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Walking Together

The Pastor's Windshield for Sunday, July 24, 2022

[The following article is adapted from my sermon in a combined midweek service at Peace Lutheran on Weds, July 20, 2022.] 
In one of the Bible’s shortest books, John writes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
If you set out on an exercise program, you’re more likely to commit to it if you’re not doing it alone. You’ll be more likely to train if you have a training partner. You’ll get out of bed and go for that walk if someone is waiting to go walking with you …
In the church, our brothers and sisters in Christ are like our “walking buddies.” Your faith, participation and service spurs them on, and vice versa.  This has been God’s intention all along. Ever since he declared that it was “not good” for Adam to be alone, God has always been in the business of creating community among His people. The Scriptures, too, aren’t written for isolated believers.  They’re written for communities and churches of the faithful.
As a “grandfatherly” figure of the church in his time, John tells his recipients what brings him joy: he had no greater joy than to hear that God’s children were walking together in the Truth.
But that wasn’t just true of John. It’s true of our Lord Jesus Himself!  When we walk together in Him who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, as Jesus called Himself, then Jesus and all the company of heaven are filled with joy over us!  And as we walk together by faith in Jesus, we’re also heading toward the joy of Jesus’ everlasting presence that awaits all who believe and are baptized into Him. 
As Lutheran Christians began coming to these shores back in pioneer times, they settled in small groups in places like Michigan and Indiana and Missouri. But after arriving in the community with one another.
By 1847, 175 years ago this year, a gathering of Lutherans from eight different states convened in Chicago and officially formed a “Synod,” originally composed of fourteen churches. The pastors and representatives of these congregations traveled hundreds of miles by horseback or by boat. Being together was so important to them that they would undertake these long and dangerous trips.
Our church body is still called a “Synod.”  “Synod” is an ancient Greek word which simply means “walking together along the same road.” Walking together is not just the example of our LCMS founders, it’s what the Scriptures have been praising for thousands of years. A millennium before Christ, King David wrote, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) Sadly, it can seem like there’s so little of that unity in this world …
When Jesus began His ministry, He gathered His inner circle, the twelve disciples. Then, three years later, on the night before His death on the cross, Jesus prayed for His disciples that God the Father would grant them to be one in faith, just as Jesus is One with His Father. But Jesus was not just praying for the original disciples, but for all the generations of Christians who would follow, including us.
He said, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their Word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” (John 17:20-21) Jesus wants all who believe in Him to be one in faith, not just because it’s pleasant to be on the same page, but because of the witness of His Church.
When the people of God walk together in Faith and Hope and Love in Christ, it’s a powerful witness to the Truth of the Gospel!
Some of the places where the Lord has led me in my life have been places with a lot of Lutheran heritage. Not that long ago, the county I grew up in in Southern Illinois was 50% Lutheran! That’s very different from here in Arkansas. We Lutherans are sometimes few and far between in this part of the country. I’m sure you’ve run into people who have no idea what a Lutheran is!
But I think this means that we have an important responsibility:  God has called us to faith and placed us here “for such a time as this,” to walk together in His truth, and to be one in this Christian faith and to support one another in living Christ-like lives. 
As Missouri Synod Lutherans, we have something very important to offer our neighbors: we have God’s clear Word of Gospel! We believe, teach, and confess the Good News that God in Christ has saved us by grace, through faith in Christ, as revealed for us in Holy Scripture. As Lutheran Christians, we baptize both young and old (not just as a symbol) but for the forgiveness of their sins, just as the Scriptures promise. We gather at our Lord’s table to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We believe and teach that this, too, is more than just a reminder of Jesus, but it is a Means of Grace provided for us by Jesus Himself, by which we truly receive Him and the forgiveness and spiritual strength that only He can provide. 
One of the reasons I’m grateful to be an LCMS Lutheran is that we are clear in our stance on the Bible. We believe that the Bible is not a human concoction but that it is the true Word of God, just as Paul says to Timothy in the New Testament, that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching,” correcting, and equipping us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
As Lutherans, we stand firm on God’s Word, both when it comes to the Good News of our life in Christ, but also when it comes to God’s teaching on right and wrong, basic morality, the sanctity of human life, what it means to be a man or a woman made in the image of God, and many things that God’s Word makes clear for us.
I am grateful that the Lord has brought us together in Christ, and as fellow Missouri Synod Christians here in Conway and in a county now approaching 130,000 residents! From a missional perspective, God has brought His mission field right here to our doorstep!  We have a big responsibility as some of the only Lutheran congregations in the region. God has called us here for a reason: because our neighbors need us, and they need to hear that Good News of Jesus, just as we all do.
In this world, the church will face troubles. Jesus promised as much. Sometimes those challenges come from outside forces, and sometimes from within the church. It’s all because Satan will stop at nothing to attack Christ’s people and the ministry of the Gospel.
I think one thing most churches have in common is that they’ve had their struggles (things they wish to put behind them), and they’ve also had their “glory days,” perhaps times with fuller church pews and more ministry happening.
A friend of mine shared a metaphor with me about the past and the future. He compared the past to your rear-view mirror. You look back at it from time-to-time to gain perspective, but you don’t stay stuck there.  If you look at your rearview mirror all the time, you’ll end up in the ditch!  
Looking to the future is like looking through the windshield. It’s many times the size of your mirror and it’s much more important. As we “look through the windshield” into the future, we can’t see everything that’s ahead of us – only the Lord can – but we know that we want to avoid repeating some of the troubles of days past. More importantly, we know what the Lord wants for us as we go forward in faith: that is that we seek ways to walk together in His truth. 
At a minimum, this means that as fellow congregations of the same Synod, we are more than cross-town rivals. We’re partners in the ministry. We’re on the same team – the Lord’s!
We strengthen that partnership by gathering around the Word of God in our shared confession of faith, raising our voices together in prayer and praise to the Lord, sharing conversation and encouragement, and celebrating the Savior who unites us.
Because being members of a Synod means that we are walking together on the same road. Ultimately, it’s the road to the eternal life that awaits us, a road paved by our Savior Jesus Christ, who was born, died, rose, lives and reigns, and will return for us!
And it is His Church of which we are part. We are in this together to carry out His mission, to walk in His truth, and to proclaim His great salvation! So let’s pray for, speak well of, and support both of our respective congregations, just as we do for our wider Synod. 
Like “walking buddies,” let’s walk together in Him who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, Christ Jesus our Lord!
Peace in Christ,
                  Pastor Kory Janneke

