Dear Friends in Christ,
Today is my first day as your bishop…the first day of the next six years of our life together in the Montana Synod, ELCA. First days are intriguing events, often lost in the grand adventure of things yet formative for the journey. Think about A-dam, the earth creature’s first day in the garden. Watching creation’s garden grow and flourish, A-dam was commanded by God to avoid an irresistible tree and called by God to the overwhelming task of naming all the animals; we still haven’t finished that task yet. (Gen 2)
Think about Jonah’s first day. Called to cry out against wicked Nineveh, he spent the day trying to escape to the ends of the world, napping in the hull of a ship through a divine storm, being thrown overboard and nearly drowning, and finally being rescued by God’s fish. (Jonah 1)
Think about Jesus’ first day in ministry. Called through baptism to proclaim the Kingdom of God, he was driven by the Spirit of God into the wilderness to suffer Satan’s temptations even as angels cared for him. (Mk 1:12-13)
The tomb-women’s first day after the resurrection was spent proclaiming the wonderful news of new life come out of death, only to be dismissed as idle story tellers; at the end of the day, though, their voices were indeed heard. (Lk 24) And Paul’s first day after his call on the road to Damascus was spent in blind cluelessness, unable to eat or drink, so caught up was he in the firehose of the radical transformation of his life’s work. (Acts 9)
My first day of being your bishop is thankfully a little quieter, spent in Spirit-filled solitude as I move into my new office -- physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. In many ways, I’m feeling the sympathy pains of those biblical first days as this new life as bishop is slowly birthed in me: the overwhelmingness of the task before me, the desire to run and hide (in the mountains, not on a ship), the anxiety of entering the chaotic wilderness, the fear of being dismissed, the sense of blind cluelessness about what’s ahead.
And yet my faith-filled experience tells me that in these first days, God is present, bringing new life into my life and yours. God’s creative possibilities are growing around us still; God’s saving fish is swallowing us into grace; God’s Spirit is ministering to us through the hands and hearts of our angel-neighbors; God’s voice is speaking through us and yes, is being heard whether we know it or not; and God’s transformation is happening to us as called disciples of Christ, clueless as we may be sometimes.
Change is not easy on the soul; transition is tedious, difficult and overwhelming. But when change and transition are guided by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the transformation that emerges again and again is the new life that God wants for us all.
Today, on this first day, I know that God is with me and I know that God is with you. God has been with us during the many days of Bishop Crist’s ministry and God will be with us during every day to come. In our congregations and homes, in our communities and recreation, across the mountains, prairies, and beautifully rugged wildernesses of Montana and Wyoming, God is with us, making every day the first day of the new life promised to us in our baptism into Christ. So, siblings and friends in Christ, welcome to the first day of the next six years of our life together. May God bless us and keep us, may Christ save us and reconcile us, may the Spirit inspire and empower us as we travel these first days together.