Tag Archives: life together

SERMON SEGMENT By Cynthia Robles, Final Year MA Diaconal Ministry Student

From a sermon preached by Cynthia Robles at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Dubuque, IA using the gospel text Matt. 25:31-46 

In a Seminary class on Ethics, we read a book called Lest Innocent Blood be Shed about a community in France during WWII that took in Jewish immigrants that were fleeing from Germany. The church in their town of Le Chambon had engraved over the door the words, “Love one another.” In watching a short clip from a movie about these people, when asked why they put themselves at risk by giving German immigrants refuge, they looked at the camera and said, “It’s what we do.” It was as if they wondered why one would ask such a strange question. The truth is, “Love one another” was not only written on their church, but also written on their hearts. It was woven into the fabric of their being.

As I thought about this, I began to see how this way of thinking is so similar to how I feel being called to a ministry of Word and Service. I cannot tell you how many times I am asked, “Why not become a Pastor?” I say, “I know it is not my call. My call is to Word and service.” When explaining this call to some of the men in the “Almost Home” shelter [At St. John’s] last week, one man said, “After all, it is about getting the word of God out there.” I said, “Through actions, right? And he nodded his head, yes.

As I have pondered my call to service, I wondered where it came from in my life. Was there something that happened that made me begin to think this way or is it just who I am? I tried to figure it out, because this sense of call is so strong for me. It came back to thinking about the great role models I had in my life. My Grandparents and my Dad. From the time I was small, I can remember going to church every Sunday, many times with my grandparents.

However, what I remember most about them was their home, only blocks from St. John’s here on Jackson Street. You could show up any time of the day or night and be welcomed. Not only would you be welcomed, but loved. They would give you something to eat or drink or even a warm bed in which to sleep. Their home was the place we gathered during the holidays, small, but filled with laughter and joy. If they knew they weren’t going to be home, we knew where the key was and we were still welcome to come in. If the light was on, you knew they were home and you were welcome. Although they did not have the words “Love one another” written on their home, it was certainly written on their hearts.

The Greatest Commandment written in the Gospel of Matthew is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In today’s gospel the sheep depict God’s people. They participate in God’s mission. They have responded to Gods call and respond by expressing deeds that manifest God’s Kingdom in a sinful world. Jesus identifies with the poor and desperate. On the other hand, the goats, which have not welcomed the proclamation with positive response, are condemned. They have not “served” Jesus. Disciples live lives of service among those who are living on the margins. This is what is difficult about this text and what I think we all may wrestle with a bit. We know that we do not have to do good works to earn our salvation, but here God is condemning the ones who do not serve.

“Perhaps Jesus says in this parable what he has been saying all along through his teaching and actions and what he will soon say: that God loves us and all the world so much that God has decided to identify with us fully and completely. “We recognize God most easily in the face of our neighbor, meet God in the acts of mercy and service we offer and are offered to us, and live in the blessing of God as we seek to serve as Christ served.”[1]

Two years ago I was asked to resign from my job. I had been in management for over 25 years and for many years worked at making a difference in a community as a Parks and Recreation Director. Once I resigned, I did not know who I was, because I found all my value in my job. It was who I thought I was. Once that was gone, I thought I had nothing. This was a very dark place. I felt like I had no worth, like I was powerless. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.

Each night there are men who walk through the church doors of “Almost Home,” many who have no job, many who fight addictions and come hungry and thirsty and cold. Many of you may have been through something in your life that has brought you to a dark place, and if you think back, this is where you may have seen Jesus. In this darkness and in this powerlessness we find power, not in ourselves, but in Jesus, the one who has given us this gift of Grace, by living and dying on a cross for you and for me. Because God did this for us, we are justified by Grace through our Faith and because we are given this gift of salvation we are free to serve our neighbor. I know this is true, because I have felt suffering in this life and I am here today to preach the Gospel as a broken, but saved Child of God. I am claiming my baptism, I am living out my Christian Vocation, and I no longer find value in what I am doing, but I find value in what has been done for me. All of you have value too, because this Grace is for you, saints and sinners. I look in the eyes of the men who walk through these doors each night and see Jesus, because Jesus says when you feed the ones who are hungry and you give the ones who are thirsty something to drink, clothe them and give shelter to the ones who need it, you have done this for Jesus. So, I ask, what do you have to give? You have what has been given to you….LOVE. You can love one another, just as God loves you.

And, just as important is a community that loves. When we love one another it spreads. You can see it here in the ministry that is connected to this building that you steward so well. I have seen volunteers from the community who have come forward to open the doors and show hospitality to the men in the shelter, and the neighbors who come to find clothes for the winter months to keep from freezing in their homes where many cannot afford heat. The men from the Shelter help those neighbors and I heard them bless one another over and over. Students from Wartburg made winter hats for the men. The young lady who we heard from at the beginning of the service has a mission in this life to make this community a better place by loving others. She has coordinated with several families to bring food for the men who are hungry, “And God said, let the Children lead,” This is the gospel in action; we have God’s love woven into the fabric of our being, in St. John’s and in this neighborhood community that God has given to us as a gift. Pure gift.

So, let us share this gift with others, tell the story of what has been done in the name of the one who loves us. We are sent out to tell this story to ones who may not ever hear it. “Mission itself becomes redefined when we consider the move outwards as a move towards God!” [2]”The community is sent out from the Lord’s Supper as body of Christ only to discover that the body of Christ is already waiting for the community in those suffering in the world.”[3] This is what I call discipleship; this is what we do. You can do this here or like my grandparents, in your own home, or in your work, or on the playground, in whatever you do. Let us etch the words over our door: “Love one another” and imagine then, that it will be etched in our hearts.

“I know that I want to have a door in the depths of my being, a door that is not locked against the faces of all other human beings. I know that I want to be able to say, from those depths, “Naturally, come in, and come in.””[4]

 

[1] “Christ the King A: The Unexpected God | …In the Meantime,” n.d., accessed December 4, 2014, http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/christ-the-king-a/.

[2] “Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46 by Dirk G. Lange,” accessed December 4, 2014, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=173.

[3] “Christ the King A.”

[4] Philip P. Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There, 1st edition. (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994), 287.

SENSING MISERY By Terese TouVelle and Teri Wagner, M.A. in Diaconal Ministry Students

How does one recognize misery? These are our images of misery.

  • When the blankets in a nursing home resident’s room smells like urine and there is feces on the wall.
  • The couple crying over their new born who will not survive the night.
  • The cancer patient who knows she will not live long enough to attend her daughter’s wedding.
  • The elderly person who has no dentures because they lay broken on the floor and there is no money to replace them.
  • The old man who talks about his war years because they were his glory days when he felt alive.
  • A husband who must decide to remove life support from his wife of 62 years.
  • The wife of a stroke victim who hasn’t heard her husband speak her name in twelve years.
  • The prisoner who is admitted to the hospital to die but his family never shows up.
  • The teen who attempted suicide because he believes he is worthless.
  • The family surrounding the bed of their dying mother.
  • The oncology nurse who is tired of losing patients.
  • The young, gay man who is beaten up by classmates.
  • The daughter whose mother no longer remembers her name
  • The woman whose husband tells her that it is her fault that he beats her.
  • The doctor who must tell a family that he has done all he can.
  • Seeing and hearing your child whipped.
  • The woman who trusted police because they were supposed to protect and serve and then was treated horribly.
  • The child whose only meal today will be what is served at school.
  • Having barely enough money for bus fare and getting to the clinic to find they have closed.
  • The sound of too many empty liquor bottles rattling together in a garbage can.
  • A mother whose autistic child won’t let her hold him.
  • A married couple sharing a house filled with angry silence.
  • A woman who can’t take enough showers to wash away the touch of a rapist.
  • The single mother who works two jobs but still can’t afford to buy her children a birthday present.
  • The fifty-year-old man who wonders how he will provide for his family now that the mill has closed.
  • The millions of people who wonder if there really is a God.

STAINED GLASS WINDOW by Mary Wiggins, M.Div. Middler

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.

