Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pick a Church Any Church?

Here in Collinsville we just finished an interesting program started by the Collinsville Area Ministerial Alliance. It was called "Pick a Church, Any Church." It was a big marketing campaign designed to get people to church for Easter. Seventeen congregations (GLSC included) kicked in $$$ to buy signs, print fliers, pay for ads, billboards, an automated call from Mayor John Miller, and an automated call from Congressman John Shimkus. Some of our members wondered about this program. "Pick a Church, Any Church?" That didn't sound like GSLC. They thought it should be "Pick a Church, My Church!"

I told them that the way I looked at it these churches weren't unified, but at least anyone who attended one of them for Easter could discover something good about Jesus. This might be a first step toward salvation, and it was better than sitting at home and doing nothing for Easter. I was trying to put on the best construction. Sometimes non-participation in something like this can send a wrong signal. It drew a lot of interest... Articles in the Post Dispatch, national ministry magazines, etc. I'm usually attend most CAMA meetings. I like my brother pastors and feel liked by them. But I am always the "fly in the ointment" when it comes to unity. I won't participate in the unity services on Thanksgiving and Good Friday. Most think as long as you believe Jesus is Lord, then everything is okay. Well, as it turns out the brothers aren't so unified as we might think. When each church made phone calls (we tried to call every home in Collinsville with volunteers), one church decided to add something at the end of the generic script... If you don't have church home, come to our church (with specific info). The script said they were to visit the website and take a look at the 17 churches and choose. So let's all just be honest here... Deep down we all want people to come to our church!

What about disunity in the church? What should we do about it?

First, we have to remember that since faith itself is a gift of God (Ephesians 2.8-10), then unity in the faith must also be a gift of God!

Second, if Jesus was concerned about unity, that means He saw the problems of disunity among the disciples, and He foresaw the problems of unity in the church... Almost every letter the Apostle Paul wrote dealt with disunity in the faith. (Galatians - Huge disunity over Judaizing; Corinthians - Total disunity!; Ephesians-Colossians - Incipient Gnosticism (philosophy of the world); Thessalonians - End Times; Romans - Jew/Gentile Issues; Timothy-Titus-Philemon - Need for faithful workers to carry on with a church that will always default toward disunity! Philippians might be the only exception, but it does deal with individuals who needed unifying!)

Third, there are two types of disunity... The first is doctrinal. Usually the first half of Paul's letter is a big effort to maintain doctrinal unity. The second half is a focus on living out that doctrine. Look at Ephesians... It is almost exactly half doctrine (chapters 1-3) and half practical application (chapters 4-6). So the second half has to do with our personal disunity of not living the faith consistently.

Disunity is a fact as sure as sin is a fact. It's going to happen. The only question will be whether we will recognize and deal with it!

The question isn't "Is there disunity?" The question is always "What should we be doing about the disunity?" The answer is the same as in the New Testament. Meet, study the Scriptures, discuss/debate, and pray... See Acts 15 and the Council at Jerusalem! That is the great effort that the Lutheran church began with the publishing of the Augsburg Confession and later the Book of Concord. Here's what we believe. Let's work together for the truth of God's word... Look at the introductions to both, and you'll see it's all about continuing the age-old work of maintaining the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4.3).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How Can the Resurrection Make a Difference in My Life When I Start Going Crazy?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The text for my Easter message is from Mark 16.6… probably the most important words ever recorded for us… “He is risen.”

There is probably nothing more important to know and believe in this life other than that God keeps His promises. Everything else in this life will fail us. But God’s promises never fail. Recently we have seen banks and large financial institutions that are in the business of being trustworthy and reliable, fail and collapse. Our country’s defense system, one of the most sophisticated and reliable in the world, was breached just a few years about by extremists who turned airplanes into lethal weapons and killed thousands of people. There are important lessons to be learned here. God’s word reminds us that “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118.8). We will never stop trying to make this world a better place. But we have to realize the limitations of those efforts. Our Easter celebration gives us another good opportunity to remember that trust in God’s promises is the only thing that will get us through this life.

