Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chosen by Grace!

I just gutted a year's worth of sermons from this blog, so there isn't much left to it. From now on, I may post an occasional sermon, but I feel weird leaving them up for too long. A sermon is "local theology," crafted in the trenches of ministry in a congregation, for the congregation. This blog is just not a good permanent home for sermons.

All fall, things have been busy, much too busy for blogging.

First, we moved into our new church building. Check it out here. It was a tremendous task, and an awesome joy to celebrate.
Second, I was in the call process all fall, traveling and interviewing at various churches. It was really my first time in the interview process, since I was called as associate pastor to my internship church without a break in service. It has been a wonderful 6 1/2 years of ministry at United in Christ, but, with our move into the new building, and our senior pastor retiring, it is time for me to move on - and what a perfect time for me and my family to start anew in another church community.

After interviewing in other wonderful, faithful congregations in other communities, my wife and I were driving to Detroit Lakes for the interview and re-reading aloud the Congregational Mission Profile of Grace Lutheran Church. As we read together, we both had a feeling of peace about the upcoming interview – it seemed to be a perfect fit between myself and the congregation, as well as a church and community in which our family could take root and grow. That sense of being called to Grace – a gift of the Holy Spirit – grew during and after the interview. We felt welcomed into a warm church family.

After prayerful consideration and discernment, it is with great joy that I have accepted the call as pastor to Grace Lutheran Church. I have promised to fulfill this pastoral ministry in accord with the standards and policies for ordained ministers of the Evangelical Church in America,” and to be “diligent in the study of Holy Scripture, in use of the means of grace, in prayer, in faithful service, and in holy living” (quoted from the Letter of Call).
I look forward to helping the people of Grace live out our common mission, “Grace by grace, seeking to be God’s faithful people,” in the years ahead.

I hope have some time to blog in the near future, but perhaps not before we move in mid-January.

Grace, love, and peace.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On Conviction and Action

I just read a post on my friend’s libertarian-oriented blog. I am not a libertarian, though I am all for liberty, and share some concerns about the threats to freedom in our complex, divided nation.

I heard some sociologist speaking on NPR, going through statistic after statistic to demonstrate that Americans' involvement in every kind of civic activity - local politics, service organizations, neighborhood groups, church attendance, even picnics - has decreased in the last few decades. People are just too busy, it seems, with work and television to get involved. One result of this is that we abdicate our critical reasoning skills to 'professionals' who do our thinking and decision making for us. How can democracy last in such a context?

I spent some time this summer with an old friend who is politically active on the local/state level, and he convinced me of the need to get involved in politics, as the life of the polis, our community. To be an agnostic, politically speaking, is to abdicate our moral responsibility to act for the good of our community. If my neighborhood, my town, my state, or my nation is going to pot and I’m not doing anything about it, then I have no right to complain that someone else isn’t fixing the problems.

Augie's post also reminded me of Yeat's saying, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." For democracy to be sustained, those of us who are for freedom, individualism, and the common good need conviction and passion. I just finished listening to Dr. Zhivago (unabridged) on tape. A theme of Pasternak's book, it seems to me, is the necessary complexity and richness of life in a society made up of free individuals, and the diminishing of human life in an authoritarian, ideologically and technocratically ordered society.

Still, there is something to be said for the Socratic definition of wisdom. While I do not lack conviction and strong belief, I am conscious of my limits. For example, even as I strongly opposed going to war in Iraq (and still think it was a mistake), I keep hoping to be proved wrong, hoping that good can still come out of the evil situation. Even though going to war there was a costly mistake, in terms of lives, money, and geopolitical capital, I do not follow the libertarian position (as I understand it) that we should immediately pull out and let the civil war begin. We caused the mess there, and we should do something to help stabilize the situation and then leave ASAP. (And, yes, I support our troops there, who are risking their lives obeying orders and generally trying to do the right thing in an almost impossible situation.)

Here’s a quote for today from Bertrand Russell: “When the intensity of emotional conviction subsides, a man who is in the habit of reasoning will search for logical grounds in favour of the belief which he finds in himself.” I take this as a true description of how we operate noetically. At my age, my faith, my convictions, my beliefs will not be reversed in a day by reading or experiencing something new. I will probably never become a libertarian, because the beliefs which I find in myself are different. That is not to say that my horizons are not constantly expanding by what I read or experience, but my basic convictions, my faith, my foundational beliefs, are not likely to change completely. It is unlikely that I will ever read Ayn Rand’s books – life is too short!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sermon Repository

This blog is being reformatted as a sermon repository and blog. Please be patient.

My five year old son came back from his Lutheran Day Camp a couple weeks ago, and explained how he learned the real meaning of Easter.

"Easter is not just about the Easter Bunny and eggs. Easter is about how Jesus died on the cross waiting for the Easter Bunny."

Our seven-year old corrected him. But, I suppose, if bunnies, eggs, and springtime are symbols of the Resurrection, he was not too far off.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

June 18, 2005

Here's a comment I wrote on my friend Jim's blog yesterday, along with an added comment at the end.

Jim - Not to be too contrary, but I think you spelled 'contrarian' wrong.
Here's a little background on your biblical obversations (er, I mean observations...).
The word translated as 'God' in Genesis 1 is 'Elohim,' which literally means something like 'gods.' For some reason, God is often referred to in the Older Testament by the plural form of 'god.' Makes me think of the Trinity, but it may be something like a royal plural.

But God is also referred to by a name in the Old Testament, 'Yahweh.' The original authors no doubt meant the proper name to be pronounced, but as time went on, the religious consciousness of Israel decided that wherever 'Yhwh' was printed in the text, they would substitute 'Lord,' adonai, when read aloud. That is how the mispronunciation 'Jehovah' came about - they inserted the vowels of adonai into Yhwh, and when German scholars transliterated it, they got Jehovah.

Anyway, whenever you read 'the LORD' in all capitals in the NRSV translation, what is actually in the original is YHWH, and in Genesis 2 it is Yhwh Elohim.

In the Newer Testament, the Greek word for 'Lord' is used for God, for Jesus, or (without a capital 'L' in English) for any human lord. What is really amazing is that early followers of Jesus called him 'Lord' in as strong a sense as God (remember Thomas: "My Lord and my God!"). For me, it is not a question of Elohim being the Father (only) and YHWH being the Son (only) - for the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One God, one Elohim, one Yhwh, in three persons... but that is a discussion for another day.

Thanks for writing regularly and thoughtfully.

Here's an added thought or two:
Check out Exodus 3, God meeting Moses in the burning bush. There, you'll find God referred to as both Elohim and Yhwh. You'll also find an explanation for God's name, Yhwh.

In verse 12, God promises Moses that "I will be ['ehyeh'] with you."

In verse 14, God says to Moses, 'ehyeh asher ehyeh,' usually translated, "I AM WHO I AM," but (as an imperfect) is perhaps better translated, "I will be who I will be." God is "I will be with you." It brings to mind Immanuel, God with us, a God who promises and acts, a God who chooses a people as God's own, a God who becomes flesh and dwells among us, a God of Resurrection, a God who is coming rather than statically being.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Convictions and Hopes

Here are some paragraphs I am rough drafting for necessary paperwork. Give me some feedback, since I won't send them for a while.

Core convictions and sense of call:
Purely by the grace of the Triune God, the universe and all creatures were created - including me. Purely by grace, I have been saved, sinner though I am, through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. I have received the gift of forgiveness and eternal life through no merit of my own. My Savior has called me, saying "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand," and "Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people." That call is itself grace, the gift of the Holy Spirit. The effect of that call in me is faith. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of faith is love for God and my neighbor.
My call to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments is not higher or holier than the call to each Christian to live in faith and to live out faith, but it is a sacred calling, a pearl of great price, a deep responsibility and a source of great joy. My call to the pastoral ministry is, in large part, the office through which I obey God's Great Commandment and Great Commission.

Hopes for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
I am an adopted son of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, drawn by the uncompromising emphasis on salvation by grace through faith in Christ, as revealed in Scripture (All glory to God alone!). Mindy and I were welcomed into our first Lutheran church with open arms and authentic warmth, and integrated into the life of the congregation. At the same time, the Lutheran professors and students at Princeton were an accessible, welcoming enclave within the larger body of the seminary. What I found there was a theological, spiritual, relational home within the church catholic - one that is, in Bishop Hanson's words, "faithful yet changing": faithful to the word of God as seen through the lens of the Book of Concord; open to the world, open to the wider church, open to learning from different cultures, open to faithful change in response to a changing world. That is, perhaps, a charism that the ELCA provides the world - the courage to be both faithful to Christ and open to meeting Christ in our neighbors, as different from us as they may be. I hope we the ELCA can turn around our membership slide and grow by focusing on the essential: sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with our neighbors.

By the way, I realize I never finished the "Becoming Lutheran" biographical series. I guess one other question I had yet to answer was, Why not remain in the Evangelical Covenant Church? Perhaps the name of this blog says a lot: though an orthodox catholic protestant Christian, I lean toward the progressive side of theology, politics, etc., that does not mesh well with the Covenant Church. When I entered seminary, I got the unspoken message from Covenant leadership that my ecumenical choice of seminary - Princeton - was not well received. In my first year at PTS, one of my professors was a former Covenant pastor who, when he pursued a doctorate in preaching at PTS, found that he had no place in the denomination (and became a Methodist). Other students at PTS were also transitioning out of the Covenant Church to more welcoming (for ecumenically minded pastors) denominations. I struggled with this for a while, but decided that it was not worth the struggle to fit back into the Covenant Church as a Lutheran in Covenant clothing - especially with the Lutheran Church welcoming us in.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Ascension According to Robert Jenson (and me)

This is a paper I wrote back in 1999 a week long class taught by Dr. Robert W. Jenson, called “An Ecumenical Theology,” at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. As I recall, the assignment was basically to respond to some element in Jenson’s first volume of his Systematic Theology (the second was not yet in print). Since I have finally begun to read Jenson’s volume 2, I remembered this paper and searched it out on my hard drive. Consider it a focused book report.

Eric Paul Lemonholm
May 14, 1999
The Ascension in the Light of a Biblical Metaphysic

Every Sunday, in churches all over the world, Christians confess that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” What do we mean when we confess that? On one level, the answer is quite simple: we mean what we say. Ascension and session are part of the logic of the theological narrative of Jesus Christ—in terms of incarnation, life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and session.

With a pre-Copernican understanding of reality, this narrative logic could be understood in spatial as well as metaphysical terms. For example, in the incarnation, Christ “empties himself” and descends, so to speak, into the womb—and descends further into “death on a cross;” in the resurrection and ascension, Christ is “highly exalted” by God and given “the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:6-11). Taken literally, this perspective entails a distance between heaven and earth. If God is spatially located somewhere ‘up there’ in heaven, then the question of God’s absence ‘down here’ is raised.

We live, however, in a post-Copernican world. In our popular representations of heaven and hell, such as comic strips and Woody Allen movies, we still all too often portray them as physical places in a three-tiered universe, with heaven in the clouds and hell deep underground. With a moment’s reflection, however, one realizes that however deep one drilled underground, one would never reach hell; and, however far one “ascended” in a space shuttle, one would never reach heaven. No one believes in the three-tiered model of the universe. The move from the portrayal of heaven and hell in terms of this mythical model to disbelief in heaven and hell, therefore, is a short trip indeed. Two years ago, I heard a sermon where the pastor kept going on about how Jesus was “up there,” while we were “down here in the dirt”; he kept pointing up and down dramatically. It is not just that the pastor missed the incarnation, and the real presence of Christ in the church, in the Eucharist, and in the hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, sick, and imprisoned (Matt. 25). He also looked like a fool, as if he had never realized the shift in thought necessitated by modern astronomy (since the 16th century!). What, then, do we mean when we say that Jesus descended into hell, or that Jesus ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father? If we are not to understand these confessional statements spatially, how else can we understand them?

Thankfully, we have many resources to turn to, in both Scripture and the continuing Christian tradition. In fact, although the idea of the three-tiered universe was presupposed by many partners in the Christian conversation throughout history, it is neither necessary nor central to the Christian message. We shall find that, when we say that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, we mean that Jesus is wherever God is, for wherever God is, is heaven. Precisely because Jesus ascended, Jesus is able to be present to, with, and for us and all creation, through the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ. Furthermore, we shall find that when we say that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, we mean that Jesus shares in the power and saving activity of God. Jesus is our mediator, because Jesus is with God in a unique “position”—Jesus of Nazareth is the human being who fully participates in the triune life with his Father and their Spirit.

I shall explore Robert W. Jenson’s Systematic Theology, Volume 1: The Triune God with one eye open for illumination on the Ascension and Session of Jesus Christ. Jenson’s systematic theology is a sustained attempt to do Christian theology fully conscious of our inheritance of pagan Mediterranean, Greek theology. Pagan theology is not natural knowledge or universal philosophy, but an “historically particular… theology that Greek religious thinkers, pondering the revelations claimed for Homer and Parmenides, had provided for the cults of Mediterranean antiquity as it became religiously homogeneous.”1 Jenson is consistently clear about the distinction between our dual inheritances of biblical and Greek thought. As a young pastor-in-training, I have found Jenson’s perspective extremely helpful in thinking theologically today, including thinking about the Ascension and Session of Jesus. I shall explore the first three chapter of Jenson’s work, the “Prolegomena,” in some detail.

Jenson does not completely reject Mediterranean theology, which formed part of the original cultural context of Christianity as it spread in the Roman Empire. He states: “Conversation with the antecedent theology of each encountered religious culture is intrinsic to the gospel’s mission, and this mission is never merely polemic.”2 The gospel must be communicated in such a way that it engages the needs, concerns, and intellectual foundations of a given culture. What Jenson does reject is “the Enlightenment’s elevation of the Greek element of our thinking to be unilateral judge of the whole.”3 Along with most of the Christian tradition throughout history, the Enlightenment’s use of pagan thought was not critical enough. Pagan theology is not more “natural” or “rational” than biblical theology; “Plato or Aristotle” ought not to be placed above “Isaiah or Paul.”4 Dr. Jenson is by no means a despiser of the Greek philosophical/ theological tradition. Rather, he consciously and critically engages in dialogue with Greek theology, without naively accepting its premises.

The terms of ‘the great conversation’ need not be set solely by Greek philosophy. It is imperative for Christian theologians in the West to take part in the great conversation, but we do so with our own concerns and our own canon—and, indeed with our own distinctive conversation. As an example: the “Great Conversation,” as defined by Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins, et al, in The Great Books of the Western World series, moves chronologically from Rabelais to Montaigne, effectively skipping the Reformation and such conversation partners as Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin. From a Christian perspective, a Western conversation through time that does not include the early church fathers and the Reformers of the 16th century is too narrowly restricted. For Christians to take part in such a conversation uncritically is to allow the great ideas and values of pagan theology too much authority in setting the terms, and thus shaping the outcome, of the debate. This is not to denigrate any conversation partners, but merely to recognize that who is included in, and who is excluded from the conversation will affect its nature and results.

Moreover, Christians need not apologize for giving epistemic priority to the Bible, rather than to Homer, Plato, and Aristotle. Indeed, we Christians ought to consciously reverse the terms of the great conversation. As conceived of by Adler and his associates, “the great conversation” of the “great books” is concerned with illuminating the “great ideas.”5 That is, one first determines what the great ideas are, and then one decides which books in history address the greatest number of the great ideas. As Christians, we are free to take part in this conversation about the great ideas. But we need not accept that this conversation is truly the great conversation for us. The great conversation takes on a different shape if one starts from belief (faith) in the God of Abraham and Moses, the Father of Jesus. One might say that the nature and content of the great ideas will be different if one begins with the self-revelation of the Triune God in Jesus Christ.6 Indeed, the ideas that are determined to be “great” may be different if one begins from a distinctive faith stance. One may find that ideas are not ultimate, but rather a person, in relationship to whom our ideas have meaning.

We find a fundamental divide between biblical and pagan thought in the notion of impassibility. Jenson notes that “Mediterranean antiquity defined deity by immunity to time, by ‘impassibility’; offensively to this definition, the gospel identifies its God by temporal events of Exodus and Resurrection.”7 Jenson elsewhere states:
It is the metaphysically fundamental fact of Israel’s and the church’s faith that its God is freely, but, just so, truly self-identified by, and so with, contingent created temporal events.8

It is truly foolishness to the Gentiles that God’s identity, like ours, is established by a contingent narrative history—a biography, if you will. The question, “Who is God?” is not answered by spinning out metaphysical attributes, but by telling a particular set of narratives set in particular times and places in history.
It is, in fact, a perennial temptation to understand the story of God in a pagan manner, to apply Plotinus’ words about pagan myths to the Christian narrative of God: “The myths distribute in time… what in reality is not separated.”9 It is not that the biblical narrative contains no mythological elements or stories; it plainly does. What we must consciously resist is the notion that, while the biblical narrative establishes God’s identity in contingent temporal events and relations, God’s real identity lies behind the narrative mask. God’s real identity is non-identity, non-relatedness, impassibility, a-temporality. While the biblical stories describe God in anthropomorphic terms, so the argument goes, we know that God is beyond action, emotion, change, time, matter, incarnation. In other words, God’s real identity is best described by John Hick’s concept of the Real an Sich, about which we can know and say nothing, and with which we can have nothing to do.

In contrast to this way of thinking, Christians believe in the God who is identified by his relations with Israel and, uniquely, with an Israelite named Jesus of Nazareth.10 Jenson defines Christian theology as “the thinking internal to the task of speaking the gospel, whether to humankind as message or to God in praise and petition.”11 The gospel is the message of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; the church is the community that witnesses to this Resurrection.12 This is the scandal of particularity: God has definitively identified himself in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, so that “to attend theologically to the Resurrection of Jesus is to attend to the Triune God.”13 The Resurrection of Jesus is not just another great idea to consider while we sit in our armchairs, but an event in history that is also an event in the life of the Triune God.

How are we, then, to understand the Ascension of Jesus? Jenson conceives of the Ascension as the completion of the Resurrection:

The “Ascension, within its own account, is presented as a concluding [Resurrection] appearance, and so shows where the story’s tradents supposed Jesus to be when he was not appearing: in heaven, as envisioned by the seers.”14

Without the Ascension, one might say, Jesus’ Resurrection would be incomplete or partial. Without the life and ministry, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, however, the Ascension would not be identifiably different from Elijah’s or Enoch’s “ascensions.” Jenson overcomes the pre-Copernican view of the Ascension by drawing on both the work of Johannes Brenz, who wrote shortly after Copernicus’ cosmological revolution, and St. Paul. Heaven is not a place “spatially related to other parts of the created universe,”15 as if Jesus’ Ascension was a spatial movement from earth “up” into heaven. Brenz and his followers held that “Christ has risen to be in God’s place. God, however, is in no place but is his own place; and over against God, the created universe is therefore just one other single place.” They strongly argued against dividing Christ’s humanity and divinity:

The Incarnation given, what we call the humanity of Christ and the deity of Christ are only actual as one sole person, so that where the deity of the Son is, there must be Jesus’ humanity, unabridged as soul and body.16
The problem with Brenz’s position, as Jenson notes, is the difficulty of conceiving of a ubiquitous body as a body in any normal sense of the term. What Brenz and friends contributed is a sense that “Christ’s body… needs no spatial heaven as is not restricted in its presence by created spatial distances.”17 Given that, Jenson asks, “Where is Christ’s body?” He finds his answer, in part, in St. Paul, for whom the body of Christ is “the Eucharist’s loaf and cup and the church assembled around them”:

…the entity rightly called the body of Christ is whatever object it is that is Christ’s availability to us as subjects; by the promise of Christ, this object is the bread and cup and the gathering of the church around them. This is where creatures can locate him, to respond to his word to them.18

The only body of Jesus Christ with which we have to do is the body that is available to us, in the Eucharist, the congregation, and, let me add (again echoing Matthew 25), our brothers and sisters in need. We encounter Christ bodily as we gather around the table, and as we are sent out into the world in service to our neighbors.19 We need not speculate further about spiritual bodies in heaven.

Jenson writes of the Resurrection:

Whatever else a ‘resurrection’ may be… it is at very least the overcoming of death, that is, of what relegates a life to the past. ‘Resurrection’ is at a minimum of its meaning the location of the risen one’s life in the future, and in a future that, because death is past, for it must be unlimited. But only God’s future is unlimited; eschatological life can only be entry into God. In that Christ’s Sonship comes ‘from’ his Resurrection, it comes from God’s future into which he is raised.20

The Ascension and Session are the fulfillment of the Resurrection. As Jesus Christ is raised into God’s future—the Holy Spirit is God’s future—so Christ ascends and is seated ‘into’ God’s future. The Ascension and Session are not static events, or the end of Jesus’ activity. Rather, they are just the beginning. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, but God raised him from the dead. However one understands the Ascension and Session—and surely we all misunderstand it to some degree—together they complete the Resurrection. In believing this part of the creed, we affirm that Jesus was not raised merely to continue his life on earth; rather, Jesus is raised as the firstfruits of the final Resurrection of all people. Jesus’ Resurrection—and Ascension and Session—reveal to us that the Rabbi from Nazareth participates in God’s Triune life, and confirms Jesus’ message of the inbreaking Kingdom of God. Thus, the Triune life is not static, but incredibly dynamic. When Christ ascends to God’s place, the result is not God’s absence from creation, but rather God’s intimate presence in the world in the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ. Christ ascends in order to be fully present in the church and the world.
The Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, and his promised eschatological return—indeed God’s Triune life itself—call into question our deeply ingrained cultural assumption of the impassibility of God. God has not only acted at definite points in history; God is present and active in the world—in Christ, physically!—today, and God has a future, in which, by grace, we shall share.

1Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, Volume 1: The Triune God, Oxford: Oxford, 1997, p. 7
2Ibid., p. 9.
5Adler’s account of the criteria for inclusion in the Great Books set is found at the web site:
6Again, this is not to be anti-intellectual or fideistic. One need not denigrate any classic or contemporary thinker to insist on the distinctiveness of the Christian witness.
7Ibid., p. 16.
8Ibid., pp. 47-8.
9Quoted in Jenson, p. 48, fn. 48.
10Ibid., p 42ff.
11Ibid., p. 5.
13Ibid., p. 13.
14Ibid., p. 197.
15Jenson, p. 203.
17Ibid., p. 204.
18Ibid., p. 205. Jenson notes that the full establishment of his position here must await the publication of Volume II of his work.
19In this sentence, I echo themes of Gordon Lathrop.
20Jenson, p. 143.

Other books I am reading now: Bonhoeffer's Discipleship, The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology ( a collection of essays), The Book of Concord. It is good to be reading again.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Bonhoeffer and Pope John Paul II

Click here for an interesting article on Bonhoeffer.

Click here for NPR's coverage of Pope John Paul II's life and death.

The two don't have much to do with each other, but they are both part of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us today.

A sermon will come soon, God willing.

Becoming Lutheran, Part 1 continued

My friend Jim wrote this comment about yesterday's entry: "The Episcopal Church blew it, but maybe all the friendly people were away at the Hamptons that weekend." That was about it. The Episcopal church we attended that weekend was an immensely wealthy congregation with a beautiful gothic building - they could probably smell that we were neither old money nor new. Later on, we attended my cousin's Episcopal church in a different part of Princeton, and it was much more down to earth and 'friendly.' But by then, we were already on the way to becoming Lutheran.

