The Lutheran, November 2009
A monthly column by Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson
Living in joy and gratitude Perseverance, mercy flow from Jesus
"Bishop Hanson, how are you?"
I have been asked this question frequently as I meet members of the ELCA. I hear the question as an expression of heartfelt concern both for me and for this church, just as I trust the same heartfelt concern is leading to caring conversations with servant leaders throughout the ELCA.
When I am asked, I can give a variety of responses depending on the moment, including a conventional "just fine" that moves the conversation away from me and toward the work before the church. Yet there is a deeper and more constant response beneath the various answers. My heart is filled with a deep and abiding joy and an equally deep and enduring gratitude.
This joy is more than the happiness that depends on the external ups and downs of the economy, the challenges in family life, or controversies in church and society. This joy has its ground and source in Jesus, who promises that his joy will be complete in us (John 15:11
Deeply grounded in Jesus, this joy abides even as it moves me into places that are marked by suffering and struggle, the places where we could easily imagine that joy is absent. I have experienced the promise that stands behind the encouragement to God's people to persevere: "let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:1-2
). Joy flows from God's mercy in Christ Jesus and frees us to live the way of the cross, bearing witness along the way.
The mercy that flows so freely from God in Jesus Christ also sustains my gratitude for the life that God has given so generously. Even when I feel apprehensive about the financial well-being of those who are close to me, even when I feel most strongly the tensions with those who have different perspectives and disagree with me, God's binding mercy frees me to live into these experiences with gratitude for sisters and brothers in Christ who share a common life that is bathed in forgiveness.
Rowan Williams, leader of the global Anglican Communion, has described the vital significance of this joy and gratitude for the church's life and ministry. "The Church of the future," he writes, "will do both its prophetic and its pastoral work effectively only if it is first concerned with gratitude and joy; orthodoxy flows from this, not the other way round, and we don't solve our deepest problems just by better discipline, but by better discipleship, a fuller entry into the intimate joy of Jesus' life" (cited in Rowan's Rule
by Rupert Shortt, page 261; Eerdmans, 2009).
One benefit of living in this joy and gratitude is to be liberated from the suspicion that too often distorts our expectations, the cynicism that too often suffocates our hearts, and the sarcasm that too often poisons our conversations. Even more, I am free to explore the questions of privilege and power that are described in this issue's lead articles (page 22) and to acknowledge how my life, my speech and my leadership are shaped by privileges that need closer examination. When my life of faith and ministry flows from joy and gratitude that are grounded in God's grace and mercy, I can engage these questions with a confident trust and expectant hope.
Recently, my sister recalled the abiding joy she saw in our father's life and service as a pastor and evangelist. My recollection of the last years of his life includes memories of the advancing illness that diminished his physical strength but not his abiding joy in Jesus and his gratitude for life in him. As we enter a season of national thanksgiving and cultural celebration, I share with you the blessing of this enduring joy and gratitude, the joy-filled life we share in Jesus Christ.