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.
  • The crazy inner workings of the Meadowbrook Asylum will be on display again this Halloween in Frewsburg, N.Y., thanks to the efforts of 11th-grader Craig Rodgers.  The ex officio member of Zion Lutheran’s youth group will again donate the proceeds of his homemade Halloween haunted house, called an asylum. Last year, Rodgers handed over $1,200 of the $2- and $4-ticket sales to the youth group. With the asylum’s growing popularity, he expects to triple that amount this year.  Rodgers, who has been creating and producing the Halloween event for the past four years, said calling the house an asylum lends itself to stunts. “There’s lots of banging on the walls,” he said.  The most popular scenario is sure to be the “Butcher Shop,” noted this Eagle Scout candidate, who likes to give back to the youth group since it was such a big part of his life. “Last year I used a lot of butcher props on loan from a friend in Warren, Pa., like foam feet, arms, legs, heads, all covered in lots of blood and put on festive decorated trays.” While he says the basic formula for blood is corn syrup and food coloring, he stops short of giving up his secret recipe. The event is also a family affair, with his cousin acting as the butcher, and parents, Craig and Megan, and three siblings helping. School friends and youth group members also play spooky parts, like working a chain saw, running around covered in cobwebs, wielding axes and being the hooded guides.  The Hauntmaster, as Rodgers refers to himself, said the key to the asylum’s success last year was convincing the landlord to let him use an available storefront at the Warren Mall rent-free. “She gave it to me, but I had to promise to give all the money to the church youth group,” he said. Not a problem for the burgeoning mechanical engineer who wants to specialize in robotics and animatronics, because he really likes his church. “I’m an active member of my church,” he said. “People look to me when they need an acolyte. I’ve grown up with my parents saying, ‘We’re going to church on Sunday,’ and I liked Sunday school.”

  • This month marks the fifth anniversary of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly decisions to open our roster to partnered gays and lesbians and the blessing of same-sex relationships. After much controversy, membership and financial declines, impassioned exchanges on both sides of the issues—not to mention simple old-fashioned hand-wringing — let’s take a walk on the positive side. The ELCA is still some 9,500 congregations with 3.95 million members. In the most recent year for which statistics are available (2012), we had 7,472 more baptisms than deaths, hopefully deflating comments about a dying church. Regular giving by members totaled nearly $1.8 billion while total receipts reached $2.45 billion. The total value of congregational properties and assets was $19.7 billion, with total indebtedness of $1.8 billion, or a respectable and very manageable 9.1 percent. And 64.18 percent of our congregations had no debt at all. The church’s Mission Investment Fund, which uses investments from members to fund building and renovation loans to congregations and ministries, saw its total assets rise 3 percent to $663 million. And the Endowment Fund Pooled Trust, Fund A, an investment vehicle available to any ELCA congregation, synod or related entity, recently noted that its assets surpassed $500 million. Last year the Churchwide Assembly took the confident step of authorizing Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA. This $198 million campaign represents a 64 percent increase in designated funding for congregational, leadership, hunger and poverty, and global church ministries over five years.  The list goes on, but you get the point. Things are happening in our church that regularly and routinely point to our health as an institution and our engagement with the world.

  • You know that feeling when you leave a good movie or finish a great book — you want to stay in the dark theater or read just one more chapter? Sometimes that’s what I want after a great worship service — five more minutes to feel God’s presence that was so strong I want to take it home. Then it happened. I had just blown out a candle at home after a morning prayer. I saw the faint spiral of smoke and inhaled the pungent odor of the burning wick. And I was back in church. Now that my brain has made this connection, it happens often. A candle in a bathroom, birthday candles on a cake, even a candle at a restaurant table can take me right back to the altar. Each of these brings me to a holy place, a place to savor the glory of God and the mystery of God’s presence. A simple scent, it carries another benediction, another call to be the fragrance of Christ to others (2 Corinthians 2:15-17).  God uses such ordinary things to pull us to the divine, to a place of worship. Through such ordinary things, I better understand Acts 17:28: for in God “we live and move and have our being ....” God is the source of our life and the intimate Spirit that is longing to be near us in every way, through a wisp of smoke, a piece of bread, a few drops of water.

