A SUMMER LIKE NO OTHER
This has been a summer like no other. Who would have ever imagined – at the beginning of the year – that we would be in the midst of a global health crisis? One person said, “Five years ago, if we all had been asked what we thought we would be doing in 2020, we all would have been wrong.”
Most of my work as executive director of Lutheran CORE is by telephone or computer, so most of it continues without major change or interruption. But there is one area where there has been major change. The various convocations and gatherings that I had been planning on attending during the second half of the year have all had to become online.
I would like to tell you about two such events that I had been planning on attending in person the past couple months, that instead became online. The first was a week of NEXUS in mid-July at Grand View University (ELCA) in Des Moines, Iowa. The second was the NALC convocation in early August.
NEXUS is a program which gives high school youth the opportunity to study the Bible and theology, engage in ministry, develop new friends, and consider a church-related vocation. This is the fourth summer that Grand View has offered two weeks of NEXUS. Lutheran CORE will be sponsoring one of the weeks next year, so my intent had been to attend a major part of the NALC-sponsored week in July. Because NEXUS became an online rather than an in person program, I participated in the sessions on one of the days. It was a good day.
What I experienced was something totally worthy of our support. Kate Faas, director of NEXUS, has awesome organizational, coordinating, and technical skills. During the opening worship service Russell Lackey, campus pastor, gave an inspiring message based on Revelation 2, in which he challenged us to stay in the race. Mark Mattes, chair of the department of religion and philosophy, gave a presentation from the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. I was struck by the great similarities between Jeremiah’s day and our day. The stark contrast between the message of Jeremiah regarding the need to take seriously the power of the Babylonian empire and those who minimized the concern reminded me of the differing attitudes that people today have towards COVID-19. I felt warmly welcomed by the college-aged mentors and the high schoolers during the hangout time in the evening.
What I would like to spend more time telling you about was the presentation from the New Testament by Ken Jones, professor in the religion and philosophy department. The comparisons he drew between the musical “Hamilton” and Paul’s letter to the Galatians were brilliant. His Bible study was one of the best I have ever heard.
Dr. Jones described “Hamilton” as “the best theater experience in my entire life.” He talked about the song, “It’s Quiet Uptown,” where everything in the story changes. Prior to that time Hamilton’s son Philip had been killed while defending his father in a duel. He and his wife Eliza have become estranged because of his being unfaithful. The song, “It’s Quiet Uptown,” talks about three “unimaginables” – the unimaginable consequences of Hamilton’s sin (the death of his son and the breakdown of their marriage), his wife’s unimaginable gift of forgiveness, and the unimaginable grace of now being able to live into a new future. Hamilton’s adultery and his son’s death had changed the trajectory of their lives in a negative way as it led to a complete collapse of their marriage. But during the song Eliza reaches out and takes his hand. Everything changes. The trajectory is no longer based upon Hamilton’s past sin. Instead it has hope for the future because of his wife’s gift of forgiveness. Instead of being determined by the past, their relationship would now be able to build and anticipate a new future.
Dr. Jones then compared the message of the musical to the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where the apostle contrasts living by the flesh and living by the Spirit. As Eliza did for Hamilton, so Jesus gives freedom by extending mercy to sinners. We were all living in unimaginable sin. Jesus reached out to us with His unimaginable love. In an unimaginable act of mercy and grace He took on our flesh and died for our sins. In the song Hamilton says, “I’m not afraid. I know whom I married.” In spite of all the circumstances of our lives, in our nation, and in our world, we need not be afraid, because we can know Jesus as our Savior and Lord. In the words of the song, Hamilton received from Eliza, and we can receive from Jesus, “a grace too powerful to name.” The number of times that the college-aged mentors and the high schoolers talked about the musical “Hamilton” during the hangout time that evening told me how much Dr. Jones’ presentation had made a real impact on them.
Grand View University is making a vitally important contribution to the Church through NEXUS. I am very glad that Lutheran CORE has the opportunity to support this ministry through sponsoring a week of NEXUS during the summer of 2021.
I am very grateful for all who have already contributed towards our meeting our commitment of $15,000. This amount covers half of the cost of providing one week of NEXUS for twenty-four high school students, including the cost of college-aged mentors, teachers, activities, room and board, and materials. The funds from Lutheran CORE will be matched by Lilly Endowment to cover a full week’s cost of $30,000.
At this point we have received over $8,000 in contributions towards our commitment of $15,000. Thank you to those who have already given. Please consider making an additional contribution to Lutheran CORE to help us fulfill this commitment. Be sure to indicate NEXUS on the memo line on your check.
Congratulations to the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) as they celebrate the tenth anniversary of their formation as a denomination. Since the day when they were first constituted, on August 27, 2010, when seventeen congregations signed up, they have grown to over 440 congregations and over 150, 000 members. As Bishop Dan Selbo said, “We are not able to be together in person, but we are united in Jesus.”
Bishop Selbo’s opening devotions and Gemechis Buba’s keynote address were both based upon one of my favorite passages of Scripture – Ephesians 3: 14-21. Paul concludes this passage by saying in verses 20 and 21, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”
Addressing the fact that Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter and referring to the global pandemic that has surprised us all, Bishop Selbo made the very interesting and pertinent comment that the shutdown and other circumstances related to the pandemic are “the closest I have come to being in prison, and yet they do not even come close.” He then talked about the hope that sustained Paul in prison as he said, “That is the only real hope that we will ever have.” Following up on Paul’s statement in verse 14, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,” Bishop Selbo asked us, “Are we spending the time we need to in prayer, or do we think we can do it alone and on our own?”
The following morning Dr. Buba picked up on some more of the emphases of this passage. I am always hugely inspired and encouraged whenever I hear Dr. Buba.
Dr. Buba referenced Paul’s language in verse 21 – “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” First he said, “All our focus must be on Jesus.” Then he asked how we could be speaking of the decline of the church and the passing of the Christian era when the Bible uses the words, “to all generations, forever and ever.” He reminded us of how we speak of measurable goals, measurable actions, but the Bible speaks of immeasurability. The Bible tells of the one “who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” We must not put a limit on the grace of God. If God is involved, the results will be immeasurable.
Reflecting on the fact that in verse 14 Paul said, “I bow my knees before the Father,” and in both verses 16 and 18 he said, “I pray that,” Dr. Buba commented that our problems come when we do not pray, when we ask for the wrong things, when we pray for less than God can do, and when our prayers lack intentionality. In contrast to an image of a church that is shrinking, slowing down, and becoming less, Paul’s reference to “the power (that is) at work within us” means that the church is the most powerful institution on earth. We must never ask for less. We must never imagine small. We need a God-sized prayer life and a God-sized vision.
During the convocation Bishop Selbo laid out a ministry vision for the next several years of the NALC. His vision for such things as new mission starts and the number of seminary graduates reflected a faith like that of the apostle. I like the comment that Dr. Eric Riesen, president of the North American Lutheran Seminary, made to Bishop Selbo. “You are articulating a vision for a Lutheran church that I have always wanted to be a part of.”
LETTER TO BISHOP EATON
I had promised that I would share whether I had heard from Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA, in response to the letter which I sent to her on July 20. Over three weeks later I have not heard anything from her or any of her staff. That is an interesting way to handle challenges to the ELCA’s integrity – to just ignore it.
In my letter I asked Bishop Eaton how the ELCA could be celebrating the tenth anniversary of LGBTQIA+ persons’ being able to serve freely in the church when that is not what was voted on at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. That assembly did not consider B, T, Q, I, A, or + persons. Instead it only provided for the possibility of the ordination of a certain group of L and G persons – those that are in (PALMS) publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous, same sex sexual relationships. In my letter I asked her how, going forward, any one on any side of any issue would trust any action taken by any Churchwide Assembly if the ELCA does not honor the commitments and remain within the boundaries, but instead essentially rewrites the resolutions that were voted on and approved in 2009.
A copy of my letter to Bishop Eaton can be found here. If you receive communications from Lutheran CORE via the U. S. post office mail, a copy of my letter has been enclosed.
PRAYERS OF THE CHURCH
Finally, I would like to recommend to you the weekly prayers of the church, which can be found on the Worship page on our website. Many thanks to Cathy Ammlung, NALC pastor and secretary of the board of Lutheran CORE, for writing these weekly prayers. I had the privilege to preach on August 16 on the text from Matthew 15 on Jesus and the Canaanite woman. I found her prayers to not only relate to the issues of our day, but also to the unique emphases of that particular Scripture passage.
Many thanks to Cathy for writing these prayers. I highly recommend them to you.
Blessings in Christ,
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE