“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God unto salvation…”
I don’t remember his first name anymore but his last name was Carlson or Larson or Hansen or Johnson or something like that. OK, I don’t remember his last name either! Anyway, this wiry old Norwegian came up to me after the Reformation Sunday service at First Lutheran Church, Fergus Falls, Minnesota, October 1977. During the offering the organist and I had performed a rousing rendition of ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’, she on the pipe organ (somewhat nervously as I recall) and yours truly adding a withering obligato on the electric guitar ( a bright red 1966 Gibson 335) complete with distortion pedal and major rock n’ roll attitude. Mr. Han-Carl-John-Lars-son was neither inspired or edified. “I want to congratulate you, Pastor Anderson, he said dryly. “You have managed to overshadow the Word of God this morning and drag Luther’s hymn into the gutter at the same time.” Ouch! At the time of course, I dismissed him out of hand. Now I can only marvel at the miles of passivity that old Scandinavian had to cross in order to confront one of his pastors. I also wish I could sit down with him – which I should have done then – and listen to him. He was onto me. He came from a Lutheranism where laity understood they had a responsibility to the Word of God just as much as the pastor. He was exercising his stewardship of that Word but I was too full of myself to hear him. I was too busy being ‘relevant’ instead of being his pastor.
What I finally did hear while sipping coffee with those old Norwegians – and a few misplaced Swedes – was that faith in Jesus Christ and His promises was the marrow in their lives. And they had not come to this faith because some clergy person stuck his\her finger in the wind and then blathered on from the pulpit about the indelible wonderfulness of now. The message that gripped them was the Gospel; the old, old story of Jesus and His love often expressed in their favorite hymns; Beautiful Savior, The Old Rugged Cross, Abide with Me, and yes, In the Garden. During the years I was their pastor I had to bury some of these folks. Often, in those last days before the end sitting by their bedsides I would sing these old hymns accompanied by a guitar and read passages from the Bible. And that is when I learned something that had taken me too long to learn; if you can’t sing it or say it at someone’s deathbed it probably isn’t worth singing or saying at all.
“May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”