As a community we have seen some awesome things lately. I am using that word loosely. A tornado is awesome, not because it is good or desired, but because when you see it and the damage that it leaves in its wake, it makes your jaw hit the floor. Perhaps the better word is “fearsome”.
Besides the destruction and devastation, however, there have been many awesome things. There was the quick response of individuals to help their neighbors. Many of you drove to New Minden to help pull people out of the rubble and to pick up the pieces of their lives. You went to the various farms and outlying homes that had been hit and worked into the dark helping to make the clean-up that much more doable.
And then you stayed. You did not come for just one day, but many came back the next day, and the next, sometimes finding new people to help, new ways to lend a hand. Some donated food and water. Some donated money. Some prayed.
And then there was the worship service on Wednesday evening. Pastors Tim and Jacob Mueller organized an awesome service of Word and Prayer. And together we raised our voices, both in prayer and praise, in thanksgiving and supplication.
As a pastor, I cannot be everywhere at once. I cannot literally be all things to all people, at least not all at the same time. So on behalf of the families who received help, on behalf of those who simply don’t have the platform or opportunity to say this, and as the pastor of several who suffered much through Sunday’s storms: Thank You.
Thank you for being what you were called to be in your baptism. Thank you for being the people of God, the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, when one member suffers all suffer with it, and you have certainly done that. You have suffered together, and it is my hope and prayer that you will continue to do so.
Disaster, it seems, brings out the best in people. And the church is no exception. For a time we are not Republicans of Democrats, Hoyletonians or New Mindenites. We are one in Christ, one in suffering, and hopefully one in thanksgiving.
It is a shame, however, that this is what it takes for us to lay aside our differences, to treat one another as fellow children of God, rather than rivals or enemies. And it should not be that way.
Too often we are rather slow to forgive. We are even slower to forget. We perceive that someone has slighted us, they have insulted us, or committed a sin against us. And we hold on to that.
Sometimes even after the person has apologized, even after we have given forgiveness, we eye them with suspicion. We forgive, but we refuse to forget. We allow differences, some of them rather petty, and some of them not, to drive us apart.
When we do this we are dealing with one another in a rather unchristian way. You see, we only have two hands. And in those hands we can only hold one thing at a time. We can hold on to our grudge. Or we can hold on to Jesus, but never both.
You can hold fast to your anger, resentment, jealousy, rage, or apathy. Or you can hold fast to the Gospel of Christ. But one of them is going to have to go. There is no way to hold on to anything in addition to Jesus. Our hands are not strong enough.
That is what happens. This is why there are divisions in the Church. This is why there is anger and resentment: because we take our eyes off Jesus. We let go of Him so that we may hold on to our own ideas, our own rights, our own responsibilities, our own judgments. Rather than listening to the Word of God we listen to the voice of our heart, our heart filled with sin, with jealousy, with rage and resentment.
You are the people of God by baptism into Christ Jesus. And that has never been more obvious that it was in this past week. And the vision was beautiful. It was awe-inspiring. It was a condemnation of the way the rest of the world does business and a beacon of hope to those living in despair. And that is what the Church is meant to be every single day.
I want to read for you the end of our Epistle lesson from this morning. Saint Paul begins his letter to the Colossians by praising, in great detail, Jesus Christ our Lord:
“And he is before all things, and in (Christ Jesus) all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church, He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth of in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.”
Our hands are not powerful enough to hold on to anything. But the hands of Jesus hold all things together. That is what Jesus was doing on the cross. He was stretching out His hands between heaven and earth and making peace between God and man. He makes peace with His blood.
On the cross Jesus reconciles all things to Himself. He is the center of the Church. He is the head of the body. And without Him everything falls to pieces. And He does not wait for us to make Him the center of our lives. He does not await our coming around to realize just how pivotal He is.
Jesus inserts Himself where He belongs. This is why Jesus has called pastors into His churches, to keep interjecting Him back into every discussion. I am here to remind you that Jesus is the head. Jesus brings reconciliation between warring parties. Jesus is preeminent in everything. And hopefully you are here to remind me as well.
When we let go of Jesus it is impossible to be the body of Christ. His blood is the glue that holds us together. His hands are the ones making forgiveness a reality both between God and man, and between man and man.
And so Jesus keeps sticking His nose in where we may not want Him. Like a bad penny, He keeps turning up. He has shed His blood to bring us to God and to bring us together. And He will not let us forget.
Perhaps the reason this becomes easier in a tragedy is because when everything else blows away, you only have Jesus to hold on to. All other options are gone. But that need not be the only time.
You are the body of Jesus Christ. He is your head. In His life and death He reveals to you His Father. And in His hands He holds all things together. He forgives your sins and enables you to forgive the sins of your brothers and sisters.
Let us not allow tragedy to be the only time we act together as brothers and sisters, as members of one body under the headship of Jesus Christ. May the events of this past week be one shining example of who we are in Christ every single day. Amen.