May You Experience this Love of Christ! A Message Delivered at the PSD District 2022 Convention
May the mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so profound in your life that you realize — you have learned by experience that you are loved!
If you have ever seen the television show Broken, you may tear up at the picture on this slide. We’ll get to the profound story it tells in a moment. But it is one I know everyone of us needs to experience.
I don’t care which political side of the synod you sit on; I don’t care whether you use LSB (though I still prefer TLH), or have contemporary worship. I don’t care if you serve a mountain congregation of 20, an urban congregation that is struggling, or Lutheran Mega-Church in Orange County or Arizona.
You all need to have the experience of the guy in the purple chasuble, to receive the forgiveness and mercy that God’s love makes so real.
Otherwise, this synod will remain broken, your church will remain broken, and you, no matter how hard you try, will be broken.
Twenty years ago, I left my non-denominational congregation to spend 3 and a half years to become part of all of you. I owe a great debt to Dr. Stephen Mueller, Bill Cwirla, Greg Seltz, and Bob Rossow.
Among the lessons I learned was one some of you might have memorized once… that’s why there is no slide for it.
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith (Martin Luther, T
Worship isn’t worship without that call and enlightenment. I don’t care how logical your systematic theology is, how reasonable your apologetics are as you try to prove the gospel, without the Holy Spirit working in your heart, soul and mind, it is as empty as the Bills or Vikings Superbowl Trophy Case.
What happens is what happens to the priest in the show. Dealing with the normal trauma every church experiences, from death to immorality, from injustice to darkness, the priest struggles to approach the altar. He states,
“because I know, in here, , that I am not fit to be a priest. So -at the supreme moment of priesthood – the consecration, this, this, reminds me of all the dirty filthy things I’ve done in my life, and the dirty filthy things that have been done to me. And it says, how dare you think yourself worthy of this…” Fr. Michael in Broken
When I came into the LCMS, the biggest difference I noticed was not logical. It was the acceptance of what Fr. Michael said, and yet every person in the church being drawn to the altar, anyway. It didn’t matter if it was at the page 15 service with Doctor Hendry officiating, or Mike Coppersmith preaching at a contemporary service. It could be gossip, being sexually broken, using God’s name in vain, the brokenness caused by sin was real…
People didn’t come to the altar thinking they were worthy of this…. But they came.
At the altar they found what was beyond logic, beyond reason. They found that they were loved. That’s what Fr. Mike in the show found out, even as he was communing someone he sinned against…who let him know he was a wonderful pastor. He knew God’s love far more clearly at that point…
Loved by God who was willing to die for them, and have them share in the death sacramentally, that they would rise with Him.
There, at the altar, broken people and broken pastors found something that Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus to experience…the prayer I read earlier…
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.
I saw this at both churches, as people came forward, their bodies betraying the conviction that they were stressed-out, overwhelmed, wounded by their own sin and sins of their community. They knelt there and received the body and blood of Christ again, and you saw them physically transform. Their bodies relaxed, their eyes bright, a smile breaking out on their face.
Greg Seltz used to call that incarnational and sacramental.
I have a better phrase, in that moment, we realize the intimate relationship God has drawn us into with Him.
In the picture, the lady had been betrayed, the relationship with her pastor destroyed. Not just because he wasn’t there when she needed him, but because he lied about it, and her son was killed. The grief and shame overwhelmed him and there, on the day he was planning to leave the ministry, as he gave out the Body and Blood of Christ, she and the church brought him back from the edge.
If we are going to be abundantly more, if we are going to accomplish infinite more than we might ask or think, where it will happen is at baptismal fonts and at the altar, in coffee shops and business meetings, where we plead with people, “Come back to God.” and they do…
And they experience what we have, the call and enlightenment that comes as the Holy Spirit opened our eyes through word and sacrament, and we begin “to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.