First Lutheran Church of San Diego

Pastor Wilbert Miller believes, “We are all underserving, [yet] we all get that free lunch, no matter who we are.”
  • Pastor Wilbert Miller believes, “We are all underserving, [yet] we all get that free lunch, no matter who we are.”

First Lutheran Church of San Diego

1420 Third Avenue, Downtown San Diego

Membership: 225

Pastor: Wilbert “Wilk” Miller

Age: 61

Born: Wheeling, WV

Formation: Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH; Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT; Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA

Years Ordained: 35

San Diego Reader: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?

Pastor Wilbert Miller: I would preach that in fact there is a free lunch for all people. We live in a culture that always looks for the fine print. Many people think, especially in the church, that this is only for people who are good, perfect, and think a certain way about social issues, whatever that might be. It is a free lunch for everybody; we are all undeserving and we all get that free lunch, no matter who we are. In our tradition, the free lunch is all about the radical nature of God’s grace….

SDR: What is your main concern as member of the clergy?

PW: Cleary the church is no longer the institution it used to be. We’re no longer the place where everyone goes Sunday morning, or to the synagogue Saturday. There are so many opportunities and options. My concern becomes that especially we pastors try to cater to that because we know that people church-shop today… The church needs to commit itself to what Christ is about, and I think that’s not a popular message in our culture, to care for the poor, the hungry, the dying. That’s not always an exciting or happy message.

SDR: Why Lutheran?

PW: It’s what I was born in, but I really cherish the gift of grace and that we are saved by the love of God through Christ Jesus, and not by what we do. That is the issue on which Lutherans rise or fall. I don’t’ think Lutherans are the perfect denomination, but that’s what rings true, day in and day out. We are justified by the grace of God and not by what we do. It makes so much sense to me.

SDR: What is the mission of your church?

PW: We are getting ready to celebrate our 125th anniversary. We’re the oldest Lutheran church in Southern California. In 2013 we will celebrate that anniversary. We’ve always been downtown, and for our mission, we say we are the heart of Christ in the heart of the city. And so that I really think the history of this congregation has been to keep our doors open to all people.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PW: I believe it’s up to God who gets into heaven. My deepest prayer, because I know myself best, is that God is merciful. That is my prayer. I certainly don’t feel that I deserve to be in heaven…. I’m fearful that any answer I give to that question minimizes the wonder of God’s grace.

SDR: Is heaven the only option for people? Or is there a place of punishment that they could go to?

PW: I think God works that out. What I see in the world, my daily experience starts with me. I know I’m a sinner, so I don’t need to point my finger at others. My worldview is that we are fallen, we are broken, and we are selfish. The world revolves around us and our ideas of what’s perfect. But my belief is that Gods’ view is much bigger than my little worldview.

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