This post is the second in a three-part series of Reformation reflections. In 2017, the ELCA will join Lutherans around the world in observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The 2016 ELCA Grace Gathering will provide members an opportunity to kick off this observance and will include worship, Bible study, service learning opportunities and more. Registration opens Saturday, Oct. 31. For details, visit:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. – Ephesians 2:8

Every day I am grateful for the way Martin Luther helped people see that we can live by faith in Jesus Christ. With an understanding of God’s mercy as revealed in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, I am set free from worry about life’s ultimate questions because I trust I will be with Christ in eternity. That confidence in God’s grace empowers me to take on the world around me, clear-eyed and realistic, but without fear or hesitation.

As Lutherans, we can serve our neighbor freely because our ultimate trust is in God. This is an enormous privilege and a high duty. Each of us is commissioned to use the varied gifts God gives us to make a difference in the world. For some, that might be activism—giving voice to the voiceless, and speaking truth to power. For others, that might be care giving—tending to the needs of those who can’t care for themselves. For yet others, that service might be teaching—equipping others for work or life with skills and insight.

There are countless ways Lutherans can use the freedom God gives us in Christ to benefit our congregations, communities and families, but the most important of all may be for us to raise up children who share our confidence in God’s love and our passion for serving. There has been a lot of anguish in our society about the challenges and changes in family life, for the family is still the most basic foundation of society.

Blended families, single parents, same-gender parents, multi-generational families: All these are rapidly challenging the middle-class stereotype of the suburban family with a working father, stay-at-home mother, and two obedient children. Today most adults need to work, children are often cared for by professionals and everyone seems pressed for time. Technology competes for our attention and offers us all immediate and constant distraction. Simply “being present” for one another now takes work. Yet loving family relationships are essential to healthy communities, and cultivating them is part of God’s work in us.

Here’s where being Lutheran comes back in: We know that we respond best to God’s love for us by loving and caring for what God has made. The Small Catechism reminds us that just as we are God’s children, living confidently in God’s love, we are at the same time social creatures, looking out for one another, forgiving heartily and doing good gladly. We should use that impulse to serve and do good to “be present” for one another as God is always present to and for us. And in doing so, we will be strengthened, too.

God is always with us—in our believing and also in our loving and serving. Our faith calls us to be aware of that, and to know God through our neighbor, just as we know God through Jesus. Rooted in our Lutheran faith, let us clear our minds of the clutter and the static and the distraction, and just “be present” for one another. In everyone you encounter, may you find a clearer view of the face of God. Let us live boldly and confidently, trusting in God’s unending grace and love!

R. Guy Erwin
R. Guy Erwin (Wazhazhe/Osage Nation) is president of United Lutheran Seminary, and served from 2013 to 2020 as bishop of the Southwest California Synod. He was the first openly gay and Native American bishop in the ELCA. For over 25 years he has taught about the Reformation and Martin Luther in universities and seminaries.

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