called to do in the world.  And if our verbal response is lack-luster, then how do you think others will perceive our physical response to what we have heard and received in worship?  

Studies show that most visitors (at least subconsciously) decide if they’re going to come back within the first few minutes of being at a church. This means parking, greeting and building condition matter.  But chief among the reasons why people come back is worship—and especially their experience of other people in worship.  So go ahead, underline some words or phrases that catch your eye in the bulletin, offer earnest and heart-felt responses instead of just reading words off the page of a bulletin, get out of your pew (if you are physically able) and greet others during the peace—knowing that we are not just saying “hi” but rather offering the peace that Christ gives to us, and finally, don’t be afraid to sing out—even if you don’t think your voice is that of the next Frank Sinatra.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”  –James 5:16

Finally, be prayerful.  Pray for others in the church, and don’t be afraid to tell them because Jesus calls the church community to care for one another.  Sometimes we fail to do that, but (hopefully) what sets us apart from other communities is our willingness to ask for and receive sincere forgiveness when we do—simply put, to engage in Christ-like living.  It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from an American journalist, Abigail Van Buren, “The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”  So don’t be afraid to take home a devotional… or pull out the Small Catechism from your confirmation days (you can even download a free copy on your phone now from Augsburg Fortress)… or sign up to be a part of the prayer team… or all of the above!  Pray for one another, confess your sins at the beginning of worship, ask for and grant forgiveness.  Because these actions are powerful and effective for stirring the faith within each of us.

I could go on, but I pray these four suggestions help us as a community better welcome others into the life of Holy Spirit Lutheran and grow in faith.    

-Pr. Nathan

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