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A MONTHLY MESSAGE FROM THE ELCA PRESIDING BISHOP
During a recent chapel service at the Lutheran Center, Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for Global Mission, shared his favorite Bible verse with us: “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
Jesus was in Jerusalem in the upper room praying with his disciples, modeling selfless service as he washed their feet, and preparing them for his glorification that would take place on the cross.
“He loved them to the end.” To his bitter end on the cross, but to the end of so much more—to the end of the deadly grip of sin, to the end of everything that would try to mar the image of God borne by every human being, to the end of death.
And Jesus loved them, 12 flesh and blood human beings who carried all the “stuff” people carry—passion and humor and courage, fear and doubt, the need to be seen and affirmed, great faith and quaking uncertainty. Jesus did not love the concept of disciples or the theory of people— Jesus loved them, Jesus loves us.
Jesus loved. How does one describe that? At my cousin’s wedding, the priest noted in his sermon that human language is too small for God. All the poetry in the world can’t express the love for one’s beloved or for a new baby or for family. All of the hymns ever written or sung can’t convey the love we have for God. Neither can words convey how much God loves us. It’s almost incomprehensible how much we are loved by God. It is too much to take in. But it is true.
This is the message that the Lutheran movement still has to speak to the rest of the world. God loves us. God means well for us and for the world. God’s love is deep and constant. And God’s love is not sentimental. The Incarnation was not a whim. Emmanuel, God with us, was a deliberate immersion into human brokenness in order to bring about healing and wholeness. “For while we were still weak … while we still were sinners … while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son …” (Romans 5:6-10).
The Lutheran movement presents an alternative face of Christianity to the world. Too often the image of Christianity seen in popular culture is of a judgmental transactional God demanding perfection from an imperfect people, a people who, in desperation, work harder and harder to save themselves. Rules for purity are erected—pure theology and pure morality. Stark lines are drawn defining who is in and who is out. Faith becomes work. Righteousness is our righteousness achieved by ourselves.
Grace—God’s love freely given—is God’s work. It is not our doing. It is a gift. It is freedom. This is not for a minute to deny the truth of our sinfulness or that God does judge us and finds us falling seriously short. Grace doesn’t give us a free pass, nor does grace gloss over the reality of suffering and evil in the world. This grace, this freedom, makes it possible for us to realize the love of God in Christ in the world and in our own lives. And no human can set bounds on God’s grace.
Jesus loves his own and loves us to the end. Jesus doesn’t expect us to do the same—Jesus makes it possible for us to do the same. Therefore, we have nothing to fear and nothing to lose when we reject the notion of racial supremacy, when we welcome the stranger, when we confess that God alone is first. We can tell that story.
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
This column originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Living Lutheran magazine. Read her column in English at https://bit.ly/2w8NZSe and in Spanish at https://bit.ly/2jlilYt. Reprinted with permission.
you gave us birth in the bright morning of this world.
Creator, source of ev’ry breath,
you are our rain, our wind, our sun.”*
As we celebrate mothers this week,
we thank you for all the people who have served as mothers.
They have protected and nourished us,
defended and loved us,
by giving us their very own lives.
We repent of the times we have disrespected and abused,
enslaved and imprisoned people who have been mothers.
Send your fierce love to anyone who is suffering
because they care for children.
And, help us heal from the times mothers have hurt children.
Knit us all together with creative wisdom,
feed us with bold compassion,
and send us forth with wild courage.
When mothers call us to justice and peace,
mercy and health, help us listen intently.
More than lending mothers a hand, let us follow their lead. Amen.
PRAYER IN THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
MAY 11, 2018
The Rev. Michael D. Wilker
Lutheran Church of the Reformation
*from Jean Janzen’s hymn based upon Julian of Norwich. Evangelical Lutheran Worship #735.
by Mary Oliver*
The development of multiethnic congregations is not an attempt to take part in any trends toward multiculturalism or a knee-jerk reaction to congregational decline but is, instead, a response to the Gospel call for all to become one in the body of Christ. At the beginning of April five of us from the Metro D.C. Synod traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to take part in a Mosaix Regional Learning Lab, focused on developing vibrant and inviting multiethnic congregations. Church leaders from Garfield Memorial Church, a congregation in Cleveland with several multiethnic campuses, shared many aspects of what has made their effort successful.
