It has been a brutally difficult year, year plus. Personally, for the congregation, and certainly for what has been going on around us. Personally my wife had a very devastating stroke and after months is still not walking reliably. Of course the violence in our cities this past summer sparked by left-wing terror groups has raised tension enormously, especially when efforts by law enforcement are undercut by politicians who are only interested in their personal advancement. This is causing all of us feelings of insecurity whether there will be protection in case of assault, violence and destruction.
What I wanted to focus on in particular is our church. The loss just in the past year has been staggering. Six life-time members, pillars of the church went to be in the presence of the Lord. Certainly we are thankful that they are in the bliss and pain-free comfort of Christ, but it certainly impacts the church at such loss. Quick note, none of them were a victim of COVID. Those who have left: Rich Bower, Jan Kohler, Jack Fernwalt, Anna Lepter, Sam Marcus, Renee Coxon. All in their own right faithful and strong members of Christ’s church in their own right. They are missed. Whenever I preach I especially feel it for those who were so regular in attendance. Even in my short time here I remember where they sat and what they would say and do in worship.
It has been enormously difficult to minister, to even know what to do in the environment of disease. In all this it is easy to believe that the church may be in its last days. I see it more as a way to cull out a lot of “churches” that weren’t really about Jesus and more about numbers and the glorification and benefit of the pastor. Some of those churches have lost up to 75% of their membership. My hypothesis, those people saw that church as a place that simply could not step in times of difficulty. They were more about entertainment than serving in times of crisis and loss. Many have not just rejected the church, but also Christ. I would not want to be the pastor who has to answer to that responsibility at the final judgment. Churches like that set people up to fail and maybe even eternal condemnation. This is usually about pastors who are not sufficiently trained and educated and make very poor choices.
Those who are in Christ and faithful have done their best to be part of worship and fellowship in the Body of Christ, Jesus. Those are the faithful churches that will bring their people through the stormy seas.
The Christian church has, is and will go through enormously difficult times and has not just grown but thrived. Under the humanistic-secularism of the 20-21st centuries, we have seen the secular, leftist governments of the world relentlessly persecuting, torturing, murdering hundreds of millions of Christians. These are people whose only offense is to worship, live in Christ and present Him to others. Those in the humanist, which really means anyone who isn’t Christian and even some who call themselves Christian, are relentless in their mindless hatred and violence towards Christians who simply want to live their life according to God’s guidance.
The good news is that the church has survived much more difficult times and will continue to survive as God lifts up the faithful remnant who continue to serve His Church.
CFW Walther had a really great perspective using the event of Jesus being in the fishing boats during a storm (Matthew 8: 26-27). Rev Dr Walther writes this in the middle of the 19th century, as I said, very little has changed. Dr Walther suffered persecutions in his home country of Germany. He writes:
“Here we have an inexpressibly comforting picture of today’s Church. The world, with its learniing and power, it like a sea stirred up by a strong storm. It attacks the ship of the Church, whose destructin appears to be inevitable, and it seems as if Christ is asleep at the helm. The members of the Church, who are still of little faith, already cry out in despair: ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing!’ Many, full of doubts, may abandon the ship of the Church and plunge back into the sea of the world. Yet there is no cause for alarm. Christ remains aboard out ship and according to His divine omniscience, omnipotence and care. He does not sleep. When His hour comes, He will rise up, rebuke us for our little faith and say to the wind-driven sea of the world, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the world will be stilled and the ship of the Church will enter intothe harbor of heaven. For Christ has promised, ‘On this rock [He means Himself] I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18), and ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matt 28:20).
So let us not lose heart, even in these last, troubled, times. Let us not forsake the ship of the Church, thinking it will soon sink. We would eternally regret our decision, for outside this ship, there is no salvation, just as there was no rescue for those who were not aboard Noah’s ark. As that ark smoothly navigated through the flood and finally cane to rest, save and sound on Mount Ararat, so too will the ship of the Church pass through the world’s stormy sea and finally rest on the eternal mountains of divine grace. Then we who have remained true n the faith will have our turn to cry out, full of amazement. ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him? And we will have all eternity to rejoice in the answer to that question.” ( translated by Gerhard P Grabenhofer “God Grant It Daily Devotions from CFW Walther pp 167-168)
I have been on the sea in very stormy weather. I would venture to guess that I have been on actual stormier seas than I would say that the world is in right now. There is definitely rough seas. We lose relatives, we lost brothers and sisters, those who were so important in our church life. We weather the events of an evil world that is much more interested in abusing each other and others than in any kind of truth or peace. The world mouths the words of “peace, love, safety”, but will have none of it, even after it has enslaved or murdered fellow citizens and stolen all the treasure there is to steal.
The Church of Jesus, the true Body of Christ, the ark of the Church has delivered its people over and over again through the storms of the world. The Ark of the Church will deliver us. If it is to be in the presence of the Lord and shortly afterwards to the eternal resurrection, where we live bodily in the world eternally to live the way God had intended us to live! Well so be it! That is our ultimate and eternal life. But until then the church will be here to provide comfort and defense against the world. We will always have safety in Christ’s church and brothers and sisters in Jesus.