Posts tagged Mercy
How did we get here?
A grant obtained by LCMS World Relief/Human Care is providing the resources necessary for our travel to Latvia and within the country. We are working in each of the three dioceses of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. Today we are in the Diocese of Riga, the largest city and capitol of the country. Earlier this week we were in Daugavpils, the second city of Latvia. On Monday we will present in Liepaja, on the Baltic Sea, where there was a large military base in Soviet days.
Our hosts are marvelous, the interpreters indefatigable, the participants attentive and responsive, and the food tremendous! We are heartened by our work with our partners, and we pray the Latvian church is strengthened in the Church’s work of mercy. We are Christ’s body – He is the Head, but we are His hands, His arms, His feet, His mouth in the world.
Here are more pictures.
+Herbert C. Mueller
The following ten points summarize the theological foundation for the Church’s work of mercy and care for people in need.
- The Holy Trinity – Diakonia (“mercy” in our threefold emphasis) has its source in the divine and eternal relationships of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
- The Incarnation – Diakonic love in the Holy Trinity is made real in the incarnation and the humiliation of Christ. In Jesus Christ, the eternal God takes on our human flesh and completely identifies Himself with sinful humanity, so that He might have mercy on us. Having the mind of Christ, the Church is likewise called to identify with and humbly to serve those in need.
- Universal Atonement – “God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Christian service and love flow from the fact that Christ has atoned for all the sins of all people, so that every human person is precious to Christ and to His Church. Receiving the mercy of Christ, the Baptized are released into a life of loving service.
- Forgiveness Begets Mercy – The Good News of salvation in Christ crucified and raised from the dead brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. People who receive these gifts of grace are led by the Spirit of God to be merciful.
- Christ’s Example – Christ’s example of love for the whole person remains our highest example for life in this world, and for the care of the needy in both body and soul. When Christ walked this earth visibly, His giving of Himself combined both the forgiveness of sins and acts of mercy, care and healing. So too His Church.
- A Corporate Life of Mercy – Therefore, mercy is an essential part of the Church’s life together as the body of Christ. He is the Head. All who believe and are baptized into Christ are members of His body. So “when one member of the body suffers, all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This means that works of mercy are not only the responsibility of the individual believer, but also of the Church as Church, as the body of Christ, as congregation and as Synod. Our works of mercy flow from the sacramental life of the Church and become a living out into the world what happens in the divine liturgy. Brought into the body, we receive mercy from Christ Himself, in Baptism, in Absolution and in the Supper. And this mercy we have received must overflow into the lives of others.
- The Lutheran Confessions – Our Lutheran Confessions also assume that the Church will have a corporate life of mercy and repeatedly state that the work of diakonic love is an essential part of the Church’s life:
- Smalcald Articles II.4.9 – “Therefore, the church cannot be better ruled and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops – equal according to the office (although they may be unequal in their gifts) keep diligently together in unity of teaching, faith, sacraments, prayer and works of love, etc.”
- As Broad as the Need of the Neighbor – The vocation (calling by God) to live in love and mercy is as broad as the need of the neighbor. Baptized into the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2) we use the gifts God has given in service to the neighbor. In order to meet these needs, Christ not only gives a wide variety of gifts to His body, He also calls a wide variety of people, of members of His body, to many different varieties of service, in and through the Church. These callings are flexible and are determined by the needs surrounding the church (as in Acts 6). Within the Church and in connection with the Church’s mission to reach out to others, proclamation of the Gospel, faith, worship and care for those in need ought always come together.
- Beyond Members of the Church – The Church’s work of mercy also extends beyond those in the Church. Just as the Gospel itself reaches beyond the Church and is intended for all, love for the neighbor cannot and must not be limited only to those in the fellowship of the orthodox Lutheran faith. Works of love will often prepare the way for the Gospel to be proclaimed.
- The Whole Person – Proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments are always primary (Christian fellowship is always in the Church’s marks) but the Church’s God-given work of mercy demonstrates and “puts a face on,” so to speak, the love of God for the whole person. People are created by God as body and soul. We believe in “the resurrection of the body,” both for Christ and for us. Christ came as a human being, body and soul, to redeem all, body and soul. So today, mercy in the life of the Church must bear witness to Christ’s Gospel, and Christ’s promise to come again to raise us to life, body and soul, the whole person.
Has that question ever crossed your mind listening to the news? We know that Jesus is Lord of all for the sake of His Church and that nothing will happen outside of what He allows. Evil cannot have free reign, no matter what things look like. God is in control. The problem is, it doesn’t always look that way.
Perhaps more to the point, what is God up to in your life? Your congregation or school? What does the new year of 2011 look like for you? What will it bring? What’s going on in your personal life and family? Is there a plan? Does God know what He’s doing? We are tempted to ask, especially when everything is cloudy for us.
To find out God’s ultimate plan, of course, we have to turn to His Word. That’s the place where He lets us in on what He is really “up to.” Just after Christmas, in my church we read from Ephesians 1. Here are verses 9-10 (my translation, with comments):
“(He has) made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He put forward in Him (Christ), as a plan (an economy, a way of working things out) for the fullness of times, (a plan) to re-head all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth, in Him.”
What impresses us here? Three times in these two verses Paul uses his favorite phrase in Ephesians 1 – “in Him” or “in Christ.” God’s plans are always centered in Christ. His purpose is “put forward” only in Christ. Without Christ crucified and raised from the dead we cannot see or understand what God is up to.
Secondly, in Christ God reveals to us His ultimate goal, what He is really after, no matter what else we talk about. God is in the process of re-heading all things in Christ. If you say, “Wow, that’s cosmic!” You’re right. The NIV translates this verse, “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one Head, even Christ.” (1:10b). All things means the whole cosmos, everything that exists. “To bring together under one Head” literally means, “to put the head on again.”
There was a time, you see, when the whole creation knew and lived under its Head. All things were perfect and the whole universe showed Christ as Head. “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Then sin entered in and the world lost its Head and began running around like the proverbial “chicken with its head cut off.” There’s a graphic picture for the world without Christ: running franticly perhaps, but having no real direction (no head) and as good as dead (the life-blood spurting from the headless neck while the unfortunate creature runs aimlessly for a minute or so – excuse me for indulging you in my adolescent memory of butchering chickens with my brother).
Running aimlessly, as good as dead – what’s God’s plan to deal with this? What is God up to now? God aims to put the head on again! To re-head all things in Christ. How?
He gave Christ into death for us, gave Him up for us on the cross where He took all our sin and evil. He raised Him to life, and with Him raised also us. He now gives us His Word to bring life and to reunite us with Christ, our Head.
And THAT is what God is up to in your life, your school, your church, when you hear, read, ponder, study, pray and teach His Word. Cosmic? Yes, beyond your imagination. When a child grows in faith, when anyone is baptized, when people hear the Word of God and take it to heart, when they receive His Body and Blood – it’s a cosmic event! God is re-heading all things in Christ! God is giving Christ as Head for YOU.
But when God unites you with Christ, He also unites you and me with everyone else who believes and is baptized into Christ. We have a life together in Christ. From that life we are called to be a witness to everything God has done to unite us with Christ and with each other. And with Christ as our Head, together we reach out in mercy to a dying world so that we bear witness to this eternal plan of God.
So, no matter what else appears to be going on, take heart in this. God has given you the privilege of being part of His cosmic plan. You have your life from Christ, He is our Head. You are part of God’s purpose to bring life to many more, to unite “all things, things in heaven and things on earth,” in Christ.
And there you have it! Witness, mercy and life together in Christ for a new year! That’s what God is “up to” here on earth, and in heaven above.
A blessed 2011 to one and all!
A great group of staff from the national office, convened as the Restructuring Work Group, met in Conference Room 424 the Monday before Christmas to study and talk about the President’s emphasis of Witness, Mercy, Life Together. There are about a dozen staff members from various disciplines in the building who are putting their heads together to consider how best to restructure the national office for service to the church. They meet weekly in St. Louis to discuss how to move forward, progress on weekly assignments and to determine next steps.
The discussion started with Rev. Herb Mueller leading us in a review of an article he wrote on Witness, Mercy, Life Together that appears in the January Reporter insert. Several times Rev. Mueller emphasized that Witness, Mercy, Life Together all flow out of and are linked to the cross. It was good to be reminded of the fact that our real, flesh and blood, Savior accomplished our redemption and comes to us in concrete realities in the life of the church on Sunday through baptism, communion and the Word. Through these concrete realities people go out and witness and show mercy to the world.
