Sunday, September 08, 2013

A full throated roar for the ELCA on the celebration of its 25th anniversary

  The Book of Deuteronomy is a re-telling. It’s a re-write. It’s a re-boot of the stories found in Exodus through Numbers.
         It’s as if some un-named author asked the question, “If Moses was on that mountain, looking down at the Kingdom created from the descendants of the people he brought out of Egypt and through the desert from slavery into freedom, what would Moses say to us? How does he see God acting now?”
         The book of Deuteronomy tells the story again, in a new place and at a new time.
         And I think today, on this day in which we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it’s worth telling our story again, in a new place, at a new time.
         After all, the way we’ve been telling that story is all wrong.
         For a wide variety of reasons we’ve fixated on the ELCA not being the ALC, the LCA, or the AELC—the churches the ELCA comes out of. We’ve been mourning the passing of these previous church bodies for the last 25 years—and so, when we tell the story of the ELCA, we have this great unconscious propensity to tell the story of what it’s not. It’s not the church of 25 years ago.
         But, as someone who was never a member of any of those predecessor bodies let me make it clear—we’re not 25 years ago. We’re here and now.
         With that in mind, it’s worth going up the mountain with Moses so we can look back down at ourselves and see what God is doing more clearly.
How God is making all things new.
How God is reconciling the world to Himself through us.

         To get up there, on the Mountain with Moses—to see and hear the story of us Always Being Made New,
of being Reconcilors.
To know what the ELCA looks like from the Mountain Top,
we have to start with what Christ has done for us.
         You hear this time and time again,
as service begins/ at the font/ from the pulpit/  in the creed/ at the table/ as we leave/ and as we live.
         But in case you hear it wrongly, or too softly, or just can’t really believe it to be true.
         Let me tell it to you again.
Christ Jesus saves sinners, and has saved you.
Through his life, death, and resurrection, he has made peace between God and the world.
God does not count our trespasses against us, but instead has made us right.
God reconciles the whole world to Himself through Jesus Christ.

         And in that,
insofar as we are in Christ,
 we have been made new.
We’ve been drafted to be ambassadors for the Kingdom of God.
We’ve been made messengers to spread this good new about Jesus to the ends of the earth.
All of us, who’ve heard this Good News, have been ordained to the ministry of reconciliation!
Empowered by the Holy Spirit to re-unite people to God and to one another.

         And for these last 25 years, the ELCA has been engaged in the hard, but righteous work, of making all things new.
         We’ve been Ambassadors, Messengers, and Ministers.
         For the last 25 years we’ve been a reconciling church.

         I imagine Moses looking down the mountain and seeing a church that enters into the places of deepest hurt and acts as little Christs there.
         He looks down and sees El Salvador, during the height of the civil war there. He sees whole villages being massacred by both sides of the conflict.
And he sees Pastor Greggory Knepp and other ELCA members going there, and living in the most vulnerable of villages, because they know that the militias there would think twice before massacring Americans.
         Looking down, and seeing the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordon, where thousands of refugees from the civil war in Syria gather. And seeing members of the ELCA and members of our partner church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordon and the Holy Land, ministering to those refugees. Mending our broken world, making all things new even there.

         He takes a panoramic view of the whole earth, and sees us, in these last 25 years, sending out 2,000 missionaries to over 100 countries.
He sees the webs of connection being formed as each Synod of the ELCA partners with an International Lutheran Church, so that we can be ambassadors of Christ to one another, widening our understanding of what it means to be Lutheran—to be faithful, in a new place, at a new time.
He sees our efforts to fight global poverty, hunger, and disease. He sees our investment of over 350 million dollars toward the alleviation of hunger and poverty.

         A little closer to home, he looks at the New Jersey Synod, and marvels. He sees that we fight well above our weight class.
         We make up 3% of the state’s population, but build more affordable housing than almost any organization other than the state of New Jersey itself.
         Our Synod partners with the Lutheran Church of Na-mib-ia and we sponsor and host 14 annual reconciliation camps in Bosnia.
         Moses sees our deacons and our advocates enter Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding cells in Elizabeth and Newark and elsewhere—the only organization that brings bibles in the native tongues of those held there in.
I’d imagine Moses thinks to himself, “Remember, you were sojourners in Egypt.”

         I’m sure Moses looked and saw how Christ, using the ELCA, reconciles and makes new families through our adoption programs and our re-settlement of refugees.
He saw St. Stephen hosting Vietnamese families back in the day, and churches in North Dakota hosting Somali families, and the herculean effort of Lutheran Immigration and Resettlement Services on behalf of the Hmong population transplanted to Minneapolis.

         He’d hear of how we are reconciling the society in which we live through critical and muscular wrestling with social issues—through statements and actions—word and deed—involving race, poverty, peace, and economic life.

         He’d see that when disaster cleaves our brothers and sisters from normalcy and safety, we get busy.
          From the floods in the Midwest to the South Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, we were there, and in the midst of all that, Christ brought a new creation out of everything old that had passed away.

         From the mountain he would also hear the beautiful chorus of reconciliation within the Church that we are bringing about, “that,” to quote the 17th chapter of John “all may be one in Christ.”
         He would listen to us leading a great and joyous ecumenical song between Congregationalist, Methodist, Episcopal, Moravian, Presbyterian, and Reformed, Christians.
         He would likely note our historic agreement with the Roman Catholic Church stating that the Reformation was both tragic and necessary.
         He would be in awe of our being reconciled with the Mennonites, asking for, and receiving, forgiveness from them for our historical persecution of them during the Reformation.
         From the mountaintop, brothers and sisters—we can see that this church continues to be Ambassadors of reconciliation in the name of Christ Jesus.
         Over there I can see the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Myanmar—sometimes called Burma—being birthed.
         There, a gaggle of Lutheran Teens at the Church Wide Assembly noticed the ELCA’s new fundraising budget didn’t include anything to help the disabled, or work with young people—so they made their case and that good work will be included too.
         Also at that Assembly, a Sikh man who lived through the shooting by a white supremacist at his temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin, came and gave greetings, saying of the ELCA, “Your words of support and encouragement came as a shining light at a time when my community was recovering from the numbness-of-senselessness.”
         And over there, Lutheran Disaster Relief is getting a much needed boost. The Red Cross, having seen its good work after Katrina—that we’re still in New Orleans, putting things back together 8 years later, long after everyone else has left—the Red Cross sees fit to give 2 million dollars of their donations to us to continue our work recovering from Sandy—because they know we’re the real deal.
         Speaking of Sandy, over there, I see a woman named June in Hoboken, at St. Matthew-Trinity Lutheran, finding socks and shoes for a man made homeless by the Hurricane, and let me tell you, she not only finds those socks and shoes, she kneels down and puts them on that man’s feet.
Talk about making all things new!

         From the mountain, we can survey, with Moses, these 25 years, and see a church, and a people,
set free by Christ,
reconciled to God,
doing the hard, but faithful and necessary work
of reconciliation.
From the mountain we can tell our story,
and tell Christ’s story,