This morning we are going to do something a little out of the ordinary. Instead of hearing a message from me, you will be hearing a message from our bishop, Richard Graham. It is out of the ordinary to have a film-clip in the place of a sermon. I’m not sure I have ever done this before. It is also out of the ordinary to not have a sermon about the trial, suffering, and death of Jesus – which what this Sunday, Passion Sunday, is all about. However, I feel this is important. The Lutheran Church has been on a slow decline for decades. Membership is down. Average attendance is down. Way down. Our Synod, the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod is attempting to address that.
They have launched an effort called “New Connections” which is attempting to grow our synod by 10% -- 3,000 members. We have accepted a 10% goal for this congregation. I’ll say more about this later, but, in the meantime I’d like to give my pulpit time to Bishop Richard Graham.
Sometimes we forget that we are part of a church at large. And we might ask ourselves, at times, “Why do I need to be part of a Synod or a national Lutheran church? Denominations are declining, anyway. So, what’s in it for us to be part of something like this.
Well, if it is simply about institutional survival, then we really shouldn’t be in this at all. I think it is more than that. Unfortunately, we live in a day and age which casts shade on one word in our name: Evangelical. We are the “Evangelical” Lutheran Church in America. That name now connotes a brand of Christianity which is very different than ours, almost diametrically opposed. We are the ones who believe that it is by faith alone that we come to God. Grace alone. Not good works or deeds. We are the ones who take the beatitudes and Matthew 25 seriously – that Jesus was all about reaching out to the stranger, the hungry, the homeless, and the poor. Our vision of what Jesus is all about is different and, unfortunately, is the “best kept secret” in the world.
New Connections is an effort to reach out to a younger and more diverse population with this message. Our own welcome statement says it: You are welcome if you are young, old, black, white, gay, straight, a saint or a sinner.
Of the amount we raise for New Connections, we will keep half in a separate “New Connections” account earmarked for the development of our own congregation. We will probably form a “New Connections Task Force” to oversee this outreach effort. To get things going, Marilyn and I are offering to match the first $1,000 in gifts. This would put us at least a fifth of the way toward our $10,000 goal. We will keep you posted of the running total.
Thanks for letting me present an unorthodox Palm Sunday sermon. We Lutherans have a story to tell. We’ve been telling it. We just need to speak louder. Won’t you lend your voice!