2993 Macdonald Street, Oceanside
Pastor: James Jerpseth
Born: Graceville, Minnesota
Formation: University of California-San Diego (Engineering); Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley
Years Ordained: 14 years
San Diego Reader: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?
Pastor James Jerpseth: I think the main concern I have is really for my children and their generation. I have kids that are 13, 11, and 2. I think about what kind of world we’re leaving them. What does it mean when there are fewer people who believe or act in a compassionate manner to those around them? What does that imply for our world, especially as we become a divisive country on so many different levels? The gospels seek to unify and build relations and talks about forgiveness. We live in a country that is bent on dividing itself into different colored states and different political parties; yet we’re called to a completely different message. It’s harder to get that message across and transmit it to the next generation.
SDR: Why is “sin” still a valid concept in your congregation?
PJ: We just went through a whole Lutheran basics course in Sunday school and some of the sermons we had as a reminder that for Lutherans sin is not that list of things your mother told you not to do. Sin is a state of being, a separation from God…. We are on our own, basically, in sin and not in complete relationship with God. But Jesus, who is in complete relationship with God, which is why he’s sinless, is not separated from God. He comes to redeem humanity and bridge that gap back to God, because there’s no way we can go from where we are to where God is on our own.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
PJ: God is a whole lot more gracious than I would ever be, and he is more inviting and open than you or I could imagine. Just like a parent would never want his child to be exiled, God is our heavenly parent and he would not want us to be exiled from him. So, God wishes to draw us back home, just as a parent wants to draw a child back home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I think that desire rules God’s heart more than what congregation or denomination you went to, or whether you said this or that prayer correctly or incorrectly. I think God’s love is more like a parent’s love, and for that reason God is more gracious and forgiving than we can be. He opens the doors we think are shut.
SDR: How does that graciousness and forgiveness relate to the afterlife from the standpoint of heaven and hell?
PJ: If heaven is being with God, then hell is not being with God. That’s a concept I picked up from C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. He says hell is a crack in the sidewalk of heaven, and it’s a place where God isn’t. Only those who wish to be absent from God send themselves there, but God wishes to draw us to heaven, to himself, to eternal life. But, like a parent, God can’t force us to do that. We have some choice in the matter and God wishes us to choose heaven, and he will be more gracious to open the door to heaven than we might think.