God goes with submariners

400 feet below the Pacific Ocean, like the Garden of Gethsemane

J.L. Precup: "Monday is sermon day, and the rest of the week is for thinking about what I’ve written."
  • J.L. Precup: "Monday is sermon day, and the rest of the week is for thinking about what I’ve written."

Place: University Lutheran Church

Pastor: J.L. Precup

Age: 71

Born: Aurora, IL

Formation: Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO

Years Ordained: 45

University Lutheran Church

9595 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla

San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?

Pastor J.L. Precup: For Lutherans, word and sacrament are important in worship. While I might have an opinion on any number of things, it’s important to explicate the word. Certainly any delving into scripture has present-day applications. The particular Lutheran emphasis is on the person as saint and sinner…. I spend the better part of a solid day on my sermon, and then, as I like to say, I let it sit in the computer and marinate. I came up with a discipline very early after becoming a pastor. Monday is sermon day, and the rest of the week is for thinking about what I’ve written, and refining it right up to Sunday morning.

SDR: What is the mission of your church?

PP: The community of University Lutheran Church connects people to God, and to each other, on their spiritual journeys by the gospel of Christ nurturing love. The old terminology for the kind of congregation I serve was “town and gown.” In other words, some town people worship alongside the academic community…. We feel welcomed here at UCSD and, likewise, we are open to the university. A young couple moved into the area; they’re not students but beginning their professional lives. They’re Lutheran, but they live in a place that’s not near a Lutheran church. They’d ask people at various Lutheran churches they visited where they thought this couple belonged. Each time, people pointed them to our community. While our worship looks traditional, the spirit of the place is very open.

SDR: Where’s the strangest place you found God?

PP: I am retired from active duty. I was a Navy chaplain for 28 years. I was fortunate enough to begin at Point Loma, at the submarine base in the early 1980s on a submarine tender. One of my later tours, which began in the year 2000, was at Submarine Squadron 11 here. I got to ride on submarines. After services during one Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday, the captain of the sub and I sat in the subdued lighting of the room. Looking around, he told me that this is how he envisioned the Garden of Gethsemane — kind of dark and quiet. I nodded, but then thought, Wait. We’re 400 feet below the Pacific Ocean! But says the psalmist, “Where can I go and you are not there?”

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PP: We’ve come from God and we return to God. I’m waiting for the resurrection of the body in that judgment to come — God’s judgment. My hope is built on Christ and not on my personal decision about whether I merit heaven or hell. So where am I when I die? I cannot look into the full mind of God to say what he has planned for all people; I only know what he has planned for me. Therefore, for me to deny Christ is to risk a negative judgment of me, but I can’t say that of everyone. When God steps out of the way, when God isn’t present — that’s hell. So much of scripture and the stories of God dealing with people is a matter of calling them back from that rejection.

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