Our confirmation students are immersed in a year-long conversation about what it means to be a Lutheran Christian. (Next year we will study Lutheran theology, doctrine and practice.)
In the fall, we studied “Lutherans Living in the World.” We talked about our theological and ethical obligation to be civically engaged, to pray for our leaders, to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
This winter we are studying “Lutherans Active in History.” We have learned about Martin Luther, and considered the name-change of another Martin Luther (King, Jr.) We shared our findings about the lives of other famous Lutherans, living and deceased (e.g. Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Lou Gehrig). Had I been thinking, we would also have studied Rev. Sally Azar, the first Palestinian woman ordained in the ELCJHL (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land). She was ordained just two weeks ago.
Their homework before next week’s class is to view and consider the most recent of the ELCA’s “Talks at the Desk” video series, produced by the ELCA African Descent Ministries for Black History month (available for viewing at www.elca.org or on YouTube “Talks at the Desk”). The first episode of the second season is called “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” and spends time with the leaders of Cross and Hephatha Lutheran Churches in Milwaukee. Both congregations serve in the city, and are deeply engaged with their neighborhood’s issues and their neighbors’ lives.
One of the most moving segments of this episode is an interview with Aidan Branch and his mother, Deanna. Aidan has been hospitalized twice for lead poisoning and will always live with developmental delays. He and his mother co-wrote “Aidan: The Lead-Free Hero.” They are Lutherans writing history.
Though we lived in a very old house when our daughters were small, we never worried about lead poisoning. Our home had been tested and remediated; our water was filtered; the soil around our house was uncontaminated. One of Aidan’s cautions in the interview is troubling: “Don’t drink water from the sink!” No child should have to worry about that. But too many do.
These congregations are driven by powerful images and issues. Water. Homes. Health. Community.
Though Ascension, Cross and Hephatha all belong to the ELCA, our congregations could not be more different. Why? Because of the context in which we serve. Ministry is always contextual. Always has been. What issues or images drive us?
That’s why, in Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus provides ministry images vital to his context. (Matthew 5.13-20) I have never really resonated with his admonition to be “salt” and “light,” a “city set on a hill.” The teaching about law-keeping that follows is equally opaque. Why does Jesus demand absolute fidelity to the commandments in chapter 5, and in chapter 22 condense the ten commandments to only two?
Salt. Light. City. Law keepers. In Jesus’ context, these concerns make perfect sense. Salt was vital for life, physical and financial. Light was fragile and dim. A city set on a hill was both attractive and unassailable. Well-written laws provided protection and structure.
In the 1st century, Israel worried about salt, light, witness, law.
In 21st century Milwaukee, Lutherans worry about water, homes, health, community.
What issues demand our attention? What images excite us? Where do our gifts uniquely lie?
Though our confirmation students may not be aware of it, we are laying a foundation of active and engaged faith lives for them. They may not be martyred for the faith, as was Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Lutheran theologian). They may not give away $4 million of personal property for public housing, as did Rick Steves (Lutheran travel writer). They may not compose world-changing, heart-breaking cantatas, as did J.S. Bach (Lutheran composer). But they may be called on to protect a neighbor in danger, to cast an unpopular vote, to endure suffering, to “speak truth to stupid” (quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber, another famous Lutheran). Our children are most certainly watching us for clues about how Lutherans live in the world. I wonder what they see.
Jesus named his disciples Salt and Light. What might Jesus name us?
See you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post