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Augies and Gusties and Norse, Oh My

April 25th, 2017

By Rev. Craig Pederson

At the change of each season, I relish the opportunity to return to the campus of my alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter Minnesota. I have the privilege of serving on the college’s Board of Trustees. Meetings of the board are generally held over the course of two very full days, during which we hear updates from administration and faculty members on the college’s strategic plan, enrollment outlook, fundraising efforts, curriculum development, and other important areas of campus life.

The board also spends time in breakfast and lunch gatherings with current students. As we dine on cafeteria food far superior to what I remember as a student, we learn about their incredible drive and passion for their areas of study, as well as their participation and leadership in extracurricular activities that encompass about as broad a range as one can imagine:  music, arts, sports, theater, community volunteering, ministry groups, martial arts, academic clubs, interfaith dialogues, justice groups, knitters . . . phew! They are truly impressive students – so much so that after each of those gatherings, board members grow more firmly convinced that we might never have been admitted to the college if we were competing with these students!

Every ELCA college has a story to tell about how faith was foundational to its beginnings, and how faith continues to propel its mission into the future.

As I made the quarterly trip to Gustavus last week, I reflected on how the alumni and friends of other ELCA colleges and universities make similar trips to provide leadership and stay connected to these institutions of higher education. Although a lot of work, it is highly rewarding to serve this way and provides an opportunity to give back to these places that challenged, nurtured, and prepared us at a highly impactful time of life.

 

AS CHURCH-RELATED institutions, Gustavus and other ELCA colleges are also concerned with their relationships to the church and the broader community beyond their campuses. Gustavus relates to the broader church through an Association of Congregations. Augsburg is linked with several congregations and institutions to serve the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood through incredibly innovative programming. Every college has a story to tell about how faith was foundational to its beginnings, and how faith continues to propel its mission into the future.

Perhaps the greatest impact beyond campuses, however, is that our Minneapolis Area Synod congregations are generously populated by thousands of graduates from our 26 ELCA colleges and universities. These faithful folks are “salt and light” in our churches through their liberal arts curiosity, their commitment to working through challenges, and their love of Lutheran heritage.

Your synod office is also made up of several grads of ELCA colleges – three from Concordia, three from Gustavus, two from Augsburg, one from St. Olaf. As you might imagine, we have friendly rivalries about who’s the “best” – but we realize and celebrate that we are ultimately blessed to have so many fine Lutheran colleges in such close proximity.

And now, a word of acknowledgement: I know there are many more graduates from non-Lutheran colleges and universities in our congregations, as well as people who chose not to attend college at all. Please know that we are grateful for you, too! We need the gifts, passions, and commitment of all God’s people to enliven our churches.

These faithful graduates of Lutheran colleges are “salt and light” in our churches through their liberal arts curiosity, their commitment to working through challenges, and their love of Lutheran heritage.

Please pray for college students as they approach the end of the school year, and especially for those who will be graduating. Pray also for graduating high school students who are awaiting acceptance letters and making their college choices. I hope many of them will choose an ELCA college – I believe they will be glad they did!

Synod assembly: If you plan it, they will come

April 4th, 2017


By Bob Hulteen

Over the years, I’ve been to more than five dozen church conventions. I’ve probably been a voting member at a couple dozen; and an observer, first with my parents and then on my own, at more – in Western North Dakota, Eastern North Dakota, Northwestern Minnesota, Metro DC, and the Minneapolis Area.

As the associate director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, I also attended United Methodist (the best), United Church of Christ, Episcopal, and Presbyterian assemblies, as well as all the other Minnesota ELCA synods. And then, as editor of Metro Lutheran, I went to local and national conventions of the alphabet soup of the other Lutheran church bodies — LCMS, WELS, ELS, NALC, LCMC, AFLC, AALC, and CLC.

“In all my nerd-dom, I very much enjoy assemblies.”

I promise I’m not trying to sound egotistical – I’m not bragging, we’re in Lent and this is confession. I’m officially a church nerd.

In all my nerd-dom, I very much enjoy assemblies. All of them – my own and others’. Even if I show up sleepy-eyed and under-caffeinated, I leave feeling energized by good conversation with good people and by learning some new things from the folks who stood up in front and shared insights. I even appreciate the business that takes place – I’d rather be there for it than not, because I want to be a part of the process.

Now, I am inside the planning of assemblies. It’s a huge responsibility. Huge! I want everyone to find a part of the assembly – or hopefully all of it – that connects them more deeply with the church universal.

 

THE THEME OF THE 2017 Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly is “Real Presence: In our neighborhoods, with our neighbors.” We have some of the greatest preachers in the ELCA – Ruben Duran, Barbara Lundblad, and David Lose, pastors all – as keynoters. It’s like having the Festival of Homiletics All-Stars at our synod assembly. We will be so full of inspiration that we won’t need meals. (But, we will have meals; don’t worry.)

In our increasing efforts to be ecologically aware, we will use the guidebook app this year. This means we will use much less paper and ink; all the information and resources you will need will be at your fingertips on your smart phone, iPad, or tablet. (Just remember, it’s all about the electrons.)

“Since there are fewer resolutions than recent years, synod leaders are planning table discussions around a couple of issues that are before many of our congregations – racism and sanctuary congregations.”

The business agenda will include budget adjustments and constitutional changes, as well as discussion of one resolution (engaging our Muslim neighbors). Since there are fewer resolutions than recent years, synod leaders are planning table discussions around a couple of issues that are before many of our congregations – racism and sanctuary congregations. Everyone has a voice in these conversations.

And, rumor has it that a Jeopardy-like game will be on the agenda again. I am going to suggest, if you are interested in playing, that you start looking at hymns right now. That’s all I’m saying.

And we will do something to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran movement. Guaranteed, it will be mentioned, at least.

Are you a voting member for your congregation? Are you a rostered leader? Or, are you just someone who is now curious about what happens at synod assembly this year?

Let those who will be attending from your congregation know that you are interested in the workings of the broader church – from New Hope to Nigeria and from Longfellow to Leipzig, we are one body. And, one way we live that out is by coming together in assembly. We are church together …  a real presence in our neighborhoods and with our neighbors.

Pretending to be a pastor

March 28th, 2017

By Pastor John Hulden

Today I had the privilege to take four pastors out to lunch so we could talk about – can you guess? – starting a Peer Group!

Hey, how’s your peer group coming along? Isn’t it amazing to pray, support, and learn together?

(By the way, my offer still stands: I’ll take you and a colleague or two out to lunch to talk about starting a peer group!)

All four of these pastors I took out to lunch are new to their calls here in the Minneapolis Area Synod. They each shared their vocational journey and talked about camp directors and campus pastors and others who encouraged them to pursue ordained ministry.

 

ONE OF THOSE rostered ministers, Pr. Elizabeth Felt, just moved here from the Seattle area. She has received a very warm welcome from the good folks at Advent Lutheran in Maple Grove. Elizabeth shared that Pastor Dan Erlander encouraged her to go to seminary. That brought a smile to my face. Dan Erlander is one of my heroes. And I know that Dan has made a habit of that kind of specific encouragement.

“How about you? When did you first sense a call into ministry?”

You might know Dan Erlander by his amazing summaries of deep Lutheran thinking in the form of easy-to-read, cartoon-filled publications like Manna and Mercy and Baptized We Live— with Bowling Pin People!

My personal favorite is It’s All About Love. You can download this four-page gem. (It is a free download; Dan is also generous!)

A number of years ago, I took a group of first-call pastors to meet Dan. I listened as these new pastors had a wide-ranging conversation with him. One of the pastors asked, “When did you first sense a call into ministry?” I remember Pr. Erlander thinking a bit, and then he calmly replied, “Oh, about seven years after I was ordained.”

That is quite an answer.

How about you? When did you first sense a call into ministry?

On another day, I’m guessing Dan might answer: When I was baptized (since ministry takes so many different forms).

This Saturday, I plan on celebrating with Chris Wogaman at his ordination at Salem English Lutheran in Minneapolis. Yep, it’s on April Fool’s day. Chris has a sense of humor. He has to; he’s waited about nine years for a call.

 

THIRTY YEARS AGO on April Fool’s Day 1987, first thing in the morning, I went to Patty’s house on the Eastside of Saint Paul, and picked up the keys to Bethany Lutheran Church. (Patty’s husband was the treasurer of that little congregation.) I took those keys and began pretending I knew what I was doing as a pastor.

Why would I do such a crazy thing? Because I too was encouraged. By many people. I still feel that encouragement. I hope you do too.

Here are some prayers you can use to help your community in their work of “encouragement”:

Christ Jesus, head of the church, raise up from among the baptized pastors to preach your word and administer your sacraments; deacons to serve all people and bear your gospel to the world; and congregational leaders to bring vision and vitality to your people. Grant us the grace to identify those in our midst you are calling, courage to name their gifts, and opportunities to gently nurture and support their discernment. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.

O God, you make your love known in Jesus Christ. We thank you for loving your church so much that you send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of children, women, and men so that they know themselves called to be pastors and deacons and leaders for congregations and the church.  Bless your church with an abundance of leaders. And as we are bold to believe that you will raise up pastors, deacons, and leaders from this congregation, ready our hearts to nurture their faith, celebrate their call, and support their preparation for ministry. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.

O God, you so love the world that you sent Jesus, and our world so needs your love. With the whole Church we implore you to call forth pastors, deacons, and congregational leaders to lead us in bearing Christ to all the world so that the world may know your love.  We pray especially for those in this faith community the Holy Spirit may be nudging to public ministry in the church and Christ-like service in the world. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.

“One of the pastors asked, ‘When did you first sense a call into ministry?’ I remember Pr. Erlander
thinking a bit, and then
he calmly replied, ‘Oh, about seven years after I was ordained.'”

Lord Jesus, we pray for congregations in the call process and for the pastor you will send them. We pray for those outside the church who will come to know Jesus through ministry in his name and for the deacon you will send to serve them. We pray for our congregation’s future and for the leaders you will call forward to guide us.  Embolden us to invite those in whom we experience gifts for these ministries to prayerfully consider your calling, and give us generous spirits to support them. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.

We give you thanks, O God, for the children in our midst – especially those in elementary and middle school. We pray that as they grow, they will hear your voice calling them into your service – in the church, in the world, for the sake of their neighbors. Help them to imagine being pastors and deacons, church council leaders, Sunday school teachers, mentors and community leaders. Give them courage to say yes to your call, O God.  We pray in gratitude and boldness in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thank you to the members of the Conference of Bishops for providing these prayers. I am grateful to know there are church leaders still thinking about making space to hear the call into ministry.

Come Together … for Peace

March 14th, 2017

By Rev. Craig Pederson, Assistant to the Bishop

The Prayer Vigil and March held at Luther Seminary last July to remember Philando Castile – the black man who was shot by police at a roadside stop – was a powerful and poignant event for the hundreds of people who attended. This memorial service came just a few months after the police killing of Jamar Clark and the demonstrations at the 4th Precinct headquarters in Minneapolis, and coincided with the horrific attack in Dallas that took the lives of five Dallas policemen.

Gun violence and tensions between police and the community seemed to be increasing.  In response, people of faith were compelled to do something about it – even if the “something” was not clearly known. Trusting that the Spirit would intercede where sighs were too deep for words, the Prayer Vigil and March brought together Lutherans and ecumenical partners to declare words of lament, outrage, commitment, and hope. 

As summer moved into fall, a welcome reprieve from high profile shootings uneasily settled in. But in the everyday lives of people in communities such as North Minneapolis where gun violence persists, there was no reprieve. A further response was called for. Leaders from Lutheran Social Service, the Minneapolis and St. Paul Area Synods, Luther Seminary, and a number of congregations envisioned regular prayer gatherings where lament, outrage, commitment, and hope would be hosted in communities where they were most needed.

 

MONTHLY PRAYER SERVICES called “Come Together Peace Gatherings” have been the result. These services take place one Sunday afternoon a month from 4-5:30pm. They are led by a rotating group of ecumenical leaders who weave together elements of music, testimonies, spoken word, prayer, and dialogue. They create experiences that move from darkness to light, from despair to hope, and from lamentation to celebration. They rely on the conviction that, through Christ, all things are possible!

I attended the most recent “Come Together” service last Sunday afternoon. It was another richly diverse gathering with incredible music and honest dialogue about the challenges faced in our communities.

While it was held at one of our synod churches (Diamond Lake Lutheran), I recognized very few people there – which has been my experience with past services as well. And I consider that a good thing! Why? Because it causes me to broaden the circle of those with whom I pray and talk about the urgency of reducing gun violence and establishing peace in our neighborhoods.

The prayer gatherings create experiences that move from darkness to light, from despair to hope, and from lamentation to celebration.

Now, I know after a full Sunday morning of worship and activities in your own church, Sunday afternoon can be a tough time to get back out of the house. But your efforts will be rewarded, and you will be blessed by the inspiration and commitment of those who “Come Together!”

The next Come Together Peace Service is Sunday, April 9, at 4pm at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, 3811 Emerson Ave N, Minneapolis. This service will feature drumming prayers of Native Americans.

