One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Titus 1:12
This is any interesting verse on the topic of stereotypes. Paul is instructing Titus on how to establish Christian congregations among the Cretans. He quotes a famous saying by the great Cretan prophet/wise man Epimenides (c. 600 B.C.). Yet St. Paul quotes this famous pagan about the terrible general character of Cretans in the midst of instructing Titus to appoint elders throughout Crete. He is to appoint men who are trustworthy, sober, upright, and disciplined. Where would Titus find such men in Crete if the Cretan saying were true?
Every pagan culture, in Crete or anywhere else, produced general behavior at odds with sound Christian living. Yet Christ died for the Cretans and everyone else, and the Christian Church is/was to go throughout the entire world. Every Christian comes from and lives in a particular culture. That means we must live with the tension of competing loyalties. One didn’t cease being Cretan by becoming Christian, but Cretan Christians had to buck their own culture in some ways, just like Christians from other parts of the world had to overcome other cultural roadblocks. Our earthly culture—national, regional, ethnic, familial, whatever—can only ever demand our penultimate (second from the highest) loyalty.
... read Pastor Speckhard's full message
Christians must never let any group-identity become their identity, and they must never force other people to fit into the box of a group-identity. But given how difficult a topic this is, I ask the members of St. Paul’s to watch the video linked below. It is an interview presentation by Rev. Dr. John Nunes, who has visited us here at St. Paul’s and who is now president of Concordia-Bronxville. The introduction lasts about four minutes before the real presentation starts: Interview with Rev. Dr. John Nunes
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment… I Cor. 1:10
St. Paul knew that worldly divisions and false teachings can both creep into a Christian congregation and destroy the unity we have by faith in Christ. When that happens, the immediate impulse is to separate into camps. That kind of disunity then leads to physical separation. But such separation is not God’s or St. Paul’s goal for a healthy congregation.
One of the great blessings of gathering for worship is that it forces us to focus on the eternal good we have in common rather than anything earthly that divides us. We see young, middle-aged, and elderly; single, married, and widowed; black, brown, and white; Republican, Democrat, and apolitical/other; people who seem to have it all together and people who struggle to make it through the day (and sometimes we guess wrong which are which). But we all receive the same blessings in Christ and are made a family.
The pandemic has caused most of us to participate in worship remotely. The ability to do that has blessed people tremendously. The gift of technology meant being stuck at home did not have to mean being cut off from God’s Word as proclaimed by our church family at St. Paul’s. The big stumbling block, of course, was how to receive communion remotely. We’ve hopefully overcome that hurdle for the time being by assuring our membership that we will bring communion to those who do not feel safe coming to church. But there is another stumbling-block to worshipping remotely that we might not even be aware of; worshipping at home allows one to withdraw into a “camp,” without even meaning to, safely unconfronted by the array of people God calls into His family here.
Selfishly, we miss our friends, of course, when we don’t get to see them on a Sunday. And that is a real hardship. But worshipping at home also provides the very dangerous, worldly benefit of allowing you not to see or think about the people in your church family you’re just as glad not to encounter in worship. Worshipping at home, the person with a MAGA hat out in the car is not confronted by the fact that the person he or she is singing with and in communion with has a RESIST hat out in the car, and vice versa. The one who thinks young people are misguided isn’t confronted by the faithful young person, and the young person who thinks old people just don’t care isn’t confronted by the caring elderly person. Blue Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter are forced to realize their deeper unity when they worship together as baptized children of God. When they worship in their living room, though, they’re allowed to worship from within their own little mental/emotional/political shell.
All this is to say that unity has never been more important and never been more endangered. The temporary necessity of worshipping at home takes away one of the strongest forces for unity, which is worshipping together physically, and is happening when worldly divisions have never been more influential. My concern is that people are looking for ways to change to a new normal of worshipping remotely, and I think that new normal would be unhealthy for all of us.
Many things are beyond our control, of course, and each of us deals with a separate set of health risk factors relating to the pandemic. Those who are or who feel unsafe in worship should continue worshipping from home and receiving the gifts of grace through the proclaimed Word, and receiving communion periodically, if possible, via a pastoral home visit.
To those who are beginning to get out and about more now that the guidelines are loosening up, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to worship in person rather than remotely. If you are not at risk in public places where solid health guidelines are followed, make sure the church service is one of the places you physically come to rather than take in remotely. As St. Paul appealed to the Corinthians, I appeal to you—be a force for unity in the church family by being here if you are able. You will be blessed to be a blessing.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands… Rev. 7:9
In this time of tremendous turmoil and division, a vision of divine peace and unity soothes the soul. One of the great blessings of life in the church is that sometimes we get a worldly, visible picture of what we know to be the deepest spiritual realities that usually remain hidden.
All congregations have particular histories. As Christians took the Gospel throughout the world, congregations started up in different nations speaking different languages. When people started coming to America from all those tribes and peoples and languages, the Christians naturally founded new congregations, still in their own language and usually with the kind of art and architecture they were used to and all the trappings of the culture they came from. So we ended up with all kinds of Christian congregations crowding the same towns.
But over time most people began to have the same language; ideally the churches should have merged into one. But important doctrinal differences were hard to overcome, and in any event the old ethnic divisions remained. Throughout history and even today in the news we see so much bitterness and suspicion between people from different backgrounds and especially with different skin color. Times like these provide stark contrast to the Biblical view of the great throng of God’s people robed in the righteousness of Christ praising God together.
St. Paul’s, like every Christian congregation, has a particular history. It was founded by a group of people who mostly came from Germany at the time spoke German. That time is past. Our congregational history is German, but our congregational mission is not. The mission of every congregation is simply to be the people of God gathered around His Word and Sacraments, joining in earthly communion with the whole heavenly host. And we know that ethnicity has nothing to do with that.
That’s why it was so great this week to see our confirmation and graduation services be multi-ethnic events. We got to see a little bit of a picture of the spiritual reality that is so hard for sinners in a fallen world to realize—the family of Christ, people of all nations and tribes gathered together around the blessings of Christ and giving thanks to the God and Father of us all.
We’re all sinners in this world, and no congregation achieves the heavenly vision in this world because we all drag our bitterness, resentment, and fears wherever we go. But Christ in His mercy forgives and renews, and promises that when finally see Him face to face we will free of such things at last. Until then, we revel in His forgiveness and every opportunity He gives us not to go by worldly divisions but by spiritual reality.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Ps. 4:8
Unsettling. If you have been following these daily updates from the beginning you might remember the first Sunday without church here, when I began the update with one word-- disorienting. Everything seemed off, wrong, somehow messed up being a pastor on Sunday morning and not having anything to do. Well, that was back when the pandemic was the only problem we faced. Today we have civil unrest, and again I want to start the update with one word—unsettling.
The massive stone wall across Calumet Avenue is an unsettling sight. Yes, it is there for understandable reasons, just like I was home on a Sunday for understandable reasons. But that wall is still unsettling. As a symbol, it seems like the sort of thing you see in war-torn countries that have been racked by chaos. We saw things like that on our trip to Egypt, for example. But we never expected to see things like that in Munster. It feels wrong, off, out of place, messed up, even if it makes perfect sense on a practical level.
Unsettling. In some ways, that is the point of civil unrest—to unsettle things that had settled in an unsatisfactory way. The settled state of ongoing tension and conflict between law enforcement and many minority communities needed to be unsettled. It was unsustainable. Its historical foundation was bad, leading in some cases to gross injustice and murder of people in custody and in other cases to people suffering in lawless neighborhoods where criminals worked with impunity. It couldn’t last. This can be time of re-examining assumptions, acknowledging problems, and rebuilding on a firmer foundation, so that what settles can benefit all citizens with just and fair law and order.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares the goal of just and fair law and order. People who oppose law and order generally tend to co-opt any unsettling situation and turn it into a frenzied time of lawlessness and destruction. Anarchists, common criminals, opportunists, and nihilists cling like leeches to peaceful protests. Hence the need for massive stone walls, police on every corner, and the constant threat of escalated confrontation. Sad. Necessary. Unsettling to look at.
Our St. Paul’s family includes people of all races and people of all political persuasions. We aren’t held together by anything worldly, we’re held together by something much stronger that cannot be unsettled. No matter what any of us is feeling or thinking about current events, we know our ultimate security, and our ultimate unity with each other, is in our Lord. We must resist dividing ourselves and our church family along the familiar lines the world is always categorizing us by. We have a deeper unity.
In that deeper unity, we give thanks for the ways God provides for us, including the many law enforcement officers and first responders in our congregation who volunteer to risk their lives protecting people of all races and who serve honorably. In that unity, we pray for victims of injustice, including injustice at the hands of dishonorable or racist first responders, and for a more just society to emerge from this time of unrest. In that unity we pray for peace across worldly dividing lines of any kind. And in that unity we thank God for the law and order in which are privileged to live, asking him to allow everyone in our midst to enjoy the comfort and security of that blessing.
But in the end it is not the stone wall that allows us to sleep soundly at night. It is the promise of the Gospel, that this fallen world is redeemed in Christ, that we are brothers and sisters in Christ because we are children of the heavenly Father. In that knowledge, and only in that knowledge, we can rest secure in any unsettling situation, for God alone makes us dwell in safety.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana