Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 10)

Luke 19:41-48; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Jeremiah 8:4-12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the most poignant ecclesial symbols of Christ’s atoning sacrifice is known as The Pelican In Her Piety. You will find that symbol pictured in your divine service program today on page seven. In a time of famine and distress, the female pelican has been known to pluck her own feathers from her breast and to pierce her own flesh in order that she might feed her tender brood with her own blood that they might live. It should be easy to see why The Pelican In Her Piety became a symbol for Christ as He sacrificed His own life and shed His precious blood that we might be forgiven and restored and have life in Him, even His life in us. So powerful and evocative was this image that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of it in his communion hymn Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior saying (LSB 640), “Thou, like the pelican to feed her brood, Didst pierce Thyself to give us living food; Thy blood, O Lord, one drop has pow'r to win Forgiveness for our world and all its sin.”
Today’s Gospel was not the first time that Jesus visited and wept over Jerusalem. In chapter thirteen of St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’” Notice how Jesus compares Himself to a hen seeking to gather her brood under her wings, just like the pelican, but He adds that Jerusalem, that is, the children of Israel, and particularly her religious leadership, were unwilling to be gathered to Him. Thus, Jesus continues, “And I tell you, you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!’”
I wish to draw your attention for a moment to the words “you will not see me.” In the Gospels, seeing is often more than general eyesight and vision, but it is a seeing in faith, a spiritual seeing, a seeing what is really real and true rather than what only appears to be true. Many people could see Jesus. They saw Him as the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. They saw Him as an itinerant rabbi. They saw Him as a prophet, maybe even John the Baptist returned from the dead. They saw Him as an instigator. They saw Him as a threat to their power, authority, and wealth. That’s what that whole dialogue with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi was all about: “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” Many, most, seeing people didn’t see Jesus rightly. But, then there were a few blind people, even a few Gentiles, who could see what others could not; they could see that Jesus was the Christ, even the Son of God. When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, He prophesied that they would not see Him until they would see the prophecy of Zechariah fulfilled, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” That day would be Palm Sunday, the very day Jesus wept once again over Jerusalem and spoke the words in today’s Gospel, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your Visitation.”
They did not see Jesus with the eyes of faith, but they were spiritually blind to Him, and this moved Jesus to weep over the city of Jerusalem, for He knew the end of the path they were walking. They were His people, His children, His brood. He was about to pluck His own breast and tear His own flesh and die for them all that they might live in Him, but they refused to gather with Him. And, because of their blindness, because of their rejection, they could not see the things that would make for peace with God. In fact, the LORD hid these things from them so that they could not see and believe and be saved. People commonly say, “seeing is believing;” In this sense, they are right! Those who see believe, but those who do not believe cannot see, for they are blind. Though Jesus proclaimed the Word of the LORD and called them to repentance that they might find peace with God, they considered themselves secure saying, “We are God’s people, we have Abraham as our father; No evil can possibly overtake us.” As Jeremiah prophesied to Israel long ago, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Still, Jesus remained among them, teaching daily in the temple, but instead of believing in Him and finding peace in Him and His Word, they believed that He was a deceiver and that His doctrine was false and dangerous, and the religious leaders of the people sought to destroy Him.
What the people of Jerusalem could not see was that God was visiting His people in grace in His Son, His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus had visited Jerusalem before. He and His disciples had ministered and taught the Word of the LORD there that hearts might be turned in repentance and that they might know peace with God. However, they did not know the time of their visitation. Now, the Greek word translated visitation here is episkopÄ“, which also means bishop, overseer, and pastor. That word is used of your pastor every bit as much as it is used of your District President, or Bishop, who will visit you next Sunday. Both the weekly visitation of your pastor, and the occasional visit of your Bishop, are visitations of grace. They come to you, not in judgment, but with the things that make for your peace with God: The preaching of the Gospel. The forgiveness of sins. Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Supper. Every time we gather here is the time of the Lord’s gracious visitation. This is what St. Paul is getting at when he says, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” However, when Jesus comes again in glory at the end of time, His visitation will be one of judgment. And, that is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He saw that so many of the children of Israel, and particularly the religious leadership of Israel, did not believe and could not see the things that made for peace. They found peace in their obedience and works under the Law, as they interpreted it. They found peace in their outward works of piety, in their prayers, in their temple rites and rituals, but they could not see that these things were truly signs of promises made and kept by God in the sacrifice of His Lamb, His Son, Jesus Christ. Once again, the prophecy of Isaiah rings true: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because He saw the coming judgment of their unbelief. The terrible prophecy Jesus proclaimed described the utter destruction and decimation of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D. The Romans laid siege to the city and barricaded it so that no fresh food and water and supplies could get in, and no refuse, sick and dying, or dead corpses could get out. This went on for a few years before the Roman army destroyed the walls of Jerusalem and entered the city. They found a decimated populace, weak and diseased, with evidence of suicide and cannibalism. The Romans destroyed the city and the temple, leaving not one stone standing upon another, and the remaining Jews were sent out and dispersed into the surrounding nations – because they did not know the time of their visitation.
Jesus wept, not because this destruction could have been averted, – maybe it could have been, maybe not, but that’s not the point – rather, Jesus wept because everything had been provided for them that made for their peace with God. Peace in Hebrew is shalom, which means fullness and completeness. The name Jerusalem contains a form of shalom and means “Foundation of Peace.” Jerusalem’s history, however, is anything but peaceful, full, and complete. Again, Jesus recounted that city’s infamous history calling it “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” As Jerusalem did to the prophets whom God sent, so would it do to God in the flesh, His Son, Jesus Christ. The city named the Foundation of Peace would reject and destroy the One who is Peace with God, because they did not know the things that make for peace, but they found peace in things that made for death and destruction, saying to the people, “‘Peace, peace,’ where there is no peace,” and they did not know the time of their visitation.
Jesus is our shalom, our fullness and completeness, and the Foundation of our Peace with God and with one another. Jesus is our Sabbath Rest in whom we find shelter, refreshment, and protection. In His Son Jesus, God has visited His people and has redeemed them. And, when we gather here in His Name as His baptized children, members of His body, He visits us anew, not in judgment, but in grace, mercy, love, compassion, and peace. When you come to church, you must not think that you are doing a good work, that you are serving God, or anything else of the sort, but rather you must believe that you are coming into the presence of God’s Peace, that you are entering His Sabbath Rest, and that you are knowing the Lord’s gracious visitation. I am not suggesting that this congregation alone, let alone Lutherans, have cornered the market on the Lord’s gracious visitation, – not at all – but I am saying that God Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is present with you here, for you here, in a way that He is not present for you elsewhere, though He is truly present everywhere. Here, in this place, in Word and Water, Body and Blood, He is present for you in grace, that He may gather you under His wings and heal you with forgiveness, feed you with His flesh and blood, strengthen you with His Word, and send you bearing His gifts just as The Pelican In Her Piety sacrifices herself for the sake of her brood that they might live and flourish and fill the world.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! This day, and every LORD’s Day, is the day of His gracious visitation; may we always see it and know it, and may it be marvelous in our sight! Though the Romans, the Gentiles, the world and its culture have us barricaded, surrounded, and hemmed in, though they threaten to tear us down to the ground, we gather in the LORD’s house of prayer, taking shelter under His gracious wings as we hang on His every Word and are made partakers of His heavenly treasures. Let us never forget the things that make for our peace, and let us cling to them and preserve them, for they are our life and salvation, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 9)

Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus begins His Parable of the Unjust Steward saying, “There was a rich man who had a manager….” He begins with the relationship between these two characters: The one, a rich man having great wealth and possessions; the other his hired manager of his wealth and possessions. The relationship between the two men is the key to understanding Jesus’ meaning in the parable. The manager is a manager of another’s goods. The wealth and goods the manager manages are not his own, but they are his master’s. So, too, are you and I but managers and stewards of the goods and possessions of another, the LORD. The LORD is our Master, and all that we have, our bodies and souls, our eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and our senses, and also our clothing, shoes, food, drink, house and home, husband, wife, children, land, animals, and everything else that we have, are not ours, but they are our LORD and Master’s, over which we have been given management and stewardship. The relationship between the rich man and the manager is the key to understanding how the LORD would have us manage and be good stewards of His wealth and possessions, both material and spiritual.
I think that, for people like us, that is, generally affluent, independent, freedom-loving Americans, this is a particularly difficult teaching of Jesus’. It is difficult for us because it flies in the face of what we value most – independence, private ownership, a fair wage for our labor, etc. It wasn’t all that long ago that President Obama drew fire from conservatives for saying “You didn’t build that,” meaning that the roads and bridges, even our privately-owned businesses and our success in them, are not solely the work of our own hands, but of many different people who had a hand in building them and growing them along the way. While I didn’t much care for his statement myself, which was used to foster an economic policy of “wealth redistribution,” I have to admit that there is a sense in which he was correct. We in the West, and particularly in the United States, must resist the temptation to make our independence, private ownership, and freedom idols and false gods. If all we have, materially, physically, and spiritually is not ours, but the LORD’s, over which we have been given management and stewardship, then there is truly no place for selfishness and greed, and lack of charity and mercy towards others. Indeed, C.F.W. Walther expressed this well saying, “Though a person may have control over thousands and millions of dollars, he is still only God’s treasurer. Though a person may possess a most profitable business and control vast resources, he is still only God’s manager. Though a person may call many homes and palaces his own, though he may hold clear title to a great tract of land, he is till only God’s tenant.”
Being a manager and steward of someone else’s wealth and possessions calls, not for pride, self-righteousness, and selfishness, but for humility, charity, mercy, and grace. This is a theme of which Jesus taught regularly in His parables. In the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, the laborers hired early in the day expected to receive more than those hired later in the day. The master of the vineyard answered them saying, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” Do we not often think this of what does not belong to us? Similarly, in the Parable of the Talents, the master gave each of his managers a talent to manage and steward while he was away. When he returned, the master was angry that one of his managers returned to him the very same talent he gave him to manage, having buried it and not used it to make a profit. You see, the LORD does not want you horde His goods or lock them away and not use them, but He wants you, He expects you, He demands you to use them, for your own sake and for your family, but also for your neighbor that the Name of the LORD may be glorified.
It is for this reason that the master in today’s Parable of the Unjust Steward commends his manager for reducing the debts his debtors owed him. Now, when managing the wealth and possessions of another man or woman, this would be dishonest and illegal, but when managing the wealth and possessions, material, physical, and spiritual, of the LORD, not only is this faithful, good, and commendable, but this is the LORD’s will for you in managing His goods. The LORD wants you to use them, for yourself and for your family, but also for your neighbor. The LORD wants you to use them generously, liberally, even recklessly, for in so doing you show that you understand the relationship you have with your LORD and Master – that you are a manager and a steward of His varied graces, gifts, wealth and possessions.
For, what are the varied graces, gifts, wealth and possessions of the LORD but love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness? Of these, the LORD wills that you use them generously, liberally, even recklessly, showing your faith and trust in Him and in His goodness, and glorifying Him by loving others as He has loved you in Jesus Christ. The manager in the parable is said to be unjust because he did this with his human master’s possessions, but God, the LORD, our Master and Father wants us, wills us, demands us to use His wealth and possessions, to use His graces and gifts recklessly for others, even to use them to secure eternal life. Indeed, this is related to the “righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” you heard about last week; such righteousness, worked in you by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, bears forth the fruit of bold and confident faith and generous, liberal, and reckless love for both God and neighbor.
