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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Act of indescribable beauty

Crucifixion led to defeat of sin, death — only through death, resurrection of Jesus

In 2010, I was part of the Northeastern Ohio Synod/Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown pilgrimage to Germany and Italy. We visited Martin Luther sites and then traveled to Rome.

It was an interesting experience to be in the places that formed our spiritual identities in the company of those who, in our respective narratives, had the role of the “other,” or even the “enemy,” during and after the Reformation. But we came to a deeper respect and appreciation for each other’s tradition by being pilgrims together.

All of us were asked what the most memorable part of the trip was. For me that moment came after I was home.

The last day in Rome I caught a lulu of a cold. As I lay in bed the Friday after we returned searching the TV for a football game, I came across a televangelist. I was mesmerized. He was preaching to a packed house in a converted NBA coliseum. His text was from Matthew 21, the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree, the disciples’ wonderment at Jesus’ authority and Jesus’ teaching about faith being able to move mountains.

The televangelist’s exegesis (explanation) of the passage led him to conclude that Jesus said we must “speak to the mountain” — prayer was not enough. If we wanted a better job we needed to “speak to that mountain” and all the heavenly forces would be set in motion. Poor health? Fear of foreclosure? Troubled marriage? “Speak to that mountain” and get it fixed.

Wow. When my father was dying why didn’t I speak to that mountain? When Paul prayed three times that the thorn in his flesh be taken away, why didn’t he speak to that mountain? Here it was, the “Name It and Claim It Health and Wealth Gospel.” The people in that arena were cheering.

At that point I remembered our stop at the Flossenburg concentration camp in Germany. This is where theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was brutally executed just before the end of World War II: Bonhoeffer who spoke against “cheap grace” or what I have come to call “entitlement grace”; Bonhoeffer who in his ministry and death experienced the costly grace of discipleship. 


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