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Seminex—Living a Consequential Faith

 When I was in seminary in Austin, Texas, I checked out a few books from the library stamped with the name “Christ Seminary-Seminex.”  They had to be old books, classics, which remain worthy to be used in teaching.  I had heard of Seminex, a Lutheran Seminary-in-Exile (that’s where the name comes from), arising from some event that happened in St. Louis when some rebellious students and professors broke away from Concordia Seminary, the institution serving the congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  As a seminarian, I thought it was kinda cool to be holding a piece of history, because I thought that’s what it was: history. 

 

During the ten years I served as a pastor in Texas, I can’t remember the name Seminex coming up very often in conversation between pastors, if ever, honestly.  But here in St. Louis: someone brings up Seminex at least once a week.  It’s living history.  Some of you lived it, or your parents or family members were part of the Seminex walkout. 

 

February 19th marked the 50th anniversary of that fateful student and faculty walkout in 1974, which I’ve learned was a much bigger deal, involving most of the students and faculty.  In February this year, a couple of men and their spouses came here to Gethsemane to worship.  The men had been seminary students who walked out of Concordia Seminary, so they returned to St. Louis from their homes out of town, and they walked the route from Concordia Seminary—which is still training pastors and leaders for the LC-MS church—to the building where the Seminex offices were eventually located on Grand Avenue, before the Seminex program closed in the summer of 1984 and moved the professors to other Lutheran seminaries around the country, especially the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. 

 

Why does this history still matter, fifty years later?  Well, it marked a time of social change and churches were figuring out how to proclaim the Gospel—the good news—in a changing world.  If we ever grow weary of bad news, if we ever tire of hearing the word “unprecented,” perhaps we can be encouraged by the testimonies of our ancestors in faith. 

 

The students and faculty who walked away from their seminary were united in their dedication to Jesus Christ, believing that Christ was calling them to explore the Holy Scriptures in many ways of studying it—beyond a literal interpretation—and also committing themselves to building relationships among churches—relationships between Christian denominations is called ecumenism.  They saw themselves as exiled from their seminary and their faith community because they wished to stay but were being pushed out—professors removed from their positions accused of teaching false doctrine, the beloved seminary president suspended from his position.[1] 

 

They walked away—or were exiled—from their academic studies, from long-time relationships with home congregations, from their campus housing and salaries.  They sacrificed job opportunities to enter an uncertain future, trusting only in God.  Their families can tell you how difficult this was but also how they wouldn’t have done anything different. 

 

This is what it means to lose your life for Christ—it doesn’t always mean death of one’s physical body.  Following Christ can mean many much smaller deaths, maybe even every day, to live a faith that has consequences.  This requires honestly facing your fear, which is probably entirely reasonable, then choosing to move forward anyway with your trust firmly in God.  What follows is the gift of peace, which is a grace from the Holy Spirit, and you’re gonna need it because this peace is the only thing that will sustain you for the long journey ahead. 

 

The whole point of learning the faith stories of our ancestors is not to drag out the relics of the past and congratulate them for what they did long ago.  The point is to explore the process of decision-making—human progress, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, never rolls in on wheels of inevitability![2]  Our ancestors in faith did not sit around and wait for things to happen, so what can we learn from the choices they made?  Where are there similarities or parallels existing in our world now?  Where is God leading us next? 

 

These God questions are vitally important, because sometimes life is complicated and we’re not sure how to respond.  We get overwhelmed, maybe our thinking-brain shuts down and we’re unable to move, we feel isolated and alone in our confusion.  I think this is why Jesus talks about love so much, especially in his last big speech to his disciples at the Last Supper—that’s the part of the Gospel we’ve read today.  It’s like we’re reviewing the lesson again after the big test has already been completed: look at it again and ask, what have we learned? 

 

That love stuff and that fruit-bearing, vine-and-branches-connection stuff just keeps coming up again and again, because it’s important!  And you don’t need a lesson like this while life is great; you need these reminders when life is hard, when you’re feeling down and disconnected. 

 

And listen carefully to Jesus: the message is not, “keep on keepin’ on” or “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” (I’m not even sure how that’s possible, but it’s something people say).  Jesus isn’t saying “no pain, no gain” or “sacrifice yourself to the greater cause.” He’s saying “abide in my love…keep my commandments…that your joy may be complete…love one another.” 

 

In the Working Preacher podcast, Karoline Lewis says that for the disciples of Jesus, the consequences of following him are real, this is not a hypothetical situation—some disciples are getting rejected by their families, which in the ancient world meant losing material support in a society without much of a safety net.  Jesus expects his disciples to develop a sense of friendship and kinship among them; they’re going to need that support when times will get tough in the future. 

 

And Joy  J. Moore responds with this question: what is our passionate longing?  She says,

“The longing is to belong.  And if we forget that, then our communities of faith stop being places that praise God and simply become those places that affirm us.  And we forget why this particular community exists…but when we remember that this community is to bear witness to God, then we see what happens when the people get together.  And it is that God is named, that God is proclaimed, that God is witnessed to, and most of all, that God is acknowledged and praised.  And in our post-theistic world, that’s risky.”[3]

 

We’re not here because we’re the same or because we passed some test of faith.  We’re not here because we earned our way in or because we made ourselves acceptable to God—we’re sinners who can’t even pretend to make ourselves acceptable!  It’s God’s love and God’s grace that redeems us and makes us who we are.  It’s God’s love that connects us and makes us a family of one another, united in the sacrament of Holy Baptism and sustained by the sacrament of Holy Communion. 

 

And yeah we live out this faith with a particular Lutheran flair—an appreciation for learning and asking questions and deep devotion in relationship with God that trusts God really can handle the questions.  Even if we still have ELCA Lutherans and Missouri-Synod Lutherans who don’t agree on theology, we’re still like branches connected to the same God who is the vine.  Or I wonder if maybe we’re more like aspen trees that look like a bunch of individual, separate plants but actually share a huge underground root system that continually sends out shoots.  We could play with this metaphor for a long time. 

 

The Seminex program had a logo: a drawing of a tree stump in the ground, with a small branch sprouting up from it, shaped like a cross, covered with leaves—evidence of new growth.  If there’s a message during the Easter season, it’s about new life, persistent growth.

 

Thanks be to God for the grace that keeps us rooted in God’s goodness in the Word, that unites us as family and as friends into the Body of Christ, that includes the communion of saints–all those who lived lives of consequential faith, who lived for the joy of abiding in Christ.  May God grant us such grace and peace. 


Amen. 

Pastor Cheryl

 


[1] “Seminex: Memories of a Church Divided,” a 45-minute documentary by Tim Frakes, is available on YouTube https://youtu.be/kb-Zr0ETRs0?si=Ys1aMFR75L5yHU1K

2 Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, quoted in Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/804095-human-progress-never-rolls-in-on-wheels-of-inevitability-it “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

[3] Joy J. Moore in the Sermon Brainwave podcast #963: Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2024, https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/963-sixth-sunday-of-easter-may-5-2024



 


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