+Bishop Jon V. Anderson
The observance of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is upon us. While we celebrate this milestone we also know God’s reformation continues.
We give thanks for the Lutheran Reformation’s gifts and positive impact in reforming God’s Church and world. We lament its mistakes and the damage it caused. We observe this milestone knowing the ongoing reformation of God’s gracious Spirit continues in each of our lives. God’s work continues in and through God’s church which is always tempted to take the place of the God and our Savior it exists to worship.
In these days may we hear the Gospel and be set free to love our neighbors as we wonder at the mystery of the cross. God’s love is revealed there and our movement continues even hundreds of years later. This Good News (evangelical) movement has spread across the globe and we have much to learn from all our sisters and brothers in Christ.
We have decades to savor the wisdom of the reformers in the years to come. As the events of the reformation unfold, we can read again the essays, savor Luther’s sharp and profound words, notice the other people God used to sustain God’s reforming work which has always been what holds God’s Church together and also inspires the preachers and hearers of God’s truth.
I treasure our Lutheran movement inside the body of Christ. We are a people who trust that God was up to something unique and decisive in the cross of Christ. We believe it is the deepest revelation of who we finally are as broken people and who God ultimately is. God refuses to give up on us. God’s resurrecting grace is at work in our midst even when all seems lost. As Luther says in the Heidelberg Disputation, “The cross alone is our theology.”
We know as God’s children, claimed in our baptisms, that we are “simul justus et peccator”. We are always sinners, but because of God’s grace we are also simultaneously righteous. For Lutherans we are always mindful of our personal and communal sin. But more so we are also always being made new and living deeper into the promises of Christ. As Luther says,
“This life, therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished, but it is going on; this is not the end, but this the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” – Defense and Explanation of all the Articles: Luther’s Works, Vol. 32
In the coming days we will celebrate the amazing gift of God’s gracious love that we know most clearly in and through Christ Jesus. We are justified with God, reconciled as a gift of God’s undeserved love. We will wonder at the Good News that God chooses to love us, forgive us and guide us as we live out our daily mission trip in life. We will claim our many callings as ways to sing a hymn of praise to our God whose work is decisive.
The Lutheran movement is not about our ethnic identities. It is ultimately who God is and who God is for you and me. We are saved by God’s great surprising love. It is about God’s work through reformers back then and now. You and I are part of that ongoing work of God to bring wholeness to our lives and all of life.
A “god” is the term for that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in all need. Therefore to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart. As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart that makes both God and idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say that is really your God.
– Martin Luther’s explanation of the First Article of the Apostle’s Creed – Book of Concord, p. 386
Good News to Share – Inviting
There are lots of things to do this time of year. I want to lift up an important but not urgent one.
How will you use the coming holidays to invite people to join with your community in gathering around the coming holidays? The ancient church talked about four marks of the Church.
Most people long to be a part of a living and deep community. How might you invite people to be a part of gatherings in the coming months where they could share their lives, stories and be a part of your community of faith? If you have not intentionally planned to engage single people, they are more than half of the adult population. One way to share the good news is by inviting people to join you around your table or at congregational events. Simple hospitality is one way to be an evangelist.
The Good news is proclaimed in words and action. Inviting friends or people who are new to your relational circle to worship with you is another way people can share the Good News. Most people will accept an invitation to worship, but we are normally reticent to do this. Luther said evangelism is as simple as one beggar telling another where to find the bread. Inviting people to join you at worship, meeting them at the door, sitting with them and helping them journey through a service is important. In these days as we approach Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas asking people about their family traditions in conversation will lead you into surprisingly deep conversations. You may be the one given the opportunity to talk about your faith practices and your deepest beliefs. It will not look like a sermon but it will be proclamation. Remember we all need to be evangelized in worship as we gather around word and sacrament and hear the Good News God is for us.
Passing on the Faith
The Lutheran movement invited people back to the sources. Many people go to Revelation or other complicated places when they pick up a Bible. Bible studies are a place to deepen your faith and invite others. Reading scripture as a practice of life is a way the Spirit works on us. We often think about faith formation for children. Finding ways to nourish the faith lives of adults will make sure that our living faith is also being passed on to younger ones. Jesus spent most of his energy on adults. How might you invite adults in your congregation or in your communities to join you in form of adult faith formation?
One of our best paths to invite people deeper into Jesus and the community that bears his name is to invite people to join us in service for the sake of our neighbor and creation. People who are alienated from the faith will often be glad to help us feed the poor, care for creation or show love to those impacted by disasters of a personal kind or a larger kind. When we make time to live our values and love our neighbors God works on us and through us. Inviting others to join you in service is a way you can be an evangelist.
In challenging times we need to hear the Good News. Find a way, this week, to make an invitation or plan for your congregation to deepen its invitations to come and gather in the Good News that our God is for us and with us.