And so it begins

The chancel on Pentecost-Confirmation Sunday (Faith Ottawa, photo by M.Malina, 2023)

Dear Confirmands,

Confession: Over the past two years of meeting and Confirmation programs, we’ve barely skimmed the surface of what we can know about the Christian faith from a Lutheran perspective:

We’ve just scratched the surface of the biblical story and sacraments. We’ve only dipped our toes into the shallows of the otherwise deep waters.  We’ve said the Lord’s Prayer together and read through the Creed. We’ve talked about the Commandments and affirmed Article Four of the Augsburg Confession—that we are saved by grace alone and nothing we can do or know will ultimately save us.

And maybe that’s the point. Because here we are confirming you today! Despite what from one perspective can be seen as a rather lean program. And yet our action today underscores this fundamental Lutheran belief: We cannot by our own strength and efforts earn God’s favour.

Many of our senior members will be eager to tell your stories of large confirmation classes where they had to sit for hours memorizing scriptures, learning by heart the entire catechism and singing the Reformation hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. And that’s not even describing the anxiety surrounding the final exam before their confirmation.

Another confession: I think we have long passed the day of doing confirmation that way.

And still you are today being confirmed in the faith. Besides affirming we are saved by grace alone, our action today underscores another very important understanding of our faith: Confirmation merely emphasizes you are at the start of a journey today, not the end of it.

Over the last several months groups of Lutheran youth leaders from around the world—specifically from Africa, Europe and the Americas—gathered to set priorities for the church today. These priorities will be part of the deliberations at the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Poland which I will attend in September later this year.

Some of these priorities agreed by Lutheran youth leaders, ages 18-30, were: eco-theology, justice in community, inclusive and accessible churches, youth leadership and mental health.[1] Clearly there is a future for the church because there is so much to be done by you and others your age. And you’ve already started on this journey:

Even though you didn’t memorize anything, or read through every word or explanation in Martin Luther’s catechism, you did feed the hungry and provide clothing to the poor. You did plant a garden. You did, by handing out coffee and slices of pie, put a smile on the faces of homeless people in downtown Ottawa. You ate together, shared laughs and silly stories. You engaged in service projects around the city. You worshipped and prayed together.

But it’s not over. Those activities can and will happen again. The one word we should eradicate from the lexicon and culture of Confirmation Sunday is ‘graduation’. You are not graduating today. You haven’t completed anything, really.

Today is not a graduation. It’s really the start. It’s a journey you are on—we are all on—to grow in faith. That’s why each of you is receiving the gift of a small tree–a white spruce. Because like anything that grows, it will need regular care and nurturing. And it will grow over time.

You may doubt everything we do today. And that’s ok. It’s a journey. You may not be sure of God today and what God promises you. And that’s ok.

It’s ok because what we did accomplish these past couple of years was community. Not perfectly. But we related with one another, and spent time together doing meaningful things. We got to know each other a bit. And when one of us was missing from class, we asked about them—where they were and how they were doing.

And that’s what the church today needs: Forming relationships in faith. And maybe for some of us older ones, re-forming relationships of faith.

Confirmation is an affirmation of faith—a saying yes to everything good. To our baptism. To God’s grace. Saying, even though we may not be 100% sure and even though we don’t know everything, we do know this:

God loves you and God will be with you forever. God loves everyone else and will be with us forever.

[1] Scan recent posts in the Lutheran World Federation Youth Instagram account @lwfyouth

And so it begins”; a sermon for Pentecost-Confirmation Sunday, by Rev. Martin Malina, May 2023


Moving holding still (photo by J Hawley Malina 18 May 2023)

You can miss something Jesus says in the Gospel if you read it too quickly or skim over it. But because the instruction is repeated almost verbatim in the other reading assigned for the 7th Sunday of Easter I bring it to your attention.

How would you react to being told to wait? It’s hard enough to wait your turn in a crowded supermarket line, or getting snarled in stop-and-go traffic, or waiting for needed surgery or treatment. What would you do when someone asks you to wait? Wait for a sign before going through with a course of action your heart has settled on, or doing something you really want to do?

Jesus tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the promised Holy Spirit. They are to wait there before going out in God’s mission to the ends of the earth, to all nations.[1] Why are they waiting, to stay in place, before doing the Lord’s good work? What value is there in doing that?

On the other hand, if we use Jesus’ words to justify inaction, I think we are missing the point. Jesus isn’t saying: Don’t do anything until everything else is figured out and we have clear-cut answers. Jesus isn’t saying: Don’t do anything until all our problems are solved, until conditions are right or everything is perfect or until there is no doubt as to what to do.

To have peace in one’s heart and confidence to move forward in life means fear and doubt will still be part of our journey. To have peace and conviction about a course of action means there will always be reasons not to do something.

How does this Gospel help us today?

The disciples had experienced a significant transition in their lives. It had only been three years on the road with Jesus. They had experienced the wonder and the joy as well as the challenges, the disruptions, the dangers, and the threats of being with the Lord in person. All of this, after being—in some cases, suddenly—called away from their previous lives as fishers and tax collectors. That’s a lot of change in a short time.

And now, after the intense and tumultuous last days in Jerusalem witnessing Jesus’ arrest, torture and violent death on a cross, after witnessing his resurrection and encountering Jesus in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus and by the lakeshore, did they even have time to process all of this, to grieve?

Perhaps that’s one piece of wisdom in Jesus’ instruction: Wait in Jerusalem. Give yourself some time. Slow things down, take a breath, re-group. Pressing the reset button on their lives, the disciples spent valuable time in prayer, blessing God in the temple.

We may do well in our lives to pay attention to times of transition. Not ignore nor devalue those moments in-between. From a broader perspective, we are emerging from three years of pandemic disruptions. We cannot deny nor minimize its impact—positive and negative—on our lives. We need to give space for grief, for re-grouping, resetting.

It is time to again affirm what wisdom traditions through the ages have often claimed: What we most deeply seek and desire — healing, fulfillment, an answer to a question — must ultimately reveal itself to us. French philosopher Simone Weil once noted: “We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them.”[2]

I want to conclude by giving us a practical exercise. Here is a spiritual discipline we can practice on a regular basis, even every week at worship:

Statio, from the contemplative Christian tradition, is the practice of stopping one thing before beginning another. Another way of expressing Statio is “holy pausing”. It is the acknowledgement that in the space of transition and threshold is a sacred dimension, a holy pause full of possibility. This place between is a place of stillness, where we let go of what came before and prepare ourselves to enter fully into what comes next.”[3]

When we pause between activities, we open ourselves to the possibility of discovering a new kind of presence of in-between times. Statio calls us to a sense of reverence for the “fertile spaces between our goals where we can pause and center ourselves and listen.”[4] We can open up a space within for God to work.

Because when we rush from one thing to another, we skim over the surface of life. When we rush from one thing to another, we lose the sacred attentiveness that brings forth revelations in the most ordinary of moments. We can become fully conscious of what we are to do rather than mindlessly completing another task. We can pay attention to what is actually happening rather than compulsively finding something else to talk about in order to erase the discomfort of a quiet moment between words.

In little yet significant ways, we can practice Statio in the liturgy. Our weekly worship is designed to honour times of transition. And we have to be intentional about our movement through the various stages of the worship service.

The prelude and postlude, for example, are transitional elements. The instrumental music first brings us into and then takes us out of the time for prayer. Here we can practice being still and silent within ourselves. We can collect our thoughts and affirm our relationship with ourselves and with God. We can just listen.

During the prelude and postlude, as we enter and leave this space of worship and prayer, we can give ourselves and each other the honour and respect of practising transitional time.

We do this, so that when the Spirit calls, and our hearts are nudged in faith, we will go. The seed of faith has been planted. And the seed of new life will now grow.

[1] Acts 1:4; Luke 24:49

[2] cited in Richard Rohr, “Waiting for Things to Unfold” Expanding our Vision (Daily Meditations,, 1 June 2022)

[3] “Holy Pausing” in Christine Valters Painter, The Soul’s Slow Ripening (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2018), p.8-9.

[4] Ibid.

Practise ‘Statio’ – a sermon for Easter 7 by Rev. Martin Malina

Children’s Chat: Nurturing love takes work!

The only one that made it from seed (photo by Martin Malina 13 May 2023

Years ago, my daughter received a package of ten seeds — ten spruce tree seeds.

So, we found a large pot, filled it with good soil and planted the seeds evenly apart in the pot. We followed the instructions on how to care for growing these seeds. We watered the earth. We left the pot in the sun.

