This week, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly has been meeting in Pittsburgh, PA. The Assembly’s theme, “Always Being Made New,” celebrates the 25th anniversary of the ELCA. It is a theme that calls the church to consider how the Spirit calls us to be a church that is always living into a continuing reformation.
Today, the church did a new thing. Our voting members elected the next Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. She is The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton. That a bishop was elected is not new. This is the fourth time our denomination has prayerfully called a new person into this position. However, we’ve never had a woman serve in this important role.
Always being made new. Perhaps this bishop election is a sign of newness. Maybe, the newness began in 2009, when the ELCA decided to do what some consider controversial: to allow for the ordination of gifted leaders in our church who happen to be gay or lesbian folks in committed same-sex partnerships. It could be that “newness” began in 2006, with the introduction of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the “cranberry hymnal.”
I like the phrase chosen for our assembly. It reminds us that when the Holy Spirit is at work among us, we are always being transformed. This Holy One that comes out of the Holy Three enters our midst and begins mixing things up. That’s what the Holy Spirit always seems to do.
Those of us who find the world to be a chaotic place, though, can find such transformation disconcerting. “One more change?” they say. “Isn’t the church the one place I go where I can always count on everything being the same?”
A church empowered the Holy Spirit is a church that is always encountering the resurrection power of Easter. It is a church in which things that are dead or dying encounter the new life of God. Resurrection challenges everything that has endured beyond its ability to live.
Resurrection is disconcerting. The resurrecting power of God, active in the Holy Spirit, shakes things up. That which is dead is being brought to life. That which is dying is being made new. We cannot be a church that stays the same. That which has died must be buried. We should watch with expectation to see what the Holy Spirit will bring to life among us.
The heart of the gospel is that God, in God’s deep love for us, makes us new. Therefore, we must be ready for the newness of God’s resurrecting power. The Holy Spirit is still among us. Those who say the church is dying may be right. Those who think that this is the church’s end, don’t know the gospel. We are drawn into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s new life renews.
Let us never give up hope, but always look for the newness God is bringing us through the Holy Spirit.