Children’s Sermon, Sixth Sunday of Easter/May 5th, 2024/ Lectionary Year B

Gospel: John 15:9-17


Pastor: Good morning boys and girls! Welcome! Let’s say good morning to our friend Sammy and see if she is there. Ready? One, two, three: Good morning, Sammy!

Sammy: Good morning, everyone! Pastor, are we friends?

Pastor: Sammy, you are my very special friend.

Sammy: Really, Pastor?

Pastor: Yes, really, Sammy.

Sammy: Really?

Pastor: Yes.

Sammy: You’re sure?

Pastor: Yes, Sammy. If you ask me again, I might change my mind.

Sammy: Pastor, would you die for me?

Pastor: Well, why do you ask?

Sammy: Jesus says in the gospel reading that the greatest love we can have for each other is to be willing to lay down our lives for our friends. So would you die for me?

Pastor: You are my friend, Sammy. If you needed me to lay my life down for you, I would.

Sammy: Pastor, you make me feel really loved and safe.

Pastor: That’s good. Jesus calls us to love each other just like he loves us. That means that we take care of each other, protect each other, and demonstrate a love that is self-sacrificial, which means that we give up something for someone else.

Sammy: Boys and girls, who shows you Jesus’ love in your life?

[Allow time for responses]

Pastor: Great answers, everyone! Remember that Jesus laid down his life for each one of us because he loves us. He took on our sin, went to the cross, died, and rose again because he loves you. And he’s coming back one day because he loves you.

Sammy: That’s a whole lot of love!

Pastor: Yes it is! Let’s pray. Can we please fold our hands and bow our heads? Dear Jesus, thank you for laying down your life for us. We love you. Help us to love each other and you as you first loved us. Amen.

Sammy: Bye Pastor!

Pastor: Bye Sammy!


Children’s Sermon, Fifth Sunday of Easter/ April 28, 2024, Lectionary Year B

Scripture: John 15:1-8



Pastor: Good morning boys and girls! Welcome! Let’s say good morning to our friend Sammy and see if she is there. Ready? One, two, three: Good morning, Sammy!

Sammy: Good morning, everyone! Guess what Pastor!

Pastor: Yes, Sammy?

Sammy: Today is music Sunday! I would like to teach everyone a song. Ready?

Pastor: Okay! Is everyone ready?

Sammy: Repeat after me:

I just want to be a sheep


I just want to be a sheep


And I pray the Lord my soul to keep

I just want to be a sheep


Let’s put it all together! [repeat song]

Pastor: Great singing everyone! There are verses to that song, too Sammy.

Sammy: Yes we have verses to teach at another time.

Pastor: We are going to talk about vines today. Can anyone tell me what type of fruit grows on a vine?

[Allow time for responses]

Pastor: That’s great! Grapes grow on vines.

Sammy: I love grapes!

Pastor: I didn’t know that sheep eat grapes, Sammy.

Sammy: This one does!

Pastor: Sammy, do you help with chores on the farm?

Sammy: Of course! I help my maamaa with watching my younger cousins. And when Shepherd John askes us to help with weeding the pasture, we take care of that for him.

Pastor: So you go out into the pasture and eat weeds and vines and grass?

Sammy: Yes! And after my family is done eating, we have to go on to a new pasture—that’s how much we eat!

Pastor: Wow Sammy! You eat a lot!

Sammy: I don’t know where I put it all.

Pastor: Well, Sammy, you reminded me of our gospel reading for today.

Sammy: I did?

Pastor: Jesus is telling us that in order for new branches of the vine to grow, we have to get rid of the branches that are not producing fruit.

Sammy: That makes sense. If the grapevine doesn’t have grapes on a branch, and we cut that branch off, then a new branch can grow and we can eat grapes.

Pastor: Exactly!

Sammy: But why is Jesus talking about grapes?

Pastor: Sammy, he’s actually not talking about grapes.

Sammy: He’s not?! I’m so confused.

Pastor: Jesus is actually talking about sin. And about how sin needs to be clipped away from our lives to make room for good things.

Sammy: Like what?

Pastor: Boys and girls, what good things can we have in our lives when we have Jesus in our hearts?

[Allow time for responses]

Sammy: Great answers, everyone! Can we say a prayer for the vines and branches in our lives, Pastor?

Pastor: Of course, Sammy. Would everyone please fold your hands and bow your heads? Dear Jesus, Thank you for taking away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us. We love you. Amen.

Sammy: Bye everyone!

Pastor: Bye, Sammy!

Once You Know the Makeup, You Know the Outcome – Part Two

In the September 2023 issue of CORE Voice I gave an analysis of the expected outcome from the ELCA’s Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church.  After reading the biographical paragraphs for the thirty-five members, I described the certain end result of their work.  Here is a link to my analysis, which I entitled “Once You Know the Makeup, You Know the Outcome.” 

Based on who was chosen by the Church Council to be a part of the Commission, I listed four things that are certain to characterize the Renewed Lutheran Church – social justice activism as the main mission and purpose for the church, an ever-diminishing role for men, LGBTQ+ activism, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as the primary value system for the church.  At the end of that article I said that I would keep you informed as the Commission continues to do its work. 

The Commission met electronically September 21-22.  A link to a description of their meeting can be found here. The work of the Commission is as predicted.  After all, “Once You Know the Makeup, You Know the Outcome.”

The first thing to note in that report is a phrase in the resolution passed by the 2022 Churchwide Assembly which directed the Church Council to establish the Commission.  The phrase is “being particularly attentive to our shared commitment to dismantle racism.”  Those words are the only place where the resolution gets specific in defining what is to be the central mission and top priority of the Renewed Lutheran Church – dismantling racism.

Now certainly racism is wrong.  God so loved the world that He gave His Son.  God does not love just one race or ethnic group of people.  In the Great Commission of Matthew 28: 19, Jesus said that we are to make disciples of all nations, not that we are to dismantle racism.  In His final words to His disciples before ascending into heaven, Jesus told His followers that they are to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1: 8).  Jesus does not say that we are to make our number one priority dismantling racism.

The second item of interest to note is who are the three people who were invited to join the meeting as staff resource persons to inform the Commission concerning specific issues.   

  • Judith Roberts, ELCA Program Director for Racial Justice, who told about the efforts of the task force on “Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity.”
  • Pastor Nicolette Peñaranda, Program Director of African Descent Ministries, who described the barriers that clergy and congregations of African Descent face in the ELCA.
  • Vance Blackfox, ELCA Director for Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations, who spoke of the ongoing efforts to heal the broken relationship between the Indigenous community and the ELCA.

A couple years ago I sent an email to the recently appointed assistant to the bishop for authentic diversity for the synod in which I was rostered before I retired.  I wrote, “As an older, white, cisgender male, I am a part of a marginalized group.   In the spirit of authentic diversity, what kind of ministry will you be offering people like me?”  As expected, I never received a response.

I find it interesting that the Commission is concerned about barriers that clergy and congregations of African Descent face.  They show no concern at all for the barriers that seminarians, pastors, and congregations with traditional views face.  

And I find it interesting that the ELCA is concerned to “heal the broken relationship” between itself and the Indigenous community.  But it has absolutely no concern or interest to heal the broken relationship between itself and pastors, congregations, and lay people with traditional views, even though we also are people who have experienced broken promises, congregational leaders being removed, and church properties being taken over under the guise of S13.24 in the model constitution for synods.

In the spirit of “Once you know the makeup, you know the outcome,” we will continue to keep you informed.

A Review of Think.Believe.Do

A concerned member of the ELCA contacted me, asking me to do a review of a new curriculum from Augsburg Fortress’s Sparkhouse. That curriculum is entitled T.B.D.: Think. Believe. Do.  Sparkhouse touts it as their newest youth curriculum.  A blogpost describes T.B.D.

as a new small group series that gives students the tools to articulate, investigate, and test out their beliefs on a broad range of topics that connect to their daily lives. However, the goal isn’t to come away from each series with a settled idea about the topic. Although they might feel more settled than they did before. Instead. T.B.D. focuses on how students think, not just what they think.

Currently, T.B.D. offers six topical courses on Prayer, Sin, Mission, Salvation, and Bible, broken up into four sessions each.  Each session begins with a “Provocative Statement” before moving through three major sections: Think, Believe and Do.  After answering a series of thought provoking questions in their journals, students watch a video and reflect on two Bible Passages.  Following this, they come up with an honest statement of what they believe as individuals and as a group.  Finally, the group brainstorms a low risk way to test out that belief in the following week. 

The Video

In the videos that accompany each session, a young person wrestles with questions about the topic of the session.  This is very interesting.  Like many people today, both young and old, the character in each video turns to the internet, searching for an answer.  As you would expect, answers come from all quarters.  The internet search yields many quotes from the Bible.  Quotes are also given by Luther, Augustine, Calvin, Bonhoeffer, St. Benedict, and other Christian teachers.  Others come from more dubious places, like Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins.  This is what you would expect from an internet search.   The character in the video is left with more questions than answers as a result.  Pastors and catechists are very familiar with the kind of idiosyncratic views that people develop from their use of the internet. 

Values Clarification

The question is where to turn.  The answer is more than a little surprising.  After pondering challenging statements, watching the video, and looking up two Bible verses, the students are immediately asked to formulate their own responses to the questions.  The result is something very similar to the kind of “values clarification” that was practiced decades ago.  It’s almost as if the students are told, “You’re on your own.  The Bible is unclear and unreliable.  The Christian tradition is too varied and contradictory.  Who’s to say what is true.  You need to chart your own path.”

