Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving with your loved ones. For a Thanksgiving message, click on my Thanksgiving Eve sermon.
Read it here...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Soul of a Pastor, part 1

I begin, or continue, a project of reflection on pastoral identity. The pastoral vocation has gone from being the most healthy vocation in the US in the 1950s, to being one of the most unhealthy vocations today. Burnout rates are high, pastors are leaving the ministry in droves, addictions to alcohol, work, or pornography are rampant among pastors, as are boundary violations like adultery, etc. In this context, serious reflection on pastoral identity is a must.

Let me start with the much debated, not often read document of the ELCA, Visions and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA (VE). Actually, there is just one sentence that is debated, the one about abstinence for homosexual pastors. Since that one doesn’t apply to me, I’ll overlook it for my current purpose (as unjust as it is).

Now, I subscribed to Visions and Expectations during the ordination process (while voicing opposition to the sentence mentioned above), as have all pastors ordained since 1990, and all others, I think, are bound by it as well. But how often do we read it? How much of a guide to daily practice is it? I confess that, for me, I have not referred back to it much in the past seven years of ordained ministry. So, this is just a quick reflection on the document.

Vision and Expectations lifts up the four questions we are asked in the rite of ordination:

I. THE CALL TO ORDAINED MINISTRY

Before almighty God, to whom you must give account, and in the presence of this congregation, I ask: Will you assume this office, believing that the Church's call is God's call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

I have been called to this ministry by God through the Church, called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I did not call myself. I am accountable to the Church as an ordained pastor, first and foremost to my local congregation, but also to my local colleagues in ministry, to our synod, and to our national and international manifestations of the Church. I am also “accountable to the Word of God for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” I am not free to preach and teach my own personal vision, but I am captive to the Word of God, which I am called to proclaim in word and deed in our local context.

II. FAITHFULNESS TO THE CHURCH'S CONFESSION

The church in which you are to be ordained confesses that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and are the norm of its faith and life. We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge that the Lutheran Confessions are true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Holy Scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

This is perhaps the question that convicts me the most, in terms of the Lutheran Confessions. Not that I do not uphold or affirm them – but how often do I read them? Not just the Small and Large Catechisms and the Augsburg Confession, but the Formula of Concord, the Apology, etc. I have been a pastor in both synods of Northern Minnesota for 7 years, and I can’t recall a single meeting of our assemblies or pastor retreats that focused on the Confessions. If you did a survey of ELCA pastors, asking how many had read the Formula of Concord in the past year, what percent would answer ‘yes’? I bet it’d be low. And yet, we are called to “acknowledge that the Lutheran Confessions are true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Holy Scriptures.” I admit that my knowledge of a good part of the Confessions is growing dim. So, I have some work to do. Perhaps I need to teach them to adults – I think Tim Wengert has developed some resources for that. I also have Luther’s Works on my computer, and I have hardly read them in years. I do read Lutheran Quarterly, but I am a few issues behind. It is a great resource on Lutheran history and theology. According to VE, we express the Lutheran tradition faithfully when we are evangelical, faithful, reforming, pastoral, ecumenical, and ethical.

In terms of Scripture and the Creeds, I am on firmer footing, and have really been getting ‘back to the Bible’ lately. So, the major challenge for me now in that area is to get back to regular reading of Scripture in Hebrew and Greek. Now, Luther read the whole Bible through twice each year. How many of weLutheran pastors do that?

III. THE ORDAINED MINISTER AS PERSON AND EXAMPLE

Will you be diligent in your study of the Holy Scriptures and in your use of the means of grace? Will you pray for God's people, nourish them with the Word and Holy Sacraments, and lead them by your own example in faithful service and holy living?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

I already wrote about Scripture study. Especially in my early years of ministry, I tended to get so wrapped up in the urgent tasks of ministry that the non-urgent, but essential tasks of prayer and reflection on Scripture went by the wayside. When your well is dry, how can you refresh your flock? This is still a challenge for me. Would that I could say with Luther, “When I rise in the morning, I pray for one hour. If I have a really challenging day ahead of me, I pray for two hours.”

Under this question is highlighted the whole question of pastoral identity – which I will explore more fully in the days ahead. It is a question of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health and maturity. I have begun reading Jaco Hamman’s Becoming a Pastor: Forming Self and Soul for Ministry. It is a wonderful guide for our continuing journey of becoming a pastor, and avoiding being ‘unbecoming’ as a pastor. I will reflect on the book in the days ahead, so that is all I will write on the subject of the person and example of the pastor for now.

IV. FAITHFUL WITNESS

Will you give faithful witness to the world, that God's love may be known in all that you do?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

The call is to be a faithful witness to the Gospel, the good news of God’s love and grace to the world. The following characteristics are lifted up: evangelism, compassion, confession, hospitality, peacemaking, justice, stewardship of the earth, and trustworthiness.

This is enough for now, food for thought, reflection, and action. You pastors and non-pastors (for we all have similar, though not identical, calls as children of God, do we not?): What do you think?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ordination Process

In my meanderings through old writings, I found my Entrance Essay, Endorsement Essay, and Approval Essay from my preparation for ordination as pastor in the ELCA. They are kind of interesting to me, since I wrote each one about a year apart between 1997 and 1999. The Entrance Essay and Endorsement Essay are quite biographical, while the Approval Essay is more of a case study, theology-in-practice kind of document. It is interesting to read these again after all these years, and an instructive reminder of why I entered ordained ministry in the first place.

