Letters to the Editor
November / December 2004 — Volume 20, Number 6
Much to Offer
As a retired associate in ministry ... I read with interest and appreciation the excellent articles on retirement and transition (July/August, 2004). (I would have been even more pleased had the references been more inclusive of AIMS and other rostered leaders who are not pastors.)
Recently on two different occasions I golfed with two different retired pastors with two very differing retirement stories. The first told me of his great disappointment. In retirement he joined a new congregation. After three years he had never been consulted or asked to do any special task. This in spite of the fact that he retired from serving as head of a major Lutheran social services organization and has a wide reputation for his expertise in organization, resource development, and leadership training.
Further, he told me that there were two other retired pastors in the parish (one well known for his church leadership skills and experiences.) Neither of them had been asked for service nor even invited for a lunch or breakfast discussion — even though all three had sent messages that they wanted to be of any assistance as may be desired by the senior pastor.
My second golfing buddy from another state had an entirely different story. He chose to stay in the parish he had served (contrary to official synod policy). Yet he and two other retired pastors were asked by the new senior pastor to serve in very limited and well-defined capacities and were each given a very small monthly stipend. He assured me that the whole team was having a wonderful time and doing, he believed, effective ministry.
For me, the lesson is that retired rostered persons still have a great deal to offer the congregations in which they are members. When their gifts are not utilized, everyone loses.
“Making a ‘Transitional’ Plan” ... stirred some thoughts from six years into retirement. Pre-retirement seminars are important cross checks for assessing one’s situation. And health can be a weighty matter and key to healthy esteem, self-confidence, and creative energy.
My thoughts on transition go down a different path. “The concept of retirement is changing in our day to something more lifegiving and engaging. There is a better way to ‘do’ retirement.” My question is there a better way to “do” ministry that prepares for retirement? Discipleship is a dynamic continuum that is not marked out in segments on a life time line. We really need to look, think, and reflect on how institutional we are in our context. That is a choice we make. Role, position, and status unevaluated can diminish or get in the way of one’s personal spiritual journey and development particularly in and amongst the public.
I believe that discipleship gives us all the role or status, if you will, as well as a sense of worth that one needs for an essential and lively experience in the public (for me, coffee shop conversations). There are options of engagement other than amongst our own parish people and colleagues. In fact if our circles of interaction don’t include the public and the secular, we are missing out on providing a glimpse of the Christian faith (usually with the bridge of ethical discussion) that can clarify some of the assumptions and unfortunate experiences, as well as unawareness that is present in both the public and the congregations we are a part of.
Retirement provides the time, and the shift can be enlivening and refreshing. We have the benefit of pastoral training and experience and the opportunity to employ it as disciples in being and doing.
Penn Valley, California
Ex Opere Operato
Re: Letter by Eric D. Ash, Sr. (“Salvific Assumptions,” July/August, 2004) (in) response to letter by Paul B. Gunderson (“Don’t Assume,” March/April, 2004)....
Eric wrote: “This grace is now mediated to us through the Sacraments (Baptism, which initiates us into the kingdom, and Holy Communion, which nourishes our relationship with God) and the Word (which elicits faith).” Does anyone else feel uncomfortable with that statement?
When and why did Lutherans come to assume that Baptism works ex opere operata, so that an infant becomes an instantaneous believer once water is applied in the name of the Trinity? The Holy Scripture no where makes that assertion. We are not saved because we submit to a Sacrament but through faith in Jesus Christ. I have never known an infant who “heard” and comprehended the Word. It is mediated to the person as it is taught to them on their journey through life.
There is a good reason why parents, godparents, and the congregation promise to bring up the child in the faith, for as St. Paul wrote, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10: 17). That is why in administering the Sacraments we use the Word, for without it the water is simple water only, and the bread and wine are simple elements only. The Sacraments are expressions of the Word — and not separate from it.
There is another word in Romans 10 that Pst. Ash might reflect on, verse 9.“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Saving faith is specific and is centered in Christ’s atoning work.
Perhaps Pst. Gunderson’s assumptions are not so far from the mark after all.
Bernard W. Johnson
This too shall pass. I am greatly concerned for our church as we struggle with the ethical issues that are ever before us. We struggle with world hunger, discrimination, war and peace, health care, death and dying. We struggle with the issues of human sexuality and appropriate expressions. As good Lutherans, many search Scripture to find appropriate passages that will inform. We spend time in discussion groups trying to convince ourselves and others of particular positions. Many times, the other side looks like all they are doing is quoting Scripture to bolster their prejudice.
