Bishop and Christian*
From the Pastor
What will be the center of our life together? What will keep the wolves of sin and doubt at bay? What will prevent the sheep from turning into wolves and devouring each other? What will keep the shepherd from betraying the sheep to the wilderness and wild beasts?
These are all live questions when you’re dealing with sinners—even forgiven ones. Look at Judas. He was chosen by Jesus Himself to be a disciple and an apostle. Yet that did not keep him from putting his hand in the money bag and, finally, betraying his Lord to His death. “Though there be those that hate her/false sons within her pale/ against both foe and traitor/she ever shall prevail.” There are those who hate the Church and sometimes they come from within her. And while there are no “false sons” within the Church as Christ sees her, with our limited vision we are not able to see her as she really is. The false sons are the infamous ones.
Where can we look for reassurance when we see the Church as the world sees her?: “Though with a scornful wonder/Men see her sore oppressed/By schisms rent asunder/By heresies distressed….” At times the Church can look very little like the Bride of Christ. Often she looks much more like the Whore of Babylon.
Where can we look for hope? Not at the Church, but at her Lord, in whom the Church’s glory is safe, though hidden. Not at the building, which appears to have many cracks and weak places, but at her Foundation. “The Church’s one foundation/Is Jesus Christ, her Lord/She is His new creation/By water and the Word./From heaven He came and sought her/To be His holy bride/With His own blood He bought her/And for her life He died.”
You, the Church of God in this place, are a new creation, though your glory be hidden with Christ. He has baptized you “by water and the Word” and for your life He shed His blood and died. You are His holy Bride.
Do not be afraid if, God forbid, the sheep turn on each other. Do not be afraid though, God forbid, the shepherds turn out to be hired hands. May God in His grace preserve us from both. Place your hope not in sheep, nor shepherds, nor the Church herself. No, your hope is safe in God’s promises to you in Jesus. In your Baptism, where He said to you, baptized into Christ, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17). In Holy Absolution, where He promises His followers, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven” (John 20:23). In the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus feeds you: “Take, eat; this is my body…Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26, 28).
These are God’s eternal promises to you in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. They are the gifts of Christ, who is the Church’s one foundation. And they can never lie.
“Elect from every nation/Yet one o’er all the earth/Her charter of salvation/ One Lord, one faith, one birth./ One holy name she blesses/Partakes one holy food/ And to one hope she presses/With every grace endued.
“Mid toil and tribulation/And tumult of her war/She waits the consummation/Of peace forevermore/Til with the vision glorious/Her longing eyes are blest/And the great Church victorious/Shall be the Church at rest.” Amen.
(Hymn stanzas from “The Church’s One Foundation,” by Samuel J. Stone)
*I took the title from St. Augustine, who said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”
Quote for the Month:
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, English Standard Version).
“Forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or no bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. They keep on replying, ‘But I tell you the man broke a most solemn promise.’ Exactly: that is precisely what you have to forgive….The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough….One must therefore begin by attending carefully to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if 99 percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the 1 per cent of guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” …To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.
–C.S. Lewis, in Readings for Meditation and Reflection, pp. 63-64