Entertaining Worship

So, I was thinking that there is a false choice that seems forced upon us in our age — either you can have worship that is innovative and “entertaining”  or we can have worship that honors traditions and is thus, “boring.”  The choice is false because no matter how we worship, we have lost the ability to engage the truth of the human condition and its connection to God in our worship.  In an article that succinctly calls attention to this false choice and glaring lack, I hope you find something that provokes you to answer the question, “So, what is worship really about?”  Enjoy — CLICK HERE>   Article | First Things.

Pastor Tim

Football Coach. Witness. Saint.

The next time you find yourself wondering whether “Lutherans” make any difference or whether support of the ELCA or its various colleges, schools, and ministries make a difference, think about “Saint Frosty.” Along with John Gagliardi of St. John’s in Collegeville, MN (two of college footballs best coaches ever) Frosty brought humanity, fun, and faith to the field.  Read about him and give thanks for his witness at his death.

Frosty Westerings unusual style deserves memorials. | SportsonEarth.com : Chuck Culpepper Article.

Facing Death with Resurrection Hope

So, I was thinking that as we celebrate this season of the resurrection in the church, I should say something about the relationship between the promise of resurrection and the reality of death.  It has been my experience that Christians tend to fall into a couple of camps on this matter.  First, we know the story of the resurrection, we know we are supposed to believe it,and we turn out every year to sing song’s about the resurrection of Jesus, but we have no sense of what that has to do with us.  Death is the final word for our lives and no matter what the Church proclaims, death is a terrifying reality.  Second, we grab hold of the resurrection and we apply all sorts of other cultural beliefs deny death.  We think that death really never applies to us because we go somewhere else.  In other words, we either give death the final word or we deny that death is 100% real for all of us.

So, I was thinking – actually agonizing – over a fresh way to talk about this and to draw us to be able to accept face death and have resurrection hope. I started to read once again my favorite theologians and preachers for some inspiration.  Then, a friend posted the article below on Facebook.  It is by one of my mentors, one of my friends, one of the teachers who shaped me as a teacher and preacher about as much as anybody.  It is written after he received word that death was close.  Realizing that I can’t speak any more eloquently than Dear Walter Bouman, I share with you his thoughts on facing death and resurrection hope.  And Walter… even in death you teach and inspire me. — Pax Christi – Pastor Tim


November 2005 issue of The Lutheran Magazine

Walter Bouman’s Death Bed Letter

Counting the last days
Walter Bouman considers his dying—and joining the saints on the other side

And now there arise the great questions: Why did you live? Why did you suffer? We must answer these questions some way if we are to continue living—yes, even if we are only to continue dying (composer Gustav Mahler).

The surgeon stood beside my bed in the recovery room. He said he had removed a large growth attached to my abdomen. There was no longer any cancer in the colon. But it had spread to the liver and lymph system, and it was stage four, terminal. From the Latin word terminus, ‘‘end of the line.” 

I remember thinking how painful it must be for this good and gentle man to have to say those words to a patient. Then I thought of Paul’s words: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8).

I’ve often taught courses on death and dying. I studied the path-
breaking book by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying (Fortress Press, 1972;available from www.amazon.com). I knew the stages: denial, anger, bargaining, grief, acceptance. But I haven’t experienced them. I have some regret that I won’t see my grade-school grandchildren grow to maturity. But mostly I’ve experienced peace.

Resting in the hospital, I had time to think. I wanted to preach once more to the seminary community, and that was arranged. I also knew I would begin with the words from Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”

I’m counting. I’m counting. The surgeon said I have six to nine months. A month later, the oncologist said I have six to nine months. I asked him when to start counting, April 1 or May 1? ‘‘A quibble,” he replied.

I opted for no further treatment. God has given me a grace-filled and satisfying life. It seems ungrateful to ask for more. Instead I receive hospice care and tremendous, loving care from Jan, my wife. I have no pain but tire easily. Combing my hair is enough to require catching my breath. And I have minimal appetite.

I get much joy from the music on our classical radio station. My grandchildren asked me what I thought heaven would be like. Although I have no idea, I replied, “Great music, without station breaks.”

“But you like Bach and Beethoven,” they said. “What if someone likes Led Zeppelin?”

