Chicago (April 24, 2022) – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will observe its 35th anniversary on April 30. On this date in 1987, the ELCA constitution was adopted during the opening session of the Constituting Convention in Columbus, Ohio.
The ELCA was formed from a merger of three Lutheran churches – the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Church in America. To symbolize the formation of the new denomination, the bishops from the three predecessor church bodies poured water from separate containers into one baptismal font.
The Rev. Herbert W. Chilstrom was elected first bishop of the ELCA during the Constituting Convention. He was former bishop of the Minnesota Synod of the Lutheran Church in America.
As the church commemorates its history, it also is looking toward the future. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton spoke of the importance of the “Future Church” priority being rooted in tradition while also being relevant to people who may not know the gospel message of freedom.
“In 1522, early in the Lutheran movement, Martin Luther took hold of the new technology of the printing press and modernized communication by translating the Bible into German, the language of the people,” she said. “Now, 500 years later, we need to find new ways to speak into the cultural vernacular.
“It’s not our intent to water down or minimize the gospel word, but to share the good news to make it rooted in tradition and radically relevant. We believe that the gospel changes lives. The gospel not only is a word of grace but it’s also a word of liberation.”
Additional “Future Church” priorities include starting new ministries and engaging with new, young and diverse people.
Let Us Pray for the Church
Gracious God, we pray for your holy universal church as the Body of Christ. Fill it with love, truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it. Pour out upon us your one and unifying Spirit, and awaken in all expressions of your church a holy hunger and thirst for unity in you. God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Holy God, we praise you for calling diverse people into the church’s ministry of word and sacrament. Uphold all pastors with your strong and loving arms. Empower our ministers to serve your people with the word of scripture, the water of life, and the meal of grace. Equip them with both beloved traditions and fresh ideas; grant them joy in their tasks; and renew them daily by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
O God, through the ages you have called from among your people those who will carry out the ministry of word and service in the church. Let your blessing rest on all deacons who answer that call. Give to all deacons understanding of the gospel, sincerity of purpose, diligence in ministry, and the beauty of life in Christ that many people will be served and your love be lived into the world. God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of compassion, your Son came among us not to be served but to serve. We give you thanks for those whom you have called to be Lay Pastoral Associates in the Montana Synod. Give to them the faith to serve you with gladness; sustain them with a living hope, especially in times of despair; and kindle in them your love, so that they see in every neighbor the face of Jesus Christ. God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Almighty and merciful God, you built your church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets and all those who have served your church throughout its history. Thank you for those many servants of Christ who you called to minister to your church in various ways and have now retired. Support and sustain them in your faith and love as they seek new ways to serve your church and grant that they, and all pastoral leaders in your church, may carry out their ministry faithfully in the power of your Spirit. God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of love, justice and equity, you call us to support the weak, to help those who suffer, and to honor all people. By the power of your Holy Spirit, make us advocates for your justice, workers of love, and instruments of your peace, so that all may be reconciled in your beloved community. God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Comfort, My People
“Comfort, Comfort, O my people!” God announces to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah.
“The Lord is my shepherd…your rod and staff comfort me,” the psalmist prays to God.
Comfort is a common theme through out the scriptures. We hear the cries for comfort to God.
We hear promises of comfort by God. We hear thanksgiving for comfort received from God.
But what is this comfort we are crying for? What does it mean to be comforted by God? And perhaps more importantly for Christ’s Church in these changing and uncertain times, what does it mean to be comfortable in God?
There are actually a couple of different ways we can understand comfort and what it means to be comfortable. Many of us, when we come to worship or engage in church activities, say we want to be in a place or community that is comfortable. And often what we mean by that is the definition that is found in many dictionaries: a state of ease, well-being and freedom from pain or constraint; a feeling of relief or encouragement; a satisfying or enjoyable experience. In other words, to be comfortable for many is to seek a life without pain, suffering, grief, fear, difficulty, challenge. To be safe and secure from all potential harm. To find that warm, fuzzy cuddling-under-a-quilt-with-a-teddy-bear-on-a-chilly-evening, never a care in the world feeling.
Now perhaps some of the more privileged among us have found such moments of this “comfy-ness” in life, as I call it. But for most of us, that type of comfort is rarely experienced, whether in church or not. For most of us, to be comfortable like that, in a life without difficulty or pain or challenge, is a pipe-dream.
