Sunday, August 5, 2012

Insights learned at the meat ball dinner

Last weekend in Decorah it was Nordic Fest -- a grand weekend for our townspeople and family and guests from all across the region.  Gregory and I have two favorite meals in which we like to partake during the festival, the UCC Salad Luncheon on Friday, and the First Lutheran Church Norwegian Dinner on Saturday.  Both events serve hundreds and hundreds of guests, offer yummy food, and make loads of money for the host churches. 

It was at the First Lutheran Church dinner that we were seated with Martin and Mary Lou Mohr, emeriti professors from the Luther English department, along with Owen Christianson, a retired Lutheran pastor, all of us members at FLC.  The conversation turned to our recent Africa trip and Gregory and I relished in yet one more opportunity to regale these listeners with our adventures.       

We told of the generous welcome we had received from our ELCIN brothers and sisters and from Presiding Bishop Nambala.  We told our friends about how is it when you sit and visit quite formally with the Bishop -- you take turns introducing yourself, saying who you are, explaining your profession and what has brought you there.  Then the Bishop shares remarks and for us he was quick to tell us about the work and mission and history of the ELCIN.  His insights on the larger vision and the current challenges were most meaningful.  Then the Bishop turned to me and asked me if I had brought greetings.

Now to the uninitiated, this can catch you up!  But I had learned well from Gregory and from Tim Peter on our last trip, that this is customary.  So I was prepared as I brought greetings from President Torgerson, Luther College, our colleagues on the ELCA Global Mission staff, our church First Lutheran, other friends who had been to the North, and also from all of our donors to Empowering Learners.  I told the Bishop that many friends and family were traveling with us in prayer.  I also relayed greetings from Orv and Kathy Johnson, whom the Bishop knows well and counts as dear friends. 

So as I recounted this experience (of bringing greetings) at the Nordic Fest dinner table, Pastor Owen (who BTW is a big, big fan of this project!) said – “isn’t that wonderful, just like the early church.”

Now talk about being caught up!  I stopped everything and thought this is exactly right!  Every letter from the Apostle Paul begins in some way . . . Grace and Peace to you brothers and sisters . . . I pray daily for you . . . I give thanks for you . . . you are remembered with joy and thanksgiving by . . .

I do declare!  The many blessings of this trip continue in such splendid ways!

Since that meat ball dinner one week ago I have thought often about how everything Lutheran in Namibia reminds me of what we know about the early church.  That the faithful knew that Jesus, or John, or Paul, or Titus, were to be present someplace and so they walked.  And they walked and they walked.  They pressed into the rooms, they leaned in through the doorways and windows, and where you might have expected hundreds to gather, instead thousands gathered, and the services took their time.  Furthermore, and by some amazing miracle these early faithful were fed.  Jesus always attended to the hospitality and made sure every hunger was met. 

Dear family and friends.  This is how it is to be Lutheran in Namibia.  People come to worship from far and wide, often on foot – or piled into the back of a pick-up truck.  Sometimes the pastor -- covering multiple parishes -- has no option but to walk.  Every word of the sermon matters and is clung to.  Greetings from guests are received and accepted with thanks and the favor is returned.  The singing is splendid.  The welcome is lavish and wonderful.   And you enjoy a meal together.  You are fed.

In Medieval times, town fairs revolved around the parish and the central square.  Merchants did a big business, guests came from far off places, and the inns were full.  Musicians played and good ale was served.  There were races, revelry, and rejoicing.

This all sounds like Nordic Fest. 

We’re reminded that in every place the divine is present.  For me, this was surely true at the Norwegian meat ball dinner. 

Thank you Pastor Christianson.  Empowering Learners.     


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