Pastoral Note #4 – Friday, March 27th

I’ve seen some of you this week.  I’ve talked to more.  There has been some sadness; the Bayer’s neighbor passed away.  There as always in such times has been some fear and anger.  It is amazing the small things that can be an excuse to let it rip.  We should attempt to kind when someone is at tilt, because we are going to hit that point as well sometime.  But it has also been a time of some honest reflection I feel.  Not much from anything going by the word “news”, but by individuals.  It feels a bit like what the word apocalypse originally meant – a revelation.  The veil that we often keep over our deepest thoughts, the ones that we only half know ourseves, has been lifted a bit.


This coming Sunday is Lent 5.  The texts for the week and the Introit are lit.  (The link to the service for those online is below.)  A valley of dry bones.  Lazarus from the tomb.  In other words death.  Yea! In the midst of plague, a week of dead things. (/Snark off.) But there is an important spiritual insight that this helps us think about.

The fancy word is atonement.  You were probably taught in confirmation that atonement is at-one-ment, how we are made at one with God.  And the theory of the atonement that we normally work with is substitutionary.  The wages of sin are death.  Because humanity sinned, death came into the world.  A payment had to be made against that.  A payment that none of us sinners could pay.  So Jesus, the sinless Son of God, made that payment on the cross.  It is a Good Friday centric understanding.  It is also a simple historical understanding.

I don’t know how many of you are Sci-Fi or Star Trek fans, but one of the tropes of that genre is that the future can be a cause of the past.  I’m not commenting on the reality of that trope, but there is a psychological reality to it.  Hebrews 2:14-15 turns the causality around for a second.  Instead of sin bringing about death, it is death that brings about sin and our state.

Because God’s children are human beings– made of flesh and blood– the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. (Heb. 2:14-15 NLT) 

Did you catch it?  Because of our fear of death, we have lived as slaves, slaves to sin.  Because we feared death, we reached for everything possible, as if the one who dies with the most toys wins.  Or more likely, like our Silicon Valley folks today, we think mystically if we’ve got all this stuff we can buy off death.  Even back in the garden in that innocent state it is our very dependence upon God that causes fear.  Eve, God is not a good guy, he wants to keep you down.  Take the apple now, before you don’t have the chance.  It is our fear of our contingency, our fear of dying, that drives much of our actions.  The ones we keep under the veil.  

It is to this fear that Lent 5 speaks.  Can these bones live?  The theory is Christ the Victor.  My favorite line expressing this comes from an Advent hymn, Hark the Glad Sound LSB 349.  He comes the prisoners to release/in Satan’s bondage held/the gates of brass before Him burst/the iron fetters yield.  I’m jumping the gun.  This is the theory of Easter.  Sheol’s gates have been wrecked from the inside as Christ kicked them open.  We no longer need fear death, because the eternal welcome of our God has been displayed in flesh and blood.  God himself died, and God himself rose, and our brother Jesus has given us the victory.

Our victory over death is not an excuse to ignore good advice, but it is a call to put down the worry.  To stop grabbing for every last thing here.  Beacuse everything here is going away.  Some sooner and some later.  But there is a far country, one holding a victory celebration.  And everything we need has already been prepared.

Church Information

Maybe getting the handle on things. So this is the plan right now.

  1. I will be at church on Sunday at 9 AM and 11 AM.  I will stream those services at the same place as this past week ( ).  I will also be attempting to improve the audio, I think I’ve got it. 
  2. Nobody is required to be at church.  If you are in a high risk category, please stay home.  Please join us online.  But if you are healthy and wish to join me at church, that is also fine.  We should be under 10 in each.  Everyone will have their own pew.
  3. The liturgy will be Responsive Prayer 2 (LSB 285).  Here is the link to the service, so if you are online you can participate instead of watching.
  4. If you have prayer requests, we will collect them during the service, but I’d also request that if you can please email or text them to me.
  5. I encouraged folks who didn’t have a hymnal at home to borrow one from the pews and take it home with them this past week.  Likewise if you don’t have one, and you would like one to follow along with, please stop in and grab one for the time being.
  6. I am in the offfice roughly 10AM to 5 PM.  Any time during those hours I will be available for private confession and communion.  My cell is 585-524-7909 if you want to check beforehand.  If you would like outside of those hours, just contact me and I’m sure we can work it out.  (I can also come out, but I thought we might all be tired of our walls, and need another place.)

Pastoral Letter #2

I wanted to give an update on church and virus related things, and to share a short meditation.

Church Related Info

After meeting with the council last night (3/18) there are a few more actions that we will be taking for the time being.

  1. Everything from my pastoral letter still stands.
    1. We won’t be canceling service (although we might be making a change, see below)
    2. Most small group activities (i.e. confirmation/bible study) will continue. 3-5 people are well under any limit.
    3. The other modifications to standard routine (no handshaking, offering collection plate at entrance, individual cups for communion) continue
    4. If you are in an elevated risk group, are sick, or simply don’t wish to risk, please stay home.  Also, I’d ask that you let me know.  I’d like to stay in contact, and I’m not a psychic.  (I will have one additional thing to add below.)
  2. Additional Changes
    1. Choir practice and worship spots will be put on hiatus.  This one hurts, but it seems an appropriate precaution as they are huddled close together.
    2. I’m not sure how it will work for a Sunday, but I have established a zoom channel.  I will log in and stream the service as best I can.  Here is the login link.  I can handle up to 100 people in the channel.  Unless you already have the zoom plug in or app you will have to download it and follow the instructions.  So the first time give yourself an extra 15 minutes.  This is for those in those at risk groups.
    3. That same zoom link will also be active for the congregational meeting to follow service this coming sunday.
  3. Plague Schedule
    1. The official limit is 50 people in a gathering.  While our average is above that, on most Sunday’s we are right around that.  The request is to limit to 10.  We have 18 pews, although this will mean that people will have to use the pews up front.  We could sit roughly 20 people checkerboard style each in their own pew and you’d still have more than 6 feet of separation.
    2. To make a good faith effort, starting Sunday, March 29th, we will have two services (Please, please notice that is not this coming sunday!).
      1. The first will be at 9 AM, the normal Sunday school time.  What I would ask is that if you are a Sunday School/Bible class attender to plan on attending this service.   That gets us 10-12 to start.
      2. The second will be a 11 AM.
      3. For the first time, other than Sunday School folks, I’m not making any assignments.  I’m hoping we roughly divide equally naturally.  If we are unbalanced, we may ask some to move.
      4. We should be able to keep attendance at each of these around/under 20 is my guess.  Enough to be a minyan, but small enough to be prudent in time of plague.
      5. We will return to normal schedule as soon as this passes.
      6. Holy Week is coming up. We will address this in coming weeks.


Since the kids are out of school, I’ve been starting the day at home with chapel service.  We’ve been having our own Matins service.  In part teaching the kids the Te Deum and the Venite. Two chants that every Christian for most of time would have known by heart and known when to sing them. I wish I sang better.  There is accompaniment available online, but we figured out it is just better plowing ahead bad notes and all.  The readings (and the matins liturgy) for the day have been from the Treasury of Daily Prayer.  This is a prayer book that is part of our Confirmation curriculum that we provide to students as we study the Lord’s prayer and try to demonstrate examples of an intentional prayer life.  (Here is the CPH link. ).  A physical copy is great, but there is also a digital version that you can get for you phone. ( ).

Today’s Psalm was from Psalm 106.  And like most lectionaries, you get the gospel part.  We got verses 44-48.

Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. 45 For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 46 He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive. 47 Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. 48 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the LORD!

But Ellen didn’t have her own copy of the Treasury and was just using a hymnal and when she turned to the Psalms found out that 106 wasn’t there.  Which got me interested.  I know that imprecatory Psalms, those calling on God to smash our enemies in often gruesome ways, are often left out.  But that turns out not to be Psalm 106.  It was probably left out of the hymnal psalter simply due to length, but it is worth your read.  It reviews the history of the people of Israel, but unlike most histories that would focus on the glories of a people, this one recognizes its faults.  We forgot the wondrous works of the Exodus.  We forgot the manna and quail.  We exchanged the living God for a golden calf or the Baals.  That last episode brought on plague, a plague which ended when Phineas took up action against all of Israel who had yoked themselves to Baal.  Worth pondering what we have yoked ourselves to in the midst of plague. 

The gospel portion provided is a remembrance of the context of God’s steadfast love.  The LORD calls and gathers together his people not because we are so deserving, but because he is love.  He remembers his promises.  He saves his heritage.  He gathers from among the nations.  While we were sinners, he does this.  Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.  Lord, deliver your people. 



Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber – A Book Review

Pastrix Book CoverFirst the who, what, where and why facts. The author of Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber, is an ELCA pastor at a church plant in Colorado called House for All Sinners and Saints. You could say she is a second career minister if you accept a prodigal life as a first career. The cover photo gives you the arm tats and the general ancient-future vibe by using the illuminated bible artwork. Pastor Bolz-Weber and her congregation are an interesting blend of that no longer useful word emergent and liturgical churches. She planted this congregation about the same time I arrived at St. Mark’s and started with roughly the same number in worship on an average Sunday. Just that horrible comparable intersection makes the book necessary reading for me; we are sharing a path of building congregations. The other portion that makes the book, for me at least, necessary reading is that when I read or hear her preaching, I hear many of the same Lutheran-ish concepts. I can hear the gospel and find myself saying Amen. Hearing the gospel as clearly as I can from her preaching is not an everyday thing. And yet she and I would not see eye-to-eye on many things. And that would not, at least from my viewpoint, be caused by general political ideology. (She is a creature of the left, and I am in general a man of the right). We would seem to share the same low anthropology and high Christology that is a reformation and Lutheran must. (One political comment, I don’t know how you can be of the left and hold a reformation anthropology. Being progressive would seem to mean that you think we can progress. The low anthropology of the reformation would say back – “no, you are a sinner, you may change the sins you indulge, but still the same”. My politics of the right really starts from that point; it is a politics of managing the crooked timber which in general means creating as many break-walls as possible. My political nightmare is large scale uniformity which always ends in large scale tyranny and misery.) Back to the book, sharing that theology, I was hoping to see how she makes it work in a completely different way. I wanted to be able to write a review that was more glowing. Instead I have that quizzical and queasy feeling when people are using important words with strangely different definitions.

There are three points that stuck out to me a stumbling blocks or scandals to just shouting Amen at the end. First, while Pastor Bolz-Weber is able to say some nice things about people like her parents or like the LCMS, she seems oblivious to the difference in how she treats them verses how they treat her. She almost always goes back to “beating the fundy” to maintain her differentiation, while they display love. Stringing a couple of such situations together.

I knew that I had to get out. I was a strong, smart and smart-mouthed girl, and the church I was raised in had no place for that kind of thing even though they loved me. (loc 170)… Church, for all its faults, was the only place outside of my own home where people didn’t gawk at me or make fun of me. I could go to church and be greeted with my actual name and not a taunt. I could go to church and be part of the youth group. I could go to church and no one stared (loc 278)… But I soon learned that there was actually a whole world of Christians who take Matthew 25 seriously, who believe that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick, we do so to Jesus’ own self. They weren’t magical fantasy creatures, they were just a kind of Christian I had never heard of. (loc 487)

It goes on like that throughout the whole book. What she gives and acknowledges with one hand she punches and takes back with the other. What she says she wants to be, her parents are – welcoming the stranger, even when the stranger is your own little girl. When she actually says something that offends her erstwhile political allies, it is mean old LCMS’er Chris Rosebrough who calls and who flat out stops the attacks and calls her friend. While she is worried about hurts thousands of miles away that we can’t really do anything about, it is “the mean people” who love what is given to them. That is one Lutheran concept that Pastor Bolz-Weber did not pick up. What is our vocation? Do what is in front of us.

The second item, and the queasiest I got, circled around her pastoral and liturgical reactions to a transgendered parishioner. What Pastor Bolz-Weber did you would not find even in the ELCA agenda book (at least not yet). They set up a “shrine to himself as a girl (loc 1430)” which is populated with pictures of this person as a young child in dresses and pigtail and they put a candle in the middle “which caused the (given) name to move and change hue”. “We decided that at Baptism of our Lord Sunday, we would include within the liturgy a naming rite. Mary would become Asher in the midst of a liturgy where Jesus was named “Son” and “Beloved (loc 1435).””

My first reaction here was simply pagan, the setting up a shrine to our ancestors but in our narcissistic age the shrine becomes to ourselves and how we want to mold ourselves. Turning more theological I thought about the day they chose. When Jesus was baptized what he does is two-fold. First he is declaring his solidarity with sinners, with us. Jesus stands under those waters of repentance not needing them, but taking them for us. The second thing he does is declare his own blessing on the incarnation. It is speculation to think about those 30 silent years, but here in Jordan’s waters Jesus declares that he is messiah. This body, this incarnation, is God standing with and for His people. The Father affirms this with the voice from heaven – “This is my son” – and the Spirit descends as a grant of truth. This created liturgical rite denies the incarnation. The body that was created for this child of God would be denied. That beautiful name, Mary, would be obliterated. It is somewhat surprising that the written name wasn’t burned in the candle. Mary to Asher or Mary to Ash. Instead of following Jesus and being incarnations, God’s creation is denied and the blessings declared on it are appropriated for our own higher spiritual conception.

In what was one of the largest discordant notes, Pastor Balz-Weber first does what we see in the first point. She bashes the fundies. Mary/Asher came from the same Church of Christ tradition as she. First bash, “not unlike soldiers who survived the same bloody battle”. Attempting to live the Christian life, Mary/Asher saw a “Christian” therapist who instead of following repentance and absolution as many as 70 * 7 (i.e. infinite), prescribes behavioral therapy – when you have homosexual thoughts snap yourself with a rubber band. Aristotle might agree with such therapy, but Chrsitian? No way. After bashing the silly fundamentalists, she turns to justifying by interpreting the lives of Paul and Luther. Her interpretation of Paul:

And then he went from Saul to Paul, from being the best at being a Jew to being the best at being a Christian. Only, at some point he realized that no one could really pull that off. That’s when Paul finally understood grace. (Loc 1444)

As far as I can read Galatians and Acts that pretty much gets everything backward. Paul insists that he understands grace because of his Damascus Road vision of the living Christ. Paul tells the story himself in Galatians 1:11-2:2. Paul would never claim to be a “super-christian” as she says, although he would say things like follow me as I follow Christ much later than Galatians. She takes a true inner change – the meeting of the living Christ where everything that came before is worthless – and applies it to an outer change (female to male) so that the person feels like who they have always been. Likewise she appropriates the Luther story as “standing up to the angry vengeful God from the church”. As far as I can tell, the grace on offer to Mary/Asher was: you are who you feel you are, stay who you feel you are, and God will complete it. That is scarily close to the medieval church’s, “do what you can and buy the indulgence and trust the saints”. The dependence upon God’s action is the gospel, but the proclamation to just be what you think yourself to be is of this world.

And that brings me to what I might call the third idol in the book. Pastor Bolz-Weber consistently and rightly sees that she falls in love with an image of herself. The one she keeps returning to is the romantic idea of dying young. She is in love with the idea of herself as a “bad-ass”. This is something that she has recognized and worked on. Toward the end of the memoir she states what might be the mission statement of House for All Sinners and Saints. If it is not the formal one, it is a guiding idea. “When one of the main messages of the church is that Jesus bids you come and die (die to self, die to your old ideas, die to self-reliance), people don’t tend to line the block for that shit.” The problem with that is I never actually see her pastoring her people in that way. She is constantly bleeding for people far away – Haiti, New Orleans. She is constantly patting herself on the back for her welcoming the stranger. She herself has experience a dying and a rising – alcoholism, her dreams of what HFASS is and should be (her story of “rally day” is one that pierces me). But she never proclaims this to “her people”. She doesn’t say to poor Mary that maybe your conception of yourself as a man is what needs to die, and you will struggle with that your entire life, unless God agrees to remove the thorn. She wants to say that HFASS is “a place where difficult truths can be spoken and everyone is welcome, and where we pray for each other (loc 604)”, but “The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority (loc 542).” That is an opening not only for denying the difficult truth, but for the substitution of lies in the form of truth. She says she believes in portents but only in retrospect (loc 669), but her life is full of portents that she still doesn’t get. Her parents’ constant love and that of all those evil bad benighted fundies. Pastor Bolz-Weber still has an image of herself she is in love with. It is one shared by most of her church as the real loving ones and not those hateful sectarians. The trouble is that it’s an idol. As she herself says, “every single time I die to something—my notions of my own specialness, my plans and desires for something to be a very particular way—every single time I fight it and yet every single time I discover more life and more freedom than if I had gotten what I wanted (loc 1987).”

Even given those serious troubles, I can still hear the gospel through Pastor Bolz-Weber. And I think it might go back to her calling story. “It was long before I went to seminary and got ordained, but doing PJ’s funeral—as his only “religious” friend—was the first time I realized that God was calling me to be a pastor to my people. (Loc 1736).” What I must confront is the experience of hearing the gospel in a place that is exceedingly heterodox. We are not privy to the counsels of the most high. While the actions might grate and the bible be dismissed and all kinds of error not only accepted by endorsed, that might be as close to the gospel as “her people” can get. And Jesus might have said, “it’s enough”. And as much as I could be like Peter complaining pointing at John – “what about him”, the answer is that is none of my business, work your field. And, Love covers a multitude. If there is one thing you can’t deny, it is that Pastor Bolz-Weber loves “her people”. Yes, I wish she loved them enough to share a little more truth, but she is sharing what she knows. And we must wrestle with the fact that it sounds like the gospel.