There are those who seek to turn Jesus’ teaching into an economic or political ideology so as to make the LORD either a capitalist on the one hand, or a socialist on the other. This is complete and utter nonsense and represents a gross misunderstanding of God, of man, of sin, of grace, of forgiveness, and of nearly every other doctrine in the Holy Scriptures. Those who seek to make God a capitalist point to the Parable of the Talents to claim that the LORD is pleased when we invest and make a profit. Those who seek to make God a socialist point to the practice of the early Christian Church in the Acts of the Apostles who sold all they had and put the funds in a community chest to serve the poor and widows. However, both attempts miss the point of Jesus’ teaching: Nothing belongs to us, but we are managers and stewards of the LORD’s wealth and possession, gifts and graces. The LORD wants you to confess this and to use them for your benefit, and also for the benefit of others. Thus, the LORD loves a cheerful giver.
Here at Christ the King we have effectively made it a policy to not speak of stewardship, particularly from the pulpit. While I sympathize with this to a point, I also believe that we have done ourselves a great disservice by not preaching and teaching and talking about Godly stewardship. And, so it is that we struggle, not only financially, but also spiritually, for when we give, we give grudgingly, as if we were being forced, compelled, guilted, or robbed. However, the blunt, biblical truth is that we possess and own nothing of our own, but all is the LORD’s, over which we have been given management and stewardship. The day will come when we will be called to give an account of our management, just as the man in Jesus’ parable today, and in the Parable of the Talents. The LORD will demand to see what you have done with His wealth and possession, His grace and gifts. Have you used them in humility and love for God and for your neighbor to His glory? Have you used them generously, liberally, and recklessly, confessing that they are not your own but the LORD’s? Have you gained a profit for the LORD by your management and stewardship of His wealth and possessions, grace and gifts? “Make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth.” That is, share with, give to, love, and forgive others generously, liberally, and recklessly with God’s goods, “for one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”
Of course, none of us can do this perfectly, for we are sinners and we regularly succumb to temptations to greed and envy, to selfishness, and to the fear of losing or not having. However, there was one Manager and Steward who was once the Master Himself, who, in love for God His Father and in deep humility, made Himself nothing, taking up the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, and that One was, and is, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Jesus generously, liberally, and recklessly shared and gave of His Father’s wealth and possessions, grace and gifts, for you and for all the world, that His Father may be glorified. He who had all forsook it all in love for God and for you, His neighbor, and became a beggar. I believe that this is precisely what Martin Luther had in mind when he scribbled these words on a scrap of paper that was found in his pocket after his death: “We are all beggars. This is true.” We are beggars. We own nothing. We were brought into life with nothing, and we take nothing with us when we go. There are no U-Hauls behind our hearses. And yet, we who fear, love, and trust in the LORD are richest of men and lack no good and needful thing. I have been blessed, privileged, and honored to serve you as a steward of the mysteries of the LORD these past fifteen years, in which I only give to you what our Lord Jesus has given His Church on earth: His Word, His forgiveness, His baptism, His body, and His blood. Today He invites you to come and taste the goodness of the LORD once again. Come, you beggars, you have nothing of your own; come, eat and drink without price and live! And then, go, sharing and giving freely, generously, liberally, and recklessly as His managers and stewards of His varied graces and gifts to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 8)

Matthew 7:15-23; Romans 8:12-17; Jeremiah 23:16-29

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
During the last several weeks following Easter we heard quite of bit of Jesus’ teaching from St. John in chapters fourteen through seventeen, which are commonly known as Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” These last few weeks with you I intend to have a sort of farewell discourse with you as well drawn from Jesus’ words for you from each week’s Gospel. Today we will consider Jesus’ words, “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit,” and “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.”