As a person who grew up in the 1970s, I am quite familiar with this way of teaching.  I learned to ask open ended questions and to accept the challenge to decide for myself.  Fortunately for me, I had pastors and college professors who pointed me to the answers.  (I attended a Lutheran college.) Otherwise, I would have been lost.  During my senior year of college, the process of asking open questions and deciding for myself overwhelmed me.  I realized that I was drowning in a sea of meaninglessness and purposelessness.  In the midst of this, I became acutely aware of my sinfulness.  It was then that I turned to the things I had learned from my pastors and professors.  In particular, I remembered what I had learned about the Cross and the Resurrection.  If I had been left entirely to my own resources, I don’t know where I would be.

A Third Resource?

In T.B.D., youth are presented with two resources with which to interpret the Bible: 1) the confusing diversity of answers given by the internet and 2) their own wisdom and the wisdom of their peers.   It’s too bad that a third resource is not introduced into the discussion, namely, the wisdom of the Creedal and Lutheran tradition of interpreting the Bible. If the person teaching this curriculum is a pastor or a well catechized lay person, T.B.D. might not be harmful.  The same would be true if it was used with well catechized youth.  As one reads the lesson book and watches the video, it is easy to identify answers to the questions that are raised. 

For instance, in the unit on Prayer, the video character, a young woman, wrestles with the meaning and purpose of prayer.  What does the Bible teach?  How is one to pray?  Does prayer change things?  Why pray if God already knows everything?  As I watched, I thought to myself, “It’s too bad the Lutheran tradition doesn’t have a simple but profound explanation of the meaning of prayer; or even better an explanation of the Lord’s Prayer.”  At one point, the character finds a link to an article on St. Benedict.  She decides to download his daily prayer schedule to her calendar, only to be shocked by the notion that it calls for prayer seven times a day.  Again, I found myself thinking, “Too bad Luther didn’t simplify the seven hours of prayer on behalf of the laity, reducing them to two or three times a day.”   At another point, the character does a search for the Ten Commandments, hoping that there is something there about prayer.  She concludes that the Ten Commandments are no help, since prayer is not mentioned.  As one knows, however, Luther’s interpretation of the Second Commandment has a lot to say about prayer. 

Unanswered Questions

After reflecting on this curriculum, I am left with a final question.  Is the failure to use the catholic and Lutheran tradition a bug or a feature of T.B.D.?  In other words, do the developers of T.B.D. assume that teachers and facilitators will make use of the Great Tradition and the Lutheran Confessions?  Have they simply forgotten to explicitly remind facilitators of these resources?  Or is the intent to encourage students to utilize the widest possible resources, from St. Benedict to Richard Dawkins, to formulate their own system of beliefs?  If so, the result will not be formation in the Christian faith, but instead in an eclectic post-Christian form of spirituality. 

Ironically, I can remember a time when Augsburg Fortress was criticized for being too Lutheran, too Confessional, too heavy in doctrine.  Other publishers, like Group Publishing and Youth Specialties, were preferred because they were more user friendly, more engaging, and more broadly Evangelical.  To see a curriculum that makes such sparse use of the Catechism and the Lutheran Confessions is surprising, and not an improvement. 

Seminary Devastated

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Ethiopia Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) no longer receives support from the ELCA due to the 2009 ELCA churchwide assembly.  Prior to that point, the ELCA had been among the greatest supporters of the EECMY.  The EECMY is now the largest Lutheran body in the world, growing by over 60,000 per month.

On August 17th, 2021, an unprecedented flash flood on the campus of the their main seminary destroyed 96 dormitory rooms as well as the homes of 21 families including 5 missionary families.  Damage is in the millions of dollars.  Eight lives were lost from the seminary community.  Here is a link to a video showing damage.  We grieve the loss of our brothers and sisters, yet not as the world grieves (1 Thes. 4:13ff).

The future of their main seminary is now at risk.  Much of the campus needs to be rebuilt.  Students and faculty no longer have places to stay.  Serious steps are being taken to guarantee such flooding does not take place in the future.

In the words of Bishop Dan Selbo in the September NALC newsletter, “We will also be inviting ‘every pastor, congregation and member to enter into intentional and intensive prayer for Ethiopia’”.  The story needs to be told and retold, as the EECMY has no other full-communion relationship with other bodies in North America.  The NALC has only 500 congregations.

You can help.  Tax-deductible disaster relief contributions are being received by the NALC.  

It is likely that short-term relief efforts will still not adequately rebuild the campus.  Thus, if you feel called to support the seminary in their efforts to recover and achieve long-term self-sustainability, a noteworthy building project on higher ground, untouched by the flooding, has been underway in partnership with Lutheran Bible Translators.  This project provides much needed assistance as well as creating an ongoing revenue stream of $225,000 per year to the seminary.  (Details and how to give are included in a separate handout, “God is on the move in Ethiopia!”)  If 250 congregations, or one from their membership, respond with a $4,000 donation, that project will be completed, generating revenue starting early in 2022.

Both of these opportunities provide much needed assistance to Mekane Yesus Seminary at this critical point in time. 

With a heavy heart for our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia,

John Conrad,

Chair, Mekane Yesus Seminary Advancement Team

Pastor, First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Floresville, TX

Mobile: 830-534-3139

An Unanticipated Agreement

I find that usually I can anticipate fairly accurately with whom I will agree or disagree.  However, there are times when I am caught by surprise.  Such was the case with a public letter written by a member of the board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).  

On its website this organization describes its mission in this way: “Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries organizes queer seminarians and rostered ministers, confronts barriers and systemic oppression, and activates queer ideas and movements within the Lutheran Church.”

This is not the kind of organization that I would expect myself to find something to agree on with.  So how did that come about?

A few months ago in celebration of Pride Month (June) the ELCA posted a link to the document, A Lutheran Introduction to SOGIE by ReconcilingWorks.  SOGIE stands for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression.

Pastor Suzannah Porter, an ELCA pastor and member of the board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, responded by commenting with concern that the ELCA was giving the impression that the whole church body is LGBTQ+ affirming, when in fact it is not, since there are congregations which hold to traditional sexual ethics with the church’s sanction.  Pastor Porter supported her statement by quoting the Bound Conscience policy which is a prominent part of the 2009 social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.  That document described four different positions regarding same gender relationships, which it acknowledged that people within “this church” hold “with conviction and integrity.”  On the basis of “the bound conscience,” it said, “We . . . believe that this church . . . will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.”  In other words, traditional views of human sexuality have the full endorsement and sanction of a social statement that was approved by no less an authority than an ELCA Churchwide Assembly. 

What happened after Pastor Porter sought to expose the ELCA’s dishonesty by revealing that the ELCA actually sanctions traditional views when it tries to give the impression that it is LGBTQ+ affirming?  Several things.

First, others replied to Pastor Porter’s comment with stories of lack of LGBTQ+ acceptance at various ELCA congregations.

Second, the ELCA deleted Pastor Porter’s comment – the only one, to her knowledge, that cited the Bound Conscience policy.  

Third, Pastor Porter responded in an angry public letter condemning the ELCA’s action.  She said, “It is Pride 2021 month, and I cannot be deleted today.” 

Here is more of what she said:

“ELCA, get back here and answer for yourself. On the post listing Reconciling Works SOGI resources (found here you deleted my comment clearly stating that projecting the image that the ELCA is welcoming and affirming of queer people without clearly stating that it is also our policy that the church can call queer people to repentance and refuse to recognize same sex marriage is misrepresentation.

“After now hundreds of people think the whole denomination is affirming, you deleted the only comment that clarified your policy. And erased the testimony of the replies of people who labored to tell their stories. But you seem to keep the reattempt when I stated my position on the board and council. This leads me to believe that misrepresentation was not just an accident, it was the goal.”

What is going on here?  A lot.

First, the ELCA sought to silence a leader in the LGBTQ+ community, in the name of being LGBTQ+ affirming.

Second, Lutheran CORE and ELM agree that honesty, integrity, and transparency are important.  What is actually done in the church needs to match what public statements say will be done and what official policy says should be done.

Third, the ELCA’s misrepresentation, as Pastor Porter calls it, is dishonest and unhelpful both to people seeking LGBTQ+ affirming communities and to those who hold to traditional sexual ethics.  It would be far better for the ELCA to be truthful and honest and consistent all across the board. 

Now, to be sure, Lutheran CORE and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries would have totally opposite purposes for raising these issues.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries would want the ELCA to eliminate language that sanctions traditional views, while Lutheran CORE would want the ELCA to keep its promise and live up to its commitment to also honor and provide a place for traditional views. 

Nevertheless, Pastor Porter’s point stands, and we agree.  The ELCA’s actions were dishonest and unhelpful.    

Click here to read the ELCA’s original post.

Click here to read Pastor Porter’s original post.

If Not CRT, Then What?

Here’s a true story, related to me by someone who witnessed it.  A small church, considering departure from the ELCA, solicited questions from the congregation.  One question surprised people, but it was, apparently, asked in earnest: If we leave the ELCA, will we go back to being a church that bans people of color?

Wait—what?  “Go back”?  “Ban”?  Some questions require their own hour to answer.  Did the questioner believe that her congregation had once banned persons of color?  Why?  Also, had the questioner never heard that the ELCA is “the whitest denomination in America,” as one of its own pastors has called it (not that other Lutherans are far behind)?  What string of pastors had neglected to teach, not only Lutheran failures in racial reconciliation, but also the Lutheran church’s rich contribution to civil rights, refugee resettlement, and the fair treatment of all people in congregation, school, and institutions of care? 

