Sitting down there this morning, I had the benefit of a fan, but I noticed that there were lots of other people that didn't have that benefit. And I remembered that two of my favorite theologians, coming from Minnesota are Lars and Ole. I remember the time that Ole invited Lars to go deer hunting as I do every November. Ole was such an avid deer hunter that they went out in the dark. He got stationed right in front of this tree in the dark - he knew there was a tree behind him. He waited for the sun to come up. Boy, you know, it's cold in Minnesota, but when the sun comes up in November, it can get mighty warm. There hadn't been any snow yet and the sun came up and here you've got to picture this guy in his blaze-orange insulated coveralls and his long winter underwear and all that stuff. He's standing there in front of the tree, the sun is beating down on him and the sweat starts to pour off of him, and he's looking around, waiting for a deer. He looks down and don't you suppose he's standing in the middle of a cow pie in the pasture. And he called with this pathetic cry to Ole, "come here, come here." And Ole came over and he said, "What's the problem, Lars?" He said, "I t'ink I'm melting." I thought you need a little humor and that's humor Minnesota style. Some of you probably thought you were melting down there this morning. It's neat to be here.
I have to say it's a special privilege for me to be up here tonight. As you heard, back in 1984, I made my weekend. I was then in Brainerd, Minnesota. Some of you have heard of that. That's that vacationland up in the middle of the state by that Mille Lacs Lake that on the map looks like a half-dollar. The weekend I went to was down in southern Minnesota - 200 miles away. I have to tell you that I wasn't very excited about going. Some of those folks that are here know that. A couple of ladies came in and they wouldn't take no for an answer. They wanted to use our church, and they wouldn't use the church unless I had been through a weekend, and that was the only one we could work in. And so I was kind of trapped and I said, "well, okay, I'll go." I went. My sponsor was an Episcopal priest and he said, "I will drive you down." Now that's 200 miles away. Now in Minnesota you can throw a stick and find a Cursillo church almost. There are a lot closer ones than that. I said, "you got to be kidding. That's the lousiest stewardship I've heard of in my life. You're going to drive me down and come back and then come down and get me? Foolishness! I'll drive myself down." So I did, but I had told those when I went, "I don't know what this is, but if I don't like it, my car's out there in the parking lot, and I'll just quietly walk away and talk to you later." Well I got there and discovered here were lay people who knew how to give and give and give. They gave love, they gave grace and here were pastors involved who loved to see parishioners of theirs and other lay people who were alive in their faith. I determined when I went I was going to kind of lay back, let go and let God - and by golly, it worked! And I came back feeling it was a good weekend. I wasn't flying high, but it was a good weekend. It's always great to have the chance after you've worked weekends - that's where it really got to me. I still can't, on Saturday evening in our setting, I still can't be on a team and head for those doors and pop into that beautiful setting with the empty chair for Jesus without getting all choked up. I have to stop singing. That's when it got to me - when I worked on a team. But it's always great to have a chance to speak about something you believe in. I wasn't delighted to attend the weekend, but it turned out to be very special to me and so I hope as I share with you tonight that just as we received palanca on that weekend what I might share might be palanca to you. It's humbling to be here, and yet it's gratifying.
You just heard about the topic. Somebody suggested that I ought to have put a TUMS at every plate tonight. I thought, that would be a real slam to the cooks, wouldn't it? It might have fit the topic, but it wouldn't have been very nice for our cooks. You might have wondered, "What in heaven's name is he talking about twenty years of heartburn - aren't we here to celebrate?" Each one of us is a composite of our experiences and our responses to them. You are, and I am.
Let me tell you a little bit about mine. I grew up in a parsonage, having been born up in northern Minnesota - not as far as Canada, but you could see it almost from there. Grew up in a parsonage, my father was a Swedish immigrant pastor who came from the old country at the age of eighteen and came to Duluth, lived with some relatives at Christmas-time didn't have any money for gifts so he went down into central park in Duluth, cut down some Christmas trees took them home on the streetcar and sold them to the rich folks up on the hill there in Duluth.
Then, at that age, he went to Gustavus and began one grade below the kindergarten in preparation for college and ultimately seminary. I finished Gustavus in 1960 and was committed to go to the seminary when my dad and mother had made a trip to Sweden. When they came back, Dad was behaving kind of strangely. We discovered that he had ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease. That summer, just before I went to seminary, just after Doreen and I were married, on August 1st my father passed away from ALS. I still to this day don't understand that disease, but those of you who are sports fans hear Kent Hrbek talk about it - his father died of ALS, too. At his funeral, Dr. Walter E. Carlson - then the bishop of the synod where he was buried, in Red River Valley. Dr. Carlson spoke on a text that I want to have you write in your mind: Luke 24 verse 32, and I've never forgotten that. That funeral sermon has shaped me since I heard that. Some of you know that for us pastors it's much tougher to preach on Sunday morning than it is at a tough funeral because at a tough funeral people are really listening to make sense out of what's going on. On Sunday morning they could be home listening to one of these TV preachers who runs three preachers through as his first, second and third points as I once heard done, but a funeral you're ready to listen and this stuck with me. This is that Road to Emmaeus Walk - I bet you thought I was betraying Cursillo. No, this is that road to Emmaeus walk. You remember, that conversation between Jesus and these two men who were so downcast that they hadn't realized who it was they were walking with after His resurrection. In the course of that conversation, He opened to them what had been happening. He told them, "are you the only two in Jerusalem who don't know what's been going on?" And then it ended up in verse 32 with this statement by the men, "Did not our hearts burn within us as He opened to us the scriptures and as He walked with us on the road?"
Dr. Carlson used that beautifully in my father's funeral sermon - a pastor with a very thick brogue who often was disappointed; nobody said, "I really liked your sermon," but people would say, "I just loved your brogue." He did a good job with that and it touched me deeply and so for four parishes now I've preached on that text, no matter what's assigned when I've come in the first Sunday, and I've told them probably the next time you hear me preach on this text is the day I resign, because I think that's a great epitaph for a pastor: "Did not our hearts burn within us as He opened to us the Scriptures and as He walked with us on the road?" Cause a little heartburn - that's our job, pastors. You know, it occurred to me why shouldn't this be true for you lay people as well.
I got neat accommodations here. I'm about thirty minutes out along the river. The nice lady came in last night and gave me a ride home and gave me the keys to her car for the next two days and said, "there's four beds upstairs ' take your pick and I'm busy working and in the process of going home she told me about teaching a course at her church. She was teaching a course on this whole new age theology because some of her family had gotten involved with it. I was delighted to hear that kind of attempt by a lay person because in the process of that teaching a few hearts burned within them, as she opened the scriptures and talked with them along the way.
My talk is really supposed to be about twenty years of Via de Cristo/Cursillo. And how has it been successful or effective in those twenty year? I submit that it's been effective first of all because it's opened for us the scriptures. I don't know many people who go to Cursillo who aren't church-attenders. They tell us in our synod that we should look for people who aren't lost and wandering, but people who are active in a church. In fact, I have to sign that they're a member of our church to go in Minnesota. Most of us have been hearing the Scriptures, we've been reading the scriptures, we've been studying the scriptures, but there's something about hearing them explained on that weekend that opens to us the scriptures and with all due respect to us pastors it isn't what we say, necessarily that does that. The whole weekends open to us the scriptures. The chapel services, the Eucharists that we share, the rollos - all of them, not just the grace rollos but all of them open to us the scriptures. The Bible enthronement and dethronement, that special respect given to a book in which the Christ has been cradled. That focus upon the scriptures and the Christ cradled in them is the foundation of what we do. And therefore, the Scriptures in a special new and direct way are opened to us.
I remember having received in my office one day from someone a little card. On this card, it said in beautiful English (and I have it stuck away somewhere). I had it up for awhile and then changed the scenery, but it said, "Always keep the main thing the main thing!" Always keep the main thing the main thing. Opening of the Scriptures is a main thing we'd all agree, and Cursillo keeps that a main thing in the way we do things.
But there's a second facet to it. Did not our hearts burn within us not only as Christ opened to them the scriptures but as He walked with them along the road. And as he walks with us along the road. I'm in a unique parish: it's the old Swedish cathedral in Minneapolis. You heard talk this morning as I introduced our bishop from this area about the old Augustana congregation and the old Augustana Synod - the old Swedish synod. The church I get to serve, and I find that a real privilege, is the old cathedral church of that synod. Its glory days are over. It's now lots of hard work and struggle, but it's still a neat place to be and our people love to do Scripture study.
We can get fifty people crowded into a little room, so that we have the problem that we had downstairs Wednesday night or during a forum on Sunday morning to do Bible study - and that's marvelous! But we need to remember that while it's wonderful to know Jesus and to dig into the scriptures that isn't the full story. Paul Harvey has a phrase, "the rest of the story." And the rest of the story is not just opening the scriptures but walking on the road and that's something that I found in Cursillo that delighted me. Walking on the road.
Dr. Herbert Chilstrom, back when he was bishop in Minnesota, wrote an article in our newsletter for pastors and the article was entitled "Ora and labora." Pray and labor. That's the same thought that Luther shares when he says to us as Christians "Pray as though everything depended upon God and then work like it all depends upon you, and somewhere in that mix, God's work will get done."
A seminary friend giving his chapel talk quoted a poem that stuck with me and that's - you got to remember, that's 28 years ago - 29, 30 even, because it was before I finished seminary, he was a year ahead of me. This was the statement he used. "It ain't the 'igh 'urdle what 'urts the 'orse's 'oof, it's the 'ammer, 'ammer, 'ammer on the 'ighway."
The high hurdle is sometimes that discovery in scripture - that "Aha!" passage that jumps out as we say, "Oh, isn't that marvelous?" but the hammer, hammer, hammer on the highway is going home that night and going to work that next day with the co-worker you can't stand or with the neighbor who lets his dog run across your yard and water your favorite fruit tree - that's when the high hurdle becomes incidental to the hammer, hammer, hammer of the living on life's highway. The rollos that I've heard always seem to share that hammer, hammer, hammer on the highway and they relate to the learning that's taken place in scripture, but I found and many have found on a Cursillo weekend that the kind of bold unfettered sharing of the pain that's in someone's life - and not in a "can you top this?" kind of Salvation Army or city mission story, but in an honest sharing of "this was the pain that I went through before I somehow discovered God had a hold of me and was able to let my life into His hands. People honestly share their pain and their joy and the way in which God has been part of that life and has worked through them. As they do that, trust develops. It's amazing the trust that develops on a weekend, and that's why as spiritual directors often we end up off in a corner for two or three hours with someone whose finally found someone they can trust enough to share that and I'm happy to say that I notice that often it's the rectors and the assistants that are off talking with someone. Why? Because in that setting, trust develops and they begin to share with one another.
Why is Via de Cristo, why is Cursillo effective? The capstone to me, in addition to what I've just said, is that those people are authentic and they're believable. Somewhere in your stuff, I understand you've got something about a "Moms-in-Transition" weekend. It just happened that it was out of our particular community that a couple of our staff said, "if this can do such wonders for people like you and me, just think what it could do for these inner city moms who are twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, with four kids and when they go to the laundromat have to cart them along. What would it be like for them to go through a weekend where they could come out at the end of the week and discover how many people love them? And so, Moms-in-Transition was brought to the council and they were bold enough to try it. And the fourth one, I believe will be held at our church in March, and the changes I've seen in the lives of the people who have gone through those weekends are phenomenal.
The black mother who said, couldn't wait to tell me on a Wednesday night at one of our Bible studies how after she went through her weekend she came back to pick up her kids and took 'em home and she was a little tired (some of you were, too, after your weekend). She had been on the weekend. She took her kids and took them home and she was going to quickly tuck them into bed after saying "Good night" and they said, "no, we can't do that. We have to read a chapter of the Bible together." These children had been adopted by a couple out in the suburbs - had a holiday - and the children and mom and dad sat down every night and read a chapter of the Bible and this Bobbie said, "I can't go to bed at night any more until we read a chapter of the Bible together. These people are believable". I've heard black and native American and lower income white mothers talk about being in that group.
The black woman who said, "I looked in there - I was the only black woman there, and I thought this is it. I'm going to get the same old stuff again," and in the end she was telling the story of how by Saturday evening, they forgot what color they were and had a fantastic experience. She said, in effect, "I really am loved just as I am." People that can love in that way are believable people. They shocked her, but it will never be the same in her life because of it. Authentic commitment and love and care are what Via de Cristo and Cursillo are about as I've experience them.
I have to share a story with you. Many years ago, some fancy event like this was coming up and I thought, "what shirt should I wear?" and I realized that they were all kind of shabby. You know, guys how they get kind of cruddy up here around the collar and don't look very good, so I went down to the local J.C. Penney store, because I had loyalty. I put myself through college as a clerk in the men's section at J.C. Penney's and I went in and the clerk was there and I said, "I'd like to see about buying a shirt." He was talking to one of the other clerks and said, "well, the shirts are over there about the fourth aisle. Go over. If you find one, bring it back. I'll be glad to take care of you."
That didn't sit very well with me, so I kind of wandered over there and when he wasn't looking I went out the door and I said, "phooey, if you don't care any more than that, I'm not going to buy your shirt."
And so I went down the street to Skogmo's - you maybe haven't heard of that - we had them in Minnesota at one time. I went down the street to this other store and walked in and I asked about a dress shirt, and I told him about what I wanted. "Well," the guy said, "I think we might have something to fit you." He excused himself and he walked over and said, "here are the shirts and the prices are on them, and look them over and if you see something that looks good, come back to me with it." I thought, "what kind of salesmanship is this?" When he wasn't looking I walked out of the store and went down to this third store.
I walked in and the clerk practically met me at the door. He said, "my good man, what can I do for you today?" I said, "I'm looking for a dress shirt."
"Come this way," and he took me by the arm and he walked me over where the dress shirts were and said, "now what do you want?" I told him what I wanted and I hardly got it out of my mouth and he had four shirts out there, and he showed me these and he started to tell me about them and the material they were made out of. Good shirts, quality shirts, and I was so impressed I saw one of them that would fit the color of my suit and I said, "that one will be fine."