  • Violence is daily in the news with persistent demand for legislation to end crime. Do Lutherans believe laws will solve problems? Remember law-and-gospel theology? This is the Lutheran understanding that separates our theology from cultural solutions for crime. The theology of law and gospel requires us to focus on the weakness of law (civil and theological) to solve evil and injustice. Looking to forensic law to solve issues fails to see the fundamental problem of human brokenness. Societies define a problem then pass laws. No law can stop violence or crime. No law is a deterrent. That statement is important. One common argument contends: since a law isn’t a deterrent, eliminate it. The obvious false conclusion: since all laws are broken then all laws should be abandoned. Laws are necessary because humans are frail. The origin of crime, poverty and violence is broken humanity. That can’t be legislated away.  The assertion “I am willing to submit to a law or a police power to keep peace” sounds reasonable, but history shows submission tends to lead to tyranny. It’s not submission but the give and take of social contract that is the foundation of civil life. Law and gospel reveals human nature as the imperfection in society.  Hope comes from the gospel, God’s caring for the well-being of humanity and creation. People are empowered to agape or love — caring for the well-being of others — through the cross. The distinction of law and gospel is the dialectic in Martin Luther’s thought. The cross and incarnation revealed the possibility of peace, not the achievement of peace. The law convicts us of our sin and drives us to the gospel. At the Last Supper we learned that the commandments are fulfilled by loving one another as Jesus loved his disciples and to be servant of all. The gospel is for everyone —John 3:17. The gospel of Christ is righteousness, not as a demand but as a gift to the sinner. Laws can guide, Paul said, but they won’t stop violence or crime.  We live in ambiguity. Luther says trust the gospel and live with the ambiguity of law. But do not be fooled: we can’t legislate morality or ban certain actions to ensure peace.

  • It is August. In the Northern Hemisphere it is the season of harvest: wheat and corn, persimmons and grapes, jujubes and apples and peaches. Roadside ditches bloom with foxtail and blanket flower. And in this season of harvest is the festival day of Mary, Mother of Our Lord: Aug. 15, a day dedicated to her for at least 1,400 years. Author Gertrud Mueller Nelson, in To Dance With God (Paulist Press, 1986), recalls “walking with my mother and sisters along the river banks, collecting every variety of grass seed … from pinks to sage …” to gather into large bouquets for the festival of Mary. “Blessed are you among women,” cried out Mary’s kinswoman Elizabeth, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Fruitfulness and harvest. Mary is the example of what magnificence can occur in the world if we are willing to say “yes” to the request of God, if we are willing to cooperate with the divine and participate in the ongoing fulfillment of God’s creation. A 20th-century hymn sings: Mary the root, Christ the mystic vine; Mary the grape, Christ the sacred wine! Mary the wheat sheaf, Christ the living bread; Mary the rose tree, Christ the rose blood-red ... (Justin Mulcahy, C.P.). Fruitfulness and harvest. The first reading for this festival day is from Isaiah (61:7-11). “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” (11). Mary is not the exception, not an unreachable apex of humanity, but the example of what can spring up if we, in our human freedom, say “yes” to God. As Benedictine nun and author Joan Chittister writes: “By her unconditional fiat, she became the perfect recipient of God’s will that each of us would like to be.” The Lutheran church still joins with Mary in singing her great outpouring of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), in evening prayer and in every Advent season. But over the last centuries in Protestant churches, Mary has often been relegated to more of a footnote than an example of righteous faith. Martin Luther called Mary the “Queen of Heaven” and “Mother of God” (Theotokos) and advocated praying the first half of the Ave Maria. In his commentary on the Magnificat (1520), Luther prayed: “May the tender Mother of God herself procure for me the spirit of wisdom, profitably and thoroughly to expound this song of hers.” And yet by 2004, church historian and theologian Jaroslav Pelikan felt compelled to write an essay, “Most Generations Shall Call Me Blessed.”