Our church does not have the next best plan or program to follow. We are not a program driven congregation. We do have many activities that happen throughout the week, but my ministry planning for this congregation is not driven by a desire to find the next best plan.
So you will not find me advertising the next got to have book that promises you peace. I do not offer workshops about a prayer that will open up the door to your dreams. So what hope does St. Paul Lutheran Church offer to those who are struggling?
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:2
I hope you find me to be a simple and straightforward pastor in my ministry at this congregation. I believe in God. I believe that neither you nor I am God. In fact, I believe that we are sinners, very much not God. I believe that we are in a world in which we confront darkness in all its forms. We struggle with people we love dying. We despair in broken relationships. We try to be nice in this world, but we find out that being nice is not enough to bring us towards reconciliation. We look forward to the still waters and the green pastures that we are promised in Psalm 23, but we get used to seeing the storms and the trampled steps of disaster. I want to be simple, straightforward, and honest about sin…it stinks.
At St. Paul Lutheran Church, I hope you find a community that is honest and upfront about the pain of death and the dark corners of despair. You do not need to be the model parishioner that knows all the hymns and sits and stands at the perfect moments. You do not need to say long prayers or feel like you are on fire for Jesus. You can be scared. You can be frightened. You can be honest. You don’t have all the answers. The pleasant pasture where life is figured out and Jesus stands in blazing bright glory of perfection is far away. Death has swallowed up that vision for so many people. Martin Luther said, “It is certain that people must utterly despair of their own ability before they are prepared to receive the grace of Christ.”.
This month we will go from Good Friday despair to Easter Sunday celebration. To the world around us we will hold onto an absurd truth. We will look at Jesus dying on the cross and three days later we will shout out our alleluia songs of victory. The absurd truth is that Jesus, fully God and fully man, is found on that cross in a God forsaken place. Jesus is at the place where a baby dies for want of food and Jesus suffers with that baby. Jesus is at the place where sepsis takes over a dying man’s body and Jesus breathes his last with that man.
At St. Paul Lutheran Church, I want us to be the kind of congregation that can be honest about death and not have to whisper about this enemy. I want us to be witnesses with eyes wide open at the despair of death. With our eyes open to death surrounding us we will also see that Jesus is there in that empty feeling of loss. We will see Jesus at that feeling of loss because this is the cross. On the cross we find a beaten traveling man who has been abandoned outside the city walls of Jerusalem. We do not see God in gold and praise, but instead we see him in the despair of death.
At St. Paul Lutheran Church you will not find a quick fix to the pain of death. We are not going to hide this despair. In fact, our congregation is going to be a holy and sacred place because we go to those moments of death and we discover the promise of God. God meets us in our despair. Jesus entered into the nothingness of our death, the meaningless of our suffering. He allowed himself to be overcome by death. He was swallowed up in the pit of death and placed in the tomb. The love of Jesus is stronger than the tomb. On the third day Jesus emptied the tomb of its power. Jesus so fully embraced death that death has lost its power to swallow you up.
You are a follower of Jesus. You can go to the cross and be a witness to death. You can be in those dark corners of sadness because you know death has lost its sting. Death has no more victory. You are a follower of Jesus and so you can go to the tomb. You are a follower of Jesus and so you can go from Good Friday despair to Easter joy. You can do this daily with those you know who are broken because you know God meets us in our despair.