The Prodigally Forgiving Father
“Return to the Lord your God, who is merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8) That is the theme for our repentance in the midst of this season of Lent, where we are well on our way to Holy Week and Easter. We enter a season of sorrow, but we rejoice in our sorrow, because our repentance makes the angels rejoice in heaven. We know that in many ways we are sinful and have to return to God. And what a
thing when God the Father in Christ, abounding in steadfast love, comes running to us, before we’ve even reached home, does not even hear our little speech about our being
unworthy, puts a ring on our finger, dresses us in festal clothes, prepares the fatted calf, and throws a party: because once we were lost, but now we are found. We were dead, and behold, the Resurrection: now we’re alive! Yes, alive with God’s abundant life!
Since January 11, 2015 I have now been the co-pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, CA with Pastor Barbara Foltin. What a wonderful blessing this new ministry has been for me!
In the Junket, a German restaurant in the El Cerrito shopping Plaza, many have asked me to have a German Christmas Eve service at Christ Lutheran Church. And behold, we had a German Christmas Service Sunday December 20th at 4:00pm. We sung the Weihnachtslieder and heard a dramatic presentation of the Christmas story in German. This took place as a first at Christ Lutheran Church 780 Ashbury Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530. The English Christmas Eve Service took place at 6:00pm, Thursday, Dec. 24th and the Christmas Day Service at 10:00am.
I had now preached for the German Advent and Christmas Eve Service in Manteca, California (about the 15th time, I believe). The attendance was way up and the singing really enjoyable. Mark and I sang three duets that I introduced on the trumpet and he accompanied on his guitar. He again coached me to add gestures and acting to a dramatic presentation of Christmas story in Luke 2:1-20. Check out his dramatic reading of the Gospel of Mark on Youtube. His stage name is Mark Maynon.
Back in 2014, I wrote:
Surprise: Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, CA is having me become a co-pastor with Pr. Barbara Foltin starting on January 15th, 2015. Pastor Sharon Lubkeman is retiring and in a unanimous vote, the congregation made me her successor for fulfilling the last two years of her contract. What a blessing! It was so painful for me to have retired from unemployment.
But my brother Philip, who just recently retired after 15 years as the president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has kept me busy. For Eerdmans Publishing House, I translated Thomas Kaufmann’s Luther biography, which is truly out on the edge of Luther scholarship and we are finishing up a Reformation Commentary on the Last eight chapters of Romans for InterVarsity Press. In addition we are working on a book for the Paulist Press to be called The Catholic Luther. Hopefully these three books should appear next year.
Perhaps I can get Philip to help me publish some of the books I have written and even revised several times only to place them back into my file boxes. I have a book about Updating the Exodus about the Egyptian context of the last chapters in Genesis about Joseph and the story of the Moses and the Exodus. I have another about Hegel and the Holy Trinity and another about Joseph and the school of suffering as presented by Luther in his last lectures on Genesis. The Joseph book would be good for the Luther Decade and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I have other unfinished books sitting in my files like Creation via Language – all of which are over 200 pages. I wanted to use Scholardarity to publish them but that has not worked.
On a sad note, Jason Zarri, the student who worked with me on our Scholardarity website and a close friend took his own life on October 31, 2014. He had struggled with mental issues since he was 10 years old and lost the battle on that day. He is sorely missed. I wish I could have been hired one more time as a part-time instructor in the community colleges. I always hired him as my teaching assistant. He would then have had one thing to look forward to. See his Memorial in Scholardarity. My heart goes out to David, Denise, and Felice and his many grieving friends. Jesus said,
“I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live!” (John 11:25)
From October 29th, 2013 to the end of December, 2013 I supplied at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo. I preached my last sermon there on Christmas Eve and their Interim Minister should start for them in January, 2014. All the sermons as well as the German Christmas Eve sermons I preached in United Lutheran Church in Manteca and Resurrection Lutheran in Oakland have been posted. Have a look: About the Newest Entries.
Since February 1st, 2013, I’ve been the intentional interim pastor for Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in South San Francisco, California. For me it has been a rewarding experience. I could not even believe how happy it made me to work once again, to have professional challenges, get to know some wonderful people, and realize that I had so much to give and suddenly had a place to be able to share some of my gifts. Three long years in unemployment’s prison, but now with Christ, I am risen! The new pastor will be chosen next week, so it will not be much longer, but that is Paar for the course for an interim. You prepare the congregation for the new pastor.
I’ve been a pastor in the Lutheran Church since almost 1971, starting in Berlin, Germany until 1975, then in Coney Island, New York, from 1976 to 1992, and then in Oakland and other East Bay churches in California thereafter. Recently I served Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia from September 1, 2006 through January 2, 2008. From November 9, 2008 to February 15, 2010 I served Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland, California (unofficially) with Pastor Richard Rubio Bowley. For three years, when I felt I could have made my greatest contribution to the church, I languished in unemployment. Now I’m an interim at Our Redeemer, South SF.
I received my PhD. in Early Modern History of Christianity – mostly for Germany and Non-Western areas. My dissertation was about Martin Luther’s most often published pamphlets (1520-1525) and is called: Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron. (See my dissertation page!) It is now available online in Scholardarity for $9.99.
Since the summer of 2001, I’ve taught Ethical Inquiry into Contemporary Social Issues, various Philosophy courses: the Introductory Course, History of Philosophy Part One and Two, Philosophy of Religion, Critical Thinking, Logic, Ethics, and then Comparative Religions and Sociology of Religions (for PACE) in five different East Bay Community Colleges. In the summer of 2006 alone I taught four courses: Logic in the College of Alameda, then Introduction to Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, and Logic again at Diablo Valley Community College in Pleasant Hill, CA. For Philadelphia Community College, I taught the History of Western Civilization, Part II, the Reformation until the Present.
I was in Philadelphia because on June 19th, 2006, I had accepted the call to be the pastor of the historical Old Zion Lutheran Church there, where services are offered in German as well as in English. My starting date was September 1, 2006. I hoped my wife could follow me to the East Coast, but it turned out that she couldn’t. Although the church had been reorganized by the Patriarch of the Lutheran Church, Henry Melchior Muhlenburg himself in 1742, the original German congregation had dwindled to about 16 and the English congregation, once St. Matthew’s to about 25 to 30 in Sunday worship attendance. The dear folks had become very conservative and my coming from Berkeley, California, became too great a chasm to bridge.
Sadly, I preached my goodbye sermon to Old Zion, Philadelphia December 30, 2007. Nora came to comfort me and in our trusty little Toyota, laden with my belongings, we headed back to the West Coast January 6th, 2008. See my December Message to the congregation!
June, July, and August as a supply pastor, I preached for Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alameda, California, while Pastor Roger Bauer was on Sabbatical. I was able to get every sermon into this blog. That was not quite so easy when I was preaching at Old Zion, because I was preaching in German and English every Sunday.
On October 29th, 2008, my brother Philip and I lectured at Gettysburg Seminary Reformation Colloquy on “Luther and the Care of the Soul.” (In German, it would be Seelsorge.) I chose a courageous subject entitled: “Luther’s In-Depth Theology and Theological Therapy.” It is published in Gettysburg’s Seminary journal. (Of course, I am not psychologizing Luther’s theology, but just underlining the rich personal, psychological dimension of it.)
On November 9, 2008, I began ministering at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland, California, once again along with Pastor Richard Rubio-Bowley. When Pastor Rubio-Bowley asked me to help him and when I walked into the coffee hour and all the people of Bethlehem applauded, I knew I was there again and that for the third time. Pastor Julius Carroll had asked me to supply for him during his sabbatical; then he took a call from the church head quarters in Chicago, making me the de facto interim pastor for about two years. My ministry along with that of Pastor Rubio-Bowley was a very positive experience for Bethlehem. Wherever I minister I play my trumpet, preach, preside, and feel a great deal of joy. On Saturday evenings getting high on preparing the children’s sermon, I often write songs for them. Sometimes they end up being too grown up and then they become regular church songs, many of which are in this website. Sadly, I left Bethlehem on February 15, 2010, because I am technically on leave from call, and I could be struck from the roster of ELCA pastors, while doing what was pretty nearly full time ministry. It is quite remarkable how much I miss being a pastor, since having left Old Zion in Philadelphia and Bethlehem in West Oakland. It takes some inner strength to endure unemployment. How does one retire from unemployment?
In Coney Island, I directed fourteen Summer Vacation Church School and Day Camp programs, in which for six to eight weeks, one had to eat, drink, and sleep Day Camp. To carry them out by writing grant proposals, doing walk-a-thons, and then directing a 16 member staff, teaching and being the bus driver really meant going above and beyond the call of duty. Even as a part-time minister of St. John’s in East Oakland, I directed three more VCS and Day Camp programs.
I’ve had to start from scratch many times in my professional life: in Springfield, Ohio in Hamma School of Theology; in Los Angeles, California during clinical training; in Berlin, Germany during four years of ministry there; in Coney Island, New York when beginning my ministry in St. Paul’s; in the East Bay of San Francisco during graduate school and many an interim ministry and as a community college part-time instructor; in Philadelphia during my German-American ministry in Old Zion; and back here again in the East Bay. I’ve done interim ministries for St Ann’s in Germany. There it was called being a Pfarrverweser. For Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, for First Lutheran Church in Oakland, for St. John’s Lutheran Church in East Oakland, for Bethlehem Lutheran Church in West Oakland, and for Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Bragg, California. Nevertheless, as I was required to undergo Intentional Interim Training, I completed this training.
The two Berlin churches I ministered in 1971-1975: St. Ann’s in Dahlem and St. Philips in Friedenau. Hear ye! Hear ye! The latest from Berlin. On Pentecost 2010 the roof of St. Philip’s almost caved in and it has been unsafe to go into the building since then. The congregation is worshiping in the mother church, St. Nathaniel, I believe, or in the social hall, which is behind the church. They have begun a fund-raising project for the roof and a series of benefit concerts. See the article http://www.schoeneberg-evangelisch.de/thema/index13d.shtml The church on the left amidst the trees is St Ann’s in Dahlem, Berlin. All the other pictures are the inside of St Philip’s church.