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Evangelical Mission Blog

RSS By: Pastor Lamont Anthony Wells

Pastor Lamont Anthony Wells shares his thoughts about evangelical mission.

Mary, Martin, and Us: Bearing God to the World

May 12, 2017

"Intersectionality" is an important word these days. We seem to be looking at and for connections.


Today, in this time of some theological meditation on a particular passage from Galatians, I want to focus on the coming of Christ among us, what we call The Incarnation.


I want to look at a specific passage from Galatians as a place of intersection between the Song of Mary – The Magnificat and this year of commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses of Martin Luther and our shared ministry as bearers of God to the world for such a time as this.


It’s a specific passage with which I have spent hardly any time until preparing for this time with you. So the intersection now is between Luther’s Commentary on Galatians (a masterpiece of biblical exegesis blended with devotional commentary) that reflects his devotion to Mary, the Theotokos – "God-Bearer" – and what that could mean for us.


So look with me now at this single, loaded passage from Galatians, 4:


But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.


First, I’ll tell you what I know about Galatians.


It’s called the Magna Charta of Christian liberty. It deals, primarily, with whether Gentiles must become Jews before they can become Christians. Certain Judaizing teachers had infiltrated the churches of Galatia in central Asia Minor, which Paul had previously founded (Acts 16:6), declaring that in addition to having faith in Jesus Christ a Christian was obligated the keep the Mosaic Law which in the case of about half of the people meant a surgical procedure which I don’t want to get into.


Paul, on the contrary, insists that a person becomes right with God only by faith in Christ and not by the performance of good works, ritual observances, and the like (2:16; 3:24-25; 5:16:12-15).


At the very beginning of the Letter, Paul asserts the authority of his teaching. He asserts his gospel against James in Jerusalem and even against Peter.


The central part of the Letter is an exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith alone (3:1-4:31) – the part of the Letter on which Luther commented most extensively, of course – but Paul also concludes with certain practical applications of his teaching (5:1-6, 18) because he wanted to be clear that Christians do have obligations to behave according to the moral code. Such behavior does not justify but is a product of our being justified.


The importance of this letter is hard to overestimate. Written around A. D.55, it sets forth the true function of the Mosaic Law and its relation to God’s grace manifested in Christ.


Which brings us to why I chose to focus on this passage.


It’s a simple assertion, really. The Son of God was "born of a woman" which can be said of all of us, I guess.


"Thick Words."

There are words and phrases in the Christian theological tradition that are so "thick," so full of meaning, that we can meditate on them in great depth and they can yield a whole range of meanings.


Think of this word: grace. Or let’s try this word: cross. Or how about this one: disciple.


These are words from which spring up: power, resonance, thickness, and depth - words that will never find their full meaning in terms of a dictionary definition. They contain a surplus of meaning.


Which leads me to a word about Mary that is an ancient name for her, and, I propose, is a name for each one of us: THEOTOKOS. 


It means, simply "God-Bearer," the one who bore God into the world.


Note: it doesn’t say "Christ-Bearer". That’s because our ancestors in the faith understood clearly that words have consequences. There were enough heretics in the early Church to make even us blush. So our ancestors wanted to be clear that Mary brought forth God, a person who possessed both a human and a divine nature.


I remember talking with Confirmation kids about this, especially one young mathematician who wanted percentages – "was it a fifty-fifty split between human and divine" to which I answered "Nope" – "it was a hundred percent each." An adolescent mathematician had difficulty with that.


It’s called a coincidence of opposites that asserts that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine. It’s a wonderfully Luther-an kind of understanding. We love those tensions, don’t we: catholic / protestant; saint / sinner. Luther was the prince of paradox.


And in this paradox, this coincidence of opposites, is a whole compressed theology relative to the person of Jesus Christ.


As Robert Farrar Capon says in The Fingerprints of God, the term Mother of God – or more properly, God-Bearer, "isn’t a definition that gives us answers to our questions; it’s a sudden illumination of the fact that in Mary, the images of Son, Word, God, Man, and Womb all come together in a coincidence of opposites. And if you take that paradoxical picture as a seamless whole, you absolve yourself from having to water down any of the images."


The fullness of time

The sending of the Son of God did not occur at any old time; it certainly did not occur "once upon a time"; it happened in time that could be measured and, more precisely, at a proper moment in time as part of the unfolding plan of God, the fullness of time, according to Paul.


God sent his Son

Just in case you are wondering, Paul is here reminding us that this is all about Jesus Christ, even when he is talking about Mary bearing God. A mini-paradoxical confession.


Born of a woman

which, of course, can be said about all of us, unless Paul understood Jesus to be someone distinguished from all other humans. This person, the 100% divine and 100% human, was born of a woman.


Born under the law

That is, after the giving of the law at Mount Sinai and under its reality. Christ is located in historical time generally and in the time of the revelation of God to the children of Israel in particular to see the Anointed One come from his own people.


The Son of God was a human with a specific history and a specific pedigree, if you will. Christ was not an angel or some kind of "power" or even a bodiless soul, like some claim, but a human being who came from a woman who was a child of Israel. He was, bluntly, a Jewish male with all that that assertion implies.


What are some of those implications? This is the stuff of Call the Midwife. This is real birth in real flesh at a certain time in history.


Paul’s assertion is the earliest reference to Mary in the Scriptures. Remember: Galatians was written around 55 so as far as we know all the other writings in the New Testament came after it.


Augustine uses this text from Galatians at least ten times in The Trinity for the precise reason of demonstrating the coincidence of opposites.


He says in Book I, "In the form of God, all things were made by him (John 1:3); in the form of a servant, he himself was "born of a woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4)."


Jesus was born of a woman, Mary, the Theotokos, the God-Bearer. So Mary is the intersection between the hopes of Israel and their realization in the person of Jesus. The story of salvation is rooted in an almost outrageous particularity. While there has been some tension between Catholic and Orthodox theology, on the one hand, and Protestant theology, on the other, about whether Mary actively cooperated in salvation or merely was the passive instrument of God’s will (as opposed to Mary’s reaction, her saying OK to the angel), the one thing all traditions agree on is that Mary was the location of the historical event of the Word made flesh.


Martin Luther was devoted to her. She is the one person chosen from all of humanity that made real the Incarnation. I will talk about that more tomorrow, when I preach at the Eucharist, but for now let me quote Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson who puts it correctly and unapologetically: "The Son of God has a mother; there exists a theotokos. Mary became pregnant, gestated, and gave birth and the one whom she gestated and gave birth to was the sole and solitary person of the Son of God."2


A coincidence of opposites.


Annnnnd……So, What? This multi-layered, stunning passage from Galatians says it clearly:


in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.


There is a very real sense in which we, too, bear God in our lives, our ministry, our witness for this time and this place.


Where does that happen in your life as a Christian? Where do you bear God?


You are a theotokos We are, together, theotokoi. And here is a point of intersection with Luther.


I could read extensively from Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, it is two volumes in the American Edition of Luther’s Works. Luther summarizes this new life we now have and can help us to think how we might bear God:


God has also sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, as Paul says here. Now Christ is completely certain that in his spirit he is pleasing to God. Since we have the same Spirit of Christ, we, too, should be certain that we are in a state of grace, on account of Christ who is certain… The external signs…are these: to enjoy hearing about Christ; to teach, give thanks, praise, and confess Christ, even at the cost of property and life; to do one’s duty according to one’s calling, in faith and joy; not to take delight in sin; not to invade someone else’s calling but to serve one’s own; to help the needy, comfort the sorrowful, etc. By these signs we are assured and confirmed… that we are in a state of grace.



Or, in short, to bear God’s life and light ourselves.


Each of us a theotokos, all of us, together, bearing God.


We rejoice that…when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.


1 Robert Farrar Capon, The Fingerprints of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), page 101.
2 Robert Jenson, "For Us…He was Made Man" in Nicene Christianity, ed. Christopher Seitz (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2002), p. 83

Knowing where they live: Young Adults

Jul 20, 2015

GCTblogquoteI have grown lonely in the church. Although God is very present, my peers and young adult friends are often missing from this ecclesiastical journey with me. I invite them and they attend sporadically. Most aren’t interested in being consistently connected to a church. They are not lost; I know exactly where they are. In fact, most of my friendships and connections to young adults occur when I leave the church on Sunday and rush to brunch, the park, yoga, spin/cycle class, etc.


A Time Magazine article (May 2013) about "Millennials" did what older generations have done throughout history: called the younger generation lazy, shallow, and entitled narcissists. I truly think we have to refrain from stereotyping this generation. In light of the statistics and glaring realities, the truth remains that young adults are absent in the pews. The day has passed when many young adults would seek out the church as an institution to belong. If we expect numerous young adults to invade the church, we may be waiting forever. There are just absolutely too many other things captivating their interests. As I do each week, the church must rush to engage this group and be found where the action is.


In order to reach anyone, especially young adults, with the gospel, serious attention should be given to showing the relevance of the Gospel to his or her experience. Things are moving so fast, and the younger population has developed survival skills that protect them in the ever-changing world. There is a strong culture of tentativeness about life. Too often their daily experience reveals the brevity of life. They understand that if they are going to succeed they must go for it now. Whether one agrees or disagrees with their value-choices, one thing is sure: they pursue what they believe is right for them to be and have. What does the church have to offer them?


Everyday young adults are making significant contributions to our communities. As seen in the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter Movements, they are no longer satisfied with only watching things happen around them, but want to participate in making things happen and shaping the outcome. As we approach the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Church in 2017, I am afraid that we will pay far too much attention to monuments, relics, and iconic records of the history of Lutheranism when we need to revisit the power of the reforming movement as a way of being church together. That’s one of the strongest values of our history that deeply connects us to younger generations. Our church looks to participate in the global community of change.



Jesus said to the Church in the city of Pergamum, "I know where you live," (Revelation 2:13, NIV), and so we must be prepared to say the same to our young adults in our communities, regions, and towns. We must know where they live. We should listen to the joys and sorrows that each one encounters. We must go where they are and share in their lives without judgment. We must pay more attention and respond to their fears, concerns, and desires. And when we do, and they know that we do, they will be ready to hear the message of salvation that we bring. Those moments and connections may never look like the church that we once knew, but it will be a great fellowship of believers-yes the church of Jesus Christ.


Still, hope for tomorrow

Jan 18, 2015

mlkwellsFor months, I have been in deep reflection on how to make proclamation concerning the tense and uncomfortable climate of socio-political challenges and moral protests in our front yard, New York City. As a pastoral leader, recent events have troubled my spirit and kept me awake at night. We are all faced with these current realities in our synod. Many in our own congregations and communities are experiencing the present-day mood as a nightmare when we hoped to be in a season of pleasant dreams. So my personal challenge has been to get relief from the nightmares and to dream again.

In his well-known "I Have a Dream" speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. begins: "I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream." Still? In spite of the harsh realities of his day, Dr. King still was able to dream. That’s a powerful resilience that comes from God. The power of King’s dream existed in how strongly he believed in it and he dedicated his life to help make it happen. In his speech, King outlined his vision of the future as good news that shall be manifested in a soon-coming reality. This encouraged many to still have hope for tomorrow. This a good model to help us minister and engage the world around us.

What does the life of Dr. King teach us today in our struggle of spreading the gospel amidst social injustices, political turmoil, and religious intolerance? He was born in 1929 as Michael King, but in 1935 his father changed both of their names to Martin Luther to honor the German Protestant reformer. In the very spirit of Martin Luther, Dr. King preached that "the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society." In the spirit of reform, he became a radical revisionist who argued that the basic institutions of American life must be made over in equality and fairness to even the poorest citizens. That is the very essence and embodiment of our call to follow Christ’s purpose in Luke 4:18: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free."

King’s approach was non-violent resistance, heavily inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s movement leading to the decolonization of India and Pakistan. He believed "Jesus Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, and Gandhi furnished the method." If we listen closely, this becomes a relevant strategy even today. The world has increased its strategies for war, and we must lift up our strategy of peace. The temperament of society revolves around physical conflict, violent aggression, emotional bullying, and verbal brutality. Our counter-cultural motivation ought to actively resist these social pressures by bringing the public to the light of ‘love in action.’ How will the world know we are the Christian church? By our love. When in Montgomery, Alabama as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, King spoke a great wisdom: "We must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all of our actions...Love is one of the pinnacle parts of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice, and justice is really love in calculation."

We must sincerely dream for a better New York, and in Christ, hope for the fulfillment of peace as a promise of God. The Lord is at work in us, and it’s a matter of believing in that work and following it with our actions. As proclaimers of the gospel, we can learn a lot from Dr. King in our journey together as a synod, and find strength in God’s promise to fulfill God’s work through our loving hands.


Bring back our girls

May 09, 2014

After hearing about the horrific act of terrorism in Nigeria, I brought it up to the collective conversation of the Metropolitan New York Synod staff and volunteers during a recent daily chapel service. Many of those present, along with Bishop Robert Rimbo, shared in concerned pleas, prayers, and thoughts for the return of these 200+ Nigerian girls who were unjustly abducted and kidnapped by the Boko Haram group on April 14, 2014 in the northeastern town of Chibok.


When any atrocity occurs in our world we must respond. How we respond is often the divine question. Resonating with the famed words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere;" therefore we call our churches and community to prayer, faithful action, and protest. 


Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and premiere economy, with one of the largest defense budgets in western Africa. It is a country that exists with multiple religious communities, although primarily Islamic (north) and Christian (south). It is our prayer for a strong sense of religious pluralism to be developed in the heart of all believers regardless of the faith tradition or practice. We stand against any strategies of violence and extremism, and we encourage attitudes and policies of diversity that protect freedom and co-existence in society.


Although Nigeria had originally been lethargic in its response, President Goodluck Jonathan's administration (Nigeria’s President) recently welcomed offers of help from many in the world community in the military's search and rescue effort. We want these girls brought back home safely. It is in the spirit of justice and love for all humankind that we encourage our United States government and the United Nations to offer support by the "best" means necessary to "bring back our girls." Our hope is that the actions for recovery of these children to their parents will neither result in increased imperialism and militarism in Africa nor undermine the democratic process in Nigeria. In fact, we stand with our Nigerian brothers and sisters who are challenging, protesting, and taking to task their own elected officials to address the plight of each missing girl. It is in all of our hands to collectively seek justice for these girls and their families. 


We hope that the following litany from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference will be a valuable resource for your worship and ministry experiences this Sunday and the coming weeks.


Let us pray:


A Litany for the Stolen, Enslaved, and Raped Daughters of Nigeria

Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference


Weep for the Daughters of Zion, oh people! We weep for them and for the stolen daughters and sisters of Nigeria! Cry for all the daughters and sisters stolen, enslaved, and raped across the ages! We cry for you, daughters of Africa and daughters of God! We pray to the God of heaven for justice!

We speak your names!


We mourn and cry loud because of the vicious attacks that claim lives and human dignity. Mourn, people! You are OUR daughters! You are ALL our daughters! We say, SHAME on any who have harmed you and harm you still. We pray for justice! We demand it! Of the militant slavers who kidnapped you and who harm your spirits! We demand it of governments who can help!

We speak your names! We call you sacred! We say you’re blessed. We will NOT stop looking for you! We will continue to pray for you! We will be a part of your healing as you return, daughters! For you are OUR daughters and sisters! You are ALL our daughters and sisters!


We speak your names! We call you sacred! We call you blessed and holy! We pray to the God of love to wrap you in tender mercies and to protect your soul in your captivity, daughters! We pray for your safe return! We will NOT stop praying!

We will NOT stop looking for you! For you are our daughters and sisters! You are ALL our daughters and sisters!


Weep, oh people! And work for justice! Cry loud and do not cease to worry heaven and earth until our daughters are saved! Work, oh people! And do not stop until our daughter’s lives are redeemed from the slavers, from the kidnappers!

We pray for the kidnappers that their hearts will not harden and that they will be convicted to do what is just and moral. We pray for justice! We pray they will be merciful! We pray they will repent! We pray they will be stopped! Daughters, we will not stop praying and working!


We speak your names! You are sacred, our daughters and sisters! Daughters of Nigeria and the entire world! We will pray for justice! We will live for justice! We will work for it! For you are OUR daughters! You are ALL our daughters!

We speak your names! We call you sacred! We call you precious! You are OUR daughters! You are ALL our daughters! Amen! Ase! And it is so!


A Litany for the Stolen, Enslaved, and Raped Daughters of Nigeria

© Valerie Bridgeman


African-American Heritage Month: Remembering Our Lutheran Legacy

Feb 13, 2014

Each year during the month of February in the United States we celebrate African American History Month.  This is a time to share with the world the many contributions of African descendants in America. These contributions are often excluded or inadequately represented within recorded American history.

In my travel and casual conversations, I am often asked why I am serving in a "white" denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). My answer: "I am here because it’s my spiritual and theological home, and because I am called to serve God’s mission in this particular church context." My story as an African American and my Christian faith is nurtured by Lutheranism’s focus on God’s grace. Although I may be considered by many as an outsider or newcomer to this tradition, as an African American, history records I am not. Dating back to 1669, African Americans, enslaved and/or free, became members of the Lutheran congregations in New York and New Jersey. In fact, African-American Lutherans have been in this country for more than 350 years, longer than many European Lutheran immigrants.

I believe that African American History month is important for all Americans. The month-long celebration engages the history of African Americans and cultivates awareness and understanding. We are all tied together by the circumstance of history.

In spite of the effects of slavery, negative stereotypes in the media, internalized oppression, and covert racism even in a "post-racial" society, the framework of Lutheran theology helps many African Americans discern God’s directions and activities in their lives and in the communities in which they live.

Lutheranism in New York has been a catalyst for change in our world and produced African-American judges such as Dan Joy of New Hope Lutheran Church, Jamaica, and Laura Douglas of Church of the Abiding Presence, Bronx.  Our heritage has given to the City of New York Archie Spigner, who served in the New York City Council for 15 years. Archie was a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church, St. Albans. This great history of New York Lutheranism produced Richard Parsons, former CEO of Time Warner Corporation. As a cradle Lutheran, Parsons was confirmed by Pastor Winston Bone at Incarnation Church (now New Hope) in Queens. Dr. Nelson Strobert, retired professor of Christian education in the Paulssen Hale Chair for Church and Society at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, came to faith and maturity as a member of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Flatbush, Brooklyn. 

Although not always an easy road to trod, New York Lutherans have the distinction of ordaining the first African American who served as a pastor in American Lutheranism. On October 24, 1832, Jehu Jones Jr. was ordained at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Matthews. Jehu Jones would later develop the first African American mission church, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Philadelphia circa 1836.  

Lutherans in New York ordained the second African American when Daniel Payne received ordination by the Franckean Synod at Fordsboro, New York in 1839. Daniel Payne, who received formal education at the Gettysburg Seminary, was the first African American college president. He was named President of Wilberforce University, Zenia, Ohio in 1863. Payne also holds the distinction of serving as the sixth bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

History shows African Americans have been a part of the New York scene for a very long time. They often were key players in the life of their communities. I invite you to celebrate this great heritage of faith and struggle, along with survival and triumph during African American History Month 2014. Much of our story as Lutherans in America is a part of New York history.



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