Thursday, February 27, 2014

40 Months of Immanuel

     The number "40" symbolizes "a long time" in the Bible. According to the Noah story, "rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights." Moses' life is divided into three "forty-year" periods. When he went up the mountain in Sinai, he stayed there "forty days." Those Israelites he led wandered and camped in that wilderness for "forty years." Jesus spent forty days in the desert, when he faced down the Devil's temptations.

     This week marked the fortieth month that I served as interim pastor to Immanuel Lutheran Church, Michigan City, Ind. This past Sunday was my last. In my farewell sermon I drew attention to the fact that none of us knew back in Oct 2010 that I would be serving them this long. Why so long? It took seven calls to seven different pastors before one of them finally accepted! Seven, too, is a biblical number, a number of completeness and wholeness. Now the congregation has a full-time pastor rather than a full-time professor who filled in as part-time pastor.

     God has a way of upsetting all our best-designed plans. God’s ways are not our ways. God knows the future in a way that we do not. Our time, our days and weeks, months and years, are in God’s hands. God knows what is best for us, even if we might wonder otherwise along the way.

     It is good that Immanuel congregation and I did not know in '10 what God knew. It was good because we have been forced to keep plugging along together, by God’s grace, through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, under the cross of Christ. Not knowing how long we would be working together, serving together, praying together—we focused primarily on the week-to-week. At least I did. My sole goal during all this time has been to make sure that the gospel was proclaimed, the sacraments administered in accord with that gospel, and that God’s love was shared with all, especially with those who are troubled, suffering, grieving, and questioning.

     During those forty months, at times, I felt as if I was in a wilderness, a bit bewildered, confused. There were some desert days. This was especially the case in the days and weeks following the sudden death of Pastor Palmer, whose death was the occasion for my being summoned to serve. His death was not the only one we faced in that first year. There were many others, more than twenty by the time 18 months had passed. 

     God saw us through those dark days. The elders stepped up and were extremely helpful, as were the retired clergy in the congregation. Christ drew us closer together--which often happens when one is facing a crisis or set of crises. That 40-month period was in many ways a kind of extended Lenten spiritual journey. (Lent, too, lasts "forty days.") God used all of those experiences, the good and the bad, the joyful and the sad, to draw us closer to one another and to God. The name "Immanuel" means "God with us." God certainly lived up to that name during these past 40 months! 

     These years together have also taught the congregation and me patience, to be patient with one another, to be patient with God. While God seemed to be answering our prayers for a full-time pastor with the answer, "No!," God really was responding, "Not yet. Just wait." So we have been waiting. And now God has answered those prayers with a "Yes." (Keep in mind that in Christ Jesus God's response is always "Yes!" That's God's grace. God's promise.)

My son, Jacob, on the left, and his friend, James, on the right

     So it is good that we did not know in '10 what God knew. For otherwise I might have said, “No, find someone else to be your part-time pastor,” and then I would not have experienced the great blessing that this congregation has been to me. My wife, Detra, and our son, Jacob, would not have experienced the love that has been shared with them as well. I will always be grateful that I was able to teach and confirm my son in the faith!

     So Immanuel, Michigan City has been a big part of our lives. We are going to miss this congregation! They have been such a blessing to us! And now we pray for God's blessing to rest upon Immanuel's new pastor, Pr. David Solum, and his family! May God be with them in the months and years of their ministry!

The Installation of Pastor David Solum on Sunday, Feb 23

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