According to a study done by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of the 3.6 million baptized members of that church body, half worship in congregations with an average attendance of 150 or less. And out of the ELCA’s 9.393 congregations, 82 percent have an average worship attendance of 150 or less (Lammi, Kurt, “Would They Notice?” Living Lutheran, p. 33). The conclusion? The denomination is mostly made up of small congregations (p. 33).
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, it is important for us to remember some of the key statements of Martin Luther. One of those statements is on the concept of freedom. Luther said in his most famous treatise On the Freedom of the Christian, in 1520: “The Christian individual is a completely free lord of all, subject to none. The Christian individual is a completely dutiful servant of all, subject to all.“
These two statements may seem to contradict one another, but, in fact, they encapsulate the complete picture of what we as Christians call freedom.
I saw this fill-in-the-blank activity on the back of a carton of berry punch, and it got me to thinking about the people in my life who have had an impact on me. My teachers, my pastors, my co-workers, my friends, my neighbors, my family have all influenced me enormously. But I do not express to them my appreciation as often as I should.
I like how the letter on this carton provides a framework with blanks to fill in. That gets the ball rolling for me. How would you fill in the blanks for people who have helped you through life and your life of faith? How would you describe what they are to you? How would explain what they have enabled you to be? How would you express how they make you feel?
I have lately been contemplating the concept of adiaphora. Not only because it is fun to say, but because many of the things we spend a lot of our time thinking about in the Church oftentimes fall into the category of adiaphora.
In general for Christians, adiaphora means “matters not regarded as essential to faith, but nevertheless permissible or allowed in the church.”
Things like discussions of the floor covering in the sanctuary or the color of the paint on the walls of the fellowship hall, for example, are not essential to faith, but do constitute a large part of our time sometimes. Adiaphora.
St. Augustine famously said of Jesus on the cross: “Victor quia victima!” which means “victor because victim.” On the cross, Jesus turns the ancient thinking of battle on its head. Usually in war, the defeated is the victim and the executioner is the victor. But as the victim on the cross, Jesus became the victor over the enemies of sin, death and the devil. St. Paul points out this amazing reversal:
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” —1 Corinthians 15:54-55
Then in Hebrews 2:14-15, St. Paul describes the divine combination of Christ’s being victim and victor this way:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Throughout the Book of Acts, we read about a disciple of Christ named Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” His name indicates the kind of impact he had on those in the early church and those he witnessed to on his many missionary trips with the apostle Paul.
Here are some examples of what Barnabas said and did in his travels:
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. —Acts 11:22
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. —Acts 11:25-26
This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. —Acts 11:30 Continue reading →
Pastor Matthew Peeples talks about how people in our society today in the new realities of communication are emboldened by anonymity. Because we cannot physically see the people we are talking to on social media and other platforms, we often tend to say things we wouldn’t otherwise do in a public setting, Peeples explains, and so we share things publicly that we would normally keep private.
We all know of situations or circumstances in which people perhaps “overshared” on social media which then led to some unintentional consequences or had unforeseen implications.
In a lecture at Concordia Seminary-St. Louis on April 4, 2017 called “Paul, Grace and Liberation from the Human Judgment of Worth,” noted theologian Dr. John Barclay related that our society is currently experiencing a crisis of self-worth. There has a been rise in anxiety, depression, self-doubt and even suicide related to the feeling that we lack worth. Much of this, Barclay said, has to do with the increase in interactions on social media in which there is a great deal of value placed on our posts being “liked,” our pages being “followed,” etc. We, unfortunately, are living in a more and more judgmental world in which we seek affirmation more and more from our peers.
I recently read an article in the Lifestyle section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which the reporter talked about the clutter that accumulates on her dresser and how that clutter affected her morning routine negatively (Sultan, Aisha, “The Trick To Organizing Flat Surfaces,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 26, 2017, H4). She ended up hiring an organization consultant to help her out, and the consultant told her to keep only those things that she truly used or wanted to look at every single day and remove all the rest. You can see the results in this before-and-after photo.
We all have “dumping grounds” where we put all our stuff. And at some point we need to go through it and get rid of the clutter so we can live in a calmer, more peaceful and more organized environment.