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Lutheran Presiding Bishop Hanson delivers 2006 Huntington Lecture
Address marks fifth anniversary of Called to Common Mission agreement

By Daphne Mack
[Episcopal News Service]  "Whether it's been in social ministry, theological education, congregational or campus ministry, we are living out the intent of being in common mission for the sake of the Gospel and the life of the world," said Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), as he delivered the 2006 Huntington Lecture at Saint Peter's Church in New York City on January 18.

Hanson gave "thanks to God for 'Called to Common Mission' and the five years of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America being in full communion together." Called to Common Mission is a relationship of full communion between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

As evidence of the success of this union, Hanson cited a new federated congregation in Fort Myers, Florida named Lamb of God Church that is being served by both an Episcopal priest and Lutheran pastor.

A prophetic voice

Hanson expressed personal gratitude to Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, who presided at the service, for his "leadership in this church and your ecumenical leadership, not only in this country but in the world." Hanson said that during the annual heads of communion retreat he was continually "fed by the depth" of Griswold's "theological wisdom and spirituality." He spoke of witnessing Griswold's prophetic voice in calling for justice.

"As you have guided this church and have been part of the Anglican Communion, I have witnessed your deep compassion for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and your longing for a time that the unity of that church does not come at the expense of the fullness and ministry of persons who are gay and lesbian," Hanson said. "May God and the Holy Spirit continue to give peace in your heart and vision for your leadership."

Truth tellers

Hanson asked that those gathered consider five challenges "in the context of those who bear the mark of the baptism of Christ on our brow":

  • Let us with clarity proclaim the Gospel of the incarnate word, inviting people into life with Christ and in the community of faith that bears Christ’s redeeming word to all the world.
  • Let us receive unity and diversity as God’s gifts and our task.
  • Let us live in the confidence of faith.
  • Let us seek to speak the truth for the sake of reconciliation.
  • Let us seek to exercise power marked by humility and courage as together we live the way of the cross.”

He referred to Richard Lischer, author of "The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence," who contends that the first casualty in the information age is truth.

"Lischer reminds us that the end of preaching to which preaching points and participates is reconciliation," Hanson said. "[Lischer] also says that whenever we preach—and, I might add, whenever we participate and preside at the sacraments—we participate in this, God's definitive gesture for the world."

Hanson implored New Yorkers not to let the world or nation forget the truth of the tragedy of September 11, 2001, nor "the length of the healing process, the deepness of the sorrow, the greatness of the separation and alienation, the need for both public lament, public healing and the receiving of God's mercy."

Hanson said that God's mission "calls for leaders who are prophets...truth tellers."

"A healthy public life, a just community cannot flourish in which trust is eroded by the habitual compromise of truth," he said.

Proclaim the Gospel

Hanson spoke of last Easter Sunday's New York Times cover story about the 15,000 member Radiant Church in Surprise, Arizona, led by a pastor who was quoted as saying his church offered financial planning, an athletic facility, child care, marriage counseling and Krispy Kreme [donuts] with every sermon.

"In a consumer culture that values a feel-good theology and the privatized spirituality that seems to constantly confuse happiness with deeper joy," Hanson said, “there is great pressure on clergy today to get their market share of members by following Pastor [Lee] McFarland’s lead and offering a Jesus whom we invite into our hearts so that we might take a little bit of Jesus with us where we want him to go, hoping that he will make us happy and successful along the 
way," Hanson said. "In so doing, as someone said, we end up with a microscopic Jesus rather than the rising Christ of the Cosmos."

He asked if what was being offered was the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ—or a verbal therapeutic massage.

Hanson quoted New Testament scholar Mark Powell, who suggests that there is “not one place in any of the four Gospels where Jesus asked anyone, 'say, can I come and live in your heart?' Rather Jesus is constantly beckoning people to come, die, and follow him.

"The Christian life is not about taking a little bit of microscopic Jesus with us where we want him to go;  the Christian life is being raised into Christ in the body that bears Christ’s name, so Christ may take us where Christ wants us to go in God's mission for the sake of the world," Hanson said. "Therefore, perhaps the most pressing question to ask ourselves and one another today is this: What Gospel are we proclaiming?"

Diversity and unity

In the ecumenical movement, Hanson said, “we must continue to deepen our understanding of and the applications of the concept of differentiated consensus, which enabled us as Lutherans and Roman Catholics to sign the joint declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

"Differentiated consensus acknowledges that the truth of the Gospel is both profound and complex at the same time. So in differentiated consensus, two churches, through a process of dialogue over historically controverted theological issues, come to some agreement that allows each to recognize the Gospel in the teaching of the other— even though there may not be total agreement in the way a certain teaching is expressed."

He summarized it as recognizing that the unity of the church is a unity within diversity and not a simple form of uniformity. The differences that remain need not be church dividing nor cause for condemnations. In fact, they may be seen as complementary and enriching to the church.

The concept “got us through sticky waters on episcopacy that allowed us to embrace full communion as the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," Hanson said.

"[Roman Catholic] Cardinal Walter Kasper reminds us that without a grassroots ecumenism, without people of faith, without the need of full communion agreements, people of faith in local communities coming together in prayer, to read the scriptures together, to engage together in acts of mercy in the struggle for justice, the ecumenical movement will have a difficult time being sustained," he said.

The Huntington Lectures honor William Reed Huntington, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Manhattan, and author of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888. The Quadrilateral is the document upon which all ecumenical dialogue between the Episcopal Church and other Christian churches has been based.