Category: The Church

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

[Matthew 17:4 NRSV]

delivering-the-keynote-address-pltsOn October 5, 2016, I had the distinct privilege of giving the keynote address to the Fall Conference of the Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) Program at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) in Berkeley, California.

TEEM is an alternate route to ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for people identified to provide pastoral ministry to emerging ministry contexts throughout the church, or to underserved communities, which include ethnic, multicultural, rural, inner city ministries and ministry with deaf communities.

Having entered ministry through the TEEM program, I have become somewhat of an anomaly in the church in that I was the first person to emerge from the program to be elected bishop. I’ve stated before that since becoming bishop in 2014, it seems that more people than I could ever imagine are interested in hearing what I’ve got to say. Two years into my call I am still somewhat surprised by that experience.

The theme for the conference was “Theologizing for the World.” The title gave me the latitude to take the address in multiple directions. Even though it was a keynote and not a sermon, I used the call to Abram, as found in Genesis 12, as a scriptural springboard. It is my conviction that the story of the call to Abraham offers us a lens through which we can understand our relationship with the living God. It is a reading that resonates with me on several levels. First and foremost, it is a call story. And I feel any talk of theology must start with a discussion of call.

As Abram was called and obeyed, I reminded the students that in much the same way, their candidacy for ministry in the TEEM program was God’s idea before it was theirs. None of us are where we are because we choose to be in that particular place. God calls us in the waters of our baptism to serve, to be a child of God, to become a member of a royal priesthood, a holy nation. It is my hope that my words inspired the students.

presiding-at-worship-pltsI was also honored to preside at worship at the Chapel of the Cross, a Eucharist service that was organized by a group of students from the seminary community and at which the Rev. Shauna K. Hannan, Associate Professor of Homiletics, preached.

After a potluck lunch, I was treated to a tour of the campus by the director of the TEEM program, the Rev. Moses Penumaka, and accompanied by our Northeastern Ohio Synod Director for Evangelical Mission, the Rev. Terrance Jacob.

This tour was significant in that it will be most likely my first and last time ever on the Berkeley campus of PLTS. In August of this year, PLTS announced that it has decided to relocate to downtown Berkeley starting in fall of 2017. The decision puts PLTS closer to social and civic life, closer to public transportation, to become not only in but also of Berkeley.  It will be a 15-minute walk to Graduate Theological Union, a partner in the ministry of PLTS, and blocks away from the University of California Berkeley campus.

The current location at the top of the hill, with its beautiful campus with inspiring views Spanish colonial era buildings has been home to seminarians since 1952.

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Having been there for only a day, I can’t begin to imagine the difficulty involved in deciding to leave. As I observed the stunningly breathtaking scenery from the top of Sawyer Hall, I was reminded of the scene at the Transfiguration with Jesus, Peter, James and John. [Matthew 17; Mark 9]. I jokingly said to Moses Penumaka, and Terrance Jacob, “It is good for us to be here. I will make three dwellings, one for Moses, one for Jacob and one for Abraham.”

All the changes taking place in the church and in the world have had a transfigurational effect on our ELCA seminaries. They are being challenged to become creative in the ways of doing theological education in order to prepare leaders for the ministry to which Christ calls us. Pacific’s move is just one of several that have taken place in recent times. The seminaries in Philadelphia and Gettysburg announced a merger earlier in the year. A few years ago, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, became a part of Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.

The lesson of the Transfiguration has not been lost on the leadership of PLTS. As Peter and the disciples learned, ministry happens in the valley, not on the mountaintop. I pray for PLTS and all of our ELCA seminaries; that this decision is pleasing to God and bears fruit for the future of PLTS, the church, and for the mission of God in the world.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

[2 Timothy 2:15 NRSV]

The first of the several groups that I met with during my week in South Africa was a contingent of 12 theological students who are being lodged in the guest house of the congregation of Phodisa Ditshaba.  [Click on any image to enlarge]

If you want to become a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa your education will cost you nothing. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa pays all expenses for its seminarians.

