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Topics - Brian Stoffregen

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Your Turn / What is a "fallen thigh"?
« on: May 08, 2022, 12:26:18 PM »
There was a meme on Facebook that suggested that God gave instructions for causing an abortion in Numbers 5. As usually, I dug deeper into the text that was quoted.

Three times (5:21, 22, 27) the literal image of "thigh falling away and belly swelling" is used.

The Hebrew, יָרֵךְ, can refer to the "thigh," , e.g., where a sword is worn; but it can also be a euphemism for genitals, e.g., "going out of his loins" (Genesis 46:26; Exodus 1:5; Judges 8:30) to refer to offspring. (This suggests that the word might also refer to what the genitals produce.)

In looking at 13 different English translations there are 13 different translations! (While the quotes below are Numbers 5:21 the same language is used in each translation in vv. 22 & 27.) Some of these translations/interpretations are about causing a miscarriage. Others see the language as making the woman infertile. Most use the more literal terms without explaining what they might mean. Whatever it is, it is a divine punishment if the woman has had an affair. The punishment here for adultery is less severe than in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 where both parties in the adulterous relationship are put to death.

CEB  induces a miscarriage and your womb discharges
CEV  never be able to give birth to a child
ESV  makes your thigh fall away and your body swell
GNT  cause your genital organs to shrink and your stomach to swell up
LEB  making your hip fall away and your stomach swollen
NABRE  causing your uterus to fall and your belly to swell
NASB  making your thigh shriveled and your belly swollen
NASB95  making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell
NET  makes your thigh fall away and your abdomen swell
NIV  makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell
NKJV  makes your thigh rot and your belly swell
NRSV  makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge
JPS  causes your thigh to sag and your belly to distend

Conclusion: we can't know for sure what these words mean. It seems likely that יָרֵךְ does not really mean "thigh," but it could refer to a woman's genitals (that fall =? stop working) or to the offspring in the womb who falls out before being developed (= miscarriage).

These verses, like Exodus 21:22 get interpreted as pro-choice or pro-life is based on the beliefs of the translator/interpreter. The language in Hebrew (and also Greek) is ambiguous.

Your Turn / Gender Non-Conformity - Your Responses
« on: May 03, 2022, 12:47:27 PM »
A mother's post (a friend of mine)

Yes, our daughter [Name] is proud to be a part of the LGBTQ community.
[Name] is gender non-conforming. What does this mean? One day [Name] may wake up feeling connected to a fem side but the next day feeling connected more to a masc side. But does it change who [Name] really is? NO! Not in our eyes and heart! [Name] is and will always be our baby, our child, our pride and joy!
[Name] has struggled for the past 2 years trying to find a place in this world. [Name] has been bullied, judged and shunned, has lost friends & been pushed away by others.   It was all from the support of amazing family & true friends  to finally be true to  the heart.
That is all [Name] & I ever wanted for all our kids is for them to be happy & true to their hearts.

If after seeing the beautiful pictures and reading this post you feel you need to unfriend me then please do so, but nothing will EVER come between me and my kids! I hope [Name] is an inspiration & role model to anyone that has ever struggled with finding their true self.

Her daughter's follow up.

Thank you everybody for the wonderful support and kind words, I am, as my mom said, Gender non-conforming, she did a wonderful job of explaining what that means but I'd like to add to it. Another part of Gender non-conforming is that I don't identify as one gender, I don't conform to one specific gender. I have never felt like just a girl, at one point I used she/her/they/them pronouns to kind of experiment, then one day on social media I heard about gender-fluid, where someone will one day wake up feeling like a man and have a specific name they go by that day, and the next a female and a name for them that day. For a while I wondered if that was me, but then I realized I have no desire to fully identify as a man, then I learned about Gender non-conforming in a Health class ruing our Sex Ed course and it was like sudden clarity, I knew who I was, I now know my name, I am LJ, I am the child of [Name] and [Name], I am the middle sibling of [Name] and [Name], and I am the grandchild of [Name]. Thank you to everybody who helped me get to where I am now, to love myself like I do now, but I want to give a special thanks to my wonderful significant other, [Name] and her lovely family who helped me understand more about Gender non-conformity and how it fits who I am. (A little psa after this long message, I use all pronouns, but I have a slight preference to they/them/theirs.) If you read all of this, thank you so much.

This family is active in a Lutheran congregation. As pastors what would your response be should a member make such a public announcement?

