The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


A mean rhubarb pie

'Ethics What you make of life from the leftovers after the main course of salvation has been served.'

The Bible often describes salvation as a banquet, as a feast of unparalleled joy (See Luke 15:11-32; 14:15-24; Matthew 22:1-14; 25:1-13; John 2:1-12). We like the image in part because we love to eat and in part because the image speaks so powerfully about the communal nature of God's family. And we're pretty sure that the main course will be roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and the dessert will be rhubarb pie.

But this image also helps us understand that pesky little thing known as ethics. Think of it like this: God is throwing the party of salvation. You are invited. So, having been raised well by your parents, you politely ask God, "What can I bring? A salad? How about a dessert? I make a mean rhubarb pie. Can I chip in for the expenses?"

And God says, "You don't have to bring a thing, I've got the whole thing under control. There's more than enough for everybody. And when I say everybody, I mean everybody. My Son does this really cool thing with loaves and fishes."

And you say, "But can't I do anything?"

So God says, "Well, since I've covered everything to do with the feast, why don't you do something with the leftovers? The big dishes are all paid for, prepared, and plated. You can't even help with the cleanup. But there is the matter of after. Why don't you take the leftovers and serve then to your neighbor?"

And that, friends, is what ethics is all about. Ethics is the matter of what we do with our lives in light of the fact that everything that matters has already been done for us. Ethics is reflecting upon right and wrong, good and evil, and what creation and our neighbor need the most from us.

You want to know more? Here are a couple of ten-dollar words with which you can impress friends and neighbors. On the one hand, some people think about ethics in a teleological way. From the Greek word telos, meaning "goal," this kind of ethical reflection starts at the end and says, "We decide if an action is right by reflecting on the results of the act." On the other hand, some people think about ethics in a deontological way. From the Greek word deon, meaning "duty"... this kind of ethical reflection starts in the middle and says, "We decide if an action is right by thinking about whether the action itself is good or bad."

Had enough? We thought so. But since you've had enough, please serve up the leftovers to your neighbor.

(Expcerpt from Crazy Talk: A Not So Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms; Augsburg Books , used with permission.)

This week's front page features:

Door Openers

Door Openers : Emerging churches renew Lutheran traditions & provide new entry points.

When in Rome : Visitor returns to write of art.

It all begins with be' : That’s how we grow in the spiritual life.

Down on the farm : Montana youth fill a 'barnyard' to help people in need.

Also: Spirituality vs. religion.

Also: Spiritual vs. religious.

Also: Passing peace isn’t peaceful.

The May/June issue of The Little Lutheran has arrived:

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February issue


Embracing diversity