In these uncertain and challenging times, I have pondered Paul's words to Timothy: "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7; New International Version).
Timidity is not one of God's gifts to us, but we must assess it if we run the risk of becoming a timid church body.
A timid church focuses on what is lost or lacking: members, financial assets, numbers of congregations, or the number of students in programs and schools. A timid church battens down the hatches and tries to hold on to what and who remains.
A timid church defines itself (or lets others do so) on the basis of controversies or partisan divisions. Yearning for a life without tension, a timid church faces the future with fear and foreboding.
Most of all, a timid church has lost confidence — faith — in the gospel and the power of the Spirit to work through the gospel. A timid church has lost its trust in God's promise to be faithful to God's promise, and each part becomes preoccupied with its own survival. A timid church does not entrust its whole life to the power and promise of Christ's death and resurrection.
As I said to synod bishops, synod vice presidents and seminary presidents in early October, I believe it is time for us to declare together: "In the name of Jesus Christ, our days of timidity are over!"
It is time for us to say with confidence: "By the power of the Spirit, we are a church confident that we have all we need. We have the treasure God has entrusted to us: the treasure of the gospel, incarnate in Jesus Christ."
This treasure of the gospel is the promise from God that the whole world deserves to hear. As Paul wrote to the faithful in Corinth: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ ..." (2 Corinthians 5:17-18; New Revised Standard Version).
We become confident, bold and courageous. This confidence is not in ourselves, but in the power of the Spirit. To us and through us, God provides for a world weary of seeking the glory road, eager to hear our proclamation of the good news and hungry to hear the good news of the grace of God through Christ Jesus.
We are confident that the message of Jesus Christ crucified has power to raise sinners to a life of faith in God's new creation. We are confident that, living in Christ, we are bound to be free from the powers of sin and death and free to be bound in love and service to our neighbors. We are confident that — when all the baptized live out God's baptized grace in their varied callings — they are everyday evangelists.
We are confident that we will respond to the cries of those who live with poverty, violence and natural disasters. We are confident that we will be a church that rolls up its sleeves and goes to work engaged in God's work of restoring community.
We are confident that we will be a church in which dialogue happens, a church that refuses the partisanship and incivility of a fractious culture, a church that believes Paul when he says God, in Christ, has reconciled the whole creation to God and has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.
We rejoice in the confidence of U.S. Lutherans 40 years ago in the decision to ordain women ("She brings the good news"). The gifts of leadership ordained women have brought to our life and mission give us confidence to continue to "pursue ardently the ELCA's commitment to becoming more diverse, multicultural, and multigenerational in an ever-changing and increasingly pluralistic context ... with special focus on full inclusion ... of youth, young adults, and people of color and people whose primary language is other than English" (ELCA Strategic Directions).
We are in a time of "turning and being turned." May the abundant gifts of the Spirit turn us from timidity toward courage, boldness and confidence as we live out our faith in this uncertain and challenging world.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers