Bishop Mark Hanson: Great Expectations

Coming years rest on living word and living it out


The beginning of a new year prompts us to make resolutions, but I invite you to think about expectations. Whether spoken or unspoken, whether for individuals or for church bodies, expectations have power.

A pastor in Florida told me that he has a framed statement in his office that reads: "Unspoken expectations are resentments in waiting." 

If God were to ask us as the ELCA, "What can I expect from you in the next three years?" we might say: 

God, you can expect that your living word will continue to be at the center of our lives: the word of God made flesh in Jesus the Christ, the word proclaimed as law and gospel, the word recorded in the Scriptures. We are a Book of Faith church.

God, you can expect us to take seriously the message and ministry of reconciliation you have entrusted to us. Our relatedness to others in the body of Christ, not our differences, will define us.

God, you can expect us to take Jesus' words seriously, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed?are you who are hungry now, for you will be fed" (Luke 6:20-21).

We will work tirelessly and generously, not only to feed the hungry but also to advocate for policies and practices in government and the private sector that will end hunger and reduce poverty. 

God, you can expect joy in our serving and believing. It is the joy that comes from sharing with another the good news that "you are a new creation in Christ Jesus." It is the joy of hearing your word of promise that our sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake. It is the joy of being part of a church that will plant 70 new congregations, more than half in multiracial, multiethnic communities and those in deep poverty.

Yes, God, we know these expectations will be met only by the power and presence of your Spirit. 

What can you expect from us who have been called to serve in leadership in this church?

You can expect that we will lead as people of faith, forgiven sinners. The center of our work will be with the assembly gathered for worship around the means of grace. We will dwell richly in Christ's word and be fervent in prayer.

You can expect that our leadership will be marked by a rich understanding and appreciation of the Lutheran interpretation of the faith. We will trust that this is Christ's church, not ours, and that God will continue to reform us. 

You can expect that we will be engaged with you in God's mission for the life of the world. We will be turned outward and be attentive to, but not defined by, the challenges we face.

In an evangelical moment like none other, many in our culture see Christians as preoccupied with drawing lines in the sand, defining who is accepted and who is rejected. Yet we know from the biblical witness that Jesus may be standing on both sides. For that, we know, he was nailed to a cross.

So we will seek to lead by making the paschel mystery the central narrative of our ministries. As a pastor, Edwin Searcy, described it: "It is the narrative of the movement from the aching loss of Good Friday to the forsaken absence of Saturday to the astonishing newness of Easter Day." We will proclaim that good news with the humility of sinners and the passion of believers.

What do we expect from God? I expect that each day God will be faithful to God's covenantal word of promise spoken to me in baptism when God said, "Mark Stephen, you are my child. I will love you steadfastly. I will forgive you mercifully for Jesus' sake. On the last day, I will raise you up to new life eternally."

Finally, what do we expect of one another in this church? What can we expect from you and your congregation? Speak this one expectation clearly, for it is the mark of a healthy church that is alive in the spirit, centered in Christ and engaged in mission.

[Taken with permission from the ELCA magazine, The Lutheran, January 2011issue]