But later that year, we noticed only three seedlings coming out of the earth. Only three of the ten seeds sprouted and began to grow.

The following year, I transplanted the three saplings into separate pots so each would have its own space to grow. But, alas, over several days we left them in direct sunlight outside for too long! Two of the three saplings turned brown and died.

Only one of the ten seeds that we had originally planted, made it. Today, it is about three feet tall and growing well in our backyard (photo above). It has a good chance of maturing even though I still give it extra water from time to time.

Today is Mother’s Day. Specifically, though we give thanks for our mothers we also express thanks for all the caregivers in our lives who love us and nurture our growth. Growing flower or tree seeds can remind us that nurturing love takes a lot of work!

Nurturing love is NOT planting a seed and just leaving it alone. Nurturing love, which is God’s love, means hard work and trusting that the seed of faith within in us all will grow.

My daughter and I, admittedly, were a bit lazy at times growing and caring for those ten seeds. Sometimes we didn’t do it the right way. We made some mistakes along the way.

But I am grateful that every time I can look at that one spruce tree that did make it I am reminded of both the hard work it takes to grow seeds to life, and the gift of life and love that God gives.

Here are some packages of flower seeds. You can give them to your moms or other caregivers. Help them plant the seeds this Spring. Take care of them. And watch them grow!

Let us pray: Dear God, thank you for the gifts of love and life. Help the seeds of love and life grow in me. Help us all learn to trust in those gifts to do their job in time. Amen.

On the path to finding our life

On the way, toward the truth, to find life (photo by M Malina on the Braeside-McNab trail, May 2023)

Yet again, what we read in the bible is not easy to grasp. And this time, from the lips of Jesus himself. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”[1] Is this poetry? Is it mere abstraction?

Now, I know in this congregation there are engineers and mathematicians. The logical empiricists among us might argue that metaphysics doesn’t mean anything worthwhile. Who could blame them? “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”?

What we can understand, however, is that central to the Gospel of John is the identity of Jesus. Who is Jesus? Now that he is alive and no longer dead? And the Gospel of John suggests that who Jesus is cannot be untangled from who God is. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God”, Jesus basically says in the verses leading up to today’s Gospel reading. But here Jesus goes further. Who Jesus is cannot be unravelled from who we are. In effect, Jesus answers the question of our identity. Basically, he says, “Who we are in God is who we are.”[2]

By now our empirical minds are overheating! For, have we seen this truth with our own eyes? Can we verify it with evidence? What does it mean that our true self is “in God”? Because, all in all, humans do not give good and consistently faithful witness to God. We have not lived out of our core identity in God. And because there appears precious little proof of the holiness of humanity, how can this be true: “We are in God”?

When I had my recent dental cleaning appointment, the x-rays revealed that a filling on a back tooth was cracked. The filling itself was first put in when I was a child, decades ago. After looking carefully at the x-ray and then at the tooth itself, the dentist wanted to schedule another appointment as soon as possible to replace the old filling.

I had to believe her. But I had to confess I wasn’t so sure. You know, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. From my perspective, I had no pain or discomfort at all, going to the dentist. I was leaving her, apparently, with a problem now that needed more fixing. So, I was a little bit cynical.

In fact, I recalled the last time one of my old fillings was replaced, it required a couple of follow-up visits to adjust the bite. In other words, replacing a filling likely meant several days of discomfort eating solid foods before the teeth were realigned.

Now, believing the dentist wasn’t irrational. I could have examined the x-ray myself and asked the dentist to explain what she saw. I could have educated myself and employed technical knowhow to determine for myself the condition of the old filling and tooth. So, it’s not about science versus belief. It’s not about something that can’t be known.

I had to trust her, that not only what she said to me, but years of first-hand experience and full-time work of being a dentist gave the proposition credibility. Just because couldn’t ‘see’ the truth of the matter about my tooth with my own eyes didn’t mean it wasn’t true. 

Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles, visits Athens in Greece where he recognizes all manner of shrines and temples dedicated to all manner of gods. But one shrine catches his attention. It’s an altar dedicated “to an unknown god”.[3] And that’s the one that he uses as a springboard to describe the one God who created heaven and earth.

This inscription to the ‘unknown’ God is appropriate because, as Paul says, this God is not bound by human-built, material constructs. God is not bound in any one place. So, where is God? God resides in every human heart turned to faith. For, “in him we live, and move and have our being.” God inhabits the whole earth, all that God has made.

