In a deeply personal narrative, the Rev. Steve Schave, associate executive director, LCMS Office of International Mission, offers a powerful witness to the calling we have as children of God to proclaim the Gospel and share the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, particularly in the face of a devastating event. Schave recently returned from a week in the Philippines, where he served as a member of the LCMS advance disaster response team responding to a call for assistance from our partner church, the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Below is that narrative.
Mud, blood, tears . . . and hope.
I have served as an inner city pastor acquainted with crime and violence. I have served as a hospital chaplain familiar with trauma and death. I have served as a prison minister experiencing some pretty rough criminal elements. I have also served as a disaster relief coordinator witnessing devastation and grief. But nothing could have prepared me for what I would witness in the Philippines. The chaos, the mourning, the whole-scale destruction and desperate need. I went to represent our Synod, to offer our support and concern to our partner church there and to ensure smooth operations were maintained with our Manila office, our missionaries from the Asia Pacific region and our Mercy Operations team. I thought our team might be the equivalent of a knight in shining armor coming to the rescue. But once we found ourselves in the areas that were affected the most, surrounded by endless cries for help and insurmountable unmet basic needs, all I could feel was empathy . . . and pure, unadulterated helplessness.
Surely I would be a changed man, fully aware of the weakness of our human frailty. When I sit at the dinner table, will the memory of a family kitchen turned watery grave be etched in my memory? When I embrace my children upon my return, will I hear the echoes of the father’s account of his children being snatched from his arms by wind and wave? When I walk down the halls of my kids’ school, will I see the faces of hundreds of beautiful children who lined the streets with their hands out begging for food to survive? Will I ever forget the smell of death that enveloped me, the sights of family members sifting through rubble to find the ones they love and the body bags placed on the curb among the debris to be taken away? Can I process the sheer force with which the inescapable beauty of a garden paradise was now covered by a thick layer of the deadly effect of sin, where so many were still reeling from the effects of a recent earthquake? Filled with images of God’s wrath and judgment, with doubts and fears, they were left to ask, “Why”? So much suffering: where to begin in this land of mud, blood and tears? A whole island ravaged: where to begin?
Where else can we begin . . . but the cross? The place where God meets us in our suffering and sorrow. In unspeakable grief and indescribable devastation, we find the mercy of God in His Son, the crucified Christ. At the place of the skull on Mt. Calvary, a hill covered in mud, blood, sweat and tears, the anchor of God’s grace was dropped into the depths of hell and death. Even as I stood at what can only be described as the gates of hell, I could walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.
A young man approached me as I stood at ground zero of Typhoon Yolanda (where they were still recovering bodies after 10 days with no end in sight). Seeing my clerical shirt and the crucifix that draped my neck, he asked me if I was a priest. I explained that I was a Lutheran pastor. Knowing then that I was one of Christ’s men, he asked, “Sir, would you come and pray for my dead.” I asked for the baptismal names of the three deceased family members, and while not expecting to be in this situation, I quickly turned to the end of the Commendation of the Dying in the Pastoral Care Companion that I had in hand. In this liturgy was a prayer of baptism, redemption, resurrection and a return to the garden paradise in a new creation restored. In this liturgy is the beautiful Nunc Dimittis that we so often sing after communion along with saints and angels. With it we announce to the world and the devil himself that we have received Christ’s body and blood, and we have seen our salvation and are ready to depart from this world in peace. We await the great reunion that is to come with all those who died in the faith before us. Those whom, even though it might seem they slipped through our fingers, we will once again embrace.
At one of the churches we visited, the nearby residents took refuge beneath the altar when the storms hit. Indeed, when we find our refuge at the altar, there is no tempest or whirlwind that can sweep us away because our hope is anchored in Christ. In Him alone are we ready to face the Son of Justice who sits on the throne of judgment. On Good Friday, the earth shook and the waters poured, as Christ bore the full wrath of God against sin. As a result, we can stand at the gates of death and hell, but they will not prevail. We will storm the gates, bringing Christ with us.
So here we find our place to begin on a ravaged island with that which is in most scarce supply — hope. Working with our missionaries, our church partners and our disaster response team, we will give not only shelter, food and water, but the water that gives eternal life — water that allows us to never thirst. We will give the food and drink that offer forgiveness, life and salvation that we would hunger no more. We will give shelter that is not only temporary, but an eternal dwelling place. We will give the Good News of Christ crucified and risen again and the message of how God can use all things for good. Yes, this may have been the strongest recorded typhoon in which 7 feet of water passed through the streets in front of one of our partner churches, carrying homes and bodies, but when the Word of God is attached to the water of Baptism, there is no stronger force on this earth. With all the strength of Noah’s flood or the walls of the parted Red Sea that came crashing down, the water of Baptism drowns our sinful nature and rescues us from death and the devil. It connects us to Christ’s death and resurrection, so that like Lazarus, Christ will one day call us from our tombs; the smell of death will no longer be able to cling to us, but only the sweet aroma of eternal life.
Let there be no doubt, brothers and sisters in Christ, there is hope in the Philippines. We saw it in the smiling faces of the brothers and sisters in the faith who were there. We heard it when they spoke of how God gave His only Son, and if that was all they had, it would be enough. We shared in it when we sat at their tables, and they gave to us from what little they had. We participated in it as we gathered together around God’s Word. There is hope, and you, too, can be a part of it. You can help your Synod to work with the Lutheran Church in the Philippines to pick up the pieces of so many shattered lives and lost livelihoods. With the right team in place, your Synod was able to get to the most affected areas bringing the most needed resources and spiritual care to our brothers and sisters in the Philippines. This is what the body of Christ does–it bears one another’s burdens, it suffers together, it brings relief and it comforts. This is what God does–He turns panic into fervent hope, and He turns chaos, violence and danger into order, peace and safety. Yes, even from out of death, God brings new life in the most storm-torn nation . . . AND YOU CAN HELP.
Prayerfully consider joining with your baptized brothers and sisters in Christ to share the baptized hope that is in Christ Jesus. You can make a Giving Tuesday (Dec. 3) gift to the LCMS Global Mission fund at http://www.lcms.org/givenow/givingtuesday. To share hope with typhoon victims in the Philippines or tornado victims in Illinois, visit www.lcms.org/disaster. Together as the Synod, we can make a difference.
– Rev. Steve Schave
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.”
More Reflections on Christ the King
[Shared as a devotion with the LCMS Board of Directors, November 22, 1963.]
Where were you 50 years ago this past weekend? Do you remember? Anyone old enough will remember the assassination of President John Kennedy November 22, 1963. Personally, being in 5th grade at the time, I remember coming in from recess to see all the girls in my class crying and the boys in stunned silence.
It was one of the shared experiences of our generation. It marked for many the death of the care-free 50s and the beginning spasm of the 60s. It was when many my age first realized the world is broken. Two other people died that same day, November 22, 1963, as well: C.S. Lewis, beloved Christian writer and Aldus Huxley, author of Brave New World. These two could not have had more different explanations of the world’s brokenness: Lewis, whose writings explained the Christian faith for many, and Huxley, who rejected God because God got in the way of what he wanted to do.
If you were God, how would you go about redeeming a broken world? How would you respond to a world of sinners? Who want to go their own way even if it leads to death? How would you save people from a culture that often sees death as a solution, even celebrates it?
If God can do anything He wants, why doesn’t He just, with a wave of the hand, put an end to all the evil in the world? All the sin and death with a snap of the finger? But if we are honest with ourselves, we also have to admit that, if He did, that would also put an end to me, to you.
Yes, God can do anything. “He does all that He pleases” the Psalm says (115:3). But one thing God will not do is go against His nature, His own person. God is just and cannot abide sin. God is love, pure love, and hates nothing He has made. And the mystery of both, God’s justice and God’s love, come together and are revealed in Christ, on His cross.
For Christ is King, from the cross. Read Luke chapter 23 to see it in full, in what He says and what He does. They nail Him up, but He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Of course, in their not knowing, they mock Him. Pontius Pilate, in his not knowing, ridicules Him and mocks the whole Jewish nation he has been sent to rule, with his inscription, “This Is the King of the Jews!” (Luke 23:38). The people and the soldiers do the same: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:37).
But amazingly, one of the criminals was led to see through the mocking all the way to the truth, to catch a glimpse of the real nature of Jesus’ kingdom, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom,” your rule (Luke 23:42).
Here is the true King, the one in whom “all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Here is where Jesus rules, from the cross. Here is the mystery of God’s love revealed, and God’s justice satisfied, here in Christ the King, on the cross.
Here is God’s true response to the evil of sin, to the brokenness of suffering and death. He comes! He comes into our flesh. He comes to take it all into Himself, for us.
No, this is not some sort of divine child abuse, as some would have it, but this is the deepest love of all, as the beloved Lenten hymn, “O Dearest Jesus” will show it:
What punishment so strange is suffered yonder
The Shepherd dies for sheep who loved to wander,
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.
The sinless Son of God must die in sadness,
The sinful child of man may live in gladness,
Man forfeited his life, and is acquitted,
God is committed. (LSB 439, st. 4-5)
So here is our King. King Jesus from the cross, who has reconciled to Himself all things – even me, even you! – making peace by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). For when we, like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, recognize our desperate need for Him, we also say, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” your rule. And He promises, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Today, you are mine, and I forgive you, He says. I have suffered your suffering and died your death. I will heal your brokenness, for I am the “first born from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), for you. I have you now. You are with Me, He says, and I am your King.
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President
Reflections on Christ the King
The Sunday before Thanksgiving is the last Sunday of the Church Year, also called Christ the King Sunday. One of the Scriptures for this Sunday is from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:13-20 ESV).
This passage is like a wide angle view, in which the camera takes in the widest possible view, to see the whole picture, that Christ is King of ALL. All things.
This is Christology of the highest order.
He is the image (the word is icon) of the invisible God. He makes the invisible visible. As Jesus once told Philip, “whoever has seen Me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
This is what it means when Martin Luther wrote in his hymn:
With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected,
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected,
Ask ye who is this,
Jesus Christ it is, of Sabbaoth Lord,
and there’s none other God.
He holds the field forever. (LSB 656 st. 2)
“There’s none other God!” You will find God in no other place, but here – in the crucified Christ, also raised from the dead. Jesus Christ makes God visible. And there is no other.
He is the first born of creation. He is the one who is first, before all creation. So, as John says, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).
In Him all things hold together – literally, all things stand with Him. Without Him nothing can continue to exist.
Scientists exploring the nature of the universe tell us now that they think 89% of the universe is so called “dark matter.” Without this “dark matter,” present theories don’t work, and everything flies apart at a fundamental level. However this theory works out (whether we have understood it or not), in Christ we have the real reason all things hold together. He takes care of it!
He is the Head of His body, the Church, giving life and direction to all who believe.
He is the first born from the dead. There is a whole crowd of people who are going to rise from the dead at the last day, and Christ is there, at the head of the pack. He’s the One who has already done it, and the One who will bring us all with Him.
All this so that in all things He might be pre-eminent. This is the motto of one of our Concordia Universities, Concordia, Ann Arbor (now a campus of Concordia Wisconsin): that in all things Christ might be pre-eminent, might have first place. Not that WE put Him in first place, but that we recognize He IS in first place.
No one can rival Him. No one else has gone across the great divide called death, and come back.
“For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Everything it takes to be God is right there, in Jesus, who is fully human and fully God. He reconciles to Himself all things, making peace by the blood of His cross.
But this whole wonderful picture, this high Christology, all means nothing – except that He does it ALL for me, for YOU.
That by all Jesus has done, the FATHER has rescued us from the dominion – the authority – of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom, brought us under the rule, of His beloved Son.
Christ is King of all, but the important thing is that He is MY King, YOUR King. That WE are under HIS rule. That HE forgives our sins. That in HIM we have peace, and we are reconciled to the Father.
Right here, right now – YES!
As the Catechism says: “All so that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” (LSB 322)
Under His rule, we go forward to serve Him!
+ Herb Mueller
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC) to Hold Informal International Dialogue
Vatican City, Rome, 18 November 2013 – The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC), an organization for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening, and promoting confessional Lutheran theology, met to discuss the possibility of extending local and regional informal discussions into an
informal ecumenical dialogue process on the international level. The meeting between the PCPCU and the ILC primarily occurred after several informal discussions between some ILC members and Roman Catholic organizations resulted in positive outcomes, especially those held between the Lutheran Theological Seminary Oberursel (http://www.lthh-oberursel.de) of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) (www.selk.de) and the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism (http://www.moehlerinstitut.de/) in Paderborn, Germany. Other informal discussions that contributed to the meeting between the PCPCU and the ILC included those held between The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (http://www.lcms.org) and the Archdiocese of Saint Louis and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, and those between Lutheran Church Canada (LCC) (www.lutheranchurch.ca) and representatives of the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Dicastery, and MonsignoreDr. Matthias Türk represented the PCPCU. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman, Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Executive Sectary, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Vice-chairman, and Prof. Dr. Werner Klän, Lutheran Theological Seminary Oberursel, represented the ILC.
The discussion had three primary points: A Presentation of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) including its history and priorities, Ecumenical Relations between ILC members and the Roman Catholic Church, and Future Ecumenical Goals.
After a productive discussion, it was proposed that the local and regional informal discussions may be extended to an informal international dialogue process between the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church. These international series of consultations would be delegated to the ILC executive committee and to the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism. The goals of these discussions would be to define more unity between the churches represented by the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church and to offer a deeper understanding of the work already accomplished by the Lutheran – Roman Catholic dialogue on the international and regional level.
Cardinal Koch and Bishop Voigt expressed gratitude for the meeting and looked forward to a deepening of relationships between member churches of the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church.
The ILC and the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism after an organizational meeting, propose to hold two meetings a year for the next three years with the results of these discussions to be presented to the PCPCU.
About the International Lutheran Council
The ILC is a worldwide association of established confessional Lutheran church bodies, consisting of 34 member churches, which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. (http://www.ilc-online.org)
About the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
The Pontifical Council is entrusted with the promotion of Christian Unity. It carries out this task in liaison with the various departments of the Roman Curia and through ecumenical relationships and theological dialogues with the other Christian Churches and ecclesial Communities on the world wide level. (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/)
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