"Not so fast," he said. "I want you to know that that shirt is made of polyester/cotton - something that was long wearing - this was fifteen years ago, and he said I want you to know that the collar and cuffs on that shirt are guaranteed for ten years. I'd already said I wanted the shirt. I said, "that's pretty nice - ten years." "Yep," he said. "Any problem with that collar and cuffs, you bring that shirt back and we'll replace it within ten years." Now, boy there's a salesman that's sold on what he's doing, I thought. And so I bought the shirt. I've often thought about that. Wow! A shirt that could be guaranteed for ten years and you know he was right. That's the shirt I've got on tonight!
(Suit coat removed, exposing a shredded body on shirt)
I find people in Cursillo are son convinced about what they're doing. They're like that shirt salesman. And finally, people who are sold on Christ and are open to His Spirit coming in to them become committed in the same sort of way. We sometimes come with a preconceived idea of how that spirit ought to work. You've done it on your Cursillo weekends. I've heard some good references to it and it was Carroll this morning that talked about all that adiophera we add around the basic stuff and sometimes we try to program the Spirit. But you know the Spirit's awfully hard to program, isn't He? An open heart has been the key to Cursillo as I've observed it. An open heart on the part of those who come as candidates but more important an open heart on the part of those who work as a team, who may discover and learn more than the candidates did on that weekend.
Many years ago, in about 1973, those of you out of the old LCA tradition, would remember a video, "Where the Water Leads Us." It came out of the national church. That's another thing that stuck with me. It was about baptism. Where do the waters of baptism lead us? And are we willing to follow in the direction that they lead us?
I find more than anywhere else that in the Cursillo movement that people hear that message and follow where the waters of baptism lead them. So why has Via de Cristo and Cursillo been successful or effective? One could point to many things. I've often said, as I said to the bishop today - you people here in Atlanta get with him now - having heard Carroll's talk this morning- that was the Spirit's work - and discovering that one of his sisters is one of the active Cursillistas and excited in Minnesota. I don't think it will be long before the bishop here will want to go - in God's good time as people remind me. But it's one of those places where if you work the plan, it always works! Now people that know me know that I'm a free-lance sort of guy. I don't like to work plans - ask how long it took our leader to get a copy of my outline - he wanted the talk, but I've never written one of these full in a long time.
Finally, we got him the talk - this morning, was that? I'm kind of a hang-loose guy. And when I went to Cursillo and saw that thick manual up there, I said, "uh, uh, Lundgren. This isn't for you." But I've never been a part of something where if you always work the plan, the plan always works. That's one of the reasons why Via de Cristo has been strong. Good committed lay leaders - that's another reason why Via de Cristo has been so strong. I remember the time in Tom Heyd's church there from White Bear Lake when I was working a team with a young man who's now teaching at a seminary over in Africa somewhere. Jonathan Preus was on that team and I came late for the team meeting and walked in and sat down and the team were busy doing something - I had something ahead of time that I had to do. When I sat down he leaned over and he said, "Nate, isn't it wonderful to be a part of something where when they don't know what to do next they don't look at the pastor!" Think about that, pastors. When they don't know what to do next they go to their manual and they talk it over and they don't come and say "pastor, what do we do now?" Good solid lay leadership - that's part of it. Non-professional, lay-inspired movement and non-affiliated. Those bishops who serve now, including your bishop here, received a letter from me on the back of which I put a letter Herb Chilstrom had written me, as he did our president, and in both letters he indicated that it probably would be the death knell of Cursillo if we became affiliated with the church. He said, "you're probably going to fare much better as a movement if you remain the way you are connected with people that cross over, than to become aligned with the church." A strong state or area council or secretariat probably is part of that, too. All of the above are important, but most important is that sound basis in sacred Scripture for study, for discussion, for expanding one's mind in what God would have us do.
Secondly, the walking of the talk on life's road - and not just walking the talk, but sharing that as a witness for others and finally, the commitment to Christ. Sold on grace the way my salesman was sold on that shirt and wouldn't take "No" for an answer. "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be in the midst of them," Christ said. And so the beat goes on. Twenty years - I think back to when I was twenty - I still had a lot to learn. Now that I'm 54, I still have a lot to learn, especially after having a two week old grandson. I've kind of forgotten (because I had only girls) how to take care of a little boy. I've yet to have my first shower, but my wife hasn't been as lucky. But there's still a lot to be learned at age 54.
May God enable us to keep up our focus on the main thing - His love and His grace - for all people. May we not grow weary in well-doing. May God's rich grace be yours and mine now and always. And may we continue for many more years to cause a lot of heartburn. God loves you, and so do I.