In August, I attended the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Here at our church, we are a part of a larger church, a denomination. We are a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Our denomination has three ways we are church together. They are the local congregation, what our church is. Then is the Synod, which is a grouping of churches based on geographic area and population density. We are part of the Southeastern Iowa Synod. Synods are overseen by Bishops. Then comes the Churchwide organization, which is made up by all 65 Synods and overseen by one Presiding Bishop. In August, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton was re-elected to serve as the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. The Assembly is every three years. Church members, pastors and bishops gather to make policy decisions about our wider denomination, review the constitution of the ELCA and oversee the wider ministry of the ELCA. It was a real learning experience. I was able to see the Church “in action” and how we as a diverse group of people are able to be church together.
One part of this assembly was hearing from our inter-religious partners. The ELCA partners with a variety of other Christian denominations, as well as other religions for things like health care, disaster recovery and food ministries. One partner we heard from was Rabbi Jonah Dov Presner from the Union for Reform Judaism. Rabbi Presner stepped to the podium to speak and the first words out of his mouth were “I love you”, to a room full of Lutherans. He talked about how his first encounter with Lutherans was not with liturgy or reading Martin Luther but with a Lutheran pastor he met in Boston. How when he was a new Rabbi this pastor helped him and showed him what it was like to lead a faith-filled congregation. How this pastor was a mentor and loving guide. Then Rabbi Presner said again “I love you” and that he loved Lutherans. It was very emotional to hear that as part of a speech. Love is powerful, especially if we share it.
As Rabbi Presner told his story encountering love, I thought “Wow! It actually worked!” This love stuff actually worked. In the Gospel of John, (chapter 13) Jesus issues a new commandment for his followers, to love one another as God has loved them. Jesus says “by this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. This Rabbi learned about faith through love, and it fueled his own sense of faith and mission. And so, I wonder, what could happen if the people we know here in the Quad Cities encountered our faith through our love? Love draws people, and as Christians we are called to be drawing people to the ultimate source of love, to God. When we show love to others, they are able to see glimpses of what God is like. Love, big, radical, unconditional love is actually life changing, and it could even be world changing.
It is transformative to hear stories of how love actually works. So, keep on loving. Keep on listening for stories of love changing people. Because love does actually change people, and with them, our world.
Pastor Amy Diller