The April 2010 edition of the Lutheran magazine contained an article entitled Sexuality, issue causes division, sadness – and hope, by Sandra D. Guy. This article discussed the fallout from the 2009 ELCA assembly actions. Nine bishops responded to questions from the Lutheran. Each had a distinct and unique interpretation of the varying responses to the assembly actions. Their responses can give us insight as to how they may prioritize the role of mission in the Synods that they lead.
One bishop bemoaned the fact that the assembly actions were a distraction to the church’s ministry. Another likened the reactions to a divorce and a sense of grief over the loss of community. Two commented on the reduced financial support leading to staff cutbacks and one of them complained that rancorous partisan sniping has invaded the church. Three commented that the assembly actions send a message that the ELCA is an inclusive, welcoming and hospitable church. One bishop senses that the people who are angry “want someone to pay” and that he also noticed that “we claim that the Holy Spirit is present if a vote goes one way, and that the Spirit is absent if it goes against what we think is right.” One bishop said that the ELCA needs to focus on rediscovering a passion for evangelical outreach and putting mission at the heart of our life and at the center of our identity. At least one of the bishops seems to be on the right track. The church’s mission is not about the amount of money needed to pay for staff, it is not only about being inclusive, welcoming and hospitable, and it is not about voting to change doctrine. It is important, in this context, to explain what the mission that Christ calls on us to undertake is all about.
We know that our belief and faith in the risen Christ is the only way to our salvation. John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays for all believers, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one. Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” This prayer is for all future believers, calling us to preach His Word and spread the Gospel throughout the world. A point of emphasis is our spiritual unity as believers, that Jesus wants us to be unified in His mission as He is unified with the Father. We are to share our love with one another as God loves us all. Brothers and sisters, this prayer was meant for each one of us.
We, as believers, are also our Lord’s disciples. Our Lord places before us the task to reach out, share the Good News, open the eyes of unbelievers, and to bring them to the Lord. Our mission in this world is to follow Jesus’ example and teachings, and to preach the Good News of the Gospel to all we meet. We must use our good works to minister to the spiritual longings of God’s children who do not know Him. When we have unity in Christ and are led by the Spirit, we will be able to guide unbelievers to the Lord and to their salvation. We need to be the branch that bears fruit for our Lord. With unity in His love we can uplift and encourage our brothers and sisters to be fruitful and serve the Lord. Our Lord is the vine and we must always keep Christ first and foremost in our hearts to remain faithful servants. John 14:23, Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” We must keep our Lords commands and strive to lead godly lives so that we may be a light to lead others to our Lord. This is the mission that our Lord expects His Church to accomplish and without Christ as the primary focus, we will only lose our way.