The clock is ticking…my sabbatical is nearing its end. Just a few more days and I turn into a pumpkin…or at least a pastor again – we’ll see. This is my last full week – next week I’ll ease back in by working half days.
Next week ends with a bang – Pastor Jean and I will attend Tim Bowman’s ordination (Tim has been called as Associate Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Mankato). Not only that, Tim has asked me to preach – I’m pumped for that! Tim was our interim youth director for about nine months a few years back. He says his call to ordained ministry really came out of the work he did with us, so we can claim a little bit of credit for that. By the way, if you want to attend:
Saturday, August 24, 2 PM
Faith Lutheran Church
Dodge Center, MN
You are welcome!
But now back to this week. As my sabbatical comes to a close I’m not traveling anymore, and just trying to tie up a few loose ends. I worshiped two Sundays ago at West Salem Presbyterian Church, and then this past Sunday at Halfway Creek. I am thankful to our friends at the Presbyterian Church for welcoming me into their midst, and at Halfway Creek I connected again with Gary Anderson. In my seminary days (long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…) I worked in the bookstore, and Gary was my boss. Over 30 years ago! Now, Gary is retired and his wife is the interim pastor at Halfway Creek.
I’m also finishing up my reading list. One book a week, other than the weeks I’ve been traveling. My book last week, and the book I’m reading now have a connection. I’ll get to that in a moment.
Last week I read German Boy, by Wolfgang Samuel. Without a doubt the best book I read all summer. You know it’s an intriguing read when both Pastor Jean and I like the book. I don’t think we’ve ever both read the same book – too many differences in our likes and dislikes. But this one…this one is special. We have both found the book to be gripping, intense, and poignant. We kept coming back to the story, eager to see where it would go, engaged by its sheer humanity, yet almost drained at times by its energy.
Wolfgang Samuel is a retired United States Air Force Colonel, who grew up in Nazi Germany. This is his story of his family’s escapes (more than once) from warfare, hunger, disease, and the Communist side of Europe. He begins by relating their rushed departure from his hometown Sagan in early 1945 (at age 10) as they fled from the oncoming Russian Army as it made its way into Germany. To Berlin and bombings, then to small towns, and several more last minute escapes. Finally, after years of living very much on the edge of life, witnessing death in a number of ways, and experiencing both the worst and (surprisingly) the best of humanity, Wolfgang’s mother meets an American Air Force sergeant. Leo’s love for Hedy (mom), but also for Wolfgang leads to their marriage, and to Wolfgang’s new life in the United States. The story ends at this point, but in the Epilogue he relates how his love for airplanes, along with his commitment to his new country, born out of his refugee experience of generous Americans, led him to serve in the Air Force.
The power of the story (for me) is the plight of real people, as they endure the collapse of the order and structure of their society. As the story wears on, more and more people need to be resourceful and find new ways to live. Some can’t, and give it up. Others are swept up in new forms that are no better than the old. But still others are able to forge a new life and a new future.
This week I’m reading Blood, Sweat and Chalk, by Tom Layden – the one really fun book on my list. Layden explores a variety of football formations, mostly offense, but a few defensive ones as well…The Single Wing, the West Coast Offense, Air Coryell, the Cover 2, and others. He gives a description of each formation, then relates the history of the plays – how and why they developed. He interviews a number of coaches and players to understand how the plays changed football and established new approaches to the game. Not nearly as gripping as German Boy, but not as deep either. Just fun.
Yet both books share something important, even vital. Football formations, Layden argues, were born out of necessity, of the need to try something new, and usually because the team lacked the athletes to compete. They needed a new edge, a new twist that would be more than just novel – they needed some way to level the playing field. A new offense or defense, bringing unexpected challenges to the other side, can do just that. In the process, the new formation creates something of a new paradigm, a new era for the game. For a few years, anyway, until another coach figures out something new…and recreates the game yet again.
That ability – and willingness – to improvise and try something new is also what kept Wolfgang Samuel alive. Early in the book Hedy (mom) isn’t willing to be bold and go in new directions. Quickly, however, she discovers the need to do what would have been unthinkable, for the sake of her children. She too needed to come up with some new plays – like sneaking back into the Eastern zone of Germany to retrieve her daughter. Or even to do some things that were unthinkable, in order to put food on the table. When survival itself is at stake, you do that!
We, of course, are not quite in that spot. Very few of us, if any, could relate to Wolfgang and Hedy, and the challenges they faced. Yet, as a church, we too need to be thinking “outside the box.” Like football coaches, we need to find new and innovative ways to do something very basic. In football it’s getting the ball in the end zone (or keeping it out of the end zone). For a Christian community it’s being faithful.
Now, understand, I am not suggesting that we should not plan and be prepared for what we expect to come. Haphazard ministry usually fizzles. What I am suggesting, however, is that we should not anchor ourselves to a plan as if the plan is faithful living. Instead, our ministry plans are road maps to where we think we are heading.
Life, circumstances, a changing world, and most of all, God’s very active Holy Spirit, can render those maps obsolete. And so like a good coach, or resourceful refugees, we might need to find new ways to be faithful. New ways to be what God has called us to be. New ways to do “God’s work with our hands.” We may need to pivot, to re-invent, to even “move on the fly” in order to be faithful in a very rapidly changing world.
That requires us to be confident that God is at work in our midst, and in our lives. It also requires us to trust each other. Both challenging, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, both very possible.
All of that is what our Forward: Fearless and Faithful team, and the Stewardship for All Seasons group, have been about this summer. Embracing a challenge, confident that God is at work, and seeking new ways to be faithful to God’s call – all in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the embrace of Jesus.
I’ve been away from their work, but Pastor Jean has shared some of what they’ve been doing, and I’m excited about it, and what it means for us. And yes, again, a bit of a spoiler – that’s some of what my sermon on August 24/25 will address.
So, I hope to see you August 24/25 (10 AM worship is “Gospel on the Green,” over at the Lion’s Shelter). We have a couple of baptisms set, and we’ll remember Tim Bowman and Christ the King in our prayers. What a way to come back!