If you are not yet familiar with “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday (September 12 in 2021), it is a day designated by the ELCA to publicly live into our belief that we have been freed in Christ to love and serve our neighbor (often wearing iconic yellow T-shirts as we do so). The faith tradition that Martin Luther and his contemporaries initiated was revolutionary in its emphasis on the weight of our salvation being entirely on God’s shoulders. The Good News is that, once we realize we needn’t do anything to earn salvation, that sets us free to fling goodness, grace, and mercy around with abandon. Much of my ministry involves interacting with people who, by and large, have not been treated kindly by the church, so it’s always a wonderful surprise when vulnerable people are able to share a positive experience they’ve had not just of the church in general, but of the ELCA in particular. Very often, when that happens, it’s framed around the lines of “Wait, ELCA . . . Are y’all the ones with the bright yellow T-shirts?” People see us in the community attempting to live out our faith, and they remember.
As the day approaches, there are some basic principles that might be of assistance in ensuring that this crucial day can honor our call to boldly be Christ’s body:
- Listen to your neighbors. Who in your community has been most affected by the pandemic? Ask them what they need. One of the biggest frustrations I hear from vulnerable communities interacting with the church is that what they actually need and what we decide they need are very different. If a person needs bandages and we buy them books, we have not honored them as God’s beloveds. We worship a savior who feeds people when they’re hungry, heals people when they’re sick, and calls us to do the same.
- Assume that there will be extensive local restrictions in place due to the pandemic. It is much easier to plan for tight restrictions, and loosen them if they are not needed the day of the event, than to do the opposite. And churches are at a significant advantage because they tend to be large enough to allow for social distancing and often have parking lots that can allow for curbside participation.
- Think structurally. One of the strongest tools that churches have is the structural power provided by both sheer numbers and social standing. If people need air conditioners, buying some is incredibly powerful, but so is scheduling a meeting with neighborhood members, the management of local stores, and local government officials to build a plan to meet that need every year.
- Focus on embodying your faith, rather than converting people to it. There are many forms of evangelism, and this day is devoted to simply allowing ourselves to be vessels for God’s loving kindness for people in need. Embrace the opportunity to preach without words.
You can access tons of excellent resources for “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday (and purchase your iconic T-shirts) on the ELCA website.