Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sweet or Bitter?

One of the scriptures for next Sunday is Isaiah 6:1-13.  It's a fairly well known scripture--a vision of heaven and the call of "someone" to go and preach God's Word.  The "someone" is Isaiah.  He knows he is sinful--unworthy of being God's messenger.  But, as he humbles himself, God provides a way for his sin and guilt to be taken away!  Symbolically, a live coal is touched to his mouth.  Martin Luther says this in the "allegory" portion of his lectures on Isaiah:
"The conscience is terrified when it hears that everything is condemned and Christ alone is holy, and He alone enlightens every man coming into this world (John 1:9). The house was filled with smoke. In other places, such as Ex. 40:34 and 1 Kings 8:10, Scripture says that clouds filled the house and calls the cloud the glory of the Lord. And it denotes a “smoking” faith, one that knows that all our own things are defiled. Here Christ dwells, a light rising and justifying after the old man has been put to death. Confession then follows this hovering smoke, and the confession is: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” Then the severe judgment of God is felt, which forcibly elicits the confession. This is the first part of penitence, namely contrition, which shakes the thresholds and raises the smoke, namely, a feeling of the divine Word condemning the entire human righteousness. Then comes the seraph, that is, the preacher of the Gospel, which is the fiery coal, and promises the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake and lifts one up to righteousness. Therefore “through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20), through the Gospel comes the knowledge and reception of grace and righteousness. The glowing coal is the Word kindled by the Holy Spirit in love, whereby those who have been put to death are revived by the cry of the seraphim. To touch the mouth is to strike the heart with the Gospel, which is sweet to the bitter heart. Then the heart is a fit vessel for honor, because it will go for the Lord, that is, it will be His instrument for teaching others, hearing and breaking through, even though with danger, the last comfort."
When Isaiah accepts God's call* he is sent to do something that no prophet or preacher would ever want to do. God sends him to preach with the full expectation that nothing good will happen.  Why won't anything good come out of Isaiah's preaching?  Because, unlike Isaiah, the people he preaches to will be unwilling to humble themselves and repent.  The preaching then is used to bring God's righteous judgment.

As long as we live, however, we can repent.  We can allow the Word of God to come at us with full force and bow before it.  Then we too can experience the sweetness of the Gospel of God.
* Isaiah 6:8 - "Whom shall I send...?" "Here am I; send me."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Teaching Statement on Sexuality

The following will be distributed with the "Continuing Resolution Regarding Marriage, Gay and Lesbian Persons and Their Families, and Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Response to the Actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly" that was approved by our church council last week.
Teaching Statement on Sexuality
Evangelical Lutheran Church
Cokato, Minnesota

In addition to our individual staff reports and in light of recent decisions in our wider church, Nate and Amy and I would like to be very clear to the congregation about what we, as your preaching and teaching staff are committed to teach here at ELC.

This congregation called me as your pastor, Nate Bendorf as Youth Ministry Director and Amy Thostenson to work in the area of Faith and Family Ministry. We accepted those calls based on knowing what this congregation has stated in its constitutional statement of faith--that "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."

We believe Scripture is very clear on the subject of human sexuality—that the appropriate place for sexual intimacy and intercourse is in a marriage between a man and a woman. In the past there was no need to specify that we would teach in that way because, until August 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church has been in agreement with all other orthodox Christian churches on this issue. The recent decisions to allow the blessing of gay unions and allowing practicing homosexuals to be ordained is a departure from traditional Lutheran theology and teaching. The ELCA has given congregations the difficult task of sorting this issue out on their own.

On January 19, 2010, our church council approved a “Continuing Resolution Regarding Marriage, Gay and Lesbian Persons and Their Families, and Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Response to the Actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.”

As the staff members of this congregation who are primarily responsible for our church’s educational ministry, we will teach children, youth and adults in harmony with that statement.

Specifically, the educational ministry of Evangelical Lutheran Church will teach that the appropriate place for sexual intimacy and intercourse is in a marriage between a man and a woman.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What to Preach

Last Sunday one of our youth wrote this question on the back of her worship note sheet: 
"How do you decide what to preach on each Sunday?"
Here's my answer... thank you to the young person who asked it!
Hi ________ -- you asked how I decide to what to preach on each week.  That is a great question.

I start by reading what is printed on the bulletin – the Bible verses come already printed on it. Many times as I read the verses an idea starts in my mind—an idea of something that I believe God might be wanting me to say. Because I believe that God speaks to us through the Bible, I then spend some time researching that idea and the Bible verses that we are going to read in connection with what is going on in my life and in our community and in our world and in our church.

For example, on January 31 we are going to read from Jeremiah 1 (verses 4-10), Psalm 71 (verses 1-6); First Corinthians 13; and Luke 4:21-30. Since I preached on Luke 4 last week, and since we’ve read from First Corinthians for two weeks already without me saying anything about it, I took a closer look at First Corinthians 13 which is known as the “love chapter” of the Bible. Because this “book” of the Bible (1st Cor.) is actually a letter written by Paul to the church in the city of Corinth, I did some research to find out what was happening in that church at the time the letter was written. One thing that was happening was that there were some divisions and troubles in that church. Because some people in our church are noticing divisions and troubles, I’ve decided to preach on that “love chapter” as it relates to church when people are feeling uncomfortable with each other.

There is a lot more to say, but hopefully that helps.

Monday, January 25, 2010

God's Peace

The following devotion was shared by a staff member at our meeting this morning.  It comes from the book Daily Grace: Devotional Reflections to Nourish Your Soul (Bordon Books, 2005)

"Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways." (Second Thessalonians 3:16)
It Is Divine
by John MacArthur Jr.
To put it simply, peace is an attribute of God. If I asked you to list the attributes of God, these are the ones that would probably come most readily to mind: His love, grace, mercy, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, omnipotence, immutability, and immortality. But do you ever think of God as being characterized by peace? In fact, He is peace. Whatever it is that He gives us, He has and He is. There is no lack of perfect peace in His being. God is never stressed. He never fears. God is never at cross—purposes with himself. He never has problems making up His mind.
God lives in perfect calm and contentment. Why? Because He’s in charge of everything and can operate everything perfectly according to His own will. Since He is omniscient, He is never surprised. There are no threats to His omnipotence. There is no possible sin that can stain His holiness. Even His wrath is clear, controlled, and confident.There is no regret in His mind, for He has never done, said, or thought anything that He would change in any way.
God enjoys perfect harmony within Himself. Our Bibles call Him “the Lord of peace,” but in the Greek text a definite article appears before the word translated “peace,” meaning He literally is ‘the Lord of the peace,” This is real peace— the divine kind—not the kind the world has. Paul’s prayer is that we might experience that kind of peace. Its source is God and God alone.
HEAVENLY FATHER: I need your peace in my life. I need your calm, your serenity, your contentment. I want to experience perfect harmony. I ask you to pour out your grace on me, Lord — your grace and your peace. Amen

This scriptural thought could not have come at a better time.  All praise to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  You do know what you are doing.  Though you allow us to exercise our free will, often in ways that are harmful, in the end, finally, ultimately, you are in control.

Today, I will rest in that peace.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


These are my RAW notes from this morning's worship.  Later on I'll try to format them and take out things that are not needed.

Good morning, Welcome to worship. In today’s first scripture reading we hear these words: “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” No matter what may be happening, we have God’s promises—and those promises—promises of good news, recovery and freedom—good news for all the world’s suffering ones—those promises bring joy—and God’s joy brings strength.
Welcome to all listening on the radio today. We worship each week at 8:30 and 11:00—and this week we worship on Friday—10:00 at Brookridge Assisted Living.
Next week we have our church’s annual meeting. The annual meeting will begin at 9:45 after the first hour of worship—the 11:00 worship hour will begin whenever the annual meeting is done.
We rejoice with Amy and Ryan Anderson whose daughter Molly Grace was born Thursday morning! We’re praying for Shirley Smolinski who is home after falling and breaking her arm.
Are there other prayer requests or invitations?
Before our confession and forgiveness today, there is something I need to confess to you. Ever since the ELCA assembly August, some of our members have come to me with concerns that I have been insensitive and hurtful to some of the members of our church. I have expressed indecision and ambivalence toward our ELCA affiliation. At the same time, I have been outspoken about issues such as the authority of God’s Word and God’s plan for marriage and family. Because of this, I have hurt people who believe that the ELCA was correct in making the choices it did in August. Though I’ve known that I have disagreed with the ELCA decision and also with some people of our church, I have been insensitive and hurtful to many. I want to apologize to you if you have been hurt.
As to how to express myself in the future, I’m not sure what to do. Today again we have assigned scripture readings that seem to highlight the importance and clarity of God’s Word and its work in our lives. How can I preach on these without hurting you again?
All I can say is that I will do my best to be aware of how I may have hurt you, and I want you to know that I did not intend to hurt you or make you feel left out or excluded from our church.

Ezra Summons the People to Obey the Law
When the seventh month came—the people of Israel being settled in their towns— 8 1 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 4 The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. 8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” 11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Psalm 19
The heavens declare the glory of God, * and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another, * and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.
In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.
The statutes of the LORD are just
and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear
and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean
and endures for ever; the judgments of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.
By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can tell how often he offends? cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

SECOND READING 1st Corinthians 12:12-31a

On the Luther Seminary website “working preacher dot org,” Roy Harrisville the third points out that the assigned reading leaves out an important part, so I’ll be reading from Luke 4 verses 14 through 30.
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
…14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

