Editor’s note: On Jan. 1, 2013, we begin our year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of this church.
What does it mean to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ELCA? Does it matter?
What are some distinguishing marks of this changing church? Where have we been and where are we going? For ELCA members who understand the Reformation as an ongoing call to renewal and reform, these questions are especially important.
As part of a transformational movement across this church, we are privileged to help shape a church that has greater authenticity, integrity and depth. This major cultural and religious shift — some even call it a new kind of Christianity — includes a renewed exploration of the teachings and actions of Jesus.
What did Jesus have in mind, and what does it mean to live the message of Jesus today? How does the church interpret and embody Christ’s sacrificial love and overwhelming grace to a world longing for hope and transformation?
It also includes renewed commitments about what it means to be Christian, to be Christ’s presence in the world. It’s a call to servant leadership, to church as a verb. It’s a movement filled with hope and with room for exploring the mysteries of a gracious and loving God. It’s a church bold enough to leave its walls and go into the world.
These first 25 years have been marked by new ecumenical partnerships, honest struggling with the complexities of sexuality, new discoveries in genetics, commitments to justice and peacemaking — all issues of faith and life!
Theologians, scholars and ordinary people of faith are helping us rethink and re-imagine the church. Being Christ’s presence in the world has never been easy, never entirely clear, never without controversy.
But the good news of Jesus always has been radical and controversial. And our fear of the radical grace and mercy of God has too often prompted us to tame it, make it acceptable, more palatable, less challenging.
So I come to this anniversary of the ELCA filled with hope and gratitude. I’m grateful for a church bold enough to proclaim radical Christianity. I’m hopeful about a church that celebrates sacramental life and liturgical formation and continues to interpret the multiple meanings of word, water, wine and bread.
I’m grateful for a generous orthodoxy that incorporates ancient, modern and postmodern practices into worship and community ritual. I am hopeful about a church open to questions of faith, transformational practices, ecumenical dialogue, and the inclusion of all God’s people.
I am grateful for an emphasis on tradition rather than traditionalism, on faithfulness rather than fundamentalism. I am hopeful about a church that is intent on helping eradicate hunger and diseases like malaria.
I am grateful for a prophetic church willing to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions for the sake of justice and God’s unfathomable grace. I am hopeful about a church driven by hope and love rather than fear and isolation.
Worshiping with a variety of ELCA congregations over these past months, I have been nourished and fed by liturgies from “Evangelical Lutheran Worship,” the worship book created from a decade-long focus on renewing worship and sacramental formation in the ELCA.
Working with congregational leaders and pastors, I often recommend sacramental resources like “Fed and Forgiven” and “Washed and Welcome.” They convey the riches of the means of grace, of a God who welcomes us to the feast of life! Both resources are available from Augsburg Fortress.
Unlike resources of the last century, we’re now privileged to share the love and steadfast grace of a life-giving, generous God through electronic media, social networks, and communities of faith and learning different from traditional churches.
Resources for faith formation come in experiences like ELCA Youth Gatherings where diversity and servant leadership are lenses for Christian life. They come in cutting edge materials like “re:form,” “The Greatest Story,” “Animate,” “Spark,” “Holy Moly” and biblical material created for the Book of Faith Initiative, all from Augsburg Fortress.
They come in daily encounters online: Christians communicating with one another on congregational websites, blogs and in interactive meetings.
Making sense of all these connections and choices is sometimes overwhelming. Years ago, we depended on basic biblical and catechetical resources. Perhaps we were more interested in a kind of rule-based Christianity focused on answers and “getting it right.” The world was smaller and our corner of Lutheranism may have seemed simpler.
But I have no longing to go back. Yes, I remember packed churches, overflowing balconies, potlucks and family nights. Yes, I memorized the catechism and recited Bible verses by heart, and I remember good preaching and proclamation.
But on this occasion of the 25th anniversary of the ELCA, I am grateful for a God who is both challenge and invitation — God’s work done with our hands — and for a church that isn’t always popular.
Most of all, I am grateful for the ELCA as we continue to wrestle with the mysteries of God, the life of Jesus, and the complex world we live in. I hope we have moved beyond God as a divine hero who rescues us.
I hope we will continue to be a church that doesn’t have everything nailed down and figured out. I am grateful for a church that evokes responsible action in the world and for a God who turns the church inside out for the sake of the world.
May we continue to look for ever more meaningful ways to be the body of Christ — sharing, living and proclaiming the radical news of Jesus Christ and God’s overwhelming love and mercy — with hope and gratitude!