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Living Lutheran by Andrea Kulik - 7h ago

Every day, Living Lutheran offers a prayer for the day from the ELCA resource Prayer Ventures, which can be downloaded here. These petitions are offered as a guide for your own prayer life as together we pray for the needs of the world and give thanks for the ministries of our church.

Tuesday, July 16 Amid the temptations, distractions and pressures of daily life, ask God to teach us the ways, paths and truths that are pleasing to God, and to guide us to be mindful of our neighbor’s well-being and wholeness.

The post Prayer ventures: July 16 appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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Editor’s note: In this fivepart series, former ELCA Presiding Bishop Herbert Chilstrom examines the authority and interpretation of the Bible. Part three explored the witness of the Bible within the Old and New Testament.

Since its beginning, the Christian church has been engaged in the same process of biblical contextualization examined in this series so far. A few examples:

Slavery

Well into the 19th century there were devout Christians, including many Lutherans—not only in the southern U.S. but also in the North—who believed that the Bible supported slavery. Furthermore, they could point to a long tradition of its practice by Christians.

Harvard University preacher Peter Gomes called this “culturism.” If literalism is a danger at one end of the spectrum of biblical interpretation, reading the Bible exclusively through the lens of one’s culture lies at the other. It allows Scripture to be used to defend the status quo.

In The Good Book (Morrow, 1996), Gomes described this thinking in the time of slavery by noting that “most people … understood themselves to be good and faithful, people who were simply doing God’s will. They read the Bible, they heard their preachers, they said their prayers, and they knew in their hearts that they were right and justified by the Bible.”

The result was the most savage and costly conflict the United States has ever been engaged in, the Civil War. “Brothers went to war and shed blood in the most divisive form of human conflict, a civil war, and did so in large measure on the authority of mutually exclusive readings of scripture,” wrote Gomes.

Over time, some Christians, both in the South and in the North—and, again, including knowledgeable and devout Lutherans—began to question whether it was right for one person to own another, no matter what the Bible seemed to say or what the tradition had been for centuries. The ensuing controversy divided American Lutherans, and the division took decades to heal. But as the church searched the Bible, reflected on tradition, exercised good reason and looked at its experience, the rift was healed and they came together in the understanding that slavery could not be supported by the church.

As the church searched the Bible, reflected on tradition, exercised good reason and looked at its experience, they came together.

Ordination of women

A more recent example is the ordination of women. I find that, sometimes, my fellow ELCA Lutherans who look down on those churches that do not ordain women act as though we have been doing so for centuries and that this was an easy decision for us. Have we forgotten that for more than 95% of our history we did not ordain women? Have we forgotten the struggle we went through to come to that decision? Have we forgotten that many (including me in my early ministry) felt that both the Bible and tradition precluded that possibility?

We were influenced, of course, by our culture, as well as by our questionable reading of the Bible. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 seemed quite plain to some of us:

…women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak. … If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.

I agree with those who ask whether this is a legitimate word from Paul or a later interpolation. We need not get into that here. The fact is that most in our churches read it as a word from God. We were convinced, century after century, that the altar and the pulpit were places for males only.

How did we change that long-standing tradition? Certainly, our changing culture had an impact on the church. Family planning and women in the workplace became common after World War II, bringing a new stature to women in our society. But the church, as is often the case, lagged behind the world around us.

Finally, after pressure from those who wanted change, we began to look at the issue. We studied the Bible, we looked at the traditions of other churches, we exercised our reason, and we looked at our experience—at what women were already doing in ministry in the church. Out of this came the decision to ordain women who were qualified on all grounds.

The people of God have always had to wrestle with change.

Divorce

Then there is the issue of divorce. Most of us have seen significant change in our own lifetimes. My roots are in the Augustana Lutheran Church. In 1925, the heart of the “Roaring Twenties,” the Augustana Church met in convention and passed a resolution declaring that any pastor who conducted a marriage ceremony for someone who had been divorced could be subject to discipline.

The action was based on what many believed was a plain and obvious reading of Scripture. After all, had not Jesus said that “anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32)?

And had not Paul reinforced the word of Jesus when he wrote an even stricter rule for Corinth?

To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Over time our churches changed their positions on divorce. My own recollection is that it was Elton Trueblood, the Quaker theologian, who first suggested (as early as the 1950s) that, were Jesus among us in our increasingly complex world, he might speak a more understanding word to some who needed to end a bad marriage. Even the most fundamentalist denominations moved away from a strict interpretation of the Bible.

Certainly, the culture around us played a role. We were forced to take a new look at the issue. Many came to believe that a more careful examination of the Bible and tradition, a more reasonable understanding of our changing culture, and the experience of the church in real-life situations all called for a reconsideration of what had seemed so certain and settled.