Friday, October 05, 2007

"Christ the Man"

Here is a paper I wrote as a freshman in college on the Book of Hebrews. Note that my last name was Holm before I married, and note the note quite politically correct, though historically correct title - what is essential is that Jesus was fully human (and fully divine); he also happened to be a First Century Galilean Jewish man.

Christ the Man: Jesus’ Identity with Humanity and its Significance for Faith in Hebrews

Eric Holm (Lemonholm)
Introduction to Biblical Studies
Dr. David M. Scholar
April 19, 1990

The Letter to Hebrews gives two contrasting views of Jesus, his deity and his humanity. The letter's Christological duality is echoed elsewhere in the New Testament, notably in the Gospel of John, but nowhere is it as explicit as in Hebrews. The unknown author of Hebrews takes two seemingly exclusive and contradictory natures, spirit and flesh, and synthesizes them in Jesus Christ. John tells us that "the Word [Jesus] became flesh; he came to dwell among us, and we saw his glory."1 But why did the Christ, the Son of God, have to become a human, and was he truly human? The writer of Hebrews gives his (or her) answers to those questions, and this paper will look at his2 views on the deity and humanity of Jesus, and on his function as Savior or High Priest, in the hopes of gaining an understanding of the subject.

Continue here...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Here is my October newsletter article, written September 27, 2007:

Dear friends,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

God speaks to us in many and various ways. Sometimes, our ears are ready to hear what God wants to say. Sometimes, our ears are plugged up, closed, distracted by the many voices and sounds around us, and God has to do something dramatic to get our attention. Sometimes, Jesus has to knock pretty hard on our doors for us to hear, and open the door. That’s not just something we do once in our lives, but something we need to do daily, to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ.

That’s a situation I’ve been in lately. I have many demands on my time, an unending list of good things to do, and I sometimes get lost in the details—but what are the best, the most important, priorities? What does God want me to focus on? I go back to Micah 6:8— “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Jesus has been knocking pretty hard on my heart lately, and I have finally heard and, by grace, opened the door!

I remember some good advice that a seasoned pastor gave to a young pastor. When the young pastor asked, “What is your secret to effective ministry throughout your many years in one congregation?”

The older pastor answered simply, “Do good worship and visit the people.”

Do good worship and visit the people. It is not that the pastor did not do anything else as a pastor other than worship and visitation. But he made sure that the center of the church’s life—worship—was inspiring, and he kept in touch with his congregation by visiting people regularly, by building relationships with people and connecting them to the life of the church. That is wise advice for me—Do good, inspiring worship, that involves and connects all of us to our God; and visit the people, building relationships, connecting people not just to me but to the community of faith that is Grace.

Back to Micah 6:8, it all starts with prayer, walking humbly with God, seeking God’s will for me, for my family, for our church. I am committed to walk with God as we seek to be God’s faithful people together, doing justice and loving kindness as we reach out to our neighbors faithfully and consistently with the love of Christ. Will you walk with me on this journey?

Walking with you in God’s amazing grace,

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Reply on Inerrancy

This got too long for a comment on my September 19, 2007 post, so I'll post it here too.


simul justis,

Thank you for your comment. Here is what the ELCA’s constitution says about Scripture (2.02b and 2.03):

The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.

This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.

That is not the same as stating that the Bible is inerrant. Inerrancy is a modern concept foreign to the Scriptures. As Donald Juel once noted in a seminary class, when Paul wrote his letters, he did not assume that his words came straight from the mouth of God, so that his readers just had to accept what he wrote as inerrant or infallible. No, he had to make his case, argue his position, appeal to Scripture (for him, the OT). It is quite possible, as I do, to affirm our constitution’s view of Scripture as the inspired word of God (I like to reserve the capital ‘W’ Word for Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to avoid turning the Bible into an idol – but a capital ‘W’ for the Bible is not inappropriate), without adopting the modernist view of Scripture as inerrant. Scripture is a collection of reliable witnesses to the work of God in the world, especially and uniquely through Jesus the Christ, who is the one truly ‘inerrant’ Word of God. Can you accept the Bible as reliable testimony to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, without needing to assert the Bible’s inerrancy? Inerrancy is a myth; it’s not a quality that the Bible actually has, when you actually read it. So, to base our preaching and teaching on a myth is to build our house on the sands of illusion and self-deception.

There is a false dichotomy here: either the Bible is inerrant and we can inerrantly read it, or anything goes, and we fall into chaos, where every perspective is equally valid and there is no truth. David Lose does a good job dissecting that false dichotomy in his book Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World (which I just started reading). The fact is, it is simply true that what we see depends in large part on where we stand. The fact is, we simply do read the Bible through lenses. This side of heaven, there is no neutral, unbiased reading of Scripture – we are finite and sinful. Yes, our lenses are human constructs; but do you read the Bible without one? That’s why it’s no surprise when Word Alone Network members read Scripture and find a socially conservative message there, and ‘progressive’ Christians read the same Scripture and find a progressive message. In both cases, what we see in Scripture tends to reflect our perspectives.

But, that is not to say that we are stuck in our perspectives. The Bible also challenges both conservatives and liberals. The text of God’s word cannot mean everything and anything. The word of God is alive and active. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God speaks to us through Scripture, upending our preconceived notions, challenging and expanding our perspectives. If we abandon the myth of inerrancy – which really means the abandonment of the belief that my reading of the Bible is inerrant – what we are left with, as David Lose argues, and as I argued back in college, is critical conversation. We wrestle with Scripture and with one another, seeking the truth and finding it, not in an ultimate, inerrant sense – only God is Truth with a capital ‘T’ - but truth for us today, how to live and love and serve and follow Jesus today. When I preach, I preach with confidence, confessing Jesus Christ to the congregation. But I do not preach infallibly or inerrantly. Anything I say about God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is likely to fall short of the ultimate, inerrant truth, which we’ll discover in the Kingdom of God. But it is the word of God preached to us today, it is ‘local theology’ that is reliable because, by God’s grace, it is grounded in the reliable witness of Scripture.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On Inerrancy

My latest document recovery: an article I wrote in response to William Dembski (of intelligent design fame) back in seminary on the question of the inerrancy (BTW, I almost made an error in how I spelled "inerrancy"):

Inerrancy? Eric P. Lemonholm

January 29, 1997

William Dembski wrote an intriguing article in the March 1996 Princeton Theological Review entitled “The Problem of Error in Scripture.” Dembski’s basic position seems to be shared by many here at PTS. The question I have is this: What difference does the doctrine of inerrancy make in how we read Scripture, and in how we live as Christians? Continue here...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I have uploaded today's sermon here.

I have also uploaded a seminary paper I wrote on Religious Conversion, and one I wrote on A Christian's Encounter with Hinduism.

I have found a lot of stuff I wrote long ago by sifting through old floppy disks and forgotten folders. It's kind of interesting to me (and hopefully to someone else), even though some of it is a bit adolescent. I'll continue to upload it in a somewhat random manner. Please don't take anything I wrote long ago as necessarily what I believe today, though there is undoubtedly a trajectory of belief.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women!] do nothing.

- Edmund Burke



Here is a comment I wrote on NewProclamation.com, to hopefully get a discussion started:

A perennial challenge for me is how to preach faithfully about potentially partisan issues. Now, I know our call is to preach the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. But we are also called to preach the law, which reveals our sin and drives us to Christ. It seems to me, that if we confine ourselves to 'personal' sin (though what sin is purely personal?), and ignore corporate sin, then we are being unfaithful to the biblical witness.

For example, I've recently compared the Word Alone Network and the ELCA's websites by searching for some key terms, and here are the number of hits I came up with (keep in mind that the ELCA website is much larger):



"Iraq" Word Alone: 5 (0 sustained reflections on the war) ELCA: 677

"Torture" Word Alone: 0 ELCA: 108

"Refugee" Word Alone: 0 ELCA: 534

"Immigration" Word Alone: 0 ELCA: 508

"Genocide" Word Alone: 1 (in an article comparing homosexual practice to it) ELCA: 97

"Poverty" Word Alone: 21 ELCA: 1730

"Homosexual" Word Alone: 149 ELCA: 247


Based on that list, on what is the Word Alone Network's sustained theological reflection focused? All of those are political issues, and every one that Word Alone ignores is an issue of corporate, national and international action.

So, without descending to partisanship, how do we preach faithfully and prophetically about the life and death issues of the day? If we remain silent in the face of evil social, political, and economic systems, are we not in fact supporting them, and bowing to the golden calves of nationalism, racism, imperialism, sexism, etc.?

I know I got a little hot under the collar on Tuesday night, when I wrote the long blog on the Word Alone Network. I am just sick of their claiming that title, when the ‘word alone’ that seems most important to them is sex. Another comparison between the Word Alone and ELCA websites: “Sudan” - Word Alone: 0, ELCA: 186. About genocide, the ELCA has 97 substantive references, compared to one mention of genocide on the Word Alone website in an article about – you guessed it – homosexuality; in fact, the article only mentions genocide to equate homosexual practices to other sins, like... “incest, rape, bestiality, genocide.” It reminds me of the difference between The Christian Century and Christianity Today magazines during the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the Century was printing articles by and about Martin Luther King, Jr. and about the civil rights movement, and Christianity Today was silent – for which an editor of Christianity Today has since apologized. Silence in the face of evil is an endorsement of the evil.

My hope, though, is not to get embroiled in fruitless partisan arguments. Generally, what you see in these church discussions on sexuality is various people of good will and intelligence, who genuinely believe in the authority of scripture (word alone), seeing and honestly interpreting scripture differently, out of our different perspectives. Is it any wonder that conservative people read the Bible and interpret it in line with their conservatism? Is it any wonder that liberals do the same, and interpret the Bible liberally? Is it any wonder that the reverse doesn't happen? I am not advocating relativism, but a recognition of reality. The discussion is still worthwhile, because we are not confined to the boxes of our perspectives. We can learn from one another, from Scripture, and the world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Breaking the Silence

On this sixth anniversary of 9/11, I remember and honor those who lost their lives in the acts of terror that day. I also honor all the American soldiers who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq since that day. I remember the hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi citizens killed directly or indirectly because of our actions in those countries.

