Dear Members and Friends of St. John,
In our Promise Keepers men’s gathering on Tuesday night at St. John, we got into a complicated discussion about living in forgiveness. Actually, this wide-ranging attempt to understand God’s word came from our Bible study. In 1 Peter 2:9 we are told that God calls us as His “chosen people” for the purpose of witnessing to Him, “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
But, according to this section of Scripture, our witness is done more so from holy lives, than from well-aimed words. In 1 Peter 2:12, just 3 verses later, Peter describes this witness. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” The point of this verse is that, on Judgement Day, people will praise and glorify God because they were led to faith and to salvation by the witness of the lives of God’s people. That is quite a witness!
But, while talking in this wide-ranging discussion about this high standard of Christian living, one man asked a question about marriage and divorce. Our assigned Gospel reading last Sunday stated what can be considered another hard saying of Jesus. 11 He [Jesus] answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery." (Mark 10) That seems like a pretty high standard, especially in today’s world.
Ultimately, we all fall short of the demands of God’s law. (See Matthew 5) All Christians ultimately live in the grace of God found in the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross. We need Jesus and His forgiveness for our lives. Therefore, rather than living “Better than Thou” lives that speak judgement on others, Christians are called to live humble lives as sinners who are holy because we are forgiven by God. We are called to live as forgiven sinners whose hearts are changed so that we want to serve God in faith and with holy lives. We had quite a discussion on Tuesday night!
Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer is president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and writes a regular devotion. He wrote about forgiveness in his Wednesday devotion, following our Tuesday evening discussion. After the contentious and divisive confirmation Supreme Court hearings last week in Washington, Dr. Meyer wrote that God calls Christians to live as people who are forgiven, and who are ready to forgive others. Speaking from that attitude of humility and grace would be a real witness in today’s divided world.
As our Tuesday night discussion rolled around in my mind and heart, Dr. Meyer’s “thoughts” seemed to add to our conversation. I share these deep thoughts with you, hopefully not to confuse you, but to point us all to our real hope, to Jesus!
Dr. Meyer writes:
“I’m sorry, but now that you’ve told me how you saw things, I understand where you were coming from. Do you see where I was coming from?”
Have you ever been in a conversation like that? I’ve been wrestling with the legacy of Christopher Columbus. Traditionally we’ve honored him on Columbus Day for discovering America, although there’s doubt he was the first. Italians use the day to celebrate their ethnic heritage, although Columbus sailed under the Spanish flag. But today more and more cities and states have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. I see where they’re coming from. In his journal for October 11, 1492, Columbus wrote, “They should be good and intelligent servants, for I see that they say very quickly everything that is said to them. And I believe that they would become Christians very easily, for it seemed to me that they had no religion.” (Online, “Fortune” on “Smart News,” October 7). Columbus took six natives of Haiti as his slaves. He’d tell you his words and actions were common conduct for the time, but if you asked the slaves how they saw things… I presume the two sides never talked. Power won.
More and more we see demonstrations against this, that or whatever. Some are peaceful, others not. Public officials are harassed at restaurants and at home. Protesters block roads. Personal phone numbers made public. If you’d ask the protesters, they’d say they’re totally justified in their disruptive behavior, but if you ask the persons and families harassed… Intimidation is a power-play but doesn’t make for civil conversation. It’s symptomatic of our “me-first” culture, not unlike Columbus taking slaves. It was acceptable in his circles.
It’s different when true followers of Jesus have conflicts. They talk about it in a context of forgiveness. “You know I’ve come predisposed to forgive you, and I talk knowing that you’re ready to forgive me.” Being ready to forgive makes those conversations much easier than the power play “You’re wrong and have to apologize.” That’s law, not Gospel. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The constant question for a follower of Jesus: Am I predisposed to forgive?
My question from all this is, “Does my life witness to God’s grace and forgiveness for me, as I seek to live ‘predisposed to forgive’ others?” Christian life is not easy. But, living in the grace of Jesus is just the witness our world needs today.
A Child of God, Seeking God’s Grace To Witness to God's Love Through A Humble, Forgiven, and Forgiving Life,
P.S. Here are some pictures from our beautiful fall sunsets.
P.P.S. Here are pictures of the first day of confirmation. We had 26 students! (And 5 students couldn’t make it!)
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 regularly adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.