2 March 2015
On Monday, 30 adults and 32 children came to Saint Louis for the Spring missionary orientation. Missionaries called in September 2014 and January 2015 arrived for theological lectures by Rev. Dr. Detlev Schultz on missiology, familiarization with the International Center support staff, familiarization of international health insurance and evacuation insurance, training and fund raising. Later in the week, the new missionaries will be meeting with the regional directors for field specific training. The missionary orientation will continue for the next two weeks. The missionaries will literally serve the four corners of the earth.
In the morning session, the missionaries were introduced to one another and to the OIM staff. Not only is there a large number of adults, but more children attending. These missionary children may well be the next generation of missionaries for the church. The Lord has been answering the church’s prayer to send laborers into the harvest.
After the morning sessions, the new missionaries attended Matins in the International Center chapel.
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Edward Grimenstein, Associate Executive Director for the Office of International Mission
Our God has chooses to use the things of this world to bring His salvation into this world. We often call this the “means of grace.” He uses water to bring salvation, bread and wine to give us forgiveness, and words from flesh and blood people to bring His gospel. That is how our God has chosen to work in this world. And that brings us to our very large group here this morning.
Welcome to our Winter class of 2015; our missionaries, spouses, and children. We are very pleased to have you join us here for the next two weeks during orientation. When you started to think about becoming a missionary I am sure you have had many long talks, and late nights deliberating whether or not to take this leap and serve as a missionary in the international field. You have given up close ties to do this. You have been willing to leave people you care deeply about to meet a people you don’t even know yet. What an exciting time.
As you begin your missionary service, I would like to have you remember one thing. And this goes for all of us here at the International Center as well. I would like you pastors and businessmen to remember why you were willing to move on to new calls and new work you may know little about . . . . I would like you women to remember why you were willing to give up what is familiar, established, and working, and leave all of that behind for a life that leaves you with probably more questions than answers at this point . . . I would like you children to remember why you were willing to go along with your parents who probably sat you down one day on a couch or at the kitchen table and said “hey, guess what – we’re moving to another country!” You have also given up friends and schools to also be a part of this work, and you are a big part of this work. . . .I would like everyone here at the International Center to remember why it is you chose to work here, in this place, and not somewhere else.
I would like all of you to remember – why? Why did you do this? And if you can’t remember, or if you think you may forget sometime in the future, then go back to our passage in Isaiah 49 and remember when God says to you and to all of us, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel, I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” So, why did you do this? Because you know, you believe, and you confess, that your God is not satisfied with staying in one corner of the world. The world is His and all that is in it, and He desperately wants that world and her people to come back under His protective wing.
When Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and died a perfect death, He could have done so just for the Jews. But He didn’t, because that would have been too light a thing. The gentiles should also benefit from His perfect life and His perfect death for them. When Jesus rose from the dead He could have just stopped with a promise that the Jews would also be resurrected from the dead. But that would have been too light a thing for our God who promises all of you a resurrection from the dead through your baptism into Christ. And it would have been too light a thing to restrain the Holy Spirit only to call back the tribes of Israel. Too light a thing for our God who is the Creator of all the heavens and all the earth, too light a thing for our God who demands that all of His creation be given a salvation that reaches to the end of the earth.
Our God does not do things lightly. And truly nothing bigger was ever done than His own sacrifice for our sins. All of you have a life in Christ that is so great no disease can stand against it no temptation can seize it, and not even death can separate that life in Christ away from you. So, as you head back to work in this building, or if you are getting ready to take a step into a new land, always remember why you do this. Because your God doesn’t do things lightly. Your God wants His salvation to go out to the ends of the earth. Christ is a light for all the nations, and Christ will see His gospel spread as He sees fit – to the end of the whole earth. Amen.
And now may the peace of our God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The President of the Synod requested the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) to prepare guidelines for Communion statements for congregational, district, and synodical use. The request came to the CTCR after the president made numerous visits to District Conventions and congregations and witnessed a wide variety (and no small disparity) in statements addressing admission to the Lord’s Supper.
The entire document can be downloaded here, or seen below.
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is blessed with university leadership that seeks to reflect the confession and practice of the church. The presidents of the Concordia University System (CUS), meeting in Peachtree, Ga., in October 2014, and in Asheville, N.C., Feb. 9, 2015, have endorsed* the following identity statement and its protocols as a means to demonstrate their support for the Christian teaching, Lutheran confession and practice of the church. Pastors, congregations and parents are urged to support these faithful presidents and send students as well as financial assistance so that their mission as institutions of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod might flourish and display the truth that all true knowledge and learning is rightly ordered in relation to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
While some have noted the drift of colleges and universities away from the churches that gave birth to them, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod can give thanks for such a clear and forthright expression of solidarity with the church. Such commitment by the presidents is distinctive and, by God’s grace, will recommend their institutions not only to members of the church but to those publics that are seeking such a full and transparent commitment to the integration of the finest in university education with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Lutheran Identity Standards for CUS Institutions
As educational institutions of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the colleges and universities of the Concordia University System confess the faith of the Church. The Concordias uphold the teachings of sacred Scripture and its articulation in the Lutheran Confessions. This includes the biblical teaching that Jesus Christ — true God and true man — is the sole way to God’s mercy and grace; that at the beginning of time the Triune God created all things; that life is sacred from conception to natural death; and that marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred gift of God’s creative hand — over against the reductionistic assumptions of many in our culture who view men and women as only transitory and material beings.
As educational institutions of the LCMS, the Concordias are committed to providing an excellent, robust curriculum in the liberal arts and professional studies, which together equip students for various vocations of service to church and society. As C.F.W. Walther wrote, “As long as and wherever the Christian church flourished, it always and everywhere proved itself to be a friend and cultivator of all good arts and sciences, gave its future servants a scholarly preparatory training, and did not disdain to permit its gifted youth at its schools of higher learning to be trained by the standard products of even pagan art and science.[i] ”
Accordingly, the colleges and universities of the Concordia University System affirm and promise to uphold these identity standards:
1. Identity statements
The institution’s mission statement (and/or vision statement) clearly identifies it as a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) institution, as do the institution’s primary print and electronic publications.
2. Governing board
All of the institution’s regents are active members in good standing of LCMS congregations (Bylaw 126.96.36.199 – 4).[ii]
3. Senior leadership
The president and the senior leaders over academics, student life, admissions and athletics are active members in good standing of LCMS congregations, and all faithfully participate in worship and religious activities on campus and in their local congregations.
Each tenure track or continuing-level faculty search is given optimal exposure among members of congregations of the LCMS to identify faculty who are qualified in their respective academic disciplines and are members of LCMS congregations.
Ideally, all faculty members are active members of LCMS congregations. When academically qualified LCMS members are not available, faculty members will be Christians who affirm, at minimum, the content of the Ecumenical Creeds and are members of Christian congregations. All faculty members promise to perform their duties in harmony with the truths of Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and the doctrinal statements of the LCMS (cf. Bylaw 188.8.131.52.2).
The majority of the full-time faculty are members of LCMS congregations. In cases where this standard is not met, the institution will develop a plan to reach this minimum standard and submit it to the CUS.
The institution has an ongoing faculty and staff development program required of all faculty, senior administrators and senior staff members that clearly explains the tenets of LCMS higher education and what it means to be a faculty, administrator or staff member at a CUS institution. Adjunct or part-time faculty members engage in a similar faculty development program that likewise explains the fundamental tenets of LCMS higher education and what it means to be a part-time faculty member at an LCMS institution.
5. Theology faculty
All theology faculty (full-time and part-time) are active members in good standing of LCMS congregations and fully affirm the theological confession of the LCMS. As the LCMS Bylaws indicate, all full-time theology faculty receive prior approval from the CUS Board of Directors before being appointed or called (Bylaw 184.108.40.206).
6. Academic freedom and responsibility
All full-time faculty acknowledge their acceptance of the CUS statement of Academic Freedom and Responsibilities. All faculty, both full- and part-time, pledge to perform their duties in harmony with Scripture, the Confessions and the Synod’s doctrinal statements (Bylaw 220.127.116.11.2).
