Our Tanzanian brothers and sisters use a special Swahili word to describe their understanding of community. The word is “ujamaa” and it is most accurately translated as “family-hood.” It is a unifying term that the Tanzanian government has urged all Tanzanians to embrace in order to transcend their various tribal identities in favor of a unified national identity. And the concept of ujamaa is often represented by carvings of interlocking people mutually uplifting, encouraging and caring for one another.
As Christians, we can also lay claim to the meaning of ujamaa, because we also have an identity that transcends our various “tribal” identities. In Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord, we have a transcendent identity that supersedes everything else: Democrat or Republican, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, Tanzanian or American, “White” or “Black” or “Brown.”
EPHESIANS 2: 17-22
So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God [the ujamaa of God], built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Yes, we are one ujamaa (family-hood) in Christ! Therefore, as one family-hood in Christ, we are spiritually and relationally joined and knit together to form one mutually uplifting, encouraging and caring community of Christ. We are laypersons and ordained clergy, congregations and pastors, synods and bishops, with each doing their part according to the gifts God has given them, all for the purpose of building up each other in the faith, hope and love of Yeshua (Jesus).
EPHESIANS 4: 11-16
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ… We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
As we elect a new Greater Milwaukee Synod Bishop, let us keep in mind the whole Ujamaa of Christ. And let us acknowledge the important place of each part of the Ujamaa of Christ. Lay parishioners are called by God to the ministry of Stewardship and Evangelism, pastors are called by God to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and bishops are called by God to the apostolic ministry of representing Christ and his Church, particularly as the chief priest and pastor of a synod/diocese. And bishops have the apostolic ministry of guarding the faith and unity of the Church as well as acting in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church.
Together in the Ujamaa of Christ, Pastor Tim