A Blessed Easter Season to you, Bethesda!
To keep with our spiritual focus, “Crossing From Wilderness to Renewal,” let’s talk a bit about life on the other side of the river Jordan. The Lord has described the new land as “flowing with milk and honey.” Assuming we already have enough dairy and sweets, let’s look closer at the spiritual gifts God provides us for life within His promises. Martin Luther wrote, “as Christ promises, ‘I am with you always, to the close of the age’ [Matt. 28:20]. But how will or how can a poor confused person tell where such Christian holy people are to be found in this world?” Luther lays out seven identifying markers of the church in the world. This gives us a seven-Sunday series, with weekly worksheets to connect the themes to our personal or group devotional time. I’ve mixed Luther’s order of marks to fit a bit closer to the Sunday lectionary texts.
April 23 – The Lord’s Supper
Jesus keeps our feet grounded by giving himself to us in a meal. We love the Lord not only with all our hearts and minds, but also our strength. The body of Christ, the church, is diverse and too often divided. At the Lord’s dinner table, all the sheep of his flock are welcome. I like to call this the “Lutheran altar call.” Instead of searching our heart to see if we’ve truly truly given it to Jesus, we respond to Christ’s promises in our ear and receive what he gives to us.
April 30 – Baptism
Baptism unites us with the death and resurrection of Christ for us (Romans 6). This isn’t a ritual that merely symbolizes some deeper spiritual reality. Baptismal water is the particular means by which God delivers the promises of Christ to you. “And baptism now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). We are baptized, beloved, forgiven children of God. The Father gives us keys to the front door of His house. It’s not the only way into God’s house! But, it is an unbreakable promise that you are in the family of God and can always come home.
May 7 – Ministry
One of my responsibilities as your pastor is to equip the saints of Bethesda for the work of ministry. “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). This new territory in which Bethesda finds itself is an opportune time to seek God’s direction for your own service to the church.
May 14 – Worship
“The Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Apostle’s Creed, Article III). While we certainly gather to worship, praise, and thank God, we recognize that our worship is a response to the primary goodness of God the Father, grace of Christ, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. With the recent creation of a worship committee of 13 members, the planning of Sunday service has become a team effort gathering the diverse gifts and contributions of the people of Bethesda.
May 21 – Suffering
Apostle Paul writes of this mark of the church, “For [God] has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for Him as well” (Philippians 1:29). Incredibly, suffering for the sake of Christ and His gospel is not a sign of abandonment but of adoption as God’s children! We do not seek out suffering, but we also do not shrink from proclaiming the Gospel and serving in the name of Jesus. Bearing one another’s burdens, we become Christ for each other, and even our sufferings can ultimately work together for God’s good (Romans 8:28).
May 28 – Absolution
The church is marked out by the mercy of God in Christ. Bethesda is called to live out its very name: Beth-Chesed, House-of-Mercy. The risen Christ gave his Holy Spirit to his disciples with the authority to forgive sins in His name (John 20:19-23). We are forgiven not out of the sincerity of our repentance but out of the abundance of God’s mercy.
June 4 – Word of God
God’s Word is written, spoken and incarnate! Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. The scriptures are written testimony of the spoken Word of God. The Old and New Testaments testify to the living and active Word of God. We are creatures of the Word. The church is gathered by and around the Word. The Word of the LORD endures forever!
The Seven Marks of the Church
These seven marks are not only identifying markers of the church, but also makers of our identity in Christ. They mark us out in the world and make us who we are called to be. This Easter season we receive the milk and honey God provides through these essentials of the faith.
Grace and Peace,