Your Turn / The Easter Story in Greek (with English subtitles)
« on: April 22, 2022, 12:16:23 PM »

A way to hear the Greek of Easter (and creation and the Fall) with illustrations. There's some theology thrown in, too.

Your Turn / Can we reject God's grace?
« on: April 06, 2022, 12:10:58 PM »
The idea that we can reject God's grace has come up in another discussion.

What are the biblical basis for this idea? Could it be the result of our sinfulness: that we want to keep a little control over our eternal salvation?

I asked in the other discussion if Lazarus could have rejected Jesus' call to "come out"?

In another discussion I asked if Mary could have rejected God's announcement that she would give birth to a son and make it not happen? Could Zechariah have rejected Elizabeth's pregnancy and make it not happen?

All of Jesus' followers rejected (or at least refused to believe) his promise that he would be raised from the dead. Women come to the tomb expecting to see a body there. In the reports where they tell the disciples, they reject their message. The refuse to believe it. Their rejection of the word did not mean that it didn't happen.

We confess that "God created me and all that exists." There are people who reject that idea. Some do not believe that there is a God. Others believe in other gods. However, rejection of having been created by God doesn't change the fact that they and all things were created by God.

The same can be said about those who reject Jesus as the messiah, as the one who suffered and died, and rose from the grave. Their rejection of that belief doesn't mean it didn't happen. There are also millions of people who have never heard about Jesus. Their ignorance doesn't mean it didn't happen.

I've heard it argued that the rejection of God's grace means that one misses out on the benefits of that grace. Perhaps that is true, but at the same time, we have Jesus saying: "He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45b). We also know from experiences that bad things happen to believers as well as unbelievers, e.g., houses destroyed by a tornado; terminal cancer.

So, for discussion: (1) Can human reject God's grace? (2) What are the tangible consequences of rejecting that grace? (3) What are the biblical basis for your position?

What I have presented with the texts above is the idea that God does what God wants to do regardless of human acceptance or rejection. God blesses both believers and rejecters the same; and suffering can come to believers and rejecters the same.

Your Turn / Easter Texts
« on: April 04, 2022, 03:14:01 PM »
There are two parts to the resurrection of Jesus:

(1) finding the empty tomb, where there are many similarities in the gospel accounts, and
(2) appearances of the risen Jesus, where there are no similarities in the authentic gospel accounts. The addition to Mark has similarities to other gospels.

Attached are two essays by Ed Schroeder given in September 30, 2001. He touches on some topics that repeatedly appear in our discussions in this forum. Note: these talks took place eight years before the ELCA's vote in 2009 that changed our ordination practices.

For those interested, these essays will be the topic of the Crossings online discussion on March 29. You can read more about these Table Talk discussions at They have often centered on writings of Ed Schroeder or Bob Bertram.

Your Turn / Is there a biblical morality?
« on: January 20, 2022, 04:27:00 PM »
Carrying over from another discussion.

My approach in seeking answers to this question is to see if translators actually use "moral" or "morality" in their understanding of the original words. Thankfully, allows one to search numerous different English translations for key words.

Using the ESV, the word "morality" never occurs in that translation. The word "moral" occurs only once: 1 Corinthians 15:33: Do not be deceived, "Bad company ruins good morals." Paul is quoting a well-known proverb. The Greek word used is ἦθος and used only here in the NT. More often it is translated, "customs" or "habits," as it usually is in the LXX. A synonym, ἔθος, is used of Mary and Joseph's "custom" of going to the temple at Passover (Luke 2:42) and Jesus' "habit" of going to Gethsemane (Luke 22:39). It's not likely that we would consider regularly going to church or frequently walking in a garden as "moral" issues; even if they are good "habits."

Doing a search for "immorality" gives many more results; but in every case (except 1), it is a translation of πορνεία, πορνεύω, ἐκπορνεύω, or πόρνος. (The one OT verse that shows up, Genesis 38:24, uses these words in the LXX.) The one exception is Romans 13:13 where κοίτη is used. All of these terms refer to sexual behaviors. Is sexual morality the only morality that the Bible is concerned about?

These leads to what probably should be the first question: What is morality? (We don't get an answer by trying to look at Greek or Hebrew words for "morality" used in Scriptures.)

An English definition:

principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior: the matter boiled down to simple morality: innocent prisoners ought to be freed.
a particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society: a bourgeois morality.
the extent to which an action is right or wrong: behind all the arguments lies the issue of the morality of the possession of nuclear weapons.

There are many things that the Bible and Christians say are good to do, like going to church, that we usually don't consider morality. The Bible uses terms like "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη) for good and right behaviors. However, in Lowe & Nida's Semantic Greek-English Lexicon, this is not included under the subdomain of "moral/ly." The Greek words and brief definitions under that domain are:

συνείδησις = the inward ability to distinguish between right and wrong, "conscience"
ἄσπιλος = literally, "without stains" so, "(morally) spotless"
ἀσθενής = literally, "weak," so "without (moral) strength"
ῥυπαρία = literally, "dirt, filth," so "(morally) filthy
ῥυπαρός = "dirty, filthy, unclean, defiled"
ῥυπαίνομαι = literally, "to make dirty," and it became "to defile oneself, to make oneself dirty."
μίασμα; μιασμός = literally, "to be stain (with dye)," so "the state of being stained by evil, defiled"
μιαίνω = literally, "to stain (with dye)," so "to cause someone to be stained by evil, to defile."
ἀκαθαρσία = literally, "unclean," so "the state of moral corruption, moral uncleanliness"
πλάνη = literally, "wandering," so "straying from the path of truth, error, delusion, deceit."

The words related to doing wrong (immorality) are more prevalent those related to doing right (morality). In many cases, the moral sense of these words come from a figurative meaning and application of the words.

So, for further discussion, what are your definition(s) of morality? What do you see as biblical morality? What are the differences between morality and good habits? Is morality somewhat culturally based, i.e., the customs/habits of a group or society? And to throw in a wrinkle I've tossed in before, how situationally is morality? For example, was dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a moral choice given the situation of the war? Was the Great Flood that killed nearly all of humanity a moral choice given the evilness of humanity at that time?

Your Turn / Did it really happen? Is the wrong question.
« on: January 08, 2022, 03:52:01 PM »
Mark 16:8 reads: And they [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (ESV)

What happens when we ask, "Did this really happen?" It puts Mark in conflict with Matthew, Luke, and John.

Matthew 28:8: So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (ESV)
Luke 24:9: and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. (ESV)
John 20:18: Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord" …. (ESV)

In order to harmonize the accounts, later copyist added endings to Mark.

There is the shorter ending where they tell these things to those around Peter. This first found in a Latin translation in the 4th-5th century. It doesn't show up in Greek manuscripts until 7th-9th century.

There is the longer ending (Mark 16:9-20) that is found in a number of ancient manuscripts from the 5th-15th centuries. There is also an expanded version that adds a paragraph after v. 14. that is found in one 5th century Greek manuscript. In this ending Mary Magdalene tells those who had been with Jesus. (They don't believe her.)

Simple logic would indicate that it's more likely that copyists added an ending than to think that they would have omitted it if they had it before them.

It seems to me that Mark wants his readers to believe that it really happened that the women said nothing to anyone. However, his readers, like us today, have heard the news that Jesus was raised from the dead. How do we know it if the women said nothing? Oh, before answering that, I presume that Mark is writing to believers. He is not writing a evangelical tract trying to convince unbelieving readers/hearers about the reality of Christ and the resurrection. He is writing to people who already believe it - like us. What is he trying to say to us believers by the way he presents what happened at the tomb?

I think that Mark's point is that even with all the human failures: Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, the apostles all running away, and the women's silence; Jesus will keep his promise. He said that he will meet his disciples in Galilee; and he did. The disciples would learn of the resurrection from the risen Jesus himself. Beyond that, it had such an impact on them, that they then spread the news of the resurrection throughout the world - and how we know about it today.

A second point, like some of the parables, is to leave the conclusion up to the hearers. Does the barren fig tree bear fruit after the gardener spends a year caring for it (Luke 13:6-9)? Does the older brother join the party (Luke 15:11-32)? The unstated conclusion then poses the question to the hearers. “Will you bear fruit?” “Are you willing to join the party?” Or, at the end of Mark, “Are you willing to go and tell others about Jesus being raised?” It seems clear that the gospel cannot end at v. 8. As we have it, Mark has given us the beginning of the gospel story introduced in 1:1. The middle of the gospel story is up to us – telling the world that Jesus has been raised and living our lives as disciples of the risen Lord. The story will end at the Parousia, whose timetable is known only to the Father.

By focusing on "what really happened," we can miss the message that Mark is giving us through the way he stops his story of Jesus. It is not an ending, but, in a sense, a new beginning. Lamar Williamson, Jr. states it well: “When is an ending not the end? When a dead man rises from the tomb – and when a gospel ends in the middle of a sentence” [Mark, Interpretation Series, p. 283].

A better question is: "What is going to happen now after the silence?"

Your Turn / Immortality of the Soul
« on: January 07, 2022, 02:40:23 PM »
In another discussion the idea of the immortality of the soul came up. And whether or not that is a core Christian doctrine.

Originally, ψυχή was a word that included all the differences between a living body and a corpse. That is, if the ψυχή continued, by definition there is still life.

There are about three different definitions in the New Testament.

1. It means life, which can come to end. Jesus gives up his "life" (=soul), which means he died. (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45; Lu 12:20; Jo 10:11, 15, 17). Sometimes we may be called to give up our lives (Jo 13:37; 15:13; Acts 27:10, 22; 1 J 3:16; Rev 12:11; 16:3).

2. It refers to something that is saved and continues beyond death (Mt 10:28; 1 Th 5:23; He3b 10:38; Jam 1:21; 5:20; 1 Pet 1:9; Rev 6:9; 20:4)

3. It is equivalent to "me," "the self." That is, "my soul" = "me" or "myself". "Their souls" = "them" or "themselves". (Col 3:23; 1 Th 2:8; 1 Pet 4:19). We can say that whatever it is that makes me, me, will continue forever.

Our creeds do not use the language of "immortality of the soul," but "resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." "Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." If we consider "life" = "soul," then we can talk about our souls (or our selves) lasting forever in the world to come.

Your Turn / The amazing word, adiaphora.
« on: December 25, 2021, 12:59:32 PM »
The word, adiaphora, from the Greek, ἀδιάφορος, has three parts.
ἀ a prefix meaning "not"
διἄ a prefix, generally "through"
φὀρος a noun formed from φέρω "to carry, to bear". The noun refers to that which is carried. Often it refers to money that is paid, i.e., taxes. It can also refer to non-literal things that we carry with us, e.g., passion, impulse.

διαφέρω/διάφορος/διαφορά have the sense of "to carry through" or "to carry hither and yon," and then a secondary meaning of "to be different," which can center on the distinctiveness of the difference, or the benefit of the difference, i.e. "to be useful," "to be important." So, it is used of things that "are more valuable" in Mt 6:26; 10:31; 12:12.

The sense of "carry through" perhaps led to the impersonal: "it makes a difference." That is, it's something important or valuable to me so that I will carry it through to complete the task.

Then there's the use of these words with a negative, such as: "It makes no difference to me" (Gal 2:6); "no better" (Gal 4:1); also Proverbs 27:14 LXX: "Whoever blesses a friend early in the morning with a loud voice will seem not to be different from one who is cursing."

ἀδιάφορος does not occur in scriptures, but it was used in secular literature to refer to things that were "not different." It referred to things that were not virtue nor vice, not good nor evil, but somewhere in the middle. It's what philosophers called "ethically indifferent."

It's a word that essentially means, "It makes no difference."

However, as Charles noted about vestments (adiaphora), people can have strong opinions about things that to matter in terms of our salvation.

Your Turn / Bible Translations
« on: December 03, 2021, 12:35:47 PM »
I just received notice of the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVue).

The site says about the translation: We are pleased to present you with what we can in full confidence call “the world’s most meticulously researched, rigorously reviewed, and faithfully accurate” English-language Bible translation.

I think that's probably true.

There was also a brief discussion in a group on the Disciples' Literal New Testament (DLNT). The comments were not positive. It might be literal, but it becomes poor English. (The NASB suffers from that, too.)

While I use and quote the NRSV in my notes, because it seems to be the most widely used translation, at least in ELCA publications; it is not a translation I particularly like. I haven't used it in worship for decades. Over the years I have used, TEV, CEV, TNIV, and for about the last decade, CEB. I think these are translated more for reading/hearing than NRSV which is a translation for reading/studying. It's written at about a high school level; and many of our people do not have a high school level understanding of scriptures. It doesn't flow as well when heard orally as these others. Or, in other words, the do better at expressing good English; but that can make them less literal.

Occasionally, I've also used The Message. Others I consult at times: ESV, NASB, NABRE, as well as the Jewish Publication Tanakh, and three versions of the LXX.

Generally, there are things I like and dislike about all of these translations, which is why I make good use of the original languages.

What translations do folks use? in worship? in study? in personal devotions?

Your Turn / Turning the World Upside Down: The Magnificat?
« on: December 03, 2021, 12:08:18 PM »
I received an invitation and flier from Wittenberg Center with the title: "Turning the World Upside Down: The Magnificat." (I added the question mark.) I disagree with that title.

Mary described herself as a lowly one (ταπείνωσις - tapeinōsis) whom God has looked on. In the second part, Mary expects God to lift up all the lowly (ταπεινός - tapeinos). This word can also carry the sense of “humbled” or “humiliated ones.” Literally, it means, “low.” Figuratively, it is used of people who are seen as and/or treated as “below” others in status. We use the phrase: “to put down” others that somewhat captures the sense of this word.

Mary also expects God to pull down the “powerful ones” (δυνάστης - dynastēs) – those who may be trying to usurp God’s rightful place as “The Powerful One” (δυνατός - dynatos v. 49).

The changes that God will bring about continue into the economic realm. The hungry will “be filled with good things” and the rich receive nothing. I don’t see this as a “reversal” or “turning the world upside down” as some have called it. If the rich become poor and the poor become rich, then the world hasn’t really changed. If the powerful are brought low and the lowly are raised up, then the world hasn’t really changed. There are still rich and poor; powerful and lowly.

In light of what we read a couple weeks ago when John quoted Isaiah 40:

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6)

I wonder if, rather than a reversal of positions, Luke’s picture is one of equality. Mountains don’t become valleys. Valleys don’t become mountains. Rather, it seems, that the transformation means that they meet in the middle – a “level playing field for all.” That would really be transforming the world! If God’s coming kingdom is to be something entirely new and different, a reversal doesn’t change the world. Radical equality for all would be different: no status difference between Greeks and Jews; slaves and free; males and females. (I’m sure I’ve heard that before.)

Your Turn / Andrew Sullivan on American Discourse
« on: November 15, 2021, 06:04:26 PM »
Andrew Sullivan is known as a conservative. He's quite critical of American politics as they have become in a 60 Minutes interview. I agree with him. We've lost our ability to dialogue and discuss.

Your Turn / What is meant by "joining/cleaving" to one's wife?
« on: September 27, 2021, 01:50:37 PM »
Genesis 2:24 is quoted in Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7; Ephesians 5:31. A similar statement is made in 1 Esdras 4:20. Paul makes a reference to the verse in 1 Corinthians 6:16; and his use of "joining" with a prostitute reflects a statement in Sirach 19:2.

The Hebrew of Genesis 2:24 uses דָּבַק (dāvaq).
The Greek words used in the NT and Apocrypha are:
κολλάομαι – Matthew 19:5; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Esdras 4:20; Sirach 19:2
προσκολλάομαι – Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:7; Ephesians 5:31

The Greek words originally meant: "to glue (on)." That is, "to stick together."

I'd argued in the past, based on Paul's use in 1 Corinthians 6, that the word refers to sexual intercourse. That was the "joining" that turned the two into one flesh. I'm less certain about that after a more detailed study of these words.

Paul uses the same word in the following verse about being "joined" to the Lord. That is more like the original sense of "being connected to" without any sexual overtones.

The Hebrew root is frequently used also for our relationship with God: Deuteronomy 4:4; 10:20; 11:22; 13:4; 30:20; Joshua 22:5; 23:8; 2 Kings 18:6; Psalm 63:8; 119:31; Jeremiah 13:11.

It's also frequently used in terms of sticking with a friend: Ruth 1:14; 2:8, 21, 23; Proverbs 18:24.

The Greek words are more about being in close proximity to, connected to in some way: Luke 15:15; Acts 5:13; 8:29; 9:26; 10:28; 17:34.

Thus, rather than being primarily about entering a sexual relationship to make a couple "one flesh," the words seem to indicate more of a lasting commitment; a stick-to-it-ness about the relationship that creates the unity.

Your Turn / 9-11 Sermons
« on: September 11, 2021, 01:48:49 PM »
I decided to look back at my sermon on 9/16/2001. It is below. I invite others to post their sermons related to 9-11.

Proper 19 C   September 16, 2001

The search goes on. Rescue workers in New York City and Washington, D.C. continue to search for survivors and victims of the recent terrorists’ attacks. I can’t imagine the joy they have when they find a survivor among the rubble. I also imagine that most of those rescue workers have families back at home – families they have had to leave behind in order to search for survivors and victims – families who are scared and frightened, both about their own lives, but also the safety of the rescue worker.

Part of our gospel lesson is a parable about searching for and finding the lost. Who are the lost? In a very real sense, they are over 4000 people who are missing. They are the victims of the terrorists’ attacks. Their bodies are lost in the dust and steal of what used to be office buildings.

Who are the lost? They are thousands of anxious family members. They feel lost – in a daze – as they await word that their loved one has been found. A word of, “he’s alive,” could result in their greatest joy. A word of, “her body has been identified,” would confirm their greatest fears.

Who are the lost? Most Americans. To a lesser degree than the victims’ families, we all feel a sense of lost-ness. We were helpless to stop this evil from murdering thousands of people. We realize again that our lives are not under out control. Our sense of being safe in America is lost. That sense of safety has been eroding over the past few years. There have been mass murders in our schools. There have been shootings in our churches. Places that used to be safe havens are no longer safe.

Who are the lost? The terrorists: People who feel such evil and hatred towards others that they would carry out such a horrific, murderous, suicide mission; people who dance for joy at the massacre of thousands.

We believe in a God who goes out to seek and save such lost people. A God who picks them up like a shepherd gathers a lamb in his arms. A God who carries them home – home to a place of comfort and safety.

I am certain that over the next few weeks there will be thousands of funeral services. God’s love that carries the dead to their heavenly home will be proclaimed.

I am certain that over months, we will need to be reassured that we are in God’s arms. Our president has declared a state of war, but it is not like any other wars we have known. There is a sense that none of us are safe. Evil seems to be running rampant in the world. We need to hear again and again that God comes to us when we are lost out in the evil, corrupt, wilderness of the world. God comes with comfort to bring us a sense of comfort and safety. The worst anyone can do to us is kill our bodies. We have the comfort of being carried to our eternal home.

Although our text talks about a shepherd seeking and finding and carrying home a lost lamb; the main point of the entire text is centered on the phrase, “Let’s celebrate!” Now is not the time to celebrate; but, from a larger perspective, this text is about coming together as believers.

Paul uses the image of a single body in 1 Corinthians. He writes: “If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy.”

There are times when we need to come together and celebrate with one another. We join with one another to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries; baptisms and weddings. We join with one another to celebrate good events in one’s life.

There are also times when we need to come together and mourn and grieve with one another. We did that last Friday as many of us came together with the Torgerson family at the death of Mary. It has been commented often that this attack on America has served to unite us as one body. We all watched in shock at the destruction. We, even if we personally knew no one who was murdered, have come together to grieve over the uncalled for and unprovoked massacre of thousands of our citizens.

However, as Christians, our community of concern is much larger than just America. We are part of the body of Christ. We are united with believers from all other countries. That’s one reason I included the news article with the excerpts from notes our presiding bishop has received from around the world. Lutheran Christians from around the world are grieving with us. They are feeling our pain and shock and sorrow. I’m sure that leaders of other denominations have received similar notes of sympathy and prayers.

Although it wasn’t advertised well, our ministerial association had an ecumenical prayer service last Thursday. We felt this need to come together as one, to pray to our God who seeks to save the lost.

Even before this tragedy, our congregation council has been working at ways that we as a congregation might better come together and work together as one body. Not only to celebrate together – which we need to do; Not only to mourn and grieve and pray together – which we need to do; but together to proclaim to a lost world that God is going out to seek and comfort and save the lost. God wants to carry every person in his arms back to the comfort and safety of his fold. It is clear from the events of this week that not every one in the world believes in this loving, compassionate God. It is clear from the events of this week, that if we are to have a better world, more and more of the lost need to be brought into the fold. Rather than following a god of anger and judgment and hatred and death, we need to proclaim again and again our God – the God who so loved the world that he sent Jesus. The God who is like a good shepherd, willing to risk everything to go out to the lost to seek to save them. The God who offers life, abundant life, eternal life, resurrected life.

I just read yesterday an e-mail that was originally written by an American of Arabic descent and a Muslim living in Fort Collins, Colorado. His family has been living in fear of retributions. The women of their Mosque have not been going to the daily noontime prayers because of fear. This man wrote that when he went to the mosque for prayers, it was surrounded by people from the Christian community, each holding a carnation. Believers had gathered together to shield that holy place from possible desecration. Believers who loved the Muslims enough to make sure that they could safely gather for their daily prayers. I can’t help but think that such actions will speak much louder about our loving God than any words could convey.

I don’t know what the future will hold. I imagine that there will be many times when we feel lost, unsure of where we are or which way to go. Perhaps we did something to get ourselves in this lost state – we will continue to sin and turn away from God’s ways. Perhaps it was the sins of other people that created our turmoil. Whatever causes us to feel lost; we live with the assurance that the Shepherd searches for the lost. The Shepherd holds us in his arms. The Shepherd works to carry us home – to bring us to a place of comfort and security.

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