Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Kansas City has been very good to Amy and me in many ways. Here, we’ve made many friends and acquaintances. She’s been here for twenty-five years; I’ve been here almost nine. Familiar grocery stores—Dollar General, Hy-Vee, Price Chopper—have welcomed us with familiar smells. Customer service folks have greeted us with cheerful “hellos” and smiles. Libraries have given us books and movies. They’ve taken our occasional overdue fine payments. And, I am thankful for 24 Hour Fitness and Great Clips. I know most of the stylists, trainers and front desk helpers by name. Counselors and doctors, too, have given us a lot of help here in town. We love Dr. Mowry’s bedside/office manner, always cordial, straightforward and up front about how our health is. I’ve never had a more welcoming church family than at Holy Cross Lutheran. From day one of my visiting here for house hunting, they’ve reached out to me. I found in Pastor Stirdivant an awareness of his shortcomings—in speech and comfortability around lots of people—even as he carried out His preaching, teaching and doling out Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. He was the first in town to notice my book collection, remarking how a copy of Craig Parton’s THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS lay on my coffee table the first day he visited me. And, when I said I hadn’t given up the desire to serve the Church as a pastor, he simply said, “Good.” Along with Pastor Bolland, Pastor Stirdivant’s voice rang throughout the nave at Holy Cross like a brass trumpet, putting God’s Law and Gospel right into my ears. Both men sought to shepherd the congregation in hardcore, unwavering faithfulness to what’s written in the Scriptures and exposited in the Lutheran Confessions.No wonder, the undying message of life from conception to natural death permeated every sermon. And, under their relentless care for everyone, we at Holy Cross donated to any number of charities in the area. When the outreach for blind and visually impaired switched host congregations, I began attending Calvary. There, Pastor Bereuter welcomed me with no strings attached. He’d welcomed Amy in the same way. And, he saw us through our very short engagement. He’s passionate about getting the good news of Jesus into folks’ ears. And his arms always open for hugging people as we process through the outside door. All this and, perhaps, more Amy and I will leave when going to Fort Wayne. Why? The Lord calls us to Fort Wayne. He gives me the opportunity to show myself approved—teaching me how best to handle His Word. He opens new doors ahead. Friendships? Godwilling, we’ll maintain the friendships we’ve made here even as we leave our immediate closeness behind. Impromptu dinners out with Joel or Penny and Sussie, seeing so many familiar faces before and after church, calling up Curt when the car needs a tweek…and babysitting little Clark? Amy and I will certainly miss these opportunities and many more. How different this is than my more rambunctious days transitioning between college and Concordia-St. Louis! Then, I always had Mom and Dad in my back pocket, or at least their voices and admonitions no matter what situation I encountered. I had their wants and concerns and needs in mind when running up against some forms of opposition. I also carried a huge suitcase of my own vendettas and fears cloaked in a kitty-cat’s vesture. When I reflect on Peter’s statement to Jesus about leaving everything behind to follow Him, I think on how every pastor or pastor-to-be looks to the cross of Christ our Savior. For as we leave behind many things to be formed into servants who teach the faithful, reach the lost and care for all, we are lavished with Jesus sustenance, righteousness and daily forgiveness. That's worth much more than its weight in gold, silver or countless dollar bills.
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith." (SMALL CATECHISM, explanation of the third article of the Apostles' Creed) That’s why our Lord Jesus calls and sends out pastors—to teach the faithful, reach the lost and care for all. People need Jesus’ salvation, life, love and forgiveness. So, He preaches it to them. He washes them in it and marks His cross on them. He fills their ears, heads and hearts full of absolution, forgiveness for their daily sin. He places His body and blood into their mouths to further sustain their faith and fill them with two hundred proof pardon. Jesus does this through the real hands of men He's called and ordained as servants of His Word just as He Himself took on our human nature when born of Mary. Being accepted into pastoral formation at Concordia Theological Seminary yesterday was very humbling for me. I’d received that call before, when applying for Concordia Seminary-St. Louis’s Master of Divinity program in the 1990s. I squandered that time of preparation by being too immature, verbose and impatient to the point of losing my temper often. Yet, our Lord Jesus is slow to anger, full of forgiveness and abounding in steadfast love. He’s nurtured me in that patience and love my whole life long and has worked in me to curb such spats. Thanks be to Him for putting family—especially my wife—and friends and pastors who have counseled and prayed for me over the years since my half-vicarage in Connecticut came to a blustery end. So, this fall I will begin taking classes at Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne, classes taught by men who will help form me for Word and Sacrament ministry. Through these men, He’ll teach me anew how to apply His commands and promises to people’s real lives. After all, we live in a shattered and corrupted world tossed between cultural licentiousness and man-made legalism. Yes, people need Jesus—the Jesus who was conceived and born, died and rose, ascended and is returning for us. We endeavoring to preach Christ and Him crucified, will learn not to proclaim ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as His servants. After all, He has shined the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ for us and all the world to see and trust. In Him is that life that enlightens man, who can only hear the Gospel by someone preaching it to them. Now, as my wife, Amy, and I look ahead to seminary, many plans and questions greet us. How will we sustain ourselves financially and emotionally during this formation? How will we find housing? What friends will we meet who will support us over the next few years? How might we best adapt to make our transition to Fort Wayne a smooth and God-pleasing experience? And, along the way, how will our Lord continue using us to touch lives with His Gospel of salvation? I certainly desire a noble task. Jesus has given me this opportunity to train for service—rightly handling His Word. To Him who is able to accomplish all these things and uphold me in His grace be all glory and honor now and forever.