As most of you know, we were away for a good part of January; almost half. We spent the time enjoying the south Florida sunshine, doing a lot of painting (walls that is) and just recharging our batteries. I had the opportunity to lead the worship and bring the Word of God to the people at Shepherd of the Coast Lutheran Church in Fort Lauderdale, which is the congregation that our daughter Beth serves, and came away with a number of impressions and insights about what they do that compares and contrasts with what we do.
When we travel all of us have the opportunity to experience new things, to try out something different. If you go by air there are rental cars to deal with. I look at it as a chance to test drive other makes and models than what we have (not that we will be buying any cars in the near future…I hope). In some cases I’ll say, “Yeah, I could drive this everyday” while others, well, not so much. Different parts of the country, and especially the world, offer lots of different things to eat than what we might be used to and makes up our regular menu. Some even break into our rotation once we get home. Vacation time gives us the gift of being able to sample new things to see what we like and don’t like.
One of my favorite things though is visiting other churches; LCMS where they’re available. I can see what happens in their worship and in the life of that congregation and in some cases bring those ideas back to implement here at St. John’s. Sometimes these visits affirm the things that we do, and sometimes they challenge me to think that there could be a better way for us to go. Churches are different. They have to be, because they are filled with different people, led by different pastors. Styles of worship differ, and even in those styles there are often dramatic variation on how it plays out. That’s all okay. There are no mandated orders of service in the Word of God, but one thing must remain a constant, and that is the Word of God. Everything that we do as a Church, as in the entire Church on earth, must be founded, grounded and built on that Word.
Ever since Christmas, I keep being drawn to one particular verse of Scripture. It was part of the Gospel lesson on Christmas morning. John 1:14 tells us; “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Son of God, the living Word himself took on humanity; human nature. He became one of us. He became all of us! So that He could reconcile the world to God the Father and save us from sin, death and the devil. As the new Man, the second Adam, Jesus struggled against that nature each and every day of his life, about 33 years, and never once gave into temptation. Think about it. God came down from heaven, took on flesh, sinful flesh, never once gave into it, and then died the death of all sinners for all time. He actually became the totality of the world’s sin and rebellion against God and died under its weight to destroy its power over us. It was in that sacrificial death for all mankind that his glory is ultimately revealed. It’s on display in his cross, a cross that we are called to take up and bear, and to share.
The Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ, is truly God and has come from the Father. As God in the flesh He never changes. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He goes on to add; “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.” (Hebrews 13:9) The world wants us to adapt, change, to suit its desires…its demands. We can never do that. What right does the world have to make demands of the Church, the Body of Christ? If we give in to “diverse and strange teachings” we lose the true Christ. We’ll be worshiping an idol, eating at the world’s table and our salvation is lost. Hebrews 12:2 states; “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” He is our only hope of salvation, and He alone is the one we must follow.