Some of you were probably too young 25 years ago and may not recall that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) began in 1988. I, on the other hand, do remember. Although we were becoming a new church, a lot was not new.
Confirmation and Sunday school? Outreach ministry to the community and congregational leadership? Scriptures and Lutheran confessional writings? They all remained the same. Yes, the beginning of the ELCA was marked by both continuity and change.
Our anniversary theme is “Always being made new, 25 years together in Christ.” This theme reflects much of who we are today because of our deep rootedness. At the last ELCA Youth Gathering, participants gave witness that Christ frees us for lives of service. Together we served and accompanied the people of New Orleans as they continue to rebuild their lives, communities and congregations because much of our roots go back 500 years to Martin Luther and the Reformers. Living out our faith in service to our neighbor moved Lutherans to start hospitals, open orphanages, and form social ministry organizations.
Today, new immigrants are bringing with them a love for Jesus just as our ancestors did. We will continue to engage in ministries and start new congregations with new immigrants and work for fair, just and humane comprehensive immigration reform.
The longing that all shall hear the good news of God’s saving grace in Christ means the commitment to global mission is planted deep within us. We have 57 Young Adults in Global Mission serving throughout the world and at last summer’s Missionary Conference we commissioned 22 new ELCA missionaries.
Luther wrote in the Small Catechism that day after day the Holy Spirit is creating and renewing faith through the means of grace, the word and sacraments. As a Book of Faith church, we are inspired, strengthened, and sent to do God’s work in the world of restoring and reconciling communities through God’s Word — God’s living address to us incarnate in Jesus, proclaimed as law and gospel, recorded in Scripture.
In confirmation you may recall that when studying the catechism we were taught to ask “what does this mean?” From these roots we have an insatiable curiosity about faith and life. We have colleges and universities, campus ministries, seminaries, schools and a commitment to life-long learning. We are so blessed by the passion for mission and the living, growing faith of so many young adults.
We celebrate our 25th anniversary not because we nostalgically long for the past, but because memories give us confidence in God’s faithfulness and openness toward God’s promised future.
Many of you are part of the next generation of leaders who are already significantly impacting this church. You bring a passion for the church and a daring faith that is lived out in our complex, diverse and rapidly changing world. We look forward in joyful anticipation to Christ’s redemptive work that will continue to flow through your life and your hands in service to God.
Though some remember predecessor church bodies and the events leading to the ELCA’s official beginning in 1988, for a growing number of us, including pastors, this is the only church we have known. God is renewing our life together as Christ’s body in the world — this is what it means that we are “always being made new.” Daily we die with Christ in baptism, and daily we rise to life with him, not alone but together with all who bear Christ’s name in the world. For it is true, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. Look! Everything is being made new! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The apostle Paul prefaced this joyous news with a word about how we see the world and our place in it when we have been joined to Christ in his death and resurrection. “We no longer see others from a human point of view.” Now, we are Christ’s ambassadors, servants of the ministry of reconciliation.
We have a new life in the ELCA because of what God has done in Christ and continues to do in and through us for the life of the world. In Christ we are always being made new.
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