One of many joys of serving as presiding bishop is worshiping, preaching and engaging in conversations in ELCA congregations. Important questions often frame those rich discussions. I share some with you to invite your participation.
What do we expect of the Spirit? Often when preaching I ask people what they expected the Spirit would do today. Forgive sins? Give new hope? Raise the dead? Bring good news to those in poverty? Reconcile the alienated? Did they expect to be set free in Christ? To hear they are God's beloved? That 3,000 would be saved (as in Acts 2)? Did they expect to leave anointed with the Spirit to witness to Jesus, to serve all people, and strive for justice and peace?
What is distinctive about being Lutheran? Most often I hear "grace," "faith" and "the cross." Although not unique to Lutherans, these responses are at our center.
The grace of God's baptismal promise meets us anew each day. "You are my child. I will love you steadfastly and forgive you mercifully for Jesus' sake. You belong to the community of Christ's body, and I will raise you to new life."
Jesus' cross and resurrection center our worship, witness, proclamation and service. There we experience the depth of God's redeeming love, and all attempts to save ourselves and the world are laid down. There God sets us free in Christ for lives of faith, "a living, daring confidence in God's grace that frees us to serve everyone, suffer everything out of love and praise to God."
What brings you joy? How can we not be joyful? Experiencing joy does not deny life's struggles or our sin. Joy does not prevent us from confronting evil or working for justice. Trusting that nothing in all creation will separate us from God's love in Christ, we rejoice in the new creation in Christ, reconciled to God and one another. We run the race before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who endured the cross, disregarding its shame, for the sake of the joy set before him.
What holds us captive? What holds our imaginations and passions captive? What closes our ears to God's promises, to our neighbors' cries and the creation's groaning? What shuts our eyes to Jesus meeting us in unexpected places and surprising faces?
Often I hear that fear, distrust and rage hold us captive. Is it any wonder that God's messengers continually proclaim "Do not fear" the new thing God is doing? Distrust of others prevents us from trusting God, who has given gifts to all for the common good. Rage born of resentments and unmet expectations can become toxic. Yet the Spirit liberates from fear. The Spirit unites us. Our imaginations come alive. Christ's love reflected in compassion and patience becomes the more excellent way we live.
What direction are we facing? Are we looking back nostalgically? Do we evaluate the present on the basis of losses and disappointments? Or does a living memory of God's faithfulness shape our hope in God's promised future? Are we living today as signs of this hope? What signs point people to Jesus? To God's mercy? To neighbors yearning for justice, mercy, peace? Are we turned inward or out toward the world God so deeply loves?
What questions are you asking and being asked? I think it would be wonderful if in this 25th anniversary year, every ELCA congregation invited members to study Martin Luther's Small Catechism as a way of entering more deeply into Scripture. The catechism immerses us in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar, always asking, "What does this mean?"
Yes, we are a church that continually strives for a deeper understanding of what the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means for the world. Doing so means we do not shy away from life's complexities. Doing so puts us right where God wants us to be: in the thick of life.
What a joy it is to serve in a church with such high expectations of the Spirit and lively, holy conversations.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers