Monday, October 27, 2008

Honoring the poor

Anchoress has a story on her blog,
    I have a cousin who is a priest. He has worked in some absolute hellholes and he’s also rubbed elbows with the very privileged. He notes that it’s only the very rich who want to strip down churches into bare halls, or who want to serve Communion in wicker baskets because “that honors the poor.” The poor don’t really appreciate the wealthier folks deciding what “honors” them, he tells me. Condescension, for example, doesn’t do it.
I wondered about that the Sundays we visited and worshiped at our Hilltop campus. Our UA members and song leaders would wear jeans and try to imitate their culture in the songs. The locals would wear the best they had and were such a mix I think our folks might have seemed a bit condescending in music choices. Were we honoring them with some sort of false identification with what we thought they should look like? Is there anything wrong with being just us for justice?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Papists, coxcombs, conspirators, thieves, blockheads and fanatics

The political season is a good time to read Martin Luther. The Reformer had a lot of enemies, both within the Roman Church and among the other Reformers who thought he hadn't gone far enough. No one can smear an enemy with the delicious detail and snarky cleverness of Martin Luther. However, you really need to note carefully the dates of his writing (preaching), because his thoughts evolved. Like from 1519 to 1520! My goodness, what a change.

Luther from the beginning of his understanding of the work of Jesus Christ determined that only baptism, the Lord's Supper and preaching of the Word were forms of the gospel, means for a personal, powerful encounter with Christ. Other reformers ran on ahead proclaiming that the bread and cup were only memorials and that baptism depended on human understanding and decision, not on grace. This led to some nasty fights and name calling. The Roman teaching was seven sacraments not two, so although Luther was respectful and even humble in his early disagreements and writings, thinking he just needed to jettison the extras that had been added the last two or three hundred years, he soon learned what we all do in politics and religion, follow the money. No one accepts loss of power, prestige and wealth gracefully.

As a librarian, I particularly enjoyed his recommendation that the papists burn his books and pamphlets--the early ones in which he treated the Pope with respect and love--saying that he had learned so much from the Grand Inquisitor and the censors, that now selling those books would be robbing men of money!
    "Some 2 years ago I wrote on indulgences, but in such a way that I now deeply regret having published that little book (an explanation of the 95 theses). At that time I still clung with a mighty superstition to the tyranny of Rome, and so I held that indulgences should not be altogether rejected, seeing that they were approved by the common consent of so many. . . thanks to Sylvester (became Grand Inquisitor and wrote against Luther), and aided by those friars who so strenuously defended indulgences, I saw that they were nothing but impostures of the Roman flatterers, by which they rob men of their money and their faith in God.

    Would that I could prevail upon the booksellers and persuade all who have read them to burn the whole of my booklets on indulgences, and instead of all that I have written on this subject adopt this proposition: INDULGENCES ARE WICKED DEVICES OF THE FLATTERERS OF ROME.

    Next, Eck and Emser (Johann Eck and Jerome Emser, professors, humanists and critics) and their fellow-conspirators undertook to instruct me concerning the primacy of the pope. Here too, not to prove ungrateful to such learned men, I acknowledge that I have profited much from their labors. For while I denied the divine authority of the papacy, I still admitted its human authority. But after hearing and reading the super-subtle subtleties of these coxcombs, with which they so adroitly prop up their idol (for my mind is not altogether unteachable in these matters), I now know for certain that the papacy is the Kindom of Babylon and the power of Nimrod, the mighty hunter.

    Once more, therefore, that all may turn out to my friends' advantage, I beg both the booksellers and my readers that after burning what I have published on this subject they hold to this proposition: THE PAPACY IS THE GRAND HUNTING OF THE BISHOP OF ROME. This is proved by the arguments of Eck, Emser, and the Leipzig lecturer on the Scriptures (Augustinus Alveld, a Franciscan). "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, [1520]" Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings [English], Fortress Press, 1989, p. 267-268. Note: the 2005 ed. has been scanned by Google

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Good News, Bad News, Our Views

