Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
The Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed reads:
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
What is this? or What does this mean?
In Luther’s Small Catechism he offers the following explanation:
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.
This is most certainly true.
Last week I was privileged to be able to attend our Synod’s Assembly in Boise.
Bishop Kristin opened the Assembly with a sermon in which she focused on the Assembly theme,
“We walk together.”
“We walk together.”
We live in a time and in a world where there are all sorts of things that would divide us and tear us apart.
But over and against all of those things that would divide us is the work of the Holy Spirit that unites us.
“We walk together, or we do not walk at all.”
“We walk together, or we do not walk at all.”
The Creeds of the Christian Church teach us that to believe in the Holy Spirit, is to believe in the “holy catholic church, the communion of saints, and the forgiveness of sins.”
This declaration of our faith means that we do not believe alone, we do not act alone, we do not stand alone.
It is always side by side with our brothers and sisters in Christ that “we live and move and have our being.”
The faith we hold is not our own.
Luther states “that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.”
We are not here because we are such good people.
We are not here because we are in some ways morally superior to all others.
We are not here because we are smarter or stronger that other people.
We are here because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel.
The Holy Spirit has enlightened me with his gifts.
The Holy Spirit has made me holy.
The Holy Spirit has kept me in the true faith.
And then comes perhaps the most important words of all in Luther’s explanation:
“. . . just as the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.”
We are here, in this Church, because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
And so also, our brothers and sisters in Christ are here, in this Church, because of the work of the same Holy Spirit.
And this is the thing, Bishop Kristin pointed out.
We do not get to decide who belongs to the Church.
We do not get to decide who our brothers and sisters in Christ are.
That decision is far above our pay grade.
That decision is the Holy Spirit’s, and the Holy Spirit’s alone.
We walk together or we do not walk at all.
One of the beautiful signs of our unity in Christ at the Assembly was the worship, where we were led by a group called “Glocal”, who shared with us a broad range of music from around the world.
Also, present throughout the Assembly were our partners from the Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
It was a wonderful reminder that this faith we share is not our own, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the world.
We live in highly divisive times, yet it is the Holy Spirit that unites us in the one true faith and calls us to loving service for the sake of the world.
For me one of the most moving parts of the whole assembly was a presentation offered by a representative of the “Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services”.
I think what was most moving about that is that in the face of one of the most divisive issues in our time, the Spirit is working to bring healing and hope.
As you all know there is a struggle in Latin America and as a result, at our southern border.
Wave after wave of people have come to our border seeking asylum from the conflicts that have endangered them in their homelands.
One of the most controversial things that our Administration has done in response to this influx of immigrants seeking refuge, is to separate the children from their parents while they are held in detention centers at the border.
This has created a problem for the Federal Government.
Thousands upon thousands of children are in custody, and there was not in place a well thought out plan about how to reunite the children with their parents when the time came.
So you know what the Administration has done?
They have turned to us.
Specifically they have called in Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services to help reunite these families, help them through this time of transition, and assist them in getting settled while they await the outcome of their legal proceedings.
They turned to us because of our expertise.
I quote from their website:
For almost 80 years, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has been a champion for migrants and refugees from around the globe. Our legacy of courageous and compassionate service has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who have sought safety and hope in America’s communities. Our history reflects American Lutherans’ deep immigrant roots and passionate commitment to welcoming newcomers, especially those who are most in need. In partnership with community-based legal and social service providers nationwide, LIRS has helped over 500,000 migrants and refugees rebuild their lives in America.
Informed by our Lutheran faith and decades of experience with migrants and refugees, we have responded to people caught in conflict and facing persecution. We have developed new service programs, birthed new service organizations, and influenced public policy in the best interests of those we serve.
Imagine for a moment, that you’re a child separated from your family, in a completely new country, surrounded by people who are speaking a language you can’t understand. At LIRS, we see the courage and resilience of children who are faced with this situation every day — and we work diligently to protect these children and reunite them with loved ones as quickly as possible.
Through our network of trusted community partners, LIRS provides assistance to the U.S. government to identify family members in the country and ensure that children in our care are safely released to loved ones who are well-equipped to care for them. After families have been reunified, we provide extended support to particularly vulnerable families as they adjust to life together and navigate the immigration system.
That’s one of the things many people don’t know about the Lutheran Church.
Quietly, we have served our neighbor by welcoming the stranger and giving them a hope for a new tomorrow.
Refugees from the world wars of the last century.
A massive resettlement program during the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
And now, assisting the Trump Administration to reunite and resettle the immigrants that have come to us seeking refuge.
This is the work of our Church.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, and enlisted by our Federal Government, we seek to provide a welcome to the stranger and hope to the hopeless.
And this we do in the name of Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We walk together, or we do not walk at all.