Friends at St. Stephen’s: grace and peace!
The postcard announcing our annual congregational meeting arrived this morning. I regret that I can’t be there. That’s new for me: budgets and constitutional decisions have never been favorite things to consider when I need something to occupy my time. What’s changed?
Well, for one: Charles Hodge was a long-tenured president at Princeton Theological Seminary, following the almost as long tenure of his father. The younger Hodge said toward the end of his career, sometime in the 1890’s, that he was proud that “not a single original thought had been thought at Princeton during his tenure.” His attitude was still lurking at Luther Seminary in St. Paul when I was there as a student there in the 1980’s. “An original thought” in many congregations (not just Lutheran congregations!) was, for instance, using a common cup at communion, rather than individual cups. In some places it was still all but unthinkable to let girls serve as acolytes! Some of you remember those conversations. But at the beginning of the twenty-first century another “unthinkable thought” happened: our congregations shrunk; some disappeared. So much for Charles Hodge’s praise of no-original thinking.
A week ago I received a letter from Robin Steinke, the pastor currently serving as president of Luther Seminary. She tells of a number of new initiatives, not just at Luther Seminary, but in the whole church – and not just the ELCA. She included a short article by one of the seminary’s teachers, Dwight Zscheile. He writes about leadership in the church: a leadership that is changing, and needs to change. Fifty years ago pastors were trained in Bible, liturgy and dogma, and to say that these provided the answers to “all your questions.” No longer so: leadership now asks, “What are your questions?” and tries to lead people in trying to find ways that the gospel – not “the church and her traditions,” but the gospel of God! – helps us find our way into new solutions.
That distinction between the church and the gospel is important. Our business – and our business at a congregational meeting! – is not to preserve an institution, but to share the gospel, God’s good news in the living Jesus Christ for everyone.
Here’s one example. We live in a time when much hay is made by claiming that we live in a dog-eat-dog, get-what-you-can-while-you-can world in which there is not enough for everyone. The Gospel, however, says, “Not so!” The Gospel says,
Jesus lives again!
Earth can breathe again!
Pass the word around!
Blessings to St. Stephen’s as we gather Sunday to consider ways in which to “Pass the word around.” Loaves Abound!
I’ll be with you in spirit.