Eucharistic celebration

Change, however, is not always permanent. Let me add at least one example of how the church moved back to an earlier practice.

In my youth the Eucharist was offered four times a year. If you missed a Sunday or two for any reason, you might have only one or two opportunities to partake of the Lord’s Supper. I believe that our ecumenical dialogues—especially with Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Episcopal churches—reminded us of our deeper tradition. Now it is not uncommon to find congregations celebrating the Eucharist weekly. More than that, we also decided that there was no biblical basis or any good reason to withhold the Eucharist from our younger children.

We could cite many other examples, but the point is clear: The people of God, beginning in Old Testament times and running up to our own day, have always had to wrestle with change. How to respect the Bible, our “source and norm of the Christian faith”; how to honor sacred tradition, our anchor in times of change; and yet, how to bring the essence of both to an ever-changing world—that is an endless challenge.

Next month, this series will conclude by exploring how we interpret the Bible and whether there is a “Lutheran way” to live together as the church.

The post Examples from church history appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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Living Lutheran by Andrea Kulik - 1d ago

A congregation I once served opened their building monthly for a Narcotics Anonymous group. The relationship was conflict-free until a parishioner discovered a pill on the fellowship hall floor and called the police. An analysis determined it wasn’t an illegal substance, but the congregation harbored concerns: “What if a young child had picked up the pill and it was an illegal drug?”

The congregation council met to determine a course of action. While members acknowledged their long-standing relationship with the group as part of their ministry, the risk of illegal drugs was too great. The council voted to discontinue the relationship. I abstained from voting, but I struggled with the decision.

July’s lectionary texts include the classic story of the good Samaritan. A traditional interpretation of the story invites us to consider which character we should identify with as Christians. But the more relevant question is the one I still ask myself when I consider the decision my former council made years ago: “What is the level of commitment God calls us to make in our ministry?”

In his timeless book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “From time immemorial men have lived by the principle that ‘self-preservation is the first law of life.’ But this is a false assumption. I would say that other-preservation is the first law of life.”

When we make our commitments to ministry, I wonder if we are more concerned about self-preservation or “other-preservation.” The stories of the good Samaritan and the civil rights movement share the same, clear message: ministry is always about other-preservation, and we should spare no expense in how far we go to extend God’s love and grace to those who need it.

Nevertheless, we live in a time when self-preservation is the law that rules not just our society, but also our congregations. A scarcity of resources and the need for boundaries are justifications we use to limit our ministry to others. Yet if we incline our ears, we know many are lying on the side of the road of life, crying out in anguish.

Other-preservation is about sparing no expense to raise another back to life. Like the Samaritan, we risk our reputations, stretch our resources, give time we don’t have, and perhaps even risk our sense of comfort or security to do what is right. We do this because Christ wants us to share in the restoration, liberation and salvation of those whose pain so often goes ignored. Perhaps Christ also leads us here for the sake of our own salvation as well—salvation from our fear, prejudice and complacency.

The summer vacation months are often downtimes in the life and ministry of ELCA congregations. Yet we would do well to reflect on the good Samaritan this month and ask ourselves how committed we are to God’s work of other-preservation.

The post Ministry without limits appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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Lectionary blog for July 21, 2019
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52;
Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

For me, this is a difficult blog to write. I’m the prime culprit of what I’m about to caution us all about: distraction. Even when I’m doing church work, maybe especially when I’m doing church work, I tend to get distracted from the main mission and chase loose ends. My Bible studies are famous for being long, rambling affairs that can’t be scheduled for less than two or three hours—it takes me time to get to the point after chasing down linguistic and cultural-contextual notes. At church, I chase my kids, try to fix things and just snoop around the building while my wife focuses on talking with people about God and their lives. I’m easily distracted from what God would have me do. And there are consequences for that.

The prophet Amos decries the situation of the prosperous Northern Kingdom of Israel. The pursuit and acquisition of wealth had distracted people from more important things—observing God’s law and loving their neighbor. Instead of living into God’s sacred time, they wondered, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?” (Amos 8:5). Instead of resting and focusing on God, all they could think about was financial gain. I totally understand this! I work for an ELCA synod, so even while we sit in church on Sunday, my mind frequently strays from worship of God to what I can be doing to support this congregation. And then all of a sudden, I’m thinking about work emails that I have to return and wondering when the service will be over.

Amos confronts the people about their distraction, going so far as to allege that they sold the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals (Amos 8:6). Instead of seeing neighbors as humans of infinite worth and bearers of God’s image, price tags were attached to the usefulness of every person. How often do we allow this to happen in our discourse, in discussing poor people as freeloaders, non-contributors and as a drain on society? How often do I testify against myself with my actions when I would rather catch up on Facebook than listen to someone who may need a sympathetic ear? I’m just as guilty and distracted as the people whom Amos testified against. God’s verdict on this distraction is poetic:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it (Amos 8:11-12).

