About Evan

I am the proud husband of Christi and the father of Henry and Lucas. I am also humbled by the honor to be the pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamburg, MI.

The Great Cloud of Witnesses

All Saints’ Day is November 1, and our congregation observes this festival on that day or the next Sunday. At our observation of All Saints’ Day, we speak the names of those faithful departed from our family of faith. A verse of Scripture clothes our memory of them. We then toll the bell. This is a time for us to rejoice in the great cloud of witnesses that God has placed in our lives. The faithful departed spoke volumes in their lives by holding dearly onto Jesus Christ.  The way we remember our brothers and sisters in Christ includes remembering the amazing working of God in their lives.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)

The heroes of the past that serve as witnesses to the truth of God’s mercy do so through their vulnerable and honest lives that remained held by the love of Christ on the cross. As I remember the people of the past I do want to revel in the best and the glad. I like to hear the victorious stories filled with moments of valor. I want to rejoice in the good that a person has accomplished.

I hear the desire for the best and the brightest moments when I am preparing to preach at a funeral. I know when I preach at funerals people desire to hear demonstrations of the departed’s virtue. But I also have learned that the faithful departed witness to the truth of God’s grace is found even more forcefully when I recall their weaknesses. I know that it is not appropriate to reveal a person’s dirty laundry. I don’t enter the pulpit at a funeral seeking for the opportunity to bring shame to a family. I try to navigate the space between celebrating their lives but even more emphasizing the necessary grace of Jesus Christ. I want to be honest with the people gathered in grief because the medicine for a hurting soul does not include placing a person on a false edifice of our own goodness. We are saints, holy ones, through the the work of the holy one.  My identity has been secured through the power, pardon, and presence of God. How we remember all the saints in our past is best shaped by how they were witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ as our savior.

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When I think about the work of God in our saints of the past, I see the creative power of God. I want you to take a moment and think about how God made His creation out of nothing, and He declared it good. I rejoice in the power of God as my creator. I trust that out of nothing He declared light to be present in His creation. I look into my own life, and I know the darkness and nothingness of my own hands.

I have no lasting confidence in my own labors because I know my ability to turn all towards my own pride and selfishness. I am remarkably adept at viewing the world through a lens of my own making. I lie to myself about my certainty about myself and others. I get sure that there is some sliver of me that has accomplished and earned my position. People are either with me or against me. When people enter my life, I find that I quickly size them up. I figure out if I can take them. Intellectually or physically I am always taking measure. Of course in my own system of score keeping I usually am better than you. I don’t like this truth about my personality. I wish I was beyond this, but I have my Jason Bourne moments when I look around a room and figure out where I stand.

In the great cloud witnesses that surround us I discover my measurement system is broken. In the mirror of God’s holy and sacred will for me, my arrogance is shattered. I find my fault, my own grievous and miserable fault is I have claimed the privilege of power in my relationships with people. I view people, and I trust others view me, based on our accomplishments. I earn or lose relationships and so I gain or exhaust my power and position. But from this false and empty and shallow heart God produces in me a new creation. Our Heavenly Father clothes us with the righteousness of his dear son Jesus. From a child of arrogance God’s grace calls me into something new and different. The word of God made flesh in Jesus writes onto my body and soul a new truth. My old self is drowned and a new creation emerges. We are saints because what God has written onto our lives. I give thanks for the great cloud of witnesses that point me to Jesus as my hope and confidence.

So as I look at the story of God at work in the lives of the saints, I find the creating power of God at work in His pardon. I am beloved. I am sacred. I am a child of God because the power of God has brought me pardon. My position and power in relationships is found secure as I trust in God. I can now be vulnerable and weak. I can serve others without a contract of returned favor. I can empty myself for others because I am filled by the endless mercy of God. He will remain my refuge and strength.

When you remember the cloud of witnesses, do you hear their testimony to the power, pardon, and presence of God? I think it will be easier to hear their testimony if you are open to listening to their weaknesses as well as their strength in Christ. Our lives are a living confession of faith in both our sin and our savior.

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Pastor Appreciation Month

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I want to express my appreciation for those pastors that have helped shape my own ministry. I start a ways back. I appreciate the solid foundation of faith and family upon which my great-grandfather Henry Gaertner raised his family.

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Henry Carl Gaertner

He was ordained at Zion Lutheran Church in New Orleans in August 6, 1899. He went on to serve at Trinity in Port Arthur and Salem in Malone Texas. A memorable story from the beginning years of his ministry occurred in 1902. According to the Port Arthur “Herald” of September 14, 1902, the school children had been greatly annoyed by ‘yellow jackets’ or wasps stinging them near a sidewalk. In an effort to end the menace and control the insects, the Pastor Gaertner set fire to some grass near the sidewalk, which quickly waxed out of control and ignited the building while school was still in session. The flames spread rapidly to the main sanctuary as well, and within an hour, both buildings were reduced to cinders. The financial loss was about $3,000, and was only partially covered by a $600 insurance policy. The church building was quickly replaced in 1903 and the school building followed in 1904.

My grandfather Henry Emil Gaertner became a pastor that served God’s Word in New Mexico and Minnesota. His two brothers, John and Carl, also became pastors.
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(names not necessarily in order) John, Carl, Henry (my grandfather), Pauline (my great-grandmother), Esther, Ruth, Bertha, Paula, Hulda, Marie, and Margaret. This picture was taken I think at Pauline’s 75th surprise birthday party in 1955. She had been away visiting one of her daughters, and when she returned to Waco all of her children and their spouses were together for the first time since 1934.

My father, Mark, became a pastor and served congregations in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. Inside my father’s generation of Gaertners there are several pastors and women married to pastors. Growing up my father helped me understand the importance of seeking opportunities to use our God-given gifts to love God by serving our neighbor. No matter what career I imagined, my dad helped me consider how this path would use my gifts to serve others.
Mark Gaertner Ordination 1971

Ordination of my father, Rev. Mark Gaertner in 1971. My grandfather is on the left.

Throughout college and seminary I continued to find God providing me wonderful mentors in the Christian faith. Daniel Brokopp, campus pastor at Valparaiso University, demonstrated the noblest virtues of ministry.
My field education, during the seminary years, was wonderfully guided by my second cousin, Ronald Rall. Ron emphasized seeing the gifts God had given to the lay people in the congregation. No one works by himself in the ministry. During my vicarage, Wayne Puls at Trinity in Hicksville, New York, helped me understand the wide scope of challenges a pastor will experience daily.
In 2001 I was ordained into the Office of Public Ministry at Trinity in Clinton Twp. Pastor Harry Henneman and my father served me the Word of God from their preaching at Trinity. My first call was at Grace in Niagara Falls. I fondly recall Henry Gerike playing the organ at my installation. My beginning in Niagara Falls was shaped by the mentoring of Thees Carl Hoft. Thees is a patient man who gave me perspective on how to be a pastor that does not burn out quickly. John Brunner was the District President. John and Karen kindly let my wife and I stay in their basement apartment for 45 days because the closing on our home was painfully delayed. As much as John served as an administrator in his role as district president, he even more so served as a pastor to me. Pastors in a congregation should always seek out a pastor, I did not have to try hard to find a pastor. John was always ready to receive my phone calls or emails and remind me of the winsome ways to be a pastor to everyone in the congregation.
Since December 2008 I have served as the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamburg, Michigan. David Maier serves kindly as my District President. I don’t know a man besides David that can match a strong handshake with an equally genuine smile. His churchmanship is a demonstration to me of how pastors must be authentic in pastoral love and care for each person entrusted to his care.
Besides pastors as mentors and guides, I have also enjoyed the peer support of so many pastors.
Indeed beyond these men, my wife Christi Dunklau Gaertner has been a constant and necessary wonderful support in my life. I am a pastor today largely because of conversations we had together our senior year in high school. No doubt in my mind, God knew what he was doing when he placed her into my life. She is my rib. Each breath I take is easier because she is on my side.

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Mixed bag of Victory and Struggle

Thoughts from my readings in For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church…

Today I read Judges 8:22-35. Gideon received gold, a lot of gold. Every man placed his gold earrings onto a garment laid out before them, equalling 1700 shekels of gold. Also placed on this garment were other items taken in the spoils of war between Israel and Midian. Gideon then made an ephod from this gold. An ephod was worn by a priest in worship. Gideon placed this ephod in the city Ophrah. All of Israel betrayed their marriage of faith to the Lord God and played themselves the adulteress with this piece of false worship. Gideon and his family also became ensnared by this piece of split worship. The very moment of Gideon’s victory also included the seeds of his very defeat.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about this moment of victory and struggle…

Gideon is victorious, the church is victorious, because faith alone is victorious. But Gideon does not overcome, the church does not overcome, we do not overcome, but God shall overcome. And the victory of God means our defeat; it means our humiliation; it means the scorn and wrath of God on all human pride, on trying to be something. It means bringing the silence of the world world and all of its shrieks. It means the crossing up all of our thoughts and plans; it means the Cross, the Cross above the world.

