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.
  • A great startThe January issue was a great way to start the new year. Yes, the new year offers renewal, change and opportunity, and you have helped all of us to look forward. The layout was inviting and articles were stimulating, especially Timothy Wengert’s “Lutheran mythbusting or ...” (page 16). Thanks for such an exciting way to begin 2015. George E. KeckHarleysville, Pa.   Prophet and rebelMartin Luther may not have thought of himself as a reformer for the reasons Wengert gives, but he did think of himself as a prophet and the heir to the rebel Jan Hus (1369-1415) (Luther’s Works 43:223, 34:104, 48:153).  The Rev. Ronald F. MarshallSeattle   Kudos for herringThe colorful and clever illustrations for “Lutheran mythbusting or …” were outstanding. They definitely got my new year off to a good start. I especially loved poor Katharina Luther among the herring. Carolyn B. EdwardsBandera, Texas   Cartoon didn’t workDisappointed and offended by the crass wise men cartoons in “Light side” (January, page 47). Really seemed inappropriate and certainly not funny. The Rev. Timothy KoenigGoshen, Ky.   Given ’em a handIn response to the “No news here” letter (January, page 49), I say we can and should give retiring clergy a grand slam departure. Just like we did with New York Yankees great Derek Jeter. We can also throw the ball to the younger generation coming in. There’s plenty of time for both. Earl FinklerMedford, Wis.   More informationAs a librarian I had to laugh at the quote, “People are not hungering for more information. They can find everything they need on the Internet” (January, page 34). Yes, there’s a lot of information available out there, and a lot of misinformation. Librarians are often called upon to separate the wheat from the chaff. As a former teacher, I go to church expecting us all to be taught something new. I expect to be taught a piece of backstory or cultural history that will make those old words and strange practices make sense to us two or three thousand years later, so I’m not just blindly following the dictates of an ancient religion by rote, but am able to get to the unchanging heart of the matter in a world that the original writers could not have imagined. I beg of you when you preach — more information! Keith E. GatlingLiverpool, N.Y.   Hands offThere has been debate in The Lutheran about economic issues with a letter (January, page 48) quoting the Gospel verse, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). There is a distinction. When I reach into my pocket to give to the poor, that is sharing. When someone else reaches into my pocket to give to the poor, that is theft. Our Lord is not a thief, and neither should we be, nor should be the economic policies this magazine advocates. Taylor SwansonTullahoma, Tenn.   Christmas mattersWhen a tradition such as Advent has to be explained (December, page 18), it has lost its power. And Advent is one that has to be explained to our members, let alone the unchurched. To a culture that largely considers Christianity irrelevant, we declare ourselves proud to be so. To be militantly anachronistic about a church season is to miss a huge opportunity to share with the culture what Christmas is all about: the advent (no pun intended) of our Savior into the world, calling us to meaning, hope and new life — a life with which no amount of consumerism or materialism can compete. We can invite people to join with us in serving others instead of engaging in the crazy and defeating effort to get “the perfect gift.” It’s about the celebration of Christmas, not Advent. Christopher P. NelsonMinneapolis   Offended by photoThat The Lutheran would publish a photo from a “Handsupwalkout” protest is offensive (January, page 10). The facts of the case show the deceased was the aggressor. As for “living out … the gospel,” just where does it say to support thieves and thugs? Love and forgive, yes, but I see no love for innocent police officers in these protests, only hate. Tom FennerPiqua, Ohio    Done with scoringThe “Who gets saved?” author (December, page 49) states that all who do not tune their lives purely are going the way of the goats. That’s the picture we’ve been painting of God for centuries. I asked a Bible study once what the primary objection is to the New Testament revelation that there is no hell. A woman replied: no payback. Oh, how we love to believe that God is keeping score. The author refers to muffling the sounds of eternal punishment. That’s exactly what the empty tomb did. The Rev. D. Randall FaroChehalis, Wash.   No fan of ‘Chef’I’m disappointed and appalled that The Lutheran would allow the movie Chef to be recommended as “best this month” (December, page 44). It’s rated R for language and suggestive behavior. The father and son reconnect but not in a kind way that indicates any Christian values. Lucia SchroederGlyndon, Minn.   Looming disasterPeter W. Marty’s column on “Permanently poor” (December, page 3) was excellent in every way. Scripture speaks many, many times about poverty. In addition, however, too many are almost poor — more or less living paycheck to paycheck yet working very hard. Some 50 percent of Americans are one paycheck away from disaster. Karl Marx was right. I know, I’ve been there. Eugene H. MeyerRoanoke, Va.

  • Yeah, yeah, yeah, que no pare la fiesta! Don’t stop the party!”  Pitbull’s rap music blares over the loudspeaker in the parking lot. About 60 participants follow Zumba® instructor Gonzalo Hernandez’s lead. There are lots of twists, turns, lunges and laughter. It’s just another Thursday night at Trinity Lutheran Church in Bradenton, Fla. Each week Hernandez (gonazalo_hernandez3@yahoo.com) lives out his faith in a distinctive way — by volunteering his expertise and seemingly endless energy with fellow members and the community at large. Located in a residential area, many neighbors walk over to the church and join the fun. Others honk their horns and wave as they drive by. “What started out as a response to our church’s mission to ‘care faithfully for the treasure of our bodies’ has grown into so much more,” said Bobbie Blackburn, pastor. “Stressing scriptural support, such as 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, we are emphasizing a healthy body stewardship. Zumba® is great exercise, but it has also proven to be a wonderful community outreach ministry.” Zumba®, a dance-fitness program created by Alberto “Beto” Perez in the 1990s, incorporates international and Latin dances, such as salsa and merengue, with aerobic exercise. Paired with rhythmic music, it improves muscle strength, posture, mobility and coordination. Trinity’s program has attracted a variety of people. On any given night, male and female dancers range in age from 4 to 75. They come from all facets of life — a mix of different races, cultures and professions.

  • Sanctuary of Marshfield, Mass., likes to think outside the church. From the style of its building, which resembles an A-frame ski lodge in the woods, to an altar made of old pallets and rocks, much about Sanctuary is out-of-the-box thinking. Its signs outside are simple chalkboards, with the message of “Create. Connect. Respond.” Sanctuary, a 4-year-old congregation, has a new way of doing church. Even its 10:10 a.m. and 4:04 p.m. worship times are offbeat but appealing to a new crowd of churchgoers.  Worship doesn’t necessarily follow the lectionary but takes an educational approach, said its pastor, Mark Huber, who will often explain one parable over multiple weeks. “Our one constant is change, so we’re always trying to look for a new way to connect and be creative,” he said. A blended congregation of the ELCA and the United Methodist Church, Sanctuary is aimed at people who are unplugged from church. “A majority of our members haven’t been active in a church as adults,” said Huber, and many were raised Roman Catholic. The congregation’s website (www.sanctuarymarshfield.org) feels vibrant, hip and welcoming with these headlines: Children aren’t just welcome, they’re embraced. Come as you are, even in T-shirts and jeans. We read from the Bible. People will probably say, “Hi.” We have communion every Sunday .... There are a variety of ways to worship God and all of them are amazing.  Huber, whose wife, Sarah, is an associate in ministry and Sanctuary’s creative director, said the church’s style is about seeing God at work in the world in new ways. Music is uplifting and fun, he said, and often includes bands.  A church being made new “God has always been faithful to the church and the church is always being made new. We strive to be faithful to a God who is calling us to do this. We help people see how the gospel is playing out in their lives,” Huber said.  Members plant a community garden on the church grounds to stock a food pantry and often gather around the grill for a meal. The church also runs a popular preschool for about 120 children, which was started by the Methodist church. As a first-call pastor, Huber spent time getting to know the community when he arrived in Marshfield to start a mission church, holding worship on the deck of a house. He met the pastor of the Methodist church, which had a building and a preschool but was about to close because of dwindling membership. The two churches partnered and Sanctuary was founded with a dozen core members. “We now have 100 each week,” he said. Approximately 160 turned out last Easter. “We never see the same crowd every week,” which is often comprised of young families with children, he said.

  • 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 Michael Cooper-White, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.), on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries. In the October 2014 issue of The Lutheran, ELCA missionary Stephen Deal wrote an article reflecting on the current experience of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, raising awareness of the motives and dangers triggering the exponential increase in the number of unaccompanied children entering the U.S. from Central America. The article represents one of the latest dimensions of the continuing challenge faced by the U.S. given its defective immigration system. This important witness of our Lutheran brothers and sisters in El Salvador retrieves a vital teaching of the Christian faith and our Lutheran legacy that is worth highlighting in our conversations on the topic of immigration, as well as for the coming celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. For some theologians, the notion of migration is a common and constant fact in what Christians call the biblical narrative of salvation history. One can even claim that the Bible’s initial confession of faith starts with a narrative of pilgrimage and migration: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien …” (Deuteronomy 26:5). Thus, the topic of hospitality to strangers is present from the beginning of the formation of the Hebrew people. The earliest Christians considered themselves sojourners in the world, frequently moving from one place to another in voluntary or violent migrations, often forced by powerful empires, scarcity or famine. In different cultures we find migration stories prior to the formation of identity as a people. The history of the Aztecs begins with the story of a migration from Aztlan to Tenochtitlan, the latter being the city they established. The Exodus, that is, the flight of the Hebrew people from Egypt, is considered the foundational element in the formation of the people of Israel. The point of departure of the exodus was the oppression, exploitation and ill treatment to which the Egyptian government submitted the Hebrews. The sacred Hebrew history recounts the people’s mournful outcries and how God listened and liberated them by way of the struggle led by Moses (Exodus 1-15) through a long and dangerous migration to a promised land. This narrative of slavery, migration and liberation became so important for the people of Israel in developing an annual ritual of remembrance and gratitude, the Passover. This yearly liturgical remembrance shaped the compassion of the Hebrew people for strangers and aliens, leading to the care for foreigners residing within Israel. Caring for the stranger became a key element of the Torah (Leviticus 19:33 ff.), a crucial emphasis by the prophets (Ezekiel 22:7; Jeremiah 22:3, 5), and the substance of an ethics of hospitality (Job 31:32). Foundational for theology Later on the Israelites’ sensitivity regarding the strangers, the aliens and foreigners became foundational for Christian theology. Not only does the Gospel of Matthew provide us with an episode in Jesus’ early life of compulsory migration, but the core of our Lord’s teachings can be described as a radical retrieval of this Hebrew perspective on the stranger, alien and foreigner (John 4:7-30, Luke 17:11-19, Matthew 25:31-46).  Jesus’ teachings became the cornerstone for his followers. In the letter to the Romans, Paul insists on the attitude of hospitality toward the stranger (Romans 12:13). InEphesians 2:19, the author breaks down the common discriminatory distinction established between citizens and aliens. Emphasis on hospitality Throughout the centuries, Christians have continued to reflect the spirit of the Hebrew people and Jesus’ emphasis on hospitality to strangers and sojourners. In the aftermath of World War II, which created millions of displaced people, Lutherans founded what eventually became Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which has assisted congregations in resettling tens of thousands of refugees fleeing wars and disasters on every continent. Given its expertise in this work of compassion, LIRS is often sought out to advise government officials in the ongoing quest to improve our nation’s immigration policies.  In more recent decades, themes related to migration and hospitality to strangers have been central in the writings of many so-called “theologians of liberation” whose works have emerged particularly from settings throughout Latin America. (See some recommended authors in the author bio.) On Nov. 14, 2009, the ELCA Church Council approved a social policy resolution regarding immigration, “Toward Compassionate, Just, and Wise Immigration Reform” (search for this title at www.elca.org). The text reflects the rich legacy of the Lutheran church’s concern for the neighbor, particularly the uprooted, the alien and the stranger.

  • A bubblegum doo-wop hit called “All About That Bass” has recently been an earworm to some radio listeners and to others a chance to sing loudly in the car with their local pop radio station. But for Lutherans, it’s all about something else — that grace. Nearly 200 Lutherans responded to a reader call asking what drew them to the ELCA. Judging by their enthusiasm, they may not be cradle Lutherans but they are Lutherans to the grave. Grace and welcome are the recurring words that led them to the ELCA (or predecessor bodies). As Kaleb McCormick of Mount Moriah Lutheran, Anna, Ill., put it: “The friendliness of the congregation hooked me, that message of grace reeled me in.”  Some identified the hook as liturgy or music, but for many the door to being Lutheran was opened by a person: a boyfriend, girlfriend, fiance or spouse, a pastor, best friend, co-worker or neighbor, their student or their own child, a church greeter — even a bank teller.  For some, being asked to sing in the choir or play organ was all the invitation they needed. Others were introduced to the church through Bible camp, vacation Bible school, Sunday school or campus ministry.  Jerry Wirtley landed at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Charlotte, N.C., because of a “Souper Bowl” party. He and his wife returned to the church the following week for a Valentine’s Day dance and then tried worship. “I stayed with the ELCA because we accept people where they are, and walk with them in a journey toward becoming disciples,” he said. Like more than 15 respondents, Wirtley went from barely any church experience to being a pastor (St. John Lutheran, Little Suamico, Wis.). Jim Hazelwood went from no faith experience to being bishop of the New England Synod — it all started with his mother’s golfing partner giving her a Lutheran preschool recommendation for young Jim.  Several people cited female pastors, the 2009 ELCA sexuality decisions, or receiving an unconditional acceptance for which they had yearned. Many found a progressive theology and an emphasis on justice work to their liking. In a few cases, tragic life circumstances brought them to church. The funeral of Teresa Fischer’s 12-year-old nephew was led by a Lutheran pastor, who opened the door for her to search for peace and hope, and encouraged her to get involved.  “I found a measure of comfort in the Lutheran liturgy, the rituals, the sameness of every week … and slowly started patching the crumbled foundation of my soul,” she said. Fischer, a member of First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Beardstown, Ill., met her husband, a lifelong Lutheran, in Bible study, “and we raised two children in the Lutheran church that we love.”  Even Luther gets credit Several people credited Martin Luther or the Book of Concord with their entry into the church. Others were just church shopping. Sue Anne Teal attended Trinity Lutheran Church in Stephens City, Va., simply to invite the new pastor to join the Rotary Club. But the liturgy in the Lutheran Book of Worship drew her in and kept her.  The Spirit, or “divine intervention,” had a role in many trips through the doors of an ELCA church — or maybe all of them.  As a young adult, Elayne Finkelstein, Greenville, S.C., was late for her own church one Sunday and looked up to see Trinity Lutheran. “So I scooted in, sat down and experienced the greatest heart awakening I’d ever had in church,” she said.  When she later told the pastor why she had first attended, he laughed and declared her “a divine intervention Lutheran.”  “I remain one today,” said Finkelstein, now a member of Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Greenville. Responders came from a variety of denominations or faiths — or no faith at all. Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod,Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Baptist, United Brethren, Disciples of Christ, Pentecostal, Mennonite, Congregationalist, Church of Science, Assembly of God, Russian Orthodox, Nazarene, Four-Square Gospel, Christian, Missionary Alliance, Mormon, Jewish and Buddhist. Many said the Lutheran church offered a message that was the opposite of what they had heard as children — or had ever heard. So, back to grace … Patsy Koeneke, Corpus Christi, Texas, grew up hearing a steady stream of fire and brimstone preaching that told her if she didn’t do better she would go to hell. Attending church with her fiance’s Lutheran family, she heard grace preached from the pulpit for the first time. Now as pastor of St. Mark Lutheran, “I’m so happy to serve in a church that teaches and believes what the Bible says: that nothing we do or don’t do can separate us from the love of God,” she said. Jim Rossi was a devout Roman Catholic plagued by similar troubling questions regarding sin and damnation. At his fiancee’s Lutheran church, “the Holy Spirit took me by the hand and showed me the way,” he said. The bulletin stated “all are welcome at the Lord’s table,” the confession was spoken aloud as a group, and he was told God (not a priest) forgives him. The sermon was about hope and love.  “As the cup was lifted [by] an eloquent and dignified woman … I knew I had found what I had searched for since childhood,” he said.  Rossi said he is an active member of New Hope Lutheran Church in Columbia, Md., “not out of obligation or eternal reward, but because the Holy Spirit calls me.”  For Jo Young, it was about welcome. She had been sending her youngest daughter to a Sunday school with friends but didn’t agree with some of the church’s teachings. Asked by her daughter to find a different Sunday school, she contacted three Lutheran churches and heard back from two — one a dry response, another warm and welcoming. Their first Sunday, teenagers gathered around her 8-year-old and took her under their wings.  Two months later, the pastor helped Young bury her beloved father (once a Lutheran). In another two months, mother and daughter were baptized and have been atLutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Salinas, Calif., ever since.  The power of the liturgy Katherine Loyd, St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Walnut Creek, Calif., was reared in a Christian home. Her father was even a pastor. But she was taught that liturgy was “meaningless babble” and “everything had to be thought up in the moment to be sincere.” Her Lutheran fiance sang in the church choir, so on her first visit she did too, making her way through the liturgy and a strange hymnbook.  “It didn’t take many weeks before I was in love with the liturgy,” she said. “I could meditate instead of wondering what was going to happen next. I was a part of the service. The words of the liturgy were easily memorized, becoming ingrained in my life. The idea of Christians all over the world using the same biblical texts that same day made me feel connected to them all.” Jim Riddle had a similar experience. Steeped in the Southern Baptist tradition, he was lost trying to follow the liturgy at Newberry [S.C.] College’s Wiles Chapel as a freshman in 1968.