By Francisco Herrera
The best part about engaging in random, public Bible reading sessions is that it is impossible to guess how the patrons will react - like the night that I dared to take my butt and my Book into the happy haunts of the Camden Tavern (4601 Lyndale Ave. N, 55412) to savor some of their excellent chicken wings.
Here are some responses:
"You're not going to be preaching the Gospel in here tonight, are you?"
This question was particularly memorable. Admittedly, though, the bouncer who asked it did so not because he didn't want me to talk about Jesus that night, rather out of his fear that I was a preacher coming to his establishment to get drunk.
"Don't you think it's sacrilegious to bring the Holy Book into such a place as this?" - said to me by a particularly insistent bar patron, convinced that I wouldn't make the Rapture, who then went on to show himself to be an utter ass to the staff and a creep to the women as the evening wore on.
Towards the end of that night, I'd gotten a surprise phone call from a deeply missed friend, and it taking it ran into the parking lot outside, leaving everything on the bar counter - including my cash and driver's license. Another patron soon rushed out seeking me, a pastor herself. "You can't be doing things like that around here, brother. Your Book will be fine, folks here don't care about the Bible, but these things?" she playfully rebuked, instantly a new friend, handing me back my Bible with all the sensitive items tucked inside.
We then paused over a cigarette and laughter and shared our love for Jesus and our sometimes frustrations with those among whom Jesus has called us to serve.
I first got into this practice when I lived in Geneva Switzerland, back in the early 2000s. My best friend of those years, Markus, was a hard man to pin down, so I usually visit him at one of his bar gigs around the city. But since he was quite popular with patrons - half-Sierra Leonese half-German and so beautiful it made you cry, an exciting conversationalist, tall, svelte, locked, and with a full-body tattoo - I would bring a large study Bible to occupy myself with God's Word while he occupied himself with pouring libations and spinning the gold of his charisma into rent money.
And some of those first reactions my Bible evoked in the barflies...!
"F-k you and f-k that book and f-k your religion - you're trying to enforce yourself on everyone here!"
The French guy who said this did so in French and it sounded prettier in the original than in my translation. So there was that.
"But no! No, Francisco - not YOU!!" - from my acquaintance Mariama, from Bulgaria, whose feelings towards US Christians were forever marred by post-9/11 US foreign policy and George W. Bush (and to be honest, could you blame her?).
"Yeah. The Holy Book. No thanks (this woman, also an acquaintance, had emigrated to Europe from black America some years before). Too many of my people back home think that prayer and supplication will cure everything. Can't go back to that. Nope. Almost killed me."
Yet, invariably, these critical voices - even angry voices - would come and sit and chat with me - posing questions about whether or not something they'd heard or been taught was really in the Bible, unpacking powerful memories and feelings evoked by the stories of the ten plagues or the birth of Jesus, the bitter draft of their suspicion hinting at earlier days of awe and wonder. These were the first times that I would witness Scripture's eternal, inescapable gravity - reeling in any and all who came near it, be they friend or foe or fickle - and navigating this mix of human and holy outpourings was my first school in evangelism.
Luther believed that this 'pull' exerted by the Bible was a consequence of it being God's "living Word" - not only a description of Jesus Christ himself (as per John 1) but also as a way to describe the ever-surprising way that reading and wrestling with the Bible's many stories directly invokes the Holy Spirit to interrupt our lives. And when she does - illuminating us, guiding us, inspiring our minds and our spirits - our Bible studies not only increase our practical knowledge of what the Bible says but also bring us into more intimate and more powerful relationship with God's self.
And Luther wasn't kidding. It was heartening to see the way these people's eyes would light up - how scowls would gradually become thoughtful frowns, even grins - as the Spirit and the text enwrapped their souls in a delicate dance.
So why am I writing about all of this? Simple.
Because I think you should try it.
Try taking your Bible to work with you one day and crack it open while on your lunch break.
If you're in transit at an airport, bus station, or train station - let alone on a plane, bus, or train - open it to the Book of Acts and see if God might use you in your travels as they used Paul.
Some of the general public’s responses to you and your Book may be a bit rough, as many of those I listed above, but trust me: there will be happy responses, too.
Like the first Bible study I organized with my now-friend Steven, who was at first a bit reluctant to chat that because he hadn't read the text (and was a little afraid of getting it "wrong"), but how his eyes lit up as soon as we started reading Philemon and talking about it.
"He told Philemon to call an escaped slave his brother? Dude! That's heavy!"
You will also find people like my Swiss friend, Claire, who stumbled upon me during one of my normal bar-Bible-study moments, "O mon dieu - I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to see somewhere here reading a Bible. I'm often ashamed of letting people know I'm a Christian because so many think it's stupid."
Sometimes folks will even see the Book and come at you singing - hoping to kindle a memory or a feeling through yet another round of an old hymn, or talking about their days at Bible camp, vacation Bible school, or the like.
But most importantly, the magnetism that the Spirit gives to the Bible itself, just SHOWING others that you have one of the best ice breakers you can ever imagine. It always attracts attention, always poses and inspires questions. When inquiring God about how they might move in a community, this simple act of carrying a Bible with you in public and opening it whenever you sit down will help you figure out those things VERY quickly.
And to tap into this power, this excitement - all you have to do is start carrying the Good Book with you and pull it out from time-to-time. That's it. And then just sit back and let the Spirit do the work.
It really is that easy. Can I get an amen for that?
By Minister Judy Stack
Have you ever dreamed of something? Have you ever imagined something very dear, and then thought about what it would be like if it was actually coming true for you? Maybe it’s a job you always wanted. Perhaps you hoped for many years to have children. Or dreamed about the time when you could retire or be able travel or be free to pursue some things you love.
What if it actually happened!?! What if your dreams came true?
We often talk about how difficult it is to deal with disappointment, but have you ever had to face the prospect of God blessing you in a way you barely hoped to dream of? How would this overturn your world? Have you ever thought, “God, I know this is what I wanted, but now that it’s here, I’m terrified!”
Beyond that even: What if God, in fact, wanted to give us MORE than we were asking for?
On Sunday, Pastor Jeff preached about the story from John where Jesus said to those he had recently miraculously fed, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill” (6:26). As Pastor noted, what’s going on here is not that people want something too miraculous from Jesus but actually that they want too little. They want only enough Jesus to meet their obvious physical needs. Just enough to get by. They don’t want to be disturbed or confronted or challenged. They want an easy Jesus. They don’t want to be swept up into the whirlwind of the coming of the kingdom of God that Jesus’ signs herald.
This made me think of what Paul says to the early Christian community in Ephesus. He is telling them about what he prays for them. He makes some bold requests of God! He prays four things:
But then he goes on to say, “Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations” (Eph. 3:20-21). While we may think Paul’s expecting a lot, Paul is saying, “Even my vision is too small! God’s vision for you is even bigger than what I just prayed! It is beyond what we could ask or imagine.”
This is what Jesus was saying too. God wants to do more in you and through you, by the power of God’s spirit, than you are prepared for. More even than you may think you want! Because change is scary; it takes courage—whether it is a dream coming true or those places in us and through us where God’s spirit starts to work and the Kingdom starts to come. And we are “filled with all the fullness of God.”
Jesus and Paul invite us to dream and pray and ask and imagine bigger! Big enough to scare us. Because God is able and wants to do “exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or imagine.” And in that we will experience “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”
By Francisco Herrera, GLC Theologian-in-Residence
In 1981 my mom moved my family to a neighborhood in a Metropolitan Kansas City called Roeland Park. With the our house sold, custody hearings (over me) still raging, and the lives of her children utterly shattered, she drove us (me six ears old, and my brother Nicholas and sister Patricia, 15 and 16 respectively) across the state line from Missouri into Kansas to seek little bit of peace and distance, as well as live in a county with one of the best public school systems in the nation. Similarly, as a solid middle-class and working-class area of Kansas City, it had quite a bit of affordable housing - certainly affordable enough that a single mother with inconsistent child support payments, a part-time job at 7/11, and three children could rent a three-bedroom house in the 1980's. And so in this neighborhood I remained from the age of six to about two weeks after my eleventh birthday.
