Tag Archives: Jesus

Do we still feel called to this? – Pastor Thoughts

I have been thinking a lot about call lately. 

As in, you know, being “Called” to ministry. 

For most pastors, deacons and bishops, the sense of call to ministry isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. It isn’t like turning on a light switch, but more a constant state of wrestling and wondering. Asking oneself “Am I still called to do this?” is always part of the gig. 

In recent years more than ever, I have watched clergy do a lot of wondering. From friends and colleagues, to clergy bloggers and writers… a lot of us are wondering if our sense of calling is sustainable through all the challenges facing the church. A lot of people are deciding it isn’t, and they are leaving ordained ministry for other work. 

Certainly, in the past number of years I have had my own moments of wondering how my calling to serve continues to fit in with where the church is at. 

That being said, I might be one of the worst examples of Pastors to talk to about wrestling with being called. I used to joke in seminary that I was born into the “Norwegian Lutheran Pastors Breeding Program.”

My grandfather was a pastor. So was his brother. And his brother-in-law. His closest friends were also pastors. Growing up, “church” was something that my immediate and extended family was always involved in. And wherever we traveled there were usually some church or pastor or church folks that we knew.  

For me, going to seminary and becoming a pastor was a possibility that was known from an early age. From when I played pastor dressup as a two -year-old, to career shadowing my pastor in grade 9,  to serving on council when I was 18, to working at camp throughout my university years, and to attending campus ministry, I always knew that being a pastor was an option and one that I wanted to pursue. 

But my story is uncommon. Lots of those called to ministry take very different routes. Some need the right encouragement at the right time, or need to get connected and involved in a church community at the right moment to be opened up to the idea of ordained ministry. Some go to seminary just to learn more and end up pursuing ordination. Some only experience that call later in life after establishing a first career or other vocation. 

This week, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew from their fishing boats, and they immediately drop their nets and follow. If only it were so simple. 

Though we tend to talk about calling as it relates to pastors, we are NOT the only ones called by God to serve. The call to follow, the call to minister is a calling given to all the baptized. We are ALL called to follow Jesus into the service of the Kingdom of God. We are ALL called to do our part in making sure the Gospel is preached to the world around us. 

In many ways it is this sense of call that I wrestle with the most. Are there enough of us who feel this baptismal call to be church together? Do churches today have enough motivation to pursue this ministry of the Kingdom of God?

“Being Church” is harder than it has been in a long time. For a while now, we have been finding ways to keep doing what we have been doing with fewer resources, smaller budgets and fewer people. But we are getting to the point where that is almost too exhausting to continue. The time has come for us now to be creative in finding new ways to organize ourselves. We need to be willing to change and adapt, to work with others around us in ways we didn’t have to consider before. The alternative is that keeping on as we are or trying to bring back what we used to be will overwhelm our diminishing resources. The models of church that we are used to – a church on every street corner doing all the same things that the church on the next street corner is doing – don’t serve us well anymore. 

Do we hear God’s call to adapt and change to the new thing? Or are we more committed to holding on to what we once had? The answers to these questions are complicated. 

What does it mean for us to be called these days? And what does “following” look like? I have been circling around these questions since I was two years old… and my sense of the answers are as unclear to me as ever.

And yet in the strangest way, I think I might be as intrigued and excited to explore their answers as I have ever been. In all my time wrestling with being called and what it means to be called, the potential of what the future could be is as great as ever. People and congregations are open to new things in ways that felt unimaginable just a few years ago. God is calling us and we are being invited to explore what that means for us and how we might follow, even as where we are going and how we will get there is still being revealed to us. 

The time it takes to figure church out – Pastor Thoughts

“Come and See”

This last week’s Gospel lesson from John contains this phrase. While maybe it doesn’t jump out a first, there are some preachers and scholars out there who say that John is the Gospel of “Come and See.”

Other scholars have described it as “Word and Sign.” 

Both are shorthand ways of saying that in John’s Gospel there is a repeating pattern of Jesus inviting people (the disciples, crowds, the religious authorities) to believe that he is the Messiah (Word) and when they hesitate, Jesus reveals who he is with a miracle or other divine act (Sign). 

This dynamic plays out most clearly in the story of Lazarus. Jesus comes late to heal Lazarus and so Lazarus’ sister Mary meets Jesus on the road. When she points out that Jesus could have done something to prevent Lazarus’ death, Jesus reminds her that HE is the resurrection and the life (Word). But then when they get to the tomb, Mary objects to the stone being rolled away because there will be a smell (hesitation). But Jesus commands it anyway, and out walks Lazarus (Sign). 

“Come and See” is the phrase that describes that invitation between the Word and the Sign, the invitation given just at the moment when we might be hesitating to believe that Jesus is who he says he is. 

This pattern that John lifts up is a way to make the Gospel all the more compelling. John recognizes that most of the people who come after him won’t be able to watch Jesus in action the way the disciples and crowds did. But if we can see ourselves in their hesitation then maybe we will see that the only necessary part is the Word. We will hear the Good News and come to faith. John basically says this at the end of his Gospel. 

While I think one of the challenges to faith in a world confident that science and technology will save us, is precisely the lack of “signs.” I also think that this dynamic of “Come and See” is a part of our lives and communities as Christians and as people of faith. 

It is just that the signs might not be what we expect. We are probably not going to head over to the local cemetery and see someone hop out of a casket.

But in our communities of faith we DO see people who are healed and brought to new life all the time. People who are dead in loneliness or isolation, people who are broken by fractured family relationships, people who have suffered illness and disease, who, by being a part of church communities, find hope and life and peace. 

We see people who hear the “Gospel Word” and are transformed into new creations. Who are so captured by the good news of Jesus’ love for them that it changes them to the core. 

In the past few months, I have been watching one such transformation in my own family. My son, who is 8, has been attending church almost weekly his whole life (pandemic lockdowns not withstanding). And of course he was a baby, a toddler, or little kid for a lot of that time. This past fall, he has begun telling me that he likes my sermons, not every week, but once in a while. I have asked him what he likes, and he has been able to tell me very accurately what my sermon for a particular Sunday was about. And over the Christmas season, I had the opportunity to sit with him in the pew for a few services. Together we found the hymns in hymnbooks and I taught him how to follow the verses of hymns. We followed the litany and psalm together, learning which lines were for us to say. We talked about the different parts of worship, as in when to stand (when we sing, pray and hear the Gospel) and when we sit (all other times). He often will sing liturgical songs at home (“This is feast!”) or repeat other liturgical responses at home. 

It only took him eight and a half years of attending church for it to take (especially since learning to read in the last two years). And, all of a sudden, worship and church and being together with all the people he knows at church (two churches!) have imparted to him that faith is important, that what God has to say to him and about his world and life is important, and that worshipping in community is important. 

“Come and See” is an invitation to witness how the Word of God is doing incredible things in our world and in our lives. Maybe as we start this New Year together, 2023 will be a year to “Come and See.’

Christmas not as we expect – Pastor Thoughts

The great day of anticipation is soon here. 

In no time at all, we will gather together for the first fully in-person Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services since 2019. Though Christmas and worship wasn’t cancelled in 2020 and 2021, these past two years Christmas Eve and Day worship has not been the same. The sound of one another’s voices as we sing carols, the visitors from afar and familiar folks that we know well all together, the glowing candles as we sing Silent Night. 

2022 with all its ups and downs is bearing a lot of expectation about what this Christmas should be. There are many people who are trying to get back what we didn’t have in the last two years, trying to have the gatherings, visits, trips that we missed the past two years. The parties and concerts that were cancelled. Trying to recreate with nostalgia the memories of Christmases gone before. 

And still once again this year, those things are under threat. Not from a virus but from continent-wide weather events. 

In our family, our planned Christmas company has been unable to fly out of Kamloops since Monday and might have arrived a week late, if at all. Another friend and colleague has been stuck in Victoria for days with no help from the airline in terms of a booking another flight home to Regina. Pastors in Eastern Canada and the United States are wondering on Facebook if in-person services will be cancelled for the third year in a row. Luckily, all the means to be online are already in place. 

In a twist of fate, Manitoba might be one of the best places to be for winter weather this Christmas. We are going to have just the regular cold and snow that we can handle with no problem. 

But of course, all the expectations about what this time of year is supposed to be are still there. And as a good friend says, “Expectations are pre-meditated resentment.” 

