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"We Have Been Witnesses"

The following sermon was preached by Brother Jeffrey Gros, president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Wednesday, January 18, 2012.


 

Introductory biographical sketch by Evaka Guldanova, LSTC student:

At this opening worship we have a special honored guest – Brother Jeffrey Gros who will deliver the sermon. Brother Jeff Gros has a distinguished career as an ecumenist and as an educator.  For a decade, he served as Director of Faith and Order for the National Council of Churches. Then for 14 years he served as Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Brother Gros also has held positions as professor of Ecumenism and Historical Theology at Memphis Theological Seminary, and Academic Dean of the Institute for Catholic Ecumenical Leadership. He currently serves as a visiting professor at the Catholic Theological Union and at Lewis University, in Romeoville, IL. He is also currently the president of the Society for Pentecostal studies. Brother Jeff has also published extensively in the field of ecumenism.  We are very grateful to him that he is here with us today and look forward to his message.

Remarks by the Brother Jeffrey Gros, speaking to the LSTC community during the J-Term “Week of Prayer” on January 18, 2012:

It is with great humility and appreciation that I stand in this place, Hyde Park, which has graced the pilgrimage toward the unity for which Christ prayed with such an array of witnesses. The churches together, on the path to which we are called by the Holy Spirit, have been irreversibly changed by the testimonies and ministries of the likes of Joseph Sittler, Barnarbas Ahern and Lewis Mudge who have graced these halls and our lives; and by the witness of countless other servants of the unity of Christians in God’s service.

I could not have imagined, in 1983 when the Commission for a New Lutheran Church first met here; the ecumenical leadership this new burst of energy would engender: with full membership in both WCC and NCC almost immediately after the ELCA came into existence at the end of the decade; initiating the process which gave us the 1999/2004 Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification  reconciling the core issue at the center of 16th c alienations;  by 1997 approving full communion with three Reformed churches, celebrated here at Rockefeller chapel; by 2000 full communion with the Episcopal Church celebrated in the National Cathedral;  going on to full communion agreements with Moravians and Methodists, and repentance and reconciliation with the Mennonites in the new century.

An amazing legacy of gifts for which we all praise God.

I could not have imagined, in that same week of the Commission for a New Lutheran Church here in 1983, the fruitfulness of the 1982 WCC historic Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry text whose reception we plotted in this very room. The reception process transformed the way we must now teach sacramental theology. It witnesses to the convergence written into the liturgical texts of all of our ecumenically oriented Western churches, and it enabled such agreements as the Lutheran-Reformed  Formula of Agreement, resolving the alienations of Marburg (1529) over the Lord’s Supper; it stimulated the United Methodist’s This Holy Mystery, empowering that community to recapture its heritage and articulate its ecumenical identity to the ecumenical community; and it has helped the Reformed churches to reevaluate their 16th century judgment on the faith of my church as caricatured in the Heidelberg Catechism.

An amazing legacy of gifts for which we all praise God.

I could not have imagined, in 1984 when the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in his Paul Wattson lecture called for a dialogue with the historic peace churches, how our peace witness and search for unity would converge in: National Council dialogues with the Historic Peace Churches, the Vatican Mennonite dialogue of 2003 and common testimony to WCC Kingston peace conference last spring, and culminating in the 2010 Lutheran Mennonite repentance and reconciliation service and texts in Stuttgart. Indeed, Bernardin’s witness, and the icon of Mark Hanson and Mennonite leader, foot washing pail in hand, is the image I see as the most promising way for the churches of the West to commemorate the 16th century alienations, to be recalled in 2017.

An amazing legacy of gifts for which we all praise God.

I could not have imagined, in 1977 when we concluded the Presbyterian Catholic covenant in Memphis, that by 1995 a Pope, John Paul II, would call for reform of the papal office with ecumenical input. Indeed, the mountain of responses lay out amazing scenarios toward an ecumenical future for my church and its ecumenical partners, unimaginable even in the 70s. Likewise, it was that same Presbyterian Church, now in its reunited configuration, that took up this challenge of reform, when even the World Alliance of Reformed Churches was reluctant to enter into this ecumenical process of reformation.

An amazing legacy of gifts for which we all praise God.

I could not have imagined in 1959, when I graduated from college that I would see the Patriarch of Constantinople and a host of fellow Christian church leaders attending a papal funeral in 2005; that the heir to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the English throne would change his wedding plans for the event; or that the celebrant, now Pope Benedict XVI would very publicly include the Reformed superior of the Taize Community, Roger Schutz in communion.

An amazing legacy of gifts for which we all praise God.

I could not have imagined, when I walked into the Concordia Lutheran Seminary office of Arthur Carl Piepkorn in 1963, that Religious Freedom and Ecumenical Engagement would become successful outcomes of the second Vatican Council still in process until 1965; that there would soon, by 1966, be a dialogue with Lutherans and other Reformation churches; and that the results of these dialogues would be so fruitful in the pastoral, liturgical and educational life of my own Catholic Church.

An amazing legacy of gifts for which we all praise God.

I could not have imagined, in the decades of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s when the churches were under attack by the religious right and even the US government for their solidarity with fellow Christians in Eastern Europe, China and South Africa, that by 1989 we would begin to see the end of Marxism and the sinful apartheid segregation systems that blighted the face of humanity.  Around the world we have countless witnesses to the differences Christians have made together in their testimony to solidarity, racial equality and human liberation in the midst of oppression, persecution, violence and inequality.

An amazing legacy of gifts for which we all praise God.

We have been grateful witnesses of a graced process that has only just begun. This witness has been hallowed by those here and around the globe called by the Spirit to serve Christ’s reconciling work in the world by building our unity in faith, sacramental life, and bonds of communion in mission to the transformation of the human family, in response to the Kingdom.

We could not have imagined where God has taken us to date, and where we are destined to go as the Spirit guides us on this path and provides us with the zeal and imagination to see new directions and to accept new challenges given us in history.

We now have the challenge of making these dialogues and decisions sources of new life in our congregations, preaching and collaboration in mission.

We are challenged to receive these results, to nurture the relationships at every level of church life. We are challenged to mentor up new generations of ecumenical leadership to face new challenges as amazing as the developments we have been graced to witness. We are challenged to continue to deepen our dialogue on intractable old issues and irritating new ones.

I am grateful for your leadership, for the marvelous and unexpected witness which we have shared, and for the challenges ahead that the Lord has laid out for us.  May we continued to be challenged in this pilgrimage and be ever able to recognize the grace by which we are made whole, when we are tempted to disappointment in our fidelity to the goals of unity, common witness in mission and spiritual solidarity.

Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSC
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL

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