What does bind us together—the Father, the Son, and us all—is the Spirit of God’s love. Love. Twice in the Gospel today, Jesus refers to “my commandments”, in the first and last verses of the text.[4] 

Specifically, when Jesus refers to his commandments, we must recognize Jesus’ own definition of the Law—the Great Commandment: He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”[5]

And on the night before he died, Maundy Thursday, Jesus reiterates this “new” command by instructing his disciples to “love one another just as I have loved you.”[6]

Jesus promises his disciples that though he will leave them in body, he will not leave them “orphaned.” It’s interesting Jesus uses the word, “orphan” which is here another word frequently mentioned in the scriptures. Throughout the scriptures when orphans are mentioned it is often in the context of the mission of justice to care for the widows and orphans.[7]

As Jesus promises his disciples an Advocate to help and be with them, the mission of God is planted in us to be “little Christs”[8], advocates, to those who need our presence and help.

Though we cannot see the full truth of God’s presence in all—including in us—though we cannot always get what we see, or feel the love of God, doesn’t mean God is separate from us, doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. God is with us. God loves us. 

And so, when we love ourselves, when we love the earth and when we love others, we will know God is with us. Cesar Chavez once said, “It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”[9]

The Easter message is wrapped up in that line: Only by giving our lives in love, as Jesus did, do we find life. 

[1] John 14:15-21

[2] Richard Rohr, “Upending the Social Order” Freedom from Shame (Daily Meditations,, 8 May 2023)

[3] Acts 17:22-31

[4] John 14:15,21

[5] Matthew 22:37-39

[6] John 13:33-34

[7] See Deuteronomy 14:29; Proverbs 23:10; James 1:27

[8] A term used by Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis.

[9] Cited in Robert Ellsberg, ed., All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (Crossroad, 1997), p.180. Cesar Chavez was a 20th century American labor leader and civil rights activist.

From Monday to Saturday

In the chapel at Queen of Apostles, Mississauga Ontario (photo by Martin Malina 2 May 2023)

We are: “God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us….”[1]

This address from Peter oozes confidence. Here is a description of a people boldly going where no one has gone before! – To believe that what you do, even the smallest action, matters. In this confidence, then, there is meaning, hope and joy.

Or maybe you are like many whose confidence is shaken. Maybe you’re not so sure. Well, you’re not alone. I’ve come to believe that so much in the world today shakes our confidence. Maybe even snuffs it out.

I like the way Cameron Trimble puts it. She writes that in recent years, “we have experienced economic meltdown, climate countdown, racial throwdown, political breakdown, technology showdown, and religious letdown.”[2]

No wonder the mere suggestion that people of faith have something positive to offer our world today falls on deaf ears. When we are tempted to think, “It doesn’t matter, nothing we do matters,” then we know we’re in trouble. The church has a crisis of confidence to deal with.

What pulls the rug from under our own feet? Would we face what it is that keeps us from living out our faith in confidence?  

Is there a way to rebuild that confidence?

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”[3] It is a mental picture that Jesus draws for us in the Gospel for today. It’s not a physical house, one that we can walk into and look around right now. The space is not material. It is a vision Jesus paints before us.

And more than that, it is a vision to which each of us belongs. Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you … I will come again to take you to myself.”[4] A vision to which we belong, lies before us.

And here is another reason why we might fail in believing what we do matters. Because this vision lies ahead of us, we may think that what we’re doing now doesn’t really count, that our work is inconsequential. We can’t or won’t hold the vision, the big picture, before us. Therefore, we don’t appreciate the value of the smallest work, our smallest action.

But what we do now is part of God’s vision. As people of faith, who believe in God, we trust that the future will be good. We hope that things will eventually work out. And we want the future to reflect that vision of God.

Our confidence grows when we regard our present work as building toward that vision. “The future will be different if we make the present different.”[5]

And that is why every time we come to church to worship, what we are doing by being here and engaging the experience of worship is declaring that hope: that whatever happens now, in all that we do from Monday to Saturday, is linked to the vision of God. So, everything we do, 24-7, flows from a heart of faith.

As part of the agenda of the Eastern Synod Deans’ meeting, one evening this past week the group of us visited a Lutheran Church in Markham, near Toronto. The congregation treated us to a fabulous meal. We listened to the stories of several of the newcomers who are now members there, from Hong Kong and Ukraine. They spoke of displacement from their home country, their struggles in war zones, their immigration to Canada and how they have settled in the past year. 

One constant theme from all the testimonies we heard—and we heard many Chinese and Ukrainians—was the central place that the church had in this turbulent period of transition in their lives. The congregation was intentional to welcome them, support them, and accompany them in meeting their needs and giving them joy and hope for the future.

Everyone was engaged now in this larger vision. Members were living out their faith in every way imaginable: cutting grass, cleaning toilets, preparing meals, delivering furniture, etc. They were living out that vision—that bigger picture of the future and present of God’s kingdom.

One member of the congregation—his name is Max—came to Canada from Bermuda decades ago. He started up a Toronto moving company. Recently he delivered furniture driving in his white van to the homes of Ukrainian and Chinese newcomers to Canada. 

Max told us the story of bringing a single mattress to a house address on one of his workday delivery runs across the city. When he knocked on the door, first nobody answered. So, he waited a few moments before trying again. Then, he saw it: A face slowly rising above the windowpane of the door. And when the newcomer to Canada saw the mattress leaning against the door, the smile and joy that sprouted on their face warmed Max’s heart. He said in that moment he knew he wasn’t just delivering a mattress. He was doing God’s work.

During our visit to the Markham church last week, there was one word that was never once mentioned in all the testimonies we heard from newcomers, the pastor, the council members, board members, church members. The one word all of them never said was “volunteer”. Nobody there was ‘volunteering’. Instead, they were living out their faith as disciples of Jesus. Discipleship.

I think we need to practice not using the word “volunteer” in the church. We don’t need volunteers. That language compartmentalizes our life into separate boxes: A Sunday box; a work box; a play box, a leisure box, a hobby box, etc. The church doesn’t need volunteers. The church needs disciples. We need to see all our work that everyone does—in the church, in our lives—as our discipleship, an extension and expression of our faith which changes over time but still is part of it.

In the Gospel text today, Jesus talks first about knowing God and believing in God. But it’s not just Thomas that doubts. Philip, too, has trouble believing just the spoken words. “[Don’t tell us about] Show us the Father”, Philip demands.

And Jesus answers, if they don’t believe by the words he says, “then believe me because of the works themselves.”[6] Belief sometimes needs action to start the whole ball rolling. Often belief is not the best starting point to God. It’s the doing. The action, first, will lead to a stronger faith and relationship with God. The action will grow the community of faith and strengthen relationships of faith.

As if to underscore this truth, Jesus takes it to the next level. He says something audacious and, frankly, very hard to believe—that the person of faith will do “even greater works than these”—than what Jesus ever did![7]

“Greater works”, from the context of the early church, refers to the ever-widening circle of the church’s mission to the Gentiles[8]—to those who fall outside the traditional religious circle of the day. We must translate that missional dynamic into our world today. 

I think I witnessed a present-day example of the vision of God in Markham earlier this week. We’re not going to do exactly the same thing they are doing. The point is the attitude and heart and disposition they bring to church life. And I pray we as Christians and people of faith can catch the Spirit of the living God, to live into the future which is ever hopeful and expansive.

It may start by simply asking the question: “What do we care about—beyond ourselves?” As a congregation, a community of faith, what do we care about—beyond ourselves? And can we do that, together?

In closing, I want to return to the original vision in this Gospel text—the roominess in the house of God. A Lutheran theologian, Robert Jenson, suggested that God’s roominess described here relates not so much to the space, but to the time, God has for us.[9] God is roomy. God has all the time in the world for us.

All of it belongs, even everything we do from Monday to Saturday. And God is ever-patient with us. God is always opening for us ways to live out the gift of faith in our lives. 

[1] 1 Peter 2:9

[2] Cameron Trimble cited in “Fly Loose: Transitions”, Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations (, 5 May 2023)

[3] John 14:2

[4] John 14:2-3

[5] Peter Maurin, cited in Daily Prayer for All Seasons (New York: Church Publishing, 2014), p.114

[6] John 14:8-11

[7] John 14:12

[8] Donald Senior, “John 14:1-14” in David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year A, Volume 2 (Kentucky: WJK Press, 2010), p.471.

[9] Cited in Cynthia A. Jarvis, ibid., p.469.

“From Monday to Saturday” – a sermon by Rev. Martin Malina for Easter 5A