Every theology encourages a certain mission, and every Christian mission follows from certain theological ideas or premises. If we believed that our choice for Christ were crucial in our being able to obtain eternal life, this belief would powerfully inform our need to encourage others to make this choice. “Saving souls” would be our imperative in caring for our neighbors who were not saved.
This is not our way as Lutherans, however. Although we do believe that “by God’s grace we are saved through faith, and not by works [of the law],” even that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We cannot even come to believe in God by our own act of will, so great is the power of our turning away from God. Yet God does not turn away from us.
Our freedom in Christ, which comes from Christ’s choice for us and for our salvation (in the words of the Nicene Creed), opens wide our mission in his name. With Christ as the savior of souls, and not us, we do not have to convince others to accept Jesus as their savior.
On the one hand, that opens up a much larger palate of possible colors with which to paint God’s picture of grace for others; on the other, it seems much harder to focus on what that mission should then indeed be. It is like when I sit and try to order from a huge menu. It has been said recently that it can take me 20 minutes to make up my mind for dinner! How much harder then would it be for a whole church community to discern its mission!
Whatever we figure our mission to be, whatever ways in which we find we must help our neighbors and receive their help in Christ’s name, that mission will become clear only when our eyes are on the cross of Christ. On the holy cross on which our savior died (we will hear these words at Good Friday), we see the clearest calling of God, not for us to crucify ourselves in God’s image, but to know a God that spared nothing, not even God’s own self, in making a way to reach us.
And so if God reached out to us in this incredible way, and we have received this calling to do likewise, and we have been freed to do so, and we have been given this life and these days in order to do it, how shall we care for others?
One place to start is to remember how our community of Lutheran Christian faith is unique in our area. We are Christ-centered, and, mostly, progressive Christians. These two elements are not often found together. We care for justice for those who are oppressed. We care for those put on the margins of our society, as for the one who was most marginalized in his own time and place, put to a shameful death in front of all including his own mother.
Are there people being put to death for whom we must intercede, or at least stand with? Are there those being separated from their families, or whose jobs are being unjustly taken away from them, or who are being put in harm’s way, or whose health care is being curtailed when they cannot afford to pay for it? Are there those who just need someone to talk to without being judged? Are there those who have been told that they are going to hell, whom we could tell that that is not true nor why Jesus came to earth? Are there those who have little hope, an empty table, or have lost a loved one, whom we could sit with?
This is following the way of the cross: in obedience to the call of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through us, we help reveal the realm of God that has come near, nearer than the many hells of our world, and sometimes even of our own lives. And we don’t stop doing so until everybody knows that they are free in Christ, even ourselves.
Yours in the peace of Christ,