Looking Towards 2017: What does it mean to be prophetic?
This article is written by    Rev. Aaron Fuller, who serves bi-vocationally as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy Reserve and is a member of Tapestry, the Virginia Synod's steering team on diversity and inclusion.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. Isaiah 11:1-10

A friend and classmate from Seminary posted the following reflection this past spring.  He shares an experience while riding in a car with a colleague, an ELCA Seminarian who is African-American.  His colleague is driving, and is stopped by a Minnesota State Patrol officer. The experience was a tense one for the driver, causing him to respond after it was over to my friend, “Thanks for being in the car with me.”

It is an injustice that people, because of the color of their skin, feel totally unsafe in interactions with law enforcement today. On the one hand, maybe it was a blessing that my friend – who is white – was in the car with him that day. The interaction stayed civil.  Yet, the driver’s comment reflects a bias that automatically assumed the worst in the officer who stopped him that day. The sobering reality is that it’s likely the state patrol officer initially assumed the worst in the driver, an African-American.

To be fair, both attitudes are understandable. Questionable tactics and clear abuses of power by law enforcement officers has African-Americans living in fear every time they encounter a law enforcement officer. On the other side of the coin, there are good law enforcement officers out there who are being stereotyped, and thus hypersensitive to gross misinterpretations of their actions while on the job. However, my greatest sadness, as a Christian, is that both groups likely assume the worst in each other. My sadness is that trust has been so eroded that neither side is willing, much less is interested, in sitting down at the same table, face to face.

It seems like 2016 was full of stories like this one. With an increasingly polarizing social and political narrative running so universally rampant, we as church and Christ-followers can no longer avoid the realities of race, sexual orientation, class, gender, and age. We can no longer avoid involvement because it is affecting not just the most vulnerable and marginalized, but it is also affecting US. There is a message to proclaim, a voice to be heard, and it needs to be a prophetic one.  If we ever wondered what God is calling us to as church in 2017, I believe with my heart that the church’s prophetic voice needs to be heard, loud and clear.

Yet, what exactly does it mean to be prophetic?

I remember after a big disagreement between me and one of my sisters, my dad would make us both sit down face to face and work through our differences. Of course, we’d protest, exclaiming that he was asking the impossible. His response: “figure it out.” The funny thing is, we always would somehow. It didn’t mean we never fought again, but we learned that when we did, our dad would always make us “figure it out” together.

This is the image that comes to mind when I read this Isaiah text and my friend’s story. I find that so much of the conversation among Christians centers on who is Jesus is FOR. As we’ve seen in 2016, theological conversations have taken shape along the lines of our political and social discourse, firmly entrenching people in postures where not only is there no effort to work across boundaries, but there is little belief any effort would bring about transformation and reconciliation. What would it mean for the church’s ministry in the community to bring parties and people together across divisions and boundaries to “figure it out?”

What would it look like for the church to call wolf and lamb, lion and calf, people who assume only the worst in each other to sit down at the same table?

Could such a call be considered a prophetic one?

The Revised Common Lectionary appoints Matthew for the gospel readings this liturgical year. Matthew’s gospel emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of the long-awaited Messiah, from David’s royal line, and thus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. Matthew’s proclamation is that this Messiah, as Emmanuel, is the fulfillment of God’s purpose as promised throughout all of Scripture. Jesus is this Messiah. Jesus is the One who is Emmanuel. Jesus is the fulfillment, and his church today continues to carry on that ministry in its prophetic proclamation of the Gospel. Passages like Isaiah 11 not only link Jesus to the fulfillment of prophetic promise, but also instructs the church in proclaiming Matthew’s good news that ultimately, God is not just for us, but WITH us. All of us.

My struggle these days is that people – faithful, good people – are spending too much time shouting about whose side God is on, and less about being Ambassadors for Christ in whom God is using to be about the ministry of reconciling ALL people to Godself. Fulfillment of promise in Isaiah and Matthew suggests a God is primarily concerned in being with us. This is good news to the Gentile and the Jew; the vulnerable and the powerful; the liberal and the conservative; the African-American and the law enforcement officer. Of course, in order for that good news to be heard it requires challenging, sobering, and honest conversation and self-reflection – that’s real repentance.  I do believe people can’t get there, however, unless there is a prophetic voice that invites and calls people who assume the worst in each other to sit down together. That voice has to come from the church; it has to come from US.