Wanting Christmas to be a certain way with certain people following certain traditions is pretty normal. But as our world changes and there seem to be more things outside of our control that affect us in bigger and bigger ways, we might do well to remember that Christmas is a story rooted in unmet expectations and in people navigating circumstances beyond their control. 

And still in a world that buffets us back and forth with challenges and struggles, God comes. God becomes incarnate. God is born into human life so they we might share in the divine. 

So as we bring all the things we want Christmas to be this year, God is already at work bringing the hope and promise that we need in our troubled world. 

May this Christmas Season be a time to celebrate the joy of Christ’s coming with those that you love, in whatever way is possible. 

Blessings to you this season. 

Pastor Erik+

Wrapping up the year on Christ the King – Pastor Thoughts

The church is rarely accused of being ahead of the times. But every year around the end of November, with a little celebration, the church marks Christ the King Sunday and the end of the liturgical year. And so even ahead of the rest of the world, the church is still out of step. 

Still, I cannot help but ponder beginnings and endings around Christ the King. I look forward to this Sunday mostly because of what comes after, my favourite season Advent. 

But Christ the King requires the conclusion of all the stuff that came before it. To finish the story-telling arc of the previous year, to end with the Christ taking his place on the throne. Of course, on Sunday we will hear a very different understanding of where that throne is.

Stepping back to take stock of where we have been is an important process for us as people of faith and just as human beings. We can get so focused on where we are headed to next, that we get tunnel vision for the present and immediate future. It is difficult to take the long view, to step back and account for all the places we have been before now and how that has affected us. 

Christ the King reminds us that endings are not usually what they seem with God. Rather than a vision of the final dwelling place of God, we go to the cross, to the moment when death had seemingly won… and we discover that this was the moment of God’s new beginning. 

And so it is with the end of one church year and the beginning of another. On Christ the King we go back to the cross, and to begin Advent we talk about the end. God has a way of turning endings into beginnings, into new and second chances. 

As we see the myriad of seeming endings about us, the struggles of our world to maintain itself, our ending on the horizon as a church, we might wonder, what God has in store for us. We might wonder what new beginnings are around the corner this day, and how we might be changed forever by the new thing that God is about to do. 

Pastor Erik+

Don’t pray like either the tax collector or pharisee

Luke 18:9-14
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

For the past several months, we have been hearing Jesus’ thoughts about discipleship. We have heard parables and stories that Jesus has been telling his followers about what it means to serve, about what it means to trust and about what God is up in the world. As we round the corner toward the final few weeks of this liturgical year, Jesus provides a parable seemingly about humility. About two very different people and their prayers to God. Prayers that maybe sounded a bit like this:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: proud, haughty, self-righteous, or even like that on-fire-for-Jesus Christian. I bow my head when I pray silently, and I cover the amount on my envelope with my thumb when I slip it into the offering plate”.   

Have you ever prayed that prayer? Or had those thoughts? 

“God, how could you love someone like me. I am not like those other people who have it all together, who give more than I do, who volunteer more than I do, who are better people than I am. Have mercy on me, because that’s all I have”

What about this prayer and these thoughts?

It is easy to hear this parable and think that it is a lesson about the value of humility. There is the Pharisee, incorrectly dividing the world into categories. Thankfully we are not like him. And there is the tax collector. He knows what this is about, he is a good Lutheran. All sin. The only hope he has is for God’s mercy.

To our ears listening centuries after this story was first told, the details of this parable can just fly over our heads. We don’t know what it was like to stand in the temple of Jerusalem, the grand centre of Hebrew religion and power. The term Pharisee in our world is a derogatory, not a position of honour and importance. Imagining a haughty religious type praying this prayer in an opulent setting can make it seem easy to identify the villain. Yet there is so much we don’t know, images and symbols we miss, we have not heard the standard prayers of the Hebrew faith.

Understanding the context, as always, is very important. The temple of Jerusalem would have been grand sight to behold. It was big and it had rules. The people believed that it was where God lived – in the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. The temple was the place where you had to earn every inch of God’s favour. Whether you were a Pharisee or tax collector, you knew where you stood in the eyes of God when you were inside the temple. 

