“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15, ESV). These words are part of the instructions that St. Paul gives to the congregation(s) at Colossae, and which have come down to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is how the Church of God in Jesus Christ ought to look in her life together.
If the Church in a particular place does the opposite, the Church as a whole will certainly continue, because Christ is alive and His Body cannot die. But a particular congregation can die, and they do all the time. It would be easy for us, because we are sinners, to do what the world does: find an object at which to aim our anger, bitterness, and dissatisfaction. We do it all the time on the internet in comment boxes, with our friends about politicians, and in various meeting places where we can air our complaints about various people and things. I do it, you do it, and we ought to repent and pray for those with whom we disagree. We ought to put on love, which can cover a multitude of minor sins and mistakes and simple annoyances. We ought to forgive as we have been forgiven, because none of us is without sin.
To get more specific, you (as the members of this congregation) and I (as the pastor of this congregation) have responsibilities toward each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. To remind myself, I looked at the Agenda, which includes the ordination and installation services for a pastor. At my ordination, I answered yes to the following questions: “Do you promise that you will perform the duites of your office in accordance with these Confessions [contained in the Book of Concord], and that all your preaching and teaching and your administration of the Sacraments will be in conformity with Holy Scripture and with these Confessions?”; “Will you faithfully instruct both young and old in the chief articles of Christian doctrine, will you forgive the sins of those who repent, and will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you? Will you minister faithfully to the sick and dying, and will you demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry centered in the Gospel? Will you admonish and encourage the people to a lively confidence in Christ and in holy living?”; “Finally, will you honor and adorn the Office of the Holy Ministry with a holy life? Will you be diligent in the study of Holy Scripture and the Confessions? And will you be constant in prayer for those under your pastoral care?” I answered, “I will, the Lord helping me through the power and grace of His Holy Spirit.” (Lutheran Service Book: Agenda, 166).
In my installation as pastor here, you were asked the following questions by the man who installed me: “[You have heard the solemn promise of him called to be your pastor.] Will you receive him, show him that love, honor, and obedience in the Lord that you owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over you by your Lord Jesus Christ, and will you support him by your gifts and fervent prayer [that in his labors he may retain a cheerful spirit and that his ministry among you may be abundantly blessed?] If so, then answer: We will, with the help of God.” And: “Will you honor and uphold your pastor as he serves Christ in all his God-pleasing responsibilities? Will you aid him as he cares for his family? Will you be diligent to ‘put the best construction on everything,’ recognizing that ‘love covers a multitude of sins’? If so, then answer: We will, with the help of God.” (Agenda, 169, 180).
These are the things that we owe each other according to our vocations.
I also want to reiterate what I said when I first got here: that talking about problems with someone other than the person with whom you have the problem can only damage relationships in the congregation. If I have a problem or a difficulty with you, it is my responsibility to come to you. If you have a problem or difficulty with me, it is your responsibility to come to me. I cannot help, change, fix, or otherwise deal with your concern if you do not talk to me about it. If you try to have someone else talk to me about it, I will refuse, because I cannot deal with every rumor or piece of hearsay that comes to me. But if you come to me, I promise to deal with you in love, to take your concern seriously, and to deal with it to the best of my ability. There are obviously certain things I cannot change, like our Communion practice, or my teaching and preaching of the Scriptures, or my personality. But if I can do something better, you have my word that I will try to do so. Likewise, if I have a concern, I cannot expect you to simply change or to do anything different if I don’t address you about it. But if we can overlook something, if we can see what is really important for the life and work of the Church, if we can realize that none of us can have our way in every little thing, then we simply have to let some things go. Pastors have to do it all the time. Members of the congregation have to do it as well. Perhaps we will all learn a little humility and let those things go with a joyful spirit, rather than with grumbling and complaining.
It is not good enough in the Church of Jesus Christ to complain about things or people and get mad when things don’t go our way. Since the Church does not belong either to you or to me, we must all—together—search the Scriptures to see how we can better confess Christ to each other and before the world. The Church of God is not a commodity, or a product, and it does not have a market share; the Church does not run a business where the customer is always right. We are not selling anything. We are proclaiming the crucified and resurrected Jesus for the forgiveness of sinners. Everything else is secondary, and our “job” is to bear witness to that Jesus in the various vocations in which we find ourselves. Everything else is, thank God, up to Him.
Pray for me, brothers and sisters, and I will pray for you, and let us all together search out how we can bear witness to Christ in Fisher and Euclid for the salvation of bodies and souls.
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”