“Then they get a soundproof room,” I replied.

I think of the good things that come with having a date with death, like no more flossing. I experienced far more anguish when my beloved St. Louis Cardinals lost the World Series in four straight games! But even when the Cardinals lose, my greatest source of encouragement is the Christian story of God, into which I was baptized in July 1929. I have bet my living, and now I’m called to bet my dying, that Jesus—not death—will have the last word.

I was moved to a private room on the oncology floor for the last eight days of my hospital stay. The oncology nurse came in several times for longer sessions on my condition and possible treatments. Commenting that she was hearing much laughter and peaceful conversation in the room, the nurse asked, “What’s going on?”

I said, “I believe that Jesus, and not death, will have the last word.”

“What does that mean?” she asked.

And so I gave her my 10-minute version of Theology 101: Jesus’ disciples were astonished to discover that the crucified Jew whom they fled in fear was actually the Messiah of Israel and the world. He is identified as Messiah by his resurrection from the dead. The gospel is not an idea, for example, that God loves us, although that is true. The gospel is good news. It’s the announcement that something good and absolutely decisive for the universe has happened. The Christian good news is simply: Jesus is risen!

Jesus will have the last word

That is good news because it means that death no longer has power over him. Jesus, not death, will have the last word. But Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t personal vindication. He has become the firstfruits of all that sleep. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive. He will reign until he has put all things under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. And then God will be everything in everyone 
(1 Corinthians 15:22-28).

This is a vision for the future, and it beckons us to follow it. Of course Jesus is also about the past, our past, the world’s past. There on the cross he takes sin and evil and death into God’s being and history, where it is overcome forever. But the gospel is first and foremost a vision for the future. Because Jesus is risen everything has changed radically. We are set free from serving the powers of death with our lives, fears, policies. We are set free from having to protect ourselves at whatever cost to others. We are set free from the dreadful necessity to grab all the gusto we can because we only go around once. We are set free from the compulsion to cling to every day and hour of life in this world.

This vision also applies to everyone. Paul says “all” repeatedly, and I take it that he means “all.” Theologian Robert Farrar Capon taught me years ago that Jesus didn’t come to repair the repairable, correct the correctable, improve the improvable. He came to raise the dead! The only final condition for eternal participation in Christ’s victory is that we be dead, 100 percent, gold-plated dead.

Paul exults in God’s universal forgiveness: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (Romans 11:32). It’s God’s unconditional love that evokes his outburst of praise: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways” (Romans 11:33).

We really have trouble getting it. Writer Anne Lamott quotes the pastor of “The Church of 80% Sincerity: We are capable of unconditional love, but it has a shelf life of about eight to 10 seconds. We might say to our beloved, ‘Darling, I’ll love you unconditionally until the very end of dinner.’ ” It’s God’s eternal unconditional love that distinguishes God from us (Hosea 11:8-9), not God’s infinity or presumed immortality. God isn’t deathless but beyond death.

God’s universal salvation

Difficult as it is—because I always think of it as unfair—I’ve come to accept God’s universal salvation as the final consequence of Jesus’ resurrection. I think of all the best and worst, the innocent and the guilty, Holocaust victims and the evil perpetrators, those killed in all of our senseless wars and the misguided leaders who send them into battle. Christ will raise us all—and somehow bend us into shape so we become the human beings we were intended to be.

I continue to pray a lot, mostly for people who experience worse things than I do, like chronic back pain. In the days following my diagnosis, I prayed each night that God wouldn’t let me wake up in this world. But then my good friend and colleague Anna Madsen of Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., sent me an e-mail stating: “Don’t you dare die until I get to Columbus.” When Anna talks, even God listens. So I stopped praying the prayer.

Instead I’ve turned to a prayer that I first learned in German as a child. I pray the beautiful hymn Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow:

Lord Jesus, who dost love me,
Oh spread thy wings above,
And shield me from alarm.
Though evil would assail me
Thy mercy will not fail me.
I rest in thy protecting arm.

Many years ago I read Ernst Kasemann’s book, Jesus Means Freedom (Fortress Press, 1972; out-of-print, may be available from www.alibris.com). That has been at the heart of my religious experience. We are set free to celebrate each service of communion as the foretaste of the feast to come. This is the feast of victory for our God. Well, it’s only hors d’oeuvres on this side of the grave, but it is already a foretaste of the feast to come. This is what identifies us as Messiah’s people. In the meal, Christ gives us the gift of his offering of himself for the life of the world. There, he takes us up into his offering and shapes us to share in his mission. We are called to offer ourselves to the world, as he has offered himself to the world.

Free to love

We are free to love the church. Not the church where we all agree with each other, but the church that in our disagreements fills us with dismay, robs us of hope and often pursues agendas so contrary to what we think is Christ’s will that we want to despair. That’s the church we are free to love.

We are called to love the ELCA, which confesses that the right teaching of the gospel, and gospel-
administered sacraments alone constitutes what it means to be the church. Yet the ELCA threatens to tear itself apart over the issue of same-sex unions, an issue which isn’t the gospel that unites the church. That is the church which Jesus’ resurrection frees us to love.

We are free to imprint on our hearts and minds Paul’s words from Ephesians 4 1-3: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In the last chapter of Luke, Jesus tells the disciple community to await being “clothed with power from on high.” We don’t need to be “clothed with power from on high” to join a bridge club, root for the Ohio State University Buckeyes, golf with our friends or champion causes with other like-minded people.

But we need “power from on high” to be the church, that is, to be so grasped by Christ that we can “put up with each other,” as Daniel L. Olson, a professor of pastoral care at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, writes, “in a community that can sustain its unity in the midst of disagreement over emotionally charged issues, without demonizing or disregarding, excluding or humiliating each other.” Olson points out that our present situation gives the church a magnificent opportunity to be the church—to disagree profoundly over truly important matters without turning away from each other or turning against each other.

Jesus’ resurrection frees us to love the world. I think of that great cosmic and mysterious universe set in motion by the creative urge of the Father, given form through the creating word of the Son, given a life that is pointed toward a new heaven and a new earth by the aspirating Spirit. But we are free to love a more manageable world, our own small planet placed into our care as stewards of God’s gift. Such love of our world was never more in need.

I’ve resisted the temptation to say, ‘‘Stop the world because I’m getting off.” Instead I continue to care about the world, pray for it and urge all to be faithful stewards of our planet and to make the U.S. a more responsible member of the family of nations. The agenda is urgent. In a world where the gap between the rich and the poor increases daily, we need to oppose policies that condemn the poor of the world to lives of misery and early graves. We need to hold our government to war policies that adhere to the just war standards (Augsburg Confession, Article 16). We need to ask why U.S. policies have made us more fearful and feared, more arrogant and hated in the world.

Now I’m entering into the final baptism, ‘‘my beginning’s end”—the final dying with Jesus to await with curiosity the promise that God will be everything in everyone. I’m leaving the saints on this side of the grave to join the saints on the other side. Sainthood doesn’t mean that our morals or behaviors are somehow better than others. Sainthood, that is holiness, means being set apart for God’s reign.

I don’t know what heaven will be like. But my great expectation is that the Lord Jesus will be there to welcome me and that I will be fully and completely set apart for his everlasting reign.

It’s good to have time to tie up loose ends, to tell family and friends that I love them. In my prayers each day I commend myself to the unworthy and imperfect service I am able to render.

I look forward to the surprises that Jesus has in store.

Helping Children Cope with Violence

Pastor Pam found this helpful article that is most timely for the recent events we have all faced.  We wanted to share the resource with all of you who are parents, grandparents, teachers, and such.  Don’t forget to add praying with our kids in a way that lifts their fear and concern to God while also asking for the peace that comes from a God who is always with us and understands our pain and fear.

Ministry Matters™ | Articles | Helping Children Cope with Violence.

Boston Bombings: What Do We Do?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Grace and peace to you in the name of the blessed, Holy Trinity.

As you have likely heard, today the Boston Marathon was the target of two bombs that left two dead and quite a few injured.  While the story continues to unfold, there are few concrete details other than the knowledge that death and suffering have once again come as a result of the apparently intentional acts of humans bent on harming other humans.  Our first reactions are emotional, of course.  An event like this evokes fear, terror, grief and the memory of past events.  Certainly we all experience shock at yet another example of violence.

