Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What Do We Expect?

We recently moved to a new house in a new city. The previous owners left a note that the newspaper subscription ended in about a week and we should enjoy the paper during this time. When the newspaper continued to be delivered past the end date, I decided I should call and stop the old subscription and inquire about one of our own.

When I called, I was greeted with the usual automatic voice menu but none of the choices seemed to fit my situation. I could select “accounts” but the newspaper I was receiving was not my account but the previous owners. I was expecting a choice for “New Customer” but I couldn’t find one. We often hear about how people are no longer wanting a printed newspaper or magazine as they would rather access their news and general interest articles digitally on their phone, tablet or computer. Was it just an oversight to not have an option for new customers or has the decline put the newspaper industry into maintenance mode?

I couldn’t help but make a similar analogy to the church. There are numerous articles that tell us church attendance has and is continuing to decline. I had to go no farther than today’s Opinion page to see yet another article, this time titled, “Atheism is rising in Iowa.” It has me wondering if the church has gone into maintenance mode. Are we no longer in awe or amazement at the mystery of the empty tomb? Where is the joy that Jesus Christ is risen?

The gospel reading that my congregation and many others will hear on Easter morning is Matthew’s version of the empty tomb which includes a great earthquake, the stone rolled away and an angel sitting on the stone. The angel told the women “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” Matthew 28:5-6. Jesus told them he would be raised but yet when it happened, they were surprised, it wasn’t what they expected to find at the tomb.

Have we become so accustomed to our Lenten, Holy Week and Easter traditions that we no longer expect anything new? The mystery of the empty tomb is gift of grace just as is the gift of Jesus’ birth. Sometimes we try to explain this mystery or search for ways to prove to our atheist friends and family that God truly did raise Jesus from the dead.

The mystery of faith is just that, a mystery. I don’t know why some people believe in Jesus Christ and claim him as their Lord and Savior and others do not. What I hope to do as we approach Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship is to be present in the moment, to experience in community the magnitude of this incredible story. Then come Easter morning when we proclaim “Christ is Risen!”, maybe I will once again be in awe and amazement at this incredible gift of life out of death. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16

Pastor Kristine Dohrmann
St. Matthew Lutheran Church
Davenport, IA

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Opportunity to Testify

This will give you an opportunity to testify.” Luke 21:13

Today as we gathered for worship, I felt as if last week’s All Saint’s worship was months ago instead of just one week. Last Sunday we gathered in the sanctuary, remembering the saints who are dear to us and are no longer physically present. We recalled the promises of the baptismal waters, that through Christ we are joined with the saints of all ages and nothing can separate us from the love of God. And then just two days later, we elected a new Presidential of the United States, the candidate most pollsters predicted would lose. The post-election pulse is one of cautious victory for some and disappoint and anxiety for others.
            What I love about our Lutheran worship and liturgy is the pattern of coming together from whatever we have experienced this week in the world, to hear the word of God proclaimed, to be fed at the table with the very presence of Christ before God sends us back into the world for mission. “The whole people of God are joined by the same gifts of grace, for the sake of the same mission of the gospel, into the life of the one triune God.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship p. 91)
            My tradition is to follow the Revised Common Lectionary, which means the scriptures we hear in worship have already been selected based on where we are in the church calendar. Today’s gospel reading was Luke 21:5-19, the destruction of the temple foretold. This apocalyptic passage has been used by some to predict the future of the world’s end, of Jesus’ 2nd and final coming. In our post-election mindset it can be a little unsettling to hear “nation will rise against nation.” In the sermon, I spoke to the experience of this style of writing being a comfort to those that were oppressed and persecuted for their faith. Which would have been the Christians hearing Luke’s gospel 15 years after the destruction of the temple, the most beautiful building they had ever seen and the place where they thought God dwelt.
            Jesus’ words reminds us it is not easy to follow him. We can be comforted by Jesus’ words “do not be terrified” and “not a hair of your head will perish” especially when life appears to be crashing down around us. God calls us individually into community and today I experienced this reality most profoundly while presiding at the communion table. 

