August 3, 2017
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who “makes us free” (John 8:36).
“Give Me Jesus”
As we continue in this year of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, the African American spiritual, “Give Me Jesus” (ELW 770) comes often into my mind. Whether “in the morning when I rise,, “dark midnight,, “just about the break of day,” “when I come to die,” or “when I want to sing,” give me Jesus.
Who is the Jesus I need to be given? He is the “Word of God made flesh,” whose birth, life, death and resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit draws me, you, and this world into God’s embrace.
With more challenging language, the Lutheran confessors would say it this way:
We are debating about an important issue, the honor of Christ and the source of sure and firm consolation for pious minds-whether we should put our trust in Christ or in our own works. If we put it in our works, we rob Christ of his honor as mediator and propitiator. And in the judgment of God we shall learn that this trust was vain and our consciences will then plunge into despair. For if the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation do not come freely for Christ’s sake, for the sake of our love, nobody will have the forgiveness of sins unless (that one) keeps the whole law, because the law does not justify so long as it can accuse us. Justification is reconciliation for Christ’s sake. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Tappert, Article IV)
Those who come into our conversations, our Bible studies, the worship of which we are a part, and those who are the auditors of our sermons often enjoy good stories, inspirational words, and good direction (if it happens to match their sympathies!). But, in presence of hope that too often is misplaced, what they, I, and (I suspect) you, most need is to be directed to the hope that God has given us in the crucified and risen Jesus by whose Spirit we are made alive to give glory to God for the sake of the neighbor and this world.
Through your sermon, help me to make the connection between what is happening in my life and God’s promises in Christ. Open the Scripture so that I see Jesus, a Jesus who is for me and for this world. When I feel the suffocating press of all that I should do or already have wrongly done, tell me about the Christ who has done it for me, endured it for me, suffered it for me and who declares me to be forgiven and free. Help me to make the connection between that freedom and how the Holy Spirit takes my eyes off myself and opens me to see the world in a new way. Connect the water of Baptism and the Eucharist to this one who through these earthly means gives me himself in life and in death. In the midst of my ongoing inclination always to be about the task of justifying myself (and condemning the other!), open my eyes and my heart to the God who is about the work of reconciling me, you, and this world for Christ’s sake through a cross and empty tomb.
Dear baptized child of God, dear leader in Christ’s church, dear pastor, please, please…give me Jesus.
Freed for the Sake of the Neighbor
In his essay, On Christian Freedom (1520), Martin Luther wrote, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Throughout my life, I have wondered about how we exercise that freedom, that call to be a servant in our lives as citizens. Sometimes I fear that we interpret the “separation between church and state” to mean that our faith has no implications for the choices we make in the political arena. If we seek to make those connections, how do we have conversations with one another about matters to which we may have disagreements, even disagreements shaped by our faith perspective?
We are a democratic nation that values the exchange of ideas in the public arena. As Lutheran Christians we understand the importance of living out our faith in the world. Issues of wealth and poverty, living as Christians in a pluralistic context, gender violence, immigration, racism, care of creation and many others press in upon us. Surely our homes, congregations, and communities can be places where we pray, examine a Christ-centered reading of the Biblical witness, ask what will best serve the welfare of those most vulnerable, and act in a manner that will seek justice even as we acknowledge places of our own blindness and fervently pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
This year we are observing the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. How might we make the most of this anniversary within our congregations and the life of this synod? As one of her four accents, ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton stresses, We are Lutheran. At her request, a course in Luther’s Small Catechism was offered for all staff at the ELCA office in Chicago. With some humor, she reported at the Conference of Bishops’ Meeting that it is the non-Lutherans who are particularly enjoying the course!
Surely, there are gifts and burdens that have resulted from the Reformation. Can both be explored even as we claim “the best” from this tradition and grieve/confess the sadness of the division that resulted? I am so grateful for Pastor Walter Still (Peace, Ft. Myers) and his leadership in coordinating and supporting events in this synod. These events include 3 Lutheran-Catholic services of Common Prayer, an ecumenical prayer labyrinth in Miami, and a variety of hymn festivals and local events throughout the synod. If your congregation has not organized or participated in a Reformation500-themed event, The ELCA web site also has a link for resources. Share your pictures and stories with Sister Michelle Collins (firstname.lastname@example.org, 813-876-7660, ext. 223).
May these be days in which we claim the gift of freedom that comes to us as through the Holy Spirit as we entrust ourselves to God’s promises of forgiveness and life given through our Lord Jesus Christ. May these be days when that freedom opens us in new ways to embody Christ in our care for one another and this world.
Together with you in Christ,
Bishop Marcus Lohrmann