The 11th of this month will mark 100 years since the armistice that effectively ended fighting one of the most significant multi-national conflicts in modern history--the conflict known originally as the Great War (only to be renamed World War I once humanity was self-destructive enough to engage in an even larger conflict that would result in the deaths of about five times as many people). At the eleventh hour (11:00am Paris time) on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, shots ceased to be fired in the battlefields on the Western Front of World War I. While that ended the active fighting, it did not officially end the war--most of the belligerent nations signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the United States conducted separate treaties with several nations in 1921, and the (then) new country of Turkey did not have its final treaty in place until 1923.
I am no professional historian, but I have a lot of interest in World War I. It is a painful case study exposing the astounding limitlessness to human brokenness, with the belligerent nations each seeing themselves as fighting for honor, allegiance, sovereignty, tradition, and other high human ideals. Groups and individual people were so dedicated to those ideals that they failed to see human beings on the opposing side, seeing instead only targets for destruction. They devoted the best of human ingenuity to developing ever more destructive weapons--some of which, such as chlorine gas shells, were even acknowledged as being excessive. They destroyed irreplaceable cultural artifacts. They created new nation states...but did so by drawing lines of their own convenience rather than listening to what the local people wanted or, worse yet, sometimes even killed thousands of people solely because of their ethnic identity. They discovered technologies, medicines, and formulas--many of which we are thankful for today--but were solving problems that should never have arisen in the first place. And, for icing on the human brokenness cake, victorious French leader Marshal Ferdinand Foch failed to institute a truce or ceasefire while the terms of the inevitable armistice were being finalized, which led to 10,944 casualties (2,738 deaths) on the final day of the 52-month war.
I will readily admit that what I have just detailed in writing here is pretty dismal. Even simply putting it on paper made me feel worse about our human condition, and it caused me to take a break from writing this article to question my interest in such a subject. However, in reflecting on that question for a few minutes, an answer came to me. I realized that such painful reminders of human brokenness, while they foster powerful recognition of our sin, also drive us to praise the God who steadfastly refuses to give up on us even though that sin exists. The worst of us (be that “us” humanity as a whole, our families, or our individual lives) causes us to seek the only unfailing source of good that exists--God.
Despite the sinfulness of World War I, God has yet chosen to redeem humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to work through our hands so that God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Despite the sinfulness of a hate-driven man who murdered eleven worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue late last month, God has yet chosen to love humankind and remind us that we are children of the Heavenly Father. Despite the sinfulness of injustice, fear, and oppression that make life so difficult for people everywhere, God has yet chosen to suffer along with the brokenhearted and use broken people to bring hope through words and actions.
God’s peace to you amid whatever brokenness is providing challenges for you and/or your loved ones at the moment. In those difficulties, remember the truth of the words of blessing you hear each week at the end of the worship service: The Lord blesses you and keeps you. The Lord makes his face to shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord looks upon you with favor, and gives you peace. Amen.
I’ll begin this month with some words of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer: “In fact, God’s good and gracious will comes about without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come about in and among us.”
In that little sentence, Luther points out the obvious: that our infinitely good and powerful God can do whatever our infinitely good and powerful God wants to do. However, he also points out something much more bold about the intent of our praying the Lord’s prayer: that what God wants to do may be accomplished through human hands. In other words, God doesn’t need or require us or our effort to effect what God wants for the world...yet, God nonetheless pulls us into the mix anyway, using our imperfect human hands for holy work.
This surprising action of God--engaging human hands to effect God’s will in the world--is what we call God’s mission, and that is a frequent topic among us. As this month progresses, though, we will take September’s Mission Sundays a step further. Now that we have reflected on what the mission is to which God has called us, we can turn our attention to how God’s mission catches fire among us.
The fire of God’s mission is ignited by God’s own self--by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who moved over the waters of creation of the world (Genesis 1:2) and the divine spark of inspiration through all the ages. This spark finds kindling in the life of Holy Baptism as we each receive the Holy Spirit and discover the unique child of God we have been created to become, filled with gifts of the Spirit--raw materials for God to use and refine every day of our lives. Individually, then, we are embers of God’s work, smoldering in our own little spheres of influence.
