Grounded in Christ — Sent to be a Blessing.

Zion Lutheran Church

All Saints – A chance to give thanks

Candles F

“For all the saints, who from their labors rest…”

All of us are indebted to those who have gone before us. We know much of what we know because they passed it down to us. We are able to do what we do because someone showed us skills and abilities that they had and took the time to cultivate them in us

In our lives, these people become precious to us. In some symbolic ways, we carry a piece of them with us even long after they are gone. Their fingerprints are all over us. This is how God uses people to mold and shape us into who we are and what are to be.

As we continue our preaching journey through the Old Testament, this week’s lesson comes from 1 Kings 19:1-18. The prophet Elijah is afraid. He has taken on the powers and principalities of his time and there are a lot more of them than there is of him! While Elijah is hiding, God comes to him and speaks to him. God brings words of challenge and encouragement to stay true to who he is and what his purpose is.

But inside of those words also come another word. Elijah is told that he will soon choose Elisha to be his successor. Elijah’s work, as important as it is, will not be finished with Elijah. He must pass the mantle on to another and raise up a new generation of leaders to follow him. Even when things are hard, God is calling to him to plan ahead and pay attention to others so they can find their meaning and purpose as well.

This week, take a few minutes to reflect on the people who have shaped you. Give thanks for their fingerprints – even the rough ones have contributed to your current self. Then think about your life. Who have you influenced and who are you shaping. Take a moment, offer up a prayer for them and drop them a quick note to let them know you are thinking and praying for them. What we have received in Christ we pass on. It is what makes us saints.

When God Comes Down

The old spiritual sings, “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder…” but is that really how God works and calls us to respond?

We meet or hear about people all the time trying to “find God.” In the church language there is a term for such people as they are referred to as “seekers.” These are people who sense or believe that there must be something to this God stuff but haven’t quite got a handle on what it is. If we are honest, any one of us might find ourselves there sometimes. Our faith ebbs and flows – some days it may be rock solid and on another day we wonder if God is even there.

Lutheran theology actually helps us think about how we should approach such moments. Unlike the Jacob’s Ladder song that urges us to “climb,” Luther’s great insight was that God comes “down.” In other words, we don’t get our act together and work really hard so we can ascend and get closer to God. God loves us and descends to come closer to us. Lutheran spirituality is about God’s coming down and not about our trying to rise up.

This is very freeing. There is no way to get to God – God already knows that. But the freedom of this is that we then are allowed to simply give up trying. No wasted energy doing what we can’t do. Lutheran spirituality is grounded in believing that the God who comes to us is faithful – God is showing up! The key is, “Am I paying attention?”

Take time to simply watch for God. Read scripture to get clues about what God is up to and what God looks like. Perhaps read Galatians 5:22-23 (the fruits of the Spirit) and then reflect on where you have seen these fruits in the last few days. You will discover that God is near and working all the time – we sometimes struggle to notice. In the process, it may open you up to be more hopeful and receptive in ways that lift your Spirits. Because we don’t go up to God, but sometimes connecting with God can lift us up!

Centering Time

“For if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” Romans 14:8

We belong to a small group that meets by phone for what we call “centering time” on Tuesday mornings from 9:00 to 10:00 AM. We’ve been discussing a book about how people encounter God in their suffering called My Bright Abyss. It is written by Christian Wiman who is living with cancer – death is always just around the corner for him.

This week’s chapter was about his experiences of being with other people as they died. Something made some seem different from others – some were what he experienced as good deaths where people seemed to somehow die with a sense that they were part of something or their life had contributed to something in some way. Other deaths seemed  not so good, filled with regret or other things that made the death less fulfilling. Wiman’s experiences did not always line up with people’s religions. Some religious people still died not so good deaths and other people who weren’t religious might still have a good death.

While in Ireland we spent a lot of time in places where death was the focus. Many of the monasteries and abbeys have closed and lie in some state of ruin. But the cemetery there is still a cemetery and in some cases, people continue to be buried there. Celtic crosses and other gravestones mark the graves of people whose lives span centuries of history among them.

In one particularly unique moment while on the Aran Islands I (Dave) had a somewhat holy experience. There was a sense that I was somehow thinking beyond my own span of years – however many more I may or may not have. But the sense that we are part of something bigger and the connection between the life we live and the elements of the earth from which we have come made me think. “I think I am looking forward to being reunited with the earth,” I felt my inner voice say. It almost caught me by surprise – this sense that my life will end but that will be its own holy part of my journey as a person. Death was the most friendly to me personally as I have ever experienced it to be.

In the text at the top of this message, Paul reminds us that in some ways life and death aren’t as different as we make them. We live to the Lord – always hoping to be connected to Christ and useful to his purposes here. But we die to the Lord – always trusting that even in death we belong to God. In all things – life and death – we belong to God.

I am in no hurry to rush death. There is much I want to do and I sense a calling from God to keep doing them. But it is good to know that as the day draws nearer, my sense that I can trust God with my death is somehow life giving. It makes Paul’s words come to life for me: “Whether I live or whether I die, I am the Lord’s.” May it be true for you, too.