Saturday, October 6, 2018

Rostered and Called IV

Earlier this year, I became a rostered ELCA minister of word and sacrament. As a part of that candidacy process, I had to write two essays, some of whose contents might be of interest to at least a few readers of this irregular blog. I have already shared sections from the "entrance essay" that began the process. Here is the first part of the first section from the second essay, "the approval essay":

1. Person in Ministry
A. What is your understanding of God’s mission in the world? Describe your faith in the Triune God and how your Trinitarian faith has informed your understanding of God’s mission?

            God’s mission presupposes God’s creation of the universe through the eternal Word. That mission centers on God’s sending (missio) of the eternal Word into that creation in order to love and redeem it to the glory of God. This merciful mission of God to and in this sin-filled, sick, and suffering world includes then the exacting claim and comforting promise (promissio) of Jesus the Christ, the incarnate Word of God. Through him God’s reign is coming. Jesus speaks about it in parables, allegories, and aphorisms, and he actually begins to bring it by loving the unlovable, challenging the powerful and haughty, forgiving the guilty, healing the sick and disabled, comforting the fearful, freeing the burdened, raising the dead, eating with sinners and tax-collectors, and ultimately by dying and rising for the forgiveness of our sins and for our salvation.
            The risen Christ now says to his followers: “Peace be with you! As I have been sent by my Father, so now I send you” (Jn. 20.21). “Go, and make disciples….!” (Mt. 28.19-20). So following from the Son’s own being sent comes another sending, namely, the missio of the Spirit, the Comforter, who now summons people to change their old ways of thinking and living and to trust that for Christ’s sake they are reconciled to God and at peace with God (cf. Jn. 14.25ff.; 2 Cor. 5.19-20; Rom. 5.1ff.; 8.1ff.). The goal of the Spirit’s missio is the reception of the Spirit’s promissio by faith alone (Gal. 3.14; AC IV and V).[1] That missio is a mediated one: through the proclamation of God’s judging and consoling Word, focusing especially on the extravagance of God’s grace and mercy, which is “the proper function of the gospel” (SA III.4); through the washing of holy baptism, by which sinners are put to death with Christ and raised anew with him; through Christ’s holy supper, by which the people of God are forgiven, renewed, and refreshed—again and again “until Christ comes again”; through the production of spiritual fruit (Gal. 5.22ff.), which is the proper outgrowth of such faith in Christ, for the sake of the world’s deep needs; through “the mutual conversation and consolation” (SA III.4) of those who bear Christ’s name in the world. Called by the Spirit into this ecclesial fellowship with God and one another, all of God’s people are sent back (missio) into the world to share (trans-missio) the promise (promissio) of the good news of God’s redeeming love and grace in Christ for all people, especially for “the poor in spirit; the hungry; the thirsty; those who are ardently waiting and watching (Mt. 25.1ff.); the restless who in this world know that they are entirely in an alien land and that here they have no continuing city; those who long for and expect the solution of all problems solely from the coming Lord alone.”[2] Whatsoever we do unto the least, we do it to Christ (Mt. 25.34-40).
               I believe and trust in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because of God’s missio to me, namely, to call me by the Spirit through the gospel, to enlighten me with the Spirit’s gifts, to make me holy and keep me in the true faith, just as the Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy” the whole catholic church on earth and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in this faith (SC II.6). I believe that I cannot believe without the Spirit’s ongoing work to create and sustain my faith on a daily basis. In times of deep doubt and uncertainty about God, I find strength in the promise of my baptism. Marked with the cross of Christ, my sins and death have become his, and his righteousness and life have become mine. In my baptism, the triune God has said, “You are my child. I love you and forgive you. I will never leave you or forsake you.” That cruciform promise frames each of my days. It sustains me in my living and working, in my cross-bearing and daily dying. It gives me hope for the future.

[1] I was first taught the connections among "missio,” “trans-missio,” and “promissio” by Robert Bertram. See especially his essay, “How a Lutheran Does Theology,” The Report of the Lutheran-Episcopal Dialogue, Second Series, 1976-1980 (Cincinnati: Forward Movement Publications, 1981), 77. The original title of that essay was “Doing Theology in Relation to Mission.”
[2] Edmund Schlink, “The Sojourning People of God,” in Edmund Schlink, Ecumenical and Confessional Writings [The Coming Christ and Church Tradition and After the Council], ed. Matthew L. Becker, trans. Matthew L. Becker and Hans G. Spalteholz (G√∂ttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017), 258. Schlink’s ecumenical theology has had a significant influence on my own understanding of the mission of the church in relation to Jesus’ prayer that his followers “be one” (Jn. 17). I am currently serving as the editor and principal translator of the six-volume Edmund Schlink Works project. For an analysis of Schlink’s understanding of the vocation of the Christian theologian in a university, which deeply informs my own vocation, see my inaugural professorial address, “Christ in the University: The Vision of Schlink,” The Cresset 80 (Easter 2017), 12-21.

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