I must reflect on the issue of partisanship today. I have been thinking about this especially since I received an issue of the Word Alone Network’s newsletter (located online here) especially Robert Benne’s article ‘Replacing the Center with the Periphery.’ Now, I resonate with many of the supposedly core concerns of Word Alone – the five ‘solas’ or ‘alones’ of the Reformation: salvation through Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, as revealed in scripture alone, with all glory to God alone (solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, soli Deo gloria). Now, how those ‘solas’ are understood or worked out theologically is another question, and I am sure that I differ from many Word Alone members (I am not a Word Alone member) in that regard. But I share the conviction that we need to keep the main thing the main thing – and that main ‘thing’ is a Person – Jesus Christ. If you put any other good thing in the center, be it social justice or peace or equality, for example, you actually work against those goods, because what properly motivates Christians to seek justice, peace, and equality is a living faith relationship with God through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Benne outlines a schema of concentric circles, with “core Christian beliefs” (the Triune God, etc.P at the center, “implications of Christian beliefs in history” next (Benne cites the example of “the overturning of slavery”), and finally specific “public policy and legislation” at the periphery. He then argues that the leadership of the ELCA treats the core as fuzzy, but is dogmatic about the periphery. That is to say, the ELCA treats the ‘solas’ as less than ‘sola,’ while peripheral issues take center stage. Specifically, Benne argues that the ELCA’s “social ethics and public policy commitments” suggest “a thorough accommodation to ‘the world’ - in this case to the world of left/liberal elite opinion.” Benne cites many ‘peripheral’ concerns of ELCA leaders as evidence of a liberal agenda, including “whether or not we should have invaded Iraq,” quotas to ensure “inclusivity,” “global warming,” and various commitments to fight racism, sexism, heterosexism, and imperialism.

Now, I am not particularly interested in defending the leadership of the ELCA in Chicago. I think they can do a capable job of that themselves, and frankly, I am more concerned with what’s happening on the local level of the church. Sometimes, I do share the Word Alone impression that the leadership of the ELCA is out of touch with what matters in the local church. For example, I recall all the energy the Bishop’s office spent in advocating Called to Common Mission – our full communion with the Episcopal Church. It caused a great deal of division in the church, and has very little practical effect in most churches. I cannot think of any practical difference it has made in either of the churches I have served. Episcopalians could receive communion in our churches before the agreement, and they can after. We could cooperate in mission before, and after, the agreement. The only practical difference my Bishop in Northeastern Minnesota could see coming from CCM was that, as Bishop, he now had to go to all ordinations in the synod, instead of almost all of them. It didn’t practically affect any of the 75,000 other Lutherans in the synod.

I also share the Word Alone Network’s concern to keep the ELCA decentralized and representative. The concentration of power in the offices of bishops would not, I believe, empower and enable the spread of the gospel at the local level.

But, here is what I find interesting: when you search the Word Alone Network’s website as Benne searched the ELCA website, you also find some interesting emphases. For example, whereas the ELCA website has 677 references to “Iraq,” many of which refer to statements by the Bishop’s office or social policy resolutions on the war, Journal of Lutheran Ethics articles on our ethical obligations to Iraq, etc.; a Word Alone website search turns up only 5 references to Iraq, none of which are serious reflections on the war. And yet, the Word Alone website has about 149 references to “homosexual,” while the whole ELCA website (a much larger archive than the Word Alone website) has 247. A third example: the Word Alone site has 0 references to “torture” and 0 references to “Abu Ghraib” to the ELCA’s 108 and 8. Poverty: 21 for Word Alone and 1,730 for the ELCA. Refugee: Word Alone – 0, ELCA – 534. Immigration as a contemporary issue: Word Alone – 0, ELCA – approximately 508. (Word Alone on “abortion” - 11, ELCA – 108.)

Benne argues that “public policy and legislation” issues are peripheral, and that would explain Word Alone’s silence on Iraq and torture. But their focus on homosexuality would imply that that is a central issue for them – and indeed, Benne puts “traditional Christian teaching on sexual morality” at the core of Christian convictions, along with “salvation through Christ alone” and “the Trinity itself.” Based on the material I receive from Word Alone, the seven verses in Scripture that seem to address homosexual behavior overwhelmingly outnumber (in importance) the 3,000 verses that address issues of justice for the poor and oppressed, the widows, orphans, and aliens. It is fascinating that Benne states that whether or not we should have invaded Iraq is a complex issue, about which “Christians of good will and intelligence differ” - but he does not say the same thing about homosexuality. For him and the Word Alone network, there is no room for differences on that issue. If I disagree with them on that supposedly core Christian issue, am I not a Christian of good will and intelligence?

I agree that the Iraq issue is complex, and Christians of good will and intelligence differ on it. The ELCA is a big tent, and in our congregations we have liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans and every other political persuasion. We will disagree on many issues. But thank God the leadership of the ELCA is at least taking a stand and engaging in the public sphere. They are a part of the conversation. From my admittedly partisan perspective, we Americans were duped by deliberate misinformation into a war in Iraq that was not necessary, that was incompetently managed for years with no consequences for incompetence, that has enriched the friends of our leaders who started the war, while taking the lives of thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and unleashing Al Qaeda and civil war into Iraq. Our missteps in the Middle East, including our growing tolerance for torture, have raised up a whole new generation of terrorists, and made Americans less safe for many years to come. Now, I wholeheartedly support our troops. They are striving hard to bring good out of the foolish decision our president made to shock and awe his way into the history books, and they are indeed bringing good out of evil at great cost to themselves.

Now, you can disagree with me about the war in Iraq, and still be a Christian of good will and intelligence. I, for example, have no clear opinion on when or how we should withdraw from Iraq. We made the mess there. I know we can’t just leave today and say “see ya!” I honestly do not know how to maximize the good and minimize the evil in Iraq in the near future.

But let’s talk about the Bible. Were the Hebrew prophets, like Amos, silent in the face of injustice, oppression, or violence? Did Jeremiah keep silent in the face of foreign affairs blunders that affected the safety of the nation of Judah? Did Jesus keep silent in the face of the religious-political-economic leaders in Jerusalem? Did John the author of Revelation keep silent in the face of the violence of Imperial Rome? Moving ahead in history, was Martin Luther silent about the major political and social issues of his day? Did he not at least have something to say about them? Why is Word Alone so focused on what committed, faithful homosexual couples do in bed, when war, terror, torture, starvation, mass homelessness, AIDS orphans in Africa (the list could go on) abound? Why are those issues not on their radar screen? Why be so bold in standing up to the supposed evil of blessing gay unions and so timid in facing the real pressing issues of our time? Are issues of justice and peace really peripheral Christian issues? Are they not pervasively biblical and theological? Is there no Christian response to, for example, torture?

Robert Benne has, indeed, lifted up the political and social concerns of the ELCA leadership which, indeed lean to the left – and more to the left than the average Lutheran church member. That’s not really surprising, any more than it is surprising that college professors tend to be more liberal than their students. And, I am not even, at this point, defending any single stand of the ELCA leadership, though I tend to agree with them on most of these issues (as you can see). But it is equally obvious that Word Alone, in its publications, has an equal and opposite bias. They have placed a conservative view of sexuality at the core, and moved the prophetic emphasis on justice and righteousness to the periphery. Their silence in the face of the evils of empire is a tacit approval of them. Benne rightly lifts up the Gospel as the center of church life, and the Word Alone Network serves a good purpose when it reminds us all of the priority of the Gospel, the ‘solas’ of the Christian faith. Would that Word Alone also truly kept the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the center, and not a conservative quietism that is silent in the face of social, national, and international evil.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Five Things My Children Should Know

I’ve been tagged by David at Here I Stand to write five things I want my children to know. It’s a great question as we prepare for a new year of Christian education at church. Here are my five (finally), sitting on the shoulders of giants:
  1. See things as they are, not as you wish them to be – including yourself. David McCullough lifted this up as a strength of George Washington, and it was also a strength of Abe Lincoln and Jane Eyre. So much good leadership and good judgment depends on seeing yourself and the world clearly.

  2. Be honest with yourself and others. This is related to number one. Be transparent. Be real. Be the same person in all contexts. Don’t hide your limitations and strengths. Let the real you shine forth.

  3. Do justice. Be fair. Challenge and strive to change unjust social structures. Treat all people as equals. Treat all people as children of God. Realize, for example, that an Iraqi life is as precious to God as an American life.

  4. Love mercy. Share your bananas. Help the poor. Visit the sick and imprisoned, Clothe the naked. House the homeless. Help those in need.

  5. Walk humbly with your God. Pray. Read the Bible. Have an inner life. Make space in your life for silence, reflection, listening. Be open to hearing God speak through many voices in your life.

BTW, I'll tag Kris with this list.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Wedding Message

I don't think I've ever posted a wedding homily here before, so here's my latest:

2007-8-25

Wedding Message for Robert and Tanya

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

Lessons: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

I Corinthians 12:31-13:13


What a beautiful day for a wedding.

What a beautiful day to celebrate the joining together of two beloved friends.

Bob and Tanya’s love for each other is a gift from God.

Their relationship is a gift.

Today, Bob and Tanya are sealing their love with a lifelong commitment.

We are all witnesses of the bond Tanya and Bob are making today.

We also bear witness that God blesses this couple and their marriage today and for as long as they both shall live.



Most of you have heard Paul’s words about love from 1st Corinthians 13 at other weddings.

Love is so important – the most important force in the universe.

The Bible tells us that “God is love.”

Love is not just a feeling we have. We do feel love. But feelings come and go.

Love is more than a feeling. It is action and commitment.

We show our love by what we do, by how we act toward others – not just once but every day for a lifetime.

Paul tells us some things that we do when we truly love.

We are patient and kind.

We are not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

We do not insist on our own way; we are not irritable or resentful; we do not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in the truth.

We bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.

True love never ends. Never.

Prophecies about the future will pass away.

Knowledge will cease.

A lot of things that we think are important will end.

But love will remain.

Our faith in God will become sight, the lived experience of being in God’s presence in God’s kingdom forever.

Our hope for the future will be fulfilled by the God of hope.

Both faith and hope will be made perfect in love.

Love will never end. That’s the message of the good news of Jesus. Jesus shows us God’s heart of love and mercy, by living for us, dying for us, and rising from the dead for us and all creation.



Today, we celebrate love, the true love between Bob and Tanya.

Each of them will experience a little of God’s love through each another and the love that binds them together.

Listen again to the reading from Ecclesiastes 4...

Two are better than one... And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Today, Tanya and Robert are two people, joined together from this day forward. And, together they are stronger than they could ever be alone, because of the love of God that binds them and strengthens them. Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Reply to David

Here is a comment I tried to post to David's reply to my August 5 sermon (blogger wouldn't let me post it):

Thank you, David. Perhaps our challenge as Christian leaders is to give people good compelling reasons to give. I remember, as a child, my grandfather giving $1 each Sunday at church. It was also what he always left as a tip. I think that, at some point, it was a generous offering and tip, but by the 80's we (my family) would have to sneak back the table at a restaurant and supplement his dollar.

Here's something I wrote in the latest sermon, and I can't remember where I read it, but I read it somewhere last week:

Christian thinker Ron Sider has figured out that if all the Christians in the USA alone were to tithe – give 10% of our income – we could provide basic nutrition and healthcare to all the poor in the world, and have about $70 billion left over each year.

How differently the Third World would see the USA if it was our priority to save life rather than to take it! The best way to store up treasure in heaven is to give our earthly treasure to people in need. As St. Augustine said, the bellies of the poor are the best storerooms for our extra grain.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Law and Gospel

I've uploaded a new sermon here. In it, I comment on a local (Fargo) controversy about the Ten Commandments.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, through God’s Spirit of love and life.


As we read or hear the Bible, God confronts us with two realities: the Law and the Gospel.

In our readings for today, we get a healthy dose of both... (continue here).

Saturday, June 30, 2007

G00qle Adz

I just experimented with having G00qle Adz on this blog for a day or two, but I found that what was advertised were creepy religious websites that did not reflect what I'm trying to say - anti-Trinitarian, anti-Christian, etc. So, no more of that.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Plurality. Rationality, and Christian Faith

This is the beginning of putting some of my old writings online. The basic idea is a personal project, to recover or dig up my old writings, with the help of scanning technology, and share them.

The following paper was the final version of a longer paper I wrote on the subject of the rationality of religious belief. The original paper, which I completed for a NEH Younger Scholars program, focused on William James and William Alston.

Plurality. Rationality, and Christian Faith

Eric P. (Holm) Lemonholm

November 8, 1993

Introduction

This paper is an exploration of three related topics: Christian faith, rationality, and the present pluralistic situation. The problem can be posed in many different ways, including the following: Given the reality of the competing religions and philosophies of our present situation, how is it reasonable or rational to be a Christian? How can one find truth amidst the conflicting truth-claims of the various belief systems? How can one combine the requirements of both faith and reason? There is a plurality of religions in the world; how can one be a Christian in the midst of this plurality, and how should one treat people of other faiths? This paper will examine several answers to these questions. Continue here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Trinity

Sorry I've been so quiet here lately, except for sermons.
Here are some quotes I shared on NewProclamation.com about the upcoming Holy Trinity Sunday:

Greetings! Holy Trinity Sunday is fast approaching. It has been a long time since I have contributed to the community forum. In the interest of changing that trend, here are some fruits of my reading this week.

In the past few months, I have been writing my sermons mostly on Saturdays, and then I feel foolish sharing something on this forum at the last minute. But, perhaps Saturday postings would not be inappropriate, as some of us take another look at our sermon on Saturday, and (gasp!) do a final revise early Sunday morning. I know that, no matter how prepared I am to preach, I am up at 4 AM Sunday mornings. It’s my preparation routine.

David Burrell, in The Christian Century, May 15, 2007, p. 31: “The philosopher C.S. Pierce [sic – the correct spelling is ‘Peirce’] taught me that conversations need to happen in threes. Bipolar relationships can get stuck. Why else do we have marriage counselors? You need a third party.”

Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace, p. 291: “I happened across a metaphor for the Trinity, in Tertullian, of all people, arguably the most curmudgeonly theologian of all the curmudgeons of the early church. It’s an image of the Trinity as a plant, with the Father as a deep root, the Son as the shoot that breaks forth into the world, the Spirit as that which spreads beauty and fragrance, ‘fructifying the earth with flower and fruit.’”

On the connection between Easter and Pentecost, still applicable to Holy Trinity Sunday, Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, p. 16: “To recognize the risen Christ and to experience the energies of our own rebirth in the Spirit of the resurrection are one.”

Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, p. 57: “God loves the world with the very same love which he himself is in eternity. God affirms the world with the energy of his self-affirmation. Because he not only loves but is himself love, he has to be understood as the triune God. Love cannot be consummated by a solitary subject. An individuality cannot communicate itself: individuality is ineffable, unutterable. If God is love he is at once the lover, the beloved and the love itself. Love is the goodness that communicates itself from all eternity. The theology of love is a theology of the Shekinah, a theology of the Holy Spirit. This means that it is not patriarchal, but rather feministic. For the Shekinah and the Holy Spirit are ‘the feminine principle of the Godhead.’”

Robert W. Jenson, Sytematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 158—“For the whole divine life begins with the Father and is actual through the Son and is perfected in the Holy Spirit.”

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bedtime Theology

I'm putting my youngest child, age 4, to bed tonight. Here's part of the dialog:

So, is Jesus in heaven?
Yes.
Is Jesus also here?
Yes.
How?
God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit can be in lots of places at the same time.
How can God do that?
Well, God's pretty amazing...
So, can God ride a unicycle, paint, and wear a dog costume at the same time?
I think so.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dick Cheney and Logic

This frustrates me. Again, Vice President Dick Cheney has said of the Democrats in the House, "They're not supporting the troops. They're undermining them," because, though they fully fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan above and beyond what the president asked, they have proposed a timetable to end the war and bring the troops home. It may be a good idea or it may be a bad idea, and it's worth debating on its military, political, and practical merits.

But Cheney's logic is skewed: In his rhetoric, "supporting the troops" equals keeping them in a (civil) war zone, while establishing a timetable to bring them home is "undermining them." Soldiers I know who have been or are stationed in Iraq do not complain about a lack of support when their tour of duty in Iraq ends and they get to come home. They don't say, "Please don't undermine me by sending me home. Support me by leaving me here for another year."

Mr. Vice President, please debate the House on the merits of their plan. Don't cover up your administration's errors of judgment and execution with empty, illogical rhetoric about troop support. Don't say "support our troops" when you mean "obey the President."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

In reaction to my sermon posted on February 28, Rabbi Jonah posted this reply:
So. Why do you feel the need to question the integrity of the Pharisees that came to warn Jesus?

It seems anti-semitic to me...the age old adversos Judeos tradition in Lutheran theology.

