Reformation Sunday, NC Synod Bishop Tim Smith, preacher
STORY BY ELIZABETH A. EATON
What is ‘Lutheran’?
We have a particular way of understanding the Jesus story
For the past two years, I’ve organized my work around these four emphases: we are church, we are Lutheran, we are church together and we are church for the sake of the world.
I want to spend a little time thinking with you about what it means to be Lutheran in the 21st century. What do we mean when we say we are Lutheran? The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is fast upon us, and this month, as in every October, we will observe Reformation Sunday.
Maybe a good place to start is to ask why it’s important and helpful to have a Lutheran identity. Some would say that denominations and denominational loyalty are things of the past. There is some truth to this, especially if our denomination is defined by ethnicity and culture and our loyalty is primarily to the denomination and not to our Lord.
There was a campaign during the 1980’s church growth movement to get rid of any denominational markers whatsoever. The stolid St. Paul Lutheran Church on the corner was supposed to be renamed something like “The Church at Pheasant Run.” How evocative! How cool! How vaguely woodsy! A simple name change would accomplish two things at once: stop scaring the denominationally averse away and attract tons of people. It didn’t.
In an attempt to become more attractive we became generic. Having a clear sense of who we are and what we believe isn’t a detriment but an asset. If we are well-defined and well-differentiated, we are more able to engage in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and can be a clear voice in the public square.
But what is “Lutheran”? We chuckle at author Garrison Keillor’s loving caricature of Lutherans. He does describe many of us, but not all of us. I would never disavow the western and northern European heritage of thousands of our people. It’s part of our story. But we also have thousands of sisters and brothers of African, Asian, Latino/Latina, Native American, and Arab and Middle Eastern descent, some of whom have been Lutheran for generations.
And the Lutheran church is experiencing its greatest growth in the “global south” (Africa, Central and Latin America, and most of Asia). There are more Lutherans in Indonesia than in the ELCA. There are more Lutherans in Ethiopia and Tanzania than in the U.S. There are Lutherans in El Salvador and Japan and India and Mexico and Palestine and Jordan and China and Ireland. The newest Lutheran church is being formed in the world’s newest country. We are working with Sudanese Lutheran pastors to establish a Lutheran church in South Sudan. Jell-O doesn’t routinely show up at the potlucks of these Lutherans. Being Lutheran is not fundamentally about ethnicity.
If culture and cuisine don’t define us, our theology must. Lutherans have a very particular way of understanding the Jesus story. It’s not a movement from unbridled freedom to submission. Rather, it’s the story of God redeeming us from sin, death and the devil, setting us free from our bondage to sin so that, liberated and alive, we may serve God by serving the neighbor. And it’s not about our effort or goodness or hard work. It’s about God’s gracious will to be merciful.
Try this at home: ask family or friends what they must do to be in a right relationship with God. After picking their jaws up off the floor that they were asked such a question, my guess is that people will talk about keeping the commandments, being a better person, reading the Bible more. No. The love of God at work in the crucified Christ creates this right relationship. Our part is to receive this gift in faith.
This is a shattering reversal of the way things have always worked. We don’t have a transactional relationship with God — if I do this then God will do that. It is a transformational relationship. We who were dead in sin have now been made alive. We are free to respond to that deep abiding love. What we eat, what hymns we sing, what jokes we tell, what counties we hail from, what color we are, what we wear — none of this binds us together or makes us Lutheran. It is God’s grace. And that is good news in any language.
Sir Edward Elgar’s 1901 military march, “Pomp and Circumstance,” also called “The Graduation March,” is being played across the land at graduations this month and next. Elgar received an honorary doctorate of music during Yale University’s graduation in 1905 and his 1901 tune was played. Since then, it has become a tradition.
The word “pomp” comes from Latin “pompa” meaning “procession,” which is also based on a Greek word meaning “to send.”
Send / Sent / Sent forth is an important New Testament word: Galatians 4:4 – “God sent his Son.” Acts 12:11 “The Lord has sent his angel.” John 14:26 “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send.” Luke 10:1 “The Lord appointed 70 and sent them to every town and place.”
The Greek verb is “apostellow” and the noun is “apostle” – as in Acts 1:26 “Matthias was added to the 11 apostles.” We are apostles – sent people who follow Jesus; those sent forth for the sake of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, to preach, teach, heal, serve, share, give, love, bless, walk with, pray and praise. God blesses us and sends us in mission to the world. The “Sending” is the concluding and shortest part of our worship service each Sunday, but it is the beginning of the biggest part of our worship and service every week!
Congratulations and God’s blessings to college, university and seminary graduates being sent!
Rebecca Jane Lord – Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University. (May 24) Rebecca is Mt. Olive’s current vicar and from Greenville, SC and the South Carolina Synod of the ELCA.
Katie Maul – Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University. (May 24) Katie served as Mt. Olive’s vicar 2012-2013. She is from Portage, PA and the Allegheny Synod of the ELCA, which is also the Synod to which she was assigned.
Cassie McIntosh – Lenoir-Rhyne University. (May 16) Cassie is a member of Mt. Olive’s Bear’s Pew and served Mt. Olive’s Guest Preacher on Sunday, April 6. She plans to go to Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
Jordyn Setzer – Wingate University. (May 17) Jordyn is the daughter of Tim and KC Setzer. She played on Alexander Central High School’s state championship softball team and earned an athletic scholarship to Wingate for the same.
You and I join them in POMP, in the procession as sent people, apostles, in Jesus’ name. As they are sent out from school, and we from worship, with all the rights, privileges, and honors pertaining thereto, may we all: “Go forth into the world to serve God with gladness; be of good courage; hold fast to that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor all people; love and serve God, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (ELW p. 222)
Thanks be to God!
Elizabeth A. Eaton
Story by Elizabeth A. Eaton
Worship is the heart of all we do
GIVEN COMPETITION, IS IT ‘HUB OF OUR WEEK, SPACE OF OUR REGROUPING’?
There is a Seattle-based caffeinated beverage company that goes to great lengths to provide excellent customer service. Its campaign is to make itself everyone’s “Third Place.” “First Place” is home, “Second Place” is work and “Third Place” is the local coffeehouse. There is meticulous training for employees, relentless market research and creative adaptability employed by the company to retain customers.
Employees practice the “hand-off plane” where they are taught to make eye contact when handing over the vente mocha latte to the customer. This is so the customer will have a transformative experience while sipping a cup of joe. And it works. In a letter to thank the staff a woman wrote: “You are the hub of our week, the space of our regrouping,” and she went on to describe a multigenerational, multicultural, multi-socioeconomic community where she and her family found comfort and a sense of belonging.
This is our competition.
We are church. At the heart of what we do is worship, and at the heart of our worship is the crucified and risen Christ. Everything else we do is formed, nourished, sustained and transformed by our life as a faith community gathered around word and sacrament, abiding in the love of God. Without this intentional, regular communion with God and each other it’s not possible for us to speak an authentic word of hope to a broken world — the world God so loves.
When we gather for worship we hear God’s word of promise; we confess our helplessness; receive forgiveness; we pray; and we welcome new brothers and sisters through baptism, promising to support them in their walk in faith. We are fed with the bread of life and receive our Lord poured out for us. And then we are sent back into the world. Worship is essential for the church’s life and service.
But how much attention do we pay to the preparation and execution of our corporate worship? Is it the “hub of our week, the space of our regrouping”? Do we expect to have a transformative experience? The Third Commandment (Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy) and Martin Luther’s explanation (We are to fear and love God so that we do not neglect his word and the preaching of it, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it) remind us that worship is central in the life of faith. Worship is not just another item on the list of programs and activities in a congregation. It is the heart.
Sometimes worship can become a sort of lived-in room — everything has become so familiar that we don’t notice the frayed furniture. What if we entered worship as if it were our first experience of it? What if we saw the congregation and the liturgy through the eyes of a guest? Is the building clean? Where is the real front door? Does anyone greet us? Is the bulletin easy to navigate? Where are the nursery and the restrooms? Are instructions for communion clear?
And what about the worship service itself? We are a liturgical church. There is a certain humility and beautiful communion in not trying to reinvent the service each time, but to join with brothers and sisters throughout the world and across the centuries. And please, please do not rewrite the creeds. It took the church a couple of centuries to come up with the Nicene Creed. Why do we think we can do better knocking it out on our laptop?
This has nothing to do with styles of music — there is a breadth of hymnody in Evangelical Lutheran Worship and related resources. Gospel, Bach, contemporary and world music are all powerful ways of hearing God’s word and singing praise. It’s good to be fluent in the musical vernacular of our communities and to try those of others.
Most of all we should come to worship expecting to be changed. We are touching, tasting, feeling, hearing and seeing the one who knows us and loves us completely. Our lives are restored. We are set free. Fed for the journey we are set loose to go in peace and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.