Lutherans and Catholics do not agree on everything. But we do agree on essential tenets of the Christian faith. We confess one lord, one faith, one baptism. And we have worked assiduously in the last 50 years to find more and more common ground on matters of theology and doctrine. But we have not always made an effort to acknowledge what the other has done. For instance, I am certain that Catholics would have nothing but appreciation for the work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and that Lutherans would agree with the importance of the work of Catholic Relief Services. But too often we take for granted the good work that the other is doing.
This imperative challenges us not to take each other for granted. It challenges us to engage in togetherness. It is not enough that we don’t attack each other. It is not enough that we generally appreciate and endorse the work of each other’s ministries. The next step is to do it together. Can we do everything together? Of course not. We have difficulty enough getting Lutheran churches to work together. There are significant differences. But what this imperative urges us to do, commits us to do it to “witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.”
So how might we do it? The key is “together.” First, we witness together to the mercy of God. Together we acknowledge God’s existence, God’s love for the world, God’s hope for the world through Jesus Christ. In the midst of war and injustice, of retribution and hatred, we witness to God’s hope for humanity. As Lutherans we pray for the Pope’s visit to Myanmar, as he meets with beleaguered Christians there, and as he engages both the Buddhist majority and the persecuted Rohingya minority.
We witness to the mercy of God in proclamation. Advent is upon us. In Advent we proclaim the coming of the lord, not the next big sale. For us Christmas is the incarnation of God, the word made flesh, God with us. Together we can proclaim the meaning of the coming of the prince of peace. These are truths that we share as Christians, and that are not universally practiced by those for whom Christmas is all about buying.
We witness to the mercy of God in service to the world. Generosity is a value that is promoted at Christmas time by religious and non-religious groups alike. Hanes brags on public radio about providing socks for the homeless, and that is a good thing. So are the many acts of charity done by schools, businesses, non-profits. Churches get into the swing of it, as well, with giving trees, extra food baskets, and programs like ELCA Good Gifts, that promote gifts to world hunger.
In downtown Great Falls, St. Ann’s Cathedral had a Friday feeding program called St. Ann’s kitchen. A group of volunteers from Our Savior’s Lutheran asked if they could help. It took a while for St. Ann’s to agree. They had never had such an offer before. They said yes, and it has been a good partnership and a good witness. Imperative 5 suggests that such cooperation should be the norm, not the exception. It should be the norm, not only because it makes sense to cooperate. It should be the norm because Jesus prayed that his followers would be one. And this sort of cooperation demonstrates not only to Catholics and Lutherans, but to the world, that we understand Jesus’ prayer.
Jessica Crist, Bishop