Recently I returned from what used to be called a foreign experience — but it was anything but foreign. I had the privilege of teaching and preaching in Korea and Japan. Though I was language-impaired, I was warmly received at each seminar and worship service. I was clearly welcomed as a brother in the faith. Politeness and courtesy soon were enhanced by warm responses to a touch of humor.
Interestingly, there wasn't a Lutheran among the dozens attending the seminars or the hundreds at worship. Baptists, Presbyterians and Assembly of God folks were there in abundance. And that's my point.
Certainly there were differences in tradition and interpretation between us. Church structure and practice varied among us all. But that wasn't where they started. They began our relationship where we had common faith. What made us one was much more important than what separated us. Our common faith in Jesus Christ set the tone and made us family — a family of God's intent and design. They realized that such a relationship wasn't my idea or theirs — it was God's.
For one sermon text I used Ephesians 2. The wonderful 19th verse brought smiles to faces and amens to voices: "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God ...." What incredible words of promise.
It saddens me that here in America we often miss the point of this and other passages that remind us of what we've become through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Far too often narrowly focused doctrinal purity and hierarchical power structures serve to divide rather than unite us. Such traditional certainty may be supported by the self-serving interpretations of church fathers, but it most surely can't be supported by God's word.
Seeking to know and do God's will is different from striving to impose your own. Leaders, councils and assemblies often have erred in the past. Some have become self-serving, even corrupt, with biblical truth being compromised. A faith journey should be a humbling awareness of human limitations — a journey experienced by even the best church leaders.
To assume or insist that one's own traditions or doctrinal interpretations are absolute or infallible truth is to play loose and free with God's biblical word.
We are brothers and sisters through the cross of Jesus Christ. It is faith in him that brings us the hope and promise of life in relationship with God and God's people. That relationship is not conditioned by denominational loyalties or the limitations of tradition.
That truth was demonstrated in beautiful terms for me in Korea and Japan. I was welcome to be sure. But even more — I belonged. We may had been different in many ways. We might even have disagreed on many religious issues. But one thing was very clear: I was welcomed in their family. They believed that was the way the Lord wanted it and so did they. It brought to me a wonderful feeling of belonging. I have a sense God would have it no other way.
Check out this week's articles:
Checking facts in the Holy Land: (right) Bishops hope to increase awareness in synods.
Parent at church, parent at home: What happens when mom or dad prefers 'St. Mattress'?
'A Man Named Pearl': Meet topiary artist Pearl Fryar.
His eyes say hope: Pastor with ALS writes, listens & prays.
Calling all future pastors: Synod helps youth discern their call to ministry.Also: His eyes say hope
Discuss Holy Land accompaniment
March 24-31: Join Dean Nelson (right), bishop of the Southwest California Synod, to discuss accompaniment in the Holy Land.
Nelson was one of the 44 bishops of the ELCA and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada who traveled to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank to gain "facts on the ground" insight into one of the world's most complicated and volatile regions.
Consider reading "Checking facts in the Holy Land" before joining in.
This week on our blog:
Andrea Pohlmann (right) blogs about ranting in public.
Sonia Solomonson blogs about patriarchy.
Kathleen Kastilahn blogs about spring.
Amber Leberman asks "Have you ever given or received an unsolicited compliment?"
Tell us! Pastor goofs
For some of you it was just last Sunday, for others it was years ago. Pastors, please share with us your funniest — yes, likely embarrassing — ministry stories.
The March issue of The Little Lutheran has arrived!
Don't let them miss another issue.
The Little Lutheran helps children 6 and younger learn about God's love for them and the world in which they live. It teaches them about Jesus, their friend and savior.
Adults, you will want this for the children in your life. Pastors and congregations, you will want this for education and evangelism. See how you can subscribe for nearly half the price.
Introducing The Little Christian
For grandparents, godparents and others whose little ones age 6 and younger aren't Lutheran, give a subscription to The Little Christian. Launched in January 2009, this has the same great content as The Little Lutheran and is available at the same price: $24.95 for a one-year subscription, $45 for two and $59 for three. Or the low rate of $12.95 per subscription if you join with friends to order six or more (one billing but multiple mailing addresses). Tell your friends in our full-communion and ecumenical partner churches too. Visit www.thelittlechristian.org or call 800-328-4648.
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