“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”

(1 Thessalonians 2:8) This verse from the second lesson on Sunday, October 23, 2011, jumped out at me. Youth and adults who attended the 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering could have written that to the people ofNew Orleans.

Whether they know it or not, through their presence in New Orleans ELCA youth and adults are modeling a way of being in mission that defines our church. This form of mission is about relationship-building, about deep investment — emotionally, physically, mentally, financially and spiritually, and it is about self-emptying. This way of being in mission is called “accompaniment.” “The ELCA Global Mission unit defines accompaniment as walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. In this walk, gifts, resources and experiences are shared with mutual advice and admonition to deepen and expand our work within God’s mission.” (http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Global-Mission/How-We-Work/Accompaniment.aspx)

Notice that it is God’s mission in which we participate and not our own. For example, immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastated theGulfCoast, disaster workers inMississippitold us they had to figure out what to do with hundreds of winter coats, hats and mittens that caring people sent. Really? What were people thinking sending winter gear to the Gulf? This expression of care, which I’m sure came from kind, good-intentioned people, became a health hazard (as rodents took up residence in the mountains of useless materials that piled up), and required the attention of disaster workers who were there to serve people who had lost everything. That is an example of humans responding out of their own need to help rather than offering what is most needed. God’s mission or my need? Americans, especially, do it all the time. We act as if theUnited Stateswere at the center of the earth’s orbit. We think the rest of the world should want to be like us, and we act accordingly.

If ELCA youth journey to New Orleans this summer, and then return to their home congregations with an understanding that it is God’s kingdom that is truly exceptional and God’s way that should be advanced, then they’ll be on the path of discipleship. The fruits of their discipleship will be identification with the poor and weak, the sick, those who are treated like outcasts and those called strangers. In Ephesians, the book from which our core text (Ephesians 2:14-20) is chosen, Paul says the church was to show that people — Jews/Gentiles — would get along because they love Jesus and are committed to the things the church is committed to. The confession that Jesus is Lord was one thing that held them together in community, their actions of feeding the poor, caring for widows and orphans, raising the dead, and serving all people were the living out of this confession.

I, for one, am really excited to welcome a generation of leaders in our church whose radical identification with “the other” becomes the Lutheran charism.