This study and dialogue was enjoyable and necessary for the Restructuring Work Group to spend time doing. The study rolled into a robust dialogue about how do we foster what it means to be Lutheran and how the emphasis of Witness, Mercy, Life Together help give direction to our thinking about the new structure of the national office.
The individuals on the Restructuring Work Group brought up many questions. What is the purpose of the national office in relationship to districts and congregations? What can the national office do that districts and congregations can’t do alone? How can we energize the connection between the districts and congregations with the national office? How can the national office be a catalyst for change? How can we be strategic in what we choose to do? How can we be good stewards? How can we better utilize our partners? How can the national office model, for the church, Witness, Mercy, Life Together? How can we make sure to eliminate silo operations of the national office? How can the various program areas all focus on the same common goals? How far can Witness, Mercy, Life Together emphasis spread?
Someone in the group called this a Kairos moment for the church. Kairos, a time when something special happens, the opportune moment, the right time. I think it is. I am humbled and honored to work together with this group of outstanding individuals who are willing to ask the tough questions and search, with God’s wisdom and guidance, for answers to how the new structure of the national office can better serve the church.
We ask for your prayers for this work and the people that serve on the Restructuring Work Group, that God may grant us His Holy Spirit to open our hearts and ears to one another so we are more readily able to actively participate, calm any fears and frustrations that may arise, rid ourselves of any sinfulness of pride or arrogance that may distort our thinking, and keep us humble in His service recognizing that God has granted and blessed us with this Kairos moment.
For me, Christmas later this week will again be enhanced by the “third dimension” of the Christmas Gospel provided in Revelation 12. While Luke 2 provides the human dimension and John 1 the divine dimension, Revelation 12 has a third dimension to add, a reminder of what else was going on while those shepherds were watching their flocks by night.
I’m not advocating changing the manger scene out on the front lawn, but Revelation 12 does suggest a rather startling addition to the sheep and the goats: a crouching great red dragon, the serpent that had been dreading Christmas ever since Genesis 3 and its words about the One to come who would “bruise” his head (v. 15). John’s vision in Revelation 12 vividly pictures the reception that the serpent had planned for the Child and His life on earth. Its grotesque imagery always arrests my attention again and helps me to remember the proportions and consequences of that birth that holy night.
Here is what John saw and recorded (vv. 1-6):
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.
This vision, of course, has to do with much more than our Savior’s physical birth, but it does add another dimension to those offered by Luke 2 and John 1 that is helpful to celebrating Christmas. It is a potent reminder that the seemingly peaceful and quiet birth of the Christ Child away in the manger, announced by angels and observed by shepherds, which lends itself so well to Christmas cards and lawn displays, was not peaceful and quiet. Like the increasingly popular 3-D video productions of today’s entertainment industry, the rawness and brutality of Revelation 12 draws me into the picture and causes me to remember what really was going on that Christmas night.
This dark third dimension of the Bethlehem story was highlighted a number of years ago when Tamara and I were visiting Jerusalem and we hired a taxi to take us to Bethlehem. Our Israeli taxi took us as far as a Palestinian checkpoint, where we walked through a well-guarded opening in the barricade to take a Palestinian taxi for the remainder of our little journey.
After our visit to Bethlehem and upon our return to the checkpoint, our Israeli taxi was waiting as we had requested, but we found that we had arrived just at the changing of the Palestinian guard, which included moving some armored equipment just as we were about to depart. When our Israeli taxi driver refused to give way to a Palestinian vehicle, heated words were exchanged, and we found our taxi surrounded by heavily-armed men peering into our windows.
In due time, cooler heads prevailed, and our taxi was allowed to leave. But looking back, it actually was quite the appropriate experience for a visit to Bethlehem. Even today under the same skies where angels witnessed to peace on earth, mere meters removed from the place where the Christ Child in mercy lay down His sweet head (and ultimately His sinless life ) to make possible life together with God and men, the dragon still makes his presence known.
Revelation 12 goes on to picture the dragon very furious, intent upon a war of revenge against “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (v. 17), the story of our lives. But John also announces the dragon’s defeat and provides opportunity to witness our own victory celebration (Revelation 7).
Which is where our own three-dimensional lives of witness, mercy, and life together enter the picture. Giving witness, showing mercy, and living together as family in the Church flow from a deep appreciation of the Christmas Gospel in all its dimensions. May yours be that kind of 3-D Christmas this year.