This past weekend, as mentioned, I had the opportunity to hear the ELCA's Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson preach. His sermon was based on what I later found out is kind of a denominational mantra these days: We need to be a sent church, not a settled church.
Well, that's rather obvious. But to whom are we sent?
This past week I encountered an individual on Beliefnet who is obsessed with hell; who has posted serial topic threads on more than one forum asking things like, "I love God...what can I do so that I don't sin, so that I won't go to hell?" and "Does God send children to hell?" and "Are all sins the same or are some worse than others?"
I also encountered a newspaper feature article on a local teenager dying of incurable cancer, who is spending his last days worrying that members of his family aren't "saved."
Lutherans are practical folk. When we're told that we're called to reach out to others, the reaching-out is often in tangibles -- a quilt for a refugee; a roaster of food for a family in distress; a helping hand on a building project. But I might suggest that one of the most important ways we can reach out to people around us is to actually proclaim the Gospel -- not the Bible-banging, prooftexting blather of stereotypical evangelism, but the real good news of Christianity: That God's default characteristics are love and grace, not hate or anger or contempt for creation or a stony bureaucratic insistence on The Rules; that God loves us, no matter what, and has demonstrated that love through Jesus Christ, God With Us; that God has saved and is saving and will save us. This is frankly not a message that resounds through much of American Christianity today, as evidenced, at least to me, by the number of Christians cowering in fear of being kicked off the God bus into the abyss.
But being sent means no longer being settled -- no longer settled in the whiny, defensive self-pity that many of us mainliners seem to marinate in when we see our denominational membership statistics or Sunday attendance stats; no longer settled in our rhetorical comfort zones, wherever those may be, in our endless intra-denominational pissing matches; no longer settled in the drowsy mists of personal/tribal curvatus in se.
We're sent to tell other people -- including other Christians for whom this is news -- that God loves them. What a concept.