I am filled with gratitude to God for the great joy and privilege of serving as your presiding bishop these past 12 years. With Paul I pray: "I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now" (Philippians 1:3-5).
I always will be grateful that repeatedly I have heard, "Bishop, we are praying for you and for our church." The assurance that we meet in prayer for one another before God's throne of grace gives immeasurable strength. For your faithful witnessing of God's love in Christ Jesus I say, "Thanks be to God."
Whenever I speak on the state of the ELCA, I ask those gathered to share where they were Thursday evening, where they will be on Monday morning, and the congregation where they worship. The answer to "What is the state of the ELCA?" is in how 4 million baptized members embody God's baptismal call in daily life.
My heart fills with gratitude for congregations and leaders who serve the gospel. Challenges in recent years can occasion discouragement and turning inward, or they can unleash renewed mission. Across the church I witness congregations imagining new possibilities for mission as they join with others in prayerful, attentive listening to God's promises, the gifts of the Spirit and the voices of their communities.
Our life together comes from the triune God who calls, gathers, enlightens and sends us through the good news of Jesus Christ. I pray that each of us will grow in gospel fluency as we approach the Reformation's 500th anniversary in 2017. Gospel fluency means serving as ambassadors of God's reconciliation: "You are a new creation in Christ; this is God's doing not ours." Let us let go of being competitors in a consumer-driven religious marketplace and embrace the opportunity to be who we are in Christ: ambassadors bearing the good news that God is not in the sin-accounting business. Jesus' dying and rising is entirely about God and God's merciful love for the world. To bear this witness is to be who we are as evangelical Lutherans. As Paul wrote: "We do not proclaim ourselves, we proclaim Jesus Christ ..." (2 Corinthians 4:5).
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