Embers are indeed a good start, but there is one more ingredient needed for a full-fledged fire: fuel. Fuel helps God’s mission to catch fire among us and in the world, and it is the assortment of things we give to and employ in God’s work on earth--time, money, skills, goods, energy, possessions. All of these fuel sources make the fire of God’s mission shine brightly to the people around us through community service ministries, worship, Christian care ministry, education, and fellowship.
While we are the ones putting the fuel onto the Welcome, Nurture, Serve fire of God’s mission that is burning Trinity Lutheran Church, though, that fuel doesn’t belong to us. It is all given to us by God, as Martin Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism (Creed, First Article): “God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life...and all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him.” God gives us all that we have, and we give it back to God as fuel for God’s mission...and we do so with joy because we delight in the eternal life God has secured for us through the most selfless gift of all--Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
We will share more about this throughout the fall season in our Mission Fuel-Up campaign that begins Oct. 21 with celebrating the Holy Baptism of Cara Elizabeth Timmons, granddaughter of Kent and Donna Charlesworth. We also will be introducing online giving through the new ELCA partner organization Tithe.ly this fall and offering a Thrivent Legacy & Estate Planning Workshop on Nov. 4 through our local Thrivent agent, Alex Lamprecht. I will also be throwing a new hymn into the mix this season that reflects on stewardship not as a fancy word for fundraising but rather as fueling the fire of God’s mission. If that sounds familiar, that’s great--writing this article for you helped me make sense of what I had been grasping at for the hymn!
Peace to you all as we work together to fuel God’s Welcome, Nurture, Serve mission for Trinity!
By now, many of you have probably noticed that I write quite a few new hymns. I have been a hymn nerd since was five or six years old, and have been writing my own hymns for about ten years now; however, it is just within the last three years or so that I have begun to be consistently pleased with their quality. I truly appreciate the support you express for my acting upon this particular piece of my spirituality, and so, I thought I would use this article to give you a “view from inside the hymn writer’s workshop!”
Developing Subject Matter
I tend to prefer structured source material on which to base my hymn texts, as structured material helps me to make sure my hymns are really saying something rather than simply being heaps of empty phrases with no context. Like Martin Luther, I believe that singing hymns is even more effective for teaching tenets of the faith than reading or other strategies--essentially, I see it as preaching with music added. Some “structured” examples:
This piece of the process can be quite interesting. Sometimes, the tune choice provides an opportunity for me to connect to some detail that underlies the hymn’s origin or purpose, almost like an “in-joke” between friends that you can only understand if you know the story. Some examples:
I hope this little trip to the workshop was interesting for you! Thanks again for the freedom you give me to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ using all the tools that God has given me!
When the month of August rolls around, the first thing that comes to my mind is that we are entering the “dog days” of summer--the most oppressively hot and stiflingly humid days of the season, I was sure that this was the meaning of that phrase “dog days.” I would have had no doubts giving that answer on a quiz show with financial gain on the line, or at a trivia night as I campaigned for bragging rights and nerd-prestige. Despite this great sense of certainty, though, I dared to look up the origin of the phrase and found that “dog days” isn’t a folksy English-language idiom to describe hot weather but rather a much older phrase that comes from Greek and Roman observations of the star Sirius. Often called the “dog star” because it appears to “follow” the constellation Orion in the sky like a dog follows its master, Sirius is only visible for a portion of the year, and the Greeks and Romans casually observed a connection between its first appearance (often in July or August) and a rash of hot summer weather--thus, the term “dog days.” While my earlier answer wasn’t entirely wrong, I certainly learned something about a topic I thought was simple!
This little learning journey gave me pause to reflect on our life as Christians, and more specifically as Christians who are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). If there is one thing I can honestly say that I love about being a pastor in the ELCA corner of Christ’s Church, it is that we generally take the perspective that we always have something more to learn about God, about the Bible, and about life in God’s world. Even the most essential elements of our faith--say, the reality that Jesus loves us--is like an onion with layers that we peel throughout our lives, discovering fresh nuance and new richness. Such a passion for learning comes to us from the earliest days of the Lutheran tradition over 500 years ago, with Martin Luther’s extensive writings contributing greatly to the literacy rate in Germany during the 1500s. Also, beyond this historical connection, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ here at Trinity have embraced education as their vocation through teaching, administration, student support, and other work in schools.
In thanksgiving for this interest in learning that the Holy Spirit has woven into our life together as Trinity Lutheran Church, we will have an Education Celebration Sunday on August 26th. We will lift up God’s gift of education through presentation of the 2018 Trinity Scholarships and our annual Blessing of the Backpacks, an invitation to which will be extended to all local school employees. I am also excited to be inviting local families who will be receiving some of the extra desks that we have around the church building, in hopes that these desks will inspire the children through a dedicated place to do their school work. All told, the Education Celebration Sunday will be a joyful time of prayer and blessing as school gets underway across Fulton County!
December has arrived, and Christmas preparations are in full swing all around us. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday have all flown by, complete with the requisite facts, figures, and news headlines. Christmas decorations adorn homes and downtown areas. Favorite holiday songs abound on the radio and in concerts throughout the community--in the words of one of those songs, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” (minus the spate of 60-degree temperatures as the month begins).
Known as “Christmas creep,” this phenomenon--the sudden onslaught of Christmas everything before December has even found its footing--is well documented. I have wrestled for quite some time with what Christmas creep says about our society, and the first thoughts that came to my mind were less than encouraging. I thought of powerful forces of consumerism that drive us to acquire more and more things. I thought of cultural addiction to instant gratification--we want what we want, and we want it NOW. And, even stranger, the church season of Advent this year suffers itself from Christmas creep, as the Fourth Sunday of Advent occurs on December 24!
Although I am still concerned about things like consumerism and a need for instant gratification, this year’s unusual Advent calendar redirected my thinking a bit. Many people (myself included) like to put off Christmas celebrations until the Twelve Days of Christmas (evening of December 24 through evening of January 5), but there are two points that are spiritually nourishing about Christmas being constantly in our midst throughout this month. First, the intermingling of Advent’s anxious waiting with the joyous Christmas sense of fulfillment matches up well with the “already/not yet” reality of the Kingdom of God: God has already broken into the world and created it anew through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ...but God’s reign is not yet fully in place in the world, and God will continue breaking into the world through the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the popularity and accessibility of Christmas present followers of Jesus with wonderful opportunities to share the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ with people who--possibly unbeknownst to us--hunger for that good news!
These two “good news notes” of Christmas creep are themes we will hear throughout the upcoming church year as we study the Gospels of Mark and John. Of the four Gospels, Mark is the king of “already/not yet” theology, and the entire purpose of John is to share Jesus with others so that they join the journey of faith that leads to eternal life, as the author of John reveals in John 20:31: “these [signs of Jesus] were written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that, through believing you may have life in his name.”
So, perhaps my prior Christmas creep grumbling was at least partially short-sighted. Maybe that phenomenon is simply one more thing that joins with all others to “work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Let us enjoy this intriguingly intermingled month and these events it has in store for us!
Toward the end of this month, Lutherans and many other Protestant Christians will join in remembering the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation with Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on October 31, 2017. In many of my recent articles, I’ve been sharing some unique pieces of our Lutheran heritage, and today is another in that series.
Since this month will be one so steeped in remembrance of Luther’s storied actions of that day in 1517, I have decided to focus this month’s article on the wonderful Lutheran theological tradition. Theology is an important word in the study of religion, and it’s a word that comes from two ancient Greek words: theos (God) and logos (word or message). Thus, whenever we talk about theology, we are referring to words or messages about God.
Theology is an inexhaustible field of study, as it is impossible to know absolutely everything about God, who is limitless and boundless. While no one can understand God completely, though, God does give gifts of the Holy Spirit to all who are baptized into Christ. As Jesus invites us into relationship with him in Holy Baptism, he also invites us to be attentive as God’s gracious work is revealed throughout our lives. We then tell others about our experiences of God--maybe formally at church or in writing, or maybe informally by processing life events with friends--and there you have it...we ourselves have produced theology!
We all experience God, and so it’s safe to say that theology isn’t just for professionals. However, the Lutheran branch of the Christian family has had more than our fair share of theological heavyweights. Of course, our tradition began with the foundational work of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon. Martin Chemnitz came along in the next generation after them, helping to tie up a lot of loose ends in early Lutheran writings. Later years brought the brave writings of the Danish Lutheran Søren Kierkegaard, who has inspired many with his “leap to faith” concept. The upheaval of World War II was addressed by the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Paul Tillich, and the rich Lutheran theological tradition continues today with Martin Marty and two of my personal favorites, the Canadian Douglas John Hall and the German Ingolf Dalferth.
These are some noteworthy names, but one thing unites the work of all these folks: the desire to dig deeper into the amazing grace of God expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as revealed in scripture. The mystery of how and why such a great God would be so generous to broken sinners has no doubt been compelling since the first generation of Christians, but Lutherans throughout the ages have been particularly attentive to this good news and have made it the true focus of our theology even when the prevailing culture has found other things to seem more interesting. I am very excited to engage this rich theological tradition with you this month in worship and our educational programming!
I leave you with a few highlights of our life together this month:
Welcome to the next article in my 500 Years of Lutheranism series! This time, we will explore another topic that may not strike you as particular to Lutherans--youth ministry. Today, youth ministry is an area of emphasis for all kinds of Christian congregations, but Lutherans have made some great contributions over the years to the ways that the church shares faith with young people.
Perhaps the greatest of these came from Martin Luther himself in 1529, when he published his Small Catechism. Our Confirmation class joined the Adult Forum class during Lent this year for a study of this important little book. While it was wonderful to study the Small Catechism in a class format, the real power of the Small Catechism is best experienced beyond the walls of church buildings. Luther clearly intended the book to be used in the home, as he spelled out in his introduction to each portion of the Small Catechism: In a simple way in which the head of a household is to present them to the household. Luther’s Small Catechism, then, was a tool used, from its earliest days, to help parents share their faith with their children.
As time went on, Lutherans would impact the lives of many young people through Confirmation classes and schools. Of the many American Lutheran denominations that would eventually lead to our ELCA, the mostly Swedish Augustana Synod (1860-1962) had an especially strong reputation in the area of youth ministry. Trinity actually began in the Augustana Synod in 1890 under the name Bethlehem Swedish Lutheran Church, so we grew up with youth ministry as part of our congregational DNA. Scarcely a week passes for me as your pastor without someone sharing fond memories of Trinity’s positive impact on young people over the years, ranging from youth-led worship services to Leadership Lab at Augustana College to a rambunctious youth who eventually became a pastor.
These memories are wonderful, but like I said, youth ministry is in our DNA. This means that youth ministry is not just a thing of the past for Trinity, but something about which we continue to be excited! Our great youth leaders, Kathy Clifford and Tricia Davis, are inspiring young people here and building energy in advance of the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston that our youth will be attending next summer. During this month, I invite you to help stoke the Holy Spirit’s fire of youth ministry here by supporting the Trinity Youth’s upcoming fundraisers this month, listed below. Thank you for your support!
This month, I am continuing my article series on important elements of Lutheran theology and history with a topic you might not expect--technology. Technology may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Lutherans over the centuries, but it has been important since the very beginning.
For most practical purposes, the Protestant Reformation began on October 31, 1517 when the pastor and university professor Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. As dramatic as that scene sounds, church doors functioned as community bulletin boards since most people worshiped on a daily basis. But the printing press turned Luther’s simple, ordinary action into a landmark event for the history books. Developed and refined by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-1400s, the printing press helped Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses reach many more people in Germany and throughout Europe. And transformed a local academic dispute into a broader conflict that would forever change the church. The power of technology to share ideas was clear, and the sun was rising on technology’s power to share the gospel--the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
Ten years ago, as I was beginning my seminary studies, I wondered what use God could possibly have for all the crazy math classes and all obscure computer programming knowledge I picked up in college. But then I remembered the story of Luther and the printing press. I remembered that technology could be used to share the gospel just as it is used to share so many other ideas (for better or for worse). I realized that God could use all that random technological experience for something after all!
From that time on, I have constantly been on the lookout for ways that technology can help the church share the message of Jesus. This is always a bit of a balancing act, as it is all too easy to technologize everything and let the tool (technology) overshadow the goal (spreading the gospel). Thankfully, God’s Welcome, Nurture, Serve mission for us helps us to discover how technology can be deployed in service to our Lord Jesus. Technology helps us WELCOME guests and new friends through our website and Facebook page. Technology helps us NURTURE people in faith through the sermon podcast and downloadable class materials. And technology helps us SERVE our neighbors by giving us ways to partner with others in our community to respond to important issues and challenges.
These are just a few thoughts about how Trinity is continuing the Lutheran heritage of technology in service of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you have other ideas about how technology could help further God’s mission for us, please let me know!
Last month, I wrote to you about the Lutheran emphasis on community service ministry, sharing my joyous experiences with the Fulton County Social Service Committee. After the fact, it occurred to me that that article would be a great kickoff to Trinity’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a celebration that will be at its peak around October 31 (the date on which Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517). My newsletter articles for you in the coming months will each explore a different highlight of our great Lutheran tradition.
This month, I emphasize here God’s great gift to us of Holy Baptism. Now, many of you have probably discovered by now that I talk about Baptism a lot in my sermons, and that is because Baptism is one of the most important things God has given us. We are baptized once--washed once with water and God’s Word--but the effects of Baptism last a lifetime, as we are given forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation through this sacrament.
Baptism is a gift God freely gives us, without any work or particular worthiness of our own, and if you have ever received a truly wonderful gift, you know how difficult it is to ever thank the giver enough for such a gift. Thus, each day of our lives is an exercise in saying “Thank you” to God for the gift of Holy Baptism as we die each day to sin and rise again to new life in Christ (Romans 6:4 & Luther’s Small Catechism).
Here are some ways that you can say “Thank You” to God for your baptism:
So, as our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation gets into high gear over the coming months, let us all daily thank God for the gift of Holy Baptism that unites Jesus’ followers in God’s care--no matter the denomination of Christianity to which we belong.
To all the followers of the risen Christ gathered into Trinity Lutheran Church: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I am writing this to you just after returning to the office from the April meeting of the Fulton County Social Service Committee, a meeting which I attend each month. As I participate in these meetings, I am always encouraged that God is working through some truly amazing people in this community, and I am blessed to be in the company of such a great cloud of witnesses to the power of humble service.
During this particular meeting, however, I was struck by another realization, one beyond my normal appreciation of the community servants. I realized that our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a tremendous force for good in the Canton area. Of course, I know that Trinity has been rooted in this community since 1890...but that meeting was a wonderful visual reminder for me that the ministry of the ELCA in Canton is larger than just the labor of Trinity’s hands.
In that meeting, I saw God’s work in Canton through ELCA hands as our sister Andrea Barbknecht updated us on the community outreach of Spoon River College. I saw God’s work in Canton through ELCA hands as I sat next to two staff members from MOSAIC, an organization founded by the ELCA to provide group and host homes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I did a sort of impromptu “house blessing” for them last month as they opened their third Canton group home). I saw God’s work in Canton through ELCA hands as a family services contractor for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) introduced herself to the group. And (at least hopefully!) I spoke of God’s work in Canton through ELCA hands as I invited people to ride with us in Pedal for a Purpose and updated them on a local 211 help line project I am getting involved in through Chamber of Commerce connections.
I want you to take heart, brothers and sisters in Christ, that God has called us to be part of all these wonderful things in this community. Through your participation in this congregation and faithful support of the ELCA through benevolence to our Central/Southern Illinois Synod, you are at that Social Service Committee table. You are part of community-building events, of the great quality of life at the MOSAIC group homes, and of the transformation of families through LSSI.
God’s work is all around us, and our hands are reaching farther than any of us might have imagined. Let this good news drive us forward as we Welcome, Nurture, and SERVE!
Pastor Micah Garnett has been our Pastor since July 2016. He grew up in York, PA and graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. He enjoys worship, working with social services in Fulton County, writing hymns, and cycling.