Pastoral Ponderings . . . 

I find it helpful for me at least, to remember after 11 years of living and serving in ministry here, that this City is uniquely special to a lot of people around the world.Salt Lake City is the “Rome” of the World-wide Mormon Church. Some folks from Tabor have spent their whole lives here.  Born and raised.  Lutherans who kept this congregation of blessing alive and well, so that “newcomer Lutherans” like us can find an oasis of grace  in the holy city of Zion.

Turns out Tabor is here, Charles Peterson once told me, because of the hospitality of Brigham Young himself.  He donated the land for the original Tabor Lutheran Church to be built on – on Young’s own property -- at the corner of what is now First and E in the Avenues.  My understanding is that when you pass through Eagle Gate on South Temple, all the land quite a ways south and east of the Temple itself, was owned by Brigham Young.   Quite an estate! And he was welcoming to all the Gentile Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Jews who wanted to come.  He welcomed the outsiders, the outliers like us. But that didn’t mean it would be easy for outsiders to make a living here! Mormons notoriously shopped and patronized only Mormon-owned businesses.It was tough to make it, if you weren’t a member of their Church.

Brigham Young was the American Moses of the LDS Church, leading the Mormon refugees through the wilderness of the American West to the promised land of the Wasatch Front -- which back then was the territory of Mexico. History is interesting isn’t it?  Especially in light of present day!Persecuted throughout the Midwest in the mid-19th century, Mormons were refugees, making a home here in this place, outside the United States.America at the time was like ancient Egypt for the Mormons:  a place of persecution, ostracism, and death.  Brigham Young was like Moses leading his people to safety and the Promised Land.                                                                                                                            

In the Old Testament book of Numbers, I hear the origin of the present day administration of the LDS Church:How the Mormon “Quorum of the Seventy” got its name. I learned that the administration of the LDS Church has three main levels:  the First Presidency; the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and the “Quorum of the Seventy” –which gets its name from the story in Numbers 11. The story goes, the Israelites are tired of eating the same old manna from heaven every day.   For years. Remember, they’re wandering around in the wilderness for the metaphorical “40 years” according to the story. And the complaining is getting worse than the hungry kids in the backseat after a 9 hour car trip.  And Moses just loses it!   Just like we do! He says to God, “these are your kids, not mine . . . YOU do something.” Moses needs help.  He’s burned out. He says to God, “If this is the way you’re going to treat me, I wanna die.”

So God says “Bring 70 elders together, and I’ll make them your assistants.   That way, it’s not all on you, Moses.” Now I can imagine Brigham Young having the same issuesin the early days of Salt Lake City, can’t you?   He needed help too. So here we are in Rome, Utah today -- with Moses, the Seventy, and the Twelve!  All the insiders. And I think the deeper takeaway from Numbers 11 is how the outliers, the ones on the margins of the story are the ones also being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good things!                                                                    

I like to think of Mount Tabor as the ELCA congregation in Salt Lake that rolls out the red carpet to the outliers. That really lives the words, walks the talk, when we say “All are invited, welcomed and valued, just as you are, as beloved children of God.” We’re the church that celebrates diversity, and shuns conformity. The congregation that questions authority; even questions our own doctrine, dogmas, and perspectives that might keep us stuck in ways that keep the people of the 21st century from experiencing the liberating news that God is Love, and grace is unconditional in every regard.

I think the Holy Spirit is really here, in this place.I think it’s real, tangible, alive, and growing us in ways we can’t yet even imagine. I think it’s here because I have a sense that’s what God is about:  always subverting the assumption that popularity means greatness.

We sure aren’t as popular as many other churches around us!But that doesn’t mean we are any less. In fact, I think it means we’re like the ones outside the tent  of the 70 elders in Numbers, that Moses calls together to do God’s work. We’re like Eldad and Medad, the ones who were supposed to be at the meeting but for some reason didn’t show up! The ones still back at the camp with the complaining, needy, suffering children of God.  Plugging along.  Doing what needs to be done.  Trying to do the right thing.  Trusting that God is still at work, making a better world for everyone. We’re Eldad and Medad, the outliers and outsiders who receive as much of the Spirit’s power and presence and grace as Moses himself.  We’re like that anonymous miracle-worker in the Gospel of Mark, the one that wasn’t along with the 12 apostles;  who didn’t have a license to practice, but was practicing grace anyway.The 12 apostles complain to Jesus about it. But he’s not having any of it. “Whoever is not against us, is for us” Jesus says.

I think Tabor is like the anonymous worker in that gospel story, saying the reign of God’s love has come near; the reign of God’s peace, justice, wholeness, and healing that the world is looking for.

Eldad and Medad are the ones off the beaten path of cultural conformity.The ones content to be on the outside, finding belonging not by being like everyone else, but being the Body of Christ the way our loving God makes us. Like the great Oscar Wilde once said.  “Be yourself" “Everyone else is taken!”                                                                                                                 

 The Spirit of God empowers not just the insiders, but maybe even especially the outsiders. The outliers, the non-conformists, the ones on the margins.The Spirit of God rested upon Eldad and Medadin the same measure as any of the others.  The Spirit of God empowered the anonymous miracle-worker just as much as any of the 12 apostles. And I believe the Spirit of God rests upon us, here at Tabor, as well:  empowering us in our diversity; strengthening us in our uniqueness; blessing us to be a blessing to those most in need.  Thanks be to God!    -- Pastor David