Dear Siblings in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
In Psalm 42, verse 11 the psalmist cries out to God about their agony: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” On January 6, 2021, many of us joined the psalmist’s ancient cry as we watched events unfold at our nation’s Capitol in Washington, DC. We searched for words and actions that would bring release to our angst, but nothing we said or did would bring the desired relief. Paul, in his letter to the Romans in 8:26 reminds us, that when we are speechless, we can trust God’s Holy Spirit to plead for us, to do the work we are unable to do on our own, for “likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Siblings in Christ, let us trust the power of the Holy Spirit!
Beloved child of God, you were baptized in the name of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit! At your baptism you were gifted with everything you need to live. What does that mean? It means that we can entrust our life into God’s hands — even in the darkest hours of our life because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). Our baptism and confirmation also reminds us that we “have been crucified with Christ and (we) … no longer live, but Christ lives in … (us). The life … (we) now live in the body, … (we) live by faith in the Son of God, who loved … (us) and gave himself for … (us)” (Galatians 2:20). And in turn the ones who brought us to be baptized, and later we ourselves at our Confirmation, promised to proclaim Christ through Word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace. (ELW, p. 237)
How are we to live and lean into this promise? For starters, I recommend that you take time to nurture your own faith through the study of God’s Holy Word and prayer. While the Word is a lamp to your feet and a light unto your path (Psalm 109:105) prayer is the means we were given to stay plugged in with God throughout life’s joys and tribulations. Scripture and prayer were where Jesus started before beginning his public ministry and he continued to be steeped in scripture and prayer throughout; even when death was only a breath away, he dwelled in scripture “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22) and prayer “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34) and “Into your hands I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23:46). As children of God, and followers of Jesus, we do well to shadow the footsteps of the one whose path we confess to journey on together.
As you follow this sacred and ancient pattern of study and prayer, you will come to find out, like the saints that have lived and died before you, that living and leaning into your baptismal promises of caring for your neighbor and the world, as well as actively seeking and working towards justice and peace for all creation, is inevitably hard work. Loving God and neighbor without compromise will ask of us everything we have and are, but it is essential work we are determined to undertake as children of God and sojourners of Christ. And this kind of selfless labor is the duty of a Christian, who after all “… is a perfectly free lord of all, and subject to none; (and at the same time) is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, and subject to all.” (Martin Luther, Freedom of a Christian)
This kind of freedom work requires more than mere words from us. It demands that we show up in the midst of adversity and turmoil fearlessly and courageously for the sake of the Gospel, which always and, without fail, proclaims life and love in the midst of death and destruction. In fact, God’s true and untarnished power is revealed in the face of destruction and annihilation. When human authority is fragile, God’s power is strong. When we come to recognize that we are broken and fall short, God will come to our aid. What we can’t accomplish on our own, God can do through us.
Siblings in Christ, we would do well to learn from the Wise Men that came to pay respect to the newborn king. They didn’t find him in the palace in a royal crib in the royal city, but in a manger in a small dinky town amongst common people and ordinary livestock. While Herod used all of his skilled cunning abilities to hold on to his earthly power, Jesus, the one that you and I confess to worship as our ruler and pledge our life to, never used power for self-serving purposes or held on to it to save himself. In fact, “he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross …” (Philippians 2:7).
Dear Church, true power is never seized with clenched fists, earthly weapons, cunning strategies and populistic rhetoric. In fact, all of scripture, Jesus himself and our Lutheran Confessions explicitly denounce and rebuke such a way of life. True power is always invested. According to the example of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, such power always, without exception, points to God first and secondly it uplifts and protects our neighbor’s life with selfless love. Invested power never serves self, but always serves God and neighbor. We may not have words to adequately describe all that we experience these days, but God invested the power of courage and bravery in us to speak out and up in the face of hatred and self-serving power and to boldly rebuke it, this authority is rooted in the power invested in us, through our baptismal call. But what’s more important is that we continue to show up in the same manner each and every moment in our life, worshiping and praising God through our actions which are modeled after Christ and are fueled by the Holy Spirit and will always, always, without fail, serve to protect and steward life — not death.
Take heart, my dear fellow members of the South Dakota Synod, have courage and be bold in your daily actions, even the smallest ones, to honor God and neighbor through all that you say and do. Only if we live according to our Lord’s example are we worthy to carry his name for all the world to see.
Journeying with you in Christ,
Bishop Constanze Hagmaier