The 4th Sunday after Pentecost

This week I wore my ‘ELCE hat’ a bit more prominently than usual. I attended two meetings in London as the ELCE’s Vice Chairman (and that title still generates a somewhat confused glaze of the eyes when people hear it). Since the ELCE joined Churches Together in England I have attended the The-ology and Unity Group meetings which discuss theology with an ecumenical goal. This week they held their annual retreat (and the topic was Prophecy).The second meeting was the annual meeting of the Council for Lutheran Churches. This Council was formerly called the Lutheran Council of Great Britain (formed in 1948) and its first Chairman was the man who would become the ELCE’s first Chairman when the ELCE came into existence (1954). It’s a little confus-ing but it means that until the ELCE withdrew from this Council (around 1954), the ELCE was very active in it. (I’m still learning the history!) Nevertheless ELCE Chair-man, Jon Ehlers, and I have the view that the ELCE should at least know what is going on among the other Lutheran churches in the UK – and so for the last two years, we’ve attended the annual meeting.

I regard the Christian landscape fascinating. Christians wear differing labels (reflecting denominations and his-tory) and I can hear theology that frustrates me from people whose labels are similar or supposedly close to mine just as I, at times, can hear theology that resonates with me from people whose labels suggest I should always disagree! Of course there’s also the listening and checking that when we use the same words, we mean the same thing, and that cer-tainly isn’t the case all the time. That’s part of the fascination! Two ‘moments’ for me …

When I heard an Anglican minister who is now studying Bonhoeffer fulltime (doing a PhD) after many years of church social activism say ‘When I return to active ministry the one thing I’m going to do is preach the gospel – not softly – but clearly’, I wondered ‘What has he been preaching all these years?!’. Ok, it’s a tad cheeky with a garnish of smugness but I’m not sure I’d hear a Lutheran minister actually say that! I’m assuming he’s picking up Bonhoeffer’s comments about ‘cheap and costly grace’ – which needs reflection still today because I think it can be too easy to slip and turn the

Gospel into the Law – but the minister wants to more James than Paul (from the New Testament). Fascinating.

After listening to some of the prophecy presentations – how the Church should be a prophet in the world, speak to the government, alleviate injustice and inequality (so much to choose from!) while understanding its history in each country and what that might mean in a global, cyber world – I be-came increasingly uneasy about ‘the foundations’. We all would agree that the Church should be in-volved in working for peace and justice, removing inequality, being compassionate. In terms of proph-ecy, how best is the Church to be prophetic? (When the Lords Spiritual speak in the House of Lords, for whom are they speaking?) My question started with ‘Who is church?’. Everyone talked about the church organisations working together and particularly being politically aware and active in a liberal democracy. The problems were the mechanics of doing this. I was wondering whether the Church organisations should be more silent towards the world but more vocal to its members telling them basically ‘to get socially and politically active where God has placed you in society’. This time it wasn’t words so much as ‘structures’ that fascinated me. (Am I a pre-Constantinian Christian living in a post-Constantinian world? Or am I a Lutheran who didn’t grow up in a country that had the Lutheran Church as the state church?) Whatever the answers for 2013, it is important to be listening to God’s Word and to each other and talking (possibly less but ever clearly) and it really is fascinating.  — GS