UPDATED 3/16/17: An earlier version of this blog said that Philando Castile was an “unarmed black man who was shot by police at a roadside stop.” The updated version acknowledges that Castile was a registered gun carrier who informed officers of his registration.

Craig Pederson says: “My thanks to Pastor Dan Carlson for graciously bringing this misstatement to my attention. Dan has been a public safety chaplain with police, fire, and EMS workers for ten years, and he is very willing to be a resource to congregations who are seeking a better understanding of these issues.  He can be reached at dan.carlson@publicsafetyministries.org or 612-554-4405.”

UPDATED 3/17/17: A second version of this blog included the phrase “even after informing them at the beginning of the stop that he was registered to carry a firearm” in the first paragraph. That phrase has subsequently been deleted.

How is Your Neighbor?

February 21st, 2017

 By Bob Hulteen, Director of Communications, Stewardship, and Organizing

I had always “prided” myself on not having traveled internationally. While all my friends were headed to other countries for service or learning or vacation, I bragged that I didn’t have a passport. (Though I might have actually been jealous, I used it as an opportunity to demonstrate my identification with people without the means to travel.)

But Tina Herpe, one of my colleagues at Interfaith Worker Justice, told me she didn’t feel the luxury of not having a passport. As a Jew, she believed that there was no country absolutely safe for her, no place where she didn’t need to be ready to relocate quickly.

I figured she was wrong about the U.S. I mean, I was well aware of the anti-Semitic skinheads who would occasionally show up at a city hall or state capitol complaining about how their America was changing. But, to be honest, deep in my soul, I didn’t believe they were a significant threat.

I underestimated the stamina of hate groups.

 

ON FEBRUARY 22, 1349, Jews were expelled from Zurich, Switzerland. A few days earlier, they were kicked out of Burgsordf, and a month later nearly 1,000 Jews were killed in riots in Efurt, Germany, not the last date of mass execution in that country that year.

That was a long time ago – almost 700 years.

But this week the Saint Paul Jewish Community Center was one of 10 similar centers in the country that received bomb threats. A month or so ago about 70 similar threats were delivered to JCC offices around the country, including Minneapolis.

“I underestimated the stamina of hate groups.”

That is not a long time ago.

Click image for video of members of Trinity Lutheran Congregation handing out tea to their immigrant neighbors after Friday prayers.

This follows upon increasing pressure at masjids where our Muslims sisters and brothers offer prayer. What is the Christian community doing about this?

While it is heartening to see Muslim groups offering rewards for information on anyone phoning in threats or going to cemeteries to clean up after 100 headstones are pushed over, we need a more proactive strategy to declare inviolate our unity in the One Who Creates (for Christians, the First Person of the Trinity).

The Rev. Jane Buckley-Farlee, Trinity Congregation in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, has developed deep and lasting relationships with imams in the community, one of the most densely populated Muslim neighborhoods in the country. She was present when a mosque burned a decade ago. She invited people into her offices on the anniversaries of 9/11. And now, with fear spreading amidst the Somali community due to the uncertainties created by the recent immigration executive orders, she and members of her congregation are greeting Muslims with tea as they come out of their Friday afternoon prayers.

That sounds a lot like something Jesus would do.

We know who are neighbors are; about that there is no question. So, the moral question set before us in this time is how we will be neighbors. Will we commit to protect these neighbors in the face of increased threats? By our fruit will these neighbors know us.

Close Your Eyes, What Does God Look Like?

February 16th, 2017

By Bob Hulteen, Director of Communications and Stewardship

I have a confession to make, like a real confession: I don’t say the first line of the Lord’s Prayer. (It’s not the only slight edit I make, but it is the most noticeable one, probably.) Yep. I don’t say “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

I am fine for folks to make a different choice. I mean, context and conscience certainly interact with how we as individuals approach liturgy. I find it powerful when we all say words together in confession or prayer.

But, I don’t find that limiting God into a particular gender to be helpful to my spiritual growth. Now, if we started “Mothering Hen, who art in heaven,” who knows what I’d do.

How we envision God does seem to be worthy of conversation for all of us.

Don’t get me wrong. My dad was incredibly wonderful; amazing even. But that is not true for all of my friends. And aligning God’s personage to a human sexual or gender identity really feels like worshipping graven images to me.

Our last Ministerium speaker, Elizabeth Johnson, writes, “that only if God is named in the more complete way, only if the full reality of historical women of all races and classes enters into our symbol of the divine, only then will the idolatrous fixation on one image of God be broken, will women be empowered at their deepest core, and will religious and civic communities be converted toward healing justice in the concrete” (from Quest for the Living God). That makes a lot of sense to me.

