Tag Archives: Gospel

THRESHOLD OF LIVING By Tami Groth, final year MA Diaconal Ministry

Standing in front of the strips of paper I read the directions again: write the names of the saints in your life. The names of the saints that have died and gone before us on the white paper. Use the strips of colored paper to write the names of the saints in your life that are still with us. I began writing.

I wanted it to be something I did quickly before the next thing on my growing “to-do” list that day. I could not. Here in the space between Chapel and the refectory, and on my hurried way to the library, this request moved me outside of the carefully accounted for and scheduled moments of my day. I lost track of the slips. Name after name. Moment after moment.

I put down the marker, and held time still with my breath as I remembered standing in deafening silence surrounded by life and yet alone with death — unable to move out of the between and back into time.

I am standing in front of her fresh grave. We buried her exactly a week after I birthed her still body. In all respects it was a glorious sunny mild November day. I was told later that an eagle flew overhead right as the silence fell. The silence that deepened my numbness.

The moments I had not been able to imagine had come to pass  — the awful processional out into the world Emily wouldn’t know. First she was carried by her father in that tiny casket step-by-step down the church aisle, then the drive to the cemetery. We survived watching that tiny pink casket go into the ground next to her great-grandparents. We listened numbly to prayers.

In the first second of quiet we put single roses on top of that casket before it was1117_close buried in earth. Emily’s older sister, Megan, gave me the gift of being her 4-year-old self when nobody could convince her to give up the rose she was holding. In that moment I wanted to take her and gather her in my arms and twirl her around and around until we were both dizzy. I wanted to be in her moment of joy in the beauty of the rose.

Instead I continued to stare at her sister’s fresh grave–the still green grass, the black dirt, and pink. An eternity of quiet; holding my breath on the threshold of living into a reality of “forever changed.”

Just mere hours ago I had been encouraging the stream of people entering the church to look at her: “she’s so beautiful.” My heart ached to hold onto that beauty like a 4-year-old with her hands on a rose stem.

“I can’t do this anymore” I said not realizing my thoughts had broken the silence.

“Then don’t,” my mom said as she took my arm and gently guided me across that threshold.

I wiped my wet eyes and gulped in deep breaths of fresh air as I made my way from one Wartburg building to the next attempting to return to place and time — 13 years of living later — on my way to the library and the life of to-do lists. A glance at my watch claimed the moments connected in minutes.

The next week in chapel names were read, candles were lit, Gospel was spoken, and those slips of paper — white and colored — hung together in sunlit windows and air stirred them as if with the dance of eternal life.

ALL SAINTS DAY REMEMBERED by Josh Johnson, final year M.Div.

Homily given at Wartburg Seminary Chapel November 3, 2014

Today is All Saints Day, a day in which we remember and honor the saints of our lives. Saints are far and near, and both living and dead. As part of preparing for today’s message, I reflected upon experiences of this day since coming to Wartburg.

My first All Saints day here at the castle was the type of day that I had grown accustomed to. We celebrated those who had gone before us with familiar hymns, the reading of the names of the recently deceased, and the lighting of candles. It was a celebration of all those who had touched us throughout the years.

The following year was quite the opposite. As some of you know, my second year here on campus was marked by the death of our son Josiah. Shannon and I found out 2 weeks prior to school starting that his heart had stopped beating. Josiah was stillborn at 37 weeks.

All Saints took on a much different meaning for me. I remember yearning to hear his name read with the other saints.

This wasn’t the planned path; baby’s names are to be read at baptisms and other celebrations, but this was it for me.

Death gave us this one the last milestone.

This past All Saints service was also marked with a death in my life. Last summer my grandfather died at 80 years of age. He lived a long, fruitful life and was very special to me.

All Saints Day was a day of fond memories as I remembered my special relationship with him.

This is how I imagined All Saints Day to go, a sad, yet joyous commemoration.

Today’s gospel lesson comes from Jesus’ familiar teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about these blessings that doesn’t settle with me.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the hungry, and so on. How are the people who experience these blessed?

There’s no way Jesus is telling us that some of the most challenging and miserable situations in life are blessings. It has to be a problem in translation.

So let’s try out some alternative meanings for this Greek word:

How about, favored are the poor in spirit… no that’s not it.

Oh, fortunate are those who mourn… that’s not any better, fortunate is the last word that comes to mind when I think about the death of a loved one.

Ok, how about this one: privileged are the meek, or happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… no, those don’t work either

So, if blessed is the right word here, what is Jesus trying to tell his disciples?

The next question that begs to be asked from the text, is about the “wills” in the second half of the statement. They will be comforted; they will inherit the earth; they will be filled; and so on. So, when will this take place? When will those who mourn be comforted?

Death is an unavoidable reality of our world. Death sneaks in and takes away a loved one out of nowhere; death also comes for those for whom we expect it to come.

Nevertheless, death separates us from those we love. It stings. It hurts. It’s unfair. You know this. I know this.

When Josiah died and every hope and dream was dashed away in an instant, I was beyond crushed. I had nothing.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Sisters and brothers, I am here today to tell you that Jesus’ words are true. No, it’s not because Shannon and I were the “lucky” recipients ofa new angel baby watching over us in heaven.” Moreover, it’s definitely not because we were young enough to try to have more children. I love Noah beyond measure, but he is not God’s comforting answer.

God’s comfort came to us by other means.

God’s comfort came to us through two friends that showed up at a moment’s notice when we found out this dreadful news.

God’s comfort came to us through a supportive community that was present in our time of need.

God’s comfort came through the ones who finally treated us as a human beings rather than as a pity case.

God’s comfort continues to come through supportive friends who continues to be there.

In our time of desperation, we were blessed by the loving presence of those that God sent to comfort us. In our deep grief, in our most vulnerable state, we were blessed because all we had was God, and God was there.

The hurt and pain did not go away, and its memory still resides. Nevertheless, it is not to be borne alone.

We bear it in one another and we bear it in the one who experienced great agony on the cross.

This is the promise of our text today. No matter how crappy life feels, and no matter how far life beats you down.

God promises stand the test of time.

Christ is there when you are stripped of everything else.

The Spirit surrounds you with a witness of saints.

God is with you. Amen

HOLD HIM CLOSE; HOLD HIM LIGHTLY & EUCHARIST MEANS THANKSGIVING by Ralph F. Smith, former WTS Professor

Rev. Ralph SmithThe following are excerpts from Ralph Smith’s two final homilies. Dr. Smith was Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel for ten years (1984-1994), a pastor, teacher and hymn writer. This November, twenty years after his death, the Wartburg Seminary community is actively remembering Ralph Smith and the important and lasting impact he has had on this community.


Homily Wartburg Chapel, Oct 26, 1994 [Text: Luke l0:38-42]

Hold Him Close, Hold Him Lightly

“My good friend in graduate school and liturgical study, Paul Nelson, may be dying. My daughter had a baby three weeks ago and made me a grandfather a bit earlier in my life than I expected. These two seemingly unrelated incidents prompted my remembering words spoken to me years ago during a health issue of my own, ‘Ralph, you need to understand that we do not have all the time in the world’. . .

We do not have, you or I, all the time in the world. Neither did Mary nor Martha, nor even Jesus. . . Yet no matter how much our head and our heart tell us that we do not have all the time in the world . . .

to write that letter of thanks,

to take that meal to an ill friend,

to clean up the environment,

to finish those few important projects

to tell spouse, children, parents, friends that we love them, and show it,

No matter how much our head and our heart tell us that we do not have all the time in the world . . .

to spend a quiet moment with someone dear to us,

to sing a song,

to pray a prayer,

to gaze at the glowing embers of a fire,

to see the sun rise and set,

to listen to the cry of someone in need,

to ask for strength and courage to face an uncertain future.

No matter how much our head and our heart tell us that we do not have all the time in the world . . . we so often live as though we do. Now that could be the most oppressive and debilitating word I could possibly speak to you today . . .

Ah, but you see, in Luke’s and our post-resurrection perspective it is already too late . . . and it is never too late.

We do not have all the time in the world, but we do have time.

When I lamented not knowing how to react to my grandson, Norma Everist wisely advised me to hold him close and to hold him lightly. It was a liberating word, without sentimentality, and it frees me to do both. To not be distracted . . . one thing is needful . . .

Hold Jesus close, and hold him lightly.

We are invited to love Jesus, but we cannot possess him. Luke understood that… so did Mary… so did Martha… so do you.”


Homily Wartburg Seminary Chapel November 21, Monday morning of Thanksgiving Week. [Text: Luke 15:1-10]
Eucharist Means Thanksgiving
The homily was on the missing sheep and coin, on being lost or found, on cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving. After his death four days later, the Bible on his office desk remained open to the Luke text along with his notes for the service. Here is the conclusion to his homily:

“There are only a few days of classes left until the Thanksgiving holiday. It is a week for Thanksgiving, for celebrations; and even in the midst of sorrow of those alone, separated from family and friends there is still thanksgiving for what the missing relationships have meant.

Thanksgiving is the heart of the Christian gathering; eucharist means thanksgiving . . . Paul said in Colossians, ‘Keep you roots deep in Jesus, build your lives on him, become stronger in your faith, and be filled with Thanksgiving.’”

 


Read more about Rev. Dr. Ralph F. Smith, as shared by the Wartburg Seminary community

 

 

VIGIL FOR A HOMICIDE VICTIM poem by Carina Schiltz, Intern, Milwaukee, WI

Just up the street from the old
stone Norwegian Lutheran church
sits a dozen candles set in a cross

a few beer cans and tomatoes at the
makeshift altar where a small group huddles
in the cold, the wind whipping the ladies’ skirts,
words coating the watchers and wonderers:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ “

Blood and ugliness has been erased,
washed from the street,
but the pavement will never be fully cleansed
or innocent again.

Perhaps the group is standing on the very place that he died.

His body on the pavement, unable to sustain the beating.

And somewhere in this city a wife
and two children sift through grief.

The produce company where he worked
has a newly sharp vacancy.

The unassuming neighborhood,
houses with sagging porches,
windows covered in shades and shutters
looks on.

A few curious cars creep by,
wondering at the group of church-goers
who look at the ground,
anywhere but each other,
because death is just too close right now.

The Bible-reader feels like giving up,
but something bubbles up in her voice,
pushing back despair and helplessness
so that the words continue to drift over the
hearers.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The pastor prays for God
to embrace the victim, the human, with mercy and peace.
“I’ve been waiting for him to come home,” the victim’s neighbor stutters
as the pastor pulls her into an embrace.

A breath, a pause, and the people
walk back down the
cracked sidewalks that have seen more violence
than they ever should.

 

GEHET HIN UND PREDIGT DAS EVANGELIUM By Rev. Jan Rippentrop, WTS Guest Professor of Preaching

This reflection is one of four offered at the re-dedication of the central stained glass window in the Loehe Chapel at Wartburg Theological Seminary on 4 Feb. 2013.

This phrase holds a privileged place in our midst as it maintains a significance in our worship space.
In one moment as backdrop to the elliptical centers of our worship life
(Word and sacrament)
In another moment as focus of our pondering attention
It is privileged in our space
As focus
As background
As constant
A space where we practice ways of peace
That gathering in prayer for the nations here might
translate into ministry that mourns the hoarding of
resources and celebrates the tearing down of walls
A space in which our feet, our hands, our brows
Have worn to lustrous the path to the table
And what is the impact of this phrase as it presides over these and more worshipping acts?
Whether you read German or not, this bannerrolle has been bodying
this window forth.
A banderole is the way that art, classically, marks a quotation
So, this window claims that Jesus has been speaking in
our midst all of these days
And we interpret and are interpreted by Christ’s words

So, Jesus is addressing our community day by day…with proclamation:
“Gehet hin und predigt das Evangelium”
(Go forth and preach the Good News)
Go forth—there’s no becoming stagnant in this space
This space where we gather, and gather, and gather
For baptisms, for weddings, for ordinary time
Paradoxically, this space that gathers us,
Gathers us, not to make us insular
But to face us out
Toward first calls
Toward field work and internships
Toward CPE

So, gehet hin
There is a semester ahead of us
With ideas as yet unpacked
Practices not yet familiar
And conversations waiting in the wings
And with the spirited movement that winged Jesus from the Jordan to the Wadi
With that spirited movement get gehet hin
For the Spirit that makes Christ known in the gospel preached
Is the Spirit who beckons you, gehet hin.

LIKE A NURSING MOTHER by Susan Friedrich, M.Div. Senior

Segments from a sermon preached Oct. 24, 2011 at WTS 

I Thessalonians 2:1-8 begins with an address to “adelphos.” Because Paul used this term to address both men and women, it is translated as “brothers and sisters.” Paul used “adelphos” often with the people to whom he wrote,  but Paul takes it a step further when he describes the ministry of Timothy, Silvanus, and himself as being gentle like that of a nurse, “tenderly caring for her own children.”

A nursing mother is one who gives herself to her child, physically providing the means by which the child will thrive and grow. It is an intimate relationship that is by nature mutual. A nursing mother will not forget her child any more than her child will forget her.

Having spent the better part of ten years of my life nursing my own four children, I have a pretty good idea of what it means to be in that kind of relationship. When I thought about it, though, I have to admit some surprise that Paul would even think to claim such a role for himself and his ministry team. Be honest now, how many of you of the male persuasion have told or would think of telling your congregation that you are like a nursing mother to them? Well, Paul had no gender bias in claiming any parental roles for himself because in a few verses later he will describe himself as a father, “urging and encouraging” (2:12) his children. Nursing mother, father… it all works for Paul. So, what is this all about? It’s about the gospel of God

The giving and receiving goes both ways. When leaders in the church are willing to give their own selves along with the gospel, a community can find themselves participating in God’s mission in amazing ways. In the book, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, Philip Hallie tells the story of how an impoverished French village with a population of 3,000 people saved the lives of about 5,000 refugees, most of whom were children, in the German occupation of WWII. As Hallie later talked to those who lived in the village during those years to try to understand why they did this when other villages around them did not, they told him, “It was Pastor Andre Trocme.” (Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, New York: Harper and Row, 1979, introduction in 1994, 46.) 

How did Pastor Trocme work such ministry in a village that, as the young pastor had described in his notes when he arrived, was moving toward “death, death, death, and the pastor was entrusted with helping the village die”? Well, Trocme  gave himself along with the gospel.

Hallie writes: “When you give somebody a thing without giving yourself, you degrade both parties by making the receiver utterly passive and by making yourself a benefactor standing there to receive thanks—and even sometimes obedience as repayment. But when you give yourself, nobody is degraded—in fact, both parties are elevated by a shared joy. “When you give of yourself, the things you are giving, to use Trocme’s word, become fruitful. When the pastor in the village of Le Chambon gave himself along with the gospel, the result was new life.

Our ministry is to be shaped in the image of Christ. Our relationships with one another are formed in love and vulnerability. Gentleness is not a technique, but a commitment. Just as Jesus gives himself, Paul gives himself. In that commitment we see an example of servant-leader, pastoral care-giver, even nursing mother.  These are roles that bear God’s living Word in the context of community, images of living out the gospel in a world being made new in Jesus Christ.