These may seem harsh words, and indeed they are if you are a non-fruit bearing tree, but they need not cause you to be fearful if you love Jesus and His Word and bear His fruits in your life and deeds. After all, Jesus is speaking to His disciples whom He loves, for whom He is about to go to the cross, and He wants them to be prepared for life in this world after He leaves them and returns to His Father by remembering what He has told them and by remaining in Him through faith and bearing His fruits in love. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit anymore than a diseased tree can bear good fruit. Therefore, we must consider, what fruit are we bearing, and what fruit are you bearing in your lives?
We have been together for fifteen years now, some of you the entire time, most of you for less, and some of you have only been with us for a few months. I love you all in Jesus Christ. I have always thought of you as His children, purchased in His blood, over whom I have been given the task of caring for, feeding, protecting, equipping, and sending for service in His kingdom to the glory of His Name. I haven’t always done that perfectly. Indeed, I’ve made plenty of mistakes over these years, and often I have let my own sinful flesh and desires rule me so that I did not do the will of God the Father, but my will, which was ultimately the will of the devil. I am extremely sorry for that, and I repent of that, just as you repent of your sins and flee for comfort in the merciful forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ.
You see, we are not so different you and I, save my ordination into the Office of the Holy Ministry. We are all sinners, and we are all forgiven in the Words and Wounds of Jesus Christ. And yet, I have the holy and terrifying orders of standing in the stead and in the place of Jesus Christ to bring to you and to serve you with His gifts for which He gave His own precious and holy life unto death. I have attempted with all my heart and with all my strength and with all my knowledge and with all my faith to do that faithfully, for your sake, to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. Oftentimes when you considered me rigid, or cold, or out of touch, old-fashioned, or whatever else, I suspect that it was because I was so very concerned to bring you nothing but the Word of God and His Sacraments as faithfully and purely as I was able.
That is what a pastor is called to do – to be faithful to you, God’s people, by being faithful to God. I know that the world desires constant variety and relevance, that human reason seeks practicality and usefulness, and that the human heart demands passion and emotion in order to feel alive, however, none of these things can be permitted to overrule or replace the Word of God and His Blessed Sacraments or to invert the relationship of service He has established with us that we may be forgiven and restored to communion with Him and bear His fruits of love in service to our neighbor in the world.
All that being said, I believe that my ministry among you has indeed been fruitful, and I believe that you and I together have been fruitful, even as each of you as individuals have been fruitful in your vocations. Over the years, the Divine Service has been prayed in such a way that it is self-evident to visitors that God is not simply an idea which we honor with our lips, or an impersonal clock-maker god who is not involved in our lives but only wants us to be happy and be good to each other, or even a spiritual guide like any other god, goddess, or guru, but that He is really and truly present in both a spiritual and physical way in His Word, Baptism, Absolution, and Supper. People know this, and you know this, because of the reverence that is shown for His Name, His Word, and for His body and blood. They are real, and they are present, and they are holy, and so we speak softly and humbly, we bow and kneel, we bless ourselves with the sign of His cross, the sign that was placed upon us when we were baptized into His death and resurrection and claimed and named with His Name as His very own sons and daughters, we chant, we pray, we eat His body and we drink His blood, we teach this to our children who have come to desire Him more and more at even younger ages, and we take His gifts with us into our lives in the world as we leave this place and take our vocations as priests presenting our bodies as living sacrifices in selfless love and service of our neighbors to the glory of God. Some may look only at the numbers, both in terms of attendance and finance, and conclude that we have not been fruitful, that we have declined, or something else; but this is not true, and more than that, we have grown together in faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ and we are stronger now than we were fifteen years ago because we trust less in ourselves and the ways of men and more in God and obedience to His Word and commands.
