photo credit Jim Bodeen, 2005

The Reverend Ronald F. Marshall

September 29, 1948 – November 9, 2021



 believe that…. when we were created by God the Father and  had received… all kinds of good things, the devil… led us into disobedience… and all evil. We lay under God’s wrath and displeasure, doomed to eternal damnation, as we had deserved. There was… no help… for us until [the] only… Son of God… had mercy on our misery… and came from heaven to help us…. He snatched us poor, lost creatures from the jaws of hell, won us… and restored us to the Father’s favor and grace…. How much it cost Christ… to win us!... He suffered, died, and was buried that he might make satisfaction for me and pay what I owed, not with silver and gold, but with his own precious blood.


 Martin Luther (1483-1546)

The Large Catechism (1529) II.28-31

[The Book of Concord (1580; Fortress, 1959) p. 414.]



  Pastor Marshall's

Day of Ordination

June 25, 1979


"Rilke [1875-1926] in one of his letters said Christ is a pointing,

a finger pointing

at something, and we are like dogs who keep barking and lunging at the hand..."


[Franz Wright, "The New Jerusalem,"

p. 63 in Walking to Martha's Vineyard: Poems

( New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004) -

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 2004.]  




So Pastor Marshall would not want it said of him – as is was of the great John Milton – that "he was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hindrance: he did not refuse admission to the thought or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them." This is because in those predecessors Pastor Marshall finds power "to recall vagrant inattention, to stimulate sluggish indifference, and to rectify absurd misapprehension." 

[The Works of Samuel Johnson, ed. Arthur Murphy, 

12 vols. (London: Bentley, 1823) 6:182, 97].  



This icon was presented to Pastor Marshall

by his children

Susannah, Ruth, and Anders

on November 28, 1994

in Thanksgiving to the Holy Trinity

on the occasion of the

forty-sixth Anniversary of his Baptism

on which day is the commemoration of

Saint Gregory III, Bishop of Rome (731-741)


Pope Gregory III was a man of deep humility and true wisdom, learned in the Holy Scriptures, who knew the Psalms by heart.  He was an eloquent preacher, skilled in Latin and Greek, a strong upholder of the faith; a lover of poverty and the poor, protector of widows and orphans, and a friend of monks and nuns...

The iconoclastic controversy was at its height when Emperor Leo III (727-741) enacted a prohibition of sacred images and of their veneration in early January 730.  Pope Gregory opposed this prohibition, and on November 1, 731, held a synod denouncing iconoclasm and excommunicated anyone destroying icons...

He gave his full support and backing to the missionary enterprises of St. Boniface (680-754) in Germany, granting him the rank of archbishop in 732...

        An oratory in St. Peter’s basilica, dedicated to Christ, the Virgin Mary, and All the Saints, was built by him for housing relics of the saints; here he was buried among splendid scared images, which affirmed the belief of the pope and the Western Church in the value of icons...

 [David Hugh Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Second Edition, 1987,

and J. N. D. Kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, 1986.]

 This icon of St. Gregory III was made by Father Thomas Tsagalakis, Seattle, WA, who studied with Kosta Tsilsavides while living in Thessaloniki , Greece in 1987. It is a unique icon in that St. Gregory is holding an icon of Christ – usually it would be one of St. Mary.







My Life in Six Words

Pastor Marshall


"Unimagined delights sneaked in when heartbroken."

 (reprinted from Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 24, 2008)



Dayton, Ohio




Wearing Black

By Pastor Marshall 

Preachers wear black so they can visually reinforce the message of the church: "Declare the wonderful deeds of God who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). The toughest part of that message is convincing the world that it is sunk in darkness. So pastors wear black to help make this point – first to themselves and then to others. For black clothes are a visual reminder of the wickedness that plagues us. Gaily colored Hawaiian clerical shirts, then, are not only silly for pastors to wear, but deleterious to the very message of the church.

Now it is this dark side of the message of the church that especially challenges us. It leaves us wondering why the world is so mired down in "wickedness" and "darkness" (Ephesians 6:12)? Why is it "one big whorehouse, completely submerged in greed" (Luther's Works 21:180)? The reason is because we, who populate it, are "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3), who have rebelled against the will of God. And it is because of that rebellion that the world is so bad. If it weren't for us, the world never would have been cursed (Genesis 3:17-18). For it is our killing, oppressing, lying, stealing, fornicating and running after false gods, that turns the world into such a bad place.

This message is hard to sell because of its severity. Nobody wants to believe it. Remember that they hated Jesus precisely because he told them the same thing (John 7:7). But that doesn't make it any less true. Therefore we should not throw out this dreary message because it is harsh. We should instead fight for it with the best "arguments" we can muster (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)! We must learn to make the case against ourselves – with our love of money, pleasure and self (2 Timothy 3:2-4).  We must learn to debunk the illusion that we are fine, just the way we are – arguing instead that we are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). And we can do this in at least five ways.

First we must show that this rebellion has corrupted the entire world – being now fully "in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). It's not just a corner of the world that sucks. The whole place is evil. So if we befriend the world in any way, we make ourselves enemies of God (James 4:4)! Therefore "love not the world nor the things in the world" (1 John 2:15).

And next we must show that we have been made thoroughly evil by our rebellion and disobedience – "from the sole of the foot, even to the head, there is no soundness" in us (Isaiah 1:6), for indeed, "nothing good dwells within" us (Romans 7:18). So we cannot say that some part of us has somehow escaped the ravages of sin. No, there's nothing left that's clean (Job 14:4). So when we, for instance, manage to do something godly, good and glorious, we can't take credit for it, knowing full well that this goodness comes from Christ who "dwells in" us and not from our own natures (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 3:5). So even when we behave well we must still confess: "I can do nothing good" (Luther's Works 53:117).

Third, our rebellion even makes the good things we do turn sour. So we learn that before the Lord, "all our righteous deeds are but filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6, KJV). This is so even when these good deeds benefit others. For as far as we are concerned, those same deeds cannot benefit us – making us more valuable and worthy. This is because we ruin them with the pride we take in them – rather than giving all the glory to God for them (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Fourth we must show how our rebellion has roots outside of ourselves -- going down into the very nature of the human race – for "one man's trespass led to the condemnation for all men" (Romans 5:18). So we cannot break ourselves loose from the darkness that engulfs us – O "wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). Our sin is just too deep-seated for that to happen. It comes from Adam and Eve, when they fell from grace and goodness through their disobedience in the Garden of Eden long ago (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). This makes our problem truly intractable. As a result, we are in fact slaves to sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:20-21).

And fifth we must show that our darkness is very costly – condemning us to the eternal punishments of hell, where the "worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48), Indeed, the torments of the condemned "go up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night" (Revelation 14:11).

Now very few people believe all of this. Many even make fun of it. So we need all the help we can get to present this message in a compelling way. Because of that fact alone, it is a good idea for pastors to wear black. By so doing, the leaders of the church are leading the charge. And when they do, and when you encourage them to do so, you will know that it is because of the dark message of the church that it matters so much for pastors to wear black.


(Reprinted and revised from The Messenger, September 1999)



Standing on Others’ Shoulders

By Pastor Marshall 


I believe learning from others is a good thing – standing on their shoulders if you will.

When I was young I tried making up things on my own. It always looked like fun to do. But the more I tried the less I produced. I couldn’t write creative stories. I couldn’t even make up good jokes. I couldn’t write poems. I couldn’t paint pretty pictures. I couldn’t compose songs.

Walking home from school one day I picked up a couple good looking rocks along the path as I was wont to do when it wasn’t raining. Later I learned they had pyrite in them that made them sparkle. That caught my eye. I liked having them around. I liked finding them and showing them to others. I also liked having an eye for picking up those little gems.

While I didn’t know it at the time, my rock-hounding was leading me down unexpected paths of literary creativity – somewhere I thought I’d never go. So now, rather than trying to dream up a good short story on my own, I find myself making constellations of stars from what others have written before me. I’ve come to learn that in previous generations this was called composing a florilegium – a beautiful arrangement of quotations designed to make a point hitherto unheard of.

I also liked the modesty in this work. When people would admire it, I could say how beautiful the gems were that made up my constellations that were not mine but borrowed from others. I liked standing on the shoulders of others. I liked rescuing from obscurity and oblivion sparkling stones from others, for others now to enjoy with me.

I’ve been spending my time being a literary rock-hound for some years now. I see my work as a Christian preacher as part of this, composing configurations of Bible verses in my Sunday sermons to share with others – like those rocks I found along the path on my way home from school years ago. I also see it in my writing on Martin Luther, Søren Kierkegaard and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Things they’ve written I’ve found along the path and picked up and treasured and shared with others.

Wittgenstein once wrote about our inability to describe everything we know, saying: “Describe the aroma of coffee. Why can’t it be done? Do we lack the words?” I’ve saved that precaution and let it sparkle on my table. So too words from Kierkegaard regarding enduring unpopularity for a good cause – “he stood alone, abandoned, in the designated pillory of special singularity.” And then from Luther I found these words that have sparkled for me ever since – “a Christian is uplifted in adversity, because he trusts God; he is downcast in prosperity, because he fears God.”

These, and many other words like them, have been the stars that have gone into the constellations I have spent my time composing. Looking at them I find the same joy I remember having on my way home from school kicking up rocks I would treasure and later share with others.


[Reprinted from National Public Radio’s

“This I Believe” series, posted November 29, 2007.]




Worship, Witness & Work:

Thirty Years in the Ministry

By Pastor Marshall

A hearty thank you to all who joined in on the celebration of my 30th Anniversary of Ordination on June 28th. It was an unforgettable day. Thank you very, very much. Through your support, God has blessed me.

Worship, witness and work mark our thirty years together. First, we worship together. This is our fundamental calling (Exodus 20:8-11; Isaiah 43:21; John 4:23; Acts 20:7; Hebrews 12:28-29). This time with you before the Good Shepherd and King of creation has been deeply enriching and elevating. Other ministers seek vacations and sabbaticals for renewal – I have found it weekly in worship with you. Glory be to God!

Next, these years have been devoted to witness – or making the case in sermons, classes, personal conversations and writings for the truth of Christianity (2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 1 Peter 3:15). This is a battle against “this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12) – and it takes our best intellectual efforts and most steady emotional focus. Sometimes – as in my sermons on self-hatred and the exclusivity of Christ, and my articles in CERTUS SERMO (1990-2002) – I have drawn a fair amount of fire. But through it all, God has bolstered my faith (Matthew 5:11-12; Acts 14:22; Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 4:13-14). Praise his holy name!

