In my youth, I cheered for the Minnesota Vikings and the defensive line known as “The Purple People Eaters.” This article is NOT about that. Instead, I’m going to broach the issue of politics in this era of division between red and blue. As we probably all learned with our first box of watercolors, blue and red, when combined, make purple. It seems to me that the church in our age, needs to think about being purple instead of red or blue.
Last week marked the “halfway point” in my time as Pastoral Intern here at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. As part of the Word & Sacrament Internship process required by the Seminary and the ELCA, I spent the better part of the weekend working on a “Midpoint Evaluation”, which consisted of numerous short answer essays that called me to reflect on the ways in which my pastoral competency has grown and to determine the “growing edges” where I want to focus additional effort and attention during the second half.
When my son was a teenager, he had some friends over to the house on a Saturday afternoon. As the afternoon became evening, he announced, “You’ll all need to leave soon because tomorrow is church.” To which one of his comrades (who didn’t know what I did for a living) responded, “Why go to church? They’re all just hypocrites.” My son answered, “Well, duh.” I was proud. My son had learned that church was a place where people who were “simultaneously sinners and saints” (Luther) hung out.
In Luke 12:51 Jesus asks a question: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” His answer is startling. “No, I tell you, but rather division!” He goes on to say that families will come to an end because of him. Jesus creates a crisis.
Orphans. My lovely wife, Cynthia, and I acknowledged that we are, in some sense, both orphans. With the recent death of her father, all of our parents have made the passage into death; the passage that awaits us all. We were both blessed to have our parents around for much of our lives. We were also both blessed to have parents whose love was unconditional, from whom we learned what we needed to grow into adulthood. That we miss them deeply is a testament to the beauty of their lives.
Because I currently call the Lighthouse home, I have, I think, a bit of a unique perspective on all the activities that happen in and around our church building on a weekly basis. It never ceases to amaze me, for example, how frequently the parking lot is full on random weekday evenings when you might otherwise assume that this place would be a ghost town.
Over my desk hang renderings of the two most influential martyrs and prophets of my life: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. On this, the birthday of Dr. King, I spent a little time looking at these two icons as they seemed to stare over my work watchfully. Each was martyred at age 39. Each fought the most formidable evils of their respective times – Nazism and Racism/Segregation. Each articulated a faith in Jesus Christ that drove them not to perfection, but to action and sacrifice. And I ask myself, “What the heck is wrong with you, Olson? With all the injustice and hate around, why are you sitting here?”
Monday, January 6th was Epiphany. Some know it as the day to take down our Christmas trees because the 12 days of Christmas have passed. But we also know it as the day that Christ was made known to the Magi in Bethlehem. The story is found in Matthew, chapter 2. It’s interesting to me that the story of the Magi’s journey and visit to the Christ child is longer than the story of the Christ child’s birth, which tells me that Matthew thinks this story is important for us to hear and know. A key point in the story is worship.
The twelve days of Christmas are rushing by us. That means cleaning up the decorations and finishing the leftovers. A new year, a new decade, is upon us. That means it is time for resolutions and new beginnings. In the Church, the next festival is January 6th – The Epiphany of Our Lord. That means we celebrate the way in which God is revealed to us in Christ’s incarnation, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection.
In churches throughout North America and Europe, manger scenes, complete with blonde-haired, blue-eyed versions of baby Jesus, are ready for the celebration of Christmas. Of course, this representation of Jesus is historically inaccurate (and many pastors, including this one, seem to relish pointing out the inaccuracy). If our representations of the Christ child lead us to an exclusive Messiah, one that looks like us to the exclusion of others, then we have a problem… a heresy, really.