Bishop and Christian*, November 2016

This year, November 27 is the First Sunday in Advent. That means that we begin a new church year, and enter again into the life of Jesus, from prophecy through the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Here’s the challenge for you: to participate in the entire church year. Yes. I’m asking you to be in the Lord’s House every Lord’s Day and on festivals, too. And that should include corporate Bible study, particularly on Sunday morning. [If you’re reading this and you’re not a member of Faith, then take up the challenge in your own congregation.] To let the rhythm of the church year, and the weekly rhythm of Word and Sacrament, order your days and your months and your year. To refuse to let the world order your life. To refuse to be conformed to this world, with its priorities and schedules and what it considers important; and, instead, to be transformed in the renewing of your mind as the Holy Spirit brings you the Word of God each and every week.

Why? Because the Lord commands it, first of all. Honor the Sabbath Day, by keeping it holy. We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. Jesus has fulfilled the Sabbath by resting in the tomb on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. Then He rose, and we participate in the eternal Sabbath rest by being where our risen Lord is. We are not made holy by all the work we do throughout the work, as necessary and important as it is. We are made holy only by the Word of God, which He freely gives to us, especially when we gather together as the Body of Christ in this particular place.

Second, because gathering together around Christ as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament is simply what the Church does. Christians love to hear the voice of their Good Shepherd and be fed by Him, so they go to the place where they know He is present to speak and to feed. Does the simple action of going to church on a Sunday make you a Christian? Of course not. But I guarantee that not going to church will mean that, sooner or later, you will no longer be a Christian. The branch cannot live long apart from the Vine.

We don’t go to church because we like it, or because we prefer it, or because it makes us look good, or because we really like the people or the pastor. We go because we know that Christ is there, in Word and Sacrament, to give us what we need. Jesus is at the center of the Divine Service, just as He is at the center of the Scriptures. Everything else is secondary—not unimportant, but secondary.

What if we have problems with the pastor or with other people? The fact is, the Scriptures nowhere command that pastors and people have to like each other (though it certainly makes things easier!). What is commanded is love, respect, and prayer for each other. Perhaps the “liking” follows. Or perhaps not. Personalities are different. Even so, that is no excuse for not loving, respecting, or praying for each other. We may not bear false testimony against our neighbor, which means that we must fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. Put the best construction on everything. The world knows nothing of this. Will the Church be conformed to the world and take pleasure in destroying the reputations of people and congregations we don’t like? Or will the Church bear witness to Christ’s love by loving, respecting, and praying—even for those we don’t like or whose personalities clash with ours? That is our Lord’s command, and it runs—maybe more than any other command at the moment—completely contrary to the way the unbelieving world does things.

So, the challenge: be in the Lord’s House every time His Word and Sacrament are given out for the entire church year; and to love, respect, and pray at all times for the other members of the Body of Christ in this place. This is what the Church is, and this is what the Church does.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

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