I would ask first and foremost that we all engage in prayer to the Lord of the Resurrection, the Prince of Peace. Pray for victims and their families; for first responders and ER nurses and doctors; for law enforcement officials and our government as they try to understand and discern what has happened. Pray also for your own sense of peace and for faith to drive out the fear that can grip us when we feel attacked. Our nation will likely show a lot of rage in the days ahead.  The “peace that passes all understanding” and comes through the power of the Holy Spirit will provide calm in the storm. Through the peace of Christ we will not feed the rage or the fear.  Also – and this is the hard part – pray for the people or person who set off the bombs. God calls us to pray for our enemies.  But, this is not an act of passive or pious works that gain us favor before God.  Praying for our enemies is the first, and very powerful act of bringing peace and redemption.  The judgement of those who do violence belongs to God.  We will not add to their violence with our own call for revenge or retribution. So, pray – please.

Perhaps you are wondering why God would let this happen. Know that God is not in the bombing business. When we look at God revealed to us in the Christ of the cross we see one who is suffering with us – with the victims and the dead and grieving. We also see one who overcomes evil, suffering and death not through violent response, but by redemptive suffering; by taking the evil on, unmasking it for what it is, and by overcoming it through new life and resurrection.  You don’t have to understand how that all works, just look to Jesus and see that it does!

Perhaps you feel fear because it seems like this could happen to any of us at anytime.  On the one hand, that may be true.  We are not as safe as we think each day.  However, it is also true that violence does not befall all of us.  Death however is real for each. In Christ we have nothing to fear of what he conquered by his resurrection.

Perhaps you don’t know what to tell you kids. Tell them the truth, answer their questions and witness to the hope and faith you know — even if you don’t have a good handle on it at the moment.

Remember what the angels say time and agin in scripture; remember what God tells Moses as the Egyptian Army closes on them; remember what Jesus tells the disciples when it seems the boat will sink -DO NOT BE AFRAID, I AM WITH YOU.  Perhaps the words of a song we used in Advent will be helpful. They are by David Haas, based on Isaiah 43 and used her with permission:

You Are Mine

I will come to you in the silence,
I will lift you from all your fear.
You will hear my voice,
I claim you as my choice.
Be still and know I am here.

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see.
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light.
Come and rest in me. Refrain

Do not be afraid, I am with you.
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me,
I will bring you home;
I love you and you are mine.

I am the Word that leads all to freedom,
I am the peace the world cannot give.
I will call your name,
embracing all your pain.
Stand up, now walk and live!”  Refrain

Text: David Haas, b. 1957

Text 1991 GIA Publications, Inc., 7404 S. Mason Ave., Chicago, IL 60638. http://www.giamusic.com. 800.442.3358. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

In Memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

So, I was thinking that it is April 9. For many in the Church that means it is the day we commemorate Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died on this date in 1945 – martyred by his Nazi captors for his role in the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer was 39 years old that day and had already established himself as a brilliant theologian, a dedicated and capable pastor, and ecumenical leader, and a voice that stood in opposition to the Führer from the very beginning.  His role in the plot was to reach out to Church leaders in Allied countries to seek support for the overthrow of Hitler from Allied leaders.

Bonhoeffer has been an influential figure in the Church since his death. It would be hard to estimate how deeply Bonhoeffer’s life and works have influenced my own faith journey. He left behind books that are still published, read and re-read to this day.  His story is a compelling vision of life as a disciple in our age. Books like The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, Spiritual Care, Letters and Papers from Prison and Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible are standard fare and absolute must reads for any Christian.  Amazon.com offers a page dedicated to his works. 

LivingLutheran.com has observed today by lifting up some key quotes that offer just a little taste of Bonhoeffer’s wisdom — check it out:  In commemoration: Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Seeds – LivingLutheran.com.

The story of Bonhoeffer’s life is told best in three works.  The newest is by Eric Metaxas in his Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy; Perhaps the oldest, and very intimate portrait is written by Bonhoeffer’s best friend, Eberhard Bethge – Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography;  A third offering is also new.  Martin Marty has written Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography looks at this one, very influential and oft misunderstood collection of his writing while in prison.

So, on this day we remember one of the saints whose witness echoes into history.  Say a prayer in thanks for brother Dietrich today, if you don’t mind.

Pax Christi – Pastor Tim