INTERIM PASTOR JEFFERY BONN
I’ve been a pastor for 10 years. After going to Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa with my wife, I served as pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Saginaw for 8 years while my wife served as a deacon (rostered lay minister) at Covenant Hospital heading up their Department of Pastoral Care & Education.
We have two sons who went to high school in Freeland where we live. The oldest is married now in Milwaukee, WI working fulltime in the architecture field while finishing his degree part-time. The younger is engaged after finishing a teaching degree at Spring Arbor University near Jackson. He’s currently teaching middle school math and science full-time now near the school district that he did student teaching.
My first career was as a mathematician and professor using degrees from Lehigh University, Indiana University/Bloomington and Southern Illinois University/Carbondale and teaching at University of North Dakota/Grand Forks, Mayville (ND) State University, and Michigan Tech.
While in Houghton, my wife and I discerned God’s call for us each to go into professional ministry. We had met in graduate school while she got her Ph.D. and became a math educator and professor. But she found God turning her towards ministry as a chaplain and I towards pastoral parish ministry. Before we graduated from seminary, she was offered her head chaplaincy position in Saginaw. And so we headed back to Michigan where she grew up (born near Detroit, growing up in Holland). I waited several months before starting my ordained ministry in Saginaw.
While ending 8 years of ministry in Saginaw, I wanted to use my gifts for ministry in a different way than long-term pastoral ministry. So I took the first course in Interim Ministry for leaders helping congregations going through change, particularly while they are in-between long-term “settled” pastors. After that I served with two congregations in the Rogers City area (Trinity and St. James) who shared me as their part-time interim pastor about 3 days a week. While there I completed the Interim Ministry training with the second, more-intensive course.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
We had fun at a recent bible study session. I think we always have some fun at the bible studies I’m involved with through Prince of Peace. We try to keep things lighthearted and enjoyable. But we had some fun this time trying to uncover what Martin Luther was getting at with one of his surprising quotes. “Be a sinner and sin boldly! But believe and rejoice in Christ all the more boldly.” We had fun with the thought of me using that as part of the final sending at the end of worship! How would people react if I said at the closing: “Go in Peace. Be a sinner. And sin boldly!” (Thanks be to God)?
The section of the book we were looking at actually took a couple of pages to finally explain the con-text of how and why Martin Luther said such a troubling statement. It comes from Luther’s own experience of trying to confess his sins, every single one of them, and then performing acts of penance well enough to take away the weight of his imperfections. His obsession with this drove him and his confessor literally crazy.
But Luther realized through deep experiences with scripture that we can not do anything to make us worthy of God’s forgiveness. God’s love is the only thing that makes us worthy. And even though we cannot be perfect, we are still perfectly loved by God through Jesus Christ. Luther realized that we don’t have to be perfect to be right with God. And the obsessive pursuit of perfection can be distracting from that.
It was in that context with a colleague and friend who was unable to make an important decision because he didn’t see any good options, that Martin said “There is never a perfect option – period. Everything involves sin in some way – period. So choose the best choice you can, imperfect and sinful though it may be, and give it your all. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly!”
This is related to one of thirteen Lutheran concepts the bible study is looking at in a book that says those concepts could be helpful perspectives for many people in the complex world of the 21st century. This one is titled “Perfection is not the Point” and uses the Lutheran perspective that we are both saint and sinner often at the very same time. And this can be one of the great gifts of Lutheran teaching. In a complex world, Lutherans recognize that there are not often simple solutions.
And I see this as potentially helpful particularly in the conflicted times we seem to be in. People are taking extreme positions on both ends of spectrums, claiming they are right and the others are wrong. There is a tendency towards black-and-white perspectives and not acknowledging that reality is almost always grey. I’ve heard a sarcastic quote about how “reasonable” these keepers of extreme positions can be. “I’m fine if someone disagrees with me… as long as they realize they’re still wrong!”
I can see that, for quite a while, such extreme black-and-white perspectives have been disrupting productive work on dealing with important issues in our country. I can also see as a pastor how absolute views on what are thought to be religious issues can tear apart families. I even saw it in my previous career as a mathematics researcher and teacher, which many assume that mathematics is about as black-and-white a topic as there is. But it’s actually not really, and that is one reason my life pursuit changed to ministry. (I’d love to talk more about that with anyone interested, but I won’t bore you with all that mathematical jargon here.)
Because the Lutheran perspective is that life, real life, is not black-and-white. There are no perfect options – period. And realizing that, and knowing that God loves us even though we are imperfect and forgives us, frees us to mess around in the complicated, dangerous grey areas (like the interim/transitional times of congregations!) where the truly important work of God in the world takes place and where there are no easy answers. We are freed to “sin boldly” because of the second and more important part of the quote, because we “believe/(trust) in Christ even more boldly!”
With gratitude for the good news of the Trinity, Interim Pastor Jeff Bonn
(and with acknowledgement to Dave Daubert, the author whose book we are using and whose concepts and some wording I used above)