Salutary Gifts

The Pastor's Windshield for Sunday, July 17, 2022

When was the last time you called something “salutary”? Probably never! It’s not in our everyday lingo. However, this word is rich with meaning. We sometimes hear this word in the communion liturgy in which the pastor says “It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord …” Those words (published in 1941) sound old-fashioned to our ears, but the meaning is simple: it’s always good and appropriate to thank and praise the Lord – and Holy Communion especially should be received with thanksgiving to Him!

Another time when the word “salutary” comes up is in this little prayer, often spoken after receiving Communion: “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another ...”

The “salutary gift” referenced in the prayer is the body and blood of Christ which we’ve just received at His Altar. But what are we saying about Communion when we call it “salutary”?

Here's an example of something that’s not necessarily salutary: one of my loved ones recently gave me a gift. It was a large bag of Andes Mints. I’m a big fan of both chocolate and mint and Andes Mints are the best of both worlds! It was a delicious gift and one that didn’t last long, but was it salutary? Sugar and chocolate are tasty and tempting, but probably not worthy of being called “salutary.”

Something that is salutary is good for you. It is wholesome and beneficial. Things like candy and junk food are fun treats, but we all know that they’re not as good for us as things like fresh fruits and vegetables. 

The Lord’s Supper is one of God’s salutary gifts for us because He gives it to His church for our good. As we receive Christ’s body and blood, He meets our greatest need: the forgiveness of our sins. Without Christ’s forgiveness, we’d face an eternity of God’s wrath toward our sin. But assured of our forgiveness for Christ’s sake, we can confidently approach God and look forward to spending eternity in His perfect presence!

The Lord’s Supper is also “salutary” in the sense of strengthening our union both with Christ and with one another, for we are His body as members of the church. 

Martin Luther had a creative way of illustrating the reasons for receiving this salutary gift. In his “Christian Questions and their Answers”, Luther addresses what we should do when we don’t feel the need to receive the Sacrament. He writes, “To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood … Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble … Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without …”

All three of those things are true of us. We still live in our sinful flesh. We still deal with the troubles of the world around us. We still face the constant assaults and temptations of the devil. These struggles should drive us to Christ and to his house where we join with our fellow sinner-saints in receiving Christ’s salutary gifts!

The introduction to our Lutheran Service Book hymnal offers this helpful summary: “Our Lord serves us today through His holy Word and Sacraments. Through these means, He comes among us to deliver His forgiveness and salvation, freeing us from our sins and strengthening us for service to one another and to the world … With His Holy Word, written in Scripture and preached into our ears, He daily proclaims His abiding love for us through all the joys and sorrows of life in this world. In His Holy Supper, He gives us His own body and blood to eat and to drink as a priceless gift to nourish and strengthen us in both body and soul.”

In closing, remember this: Jesus invites us to come and be nourished through the “salutary gifts” of His Word and Supper!

Peace in Christ,

                  Pastor Kory Janneke

The Impact of an Invitation

"The Impact of an Invitation"

The Pastor's Windshield for Sunday, July 10, 2022

It feels good to be invited to something. Wouldn’t you agree? It means a lot when someone takes the time to invite you over for a meal they’ve prepared. It’s fun to be invited to go watch a game together or to enjoy a concert or other social outing. For many of you, there was probably a time when you received an invitation to visit St. Matthew or previous churches that you attended. Without that invitation, your journey of faith perhaps would have unfolded differently.

A personal invitation can go a long way! We see a great example of an inviting approach by one of Jesus’ first disciples, Philip. John tells us about Philip in John 1:43-51. Jesus personally invited Philip to follow Him. Philip did! And one of the concrete ways that Philip followed Jesus was by immediately inviting his friend Nathaniel to join him. When Nathaniel voiced skepticism about Jesus of Nazareth, Philip didn’t try to argue with his friend. He simply extended the invitation: “Come and see” (John 1:46). Apparently, the invitation made an impact! Nathaniel (a.k.a Bartholomew) is numbered among Jesus’ original 12 disciples in all four Gospel books of the Bible.

Like Philip, we can invite our friends and loved ones to come and see Jesus. We do this by sharing the hope that we have because of Jesus, taking care to do so in a gentle and respectful way (1 Peter 3:15). We can invite loved ones to see Jesus by inviting them to come to worship and Bible class with us. For some folks, it may be better to first invite them to a more informal setting such as a meal or a service event. As we go forward together in ministry, there will be more opportunities like these. If there are times when it might be helpful for me to extend a more “pastoral” invitation to someone, please let me know. 

There are many strategies that churches employ to reach their communities and neighbors. Churches utilize technology, direct mail, large-scale events, and other means to attract visitors. However, research indicates that one of the simplest outreach strategies is still the best. A personal invitation from a trusted friend, family member or neighbor still carries more weight than other attempts of making those connections. 

I encourage you to be a modern-day Philip! Consider who you can invite to “come and see”! Invite them to come and see Jesus with you. Invite them to come and see who we are as a church and what we believe and teach. Invite them to join you on the journey of walking with our Savior Jesus!

“Gifts” for Our Guests

Once the folks we’ve invited take the step of joining us at church, then what? What are some of the best gifts you can give guests when they visit our church? What follows are some ideas that I’ve borrowed and adapted from a pastor friend from South Dakota, Rev. Scott Sailer. Here are four simple “gifts” that we can offer to guests and visitors:

The Gift of a Close Parking Spot - if you are able-bodied, consider parking further from the church entrance to open more close parking spots for visitors, elderly worshippers, or families with young children.

The Gift of a Place to Sit – if you’re able, try sitting at the center of your pew in church so that those arriving after you can find a spot at either end of the pew.

The Gift of Helpfulness - help someone find their place in the order of service, lend a hand to young parents with their children, point someone in the right direction to find restrooms, the church nursery, etc.

The Gift of Warmth - greet others with a smile, introduce yourself by name, and ask for the guest’s name and make a point to remember it. If you forget, just ask them to remind you of their name.

Those gifts don’t cost much – only a moment of your time or a bit of extra thought and attention, but they can make a big difference. God bless you as you invite others to come and see Jesus and as you take these little steps to help them feel welcome and valued in our midst!

Peace in Christ,

                  Pastor Kory Janneke