God says, “Look, if you don’t pay attention to my word, I will take it away and you won’t have my words to ignore anymore.” God isn’t being vengeful or cruel, but like a good parent, simply letting children experience the natural consequences of their choices to ignore the wisdom of parents.

A few hundred years later, Jesus found that distraction was still a problem, as we read in this week’s Gospel lesson.

Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived in Bethany. Theories abound (as they always do) about the nature of this town, but the Qumran community (11QTemple 46:16-47:5) spoke of three hospices or leper colonies in the area. Jerome, commenting on Eusebius, wrote that the name “Bethany” meant domus adflictionis (house of affliction). Syriac versions of the New Testament describe Bethany as בית עניא (house of poverty or misery). Mark 14:3 and Matthew 26:6 point out that lepers owned property there. Bethany was the last stop on the pilgrimage route up to Jerusalem from the Jordan Rift Valley, and was where those who were too poor, too ritually impure to enter Jerusalem or were unable to return home from their pilgrimage stopped. If Bethany contained a massive hospice and poorhouse, Jesus’ saying that “you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8) is a simple statement of fact.

In this context, we should understand Martha and Mary, two women living together with their younger brother, without husbands or parents, were resident-workers in the poorhouse/hospice. Accordingly, when Martha was distracted by her many tasks (Luke 10:40), we need to understand her not as simply wanting help cleaning the dishes, but doing the holy work of taking care of the poor, the sick and the dying who congregated in Bethany. Jesus’ insistence that being with him rather than carrying out godly ministries is the best choice (Luke 10:42) cuts me to my heart. Even doing the work of the church, even loving my neighbor, is not nearly as holy as simply being present and listening to Jesus.

Now, Martha and Mary didn’t become traveling disciples. They stayed and presumably continued to take care of the poor, sick and dying in Bethany. They didn’t literally follow Jesus, even though their lives were entirely Christlike. But when Jesus stopped by to enjoy time with those who spent their lives taking care of the “least of these,” the best course of action was to resist feeling distracted by even the holiest work and focus on his presence.

Not being distracted, and especially not being distracted by good, holy work, is difficult for me. And yet, Jesus calls us to love God, love our neighbor and, above all, cherish his presence with us even more than we enjoy pleasant distractions. May we all, in the words of the hymn, “turn our eyes upon Jesus.”

The post Lectionary blog: Not being distracted appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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Living Lutheran by Andrea Kulik - 1d ago

Every day, Living Lutheran offers a prayer for the day from the ELCA resource Prayer Ventures, which can be downloaded here. These petitions are offered as a guide for your own prayer life as together we pray for the needs of the world and give thanks for the ministries of our church.

Monday, July 15 Remember in prayer our newly elected synod bishops, that they will be inspired, equipped and sustained in faith and wisdom for serving the church and its leaders in an ever-changing world.

The post Prayer ventures: July 15 appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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Living Lutheran by Andrea Kulik - 2d ago

Every day, Living Lutheran offers a prayer for the day from the ELCA resource Prayer Ventures, which can be downloaded here. These petitions are offered as a guide for your own prayer life as together we pray for the needs of the world and give thanks for the ministries of our church.

Sunday, July 14 Ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand the meaning and relevance of Jesus’ parables. Pray that we hear and put into action Jesus’ urging for us to care for our neighbor, especially those who suffer in poverty, hunger and illness, and strangers who are unfamiliar or different from us.

The post Prayer ventures: July 14 appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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Living Lutheran by Andrea Kulik - 3d ago

Every day, Living Lutheran offers a prayer for the day from the ELCA resource Prayer Ventures, which can be downloaded here. These petitions are offered as a guide for your own prayer life as together we pray for the needs of the world and give thanks for the ministries of our church.

Saturday, July 13 Pray that the Spirit will guide us — especially the “family of faith” — in how best to support, encourage and care for one another, that we will be faithful servants and witnesses in the world and “not grow weary in doing what is right.”

The post Prayer ventures: July 13 appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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Living Lutheran by Andrea Kulik - 4d ago

Every day, Living Lutheran offers a prayer for the day from the ELCA resource Prayer Ventures, which can be downloaded here. These petitions are offered as a guide for your own prayer life as together we pray for the needs of the world and give thanks for the ministries of our church.

Friday, July 12 Remember in prayer the work of the Rev. Janelle Neubauer, YAGM country coordinator, and the seven young people serving in the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program with the Lutheran Church of Rwanda in the areas of parish ministry, vocational training for youth, women’s ministry, education and community organizing.

