“Who Is Jesus for Us Today?”  

This was the title of the sermon on September 9, 2018, by Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. (A photograph of the church with its new addition is below.)

Biblical Texts for the Day

 Psalm 8 (NRSV):

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

 John 1: 45-51 (NRSV):

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you get to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’”

 The Sermon[1]

 “The work of the Church is fundamentally a teaching task: asking questions, seeking answers, exploring possibilities – and then translating all of that into life between Sundays. . . .”

“Christianity is never settled for any of us, no matter our age or the extent of our involvement in church. The world is always changing. If our faith is not similarly dynamic, not living, not rising to the challenges we see all around us, not attuned to the context in which we live, it will slowly wither away. . . .”

“Actually there’s something appealing to the notion that what happens in churches can be hazardous to the status quo. Powerful worship is subversive; it wants to upend the dominant ethos. A church ought to be considered a place the world enters at its own risk. After all, we follow a Savior perceived to be such a serious threat that he was crucified.”

“But the Church is not only what happens inside these walls for a few hours each week. . . . Church mostly happens the rest of the week, out there. We – you and I – are the Church when we leave here and go out into the world. . . . “

“The faith we practice has always felt compelled to move out into the streets and ask, ‘What is God up to in this place and in this time?’ because we want to join that work. Call it public theology, or our witness in the world, or the pursuit of biblical justice – our faith has never wanted to sequester Jesus in the sanctuary, as if he might – we might – be sullied by the messy reality of what’s going on in the world around us.”

“We Come Together not to be sheltered in this sacred space, but, rather, to hear the call of God to go forth and be the Church. To do that, however, means we need to understand whom we follow out into those streets. . . .”

“The decision to follow Jesus, Professor Gail O’Day says, ‘Is inseparable from the decision one makes about Jesus’ identity.’ [New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995) p. 534] . . . .”

“Who we think he is will determine the kind of Christians we become.”

“In the 1930s in Germany, the young pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer found himself growing skeptical about the Jesus being preached in the churches of that land. As political rhetoric became more overtly racist and the culture increasingly supportive of extreme Aryan nationalism, most German Christian churches rolled over and acquiesced to all of that. They gave their Jesus over to the rising ideology of the times. It was expedient for them, convenient for them, to go along with the predominant and popular spirit of the land.”

“Bonhoeffer and his colleagues – Karl Barth, Martin Niemoller, and others – resisted, and some of them eventually paid for it with their lives. They wrote an affirmation of faith rejecting the distorted theology used to underpin racism and nationalism. They started an alternative church, called the Confessing Church, as opposed to the German Christian Church, which supported the ideology of the times.. They founded an underground seminary, as over against the schools of the German Christian Church, which taught theology that supported the direction the nation was moving. They preached and worked against the tide.”

“And behind all that work, according to Bonhoeffer, was a single, driving question: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? . . . .”

“Who is Jesus Christ for us today? That question will inform our worship at Westminster this fall, even as it informs our life as we move from this place out into the world . . . “

 “Eighty years ago in Germany was not the only time when Christians have resisted the prevailing winds. Forty years ago in South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church wrote and adopted what became known as the Confession of Belhar. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church was the segregated denomination created for “mixed race” persons in the 19th century by the white Dutch Reformed Church, the denomination that eventually – by the mid-20th century – would develop a theological justification for apartheid, a theological basis for apartheid.”

 “The Confession of Belhar is a theological denunciation of the racist political system of South Africa of that time. It rejects the notion that God would accept the dividing of the human family on the basis of race or color. The Confession answers Bonhoeffer’s question, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today,’ by portraying Jesus as the one standing with those on the receiving end of the cruelties of history, those excluded from places of privilege and power by virtue of who they are or where they live or what language they speak or whom they love or the circumstances of their lives.” (Emphasis added.)

“Who Jesus is for us determines what it means for us to pursue his way – to be Christian in our time.”

.“Like the Germans of the Confessing Church, and like many in our land today, the ‘mixed race’ South Africans stood their ground . . .against those who would corrupt Christianity to make it supportive of the politics of exclusion and racial superiority. They declared that one could not be a follower of Jesus and, at the same time, a supporter of apartheid. Think of that in our time: it is not possible to a follower of Jesus and supporter of racism at the same time.” (Emphasis added.)

“Our denomination adopted the Confession of Belhar two years ago. . . .  We chose to adopt it to speak to our own historic and current racism in America, a system that has been in place for so many centuries.”

“Westminster has embarked on a pilgrimage to join the great effort in our nation finally, finally now wanting to come to terms with the original sin of this land, the enslavement – the buying and selling of human beings, the thinking of people as less than human – the enslavement of Africans to build up our nation. The legacy of that terrible time yet endures today. That journey for us, as followers of Jesus, starts with the question: Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” (Emphasis added.)

“Following Jesus is costly. The South Africans found that out. The Confessing Church in Germany discovered that. We will learn that, as well. The challenge to love in the way of Jesus should not be undertaken lightly. It will change each one of us and, hopefully, the world in which we live.”

“That’s why it matters what we do here in worship week after week. That’s why it matters that our children and youth are engaged in nurturing their faith. That’s why it matters who we are as a congregation in this city.”

The Confession of Belhar[2]

After the  sermon, the congregation read in unison the following extracts from the Confession of Belhar:

  • “We believe: that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker; that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells;
  • That the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation hatred and enmity;
  • Therefore, we reject any doctrine which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.” (Emphasis added.)

Conclusion

This sermon provided at least a partial answer to the question, ‘Who is Jesus for us today?’ It d did so by referencing the creation of the Confessing Church in Germany and the Confession of Belhar in stating, “Jesus stood “with those on the receiving end of the cruelties of history, those excluded from places of privilege and power by virtue of who they are or where they live or what language they speak or whom they love or the circumstances of their lives.” [3](Emphasis added.) ==================================

[1] Sermon: Who Is Jesus for Us Today? (Sept. 9, 2018).

[2]  See The Confession of Belhar Is Adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), dwkcommentaries.com (July 21, 2016).

[3] The sermon went on to say that further answers to this question will be provided in future sermons and other discussions at Westminster.

 

 

The U.S.-Dakota War Remembered by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part III)

Westminster Presbyterian Church

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church‘s October 7, 2012, worship service remembered the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. This post reviews the last of the three parts of that service–Responding to the Word.[1]

We first sang a Hymn that was new to me, “You know the Way” in the Dakota language. The words originally in German by martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer were translated into the English language in the bulletin: “God, gather and turn my thoughts to you. With you there is light. You do not forget me. With you there is help and patience. I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.”

Jon Romer

For the Offertory a traditional Ojibwe song, “Gegiwabimin mino waa” or “I will see you again another day” was played on the Native American flute by Jon Romer. Emphasizing there is no word or phrase for a final goodbye in their language, the song is sung by the Ojibwe women as the men leave the village to hunt with the expectation that the men will return and everyone will sit down to feast together. For us it says that when we leave this world, there is no final goodbye. We will one day all sit and feast together once again.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Robertson

For the Lord’s Table on World Communion Sunday,[2] the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving was offered by Westminster Associate Pastor, Rev. Dr. Stephen Robertson. It included these words:

  • “We give you thanks, O God, For you have made us in your image, female and male, black, brown, red and white, gay and straight. You set us in the world to love and serve you and to live in peace and justice with your whole creation. Although we have failed to live according to your way, you continue to call us back to you.”
  • “In Jesus, you showed us love for all, and you led the way to a new community in which the last would be first, justice would be realized, and peace would abound. Jesus proclaimed the good news of the reign of God. Yet we rebelled against his message.”
  • “But death cannot defeat life, nor can many waters quench love. You raised Christ from death, conquering the powers of this world, not through might, but through grace.”
  • “We pray that Christ’s Spirit will be in us as we feast at this, his table. Sacred and living Spirit, descend upon us. Fill us with your presence.”
  • “Move also upon these gifts of bread and cup, that they may become the bread of life and the cup of salvation. United forever through your Spirit and this table, may our feet walk the path of justice, May our hearts tear down the walls of division, and may our tongues cry out, ‘Peace on earth.’”

Rev. Robertson then led the congregation in the unison recitation of the Lord’s Prayer:[3]

  • “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Thy Kingdom come. They will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever. Amen.”

As the church elders distributed the bread and grape juice of communion, the Choir’s Mary Monson, mezzo soprano, and J. D. Shaffer, tenor, sang “Morning Song,” which combines the melody of “Amazing Grace” with a Native American melody. It was sung in ancient Teehahnahmah and Cherokee languages, which was translated into English as follows: “I am of the great Spirit. It is so. God’s son paid for us. Then to heaven he went after paying for us. But he said, when he rose: ‘I’ll come again’ he said when he spoke. All the earth will end when he comes. All will see him all over the earth. All the good people living he will come after. Heaven always in peace they will live.” The piece was arranged by James E. Green, who has Cherokee heritage.

The Closing Hymn was “Many and Great, O God Are Thy Things” (No. 271 in the Presbyterian Hymnal). As Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen had mentioned in his sermon, this hymn was written in the 1840’s by the Dakota congregation in Lac Qui Parle, Minnesota and was sung by the 38 Dakota men – Presbyterians, many of them –as they mounted the gallows in Mankato on December 26, 1862. The last verse is the following:

  • “Grant unto us communion with Thee,
    Thou star abiding One;
    Come unto us and dwell with us;
    With Thee are found the gifts of life,
    Bless us with life that has no end,
    Eternal life with Thee.”

The Postlude was the Choir’s repetition of “Heleluyan,” which was the Processional Hymn at the start of the service.

—————————————————————

[1] Other posts set forth the first two parts of the service: Preparing for the Word and Listening for the Word as well as the theological underpinnings for the order of worship. The following materials about this service are on the web: the bulletin, a video and the texts of the sermons. Another post provided a summary of the War.

[2] World Communion Sunday is celebrated on the first Sunday in October throughout the U.S. It is a project of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, which has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in this country. The NCC’s member faith groups — from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches — include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

[3] By the way, the front of the October 7th worship bulletin set forth the Lord’s Prayer in the Dakota language as translated in the 1830’s by Presbyterian brothers Gideon and Samuel Pond, who established the first Christian congregation in the Minnesota Territory on the shores of Lake Calhoun In today’s Minneapolis.

Remembering Oscar Romero at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, London, UK
Romero Statue, Westminster Abbey, London, UK

In 1998 Westminster Abbey in London opened its gallery of Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. Their 10 statues are set in outside niches above the main entrance. The Abbey did so to proclaim that the 20th century was one of Christian martyrdom greater than in any previous period in the history of the church.[1]

In niche number 6 is the statue of Oscar Romero. He stands between the statues of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the great U.S. civil rights leader and preacher, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazi regime just before the end of World War II for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler.[2]

The biographical essay about Romero in a book about this gallery of martyrs is by Philip Berryman, an U.S. liberation theologian and leading authority on Christianity in Central and South America.

Berryman was in El Salvador in March 1980 and heard Romero’s famous homily ordering the military to stop the repression. Immediately afterwards, Berryman said he expressed his amazement at Romero’s boldness in saying what the Salvadoran military officers must have thought was treasonous. The next day when Berryman heard that Romero had been shot, he rushed to the hospital only to find out that Romero had died. Shortly after the assassination, he reports that Ignacio Ellacuria, the Rector of the Universidad de Centro America (UCA), celebrated a mass and said that with Archbishop Romero, God had visited El Salvador.[3]

Berryman recounts the familiar story about Romero’s being conservative and soft-spoken when he was appointed Archbishop in early 1977 and being converted to social and political justice after the murder of his friend, Father Rutilio Grande. To the same point, he quotes another friend of Romero, Jesuit priest and liberation theologian at UCA, Jon Sobrino, who said that when Romero gazed “at the mortal remains of Rutilio Grande, the scales fell from his eyes. Rutilio had been right! The kind of pastoral activity, the kind of church, the kind of faith he had advocated had been the right kind after all. . . .  [I]f Rutilio had died as Jesus died, if he had shown that greatest of all love, the love required to lay down one’s very life for others–was this not because his life and mission had been like the life and mission of Jesus? . . . Ah then, it had not been Rutilio, but Oscar who had been mistaken! . . .  And Archbishop Romero , , , [made] a decision to change.” In short, Grande’s life and death gave Romero a new direction for his life and the strength to pursue it.[4]

Romero, according to Berryman, prepared his homilies in consultation with a team of priests and lay people to review the situation in the country. Then he would write the homily from his notes, the newspapers of the week and the Biblical texts and commentaries. The homilies themselves usually lasted about 45 minutes, mostly devoted to a systematic and thematic reflection on the Biblical texts for the day, but also with Romero’s observations on the human rights violations of the prior week.[5]

Berryman also comments on the strained relationship between Romero and the U.S. government. Early in 1978, for example, Romero met with Terrance Todman, the U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, who urged Romero to have a less confrontational and more constructive relationship with the Salvadoran government. Romero immediately responded that the U.S. and Rodman did not understand what was happening in El Salvador. “The problem is not between Church and government, it’s between government and people. . . . It’s not the church, much less the archbishop! If the government improved its treatment of the people, we will improve our relations with the government.”[6]

The Anglican Dean of Westminster Abbey came to El Salvador for the 20th anniversary of Romero’s assassination in 2000 and participated in a mass at the El Salvador de Mundo (the Savior of the World) traffic circle lead by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles. I cried during the service when Salvadorans passed the peace to me after all my country had done to support the Salvadoran government during their civil war.


[1] Andrew Chandler, Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century (Westminster Abbey; London 1999); Andrew Chandler (ed.), The Terrible Alternative–Christian Martyrdom in the Twentieth Century (Cassell; London 1998).

[2] Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century at 3, 8, 10, 13.

[3]  The Terrible Alternative at 159-60. Father Ellacuria, of course, was one of the six Jesuit priests murdered by the Salvadoran military in November 1989. (See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 2, 2011).)

[4]  Id. at 160, 164-65; Jon Sobrino, Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections at 9-10 (Orbis; Maryknoll, NY 1990); Post: Oscar Romero, A Saint for All People and All Time (Oct. 5, 2011). Jon Sobrino, whom I met at UCA in April 1989, escaped being murdered with his fellow Jesuits in November 1989 because he was lecturing in Southeast Asia. (Jon Sobrino, Ignacio Ellacuria, et al., Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador at 4-9 (Orbis Books; Maryknoll, N.Y. 1990).)

[5]  The Terrible Alternative at 167-68.

[6]  Id. at 170.