            Just prior to beginning our communion liturgy, we share a greeting of peace with one another. This is not a time to socialize with one another but is an act of reconciliation. If you have a disagreement with a brother or sister in Christ, this is the time to reconcile the differences before coming to join together in the great feast we call Eucharist. The very presence of the community gathered and claimed sharing in the saving grace of Jesus’ body and blood is a testifying witness to Jesus Christ’ presence in our midst, in our country and in our world.
            As a pastor, people often share their thoughts and views with me. So as I looked out today at the beloved faces of God, at the flock I have been called to love and serve, I saw children of God, some torn by the election results and others holding back their excitement for change. What I experienced at the communion table was a group of saints and sinners, freed from sin and given God’s promise of everlasting life, being united in One Body. We are sent back into the world with an opportunity to testify to the saving grace of God as given through the crucified and risen Christ. Go in peace. Christ is with you. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Holy Cow!

Written for the Devotional page of the Knoxville Journal Express

Holy cow! The Chicago Cubs are playing in the 2016 World Series! As someone who grew up in Illinois, less than three hours from Chicago, I have many family and friends that are die-hard Chicago Cubs fans. They have been waiting years to cheer on their team in the big granddaddy of them all. I am excited for them and plan to cheer for the Cubs right along with them. Many fans took to Facebook and Twitter to express their joy and overwhelming flood of emotion at finally seeing their team win the National league pennant, a drought that lasted 71 years. Now the question is, can they break the 108-year World Series Champion drought?
            I saw on Facebook that some of my seminary friends are in congregations that began their Sunday’s service with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and/or “Go Cubs Go.” Who says that Christians don’t know how to have fun? I joked with my congregation that it was time to prepare for Christ’s return. I thought about using the analogy of the Cubs fans’ drought to the Israelites wilderness wandering but realized it only took 40 years for God to deliver the Israelites to the Promised Land. J
            I think many people, including myself, are looking forward to the World Series as not only the grand finale of the baseball season but also as a distraction to the upcoming Presidential Election. It’s a lot easier and definitely more pleasurable to talk about the Chicago Cubs than the two primary candidates on the ballot for the next President of the United States of America. I hear comments like, “I’m moving to Canada if _________ (fill in the blank with the opponent) wins.” Or others will say, “I cannot stand ________ (again, fill in the blank.) I keep wondering how a country filled with such talented and gifted people could end up with two candidates that many state as “less than desirable.”
            Many have observed that our current state of politics is more about tearing down the opponent than it is about showing forth your own skills. And just like having our favorite baseball team, some feel an alliance to a political party with a “take out the other team at all costs” mentality. Although I have not witnessed it in person, I have observed some very nasty behavior on social media regarding political thought and support for specific candidates. As a result of the unrest and anxiety around the upcoming election, our congregation has decided to hold an Election Prayer Service on Monday, November 7th at 7:00pm.
            Although we hear comments like “I’ve never seen an election like this in my life,” when we read the Bible we get a sense that our current state is not anything new. It appears we have always had divisiveness and differing thought. The Election Prayer Service will be a traditional evening prayer service reminding us that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The scripture that we hear will be based on God’s sovereignty and on the hope that we have through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It will be a reminder that no matter who is elected as the 45th President of the United States, God will still be making all things new as it states in 2 Corinthians 15:17.
            I would also like to say the people I interact with on a daily basis are not like the ugliness I read on Facebook. And so my prayer for you is Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians 1:15-18 “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”
Pastor Kristine Dohrmann

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Receive the Best Gift of All

This article was originally written for the December 24th edition of the Knoxville Journal Express.

Receive the Best Gift of All
The Christmas season is filled with joy and many activities. Most people have family traditions that they enjoy each year such as Christmas tree decorating, baking, holiday parties and family meals. Many of us have traditions around gift giving.

When I was a child, we all gathered at my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. My grandma had presents for all of us which included eight adults and eleven grandchildren. Once the presents were all passed out then someone would give the OK and the kids would quickly tear into the Christmas wrapping to see what gift we received. But my grandma would just sit there with her pile of gifts on her lap, not opening a single one until the rest of us were done. Grandma put a lot of thought into her gift buying, trying to get the perfect gift and she enjoyed seeing our reaction as we opened our gifts.

As we had children we began our own traditions. One of which was a visit by a dear friend just a few days before Christmas. She would come for the evening with gifts for our children. One year she gave them a copy of her favorite Christmas movie, A Charlie Brown Christmas. This year as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Charles Schultz’s classic, I read a blog about a small detail that many of us miss when we watch this delightful show.
It’s in the scene where Linus answers Charlie Brown’s question of frustration, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, who is always shown carrying his blue security blanket, takes center stage and recites Jesus’ birth story as told in the bible, Luke 2:8-14. When Linus gets to the line “and the angel said ‘fear not’” he drops his security blanket and finishes the monologue with both hands free, as he proclaims the Good News of Jesus’ birth.

