I was taking a walk last week when I heard my phone ring in my pocket. At least, I thought it was ringing, but actually it was dialing. Somehow, the phone got jostled around and was dialing a number, but who was I accidentally calling? I wrestled the phone out of my pocket just in time to hear a voice say, “This is 911, how can we be of help?” I apologized multiple times and explained that I was walking and my phone decided to call them on its own. They still asked specifically whether I required assistance, asked my location and name just in case, and assured me that this is something that “just happens” and to have a nice day.
This little non-emergency reminded me how great it is that there are people out there, on call 24/7, waiting to spring into action the second someone needs help. We are blessed to be just a butt-dial away from a whole system of rescue personnel who are waiting vigilantly for a moment of true distress. It is not unusual in my walks down State Road 54, to be passed by one or more rushing ambulances or fire trucks with alarms blaring. This is a world in need of help, and God bless those who willing and equipped to provide it.
Jesus knew that returning to heaven meant leaving behind a world in need of help. He loved the world that God the Father sent Him to, despite the rejection and contempt of fellow human beings. And yet, those human beings were the ones who needed the most help, and he saw that those human beings were also the solution to that need. As God had sent him into the world to bring the Good News of God’s grace, so Jesus would send his disciples into that world to continue what he had started.
That mission has been passed along to us…to you and me as present-day disciples of Jesus. In Christ we recover the original God-given purpose of humanity – to tend to this planet and the good of all living things. This means caring for the needs of those around us, giving a hand up to those who are facing hard times. It also means nurturing the good in our society, being a voice that helps guide decisions people make in our congregation, community, nation and the world. When Jesus came back from the dead, telling the disciples that he was sending them out just as God had sent him, these were the tasks he was passing on.
As disciples of Christ, we try to understand the issues that challenge us in the light of God’s grace and the message of Jesus Christ. Our national church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has been studying and wrestling with many of them on a large scale. By bringing in parishioners and experts from varying perspectives, offering study materials and surveying church members across the ELCA, and offering workshops and gathering feedback at synod gatherings, our national church body has crafted “social statements” that define our collective stance on many of these issues. Each of them has been approved by a 2/3 majority at one of our national assemblies. If you want to know “what the ELCA teaches” on any of these particular points, the Social Statements are the place to start:
ELCA Social Statements:
- Church in society / Iglesia en la sociedad (1991)
- The church and criminal justice / La iglesia y la justicia penal (2013)
- The death penalty / Pena de Muerte (1991)
- Health and health care / Salud y asistencia sanitaria (2003)
- Human sexuality / La sexualidad humana (2009)
The fact that the ELCA has official positions on these issues does not mean that any particular pastor or church member is expected to agree with everything in these statements. They are tools to help guide policy and clarify our thinking. Some of the statements define a range of positions that are held throughout the church. Each of them looks to Scripture and Lutheran teaching and seeks to find how our understanding of Christ intersects with the struggles of our changing world.When Jesus sent the disciples to bring Good News to the world, he gave them his peace and left them in the hands of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit that guided the disciples and gave birth to the Church continues to guide the work we do together. This summer, we will be looking at ways to grow our social justice ministry here at Atonement. We will begin with our July Godify services on Saturdays, where we will take a close look at some of these social statements and see how our denomination continues to wrestle with real-world questions. Then we will ask: where is Christ sending us?...where is the Spirit guiding us to “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) with God and our fellow human beings.