Monday, July 2, 2018

Bishops' Statement on Immigration

Bishops’ Statement on Immigration

As bishops charged with responsibility for over 500 parishes across our region, we write to share our deep concern about the current debate over immigration in the United States.   As we observe the unfolding situation along our country’s border with Mexico we are troubled that this debate seems to be driven more by rancor and political partisanship than by the deep moral and spiritual dimensions of the issue at hand.

Our communities of faith share three foundational principles regarding the issue of immigration:

First, we assume that people have the right to migrate in order to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.  This assumption is based on the ancient biblical teaching that the goods of the earth belong to our Creator who intends them to be shared with all people.  While defending the right to private property, our churches teach that individuals do not have the right to use private property without regard for the common good.

Second, we assume that a country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration.  While people have the right to migrate, no country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life are jeopardized.   The vast majority of our parishes were established by immigrants to America.  So we realize that most persons migrate-- not simply to enhance their standard of living--but to embrace safety, freedom, and opportunities that don’t exist in their countries of origin.  Our immigrant heritage has also contributed to our churches’ strong commitment to assisting immigrants and refugees.

Third, we assume that a country must regulate its borders with both justice and mercy, both fairness and generosity.   This third principle supplies the proper context for understanding the first two principles.  It is only in the interplay of pursuing both fairness and generosity that the best discussion of immigration will take place.

It is precisely such discussion of immigration that is so sorely needed in our nation at this time.   So we urge members of our parishes along with all our neighbors to embrace the gift of respectful conversation as we sort out this perplexing, critical issue of immigration.  In that spirit we invite you to consider the following possibilities:
  • ·       Re-commit ourselves to fact-based reasoning, a free press, and free speech;
  • ·       Insist upon civility in our public discourse—starting with ourselves;
  • ·       Resist the urge to do all our “talking” via social media;
  • ·       Sit down regularly with persons who hold opinions other than our own and listen more than we speak;
  • ·       Urge our members of Congress, Senators and the President to pursue comprehensive immigration reform that is both compassionate and just; 
  • ·       Invite others to join us in pondering what it means to balance care for ourselves with care for the common good; and
  • ·       Avail ourselves of the resources of our faith communities--principally the gift of prayer.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son.  Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred that infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and through our struggle and confusion, work to accomplish your purposes on earth; so that, in your good time, every people and nation may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.  (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 79)

Bishop Terry Brandt, Eastern North Dakota Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Bishop Michael Hoeppner, Roman Catholic Diocese of Crookston
Bishop Lawrence Wohlrabe, Northwestern Minnesota Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Note:  this statement draws upon Catholic Social Teaching On Immigration and the Movement of Peoples (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)[1] and A Message on Immigration (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).[2] 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

God's Grace Changes Everything

Sermon for Synod Day--June 30, 2018
“God's Grace Changes Everything”
ELCA Youth Gathering, Houston, Texas
Acts 8:26-40

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

What have been some of the most significant days in your life thus far?

I’m not asking you to recall the day that was most fun or exciting or unforgettable.

But rather:  what are the moments that have had the biggest impact on your life? 

I can think of three of them in my own life…

There’s August 6, 1977 when I married Joy. 

There’s  April 8, 1982 when I became a father

And then there’s June 15, 2003—when I was NOT elected bishop of the SW MN Synod…a "defeat" that opened me up to ask, “So where’s God calling me now?”   [I include this day, because our most significant days are not always our happiest days…]

What have been your most significant days…your “this changes everything” moments?

Here in Acts 8 we meet a fellow who’s having the most significant day of HIS life.

We aren’t told his name.

All we’re told is that  he was from the East African nation of Ethiopia;  he was a eunuch (whatever that means); he was his queen’s treasurer; and he was traveling between Jerusalem and his homeland.

Just a few scraps of information—that speak volumes  about this man:
·       He was a foreigner of a different race from a different country…
·       He was a eunuch—a slave who (like other slaves in the ancient world) had been castrated early in life so he could be completely devoted to his owner….
·       And he was his queen’s slave, in charge of all her money: a lowly slave with lofty responsibilities.

But why was this black man from East Africa traveling between Jerusalem and his homeland?

I think it’s because he was a spiritual seeker like so many folks nowadays—especially youth and young adults.  Though presumably raised in the religion of his homeland, somewhere along the line he was drawn to the Jewish faith…he honored the God of the Jews, traveled to Jerusalem for Jewish festivals and read the Jewish scriptures, our Old Testament.

…which is exactly what he was doing, as he rode in his chariot through the desert, from Jerusalem back home to Ethiopia. 

And fortunately, the eunuch wasn’t alone on that desert road.  A Christian named Philip was there, too, encountering the eunuch just as he was reading from the prophet Isaiah about a mysterious “Suffering Servant” who faced humiliation, barrenness, and death.

This Bible passage was getting under the eunuch’s skin….causing him to wonder:   “Who in the world was Isaiah writing about?”

I wonder why this question bugged him so much.  Was it because the eunuch saw something of himself in this passage? 

After all--like Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant”—the eunuch had been “sheared”—shorn of his manhood.  He had tasted the bitterness of humiliation.  He had been cut off from having a family of his own.

“Who’s the prophet writing about?” the eunuch pleads with Philip….and Philip responds by telling him “the good news about Jesus”

Just exactly what Philip said next, we aren’t told.   But maybe it went something like this:
This mystery person, this suffering servant who experienced all the crummy things you’ve experienced…he has a name and it’s Jesus.  He was born, taking the form of a slave.   He spent his whole life serving others in the lowliest of ways.  When his enemies hoisted him up on a cross, his life was cut off.  His body was thrown away, discarded like so much garbage, buried in a borrowed grave….

…a grave that could not hold him!  After three days Jesus burst out of his grave—alive again, nevermore to die again!

And Jesus went through all of that so that he might now live his unending life through you.  As a fellow Christian friend of mine likes to say:   “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Gal.2:19b-20)

As surely as Philip shared with the eunuch “the good news about Jesus”…God’s grace, God’s undeserved riches in Christ were poured over the eunuch when he was baptized.  

That was his “this changes everything” turnaround moment.

Nothing that people were always noticing about him—his skin color, his status as a sexual minority, his “foreignness,”  his lowly status as a slave, his lofty responsibilities as the Queen’s chief financial officer—nothing that people might have known about him held this man back from going on his way rejoicing….

…and, as an ancient church tradition suggests, when the eunuch reached home, he too (like Philip!) told others “good news about Jesus” and thus helped plant Christianity in Ethiopia.

My young friends, you belong here--even though you might think there are 101 reasons why God could never choose you to love and embrace and forgive and send into his service.

But when God thinks of you, God comes up with 101 reasons why you are JUST the kind of person God needs, a beloved child through whom Jesus chooses to live and move and have his being.

None of the ways we get all hung up on “sorting ourselves out” in this world matters, none of it matters one little bit to God.

God’s grace calls dibs on you and everyone else who has ears to hear.

God’s grace in Jesus Christ changes everything.  

God’s grace send you to tell others “the good news about Jesus.”  

God’s grace calls you is as surely and as certainly as anything could ever be.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.