And finally, we have worked together – housing the homeless and feeding the hungry – which is part of true religion (James 1:27). Establishing the West Seattle Helpline in 1989 and building the new West Seattle Food Bank in 2007 were highlights. The mercy of the Lord endures forever!

(Reprinted from The Messenger, September 2009.)




In Memoriam: Gerhard O. Forde (1927-2005)

By Pastor Marshall


In thanksgiving to God for my teacher, Dr. Forde, I remember some of his words: "It is hard for us to learn the lesson of creation.... We seek the secret behind the scenes, to wrest from creation the answer to our agony, to go on living as long as possible and at any cost..." ("Without a Card," 1975); "What chance do we really have other than the sheer generosity of God?" ("God's Rights," 1986); "The clothed God must conquer the naked God for us" (Theology Is for Proclamation, 1990); "Faith means precisely faith and not some sort of supernatural sight" (The Law-Gospel Debate, 1969); "[We] cannot live today on yesterday's faith" (Where God Meets Man, 1972); "Growth in Christian life... is... in forgetting oneself" (Justification By Faith, 1982); "Perhaps we need a sequel today [to J. B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small] called something like Your God Is Too Nice!" ("The God Who Kills," 1998); "Self-esteem -- the current circumlocution for pride" (On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 1997); "The Word is not relevant to the 'Old Adam' as such.... It is something like the word, 'I love you,' spoken in a brothel" ("A Short Word," 1981); "The supposed scandal of our disunity is no greater than the scandal of our contrived unions!" (A More Radical Gospel, 2004); "[The office of ministry is like] the television show 'Mission Impossible' where the 'team' receives its instructions via a tape... that then announces that it will self-destruct in a number of seconds.... It seeks to set people free, that is, to get out of the way for the Christ it proclaims" ("Promoting Unity," 1989); "Where was [objectivity and stability] finally to be found [in the Old Synod]?.... The truth was that sinners were accepted in baptism and forgiven through the means of grace, and that was that.... The liturgy was chanted by the pastor and responded to with gusto by the people" ("The 'Old Synod,'" 1977); "My biggest fear in the present is that the eschatological two-age structure of theology is once again simply being lost.... Lost in an ecclesiology which threatens to substitute itself for the kingdom" ("The One Acted Upon," 1997); “[The most difficult problem is to explain how we live out the cross of Christ] because once you try to answer it you only make matters worse. I’m always reminded of the old joke about that. There was an old pastor on his deathbed, and he was sure that he was going to heaven because he hadn’t ever done a good work in his life” (“On Interviewing a Theologian of the Cross,” 2004) and "There is nothing you can do now but, as the words of the old hymn have it, 'climb Calvary's mournful mountain' and stand with your helpless arms at your side and tremble before 'that miracle of time, God's own sacrifice complete! It is finished; hear him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die!" (The Captivation of the Will, 2005). Amen!


[Revised and reprinted from the Memory Book at Luther Seminary’s website,

  St. Paul , MN , submitted August 10, 2005.]



Burying a Demitted Christian

By Pastor Marshall

 When my father died my family did not know how to bury him.  He had demitted the Christian faith some thirty years earlier and naturally did not want a church funeral.  His wife and children, however, wanted to gather as Christians for prayers – giving thanks for the good and lamenting the bad.  The problem was we did not have a liturgy for this. 

     The pertinent rubric for the burial of the dead in the Lutheran Book of Worship said by “certain omissions and choices of alternative selections this service may be adapted for.... people having no connection with the Church.”1  This meant what we were looking for should be possible.  The problem, however, remained:  Which omissions and choices would we make?  No concrete liturgical proposals were available to guide us.2

     What follows is the liturgy I wrote with minor changes made by my family.  I offer it as a model for anyone facing a situation like ours.  We used this liturgy at the new national cemetery in Kent , Washington , where my father’s cremated remains were inurned with full military honors. 

     In addition to our liturgical problem we also had a massive theological one.  We were tempted to lie and say my father was a Christian when we knew he was not.  By telling this lie we could then bury him in the church with the standard burial liturgy.  We could then say he was at peace.  We would no longer have to fear he had gone from the frying pan into the fire.  Neither would we sound judgmental.3  All of this tempted us to lie.  In the end we resisted this temptation as the liturgy below shows. 

     A major reason for this was my father’s well known disdain for Christianity.  He frequently and eloquently said how much he hated the Church and despised the Bible.  His repartee on these matters was legendary and imposing!  He regularly ridiculed Christians for their beliefs and practices.  He was a true unbeliever.  He studied and practiced Christianity for years and finally rejected it.  He had no regrets. 

     One reason this lie was to tempting was it made God look better.  We could then say God’s love was so great that it even saves unbelievers!4  Then we would no longer have to endure Luther’s dark view that “God himself cannot give heaven to him who does not believe.”5  But Holy Scriptures would not grant our wishes.  Salvation must come “through faith” (Ephesians 2.8).  Furthermore God creates both weal and woe (Isaiah 45:7).6  He has a hard side which includes sending unbelievers to hell.  Indeed “he who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne to his Son.  And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in the Son.  He who has the Son has life, he who has not the Son of God has not life” (1 John 5:10-11).  This is true even if the one on the short end of the stick is your father.7

     This lie further tempted us into hoping a trace of faith remained that saved him.  Maybe a little faith still clung to the inside of his heart even after he hardened it against Christ Jesus and demitted the faith!  Or maybe just as he died he started believing again.  These ideas raced around in our heads.  But they finally could not stand up against Biblical teaching.  Faith is more muscular than that.  It is a “good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12).  It bears fruit and even “moves mountains” (Matthew 17:20).  It has visible manifestations.  It therefore does not “float on the heart like a goose on the water,” as Luther mused.  Rather it is “vigorous and powerful,” even to the point of making “an altogether new human being” by fashioning “a different mind and different attitude.”8  This never even came close to happening for my father, as all who knew him testify.  He had no Christian devotion.  He repeatedly and unrepentantly violated his marriage vows and reneged on his parental obligations. 

