For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17
Welcome to my blog. I plan to post here with some regularity my thoughts and prayerful reflections on congregational life and where the synod is headed. You may respond and even disagree with me, but I ask that you do so respectfully and kindly. Rachel Line will monitor responses. If there are any she feels go over the line, she will delete them. But generating discussion about the work of God in the Pacifica Synod strikes me as a good thing, so feel free to share your thoughts and opinions.
At this year’s Synod Assembly, I asked “What do congregations need?” in order to fulfill their mission and ministry. I responded to the question by stating, in my opinion, churches need faith, the ability to love one another, a sense of mission, good leadership, and funding (including good stewardship practices as well as abiding by solid accounting principles in bookkeeping and money handling).
The Deans of our nine conferences have discussed which of these they think is needed the most in their areas. They responded by focusing on two: stewardship and leadership. Thanks to their responses, the Bishop’s Gatherings this fall will focus on lay congregational leadership and stewardship helps. I will talk with the planners of Theoasis about at least one session focusing on pastoral and diaconal leadership. Our new Director of Evangelical Mission (DEM), Tom Goellrich, is at work recruiting pastors who would be willing to preach stewardship sermons to help congregations in their local stewardship campaigns in each of the four regions of our Synod (Hawaii, Orange County, Inland Empire, and San Diego County).
I want to start this blog, however, by focusing on the first topic on the list. Congregations need faith. I run across discouraged congregations in what I do, with members and leaders who seem to think God may not have a future for them. I am completely convinced that God is at work in all of our congregations, seeking to work in and through the participants in ministry to make a difference in this world that God loves so much. Congregations need faith, and eyes to see God at work in their midst. Such faith comes through the preaching of the gospel.
What is the gospel? I find in the church that different people from different denominations use the term “gospel” in different ways. However, I would argue that for Lutherans, the gospel is the good news that God is for us, not against us, and works in and through us to demonstrate to the world that God is for all of creation. The gospel is what God does, not what we do. We respond to the gospel with good works, we may do good things in God’s name, but it is what God does for us and through us that makes a difference in the world. And God chooses to work for us and through us each day.
The gospel is vital in helping us have faith. Only when we know that we are cared for and that God is with us can we open our eyes to the needs of our neighbors, and serve them as God intends for us to do. Such a faith does not mean we will never suffer. On the contrary, God’s most powerful work was done through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, and God often works powerfully through us when we suffer. Our faith lets us know we do not suffer alone, but God is with us to help us in times of suffering, in times of want, in times of plenty, and in times of need.
To preach the gospel, we look in a Biblical passage for what God is doing for us and for the sake of the world. I am hoping in the future to give a brief overview of where I see the gospel in the texts for the week using both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary. Since the Narrative Lectionary is on summer hiatus, I will turn now to a consideration of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary passage, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.
We have six (count ‘em, six) parables in this short passage. Two are about the something small (mustard seed, yeast) that grows into something great. Two are about valuable objects (the pearl, the treasure hidden in a field), one is about sorting good fish from bad, and the final one is about using new and old treasures. I would begin with the parables about the pearl and the treasure. I have at times heard these preached as an exhortation, telling us that we are called to treasure more completely God and our neighbor. While that may be true, it is not the gospel. Remember, the gospel has God as the actor, God as the subject of each sentence. Where is God in these parables? Whenever I hear of anyone giving all that they have, I think of Christ, who gave up heavenly glory, oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit, even life itself, dying on the cross for us. If God is the one who sells all he has to gain the treasure, what then is the treasure? I would argue that we are God’s treasure. We and all creation are the ones for whom God gave everything. That’s how important we are to God.
Last week’s parable of the weeds and the wheat is similar to the parable of the fish. I would argue, with Luther, that we are a combination of both weed and wheat. We are simultaneously sinners and saints, so we are simultaneously good and bad fish. God is sorting out what is bad within us, burning up by the fire of the Holy Spirit all that is sinful so that’s God’s righteousness might be seen within us. (A parenthetical story on this: when I interned years ago, I served a Spanish speaking congregation. One of the words for fish in Spanish is pescado, while the word for sin is pecado. I mixed these two similar words up more than once, which means that I at times proclaimed to people the forgiveness of their fish. This parable redeems that slip of the tongue, for in Christ, our fish are forgiven).
The good news of what God has done may not seem like it makes much difference in the world, but like the mustard seed or the yeast, the gospel makes a great difference despite seeming to be small and insignificant. And finally, the parable of the old and the new means that God is constantly bringing new insights into God’s work while helping us to perceive that God still works through word and water, bread and wine, as God has done since the beginnings of the church.
That’s where I’d find the gospel in these lessons. God bless the preachers of our Synod as they proclaim the gospel this weekend.