Monday, November 22, 2010

Knowing only Christ

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.  I Corinthians 2:1-3

Yesterday was my last Sunday.  

Next Sunday the church I have served the passed five and half years will vote to leave the ELCA and the day after that I will move to a new home.

I usually use the above text for my farewell sermons.  This time there was no farewell sermon.  I just didn't have it in me to preach that kind of a sermon under these circumstances.  

It's been very difficult for me to find the balance between forgiving, leaving gracefully but not being "Minnesota nice" and pretending everything is okay and normal.  To me the answer as been to live those words of Paul - to decide to know only Christ and him crucified.

I've been in conflicted congregations.  I've been targeted by "alligators"  I've been a scapegoat.  Most pastors have.  It's not pleasant but you learn to deal with it.

I've never been in a congregation where the people just basically stopped listening to you.  

The last year there has basically been absolutely no respect for me as the pastor.    People chose to believe things they read from strangers on the internet instead of me.   People pretty much ignored me except for that cursed "Minnesota nice" where they are nice to your face and turn around and say God knows what about you behind your back.

But the one power they could not take away from me was the power to preach the gospel.  

I still got in that pulpit every Sunday and preached the Gospel.  The more they complained about "Gospel lite" and "too much grace"  the more I preached grace and forgiveness and God's love.  

Many ignored it, some tried to argue against it, but I'm convinced some heard it.  

All I had was Christ and him crucified and the Gospel and I preached it.  

And that's how I survived.  

Until the last day when I had no sentimental tear jerking farewell sermon.  All I had was Christ and him crucified and that's what I preached.  

And to me it just proves what I've suspected all along---there's lots of things people think pastors ought to do these days and that's all fine.  But Lutherans have always taught the ordained ministry is about the Word and the Sacrament.

  Yesterday all I had was the Gospel and the words - "Take and eat, the body and blood of Christ, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sin "

I will say more about what I learned this past year.  But I still need time to figure out how to say it in a way that helps me forgive this congregation but also recognizes that they do need my forgiveness.

I needed forgiveness too and of course part of the problem was that they were pretty unforgiving.  

Pastors need forgiveness.  Forgiveness helps me repent.    

It's so backwards when we insist repentance comes first.  

It is when forgiveness is withheld from me that I turn to justifying and rationalizing and excusing myself.  It is when I am forgiven that I can humbly accept my error and resolve to do better next time.  

Being unforgiven leaves a gaping wound.  

If forgiveness is  not forthcoming then the only way to heal that wound is to forgive the unforgiveness.

Love.  Grace.  Forgiveness.  That is all there is.


  1. yep. that's all there is. and I totally agree with you. forgiveness helps us repent. that's also so Lutheran and people don't get that either.

    that's because, sadly, most people love the Low way more than they love the Gospel. even us, sometimes.

    Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

    I think that's what got the 2nd thief. It wasn't spoken to him, but he got it, anyway.

  2. Joelle, I'm so sorry that you're having to go through this. You (and your soon-to-be-former congregation) will be in my prayers. Have you had time to begin looking for another position? Is your synod offering you any (emotional, financial, logistical) support?
    -Patti (aka Wounded & Healing)

  3. Thanks for the reflections. I pray that the coming Advent season provides a blessed time as we prepare for the one whose coming in flesh made forgiveness incarnate. Peace.

  4. I have an interim call and am looking forward to that. The Synod was very supportive. But for awhile there I was seriously planning for being without a job and no severance pay.

  5. I'm of the mindset that law isn't actually more liked than gospel, it just appeals to humans because it allows us to believe that we have some control over our destiny. In other words, it's about power and control...for me, as well as for others.

    I resent the very phrase "gospel lite" as it is being pushed by those seeking to leave the ELCA. What is "lite" about preaching Christ crucified as our only hope?

    I was at the Churchwide Assembly as a voting member when the changes passed. Either way the vote had gone, schism was inevitable. Would it have been less angry had it gone the other way? Doubtful, in my mind.

    Why is it that sin seems to hold so much more power over humans than grace does?

  6. May all the wounds be cleaned out so they can heal fully and well. "Forgiving the unforgiveness" is a smart, sane way to proceed under the circumstances. Blessings...

  7. Oh, Joelle: I knew that something "was up" by reading some of your previous posts. I had no idea how you have been treated. Sounds like a playground with a majority of bullies. Fact is, if we focus on God's love -- the love that defies all human description -- it gets us through. You know that...duh. I guess I'm writing it because I need to remind myself.

    I am so sorry about your experience. I'm sorry I wasn't in the pews to witness it and to stand my ground in the Custer-last-stand kind of way I tend to be...damn the torpedoes! I just don't understand the close-mindedness of people.

    I am jealous of your destination...beautiful part of our state! I wish you happiness and beauty and love no matter where you are. I am proud to be your Facebook friend!

  8. I'm so sorry for everything you went through, but I admire and respect that you stood on God's Word and didn't falter. As I tend to run out of the Roland loop, I just heard about why you were leaving a couple of days ago. I wish I had gotten the chance to know you more than just reading your blogs. I wish you all the best for your future.

  9. I pray for you to find peace and even excitement in the transition. I pray for you to forgive as God directs you to do so. I pray for you to forgive yourself, if that is necessary, but to let go of what isn't about you.

    I am a firm believer that when Jesus talked about forgiving 7 X 70, that this wasn't figurative as we always assume, but that it was literal. We humans can't forgive and let go with just one try. We need to do it over and over. We forgive, and "it" is gone for awhile, maybe a few days even, and then "it" resurfaces, sort of like vomit coming back up. And then, instead of wallowing in it, we can ask for God's help with forgiving AGAIN.

    Anyway, that has been my experience, but involving different situations and people. I found that God even redirected my thoughts and emotions about the situation, so that I came to realize that the other people weren't out to get me, as I had always assumed.

  10. By the way, I've posted a song just for you on the Prayer list at Of Course, I Could Be Wrong... today. I hope you find the chorus appropriate.

  11. That paragraph at the end which starts with "I needed forgiveness..." is, by itself, worth the price of admission :) Well said!

    I'd be delighted to be a member of any congregation of yours (if the Episcopalians decided to throw me out).

    ---David H. (who came here from MP's site)

  12. wow. I read on your blog that it was coming to this, but I'm still sorry. My last bad sucky position has left me unemployed for over a year - you are blessed to have this interim position. I pray that it is a place of healing for you.

  13. Yes I do know how blessed and lucky I am to have a position to fall into. It was a lesson in faith to accept the possibility that would not happen. Mompriest you are in my prayers.

  14. Joelle, thanks for your work and your witness.

  15. Hi, Joelle: new to your blog (tipped by MadPriest).

    You're in my prayers.

    It seems to me that people who condemn "Gospel Lite" may be under the thrall of another light: the light of the "Light-Bearer" (if you get my drift).

    "Christ, and Him Crucified": to paraphrase Keats, that's all we know, and all we need to know (and ironically, He's "Beauty & Truth", too!)

  16. Grace and peace to you. At the closing of what is probably his earliest letter in the Bible, St. Paul urges his friends "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

    He does not say we should be thankful FOR everything. There is not much rejoicing to be found because of illness, job loss, or the many other things we go through which are cause for struggle. However - in EVERY SITUATION, if we look with the eyes of faith, we will find signs of grace.

    May God bless and keep you. May God bring about healing in you and through you. May God give you wisdom, and voice, and power. And may you always know God's loving faithfulness.