Saturday, the day after Jesus died, must have been the worst day this world has ever seen. Imagine walking out to “The Place of the Skull” where Jesus was crucified and looking around at the blood spattered rocks, the footprints of the soldiers, and feeling the emptiness of a world without a Messiah. Perhaps you might have seen a few splinters of wood or a broken nail. But you wouldn’t have seen Jesus. Gone were those beautiful teachings, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…” Gone were the miracles “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11.43). Gone was the compassion and the hope. Finally the sun would set on that sad day. For the disciples of Jesus it must have been a day of unimaginable pain and despair.

Have you had days like that? Days of unimaginable pain and despair? If you haven’t you will. The phone will ring. Someone you dearly love will have come to the end of their life. You have relied so heavily on this person for so long, how will you be able to go on in life without them? Your boss will call you in to tell you that your job is being cut. What will you do? How will you provide for your family? You thought the cough you had was just a lingering cold. But x-rays confirm that you have cancer growing in your lungs. You cry for hours. You can’t sleep or eat. You are just numb. Then you begin to ask God why? Why all this pain? Why all this disappointment? Can you imagine the questions the disciples must have been asking on that very sad Saturday after the crucifixion? Two of them did say, “We were hoping it was He who would redeem Israel?” (Luke 24.21). All their hopes and joys were dashed… Dashed by an unfair trial and a gruesome death on a cross. Surely they must have also asked, “Why?” and “What’s next?” and “How can I go on?”

But a few of the disciples did push on… the women in particular… who returned to the tomb the next day to complete the burial. I’m sure they were still numb with grief as they carried their spices. But God in His mercy and being true to His very nature did not allow them to finish that burial. He kept His promises. He brought life up out of death and raised His Son. He fulfilled Jesus’ words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Suddenly the word began to spread. “He is risen!” And tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy. The disciples remembered that Jesus has said this would happen. God kept all of His promises.

Sometimes when life really has me on my knees I pray like this… Dear God, I know You are there. I know that You can hear me. I know that You will help me… I know that Jesus rose from the dead! That last part doesn’t really seem to fit, but it does. The resurrection is God’s way of showing us that He keeps His promises to us. If there was ever a promise that seemed to fail, it must have been the promise of the Messiah… It must have been the promise that by giving it all up in death, Jesus would save the whole world. You see this is what Satan must have been telling Jesus in Gethsemane… “It’s not going to work. It’s not going to make a difference. Give up on God’s promises.” But of course He didn’t give up. So when Satan comes to us with the same lies… that trusting God in His word doesn’t work… We just need to remember that Jesus showed us that it does. Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. When you start to go crazy, just say that to yourself.

St. Paul says that when we die we are like seeds that are sown into the ground. These seeds have to die, that is our lives have to come to an end. But because they are God’s seeds and contain God’s promises in their hearts, they do not stay buried. They rise again to eternal life. This is God’s promise of the resurrection. As Christ has been raised so will we be raised. The same can be said for our “little deaths” that we have to experience in this life… the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the broken relationship. When these sad experiences are mixed with faith, they too are buried in the ground only to sprout anew into something even better than before. This is what Paul meant when he said that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8.28). The psalmist wrote long ago, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy” (Psalm 126.5). That is, those who sow with repentance and faith will bury their problems and reap the joy that God promises as life goes on.

In the jungles of East Asia a missionary showed a movie about Jesus. This was the first movie these people had ever seen, and so they didn’t realize that this was something that had actually happened in the past. As the movie began they were very impressed with Jesus who could heal the sick and who showed so much compassion to everyone. But when the soldiers began to beat him, they began to jump up and shout and demand that they stop. The missionary had to interrupt the movie to explain that there was more to come. Again when Jesus was being crucified, they screamed for the outrage to stop, and again the missionary had to stop the film to explain there was more to come. Finally, when they came to the end of the movie and Jesus rose from the dead, they broke into pandemonium and celebration as Jesus kept His promises.

So this Easter I urge you to cling to all the promises of God and to remember that as the promise of salvation in Christ goes… so go all of God’s promises. They will be fulfilled, and we can live on in that hope. No matter what happens in this life, the resurrection will always mean, “Don’t despair. There’s more to come.” Amen.

Pastor Michael P. Walther
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois
Resurrection Sunday, April 12, 2009