Lutheran Magazine

The Lutheran

The Lutheran magazine belongs to the people of the ELCA in all our diversity. The magazine nurtures awareness of Christ's presence in our lives and the world, shares stories of God's people living their faith, connects us with the global Christian community, provides an open forum for discussion and challenges us to bring God's grace and care to all.
  • Editor’s note: This series is intended to be a public conversation among teaching theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage in dialogue by posting comments online at the end of each article at www.thelutheran.org. The series is edited by Philip D.W. Krey, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries. We hear a lot about stewardship in the church, often with reference to generous giving of our time, talents and treasures. What does the New Testament have to say? There is nothing in the New Testament about stewardship programs, offering envelopes, pledge campaigns, commitment Sundays or many other modern practices. But it has a lot to say about stewardship and generous giving. What is a steward? Stewards are caretakers who live in a place that is not their own. They are allowed to make full use of the owner’s property in exchange for taking good care of it. In the New Testament, Jesus tells many parables that liken human beings to stewards (Matthew 21:33-43; 24:45-51; 25:14-30; cf. Luke 16:1-10). Everything we are and everything we have belongs to God.  Jesus says we should remember that we are stewards, not owners, and we should take good care of what God has entrusted to us: our planet, our families, our physical bodies, our time, our money. We practice “good stewardship” when we view all these things as gifts from God to be used responsibly. That is the big picture: everything we are and everything we have belongs to God. Lutherans recognize that this biblical message may be received as both law and gospel. The call to be faithful stewards judges our idolatrous desire to be self-reliant and condemns any mentality that views anything as truly ours. Still, the recognition that we belong to the God who created us, redeemed us, and continues to love and protect us is fundamentally good news, inspiring trust, gratitude and devotion.  We not only belong to God, we are precious to God. Paul writes: “... you are not your own(.) For you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). His point is that we belong to God not only because God made us (Psalm 100:3) but also because God sent his Son to die on a cross for us. It cost God a great deal to obtain us; therefore we are valuable to God.  We belong to God and we are precious to God. This is fundamentally good news. Stewardship has many facets and can apply to almost any aspect of our lives. Still, when many people hear the word stewardship, they think of money — financial stewardship.  Money Why does money get more attention than anything else? Perhaps because it’s the area in which we need the most help. When Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters,” he was talking about money: you cannot serve God and wealth (Matthew 6:24). And what did Paul say was the root of all kinds of evil? The love of ... (you can fill in the blank — or see 1 Timothy 6:10).  The New Testament urges us to acquire, regard, manage and spend our money as people who belong to God. We are encouraged to work for a living, viewing our jobs not only as a means of making money but as vocations that enable us to do something worthwhile with our lives (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). We reject greed (Luke 12:15;Colossians 3:5) and anxiety (Matthew 6:24-34; Philippians 4:6) in favor of gratitude (Colossians 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:18) and trust (John 14:1; 1 Peter 1:21). Instead of squandering our money recklessly (Luke 15:11-16) or hoarding our possessions needlessly (Luke 12:15-21), we put it to good use. In general, the Bible commends the virtue of frugality, or what we would call “living more with less” (1 Timothy 6:8). An overarching principle is that money is to be spent in ways that exhibit love for God and neighbor (along with an assumption of responsible self-care). So Peter urges “good stewards” to use what God gives them in ways that serve others (1 Peter 4:10-11).

