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.
  • From Shelby to Shreveport, for some congregations the fifth Sunday is a favorite of the church year.  In Shelby, N.C., Ascension Lutheran Church is using the fifth Sunday in March to take its first ever “noisy offering” and will do it again in May, said Christina Auch, pastor. The offerings support specific ministries over and above the budget, including a local hospice and a men’s shelter. If The Lutheran’s Facebook poll of how congregations use fifth Sundays is any indication, collecting a noisy offering is a popular way to mark the extra day of worship. Another common way to celebrate is with music. At St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Shreveport, La., it all started with leap year 2004, the last time Feb. 29 fell on a Sunday. Harold Christensen, pastor, marked the rarity of it by writing a service called “Leap of Faith Day.” “We are a small parish that follows a very traditional worship pattern (Setting one, Lutheran Book of Worship) and loves it,” he said. “But the change of pace was welcomed. After that, I began looking for and working on ways to use the fifth Sundays to enhance the worship experience.” Organist/music director Justin Gould and Christensen usually build a service around the appointed texts, but sometimes they choose Scripture and music to support a theme. The services always have a “sermon in song,” Christensen said — a medley of five or six hymns in place of the sermon.  “As much as possible and practical, we also use hymns in place of other parts of the liturgy and even the texts if we can find one that is faithfully close,” he said. Christensen’s favorite was when they celebrated Reformation by exclusively using hymns written by Martin Luther (either words, music or both). They’ve also done a sermon in song that follows the church year with a hymn from every season. Young piano students play the prelude, offertory or postlude, and adult members sing solos, duets or play instruments.

  • This film is based on the true story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. The film opens when Hawking is attending Cambridge University in 1963. At a party, he is very much taken with Jane, a major in romance languages and literature. Instead of dancing, they spend the evening talking about science, religion and poetry.  But their slowly budding love is interrupted by a shocking development. Hawking is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Jane is willing to take on whatever comes, and they marry. Marital happiness, according to the media, the therapeutic community and the general public, results from good communication, emotional gratification and intimacy. But many couples find it hard to live up to this standard. By shifting the emphasis from emotional satisfaction to partnership, some husbands and wives create meaningful ties and also work together to create a better world. That’s what the Hawkings do. The four qualities that form the bedrock of their relationship are friendship, loyalty, generosity and justice. It’s fascinating to watch them face and overcome obstacles, have three children, and keep his career afloat with books and lectures. Although his body is under siege for the 25 years of their marriage, his mind works perfectly fine; he is able to write a book that sells more than 10 million copies. By the end of the film, we feel close to the Hawkings thanks to the tender and intense performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, shown at left  (Universal Studios Entertainment, PG-13 — some thematic elements, suggestive material). Now on DVD.

  • Editor’s note: This series is intended to be a public conversation among 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 Michael Cooper-White, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.), on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries. Each week Christians gather for worship and offer prayers on behalf of the sick. Apart from letting the congregation know who needs help, what is the purpose of these prayers or other, more private prayer? What do we expect from Christ when we ask for healing? Lutherans don’t typically hold to a tradition of faith healing, although there is a ritual called “Laying on of Hands and Anointing of the Sick” found in Occasional Services, the companion book to the Lutheran Book of Worship.  Part of the reason that rites of religious healing of the sick aren’t widely practiced in the Lutheran tradition is historical. Martin Luther argued in 1520 in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church that the ritual of anointing the sick shouldn’t be a sacrament because it wasn’t established by Jesus Christ. He noted wryly that as it was then practiced, anointing the sick “promises health and restoration” but this often didn’t come to pass. “Who does not see ... that this promise is seldom, or rather never fulfilled?” Luther wrote. “Scarcely one among a thousand is restored; and even this no one believes to be effected by the sacrament, but by the help of nature or of medicine.” Luther was concerned that prayer over the sick had become restricted only to those who were dying, and he thought that all Christians ought both to pray for the sick and seek medical care when they need it.  His point remains reasonable. We pray for the healing of the sick, but we also see that those for whom we pray aren’t always made well. The Bible’s healing stories don’t necessarily give us clarity either. What can prayer do? Should our faith be sufficient to cure our illnesses? Why are we suffering to begin with? Jesus rejects the idea that sin causes impairment in John 9:3, telling the disciples that a man was born blind through no one’s fault but in order to provide an opportunity for revelation. However, in Mark 2 he first forgives and then heals a man who is paralyzed. In Luke 8:48, Jesus tells a woman who has been cured of a long-standing illness merely by touching his garment: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” Is healing connected to faith or forgiveness? What can we expect from God?  Luther offers us guidance on many of these points. He didn’t see illness as punishment from God for our sins. Repentance won’t cure us. He held that people should seek medical care and look after their health as much as possible. In a letter to Jerome Weller, his student and his children’s tutor, Luther wrote to encourage him during a period of despair and emotional anguish: “Be of good courage ... and cast these dreadful thoughts out of your mind. Whenever the devil pesters you with these thoughts, at once seek out the company of men, drink more, joke and jest, or engage in some other form of merriment.” However, Luther didn’t think that Weller, or the many other people in despair to whom he wrote, could be healed through prayer alone. Medical care and the care of the community are essential for healing.  Called to heal, be healed Recently a friend shared a story that I found helpful. Her oldest friend had, in her 20s, rather suddenly experienced such significant, ongoing pain that her life was dramatically altered. She went from being active and vibrant to requiring so much pain medication that she slept most of each day. Although she sought medical care, numerous doctors were unable to diagnose her; some suggested the pain was all in her head. My friend remembered, “It was terrifying.” Eventually this woman found a pain specialist who diagnosed her correctly. The physician was able to treat her through a Quaker program that offered access to medical services at a reduced price. This was crucial to her recovery because she had no health insurance.

  • For people hungering for safety and hope — those fleeing religious, political and racial persecution in their countries of origin — the Center for New Americans in Sioux Falls, S.D., is a valuable resource.  Since 2000 the center, a program of Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of South Dakota, has helped people from Burma, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and other countries launch new lives in the U.S. It provides community orientation and education; case management; English as a second language (ESL) classes; employment, interpreter and immigration services; and financial assistance for up to eight months. This work isn’t a new focus for the Lutheran agency. After World War II, beginning in 1948, LSS provided resettlement services for displaced Europeans. Today it is one of 16 Lutheran agencies in the U.S. that work in partnership with Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to provide such help.  In 2014 the Center for New Americans resettled 424 individuals. After one year, refugees served by the program will be eligible to adjust their status to become permanent residents. After five years in the U.S., they can apply for citizenship.  Those 424 newcomers are among nearly 70,000 refugees who came to the U.S. in 2014, “plus an additional approximately 10,000 special immigrant visa applicants for Afghani and Iraqi people who assisted the U.S. military overseas,” said Terry Abeles, LIRS director for refugee resettlement.  When they arrive, they “face a new culture, a new language and new laws,” said Deb Worth, LSS associate director. “They come with high expectations of their new life in a democratic, free United States of America. They work hard to learn English, find work and become part of their new community.”  That was the case for Kalyan Dahal, 31, who with his wife, Bishnu, arrived in the U.S. in December 2009. Born in Bhutan, he was 7 when his family moved to a refugee camp in eastern Nepal. They were among many ethnic Nepalis whose families had lived in southern Bhutan since the 1800s but were expelled from their homes beginning in 1991.   Dahal’s parents and younger siblings came to Sioux Falls one year before he did. They wrote to him about the help they received from LSS caseworkers.  Employment was Dahal’s biggest worry when he arrived in Sioux Falls, he said. Although his English language skills were strong, he didn’t have much work history.  LSS “did a great job in connecting me with resources to help me,” he said. “They offered job-training classes to help teach me about different types of work here in Sioux Falls. When I wanted to switch jobs, the caseworkers and job developers were great in showing me different job opportunities and helping me apply.” For the first few years, Dahal worked in a factory and then in environmental services at a hospital. Now he is a case manager for the Center for New Americans. He and Bishnu have two daughters. This past January they opened a Bhutanese clothing business. Celebrating hard-earned skills Learning a language may be the most important task for new Americans. Everything hinges on one’s ability to communicate. “From my experiences abroad, I know that acquiring a new language and adapting to a new country is a daunting task,” said Laura Hill-Smith, an ESL teacher at the center. “Teaching is something I can do to support them as they strive to reach their goals.”

  • The times they are a-changin’, so the lyric goes, and that’s true for The Lutheran and the communications efforts of the ELCA. Over the past two years, professionals were engaged to help leaders assess The Lutheran’s situation in order to make informed decisions about its future—a general interest denominational publication in an increasingly fractured digital age. That ultimately led to an examination of the magazine’s reach, as well as other communication vehicles at the churchwide offices. The conclusions aren’t a complete surprise. The final report found that the ELCA still needs a flagship communications vehicle that is part of a unified storytelling effort to increase the reach and impact of news, features and other content for the ELCA’s entire membership and beyond. The report promoted a “create once, publish everywhere” dictum to inform and encourage the faithful. After some months of planning, in February the magazine and the ELCA’s Marketing Communications team merged. The new Strategic Communications team has two groups: “Publications” and “Communications and Marketing.” The Publications group, led by the magazine’s editor, includes The Lutheran, Seeds for the Parish, Stories of Faith in Action, Living Lutheran (the story and blog microsite of www.elca.org), as well as public and media relations. Key to this rearrangement is the creation of a “story tsar,” an editor responsible for determining and placing articles to make the best and maximum use of all that is written about our members, congregations, agencies, synods and churchwide organization. This coordination of storytelling was fragmented in the past, resulting in lost opportunities to share what the ELCA as a whole is up to. The magazine’s editorial integrity remains unchanged. Journalism will still break out on its pages. The magazine will continue to publish articles that serve as a mirror on life within our denomination, addressing both promise and problems but always in a way that encourages and uplifts.