Fear is real and can be a stumbling block for receiving the goodness that God offers. With recent terrorist attacks in California and Paris, some fear for their or their family’s safety. Many people are dealing with a loss of a loved one, a relationship or a job and fear what’s next or how they will make it through another day. When we hold on to fear, we can’t receive the gifts that God gives, namely the gift of God’s son, Jesus who came to us as a baby born in Bethlehem.

Here in America, we are known to be some of the busiest people in the world. We will often ask, “What can I do?” or “What should I be doing now?” The gift that God gave in the birth of Jesus is freely given through God’s grace and love. In faith all we need to do is drop our insecurities and open our arms to receive the best gift of all. As Linus proclaimed “glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men. That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

I invite you to begin a new tradition or return to your childhood tradition of worshiping on Christmas Eve where you’ll hear through song, scripture and a faith community what Christmas is all about. Worship in your faith tradition or join us at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1506 S. Attica Rd., Knoxville at 5:00pm or 8:00pm. We will have special music, a children’s message and candle lighting at both services. Merry Christmas and may you receive and trust in the best gift ever given, the gift of Jesus.

Pastor Kristine Dohrmann
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Unity in Christ

This was written for the Devotion Page of the 08.21.2015 edition of the Knoxville Journal Express.

Oct. 31, 2017, will mark the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation when Martin Luther, priest and college professor posted his 95 Theses in Germany. Our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is making plans to celebrate this milestone as an opportunity to bear witness to the hope and joy we have through Jesus Christ.
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation also makes us aware of the differences that have separated Christians. People will often ask, “Why are there so many different denominations?” With a smile on my face, I usually respond “because we couldn’t get along.” Although there is truth to this statement, it is a pretty simplistic answer. In reality it’s more complicated than this. When I studied church history, we learned about the social and economic conditions of the time, the kings in power, the territories trying to be won and the specific theological argument that was being made by the conflicting sides.
After almost 500 years of division, the Catholic and Lutheran Christians have come together for a common commemoration of the Reformation in 2017 and published From Conflict to Communion, a report of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic commission on unity. The forward states “Catholic and Lutheran Christians will most fittingly look back on events that occurred 500 years earlier by putting the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center. The gospel should be celebrated and communicated to the people of our time so that the world may believe that God gives Himself to human beings and calls us into communion with Himself and His church. Herein lies the basis for our joy in our common faith.”
The desire to have all know the joy of Jesus Christ is what moves us forward in Christian unity. We know that it is the cross, the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus that unites us. “ There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6.
On one hand we understand God’s desire for us to be united but what happens when there are real differences in the interpretation of scripture and our understanding of God’s desires for God’s children? As an example, last Saturday many faithful Christians attended the Truth Exposed Rally at the State Capitol hosted by Iowa Right to Life in response to undercover videos that show employees from the Planned Parenthood organization discussing the sale of fetal tissue for medical research. Later that same afternoon Senator Joni Ernst spoke at Hormel in Knoxville where she discussed her efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and other issues. Also present at Hormel were faithful Christians who protested the senator’s efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. Two different groups of Christians both trying to be faithful in living their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.
In 2009, the ELCA adopted at their churchwide assembly a social statement on sexuality titled, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. The statement acknowledged that “consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same-gender committed relationships, even after many years of thoughtful, respectful, and faithful study and conversation.” With the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, it is clear that there is still no consensus within our denomination.
In my research for a Christian Ethics paper, I came across an essay by Nancy Duff, How to Discuss Moral Issues Surrounding Homosexuality When You Know You Are Right. Duff refers to 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill as to why we should listen to opposing points of view, even when we know that our position is the correct one. First, Mill challenges us to admit that because we are fallible, if we silence an opposing opinion we may indeed be silencing the truth…Second, Mills points out that even if the opposing opinion is clearly in error, it may contain a portion of the truth…Finally, Mill contends that even if the opinion we hold is not only true, but represent the whole truth, it risks becoming no more than prejudice or recitation if it refuses to be in conversation with other opinions.
The unity of the church comes in acknowledging Jesus Christ as the one who brings life and this truth is greater than the differences that divide us. We need to take seriously the words of Pope John XXIII, “The things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Christ in Community

