Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Devotion and Prayer for the ELCA

I wrote this devotion and prayer for the 40 Days of Prayer on the Lutheran CORE website. I am sharing it here on this day, one year after the Churchwide Assembly decisions. To pray is not about indulging in some sort of magical thinking. Rather, it is to engage in a work of trust in the Lord who tells us to ask, seek, and knock, promising us that our Father in heaven will not give us a stone in place of what we need.

Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Devotion: One year ago today the ELCA Churchwide Assembly passed the proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, by an exact two-thirds vote. For some in this church body, this was the culmination of years of prayer and work, and was a time of great joy and hope for the future. For others, it was the dashing of hope and joy, and meant that supporting the ELCA, even remaining in her, would be increasingly difficult, if not impossible. The ELCA is not united behind the passage of this statement; indeed, the divisions within the body continue to cause pain, struggle, anger, and mutual renunciation. One question that is being asked by many who reject this action of a year ago is this: “Can a church body so divided over basic teachings regarding human sexuality still be a witness for Jesus Christ? Can the ELCA still fulfill the Great Commission, or must those of us who reject the Social Statement leave the ELCA in order to follow Jesus’ command?”

Different people in Lutheran CORE give different answers to these questions. But it is interesting to see that the group of disciples to whom Jesus gives the Great Commission are not united in their response to Jesus’ appearance to them. Some doubt. These are the eleven, the ones hand-picked by Jesus to be his disciples; but some of them doubt. Nonetheless, the doubters along with those who are confident are given the command to go, making disciples and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. How will they manage this? How can those who are faithful and those who are doubters fulfill this commission; how can they work together if their beliefs are not held in common?

We are not told the answer to this. The letters of Paul, the book of Acts, and other writings in the New Testament, as well as the writings and traditions that come to us after the close of the Apostolic age, will have to suffice as an answer. Some of us may marvel at how well the eleven, and those coming after them, managed to work together even when they were deeply divided over such matters as circumcision for Gentile believers. And others of us will see how quickly Jesus’ followers set off in different directions, and how their disagreements threatened constantly to undo the Great Commission.

Division in the church is not new. It existed even among the original disciples, even on a matter so central as what the appearance of the risen Jesus in their midst meant. But the command to go and make disciples in the name of the Triune God came then, and comes still, in spite of all our divisions, doubts, disappointments, and disbelief. The ELCA, as divided as it is, as wrong as many of us believe it to be, still stands in the tradition of the Apostles who received that command, and still can cling to the promise given by our Lord to his divided, doubting followers: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Prayer: Faithful Lord of the Church, we pray for your servant, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America: Allow her, even in the midst of divisions and disagreements, to be your instrument for proclaiming the truth of your Word; enable those who question her decisions to serve within her with patient love and steadfastness; correct all within her that is in error; and strengthen all that is faithful to your command; for all authority has been given to you, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.