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Posts by Ray Hartwig
In the cathedral in Cambridge, England, the cushion of a kneeler has embroidered on it (so I have been told) just two words: “Think…Thank.” Etymologically, the two words are said to originate from the same root word, which comes as no surprise. It’s just what we do. When something causes us stop to think, we also stop to thank, also amid unlikely circumstances.
We saw this again a week ago after the 85 tornados devastated parts of the Midwest. Even as residents of communities struck by the storms dug themselves out of the rubble of their former blessings and began to think about their considerable losses, how often their thoughts focused on their remaining blessings and turned to giving thanks. It’s what we do, especially as Christians.
Perhaps the greatest example of that kind of thanksgiving will be before us this Friday as our liturgical calendar calls for the “Commemoration of Noah.” After surviving the most horrific storm and devastating losses imaginable, Noah immediately built an altar and gave thanks to God that he and his family were spared. He couldn’t help but “Think…Thank.”
Calamity is not a requirement, of course. A family gathering with turkey and all the trimmings can also serve as an opportunity to think about the wisdom of Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). “Think…Thank.”
October is “Clergy Appreciation Month.” This is the month for congregations and their members to show appreciation to their pastors. And they do so, in various ways: special prayers, card showers, pot lucks, etc. Not many give the pastor the parsonage.
In one of the rural parishes I served, my predecessor retired from the ministry and remained in the parish to serve as organist. Although withdrawn and not very personable, he was also not always a quiet man, known to make outrageous comments. And he was not a very good preacher or teacher by most standards. Unique to say the least, what he sometimes did and said would today prompt a call to the district president. And yet the congregation loved and respected him during his 28 years as their pastor and then gave him the parsonage when he retired.
That was another day, another time–a time when calls to obtain pastors were more prayerful than careful, when pastors were more likely to be accepted with their flaws than expected to be well above average, when congregations saw their pastors as men of God holding a very high office. Our congregations and our Synod would do well to be a little less careful and expecting and a little more prayerful and accepting of the men God provides. They are giving their lives to teach His Word, administer His Sacraments, and shepherd the souls He calls, gathers, and enlightens by the very Gospel they preach.
And, of course, we could also use another month, a “Congregation Appreciation Month,” for pastors to show their love and appreciation for their congregations, the kind of thing C.F.W. Walther spoke of in his twentieth evening lecture on Law and Gospel. That would be the rest of the story. But that would also be another blog.
Working through the resolutions adopted by the 2013 convention, one or two stand out in importance above the others. You may have your own choices. Perhaps they will be the same as mine. But perhaps not.
Which is not to say that there are any that are unimportant. All are important to some of us–even those bylaw-change resolutions that go on and on about this and that in our life together. And some are important to all of us, as are many of the witness, mercy, and life together resolutions that often are passed with little or no discussion. And several are especially important for our Synod right now–those declaring church fellowship, or those addressing SMP/licensed deacon issues, or those addressing our Synod’s relationship with its schools.
But two in particular are at the top my list right now. My list was a list of one until listening to the news this past week. I added Res. 1-09A “To Prepare LCMS Congregations and Pastors for Defense of our Christian Faith.” Its first whereas paragraph strikes me as one of the most timely and important paragraphs adopted by the convention three weeks ago: “Christ foretold that Christians throughout the world will suffer persecutions for Christ’s name (John 16:33).” It brings to mind and prayer Egypt and those Coptic Christians burning to death in defense of their burning churches and their Christian faith. We watch from (for now) a safe distance, but we also know that such reaction to the Gospel, when running wild, would be no gentler or kinder on this side of the globe.
But my first choice for the “resolution of greatest moment” remains closer to home. It would be easy to overlook Res. 4-15 with an “Oh, that again” dismissal, but it addresses what can arguably be the most successful tool Satan has employed in years, if not centuries. If awards were distributed in the nether regions, this one at the root of the erosion of our once-Christian culture could claim first prize. It has had a history of success and is still going strong, now broadly accepted as foundational by a culture that is tearing our younger generations away from the faith of their fathers and mothers, helping to make it easy for many to casually set aside the practice of Christian faith and conscience.
Once the hypothesis of evolution as the maker of heavens and earth holds sway, calling into question the need for or existence of the Maker of all things, the rest of the Creator’s Word is easily relegated to the kingdom of preposterous and fantasy and make-believe. The Christian faith becomes, at best, shelved and, at worst, regarded as the enemy for the “anything goes” thinking that permeates our society.
Res. 4-15 “To Reaffirm Synod Position on Creation” says it so well: “[H]ypotheses of macro, organic, and Darwinian evolution, including theistic evolution or any othe rmodel denying special, immediate and miraculous creation, undercut …support for the honoring of life as a gift of God” and “continue[s] to undermine teachings on marriage, human sexuality, the value and dignity of all human life, and the conduct and ordering of human relationships in family and society that are in accordance with Scripture and natural law.” I would add that evolution undermines faith itself and any confidence that other miraculous teachings of Holy Scripture, including God’s saving grace in Christ, are also to be taken seriously.
Res. 4-15 calls on the CTCR to “continue and complete its current study on the relationship between science and theology, taking into account the concerns noted above about the detrimental effects of Darwinian views on marriage, family, and society.” This is important, of course, to set the record straight. I hope that the commission will also take into consideration Overture 5-13, which was placed in Omnibus Res. A (and referred to the Concordia University System) underscoring the importance of creation apologetics. We need help to do that better, lest we appear to have succumbed to this false teaching that permeates our schools and society. It’s important.
And now our Synod must wait for the results of the election of its President for the 2013-2016 triennium. Waiting may seem unnecessary or unreasonable, but our bylaw is clear: “(b) Two weeks prior to the convention, the Secretary shall notify the candidates of the results of the ballots. He shall thereafter also make the results know to the public” (Bylaw 18.104.22.168 [b]).
The election process has been a long haul, one that began well in advance of our 2012 district conventions. It caused greater care on the part of district presidents to regulate district convention representation; it required greater diligence on the part of district secretaries to monitor their convention registration processes; it resulted in a major task for the Synod’s Rosters and Statistics Department to load detailed data for more than 8,200 voters into the computer system and maintain every detail of the voter list for more than a year; it included identifying and working with an outside vendor capable of providing electronic balloting and tabulation; it included a major effort to achieve and maintain contact with delegates with computers (or not) and email accounts (or not), given the many variables involved in computer hardware and email software; and it required the education and preparation of voters for an entirely new experience.
Thankfully, all went well. Every voter interested in voting should have been able to participate successfully. Efforts to contact and provide voting information were duplicated all along the way with email transmissions and tests, postcards, and regular mailings. An email address and telephone number to obtain help were provided prior to and available throughout the balloting period (June 22-25), and every call for help was handled appropriately by Election-America, Rosters and Statistics staff, my office, or, when voter list concerns surfaced, by me personally as the one ultimately responsible for providing a “secure and verifiable method” of electing the President (Bylaw 22.214.171.124).
And now we wait until July 6, two weeks prior to the convention. On that date, as required, I will first notify the candidates of the results of the balloting, after which the results will be made known to the public using every means at the disposal of our Synod’s Communications Department. While we wait, special thanks are in order to Election-America of Garden City, NY, provider of the electronic balloting service and much assistance. Equally special thanks to district and national Synod staff for their diligence and cooperation, and to the voters who were patient and cooperative and willing to participate in this entirely new manner of electing the President of the Synod. And above all, thanks be to God for providing the necessary resources and blessing.
This will be brief.
Certainly contrary to the intention of its founders, this has again been a painful day for many. I recognized this early on as a parish pastor, from whom was expected at least a token mention of the day–if not in the sermon, then in the announcements or while greeting worshippers after the service. While a happy and pleasant day for many women and families to be sure, I also knew it to be only a perfunctory-at-best or often painful day for others, because I knew a little about the lives of those women and families in those pews and how this day was once again resurfacing heartbreaks and opening emotional wounds that would never entirely heal.
In short, I knew as a pastor that I had to be especially well-prepared on this Sunday each year, to preach the Law without driving to despair, and to preach the Gospel in a manner that would be truly good news to all–especially those coping with a less-than-happy Mother’s Day.
We are a sinful lot, that’s for sure. But thanks be to God who has redeemed us at an amazingly great price.