30 May 2012

When Did You Realize You Were Lutheran?

I enrolled at Luther Seminary in August 1999.  I'd love to say that, upon discerning my call to ministry, I was a Lutheran through and through.  I certainly thought of myself as Lutheran.  I was born and raised in this tradition.  My ancestors come from Sweden and Germany, staunch Lutherans all (even if my parents' marriage was "mixed" between Augustana and Missouri Synod families).  I planned to follow my vocational calling in the ELCA, and aside from briefly investigating the groups breaking out after the passage of Called to Common Mission, I've never wavered from that plan.  But these things meant I was a person of faith by circumstance, not conviction.  That came later.

In my classes with Jim Nestingen and Gerhard Forde, I began to understand what it meant to be Lutheran by conviction.  Upon reading Forde's article "Caught in the Act," and then his book On Being a Theologian of the Cross, a whole new theological world was opened to me.  It was in those months of study in spring 2000 that I became Lutheran by conviction.  I realized that not only was I Lutheran because my parents had raised me that way, but the teachings of our church and the theological viewpoints of Luther, Melanchthon and other reformers made sense to me.  When I really started to dig into Lutheran theology, I discovered an interpretation of God's creation and our place in it that seemed to fit what I saw all around me.  This is how and when I realized I had been fortunate enough to be raised in the faith tradition that closely reflected the way the Spirit was showing me the world as it was.  I felt swept up into an understanding of faith and life that included
  • Our utter dependence on God for life and faith.  
  • A fresh understanding of "I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me with the gospel, enlightened me with its gifts, sanctifies and keeps me in the Christian faith..."  
  • When God says "You shall have no other gods before me," it's as much a promise and statement of fact as it is a demand (possibly more promise than demand).
  • We live in dialectical tension all of our lives:
    • simultaneously sinners and saints
    • God's kingdom already/not yet here
    • Christian freedom, in which we are perfectly free lords of all, subject to none/perfectly dutiful slaves of all, subject to all
    • being saved by grace by faith, apart from works of the law / faith without works not being true faith
  • Baptism drowning the old sinner in us, putting us to death in our sins, that God might raise a new saint to live and serve daily in Christ's name
This is the Lutheranism with which I fell in love in those heady years.  It is the way I continue to interpret the world God has created, the lens through which I see my life and the lives of the people I serve as pastor. It is more than a label, more than a construct or group.  It is, at its core, who I am.

This is not to say that everything fell into place in those times.  I still struggle with what this all means.  And there are a plethora of Lutheran lenses through which we can look at the world - within our own ELCA, we have some serious disagreements on a host of issues, to say nothing of the breaches between this branch of the Lutheran tree and other branches like the LCMS, WELS, LCMC, NALC and all the other bodies out there.

So I'll ask the same question of you:  when did you realize that "Lutheran" was more than the name on the sign outside your church building?  Who or what helped you realize that "Lutheran" made more sense than any other faith?  Or, are you still figuring out that part of your faith?  (Note:  this does not mean you're not welcome at any Lutheran church, particularly the one I happen to serve.  By all means, come with questions.  If you're not asking questions, you're not growing in your faith, either!)  If you're reading this from another faith perspective, when did that one start to make sense to you? 

We are all called to be proclaimers of the good news, by whatever means we have at our disposal.  But this means we're called to understand at least a little bit about what that good news is for us, where we are, in our own lives.  Take a moment and think about what it is that has made you the person of faith that you are - and share a bit about it if you will.  The better we are at telling our own stories, the better we will be able to see where God has been weaving us into the Story that is creation itself.

Blessings to you all,
Pastor Scott

New Starts

These are the bookshelves in my office at University Lutheran Center today.  In two days, I'll begin a new call at St. Petri Lutheran Church in Story City, Iowa.  Seems a good time to get a fresh start here as well.

There are a lot of reasons why I haven't been posting regularly over the past two years.  Most of them have to do with time: I simply haven't had much free.  Some others I won't bring up here.  I've learned a lot about ministry since about December of 2009, and much of it has been the kind of wisdom that comes from challenging circumstances. What I'm going to try to focus on in this new start is how to handle those challenging circumstances better as a minister of the gospel, leader of a congregation and child of God.  That we are broken and make mistakes should surprise no one anymore.  The problems rise, from what I've seen, when we compound those mistakes by additional misbehavior.  Humility, kindness, patience, humor, a healthy dose of self-deprecation, teamwork, and joy: these are the traits I believe every faith community must have if it is to survive into whatever is coming next for the church.  So these are also the traits I need to develop more fully in myself and in those to whom I minister.

I leave this current adventure with joy and sadness.  There have been some wonderful, wonderful moments of ministry here.  I think on the whole I've done good work.  But we could have done more, and I've been trying to reflect on why we didn't and where I'm called to change to be better in the future.  But regardless of our mistakes, I believe we've been as faithful as we knew how to be, and there's not much more anyone can ask.  That's the mission going forward as well: to be faithful to the future God has in store for us.  Please pray for me and for the members of our new church as we set out together!