A message from Bishop Dave Nagler
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, refers to his denomination as, “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.” I love this and have borrowed it when describing who we are in the Pacifica Synod. My adaptation goes like this: we are “the Lutheran branch of the Jesus movement in Southern California and Hawaii”. Let me break this sentence down in three parts.
We are the Lutheran branch…
Jesus said that he was the vine and his disciples are the branches. The branch can do nothing apart from its connection to the vine (John 15). This is a critical distinction. The ELCA is not the vine. Neither is our synod or any congregation. The vine is the Divine Mystery that we call God revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth. God is the source of life, energy, and ultimately any fruitfulness. Our primary mission is to stay connected to God.
Our connection has given birth to a specific denomination with a history and some core commitments.
- We in the Lutheran branch proclaim the gospel that God’s love, not anything we can do, make us whole or “saved”. God does it all!
- We affirm the priesthood of all believers and boldly assert that everyone has a vocation and that all vocations are equal in the Kin-dom of God.
- We confess that each of us are simultaneously 100% saint and 100% sinner. We can grow spiritually but we can never escape this truth.
- We bear witness that the capital “W” Word is Jesus Christ, and that Word is found most clearly (but not exclusively) in the holy scriptures.
- We are called live out our God given freedom by loving our neighbors and addressing systems of injustice in our world. Freedom is not license to exercise libertine individualism, but to see and serve our neighbor as another child of God.
There are of course more core commitments, but these are charisms of our tradition and should be central to our work. Other faith traditions include many of these as well. Ours is not a better or “more correct” interpretation so there is no cause for boasting. It is simply how we have understood our connection to the Divine Vine.
Of the Jesus movement…
Jesus began a movement in Judaism. He understood the prophetic path of his tradition and stepped boldly into it. He called people to remember who they were and to live in right relationship with God. This passion for connecting people with the love of God animated him and his teachings. He welcomed the outcast because he believed that God welcomed them. He healed the sick and raised the dead because he understood this as what God was doing in the world. He saw and affirmed the inherent worth of every person, including his enemies. His disciples watched him, imitated him, struggled with his teachings, grew in their ability to embody God’s love, and expanded his movement.
The institution of the church has only one reason for its existence; to continue the movement of Jesus and his reconciling love. It has done this well at times and completely failed at other times. (see Saint and Sinner above) Sometimes, the church has gotten this backward and behaved like the mission of Jesus was a successful institutional church. When this happens, God sends reformers to remind the church that it only finds its life when it has “the mind of Christ” and pour itself out on behalf of the world (Philippians 2).
Living when we do with access to so much information about other cultures and spiritual traditions, we can see the movement of Jesus in other places. The words of the Buddha or Rumi or Black Elk or the Quran include teachings about Divine love and the dignity of all people. When we discover these connections, we should celebrate them!
In Southern California and Hawaii.
Context matters. We are the people God has gathered to serve in this place and time. Southern California and Hawaii are wonderfully diverse places with many languages spoken and traditions observed. Our neighbors are recent immigrants and indigenous peoples. The people in our congregations hold very different political views. Our context calls us to be a “big tent” community where difference is not dangerous but an opportunity for growth. There cannot be a litmus test for inclusion if we hope to fulfill our common mission.
We are defined by liminal space. We are a border synod where one nation meets another. We are an ocean synod where the land meets the sea. Both the border and the ocean are places for potential abundant life or human destruction. For those of us who live here, we see both realities daily. Our calling is to engage the challenges and celebrate the gifts of this amazing part of God’s world!
This will mean having difficult discussions about the history and trajectory of racism, unfair economic policies and environmental destruction. Scripture is replete with God calling the people to address social injustice. To not speak up is just as “political” as to remain silent. The Holy Spirit empowers us to reject fear and examine unjust systems and unconscious bias. Doing this will not make God love us any more than God already does, but it will allow us to become more whole and to love our neighbors better.
Over the ages congregations have been begun and ended. Denominations have come and gone. Yet the movement of Jesus has been resurrected in myriad ways and places. We carry the baton for this movement in this time and place. Not all of it, but an important part of it. May our voices be loving and strong. May our “reason for being” be clear! May our service be joyous!