The Legacies of Family

The Reverend David Olson reflects on our saints that have gone before, our stewardship of what they have left behind and what we leave to the future.

Before I left, my grandmother handed me a clear plastic bag, I could see that inside of it was a large amount of tightly folded papers that looked like they were starting to fall apart, the paper flaking away and collecting at the bottom of the bag. “These are for you,” she said. “I think you will appreciate them.”

I had no idea what the papers were, but I knew they were important, so I carefully took the package and packed it in my bag.

I had arrived in Florida just two days prior to visit my 96-year-old grandmother. She had been sick recently and I knew I needed to go down and spend time with her. It was a wonderful visit, having time together, just she and I. I even managed to sneak her out of the care center to take her to get a piece of her favorite pizza (I got my rebellious streak from her, after all).

I didn’t think much about the contents of the plastic bag as I flew home to Roanoke but when I arrived home and was unpacking, I carefully took it out and opened it.

The first set of pages were handwritten letters of some sort. I read the writing at the top of the first page – July 31, 1927, Luke 10: 38-42, Axel Nelson – and realized what I was looking at – sermons, written by my great-grandfather.

Like me, he was a Lutheran pastor. He came from Sweden and settled eventually in Minnesota, where the cold must have reminded him of home. My grandmother told me he had 2,000 people at his church and he was the only pastor. The church held services each Sunday in both English and Swedish, and as I looked through the sermons I found they were written out each week in both languages.

I sat and read through his sermons for a long while, thinking about what his pulpit looked like and how his voice might have sounded as he preached these words I held in my hands.

The Lutheran church that he helped build – Lake Chisago Lutheran Church – is still going strong in Minnesota today. My grandmother, even in her 90s, had gone back as often as she could for their homecoming weekends.

What a wonderful legacy he had left, a legacy of which my grandmother and I are both a part. I wonder if someday I will have a great-grandchild sitting and looking at a sermon I had written, wondering about my life and what I did.

We are on this earth such a short amount of time, and I am reminded, looking at these sermons, that how I choose to spend these days matters. How will I give of my time and efforts? What will my priorities be? How will I be remembered someday? What legacy will I leave?

At St. John’s, we are not far from celebrating All Saint’s Sunday, a Sunday to remember those saints, like my great-grandfather Axel, who have gone before us. But we will also gather around the font that day and welcome new saints into God’s church through baptism.

Some saints are gone, new ones come. That is the flow of life and of the church. But what a wonderful gift that in that time we do have here, we have in this church that has been passed on to us, a place that helps us live out our identities as saints of God. I wonder how we will pass it on to the generations to come? Time will tell.

Grace and Peace,


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