Of course, these personal, gut-level reasons for becoming Lutheran are not the whole story, as part 2 will make clear. But I start with the personal side because it would be false to pretend that our motivations for becoming Lutheran were purely theological or rational. We originally planned to remain in the Covenant, but the nearest Evangelical Covenant church was over an hour away, so we were looking for a local church to attend regularly. I want to lift up the importance of relationships in the church: Prince of Peace Lutheran became our home church in Princeton largely because we built relationships, became a part of an intergenerational small group (which included retired - though active - Lutheran scholar Karlfried Froehlich and his wife Ricarda, and several younger couples), and felt at home - theologically, liturgically, spiritually, personally.

A further question at this point is, Why did we not remain in the Covenant Church?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Becoming Lutheran, Part 1: personal reasons

Both my wife and I grew up in the Evangelical Covenant church. In the summer of 1995, we were married, and in the fall moved to Princeton Theological Seminary, where I began the M.Div. program. A year later, we were Lutherans. How did that happen at a Presbyterian seminary?

We have nothing but good memories of our time at PTS, we met good friends there, and I received a good education. Our first Sunday in New Jersey, we went to a local Episcopal church where no one talked to us, even during the fellowship/coffee an'. Our second Sunday, we happened upon a welcoming ELCA congregation – friendly, open, and a woman from the church, Ricarda, even brought a loaf of bread to our apartment Sunday evening and welcomed us to join a small couple's group. So, the first reasons for becoming Lutheran were good fellowship and fresh baked bread.

But why not Presbyterian? Since I was at a Presbyterian seminary, the rational thing to do, from a career perspective, was to become a Presbyterian minister. A big personal reason that I did not become Presbyterian was that I was never invited. Again, this is not meant to throw a bad light on the friends we made at PTS, nor to imply that the seminary itself was not a hospitable environment. But I often encountered the unspoken message that I was an outsider to the great tradition of Presbyterianism and Princeton. I had no PTS or other ecclesiastical connections. Often, when I shared that I was from the Covenant church, that was the end of the conversation. The only professors at the seminary that I found approachable, interestingly, were Lutheran. So, I tended to take their courses and attend meetings of Lutheran students and professors on campus. There was more of a Minnesota nice, hospitable climate at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and the “Luther League” on campus. So, we became Lutheran...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Inter-Communion: two perspectives

My friend Jim posted an interesting article by a Roman Catholic Father today, and I commented on it. Below is what I wrote on Jim's blog.

The issue about inter-communion for me as a Lutheran is not so much a problem of being excluded - last year I attended a RC church with a friend of mine, and went up to the priest and received a blessing rather than holy communion, which was wonderful - I receive communion weekly at my own church, so I don't NEED to receive it elsewhere. We have a good relationship with our neighboring RC church, and work together in many ways.
It is really a difference in eccelesiology, as Fr. Tucker's statement reveals. As a Lutheran pastor (of the ELCA, not the LC-MS), I give communion to every Christian who wishes to receive it. For ME to deny someone communion because they are not a part of my church body, because they do not fit into my hierarchical structure, would be an insult to the Holy Spirit, who blows wherever it wills and creates faith in the hearts of many people who do not share my denomination. I understand the difference between a Lutheran and RC ecclesiology, and I am not complaining about being excluded, just offering a different ecclesiology.
I am also not so sure that a multitude of denominations is an evil. Let me quote from the Augsburg Confession VII: "It is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere." That is the difference in ecclesiology right there. So, there are Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Orthodox and more. As long as we have the same gospel, and the same sacraments, that diversity can be a gift to the world.
I also disagree with the image of the RC church as the mother church, and all other churches (including the Orthodox church!) as her rebellious children. But again, it's a difference of ecclesiology, and the question is, which ecclesiology is closer to the gospel truth.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

I am rather an odd Lutheran pastor...

I am rather an odd Lutheran pastor, having been Lutheran for only about seven years. I consider myself a neophyte in the Lutheran tradition. I have much yet to learn - and unlearn. The gift of the Lutheran tradition to the wider Christian church is an uncompromising emphasis on grace alone, faith alone, the word of God alone, Christ alone - we are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Bible - and not by anything we do or decide. Even faith, trust in God, is a gift.
A different focus for this blog may be to explore the Lutheran tradition as the lens through which I see the word of God and the world. (I am getting back to reading/listening to the Bible in a year, having gotten stuck in the last chapters of Leviticus for awhile.)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

"I am the church, your are the church, we are the church together..."

I just discovered my friend Jim Wilson's blog The Kingdom Works. Jim and I have very different perspectives on theology and politics, which, frankly, makes friendship interesting and challenging in a positive sense.
I am perhaps an unusual blogger, since I started a blog before I had spent any time reading them. So, I am trying to do a little more blog-surfing to see what's out there.
Jim's blog directed me to an article on how an Anglican converted to the Catholic faith, which also directed me to another article that harshly critiques it from a Lutheran perspective.

I am not interested in being polemical or anti-Catholic or anything. This all got me thinking about the nature of the Church. The basic Lutheran definition of the church is "the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel" (The Augsburg Confession, VII). Although this definition comes out of the Lutheran church, it was put forth as an ecumenical proposal. Where you stand in any hierarchical relationship is not essential; to what particular body of Christians you belong is not essential. Whether you belong to Paul, Cephas (Peter), or Apollos is not essential (1 Cor. 1:12). Wherever you see the good news of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ proclaimed, and wherever you see the holy things of God (Baptism, the Lord's Supper) taking place in a gospel way, there is the church.
Every church is an assembly of believers, a congregation of followers of the Way of Jesus Christ. When I think of our congregation here on the Iron Range, with our friends in the Roman Catholic church a block away, and a Serbian Orthodox church down the road, it is incomprehensible to think that one of us is closer to God, more orthodox, more 'church' because of the hierarchical structure of which we are a part. That seems irrelevant to whether or not the gospel is preached and received in the local congregation. Such human structures aid in the preservation and passing on of the good news of Jesus Christ; they neither create it nor bind it. Nor is our Lutheran church any further away from the apostles than a Catholic or Greek Orthodox church, simply because we do not reside in their hierarchical structure. The Greek Orthodox Church has preserved much of the tradition of the early Greek church; the Roman Catholic Church has preserved much of the tradition of the Western Latin church. Both have rich, deep traditions of doctrine and piety. As a Lutheran, I have no problem recognizing them as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow churches; but the Holy Spirit is not bound to them. The questions for any congregation are: Is the good news proclaimed? Is the good news communicated in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine of communion?

Saturday, February 26, 2005

New Sermon and Longish Techo Musings

I uploaded a new Lenten sermon on my home page. I don't upload them all, but it at least gives you an idea of what I'm up to. One funny thing: after speaking of "first word" and "last word" as devotional practices for families at the beginning and end of each day, a wonderful member of our congregation told me after church, "I don't think I'll ever get the 'last word' in with my wife!"

On a totally different note, musing on the computer technology I am using these days:
I use the Microsoft XP operating system, and I have enough Microsoft compatible programs that I will probably stick with Microsoft operating systems for the forseeable future. But I am quickly becoming less dependent on Microsoft programs in general, not because of some anti-Microsoft prejudice, but because of frustrations with Microsoft products. Let me just name a few:
1. I used to use the M's Internet Explorer. But many parts of the program do not work anymore: opening pdf files, accessing secure sites, etc. And, to fix it, I would have to re-install the whole operating system, which is a major day long task, and it still might not work. So I switched to Mozilla's Firefox, and it works great, is easy to customize, and easy to re-install whenever you need to. It's also free. Because it is not a part of a giant, immensely complex system, it is easy to upgrade and use.

2. Same with M's Outlook & Outlook Express for e-mail. I had one at work and another at home, and I wanted one program at both places to handle email. I switched to Mozilla's Thunderbird. It works better, it's free, it's easy to upgrade or re-install. Again, it is not a part of a master system.

3. Same with M's Office suite. I like it, and I have two different versions, one at home and one at work. But for most tasks, I have switched to Again, it's free, it's easy to upgrade or re-install, and the version I have is newer than either M Office Suite I have. For a simple document writer like myself, it is also nice to use, because it does not have as many bells and whistles. And again, it is not integrated into some larger system.

4. Last year, I wanted a good calendar/planning/scheduling program, that was easy to use and back up. It seemed like a real hassle to use M's Outlook, and have to purchase two copies of it to have an up to date version at home and work. It was also not very flexible and customizable. What I really wanted was not something that integrated into a larger system or office suite, but a standalone, secure database scheduler that worked well. So, I went with Franklin-Covey PlanPlus for Windows (not free).

Anyway, it seems to me that Microsoft, with its 30,000 some employees and billions in cash, is so focused on making everything an 'integral part' of its system, that the individual pieces of the system suffer. It cannot seem to improve one part of the system quickly, especially if it is not something people are spending a lot on. This is especially true of its 'free' products, like I. Explorer or Outlook Express. What if they just focused on making their core product, their OS, secure and stable, and spun the rest off as independent entities?
Anyway, this is not a very theological post, but it is worth noting how well open-source movements and smaller, focused companies can compete with the Microsoft System. M's focus seems to be on keeping people dependent on their System, so that we connect to the world through It and are stuck with It. I, for one, don't think It's evil, but simply not flexible or customizable. With M, I feel out of control, because even the act of downloading and installing updates or upgrades is out of my hands - the System does it for me, just as the System checks to see that it is not a stolen System; it's kind of creepy. Maybe someday I'll go Linux!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

I'm back!

