On June 1st some of the staff surprised me with a cake to celebrate my 20th anniversary of ordination. That was a lovely gesture. Thank you, guys! While we ate cake, Ann Paulson asked me whether I have Bible verses that have been foundational to my ministry. I honestly had never really thought about it before, but I discovered that I did have not just one but three immediately come to
mind — and I believe they have truly been foundational to not only my career but to my life as a baptized child of God.
Hebrews 12: 1-2a
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith
Galatians 5: 1
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2 Corinthians 5: 17
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; behold, everything has become new!
The verse from Hebrews is carved in wood around the entire sanctuary’s circumference inmy home congregation. Above this hand-carved verse are the names of many biblical figures starting with Adam and Eve, Noah and running through the whole Bible; then to ancient theologians, modern theologians; and at the end of the ‘list’ are two blank places. Each All Saints Sunday we’d stand and as a whole congregation read the names of all the biblical heroines and heroes who are in fact that “cloud of witnesses.” The message was clear to me: you and I are
a part of that cloud of witnesses, too! I believe this message so much that I
believe it was no small part of what nudged me into the public ministry.
The Galatians text might seem innocuous and ‘fine’ or even just ‘nice’ at first read, but for me it changed me during my first summer on Green Lake Bible Camp Staff. That year (1990) this text was the assigned Theme Verse for the entire summer.
We needed to have the campers memorize it so we made it into a chant of sorts and said it with the campers all day, every day, all summer long! I still have that silly chant in my head… But it wasn’t until I was at seminary that I saw the wonder in it: the grammar of Christ setting us free is in the past perfect tense; meaning it is already done/accomplished—therefore we are to STAY free from whatever would bind us. This little verse was saying to me that we are already free.
You are already free. I am already free. Totally free. RIGHT. NOW. Because of Jesus Christ. Because there is nothing more to do (you cannot get MORE free) the question then morphed into: knowing there is NOTHING we HAVE to do, now what shall we do? I have been aware that that question drives me.
The 2 Corinthians verse was also a Bible Camp Theme Verse, but it was when I was a camper at Green Lake. The rhythmic chant never really worked and always made me laugh at how clunky it was—which is why I think I remembered it all these years later. But, again, the profundity of its message never hit me until decades later and I realized that God in Christ Jesus was making me not only free, but anew! And I do mean totally anew-and in that newness of life we are able to do and say and accomplish stuff for others that we could not do or say or accomplish in the same way before. Made anew in Christ means that Christ has indeed set you
free from whatever holds you down or binds you. And because we’ve been given this liberating faith in Christ Jesus we are welded together into the body of Christ in the world which is, I believe, the cloud of witnesses who surround us all day, every day, always and forevermore. The truth of this message—Christ has made us altogether new, set us free and we are the cloud of witnesses for each other and especially for the sake of the world—is what drives me to even dare to step forth blindly into God’s future.
Over our storied 134 years of life together as St. John’s Lutheran Church,
we’ve had spectacular moments and deeply hurtful moments, monumental successes and crevasses of pain, but it has all been a part of our journey
with Christ Jesus – and he’s not done with us yet. In fact, our best days are yet to come. I believe.
– Pastor Mark