Stained glass windows have always fascinated me. They are beautiful art regardless of how well known their maker is. There is something mystical about light mixed with color and steeped with symbolism and history. The windows are a beautiful interplay of the creation of people and the creation of our God. Their beauty changes with the turning of the day into something new. It’s something great to contemplate when sorting out deep emotions and discerning dense thoughts. Or something to just stare at when the mind is tired or the attention span is short. All in something as simple as a window. The window we welcome back today does that for us and even more. It is part of our life here. The image of Christ points outward beyond our view, symbolizing our formation.

I first glanced at the chapel window when I was discerning a call to ministry. I saw a photograph of the image on a computer screen of my friend’s Macbook. It was strikingly beautiful even in its 8 by 10 inch form. What was more strikingly beautiful was how this image was the reminder of this place that my friend took with her way out west for her internship. Such love and passion for this place, Wartburg, was represented in the image she saw almost every day in her life in this place.

I myself soon saw the window in person as my discernment lead to a “GO and start visiting seminary and see if the time is right.” This window plays an important part in our life at Wartburg even before we become a part of this place. As a community that worships together daily, the chapel window’s image is ingrained in our experience, just as much as the other elements of the community in which we live.

The image of Christ summoning the disciples is our past

It is our present now here at Wartburg

Ultimately it is our future as we will eventually leave this place.

We will all “Go” and we will proclaim regardless of our degree track. Our callings to discern and embody our vocations lead us here. And this window upon which many a student has gazed during worship epitomizes our experience. We heed God’s call, pick up our lives and “GO” to Wartburg.

In our life here at Wartburg we pick up and “GO” quite often. We “GO” on J-term trips near and abroad with some of us proclaiming in words and others in actions of service and learning. We “GO” on CPE and proclaim the Gospel as the listening chaplain offering comforting presence and sometimes words to those in crisis that we meet. We “GO” on field work and internship and proclaim the Gospel. Each time we return again to this place. And eventually we all GO to Preach the Good News as the leaders that we have been formed to be.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: SINGLENESS by Katherine Woolf, M.Div. Senior

(Presented as part of the 2012 Inclusive Language Convocation at Wartburg Theological Seminary)

As I begin, I would like to say a word about faith formation and families. Faith formation for parents and children together and separately is a good and important task of the church. In speaking about single people in the church I do not wish, in any way, to devalue that. Rather, the purpose of this presentation is to make visible some of the unique struggles and considerations regarding language and worldview about single people in the church. That being said, this part of the “inclusive language” convocation will focus less on language and more on attitude or worldview, which comes through in our language.

Single people may find themselves in many different places in life. One might be single by choice or by circumstance. One might be previously married or partnered and now divorced, separated or widowed. One might never have been married or partnered. Each of these circumstances carries its own unique concerns, sensitivities and needs.

As with any situation where one person is speaking for a whole category of people, there are many voices that I will not represent well. The group I can most readily represent is the one from which my own perspective emerges which is: young, female, single and heterosexual. (And relevant to some parts of the conversation, a candidate for the ordained roster.) However, even within that group of people there are many diverse stories and experiences, which is why our ongoing conversations are so important. (Indeed ongoing mutual conversation about all of today’s issues is critical so that we can hear and learn from the perspectives of one another.)

In preparing for this, I spoke with several single people on campus. Below are the things that emerged most clearly from those conversations.

1. Please treat me like a whole person! The fact that I am not partnered does not make me less, and doesn’t necessarily mean I’m just waiting for someone else. Sometimes I think that people hear the common wedding text about two becoming one flesh and therefore assume that if you aren’t partnered then you’re just ½ flesh… somehow less than a whole person. This is neither true nor helpful. So, I suggest identifying people by what is, not what isn’t.
Similarly, well intentioned people sometimes approach those who are single and try to “help them” by setting them up with someone. Or by telling them, “It’s okay that you’re single because they have a career”, as though trying to justify their place in life.

People need/want community not pity! Value them and help give support when needed. There are some circumstances, like when one is new to an area where one doesn’t know people, where extra support may be useful particularly from colleagues. Just think about how you do this.

Please don’t make assumptions about my sexuality based on whether or not I’m in a relationship with someone.

On the whole, it is best to see anyone as a person: created imago Dei, claimed by God in baptism, and one for whom Christ died, rather than viewing them primarily by their relationship status (or any other particular attribute).

2. Men and women both have this problem I have heard about this more from women than men, and as a woman will speak from that perspective myself, but please understand that many of these things go both ways.

3. Don’t create dialectics. Yes, Lutherans really like them, but they can be problematic when applied to people. One problem faced by young women is that if you aren’t married, or well on your way, people assume you will be an “old maid”. However, if you are dating someone, but not yet married, especially for those who are candidates for rostered ministry in the church, people react as though something sexually immoral must be going on. (Such assumptions probably also affect unmarried men, but there seems to be more stigma for the women about being unmarried as they approach age 30 and beyond.)

In light of this, particularly with Visions and Expectations for rostered leaders, it is important to curb assumptions and rumors. In small communities like this, where we know so much about one another, it’s easy for stories to get started, and before the facts can be checked almost everyone knows. If you have a question or concern about someone’s behavior, please ask them before you talk about it.

A couple of helpful things to keep in mind. Sometimes men have friends who are women and women have friends who are men, in whom they have no romantic interest. This is good. However, many times assumptions are made that something is going on between those people. Again, please don’t assume. As colleagues in the parish, you can help support those who are single by not creating or exacerbating situations where there are rumors about conduct. If you have concerns, speak to the persons involved.

Some helpful things to think about as we minister in congregations (and other public contexts):

Culturally, being single can be alienating, particularly when most of your friends are married and have children or are getting married and having children. As the church it is great to create an environment that does not mirror this or enhance it.

Consider that relationship status may not be the single person’s favorite thing to talk about. In fact it almost certainly isn’t. Navigating this cultural issue can be tricky because, as I learned it, one of the five “safe” things to ask someone about is their family. However, you can probably imagine a whole host of reasons, beyond just this one, why that might not be the case.

Please consider that being in groups of all couples may be uncomfortable, particularly if congregational social events are consistently structured around pairs of people. Or have names like “Pairs and Spares”.

Let’s strive for worship that can include everyone intergenerationally, so that families are welcome and kids are able to participate, and so that people who come to worship alone are also included. A couple situations to consider: I was in a worship service geared toward kids’ participation and families were sitting together at tables sized to fit one family. This made coming alone very awkward. It was a good attempt to meet the need of the children. But it separated the worshiping community rather than finding a place for all of us. Similarly, some churches end up with a “widow’s pew” where those whose spouses have died find themselves awkwardly set apart in worship. Things like this are a good challenge for us to continue to think seriously about!

One task of our life together as church is to mark life passages. However, our life passages primarily mark out transitions in one’s life related to family relationships and traditional passages – like marriage. Otherwise for adults there are few markers of significant moments in one’s life unless they are about one’s children. So, how might we honor life passages of those whose lives are transitioning from one state to another that do not fall into those “traditional” categories? (Including transitions such as divorce or the death of a spouse that move someone from a state of being married to one where they no longer are.)

How we think about, and honor, primary life relationships is also important.
→ How do we honor and value people’s primary and important relationships as primary and important regardless of whether they are with parents, spouse, children, or friends?
→ How do we value people’s friends and pets as significant life companions and how can these be honored and taken seriously? For example, taking as seriously a person’s grief at their deaths as we do the death of another life partner.

There are a few considerations related to ministry in the church, singleness and particular age groups.

Young adults
Unmarried young adults can be invisible in the church. Please don’t treat us like we’re invisible.

Also, we do not typically view church as a dating service. Don’t make it one. We are here for God and to participate in the body of Christ, not to find a life partner. Please help others to understand this as well.

For older adults there are also unique challenges and concerns, particularly as spouses and life partners begin to die. Suddenly people find themselves in groups of couples, but now they are the odd one out which can exacerbate feelings of aloneness. The aforementioned “widow’s pew” can also be an unfortunate result. It is worth thinking about how these folks can be supported without being singled out in an awkward way.

Finally, how do we conceive of the church as a place where we come together to worship God and are viewed in light of our identity in Christ?  A community that takes seriously baptismal promises and creates a place for faith formation of people in all walks of life, so that the contributions of all to that journey are valued and each one has a place.