This time of preaching is by far the most difficult I have faced in a long time. I learned this week that I have hurt some of our church members by things I have said or – faced with assigned scripture passages that point to the power and truth of God’s Word—in Nehemiah and Psalm 19 and in Luke—and a scripture passage that speaks of Christian unity—a body with many parts—and here I get up to preach a week before our church’s annual meeting.
There is a part of me that just wants to sit down and be quiet. For what can I say that will keep us from wanting to push each other off a cliff.
I have a question. Did Jesus mean to make the people mad at him? It almost makes it look like he did. After Jesus interpreted Isaiah 61 by pointing to himself—all Jesus has to do is to speak God’s Word in order to make it come true… It’s by knowing Jesus that good news goes out to the poor and captives are freed and the blind see and the oppressed – do you know what it means to be oppressed? It means to be pushed down, to be controlled by someone who just wants to use you or keep you quiet. It’s by knowing Jesus that the oppressed leap up and throw off their chains and a new day begins! And I can imagine how angry the people got when they found out that Jesus was NOT going to do any miracles in his hometown but that all he was going to do was to read BIBLE VERSES about himself.
Jesus was not interested in making the people happy. He was, and he is interested in wanting to change their lives and set them free. But the way he does that is really annoying. He just reads BIBLE VERSES and applies them to himself. When you hear me read these verses, Jesus says, and when you understand that KNOWING ME is good news… then the power of the Holy Spirit will FLOOD your life and GIFTS will be given and people will be healed and released to love and serve and sacrifice right in the middle of a very oppressed world.
The fulfillment of God’s promise is given when Jesus connects those promises with himself in our hearing—and when we believe—for if we haven’t come to believe, then we really haven’t heard.
I want to go back for a minute to the Nehemiah reading… and to the Psalm… these passages celebrate the teachings and laws and words of God… yes, they celebrate what God says to them, even though—and if you read the TORAH—that’s the word translated LAW—if you read the TORAH you’ll find the COMMANDMENTS—and you will find RULES, INSTRUCTIONS and DIRECTIONS—both Nehemiah 8 and Psalm 19 celebrate God’s LAW. Nehemiah says that the people first wept when they heard the law of God read to them—but then Ezra the priest—this is on page 429 near the middle of the Bible—if you’re using one of the Bibles in your row you should find it there… page 429… Nehemiah 8—at the bottom of the first column…
And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly… you’ll see there’s a little footnote there… the word “clearly” can mean “with interpretations”… top of the second column… and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading…
Then verse 9… And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people… let’s read this part together… half way through verse 9… This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had wept when they heard the words of the law.”
What does it take for us to be GLAD when we hear the Word of God? There needs to be a certain amount of explaining, a certain amount of understanding… it doesn’t come automatically. Unless we have that understanding we’re going to be really sad when we hear God’s law because, for one reason, it’s going to feel like we’ve missed out on something… These people, some who had been far away from their country and some who had been there during long years of waiting—their first reaction to the reading of God’s Word is just to cry! Maybe they are thinking about all those years they were separated… maybe they were sorry for their sins… but Nehemiah and Ezra and others brought a GOOD word—not to take away the law—but to teach them that it is good… to teach them that the ways of God are JOYFUL!
It’s the same way in Psalm 19… The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent. The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes. Verse 10… More to be desired are they than gold… sweeter far than honey…
It’s not OBVIOUS from the beginning… we human beings want our OWN ways. We don’t want to be taught. Instead, we want God to DO SOMETHING for us.
But what we learn today is that believing and hearing and trusting and obeying God’s Word—that’s what really sets us free. And until we accept that we are going to be ready to push each other off the nearest cliff.
Some of our members here at this church have felt pushed off a cliff by me lately. I’ve been so ambivalent and ambiguous about what our church should do in connection with our ELCA denomination that some people feel pushed away. Every time I mention the Word of God or topics like sex or marriage or family people are reminded of this struggle that we’re having these days. I even thought about not preaching today at all as we are getting ready for our annual meeting next week.
But then I read the scriptures for today. And I see the celebration of God’s Law and God’s Word and I see Jesus reading scripture and saying it is FULFILLED and I just can’t not preach. And I can’t avoid saying things that hurt sometimes because it just seems that God’s Word pushes me to it.
I do not want to hurt anyone with my preaching or my writing or my teaching or my leading of Bible studies. But I feel just stuck—stuck with the Word of God—stuck with the Old Fashioned Lutheran interpretation of the Bible—and stuck in some ways, hopefully, with Jesus, who uses God’s Word to preach real freedom, and who doesn’t always do what the people want.
Did Jesus mean to make the people mad at him? I don’t think he intended to, but he wasn’t there to make them happy either. He was there to tell the truth. To use the Bible—that wonderful passage from Isaiah 61 that he reads in his hometown synagogue—Jesus uses the Bible to point to himself.
That’s what I need to do. Not point to myself, but to Jesus Christ. I hope we will always do that in the months and years to come.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Teaching & Learning Commandments

Last night our Youth Discipleship Training teaching time almost didn't happen because I've misplaced the books I normally use to teach.  So I ended up teaching on the commandments straight out of the catechism book.

We opened up the first and second commandments last week.  Yesterday we talked through commandments 3, 4, 5 and 6.  (This, of course, in the way Lutherans usually number them.  See this link for an explanation.)