 

THE ELCA IS ENGAGED now in preparing a social statement on gender justice. The preparation materials are titled “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: Conversations toward a Social Statement.” The Faith, Sexism, and Justice Task Force, which includes Bishop Ann, has created a seven-session study to facilitate discussion within congregations and conferences. Churchwide staff would like feedback from individuals and congregations by August 31, 2017, in order to continue the process of writing the social statement which we will be considering at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly.

A subcommittee of the Minneapolis Area Synod’s Public Voice Committee is currently making plans to facilitate this conversation within the synod. There will be encouragement and resourcing that will help congregations discuss the material, and at least one synodical event will feature an opportunity to engage issues of gender justice and language. (Keep reading the synod’s weekly enews for more information.)

It’s not always clear what to do in issues around justice and God language. We can stumble over pronouns and worry about how new visitors will respond – one way or the other – to new ways to envision our Creator.

But how we envision God does seem to be worthy of conversation for all of us. Each of us can likely be stretched by the experience of our sisters and brothers. Thank God for a denomination that is not afraid of such interactions as we seek to be communities of faith engaged for the sake of the world.

The search for the “secret sauce” and Christian public leadership

February 2nd, 2017

By Rev. John Hulden, Assistant to the Bishop

How is your congregation doing at lifting up leaders and sending them out to serve the Church?

Can you name someone from your congregation who felt the call to leadership in the church and now is a children, youth, and family director? How about someone who is now a musician, parish nurse, administrator, a ministry director of any kind, or a deacon?

I served a church once that had six of its members attending seminary at one time. I thought it was a big deal. And it was. But then again, the church I served was a really big church. As I think about it now, why wouldn’t every really large congregation have had at least a half dozen followers of Jesus stepping out to learn and then lead in the larger church?

 

IN OUR MINNEAPOLIS AREA Synod, there are some smaller congregations that are fantastic at lifting up and sending out leaders to serve and minister all over the country and the world. I suppose if you do the math, those smaller congregations outshine many larger congregations. Thanks be to God!

Faith and leadership formation is such critical work for our communities of faith. Every generation, the body of Christ — the Church — needs new folks who answer the call to serve, minister, and lead God’s people.

So I’ve been wondering….

Is there a secret sauce in those congregations who so regularly and faithfully raise up ministry staff, deacons, and pastors?

Is there a secret sauce in those congregations who so regularly and faithfully raise up ministry staff, deacons, and pastors?

If you know a recipe that will help your people follow their call to lead in the church, please let me know. In fact, let everyone in our synod know. Please!

In the meantime …

next time you see a 5th Grader take great interest in a bible story, get to know that kid!
next time you hear a 10th Grader who asks a tough theological question, encourage more deep faith talk!
next time you notice that a friend from church has the gifts to be a deacon or a pastor, take them out for coffee and tell them!

 

P.S. Check out How Youth Ministry Can Change Theological Education — If We Let It (edited by Kendra Creasy Dean and Christy Lang Hearlson, Eerdmans, 2016). The authors’ research uncovered a list of “mother sauces” — something every top chef uses to make a variety of exquisite dishes — that are necessary ingredients for spiritual and vocational formation:

  • community building
  • decentering and disruption (e.g. Bible camp, mission/servant/learning trips)
  • worship
  • spiritual companionship
  • holy conversation
  • theological reflection
  • pilgrimage
  • experimental learning

The Body of Christ in Three Expressions

January 19th, 2017

Craig PedersonRecently I participated in the installations of two new pastors who were called to serve churches set in very different contexts. One was a thriving congregation in an affluent suburb, the other was a new mission start in an eclectic urban neighborhood.

Both of these installation services were distinct and wonderful. Still, each shared a common, clear statement that the call of these pastors came from the “whole church” – that is, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through its three expressions. For Lutherans, this “three-fold” understanding of the church is foundational to our life together as the body of Christ.

For Lutherans, a “three-fold” understanding of the church is foundational to our life together as the body of Christ.

Aaron Werner installation, Mt. Calvary, Excelsior

Aaron Werner installation, Mt. Calvary, Excelsior

Of course this is not news to most of you who will read this post! But if you’re like me, you may have lost sight of this connectedness a time or two – like when you are in a church finance meeting wondering how you’re going to make ends meet, or when you’re planning an outreach event and wishing you had more volunteer resources to pull it off, or when you want to renew your worship experience but don’t quite know how to do it.

God calls us to serve and “go deep” in a particular context, but we are not called to do this service alone. I like how succinctly our ELCA website describes our life together: “Since our beginning in 1988, the ELCA has been one church body organized in three expressions — congregations, synods, and the churchwide organization. Each expression has its particular functions but all three together share a common mission of doing God’s work in the world and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.”

 

AT OUR BEST, LIKE nutrients flowing through the vital systems of our human bodies, life-giving resources flow freely throughout our three expressions. Financial offerings, prayers, leadership training, justice-seeking efforts, and faith development resources all work together to strengthen and support the building up of this body – all for the sake of sharing Christ’s love with the world.

This is the season of annual meetings, election of new Church Councils, the beginning of new fiscal years, and a renewed sense of purpose as the people of God in our unique contexts. As you review your congregation’s Annual Report you will find (hopefully!) reports from Bishop Svennungsen, Presiding Bishop Eaton, and possibly other ministry partners from across the larger church. Let those be a reminder and an encouragement that you are not alone, that we are the body of Christ together for the sake of the world!

The “Best of 2016” at __________ Lutheran Church

December 15th, 2016

Craig PedersonBy Rev. Craig Pederson, Assistant to the Bishop

During this time of year, we see an endless stream of “Best of” and “Top Ten” lists that review practically every aspect of our lives – the best doctor, dentist, burger, beer, car, microwave, movie, musical, etc.  Some of these lists are data-driven, some are the opinions of experts in the field, and some are just plain fun. best-0f-2016

Healthy, vital congregations, in my experience, often share one faithful practice; they identify their “best of” ministries through regular assessment and evaluation. They also celebrate those ministries that are making a Christ-filled impact in the lives of their members and the surrounding community. In addition, they are honest in acknowledging that some ministries may no longer be serving a meaningful purpose in terms of advancing the mission of the congregation.

This process of review and evaluation is perhaps best undertaken in two steps:

  1. Does the mission of your church still fit who God is calling you to be?
  2. Do the ministries of your church support the mission to which you are called?

Vital churches regularly review and renew their mission. Pastors and lay leaders are then bold and humble enough to say that some ministries that once held great value may no longer be needed.

If you are not doing so already, now is a good time to make your “Best of (your church name here!)__ Lutheran Church” list. Have fun with it, be graceful about it, and let it inform your planning for an even better 2017!

Bodies

December 1st, 2016

Minnesota Event Photography; Minneapolis Event Photography; Twin Cities Event Photography; Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly; ELCA; Eden Prairie; St. Andrew Lutheran Church

By Rev. Deb Stehlin, Director for Evangelical Missionsafety-pin

As I’ve been out and about lately, I’ve noticed people wearing safety pins. It’s something that first started after the Brexit vote in Europe, as a sign that the person wearing the pin is “safe.” A person wearing a safety pin has decided to help if someone is being harassed because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or immigrant status. They have decided to put their bodies in a place of tension — even danger.

That got me thinking about Jesus.

Jesus was very intentional about where he put his body. He’d arrive in a town and choose to show up in the uncomfortable places – the outskirts of town where the lepers were deported, the lonely place at the Samaritan well, the wrong side of the tracks where sinners and tax collectors gathered.

People started to pay attention to where Jesus put his body. Why? Because every time he chose to put his body somewhere, it made a strong statement about God’s dream for the world. It made a strong statement about who matters in the reign of God.

Where one chooses to put her or his body matters because it puts flesh on Jesus’ promise to be with us always, even to the end of the age.

His prophetic work eventually resulted in government and religious authorities putting Jesus’ body on a cross. And rather than participate in the empire’s system of violence, Jesus chose forgiveness over retaliation. He chose self-giving love. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing,” his body cried.

 

THIS ADVENT, AS WE remember that God came to us in a body, I am more mindful of the places of tension where our synod’s people are putting their bodies. Our bishop and others have prayed by the river with the water protectors at Standing Rock. Pastor Jane Buckley-Farlee walks with our Somali brothers and sisters who wonder what the future holds for them. Pastors Patrick and Luisa Cabello Hansel pray with their members who fear deportation. Others march to remind us that Black Lives Matter. Many others sit by bedsides, whispering prayers for God to bring healing to bodies that are sick.

Where one chooses to put her or his body matters, not only because it makes a strong statement about God’s dream for the world, but also because it puts flesh on Jesus’ promise to be with us always, even to the end of the age.

I thank God for you and all the ways you put flesh on God’s fierce love for us in Jesus Christ.