Tag Archives: Seminary

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.

TWO WORLDS: A DIALOG BETWEEN ANN WALSVIK AND JULANE NEASE, Final Year M.Div. Students

Julane Nease and Ann Walsvik

Julane Nease and Ann Walsvik

In the following dialogue, conducted through an ongoing email exchange, Julane and Ann, who began seminary in the  WTS Distributed Learning program, reflect on the reality of living in “two worlds” during  their final seminary year while living on campus during the week and commuting home to family on weekends.

________________________________________
Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2014 8:02 AM
Subject: Journal with ears
Good morning,

Ann, I’m thinking about this conversation as a sort of ‘journal with ears.’ This year on campus is a new exciting opportunity, but also poses some real challenges for us both. We’ve talked plenty about being a two-legged stool: one leg in seminary, the other home with our families. When I’m here I’m thinking about there; when I’m there, I’m thinking about here. By writing things down, we can sort through thoughts and emotions, pulling together random strings of feelings and ramblings, and because we have the chance to “listen” and respond, it’s like a journal with ears.

How was your weekend? I was ill for the first time this semester. I must say, I was glad I was home. I kept thinking how glad I was to be in my own bed feeling bad, rather than in my little dorm bed. Something sweet: My son even made me a cup of tea yesterday morning, and brought it to me in bed. I’m sure that if I’d been on campus, people would have looked in on me, checked up on me, but it isn’t the same as being home, is it?

Hope your day is good–hoping to be there tomorrow.

Peace,

Julane
________________________________________
Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2014 9:34 PM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Hi Julane,

Sorry I wasn’t able to reply yesterday. It was a busy day for me. I am sad you are sick and cannot imagine how difficult that is not being here for classes. There is something about being home when you are sick! What a thoughtful gesture from your son.

Although I can relate to your metaphor of the two-legged stool, I have a rather different experience in many ways. I tend to put myself so much into what I am doing in the moment, that I can tend to put off or let the “other” fall by the wayside. I can be so caught up in my life at home that I do not get any school work done, even though, I plan to do some. When I am at Wartburg, I can lose track of the schedule my son has at home and struggle to keep in contact and even know what is going on in his life.

The travel time between is actually a blessing and is something that I find helps

Road

Photo by Tanner Howard, Final Year M.Div. Student

with the transition between the two. When I come on Sundays after 6 pm, I have had the pleasure of listening to NPR’s “Simply Folk” and have found that to be very enjoyable, lighthearted and thought provoking. The song you played in Spiritual Practices today reminded me of the music I hear during those times.

Sometimes I feel like a split personality – I love being home and I love being at Wartburg. I guess we have other areas of our lives about which we can say the same. How about you?

Luke went to Homecoming and I did the Mom thing and took all kinds of pictures with all the other Moms and Dads. We celebrated Luke’s 15th birthday with my family and it was nice. It has been awhile since we have gathered together.

It is a pleasure to host people in our homes, isn’t it? I enjoy visitors in my dorm room too. I bet others enjoy the same! Maybe I will go knocking on some doors tomorrow….

Sleep well. Peace,

Ann

________________________________________
Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2014 9:18 PM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Hello Julane,

I have been wondering if Jesus ever felt like he was a part of two worlds. Are we always while human a part of two worlds and then we divide them up even further?

I have had several emails from high school teachers in the last two days and that takes me out of my reverie of study and moves me into the role of parent and the feeling that I am not being as present as I would like with my son. I am thankful for email as an option for being in contact with teachers. It is typically easier to receive a response via email than a phone call nowadays.

Wartburg Seminary

Photo by Tanner Howard, Final Year M.Div. Student

How is it going for you at home this Reading and Research week? I am thankful I am here on campus, but still finding it a struggle to stay focused on my studies. There are some fun things happening here, all done in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Still balancing the two-legged stool.

Shalom,

Ann

________________________________________
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2014 11:32 AM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Ann,

Yes, Jesus must have felt conflicted often. The story of the raising of Lazarus always moves me. “Lord if only you would have come sooner our brother would not have died”– what a pull; what a conflict! I could so relate to that moment! How often I’ve felt pulled in ten directions at once! Being wife, mother, student, neighbor, daughter, sister, and friend, and feeling like I’m doing none of them well! And this year doing it all from a distance, over the phone or in an email.

Tim and I had our 29th wedding anniversary on Sunday. I arrived home from WTS on Sunday afternoon and we had a quiet dinner out, just the two of us. The fall I started at Wartburg we had our 25th anniversary, and when we were married Tim had no idea he would be marrying a pastor. I am grateful and count my blessings every day that he is supportive of me, my call and this crazy process. It may not be so for everyone.

fallleavesMy time at home this week is good, but being productive is tough. There are things to do: doctor’s, dentist’s, and hair appointments, housework and time with my family–all important, but the academic work won’t take care of itself. I feel tempted to return to Dubuque early so I can get more done, but feel guilty that I will be leaving home. I think this sounds like whining. I don’t mean to be. It’s the reality of the dual world existence I’m living in right now.

Peace to you, Ann, in your motherhood and call to ministry existing side-by-side
Julane

________________________________________
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 12:42 AM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears
Julane,

I wanted to build on our face-to-face conversation of the other day about those special moments. Moments we often take for granted, but because we are away, we see them more vividly than before. Moments like I had watching my son Luke run cross country in a conference meet on junior varsity. I recorded him coming into the final shoot, neck and neck with a friend of his. He said he wanted to push his friend to run faster, but Luke was hoping to beat him. Luke lost by .01 of a second. Even though he wasn’t happy about coming in behind his friend, he felt he had a hand in his friend’s good race. His friend came in 2 minutes faster than he ever had the entire season. Now that’s a win, win! I was so thankful that I had taped him. Special moment that I will remember for quite awhile.

How about you?

I wish to offer you a heartfelt thanks for being my family tonight as we shared our joy, trepidation, relief and affirmation upon receiving our faculty approval language. It meant so much that we could share that together. God is good and always before us.

Shalom,
Ann

________________________________________
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 01:22 AM
Subject: RE: Journal with ears

Dear Ann, what a night–what a journey! So proud that we’ve walked together all these years. I am so blessed by your friendship and presence in my life!!

How thrilling that you were able to be home and present at Luke’s race. I know that if you hadn’t been there, it would have been fine, but the fact that you were there to have that shared experience has produced a powerful memory. Thanks for sharing it with me.

It was nice to be home last week, and while I had so much to do and was trying to bounce back from the crud that had invaded my body, I still had some “moments”, too. Andrew has really stepped up at home while I’m gone with doing cooking and shopping. He wanted to try making a dish that I have made for them 500 times! He asked for my help. I did help, and it was so special. At one point I felt overwhelmed by it. We were there together, he’s all grown up and I was passing on to him this dish that my family loves. Food produces powerful memories. So there we were side-by-side, past, future and present coming together in perfect synchronicity–ah…

So, today with the thoughts of conversations and approval language still filling the space in my brain, I head home–you, too! And I’ll drive and think, and enjoy the beauty of the trees and the solitude of my car. Tonight I’ll sit at the family table and eat with my family, talk, catch-up, and then as I go to bed, Wartburg will be on my mind. The two-legged stool will be wobbling again in these two worlds. But that’s the way it is, for now. It’s a challenge–but I’m blessed. This is my reality. I love my family and home, I love this place and the faculty and friends who are such a part of my life, and the solitariness of my dorm room that is my own, for now. The Holy Spirit is at work in ways we cannot begin to comprehend.

Love and peace to you today, Ann, and in your time at home.

Peace,
Julane

WHEN I AM HERE, MY HEART LONGS FOR HOME, a poem and photo by Tammy Barthels, Final Year M.Div. Student

Photo of sun reflecting and meeting water

Photo captured by Tammy Barthels as a reflection of two worlds meeting.

Broken pieces

Shards of glass

Pierce my heart

Make me bleed.

Souls united

Now torn apart

Distance separates

                              Broken hearts.

Identity lost

      Among the chaos of classes.

                  Role of wife, mother, grandmother

                              Crashes.

Joyful sounds of baby’s laughter

      Now replaced with

                  Slamming doors

                              And that of cantors.

Commuter, Student, Theologian

      I’ve become.

                  Once whole at home

                              Here, reduced to half.

The only hope that I may have

      Holding on to the One

                  Who eternally

                              Calls me home.

You promise hope, grace, and mercy.

      Please give me peace.

                  When I am here

                              And my heart longs for home.

PIPELINED by Mary Wiggins, M.Div. Middler

One of my mentors, someone very dear to me, my campus pastor, holds the theory that we aren’t fully adults until we are thirty; that young adulthood is a decade phase of liminality between the threshold of youth-hood and adulthood. In many ways I agree, considering I feel I have a lot of growing up to do and often I feel like I am constantly in-between. At twenty-three years old, a few months shy of my college graduation I felt a calling to pastoral ministry and by twenty-nine, I hope to be an ordained pastor. I am a part of the group of seminarians that used to be much larger, those that will be ordained or consecrated before the age of 30. I am going to be a young clergy person. So I ask the question “Is someone too young to go to seminary?”

There were several reasons why I began to explore this question, but none of them matter nearly as much as the question itself. Today, there are far fewer pipeliners in seminary than there used to be. Maybe part of it has to do with the times. Or it could be the encouragement of more second-career seminarians. Or maybe it is the strong persuasion to do anything else you possibly can, such as an old trend in some denominations to encourage candidates to live a little bit first.

So my answer, unsurprisingly, is, “No. I don’t think, within reason, that anyone is too young to go to seminary.” Yes, I still agree that most candidates should have a Bachelor’s degree first, even though many pipeliners feel called much earlier. And yes, I believe some pipeliners are developmentally less mature than others and are obliviously less developmentally mature than our older classmates. And yes, we have many challenges ahead of us, including amount of growth, issues in establishing our authority (both with parishioners and colleagues), and finding a witty yet tactful comeback to being questioned on our age on a regular basis.

But you see, despite all of this, we are called. God calls all types of people. And some of us may actually end up being called “the pastor that looks like she’s twelve.” We may grow beards, cut our hair short, buy more “grown up clothes” to establish authority, but we are called none-the-less. You see because it’s not entirely ourselves and the things we do that give us authority to pursue this calling and to be pastors. It is also the people to whom we minster. It is the college student taking to her mom on her cell phone on the way to a retreat who calls the Wartburg intern, her pastor. Or it’s the woman who called the CPE student, the chaplain. Or it is the man who asks the very green 25 year-old seminarian, “How long have you been in ministry?” and then pours out his heart. It is these people who recognize who we are and prove that no one is too young to go to seminary.

ISSUES OF JUSTICE, FAMILY, AND THE SINGLE PERSON By Jenn Collins, M.Div. Senior

“Now that I’m good at staying in the lines—I’m staying in the lines for you.”

My nephew, Ben, who is six years old, told me these words while he colored a picture that he called “grassy pickle.” What he drew looked nothing like a pickle, and the colors he chose were purple and orange. But I didn’t care. When he was done coloring the “grassy pickle,” he cut the picture in half and said, “you write your name on half and I’ll write my name on half.”

I don’t know what it is to be part of a couple. But I do know what it is to have relationships that are sustaining and meaningful. Ben stayed in the lines for me. My nephew Ben and I met when he was born—May 25, 2005. I held him and told him that I loved him. This was the first time I remember an instant connection with another human being. When I left for internship, Ben had just turned five and had started kindergarten. I told him that I was going to school in Colorado, so I wouldn’t see him until the first grade. Leaving him was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Over the year, I would talk to him on the phone and he knew exactly where I was. “How are you doing in Colorado?” he would ask. When I came home from internship, Ben called out my name and leapt into my arms for a huge hug.

Why do I tell you this? 

Throughout my seminary experience and into the ministry of the congregation, I have experienced a new kind of definition for family. I get the impression that the definition of family in the church is the family that is created through marriage. Specifically, a man and a woman who marry and have children. Here are some examples of statements I have heard and read.

  1. In the entrance form for candidacy there is an entire page labeled, “family information.” The only thing I needed to do on that page was mark the bubble for “single.” 
  2. When we say, “families are included” at Wartburg, what is implied is, “families who are here”—which in most cases includes only partners, spouses and children.
  3. In our society there is primacy in the spousal relationship. If you are not a spouse, your relationship with any given person is not priority. (This makes sense to me, completely. But it also means, for me, that I am no one’s priority).
  4. In my previous lay ministry experience, I worked the holidays because, “I didn’t have family.”
  5. I have been told/asked, “I don’t understand why you’re single. Don’t worry, you’ll find someone,” “You need to just jump back into dating—have you thought about meeting someone on-line?” And then the question that all single people in ministry are faced with, “Are you sure you’re not gay?”
  6. People assume that I’m lonely.

I feel like I need to apologize for even writing this because I don’t want to be perceived as another single person who is unhappy in life.

Seminary is hard for anyone—and there are different challenges to being married, being parents, or being single. But the single voice isn’t one that is often heard, understood, or given much real concern. I wonder where is the injustice in the church that comes about based on marital (or single) status? Where is the actual injustice that takes place for the single person? In the call process? With regard to financial aid, internship income, insurance, etc? And perhaps the macro question is, “How does marital status impact our life together here at seminary and in the church at large?” I’m hoping to spend January thinking about this in an independent study. 

But here is a call for now, beloved church: Please remember that just because I am not married—this does not mean that I am without family. After all, Ben colors in the lines—for me. 

25th INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE CONVOCATION by Rod Wiese, second year M.A.; forward by Norma Cook Everist

The Wartburg Seminary has addressed the topic of the use of inclusive language in a community-wide convocation each Fall for 25 years. That in itself is a milestone to be celebrated, and yet a sad commentary on society that it is still necessary. Some parts of church and society have been slow to learn and yet the seminary is persistent that the full use of inclusive language for humankind and expansive language for God is good, right and healthy. Once again the Wartburg community gathered and heard male and female voices address this topic, followed by much table conversation. Here are the words of Rod Wiese, second year M.A. student:

Before seminary, in the words I chose to speak about God, I defined God in a very narrow and convenient way that made sense to me. It was a little like putting God in a box. Now, it was a nice box; not too much decoration and just the right size. It was a good Lutheran box. It stored quite nicely on a shelf or in a closet. I could even bring it out on those occasions when I needed God. I could get that box, put God in the midst of my trouble and say, “Go to it God!” This was “my” God inside “my” box. The problem was that in my language for God, I not only defined God, I confined God, and God will not be confined by my thoughts, words, or deeds.

I realize now that my language about God matters. Through inclusive language, God breaks open the box in which I tried to keep God, or more accurately the box in which I tried to keep God to myself. Inclusive language reminds me that God, in Christ Jesus, came so that all might be saved, not just all people, but all of creation. For my words to properly proclaim the Gospel of Christ, I need inclusive language so that all people are part of the conversation. For when truly all are welcome, the kingdom of God begins to come here, in this place and in this time.