Ministry in Context

Director's Word: Getting Involved in What God is Doing

Chris ScharenI had a revelation Christmas Eve. Yes, yes, I know. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It's not that. It was during the 10:30 service, near the end, at the part where the lights go down and we all begin to light individual candles, one by one. For liturgical reasons I’ll spare you at the moment, at this juncture of the service we read a second Gospel lesson, here from the first chapter of John’s gospel. It fits here in a way, with all the talk of light shining in the darkness.

So what was my revelation? This: The whole first part of John’s Gospel is about God’s love for the world. Vs. 9: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

The story at the heart of our faith is about God’s love for the world—and the Greek here is always cosmos, even more expansive than we typically imagine with the word “world.” I can get so caught up in the life of the church—or even more narrowly, the ELCA. I worry about its well-being, about its future leaders, and I spend a lot of my waking hours responding to its practical concerns. It is my call and work as a pastor and theological educator. Yet the church ought not become the end of our work, but a means to be caught up in God’s work of loving a broken and beautiful world in Jesus’ name, as his body.

This ‘reorientation’ of my thinking reminds me of a story about Bono, the lead singer of rock band U2 and a leading campaigner for justice today. “In countless ways,”he writes, “large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was always saying, ‘I have a new song, look after it,’or ‘I have a family, please look after them’.” Yet, in a dramatic way, he relates being told by a wise pastor to stop. The pastor said, “Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Get involved with what God is doing—because it’s already blessed” (Bono, On the Move. Nashville: W Publishing, 2006, p. 37).

Love has come, a light in the darkness
Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies.
See, all heaven has come to proclaim it;
Hear how their song of joy arises:
Love! Love! Born to you, a Savior! Love! Love!
Glory to God on high. Text: Ken Bible, ELW 292

Bono had become convinced that the Bible articulates a fundamental commitment on God’s part to those who are poor, leading him to understand a deep connection between his wealth and status, and those who have neither. To have his blessings belong to what God is doing means that his blessings belong in a direct sense to the poor, the sick, the hungry, and those who suffer. His legacy and ongoing work with the ONE and RED Campaigns working against global poverty are evidence of his seriousness.

This next year, I’d like to ask this question. What is God doing loving your part of the world? Where do we seek “the true light, which enlightens everyone, coming into the world”in our neighborhoods and towns? When we can see this afresh, I believe, we’ll see how can the church and its leaders become caught up in participating with God.

How do we do this? This is your task, if you are willing to take me up on it: to ask yourselves how your lives, your ministries, your communities, are getting involved with what God is doing. How are you, as those who belong to Jesus, empower by the Holy Spirit, sent into the world to shine with God’s love? In the face of grinding poverty, of the degradation of creation, of intolerance, of great hurt and illness, of deep shame and brokenness.

Here is the good news: to all who received this Word made flesh, who believed this Word, he gave power to become children of God. You, dear partners, are those children of God, whose work and lives are involved with what God is doing. I want to hear those stories. More: I want theological education—and contextual learning as a fundamental part of it—as a mode of formation for Christian public leaders able to help communities discern and get involved with what God is doing.

I’m sure I’m not alone in focusing on—even obsessing about—the life of the church. Yet the drama of the Christmas story is is this, in the words of the hymn:

Love has come, a light in the darkness
Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies.
See, all heaven has come to proclaim it;
Hear how their song of joy arises:
Love! Love! Born to you, a Savior! Love! Love!
Glory to God on high.

Text: Ken Bible, ELW 292

Peace,

Chris

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