Weborg Preaches Final Sermon in Seminary Chapel

By Cathy Norman Peterson

CHICAGO (May 18, 2011)—The first time C. John Weborg entered the chapel at North Park Theological Seminary was nearly sixty years ago. It was 1954 and he was a junior college student.

On May 9, the school’s professor emeritus of theology preached his last sermon in Isaacson Chapel. It was his last pastoral act before officially retiring—again.

Weborg, who is 74 years old and considered one of the denomination’s most influential theologians, retired from full-time teaching in 2003. However, he continued to teach part-time in the Center for Spiritual Direction. He will relinquish those duties this summer, and the center will formally be renamed the C. John Weborg Center for Spiritual Direction in July.

In his introductory comments, Weborg thanked the seminary community for the privilege of more than thirty years of teaching. In his inimitable fashion, he chose his words carefully and exegeted them for his audience.

Explaining that he prefers the word “relinquish” to “leaving,” he said, “One thing I’m thankful for is that I don’t finish, and neither will you. And so we don’t get paranoid in the ministry, somebody else will perfect our work, for which we give thanks.”

The text of his sermon was 1 Peter 1:17-23. “In this text, Peter says that because God raised Jesus from the dead, we trust in God.”

Quoting theologian N. T. Wright, Weborg went on to say, “None of the Gospels say Jesus was raised and therefore we shall go to heaven when we die.” In fact, none of the Gospel narratives mentions the afterlife, the promise of eternal life, or “pie in the sky ideals.” Rather, they say simply, Jesus is raised. Therefore, he is the Messiah. And now his followers have work to do.

“Why did Jesus spend 40 days moving in and out among this disparate group of disciples—this scattered bunch, who were scared to death?” Weborg asked. “Why did he spend 40 days collecting them, meeting with them, vanishing, reappearing, celebrating the Eucharist, speaking with them—why if it wasn’t to justify them? He was to justify them, not by dying but by walking among them.”

When Jesus was convinced the disciples knew he trusted them to finish the good work he had begun in them, he knew he could leave.

A stanza from 17th-century German hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt helped illuminate Weborg’s point: “Before I was even born, then you were born for me and made me your very own, before I knew you, chosen.”

“How’s that for Gospel?” Weborg asked. “I could name every one of you chosen. In not many days some of you graduate. You’re in the call process. ‘Before you were even born, then you were born for me and made me your very own, before I knew you, chosen.’ ”

At the conclusion of the service, Weborg blessed the congregation and invited them forward to receive communion.

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  1. I’m a member of the Weborg fan club, but didn’t realize until I ead the replies here that he was born in Pender, Nebraska, a few miles from where I was. West Point, my town, played them in sport, but I was too small to threaten the giants of Pender. The first time I appeared in print ever anywhere was in the Battle Creek Enterprise, reporting in autumn 1941 that Pender had beaten us. More important than such light-hearted comment is my opportunity to ask God’s benisons, on a colleague in ministry-teaching. Thanks for a good life, now, ad multos annos!

  2. John, in his gentle and perceptive way, breathes new life into the majestice traditions of the whole church. His living out of theology, his grasp of historic connections, and his depth of spiritual vitality incorporates a comprehensive understanding of what makes the Christian life tick. He has helped many of us see light even in the dark vallies of the soul.

  3. I thank God for having given the Covenant Church such a gift for our times in John Weborg. John is one of those all too rare persons who are what they preach. His life among us has been a demonstration of discipleship. I have no doubt the Covenant Church will continue to be blessed for years to come because of John’s ministry to a whole new generation of pastors.

  4. Wish I could have heard the sermon in person. It has been many a year since I sat under his teaching, but the Word continues to ring in my heart through his images, questions, and ideas. 

  5. Now, there is a Man!. He came to us from the corn fields of Pender, Nebraska, and in the breaking of the Word and of Life he winsomely, clearly and powerfully gave shape, texture and vibrancy to more than any of us can know. Thanks be to God!

  6. I was only at NPTS for a year, but John greatly blessed my short time there. He always took time to talk with me and embodied the faith. I pray that he will live a long life and be able to devote some time to writing to benefit future Covenanters. He has a lot to say to all of us.

  7. My life has crossed yours, and that of your children, in a variety of ways over the years and I am so appreciative of your teaching, grace, and friendship. You have served Cheryl and me, as well as the Covenant and Church at large in so many ways…which makes me very thankful that I had the privilege of last serving you and Lois by buying pork burgers for you at the Princeton “Pork Days” celebration at the city park almost two years ago. Thankyou for “being there” for so many…for so many years. Blessings, Paul Bengtson

  8. Thank you John for helping us to better understand what it means to be ‘Alive in Christ, Alert to Life,’ the connection between word and action. Blessings on the journey, Dick

  9. Only John Weborg could make my Systematic Theology classes pastoral! Thank you! John! Thank you too for helping me and countless others in their Spiritual Formation…for your loving spirit, compassion and wisdom! May God continue to shine his face on you…and bless you!

  10. God bless you, John Weborg, and THANK YOU for all the years of service in helping shape and form both hearts and minds of those called to shepherd the people of God!

  11. I was a guest student (from Germany) at NPTS für only two semesters (Fall 2003 / Spring 2004), but in those 10 months Prof. Weborg’ teaching, preaching, writing, as well as the conversations I enjoyed having with him impressed and inspired me with lasting impact on my faith and ministry as a pastor in Germany. Thank you so much, John, and may God bless you and reward you richly for your service among generations of students and scholars alike. Did someone record this last sermon at the Seminary Chapel? I would be very happy to listen to it!

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