Bishop Mark Hanson: Finding Our Place During Lent

Lately I have become curious about these questions: Would you describe your life as being rooted or rootless? How would you describe your congregation and the ELCA? What are the signs for you that help discern whether we are rooted or rootless?

Think how famine and war, poverty and natural disasters uproot millions, forcing them to live as migrants in search of safety, shelter and food. Frequent moves and career changes can diminish the number of lasting relationships to a faith community or even faith itself.

Yet profound change in one's life and community - experiences of being uprooted - do not necessarily mean that one does not at the same time remain deeply rooted.

So often in conversations with cab drivers I experience someone who has been uprooted, yet whose roots remain deeply planted. In their stories of leaving their homes and families in the countries where they were born, I hear a faith narrative of finding community among others like them who are "rootless" in a new country and large city.

I give thanks to God that the ELCA is a church deeply rooted in Christ, as described in Colossians 2:6-7: "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."

Our roots are in Scripture where the Spirit shows forth Christ. As we pray, hear, read and study the Scriptures, God roots us deeply in the story of God's faithfulness to God's promise and people.

Our roots are in the Lutheran confessions. From these deep roots of the Lutheran Reformation we draw true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Scriptures. The power of the Spirit renews our lives of faith with the good news that we are saved by God's grace on account of Christ Jesus.

We are deeply rooted in the world that God so loves and has redeemed through Christ's death and resurrection. We are deeply rooted in God's work of forgiving sins, liberating the oppressed, restoring community. We are rooted in God's baptismal grace that frees us in our varied callings in daily life to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through word and deed, to serve our neighbor, to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

When a computer comes to life or "boots up," it looks to a specific location - the root directory - for a simple file that contains the most basic commands. These root commands bring the computer to a functioning state where all its capacities are opened up for use in service of whatever needs doing.

Listen to this paraphrase of Jesus' words to his disciples: "But remember the root command: Love one another" (John 15:17The Message). Yes, in giving this word God brings us to life, into a functioning state where we live in service of others.

Of course, if a computer is unplugged from its power source, the root command remains silent. In the same way, apart from Jesus - his life, his forgiveness, his death and resurrection - this root command to love one another fails. 

Yes, the ELCA is a church deeply rooted and always being made new. The Spirit plants, nourishes and prunes, so that from these roots God will bring forth fruit.

The church's springtime season is Lent, a time for renewal of life, beginning with the roots. It is a time for evangelical repentance, the kind Martin Luther described in the first of his 95 Theses: a return to life, a return to the roots, the sources of spiritual life.

Our Lenten observances re-root us in the Scriptures, in the story of Jesus Christ and in the community of faith where God uses divine gifts to feed, strengthen and care for us. God re-roots us in the fellowship of the forgiven.

This Lent, let us also be re-rooted in the communities where God has and is planting the church. Let us listen to the hurts and hopes of those who live around us. Let us listen to God speaking through Christ who continues to root us deeply and is constantly making all things new.

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