I have been thinking this week about the shape of Christian victory amidst ongoing struggles against sin and disaster. We never stop needing the cross because our victory is by faith alone. We don’t overcome. We don’t become self-righteous through our own deeds. We receive the victory of Jesus, and God alone will overcome. To cross I must go with my sin.

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Do you find your identity, community, and purpose at your church?

Identity, community, and purpose are common to why people stay passionate and participate in organizations. I believe that a Christian congregation should be equipped to answer these three motivations. I want you to think with me about how successful your congregation does supporting in people and in families identity, community, and purpose.

Hebrews chapter 10 does a good job helping me understand how the church can answer our personal desires for identity, community, and purpose.

Identity

Our identity is shaped by our Baptism. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

We are baptized children of God who are loved and redeemed by Jesus Christ. The accusations of our wrongs and the judgments of our sins are no longer held against us, because our shame has been washed away in the water of Baptism. We do not get our consciences clean through our own redeeming acts. Jesus is our identity. As much as I rely on Jesus for my identity as a child of God, I desire daily for God to give me the vision to see others as ones for whom Christ died and rose again. Who are you? You are not defined by your sins or shame. You are a child of God loved by Jesus Christ.

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Community

Our community is shaped by holding in common that we are all sinners deserving of judgment who have been brought together by the awesome good news that Jesus Christ saves us through His life, death, and resurrection. Jesus has brought us into the family of God. The writer of Hebrews continues by writing, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:23-25a)

The good news of Jesus Christ brings together people. The love of Jesus Christ unites us into community and keeps us caring for each other. We hold each other accountable by encouraging one another to love and do good works. When we live together connected to Jesus, we do not neglect the needs of one another. We are the family of God.

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Purpose

Our purpose is shaped by the Day of the Lord that is drawing near when judgment will come and the dead will be raised. Those who believe in Jesus Christ will be raised to eternal life and those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord will be damned to hell for eternity. I trust that God desires all people to be saved. Amazingly, God wants to use us to share this good news. We witness in our words and deeds to the world that we have confidence in the promise of God to deliver us to salvation through Jesus Christ. The section from Hebrews I have been quoting from finishes with the line, “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25b). The decision of what you are going to do with your life is a big question. Living on purpose is a lot less stressful when we trust that God loves and cares for us. We are free from the burden of having to prove ourselves, and we are completely free to serve others. I love that God promises to use us as His instruments to share His love in this world.

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Reformation/Revolution 

What does revolution look like?

Baptism. Forgiveness. Mealtime. I trust in the revolution that God works in my body and soul. I know the danger of my sin and shame. The power of darkness against me is real. It is so difficult to imagine the glory of God being revealed in the midst of my loss and shame. Jesus Christ overthrows the powers of this age and the evil that lurks around. Through His love revealed for the world in His suffering on the cross, the glory of God shows up in our suffering and humiliation. The revolution of God’s love transforms my present so that I live now inside of promise. Death and the Devil seek to take away my view of Jesus’ love. Satan is working overtime to convince me I am weak and nothing. The shouts of accusations and images of weakness shout at me loss. In Jesus I see the love of God. This light of love shines as a gate when I know myself stuck in disappointment. 

Revolution of Baptism

The spirit of God has called me to have faith in this revolution of hope by pointing me to Jesus. I cannot come to know or believe in this hope but through the work of the Spirit of God I believe. My heart beats. My mind spins. My eyes open. Hope is possible because Jesus is present. The old Adam which brings me death has been drowned in my Baptism. Daily I emerge from the waters a new creation. God is going to work through me. So much risk is underway in God. He will work through me. Revolution from death to life is the promise of my Baptism. I have been called into this world as a child of God. I have something to share with the world. The love of God calls me to speak. 

Revolution of Forgiveness

I take steps forward in my Baptism. My vocation as a child of God compels me forward. I stumble and fall. I say and do the very things I do not want to do. Should I become quiet again? These bones have come to life but I doubt. I know the poison of hypocrisy. I feel I must go back into the shadows again because I do not have the authority to speak. I speak words of this shame to another in my whispers. I hear from him the very words of God, “I forgive you.” I’m called again out of darkness, and I speak again. I can do no other but speak the revolution of being called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Sin and shame try to silence my witness, but I no longer stand on my own righteousness. I stand on Christ. He is my heart beat. 

Revolution of Mealtime

I come weak and weary in my soul to the table of the Lord. My host greets me with welcome. There is room for me at this table. My savior Jesus has set the table with the choicest feast. I do not deserve a place at this meal. I come at the invitation of my savior. He feeds me forgiveness and resurrection in the sacrifice of His body and blood. The revolution of the table greets not only me but all others. By faith in the words “given and shed for you,” I’m worthy to feast at this meal. My place at this table does not come reserved by my own works. From the first to the last we all arrive at this meal with faith in Jesus as our reservation.

Reformation On the Street

What does this revolution rooted in baptism, forgiveness, and mealtime look like in our world outside the walls of our churches? On October 9, 1989, Germans in Leipzig gathered for prayer and song at St. Nicholas Church. They had gathered for prayer on Monday nights since 1982. They participated in a revolution rooted in peaceful hope when they marched around the city. The secret police knew how to respond to violence. They had not been given orders for how to handle a protest that brought revolution through peace. The people, young and old, lived on the streets the revolution of their Baptism. They people answered the voice of death and oppression with the voice of hope and life.

Today the resurrection of Jesus still calls us out of darkness and shame to live in the light of His life. Silence and fear do not order my days. There is a revolution in my body and soul. I now march from death to life.

A monument in Leipzig to those who walked in hope.

Navigating through dark spaces

I listened, while running this morning, to Lawson Inada read his poem, “Concentration Constellation.” I finished my run thinking about the moments of darkness in the lives of people that I have moved past. I know that the light of God shines and scatters the darkness, but do I notice how much the darkness of a person’s life can form an identifying constellation.

The constellations in the sky can help a person navigate. The bright moments of life will be milestones that we can build upon. The dark moments of life also form a foundation. When I look up to the sky at night, I see both the bright points of light and the massive spaces of darkness. In the lives of people I care about, I know there are massive spaces of darkness that remain unknown to me. As we navigate our lives together, the spaces of light and darkness both work upon our relationships. Am I fair to the thunder and lightning that people have experienced, or do I only notice the spring sunshine?

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Full panoramic view of the constellations near the Milky Way by Matt Dieterich

I encourage you to read the poem by Lawson Inada. Lawson Inada is a third generation Japanese American. In 2006, Inada was named Oregon’s fifth poet laureate. When he was a child, Inada and his family were relocated to Jerome Camp in Arkansas. Jerome Camp was one of the internment camps that America established during World War Two for Japanese-Americans.

Concentration Constellation – Lawson Fusao Inada

In this early configuration,
we have, not points of light,
but prominent barbs of dark.

It’s all right there on the map.
It’s all right there in the mind.
Find it. If you care to look.

Begin between the Golden State’s
highest and lowest elevations
and name that location

Manzanar. Rattlesnake a line
southward to the zone
of Arizona, to the home
of natives on the reservation,
and call those Gila, Poston.

Then just take your time
winding your way across
the Southwest expanse, the Lone
Star State of Texas, gathering
up a mess of blues as you
meander around the banks
of the humid Mississippi; yes,
just make yourself at home
in the swamps of Arkansas,
for this is Rohwer and Jerome.

By now, you weary of the way,
It’s a big country, you say.
It’s a big history, hardly
Halfway through – with Amache
Looming in the Colorado desert,
Heart Mountain high in wide

Wyoming, Minidoka on the moon
of Idaho, then down to Utah’s
jewel of Topaz before finding
yourself at northern California’s
frozen shore of Tule Lake

Now regard what sort of shape
this constellation takes.
It sits there like a jagged scar,
massive, on the massive landscape.
It lies there like the rested wire
of a twisted and remembered fence.

Lawson Fusao Inada, “Concentration Constellation” in Legends from Camp (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1993).

Handling Plans that Fail

Job answered the LORD and said, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

How do you respond to plans that have been thwarted? I become deflated when I have a plan written in my mind how events will develop and someone opposes, defeats, or prevents me from experiencing my vision. A gut punch is felt deep in my soul. I am astounded that my expectations don’t always work out. God certainly humbles me through these deflated moments.

Plan and reality do not always match. There is wisdom in remembering the proverb that says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). History is cluttered with plans that never developed into reality. Developers of housing subdivisions will buy property, develop a site plan, get township approval, and then abandon a project because the business models have changed. Owners of sports teams will propose new stadiums with beautiful artistic renderings that fall flat when it comes time to actually secure financing. The wild visions and schemes of people can be thwarted for all sorts of reasons.

In my congregation we have also experienced plans that have failed to develop into reality. A few years ago, before our renovation, we considered building a community center with a gymnasium. We developed artistic renderings but this plan did not receive broad support. I found it necessary to take a step back and recognize we needed to do more to build a shared vision for our congregation. Last fall we hired someone to work part-time with young families. But even before he started, he was hired to work full-time somewhere else. Even before people knew we had a plan, reality set in and plans crumbled. We continue to make plans in this congregation knowing that we will make mistakes and stumble.

This year we continue in our church to make plans to move our forward in our vision of connecting people to Jesus. I know some plans will prosper and others will fail. How will we handle these ups and down?

Here are a couple of ways to handle the trauma of plans collapsing instead of reacting with resistance, complaining, and growing distrust. I am not a big fan of those kinds of response, though I find myself participating in some of these ugly response patterns.

First, I encourage you to turn your will towards God’s will. Trust in God includes remembering God’s will and desire for us remains true. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s will to save us. Whether I am in want and need or I have plenty, in all circumstances God’s desire for me is good. The trauma of my thwarted plans does not mean God’s plan for me is destroyed. So my first response to changed plans involves remembering God’s will for me is my salvation.

Second, be thankful and prayerful for every circumstance. The pause after collapsed plans gives us the perspective to see alternative ways God will be at work amongst us. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Paul knew that God had appointed him for preaching the gospel and nurturing the church, but Paul was arrested in Jerusalem. Paul appealed his case to Rome where he was kept under house arrest. Paul’s present circumstances when he wrote to the Philippians made it appear that God’s plans through Paul were being thwarted. Paul used his imprisonment to share Jesus with his guards. Paul also sent Timothy to different churches to establish and exhort people in the faith. Paul trusted in the will of God to be accomplished in all circumstances. We can respond to changed plans by being thankful for God to be at work in alternative plans. I invite you to regularly pray for the wisdom to discern God’s alternatives to your thwarted plans.

Third, I recognize that there is sin in this world. Satan is working against God’s mercy. Satan attempted to thwart God’s plan for creation by tempting Adam and Eve. Satan continues to tempt us to sin. The creation of God that was declared to be good experiences the conflict of Satan trying to corrupt all of God’s plans. Satan has persisted in this effort from the very beginning and he has not stopped. Before Christ returns and the last trumpet blasts Satan will attempt to destroy the people of God, the plan of God. I trust that Satan has failed in all of his attempts. I know that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that Satan has lost, and the Lord has prevailed. The traumatic crumbling of plans can leave us distrustful of God. Trust in Jesus Christ and lean forward into the next day knowing that Satan could not stop God’s plan of Jesus.

So in the moments when the world crumbles and the mountains crash around us, we will be people who submit to Christ as our Lord. We will lean into His wisdom. We will trust in His victory over all sin, death, and the Devil. We will in our hearts make more plans, and we will trust in God establishing His will.

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Flipping Through the Hymnal

The hymns and songs of the church help me understand the timeline of the year. When I flip through the pages of the Lutheran Service Book, I notice the different sections of hymns. The hymnal is not organized in a progression of hymns from favorites towards clunkers. Organizing a hymnal from favorites towards disappointments would require a flexible binding because of the variety of opinions of favorites. The hymns of the church support both the life of the congregation moving though the church year and the life of our members as we move through our lives. The church moves each year through the birth of Christ to the End Times. As followers of Jesus, we also move from our baptisms, through difficult times and celebrations, and conclude with the joy of the resurrection into the kingdom of God.

Martin Luther Chapel, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines

The Church Year

The first section organizes the hymns by the movement of the church year from Advent through the End Times. This section also includes the hymns for the feasts and festivals that will occur throughout the church year. My favorite hymn in this section is “Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia.” I love how this hymn echoes in our home every Easter with its powerful refrain, “Let us sing praise to Him with endless joy.” The tune from this hymn is from Tanzania and the rhythm gives me the encouragement that this good news is for all the nations.

Person and Work of Christ

The second section of hymns praises God for the person and work of Jesus Christ. These hymns give the Church the opportunity to put to melody praise and thanksgiving for our redemption and justification. In this section I enjoy singing “By Grace I’m Saved.” This hymn begins every verse with the words “by grace,” and each verse celebrates the different ways God’s grace changes our lives.

The Christian Church

The third section of hymns gives voice to the activities of the Christian Church. In this section I find hymns that celebrate the Word of God and the Sacraments. I find it difficult to highlight just one hymn in this section. Each page takes me to another hymn that reminds me of different moments in my work as a pastor. If I had to highlight one, the hymn “What Is This Bread” invites us to receive the wondrous love of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. I think this hymn is a wonderful study of the mystery of God’s love that Jesus reveals for us in this meal of bread and wine, body and blood.

The Christian Life

The fourth section of hymns highlights the personal life of a Christian with hymns about trust, hope, prayer, stewardship, mission and witness, and marriage. I enjoy singing “Listen, God is Calling.” I like that this hymn has a call and response pattern that gives the song a pattern of participation instead of just observation. The leader starts with the word, “Listen.” The people answer, “Listen, God is calling.” The leader and the people encourage one another to hear God’s offer of forgiveness, comfort, and joy.

Times and Seasons

The fifth section highlights hymns that support morning, evening, harvest time, and the New Year, which are all opportunities for us to sing in thanksgiving to God. I remember fondly singing, as a lullaby, to our children the hymn, “Abide with Me.” I also sing this hymn at the bedside of a person approaching death. I have confident hope in the words, “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.” Where no other helper will assist me, I know that God will be my shepherd through life and death.

The Service

This next section includes hymns for the beginning of the service, the close of the service, and also biblical canticles. The canticles are songs from the Holy Scriptures that help us sing along with Simeon, Mary, Zechariah, and other faithful saints that have gone before us. At the close of the service, the hymn “Go, My Children, with My Blessing,” provides a benediction full of promise. I appreciate the closing hymns of a service that keep me singing in my heart throughout the rest of the week.

Nation and National Songs

The final section in the hymnal is a small collection of hymns that support community and nation with trust that God is sovereign over both the church and the state. This section is not a songbook of secular patriotic songs. These hymns are Christian prayers and praises to God. I know that during patriotic holidays I receive requests for a number of songs that are not in our hymnal. At St. Paul Lutheran Church we have developed the tradition of singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America, neither of which are in our hymnal, because these are songs that remind us of times in our country when we have been reminded to rely on God. Of the three hymns in this section, I most enjoy singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

I would like you to take some time and look through the The Lutheran Service Book and share with me your favorite hymns from each section. You can find this hymnal in our pews. I would also be interested in hearing from you your favorite hymn that is not included in our hymnal. You can place in the comments some of your favorites. I will focus on contemporary songs in a future article.

Sharing Easter

On April 16 we celebrate Easter, the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This festival is the chief celebration of our Christian lives. Everything we do as the people of God circles around the promises of God revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has called us to proclaim the good news that has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. So are you able to share with your friends and family the purpose for Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead on the third day?

My view of the world is shaped by two truths. The first truth is that my will, reason, and strength turn toward evil. I do not have free choice in my relationship with God. I will not see the righteousness of God through my own efforts. Neither my family, friends, neighbors, enemies, nor I will discover the gift of Jesus by wandering and wondering in this world. To a person lost in sin, the cross and resurrection do not make sense.

The righteousness of God confounds the world because we have too high an opinion of ourselves. Oddly, the starting point for sharing the good news of Easter with someone is the bad news. When explaining Easter to someone else, I think it is helpful to talk honestly about the brokenness of the world. People do not discover on their own God’s gracious love.

In Romans 3, St. Paul explains that all are under sin. “All” is an inclusive statement. There is not one person that has a hint of how to turn toward God. I encourage you to talk about God’s law and also talk about God’s anger at sin. We can be so blinded by sin that we have convinced ourselves that nothing is wrong. So please do not be surprised that Jesus death and resurrection appear foolish and confusing to people. Jesus is the answer to a question that people don’t know they should be asking.