  • Thank youThank you for “Older adults” (October, page 16). We need to remember that Scripture does not teach us to write off our elder brothers and sisters as obsolete, but rather to honor, care for and learn from them. Gloria L. EvensonChicago   About timeAt last — the church is recognizing and valuing older members, possibly the largest group within the Lutheran church, but up to now the least valued. Thanks for the cover story and related material discussing older members. Maybe it’s true our numbers are increasing, but older members have always been the strength and mainstay of congregations. Yes, it’s important to use our skills and gifts. I also would encourage just appreciating and enjoying having us and our perspectives that are bound to be different from those of younger members. Judith HazenSt. Paul, Minn.  Get at the sourceThanks for the eye-opening article about El Salvador (October, page 28). Most Americans think mainly of helping refugees once they are in the U.S. It may be generous, but is it helping Salvadorans with what they want for themselves? They want to do more than end the nightmare. They want to create their own dream in their own country. Our drug laws and our peoples’ drug habits fuel the gang violence making El Salvador unlivable. What changes do we as Lutherans and Americans need to advocate for to end the harm caused by these destructive habits? Judy JensvoldIthaca, N.Y.  Kudos for columnI have heard many of my colleagues “rant” about the uncivil communications they receive from congregation members (October, page 4). I know of one colleague who considers congregational council meetings to be good if no one yells or throws things at each other. Perhaps the next editor’s column can include ideas on proactive ways to reverse this in our society.  The Rev. David R. AllmanSun City Center, Fla.   A word of thanksA member of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, I subscribe to The Lutheran. It is far more interesting and thought-provoking than the LCMS magazine. I applaud the editors for courage in bringing tough topics into the open for discussion and dialogue. Another member of my congregation began to subscribe to The Lutheran when I shared some of your study guides. Those of us who are very satisfied and pleased with the magazine need to speak up more often. Keep up the good work. Barb FosterPortland, Ore.   Insulting judgmentTo have a young woman insult me and centuries of Christianity and Judaism (October, page 34) over her problems with the church is about the last straw. Who does she think she is to pass judgment by calling us “idiots” for believing God is a male, marriage is between a man and a woman, etc.? She is expressing hubris of a very high order. She is reported to be a visiting professor of English at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. Who hires these people? Linda J. HumistonSan Diego   Editor’s note: The magazine apologizes for not editing the pejorative from the article.   Pray for allIt was disheartening to read ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton say, “All are ‘us’ and all are Christ’s. ... We pray that peace will come to Ferguson (Mo.) and the Brown family ...” (October, page 9). Is not the police officer and his family part of “all”? Our presiding bishop should be praying for everyone involved. By not doing so, she appears to be caving in to sentiment that the officer is in the wrong. Eric R. CorbetToms River, N.J.   Think of othersI take exception to the photograph (September, page 9) of a pastor taking part in a demonstration supporting limits on burning coal to generate electricity. Does she think it is a good thing to throw hardworking coal miners out of a job? If coal mines are closed, it is not just the miners who will be out of a job, but those in related industries such as rail workers and technicians in the coal-fired power plants. Richard DraperLincoln, Neb.   Article incompleteI appreciated reading the sentencing of Bruce Burnside (September, page 12). I followed his faithful, loving and creative ministry since he left seminary (soul food Bible studies at a previous parish, his trips to the West Bank in support of Palestinians). He erred in judgment with a horrible outcome, but the article could have given a more complete picture of his personhood. Helen ReedHickory, N.C.   Cite the sourceIn the article on stewardship (September, page 14), it states that “the Bible” commends tithing. When referring to the Bible it is essential to indicate where the statement is located. Why? Because the Bible states that we may possess slaves if they are purchased from neighboring nations (Levicticus 25:44); that a man cannot have contact with a woman while she is in her menstrual period (Leviticus 15:19-30); that men cannot touch the skin of a dead pig so cannot play football (Levicticus 11:6-8). It is obvious just because a statement is in “the Bible” it does not mean that it is speaking to Christians today.  The Rev. Larry GardnerHonolulu

  • Jeremiah was only a boy when God called him. Mary was a teen. Timothy was also young. So, too, was Martin Luther. Looking around the church today, one must wonder if the Spirit has forgotten how to call young people.  According to the Pew Research Center, 29 percent of millennials (ages 18-33) aren’t affiliated with any religion and the rate of atheism in this group is twice as high as any other generation in America. Why? David Kinnaman, author of You Lost Me (Baker Books, 2011), suggests millennials are leaving the church because they experience it as overprotective, shallow, anti-science, simplistic toward sex, exclusive and unwilling to provide room for doubt. But the ELCA should be a mecca for young people. We have a complex understanding of sexuality, an open view of Christianity, we provide room for doubt and promote scientific exploration. So why are our young people leaving? The issue runs deeper than trends. It’s something far more problematic — namely, a lack of courage.  Millennials are afraid to be Christian. It’s safe to join the Peace Corps, run a race that raises money for the poor, occupy Wall Street or make the world awesome by being a “nerdfighter.” It is not safe to be a Jesus follower.    Case in point: I led a student group on a spring break trip last year. After a morning working with homeless people, the students stood outside a Big Ten basketball championship game holding a cross. They didn’t say a word to the crowd unless someone initiated conversation. Afterward I asked: “Was it easier to serve the homeless or publicly identify as Christian?” They all said it was easier being in a room with drug addicts and prostitutes. Who else is afraid? Millennials aren’t the only ones who are afraid. Pastors are afraid of millennials. It’s easy to visit the homebound, prepare sermons and drink coffee with parishioners. Of course, pastors will spend time with the youth group, but rarely do they seek out those no longer attending or who’ve never been inside a church. When was the last time a pastor showed up at the home of an inactive high schooler and told him to come to church on Sunday?   It’s understandable that people are afraid. The life of faith can be terrifying. Mary faced the prospect of death to bear Jesus. Luther was excommunicated. Timothy was killed. God had to reassure a frightened Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:7-8).

  • When I learned that the Greek word eucharist can be translated as “giving thanks,” a few threads of my life wove together in a way that continues to bind me tightly. This binds me to my grandparents’ table in Miami Springs, Fla., where Grandma stands at the counter shaving corn off the cob, throwing it into a skillet with cream and serving it up hot. We had “smashed corn” every time we visited. Not because my grandparents liked it so much, but because they knew we did. That and my grandmother’s fried chicken. Passed around the table, we eagerly received it all with smiles of gratitude. Every time, just for us as guests and loved ones and family.   This also binds me to the time Jesus took an ordinary meal and made it extraordinary. When he became the Word. Bread and wine were passed around in regular fashion. But now, connected to these words of promise and love, they had the power to change things. The power to change guests into friends and loved ones. And now this binds me to every Sunday, as we pass around bread and wine in my faith community. This meal prep is also simple. We stand at the counter, mixing and kneading, baking the bread. We pop open the wine. We say words full of promise, ancient and new and translated, around the table. And guests are changed into friends and loved ones with smiles of gratitude. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a meal at my grandmother’s table and the communion rail. Maybe that’s part of what weekly eucharist does. It binds the sacred and secular, you and me and God, weaving us together. Eucharist. A meal of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving meal.

  • Dear readers: If upon the conclusion of this column you believe I’m advocating for the confiscation of all guns, you have misread my words. Friends and relatives of mine who hunt know my level of respect for thoughtful gun ownership. This article is about the danger of letting the gun become a cultural idol. Most gun owners in America believe public safety and personal freedom aren’t exclusive or contradictory ideas, but complementary ones. So read on with sensitivity. I hope these paragraphs stimulate good conversations for you. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords had a one-word response to the December 2012 killings of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.: “Enough!” This column is my own quiet “Enough!” to the silence about gun violence that blankets too much of the Christian community. I don’t happen to be running for public office. The National Rifle Association’s lobbying clout is not my argument here. I simply want to help navigate the challenging conversations that can surround our attempt to talk about gun violence from a faith perspective. So far in these sentences I’ve resisted using the word insanity to reference the proliferation of guns and the achingly familiar carnage on our nation’s streets. But in full disclosure, I live and work in a state where the law allows legally or completely blind people to acquire permits to carry guns in public.  I’m struck by the oddity with which 21st century people often seek to express their emotions through a gun. Once upon a time, people elected to express most emotions through things like poetry, conversation, dance, argument or a therapist. But through a gun? Yes, and these emotions are often completely unconnected with hatred. Said one of three teenagers charged with killing a college athlete jogging innocently on the streets of Oklahoma: “We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.” Conventional wisdom has long argued that “only violence can control violence.” If you don’t want the bad guys to be able to do harm, you need to put more guns in the hands of the good guys. Arm the citizenry to defend itself against itself. The answer to guns is — what else? — more guns.  Said one Arizona state senator after Giffords was shot: “When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim.” Or, we could add, everybody is going to be a victim. This latter idea may be what Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when he preached just four days before his assassination: “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”