What Are You Waiting For?
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 31:24; ESV)
I can’t wait for this to be over. I eagerly await the time when we as a society can be together again. I eagerly await the time when we can go places and do things, even if those things are not deemed “essential.” As a Christian, I eagerly await the time when we as a family of God can share the peace, hear God’s Word together in person, and gather around the table of Holy Communion to receive the true body and blood of Christ.
There is much to wait for during this time of pandemic, restriction, and health concern. It’s easy to become discouraged. But God beckons us to wait for him, above all else. He is neither absent, nor quarantined, nor surprised, nor discouraged. Our Lord bids us, “be strong, and let your heart take courage” as we wait on him. He will not abandon us, no matter what this world throws our way.
As we wait, I share with you a letter from our North American Lutheran Church Bishop, the Rev. Dan Selbo. Bishop Selbo sent this to all of us as pastors, but I believe that his words will be a comfort and encouragement to all of you, as well. Know that as our bishop and staff pray for us pastors, so we pray for you.
Letter from Bishop Selbo
During these challenging days for our churches, our countries and our world, I am writing to let you know that you are continually in my prayers. This is an anxious and unsettling time in our history. It is also a challenging time to be in ministry. Having served as a parish pastor for many years, I know the normal and ongoing challenges you face. This is not a normal time, so the challenges are even greater. Know that I am praying for you each day.
In our congregations, the people we serve are faith-filled and Spirit-driven. They are also, understandably, anxious and concerned about the uncertain future. I encourage you to do everything you can to be pastoral to them, even as you cannot be with them as their pastors. There is no question that these are unprecedented times. They are, also, as we entrust them to Jesus, times for us to offer a word of promise and hope.
In preparation for Holy Week, I have been reading the closing chapters of the four Gospels, starting with Palm Sunday. The final week of our Lord’s life, as you know, occupies nearly one-third of the chapters in the Gospel accounts. The events of those final days were central to God’s saving work in Christ and, as a result, remain central to our faith and witness.
In the closing chapters of John’s Gospel, there is one verse that has stood out for me in my devotions. It was not written with the coronavirus in mind, but it speaks, nonetheless, to the situation we face. Just prior to our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer, in chapter 17, He speaks these words to His disciples and to us:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33 NIV
My prayer for each of you is that you will “take heart” in what God has done for us in Jesus. Everything we face has been overcome by our Lord. Everything we will face is already known to our Lord. He knew the virus was coming. He knows the uncertainties we feel. He knows the lives of those who will be affected and become infected. He also knows the names of those whose lives will come to an end as a result. As a result, He chose the path of the cross and He willingly gave His life, so we could have ours.
This is the Gospel message we have been given and this is the Gospel message the world needs to hear, and we need to share. If ever there was a time when the voice of the Church was needed, this is the time. Do not be hesitant to speak and to share what we know.
I encourage you to be compassionate in your ministry and to be caring in how you serve your people. I also encourage you to be bold and courageous in speaking the name of Jesus and reminding those you serve of the One who “overcame the world” for us. He is and He will always be our world’s only real and lasting hope.
Early next week, if not sooner, we will be posting on our NALC website, sermons I have preached for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. They will be included in the list of resources available, in support of your worship ministry during these challenging times. I encourage you to take advantage of the resources offered. They are provided as a way of serving you and partnering together during these unprecedented times.
Also, next week, I invite you to join me and our NALC Staff in setting aside extra time for prayer and, if desired, also, for fasting. On Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, our staff will intentionally be spending time with our Lord and asking for His gracious and healing hand to be upon our world and His Church. I invite you to join us in prayer, and, if you choose, to invite your congregations to join us, as well.
These days of Holy Week are normally days when you, as pastors, would be leading your people in worship; normally times when you would be with your people in reliving those final events of our Lord’s life. These are not normal times. They call for us to be responding together in not so normal ways.
Prayer moves the hand of God. Prayer heals the hearts and lives of people. I invite you to join us in praying for our world as it faces the coronavirus, as well as for the Church as it seeks to be God’s voice of promise, forgiveness, and hope, to a world in desperate need of Jesus.
I am proud to be in the North American Lutheran Church. We know who we are. We know whose we are. We know the calling we have in Jesus as His followers, and the never-ending calling we share, to help others become followers. This is what drives us as a denomination. This is what holds us together as a church body. It is a challenging and an opportunistic time to be the Church.
I will be praying that the Gospel message of Jesus will be spoken loudly and clearly through you in the days and weeks ahead. There is no reason to be afraid of what is happening in the world. We are led by and we follow the One who has overcome it all for us.
God’s blessings to all of you. Reach out to me or to our staff, if you need support.
As always, yours in Christ Jesus,
Bishop Daniel W. Selbo