In the fourth chapter of Genesis, Cain kills his brother, Abel. Murder and violence enter the human story. God finds Cain. “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) Am I my brother’s, my sister’s, my neighbor’s keeper? It is a rhetorical question, not an invitation to debate from scripture’s perspective. The answer is a resounding, “YES!”
Simultaneously saint and sinner.
This is how Martin Luther describes Christians – we are at the same time saints and sinners.
I have a hard time disagreeing with Luther. I fully believe that we are at the same time both saints and sinners. It seems that this phrase accurately describes the nature of ourselves. But we often get hung up on one side or the other of that phrase.
As fall now approaches, my gardening thoughts turn from growth and planting to trimming and pruning. My perennial garden is taking on that “I’ve run my course” look. The hollyhocks went to seed a month ago. I have already cut them back and retained some seeds. The phlox are losing their flowers. The hydrangeas are starting to brown a bit, losing their luster. While I leave most of them for the birds and critters for the winter, some pruning is in order. I googled the best time to prune that Japanese Maple, which needs some shape. It will wait. The pruning will come.
Prayer has fallen on hard times, I think. In the wake of school shootings and the sufferings of the world, those who say, “I’m praying for you” are mocked for not doing anything “real” to address the problem. I even hear my pastoral colleagues rail at the “uselessness” of prayer. I suppose there can be some truth in that criticism. Prayer is often an act of desperation in the face of hopelessness. It is even the insipid response to a situation we wish would just go away. We “pray” when we lack the courage, ability, or desire to act.
This is a phrase we usually hear when we are being a little immature. We might be pouting because we didn’t get our way, and someone will inevitably tell us to grow up. There are countless ways we act childish.
Lots of people have lots of questions about matters of faith. I know this. I also know that many folks are reluctant to ask those questions. Sometimes it is because the question might reveal too much about their struggles. Sometimes it’s because they asked a question once and it led to judgment or dismissal. Sometimes folks fear that the question is silly.
I was thankful this morning as I saw small puddles of water on the deck. It had rained in the night. Though we are not, by definition, suffering a drought, you could not convince my pollinator garden of that fact. I’ve been watering, especially the plants new this season, but it’s not the same. The old saying goes, “Watering keeps the plants alive. Rain makes them grow.”
In 2025 (not so far away), Holy Trinity will mark its 75th year of ministry in Ankeny. Such a milestone is certainly a cause to look back and give thanks for all the blessings God has granted in and through the congregation. More important, however, is that we look ahead to the call God issues to love in the days and decades ahead.
One of the most beloved hymns of English-speaking Christianity is Amazing Grace. Written by a repentant slave trader turned Christian minister, it proclaims the unmerited love and mercy of a God who saves us, gives us life, sustains us despite our best attempts to reject that love.