…because you have become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:8) November, 2011

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​“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with
you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have
become very dear to us.”

(1 Thessalonians 2:8) This verse from the second lesson on Sunday,
October 23, 2011, jumped out at me. Youth and adults who attended the
2009 ELCA Youth Gathering could have written that to the people ofNew
Orleans.

Whether they know it or not, through their presence in New Orleans
ELCA youth and adults are modeling a way of being in mission that
defines our church. This form of mission is about relationship-building,
about deep investment — emotionally, physically, mentally, financially
and spiritually, and it is about self-emptying. This way of being in
mission is called “accompaniment.” “The ELCA Global Mission unit defines
accompaniment as walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.
In this walk, gifts, resources and experiences are shared with mutual
advice and admonition to deepen and expand our work within God’s
mission.” (http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Global-Mission/How-We-Work/Accompaniment.aspx)

Notice that it is God’s mission in which we participate and not our
own. For example, immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastated
theGulfCoast, disaster workers inMississippitold us they had to figure
out what to do with hundreds of winter coats, hats and mittens that
caring people sent. Really? What were people thinking sending winter
gear to the Gulf? This expression of care, which I’m sure came from
kind, good-intentioned people, became a health hazard (as rodents took
up residence in the mountains of useless materials that piled up), and
required the attention of disaster workers who were there to serve
people who had lost everything. That is an example of humans responding
out of their own need to help rather than offering what is most needed.
God’s mission or my need? Americans, especially, do it all the time. We
act as if theUnited Stateswere at the center of the earth’s orbit. We
think the rest of the world should want to be like us, and we act
accordingly.

If ELCA youth journey to New Orleans this summer, and then return to
their home congregations with an understanding that it is God’s kingdom
that is truly exceptional and God’s way that should be advanced, then
they’ll be on the path of discipleship. The fruits of their discipleship
will be identification with the poor and weak, the sick, those who are
treated like outcasts and those called strangers. In Ephesians, the book
from which our core text (Ephesians 2:14-20) is chosen, Paul says the
church was to show that people — Jews/Gentiles — would get along because
they love Jesus and are committed to the things the church is committed
to. The confession that Jesus is Lord was one thing that held them
together in community, their actions of feeding the poor, caring for
widows and orphans, raising the dead, and serving all people were the
living out of this confession.

I, for one, am really excited to welcome a generation of leaders in
our church whose radical identification with “the other” becomes the
Lutheran charism.