The Pharisee knows that he is righteous. He prays a Benediction that every Jewish man was to pray each day. Thank you God that I am not a Gentile, a sinner, or a woman. The Pharisee modifies the prayer, but the point is still the same. He is genuinely thankful for who he is. The pharisees sees those around him and looks down on them because they are truly less righteous than he. 

The tax collector, on the other hand, knows that he cannot expect anything from God. His job requires him to break the rules of Judaism. To charge interest, to handle money with graven images on it, even to steal or assault. He is not righteous and his only hope is God’s mercy. The tax collector is so wrapped up in himself, that he doesn’t see the world around him. 

But both the Pharisee and the tax collector are quick to divide people into categories. It doesn’t matter if one places himself in the good category and the other in the bad 0 the effect is the same. Both are acting as judge on God’s behalf. The Pharisees judges himself righteous, the tax collector judges himself unrighteous. 

And when slow down and look at ourselves honestly, we are often guilty of the same.

Whether we are thanking God for not being thieves, rogues, adulterers or tax collectors, or whether we are thanking God because we are not arrogant, self-righteous, or prideful, the issue is the same. We divide humanity into categories, justified or unjustified, saved or unsaved, loved or unloved. 

In fact, being divided into tribes and factions has become so pervasive over the past few years that we argue about everything, politics, culture, science and more. 

Human beings are constantly looking for the ways that we can identify who is in and who is out. We might not be standing on the street corner, boldly thanking God in prayer for our certain salvation. But have we looked down on others, the homeless, those in financial trouble, those hold differing views about the pandemic, about the war in Ukraine, about climate change and even those who are sick, and we thank God that we are not them. “Therefore by the grace of God, go I”. 

But we are also often the ones thinking that we are worthless compared to those around us. That we unworthy, while everyone else seems so perfect. We are certain that no one has it as bad us, or that others have their act together while we are struggling to get by. 

Whether we are intentional about it, or whether we do not know that we are doing it, we too place ourselves in the same categories that the Pharisees and the Tax Collector do. 

Now, here is the problem with that kind of thinking. It is a trap of our own making. 

One that the parable today gets us to fall for again. 

We so easily identify ourselves with either the Pharisee or the tax collector, or both. But this parable is not about pride or humility, and it is just as much not about pharisees or tax collectors. 

The parable is about the storyteller. 

The parable is about Jesus.  

While we are busy trying to make things about us, God is reminding us that it is God alone who justifies. God alone decides who is good enough for the Kingdom.

According to the law, the Pharisee came into the temple righteous, and left the temple righteous. But Jesus says something about the tax collector that should grab our attention, 

“I… tell… you,  this man went down to his home justified”. 

There is nothing that the tax collector did that earned his justification. His prayer did not make him righteous. 

Rather, it is Jesus who says that the man is justified. It is Jesus who decides. 

In the world of the Jerusalem temple, there were those were in and those were out. But everything changes with Jesus. 

Through birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus comes to tear down the categories we try to build. Whenever we try to make categories, God will stand on the other side, because God wants all to be included, all to receive grace, all to be loved. God has only one category – the Kingdom to which we all belong. We are God’s beloved children. 

The parable that Jesus tells is not a parable on how to act, or who to be like or how to pray. This is a parable about God. A parable that shows us God’s motives and shows us the way that God chooses to act in the world. That shows us that God wants to be with and care for the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone. God wants to care for us… because we are the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone.

Neither the Pharisee, nor the tax collector, nor us, want to see or admit, that being justified, that being saved is something that God does for us. Yet, that is what is told to us today.  The trap is laid that we try to divide humanity into saved and not saved. And it is God who alone who knows the way out. Through love and mercy God chooses humanity. God who chooses those who truly cannot be righteous on our own, God comes to us as Christ who lives and dies, with us, with imperfect and flawed human beings, God sends us the Holy Spirit to bring us into the resurrection and into new life. 

Perhaps our prayer today should be:

“God, we thank you that we ARE like other people: Pharisees and tax collectors, sinners and saints.  We are justified by your righteousness; we are saved by your love.”

Image source: https://canadianmennonite.org/sites/default/files/article_photos/07-01A-pic-4-the_parable_of_the_pharisee_and_the_tax_collector_2017.jpg