“In baptism we have died the only death that matters, and that should make us very dangerous people.” – Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), 1/19/14
This past Sunday and Monday, Allison and I had the privilege to see and hear from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton for the first time in person. Needless to say, I was inspired! Allison and I were a tad jealous this past summer when my brother actually had the pleasure of eating ice-cream together with both Rev. Elizabeth Eaton (then Presiding Bishop elect) and Rev. Mark Hanson (then Presiding Bishop). I even shared some of Thomas’ perspectives here on this blog. Anyway, this was the first time, as far as I know, that Bishop Eaton had come to the Twin Cities since being named Presiding Bishop to preach. She preached on Sunday at Christ the King Lutheran Church in New Brighton, and then presided at chapel the next day at Luther Seminary and took part in a panel discussion in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
We had the opportunity to hear her preach on Sunday, and I was greatly inspired and moved. I could sense what Thomas referred to as the Spirit moving through her words at the Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh this past summer. She preaches to the point and heart of the gospel, and does not mince words. I greatly appreciate this. Why do we so often beat around the bush when we have good news to share?
This good news is grounded in our identities as children of God, and as Bishop Eaton said and is quoted above “we have died the only death that matters.” Because of this as she preached, “we are set free for something!” “We are set free from ourselves, and we are set free to get over ourselves and to serve.” For those who think that there is more that we have to do, well, she didn’t mince words. She recalled being sick recently and flipping through TV channels while laying on the couch. She said that she kept coming back to a channel with a televangelist proclaiming, “you have to accept Jesus into your hearts.” Well, as she said, that made her mad because of how wrong the televangelist was. As Bishop Eaton preached, “we don’t accept Jesus, Jesus accepts us!” Jesus accepts us for who we are, broken though we may be. There is nothing we can do to earn Jesus’ acceptance, grace, or love. Because all of these are gifts we could never earn. To think otherwise devalues the work of God.
So, returning to Bishop Eaton’s claim, “we have died the only death that matters,” AMEN! The logical question is, now what are we going to do about it? How are we in the world- living, loving, and serving? How are we embodying our baptismal identities? How are we meeting our neighbors where they are at? We have been washed in the waters and marked with the cross of Christ forever. For what end? To hide? No! But to be active in the world, engaged in the world, discerning what God might be up to in the world and participating in that work of God in our daily lives. As Bishop Eaton said, “we are set free for something.”
I would like to extend my thanks to both Christ the King Lutheran Church and to Luther Seminary for hosting and creating these opportunities. I would also like to give a special shout-out to my dear friend Carrie Gubsch for all of the hard work she put in, in coordinating and communicating, before and during the bishop’s visit.