And during my first walk down Lyndale Avenue, in search of hot cakes and new friends at the local McDonald's, is when that ‘Roeland Park’ feeling first came back.
I saw the apartment buildings and houses, some a little worse for wear, some near-perfect. As I passed out event fliers the next day, I spent time talking with people passing the summer afternoon sitting on apartment building steps, or relaxing in lawn chairs on their front porches. With each of these strolls I saw something that I only see in communities like this - communities that are often misunderstood, communities where people sometimes have a hard time making regular mortgage and utility payments, neighborhoods where people have to rely on each other for child care or hot meals because some folks just can't afford to take off of work.
What was that thing that I saw? Dignity. Simple dignity. Something real and unpretentious and true as a summer sunset. Dignity - along almost every step of the 15-minute walk from Gethsemane to McDonald's, and along every step of my not-as-direct walks home.
I have never been fond of any kind of talk about "God's Plan" - as if the Almighty had layed out a malicious game of Twister wherein human souls had to contort themselves every-which-way in order to win salvation, the slightest false move tumbling them through the spotted mat and into The Pit. If there's one thing scripture makes clear is that humanity has been upsetting God's plans from the very beginning - the Garden of Eden, the Covenant with Abraham, the Kings of Israel, and the list goes on and on - but that despite this, God has never failed us, even after our almost spiteful insistence to stray far from what They teach us. And when we come back, like the father of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), God comes running - tears in their eyes, joy in their heart, and so overcome with relief and love as to appear almost dotty.
And this is the God that I know is at work among people of such dignity, of such life, and resilience. Violence happens in the community, and though they may grieve, it doesn't keep them from inviting their friends over to their backyard for some barbecue and a couple of beers. Concern for the future may dampen the mood of an entire family, even their ability to hope, but a good neighbor or two is never so far away that they won't receive reminder that good times are still possible. And just as many who live in this part of Minneapolis have long learned to walk side-by-side, so too does Christ walk side-by-side with them, and it is my great joy to be doing the same with the members of this community these next two months.
And so for this, I will be naming this blog series "All Along Lyndale." Hope you enjoy it.
By Elder Beverly Tipton Hammond
I am so excited about the Peace Walk and Block Party this weekend! We are taking this community for Christ, as we first saturate the streets with prayer, praise and worship! Pastor Jeff Nerhbass and his wife Cindy have a heart for God’s people and desire to share the love of God and power of salvation through Jesus Christ as a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing in this season! Minister Judy, Pastor Herrera and myself are here to support their vision and watch God transform lives in a new and living way!
They have faithfully served this community for over 20 years and now God is doing a “new thing”! In the Book of Isaiah 43:19 it says, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” Come to Jesus and receive His refreshing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you are thirsty come and drink from a well that never runs dry, that is the Spirit of God that restores, cleanses and heals you when you give your heart to Jesus Christ!
With lovingkindness we extend God’s love for all people! For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
We come in the authority of the Name that is above every name, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God and destroy the works of Satan in this region! We come against every work of darkness destroying lives and families in the Name of Jesus! We decree salvation to every household in our communities. We declare deliverance from addiction to drugs and alcohol, depression, suicide, rejection in Jesus Name!
We bind the spirit of murder, rape and abuse in Jesus Name! We decree salvation and peace and life to all those who have no hope! You say “there is no other way”! Jesus is calling you! He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6. If you feel like you are at a dead end, you are really standing before an open door! God Himself is inviting you to come, all who are weary and heavy laden with problems you cannot solve come!
Declaration over this community – “Dry Bones Live!”
We decree a revival that causes dead things to come back to life!
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Isaiah 55:11.
By Minister Judy Stack
“The Lord will…satisfy your needs in parched places…and you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail.” – Isaiah 58:11
It’s hot out. Wicked hot. Dangerously hot. The kind of heat that kills. If you are outside, it is not long before you start to understand about parched places. Quickly, you become (despite the humidity—or partly because of it) a “parched place.” Your energy fails. You get impatient and irritable. Your enthusiasm, your joy, your good will get dried up.
In the verse from Isaiah above, the prophet talks about “parched places” for God’s people. He sees that God’s people are longing to flourish. To be like a well-watered garden—growing, productive, and full of life—not just for themselves but like spring of water that overflows and streams forth, giving that life to others.
That kind of flourishing was all wrapped up for the ancient Jews and the writers of the Old Testament (including Isaiah) in the idea of shalom. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and this Hebrew word shalom is often translated as “peace.” The idea behind the word certainly includes what we usually think of when we think of peace—lack of war and violence, calmness, gentleness and not anger—but it includes more as well!
Shalom is, ultimately, everything being in right-relationship as God intended. It is everything being in harmony, all the parts of God’s world being cared for, all the people treating each other as God would want them to—there is no pain but only healing, no lack but only abundance, no anger or frustration or disappointment but only joy and trust and peace. And when that happens there is flourishing!
As we gather this Saturday for our Peace Walk and block party, we hope to bring people of our neighborhood together to care for each other, to support each other, to build ties of trust and community in the face of violence and fear and the things that tear apart the connections that hold our community together.
Because peace—the harmony that God intended for God’s world—is the key to our flourishing. And God has promised, when we care for one another in these ways, he will “satisfy your needs in parched places” and “you shall be called the repairer of the broken places and the restorer of the streets to live in” (Isaiah 58:12).
By Francisco Herrera
Pastor Jeff asked me to share my thoughts about why I feel God has called me to be among the people of Gethsemane Lutheran Church - thoughts which would then be shared in a blog post and used as sort of a teaser for my upcoming residency this week.
So without further ado…
Why do I think God has called me to be with you at Gethsemane these next few months?
I'm a Lutheran seminarian who is also a teacher, and as someone who spends a great deal of time talking about God, the more and different kinds of people I spend my time with, the better I will be in my God-talk, and spending the next few months hanging out with everybody in Camden and Lind-Bohanon will be a very good way for me to develop precisely this skill.
This is the first major reason why I think God called me here.
Though I've talked about God a lot with a lot of people - an activity which makes me a thing some people like to call a theologian - this is my first time actually having the title ‘theologian’ officially attached to my name, and I have your community to thank. Even greater, your church has a lot that makes it unlike any other. You have a lot of great programs here, with a wonderful school for the children on the block and distribution centers for the needs of the neighborhood - just to name a few. This means that there is a lot of God-work, along with God-talk, that happens through your congregation – and I’m looking forward to listening in on some of it.
It's pretty awesome, what you do here, and if I may also add - it's also extremely Lutheran.
Because Brother Martin made it very clear, the grace that we receive because of Jesus does not free us merely to make us feel content but self-satisfied – rather, it frees us to better serve the neighbor. How deeply does Luther say we must serve our neighbor, you may be asking? In his elaboration on the Fourth Commandment, in the Small Catechism, he says that we are to be so concerned with our neighbor that we must even be mindful of the amount and quality of their "Nahrung" – their food or sustenance – so that they don’t suffer from malnutrition. So here, we are to love our neighbor so much that we even keep an eye on what they eat!
Pretty intense and intimate, if you ask me.
And from what I've seen happen in your community on Fridays, something tells me that Dr. Luther would definitely smile on your ministries.
As for the second major reason why I think God called me here for the summer? Because in addition to learning and being influenced by the people of Gethsemane, I also hope to teach a bit of something that my fellow theologians like to call ‘constructive theology.’
As God calls us into more passionate service of the needs of our communities, at some point we have to start seriously thinking about how our lives have influenced the ways that we think about things like Jesus, like the Resurrection, like God, even on something seemingly so basic as what it means to do ministry. Being called by God eventually means being called into intense relationship with the people around you, and when that happens it's really important to understand how your personal God-talk may or may not make that relationship building either easier or more difficult.
So, to do this, I'm going to have a series of chats called “God-Talk and Me-Talk,” where folks have a chance to sit down and take a good close look about the who, what, where, when, why, and how of their thoughts on things like sin and death, the church, even how we read scripture. Conversations like these can be a little hard at times, but they are also terribly exciting - and it is my goal to use some of the insights from our time together to help other seminarians learn how to better talk about these things with the people in their churches.
Because let's face it, a lot of seminaries may do a good job educating pastors-to-be, but they don't always do a good job showing pastors-to-be how to share what they've learned with the people they're called to serve. So after my time among you, I hope to be able to change that a little bit.
And I look forward to all the singing and praying and dancing and eating and living we’ll do along the way!
By Minister Judy Stack
It is Monday. After the morning food give away, as Pastor Jeff and I walk to get some lunch a few blocks from the church, he talks about the neighborhood. “Did you hear about the shooting? [I hadn’t.] Reports say a man was shooting a gun in the air and police showed up and he didn’t put down the gun, so they shot him. We’re hoping things don’t get tense…” We walk. “See that house? I think 15 kids live there. I don’t know how many adults. I have tried for years to connect with those folks. Sometimes some of the kids come to Sunday school for a while, then they turn 14 and drop out of Sunday school and join gangs. I don’t know how to reach them…”
We eat lunch. We talk about the community and its needs. As we are wrapping up, I say, “Remember when we were students at Luther and we’d go out for coffee and talk theology and look around at the people in the coffee shop and say, ‘I wonder what God is up to here….’? Twenty-five years later, we’re doing the same thing.” “We are.” We toast with our soda bottles: “Cheers!” But it is a solemn toast.
Later in the afternoon at the church, an African-American woman comes in the office: “Hey, Pastor Jeff, I’m Doneesh*. I’m the cousin of the man who was shot. We’ve been having vigils at the place where he was shot, but people get kinda hungry. I wonder if you have some hot dogs or something…” As we walk through the church to get some food to send, we hear a familiar theme: the story initially reported in the media is not what witnesses say really happened. Her cousin was a good man, a family man. He was minding his own business. His kids were there with him. “The BLM folks want to come and protest, but we told them no. We don’t want all that hubbub.”
As Doneesh prepares to leave, she says, “My cousin, he didn’t have a church, but if we was to have a service for him….” “Yes,” says Jeff. “Of course you can have it here.”
My mind goes back to the question at lunch: what is God up to here? Here in this community, and in this church as it is part of the neighborhood. Why does Doneesh come to a place like Gethsemane in this moment?
I think about all the uncertainty of this story. Who is telling the truth—media, police, bystanders? Is Doneesh telling the truth—telling the truth about her cousin, telling the truth about there being vigils or is she just trying to get some food? And who has the best interests of those affected here in mind and can be trusted—BLM, police, social workers, neighbors, a church?
I realize that the whole story is really about trust. Who can we trust? Whom do we distrust? When trust erodes, community disintegrates. Trust is the glue that holds community together—whether it’s a neighborhood or a family or a couple or a church or a people and its civic institutions (like police and courts and schools). Kids join gangs looking for trust, looking for people they can count on. We’re all looking for people we can count on.
I believe Doneesh came to Gethsemane because the neighborhood knows that it can trust us. That, as a church, we will show up—show up with food and with prayer and with the willingness to gather people to mourn together and grasp hope. That they can count on us. Because we believe—we trust—that God is up to something. In the individual lives of the people of the neighborhood and in the community as a whole. We’re looking for that. Listening for that. Trusting in that work of the spirit and building trust—trust in each other and in God and God’s work in us and through us.
*Not her real name.