Bishop Mark Hanson: Cause for Hope and Gratitude

Daring confidence in God's grace, sharing it with world

We are a church that shares a living, daring confidence in God's grace." This confidence is one reason I shared with the 2011 Churchwide Assembly that I have never been so hopeful or so grateful for the ELCA as I am now.

Peter urges us to give an account of the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15). In this and future columns I want to explain why clarity regarding our identity, vocation and mission gives me hope.

Our hope is in the mercy God shows in Jesus Christ and the gifts God pours out through the Spirit. That is why we share a living, daring confidence in God's grace.

Evidence of such faith abounds throughout this church. In late summer I met with pastors, lay leaders and ELCAmembers whose homes and churches were severely damaged by floods in Minot, N.D. Listening to them I heard confidence in God working to restore communities, an openness to new possibilities for ministry, and gratitude for the generosity of all who are responding.

Last month, as memories of 9/11 were shared, the depth of pain and loss were not minimized. Rather, in the context of trusting that God is faithful to God's promises, we remembered the call to be the "repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in" (Isaiah 58:12).

Recently a colleague and his wife prepared for major surgery. They were not denying the seriousness of the disease or surgery. Yet, both so consistently showed a living, daring confidence in God's promise to be loving and life-giving, healing and faithful. As Christine awakened from surgery, she mouthed the words, "God is faithful."

Martin Luther once wrote, "Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God" (John 1:12-13).

He continued, "Faith is a living, daring, confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that believers would stake their lives on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God's grace makes people glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. This is the work the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, people are ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, and to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown them this grace."

We are not a church that denies we face challenges: growing in membership; growing in ways that reflect our increasingly diverse society; sustaining vibrant ministry in all expressions of this church.

At the same time, we also recognize how much God provides so we might serve the gospel and God's mission for the life of the world - more than $2 billion in contributions to ELCA congregations in 2010.

Yet, here is why we have hope: God's grace in Jesus Christ is abundant, steadfastly faithful, free and freeing, and it's for you. This hope leads to confidence. The word "confidence" is a compound form from two Latin root words that mean trust (fide) and with (con). Christian faith is relational, a trusting relationship with the living God.

This trusting relationship has implications. It frees us to be daring - more than conventional, ordinary, safe, predictable and boring (how young people often describe institutional Christianity).

When Luther described this "living, daring confidence in God's grace," he was speaking about a confident humility - how God uses even our broken and sinful lives as embassies of reconciliation in Christ. Luther was speaking of courageously embracing all who have been despised, rejected, condemned and abandoned by society. He was describing an intrepid journey beyond our comfort zones and self-preoccupation into a global community where we receive and share immeasurably rich gifts with people among whom Jesus is living and moving.

This faith is audacious enough to trust that God's promises to humankind in Jesus are true, that they can and will reconcile the world to God. This confidence finds its source and our unity in the new creation in Christ.

Yes, as the ELCA we have a living, daring confidence in God's grace, and we are sharing it with the world. What a cause for hope and gratitude!

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