The post Prayer ventures: July 12 appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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Editor’s note: “There are no young people here” is a common refrain as some worry about the future of the church. But young adults are indeed active across the ELCA and have powerful faith stories to share. This series will highlight young leaders who are boldly pursuing God’s call and extending the ministry of the church.   

College students are preparing to enter a society that has growing religious diversity and a rising number of attacks on places of worship motivated by religious hate. The duality of this context can make for a daunting entry into a religiously and culturally pluralistic world, and it’s one ELCA colleges and universities hope to help students navigate.

The Network of ELCA Colleges and Universities formed the Interreligious Coordinating Committee in 2014 to discuss what it would look like for Lutheran schools to engage in interreligious work together. Leaders at ELCA-affiliated schools believe graduates should have some interreligious knowledge and experience.

“We do this work because the world desperately longs for more people who can cultivate hope instead of hate, reconciliation instead of division, and cooperation instead of conflict,” said Jacqueline Bussie, religion professor and director of the Forum on Faith and Life at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn.

Jen Rude, campus pastor of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., agreed: “Whether a graduate becomes a nurse, a business person, a teacher, an engineer, a politician or really any profession, they will certainly interact with people of different faiths, and interfaith skills are critical.”

Half of the ELCA’s 26 colleges and universities are connected with the Interreligious Coordinating Committee. Interreligious engagement on these campuses ranges widely in academic and cocurricular settings.

Augsburg University, Minneapolis, approaches the integration of interreligious programming through four components: intellectual exploration, spiritual practice, social action and community involvement. These components show up in academic courses, campus faith organizations and participation in community events.

“Because Augsburg and our surrounding neighborhood is so diverse, we believe that interfaith relationships happen every day on campus,” said Mark S. Hanson, former ELCA presiding bishop and executive director of the school’s Bernhard Christensen Center for Vocation. “It’s marvelous how being in a diverse context doesn’t dilute our [religious traditions] but deepens and sharpens.”

Concordia and Bethany College, Lindsborg, Kan., offer minors in interfaith studies—an academic program that is only available at 15 schools in the United States.

“Concordia’s Interfaith Studies minor has courses from over 13 disciplines,” Bussie said, adding that it’s the perfect supplement to any major because it gives young adults the knowledge and skills to engage in a religiously diverse world.

The minor at Bethany is designed for students in programs such as business, education or nursing. “The goal is to create awareness of how religious diversity is all around us in ways we don’t recognize right away,” said Adam Pryor, the school’s dean of academic affairs and associate professor of religion.

“I have been able to learn the ways in which faith, spirituality and religion form a part of a person’s identity, and the importance in recognizing and valuing each individual’s experience with faith.”

Pacific Lutheran and Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, create opportunities for interreligious understanding for students outside of the classroom. Both schools have opened dedicated spaces for interfaith prayer and meditation.

“If we’re going to be committed to an interfaith experience, we must provide these spaces so these students can fully live their tradition,” said Drew Tucker, campus pastor of Capital.

Students who participate in the interreligious programs say they experience benefits in both their education and personal growth.

“I have been able to learn the ways in which faith, spirituality and religion form a part of a person’s identity, and the importance in recognizing and valuing each individual’s experience with faith,” said Kara Barkman, a recent graduate of Pacific Lutheran who was involved in the school’s Interfaith Working Group. “As a person of faith, articulating my own faith journey and beliefs to peers has helped me form more of an idea of what faith and spirituality mean to me.”

Students say interreligious programming also makes them feel more equipped to interact and build relationships in a pluralistic world.

Kara Selland, a student in Concordia’s interfaith studies minor, said, “Learning who our neighbors are and what may be important to them is crucial. My interfaith courses have prepared me to enter this world with the skills necessary for effective communication and bridge building.”

Moriah Reichert, a recent Capital graduate who studied religion, said, “My openness toward, and knowledge and respect of, other traditions makes me a better academic, and that helps me to be in community with and appreciate siblings who are walking the path of faith, even if it is a little different from me.”

Andrew Thompson, another recent Capital graduate, agreed: “Through interfaith partnerships, celebrations and dialogue together, I have been able to build deep relationships with folks from a variety of religious traditions. Through this common ground built upon mutual affirmation and dialogue, I feel much more equipped to continue building bridges between my spiritual context and other religious traditions.”

Next month this series will feature young adult delegates at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

The post Interreligious programs deepen students’ faith appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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Living Lutheran by Andrea Kulik - 5d ago

Every day, Living Lutheran offers a prayer for the day from the ELCA resource Prayer Ventures, which can be downloaded here. These petitions are offered as a guide for your own prayer life as together we pray for the needs of the world and give thanks for the ministries of our church.

Thursday, July 11 Praise God, make a joyful noise, sing the glory of God’s name and “say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’ ”

The post Prayer ventures: July 11 appeared first on Living Lutheran.

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