However, in recent months, their education was discontinued due to some complex economic issues, and the students were sent home from the seminary to their respective dioceses.

The guest house at Phodisa Ditshaba

The guest house at Phodisa Ditshaba

Bishop Sihlangu and his staff made the decision to keep them together, lodging them in the guest house. Here they study together, they are in community, they are fed and housed, and serve congregations. At some point hopefully in the near future, they will return to the seminary, where they will again have lecturers and professors, which is their biggest need right now.

“If they were to return to their homes,” Bishop Sihlangu said, “we would have lost some of them. Some come from homes where there is no electricity. They would not have been able to study at night. Here, we feed them, we house them, we care for their basic needs.”

Meeting with theological Students (2)We were scheduled to meet for only a couple hours. Instead, we spent the entire afternoon together. I wanted to hear their stories, I wanted to know why they felt this strong call to ministry, especially when they could have found more lucrative employment in other professions.

They shared their stories with me. One of the young men felt called from the time he was nine years old. A couple of them were children of pastors. Yet another, turned his back on a career in information technology, which he had decided to pursue simply to please his parents.

In our conversations, Stephen Tefu (center) emerged as one of the more vocal of theological students.

In our conversations, Stephen Tefu (center) emerged as one of the more vocal of theological students.

It was a fascinatingly enjoyable day. Though my heart ached for their current setback, I was inspired by their perseverance and determination. Throughout our time together, they never once sounded a note of unhappiness. On the contrary, they radiated hope, the likes of which the apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 5: We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

One of the ways they share that hope and that joy is by singing. They have formed a choir which becomes a means of evangelism. They visit congregations and sing at services. We were treated to a command performance which was moving, to say the least. We offer here a small sample of their praise in this video.

 

A closing prayer at the end of our day together with the theological students.

A closing prayer at the end of our day together with the theological students.

We closed out the day in prayer. It was purely spontaneous on my part, but I felt it was the least I could do at the moment. This encounter set the tone for the rest of my time in the Northern Diocese.

Please keep these students in prayer. When they return to normal classes and how the economic situation will be resolved is yet to be determined. But it hasn’t dimmed their faith. And for that we say, “Thanks be to God.”

 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Psalm 20

Exodus 40:1-15

Hebrews 10:19-25

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”

[Hebrews 10:24-25 New Revised Standard Version]

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Akron.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Akron.

I point out often that the most important experience that happens in a church building is worship.

The church facility is a tool for ministry, nothing more. No matter how many great programs it supports, how much social outreach it offers, it is from that gathering together each week that the ministry flows.

It is in worship where we are fed with the word and sacrament and are sent out into the world to make the name of Christ known to others by our words and by our deeds.  That is why the author of Hebrews advises us to, “Hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. [v. 23]

Worship can make us an incredible witness. When you and I worship, we have no idea how we might be making a difference in the lives of others.

In the final verse of our Hebrews reading (see above), the words, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,” jumped out at me for obvious reasons.  

When we do not neglect to meet together to gladly hear and learn the Word of God, we are promised in Word and Sacrament the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

When we do not neglect to meet together to gladly hear and learn the Word of God, we are able to confess the truth about ourselves, that we are yet sinners in need of that faithful Redeemer who alone can deliver us from all the temptation, empty promises and twisted logic that the world has to offer. 

FB_IMG_1436752294169When we do not neglect to meet together, we become bearers of the Word of God, free to do ministry in Jesus’ name and to the Glory of God without seeking self-glorification.

When we do not neglect to meet together to gladly hear and learn the Word of God, we hold fast to our confession of hope without wavering.  Because when Christ made that single sacrifice for sin once and for all, He made it possible that we might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

A building may be destroyed, but the place where God dwells is not destroyed. “The place where God dwells” that was built in three days is the resurrected Jesus.

The things we humans build, no matter how grand, will perish; the things God builds, no matter how small, will endure, even to the end of the age.

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