     Some also wondered if my father was saved from hell by my mother’s faith.  But this is a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 which only holds hope for unbelieving husbands before they die.  The truth is there are no “second-hand” Christians.9  This is because everyone “must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone.... Therefore every one must himself know and be armed with the chief things which concern a Christian.”10

     My family laments that to all appearances my father was not so armed.  He was an excellent soldier but against the “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26) he was willingly and foolishly defenseless.  He did not believe that “only when we take hold of Christ... and believe that for his sake God is gracious to us” are we rescued “from the jaws of hell.”11  Christians need to know what to say and pray when such people die. 


The Memorial Liturgy12

     L  In the name of God the Father, Son X and Holy Spirit.

     C  Amen.

     L  The Lord be with you.

     C  And also with you.

     L  Let us pray:  Heavenly Father, you have authority over life and death, being God of the spirits and Master of all flesh; you kill and make alive, you bring down to the gates of hell and bring up to the glories of heaven; you create the spirits of mortals within them and take to yourself the souls of the saints and give rest.  Console us now who mourn the death of Robert Marshall; grant to us all a good end, through your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.13

     C  Amen.


     Robert Irwin Marshall was born the fourth of five children to Frederick William and Nellie Morris Marshall on May 28, 1918, in Rochester , New York .  He died in his home in Tacoma , Washington , on May 22, 1998.

     Robert was baptized as a young child at the Clinton Avenue Baptist Church in Newark , New Jersey .  He stayed in public school until the age of 16 when he went to work for the Jiffy Manufacturing Company in Hillside , New Jersey .  On January 8, 1940 he joined the US Army. 

     On October 10, 1943 he married Eva R. Lien at Grace Lutheran Church in Corvallis , Oregon , with the Rev. Lael H. Westberg officiating.  Their marriage was blessed with four children: Doreen Marie in 1946, Ronald Frederick in 1948, Richard Harry in 1956 and Denise Ann in 1958.  He also became the grandfather of eleven and the great-grandfather of two. 

     In June 1944 he left with the 96th Infantry Division to fight in WW II in the Philippine Islands.  There he was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery.  In April 1945 he entered the battle of Okinawa .  On Sugar Loaf Hill he received a second Bronze Star for bravery and the Silver Star for gallantry in action.  On May 12, 1945, he was wounded on Conicle Peak and awarded the Purple Heart.  After recovering from his injury he returned to Eva and her family in Missoula , Montana , on December 22, 1945.

     By the end of 1945 they moved to New Jersey where Robert was raised.  During the beginning of that year he received confirmation instruction from the Rev. Ralph Tellefsen and on April 16, 1946, joined Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Elizabeth , New Jersey .  He attended church for some twenty years after that, then quit and never returned.

     In November 1951 he was promoted to the rank of Captain and left to fight in the Korean War as commander of F Company in the 2nd Infantry Division.  In March 1952 he was wounded in Wejambu and awarded his second Purple Heart.  After recovering from his injury he was back with Eva in Great Falls , Montana , by 1953, where he remarried her on March 12 at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church with the Rev. Griffith H. Williams officiating – after having been divorced from her on March 15, 1951.

     On September 25, 1957 Robert retired from the US Army in Tacoma , Washington .  Twenty years later he left Eva and in 1980 moved to Angeles City in the Philippine Islands, where he lived until 1990.  Shortly after beginning to see her again, there was a family reunion at the Casa Real Mexican restaurant in Fife , Washington on July 7, 1992.  Then on March 21, 1997, he was reunited with Eva in their family home in Tacoma , ten days after having massive cancer surgery.  There he lived until his death on May 22, 1998, just six days before his eightieth birthday.

     He is survived by his wife Eva, his sister Edna of Hillside, New Jersey, his four children, his eleven grandchildren, his two great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews. 

The Psalm

     L  Truly no man can ransom himself or give to God the price of his life.

     C  We shall see that even the wise die, the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. 

     L  This is the fate of those who have foolish confidence, the end of those who are pleased with themselves. 

     C  But God shall ransom my soul from the power of death, for he will receive me.

     L  Though while a man lives he counts himself happy, and though he gets praise when he does well for himself, he will go to the generation of his fathers who will never again see the light.  (Psalm 49:7-19)

     L  The Word of the Lord. 

     C  Thanks be to God. 

     L  Let us pray:  O Lord our God, King of the Universe, we commend to your care Robert Marshall, your child by Holy Baptism, whose earthly life has now ended.  We know that faith in your dear Son, Christ Jesus, is the only way we have to live with you in heavenly peace and joy.  Our hope is that Robert finally had this faith.  If he did not, give us strength to stand by your righteous judgment. 

     C  Amen.

The Old Testament Lesson

     L  I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day.

     C  That I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.

