In the Gospel of Matthew, in Chapter 16, the Lord gives us two promises about what it is to be “Church”.
In the first promise the Lord declares, “I will build my Church.” It is his Church – established in his name, with his blessing, with his design, full of his own beloved people. The Church does not belong to any organisation or family or culture.
But there is more in this promise. Jesus says, “I will build my church.” There is a powerful future tense here. He WILL build – as he has in the past. This is a challenge to human reason which gets so quickly distracted by what we see – especially with statistics, and with change and decay all around us. It is always easy to assess the vitality of the Church based on what we see. Our human reason can misjudge what the Lord is doing – as he builds his Church – his way – according to his agenda.
When 22 missionaries landed at Redcliffe, in 1837, could they have imagined so many Lutheran Churches and Lutheran communities here in Queensland? After ten years, their mission at “Zion’s Hill” at Nundah seemed to fail. Whatever their eyes could see – they held fast to this promise in Matthew 16 – The Lord has always kept his promise that despite what we see: he will build his Church.
But I said earlier that there are two promises here in this Gospel message in Matthew 16.
The second promise points to the work that we are given as the Church of Jesus Christ, against the evil and wrong-doing in the world. The Lord said, I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
Now all too often folk get this second promise backwards. The Lord says “The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church” but some of us believe that it is the Church that is under attack from Hell, and we have to board up the gates of the Church to defend ourselves. But who is on the back foot here? Who is under attack here? Is it the Church? No! It is Hell!!
The promise of the Lord is that it is the gates of Hell which will NOT prevail against the Church. So what does this promise mean for us in the modern Church?
The Church is on the assault against the powers of sin death and the devil. We are the “Christian Church” who are gathered in the name of the Risen Christ. This is the Lord who has changed sin, death and the power of the Devil through his crucifiction and resurrection. The Risen Lord who promised to be with us, who gathers us through the waters of baptism, now delights to be at work in and through us. He sends us in witness and service for the healing of the world. As Church, we are the continuing work of God in this world, against the powers of darkness.
Despite the sight of the eyes.
Despite our fragility.
Despite what the world may say about the Church.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was passionate about the Church to be proactive in this agenda set by the Risen Lord. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran Pastor, murdered by the Nazi Regime, accused of involvement in an assignation plan against the Fuehrer Adolph Hitler.
Bonhoeffer once said that the church does not simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, the Church is called to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.
As we gather for Synod 2021, we acknowledge before the Lord, that at times as Church, that we have not done what we ought to have done.
As we gather for Synod 2021, we also proclaim a call to action in the Church, where we pray, “Lord of the Church, send us to those places where you want us to work in your name, against sin and evil – to bring hope and help to those in need.”
I look forward to meeting with the representatives of the people of the Lutheran communities in Queensland, at our coming Convention of Synod.
God keep our delegates and workers safe as we gather at Eight Mile Plains for the 53rd Convention of Synod.