Doesn't make sense.
I responded with this:
Rabbi Jonah,
Good question. All too often, the Pharisees are caricatured or demonized in Christian writings and speech (and action), and that is unacceptable. The fact that Jesus and many Pharisees interacted so often is a testament to how close they are - Jesus' disagreements with, and criticisms of, Pharisees are a family affair, brother to brother, Jew to Jew.

I guess that, having been reading Luke for a while this year, I was set up to be suspicious of the motives of these Pharisees - which is unfair to them and a reading into the text something that is not there. I am sorry for that error. Thank you for correcting me. Thinking of the wonderful Pharisees in scripture - including Nicodemus, Gamaliel, and Saul/Paul, it is foolish and false to paint them all with a villainous brush.

Personally, whenever I read about Pharisees in the Bible, I try to apply any of Jesus' criticisms of them to me - after all, I am a 'religious professional.' If Jesus walked in the flesh today, he'd have lots to say against the religious people of the world.

I also recognize that much of the Newer Testament reflects the internecine feud between the early Christian movement and the Jewish community from which it broke away. I reject any notion of supersessionism, as if Christianity has superseded God's promises and covenant with Israel. The fact that I believe the Christian message (which I comprehend dimly, as in a mirror, to quote an apostate Pharisee) to be true in no way entails that your faith is false or deficient.

Thank you for reminding me of the insidious and subtle nature of prejudice.
In looking back, I realize a couple things. First, I should have clarified in whose scripture Nicodemus, Gamaliel, and Saul/Paul are mentioned as Pharisees (the Christian Newer Testament, of course). Second, I went back to my sermon of three years ago (of which this was a last minute update), and realized that the prejudicial comment was in that old sermon. Hopefully, I will be a wiser, more gracious preacher in the future than I was in the past.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mission and Vision Notes

Eric Paul Lemonholm
March 18, 2007

As we seek to be God’s faithful people in this place and time, how can we welcome the lost sons and daughters?
How can we keep watch for them and run to them, and embrace them?
How can we celebrate their arrival in our midst?
How can we encourage and nurture the older sons and daughters who are always with us?

Take a look at the Mission Feedback and Vision handout in your bulletin.
The first side has the results of our Mission Session last Sunday. We asked the question, What do we do? What has been God’s mission for Grace Lutheran? Here is what we came up with, including Scripture references:

MISSION - What We Do:
Grace by grace, seeking to be God’s faithful people
Listening Post Feedback, March 11, 2007
Grace Lutheran Church

Prayer – Pray without ceasing! (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Fellowship – Do not neglect to meet together (Hebrews 10:25)

Day to Day volunteers – Service - We are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:10)

Children – teaching, Day Camp, Camp Emmaus – Let the little children come to me! (Matthew 19:14)

Visitation – homebound, hospital, friends in need – Visit the sick (Matthew 25:36)

Food Pantry – Feed the hungry (Matthew 25:35)

Quilters – Clothe the naked (Matthew 25:36)

Today, instead of having a visioning session during our fellowship hour, I want you to take this handout home.
Pray over these questions:

March 18, 2007: VISION - What We are Becoming
Frederick Buechner: “Vocation is where the world’s greatest need and a person’s greatest joy meet.”  Vocation means calling, what God has called you to be and do.  Our task is to discern our church’s vocation, our calling by God, what God has called us to be and do as a congregation. 
Surroundings

  • What is God already doing in my/our neighborhood that I/we could join in?

  • What needs attention in my/our neighborhood that I/we could address?
Passions & Gifts

  • What stirs my/our heart as it relates to the redemptive work of Christ in the world?

  • What skills/abilities do I/we have to offer?

  • What is God telling me/us through my/our surroundings, story, and passions?

  • What are the world’s, or our community’s, greatest needs, and how are we called to meet those needs as we live out our joy?ix

Pray over these questions, in the light of the gracious welcome of our forgiving and loving God.
Answer these questions from your heart.
Bring your answers back next Sunday, or mail it to church.
Visioning is not something we can rush.
We want to hear from as many members of Grace as possible.
We’ll also include this in our April newsletter.
So take your time.
Reflect. Pray. Talk with one another. Seek God’s vision for Grace.

Let us pray. God, you have given us a mission in this time and place. Give us a vision for what you want us to be and do. Make it a vision big enough to stretch us and reach our community and our world with your grace and mercy, your justice and peace. Grow us in grace and send us forth to do your will. Amen.
ixSome questions adapted from www.marshill.org

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Abba Zeno

Abba Zeno, Desert Father:

If you want God to hear your prayer quickly, then before you pray for anything else, even your own soul, when you stand and stretch out your hands toward God, you must pray with all your heart for your enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that you ask.

(From Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 67, altered)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lemonholm

Our name is pretty unique, so of course no spelling dictionary includes it.

OpenOffice Spell Check suggestions for “Lemonholm”:

  1. Lemonade

  2. Pigeonhole

  3. Buttonhole

  4. Clemons

  5. Lemony

What's your favorite correction for our name?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pastor's Annual Report

Here is my annual report to the congregation for 2006, written on the first anniversary, to the day, of our arrival here. It has been a wonderful first year of ministry.


Dear Members of Grace Lutheran Church,

It is with gratitude that I look back on my first year as your pastor. Mindy, the children, and I are so thankful to be here at Grace. On December 18, we celebrated the first anniversary of Grace’s vote to call me as pastor (on the day of our new building dedication at our church in Eveleth). Today January 15, 2007, we remember our move from the Iron Range one year ago – with the help of so many people who helped us move or helped prepare the parsonage. After so many transitions and big events at my former congregation, then a move to Detroit Lakes, and then building our new addition and getting to know you here at Grace, it feels like we are finally catching our breath as a family and settling in to our new community. We are grateful for the warm welcome we have received at Grace and in the community.

