Synod Assemblies don’t get me all that excited either.
I understand why we need them — in order to elect people to leadership, pass budgets and hear reports about the business that the institution needs to get accomplished.
Some people find their church identity from such things as social statements, large worship gatherings that pull out all the stops and seeing the church in action through our corporate structures on a national and global scale.
This is not where I find the locus of church activity. Personally, I’d rather worship in a gathering of people I know while welcoming new people to join us, drink coffee to catch up, and spend my time paying attention to the things we do with the places where we live/work/serve and strive for the connection points with our faith.
“Christ died for you” works for me much better than “Be it resolved.” But maybe that is why I’m a parish pastor and not a church politician.
I think being a Lutheran Christian is more about a perspective than it is an institutional designation — though one is (I hope) supported by the other.
As I watch the live streaming online this week and converse with others about what the results might mean, it is this perspective (not the results) that inform my Lutheranism. Here are my top three reasons why I believe remaining a Lutheran Christian still matters today, with our without the conventions:
1. The troubled monk from the 16th century still speaks
Life has changed tremendously in the last five years, let alone the last 500. Luther was first a monk, then a scholar, a teacher and a preacher — his theology was not as systematic as it was practical — responding to the realities of the day and the personalities involved.
To read Luther is not dry and lofty, but lively and earthy, full of contradiction and human emotion as well as insight and faith.
To read his sermons, tracks, biblical commentaries, letters and table talk is not to read theory but works from a person whose life was dramatically changed once he understood the implication of God’s saving action in Jesus Christ.
Institutional, political, and social life have changed dramatically over 500 years, yet human sin and brokenness are ever-present, and Luther’s approach of proclaiming a living and active Christ meeting us with a freeing word from God sounds just as fresh to captive ears today as in his time.
Often for me it is not “what Luther says” on a subject as much as it is how he goes about ministry. His flexibility in practical matters and uncompromising confession of Christ give him a unique voice that continues to draw me, as does his clear yet confusing argument — Christ alone.
2. The Reformation never ended, yet we still have a voice
Many of the issues started in the Reformation have never been fully resolved. The church as a whole has both continued to come together and splinter since the 16th century. A neighbor of mine, who is not a member of a church, asked me, “Why are there so many different churches?”
Many denominations, including the ELCA, began as reactions to other movements, ideas and theologies. Some churches would rather forget where we have been and start over; yet to me having a sense of place and history allows conversation around the realities of our splintering as well as our common confession of Christ.
I also believe there is a unique confession in the ELCA that can add something to the whole church: an incarnational proclamation of Christ, “in, with and under” God’s word, the sacraments and our very lives, which gives us the ability to speak of God already present and active in the world and through us rather than trying to prove our relevance through outside means.
3. Being home
Heritage varies, but my faith heritage is as a Lutheran. My own history, friendships and family connections put me at home in a few Christian denominations within and beyond that Lutheran fold. Yours might too.
To be home as a Lutheran doesn’t just mean familiarity with hymns, liturgies and cultural reference points ala Garrison Keillor.
Rather, I feel at home with Luther, and among Lutherans. I’d be lost without “A Mighty Fortress” and “The Small Catechism.” I’d feel homeless without the ELCA congregations, schools and camps that helped form and shape me as a person and as a leader.
I’d miss celebrating Reformation Day and remembering Luther’s multifaceted story each year if it were just another Sunday. These are not unique things. Other communities have their songs, books, holy places and special celebrations too. But these are my songs, books, places and days.
These are yours too.
They claim us and get ahold of us just as much as God’s promises do, for they too are God’s gifts to us. I remain a Lutheran and love being a member of the ELCA because of them. Through them Christ reached into my life as I got to know him and I continue to grow.
Christ reaches into your life too. Just as a family is imperfect and quirky so is the church. This is our church, full of trouble and inspiration, full of sinners claimed by Christ, full of people set loose in faith to serve in God’s world.
I do not believe that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly is the church or is the highest expression of this church — regardless of what other people might say.
Luther commented, “Even a seven year old child knows what the church is, the place where sinners and sheep listen to the voice of their shepherd.” (Smalcald Articles III.XII) We gather each week to hear that voice. May the results of this ELCA Churchwide Assembly support us in that calling, as we are “Freed in Christ to Serve.”
Find a link to Geoff Sinibaldo’s entry at sinibaldo at Lutheran Blogs.