The Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church (a congregation of the Missouri Synod) in Newtown Connecticut, was forced by Missouri Synod church officials to offer a written apology for participating in an ecumenical prayer vigil in Newtown, following the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Unlike the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) forbids its clergy from participating with other faiths in worship.
The prayer vigil, held in Newtown, two days after the shootings in December, was attended by President Obama, and Muslim, and Jewish leaders as well as other Christian clergy and families of the first grade class where the shootings occurred.
I’ve included links here for those who want to read more about this story.
Religious News Services
I’ll admit, there was a time when my first reaction to this would have been anger. And yes, I’m still angry. The general public doesn’t understand the difference between the ELCA and the LCMS. All they see is Lutheran, and so I and to some degree all Lutherans, are tarred by this brush which I personally find offensive and the antithesis of everything I believe and confess as a Lutheran.
But that’s not my strongest reaction anymore. My strongest reaction is sadness. Sadness at the missed opportunity to bring the love of God close to people who desperately needed it.
Pastor Morris was right to stand with the brokenhearted, to offer comfort to the inconsolable, to represent the visible presence of God in solidarity with those who weep at such unthinkable loss. As a pastor, and as a human being, it would have been unthinkable for me to be anywhere else.
I’ll leave the Missouri Synod leaders to work out their own salvation in fear and trembling, knowing that every church body today, yes, even the ELCA, has been guilty of all manner of failings and shortcomings when it comes to bearing the grace of God to the world.
Instead, I want to affirm the mystery of what God calls us to be as the church. God invites us into relationship, not that we may take possession of God. As Paul says quoting the hymn in Philippians: Jesus did not count equality with God as a thing to be exploited, but emptied himself. (Phil. 2:6-7).
This self-emptying is mark of our relationship with God too. It is our ongoing work. We are not called into relationship with God in order to take possession of God, but so that God may take possession of us. So that we may work with God the way a sail, properly set, captures the wind without ever possessing it.
Each one of us will have a different take on the mystery of our relationship with God. None of us will ever fully understand it, or give proper expression to it. That’s OK. We’re not supposed to. Because we are not called to perfect our relationship with God. We are called to be empty vessels, that we may be filled with God’s love and so be in loving relationship with each other.
Any understanding of our relationship to God that demands that we be less than human or humane; that we turn our backs on our brokenhearted sisters or ignore the tears of our grieving brothers, is flat out false and misguided. That is an understanding that seeks to exploit God, not to be filled by God.
Thank you for your faithful service Pastor Morris.