I don’t know how the congregation’s leaders ultimately addressed that question, but it proves that the question of race is on people’s mind.  Lutherans want to know where it resides in their faith and church’s life.

You know this.  You can’t breathe in America and not know it.  It has dominated the news, and one particular development has especially captured recent attention: critical race theory (CRT).  In general, conservatives have balked at CRT, criticizing instances of “CRT training” that seem to demean and unfairly condemn people of European descent.  States have begun passing resolutions banning its use in government and public education.

That criticism has echoed in the church’s halls as confessing Lutherans of various stripes point out where CRT differs from the Gospel’s more liberating message of “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Yet a question lingers: if not CRT, then what?

How shall denominations, congregations, and believers critique the biases that linger within their own hearts and minds?  Are there aspects of Lutheran church culture that have made it one of the whitest denominations in America, and how might the Gospel overcome that culture?

Real Forgiveness for Real Sins

I don’t pretend to have hard and fast answers.  But as I’ve reflected on the question—and if you haven’t reflected on the question, it’s time to start, for the sake of the church you love—a few thoughts have struck me as worth sharing.  You probably already know them, but it doesn’t hurt to see them in print.  As St. Paul told the Philippians: repetition doesn’t hurt the author, and it’s good for everyone else (Philippians 3:1). 

It would all seem to start with real forgiveness for real sins.  It’s one thing to say, “We don’t rely on CRT; we preach the Gospel” (and that statement is fair and true enough), but it’s another thing so to preach that Gospel that it forgives a real sin brought to light.  Where have you, your congregation, and your denomination been blind to persons of color?  How have you or your church harmed them or rebuffed them, even if unintentionally? 

These questions are safe for you to ask (that is, they may hurt, but they are ultimately secure and good), because you know the One in whose presence you ask them: Jesus, who has carried the sins of the world.  You may let them have their way with you, critiquing, judging, and enlightening you, because you know that the more real the sin is, the more real the forgiveness that comes in Jesus’ name.  So let the sins take shape, in even startling contour, and then let the grace of Christ clothe them in a brilliant mercy that overcomes them.

The church has its own language for this kind of preaching, distinct from the vocabulary of secular justice warriors.  The Bible may not speak of racism and inequality or inequity, but it does speak of old-fashioned, rotten things like enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, pride, divisions, envy, greed, and the like.  How do these works of the flesh, unearthed for us by the Spirit, illumine our problems with race, and what is Christ’s forgiving word for them? 

Preach it, and expect that preaching to change things, including you.

“You Do Not Have Because You Do Not Ask”

St. James has his moments. The second verse of his fourth chapter might be one of the better ones: have you tried asking?  Once God has spoken to us in our sin, we speak to Him by His generous grace. Only by His Word do we have words to speak, and when His Word calls out our sins and tells us, “These sins are forgiven; there is a limit to their power; you need not live under their bondage,” then we know what to ask.  Ask Him for what He desires; ask Him for the sin to be overcome and healed; ask for your soul, your congregation, and your church to welcome the people of every nation.

There’s really not too much more to say about this call to prayer, I don’t think, except do it.  Pray daily for the Gospel that we preach and the doctrine we confess to be the means by which the Lord draws all nations to Himself.  Maybe you pray from a place where God’s answer to that prayer won’t change how your congregation or life looks very much—congregations reflect their neighborhoods, after all, and so not every congregation has to be a microcosm of “The Church,” somehow ideally diverse, and thinking that it does actually denies the catholic nature of Christ’s body—but you’re not praying for only parochial concerns.  You’re praying for the whole Church, and for the Fisherman’s net to be cast across the world.

Pray, and say the amen in the confidence of God’s faithfulness. 

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

This last suggestion (I know: there are lots more things to be said; what we have here is just a smattering) runs afoul of certain strands of church critique.  I call it (fairly, I think) the anti-institutional critique, which insists that buildings and polity and such things are irrelevant to faithfulness in mission, if not harmful to it.  To be sure, the faithfulness of a church is never measured by its stuff.  But stuff is no more irrelevant to the conduct of the ministry than our bodies are. 

What checks the sins of enmity, pride, greed, and rivalry more than for those with the most to take a weekly pilgrimage to gather with those who have the least?

God will raise our bodies, and so He calls us to steward this flesh in a certain way.  So also will He liberate creation from its bondage to decay, and so we steward creation in a certain way.  In particular, the Lutheran church should probably start paying more attention to where it lays its foundations, as in, its literal foundations. 

The church has always needed buildings for its mission.  The fact that the church first met in homes wasn’t a rejection of public buildings as much as it was the commandeering of private buildings for public use.  Throughout the church’s history, wherever missionaries spread the Gospel, they quickly built a shelter for its public proclamation, and they chose the placement of those shelters wisely.  It was an incarnational move, seeking to proclaim by the place wherein the Body gathers who and what the Body is. 

How our churches continue this ethic today may be key to understanding our problem with race.  That is, looking at our buildings and where we put them may be one way both to identify our real racial sin and to welcome God’s gracious balm for it.  For how we build has everything to do with how we use our money and why, and those economics may be the deeper root of Lutheran racial woes.

A case in point (another true story, and one repeated other places): a church in a mid-sized city had a beautiful neo-Gothic church in a busy, even crowded downtown.  Because that downtown had grown so busy, and so few of the people at the church lived there any longer, they decided to sell that building in favor of building a new house of worship far on the city’s margins, surrounded by a lush, green campus—it’s fair to say, not too different from a country club.  I knew this church a few years ago and just recently drove through its city.  I decided to check on it, and what did I find?

I found the downtown church, still a bit crumbly but nevertheless standing and beautiful,  purchased by another congregation with a more evangelical thrust and looking very well visited by a variety of people. As for the new Lutheran church—well, I almost didn’t find it.  Surrounded by beautiful green trees and a busy, suburban commercial center, it was easy to miss.  It would take effort, in fact, to find.  It would also require a car to attend, and it would take some personal courage, I imagine, to drive up to such a very nice church with anything less than a very nice car.

So in the city where this church stands, where white people comprise the Very Nice Car classes and blacks and Latinos fill cheaper housing downtown near the bus lines, which of these churches will have a better start to overcoming racial barriers?  In order to overcome such barriers, the church must be present as its Lord is present—and how present is a church hidden behind well-manicured trees?

I’m not saying, “Build it, and they will come.”  We’ve seen that approach fail so many times.  There’s no gimmick here, and the soul-work of preaching and prayer is more than everything else.  I’m also not suggesting that persons of color are always poor or whites always rich.  But I am saying, as many others have said, that racial divisions may find their deeper roots in class divisions, and the Lutheran church’s recent architectural history may illustrate the truth of it (as does the fact that that our churches appear to lack poor and working class whites as much as they lack persons of color!).  The church must be present to those whom it seeks.  It must bring the font and Bible and altar to them, clothed in their own neighborhood. 

Taking up that calling will mean that those already in the church may have to dedicate their resources and wealth for local ministries and houses of worship either not in service of themselves or at a distance from their own homes, requiring them who are more equipped to travel to do so.  Why not?  What checks the sins of enmity, pride, greed, and rivalry more than for those with the most to take up a weekly pilgrimage to gather with those who have the least?  Wouldn’t such a pilgrimage confess, “These sins are forgiven, and therefore, they no longer set the limits and conduct of our devotion”?

Yes, I know that persons of color are guilty of their own sins of enmity, pride, greed, and the like.  I also know that they aren’t the ones most likely reading this article, and I know it because most of you are Lutherans, and Lutherans are one of the whitest Christian traditions in America.  It needs some new and more Biblical attention.  CRT is not the way, and so what is?  Preaching, praying, and showing up to be present, all of it concrete and real and down-to-earth, seems to be the way I know, the way that I’ve been given to confess.  What are some other parts of that way?  I imagine you know, or that God will show it to you if you ask.

How the Revisionists Re-Framed the Sexuality Debates

Back in my college days, I was on the debate team. We would be assigned a general topic for the year, and a two-member team from one college would offer a proposal within the topic, while a team from a different college would oppose it. We didn’t know until a few minutes before the debate started whether we would be advocating the affirmative or negative side, nor did the negative team know how the affirmative would frame its proposal.

One of the tricks was to frame the proposal in terms that made it difficult to oppose. Probably we spent more planning time on that than the merits of the ideas at stake.

I have watched how those holding the revisionist position on sexual ethics have brilliantly re-framed the debate in ways that put those of us holding to traditional biblical ethics at a disadvantage in convincing others. They managed to frame the debate in such a way that any opposition to their positions seemed unjust or even sick.

This has been done in two ways. First, sexual orientations and behaviors were turned into issues of civil rights. Think how you see the = sign on bumper stickers; “All we want is the same right you have to be married to the person we love.” And since, as the argument goes, sexual orientations are not a matter of choice but perhaps even good things which God has created, gender identity and sexual orientation should be a protected civil right. So, it is stated as proven and obvious fact that sexual orientation is like race or ethnicity — a matter about which we have no choice. Even though science has failed to find a so-called “gay gene,” the statement that “we are born gay [or whatever]” has been repeated so often that it is generally accepted as true [see Orwell, the “big lie”].

