Saturday, December 8, 2012

For the Life of the World

Where Are You Leading Us, Lord?
For the Life of the World

"Arisee, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”  
Isaiah 60:1-3

“Savior of the nations, come; virgin’s son, make here your home.
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth:  God has chosen such a birth.”
Ambrose of Milan (340-397 A.D.), translated by Martin Luther (1483-1546)   ELW #263

One church year gives way to the next, as the rhythm of our weekly worship invites us to contemplate Big Things—the consummation of the work of Christ the King, following quickly by the Advent of the One who is most assuredly not best described as “my personal Savior.”   No, Christ comes to save all sinners, to reclaim the whole universe, to make all things new.

Herein lies the best antidote to our natural tendency to “cozy up” during Advent and Christmas.   Whether we’re are drawn into gauzy nostalgia about holidays past or cocooned in the intimacy of tightknit circles of family and friends, the witness of the scriptures and the church is that this season—and the entirety of our life in Christ--is always about more.

Christ comes to Bethlehem’s manger, Christ comes to us continually in Word and Sacrament, and Christ will come again in the fullness of time, not just for “me and my kind” but for the life of the world.

So, we ask ourselves one last time in 2012:  Where are you leading us, Lord?   Let our December answer be clear and simple:  Christ leads us into a mission that spans the world, imbuing us with a global consciousness that resists any domestication or privatization of the life of faith.

The Global Horizon of Advent and Christmas

From the very beginning of the Christ-story, the scriptures make clear this global reach of God’s love in the Christ Child.   Indeed, the whole prophetic tradition of the Old Testament (the prequel to the Nativity story) envisions a coming Messiah who will do more than restore the fortunes of Israel.   Isaiah’s witness is pungently prescient:  “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”  (Isaiah 60:1-3)

When the Holy Infant arrives, the angelic announcement is broad and far-reaching:  “‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  (Luke 2:10-11)   Days later, when the Child is presented in the Temple, old Simeon sings of the universal salvation God is ushering in:  “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,  a light for revelation to the Gentiles    and for glory to your people Israel.’” (Luke 2:30-32).

The birth of Christ may have taken place in the backwater village of Bethlehem—“one of the little clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2)—but this birth has cosmic reach.  Just so, the community of Christ will always, always, always envisions itself caught up in a mission that is globe-spanning.  (Here’s something to try during Advent and Christmas this year:   pay attention in the hymns and carols of these precious seasons for references to the globe-spanning, world-saving work of Christ.)

Global + Local = “Glocal”

One of the most discouraging things I hear, with surprising regularity, goes like this:  “Bishop, we need to remember the mission in our own back yard  first.   It’s nice to care about people who live around the globe, but charity begins at home.”

What I find discouraging about this isn’t so much that it’s not true.   Indeed, the mission field starts right outside the doorway to all our church buildings.   And God’s mission certainly includes redeeming and reclaiming the close-in corner of the world where God has planted us.

But why, oh why, do so many of us consider engagement in local mission and global mission as mutually exclusive possibilities?  Indeed, this is not an “either-or” choice.   It is always a “both-and” opportunity, and unless our concept of God’s mission is both local and global, it will be truncated and incomplete.   For this reason, our own ELCA Global Mission unit has been lifting up a provocative new term—“glocal”—to describe more accurately the whole mission before us!

Some Ways to Widen the Circle

God’s call to us—as we wonder where God is leading our congregations—is to ponder together all the ways we might do justice to the universal scope of Christ’s redemptive work.   How might we so “widen the circle” of our attention and engagement, to enrich our participation in God’s rescue and renewal mission in the world?   For starters, consider these possibilities:

·        Learning about God’s work in other lands, traveling abroad (or assisting those who do so on our behalf) and welcoming visitors from global partners in ministry.   Because of our naturally tendency to turn inward and see little more than what’s right in front of us right now, we need regular opportunities to lift up our heads and behold the world God loves so achingly in Christ.   Fortunately, our synod has been blessed over the last two years with opportunities both to receive representatives of our companion synod, the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC) of India (in September 2011) and to send nineteen representatives of our synod to visit the AELC just last month.   Many of our congregations also have an “oar in the water” in terms of international exchanges, mission trips and global ministries that you have “adopted.”

But such global mission awareness needs to be cultivated in all of our congregations.   So, if your congregation doesn’t already have one, draw together a global mission team/committee to spearhead your church’s engagement with God’s work across the world.   Subscribe to the ELCA’s Hand in Hand quarterly newsletter about our shared global mission work at    Invite one of the nineteen travelers to our companion synod in India to speak in your congregation during 2013—send your request to    Invite a global missionary on home leave or a member of a global church to visit your congregation at least once a year.    Cultivate relationships with Christians in other lands via social networking websites like Facebook.  

·        Praying for global mission ventures and international service ministries in the weekly prayer of the church.   Time and time again last month, as we pilgrims from the NW MN Synod met with members of the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church in India, we received this invitation:  “Please pray for us.  Pray for our church, the AELC, as we elect a new bishop next year.  Pray for India.  Pray for peace in our region and across our world.”   The NW MN Synod team plans to facilitate a way (using Northern Lights) to invite specific, weekly prayer concerns for the AELC and its ministries.   You can also download the current Hand in Hand Annual for a listing of ELCA global missionaries and global partner churches—then pray for one of them each week: 
·        Sponsoring global missionaries and supporting global ministries of evangelism, mercy, and healing.   Hundreds of congregations across our ELCA have found how gratifying and enlightening (for them) it is to have a face and a name that matters to them in one of our global companion churches.   The Hand in Hand Annual referred to in the previous paragraph provides information on the all the ways that individuals and congregations can provide financial support to ELCA missionaries.   Pay attention, too, to the many fine opportunities in the ELCA Good Gifts catalog at   As your congregation  approaches its annual meeting get ready to propose a congregational goal for the ELCA Malaria Campaign, as we implement the synod assembly resolution (from last May) committing our synod to raising at least $225,000 toward the whole ELCA’s goal of $15 million by 2015.   For more information go to   Pay attention, as well, to the expanding work of our synod’s re-newed Hunger Table, advised by Pastor Steve Peterson, assistant to the bishop—contact him at to find out how your congregation can get involved.

In this regard I also want to encourage your deep engagement with Lutheran World Relief (LWR).   The mission of this fine inter-Lutheran organization goes like this:  Affirming God’s love for all people, we work with Lutherans and partners around the world to end poverty, injustice and human suffering.”  Many of our WELCA groups already contribute quilts, health kits and school kits through LWR.   But LWR does so much more across the world, as we learned from LWR Executive Director, the Rev. Dr. John Nunes at last May’s synod assembly.   Find out more at 

  • Advocating for peace, justice, religious freedom across the world and prisoners of conscience wherever they suffer for the sake of Christ.   During Advent and Christmas we thrill again to the globe-spanning witness of Isaiah:  “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor,Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”    With good reason, our hearts and prayers will focus on the “state of the world” that God has created and is re-creating in Jesus Christ.   This too, has implications for how our congregations and church members develop a global consciousness for the sake of God’s mission.  

 As newly-elected (or re-elected) leaders assume their duties in our state capitol and in Washington, DC, in January take time to write to them, urging them to make decisions on behalf of the common good—across our state, our nation and our world.   Freedom House is “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world.”   One of this organization’s programs monitors the state of international religious freedom—find out more at    Pay attention to world events via reputable news sources, e.g. to stay up on what’s happening in our companion synod, go to the website for one India’s national English-language newspapers,  (click on “News,” then click on “States,” and in the drop-down menu choose “Andhra Pradesh” state, where the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church is located).

Thank you, dear friends, for using this Bible study and the others in this 2012 series on the question:  “Where Are You Leading Us, Lord?”   I encourage you, especially as you do mission planning in your congregation for 2013, to make use of the whole series which is available on the synod website at
My wife Joy and I wish you all a blessed Advent and Christmas.  With you, we wait eagerly for the birth of the Christ Child who is the hope of the whole world:

“Our hope and expectation, O Jesus now appear;
Arise O Sun so longed for, o’er this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, o Lord to see
The day of earth’s redemption that sets your people free!”
Laurentius Laurenti (1660-1722)  ELW #244

Your brother in Christ,
Bishop Larry Wohlrabe
Northwestern Minnesota Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
God’s work.  Our hands.

For reflection and discussion: 
1.      Why are we tempted to “domesticate” or “privatize” the saving work of Jesus Christ?
2.      How is your congregation already fostering a global consciousness among its members?
3.      What is one thing, suggested in this Bible study, that you’d like to see your congregation start doing in 2013?
4.      What phrase from an Advent hymn or Christmas carol best helps you remember thatChrist leads us into a mission that spans the world, imbuing us with a global consciousness that resists any domestication or privatization of the life of faith?”

This is the twelfth in a series of monthly Bible studies during 2012 focused on the question:  “Where Are You Leading Us, Lord?”   These columns have been designed to equip the disciples and leadership groups such as church councils, for faithful and fruitful ministry.   Feel free to use the column for personal reflection or group discussion, e.g. church council meeting devotions/discussion.

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