Greetings. I have not written anything for a long time. I will soon be up and writing again, but without a promised agenda for this blog. I am catching up on my journey through the Bible by listening in the car on tape (and online), but it was unrealistic to think I would journal about that regularly – too much else to do.

One thing about listening to the Bible is that every verse and every part of the Bible has equal weight. When I read the Bible on my own, I tend to focus in on the New Testament, or when I read the Old Testament, I focus on key stories, prophets, and Psalms. Listening forces me to hear it all – even the parts I'd rather skip or skim.

Just today I was listening to lengthy descriptions of ritual sacrifice in Exodus. Now, animal sacrifice is not a part of my religious faith or practice, but it is a part of the background, the pre-history, of the Christian faith and of all modern religions. When I preside at the Lord's Supper tomorrow, I am NOT sacrificing anything. Christ sacrificed himself once and for all on the cross; we do not reenact that sacrifice. Still, the OT background of sacrifice does illuminate or foreshadow the meaning of Christ's sacrifice, and it also raises the question for us today: What are we to sacrifice for God today? A sacrifice of the heart? A sacrifice of obedience? A sacrifice of faith?

As the season of Lent approaches, I am planning to write regularly. That will be my Lenten discipline this year. God be with you. Eric

Here is an update: a draft of my sermon for today, Transfiguration Sunday. Please give feedback

Monday, January 03, 2005

Genesis: the beginning

The Bible begins with a poem of creation.
I am not as concerned with the details of Genesis 1-11 as science or history -- How long is a day to God? To whom was Cain married? -- as I am concerned with the meaning. God creates the universe, and it is good. God creates humankind, and we are "very good" - but how quickly we mess up. Humankind ("Adam"), male and female, is made in God's image. As I understand that, being made in the image of God is a rich concept: we are relational, loving, reasoning, creative beings, given responsibility as stewards of the creation of which we are members.

Recently, my four-year old son asked a great question at the dinner table. "Where are we before we are born?" My wife and I thought about it for awhile, and then she asked him, "Where do you think we are before we are born?" He answered, "In God's heart." Perhaps that is why God said, "Let us make humankind in our image..."

The first three days of reading through the Bible in 365 has taken me from the Creation, to Adam and Eve in the garden, to their eating the forbidden fruit - the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (don't be too hard on Eve - she was seeking wisdom - Gen. 3:6). Cain kills Abel, and the downward spiral of violence in the world ends only with God obliterating the world with a flood, save for Noah and his family. God makes a covenant with Noah and all of creation, laying his (rain) bow in the sky and vowing never again to destroy the whole world with a flood (and only then does God allow people to eat meat). Then, after some genealogy, the three days of reading end with the tower of Babel - an anti-urban, anti-empire kind of story.

The whole mythic prelude to the Bible, the pre-history of the peoples of the Bible and all the world, is compressed into these few pages. The essence seems to be this: God is the Creator, we are creatures in God's image. Humanity is sinful, disobedient, violent almost from the beginning. God cares, and decides to do something about it, to deal with sin and violence - first with violence of God's own (and we have had a glimpse of the violence of the primordial waters in the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean). The rest of the Bible may be seen as God striving against sin and violence through other means.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Daily Texts for 2005

Happy New Year! (excerpted from an e-mail I sent to friends today):

This is Eric. Here's something I am doing this year-- reading through the Bible (see my website for a reading schedule), and reading the Moravian Daily Texts -- they have an Older and a Newer Testament verse for each day of the year, which you can get for free via email

For centuries, the Moravian Church has chosen one Older Testament and one Newer Testament verse for each day of the year, so that millions of people around the world meditate on and pray around the same texts each day. You can sign up for a free daily e-mail of the daily text with this link, or you can view the daily text at this link.

Anyway, here is a proposal that I am just throwing out there to you. I know my blog is pretty lame, and my website is even worse (it will get redone in a more flexible format- hopefully - in the next couple weeks when I have time). But, selfishly, I know that if I have a commitment to write something regularly about the Bible and the daily texts, I will more likely stick with it, learn something, and have fun doing it. I enjoy reading, I enjoy reading the Bible, but lately I have been reading it mostly for practical purposes rather than for the pleasure and pain of a relationship with the Author.

So, I am going to read the Bible, as well as read and pray the Daily Texts. I'm not trying to be preachy or anything, but I want to invite you to join me if and when you wish to. You can read through the Bible, or just read the Daily verses, or just check in on my blog.

I do not promise to write everyday, nor do I promise to be profound or deep or anything other than who I am. But I will write as often as I can, and I invite you to share your own comments. Even if you do not call yourself a Christian, there is a lot to wrestle with in the Bible--it is truly one of the world's Great Books.

I hope to hear from you. Please do not feel guilted into anything here, but feel welcomed to an extended conversation, into which you may drop at anytime.

Sincerely, Eric