Friday, May 27, 2011


After the Day of Resurrection, Jesus appeared to many of his disciples during the following 40 days. Such accounts, while missing from the original ending of the Gospel of Mark, are cited in the other three gospels. In the last chapter of the Gospel of Luke and the first chapter of the Acts, on the 40th day after his resurrection, he came again to the Apostles and led them out to the Mount of Olives where he instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Then, as they were watching, he ascended into clouds. As they continued to watch, two angels appeared and declared to them that, just as he ascended, Jesus would return in glory.

According to Augustine of Hippo, one of the early church fathers, the Feast of Ascension originated with the Apostles. John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa, contemporaries of Augustine, refer to it as being one of the oldest feasts practiced by the Church, possibly going back as far AD 68. There is no written evidence, however, of the Church honoring Ascension Day until Augustine's time in the fourth century. There are many indications that the Day of Ascension was one of the most important feasts of celebration, only surpassed by Easter, Christmas, and The Epiphany.

Today, as an Ecumenical feast, Ascension Day is one of the six holy days where attendance at Mass is mandatory for Roman Catholics and Anglicans. The event is generally a one-day public commemoration, although the Church, in keeping with earlier traditions regarding festivals, might offer devotions for seven days.

For many Christians, Ascension Day's meaning provides a sense of hope that the glorious and triumphant return of Christ is near. We remember what the angels said after Jesus ascended to heaven, that Jesus will return. It is a reminder of the Reign of God within their hearts. Furthermore, we are reminded that Christ is now with God representing us and advocating our relationship with God through him.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he told the apostles to go to Jerusalem and wait there for the power from on high. Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." In other words, as he ascended to heaven, he promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, which arrived on Pentecost, ten days later. But his comment didn’t end there. The power that they received, and we now receive, had an intentional purpose. We are to be witnesses to his life-giving acts, the promises he gave, and the thoughts of how we are to live in relationship with God and our fellow humans.

This coming Thursday, June 2, is Ascension Day. I would be surprised if there are any worship services available, except in the Roman Catholic churches. The festival has become lost in the hurry-scurry of our every day lives along with the distractions that the world brings. While it might be difficult to bring the festival back into the sanctuaries, we could spend time that day, considering his life, death, and resurrection here on earth. We could then ponder how we, as his disciples, might better be witnesses to all that Jesus Christ represents.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Some of those who read this blog might know of Rob Bell. Some may be aware, or have read, his latest book, Love Wins. The book is a reflection by Rob Bell on the notions of heaven and hell and the concept of eternal life. While I haven’t completely finished reading the book, I find that I might be in a position to provide some of my own reflections in addition to talking about a Lutheran perspective.

One of the significant comments made by the author is found on page 115, “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires.”


There are many ways to read scripture. We can absorb it by segments, large or small. Doing it that way might assist us in coming to the conclusion that many of us will perish from God forever because of their choices. There are many passages in scripture, when taken independently, will support that premise. The other way is to take scripture and embrace its total story as told by the multitude of individual stories that are incorporated within the Book of Faith. I cannot speak for anyone else, but when I do that, I find an incredible God of love who has created, redeemed, and empowered us from the beginning of the whole story throughout scripture until the end. To me, the scriptures provide a story of a God of love, who is also full of grace and mercy. To me, the message conveyed by all of scripture is that God continually walks with us, wanting to be our Father, our Brother, and our Spirit. To me, the Book of Faith is a story of just that, story after story that propels us into a faith relationship with the Triune God. It is a complete story of relationship, the relationship of humanity with God and the relationship of humanity with one another.

The beauty of this story is that it, overall, does not come to a conclusion about heaven and hell. It is not meant to. It is not it’s purpose to convey a principle of how we must live in order to reap the benefits of being morally responsible. It is a story about God and the length, width and depth to which God loves us. It is a story about the desire of God to be in relationship with us because of God’s love for us. And, because of that relationship, God’s desire is for us to be in a loving relationship with one another, because of God’s love. And, because God is love, when we express the love from God to others, God is with us.

Is there a heaven and a hell? I don’t know. I don’t have any idea and no one has come back, except Jesus to tell me if there is or not. That’s not the question. I believe that God wants me to live in the present. That’s where God is. He’s not in the past; that’s no longer here. He’s not in the future; the future hasn’t arrived yet. If I live in the present and realize that life is about God, not about me, then I will have a good chance to be in relationship with God. And if that occurs, then I can be a channel of love to other people as God uses me to be a conduit God’s love.

Especially in the Gospel of John, we find Jesus expressing the notion that eternal life does not begin after death. It is in the present. John 17:3 says, “Eternal life is to know God.” We’ll find out soon enough about what is on the other side of death. Right now, I wish to experience eternal life right now.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Now that’s a word for you, isn’t it? There are three syllables: trid –u-um. It is pronounced, trid'-yOO-um. So what is it all about? It’s the Latin word for “three days” and represents the three holiest days of the church year. It begins with the evening of Maundy Thursday (this year it is April 1), is continued through Good Friday with the celebration of the passion of the Lord on Holy Saturday, reaches its high point in the Easter vigil, and concludes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday. On Holy Thursday we remember the Last Supper and that Jesus gave himself in the Eucharist. We recall that Jesus chose his apostles to serve and lead the Church. Remembering that Jesus washed their feet at the Last Supper, the presiding minister sometimes washes the feet of members of the congregation. The word “Maundy” means commandment or mandate. On this day, Jesus gave us a new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” The evening worship service of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday is a beautiful and joyful celebration. We recall Jesus call to servant hood and the love he had for us as he gives his body and blood to us in The Lord’s Supper. At the end of the service, the main altar is stripped bare. On Good Friday we remember the death of Jesus. According to an ancient custom, communion is not provided on this day or before the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. The commemoration of the Lord's passion and death may take place in the afternoon or in the darkness of night. There are three parts to the liturgy of the day: the Liturgy of the Word; the Bidding Prayer, and the Veneration of the Cross. On Holy Saturday we meditate on the suffering and death of Jesus. Then the people celebrate the Easter Vigil. The celebration of the Easter Vigil should take place at night, beginning after nightfall and ending before the dawn of Sunday. The Easter Vigil has four parts: The Service of Light; the Liturgy of the Word; the Liturgy of Baptism; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. During the Service of Light, all the lights in the church are turned off and a fire is prepared outside the church. Then the fire is blessed and the Paschal Candle is lighted from the new fire. The candle is carried into the dark church. It is a sign of Christ, the Light of the World, who has overcome the darkness of sin and death. The lighted Paschal Candle provides the only illumination. Then, from the flame of the Paschal Candle, members of the congregation light the small candles that they are holding. The flame is passed from person to person until everyone is holding a lighted candle. The light from the Paschal Candle and all the small candles provides the only illumination in the church during this portion of the liturgy. This section concludes with the singing of the Easter Proclamation. During the Liturgy of the Word, the story of God's great love for us is proclaimed in readings from the Old and New Testaments. There are seven Old Testament texts. Although it would be preferable that all seven Old Testament readings be proclaimed, the number of readings may be reduced if the circumstances necessitate. Minimally, two Old Testament readings are proclaimed. The readings recall the great events of salvation, beginning with creation itself and were selected to dispose people to celebrate the sacraments of Christian initiation with great faith. During the Liturgy of Baptism, those who have been preparing for Baptism and their godparents are called forward. The presiding ministers then go to the baptismal font, if this can be seen by the congregation. After the candidates are baptized, all present stand with lighted candles and renew their baptismal promises as a sign that they share the new life of Jesus through his resurrection. The newly baptized and confirmed await their first sharing in the Eucharist. The Easter Vigil concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist. This is a joyous sharing in the sacrificial meal of Jesus Christ, Lord and Risen Savior. While most congregations observe Holy Week in three separate services, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Day, there are those communities of faith who are returning to the Triduum to fully embrace the three holiest days of the church year as the liturgy flows from one service to another. However we observe this holy time, we need to remember that there is no Easter without Good Friday, there is no empty tomb without a cross, and there is no resurrection without the crucifixion.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Look up “Lent” on Google and you will probably find out all you want about Lent – how it started, why it is named “Lent,” what we are to do, why we do what we do, etc. For many people, it is the most holy season of the church year. For other people, they don’t even know what Lent is all about. For others, they know it starts on Ash Wednesday, it lasts for forty days, excluding Sundays, and ends on Easter Sunday. And for others, who think of the calendar significance of Lent, they know there are a couple special days at the end of Lent, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Furthermore, we know that in the secular world, Lent has its own significance. In certain areas of this nation, the culture acknowledges Lent by celebrating Mardi Gras before Lent, to have a big bash of a party and then to discipline one’s self during the Lenten period.

The questions are: What does Lent mean to you? How does it affect you? Why? Is there a personal component to Lent?

Because of the church calendar and its selection of gospel texts to help guide us during the Lenten season, we may secure some answers, if we wish to. Of course, every Lenten season begins with the story of Jesus being tempted immediately after his baptism. This year, during Lent, we focus on the gospel of Matthew. However, there is a unique series of gospel stories this year. After the temptation of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, we turn to the gospel of John. We hear four stories from this unique gospel. The first story, in Chapter 3 of the gospel, tells about Nicodemus coming to visit Jesus by night. The second, from Chapter 4, is the story of Jesus visiting the Samaritan woman at the well. The third Sunday, from Chapter 9, Jesus heals the blind man. The final week, from Chapter 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from death.

In the first story, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” In the second story the townspeople say, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world." In the third story the conversation between Jesus and the blind man ends with Jesus asking the blind man, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. And finally, Jesus says to Martha, in the fourth story, before raising Lazarus from death, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Yes, these stories and the season of Lent are opportunities to deepen our desire to believe in Jesus and with the results of being open to the Spirit, we will experience eternal life, not after death but as we experience our human journey as spiritual beings.

In all of John, and especially in these stories, we find that Jesus is calling us into relationship, a relationship with him that then expands to a relationship with others as we deepen our commitment to him. This belief, this relationship comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. It comes through death, dying to self. This is the story of Lazarus. This is the story of humanity. This is the story of our life in Christ. We die to self. We are raised to a new life in Jesus Christ.

This is a meaning for Lent. It is a highly spiritual meaning. It is a personal meaning. It is a relational meaning. It is a process, not a result. Through this discipline of Lent and our relationship with Jesus, we experience the resurrection of Easter.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

“How Lutherans Interpret Scripture”

Well, if we want to be honest, Lutherans interpret scripture almost any way that they want to. Of course, I’m being a little tongue in cheek when I say that, but there really is no clear cut definition of how Lutherans interpret scripture.

There are many Lutherans who believe that the Bible should be interpreted literally. For example, this world was created in eight days, Noah truly took all of the animals on an ark, and Jonah was swallowed by a large fish. They believe that God guided every word that was spoken.

In response to the above, many more Lutherans don’t concern themselves with how the world was created. They believe the initial story in Genesis is a message of God’s love for humanity iby creating the world for us and of our responsibility to take care of it. In addition, we know that most civilizations have a story of the flood. It could be connected to when the earth shifted on its axis or some other cataclysmic event that separated the continents. Furthermore, Lutherans see the story of Jonah as just that, a major “parable” with messages for us to ponder.

Then there are those who are more extreme. They do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin woman. They believe many of the stories in the Hebrew Testament are what we today would call “fictional. Furthermore, the Bible interpretation needs to be “adjusted” for current understanding of science, culture, and the dynamics in which we live.

There is one basic understanding of scripture from all Lutherans: we are justified by faith through grace. We have been made one through Jesus Christ who sacrificed himself on the cross so that our sinfulness would be “taken away” and we would be justified in the eyes of God.

