Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus begins his march to the cross in Bethlehem. During His three years on the road doing His ministry, the Apostles learned a lot and grew in their faith.
They believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, as Peter so famously confessed. What they did not understand was the full implication of what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. To them, His death meant that He had failed. His death meant that Jesus would no longer be with them, to lead them, to explain God’s Will to them. Without their leader, they were utterly clueless.
The Bible contains some important stories in which God’s appointed leader does not make it to the ultimate destination with the people he is leading. Neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob actually live to see the fulfillment of the Covenant with God and live in the Promised Land. In fact, Jacob has to flee the famine in the land of Canaan, and take his huge household to Egypt. They remain there for something like 400 years before Moses leads them out of Egypt.
Moses is another leader of God’s people who doesn’t quite make it to the finish line with them. It always seemed a bit harsh to me that God punished Moses for his mistake by keeping him from getting to the Promised Land. Moses was 80 years old when God called him to lead the Israelites out of slavery. He was a reluctant leader from the very beginning, and he had to lead a “stiff-necked people” for 40 years wandering around the desert until the old guard had died off. He was faithful and true to God, but he blew it when he summoned water from the rock in his own name, not God’s. God’s mercy toward Moses was in letting him see the Promised Land before he died.
Once the Israelites occupied the Promised Land (they didn’t really conquer it), the Book of Judges tells us about a variety of leaders who rose up to meet the needs of the moment. Some of the Judges were of better character than others, but all were chosen by God to lead His people, even Samson, whose credentials as a righteous Israelite were severely lacking. When God allowed His people to live under rule of an earthly king, the pattern continued. King David was a great soldier and faithful Israelite, but God would not permit David to build a temple in God’s Name, because of his sin.
Even in modern times and in the secular world we find examples of leaders who were not able to finish the journey with their people. The Rev. Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr., comes to mind as an example of such a leader who lived in our own time.
The important thing to keep in mind is that, in the absence of their dynamic and charismatic earthly leaders, God continued to be with His people. The story of the Hebrews continued right along into the time of Jesus, and the story of His followers has continued to this very day. God sometimes provided a new earthly leader, but the message here is that God’s people are the important ones who are called upon to do His work here on earth. For us Christians, even though Jesus is no longer with us in human form, He is with us everywhere and all the time as the resurrected Messiah. Moreover, Jesus sent God’s Holy Spirit to be with us as well. Even though we may feel alone and deserted, we need to remember that God always keeps His promises, and Jesus is the fulfilment of those promises; Jesus is here and everywhere, and so is the Holy Spirit. We are far from being alone and deserted.
The congregation of CLC Millvale is far from being deserted. It is far from leaderless. To be sure, the congregation is experiencing significant change, and it feels scary at times. The congregation is undergoing a metamorphosis, not unlike that of the caterpillar which transforms itself into a beautiful butterfly.
The word resurrection means to rise up and live again. This is what Jesus did, and Scripture tells us that eventually we will all rise up and live again when Jesus returns to earth. Today, however, it is CLC Millvale that is ready to rise up and renew its mission and ministry to the people of Millvale. There will be a new pastor, some new leaders and some who are familiar to us, and there will challenges for sure. It is also certain that God will remain with CLC to support and guide it, just as He remained with His Son during His time of trial.