So the first truth that shapes my view of the world is that I do not expect people to just figure God out on their own. It is through the Word of God that the Holy Spirit works to bring us to knowledge of our sinfulness and of our need for redemption. If we want people to understand the purpose for Jesus dying and rising from the dead, then we must speak God’s Word. I don’t have to come up with a great testimonial about my own life to convince someone that God is worth it. I need to share the light of God’s Word because there are people in the darkness. My story is not nearly as good as the story that God is revealing in Jesus Christ.

The second truth that shapes my view of the world is that God knows how depraved we are in our sin, and still He endeavors to have a relationship with us. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered for us poor sinners. Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried in order that we might be redeemed from sin, death, and the eternal wrath of God. I trust that Jesus has done all of this purely from love. The truth of God’s love is that I do not deserve it nor can I earn it. I deserve God’s wrath and punishment. In Jesus Christ I find the incomprehensible promise of God’s redeeming love for me. Easter celebrates that the love of God is more powerful than my sinfulness.

I hope that you will share with people the painful truth of sin and the amazing truth of God’s love revealed in Jesus. Please do not expect that your children or anyone else will figure this out on their own. Tell the story of Jesus and trust that the Holy Spirit will be at work through you as you share the Word of God.

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Jesus Passed Through Dead — The Resurrection depicted in a modern painting by Stephen B. Whatley, an expressionist artist based in London.

 

Serial vs Self-Encapsulated Story

I enjoy binge watching shows through Amazon or Netflix. I bounce between liking shows that have a long story arc that the screenwriters spread across  several episodes and shows that self-encaspsulate a story into each episode. Recently I started watching a show that started as a spy show with each episode being self-contained. Slowly this show introduced a story line that ended up taking them four seasons of episodes to complete. I did not want to pay attention that long to figure out what sinister conspiracy was behind everything. I gave up watching the show. I read the episode recaps on wikipedia to find my desire for resolution satisfied.

I want television shows to find a way to wrap up their storylines after a couple of episodes or one season. Stretching across several seasons to solve the purpose for the show wears me down. I think the television show “Lost” is a great example of a show that started off with a good balance between long story arcs and individual storylines that could be finished up each episode. Unfortunately the show “Lost” became lost in its own story after a while and ended up being a self-indulgent mess.

So I have been thinking about my disappointment in shows that can’t figure out how to tell a story with conclusions and then reflecting on what this means for my preaching. I know as a person in the pew listening to another preacher that I am not very patient with the preacher that has several false endings. I watched a person preach online, and behind the preacher I saw the band shuffling towards their instruments. The band thought the sermon was wrapping up. They knew the cadence of the preacher, or at least they thought they did. The preacher went on for several more minutes. I wonder if that preacher went on with his sermon as punishment to the band that assumed they knew where the sermon was headed.

Humbly, I notice that when I preach I have had this problem. I look at the people shuffling and moving in the pew. I want to tell them, “Oh no, you think my sermon is almost over but I have two more pages of notes. Buckle up and get ready.”

In my own life, I wish each day had a neat conclusion. Days blend into months. Years slide into decades. I still have not found too many neat conclusions in my life. Some stories just seem to disappear because sadly friendships slide away. I wish I was better at nurturing friendships. Other stories in my life keep showing up, even though I want to move on. Satan is amazingly adept at repeatedly turning up in my life.

Some days do develop as self-encapsulated plots. I am glad my marriage has been a long arc in my life that has no end in view. I think my marriage will not become like a show that has gotten lost in its own story because we have made a commitment to each other to remain faithful to the covenant of love. Each story in our marriage has its roots in our promises of love. The stages in our love to each other remain fresh and exciting because we are also connected to the great story that is developing between us.

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I trust that the long story arc of my relationship with God will remain fresh and exciting. I know the end. God is my eternal salvation. I know some days I don’t see the plot, and I get worried that my life is going nowhere special. But during these aimless wandering moments, I have found tremendous strength in rooting myself to God’s promises. The Spirit of God strengthens my soul in dark moments by keeping in my view the light of God’s love. I live in the light of the resurrection, but some days the shadows of betrayal on Holy Thursday seem to hang heavy.

My story with God is different than the television shows I binge. I don’t know how the shows will end, and when I do anticipate the ending the show loses my interest. I know how my story with God will end, but amazingly my interest in God does not get exhausted. I love God revealing the adventure of every day. I think God has figured out how to balance revealing the long story arc and the self-encapsulated story.

Do you see the story that God writes in your days? I hope you see that God fills the story of your days with His love.