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
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Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana