At a synod assembly where I was participating as the churchwide representative, I was invited to give my response to this question: "Bishop, in one word what is your vision for every member of the ELCA?"
My response was "freedom."
Fortunately, I was also invited to elaborate, and I recalled Paul's words: "For freedom Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1).
I talked about how in Christ we are bound to be free from the powers of sin, death and the devil, and how, at the same time, in Christ we are also free to be bound to God through faith, to one another and to our neighbor.
This same word of freedom from Paul comes to mind when the question is asked: "Where is the word of God in the life and witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?"
It is right where Scripture points us.
The Word of God is Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen savior of the world, who for freedom has set you free, and who brings you into the life of the new creation.
Where is the word of God in the life of this church?
It is in the living word proclaimed as both law and gospel. Through that word we encounter the truth about ourselves — that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
But we also encounter the liberating word of God that on account of Christ we are forgiven, reconciled to God and to one another.
This living word of God has power that sets you free.
It sets you free for a life of faith.
It sets you free to proclaim in word and deed the good news of Jesus Christ with compassion and evangelical imagination.
It sets you free to serve your neighbor, to strive for justice and peace, and to care for God's creation with creativity and passion.
It sets us free to serve in the ministry of reconciliation with confidence and joy.
This liberating word of God is alive in the ELCA because it creates faith and lives in liberated people of faith. This is how the Scriptures have authority, because through the Scriptures God authors — creates — faith. This is what it means to be a Book of Faith church.
Not that our faith is finally in a book, but we are a church in which the Scriptures, as Martin Luther said, preach and inculcate the life of Jesus Christ in us. In and through faith Jesus Christ becomes our new birth. The proclamation of his life, death and resurrection becomes the narrative that we are living out together in confident hope and the freedom of the gospel.
This faith is "a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that believers would stake their lives on it a thousand times," Luther said.
The way God brings this life of confident trust into being is through your ears. Think of your ears as the birth canal of faith, as Paul wrote: "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).
In the same way the liberating word flows through your life of faith to others. Every time you confess Jesus is Lord, every time any one of the more than 4 million baptized members of this church declares, "I believe in Jesus Christ," we can be confident that the Spirit is at work through the word of God.
Sometimes I wonder, even worry, that we have become more comfortable debating who is and who is not following God's word in this church, rather than together having a sense of urgency about sharing God's word with those who have not heard it or who have long forgotten it.
May we be a church that shares Paul's confidence in the liberating power of God's word: "I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith" (Romans 1:16).
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers