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Messages - Russ Saltzman

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Your Turn / Re: Naked Peter and 153 Fish, Exactly.
« on: April 18, 2013, 11:53:59 AM »
Pastor Kliner can relax, we don't have to believe that the 153 fish was an "error." What is under discussion is whether there is a meaning to the number.
If you want, go ahead and believe that the guys caught exactly 153 fish and counted them so that they would know what they would earn from the catch. I think, since fishermen usually exaggerate their prowess, the actual number was 112.

Too bad we don't have "Like" on this board. I might click it. The purpose of the number, of course, wasn't "accuracy" but, um, the accuracy of "symbol". John's is one of the most layered of the gospels. I love digging into it.

Quite to an unrelated point, someone posited that the party in Cana ran out of wine because Jesus showed up with those three sailors of his. They emptied the jars first time.

Oh, and while you are visiting the CLC site, be absolutely certain to click on the interview with Sarah.

Your Turn / Call for Homily Submissions - Christian Leadership Center
« on: April 12, 2013, 10:31:09 AM »
The Christian Leadership Center is an ecumenical initiative of the University of Mary to the common lectionary by preachers and scholars -- found at this website: -- under the leadership of Dr. Leroy Huizenga, theology and philosophy. (Dr. Huizenga is also a featured writer at the First Things website On the Square.)

This is a call for homiletical submissions. A small honoraria of $25 is paid upon publication.

Please submit a previous sermon to Dr. Huizenga for style assessment and whatnot. Email: Or you may contact me:

Keep the word count under 1,000 words; the fewer the better. Your approach may be entirely sermonic, or represent a scholarly treatment of the Scripture text. My own experience, preachers and not a few lay folks search for homiletical insights for the Sunday ahead.

The sermons represented come from Roman Catholics, Lutherans of most stripes, and other contributors.

Your Turn / Naked Peter and 153 Fish, Exactly.
« on: April 12, 2013, 10:03:26 AM »
My latest sermon submission for this coming Sunday at the Christian Leadership Center, University of Mary, Bismark, North Dakota.

Of course, the best thing about blogging for the University of Mary in Bismark, North Dakota is that I am not in fact required to live in North Dakota.

And about the Christian Leadership Center, look for my additional note.

Ora et labora + Russ

Your Turn / Parish Survival Guide for Senior Seminarians
« on: April 12, 2013, 09:57:41 AM »
This is the sort of letter I should have gotten my first year. Of course, I doubt I would have paid much attention to it.

Your Turn / Thomas's Doubt Revealed in "Lost" Gospel I Invented
« on: April 02, 2013, 09:58:44 AM »
You've all heard of the simple country pastor who practiced all his sermons on Saturday in the church cemetery? That's 'cause the people he met there reminded him so much of the ones he saw on Sunday.

Your Turn / Universalism & Another Thing
« on: March 14, 2013, 02:38:15 PM »
Some musings on universalism at First Things, up today.

And something from two weeks ago. The strange things that cling to us.

Your Turn / Divorce on Valentine's Day
« on: February 15, 2013, 03:26:05 PM »
This up yesterday at the First Things magazine website, "On the Square."

Divorce for Catholics and Protestants has become “Nothing to see here, folks; move along, please.”

Your Turn / Re: Transfiguration Sunday - Cue the Twilight Zone Music
« on: February 15, 2013, 03:15:17 PM »
I'm supposing you all need a good sermon for Transfiguration Sunday.

If I find one I'll send it along. Meanwhile, there's this:

Transfiguration Sunday/Ordinary Time 5 (10 February 2013; Pastor Russell E. Saltzman)

Helluva lot better sermon than the one I heard this morning on my first Sunday as a pewsitter . . .

Thank you. I have found it is a lot easier writing sermons for a web site than writing one and delivering it people in the pew (I have but limited responsibilities as assistant pastor at St. Matthew's Evangelical (NALC), Riverside, MO ( I suspect it may have something to do with knowing that nobody's gonna poke at me going out of worship for something I said or didn't.

Your Turn / Transfiguration Sunday - Cue the Twilight Zone Music
« on: February 08, 2013, 03:52:19 PM »
I'm supposing you all need a good sermon for Transfiguration Sunday.

If I find one I'll send it along. Meanwhile, there's this:

Transfiguration Sunday/Ordinary Time 5 (10 February 2013; Pastor Russell E. Saltzman)

Your Turn / Re: Shut-Ins/Pastoral Visitations
« on: February 01, 2013, 03:37:13 PM »
I've also heard another pastor say that such visits are depressing and as such ruin his idea of ministry.

Notes From a Communion Call
August 21, 1980

   She is 86 years old and requires constant nursing care. Until her retirement she was a college professor; until her illness she led an active retirement. A major stroke some few years ago deprived her of speech by partially paralyzing her throat and facial muscles. Age, frailty, and arthritis have done the rest.
   Her niece, her only family and only marginally connected to the parish, has asked me to see her. I don’t know her.
   She has great difficulty swallowing because of the paralysis. She drools continually. Her tongue lolls to one side, some portion of it always outside her mouth. She has no teeth; they were removed after the stroke to aid her swallowing. She is embarrassed by her appearance and holds a tissue to her lower face, hiding, absorbing the saliva.
   She communicates with an occasional grunt, all she can manage vocally, and laboriously writes responses and questions in a large childish hand on an oversized note pad.
   Her eyesight is poor. She writes blind, huge looping letters in a long scrawl. She can’t see what she writes and I can’t read it. I have to ask her to write it again, and once more, frustrated with myself that I cannot read it the first time and must ask a second and a third time.
   Her mind is active, inquisitive.
   She has numerous talking books for the blind about her room. Some, I note, are very recent titles.

   She writes and begins to weep, the soft, low animal sounds of someone deeply wounded. I can’t read it. She writes it again. “I am a prisoner.”
   Of what, I wonder. Her body? This nursing home?
   “I want to die,” she writes. “Why won’t God let me die?”
   “I don't know,” and I reach for her hand.
   If I hold her hand she can’t write this stuff, and I don’t want to read it.

   This isn’t the way shut-in calls are supposed to work.
   The mythology is, I am the one who is to go away marveling at the capacity for human faith in adversity, and the person visited is to be cheered with the comfort of the pastor’s presence.
   There is nothing here at which to marvel, and poor comfort to give. All that is here is an old lady who wants to die and a pastor who doesn’t know why God won’t let her.
   Why won’t God just let her die?

   I ask if she would like Holy Communion.
   She grunts through the tissue. I assume she means yes. I commence the ritual. We share communion. I shave a sliver of bread from the wafer and mingle it with a very small bit of wine, so she can receive without choking. I put it to her lips. She manages to swallow some.
   I feel absurd.
   What we are doing feels absurd. I am drained, exhausted after fifteen minutes with an old woman I don’t know. It seems surreal, if not meaningless.
   Hurriedly, I pronounce the benediction, wondering with what degree of favor the Lord does look upon this old woman.
   The mythological piety of pastoral calling again takes over. She is now supposed to feel uplifted, her countenance transformed.
   Nothing like that happens.
   Sometimes faith is tossed into the teeth of realities we cannot fathom, and we can only hope to escape with as little damage to ourselves as possible.

   Afterward, she reaches for the pad and scrawls something I can’t read. Hating myself for having to ask, I tell her to do it again. She writes “Thank you.”
   I know so little about her. I know only she wants to die.
   Some many weeks later, after putting another visit off as long as I could before guilt propelled me go, I was preparing to see her again when the nursing home called.
   She had died that very morning.
   I thanked God, but I still cannot say whether it was for her or for me.

-- The Pastor's Page and Other Small Essays, ALPB, 2010

Your Turn / Finding My Inner Gun Owner
« on: February 01, 2013, 03:27:41 PM »
Up yesterday at First Things magazine's web site. Sort of whimsical, sort of not.

Your Turn / Re: Wishing Our Way to Doomsday
« on: January 17, 2013, 04:13:56 PM »
Most of the people I know who try to stay prepared for major calamities like military attacks are also the ones who handle things like extreme weather emergencies and other minor disruptions better than most others. I have a supply of camping gear that I could use in a "survivalist" situation. I know a lot of people who have tools and supplies that they use for normal life, but that would also be on the list of things most "survivalists" need.

Looking back at when times got much tougher than usual, being prepared in advance usually helped people deal with things. It makes about as much sense to mock those who follow the Boy Scout motto of "Be Prepared" by overstating the degree most survivalists prepare with mocking those who exercise and eat a reasonably good diet with obsessive body-builders who carry exercise and nutrition to extremes.

Oh, sure, George. There is a proper bit of preparation we should all make. Eight days or so without power in South Carolina following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and five days without power following a 2002 Kansas City ice storm and, well, I keep stuff on hand. (Just as a normal precaution these days, I never buy twenty pounds of raw shrimp five days before a hurricane; we had grilled shrimp everything.)

But in the survivalist movement there is a fringe saying "kill the weaklings." That frightens me. With the fallout shelters, do you recall the "great" ethical debates: Do you share it with your neighbor? One approach might be to say, we prepare so we are not a burden to the neighbor. But that still doesn't tell me if there's enough room in my shelter if he's the burden.

I wasn't mocking them; most of them on Doomsday Preppers are just too earnest for easy mocking. But if there is an ethic or philosophy to hard-line survivalism, I haven't heard much beyond "me first." 

Your Turn / Wishing Our Way to Doomsday
« on: January 17, 2013, 09:28:10 AM »
This up today at First Things "On the Square" website:

"... I met my first survivalist (a term that has spooky-kooky connotations survivalists hate) in the seventies. He was a pastor who was the Ohio Council of Churches’ legislative lobbyist. He and his wife were both committed survivalists and otherwise entirely normal. They had a cabin far from the maddening crowd, stocked, safe, and secluded near the Ohio River. I had the impression it was bristling with weapons and freeze dried food. ..."

More at:

Your Turn / Re: Reclaim's agenda...
« on: January 08, 2013, 12:03:08 PM »
When I was heading off to seminary I didn't know a Pietist from an Orthodox from an evangelical catholic, and I don't remember much discussion about any of them. But I developed an appreciation for evangelical catholicism and I still think it can carry the greater freight of the Reformation.

Pietism, originally, was pretty vibrant. But it swiftly degenerated into works righteousness. Try plowing your way through a sermon anthology from the 17th or 18th century. And orthodox bound itself up with a desiccated formalism.

Both viewed Christian history as a "Big Gulp of Air." Everything in the Church was cool until the 3rd century. Get to that point and true Christians had to take a big gulp of air and swim like crazy under the flood of semi-paganism that was swamping the Church, thanks to the crummy pope. Only Luther's reforms saved true Christians, offering the first breath of pure air to believers. (The only place I think Luther was theologically wrong, by the way, was on the canon of the mass, the Eucharistic prayer, the false idea that prayer is always different than proclamation. That's when he was sticking to theology; some of the stuff among his many writings was nonsense, e.g. ethnic cleansing of the Jews. Anyway, I worry about a sermon that quotes Luther more than the Confessions.)

Lutheran theological movements that fail to account for the long history of liturgics and sacramental development seem to have a stubborn staying power, influenced less by the Confessions than by other factors. The Confessions appeal repeatedly to Catholic history and to the Church Fathers to support their arguments. The reformers were Catholics seeking to reform Catholicism. ReClaim and the like seeks only to repristinate a variety of Lutheran theology that never should have existed. Admittedly, that theology arose in reaction to the stale tastes of Lutheran state churches, but that's another can of worms.

Personally, though, I think the salvation of the Lutheran movement may be coming from the Southern Churches. There are more Ethiopian Lutherans at worship on any average Sunday than ELCA Lutherans in any average month. And from the Oromo Ethiopians I know in the U.S., they take their Confessions seriously.

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