in Theology

Crumbs from the Master’s Table

Given current trends in North American Christianity, and culture, I can easily imagine a day when a child, seeing a crucifix for the first time and asking her mother what on earth it might be, will receive this answer: “That, my dear, is someone who did not take very good care of himself.”

This will strike you as farfetched only to the extent that you do not read self-help books, watch your local PBS station (insofar as there remains any difference), or spend time hanging out with clergy.  To do any of these three even in moderation is almost inevitably to come face-to-face with the notion that a truly good shepherd never lays down his or her life for anybody.  One begins to anticipate a new translation of the gospel in which the resurrected Christ will say to Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” and when Simon insists that he does, Christ will reply, “Then feed yourself.”

Having said this, I might surprise you if I also say that convincing people to take care of themselves is one of the greatest pastoral challenges I know.  And it remains such a challenge precisely because of the ubiquitous lip service this culture pays to “taking care of ourselves.”  Once the sheep have heard the false ring of “a stranger’s voice,” even when there’s some merit in the stranger’s advice they will fly from it.  At that point it takes the Good Shepherd himself to bring them back to health and balance.

Fortunately, that is precisely what the Good Shepherd does in the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman.  It is certainly not one of the sweeter stories about Jesus…  That said, it is important to recognize that the Master is only one of two principal characters in this poignant drama.  There is also the mother with the sick child.  I think of her as a single mother with no status and few material resources.  Had she a husband or some other male advocate, would she not have sent him to negotiate with the rabbi?  Instead she goes herself…  

I’ve met her, of course, and so have you.  When my daughter was only three months old we had to take her to the pediatric ward of a large hospital far from home.  Mercifully, our stay was short; the physicians’ alarm proved unfounded.  For other families, visits there were heartbreakingly routine.  I remember in particular one mother and child who shared our room.  Her son had an extreme form of cerebral palsy; one evening we were awakened when he nearly choked to death on his own saliva.  Nurses and doctors rushed into the room and saved him.  I retain the image of his mother in the morning, the face hard with worry, the soothing words tendered in a hoarse voice.

Now I wonder: How did she “take care of herself?”  What did she get by way of “centering” beyond a few hurried cigarette breaks?  If no one feeds the sheep, you see, then the only people who can truly take care of themselves are those already well taken care of…

If the Canaanite woman could bring about a turning in Jesus himself, what stones we are if she does not convert us too.  “O woman, great is your faith!” he exclaims – this after he has characterized her as one of the “dogs.”  He might almost have said, O Woman, you are faith.  Faith with a steadfast heart, a dead-end job and a sick kid.  Maybe the time has come to put stained-glass images of the Canaanite woman in our churches.  Then if some child should ever point to a crucifix and ask, “Who is that?” we can point to the window and answer, “Find her, and she will tell you.” 

— Garret Keizer, Feed My Dogs (Matt. 15:21-28)
[Christian Century, July 28-August 4, 1999, p. 741; copyright by the Christian Century Foundation]


Doing Away with God in the Name of Peace and Quietness

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore – on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe.  It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium.  We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him “meek and mild,” and recommend Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.  To those who knew Him, however, He in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand.  True, He was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; He referred to King Herod as “that fox”; He went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners; He assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the Temple; He drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; He cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; He showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, He displayed a paradoxical humour that affronted serious-minded people, and He retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.  He was emphatically not a dull man in His human lifetime, and if He was God, there can be nothing dull about God either.  But He had “a daily beauty in His life that made us ugly,” and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without Him.  So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.

–Dorothy Sayers

SELC Newsletter #248

Peace to you, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Recently our Bishop Vsevolod visited Yurga. Let us tell you again about this town and our congregation [previous Newsletters about Yurga: Newsletters # 136 and # 169].

The Lutherans live in Yurga because of our tragic history of deportation of the Volga Germans from their settlements by Josef Stalin. In the Soviet Union, millions of people and full nations were sent into GULAGs [see:] or exiled into Siberia just because of the desire of the cruel dictator.

The first Lutherans came into Russia immediately after the Reformation, and at the end of the 18th century because of an invitation by Catherine the Great (the Russian Queen) many Germans came into Russia for residence. They created their towns and farms, and schools, and churches, and lived there for over a century and a half.

Seventy-five years ago, August 28, 1941, Josef Stalin made the “final solution” on ethnic Germans. “After the house search, tell everyone who is scheduled to be deported that, according to the government’s decision, they are being sent to other regions of the USSR. Transport the entire family in one car until the train station, but at the station, heads of families [read: men] must be loaded into a separate train car prepared especially for them …. Their families are deported for special settlements in the far away regions of the Union. [Family members] must not know about the forthcoming separation from the head of the family” [see more:].

Every August 28, we celebrate Day of remembrance of victims of political repressions.

Volga Germans were sent into Siberia and North Kazakhstan. A lot of people died during the transportation in the railroad freight cars. Many people were frozen to death.

People who survived (adults with children) were put into concentration camps where they were forced to work in the beastly conditions. Thousands of them died because of hard work, because of hunger and absence of medicines.

In the camp in Yurga, if somebody was sick or injured nobody gave him (or her) any medicines, but the soldiers put him (or her) into a collective grave. This is a grave where several thousands (!) of Volga Germans were buried, located in the edge of Yurga. Now it is a memorial cemetery.

Nobody knows the full number of victims of Stalin’s regime. Recently the Russian government decides to keep NKVD [see:] archives closed till 2045. Just imagine what atrocities NKVD committed if our government still fears that the people will know about it!

At the beginning of the 60s in Yurga, the Germans were released from the camp. Some of them were trying to go back to the Volga. It was very difficult, almost impossible, because they did not have internal passports and to travel without a passport even within the Soviet Union was illegal. Still, some reached their former settlements on the Volga, and saw that for a long time other people had been living in their homes. The same was with their farms. And all the churches were destroyed.

So those who were liberated from the concentration camps continued to live in Yurga and were moved into the so-called “German village” (wooden barracks without running water and toilets; the toilet was only one — big dirty building in the center of the village). But for those who were in a concentration camp, it was happiness to live not inside the barbed wire, even in such conditions.
For many years, Lutherans gathered in a wooden house on the outskirts of Yurga, and then in 2007 (thanks to the help of our Brothers and Sisters from the Bethany Lutheran Church, Naperville, IL) an apartment for the congregation was purchased in the “German village.”

When the local authorities decided to demolish the “German village”, we were offered another apartment, and the parish moved there. There we have a chapel, and people come to hear the Word and to receive the sacraments. The room needs to be repaired, but the parishioners can’t do it because of the poverty.

But the most important thing is that we are free. You cannot imagine what it means — to be free — for those who grew up in the Soviet Union.

Now there is a resident minister in Yurga — Rev. Ruslan Zinnurov [about him in the Newsletter # 245]. Ruslan graduated from the university in Novosibirsk, then he graduated from our Lutheran Theological Seminary. On May 2016, he was ordained as deacon, and serves in the parish in Yurga. As the Church does not have funds to pay salary to him, he works as a teacher in a secondary school.

Deacon Ruslan’s wife Natalia is from the family of Volga Germans. Ruslan and Natalia are blessed with a son, Arthur.

Please pray for Deacon Ruslan and his family and for the parishioners in Yurga.

“Faith and hope”
Please see attached photos.