In 2017, what would it look like for congregations to do work and ministry that gathers people and parties in which trust has been so eroded? What might it mean to proclaim that no matter how broken or angry, no matter how powerful or corrupt, Jesus invites us to his Table just the same? How might the church get folks like my friend’s African-American colleague and law enforcement leaders to sit down and work towards understanding each other and a solution? What would it mean for congregations to be bridges to reconciliation rather than picking sides?

I think what’s at stake in this is our integrity as church. As Lutherans, we claim to be all about God’s unconditional grace and justification. Perhaps in 2017 as we listen to Matthew’s Gospel and this Jesus who is God with all people, we might imagine how that looks in our communities that are very divided along lines of race, class, gender, political, and a whole host of other realities right now.

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Winter Celebration 2017
Winter Celebration is our annual weekend retreat for youth in grades 9 through 12 and their adult advisers.  We have Large Group gatherings that consist of singing, energy, comedy, worship and a presentation on our event theme. After each Large Group gathering, each person is part of a Small Group made up of youth and a couple adult leaders where participants will get to know other Lutheran youth from Virginia and discuss life, faith and other topics that arise throughout the weekend.

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Virginia Interfaith Center For Public Policy's Day for All People in Richmond, VA
Virginia Synod Bishop Election Feedback Requested 
It is an exciting time in our synod as we approach the election of a new bishop at our 2017 Synod Assembly. Many of you already know that Bishop Mauney has announced his retirement next year and, so, we are preparing for the tenure of a new leader. 
  
We need the help of congregational members and leaders - that's you! In much the same way as we prepare to call a new pastor in our congregations, we want to prepare to call a new bishop with as much attention and prayer as possible. 
  
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Reformation 500 Observances
As the second oldest Lutheran college in the USA, the mission statement of Roanoke College declares that we "honor our Christian heritage by nurturing a dialogue between faith and reason." In this spirit, Roanoke College announces a series of special academic events from late 2016 through the anniversary year 2017 in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and in coordination with the 175th anniversary of the college's founding.

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Virginia Interfaith Center For Public Policy's Day for All People in Richmond, Virginia
The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy will hold its annual Day for All People when people from across the state visit their legislators in the General Assembly on Wednesday, January 25. The event will start with registration at Centenary United Methodist Church.

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The Experience at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS)
The name The Experience was chosen because LTSS believes what you, as a prospective student, experiences is the most appropriate and influential way to determine which seminary is the right place to earn your theological education. During your time with us, we will show you our community and the community surrounding us. You will experience life with our current students and the heartbeat of campus. Also, our faculty will offer you a glimpse of the classroom experience that is essential to your theological formation. We look forward to welcoming you to The Experience!
 
Jenn Casey, an alum of LTSS and our Enrollment Director reflects, "I remember having a lot of questions during my discernment process and I often wondered if I was the only person with those questions. I also thought I must be crazy for thinking that God was calling me into ordained ministry. I now know I wasn't the only one, but it can be a confusing process!"
 
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Philanthropy Director Winchester, VA
National Lutheran Communities & Services (NLCS) is recruiting for Philanthropy Director in Winchester, VA. Reporting to the Chief Philanthropy Officer, the Philanthropy Director is an integral position within the organization, serving as lead in all areas related to philanthropic programs at a specific National Lutheran Community & Services (NLCS) Community. Responsible for cultivation and stewardship programs in support of the fundraising goals established by National Lutheran Communities & Services (NLCS) and The Village at Orchard Ridge (NLCS Community), including capital campaigns. Assures that the institutional fundraising efforts follow excellent management and stewardship practices in stewarding donors and gifts made to NLCS with particular emphasis on the identified communities. Designs, implements and/or maintains a comprehensive fundraising program including annual giving, major gifts, endowment and capital campaigns, fundraising events and other special projects of the NLCS Community supportive of and in accordance with the overall NLCS goals and objectives 

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