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.
  • After my husband was diagnosed with cancer, my friend Mabel asked how I was doing. I said all was well. I was at peace with it, even though inside my heart was heavy. “Let me see your eyes,” Mabel said, and I lifted mine to meet hers. She wouldn’t believe that I was all right until she looked deeply into my eyes, into my soul. Mabel’s caring eyes lifted my spirits that day. Since that encounter I’ve been longing to see the face of Jesus. If that were possible, surely Jesus would reveal hidden truths to me. I would be able to see what God’s will was for my life each day. I would finally have answers to the questions I wrestle with at night. Of course, seeking the face of God has been the desire of many believers throughout the ages. David wrote: “ ‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:80).   Moses was one of a few biblical figures to meet face-to-face with the Lord. He came from “conversations” with God and his face was radiant. Moses’ face shone with such glory that the Israelites were afraid of him, so he covered himself with a veil (Exodus 34:29-35). Moses was changed by being with God. I want that too. I want to see and feel the intensity of the glory of God so much that it radiates from within me.

  • 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. I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Would anyone dispute the power of this moment in our worship? Is not the gospel offered with radiant and pristine clarity in the declaration of absolution? While there are other moments in the liturgy when the gospel shines with such beautiful and striking transparency, surely none surpasses this moment in the conciseness and lucidity with which the heart of the gospel is proclaimed. And yet, if anything was ever a textbook example of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace,” the typical Protestant practice of confession is it. Recall the famous passage in his The Cost of Discipleship:  “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Channeling my inner Francis Ford Coppola, I sometimes put the question to students in a form inspired by the famous baptism scene in his movie The Godfather. I ask them, “Does grace mean that as chapel starts I can run down the street to the convenience mart, shoot six people and then return in time for one of my esteemed colleagues to pronounce the good news of my complete and total absolution for sin? And I am forgiven in less time that it takes me to reload?” Cheap grace is confession without naming sin, without discipline, without change (repentance, turning, metanoia). In short, it’s grace without judgment.  That this claim strikes our ears as grating, as if someone were dragging her fingernails across our theological chalkboards, suggests that we have lost sight of confession as a practice of judgment and of judgment as good news, as a means of grace. Indeed, we mistakenly think the Reformation has set us free from all but the most generalized, abstract, useless confession — confession devoid of judgment. This, however, finds no basis in Scripture where we are told to bind and loose, and to exercise right judgment (John 7:24; Matthew 7:1-5). Nor does it find support with Martin Luther, who pointed out that confession, with the attendant discipline called penance (“fruits of repentance” in the Book of Concord), when not abused was an aid to troubled souls and that we should run a hundred miles, if necessary, to practice it. Good news of judgment Judgment is good news. Thank God for judgment or else we would be stuck in sin. For judgment is God’s “no” to sin. It’s God’s refusal to leave us in sin. God’s pardon of sin is a wonderful thing for which we rightly rejoice. But the good news doesn’t stop with pardon. Indeed, pardon without judgment is not good news. Certainly it’s not the good news that Christ offers. This is the case because sin is bad for us. But the way sin is often talked about, it’s easy to forget this. Frequently we talk about it as if the only problem with sin is that it bothers God. While sin does bother God, I would venture that the reason it bothers God is because it’s bad for us. Look at newspaper headlines; look in the mirror. All around us we see the destructive effects of sin. As Genesis 3 suggests, sin distorts and corrupts our relations with ourselves, with others, with the rest of creation and with God. For this reason the early church used to speak of sin not only as disobedience but also as a kind of civil war, where the communion for which we were created is replaced by endless struggle and conflict with our neighbors.

  • You gotta be kidding. Jack is dating Mindy? Oh, mercy me. She’s young enough to be his daughter!” Call that a casual use of the word that is our all-purpose exclamation for astonishment: mercy. It’s not a harmful deployment of a serious word, just a frivolous one. If you’ve heard evangelical activist Tony Campolo preach, you know his sermons are anything but casual, his references to Scripture anything but frivolous. In a sermon preached shortly after the U.S. elected to invade Iraq, Campolo offered a passionate policy idea. As a suggestion for deposing Saddam Hussein, he proposed we airdrop thousands of tons of food and medicine on population centers across Iraq. It was an emphatic “bomb them with butter” strategy. Asked for justification behind this unusual “shock and awe” diplomacy, Campolo had a straightforward reply: “Mercy. Read Micah 6:8.”  Opening our Bible to the prophet Micah, we immediately discover that we are to “love mercy” (New International Version). Not show mercy, but actually love mercy. In other words, savor it. Relish it. Hesed is the Hebrew word for mercy, perhaps translated as kindness in different places of your Bible. But are we really ready to love mercy in our less than merciful culture? Revenge has an impressive reach in our society, just as it exercises a powerful grip on many a mind. Try having a conversation on mercy, for example, with a strident death penalty advocate. You may not get very far. If we could realize how much we depend on mercy in a personal way, we might adjust some of our retributive instincts. Notice how often we demand a God of justice for others, but how much we need a God of mercy for ourselves. On the chance that I should die tonight, I’m pretty certain that I would hope to receive more mercy from God than justice. And you? Mercy is the blessing we get when we don’t deserve it, particularly when we find our lives miserable or desperate with need. “[O Lord] in your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me” (Psalm 71:2). The psalmist’s plea offers a clue to the way mercy comes to life in Scripture.

  • For some, Detroit calls to mind an image of despair. A steady economic decline since its heyday in the 1950s triggered a host of troubles that garnered national attention in 2013 when the city was declared bankrupt. Although it has since emerged from financial ruin, the negative press caused many to question why Detroit was chosen as the host city for the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering. It was a decision that Heidi Hagstrom, ELCA Youth Gathering director, describes as an act of faith. The leadership team, made up of some 30 adult volunteers from across the church and five churchwide staff members, is adamant that God has called the ELCA to “show up” in Detroit.  And show up they will. More than 28,500 youth and adults are registered for the event, which will take place primarily in Detroit’s Cobo Center and Ford Field July 15-19. Teaching and music will center on the theme “Rise Up Together,” grounded in the Gospel of Mark. “I can think of no better place to explore the theme of dying and rising than Detroit,” Hagstrom said. “It has known death and resurrection throughout its history but now sits at a critical and pivotal point. Many people have written off Detroit, but we [will] have the unique opportunity to see firsthand the resiliency of the people of Detroit.” Youth will arrive in Detroit after months of preparation. “While we have been very busy with fundraising over the last year, the ‘Getting Ready’ materials helped [our youth] stay focused on our faith and how we can use our faith to serve those in need in Detroit,” said Jessica Brown, a senior high youth leader from Advent Lutheran Church, Harleysville, Pa. She says the 10 youth she’s accompanying to the event are most looking forward to their day of service. Detroit, which has 65,000 abandoned properties within its 142 square miles, offers myriad opportunities for the youth to lend a helping hand. Seventy-five percent of the service projects will focus on beautifying areas plagued by blight, said Lisa Jeffreys, coordinator of service learning for the event.     Follow the GatheringVisit www.elca.org/gathering July 15-19 for a livestream video of events. Visitwww.facebook.com/lutherans and www.facebook.com/youthgathering for daily coverage of the event. Search the hashtag #RiseUpELCA on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Look for forthcoming photos and stories on www.livinglutheran.com and in the September issue of The Lutheran.

  • For eight years The Lutheran has created, edited and published the high quality children’s religious magazine The Little Lutheran — and later its twin The Little Christian. Those periodicals come to an end with the December issues. This is a painful decision. A tremendous amount of effort and resources were poured into these ventures as “a way to share God’s love with children aged 6 and younger,” said Elizabeth Hunter, editor. What started out with a surge of subscriptions eventually dwindled to unsustainable levels. With printing, mailing and intellectual costs increasing over the years, as well as editing expenses borne fully by The Lutheran (which increasingly has its own financial issues), the subscription price placed the magazines where “many would or could not afford” them, Hunter said. As much as anything we’ve accomplished at The Lutheran over the past decade, going forward with The Little Lutheran ranks near the top. Upon becoming editor, staff was asked to dream big — what editorial project would they like to undertake if given the opportunity? Hunter immediately suggested a children’s magazine. She collaborated with Sonia Solomonson and Amber Leberman, then staff members of The Lutheran, in launching The Little Lutheran. The debut issue of July/August 2007 took off to acclaim. The parent magazine promoted it heavily. We knew this venture contained a major risk — children age out of its targeted readership. Promotional activities continued over the years to reach new little ones but with diminishing success. Perhaps paradoxically, The Little Lutheran continues to draw numerous likes each week on Facebook, but not paying subscribers. In her farewell column to readers, Hunter noted: “Thanks be to God for the ... years this magazine has helped families share their faith through Bible stories, global stories, prayers, activities and songs. ... For our readers, perhaps seeds of vocation will sprout from stories of Christians who made a difference in the world.” Pro-rated refunds will be given to those with subscriptions past the December issues. We’ll encourage customers to consider Sparkhouse Family products. We’ll also examine posting past issues online for free viewing. Meanwhile, those entrusted with publishing The Lutheran look for ways to keep an ELCA flagship periodical vital and viable. That means finding economical approaches to reach as many members in as many congregations as possible through a combination of print-online-email platforms. We hope to have an answer for you in 2016.