Here's the way our youth have learned the first six commandments:
  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
  3. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  4. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lrod your God is giving you.
  5. You shall not murder.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
Last night we talked about how God wants us to honor the Sabbath.  For Christians the Sabbath is celebrated on Sunday.  Sunday is the day when God begins his new creation in the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We honor the Sabbath by taking time to hear and learn God's Word and the preaching of it.

Commandments four through six honor God's gift of life.  We talked about how God gives the gift of life though the joining of a man and a woman.  Human life is sacred -- all people are created "in God's image" -- each individual of whatever age is a gift of God.  We are commanded to do our neighbor no bodily harm nor cause any suffering, but help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need.*  When we think of sex, we should always think of family.  Sex is God's gift and is intended to bring a man and woman together for the good of the next generation.

In front of the room last night I placed a mirror and a cross.  The commandments are intended to help me honestly look at myself.  When I honestly look at my life as reflected in the commandments, I see how desperately I need of God's grace and mercy.  I am a sinful human being, bound for well-deserved death and hell.  But Jesus gave his life for my sin.  He rescued me from the consequences of my evil actions by dying for me on the cross.  Now that I know I am forgiven, I can live to reflect Jesus' self-giving love to the world.

How are the commandments of God at work in your life today?

* Italics are from Martin Luther's explanations to the commandments, based, in turn, on Jesus' teachings and Jesus' amazing and sacrificial love for us sinners shown especially on the cross.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The ELCA Helping Haiti

The following was found by Ian Graue (a facebook friend of mine) on a facebook page called "Lovin' the Lutheran Church."  It originated on the Lutheran CORE "News and Discussion" page and was posted today.

Support Haiti Relief: Give to the ELCA

I have been following the reporting on the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. Like many, if not most of you, I have been praying for those who are caught in this terrible situation, as well as for those who are scrambling to bring aid and relief to the hundreds of thousands of survivors. And like many, I am proud of the reputation of Lutheran relief agencies in responding to this kind of disaster. We have "boots on the ground," through the Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran World Relief, and the companion synod relationships of the ELCA with the Lutheran Church in Haiti. I am also learning about countless other ways in which members of the ELCA have been involved in mission work in Haiti, and will continue to be involved far into the future.

Lutherans are generous people, not as a work of the law but as a response to the generosity God has shown to us in his Gospel. We have been given much, and we give much, especially when the need is so great. Already the ELCA News is reporting that over a million dollars has been given by Lutherans for the earthquake response in Haiti. And that is why I am going to make a suggestion, request, perhaps plea is the best word for it, now.

Send an offering to the ELCA Vision for Mission Fund.

Why? Because the main reason the ELCA International Disaster Relief Fund can dedicate such a high percentage of the offerings it receives to those who are most in need is because the ELCA Churchwide budget covers the cost of offices, lights, office machines, and staffing expenses. That is part of the mission work of this denomination. The Disaster Relief folks don't have to pay for that stuff, so their money can go to places like Haiti. (And the flood victims in Iowa, and the hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast, and the tornado victims in Oklahoma, and you name the places where the ELCA has been in the past 10 years.)

I am going to go out on a limb and say that right now it is not about the current church disagreement, as important as that is to me and I know to you. Right now it is about supporting the work of those who know how to help, first and best and immediately and long-term. And the ELCA is a vital member of that response and that work. If the Churchwide office is weakened, then our response is weakened.

If you disagree with me, I do understand. This isn't meant to guilt anyone into contributing to the ELCA Churchwide level. But think about it. Pray about it. And please give to help Haiti, whether it is to the ELCA Disaster Relief folks or to Lutheran World Relief or to the Lutheran World Federation.

But if you want to send a message to Chicago, then send a check, by mail, and include a note that because of the emergency in Haiti, you want the ELCA to be able to support the work of those responding in mercy to the least of these. Here's the address:
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Vision for Mission Fund
P. O. Box 71764
Chicago, IL 60694-1764

And tell them Lutheran CORE sent you.

In peace,
Pastor Erma Wolf
Lutheran CORE steering committee (but acting on my own)

Continuing Resolution

Our local church council met last night.  We approved a "continuing resolution" that was prepared in conjunction with the Northwest Minnesota Synod of the ELCA and subsequently adopted by the Gethsemane Lutheran Church Council in our neighboring town of Dassel, MN.

The resolution reads as follows:

Regarding Marriage
  1. We affirm that “marriage and the family [are] foundational structures that support human community.”
  2. We affirm that “marriage is a covenant of mutual promises, commitment, and hope authorized legally by the state and blessed by God.
  3. We affirm “marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman…” (Mark 10:6-9, Genesis 1:27, 2:23-24).
  4. We affirm that, “despite its awareness of the presence of sin and failure in marriage, the Christian tradition places great emphasis on the value of marriage for a husband and wife.1
  • we commend the institution of marriage to our members and friends;
  • we encourage child-bearing and adoption within the context of marriage;
  • we expect engaged couples to make use of the Means of Grace, pastoral care, counseling, prayer, and other ways of preparing themselves for marriage;
  • we beseech married couples encountering difficulties in their relationship to receive pastoral care and counseling to preserve their marriages;
  • we commit ourselves to strengthening marriages and families in our preaching, teaching and other faith formation activities; and
  • we understand that the home/family is a primary arena for Christian faith formation for our children.
Regarding gay and lesbian persons and their families
  1. We “welcome, care for, and support” gay and lesbian persons and their families who wish to participate in the life of our congregation.
  2. We offer compassionate counsel and pastoral care to those who are same-gender in their orientation, as well as to those who “seek counsel about their sexual self-understanding.”
  3. We oppose “all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation.”2
Regarding Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church’s response
to the actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly
  • Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
  • Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church declares that marriages, civil unions, or blessings of persons in same gender relationships will not be performed in this church building or authorized by this congregation. Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church, as a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, understands that it has the right to call, or refuse to call, as a pastor or rostered lay leader any person who is on the roster of ordained ministers or lay rosters or any candidate approved for those rosters.
  • Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church, in accordance with the 2009 Churchwide Assembly which resolved that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America “make provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church should not call or roster people in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship,” declares that this congregation will not call a pastor or lay rostered leader who is or intends to be in such a same-gender relationship
1 Statements printed in bold are from Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, a social statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted at it’s 2009 Churchwide Assembly, pp. 9-10.
2 Statements printed in bold italics are from Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, a social statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted at it’s 2009 Churchwide Assembly, p. 10.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Seminar on Homosexuality

This morning, here at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cokato, a seminar was put on by Outpost Ministries. Their website says this:
Outpost Ministries was formed to meet the needs of men and women who have made a decision to break away from gay life. We strive to deal with individuals as whole people, not merely sexual beings, offering teaching, encouragement and support. Outpost emphasizes obedience to God's Word which begins the healing process. For information visit us on the web at, write: Outpost, Inc., PO Box 22429, Robbinsdale, MN 55422. Phone: (763) 592‑4700 Fax: (763) 592‑4701 E‑mail:
When Pastor Lyndon Korhonen of Good Shepherd invited me and the other local pastors, I had thought I might attend, even though this is a hot-button issue for so many in our church and community.  I recall him emphasizing that this ministry is grace-filled and gentle--but solidly based on God's Word. I never paid much attention to the date of the seminar, however, so forgot all about it until this afternoon.

If you attended, let me know what you thought.

This morning, at our men's Bible study, we read Jesus' teaching on marriage from Mark (10:1-12).  Tomorrow's scripture readings from Isaiah (62:1-5) and John (2:1-11) refer to marriage--in Isaiah it says " the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you" and the John reading tells us of Jesus first miracle--turning water to wine at a wedding.

The Bible celebrates faithful heterosexual marriage over and over again, from Genesis to Revelation.  One Bible book (Song of Solomon) is an erotic poem. God invented sex and intends a faithful male-female marriage it to be the place where new life is created and children are nurtured.

On the other hand, homosexual sexual relations are always prohibited by the Bible. It seems to me that we need to help those who have been convinced by the Bible that homosexual sex "misses the mark" of God's intent.  If Outpost Ministries is, as Pastor Korhonen said, a gentle and caring way to do that, then we should learn about it and support its work. 

To learn more about this perspective of on homosexuality, look at ELCA Pastor David Glesne's 2005 book Understanding Homosexuality: Perspective for the Living Church or go to the section "Marriage and Family" on the WordAlone website.

Uncomfortably Transparent

Writing this blog has, for me, been a way to let people "in" on my work and ministry as a pastor here in Cokato.  I've laid myself out pretty openly here.  Everyone who cares to know can know pretty much how I am feeling and thinking about many subjects. I've thought, by doing so, communication would be more open among us.

People who know me will say that I'm pretty transparent.  Not perfectly, but, as someone once said, "Don't get me talking, or I'll tell you everything I know."

I have a very hard time being political.  There's very little that's "strategic" or "planned" here.  Some folks think there are hidden motivations behind what I do and say.  This sometimes causes undue fear. But the fact is that I've put myself out as completely as I can. 

That's especially the case lately in regard to matters connected with out church denomination.  Some think that because I recommended that our congregation adopt the Common Confession and join Lutheran Core, that I was wanting to "push" us out of the ELCA.  But the truth is, I'm conflicted about just what God is calling me to do.