7. Faith and learning
In accordance with the doctrine of the two kingdoms, all faculty strive to faithfully bring Lutheran theology into interaction with their various academic disciplines while respecting the integrity of those disciplines. Likewise, in other campus arenas, faculty, staff and administrators will seek to apply Lutheran theology within their campus vocations.
8. Required theology courses
The institution requires two to three theology courses for an undergraduate degree, typically in Old Testament, New Testament and Christian doctrine. Because these courses are directly related to the theological identity of CUS institutions and to the identity formation of graduates, these theology courses will normally be taken at a CUS institution. Exceptions to this will be approved by the institution’s called theological faculty.
9. Preparation of church workers
The institution provides resources to recruit, form, nurture and place students preparing for professional church work in the LCMS (e.g., pre-seminary, pre-deaconess, Lutheran teachers, DCEs, DCOs, DPMs, etc.). Specific programs vary by campus.
10. Campus ministry
The institution offers regular opportunities for worship that reflect the confession of the church. Faculty, staff and students are strongly encouraged to participate in these services. The institution calls a campus pastor or chaplain, who is a Minister of Religion—Ordained of the LCMS, who oversees the worship life of the community, organizes opportunities for Christian service and witness, and provides pastoral care for students.
Assessment of institutional commitment to Lutheran identity
Each institution will submit an annual written report to the CUS Board of Directors describing, with evidence, how the institution meets the 10 Lutheran Identity Standards. The report will be endorsed by each respective Board of Regents and will be shared with the campus community.
October 18, 2014
[i] Walther, C.F.W., “Forward to the 1875 Volume: Are We Guilty of Despising Scholarship,” in Selected Writings of C.F.W. Walther: Editorials from “Lehre und Wehre,” trans. August R. Suelflow (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981), Pages 124-125.
[ii] For purposes of clarity, this document is using “member” inclusively to include both laypersons whose membership is in a local congregation and called ministers of the Gospel who are themselves members of Synod.
* President Dr. Viji George of Concordia College—New York, Bronxville, has requested that his name be removed until his Board of Regents can consider the statement at its May 2015 meeting.
A Portion of the International Mission Budget According to the Six Priorities
At the LCMS International Center, we are engaged in the budgeting process for the next fiscal year which begins on July 1, 2015. At times, people wonder how budgeting priorities are decided (in fact the Synod Board of Directors recently asked this question of me), in particular for the Synod’s work in International Mission. Since January 2014, the Office of International Mission has been guided by a strategic plan which is based around the six mission priorities adopted by the Synod in the 2013 convention (2013 Res. 3-06A — “To Adopt Mission and Ministry Emphases for the 2013-2016 Triennium”). These mission priorities were not created in a vacuum, but based upon the Synod’s constitution and the reason and purpose for the formation of the Synod.
The theme of the Office of International Mission strategic plan is “Consolidate, Focus, Renew and Establish Partnerships.”
When this theme was developed, the Missouri Synod listed working in 90+ countries but had only about 68 career missionaries, which works out to 1.3 countries per missionary. Some of the Missouri Synod’s work was grants and disaster response. The question that the OIM leadership and the Regional Directors asked was, “What sort of impact could we have with one missionary per 1.3 countries?” The answer was not nearly as much impact as we would like. Additionally, having missionaries scattered around without a community was not good for pastoral care or for missionary care in general. A field driven decision (the Regional Directors) to consolidate the missionaries into tighter teams was made. This not only allows the Missouri Synod to have a greater impact but also affords better missionary care. From these positions of strengths, the Regional Directors would branch out into new areas. Another significant part of the strategy is to recruit people based on the positions needed, rather than find people and then scramble to identify a position where they might serve. People are recruited on the basis of filling the field leadership first, and then the other support personnel for a program or a country. This strategy is in alignment with the Synod’s convention goal of doubling the number of career missionaries (2013 Res. 1-11). Career missionaries by definition include pastors, rostered workers, and other lay people who desire to serve in international mission for more than 2 years. As of January 2015, the Missouri Synod has increased the number of career missionaries from 68 (the number of missionaries at the Synod convention in 2013) to 105 career missionaries called or appointed. This is more than half way toward the goal of doubling the number of career missionaries. The Lord indeed is sending laborers into his harvest.
The Six Mission Priorities were developed on the basis of the Missouri Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws. They were adopted by the 2013 Synod Convention. These mission priorities guide all the activities of the Office of International Mission (OIM). In fact, the Board for International Mission (BIM) policies were written with the six priorities in mind. How these priorities are carried out is partially governed by the Toward a Responsible Lutheran Church. For instance, how these priorities are carried out depends upon where the partner church or non-partner church, or church plant is at in its life. Church bodies always are in relationship with one another, and are interdependent upon one another. When a missionary goes into a new area, that missionary is the primary person who preaches, teaches, and baptizes. After there is a group of believes, the training of local indigenous leaders begins. After a period of time, those indigenous leaders preach, teach, baptize, and so forth, while the LCMS missionary takes on a supportive role of further training and support.
- Plant, sustain, revitalize Lutheran churches.
a. Nurture, plant, embolden churches in mission.
In the area of church planting, the Missouri Synod has planted churches which later became partner churches of the Synod — churches such as the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC) in 1894, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) in the 1930s, the Lutheran Church of Korea (LCK) in the 1960s, and so forth. Today in these church bodies, the Missouri Synod supports the church planting efforts of our partners by providing training for evangelists and pastors. In many places in Africa, the single biggest challenge to church planting is the lack of tin roofs. One area of church planting support is the Office of International Mission’s tin roof program. In the tin roof program, the local church builds the walls and the Missouri Synod helps by providing roofs. Partner churches and non-partner churches alike request assistance in training the indigenous evangelists and pastors who will go out and plant new congregations. In some cases, partner churches ask for an LCMS missionary to do church planting. Usually, these are special cases where tribal differences or other circumstances make it more logical to have a Missouri Synod missionary do the actual church planting.
When it comes to church planting, a question that needs to be asked is where to plant the church. If Missouri Synod missionaries are working in a country that has a Lutheran church, the question needs to be asked if we can work with that church, or if we need to plant a new church. In many cases, we are able to work with the existing Lutheran church in some way. In the map above, the primary places where Lutheran churches do not currently exist are in Muslim countries or other closed countries. Where we might have work in Muslim countries or a closed country, the Synod is not really able to publicize the work. When we are working with an existing Lutheran church, our work falls into the realm of support and theological education. Many existing Lutheran churches, particularly with the sexuality decisions made by the ELCA and the Church of Sweden, are seeking the Biblical and Confessional position of the Missouri Synod.
- Support and expand theological education.
a. Support Seminaries (foreign and domestic).
b. Provide regional conferences, short-term training, pastoral continuing education.
c. Train evangelists.
Other than a request for missionaries, the most significant request that the Missouri Synod receives is for theological education, which is broadly defined as scholarships to Concordia Theological Seminary or Concordia Seminary St Louis, as scholarships to regional seminaries, as requests for missionary professors to teach both short and long term, as continuing education opportunities and seminars, as training for evangelists, church planters, and deaconesses, and as requests for theological books and materials. A significant portion of these requests are handled by the Global Seminary Initiative. Dr. Baue pictured above is teaching the Lutheran Confessions at the Mekane Yesus Seminary in Ethiopia as a result of the Global Seminary Initiative (GSI). Another recent project of the Global Seminary Initative was to partner with the Lutheran Heritage Foundation (LHF) to bring 30,000 copies of the Ecumenical Creeds, the Augsburg Confession, and the Small and Large Catechisms to Ethiopia in both Amharic and English. In March, the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese in Tanzania will celebrate the sending of 21 ordained pastors and a number of evangelists out, trained in partnership between GSI and Concordia Theological Seminary. In March and April, a number of professors from both Concordia Seminary St Louis and Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne will help advise students in the masters of theology program in Ethiopia (another GSI project). Theological education is one of the greatest ways that the Missouri Synod can have an impact on world Lutheranism.
3. Perform Human Care in close proximity to Word and Sacrament ministries.
a. Work closely with church partners and/or Lutheran congregations to reach out to those in need.
The Office of International Mission (OIM) was given the task to carry out LCMS World Relief and Human Care’s international work after the restructuring mandated by the 2010 Synod convention. A hallmark of the Missouri Synod’s human care and disaster response work is that it is done in close proximity to Word and Sacrament ministry. Most often on the international scene this is done in conjunction with a Partner Church of the Synod. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” The church cares for those of the church who are in need. In most cases, the Missouri Synod does not do this work itself, but aides and supports the works of our partners around the world. The human care work is carried out where the people who receive help can hear the Gospel preached. The Tertullian reported that the pagans would say of the Christians, “See how they love another.” Christian love and compassion spills out of the church to the neighbor. Gerhard Uhlhorn noted, “For the world before Christ came was a world without love.” Uhlhorn continued, “The fundamental distinction between the ancient liberalitas and the Christian caritas lies in this, that the latter always keeps in view the welfare of the poor and needy; to help them is its only object; whereas the Roman, who exercises the virtue of liberality, considers in reality himself alone (I do not mean always in a bad sense), and exercises his liberality as a bribe wherewith to win the favours of the multitude.” Christian charity is only to help, not to win favor. Missionaries in an area frequently see people in need. There is a distinction between relative poverty and critical poverty or need. Relative poverty is poverty compared to another place, such as the United States. The goal of Christian charity is not to elevate everyone to the same level as in communism or in some egalitarian fantasy, but rather to help those who are in critical need or whose lives are in danger. Such aide or help always is provided in close proximity to where the Gospel is proclaimed. Often times the church’s work of mercy is to care for those no one else will help. In fact, the Missouri Synod’s mission work in India in 1894 began among the dalit, or the untouchable cast in India.
4. Collaborate with the Synod’s members and partners to enhance mission effectiveness.
a. Mission programs support the Synod’s objectives to promote unity of ministry effort.
The Missouri Synod’s international mission team strives to work with our partners — church partners and RSOs, auxiliaries, and mission societies. We can accomplish more together than we can individually. This was in fact one of the reasons why the Synod was founded. After the founding of the Synod, other groups and organizations formed to address specific areas or specialities that the Synod did not have the capacity or some cases the interest to pursue at a given time. Our partner churches and RSOs, auxiliaries, and mission societies help increase the impact that the Missouri Synod has world wide. The Office of International Mission desires to partner with these groups to expand the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus.
5. Nurture pastors, missionaries and professional workers to promote spiritual, emotional and physical well-being.
a. All people serving in the field (foreign and domestic) will receive spiritual care in Word and Sacrament.
One of the reasons that the Regional Directors recommended that “consolidate” be part of the Office of International Mission strategic plan was to provide better pastoral care for missionaries. When people are scattered about it can be difficult to provide good care. One way that OIM is attempting to address this is to call pastors to act as a regional chaplain for the missionaries. We also are attempting to place people together into communities so that they are not as isolated as they might have been. A part of the strategy is to send out missionaries in teams of three or more families. Where possible missionaries should worship with partner churches; where this is not possible the missionary team can hold regular worship. Other opportunities for missionary care includes continuing education and online courses in missiology as pictured above led by Dr. Detlev Schultz. As the number of missionaries on the field continues to increase, a significant focus of the Office of International Mission will be on missionary care and retention.
6. Enhance elementary and secondary education and youth ministry.
a. Schools will support the need to offer high quality education that is distinctly Lutheran, careful not to capitulate to the culture, seeking opportunities to expand the work of witness and mercy.
The Missouri Synod is known as a church that excels at education. Parochial schools have a long history in the Synod. It is no surprise that the Synod’s mission efforts have included Christian education as a part of the strategy. Currently, the Synod has three international schools: Hong Kong International School, Concordia Shanghai, and Concordia Hanoi. Some of our partner churches such as the Japan Lutheran Church (NRK) operate schools such as the Urawa Lutheran School. Other partners also have schools where Missouri Synod teachers are able to serve as missionary teachers. In some cases, government regulations do not allow for the creation of a parochial school so other opportunities for teaching the youth are sought including Sunday school and Vacation Bible Schools.
This post just begins to scratch the surface of the Missouri Synod’s mission work around the world. The Lord has provided many opportunities for service and He provides the laborers for His harvest. We have much to be thankful for as we ask for his help to carry on the proclamation of the Gospel to the world.
— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations / Regional Operations
The following was preached by the Rev. Dr. Raymond Hartwig, secretary of Synod, on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, at the LCMS International Center. The text for the day was Heb. 4:14-16.
On this day on the Church calendar, we remember the Early Church father Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna.
Polycarp lived during the first and second centuries after Christ. He may have had, in his younger years, opportunity to spend time with John, the last surviving apostle; he may actually have been a disciple of John and he may have been ordained bishop of Smyrna by none other than John. In any case, he lived to an old age as the bishop of Smyrna, the location of one of the congregations of Asia Minor addressed by Jesus in the Book of the Revelation of St. John, chapter 3. Jesus had this to say to the congregation at Smyrna:
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.
The congregation at Smyrna did suffer, and so did Polycarp, culminating in him being burned at the stake for not offering incense to the Roman emperor. He is recorded as saying — on the day of his martyrdom — when asked to deny Jesus Christ:
“Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.”
And then there is one other thing: History and tradition also suggest that he may have been involved with assembling the books of the New Testament, one of which is the Book of Hebrews, the source of our text for this morning, the second of our subjects to consider together.
This brings us to our text for our meditation this morning: Heb. 4:14–16.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Could it be that Polycarp was familiar with this text? If so:
- He certainly would have appreciated its imagery more than we. “Since then we havea great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14a). Even as the high priest in Old Testament times killed the bullock and the goat and delivered their blood through the veil into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle it on the mercy seat to remove the sins of the whole people, so Jesus, the great High Priest, delivered His blood, passing through the heavens to deliver the forgiveness of sins for all people. Polycarp could certainly have said, “How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”
- He certainly also would have appreciated, especially when tempted on the day of his martyrdom to deny Christ, the words of verse 15: “For we do not have a high priestwho is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Polycarp was in good company, in company with his Savior and His Savior’s far greater sufferings. He could certainly have said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”
- And he certainly would have found courage in the words of vv. 14b and 16: “Let us hold fast our confession. . . . Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Polycarp found that “grace to help in time of need” and the courage to say, “Bring forth what thou wilt.”
That leaves us to consider the importance of this text also for our day.
Ordinarily texts like this, especially from the Book of Hebrews, might strike us as rather obtuse, not commanding our interest. But in the context of this day on the church calendar and the things going on in the world in which we live, we may see otherwise. Here in this text, first of all, is the heart and core of our Christian faith — that Jesus has become one of us:
- to face temptations to sin that we often cannot withstand;
- to suffer far more severely than we ever will;
- to shed and then deliver to His Father in heaven the only blood that could suffice for our forgiveness of our sins.
Already in its first verses there is plenty in this text to cause us to sit up and take notice.
But it is also the encouragements to “hold fast our profession,” to “come boldly” and “find grace to help in time of need” that are taking on greater urgency and significance now every day. How rapidly things are changing for us as the bright conditions that we have been privileged to enjoy most of our lives begins to grow dim. In my childhood, the words “let us hold fast our profession” predominantly meant, “Beware of what they teach in that church down the street from our parochial school.” Or it meant, “Keep the faith while diving under our school desks for the latest nuclear bomb drill.” Now we are beginning to recognize that possibilities for personal suffering we once thought preposterous are no longer so; that we, too, might have to “find grace to help in time of need” because our Christian way of life and faith or even our lives might at some point be direly threatened.
I expect I will never get out of my mind the recent picture of the 21 Coptic Christians, young men dressed in orange, waiting to be martyred on the seashore. I felt I owed it to them, my brothers in Christ, to watch the video disseminated by their executors. I was disgusted, of course, but more so I was amazed — at their calm demeanor as they kneeled with knives at their throats and at the last word on their lips: the name of Jesus. I wondered how they could do that. But they, like Polycarp, had the encouragement of God’s Word. And they clearly had the last word: the name of Jesus clearly the last word on their lips. They are the best commentary of our text this morning: “Let us hold fast our confession,” to which the only thing more for us to say is, “Amen.”