I first heard this contention back in 1983 (yes I am that old) at a Conference on the New Lutheran Church at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Karen Bloomquist, who at the time served in the social affairs office of the LCA (and would later be the primary writer of the first ELCA sexuality statement, the one that went down in flames) was giving a presentation with a list of groups of people who should be protected, and included along with race, gender, and ethnic origin the matter of sexual orientation. I challenged her, and I still remember Prof. Robert Jenson sitting in the back of the room, grinning I suspect at my naïve surprise at her linking of these topics, for it had been done in the wider society long before I first heard it.

We all have sinful orientations. The Church calls it “original sin.” St. Paul speaks of it as “the flesh,” to which “the Spirit” is opposed. Not all of us are tempted in the same ways, but on other matters nobody will say, “God made me this way, so you have to celebrate it and be proud of me.” For instance, there is a proven genetic connection to addictions including alcoholism, but we would not celebrate drunkenness in an alcoholic. The ethical choice for an alcoholic is not to drink; it isn’t to go around proudly claiming, “God made me this way.”

Once we turn sexual orientations into civil rights instead of behavioral issues, we have been placed at a significant disadvantage in defending the biblical view of sexuality. And that is exactly what has happened.

A danger of seeing sexual orientations as civil rights issues is that this paves the way for the power of government, especially its power to tax, to be used against groups including churches which do not accept this new definition of justice. Already the Supreme Court has declared (I believe disastrously) that tax exemption is not a right but a privilege bestowed by the government to organizations that share its values (the case involved Bob Jones University, and a similar one involved Rev. Moon). Several prominent politicians have publicly proposed that churches which refuse to conduct same-sex marriages should be denied tax exemptions.

A second brilliant move by the sexual revisionists is even more frightening: They have basically declared that anybody who opposes their viewpoints on sexuality is mentally ill.

Think of what that term “homophobia” means: “homo” means “same” and “phobia” is fear. It is a pseudo-scientific term coined to cut off any debate about the rightness or wrongness of same-sex sexual activities. If you disapprove of same-sex sexual relationships, you are obviously homophobic, and shame on you! End of discussion.

In my state, our Secretary of Health started life as Richard but is now Rachel. And the media is trumpeting how those who make unkind statements about her are “transphobic.”

I’m not sure about you, but I don’t lie awake nights in fear that a group of transgender people are going to attack me. Nor do I wake up screaming because of a nightmare that some crazy doctor is attacking me with a knife. I guess there might be such a thing as homophobia, in the sense that a person may be insecure in their masculinity or femininity. But most of us do not go through life obsessed with fear of gay or lesbian people or inclinations. I have friends and family members who are gay or lesbian, and they are generally nice people. I just don’t agree with this aspect of their lifestyle. But then there are reasons to disapprove of a lot of things I do too (file that under the topic of original sin, even though most of my sinning isn’t all that original).

Not only does turning traditional sexual ethics into mental illness cut off any constructive conversation, but it puts us in a very vulnerable position, which is exactly the intention. Call me paranoid, but I can see that in a certain cultural climate, folks like me might be compassionately “treated” in a kind and gracious attempt to release us from our bondage to our phobias.

Let’s be clear: All gay and lesbian people, all transgender people, are precious children of God for whom Jesus died, as he died for all us sinners. They are our neighbors whom we are commanded to love as we love ourselves. All of us (including me) need to avoid unkind comments or actions toward these people.

And it is true that there is such a thing as gender dysphoria, where the brain and body fail to communicate accurately in fetal development, so that the brain thinks it is one gender while the body develops as the other. This is tragic, and Christians can and will disagree on how a person deals with this aspect of the brokenness of our fallen world. Similarly, there seem to be very complex factors in a person being attracted to a member of the same sex. I accept that persons normally don’t choose to be gay or lesbian (although today there seem to be some exceptions like Katy Perry “I kissed a girl,” who try it for kicks and to prove their open-mindedness).

What does this mean for us? For starters, I believe we need to repent of any nastiness or unkindness we practice or feel toward what are called “sexual minorities” (I won’t try to name them all). We are not called to hate anybody, and when we come across that way, we simply confirm the opinion of those who believe we have a serious prejudice or mental illness.

And on a societal basis, we need to treat all people with justice and fairness. The time is probably long past when pastors should be agents of the state in officiating at marriages. We should let the government do its thing, and if people want God’s blessing pronounced on their relationship, that would be our role where we believe we can do it with integrity.

But we need to keep reminding ourselves and others that our concern is not with orientations or inclinations but with actions. We can’t always change what we feel, but we can have some control over what we do. I am not saying that this is easy: I think of Mark Twain who said that it was easy to quit smoking; he must have done it a thousand times. And most of us can relate regarding our struggles with our particular temptations.

I am not optimistic that we can change the framework in which sexual ethics is being argued today, but we need to be aware of it and be prepared to challenge it. Once behaviors outside the boundaries of heterosexual marriage are turned into civil rights, and especially when opposition to them is defined as mental illness, we have our work cut out for us. It will require a lot of wisdom and patience to counter those assumptions (for they are assumptions, not proven facts).

And if we fail to love other sinners, we don’t deserve to win an argument either. So let us keep our focus directed toward love for all our neighbors, even as we look for opportunities to account for the hope that is in us, but always with gentleness and reverence (see 1 Peter 3:15-16).

Where Will Our Future Pastors Come From?

Last May I had the privilege of attending the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. It was a splendid event. I was deeply moved by how much my class had become a real spiritual leadership powerhouse in the Christian community. I felt honored and privileged to have been a part of it. From college I went to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. After graduating from Fuller, I served my internship under Luther Seminary in the congregation where I had been working as youth director during my final year at Fuller. After serving my internship, I was a graduate student at Luther for one year in order to fulfill ordination requirements of the former ALC (American Lutheran Church).

Raised in a Christian Home

While attending the celebration event at Wheaton I thought of how privileged I was to have grown up in the church and been raised in a Christian home (my father was a pastor), to have been a leader in our high school church youth group, to have gone to summer Bible camp, to have attended a Christian college and sung in a Christian college choir, and to have attended seminary. The program at Wheaton on Saturday evening included singing a number of favorite Christian hymns. One of them was “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” The person who was leading the singing introduced that selection by saying, “I’ll bet that song means far, far more to us now than it did fifty years ago.”

Of Great Concern to Lutheran CORE

All during my growing up years I experienced God’s faithfulness and His guiding me to become a pastor. And yet I realize that many of the Lutheran ministries that used to engage young people with a high view of the authority of the Bible and the challenge to consider a career in Christian ministry no longer exist or no longer function in that way. Because of that reality the following are among Lutheran CORE’s greatest concerns –

How can we help raise up a whole new generation of Lutheran pastors who will be Biblical and confessional in their theology and who will be committed to fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples for Jesus Christ?

What can we do to reach young people for Jesus? How can we present the Gospel of Jesus to them in a clear, compelling, and engaging way? How can we help them feel and be connected to the church?

Opportunity to Act

Lutheran CORE is very grateful for the opportunity to do something about these concerns through sponsoring a week of NEXUS for high schoolers at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Originally funded by a substantial Lilly Endowment Grant, NEXUS is designed to give high school students a chance to engage in the study of the Bible and Lutheran theology, be involved in service, and discern whether God has gifted them and is calling them to full-time Christian ministry and/or leadership in the church. In the past three years, over one hundred high schoolers have gone through NEXUS. Grand View has found that after a week of NEXUS, students grow significantly in their understanding of Scripture, Lutheran theology, faith practices, and the doctrine of vocation. In addition, many college-aged mentors who have participated in the program have gone on to seminary and/or full-time church work.

There is no charge for high schoolers to attend NEXUS, and Grand View wants to keep it that way. The original grant from Lilly Endowment will have been spent by the end of this coming summer, so Grand View has approached Lutheran CORE and other ministries about sponsoring a week of NEXUS.

The cost to host one week of NEXUS for twenty-four high school students, which includes college-aged mentors, teachers, activities, room and board, and materials, is $30,000. Lutheran CORE has committed half of the amount for one week – $15,000. The funds from Lutheran CORE will be matched by Lilly Endowment to cover a full week’s cost of $30,000.

Because the original grant from Lilly Endowment will cover the costs for the two weeks of NEXUS during the summer of 2020, the funds from Lutheran CORE will be used for a week during the summer of 2021. However, we do not want to wait until next year to be involved. I plan to attend at least a significant part of the week of NEXUS this year that will be sponsored by the NALC (North American Lutheran Church) – July 12-17 – to further observe the program and to get to know, listen to, learn from, and share with the young people who are there about such things as these –

What are they thinking about, running into, and dealing with in their lives?
What are the questions that they are asking and facing?
What hopes do they have for the church and for their own lives?
What is stirring them?

Sharing in that interaction and experiencing a week of NEXUS will help us know how best to put a “Lutheran CORE imprint” upon a week of NEXUS in 2021.

Funding Our NEXUS Commitment

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Created using the Donation Thermometer plugin$15,000Raised $925 towards the $15,000 target.$925Raised $925 towards the $15,000 target.6%

We are very grateful to all those who have already given – over and above their current giving to Lutheran CORE – to help fund the commitment that we have made to provide $15,000 for one week of high school NEXUS. To see how much has been contributed  for NEXUS 2021 so far, click here. We will continue to update you on our progress via social media and via CORE’s regular communications.

If you have not already given, we urge you to join with those who have. You may donate online, or you may use the response form that you will find here. Please remember to designate NEXUS on the memo line on your check. We are very grateful for the faithful generosity of our friends, which will enable us to help support this fine ministry, in addition to all of the other ways in which we seek to be a Voice for Biblical Truth and a Network for Confessing Lutherans.