Why Do We Do What We Do – For Such a Time as This?
By the Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Assistant to the Bishop for Faith and Leadership Formation
Why do we commit to fighting racism through anti-racism training? Why do we advocate for full inclusion of those in the LGBTQIA+ communities? Why are we a Sanctuary Synod, pledged to accompanying and advocating for immigrants and refugees, that they might know the security of home here? Why do we nurture more visible unity in the church and wider faith communities through ecumenical and interfaith relationships? In short, why do we "build bridges, not walls?"
The simple, straightforward answer is that it is what Jesus would do. You remember all those WWJD bracelets and other swag, right? Despite their tendency to trivialize what Jesus might do, often creating Jesus in the image of this or that ideology, it is a helpful question to ask – what, indeed, would Jesus do? To answer this question, we need to look at what, in fact, Jesus did, as recorded in scripture. Only then can we do the work of translating into the realities of our time and circumstances our own commitments and actions which we undertake in the spirit of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Many invoke the "plain reading of scripture" to justify this or that position, often proof texting the Bible, taking bits and pieces of scripture from here and there to prove their point. But there’s another way of approaching plain readings of scripture, and that is to focus on the bigger picture of the wider trajectories of Jesus’ actions. When I look at such bigger pictures, I see Jesus again and again (not just in a verse or two here and there) breaking down walls that divided people in his day – for example, Jesus breaking down walls by eating with tax collectors and others understood then to be sinners. I also see Jesus again and again including women and children when they were typically marginalized. I see Jesus again and again reaching out to the excluded poor, and those shunned because of their needs for healing and deliverance from their demons.
Seen from these higher vantage points, Jesus’ whole approach to his servant ministry can be understood through the lens of building bridges, not walls. Jesus seemed to have no time for indulging the purity-preoccupied, in-group vs. out-group, dynamics of religiosity which have caused so much tragic mischief throughout humanity’s spiritual history. The listing is long – too long for this brief reflection – of scriptural stories that reveal this overarching bridge-building theme of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
This sense of the whole is perhaps what led the apostle to conclude, concerning the divide between Jesus’ followers who were Jewish and those who were Gentiles: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." (Ephesians 2:13-14)
What applied to the division between the religious and ethnic heritage of disciples in Jesus’ day arguably may be translated into our calling today to build bridges with many and various peoples who find themselves on the other sides of many and various walls of our own creations. We reach out today in wall-transcending ways inspired by what Jesus plainly and consistently did, as recorded in biblical testimony. If we err, we err on the side of radical hospitality and inclusion, because that’s what Jesus did again, and again, and again.
Anti-racism training, advocacy for LGBTQIA+ communities, being a Sanctuary Synod, ecumenical and interfaith relationships – each of these ministries is undertaken in the spirit of Jesus’ earthly bridge building ministry. Each initiative is also a living out of our Lutheran identity: because we are saved by God’s grace alone, effective through faith, we are free to be radically for others, no strings attached. Moreover, our synodical bridge-building initiatives are also a living into our Reformation 500 anniversary focus on being "Committed to Unity in Christ." Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses marked but the beginning of what would become the Reformation. So too we are on the road together now, making our pilgrim way into the early months of the coming years and decades of the next 500 years, building bridges, not walls, in Jesus’ name, and for Christ’s sake, for the healing of the nations.