Martin Luther wrote and taught and preached a theology of the word
    "with the theologian already drawn into the stuggle between God's "good news" in Christ and Satan's "bad news" in the temptation to become God (Gen. 3:5). Luther saw no neutral ground between the gospel and Satan, between God's revelation in Christ and the mysterious opposition to it by hardened hearts. . .The Christian theologian must concentrate on what God has disclosed rather than on what is mysteriously hidden. Luther expressed the most important aspect of his theological method, which is the hallmark of the way Lutherans learn to talk about God." A history of Lutheranism by Eric W. Gritsch, (Augsburg Fortress, 2002), pp. 42-43.
That's about the best explanation I've read on why so many Christian authors don't appeal to me. When I see "mystery" or "secrets of" or "how to" in the title or sub-title of a book or video series, I know it will be a snooze for me. If God kept it so well hidden that it took a Rick Warren or a TV preacher warning about the signs of end times, or a weight loss guru with Bible verses, then perhaps he didn't want me to find it. Actually, I don't meet many Lutherans who read anything Luther wrote. I think they assume that a 16th century writer couldn't speak to today's problems, or that he might be difficult. He isn't; he's delightful, and clear, and writes on every imaginable topic, but always from the middle of the good news/bad news struggle--never off from afar as an observer. He's got every tool to fight the humanist's vision as man at the center of the universe, if we'd just use them.
    We have to argue one way about God or the will of God as preached, revealed, offered and worshipped, and in another way about God as God is not preached, not revealed, not offered, not worshipped. To the extent, therefore, that God hides and wills to be unknown to us, it is no business of ours. . . God must therefore be left to God in divine majesty, for in this regard we have nothing to do with God. But we have something to do with God insofar as God is clothed and set forth in the divine word, through which he offers himself to us. Luther's Works, vol. 33:139

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shine like the stars adorning heaven

When asked whether godly persons already justified should expect some merit on account of their good works that follow justification, Luther observed that the already justified remain sinners and need to pray for forgiveness for their sins in this life.
    "Surely God gives works to individuals, but differently, as one star differs from another. Yet all of these are under the forgiveness of sins. As heaven (that is, justification) is under grace, so much the more are the stars. As the stars don't make heaven but only adorn it, so works don't merit heaven but only adorn justifying faith. This is the only reasoning that solves everything: "I believe in Jesus Christ, who suffered under Pilate for us." Everything is his, nothing is ours. Afterward, when by grace we are sons of God, we differ in our gifts, just as there are different stars in heaven." "Table Talk," no. 4331, January 1539, Luther's Works, v. 54, p. 328-329, (Fortress Press, 1967).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Taking the food stamp challenge

It was a bit off-putting for me that an unmarried couple took the food stamp challenge and was featured in the Feb. 2008 of The Lutheran. But maybe they were just eating together, not sharing a bed. When a guy and gal are listed as engaged, and they're eating a food stamp challenge diet, your imagination takes over.

Anyway, it was only 5 days, and he is a chef making omelets, fresh-baked bread, stir-fry dishes and homemade soups. Yet they were complaining by the end of the week. Seems they do know the beauty of buying 5 lbs of potatoes and 2 lbs of onions, and 3 lbs of carrots but yearned for yogurt, shakes, and bars.
    "Jason Mendoza and his fiancee, Krista Oppie, like many other Lutherans, took the Food Stamp Challenge to learn firsthand about the hardships that millions of low-income Americans face in obtaining a healthy diet under current food stamp benefit levels. At presstime, Congress was in the process of reauthorizing or writing a new U.S. Farm Bill, which includes the Food Stamp Program. The ELCA Washington Office has encouraged Lutherans to call or write their member of Congress to ask that the per-meal benefit for the Food Stamp Program be raised."
Qualifying for food stamps does not mean you have no income or resources, but it is not intended for you to eat high on the hog, as we used to say back in the days when my dad thought crumbled crackers with sugar in a dish of cold stewed tomatoes was "dessert."

The article says they grew tired physically and mentally--you know the routine, stress at work, busy schedules, and sameness in the diet. Oppie says she now has more sympathy for the 35,000,000 who are hungry. No Oppie, they are not hungry on this plan--they may be bored, cranky and ungrateful, but they certainly aren't hungry. They are allowed to have income, and savings and a car and still qualify. They can go to the food pantry and get 3 days of food each month. Also, most people get out of their difficult circumstances quickly, unless someone, or some agency makes it easier to stay put and give up. And if they are married, they have very little chance of being poor.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Did God change his mind?

About 15 years ago our congregation used to gather on a grassy, park like spot and worship, dreaming of a new church building. We met in small prayer groups seeking guidance, and the story I was told was that we didn't make a move until there was discernment for the next step. The new church opened New Year's Eve 2000 and filled up. One of the reasons it filled so quickly is that we had 6 or so services at the old building and we were encouraged to worship in the new facility to get some balance. For maybe two years, people sort of worshiped here and there, and eventually settled into one spot (traditional, contemporary, and x-alt). People settled according to 1) music tastes, 2) where friends and family were worshiping, 3) which preacher was where, and 4) time. Then it seems God spoke again because we absorbed yet another facility, Hilltop Lutheran, which was struggling but had an excellent physical plant. Again, prayer, meetings, discernment. Yes, God wanted us to have an urban witness. Another group relocated to help populate that church.

I've sort of lost track--I think in 2006 we had 11 services, in 2007 10, and now maybe it is 9. But our original plan to be one congregation (whisper: mega-church) with three campuses has been difficult to manage. The first split I noticed was the choir, which the first few years served both buildings (bussed across the river). Then the traditional service at Mill Run was so poorly attended it was dropped, so those people had to shift back to Lytham, if they wanted liturgy. But some never returned and just changed to a different worship style. Meanwhile, Lytham started losing people, even those who lived near by, because adult children and grandchildren were worshiping at Mill Run. Then an x-alt service was added and it is always crowded with people who like that loud, thumpy music.

Now it's fall 2008. Someone on the staff, not sure who, has decided instead of one congregation we are now 9 (or 10, not sure) worship communities. Since we were told years ago that we'd been called to be one kind of church, this has left us scratching our heads on how to do this. There weren't any meetings on the grass or big prayer meetings, that I know of. But maybe something was happening when we were at Lakeside during the summer.

Instead of rotating the pastors from pulpit to pulpit, we will now all have a traditional arrangement. Everything will have to have a service and pastor behind it. Sort of like a town of 4,000 with 9 churches whose members wave on the corner, or at the store, who have Bible school together, and occasionally cooperate for a project.

We've been in the Visual Arts Ministry for nine years, our 10 members all attend different services and we hang shows at 2 locations; I'm in Women of the Word, which has about 5 meeting times in 2 locations--its the only thing I do regulary at Mill Run although I worship at Lytham; my husband is in the Haiti ministry which draws its volunteers from all services; the food pantry and clothes closet draws from all the services, as does the Highland school volunteers; our SALT (couples Bible study) has 8 couples attending 4 services; the advent and lenten services meeting at both locations, so we don't even see each other for those smaller gatherings; Bible school draws from all services and also other churches; Sunday school times are usually between services, so I'm assuming they draw from both. Frankly, we don't actually know very many people in the service where we worship, now we feel doubly shut out, yet this is supposed to be "our church." When we see people we know in the narthex, they are often going in to the next service and we stop and chat a few minutes.

This feels like an unwanted, unasked for divorce from our congregation.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

American Lutheran Church in Norway

At one time, the Lutherans in the United States were heavily ethnic, and the synods reflected that. When we joined UALC in 1976 is was part of the American Lutheran Church which was a meld or merger of various Scandanavian synods. Then in 1988 the ALC merged with the Lutheran Church of America which I think may have been from its early English speaking roots in the USA with some non-Missouri Germans. The new name was Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA. Today I was reading a Norwegian newspaper on-line and discovered there is an American Lutheran Church in Oslo, Norway, founded in 1958. Here's the article, but its website is down for remodeling at the moment. I think the USA probably needs missionaries these days from China and Africa to revitalize our denominations. It looks as though you can hear a sermon in English in Oslo.
    Sunday worship services are held at 11 am.
    The pastor is the Rev. Stephan M. Kienberger.

    The congregation's Mission Statement reads: "The mission of the American Lutheran Congregation is to bring people of different nations and denominations together, and in the English language empower them into becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ."