Thursday, November 9, 2017

Together in Hope

Lutherans and Catholics Together in Hope
Joint Reformation Worship Service
Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, Fergus Falls, MN
November 5, 2017
Photo credit:  Matthew Zelie
In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Forty-four years ago, when I was a freshman in college, I took a course entitled “Religious Bodies in America.”

For a farm boy, having his first experience of city life…for someone reared in a conservative branch of Lutheranism…this class on “Religious Bodies in America was eye-opening, assumption-challenging, and horizon-expanding.

As I recall, that class was structured around discovering how those other religious bodies alldiffered from my branch of Lutheranism.

Indeed that’s how such classes in comparative religion have often been structured:  identify the differences in order to understand more clearly why “my” church is the one and only true church.

Well, my dear Catholic and Lutheran friends, a lot of water has gone over the dam since I took that class in 1973.  During these four decades relationships among Christian churches—and especially among Catholics and Lutherans, have experienced a sea-change in our understanding and our relationships.

We have received an ever-deepening awareness that—despite our differences—far more unites us than divides us.  

Let me suggest just three examples…

First, we are firmly united by our profound, shared focus on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.   The cross is crucially central in both of our churches.  We unabashedly keep our eyes on Jesus Christ--crucified and risen for the life of the world.

Second, we all “do church” in ways that reflect a deeply sacramental perspective.   We Lutherans and Catholics firmly believe that the incarnation—the Word of God taking on flesh in the child of Mary—drives all the ways God seeks to get through to us.   We are convinced that the finite truly bears the infinite—that God always comes to us garbed in water, bread, wine, syllables, beauty, song, and all the rest of the best of this good creation—thus delivering to us faith and forgiveness and a future without end.

Third, in our Catholic and Lutheran ways of peering out at God’s creation, we are forever being summoned into  globe-spanning mission, ministries that seek out everyone, and service that that refuses to deny God’s love to anyone fashioned in God’s image.  It is not a coincidence, therefore, that both Catholics and Lutherans are communions that are global in scope.  Nor should it surprise us one bit that our two faith families tend two of the most wide-reaching networks of social service agencies on the planet.

More, so much more unites us than divides us, my brothers and sisters.  And perhaps that’s why folks frequently mistake us for one another…especially why some of us Lutherans are often acknowledged and sometimes accused of being “too Catholic.”

Years ago, on a snowy Christmas Eve, I was out on the road late in the evening.   As I longed to be home with my family, I recall catching a Christmas Eve worship service on my car’s radio.  The worship was lovely, with music and a spoken Word that fed my faith.  As I made my way across southern Minnesota that Christmas Eve, I tried to guess what Lutheran church that was hosting this worship service….until finally the announcer interrupted the broadcast to thank us all for joining this broadcast of the midnight Mass from the great Abbey Church of St John’s University in Collegeville.

May that—and all the other times we Catholics and Lutherans are mistaken for one another—draw us into even closer communion, as we celebrate how God is revealing to us that what we share in Jesus Christ, in the sacramentality of life, and in our mission in the world, God is continually weaving us together as one.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.