Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sticking with Jesus

Those who have been following this blog or the ELCA assembly action know this has been quite a week. Emotions have run high and low. For me this week seems, at least now, like it's the end of an era.

It was at the Minneapolis Convention Center in 1980 that I first heard a personal call to serve as a pastor in what was then the American Lutheran Church (ALC). This week, in the same location, I was present when the highest legislative body in the ELCA*, the churchwide assembly, made what I think are some major changes in church teaching.** These changes made me, and others, wonder about our future within the ELCA. (See Friends for the Journey to know that we're not alone.)

As I do that, I will not forget my responsibility to the people of my local church. Most likely many people don't understand the importance of what happened at the assembly. Though what happened at the assembly seems quite traumatic for me, lots of people may just be scratching their heads at what they've heard on the news, not quite sure what to think. Many people have gay or lesbian friends or family members. Some members of our local church probably don't understand why I'm not happy.

So, as I prepare for worship tomorrow, I need to remember, more than anything else, that it's my responsibility to preach the good news of forgiveness, salvation and transformation through the unconditional love of God through Jesus Christ. Fortunately, the gospel reading for tomorrow points in that direction.

At a very difficult time in Jesus' ministry, when his teachings had led many to question whether they would stay with him or not, Jesus turned to his disciples and said:
"Do you also wish to go away?"

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Whether or not we stick with a particular church denomination, the most important thing is sticking with Jesus, who reached out to the outcast and the sinner, claiming them as his own.

*In 1987 the ALC merged with the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
**I found a helpful summary of some of these changes on the website of Bethel Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs, CO. Click this link to go to the page.


  1. Steve -
    Thank you for the reminder of the bigger picture. That when it is confusing and frustrating - we focus on what is perfect and never ending - the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus. We will continue to pray for you and Toni as this ripples. Love ya brother. Paulg

  2. Thanks, brother Paul. One day at a time. Let's get together sometime soon!

  3. After about an hour of trying to express my thoughts and feelings, I'm satisfied that it cannot be done in words. It is nothing short of heartbreaking.

    That this issue was even a point of discussion, let alone eligable for a vote and passing, is without excuse. I have been blessed to witness a close friend coming to Christ and accepting all of scripture as true, even the parts that were very unsettling to her worldly beliefs. Then and ONLY then did she experience the full peace, freedom and fulfillment that is in Jesus. Every line of scripture rejected by each resolution passed at an ELCA assembly is replaced with a shackle of sin that binds up the members who believe and follow the resolution. The true heart wrenching reality of this week's vote is not about homosexuality, it's about how many chains already existed in order for this vote to come to pass.

    I wish you God's blessings in your battle for the truth and pray for guidance as you return to your congregation.

    John 8:31-32 - To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

    1 John 1:8-9 - If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

    James 1:21 - Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

    2 Peter 2:19,21 - They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him...It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.

  4. Good morning, anonymous. I hope sometime we'll be able to talk personally. The ELCA, and I myself to some extent, do have a view of scripture that allows us to talk and question and debate. One of the things I treasure about the ELCA is our *official* view of scripture, as enshrined in the constitution. Lutherans in general believe that there is a CENTER to scripture, that being the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, and that God's love given through Jesus rules every other line of scripture. I know some are feel that some subjects should not be discussed at all, but Lutherans, for better or worse, tend to argue Christ against the "letter of the law" in some cases. That's why, for us, the discussion gets messier than it does for others. If you'd be willing to let me know from your point of view why this issue of sexuality and homosexuality should not have been a point of discussion, I'd appreciate it very much. I appreciate the story of your friend who was enabled, by God's grace, to receive the scriptures as true and authoritative for her life. My own personal story is much like hers, and I experienced, as she did, freedom and healing when I accepted the whole law of God as binding on my life. Anyway, thanks for the comment, thank you for your offer to pray, and I hope we'll be able to talk more about this personally at some point.

  5. I do understand the challenges that have made this issue so difficult and why it is not such a clear cut answer for many involved in the discussion. In answer to your question about why this shouldn't have even been a point of discussion is that this isn't even about the "letter of the law." For this to be discussed, voted on and passed required ignoring large sections of scripture covering the definition of marriage, the definition of a Godly family structure, the law on sexuality and the expectations of clergy and lay persons. This is no longer about letters and punctuation. If a church is going to be based on Jesus, or in any way shape or form “argue Christ,” then there is simply no room for discussion on the matter. Christ and the scriptures are inseparable to begin with (John 1:1, John 1:14), and while some suggest Christ’s word is limited to the Gospels, it is pretty evident that even the word that comes from God the Father is also Christ’s word (John 14:10). We are clearly commanded to consider ALL of scripture (Matthew 18:19-20, 2 Timothy 3:16) and yet often when we share the Great Commission we leave out Matthew 18:20 because that word “everything” is so unsettling. But the ramifications of being afraid or ashamed of God’s words are frightening (Luke 9:26). We cannot love our neighbor by watering down the Gospel, and we cannot honor God by ignoring the scriptures. Certainly on an individual level, with the non-Christian, discussion is necessary and even commanded in order to teach and share the Gospel (2 Timothy 3:16), but at a Synod level, among people who are already supposed to be firm in their Christian faith, there is no room for discussion on this matter. It simply should not have come up, and that it did means a significant portion of scripture must have been ignored which is to say Christ has been ignored. I hope this gives adequate clarity to my comment.

    John 1:1 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    John 1:14 - The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

    John 14:10 - Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

    Matthew 28:19-20 - Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey EVERYTHING I have commanded you.

    2 Timothy 3:16 - All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

    Luke 9:26 - If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

  6. Yes, you are clear! I still hope to know, at some point, who I'm talking with so we can talk personally!