God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true. If we walk in the light, as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7
Lutherans have lived in a variety of cultures and countries. Our faith has guided our lives and living in society, and we have made significant contributions to society as a result of our convictions. Yet, not every culture has welcomed the values that Lutherans share as Christian people. Stumbling blocks persist, most notably regarding the cornerstone of the faith — the person and work of Jesus Christ. In spite of this, we continue to proclaim Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ coming again. And, we continue to love those who are our neighbors.
As society morphs and shifts, it is all the more important for us to sustain our culture as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Identifying and articulating Synod’s core values highlights the importance of sharing and shaping a culture that is rooted in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. This “Lutheran ethos” permeates the teaching, preaching, caring, living and witness of our church.
Temptations abound for compromise. Sometimes temptation is a matter of convenience. Sometimes it is for gain. Sometimes it is rooted in fear. In every case, compromise of the faith has led to failure. History is replete with the drift of God’s people from the one, true faith. Time and again, God has patiently called his people to repentance. Even so, He calls us today.
Faithfulness to the Scriptures and the Confessions has anchored the Synod during a time of cultural change and global challenges. Her fidelity has been a catalyst to enhance relationships with church bodies within the United States and abroad and within and among congregations. Faithfully sharing Christ through Word and Sacrament has never failed the Church.
Let us find assurance in this faith rooted in Christ our Lord and confessed by the Church. Let us stand firm on the finished work of Jesus whose grace and mercy shall never fail.
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
Stories abound about apparitions – that is, an instance of something’s appearing. One of the more famous apparitions is commonly referred to as, “Our Lady of Lourdes.” A young 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, reported that she spoke to a woman in a cave near her hometown of Lourdes, France. After her first encounter with the lady in February 1858, she had 17 more meetings with her that year.
Unlike Bernadette’s mysterious encounters, pastors regularly and most predictably experience apparitions during Christmas. They have numerous encounters with parishioners who appear at the celebration of our Savior’s birth, not to be seen for another year with possible exceptions at Easter. They come to hear, once again, the preacher in the pulpit share the story about baby Jesus.
Christmas, although filled with excitement and anticipation of celebrating the Messiah’s birth, can become a litany of appearances. Christians are crushed by shopping sprees, mandatory social gatherings and endless parties. Before they know it, Christmas fatigue sets in — often by the third Sunday in Advent. Divine worship becomes another “event” for them to attend. They make their appearances and subtly grow indifferent about the birth of Jesus.
By now, they wonder what more can be said about Christmas, and there are12 days of Christmas ahead of them! What more can be said about the birth of the Savior? For sinners there is much to share. The law has enslaved humanity under its curse. Redemption is hopeless without God’s intervention and God makes his remarkable appearance at Bethlehem; redemption has come. He came in the flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth. He is man born of woman.
God’s redemption has come for all humanity to see, touch and hear. It is no illusion conjured in the hearts and minds of men. God has come in the flesh. Simeon says it so beautifully as he takes the Savior in his arms and says,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
May the grace and peace of God manifest among us in the Savior sustain us always in the one true hope that endures for all eternity. Amen.
Rev. Gregory Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
And for this reason He assumed our nature, that in that nature, which was under the Law, satisfaction and fulfillment might be made. —Martin Chemnitz
The Fall is a time to celebrate. Many say that Fall is their favorite season. (It is mine.) The leaves change from shades of green to vibrant yellow, red, and orange; cool afternoons have replaced the midday heat of summer and kitchens fill with the delightful aroma of dinners prepared with love and care. That is Fall at its best.
But, the fall can mean something entirely different; something much less appealing. The fall is a universal tragedy, and it has consequences for all humanity. Mankind’s fall is marked by sin, death, and separation. This fall is an ugly plague upon humanity, and unlike the season, it does not pass with time. It is an eternal reality.
Stuck in the grips of the fall, humanity attempts to cope by various means to assuage the reality. Most notably, they ignore it. They live in the consequences of the fall ignorant of the truth; yet, something very real pierces their fantasies. It is the law.
The law makes its presence known through ruthless and persistent truth telling. A glaring mirror provides a strong dose of reality. Standing naked before the law every man, woman, and child is condemned. They are hopelessly guilty. Every indiscretion, every evil thought, every malicious intention sinks the sinner deeper into despair. Their fantasy crashes into hopelessness.
The law has driven them to the end of their delusions. Thanks be to God that there is more to reality and truth than sin, death, and hell. There is hope in the Savior.
God brings another truth to the fallen. He brings forgiveness, peace, and eternal life. As St. Paul writes to the Romans,
“Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This message of hope in the atoning work of Christ is for all sinners.
There is cause for celebrating. Not a celebration of fantasy but of reality, a reality that proclaims liberty to those in the grips of sin through Christ’s atonement alone. They have been baptized and washed in the waters of redemption. In this they have comfort for theirs is the Kingdom of God, an eternal reality. Now every day, every moment is a cause for celebration for there is justification apart from works of the law. Just as St. Paul wrote,
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
What is the Kingdom of God? Answer: Simply what we learned in the Creed, namely, that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to teach us this through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power. The Second Petition, Large Catechism
Another senseless tragedy. Americans awakened to another horrible outbreak of murders on Monday morning. Men and women went to the Navy Yard in Washington, DC to begin another work week, but instead, a lone gunman attacked and murdered them without an apparent motive. Law enforcement officers engaged the assailant, Aaron Alexis, in order to protect those under attack. Mr. Alexis was killed—either by law enforcement officers or by his own hand.
Over the next weeks, government agencies will sort through the events and produce a comprehensive report. The report, no doubt, will include the timeline of events, the murderer’s personal and professional histories, the security measures that are in place to prevent such attacks, and recommendations to improve personnel screening and methods to increase security. Lawmakers will conduct hearings and government executives will respond to questions and render their professional assessments.
Will such senseless attacks ever stop? Will men, women, and children no longer be safe in their schools, churches, work places, entertainment venues, and their own homes? People from across our nation are pondering such questions . . . again.
What can anyone do? Is it hopeless? Within the arsenal of governmental capabilities nothing exists to address the hopelessness of humanity’s condition. As Jesus said to His disciples,
With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Yet, there is hope.
The nature of humanity is desperately evil and inclined to selfishness, indifference, and pride. Laws and ordinances do suppress evil acts; yet, they do not resolve the core problem. God addresses this matter, human depravity, through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
God’s intervention in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ addressed sin and gave humanity the only way of hope. St. Paul wrote to the Romans of humanity’s condition and the only hope of humanity. That way is the way of Jesus Christ. As St. Paul says,
But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
St. Paul continues,
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
This hope the world will never understand. Only by the preaching of Christ will mankind receive hope to endure. Nations have ascended to unparalleled heights and sunk to great depths, but the Kingdom of God remains forever. This eternal Kingdom of God is the gift of hope for sinners through the grace of God in Christ. Be assured that no man can wrest it away from the baptized in Christ, be it in life or in death. Amen.
Rev. Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Christian Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN
Having spent 26 years in the Army chaplaincy, I did not have the opportunity to engage in Synod’s conventions. So, this was my “maiden voyage.” I thought that I would share my thoughts about the convention with you from my perspective as a Lutheran who ministered in a religiously diverse environment often supervising and being supervised by folks who did not share a Lutheran worldview. What joy there was to be among such a great cloud of witnesses!
The past week was a pinnacle moment of life together as Synod. In convention, men and women from every district and circuit met to share in worship and prayer, engage in discussion and collaboration, and define processes and procedures to enhance walking together as one people united in baptism. This unity of so many is cause for celebration.
There is cause for celebration for we as Synod believe and confess that there is one Savior, Jesus Christ, and that He, alone, atones for sin and justifies sinners. There is cause for celebration in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. There is cause for celebration for the unity we share in the Confessions of the Church.
This unity is strength in time of suffering and persecution. As the culture rapidly moves away from traditional Christian values, the Church will find consolation in this unity. She will prevail standing united under the cross of Christ.
Some may suggest that the gathering of the Synod in convention was less than a perfect unity. If one assesses voting on resolutions as perfect unity, all resolutions passing or failing by 100%, no one may argue the point; however, this seems to lose sight of the Synod in the world and within Christendom.
There is not perfect harmony in the Church militant. After all, Synod is comprised of sinners redeemed by the atoning work of Christ. Sinners called to faith in baptism gathered together to do the work that Christ bids them—congregations, circuits, districts, Synod–one in Christ living together in this world of sin until that time when our Lord returns in glory.
There is cause for rejoicing. We who are many are one in Christ Jesus. This unity is a living testimony to the world, and this convention was a testimony to the Gospel that Christ calls, forgives, and loves sinners. Few in Christendom share such a profound unity.
St. Paul reminds the Corinthians of our unity. He writes:
For even as the body is one and [yet] has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. But now there are many members, but one body. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”
Thank you for this moment to share with you as a member of the body of Christ, and may this be a moment for remembering who we are as one people—one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Sola Dei Gloria
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod