The following texts are open letters to Bishop H. George Anderson, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), by The Rev. Steven P. Sabin of Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Ames, Iowa.


Lenten Meditations for Timid Prelates

Lent III -- John 2:13-22


A conversation overheard one day in the temple:

"This is a fine edifice you have here, High Priest."
"Thank you. Without loss of modesty, we are proud of what we've built here."
"I hear that it's the largest temple in Palestine."
"Yes! It's taken years to get to where we're at right now. But our people can justly take pride in the size, the grandeur, the loyalty to the temple that we've worked so hard to achieve. It's so much more effective to project God into society from a position of power and unity."
"High Priest, what's that noise?"
"Damn! Excuse the language, please. It must be that Galilean trouble-maker Jesus."
"He's driving out the animal vendors and the money changers!"
"Typical! Jesus has no appreciation for our problems here. He's always talking about God's kingdom. Kingdoms take money, you know. People have certain expectations of the temple. They don't come here to feel threatened. They need security in our unbalanced world and that's what they pay for -- stability."
"I have heard some rather unconventional things about this Jesus."
"Exactly my point. He's from Nazareth. He has practically no formal training as a preacher or theologian. Above all, he keeps company with the most undesirable people: women of uncertain reputations, tax collectors, Gentiles, children. Now I've no proof, mind you, but I've heard that he loves one of his disciples! I'm not sure which one. But this disciple always seems to have his head on Jesus or in his lap...I've seen pictures!"
"No, High Priest, surely not one of those!"
"Who can say? With his history of unfortunate associates, who can say?"


In the Gospel pericope for the Third Sunday in Lent, why is Jesus so angry? Jesus is angry in John 2. Jesus angry in and of itself is troubling to many of us. We can understand the Christ of the Last Judgment. We can understand the gentle, forgiving Jesus of the earthly ministry. But the earthly Jesus Christ engaging in physical expressions of anger is enough to make most of us flee into theological rationalizations or outright whitewashing. Why is Jesus so angry?

The usual explanations of this pericope make no sense in terms of Christ's anger. Certainly donuts sold by the youth group or Tupperware sold by the ELCW are not such heinous sins as to warrant such rage from the Lord. Fund-raising by the youth group and the women's organization is one traditional sermonic target with this text. Easy targets, I might add, because we often do not consider ministry by and with children or women to be "real" ministry.

Another interpretation focuses on the prediction of Jesus' death and resurrection. The text itself gives weight to this interpretation. Yet if this is the whole point, why present it within the context of the one time that Jesus is visibly angry? I cannot believe that the image of Jesus wielding a whip of cords is meant to disappear into the mist of the safely spiritualized resurrection.

For the Christian, Jesus is not speaking metaphorically when he refers to himself as the temple. Jesus is indeed our temple. In the person of Christ we confront God. In the person of Christ, and more specifically within his body, the Church, we live our covenant relationship with God. Jesus is for us all that the physical temple was for the ancient Jews.

Jesus was angry because the commercialization of the sacrificial system stood as an obstacle between the people and God. The cozy deal between the animal husbandry industry and the temple establishment stood between the people and God. The money laundering business and the ever-widening separation of sacred and profane by the temple authorities stood between the people and God. The everyday, customary, business as usual prostitution of the temple for the sake of steady income and social stability stood between the people and God. Jesus came to the temple to reconcile people to God and Jesus was angry!

Jesus comes to us to reconcile us to God. Jesus comes to men and women of every age, every race, every socio-economic stratum, every marital situation, and yes, every sexual orientation to reconcile us to God! Christ's reconciliation does not sell in the marketplace of the world. Christ's forgiveness, his love, his mercy turn no profit. The proclamation of Christ's Gospel with and among gay, lesbian and bisexual persons will not fill offering plates for the ELCA. We all know that the church's traditional teachings on sexuality do not even address the life situations of men and women who know themselves to be gay, lesbian and bisexual. We ostracize lesbian, gay and bisexual persons by using stories of rape, conquest, and victimization of the young to describe our fear of loving, committed and just same-sex relationships. I have yet to publicly admonish a heterosexual couple for domestic abuse within their wedding homily and I doubt that it would ever be appropriate. The ELCA does just that every day when it speaks its hypocritical word of judgment to same-sex couples. We know the truth of Scripture and still the ELCA will not speak that truth because it will cost us members and money in the offering plate. The truth makes us afraid! This is the basest form of commercialism, selling out the Gospel for the sake of a balanced budget, teaching lies because the truth makes us afraid. Jesus is angry!

"The Jews then said to him, 'What sign can you show us for doing this?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?' But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken."

The ELCA has not been under construction nearly so long. The ELCA too stands between the people and God. Being the largest Lutheran body in the USA will not save us. Traditional explanations and interpretations will not save us if they pervert and hide the Gospel of reconciliation. Our salvation is solely in the temple of Christ: crucified and raised from the dead. When the hollow edifice of our vanity is destroyed by the Gospel; when the hard-heartedness of the ELCA toward gay, lesbian and bisexual persons lies broken on the cornerstone of Christ's Gospel; then we will remember that Jesus was angry and believe the scripture and the word that was spoken.

The Rev. Steven P. Sabin

The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of purity, humility, patience and love to your servant. O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brothers and sisters; for you are blessed through all ages of ages. Amen


Lenten Meditations for Timid Prelates

Lent V -- John 12:20-33


``Sir, we wish to see Jesus''.

A brief reading of a few editions of "The Lutheran" and "Partners" indicates that the ELCA and its professionals are very concerned about outreach and member retention. These publications contain a plethora of articles on evangelizing the uncharted, ministry to and with youth, Hispanic ministry, African-American ministry, Hmong ministry, elder ministry, Boomer outreach, preaching for growth, liturgy made pop culture, and many more. Repeatedly we are urged to reach out to those who are spiritually hungry. The central theme is always a discussion of what we can do to entice these various underchurched populations to give the Church a try. Or perhaps, try the Church again. The story missing is the one about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons figuratively, and sometimes literally, pounding on the church door and asking to be let in. Strangely, in a church so concerned with outreach, nobody answers the door. ``Sir, we wish to see Jesus''.

"Oh, but we are sorry! You see, we're not sure if you people can come in. Jesus is very busy at the moment conforming to our expectations and I think it would be awkward if he were seen talking to people like you. How about if I tell him you stopped by and we'll get back to you after we've had time to conduct a glacially-paced study or two? Ciao!"

The Greeks asked Philip. Philip asked Andrew. Together they asked Jesus. Jesus said, "...I will draw all people to myself." The modern version is a little different. The queers ask the pastor. The pastor asks the bishop. The bishop asks the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop consults the Secretary and the Church Council. The Church Council asks for a panel of experts to study the matter in preparation for the next Church-wide Assembly. It reminds me of the children's song, "The Farmer in the Dell." In this version the queers stand alone. ``Sir, we wish to see Jesus''.

The bishops have spoken a word on behalf of hospitality. The bishops, in an open letter, have urged congregations to extend hospitality to gay, lesbian and bisexual persons. It seems that the letter never arrived in Virginia Beach or suburban Detroit. What is the nature of ELCA hospitality in such places? How gracious is ELCA hospitality at St. Francis or First United in San Francisco? ELCA hospitality is like that of the host who counts the silverware after the guests rise from the table. ``Sir, we wish to see Jesus''.

How is it possible that a church so concerned with outreach has so much difficulty opening its doors to gay, lesbian and bisexual persons? The ELCA questions our motivation. The ELCA does not believe that homosexual Christians are responding to the call of the Gospel. Instead, the suspicion runs deep that those hateful perverts want to foist their godless life-style on decent folks and twist God's Word to suit their lusts and lack of self-control. This is a thoroughly vile accusation and without truth. We offer the testimony of our lives and our relationships to refute this accusation. "Thus you will know them by their fruits."

As Christ is lifted up and draws all people to himself, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Christians hear his call. They come to the cross for the same reasons as all other believers. Yet time and time again, the good church folk, in their doubt, their bigotry, and their sinfulness ask Cornelius, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Greeks -- on down through time to homosexuals -- to stand off to the side while their bona fides are checked. The great travesty in all of this is of course that no one comes to faith by their own effort. "I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith."

Lutherans have always had trouble with the third article of the Creed. The Holy Spirit does such unconventional things that we get uncomfortable. Sir Henry Chadwick, the church historian, has suggested that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to make Christians as different from each other as humanly possible. All the while, bishops seek to make us the same. If Christ sees fit to call gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people into his Body then certainly his Word and his sacraments have the power to sanctify them as well. The ELCA is vexed by the upsurge of "unrepentant" homosexuals in the pews and pulpits. Either we are remarkably adept at thwarting God, or the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit is content to leave our sexual orientations precisely as they were created: queer.

The Gospel did not demand that Gentiles become Jews in order to come to Christ. Women do not need to become men to come to Christ. I certainly will not become straight to answer the Gospel's call. Being straight is not part of Christ's call to me. ``Sir, we wish to see Jesus''. Bishop, you're in our way. Step aside!

The Rev. Steven P. Sabin

The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of purity, humility, patience and love to your servant. O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brothers and sisters; for you are blessed through all ages of ages. Amen


The ELCA has been struggling with the issue of homosexuality. The congregation of First United Lutheran Church, and St. Francis Lutheran Church, both located in San Francisco, were ``excommunicated'' by the ELCA for having openly gay clergy.