Intentionality is key. Reconciliation of our many differences, be they cultural, racial, political, or socioeconomic, will not happen without guided effort and design.
Take stock of your church.
- Is your church leadership and staff diverse?
- Does the artwork around your building, curriculum used in Sunday School, and events held by your congregation show diversity?
- Welcome differences, and practice accommodation, finding ways to incorporate those differences into your congregation’s way of being, rather than asking members of your congregation to assimilate into one way of doing things.
- Remind yourselves that while you may not like all the changes brought by incorporating new ideas into your church, others will!
Develop a succinct and memorable vision for your congregation – and repeat it often! When members begin complaining that it is being said too often – that is when they are beginning to remember it.
Along with creating a vision and mission for your congregation, consider developing a core set of values that members can refer to and be reminded of. For example, at Garfield Memorial, the core values are safety, authenticity, growth, diversity, and forgiveness. Both the vision of the church and defined core values work to facilitate some of the most important work of becoming a multiethnic church: open and honest conversations that begin reconciliation.
Openness and authenticity, even in uncomfortable conversations, are necessary for cultural inclusion and reconciliation. Work as a church to create safe spaces for these important conversations, where confidentiality is maintained, all are allowed to speak their own truths and have the legitimacy of their own experiences recognized, and forgiveness, even though sometimes difficult, is practiced.
Educate your congregation on cultural competency, so that members can learn to recognize that cultural differences exist and can begin to recognize them more easily. Recognizing this, individuals can begin to work through and past their own bias, which everyone has.
Shift the lens of your church’s focus away from an inward “club” mentality, concerned only with those already inside your church walls, to a “kingdom” mentality, focused on working to further the kingdom of God on earth which sees all as members of the body of Christ.
IN YOUR CONGREGATION
If you would like more information on the content of the Mosaix conference or would like to bring this initiative to your congregation, please contact the Rev. Philip Hirsch at phirschmetrodcelca.org or 202-417-3678, ext. 3682.
* Our guest blogger, Mary Oliver, is a member of Peace Lutheran Church in Waldorf, Md.
Earth Day lands on Sunday this year, but All Saints Lutheran Church in Bowie, Md. is hosting a 4th annual event on Earth Day that helps maintain year-round momentum of stewardship awareness. Grounded [no pun intended] in verses from the 1st chapter of Genesis, “Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so… And God saw that it was good,” the community sets up tables and invites a community exchange on Earth Day. “Share your abundance!” they encourage, such as seeds, divided perennials, bulbs, and seedlings “that were more than enough” in member households. “Everyone is invited to help themselves to whatever you can use.”
PHOTO: Bees on purple coneflower at ASLC posted to Facebook when @AllSaintsLutheranChurchBowieMD observed Pollinator Week – highlighting urgent issues of declining populations of bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles that provide valuable ecosystem services. This year the Pollinator Week falls June 18-24, 2018.
On Earth Day 2018, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton shares a message including this claim and prayer.
“The present moment is a critical and urgent one, filled with both challenge and opportunity to act as individuals, citizens, leaders and communities of faith in solidarity with God’s good creation and in hope for our shared future. We claim God’s promise in Revelation 21 for ‘a new heaven and a new earth as we pray together:
‘Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us coworkers in your creation. Give us wisdom and reverence to use the resources of nature so that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'”
Find Caring for Creation resources from the ELCA at https://www.elca.org/Resources/Caring-for-Creation and Presiding Bishop Eaton’s full statement at http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/7922 .
A note of appreciation to the ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod for formatting this prayer.
Our Synodical Women’s Organization (SWO) invites you to an exploration of depression and suicide prevention with the help of presenters from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), who will share their journeys with mental illness in an English and a Spanish session during the SWO’s annual convention on Sat. May 5. Other activities include “God, Improv, and the Art of Living,” an experience with author Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana about how the principles of improvisation can guide us in our daily lives when we are faced with detours and disappointments – when life doesn’t go according to plan. “We will be uplifted by worshiping and celebrating the Eucharist together in a bilingual service, shop our vendors and exhibitors, and enjoy fellowship.” Learn more about the Convo – “Take Heart – Getting to Wholeness” – and our Synodical Women’s Organization.
by Dorothy Sorrell
The ELCA Domestic Hunger Program has awarded grants to five congregations and organizations in the ELCA Metro D.C. Synod.
- Gracing Spaces Ministry of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Virginia was able to provide furniture, household items, and children’s clothing to more than 500 families as they moved from homelessness in Fairfax County during 2017.
- St. Luke Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, works with 15 community agencies to provide food, and nutrition, and exercise information to people in Montgomery County.
- The Action in Community Through Service (ACTS) Hunger Prevention Center serves those in need of immediate access to food, primarily the working poor and seniors on fixed incomes. St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Lake Ridge, Virginia, is very active with this service provider to the greater Prince William area.
- Good Shepherd Housing Foundation, founded by members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Woodbridge, Virginia, provides 15 affordable rental housing units in Prince William County.
- Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), in which several D.C. congregations are active including First Trinity Lutheran Church, Luther Place Memorial, and Lutheran Church of the Reformation, works to maintain and expand subsidized affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families in the District of Columbia.
All of these efforts offer hope and assistance to thousands of people who experience poverty and hunger in the United States.
ELCA World Hunger Domestic Hunger Grants fund projects in advocacy, community development, community-based organizing and relief that strengthen the foundations of communities affected by hunger and poverty.
Our guest blogger, Dorothy Sorrell, is Synod Hunger Coordinator.
MONTHLY MESSAGE FROM THE ELCA PRESIDING BISHOP
It all started with such promise: The angel announcing to Mary that the child she would bear would be called Son of the Most High; Mary’s conviction that this child was the embodiment of God’s promised justice, that the powerful would be brought down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up, that the hungry would be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty; angels announcing his birth; Simeon and Anna declaring the fulfillment of God’s promise in the tiny child; the youth teaching in the temple; thousands being fed; the sick healed; the dead raised; wind and waves stilled; teaching with authority.
And his teaching! The kingdom of heaven has drawn near. Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. We are no longer servants in the household, but children. Sin and its consequence, death, no longer have power. Love is stronger than hate. And all of this comes from the merciful and gracious will of God as a gift.
Could this be true? Was the world being turned upside down? Was this the start of the revolution? No wonder the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” when he rode into Jerusalem. Perhaps the disciple Nathaniel remembered Jesus’ words when they first met: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
And then, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was over. The world hadn’t changed. Might still made right. How ridiculously naïve to believe that any reversal of the old order could come about. Hope is for the gullible. Looking at this broken man hanging utterly helpless, naked and broken on a cross, the powers and principalities, earthly and spiritual, death and the devil must have said, “You fool.”
This, as Paul reminds us, is the wisdom of the world. And the world can present plenty of hard evidence that it is right: children killing children in horrific school shootings; human beings living underground to escape bombing and chemical weapons in Syria; children afraid to play outdoors in my city of Chicago because they could be shot; sexual violence; claims of supremacy; and 60 million displaced people—all of this supported by our rebellion against God, our idolatrous claim that we are in control and the world is ours. In the face of this and all of the suffering others cause and we cause others, we, too, might cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
I believe that the beginning of Psalm 22 expresses the anguish of the psalmist and the anguish of our Lord, but there is more going on here. Citing the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying an entire passage. The psalm ends this way: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. … Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”
This is the wisdom of God. Jesus’ crucifixion is the death of our death. His innocent suffering has reconciled all of creation to God. He has done it. We stake our lives on this.
This year Easter falls on April 1. We shall have come through the Lenten desert to the Easter garden. We shall say, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.” And we shall confess this and live this in the face of worldly wisdom that is based on death. Life wins. Love wins. And if the world wants to call us April fools, we are glad to claim that title.
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
This column originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Living Lutheran magazine. Read her column in English at http://bit.ly/2wLIfdE or in Spanish at http://bit.ly/2j6pOgJ. Reprinted with permission.