Joy, Faith, Hope

IMG_1446“To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

I wrote back in December, “This is the Christian life. Joy and sorrow. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord…I know that God has good things in store for us. The Lord is faithful.”  In some sense, this paragraph has set the tone for this blog, and for me in life, since.  I’ve been seeing life now through the lens of mercies and joys in the context of our Christian faith, and it has been incredibly helpful to me.  And it’s true: Lutherans are very focused on the Cross of Christ, the theology of the Cross.  We don’t claim to have all the answers to the questions of why, but what we do know is Christ suffered and died for us.  He is with us always, and comes to be with us, to comfort us, and to strengthen us in His Word and Sacraments.  The Christian life is not a life of unending joy and glory.  Rather, it is a life of joy through tears, of faith through suffering, of hope of the life to come.

We have been rejoicing because we have a new pastor.  God brought us a very faithful man.  We issued a call to him, and he recently accepted.  (Our vacancy pastor Sunday was amazed that we have a new pastor after only one call–apparently a little rare around here!) We needed a pastor after Pastor Matt left, and we happened to enter the call process just as this pastor and his family were re-entering the U.S. from two years in the mission field.  In hindsight, I can see how God had His hand right over us, guiding us towards our new pastor and guiding our new pastor to us, at so many points during the call process.  Of course we know He did, it is a Divine Call, but when you’re in the midst of so much going on, nothing seems certain except that the Lord is faithful.  And He was!

At the same time this was happening, a few weeks ago, a pastor that we know in San Diego lost his oldest son in a tragic car accident.  His son was only 17.  I consider this pastor to be a friend–more than that, a brother in Christ.  We’ve talked several times: at convocations, Lenten services, a Higher Things conference, and at various Lutheran school activities.  So poignantly, his son’s death came shortly after our community of confessional Lutherans came together,  discussed, worshiped, and communed our Lord in an amazingly beautiful Divine Service at our latest Catechism Convocation.  It was as if the Lord was strengthening this pastor in Himself, surrounding him with community, and unifying us to support him in what was to come.  I saw several of the pastors from the Convocation there Sunday at the funeral.

In another twist of the story, our new pastor went to high school with the pastor who lost his son.  Since he’s not yet installed at our church, our pastor went and ministered to them at their church for two Sundays.  God brought these two old friends back together at just the right time. For God does not leave anyone alone:

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore
(from Psalm 121)

Sunday, at Pastor’s son’s funeral, I felt so encouraged and hopeful.  This was a funeral where Christ crucified and risen was proclaimed in almost every sentence.  I mourned with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and yet I also rejoiced for all the people who heard the message of Christ. I rejoiced because death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus  (Romans 8).  While death is a sad parting in this life, in Christ it is only temporary.  As this pastor said, “we will see him again.”

Throughout all of this, the paradox of the Christian life has been playing out before my very eyes: joy through tears, faith through suffering, hope of the life to come.  I am comforted because God blesses all of it, uniting us in the Christian life, in rejoicing and mourning.  We are one united family in Him, for God does not leave anyone alone.


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