I wonder if there is another way that is equally beneficial, equally scriptural, equally provocative for all to consider. I wonder if the example of Gamaliel, the Pharisee, might be helpful to all of us. Acts 6:33-39 tells of the discussion in the Council concerning the followers of Jesus. Gamaliel, at the end, said, “If this is from God, we cannot stop it, and if this is from man, it will surely die.”
Might this counsel be a way of handling the present hot issue of gay relationships (civil unions, marriage, and even ordination) in the church. So many have their minds made up, and the rhetoric that is being used is inflammatory and in many ways insulting. Might we all take a bit of counsel from Gamaliel and understand that God will take care of the church? God has always taken care of the church. There is no reason to think that God’s promise will end with this conundrum.
Robert P. Sander
Words to Live By
As Christians and as an ELCA people of God, we are driven to personal and communal litanies for peace in our war-torn world. The words of Winston Churchill haunt us as prescient: The story of the human race is war. Except for brief and precarious interludes, there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began murderous strife was universal and unending.
Archeologists have verified this statement about the prehistoric times of humankind. Combat and killing have been a way of life, not just an option between good and evil. How does this impact the purpose of our military expedition in Iraq to bring democracy to that splintered society? Another quote from Churchill seems fitting: Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.
Scripture is often sought to illuminate the present “tense” of life around us, and this portion of Psalm 58 from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language raises true contemporary questions and issues: “Is this any way to run a country? Is there an honest politician in the house? Behind the scenes you brew cauldrons of evil; behind closed doors you make deals with demons. The wicked crawl from the wrong side of the cradle; their first words out of the womb are lies. Poison, lethal rattlesnake poison, drips from their forked tongues — Deaf to threats, deaf to charm, decades of wax built up in their ears.”
Jesus has told us there will always be wars and rumors of wars. But does that mean we forget the beatitude of “Blessed are the peacemakers...”? Our nation is precariously on the edge of being either a winner or a total loser in the Middle East. Is war a governmental instrument to import and impose democracy as a seedbed for the Christianizing of the Muslim peoples of Iraq? Name one democracy outside of Israel in that region! Even Osama bin Laden’s homeland of Saudi Arabia, the home of the bulk of the suicide bombers of 9/11, is a kingdom, not a democracy.
Let the prophet Micah speak to us [again from The Message]: “Would (God) be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.”
These are words, not to live by, but to live in as Christians, as an ELCA people of God in these times.
L.A. Jake Jacobson
Thank you for helping to tell the story of the Association of Lutheran Older Adults (ALOA) to Lutheran Partners’ readers (“Comment,” July/Aug, 2004). ALOA exists to strengthen ministry by, for, and with older adults, and getting the news out about who we are (inter-Lutheran) and what we do (education and advocacy) is essential to that mission.
There is one correction to your article. Seventy-six million “boomers” will not reach age 65 in 2011. Actually, they begin to reach the normal retirement age then and will continue to add to the ranks of the retired at about 11,500 per day for the next 18 years. Anticipating the impact of this “age wave” on society in general and the church in particular is a challenge for congregational planning.
ALOA seeks to assist that planning in ways that equip the church to strengthen intergenerational ministries.
Thanks for your contribution to the church’s leadership.
Edwin B. Naylor
Executive director, ALOA
What a Loving God Says
Even though I am at the advanced age of 93, I am compelled to once more express my opinion based on the Holy Scriptures and my concern for the church and for some of my ... colleagues.
Perhaps you too have witnessed the wild suggestions and conclusions of some of our ... leaders of the church. Have you noticed that most of the articles in The Lutheran, as well as in other publications of the ELCA, emphasize allowing the “love of God” to influence our thinking when considering the ordaining of gays and/or the blessing of same-sex unions. Further, did you take note of the fact that for them the “love of God” never included references as to what the Supreme Advocate of that love had to say upon the subjects? ... Remember Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees in their attempt to test him with a question about divorce: “Have you not heard that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not men (or women) put asunder’” (Mt. 19:4-6, RSV).
As to the acceptance of homosexuals as members of the church, let them be as other members of the church who are aware of their sinfulness and quietly strive to measure up to what God expects of us all! Hear Jesus again as he calls upon us to be sincere in our conviction: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 7:21, RSV).
Henry G. Springer
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