Wednesday, April 29, 2020
A very different world. . .
When I entered it was a hopeful time and the Seminary graduating classes were big and the calls were many. Now we are sending fewer forth and the calls are not in abundance as they once were. When I entered technology was not driving things the way it is now and most of the contacts were face to face or through dial telephones. Now our newest pastors will communicate more through media and email -- especially in the context of a world attempting to restore some sense of normalcy in the wake of a viral pandemic. My early sermons were not all that memorable but many, if not most, of these fellows will begin life live streaming or with video or audio records of their first regular words from a pulpit. When I went out into my first parish, the church was for many and perhaps most of our people the center of their lives. Now we live in a fragmented world most recently accustomed to social isolation and a closed church.
I have every confidence that we as a church body have prepared them as best we can to be faithful preachers and teachers and presiders but none of us could have envisioned the shaped of the world they would be entering four years ago when their seminary days began. They will need extra gifts of wisdom, discernment, and courage and they deserve our prayerful support and vocal encouragement along the way. They will make mistakes -- many of them -- and will shine in ways few of us could predict. They will be tasked in ways I was not to lead people beyond their fears and into that peace that passes understanding and from uncertainty into the comfort of God's grace. They will have no special tools or resources -- only those which pastors have had from the beginning, the Word and the Sacraments. I know these will be enough for the people of God and for those new pastors who will serve them in God's name.
The state of Lutheranism is even more precarious than it was yesterday. Our identity as Lutherans is divided and our life together as a Synod fractured by dispute. They will go forth into a world in which our confessional identity may be at odds with the worship life practiced throughout the church and maybe in the parishes to which they have been assigned. They will meet a Christianity sorely tested by the theology of glory and cursed by celebrity pastors who know more about marketing their brand than they do about the Gospel. They will work amid people whose faith and piety may be informed by things unknown to and outside the domain of the pastors who will care for them as shepherds under Christ. It is a world whose Christian underpinnings are held in disdain like no other modern time and who may consider the apostolic and catholic Gospel to be hate speech.
I do not envy those who are heading out for their first calls even though I am nearer the end of my ministry than its beginning. But the Lord does not depend upon our resourcefulness. He has not left His Church up to us to do with as we please. There was never a Christian era to be recovered and the Church is always the Church Militant this side of glory. We have all we need. We have the Word and the Sacraments. We have a faithful legacy of servants through whom God has worked and this group of men heading out from the safe confines of the Seminary can be assured that if they are faithful, God will be with them. Even more, if they are faithful, He will do the rest. Though we may be arrogant enough to believe that the Church depends on us, God knows that the Church lives by His gracious favor alone. God has too much invested in the work of His kingdom to sit idly by while we screw it all up. We simply do what we are called to us and it will be enough.
Just a month or so ago, under the emergency conditions of the coronavirus pandemic, I presided over the ordination of my friend and now colleague in the ministry. We were barely able to slip it all in before the restrictions closed it all down and, despite the constrains upon us, God's will was done, a pastor was made, and a congregation was given access to the means of grace by their own shepherd under Christ. This is still an emergency time and conditions are not optimal but the grace of God bestowed upon us through His Word and Sacraments are more than up to the challenge. Today I pray that we will be as well -- especially those who will soon join us in the Office of Pastor. God help them. God help us all.