2006 was a year of building our church physically. A tremendous effort by dozens of volunteers has culminated in a functional, beautiful addition to our building. All of you who were able to help with the building effort, thank you! All of you who were able to help by supplying food for the volunteers or financial or other kinds of support, thank you! All of you who helped with prayer support, thank you! Of course, a lot of other good things have happened at Grace this year: read through the excellent articles of this Annual Report and see for yourself.

2007 will be a year of building our church’s mission and outreach. We will discover God’s vision for Grace, and our mission will flow from that vision. Grace’s mission is this: Grace by grace, seeking to be God’s faithful people. Our goals for 2007 are to grow both Christian discipleship at Grace (especially with youth and adults, but also children and confirmands), and outreach in our community. How, specifically, are we to accomplish those goals? I want your help and input to set our course for 2007 and beyond. So, beginning in Lent, we will have regular meetings during our fellowship time (between the worship services) to discover together how, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can best fulfill our mission.

One thing to keep in mind: As we grow as a church, we will experience growing pains. That is to be expected. We are approaching the line between a “pastoral sized” church (50-150 in worship each week) and a “program sized” church (150-350). As you approach that line, you move from a model where the pastor is involved in much of the ministry of the church, to a model where the pastor and other leaders primarily work to recruit, train, and support lay people to do the main ministry of the church. There is sometimes the temptation to derail growth, to keep a church at a smaller size. We must resist that temptation, even as we find ways to keep a warm, friendly, family church spirit.

As in any family and any church, sometimes there is conflict, differences of opinion, or clashes of personalities in our church family. As a ‘historian’ here at Grace this year, I have learned a little about conflicts and miscommunication in our church’s history. Even Jesus’ disciples had disagreements and personality conflicts. These things happen in every church – if you read Paul’s letters to churches in the New Testament, you see the same dynamics. Paul’s wrote this in his First Letter to the Corinthian church, 12:4-7:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

If we can step back and take a larger view, perhaps we can see that we are not alone in having conflicts. With a larger perspective, we will not be surprised by conflict, but will expect it, grow through it, learn from it, and work together to fulfill our mission. We will also learn that, in most situations, both sides can learn to relate to each other in Christian love. That is my hope and prayer. Let us “begin with the end in sight”: that is, let us focus on the desired outcome, and work step-by-step to achieve it. It may take time and effort, but it will be worth it. The desired outcome for us is to be a church that is harmonious, with a clear vision and mission, clear ministry descriptions and clear communication, which allows for everyone to use our different gifts and service for the common good of sharing Christ with our neighbors.

It is an exciting time in the life of our church. We are just now beginning to make use of our new addition. We have more room for youth, children, and family events. It is my hope, prayer, and conviction that 2007 will be a growing year at Grace – growing in prayer, in mission, in faith, in the circle of our church family.

Walking with you in God’s amazing grace into 2007,

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

Friday, January 05, 2007

Luke and Inspiration

This is a continuation, in a way, of what I wrote earlier today on “Interpreting Jesus.” Since the summer, I have been slowly reading Walter Brueggemann's Theology of the Old Testament (having come out of a long theological and biblical slumber). So far, I have been intrigued by the vision of the OT as a complex conversation (debate, disputation?) about the God of Israel - a conversation we, in our own way, continue. The point, I think, is not that there is no truth, but that the truth is complex, dense, thick. There is no knock down argument to once and for all win the argument. Perhaps, then, the point is to continue the conversation honestly, faithfully, openly.

The interpretation of the Older Testament as a conversation about God holds also, I believe, for the Newer Testament. This week, I have been studying Luke chapter 1. Read Luke’s preface to his account of Jesus in Luke 1:1-4:
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.


Here are some points that strike me about this passage.

First, “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” Numerous people have written Gospels, accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. Every Gospel is unique, and every Gospel was written by a different person with a different voice, a different perspective, and different sources. When you read the four Gospels, especially in the original Greek, you are struck by the truth of this.

Second, these accounts record what was “ handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” Luke and the other Gospel writers are for the most part second or third generation followers of Jesus, putting in writing what was handed orally to them.

Third, by his own testimony, Luke’s Gospel is a human work, a product of the author’s careful investigation. Luke is testifying to the truth of what he has written down. His intention as an author is to convince Theophilus (‘friend of God’) of the truth of the narrative he is beginning. See also the beginning of his sequel to Luke in Acts 1:1-2 - “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” Who wrote the first book? “I” did, says the author.

I believe that the Bible is inspired testimony, by many authors, of God’s character and actions in the world. But for a Christian view of biblical inspiration, you have to look to scripture itself. I believe Luke’s testimony, that he actually wrote Luke and Acts. If you could go back in time and find the author of Luke and ask him, no doubt he (?) would tell you that he wrote it. He would also tell you that he believes in what he wrote, and believes it is an accurate account of Jesus’ life and ministry. He might even tell you he was inspired to write it. What he probably would not express to you is a belief in the inerrancy of what he wrote, or a belief that he was nothing but a tool in God’s hand, a word processor for God.

In any case, a view of divine inspiration of Scripture has to respect the nature of the works of Scripture. You misread Paul’s letters, for example, if you deny that they are actually letters, by Paul, to other Christians.