August 14, 2017

Dear Friends in Christ,

“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them”

(Ephesians 5:8-11)

It’s been a week of darkness.

The much too early death of a young man in our faith community who became addicted to heroin. Out of all the 5th graders I ever trained to receive Holy Communion, he was the most eager. He memorized the meaning of Holy Communion from Luther’s Small Catechism and the Words of Institution from 1 Corinthians 11. This young man’s death was followed by the death and funeral of a beloved former parishioner, whose life radiated the love and light of Jesus Christ.

And then came the darkness of Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. My friend and colleague Bishop Bill Gohl, of the Maryland-Delaware Synod was in Charlottesville to attend a Friday night prayer meeting. At the end of the meeting, those gathered for prayer were unable to safely leave the church because of a gathering of torch bearing white supremacists.

The next day, there was violence and 3 deaths: Charlottesville resident, Heather Heyer; and 2 Virginia State Police Officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates. In my morning prayers, I pray for their families, and I would ask that you also add these families to your daily and Sunday morning prayer list.

In Ephesians chapter 5, St. Paul writes about the transformation that Jesus brings.  “…now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true”. Paul then reminds those who follow Jesus to, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them”. And here’s where it gets really, really, hard. Because the “them” actually includes “me”. If there is to be cultural transformation and racial reconciliation, it must begin with me.

There are places of darkness in my nation, in my church, in my family, and in my own heart. I have not loved God fully; nor have I fully loved those created in the image of God.  And before there is transformation in my family, church, or nation; there must be a transformation of the darkness lurking in my heart. The reconciling work that Jesus began, continues to unfold: 1 follower, 1 disciple, 1 “me” at a time.

We will not Facebook, Tweet, blog, or preach our way out of this darkness. We begin with confession, repentance, Scripture, and honest conversation in small groups; followed by prayer inspired action.  Remember that Jesus began with 3, bumped it up to 12, and that small group (empowered by the Holy Spirit) enlightened the darkness of the world with the love and light of Jesus. A small group of devoted disciples has the power to transform the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

I invite you to join me:

  1. In Prayer: pray that the darkness of racism and cultural insensitivity lurking in our own hearts be transformed by the love and light of Jesus, which will, in turn, transform our families, churches, and nation.
  2. In Scripture: read 1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 22:34-40; John 13:34-35; Acts 10:34-35; and Galatians 3:28
  3. In Study: read the 1993 ELCA Social Statement, Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in a small group and talk through it (see the button below).
  4. In Conversation: gather in small groups to pray and to talk through your own learning and experience with racial reconciliation.
  5. In Invitation: invite someone from another race or culture to come and share their story with your small group. Simply listen. Ask questions. Learn.
  6. In Action: Be the light in the darkness that all followers of Jesus Christ are called to be.

It’s been a week of darkness; let us move forward in the light of Christ… as the light of Christ.

Below is a prayer that the ELCA Conference of Bishops released on Friday, August 11, prior to what was supposed to be a peaceful march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Just and merciful God, we give you thanks for our sisters and brothers – bishops, pastors, deacons, people of God – who this Saturday walk the way of the cross in Charlottesville, Virginia. On this day and in that place, they join other courageous and faithful people across time and space to stand against bigotry, hatred, and violence; to stand with those who are intended victims; and to stand for justice and mercy, peace and equality for all people.

We stand with them in prayer, asking you to empower them, protect them, and use their witness as a hopeful sign of your resurrection reign afoot in your beloved and troubled world. By your might, break the bondage that bigotry, hatred, and violence impose on their victims and their perpetrators. May your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

And, we pray, empower us in our own communities to follow their lead as fellow servants to your dream of a community in which all people and their gifts are welcomed and honored, cherished and celebrated as beloved children of a just, merciful, and loving God; through Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the life of the world. Amen

Bishop Bill Gafkjen, Chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops
On behalf of the ELCA Conference of Bishops