There are other basic understandings: 1) Jesus Christ was both fully human and divine, 2) Jesus was on this earth for a period of time and had a ministry that lasted somewhere between one to three years, 3) Jesus was arrested, beaten, hung on a cross, and died, 4) Christ rose from death, not by being resuscitated, but in a new a “human” form, 5) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. All other understandings and interpretations are acceptable as long as these are not denied.

With this in mind, I would like to summarize what a contemporary theologian has suggested for Lutherans in their understanding of scripture.

Initially we look at the constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to see what it says about the Bible. The ELCA Constitution has two statements regarding the Bible. First, there is a general statement about the Word of God, which is understood in a threefold sense: 1) Jesus Christ (the incarnate Word); 2) the message of law and gospel (the proclaimed Word); and 3) the Bible (the written word). Second, there is a specific statement about the Bible as authoritative for the church’s proclamation, faith, and life. The ELCA 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.

Mark Allen Powell identifies four phrases that Lutherans often use when talking about the Bible.

Law and Gospel: Lutherans say that the Word of God speaks both law and gospel and that both must be held together for God’s Word to be fulfilled: the law is that which accuses us and judges us, and the Gospel is that which comforts us and saves us. This message of law and gospel is at the heart of scripture: faithful interpretation discerns this message; faithful proclamation declares this message.

Sola Scriptura (scripture alone): Lutherans say that scripture is the “only rule and norm” according to which doctrines are to be established and evaluated. This does not mean that Lutherans do not respect the validity of sound reason or the legitimacy of human experience. Scripture has unique authority as the only record of revealed truth, and it, therefore, provides a perspective from which human reason and experience are best understood.

The Plain Sense: Lutherans say that scripture is to be interpreted in line with its “plain sense.” This means that passages are to be understood in the sense that would have seemed obvious to their original readers (e.g., “metaphorical” or “literal”). Secret systems of “coded meaning” are not to be imposed on scripture to produce interpretations unavailable to the original audience.

Public Interpretation: Lutherans say that the interpretation of scripture is a public act rather than a private one. Individuals should not view the Bible as a conduit for receiving private messages from God but should recognize that the Bible presents God's word to the Church as a whole. The meaning of scripture for individuals is to be found by seeking application of its universal message to personal situations.

There is more to be said about this. I will continue this discussion in the next addition of “God Talk.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


So, what’s the big deal about Lent? What is it all about, anyway?

Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter.

In a general way, the traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The season of Lent has been around for thousands of years. It initially developed during the early years of Christianity. Most of the new Christians were baptized during a long service called The Easter Vigil. The Lenten season was a time for preparation and consideration of what it meant to be a disciple, or follower, of Jesus Christ. The length of the Lenten season was forty days to represent the forty days of Jesus fasting in the wilderness. The forty days began with Ash Wednesday and ended at midnight, just before The Day of Resurrection. The forty days did not include the five Sundays in Lent because those were days that the faithful observe Jesus’ resurrection.

As the Christian religion developed, with its connection with the Holy Roman Empire, the season of Lent was reshaped as the church gave instructions on how to observe Lent. Christians were not to eat meat or fish, sometimes not even eggs or dairy products. Furthermore, they were limited to one meal a day. In the Ninth Century, fasting restrictions were gradually loosed. In the Roman Catholic tradition, meat was allowed by the Twentieth Century, except on Fridays. In 1966, the Roman Catholic Church began a trend toward penitential works, such as acts of charity in conjunction with Lent.

With the advent of the Reformation, the practices of Lent were rethought, especially by Martin Luther. The church at that time had developed a strong practice of “good works.” In one of his sermons on the First Sunday of Lent, Martin Luther said, “But the worst of all is that we have adopted and practiced fasting as a good work: not to bring our flesh into subjection; but, as a meritorious work before God, to atone for our sins and obtain grace. And it is this that has made our fasting a stench and so blasphemous and shameful, so that no drinking and eating, no gluttony and drunkenness, could have been as bad and foul. It would have been better had people been drunk day and night than to fast thus.” (Martin Luther did not mince words.)

What has developed, for many people in the current culture, is a practice of self-abstinence for personal reasons, such as dieting, giving up chocolate, or some other practice to improve their personal well-being. Often the practice of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer have gone by the wayside. There seems to be some perception of Lenten practices as irrelevant to one’s faith.

Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are the three usual considerations of Lent. These have developed because of Jesus’ comments on how we should practice piety in our relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that our focus should continue to be the focus of preparation for or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter. Such preparation and recollection of baptism and Easter needs to consider the holy days before Easter of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the time that Jesus spent with his disciples in the Upper Room initiating The Lord’s Supper and his anguish, beginning with the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, it also seems to me that Lent is an opportunity to rethink who we are, what are purpose in life is, and how to respond, not only from the mind but the heart, to God’s will each day of our lives.

Besides considering fasting and almsgiving, we need to be in daily prayer, worship regularly, and read the Book of Faith. All of these open up to us the opportunity to experience a closer personal relationship with Jesus.

We claim to be Christians. Our desire is to follow Jesus. With that in mind, our practices of Lent need to focus on our personal relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. We need to develop an attitude of walking with Jesus in his ministry, entering Jerusalem, being in the Upper Room, and walking with him across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane. We need to acknowledge our own frailties, such as the disciples did when they abandoned him when he was arrested, denied him, and even betrayed him. We need to spiritually come to the foot of the cross and walk to the tomb where he was buried.

In following Jesus, we can think about losing our life so that we may find it, picking up our own cross and follow Jesus, and dying to self so that we may live.

There is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no empty tomb without a cross. There is no resurrection without a crucifixion.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I don’t know how frequently you have joined a community of faith, otherwise called a congregation. When you have, what have you been looking for? Has itbeen good music? Has it been to hear a good sermon? Do you want a beautiful sanctuary? How about a multitude of programs? Is that important? And then there is also the issue of programming and events for the young people. Is that the important factors of belonging to a community of faith?

I’ve been very struck by the recent texts that we have been reading, especially those from Paul in his first letter to the people in Corinth. He says such things, as “we preach Christ crucified;” “We boast in the Lord;” and, “of first importance is Jesus Christ and the cross.” How does that match up to our realities and our priorities? In the most recent texts, the Hebrew Testament reading says, “I am the Lord YOUR God.” I have provided the emphasis. It is a personal relationship. Are we looking for that? Another comment Paul made to the Corinthians said, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

There are many reasons this is all important, beginning with the reality that the Lord is our God and that without the cross and Jesus Christ, there would be no free relationship with our God. However, in thinking about community, there is a major factor we must all think about. It has little to do with music, sermons, a sanctuary, or programs, no matter who they are for. It has to do with our personal relationship with one another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it most succinctly:

One is a brother or sister to another only through Jesus Christ. I am brother or sister to another person through what Jesus Christ has done for me and to me; others have become brothers and sisters to me through what Jesus Christ has done for them and to them. The fact that we are brothers and sisters only through Jesus Christ is of immeasurable significance. Therefore, the other who comes face to face with me earnestly and devoutly seeking community is not the brother or sister with whom I am to relate in the community. My brother or sister is instead that other person who has been redeemed by Christ, absolved from sin, and called to faith and eternal life. What Christians are in themselves as Christians, in their inwardness and piety, cannot constitute the basis of our community, which is determined by what those persons are in terms of Christ. Our community consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. That is not only true at the beginning, as if in the course of time something else were to be added to our community, but also remains so for all the future and into eternity. . . . . The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more everything else between us will recede, and the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is alive between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we really do HAVE one another. We have another completely and for all eternity.

In looking for a community of faith, and not just a congregation, we are looking for the community that begins and ends with Jesus Christ.