It appears that our country can’t get enough of Amanda Gorman. The brilliant young poet burst on the national scene with a reading at President Joe Biden’s Inauguration on January 20, and followed that up with another stunning performance at the Super Bowl in Tampa on February 7. Her inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb,”…
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
[Psalm 90:10a, 12 ESV]
“What gives you hope?” the young pastor asked.
Without hesitating, I shot back, “You! And young pastors like you.”
I was speaking to a group of our rostered ministers at one of our annual conference gatherings, and as our question-and-answer session wound down, I was extremely thankful for the unsolicited opportunity to expound on one of the priorities of my office.
I give thanks to God daily for the half dozen pastors we have ordained and those who are otherwise new to our synod since I was elected to this office. I may be putting pressure on them by stating that I am pinning my hopes on them to change the culture of our synod and the attitudes of our leaders.
I don’t think I’m being unrealistic. We serve a God who is so amazing, so loving, so lavish in abundance; yet a week doesn’t go by in which I am not challenged by congregations and individuals alike, who are unwilling or unable to believe that.
We tend to get beaten down by the difficult realities of life, by the aging and apparent decline of our parishes, to the point that we fail to see the joy of the possibilities that surround us.
Yet when I am around the newer pastors, I see gleams of hope and opportunity to strengthen the mission and ministry of that down-in-the-dumps mindset that has taken hold of a number of those among us called to lead God’s people and “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” [1 Peter 2:9b]
In the past month, I have visited two seminaries and one of our Lutheran universities. I have come away from those visits buoyed by the enthusiasm and optimism of the students I’ve encountered there. I am still inspired by the fervor of the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit in 2015. Although that seems like an eternity ago, it fueled my passion for the newness and regeneration that these youngsters can bring. I look to the future with confidence and anticipation, despite the gloom that permeates the atmosphere of our church body.
As I enter the 73rd year of my life, one would think that I would consider slowing down, taking it easy, and settling for whatever the prevailing position may be. I emphatically reject that. I feel called to be in a constant state of reform. Perhaps it’s because I was born on Reformation Day.
I surprise myself when I ponder the fact that I’ve lived this long. The years have truly flown. I don’t know what 72 is supposed to feel like. There are days when I feel spry as a puppy and other mornings when I wake up and I feel every bit as ancient as the pyramids – the soreness, the slowness, the achy creakiness.
People my age are supposed to be retired, enjoying the so-called “Golden Years” on the golf course (even though I don’t golf), going on cruises, sitting on the back-porch sipping coffee and reading.
But I sense that God did not call me to this office at an advanced age to display “a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” [2 Timothy 1:7]
That is why I maintain the schedule that I do.
God has been good to me. As long as God gives me breath, and with God’s help and guidance, I will serve in this office with passion and purpose, with joy and exuberance, with obedience and gratitude for all the blessings that I have received.
And I pray:
Lord, sustain us, your servants, with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 5:6-15
If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
[2 Corinthians 5:13-15 New International Version]
I am going a little bit off the rails today and attempt to reflect on the daily readings in so far as they pertain to my “real time” situation. I am at the Conference of Bishops in Chicago, where for the next five days we will drink from the proverbial fire hose, as we discuss the future of our church and what God is calling this church to be.
What is God calling this church to be?
As I’ve stated often, in my sermons and elsewhere, that is a core question of our ministry. In my time as Bishop, I have asked congregations to wrestle with that question, as I did with my own congregation during my time as parish pastor. We, as a synod staff, spend a portion of our time in our meetings discussing the future of the ministry on our territory. And now, though not for the first time, the bishops, as a body, will come to grips with this fundamental task.
What I think is different this time, besides the fact that I am a part of it, is that there is a sense of urgency about this encounter. Notice I said “urgency”, not “panic.” There is a difference. I have confidence that our Presiding Bishop is asking us to approach this exercise with an intentionality that allows us to move forward in faith, not in fear; and discern with hope, not with anxiety.
And that is why I was drawn to the three verses from 2 Corinthians cited above.
We are called to proclaim Christ crucified, which frees us from the power of sin, death, and the devil. Christ’s love compels us to be Christ for others, not to focus on ourselves. It frees us as a church, to be a beacon of hope for the hopeless, an advocate for the oppressed, and a voice for the marginalized.
I am happy to be here, as I heard several of my colleagues say to me yesterday. Initially I was unconvinced, but as the day went on I became more persuaded that the Holy Spirit was in this place, and these next five days will be exhausting but at the same time, exhilarating.
Be aware that I may not post every day during this conference, but know that I am thinking of you, faithful readers; that God is with us and nothing is impossible with God.