Many things have changed – both in the church and society – since the LCA was formed when the two main Lutheran synods in Australia amalgamated in 1966.
Three years earlier, legendary US songwriter Bob Dylan recorded a song that would foretell the social and political upheaval of the decade and become an anthem for young people frustrated by the constraints of the so-called ‘establishment’. It was called The Times They Are A-Changin’.
But while ‘the times’ have continued to change since 1966 – and the LCANZ today may have a different makeup and minister in different ways to that of the LCA 57 years ago – God’s mission through his church and his joy over every person who comes to faith in Christ remains unchanged, points out Assistant Bishop Neville Otto.
Preaching at the closing service of the Convention of General Synod in Melbourne on Sunday, Pastor Neville reminded the hundreds of delegates, organisers, staff and visitors present that the reason for the church’s existence, the urgency of its work and the joy implicit in the message of the gospel are the same at its 20th General Synod as they were at its first.
‘Here are some photos from 1966 at the very first Synod of the newly formed and constituted LCA in Tanunda [in South Australia]. What might you notice? Different hats today’, Pastor Neville said, pointing out images on the big screen at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and holding up a modern cap. ‘The theme text for the Synod Sunday sermon in 1966 was Nehemiah 8:10b, “The joy of the Lord is your strength”. See the joy of people. Hats have changed. Life half a century on has changed, but has the joy changed?’
Pastor Neville cited references to joy in each of the day’s texts – Isaiah 55:12,13 (‘You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace’), Philippians 4:4–7 (‘Rejoice in the Lord always’), and John 15:9–17 (‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete’).
‘Many things have changed since 1966’, he continued. ‘The hats are different; the times are different. The church looks different. The world is different. So many people do not know Jesus. They do not know that, in Christ, death is not the final word for God so loved the world … God so loves them that he sends them Jesus, who is made known as the people go forth in joy … you, me, us, the LCA in the joy of the Lord’s salvation.
‘The times are different. The gift is the same! The call is still urgent. The gift and the call; the gift and the task; the gift and the mission of God are unchanging – Jesus is the same yesterday, today and always. So, go out in joy, LCA! Go and make disciples, LCA! [Jesus tells us] you will be my witnesses wherever you are and wherever you go. Love one another as I have loved you in the giving of my life for the world.
‘The unchanging love of God in Christ Jesus is the fount of eternal joy.
‘So, go confidently, LCA, as you listen to God’s word and as you receive the finest gift of food and wine freely given for you. Go confidently, LCA, as you listen to God’s word and as you are called by Christ to “follow me”. Go confidently, LCA, as Christ through Paul calls you, me and us, again to be partners in the gospel and to go forth in joy. For you go in the love of God in Christ.
‘Things may have changed. They may, in many ways, look and sound very different. The LCA may look very different.
‘But the love of God in Christ never changes, and his call to us to follow him in love for the world never changes. Make him known wherever you go, LCA. For the joy of the Lord is your strength!’