A Letter From the ILAG
Guatemala January 10, 2023 But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They wil[...]
Luther Seminary October 27, 2022
Romans 12:2-9; Matthew 20:20-28
“For Christ’s Sake”
Grace and peace to you from our Good and Gracious God. AMEN.
My father, a first-generation American, worked in a factory. Saturday night, he would polish the family’s shoes and set out his good suit and a tie to wear to church. He would use a fingernail brush to remove all the grim and grease that stuck to his hands during the week. On Sunday morning, I liked to hold his hand and notice how elegant his fingernails looked.
Most of us do not make that same effort to dress up for church. We are a more casual generation -- a come as you are -- kind of people, which isn’t all bad in these times in which we live. Christendom, the long, extended period in which the institutions and mores of church and society formally intertwined, has been winding down for a thousand years in the West and really ended about the time my father died in the mid-1960’s. Here in Minnesota, it took a pandemic to finally convince some that there is no automatic attraction to the doors of our congregations. It no longer suffices simply to post on a sign out front – everyone is welcome – to lure newcomers and seekers to cross the threshold.
We are living in a time much more like the first generation of Christians. In a city like ancient Rome, there were many religious options, many competing gods and philosophical societies, by which to order one’s life. At the time St. Paul wrote his famous epistle, Christians were at best tolerated; there was no special privilege that came to those who bore allegiance to Christ, crucified and risen. And so, it fell to the community of faith itself to bear a witness to what was distinctive, life-giving, and beautiful about the baptized way of life.
I never saw my father in his workplace, but I have probably driven by that Whirlpool factory in Clyde, Ohio hundreds of times as an adult, wondering what he was like to work with for those who knew him in that place. He was machinist, the one you called when things broke down on the assembly line where the washing machines were made.
I learned from one of his contemporaries that my dad was also the one you called when a heated argument broke out in the lunchroom or on the loading dock. He had a way of talking to people that could settle them down, get them to see beyond their disagreements. When the fists were ready to fly and he said, “Knock it off for Christ’s sake,” I think he meant something more like “Stop it. God did not come in Christ to reconcile the whole world so you could tear each other apart.”
For my father, the gift of faith in Jesus Christ was a real game-changer. It wasn’t a Sunday-only thing; it was the witness he brought to the factory floor Monday through Friday, and then on Saturday, when he might have rested, that Christian identity was why he so often went out to help a relative or a widow fix something what was broken at their house.
“Do not be conformed to this world,” (Romans 12:2a) Paul writes. Stop trying to fit in, to be trendy and relevant, to shape your life according to every passing whim and fad. Instead, Paul begs -- “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (12:2b) You – Paul writes – you are to take on a brand-new identity from the core of your being outward so that everything – everything – is shaped by your new life in Jesus Christ.
And not just you in the singular, individual sense but you in the big, broad, inclusive sense of the whole community of faith.
One as great as the Apostle Paul can exhort us to have a modest opinion of our self because no one, here, is better than anyone else in the church. It doesn’t matter if your family name is Zebedee. Doesn’t matter who is the most eloquent preacher, the most compelling community organizer, the most esteemed scholar, or even the multi-million-dollar donor. Only as a WE are we the body of Christ.
My father never attended a meeting of any ministerium, though I think he would enjoy a gathering like ours. He was, after all, a Sunday School superintendent back in the days when Sunday School was a really, big deal. He was a life-long student of the Bible and at end of his life even read a little Bonhoeffer. He didn’t live long enough to see two of his children become pastors or a third become an educator with great regard for the faith formation of young children.
But we all benefit in our labors from the witness of Christians like my dad. Surely, there are those like him in your life, too. Women and men without titles or seminary degrees, who yet prophesy and serve; teach and exhort; give and lead and show incredible mercy with cheerfulness, day after day, because those are the gifts they have been given by God’s grace. Gifts given for building up the body.
Friends, how sweet it is to play our own small part in God’s big drama in this world – a world so deeply loved for Christ’s sake. These days, when the fists are flying – when the rhetoric is loud and mean, as my father would say – You stop it. God did not send Christ to reconcile the whole world so that we could tear each other apart. AMEN.
Bishop Patricia Lull
The 2022 Joint Fall Ministerium included a worship service with Holy Communion, followed by a panel discussion featuring local governmental leaders. They included Irene Fernando, Hennepin County Commissioner, District 2; Jim McDonough, Ramsey County Commissioner, District 6 (retiring); Laurie Halvorson, Dakota County Commissioner, District 3; and Reva Chamblis, Metropolitan Council, District 2. The moderator was Lori Sturdevant, former Star Tribune columnist. The discussion focused on how rostered leaders can be positive influencers when polarization runs deep. A recording is available here. You can also view photos here.