Bishop Mark Hanson: "Living Lutheran" Today

What's your language of faith in this diverse culture?

What does it mean to live Lutheran?

We have invited ELCA members to submit their answers in video form (see the Living Lutheran website). Some will be shown during our Churchwide Assembly in August ("Church moves on to Orlando" and "'11 assembly gathers in Orlando").

I am interested in how you would answer that question.

For me, the answer meant asking for forgiveness. I had grown impatient waiting for a cab that the dispatcher had assured me would pick me up at 11 a.m. By 11:25 a.m., when the driver pulled up, he could sense my impatience. He apologized, explaining there was road construction that caused delays.

After we arrived at the airport and he had unloaded my luggage, I said, "Sir, will you please forgive me for being so impatient when you were late? I know it was not your fault, but I was worried that I was going to miss my plane. Will you please forgive me?" 

He seemed quite surprised. Then he said, "Yes, of course, I will."

I sometimes think about the word "as" in Scripture. For me, to live Lutheran means in part to be freed in Christ to live the "as." To forgive others as God forgives me on account of Jesus. To love others as God loves me steadfastly and mercifully. To be as gracious and generous with others as God is with me. I make such commitments always mindful of my sinfulness and the need for God's forgiveness.

My asking forgiveness was not the end of the story with the cab driver. To my surprise a week later the cab I ordered arrived 10 minutes early. The same young man was driving. He pulled up to the curb announcing, "I am not late this time."

On the way to the airport, I asked him about his life story.

The young man told me he is a graduate student in international relations with a focus on mediation. He wants to go back to West Africa to use his education so he might work for restoration and reconciliation in places of sustained conflict.

That commitment was born out of his life experience. He was raised in refugee camps as his parents fled one place of violent conflict after another. He began to talk about how being a Muslim was a very important part of his life and his desire to work against religious extremism.

"We must work together as Muslims and Christians," he said. "Too many people want to divide us and make us enemies."

Soon he began to ask questions about Jesus. He asked what it means for me to believe in Jesus and what I mean when I speak about salvation. We talked about God keeping God's promise to love us and forgive us, not because we deserve it but because of who God is. We talked about the cross.

I began to realize that the language of faith that is so much a part of my life as a Lutheran Christian is familiar to other Lutherans, but it needs constant interpretation when it comes to "living Lutheran" in a diverse culture. So we began to talk about freedom.

He spoke about the freedom he has experienced after wars ceased and a process of trust and reconciliation began.

I talked about God's gift of freedom in Christ. The freedom from guilt that God's forgiveness gives. The freedom from fear that Jesus' love gives us. The freedom of trusting that God will be faithful.

We talked about how Christians, Muslims and Jews can find ways to talk together honestly and openly about our faith, our differences, and our need to work together to build a world of peace.

The questions continued as we approached the airport. For that day, living Lutheran meant being forgiven as God forgives. It meant listening to the faith of another and bearing witness to God's love in Christ for the whole world. It meant looking to God's future with hope because one person's impatience had given way to the richness of sharing faith and forgiveness.

[Taken with permission from the August 2011 issue of The Lutheran magazine.]