Dear Fellow Children of God,
In the last two weeks I have blessed by requests for 3 baptisms at St. John which I did not expect. Actually, we have 7 baptisms planned for the next 9 weeks, and we have another request for a baptism that has not yet been scheduled. I can tell you that nothing lifts the spirits of a pastor more quickly than seeing God’s work bear fruit in their congregation. And, nothing can quench the joy of doing God’s work more quickly than conflict, or division, or hurt feelings.
I have recently heard much joy from the people of St. John. But, I also know and have heard of some real struggles and concerns. Having been in Alaska now for 24 years I have a lot of contacts, and people call to talk with me. In the last 2 weeks I have heard from multiple congregations from our own denomination about trials. I have also listened as people from other denominations have shared their concerns and struggles. And, I’ve been involved in discussions about the struggles of ministries and denominations on a national level. All of these discussions have happened in just 2 weeks time!
In my 36 years of serving as a pastor I believe I am now seeing more conflict in the church than at any time since I began serving. Yes, at times congregations and church bodies and church workers make mistakes that deserve criticism, or at least some loving admonition. But, we also live in a time when our culture is more and more antagonistic toward institutions, such as the Church. So, all who serve in positions of authority are more and more open to criticism and attack. This criticism is aimed at Presidents, and police, at teachers and church leaders, doctors and nurses, and many others.
So, as I was preparing bulletins for May 17 I found that the assigned Gospel lesson for that Sunday is from John 17. The verses immediately following the assigned lesson are a prayer of Jesus. Amazingly, on the night that Jesus was betrayed He prayed for His disciples. Thankfully, on the night that Jesus was betrayed He prayed for us! Importantly, on the night that Jesus was betrayed He prayed for unity in the church. Having just listened to many people share about the conflicts and troubles in God’s Church, I read the words from Jesus’ prayer with an open heart.
20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. 23 . . . May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-22, 23 b)
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God’s people could find oneness and unity in the saving, sacrificial, love of Jesus?! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when there were disagreements, God’s people could sit and calmly and lovingly talk about God’s will as found in His word, before sharing our own thoughts? And, wouldn’t it be wonderful if, even when there is disagreement, we could treat each other with love as fellow children of God?
I have often shared with people that doing God’s work, sharing the love of Jesus, and spreading God’s kingdom of grace, is a wonderful and exciting work of faith. In fact, sharing the forgiveness and love of Jesus is a holy work, one of the chief purposes for which God has called us to live in faith as His children. The only problem is that God calls sinners to do this holy work. In some ways calling sinners to do God’s work is a recipe for disaster. In fact, if we look at the New Testament church we find disagreements throughout the churches of God.
Nevertheless, God has graciously sent His Son to die and rise to save sinful people like us. So it is a privilege to do the work of God, whether teaching Sunday School or cleaning bathrooms, singing in the choir or doing mission work. It is a privilege to do the work of God, even when there may be conflict.
In my personal devotions during the last two weeks I also read a prayer by William Laud, who lived from 1573 to 1645 and who once served the Church of England as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud’s prayer touched my heart. I share it with you and ask you to pray this prayer with me. And I ask my Lord to quickly and lovingly answer this prayer.
“Gracious Father, we humbly beseech Thee for Thy holy catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purge it; where it is in error, direct it; where it is superstitious, rectify it; where anything is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen and confirm it; where it is in want, furnish it; where it is divided and rent asunder, make up the breaches of it, O Thou Holy One of Israel, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen. (For all the Saints, volume 1, p. 1029)
Yes, there are conflicts in God’s church. After all, the church is composed of sinners whom Jesus calls to forgiveness. But, our Lord is stronger than the sin and division and death of this world. Jesus showed that power and love in His death and resurrection. And, Jesus prays for the unity of His Church, for oneness in His people. Will you join me as I join our Lord in this prayer?
A Child of God, Seeking to love others Because Jesus Loved Me,
P.S. During the week of April 27 – May 2 I have been on the MV Christian, the mission boat of Lutheran Indian Ministries. Along with me are St. John members Steve Arlow, who is captain of the MV Christian, and Gerry and Ruth Zellar. Our purpose on this trip is to reach out to young people in Kake and Angoon to attend the Alaska Youth Academy which teaches healthy choices and lifestyle. When that camp is held Pastor David Sternbeck of Lutheran Indian Ministries will provide devotional time and Spiritual guidance. Here are some pictures from our trip so far, April 27 – April 29. https://plus.google.com/photos/114993745799525883148/albums/6143410425127344625?banner=pwa
ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ - I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have. (I am always adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you don’t want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message. . .