However, we bear good fruit, not because we are good, but because our tree is good – and our tree is Jesus Christ and His cross. If we trust in Jesus and do His will, our fruit cannot possibly be bad. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks of it. It doesn’t matter what the numbers say. It doesn’t matter what the checking book balance is. What matters is that we remain faithful and bear His fruit, that is, do the work He has given us to do. There have always been, and there will always be, those who call God’s good things bad or evil because they don’t conform to what man desires or his reason demands. For example, men called Jesus’ death on the cross evil, and people today call the symbol of His death, the crucifix, evil. And yet, Jesus’ death is the greatest good God ever did! Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s gift of love for the world. Moreover, Jesus’ death on the cross was not His defeat, but His victory! Truly, if Christ had not died and been raised, then, as St. Paul says, we would still be in our sins and the most of all people to be pitied. No, we are not theologians of glory who call good evil and evil good, but we are theologians of the cross who call a thing what it is. When we consider the cross of Jesus Christ, we remember the love of God poured out for us and Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil – a victory that He shares with all who trust in Him and love Him, keeping and doing His word and will.
In one place Jesus says that all who call upon Him will be saved, but here He says that not all who call Him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but the one who does the will of His Father. I know that this may seem contradictory, but I say to you that it is not. While it is true that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, nevertheless, faith is never alone, but faith is known by its production of fruit, love, and good works. Again, faith without works is no faith at all, it is dead, even as a tree that produces bad fruit is a bad tree and must be cut down and thrown into the fire. But, you are not the tree! You are the branches. If your tree is Jesus and His cross, then you will produce His fruits. As Jesus teaches, “I am the vine and you are the branches; remain in me, and I will remain in you, and you will produce much fruit.” It has been my ministry among you to place the tree of Jesus Christ before you at all times. Everything we do in the Divine Service is done to direct you to that tree. And everything we do outside of the Divine Service flows from that tree as good fruit. As in the Garden, there are two trees – the tree of Jesus Christ, and anything else. Only the tree of Jesus Christ gives life; all other trees, though they may appear to bring knowledge, give only death.
In today’s lections, both Jesus and Jeremiah warn you against false teachers. Jesus says that you will know them by their bad fruits. Their fruit is bad, because their tree is bad. Bad trees cannot produce good fruit anymore than good trees can produce bad fruit. It is Jeremiah, however, who describes what their bad fruit looks like: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’.” I do not believe that I ever preached to you “vain hopes.” Indeed, I preached to you the theology of the cross, that the way of Jesus’ disciples is the way of the cross, that the world will reward your faith with mocking, ridicule, and persecution, and that you should expect suffering and receive it as God’s discipline because He loves you and would rather you suffer now and live with Him in eternity than suffer eternally in hell. Likewise, I do not believe that I ever told you could continue in sin and that it would be okay, that God wouldn’t mind. There are many so-called Christians today who desire precisely that, and sadly, there are far too many pastors willing to accommodate. No, you must recognize these false prophets and pastors by their fruits and reject them and flee from them. However, in order to do that, you have to know the Word of God and remain fast in it. I have desired nothing more for you these past fifteen years than precisely that – That you may know who you are in Christ Jesus and that He might be your identity.
As I said earlier, I have always thought of you as God’s children, purchased in Jesus’ blood, over whom I have been given the task of caring for, feeding, protecting, equipping, and sending for service in His kingdom to the glory of His Name. This is not merely an opinion that I hold, but it is a fact that I know, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God, … and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” You suffer with Him when you reject the bad fruits of the false prophets and do the will of your Father in heaven. You will soon have set before you a choice, indeed many choices. I pray that you will discern the will of your Father as you consider the fruits of the trees from which you choose to eat. I have loved you like a father, which means that I have not always given you what you wanted, but what I believed to be good for you. Indeed, this is precisely why pastors in some traditions are called Father. Though I do not have that title, I have that office and I have always thought of you as spiritual children – not my children, not children of the world, but children of God. I will always think of you this way, and I will keep you in prayer even as I ask that you will keep me in your prayers. This is the beginning of our farewell discourse, but just as Jesus remained with His disciples differently after He left their presence, so will you be in my heart and mind and prayers as God provides you a new pastor to continue the good work He has begun in you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Indeed, nothing can separate you from His love. He is with you always, even to the end of this world.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.