But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
The entire history of creation hinges on the death and resurrection of Christ. His accomplished mission is the fulfillment of God’s purposes from all the way back in Genesis and to the end of time. The proclamation of that fulfillment began in earnest with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which is usually seen as the birth of the Christian Church as we know it. This mission continues throughout time and across the globe.
The presence of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit apply to us in Munster in A.D. 2020 just as much as anywhere or any year. The same Church that began in Jerusalem and spread throughout Judea and Samaria has long since come to Northwest Indiana, and we enjoy all the blessings of faith and salvation that God has to offer.
It is important to remember, though, that the Christian Church and the faith each one of us has personally in Jesus Christ are founded on a concrete event in time and place. It isn’t an idea of forgiveness or an abstract concept of grace and love. It in the Incarnation, the coming of God into Creation and His literal death and resurrection in which we place our hope. There is a perfectly worldly, seeable, tangible history and geography to the story of God. These are real places on a map. You can go there. It happened.
Christians have always made pilgrimages to see places and things that God used in important ways in the history of Christianity. Luther objected strongly to the pervasive idea that one could earn points with God by making pilgrimages. He didn’t object to the desire to see Biblical and historical things and so be built up in faith by a pilgrimage, but he insisted we bear in mind that doing so is not anything that earns salvation or that anyone has to do in order to be a good Christian. We have all the spiritual gifts we need right here in Munster.
Seeing the places the Bible tells us about can help us understand the Scriptures and the history of the faith in more concrete terms and bring the story to life, so to speak. Just as a Civil War buff might want to visit Gettysburg just to be able to picture the things he or she reads about, so a Christian might naturally want to see Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria even though what began there—the proclamation of Christ in Word and Sacrament-- is now available here.
I have been to Israel several times and have found the experience profoundly enriching. Pastor Stock is planning to go with a group of Circuit Visitors and district officials in January, and I suspect his experience will be similar. Not everyone gets a chance to do it. It is expensive and requires time and planning, and sometimes by the time people have the time and money to make it possible they no longer have the health, energy or desire to travel. But those who do get the chance to do it tend to feel very blessed by the opportunity.
Heidi and I are planning to lead another trip in a couple of years. If you think you might want to join us, the time is now to start planning. The plan is to do the Holy Land via Jordan, so we’ll see what Moses saw when he looked out over the promised land before he died as well as seeing the Promised Land itself, including Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. We plan to depart on March 21, 2022 (about 18 months from now) and be gone 10-11 days, much of which will likely be spring break here and in Munster schools.
More details to follow, but if it is something that works for you, we’d love to have you join us for what we hope will be an extremely enriching experience.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
March 31, 2020
The ongoing pandemic brings three things together that might not have much in common as topics-- new technology, prayer, and every Christian’s sense of being a stranger in a strange land. I want to share with you some of the good things going on here at church today that show how those three things interrelate.
First, new technology. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on our recorded church services, along with many good suggestions on how to improve them. Today we recorded a school chapel service for tomorrow morning. We used a new camera and recording system that looks extremely promising. Tomorrow morning we’ll be recording the Lenten service, and we will know how to do it with better sound and more versatile and interesting viewing.
For me, this was encouraging. I found it amazing how much potential this new system offers in terms of remote services and teaching. As I’ve aged, I’ve become less and less inclined to keep up with all the new technological innovations; we all tend to get comfortable in a groove with what is familiar. But this time of separation forced us to look at new ways of doing things, and some of those improvements will outlast the virus and the time of separation. Being forced to learn what I wouldn’t be otherwise inclined to learn has been humbling, to be sure, but also exciting. It takes away some of the helpless feeling we might get when it seems like the world is passing us by.
Which brings me to the topic of prayer. Technology certainly does amaze, but it has its limits. While it is a tempting mistake to just let the world of technological innovation pass you by, it is an even bigger temptation, and even more disastrous mistake, to look to technology and science for answers to the human condition in the long term. This is where prayer comes in. It became fashionable in recent years for people in the media to mock prayer as a do-nothing approach to our problems. That mockery, I’ve noticed, is gone. When a disaster strikes, people realize our essential helplessness. Yes, we look to scientists and technology for vaccines and cures for this virus. But dealing with the problem forces everyone to realize that there is no vaccine or cure for death itself.
Too often even Christians fall into the habit of thinking of prayer as a last resort, something to do when all else fails. It is really the first course of action given to us. I suspect and hope that this time of isolation has cause many members of St. Paul’s to refocus on prayer even as we focus more on technology. Whether we had to be forced into it or not, the fact remains that a Christian congregation filled with people active in prayer is a tremendously good and powerful thing. And I think we are one such congregation now even more than we were before this all hit. If nothing else, just that improvement can illustrate how God brings good out of evil.
The feeling of helplessness that inspires even the disinclined to learn new technology, and drives even those who don’t normally pray much to a healthier, more active prayer life, also strengthens every Christian’s yearning for home. No one will keep up with rapid changes of the world indefinitely. Everyone will at some point be able to sing “change and decay in all around I see.” And with an active prayer life, they can then sing the next line with confidence—“O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
You are a pilgrim in this world. The pageantry of history—pandemics, terror attacks, recessions, wars, elections, dangers and victories—continues to unfold in all of lives, no matter when we’re born and die. But we know this world and the whole story of it as centered in Christ and as something we pass through on our way to an eternal city. So we serve the Lord today, we take up our cross, but we always do so secure in the knowledge nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana