Remember the Beatles? John, Paul, George, Ringo! I was into it. I had Beatle boots, love beads and granny glasses. My big brother gave me a model of Paul (the cute Beatle) for Christmas one year. It was one of those paint-it-yourself kits. I knew the lyrics to the Beatles’ hits better than I knew Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. The early hits were pop and upbeat: “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “A Hard Day’s Night.” Even later “Yellow Submarine” was still whimsical.
But then the Beatles got older, and the world changed. Vietnam, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the urban riots, the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. Innocence—for those of us who had that luxury—was gone. Skepticism, even cynicism, was the lens through which the world was seen. A lot was broken, including trust in institutions and the church.
In 1971, John Lennon’s hit “Imagine” came out. It was evocative and, I’m sure, was meant to point us to the possibility of a better future. I found it disturbing. A world without religion. No heaven. No hell. No countries. No possessions. As if excising these things would cure humanity and the world would be as one.
There was and is enough brokenness in the world to go ’round. But the brokenness is not outside of us—in institutions, politics, religion—it is within us. The only way to construct utopia is to get rid of people. Imagine.
Except God has a different way. It is the way of Jesus. It is the way of love. It is the way of life. You see, God so loves the world and all of creation and all of us. God is right down with us in all of our messiness. In Jesus, God has reconciled the world to God’s self, redeeming it and us in spite of our rebellion. We can stake our lives on the relentless, faithful, powerful, tender love of God.
God has a different way. It is the way of love. It is the way of life.
During the pandemic we dreamed great things and imagined an ELCA that could envision a world experiencing the difference God’s grace and love in Christ makes for all people and creation. We prayed and still pray that the Spirit will activate each of us so that more people know the way of Jesus and discover community, justice and love. And we set a goal—engage a million new, young and diverse people by the end of this decade. Why? Because the world deserves to hear the gospel. The world needs to look beyond itself. There is a heaven.
Clearly this is not the work of the churchwide organization alone, nor of any one congregation. It is a mission for all of us. There are so many people who do not know that they need to know Jesus. There are so many people who think that God’s grace is too good to be true. There are so many people searching for meaning. All are beloved by God. God longs to draw all people to Godself, to clean us up and wash our faces so that God’s image shines clearly from all of us, so that we can see God’s image shining from each other.
New, young and diverse? What about those of us who are already here, have always been here, who have been doing the work and paying the bills? We are the 99 sheep that didn’t go astray. We are the older brother who stayed home and worked hard. Of course we are!
We have lived in the love of Jesus and walked in Jesus’ way. We know the freedom of the Christian. We don’t live in an unforgiving world, but in a redeemed world with a future. Why wouldn’t we want to share that with as many people as we can?
Even a million new, young and diverse people—why stop there? The flock was not whole until the one lost was found. The older brother did not realize that all his father had was already his as a gift. This is true for us. God has given this mission to invite more people into the way of Jesus. Imagine.