How does the community in Christ look different than every other community?
At Tuesday night’s Mass Event, we celebrated the wonderful, diverse, united community that makes up the body of Christ. We considered that the way God assembles community is a lot different from the ways we draft teams today. “We don’t hand pick who is in His family,” Pastor Matt Popovits said. “God just grabs. God’s church is incredibly, unbelievably diverse. And yet there is something that connects us. What connects us is this desperate need we all have inside us, to be forgiven by the one who made us. There is nothing that connects two people together in the present like knowing you both have been released from your past. That’s how God builds a church. That’s how He builds a community.”
Our emcees pointed out something that needed a little clarification. We’ve been calling this the National Youth Gathering, but truth is that it’s actually an International Youth Gathering, with participants from 13 different countries. We heard from Ben Helge, an LCMS missionary living in the Czech Republic, and his friend Tomáš Přeček. Together, they shared the story of how they became friends, and of how Tomáš became a Christian. “I can stand here before my brothers and sisters in Christ as part of God’s family and part of God’s global community,” Tomáš said.
The church is a place where people connect together at one table. Communion isn’t just gathering with your local church…by the power of the holy spirit we are all there. “When God gathers the family meal of forgiveness, He gathers the entire family throughout time and space…and though we are apart, for the faith and forgiveness we share in Christ, we will never be alone. We will forever be connected,” said Pastor Matt.
Pastor Greg Manning took the stage to talk about forgiveness and the importance of forgiveness in sustaining community. He shared the story of growing up in hurtful, painful home with an abusive step father. Later, he attended a conference where a speaker talked about forgiveness and challenged him to tell his step father he was forgiven. When Pastor Manning returned home, he called his step father and forgave him. “I felt absolutely free,” he said. “Life began to change.”
Forgiveness becomes the greatest witness we have in the church, he said. God tells us we are forgiven, and then we have the opportunity to echo those same words and go to someone else and say, “I forgive you…because God forgives me.” And when you say those words, it sets you free from anger, from shame, from guilt and from all punishment.
Pastor Manning saw a powerful example of forgiveness in his mother, who sought out her ex-husband and spoke forgiveness to him, years after all the hurt. Pastor Manning said, “She looked at him and she said, you don’t owe me because you’re debt’s been paid. The same blood that covers me covers you. You are forgiven.” Pastor Manning challenged us to go out and shine with the light of Jesus.
Pastor Matt closed the evening with these words:
— LCMS Youth Gathering (@LCMSNYG) July 20, 2016
“This community is a beautiful thing,” he said, and it truly is.
Photo credit: Matt LaVere, 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering Media Team