     L  Therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,

     C  Loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him.  (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)                    

     L  The Word of the Lord.

     C  Thanks be to God.

The Litany

     L  Heavenly Father, for our loved one, Robert Marshall, son and brother, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather,

     C  We give You thanks.

     L  For his intelligence and charm, care and support, conviction and accomplishments,

     C  We give You thanks,

     L  For his service in two wars, his courage under fire, his strength and survival,

     C  We give You thanks.

     L  From our guilt over failing to commend to him adequately the life in Christ,

     C  Good Lord deliver us.

     L  From our guilt over failing to pray for him enough that your Holy Spirit enter him and soften his hardened heart,

     C  Good Lord deliver us.

     L  In our anger over his failure to be a good husband,

     C  Give us Your peace.

     L  In our sadness over his failure to be a good father, father-in-law, grandfather and great-grandfather,

     C  Good Lord comfort us. 

     L  In our fear that he despised the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake,

     C  Keep us steadfast in your word.15

The Gospel

     L  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

     C  For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the word, but that the world might be saved through him.

     L  He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

     C  And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

     L  For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 

     C  But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God....

     L  He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him. (John 3:16-21, 36)

     L  The Word of the Lord. 

     C  Thanks be to God.

     L  Let us pray:  From everlasting death and torment, deliver us, O Lord God.  In that awful day, when the heavens and earth are destroyed by fire, and you come to judge all that you have made, have pity on us for Jesus’ sake.  Without your dear Son, dread and trembling seize us when we ponder your judgment and all-consuming wrath.  On that great and exceedingly bitter day, may our faith hold fast in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us.  

     C  Amen.

The Benediction

     L  Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.  (Hebrews 13:20-21)

     C  Amen

     L  Depart in peace.

     C  In the name of Christ X our Lord.  Amen.





1Lutheran Book of Worship: Ministers Desk Edition. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978), p. 37.

2The Episcopal Church offers a burial liturgy for “One Who Does Not Profess the Christian Faith” (The Book of Occasional Services, New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1979, pp. 156-159).  None of the eight lessons or ten prayers listed, however, express fear that the deceased was in jeopardy of being damned.  This omission makes this liturgy unusable and its faithfulness suspect.

3In “Judging One Another,” Lutheran Commentator 7 (March/April, 1994) 6, I propose six ways to keep our judgments from being judgmental.  “First our judgment must use no double standard.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  Next our standards for measurement must be more than personal opinion.  God’s will and command must obtain.  Third our judgment must be revisable, for new information and circumstances are always relevant.  Fourth our judgment must be corrective instead of vengeful and mean-spirited.  It is to aim at improving the one judged.  That makes judgment loving.  Fifth it is to be deliberate.  Snap judgments about people are always poor.  Instead we should strive for balance and thoroughness.  And sixth our judgment should be communal.  This is the burden of the teaching in Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.  We must seek corroboration.”

4A clear statement of this view is Jacques Ellul, What I Believe, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), “How can we think that God can cease to love the creation that he has made in his own image?  This would be a contradiction in terms.  God cannot cease to love.... It is unthinkable that there should exist a place of suffering, of torment, of the domination of evil, of beings that merely hate since their only function is to torture.  It is astounding that Christian theology should not have seen at a glance how impossible this idea is.  Being love, God cannot send to hell the creation.  This would be to cut off himself” (p. 190).  Unfortunately Ellul never considers Mark 9:48 where Jesus says the unrighteous will go to hell where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”  At that point “I have reached bedrock, and my spade is turned,” to borrow a line from Wittgenstein [Philosophical Investigations, (1958) §217], which means we cannot think any further, hoping thereby to undermine or change what this verse clearly concludes. 

5Martin Luther, Defense and Explanation of All the Articles (1520), Luther’s Works 32:76.

6On this dual nature of God see my “Duplex Verba,” Pro Ecclesia 3 (Fall, 1994) 395-396.

7Neither could the fact he was baptized guarantee him salvation.  In the Large Catechism (1529), Luther shows how baptism degenerates into an “unfruitful sign” (LC 4,73) when there is no faith to go with it.  In these cases one has been “baptized in vain” [Lectures on Hebrews (1518), Luther’s Works 29:138].  On this catastrophe see my “Poisoning Baptism,” The Bride of Christ (Lent-Easter, 1991) 9-13.

8Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis 6-14 (1535), Luther’s Works 2:266.

9See Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals & Papers, translated and edited by Edna H. and Howard V. Hong, in 7 volumes.  (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967-78), §1441.  “A second-hand relationship to God is just as impossible and just as nonsensical as falling in love at second-hand...”

10Martin Luther, The First Sermon, Invocavit Sunday (March 9, 1522), Luther’s Works 51:70.

11The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church , (1580), translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959) pp. 138, 414.

12The italicized paragraphs and lines were read by those in attendance.  I read the rest.

13This prayer is adapted from the “Prayer Book of Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis in the first half of the fourth century” [Philip H. Pfatteicher, Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship, (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1990) p. 479].

14Some think obituaries have no place in burial liturgies.  If they function to draw attention away from God and glorify the deceased, then I agree.  Indeed, how can we believe if we “do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)  In this liturgy, however, the intent was to show how my father had “drifted away from.... such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:1-3).  When the obituary tries to expose the faith and works (James 2:17) of the deceased, then it belongs in the liturgy.  When Christians bury a demitted Christian, Matthew 7:16,  “You will know them by their fruits,” requires that an obituary is included in the liturgy.

15This litany was the most controversial part of the liturgy.  One grandchild said it was mean-spirited and “trashed Grandpa Bob!” But the sequence of the petitions and the confessional nature of the phrases, “our anger,” “our sadness” and “our fear,” suggest something quite different.

16This prayer is adapted from the “twelfth century responsory Libra me, Domine” (Pfatteicher, Commentary, p. 479).


(Reprinted from The Bride of Christ, September 1998)

Pastor Marshall, in his mother's arms, on Easter 1949, in Bonner, Montana. His father is holding his sister Doreen.


Pastor Marshall in his father's arms at his first Christmas, 1948.


To read Pastor Marshall's blog, click on


Church where Pastor Marshall was baptized in Bonner, Montana, 1948.




Ronald Frederick Marshall




Born: September 29, 1948, Missoula, MT (parents: Robert I. Marshall & Eva Lien Marshall), born second of four children – siblings: Doreen, Richard and Denise.

Pastor Marshall with his grandmother, Minnie Liēn, 1977


Baptized: November 28, 1948, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Bonner, MT (The Rev. Gordon V. Tollefson, 1914-1985).

Confirmed: May 31, 1964, Hope Lutheran Church, Tacoma, WA (The Rev. Harold E. Aalbue, 1916-1976).

Pastor Marshall, as a boy, all dressed up for church on a Sunday in 1955 in Tacoma, WA.


Married: August 1, 1972 to Dr. Jane L. Harty, University Lutheran Church of Hope, Minneapolis, MN (The Rev. John L. Drier). Children: Susannah (b. 1980), Ruth (b. 1983) and Anders (b. 1986). (Dr. Harty has taught at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA, Music Department since 1978.)

Summer 1972

November 4, 2010


Internship: Lakeridge Lutheran Church, Seattle, WA, 1978-1979 (The Rev. Gordon E. Coates, 1926-2005).

Ordained: June 25, 1979, First Lutheran Church of West Seattle, Seattle, WA (The Rev. Karl A. Ufer, 1913-1981).

Education: HS Diploma (1967), graduated 13 out of 439, with perfect attendance, and elected the boy "most likely to succeed," Stadium High School, Tacoma, WA; BA in Philosophy (1971), magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Washington State University, Pullman, WA; Masters of Divinity (1975) Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN; MA in Religion (1978) Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, CA.

Employment: Pastor at First Lutheran Church of West Seattle, Seattle, WA since 1979; Northwest Theological Union, Seattle University (1984-1992) part-time instructor in Systematic Theology.

Pastor Marshall at the West Seattle Food Bank fundraiser,
May 2015

Non-Profit Boards: West Seattle Food Bank (since 1996), West Seattle Helpline (since 1989, co-founder and secretary); Music Northwest (since 2003, treasurer); West Seattle Ministerial Association (since 1979, treasurer and past president).

Pastor Marshall with The Rev. Dr. Martin J. Heinecken (1902-1998), November 17, 1985,

at the Kierkegaard Festival, First Lutheran Church of West Seattle.






Major Publications:

“God and Worship,” Dialog 14 (Spring 1975) 134-143.

“Luther’s Two-Factor Hermeneutic,” Lutheran Quarterly 28 (February 1976) 54-69.

“In Between Ayer and Adler: God in Contemporary Philosophy,” Word & World 2 (Winter 1982) 69-81.

“Exploring Christian Unity,” The Ecumenist 26 (March/April 1988) 33-37.

Deo Gloria: A History of First Lutheran Church of West Seattle from 1918 to 1988 (FLCWS, 1989) ii-xxi, 1-102.

Study Guide to “Roots and Branches: The Religious Heritage of Washington State” (Church Council of Greater Seattle, 1990).

CERTUS SERMO: An Independent Monthly Review of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1990-2002, editor and co-founder.

“Poisoning Baptism,” The Bride of Christ 15 (Lent-Easter 1991) 9-13, reprinted online under Baptism at

“Kierkegaard’s Heavenly Whores,” Dialog 31 (Summer 1992) 227-230.

“Seek Simplicity and Distrust It: Paul R. Sponheim on Christian Theology,” Dialog 31 (Winter 1992) 36-41.

“Kierkegaard’s Worshipping Geese,” The Bride of Christ 17 (St. Michael & All Angels 1993) 8-15.

“Deathly Evangelism,” Trinity Seminary Review 16 (Spring 1994) 29-42, enlarged and reprinted in The Bride of Christ (Pentecost, 1995) and posted online at Semper Reformanda, June 25, 1997.


Pastor Marshall, 1993

“Only the Remorse of Judas,” The Bride of Christ 19 (Pascha 1995) 26-31.

“School Prayers That Flunk Out,” Dialog (Fall 1995) 310-312.

“Luther the Lumberjack,” Lutheran Quarterly, New Series, 10 (Spring 1996) 107-110.

“Taking Up Snakes in Worship,” The Bride of Christ 20 (Christ the King 1996) 20-23, 41.

"A Scandalous Christ," The Christian Ministry 28 (January-February, 1997) 10-12.

“Bishopitis,” Pro Ecclesia 6 (Summer 1997) 264-267.

“Christ as a Sign of Contradiction,” Pro Ecclesia 6 (Fall 1997) 479-487.

“Salvation Within Our Reach,” Lutheran Forum 31 (Fall 1997) 18-21.

“Praying in Jesus’ Name,” The Bride of Christ 22 (Lent & Easter 1998) 3-7.

“Burying a Demitted Christian,” The Bride of Christ 22 (Michaelmas 1998) 21-25, reprinted online under Staff at

“Few Are Chosen,” Logia 8 (Eastertide 1999) 57-58.

“Debunking the Jesus Video Project,” Lutheran Forum 33 (Winter 1999) 50-51, reprinted online under Movie Reviews at

“News From the Graveyard: Kierkegaard’s Analysis of Christian Self-Hatred,” Pro Ecclesia 9 (Winter 2000) 19-42.

“Misconstruing Miracles,” Dialog 39 (Winter 2000) 297-298.

“Advent Wretchedness,” The Bride of Christ 25 (December 2000) 3-6.

“What I Tell My Gay Friends,” Forum Letter 30 (April 2001) 6-8, reprinted online under Weddings at

“Our Serpent of Salvation: The Offense of Jesus in John’s Gospel,” Word & Word 21 (Fall 2001) 385-393.

“Walking with Kierkegaard,” Lutheran Forum 35 (Christmass 2001) 51-52, read online under Prayers and Kierkegaard Videos at

“Psalmic Bishops,” Currents in Theology and Mission 29 (February 2002) 40-44.

“Beneath God’s Righteous Frown,” The Bride of Christ 26 (Pentecost 2002) 10-14.

“Kierkegaard’s Cure for Divorce,” Søren Kierkegaard Newsletter, Number 44 (September 2002) 6-10, reprinted online under Weddings at

“Consummatun Est,” Logia 11 (Reformation 2002) 59.

“Preaching Against the Cross,” Lutheran Partners 19 (September/October 2003) 24-29.

“Somber Lutherans,” Lutheran Forum 38 (Easter 2004) 41-45, reprinted online under Publications at

“Kierkegaard’s Music Box: A Critique of Joakim Garff’s Biography on Kierkegaard,” Lutheran Forum 39 (Fall 2005) 37-41.

“Kierkegaard’s Sesquicentennial,” Lutheran Forum 40 (Pentecost 2006) 17-19.

“Getting Off on the Wrong Foot: A Critique of the ELCA Sexuality Study,” Forum Letter 36 (January 2007) 3-4.

“The Sickbed Preacher: Kierkegaard on Adversity and the Awakening of Faith,” 219-249, vol. 17 in the International Kierkegaard Commentary, ed. Robert L. Perkins, Mercer University Press, 2007.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship and Universalism,” CrossAccent 15 (2007) 4-5.

“Eaten Alive: On Jonah for Kids,” Touchstone 21 (April 2008) 22-26.

“Constraining the Berserk: Kierkegaard on Adler and the Ideal Pastor,” 35-66, vol. 24 in the International Kierkegaard Commentary, ed. Robert L. Perkins, Mercer University Press, 2008.

“Why I Teach the Qur’an,” The Lutheran: Weekly E-newsletter, posted online, March 10, 2009.

"Take the Test" (A Sermon on Genesis 22), Lutheran Forum Online, posted June 22, 2009.

"By-law Proposal #3," published anonymously by request of the editor, Sarah Wilson, in her "Time to Exercise Your Bound Conscience," Lutheran Forum Online, posted September 2, 2009.

"Driven by God: Kierkegaard's Parable of the Royal Coachman," 115-141 in Toward the Final Crossroads: A Festschrift for Edna & Howard Hong, ed. Jamie Lorentzen, Mercer University Press, 2009.

"No Quack Doctor: Kierkegaard's Dialectical Understanding of God's Changelessness," 129-164, vol. 23 in the International Kierkegaard Commentary, ed. Robert L. Perkins, Mercer University Press, 2009.

"Bless St. Mary" (A Sermon on Luke 1:48), Logia Online [Blogia], posted January 30, 2010.

"Tears of Self-Forgetfulness: Kierkegaard on Self-Denial," 179-192 in Why Kierkegaard Matters: A Festschrift in Honor of Robert L. Perkins, ed. Marc A. Jolley and Edmon L. Rowell, Mercer University Press, 2010.

"The Traversed Path: Kierkegaard's Complex Way to Religious Simplicity," 117-156, vol. 22 in the International Kierkegaard Commentary, ed. Robert L. Perkins, Mercer University Press, 2010.

"Stand Firm" (A Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:15), Lutheran Forum Online, posted November 25, 2010.

"Stick to the Bible" (A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 4:6), Word Alone Online, posted March 3, 2011.

"Welcome St. Stephen at Christmas" (A Sermon on Acts 7:56), Logia Online [Blogia], posted December 20, 2011.

"Luther's Alleged Anti-Semitism,” Logia 21 (Reformation 2012) 5-8. For a half hour radio interview with Pastor Marshall on this article, go to

"Commemorating St. Søren Kierkegaard,Lutheran Forum 47 (Fall 2013) 64, 63.

"Martin Luther as Kierkegaard's Master,Lutheran Quarterly 27 (Autumn 2013) 344-348.

Kierkegaard for the Church: Essays and Sermons, foreword by Carl E. Braaten, epilogue by Robert L. Perkins (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2013) pp. xiii-xxiv, 1-368, indices.

Hunger Immortal: The First Thirty Years of the West Seattle Food Bank 1983-2013 (Seattle, Washington: The West Seattle Food Bank, 2013) pp. iii-xxxiv, 1-93, index.

Pastor Marshall in Langley, WA, August 28, 2010, wearing the green stole of Pastor C. P. Rasmussen (1897-1978), at the wedding of Michelle Theriault & Kevin Boots.

Pastor Marshall

Summer 2014



Luther's Rose & Kierkegaard's Longing

Sewn by Bob Ayer

Given to Pastor Ron Marshall

Seattle, WA

February 6, 2011








The Property of Jesus

Bob Dylan’s Witness to Christ

By Pastor Marshall


October 5th Anders and I attended the Bob Dylan concert in Seattle. I had seen him once before in Tacoma in 1985 – but it was Anders’ first time. I was surprised that Dylan began with one of his Christian songs, “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” (1979). It was a defiant stroke, since those songs were never very popular. In it he sings:

You can mislead a man,

You can take hold of his heart with your eyes.

But there’s only one authority,

And that’s the authority on high….

Jesus said, “Be ready,

For you know not the hour in which I come.”

He said, “He who is not for Me is against Me,”

Just so you know where He’s coming from.

But Bob Dylan, at 68, is mostly remembered as that 1960s folk singer who protested the war in Viet Nam and other social ills with such songs as “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1962), “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (1963), “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1964), and “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965) – which Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 called the best song ever. Bono, in the 2008 citation for the Rolling Stone award of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” said that Dylan's voice is “howling, seducing, raging, indignant, jeering, imploring, begging, hectoring, confessing, keening, wailing, soothing, conversational, crooning. It is a voice like smoke, from cigar to incense, where it’s full of wonder and worship.” Keening? That means lamenting.

Dylan, however, is more than a singer and musician. He’s also a film maker, painter (The Drawn Blank Series, 1994) and poet. So he’s not stuck in the 1960s. Just think of his recent string of prestigious awards – the Kennedy Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997; three Grammy Awards in 1998, including Album of the Year for Time Out of Mind (1997); the Academy Award (Oscar) in 2001 for his song, “Things Have Changed,” from the film Wonderboys; an Honorary Doctorate of Music in 2004 from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland; and the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation in 2008. And the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, Andrew Motion, said his songs should be studied along with the poems of the towering John Keats (1795-1821) in the universities of the UK (The London Times, September 22, 2007). To date, some twenty PhD dissertations have been written on Dylan’s work and influence. Some eleven hundred books have also been written about him over the last forty years.

Dylan’s poems and songs show the influences of Robert Burns (1759-1796), Jean Rimbaud (1854-1891), and Dylan Thomas (1914-1953). His music sounds like the blues singer, Robert Johnson (1911-1938), the folk singer, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), and the rock singer, Chuck Berry (1926-  ). He has written over 500 songs with nearly 60 million CDs sold, and has been performing 100 concerts a year since 1988 – on what he calls his Never Ending Tour. In the first volume of his autobiography, he says that his songs are “one long funeral song” [Chronicles (2004) p. 85]. In 2006 he began his acclaimed Theme Time Radio Hour on the XM satellite network – my favorite shows being The Bible (No. 19), The Devil (No. 14) and Fools (No. 47).

But it is his Christian songs that mean the most to me (see my “Bob & God,” Seattle Weekly, December 20, 1989, and “Dylan Lives,” First Things, December 2006). In 2005 I collected (with Anders’ help) a 2 CD set of 27 of these songs (from the years 1962 to 1997) which I entitled, Dylan Wake: Songs About Belief, Benevolence and Blessings, Darkness, Death and Departures. Two of my favorites come from the Shot of Love album (1981). The first is about our predicament – “Dead Man, Dead Man.” It reminds me of T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Men” (1925) (see also C. Ricks’ Dylan’s Vision of Sin, 2003):

Uttering idle words from a reprobate mind,

Clinging to strange promises, dying on the vine,

Never bein’ able to separate the good from the bad,

Ooo, I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it,

It’s makin’ me feel so sad.

Dead man, dead man,

When will you arise?

Cobwebs in your mind,

Dust upon your eyes.

Luther shared these sentiments. He said we were “spiritual lepers,” twisted up from within by a “monster of self-righteousness” (Luther’s Works 25:346; 26:310). In his autobiographical movie, Masked & Anonymous (2003), Dylan says that “man doesn’t know his own place” in the world, and that we build “hospitals as shrines to the diseases we create.”

And the second song is “The Property of Jesus,” which also reflects Luther’s theology – this time his claim that Christians should be bold, rebellious, and dangerous – because we must never bow down to anyone (LW 23:399; 13:414; 27:44; 51:139) [see also The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan (2009) pp. 88, 97]. Dylan supposedly wrote this song against Mick Jagger for mocking him when he became a Christian (see Oliver Trager, Keys to the Rain, 2004):

When the whip that’s keeping you in line

   doesn’t make him jump,

Say he’s hard-of-hearin’, say that he’s a chump.

Say he’s out of step with reality as

   you try to test his nerve

Because he doesn’t pay no tribute to

   the king that you serve.

He’s the property of Jesus

Resent him to the bone

You got something better

You’ve got a heart of stone.

Oh, and don’t miss his “Little Drummer Boy” on Christmas in the Heart (2009)!

(Revised and reprinted from The Messenger, November 2009.)