Concerns Over a Confession
On September 27 the ELCA released a “Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People.” The document contains a full page of confessions to the American Indian and Alaska Native communities of the ELCA and in the U. S. as well as to non-Indigenous communities of the ELCA. A link to that document can be found here.
There is no doubt – there is absolutely no question – but that when settlers from Europe came to America, there were already people living here. There is no doubt – there is absolutely no question – but that treaties were broken, promises were not kept, and people – including children who were forcibly enrolled in boarding schools – were mistreated and abused. There is much that we need to repent of. We also know that all of our homes and all of our churches – and even the ELCA office building on Higgins Road – are all built on land that once belonged to someone else.
I am reminded of the account in 2 Samuel 21, when “there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year” (verse 1). David inquired of the Lord and asked why. The Lord replied, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” The Israelites had made a treaty with the Gibeonites when they first entered into the Promised Land (Joshua 9). Even though the Gibeonites had tricked the Israelites into making that treaty, Joshua knew that they still needed to keep their promises. But several generations later – during the time of King Saul – those promises were broken. Israel needed to deal with the fact that they had not kept their word. They had to face what they had done. It was only after they had done so that God would again bless them. 2 Samuel 21: 14 tells us that after Israel made things right, “God heeded supplications for the land.” It makes you wonder if part of the reason for all of the problems within our country – as well as within the ELCA – is because of promises that have been broken.
But there are a couple sentences within that declaration/confession that make me deeply troubled. In the first paragraph it says, “We have devalued Indigenous religions and lifeways.” In the second paragraph it says, “We confess that we are complicit in the annihilation of Native peoples and your cultures, languages, and religions.” I completely agree that it is severely wrong to devalue other people and their lifeways. It is absolutely wrong to annihilate other peoples and their cultures and languages. What I want to address is the ELCA’s confessing its devaluing indigenous religions. I read that statement in the light of the “Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment,” which the ELCA Churchwide Assembly overwhelmingly approved in 2019. A link to that document can be found here.
What concerns me about the ELCA’s Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment is the section entitled, “Limits on our knowing.” In that section it says, “We must be careful about claiming to know God’s judgments regarding another religion.” Instead it says that “all we know, and all we need to know, is that our neighbors are made in God’s image and that we are called to love and serve them.” Certainly our neighbors are made in God’s image. Certainly we are called to love and serve them. But since it is a fact that people who are not followers of Jesus also love and serve their neighbors, then the ELCA is saying that the church of Jesus has nothing unique, valuable, and important to offer to other people.
If the church of Jesus has nothing unique, valuable, and important to offer to other people, then I could see why we might feel the need to confess devaluing other religions. But if the church of Jesus does have something unique, valuable, and important to offer to other people, then it is not that we devalue other religions. Rather it is that we value people. We love people, and we want people to know and love Jesus and to know that Jesus loves them. We would not be loving and serving our neighbors if we did not tell them about Jesus.
Are the only options either devaluing other religions or feeling that as followers of Jesus we have nothing unique, valuable, and important to offer? The account of the apostle Paul in Athens in Acts 17 says that there is another option. Please notice five things from this account.
First, verse 16 says that Paul was “deeply distressed to see that the city (of Athens) was full of idols.” Are we deeply distressed over the ways in which people place so many other things before and above God?
Second, in verse 22 Paul began his message in front of the Areopagus on a very positive note. He did not blast the people for all of their idols. Instead he said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” In our relating to people who do not know Jesus, do we begin on a positive note and do we maintain a positive spirit?
Third, we see in verse 23 that Paul had taken the time and had put forth the effort to become familiar with their culture and the objects of their worship. He said, “As I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship.” Do we do the same?
Fourth, he found a connecting point. As Paul looked carefully at the objects of the Athenians’ worship, he came across an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” (verse 23) Do we look until we can find a connecting point? Can we identify the aspects of our culture that reveal the spiritual yearnings and longings of people?
Fifth, he was able to relate to the people by quoting from their poets, who had said, “In him we live and move and have our being” and “We too are his offspring.” (verse 28) Are we able to relate to and connect with people today by quoting from the sources that give expression to their feelings, needs, and longings?
So either devaluing other religions or feeling that as followers of Jesus we have nothing unique, valuable, and important to offer are not the only options. Like the apostle Paul, we need to recognize the spiritual yearnings and longings of people, and then we need to find ways to connect with them. We do this, not because we devalue their religions, but instead because we value people. We love people, and we want people to know and love Jesus and to know that Jesus loves them.
Weekly Devotional for Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017
FIRST WORDS AND FINAL WORDS
Devotional for Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017 based upon Matthew 25: 31-46
I retired on June 30, 2014, after serving as pastor of the same southern California congregation for forty years. My final Sunday was June 29. What I would say during the sermon on my final Sunday was very important to me. There were certain things I wanted to be sure to say to the congregation, whom I had known and loved and been pastor for for forty years. I spent a lot of time and prayer thinking through my final words.
Our Gospel lesson for Christ the King Sunday contains Jesus’ final words – His final message before the crucifixion. I am sure that what He said during this final message was very important to Him. What did He say?
In Jesus’ final message before the crucifixion He tells of the day when He will come in His glory. All the angels will be there, and all the people who have ever lived will be there. His first act as the newly crowned, rightful King of the universe will be to separate all people into two groups – sheep and goats. To those on the right – to the sheep – He will say, “Come, you that are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (verse 34) Then he will give a whole list of human hurts and will describe the response of the sheep to those hurts. The first act of Christ as the newly crowned King will be to applaud His people’s acts of compassion. What Jesus makes the biggest deal of in this – His final message before His crucifixion – are the works of compassion of His people, who have received His compassionate work of salvation.
Now if Matthew 25 contains the last recorded message of Jesus before the crucifixion – the last recorded message of His three-year public ministry – what about His first recorded message? What did Jesus say during the first time that the Bible says He got up to speak?
To find the answer to that question we turn to Luke 4 – to a time when Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth. He went to the synagogue – to that community and religious gathering place where He had gone many, many times while growing up. He went back to the synagogue, where He had studied the books of Moses, the law, and the prophets. The law He had come to fulfill, and the prophets who spoke of the day of hope when He would be coming. Luke tells us, “He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. . . .” (Luke 4: 16-17)
As best-selling author Max Lucado, speaking on this passage, points out, this is the only time in the Bible where Jesus chooses a place in the Bible. This is the only time in the Bible where it specifically mentions that someone handed Jesus a Bible and said, “Here, please pick out a passage for us.” Imagine handing God a Bible and asking Him to pick out a verse. Just imagine. If you were to hand God a Bible and ask Him to pick a verse, what verse do you think He would pick? What one passage from the entire Old Testament do you think He would select? Luke tells us, “He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. . . .”
You might think that He would have stopped at Isaiah 53 – the song of the suffering servant that speaks of Him so clearly – “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53: 5) But instead He kept on going until He got to Isaiah 61, where He read, “The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4: 18)
Here we have the first sentence of the first sermon of Jesus recorded in the Bible. The only time mentioned in the Bible where Jesus selects and reads a passage from the Bible, and whom and what does He read about? He reads about the poor. “The spirit of the Lord has anointed Me – has chosen Me – to bring good news to the poor.”
The only time in the Bible where it is specifically recorded that Jesus reads a passage from the Bible – and a passage which He Himself chooses – and whom does He read about? It must be those whom He must have a special heart for. The poor. And in the rest of verse 18, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed.
If the first act of our Lord Jesus Christ – after He is crowned as the rightful King of the universe – is to separate the sheep from the goats. And if the factor that makes sheep sheep and goats goats is the way their faith leads them to respond to the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, and imprisoned. And if in the first sermon that Jesus gave He talked about God’s concern for the poor, that must have a lot to say to us today, who live in a world where so many people are living in extreme poverty.
If in His last recorded sermon and in His first recorded sermon, Jesus talked about God’s heart for the poor, we need to ask ourselves, What kind of heart do I have for the poor? Do I have God’s kind of heart for the poor?
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE
Devotion for Tuesday, November 14, 2017
“They attack, they lurk, they watch my steps, as they have waited to take my life. Because of wickedness, cast them forth, in anger put down the peoples, O God!” (Psalm 56:6-7)
All around are those who mean harm. Yes, there are wicked people in the guise of everyday normal people. Do not fear and do not fret over them. Their time is short but the Word of the Lord is forever. Look to the Lord, be guided by His Spirit and know the truth He revealed once for all. The peoples will be put down and the Lord lifted up. Keep your eyes upon the Lord.
Lord, You know the times and events and the ways of people. Guide me, O Lord, that I would walk in the ways You have established now and forever. Keep me from the tangles of the wicked ones who plot to lie, cheat, steal and destroy. Lead me in the way of life that I would go there. Help me now and always to be one who studies Your Word to see the simplicity and goodness of Your commands.
Lord Jesus, without You it would be impossible, but with You it is possible. You are the One who makes my salvation possible. Lead me away from the foolish thinking of this age and into the truth You have revealed for all. Grow my faith to become action, firmly witnessing Your goodness in the world and guiding my footsteps to be pleasing to the Father. Amen.