James West: “God wants us in heaven, although he does give people the option to get the hell out. I believe there are people who can’t stand everything being okay.”
7250 Eckstrom Avenue, San Diego
Membership: 45 (regular attendance)
Pastor: James West
Born: Bismarck, ND
Formation: Northwestern University, Evansville, IL; Lutheran Seminary, St. Paul, MN
Years Ordained: 32
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?
Pastor James West: Usually, I get a good kernel of an idea by Wednesday and flesh it out by Friday. I let it germinate for a little bit and do my best to preach it extemporaneously on Sunday. I try to make it as close to a narrative as possible, either doing my best to bring the congregation into that 1st-century world of the early church or finding ways to bring that 1st-century world into the 21st-Century.
SDR: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?
PW: The love, the grace, and the forgiveness of God. People have such a hard time believing it to be true. We speak of God’s unconditional love and so much of our life is conditional. ‘I’ll do this for you if you do this for me.’ It’s hard to comprehend that God says, “No. Here. Look. Life. No strings attached.”
SDR: Why did you become a minister?
PW: It was one of those things I couldn’t say no to — I tried. In fact, I sometimes still try. It keeps coming back. “Preach!” Nothing else makes any sense for me. It’s there. It came very early in my life. I almost in a sense grew up with a Bible in my hands.
SDR: What is the mission of your church?
PW: To make sure people are hearing the gospel and realize that it is for them. Despite all the sin that’s in the world, and our human condition, God has taken care of our salvation so that we might take care of the things that need to be taken care of on a day-to-day basis.
SDR: Where is the strangest place you found God?
PW: As a chaplain in the U.S. Navy [1992–2013], once I was celebrating holy communion in Afghanistan. I expected God to be there, but what surprised me was the fact that we were on a side of a hill which was more like a sand dune — the quiet and beauty of it. The surprising thing was that we were surprised to be there, because the Navy and the Marines don’t go inland and we were some of the first folks there in 2001. God is there and I was able see the beautiful sky and nothing but desert — I can see how God reaches people in the desert.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
PW: “Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven you.” We find ways of saying that over and over again. It’s news too good to be true. So we doubt. But, no, this is it — salvation. Believe it. And for crying out loud, accept for once that everything is going to be okay. The difference is between that which is healthy and that which is destructive. So stop living in hell and accept this gift which is yours in Christ Jesus. What I don’t understand is why people do that which is harmful. God wants us in heaven, although he does give people the option to get the hell out. I believe there are people who can’t stand everything being okay.