Here are a couple examples of what I've written on another open space for sharing (facebook)... first my response to a comment by Al:
My hope, Al, is that we can take enough time to allow people to come along. For some people admitting that they are on different roads than people and institutions that they've been with for a long time is a really hard thing and different people's personalities move at different paces. It's been clear to me for ten years that I've been on "somewhat" of a different road. That's why I've been part of WordAlone. Now WordAlone has come to the conclusion, according to their recent newsletter, that "efforts to reform the ELCA churchwide organization are 'futile.'" I was in doubt about whether I could get a call in the ELCA last time, when I came here to Cokato... but this congregation seemed like a pretty good fit for me... now differences are coming to the surface, probably a necessary though painful thing. I hope we can take enough time so people are reacting not to personalities and emotions but to convictions and issues and the Word of God. I am so thankful that you've hung in here so far... if some of our key people like you left, I can't see how I could stay.
Then another response to a comment by Tim:
Tim, I am so double minded about all this. 'Leaving' is something I've never been in favor of. I have stayed for a even though I've had some pretty major issues with the institutional church for long time already because I've believed that the ELCA and every institutional church needs pastors like me. (As I write that I sound sinfully proud, but my call to the ordained ministry was actually in those words, from the president of the ALC who, in preaching at a charismatic Lutheran conference said "We need your gifts." I heard my call in that.) Also, I've always believed that a call from god is TOWARD something or someone or some cause, not moving 'away' as if in fear, and acting out of fear is very dangerous: "...whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." Romans 14:23b That's why I thought bringing the "Common Confession" would be a good step as saying what we stand "for." The question of the staying connected or not staying connected with the ELCA needs to be asked in time, not quickly. The first question, as Steve King talked about Sunday, is "What shall we teach and preach?" That still needs to be worked out clearly in our congregation first.
So, what's the truth?  The truth is as I have written.  I am conflicted about our relationship with the ELCA.  I'm not conflicted about what the scriptures teach about marriage and family, but as to what the future holds for my and our ELCA connection, I just haven't worked all that out yet.. If that feels uncomfortable, it's just the truth.  I just don't know.

I'm not very good at hiding.  When you read what is written, you'll get pretty much the unvarnished me.  And, if you care to comment, or email me, or phone or, best, talk with me in person, you'll probably get your questions answered.  I'll try to be transparent with you too.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Greater Things

Please take a few minutes to listen to the song "The God of this City" - click here to hear and see the video.  Though the Dassel-Cokato area are hardly a "city" the promise still rings true.

Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

God Won't Cohabit

One of the scriptures assigned for Sunday, January 10 is from Acts 8.  The chapter tells how God turns an attack on Christians into an evangelistic campaign.  Christians who managed to escape couldn't help but tell others what God had been doing in their lives.

Even though they had been threatened, and even though many of their Christian friends had been put in prison because they were Christians, those Christian believers still thought it was an excellent, wonderful thing to belong to the Lord Jesus--they wanted others to know the good news.  So they let others know.  They spoke God's Word and, as they did, God did amazing things.  Destructive spirits were driven out and the sick and injured were healed.  And, believe it or not, God still does the same things today.

The part of Acts 8 I'd like to focus on begins with verse 9:
Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. 10 All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! 21 You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” 24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.

25 Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.
God uses the darkest times of our lives to shine his light.  When we are the most desperate God is the most available.  When we are empty, we can be filled with the amazing Holy Spirit of God.

One trouble with Simon, and, sometimes, the trouble with me, is that I think I somehow am good (or "great" -- as Simon thought he was in verse 9).  But if I am full of my own abilities or my own accomplishments or my own "goodness" there is no place left for God.   

God won't cohabit.  God is jealous and wants all of me.  So then, my seniority, my experience, my wisdom--if, like Simon, I see the power of God and want to participate in that--all of that has to go--and if God is in my life, his love will make me want his power, so I can make a difference in the lives of the millions and billions in the world that hurt so much every day. To be effective for God, the first thing is emptying myself of everything that does not come directly from his grace, his mercy, his love.  As Paul writes in Philippians 3:
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death...
Perhaps that's why God's power in the world today seems more evident among the poor and the uneducated and the truly desperate.  If we are called to make a difference in the world, the first things is to empty ourselves and make ourselves available to be filled by God.

More on this subject later...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

ELCA Bible Camp Statement

In the past couple days I've been talking with executive directors of three ELCA affiliated Bible Camps.  The board of one camp organization, Ingham Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camps, has put together the following.

What do you think?
Marriage and Sexuality:
Ingham Okoboji seeks to make Christ known to all persons and welcomes all people.
While sexuality is not planned as a theme for events, this subject has reached major public discussion in the state of Iowa and in the ELCA recently, and sexuality is part of the wonder of God’s creation.
Following is the IOLBC approach based on our traditional orthodox understanding of faithful interpretation of scripture:
1. Everyone is welcome.

2. We promote abstinence for everyone who is not married.

3. We support marriage as a formal union between one man and one woman.

4. We ask all counselors and teachers at camp to support these perspectives in all that they teach and lead at camp. We also ask them to live out these convictions.

5. We ask all guests at camp to honor these teachings when they make housing arrangements with us.

6. We want to be gentle, open and loving with persons having all kinds of dilemmas in life, and we want to lovingly point them to scripture as the source and norm for the faith life and God’s very best for all areas of life.

7. We encourage youth struggling with matters of sexuality to seek additional council from their pastors and families who also seek to follow God’s best.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Empty to Fill

On Working Preacher Pastor Roy Harrisville III of Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Menomonie, WI writes this about the Gospel text for this coming Sunday (read the gospel text by clicking here):
The seriousness of baptism is made clear by the metaphor of the threshing floor. It is a discriminating rite. It is not an act that one may undergo lightly, but is linked to salvation in opposition to judgment. The Holy Spirit is not inclusive but excludes all unrighteousness and sin. Baptism is not a mere welcoming rite but a rite that signifies one's separation from evil. Any theology of judgment has fallen on hard times recently in favor of a softer and gentler message of peace and justice. But with justice comes judgment. It cannot be otherwise.

To ignore judgment leaves the preacher with no reason for preaching the gospel. It is not a matter of scaring people into heaven. It is a matter of revealing the need for salvation and why Jesus is so important. If he is only a common messiah who does what the people expect, then he is no use to us. But if, on the other hand, he is the Messiah who lays bare the pretenses and false expectations of the people and reveals their deep seated need for personal and inner transformation, then he is someone surprising and filled with ultimate and eternal meaning. For preachers to leave out the fire is to let go of the reason for the gospel and thereby cheapen the good news.
(Roy's whole commentary can be read by clicking here.)
Come to worship this coming Sunday as God's Word goes to work on us, cleansing us of our sin, emptying us so we can be filled with God.

Always Pointing

Why does God love us?  Not because of our goodness.  Not because of our kindness.  Not because of our faith.  God loves us because of his goodness, his kindness, and his great faith.

We are totally in debt to God. We are simply captured by his love and end up reflecting his love to the world.  We always love imperfectly.  We often fail.  Because of that, we POINT to Jesus.

Our preacher on Sunday was Nate Bendorf.  Nate is our church's youth ministry director and is preparing to be a pastor as a seminarian.  His sermon was based on John 1:1-18 and Ephesians 1:3-14.  You can listen to Nate's sermon by clicking here.
Because of Jesus we know this:
God's love does not depend on who you are.
God's love does not depend on what you are.
God's love does not depend on what you do.

When I wobble, God's love is steady.
When my faith is flabby, God's love is firm.
When I can't decide, God's love does not change.
We only know that because of Jesus.  So, we are always pointing to Jesus.  Only in Jesus can we truly know God.

One key verse from Nate's sermon is this one:
No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made God known. (John 1:18)
Pointing to Jesus is always the first and last thing we do. Anything that contributes to that is welcome. Anything that takes us away from that "pointing" needs to be put aside.

Monday, January 4, 2010

On the Same Road?

Is it ever the case that Christians who have "walked together" with one another can faithfully decide that they are on different roads?

Last evening I was in the church basement with about 60 plus others, mostly from our church, listening to Pastor Steven King of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Maple Lake, MN.  He also serves one quarter time as Education Director for the WordAlone Network.

Pastor King has come the point where he says "yes."  We can faithfully transition to a different path... I, and others at our local church, together with thousands of others throughout the ELCA, are looking seriously at that question.

Last night Pastor King shared with us how he has served in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in a variety of ways over the years.  He has been a pastor in our Southwestern Minnesota "Synod" since his ordination.  He has served in a variety of ways through the synod on committees, boards and task forces.  In recent years, however, Pastor King and others have discovered that there are significant differences in teaching and preaching in our synod and ELCA.

I found myself agreeing with what Pastor King said last night.  What do you think?  Please comment below or let me know in another way.  We need to talk!

One major difference is that some in the ELCA seem to have replaced the traditional gospel of redemption with a gospel of acceptance.
  • The gospel of redemption says that we are all sinners who need a savior, that Jesus sacrificial death and resurrection provides the way to repent, be forgiven, saved and changed.  The gospel of redemption would look to the ten commandments and other Bible teachings* to say what sin is--and that we sin whenever we go against God's Word.  This leads to a need for us to repent of our sin, receive the good news of Jesus, and begin a new life.** (See John 8:11)

  • The gospel of acceptance, on the other hand, would have us say that Jesus' main message was that we are "okay" before God and there is little need to bring up sin and salvation, that we can all be accepted just as we without calling for any changes.  Those preaching a gospel of acceptance would say that the main sin is intolerance--not loving my neighbor as myself--but that we ought not emphasize "sin" too much but instead accept people as just they are.   
The word "synod" means is Greek for "same road."  Steven King and I, together with many other pastors and teachers in the ELCA, fear that ELCA is significantly on the road with the gospel of acceptance.  Those of us who believe in a more traditional gospel of redemption think it's time to look around and see who really is walking with us.  Who is on the same road?  Is it the official "synod" structure of the ELCA?  Or do we fit better with others?

Here's my own story:  After repenting of significant sin in my life, and after receiving total forgiveness and the ability to begin my life anew, I began preparation to be ordained as a Lutheran pastor.  I was ordained in 1984 as a pastor of the American Lutheran Church -- the American Lutheran Church merged with the Lutheran Church in America and on January 1, 1988 we became the ELCA.  For many years, however, I have found myself questioning the direction of the ELCA.  For the past ten years I, like Pastor King, have been a member of WordAlone--though I have not been as active in the organization as he has.

I found Pastor King's presentation to be very helpful.  As a biblical example for what is happening right now, he used the following story from Acts 15. 
Acts 15
... Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. 36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
In this story I see no hint that Paul or Barnabas rejected one another as Christians.  It's just that they had a disagreement that led them to go different ways.

Many within the ELCA, including myself, feel that in the ELCA we now have a significant disagreement.  Some would say that the main disagreement is about homosexuality--those of us in the more traditional camp would say no, it has to do with how we read and interpret scripture.  The most challenging question is whether the disagreement is "sharp" enough to cause us to go different ways.

I think it's time for our local church to look seriously at this question.  I am thankful for those who are bringing these thing to our attention, such as by inviting Pastor King to share with us last night.  Pastor King's church in Maple Lake has put together a statement of welcome and teaching that they will be voting on soon--I can print you a copy if you're interested.  You might also look at a statement that was adopted at the Gethsemane Lutheran Church at Dassel -- click on this link and then download the PDF of Gethsemane's December newsletter called "December 09 Steeple"--the section you're looking for is on pages 10-11, "On Marriage, Family and Sexuality."  Also, as a continuing part of that "looking at things together" I invite you to come to the Bible study we'll begin in the church library this coming Sunday, Jan. 10, at 10:00 a.m.

This is very important stuff.  It really has us asking "What is the gospel?" and "What shall we preach and teach?"  Given that all people are sinners, what is the message?  Is it simple "affirmation" or is it a radical message of sin and salvation--a message that we have an urgency to preach so people can believe and be saved.  I believe that the scriptures teach something radical: It took the sacrificial death of Jesus and his victorious resurrection to open the door for condemned sinners such as myself to share the grace of God and the promise of eternal life.

The question we are discussing is what we teach.  It's not about bigotry or sexual orientation.  I think Pastor King and others are probably right in saying that the ELCA today in the control of those who are wanting to change the church's teaching and doctrines to a more "tolerant" message of "acceptance" instead of a radical message of sin and salvation. The blessing of homosexual unions is just a part of a bigger picture.

The question before us is whether the difference is sharp enough, as it evidently was between Paul and Barnabas, to admit that we are on "different roads."  Can we take time to look at that without rejecting one another in the process?  I hope and pray that, with God's help, we will be able to patiently look at things together and to come to some kind of clear conclusion. 

Please look over the information that has been provided over the past few months through this blog and the links on it.  Then come to the Bible study on Sundays at 10:00 in the church library.  Talk openly with your neighbors and friends.  Do not be afraid.  The Lord our God will not let us get lost when we remain close to Jesus and the Word of God.

* Christians always interpret God's Law in the light of Jesus
** Lutherans say we actually begin a new life each time we repent and receive forgiveness.  See Martin Luther's teachings in part four of the section on Baptism in the Small Catechism.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What's Happening?

Angels and stars.  Messengers and signs to be interpreted. The birth of Jesus would have been nothing special without and announcement direct from God, coming from beyond this world.

At 8:30 and 11:00 this morning we'll gather to hear God's word for today.  We may not have an "angel" preaching and we may not have a supernatural star shining, but we do have God's Word.

Lutherans have always said that God's written and preached word* is needed so we can know what is happening around us.  We cannot figure things out by ourselves, not even today.

Come to worship and pray that the Lord and his Word will guide us during this next year.

*centering in Jesus' saving death and resurrection

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Warm Place

Happy New Year!  As I write this I'm using a computer in at the "Surfs Up" coffee shop.  The windows and doors are wide open.  I hear roosters crowing and many cars going by on Hwy. 115 as usual.  I'm wearing shorts and looking forward to more beach time today. 

It's been so good to be in a warm place for the past week.  It's been 85 and sunny most days.  But it's warm also in another way.  Toni and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary here on the west coast of Puerto Rico -- and we're doing it WITH our kids Naomi, Dan and Jon.  Yes!  An anniversary celebration with the family. 

It's been great.  Last night we saw the new year in with them on the beach, 2 hours earlier and 80 degrees warmer than Minnesota.  Too bad we can't bring the warm weather home.  But we can bring the warmth of God's love everywhere... warmth that's meant to be shared with the world.

The warm and cozy security of marriage is not just about a couple who care for each other and want to be together.  The security and joy of marriage is about family.  It's about providing a place where new life is born and children are nurtured in love. 

That's God's plan.  We never live that plan perfectly, but still, because God gives so much love, we want to do the best we can.  With God's help, and according to God's plan, marriage and family can be a warm place of blessing.

Toni and I are so thankful for this blessing of family.  It's a blessing meant to be shared with the world.  Where families are broken, we pray for healing.  Where there is loneliness, we pray for welcome.  We're thankful for all who take in the homeless and hopeless, bringing them to a warm place of prayer and care.

We pray that all would experience, in one way or another, the warm and consistent love of family in 2010, knowing Jesus -- and, through Him, God's absolutely forgiving love.