The morning and early afternoon of the first day of CWA11 were dry and boring—a lot of “how-to” instructions on procedures as well as introduction of matters to come later. But, with the afternoon worship, the Assembly began to soar. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson’s sermon was interrupted by “amens” and applause as he offered powerful words of hope and encouragement based upon the Lucan gospel theme of Mary’s annunciation.
“How can this be?” asked Mary, shocked by the angel’s revelation, and this phrase became the bishop’s refrain as he challenged the Assembly to hear Mary’s song and to dare to follow the call of the Spirit to do mission in the 21st century.
So are we ready for the Holy Spirit to move us with Mary? I believe that, as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we are being moved by the power of the Holy Spirit to sing Mary’s song of God’s disrupting, dislocating, relocating power.
Friends, you know and I know that religious leaders singing Mary’s song are not packing people into sports stadiums for so-called religious rallies. In a consumer-oriented, competitive, what-has-God-done-for-me-lately? religious marketplace, we are not going to hear much about God dismantling structures that marginalize and exclude people in poverty or those whose race or gender or citizenship or sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities or health make them unwanted, unnoticed.
But that is Mary’s song, and it is Mary’s song that the Holy Spirit will give you the courage and voice to sing. It is Mary’s song of God bringing the despised and the marginalized, the outcast and the downcast, the defeated and the denied, and even
the dead into a new place. The place where God is building the new creation—the new community in Christ.
When we have been disrupted by God’s grace, when we have been dislocated, when we have been knocked off balance by God’s word of judgment and left wondering, “How can this be?” the Holy Spirit moves us. The Holy Spirit relocates us into God’s
abundant mercy, into a community of faith that with Mary believes “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Oh yes, this is who we are as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—a community freed in Christ to serve. So let this assembly unfold. Come, Holy Spirit. Come with your power, Holy Spirit. Move us as you moved Mary. Move us to sing, to live Mary’s song. Move us to faith. Move us to a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. Move us to respond with Mary, “Here am I—here we are. Let it be to me—let it be to us, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, according to your word.”
If the opening worship was the main act, there was also a sideshow. The clownish Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, the same who protest at military funerals, attempted to picket our Assembly, but the host Convention Center refused to let them on the grounds. Thus, their demonstration went unnoticed a mile away, and after an hour they departed.
After worship and after dinner, the Assembly returned for Plenary Session II Monday evening, and the main item on the agenda was the kickoff of the ELCA Malaria Campaign. The presentations roused the voting members to the point that I half expected a motion from the floor to raise the appeal to a higher level than $15 million. Despite the fact that malaria is both preventable and treatable, a child dies from malaria every 45 seconds. Every 45 seconds!
Here are the opening paragraphs of the resolution adopted by a vote of 968-19.
To launch the ELCA Malaria Campaign under the auspices of ELCA World Hunger as a major fundraising effort of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, its synods and congregations, and its affiliated ministries, auxiliaries, and individual members, that will encompass the best efforts of this church to join companion churches in Africa and
ELCA full-communion partners to contain deaths related to malaria by 2015;
To join with domestic and global partners to address malaria as a disease intensified by poverty within the context of comprehensive and sustainable community development and in close cooperation and partnership with this church’s companion churches in Africa and The Lutheran World Federation;
To invite every congregation, synod, affiliated ministry, auxiliary, and individual member of this church to make a contribution toward the goal of $15 million over the next four years (2011–2015) while emphasizing that gifts to the ELCA Malaria Campaign are not intended to replace giving to ELCA World Hunger but demonstrate commitment above and beyond normal ELCA World Hunger giving;
Over $1.5 million was pledged before the Assembly opened, and another $150,000 or so was pledged during the assembly.
After the plenary, I fired up my laptop in the lobby (the only place wireless was available without an exorbitant fee), but I barely checked my email before I was swept up in an engaging conversation that lasted late into the night—thus setting a precedent that would continue for the duration.