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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

June 7, 2016, 9:47 AM

What Exactly is that Path Behind the Garage?

“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” -Psalm 25: 4  (NRSV)

As I was working with some members to freshen up our labyrinth behind the garage last week, I was asked a few questions about the labyrinth and its purpose.  So, if you have ever wanted to know more about it, here you go:

Labyrinths have been a part of human history for more than 4000 years. They can be found in almost every culture and every religious tradition around the world and are typically used as a tool for meditation and prayer.  Labyrinths are typically made of stone, grass, pavers, or shrubs laid out in a set geometric pattern. The first documented example available of labyrinth use within the Christian tradition is in 324 A.D. when Christians constructed a labyrinth on the floor of their church building in Algiers, North Africa. The most famous medieval labyrinth was created at Chartres Cathedral in France around 1200 A.D. when labyrinth prayer began to be seen as a substitute for making a pilgrimage to a holy site—especially the Holy Lands, which were under increasing attack by the Ottoman Empire at the time.  The Labyrinth itself is meant to symbolize a journey toward God, hence it is sometimes used during Lent as a reminder of our own “Lenten journeys”.

In walking a labyrinth, the individual is invited to leave behind the noise and hurry of life.  As you walk, the path moves you slowly toward the center and toward God.  At times you are closer to the center, but further along the path, you may also find yourself further from the center.  This represents the reality of any spiritual journey—it is filled with times of closeness and distance, but as long as you keep moving along the path, you are always getting closer to the center and to God, no matter how far away it looks in real space.  When you reach the center, you can stop and rest in the presence of God, and listening for direction before you begin your journey back into the world.

Not all labyrinths are the same shape or size, but a prayer labyrinth is never a maze.  You will not be confronted with a “fork in the road” that is intended to trick you into going the wrong way, because no matter which way you turn, no matter how far away the center appears, spiritual journeys remind us that God is always there.

If you have never walked our labyrinth, I encourage you to do so—it is a great way to pray for friends and family as you get a little exercise and remember that God is guiding you along the path of life.

With prayers for you all from the labyrinth,

-Pr. Nathan

               The labyrinth at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church - open for anyone to use!

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

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