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.
  • 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).

  • While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them(Luke 24:15). College can be a challenging environment for Lutheran students who want to stay connected to their faith. At a secular school, church just isn’t at the forefront of social calendars, especially when surrounded by students who cast a wary eye on Christianity. At many colleges and universities, evangelical groups like CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), InterVarsity and Chi Alpha dominate. These three are the largest campus ministries in the country. CRU alone has chapters at more than 1,700 colleges and universities. The Lutheran presence on campuses is more subtle. Discounting the 26 colleges and universities that the ELCA partners with directly, there is an organized Lutheran presence at fewer than 400 schools nationwide. Although these groups tend to be much smaller than their evangelical counterparts, size isn’t indicative of significance.  John Lund, campus pastor at the University of Montana, Missoula, said Lutheran ministries are known for creativity, risk-taking and cutting-edge ministry. “We’re helping shape the future of the church,” he said. Lund leads Emmaus Campus Ministry, a student group that focuses on community, dialogue and service. Emmaus meets Wednesdays for worship, and Sundays for dinner and discussion. Sunday nights mix food and faith for anyone who shows up. Students pitch in to help cook in a family atmosphere. But it’s serious too. Earlier this year students were asked to explore their interpretations of heaven and hell, define faith in their lives, and ponder the age-old doctrine that premarital sex is bad. These aren’t questions that many ministry groups want to tackle, but Emmaus isn’t like many other ministries. “Doubt is allowed, even encouraged, because we know we have traditions strong enough to rail against without sending our whole religion tumbling down,” said Erin Hastey, a peer minister at Emmaus. These are questions many people struggle with, but while Lund encourages asking difficult questions, he rarely answers them himself. “I don’t think that in the three years I’ve been here anyone has been able to pin down what, exactly, he believes,” said junior Jessica Wurzel, another peer minister. “But you can tell, whatever it is, he believes it fully because he lives it.” What Lund does is practice radical hospitality, Wurzel said: “He’s got big, ambitious ideas and he works to make them realities.”  Emmaus recently began a project called “Friends in Need” where students help low-income residents by doing yard work, painting houses and taking on anything else that’s needed. Emmaus engages in other service projects year round, including an alternative spring break. This year 13 students went to Vancouver, Canada, to work at homeless shelters and community gardens.

  • 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).

  • 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.”

  • Leave it to seventh- and eighth-graders for a great idea. Because of their concern for the hungry, Grace Lutheran Church, Luverne, Minn., hosted the Community Snowmobile Fun Ride last February and will do so again this year (Feb. 8, provided there is enough snow). The idea was hatched when Daniel Tofteland and Coy Gonnerman were talking to their confirmation adult mentor, Don Dinger, who also happens to be an avid snowmobiler.  “We were talking about kids who go hungry every day and some weekends,” said Dinger (don.dinger@gmail.com). “Both young men have snowmobiles and as we talked they came up with the ride-a-thon” idea for two local programs that address hunger. The idea had been in the works for some time, but last winter’s snowfall enabled it to become a reality. On Feb. 9, more than 30 snowmobilers of all ages participated. Teenagers from other congregations (or no church at all) rode with their friends and teammates; college students came home just for the event. Participants paid to ride and were encouraged to gather pledges. Riders raised nearly $900, which was matched by a local organization. The $1,800 was split between the Rock County Community Food Shelf and the Luverne Back Pack Program that sends food home with students on weekends.  But prior to the riders taking off on the 40-mile course, the community had another chance to gather and give. It was also the day of the Rock County Championship Chili Cook-off at Sharkee’s, a sports bar, which was hosted by Grace and Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Hills.  A profitable pairing. In the wintery Midwest, snowmobiling and chili go together like hand in (snowmobile) glove. Proceeds went to youth mission trips, including the 2015ELCA Youth Gathering. More than 200 people came for the all-you-can-eat chili, breads, desserts and drinks. There were 18 entries in the cook-off, not just from the congregations. Four judges awarded prizes for heat, uniqueness and taste. The grand prize, the People’s Choice Award, was won by the contestant who collected the most in their tip jar. Tips were donated to the charity of each contestant’s choice.