January 2018 

Why are we here? More specifically, why is St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church here? Why have a church at all?

The role of the congregation is well-established in Scripture. It is the place for joint worship, instruction, mutual encouragement, and care. On the one hand, the congregation permits us to do collectively what we likely have trouble doing individually. As the early church sponsored the mission work of Paul and the other apostles, so does our congregation sponsor mission work in faraway lands.

On the other hand, the church is for individual growth and encouragement. What is fascinating is that for all people the congregation was to serve all of these purposes. All of the members were to be engaged in worship, spiritual growth, encouragement, and care ministries.

Jesus warned, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). About 20-30 years later Paul warned a new pastor, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:2,3)

Now, nearly 2,000 years later, congregations often are suffering terribly through neglect and misuse. Churches today often cater to the itching ears of the time, preaching a new message not found in Scripture. Because of increased wickedness in the world, many churches are drifting from their calling to care for their widows, orphans, and the distressed.

The incredible thing is that no one in these churches realizes they drifted. In classic fashion we may spot the errors in others but fail to see it in ourselves. The Apostle John wrote to the church in Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)  We find contentment not in the work of the church or its message, but in the things of the world – their pleasures and opportunities.

Ask yourself: when the world offers something and the church offers something, and it is at the same time, which do you choose?

Sadly, for many, the congregation exists for those when they are “hatched, matched or dispatched.” We turn to the church for baptism, then for marriage, and finally for burial. Ironically, in the pages of Scripture, the congregation is not directly referenced in doing these things and, yet for many, it is all that the church is good for.

The St. Paul congregation has existed for 145 years. In that time there were those whose love grew cold, and they did not  demonstrate care. There were those whose itching ears pulled them to other churches that catered to what they wanted to hear. There were those who were seen only on holidays and for occasions of hatching, matching, and dispatching.

But through those 145 years the pastoral and lay leadership of the congregation were adamant in remaining faithful to the Bible as the inspired Word of God. It didn’t just contain the Word of God, it is in its entirety God’s Word.

That has opened us up for yet another kind of sin – the one of arrogance. We have also had attitudes of condescension as some have looked down in self-righteous disgust at those who have fallen by the wayside.

For 145 years the congregation as it stands by God’s Word is a conundrum in a community by declaring its doors open to all people while also declaring there are absolute rights and wrongs and that there is only one way to salvation. We condemn the proud along with the wicked, the self-righteous do-gooders along with the uncaring. And then we invite them all to God’s house to find forgiveness, instruction, and opportunity for service and praise.

The 145-year reality at St. Paul is that we are a collection of sinners who understand the core message that we are all saved by grace through faith. We didn’t earn it and there is nothing in any of our lives to make us deserving of it. We are the objects of undeserved love and for 145 years we focus on that message despite the shifting sands of time.

We will rebel against the hatched, matched, and dispatched mentality of our time. We will challenge the apathetic and the spiritual lazy. We will also challenge those who are self-righteous, arrogant, and puffed-up in their comfort. We will continue to point to the cross of Jesus Christ as the source of our salvation. Without him all of us, good and bad, friendly and unfriendly, engaged and apathetic, are equally lost.

Rejoice that for 145 years God’s Word has been retained. Consider again why the church exists, and challenge your heart for wrong notions that may exist and sit with us at the foot of the cross to worship, learn, encourage, and care.

~ Pastor Robert Fleischmann

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. ~ Psalm 9:10