But what if that understanding of comfort is not the full story? What if being comfortable has little to do with a life of ease or security from all external challenges? What if, instead, comfort is about being fortified with the strength and the resilience to live within life’s messiness and not be overcome by it?
In fact, that’s what the word “comfort” meant in its original language of Latin. (Thanks, Pastor Paul Hanson, for this reminder!) In Latin, “com” means “with” and “fort” means “strong.” Think fortify, fortress, even force. So comfort means to be with strength or to fill oneself or another with fortification.
At a WELCA event several years ago, Pastor Angela T. !Khabeb (currently writing for Living Lutheran) offered this challenging statement to all who would hear: “Christianity is not comfortable. If you are comfortable in Jesus, you are doing it wrong.” When our understanding of comfort is a warm, fuzzy comfy-ness, then Pr. !Khabeb is absolutely correct. While we may have hope and trust in a future realm of God without suffering, right now, here and today, such understanding of comfort is not helpful and is not, I think, what scripture means by the comfort God provides to us.
Instead, the comfort God gives is fortitude – the strength, sustenance, and reinforcement in the promises of faith, hope, and love – that empowers us to withstand and even move forward through the challenges and sufferings of humans experience in this world. God’s comfort doesn’t take our pain away; God’s comfort holds us up (like on eagle’s wings) as we move through the tough stuff of life. God’s comfort gives us the courage and resilience to “keep on keeping on,” perhaps even into a transformed place of growth and new life.
The life of a follower of Christ in this world filled with suffering and death is hardly a comfy one. Both Jesus and Paul make this quite clear when we read their words carefully. (Luke 9:58; Romans 5:1-5) In fact, being a part of the body of Christ should never be comfy. We are always called to face the suffering of the world head on and even dive into it to help fortify, strengthen, and support others in their pain. Perhaps we might even work to ease the worst of the injustice and help bring about a life of basic well-being for those most in need.
But in order for us to do that as Christ’s followers, we too must be comforted and fortified in our hope, faith and love. And we do this in part by hearing the Word of new life given to us in Christ again and again, welcoming the resurrection gospel into our whole selves and letting the Spirit of love transform us into fortified people with Easter always in our eyes.
“Comfort, Comfort my people,” says our God. Be strengthened and encouraged to face the many challenges ahead. For we know through faith that we are indeed revived every day through our baptism by the fortitude of Christ and the empowerment of the Spirit.
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Living among the dead
Reminder to Remember
Dear Friends in Christ,
You may (or may not) recall the request that came from our siblings in the American Indian/Alaska Native Association of the ELCA (AIAN) last July to hang orange banners in our churches to honor and remember the lives of the children who were lost to the boarding school system in our nation and who hopefully will be returned home as their bodies are rediscovered. Here is the link to that request, as well as my letter and video lifting up that request.
In that request, the AIAN asked that we hang these orange banners for 225 days, remembering the 225 bodies of children that had been discovered in Canada and the U.S. at that time. Those 225 days have passed and yet the remembering and honoring continues. But even as we remember and honor, we are called to continue our confession and change of life (repentance) in the face of the suffering that those actions caused not just to those children stolen from their families but also the long-term consequences for their descendants that are perpetuated even today.
By partnering with our Indigenous neighbors and living with them as equals, how can we work with them to seek justice and make their lives better in the ways they wish and hope for? How can we continue to learn more about the truth of the past even as we seek to find ways to rectify the painful consequences of that history and also join the Indigenous peoples in building new and more sacred relationships? In other words, how can we become better neighbors as Jesus calls us to be neighbors, loving our fellow human beings as much as (or even more than) we love ourselves as the Samaritan did in Jesus’ famous parable?
So today, I remind you to remember and invite you to lift up those orange banners again, perhaps putting them in a new location, and to honor the children of God those banners represent and the families they left behind. And then reflect anew on how we can learn from the past, including our past sins, to make amends on behalf of those who are not here to do it for themselves. As I stated in July, “We as followers of Christ have the faith to confess our sins in the love and grace of God in Christ. But at the same time, through those same words of love and grace from God, we also hear God’s ongoing call to enter into the light of the truth of our history and our present, and to love our neighbors who are suffering.
Blessings to you this week as you explore ways to be Christ-like neighbors through your love!
What is Forgiveness?
In 2019, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly directed this church to develop both a Social Message and a Social Statement concerning how ELCA Lutherans understand the relationship between church and state. As a presidential election approached and people felt trapped in the messiness of political polarization, the assembly issued a call to provide guidance from the Lutheran perspective concerning how this church ought to interact with the government and nation, how the government ought to interact with the church and other religions, and how followers of Christ can and should engage in voice and work in the public sphere (civic engagement).
As a recent article in the Living Lutheran explains, the Churchwide Council first adopted a social message in November 2019 entitled “Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy.” This message, says Michael Cooper-White who authored the Living Lutheran article, functions as a small catechism, teaching us the basics of how Christians can decide whether a government is “achieving God’s intention for it, that the neighbor is being served.”
The development of the social statement began shortly after the social message was released. This document will serve as a larger teaching statement concerning the relationship between “government, the nature of civic engagement and the relationship of church and state.” The development of the social statement is a five-year process involving lay people and clergy, academics and experts on multiple topics, as well as geographically and socially diverse individuals from all over the ELCA. I am one of two bishop representatives on the Social Statement task force which has been meeting regularly over the past two years to study, listen and deliberate about the topic (by zoom; we have yet to meet in person).
Soon, however, you will have your opportunity to weigh in on this important topic in a couple of ways. First, throughout the ELCA, listening posts are currently being held that are open for all ELCA members to share their thoughts and opinions. Such listening posts will be held at the MT/NWY Synod Assembly in June for our voting members. If you are interested in hosting a listening event concerning this topic in your area of the synod, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Also, a study resource will be released in the next year to the whole church so you that you, your leaders and your congregations can enter into the study process along with the task force. After going through the study you will have the opportunity to offer your thoughts and concerns in writing to the task force. This study process is a time to engage in moral deliberation together about how church and state ought to relate to one another and how we as followers of Christ who are also citizens in a democracy can and should participate in the life of our nation and world.
Remember that we in the ELCA do our best to discern and deliberate on these matters from the ground up, including as many voices as possible who want to participate, rather than someone issuing a statement from on high. Although it will be written by a small task force with members represented from across the church, we will take the input from members of the wider church very seriously when composing the ELCA’s social teaching on this issue. And then voting members whom you will send to the Churchwide Assembly in 2025 through your Synod Assembly election in 2023 will vote to approve (or not) the social statement as the guide and teaching of the ELCA regarding church, state and civic engagement.
As followers of Christ in the ELCA, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to participate in developing this social statement. I invite and encourage you find various ways to do so over the next two years.
For more information on this social statement concerning church, state and civic engagement, please check out the article in the January 2022 edition of The Living Lutheran entitled “Government that Serves the Neighbor: ELCA Social Statement on Civic Engagement Underway.”
Blessed week to you all!
Do Unto Others
Dear Friends in Christ,
What have we done with the Golden Rule?
In Matthew 7:12, Jesus summarizes Jewish and Christian law, stating, “In everything, do to others as you’d have them to do to you.” But our culture seems to have forgotten that rule. Instead, another rule has taken its place, “Do for yourself; ignore others, hurt others, or tear them down unless they do what you demand they do.”
And yet, Jesus still calls us to follow this rule and even go beyond it by loving our neighbor. Even, and especially, in times of uncertainty, anxiety and fear. Even when we think the best or only answer is to think of ourselves and tear others down to lift ourselves up.
Did you know that the Golden Rule is found in nearly all major world religions and philosophies? For example, it appears in its “do not” form in ancient Greek philosophy (“Do not do to others that which angers you when done to you,” Isocrates) and in Buddhism (“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful,” Buddha). In its positive form, the rule is found in Judaism and Christianity (“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Lev. 19:18); in Islam (“that which you want for yourself, seek for humankind,” Muhammad); and North American Indigenous spiritualities (ex. "All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves," Black Elk). The Golden Rule, then, can help connect us across our divisions.
But following this rule is not easy. In order to follow the Golden Rule, we must be able to self-reflect honestly and have empathy for others. We need to be able to step into another person’s shoes and ask ourselves “How would I feel if I were in this situation and that were done to me? If I wouldn’t like it, maybe I shouldn’t do it them. If I would like it, then maybe I should consider doing it for them, with their permission and blessing, of course.”
Perhaps this is where we go wrong. Turned in on our selves and our own anxieties, we forget how to self-reflect and empathize with our fellow children of God. Maybe empathy is something we need to practice, trying again and again in all of our relationships to understand where others are coming from and what they may be experiencing, particularly with those who are different from us. Perhaps we can grow our empathy abilities by learning and listening and allowing ourselves to be transformed by another person’s story.
We as followers of Christ are called to live the Golden Rule in every interaction, even going beyond the Golden Rule and doing unto others as Christ has done for us. For Jesus knew what we’d do to him and yet died for us anyway, rising again to give us new life. The least we can do in response is “in everything, do to others as we’d have done to us.”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a simple command from God that, in times of fear and anxiety, we too quickly ignore. But the only way we will get through life is by walking in our journeys together, putting ourselves in others’ shoes, taking on one another’s burdens and going the extra mile. This is what Jesus Christ did for us and does for us every day.
May God bless and keep you this day!
A Blessing of Faith
“Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?...But strive first (have faith) for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness (right relationship with you), and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:27, 33)
So what does faith have to do with our everyday lives, especially in times of anxiety? Often we confuse faith with beliefs, as in “I believe that God exists” or “I believe that Jesus atoned for my sins.” Faith these days has become little more than accepting certain ideas to be true and going on with our lives as if these beliefs make no difference in how we live.
However, faith is much more than a set of beliefs. Faith has three intertwined aspects that empower and reinforce each other. Faith starts with trust. This is how Luther defines it in his Large Catechism. Faith is putting your trust in someone or something for all that you need from day to day. A second part of faith is commitment or loyalty. I trust in God’s commitment to me in Christ for all that I need and therefore I am committing myself to follow Jesus in all I do and say. Only then do beliefs step in as we seek to better understand this God in whom we have faith and what it means to follow Jesus.
You’ll notice that together trust and commitment describe a relationship between 1) we who have faith, 2) the God in whom we place our faith, and 3) those whom God in Christ calls upon us to love through our faith. When we have faith, we trust in this transforming relationship of love that God has with us, empowering us, strengthening us, fortifying us. We trust that somehow, some way God, through the power of the Spirit of Love, will guide us through into something better and life-giving. And we commit ourselves to the new life God is offering.
But this life of faith is not an easy one. Often in times of suffering we hear people say, “you just gotta have faith!” as if we can whip up this faith out of ourselves on our own power. But that’s hard to do, especially these days when distrust of just about everything reigns rampant. In relation to the struggles of life, “just having faith” seems a naïve piece of advice. “I’m trying,” we cry to Jesus, “but I just can’t find any faith right now! Life is too hard. I’m struggling too much. Increase my faith, O God!”
But there is good news in the midst of our struggles. The good news is that faith is a gift, given by the Holy Spirit. This gift of faith comes to us through the power of the Word who is Jesus Christ. Faith is literally “in-spirited” in us when we open ourselves to hearing the gospel promises and receiving the new life shared with us daily in the reconciling grace of Jesus Christ. Faith comes to us when we give ourselves up to God and open our selves to the realm of Christ that is near.
In our trust, commitment to God, and beliefs that come to us through the Spirit, faith gives up trying to be God and gives up trying to control the world. Faith gives up judging people or self as less than, expendable or “other.” Faith gives up trying to be better, stronger, tougher, and righter than others.
Instead, faith asks, “self, why are you so anxious when the God of Jesus Christ is your God?” Faith asks “is all this worry helping me or anyone else? Is it adding to my hours on earth?” Faith seeks help and listens to those who will proclaim the promises of hope and the commands of love and courage. Faith prays, prays some more, and then stops to listen in the presence of God. Faith participates in God’s mission for the world, sharing the trust given by the Spirit by loving one another with a commitment to living Christ’s new life for our neighbors.
I close with a prayer first written in a letter to the Ephesians long ago. This is ultimately Paul’s prayer for faith: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:16-21)
May God’s Spirit bless you all with faith in the days ahead!
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod