July 20-25, 2019 the 67th Convention of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod took place in Tampa, Florida. “Joy:fully Lutheran” is the theme for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod through the next convention.
We take time to pause and reflect upon what it is to be Joy:fully Lutheran. In this space, Northern Illinois District pastors will share what it means to them to be Joy:fully Lutheran.
Away from the Luxuries
Two years ago, when I was sitting in the pew during the call service at Concordia Theological Seminary, if you were to ask me, “Why are you Joy:fully Lutheran?” you would’ve gotten a completely different answer than the one you are getting today. To be honest, on that night, it was hard for me to find any joy. I had just been called to be the pastor of a church in a town of 1,500 people, a far cry from my hometown of Park Ridge, a northwest suburb of Chicago. How can someone be Joy:fully Lutheran in a place so far away from the luxuries that suburban life has to offer? Upon arriving to the booming metropolis of Walnut, Illinois, it didn’t take me long to realize that I had been looking for joy in all of the wrong places. Joy isn’t found in how close Target or Starbucks is to you. Joy isn’t found in skylines and sports venues. No. Joy is truly found in Christ alone. This was a lesson that the dear people of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church taught me.
As St. Paul writes to the church of Philippi, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation am to be content.” (Phil. 4:11) With contentment comes peace. With peace comes joy. It took me some time to learn that lesson, but, through the grace of God, I did. Holy Trinity became my little paradise. Yes, in the midst of the fields between I-88 and I-80, I learned of finding contentment, peace, and joy in this beautiful congregation. This is where God’s name was invoked each and every week, His divine gifts were given, and a gift where a pastor is given the opportunity to love the people that he was called to shepherd, and be loved by them in return as well in this joyous relationship ordained by God Himself.
Why am I Joyfully Lutheran? Because regardless of where I am, I know that I am still a poor, miserable sinner. That I have sinned in thought, word, and deed. But my story doesn’t end there. Neither does your’s. We have a savior who, even though we are by nature his enemies, still loves us. We have a savior who loves us so much that He is born for us, lives a perfect life for us, is crucified for us, and rises again for us. We have a savior who calls each one of us, no matter how filthy and laden with sin we may be, to be His own, dear children. We have a God who’s not a deadbeat dad and doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. Instead, He baptizes us into His own, divine name. In this baptism He daily asks us, “Do you have pain? Do you have mourning? Do you have anger? Do you have celebration? Lay everything, both the good and the bad, at my feet, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Your God is Christ- and He inclines His ear to your cries of both praise and lament.
Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, continue to come to church, where Christ lavishes on you His gifts. Continue to serve faithfully in whatever vocation God has called you to, whether it be father, mother, son, daughter, employer, employee, pastor, or layman. Whether you are on a stroll down Michigan Avenue or sitting behind a combine on a dusty two-lane road, look to Christ alone for your every need. Find your contentment in Him, whose mercies are new every morning in the city, the suburbs, and the small country towns. It is here, in Christ, in His Word, His Sacraments, His goodness and His mercies, that you can be Joy:fully Lutheran too.