          In my public vocation as a pastor, I’m privileged to do many things on behalf of the church. One of my favorites is leading the blessing rite in worship. Our congregation has the tradition of blessing and honoring the high school seniors. This past Sunday, as part of our “Youth Sunday” we blessed two young men graduating from high school.
          The rite began with a reminder of this milestone in life and that their community of faith wished to show their support as fellow believers in Jesus Christ. Then we heard words from scripture read by two other high school students. As the leader, I addressed the graduates to let them know we celebrate with them and to remind them that we will pray for them during this transition in life. Then we prayed for God’s guidance and for the Holy Spirit to go with them into the future. I asked the community if they would promise to keep the graduates and their families in their prayers and to help the graduates as need and opportunity arise. They responded with “we will.”
          In our baptismal rite, the congregation also made a similar promise “do you promise to support and pray for them in their new life in Christ?” The blessing of graduates is an opportunity to be reminded that we are a community of faith, bonded together as God’s children, no matter what our age. The blessing of graduates’ rite ends with the best part, speaking a blessing upon the graduates:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord watch over you and keep you safe.
May the Lord guide your every step.
May you always know of our unending love for you.

          I have only been a pastor for two years but both times I've led this rite, my voice has cracked and the emotion has arose in me at the words, “May you always know of our unending love for you.” I think it’s because these words match so closely to the authentic Christian Community that is present in Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Knoxville, Iowa. I fight back tears saying these words because I have seen this community embrace people with a loving “welcome home” mentality not a “where have you been?” condemnation.
          As we near the end of the season of Easter and approach Pentecost Sunday, I am reminded that through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ we have an embodied faith. That we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit so we, in our lives, may also embody the faith. 1 John 1:1 reads, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”
          As my worship professor stated numerous times, “God calls us individually into community.” Authentic Christian communities embody the faith and through the encouraging words, the hand shakes and pats on the back, and the weekly gathering at the table sharing bread and wine, the very presence of Christ is made known. Just like the travelers on the Road to Emmaus, some youth may not recognize Christ in their midst but someday they will look back and recognize that Christ was there truly present in the authentic Christian community of their youth.

          In what ways do you experience Christ in community?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Peace in the Midst of the Storm

I really love a big snow storm like the 10 inches that we had this past weekend. Yes, you read that correctly, I love it when we get a storm with a significant amount of snow. Despite the work it takes to clean the driveway and walks there is just something about a good snow storm.

I know there are many that don’t agree with me. Some of you have jobs where you have to work outside in the elements which makes your job tougher. I am grateful for the hard work of our police officers, road crews and other service workers that keep us safe in the midst of a storm. I’m also aware that a storm can cause extra strain on agencies that help low income families and those without adequate housing. I am grateful for a warm house where I can enjoy the beauty of the snow through my window without having to worry about having enough money to pay this month’s heating bill.

Some agree with me that the snow is pretty but then also make the point that two inches of snow is just as pretty as ten but a lot less work. This is true but what I like about a big snow storm is the peace that comes with the storm. You see, a big snow storm makes us all stop our normal routines. Instead of running two or three errands after work or driving the kids from this event to that one, we stay home. In the midst of a storm, we get a reprieve from the expectation that we can do all and be all. We get a moment of peace.

When I opened the back door last Sunday morning to let our dog outside, I was struck not just with the beauty of the fresh snow but also by the sound. The blanket of fresh snow had made an acoustical foam over nature. It was so quiet and peaceful, I was in awe of God’s presence in the stillness. In John 14:27a Jesus said to his disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” The world gives us many demands, brokenness and pain but God, through the gift of the resurrected Jesus, gives us peace.

Sometimes life is going full speed and we feel like we’re in the midst of a storm. It is in those times that we have a hard time feeling God’s peace. The big snow storm helped me to see, hear and know the peace of Jesus Christ. But we don’t need a big snow storm to know God’s peace. God has given us peace through the gift of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. If you want to know more about “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” and are not already active in a church then come visit Good Shepherd Lutheran Church for Sunday morning worship at 9:00 am or visit one of the many vibrant churches in our community. There is peace in the midst of the storm.

Pastor Kristine Dohrmann
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Knoxville