God has a way of delivering the message from His Word that you need to hear. That's happened to me today.
Today is the seventh anniversary of my installation as pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church. To say that these years have been eventful would be an understatement.
When I first arrived, our congregation worshiped comfortably in a school building no longer being used by the Springboro school system. We had 38,000 square feet and we used the building for all manner of ministries. It was wonderful.
But there was a leaky roof over one of the gyms, our landlords had no further plans for the use of the facility, and, understandably, no inclination to pay the $1-million it would take to fix the roof. We offered to pay half, but again, understandably, they decided it was time to demolish the place.
A committee of dedicated folks scoured our area for a new place. They prayed a lot while considering more than forty sites. They found a 5000 square-foot facility. "Pastor," said the chair of the team, George, when showing it to me for the first time, "don't just look at what's here. Look at what can be here." We forged ahead on purchasing a building, our members doing refurbishing, adding storage onto the side of the place, and later, building a two-story shed for more storage.
We immediately began discussing the process of adding on, finally agreeing to a three-phase building process. We began that process shortly after Coronavirus hit.
Because our current facility is so small, we haven't been able to worship in person there since March. We've had several outdoor gatherings and before that, we gathered one Sunday morning in a large local banquet and event center.
We're planning on gathering in the center for worship on November 22 and for two services on Christmas Eve. We'll be masked and distanced. People will register to attend and temperatures will be taken. Our hope and prayer are to be able to temporarily use the new multipurpose facility by late March for Sunday services.
We continue with online worship.
Through all these changes and challenges, the congregation has been faithful to Christ and to the mission of the Church: being and making disciples. The people of Living Water have been incredibly adaptable. They've always been faithful. They've always lifted Jesus up before the world. They've proclaimed the Gospel in season and out of season, to borrow a phrase from Saint Paul (2 Timothy 4:2). They've inspired me.
Then today, I was struck by a verse of the Bible that, honestly, I've never noticed before. It recounts an interchange between Jesus and the apostles in the upper room on the night of His betrayal and arrest:
"Then Jesus asked them, 'When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?' 'Nothing,' they answered. He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.'" (Luke 22:35-36)
The earlier incidents to which Jesus refers here are those occasions when He sent out the twelve and then a group 72 of His disciples to spread the good news that, in Him, the long-promised Kingdom of God was invading our world. Those groups were to call people to repentance and belief in Jesus and to perform signs pointing to Jesus as the Savior of the world.
Those previous incidents are recalled in Luke 9:1-6 and 10:1-20. In the latter account, Jesus tells the 72, "Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road." (Luke 10:4) And in the earlier incident, Jesus told the twelve, "“Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt." (Luke 9:3)
I have often heard sermons and studies and I've often done sermons and studies that emphasized these words of Jesus from Luke 9 and 10. "Don't make extra provisions for yourself. Don't get laden with things or habits that might keep you from moving on at a moment's notice to be faithful to God." One of my seminary professors used to say, "Have so little that you're able to move to where God is calling you to go in twenty-four hours."
All of that's good counsel.
Except when it's not.
Like when Your Lord is about to go to a cross and there's the possibility of a general persecution that will have you on the run, not to respond to the call of God but to save your skin from people who hate you. "I told you that back then. But the situation has changed now," Jesus is saying. "Be sure to take your purse. You're going to need the money. Carry that bag with other possessions you might need."
In another place, Jesus says of Christians, "every...disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." (Matthew 13:52) The point: Circumstances alter cases. Keep following Jesus, God the Son, Who is "the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
Following Jesus will always be built around Word and Sacrament, the truth of the Bible, the creeds of the Church, and the fellowship of believers. But the devil and the vicissitudes of a fallen world throw us curveballs. Our call is to follow Jesus always. The way that looks today is not necessarily the way it's going to look tomorrow. Jesus calls us to be adaptable.
Jesus has been schooling me in the ways of being His disciple these past seven years--and in these past eight months, I never realized. Thank You, Lord. Thick-skulled though I am, I'm listening.