Bishop Mark Hanson: Seizing an Opportunity

_ Economic crisis gives chance to share God's generosity, faithfulness _

Reading the business section of the newspaper can feel overwhelming and disheartening. Articles ranged from “Recession: Far From Over, Already Setting Records” to “Regional Bank’s Health is Causing New Worries” and “Navigating a Delicate Subject: The Layoff of a Friend.” Only one, “At Ford, a Sense of Survival Despite the Losses Piling Up,” was somewhat encouraging.

You already know the recession’s toll is widening. Perhaps you or a family member has been laid off. Anxiety rises as your retirement funds decrease. Your congregation may be struggling with its mortgage, salaries and mission support. Nor is it comforting to be reminded that many of us have been living beyond our means, depending on credit to support insatiable consumer appetites.

But the greatest tragedy in this economic recession would be the loss of faith and isolation from the community of believers, where God’s abundant mercy in Christ Jesus still flows through the means of grace. Indeed, worse than the loss of financial prosperity would be a retreat from God’s mission and separation from the neighbor who lives in poverty, whether next door or in a distant land.

My growing conviction is that when life is measured primarily on the basis of financial well-being, this recession will cause us to turn inward, leading to lives that are diminished spiritually and emotionally. We are closed off, both to our neighbors and to God’s promises, purpose and future. When that happens, we neither heed the risen Christ’s command to go and be his witness at home and to the ends of the earth nor trust the power of the Spirit given to us.

When we define ourselves and others primarily on the basis of employment status, we fail to recognize and affirm that God has given each person gifts and relationships in which to use them. The Scriptures are clear, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

That promise means each of us is gifted and continues to be needed in all our relationships. Our children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors still need us to show up as parents, grandparents, partners in community life and fellow citizens. Our friends still need the presence we embody and the love we share. The world still needs the word of God that lives on our lips, in our daily vocations and in our hearts. Regardless of our employment status or financial stability, we have the dignity of being God’s children now. We have the opportunity and privilege to serve God and our neighbor in our varied callings.

Upon arising each morning, let us turn first to God’s baptismal promises — rather than to economic indicators — to establish our worth or future. Being joined to Christ’s death and resurrection and to the community of Christ’s church is not predicated upon our financial stability but solely upon God’s mercy and grace. At the communion table, we are called out of our anxieties and isolation and we are transformed. Martin Luther described this transformation when he wrote that the communing community will “help the poor, put up with sinners, care for the sorrowing, suffer with the suffering, intercede for others, defend the truth.”

The economic crisis gives us a marvelous opportunity to bear witness to God’s generosity and faithfulness. May the Spirit give us such confidence, courage and hope as together we pray: God our comforter, you are a refuge and strength for us, a helper close at hand in times of distress. Enable us so to hear the words of faith that our fear is dispelled, our loneliness eased, our anxiety calmed and our hope reawakened. May your Holy Spirit lift us above our sorrow to the peace and light of your constant love; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

[From the Presiding Bishop's monthly column in The Lutheran magazine, June 2009 issue, used with permission.]

For more information about and resources by Bishop Hanson, please visit the ELCA website.