"Men in Our Lives: A Litany for Father's Day" opened the service. The congregation recited, "Blessed are you, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, wellspring of all generations. As did our fathers in ages past, so we, too, praise You for this day, O God." Pastor Hallerberg read the litany: "With Adam, father of humanity, and with Noah, who heeded the Lord's command and trusted his promise and saw the sign of hope." "Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard," responded the congregation throughout. The litany continued, from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, down through Joseph, Moses, David, Isaiah, Job ("who lost his children and turned to the Lord"), and Joseph. It ran through Washington, Lincoln, M.L. King, and Bill Cosby ("who teaches us to keep a sense of humor as we raise our children..."). And it concluded with the names of "men of faith who came to this church to worship" and an invitation to name men for whom we were thankful. The congregation responded with a gentle murmuring of names.
After the reading from Scripture, Hallerberg moved on to the Sermon in a Sack, "a time when someone brings up something important to them in a sack, and it's my job...to connect it to God's love for us, our love for God and one another." About a dozen children came forward and sat on the Sanctuary stairs as he opened the envelope his wife had brought up. He removed a Father's Day card and two photo-quality copies from a Bible owned by J.S. Bach, complete with the composer's notes in the margins. Hallerberg thanked his wife -- he's a big Bach fan -- and asked the children why we celebrate Father's Day.
"We celebrate having our dads."
"We celebrate how much they work."
"Because God is also our dad, and we celebrate Him."
Hallerberg answered them, "The reason it's so important is because of children. The way God talks to us at the very beginning is as His children. The neatest thing about God, who is our Father, and our fathers, is that they love us."
The children stood, and Joan Schwartz introduced them, noting that over the course of their Sunday-school year, "they've learned to pray; they've learned the power of prayer.... Some of them have taken up prayer partners. They pray together, and they realize, 'Wow, prayer is really answered.... They're coming more and more to be filled with a love of God and an understanding of how they can help in the world." Then the children sang "You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore." It was one of at least seven hymns, though the only one joined by guitar instead of organ.
The Gospel recounted the parable of the sower whose seed "would sprout and grow he does not know how," and also the parable of the mustard seed, which starts off "the smallest of all seeds" and "grows up to become the mightiest of all shrubs." Both images described the kingdom of God, and Hallerberg's sermon quoted Martin Luther, asking, "What does this mean?" Hallerberg's answer: the kingdom "is about God at work in His world. Jesus says it's built into the seed. It comes without our prayer. It doesn't depend on us; it depends on God. Whenever we talk about the kingdom, the main thing we're talking about is the king. I had a professor who gave me what I think is the best definition of the kingdom of God: all the bother that God goes to establish His rule in our hearts and lives."
He then associated his way from the kingdom to mustard seeds planted along El Camino Real ("the royal highway" between the California missions), which "got you where you needed to go: to worship God, to have something to eat, to find a community. Where do you go and how do you get there? These are kingdom questions.... God is at work, even without our prayer, establishing His rule."
During the prayer before communion, Hallerberg invoked seeds again: "as grain scattered on the hillside becomes one bread, so let your church be gathered from the ends of the earth that all may be fed with the bread of life, Your Son."
What happens when we die?
"Somehow or another," says Hallerberg, "the message of Jesus is always, 'What are we doing now that we are alive?' Having said that, what happens when we die is what has continued to be the case during our life, and that is: the grace of God at work in our lives and in His world, and better things are yet to come.... God's growth is going to continue. It's going to be His secret, and we're going to get to watch it from the inside out instead of from the outside in."
1111 Fifth Street, Coronado
Denomination: Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (with an ecumenical tone)
Founded locally: 1956
Senior pastor: James Hallerberg, S.T.M.
Congregation size: 160
Staff size: 1 full-time
Sunday school enrollment: 40
Annual budget: around $190,000
Weekly giving: around $3600 (10 percent given to charitable outreaches such as the Heifer Project)
Singles program: no
Dress: dressy-casual, many skirts, many button-down shirts, some jackets and ties.
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: 10:15 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes