Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Afternoon with Rev. Matt Harrison

Thirteen members of our congregation made the hour drive over to St. John-Amelith Lutheran in Bay City today to spend "An Afternoon with Rev. Matt Harrison" (the next president of the LCMS).  What a treat this was!

First of all, what a beautiful church this is.  Wow!  This was the first time I had been inside this historic church and it is simply breathtakingly gorgeous.  Here's a pic of the sanctuary:

You can also click here to check out the beautiful stained glass throughout - beauty everywhere you look.

But, even more beautiful was the opportunity to sit at the feet of Rev. Harrison and listen to him speak.  I had never had that opportunity before.  I've heard him on Issues, Etc., watched him in videos, read his books, visited his blog, but to hear him in person was very special.  I've had brothers who know him tell me that he's a pastor's pastor and a theologian's theologian.  Yeah, he is, but more.  What I love most about Rev. Harrison is that he's just plain real; there's nothing fake about this man of God.  He is sincere through and through.  And, he knows his stuff - man, does he know his stuff!  He is definitely "at home in the house of his fathers," as his knowledge of our Lutheran history, and especially our LCMS history, is amazing.  He spent the first portion of his presentation talking about that history, conveying how important it was for our Lutheran forefathers to retain sound doctrine and practice in the midst of the errant doctrine and practice surrounding them here in America, and how important it is for us to do the same today.  It is only through sound doctrine and practice that faithful mission work is done by our Lord through His Church.  Pure doctrine and practice go hand in hand with missions.  But, there are dangers here.  We must not be so preoccupied with guarding our doctrine that we lack a zeal for missions, even as we must not be so preoccupied with missions that we abandon our doctrine.

To illustrate this, Rev. Harrison led us through an awesome study of Acts, showing us how the early church faithfully kept the proper balance of pure doctrine and zeal for mission work.  He highlighted the koinonia (communion, fellowship) evident in the early church, and showed how the brethren shared all things in common.  The church is a community which shares the most intimate fellowship, for all are one in Christ.  When one person in that fellowship suffers, all suffer with him, and all come to his aid.  He believes the church needs to get back to what she is supposed to be, an intimate fellowship of believers fed by the same Christ from font, pulpit, and altar, who bear one another's burdens in love.  He pointed out how the individualistic mentality, especially here in America, has gotten us off track, and how the care of the poor and sick has sadly shifted away from the church and into the hands of the secular government.  He did not shy away from showing us our sins in this regard, reminding us that our failures to care for, and help, our brothers and sisters in Christ is, at the end of the day, more than breaking this or that commandment, but a denial of our very fellowship, which is established in Baptism and sustained in preaching, Holy Absolution, and the ongoing reception of our Lord's very Body and Blood in the Holy Supper.  When we lose our sense of koinonia (communion, fellowship) and fail to care for, and help, those among us in need, we are acting like we don't share a common Christ as Savior.  Therefore, renewal in the church must always begin with self-examination and repentance.  That's what the Reformation was all about - it was a call to repentance.

One of the things I appreciated most about Rev. Harrison's presentation was his assessment that outreach is not nearly as important as inreach.  All we hear about today is how necessary it is for us to do outreach.  All the programs and movements coming forth from synodical headquarters today are outreach-focused.  Outreach is important.  We need to be zealous about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with this dead and dying world.  But, the way true outreach will be done among us is when we learn how to do more effective inreach.  Learning to live together within the intimate fellowship we share with one another through Christ, and getting back to what we are supposed to be, a community of believers who care for, and help, one another, even as we have been cared for, and helped, by our Lord and Savior, will enliven us to go out with the Gospel of Christ with the zeal to bring others to meet our Lord where He promises to be, that they, too, might be brought into the joy of that fellowship.   

There is so much more I could write.  It was a wonderful, and very helpful, study.  It was so refreshing to witness a synodical leader so at home in, and so knowledgeable of, Holy Scripture.  Imagine a synodical leader who uses a worn-out Greek New Testament and teaches the sacred Scriptures faithfully and with evident ease and you begin to get a picture of Rev. Harrison.  Color me very impressed.

And, as if listening to Rev. Harrison teach the Word of God to us was not enough, we were also privileged to hear him preach the Word during Vespers.  His homily upon the Parable of the Good Samaritan brought home all that he had taught during his presentation.  A splendid, Cross-focused, Christ-centered homily it was!

As I said above, this afternoon with Rev. Harrison was a real treat.  I'm so thankful that a dozen members from the congregation I serve were able to attend with me.  They got to witness and experience what our beloved synod could be with a leader like Rev. Harrison at the helm.

As an added bonus, Rev. Harrison was gracious enough to sign copies of his books during the soup/sandwich dinner, so I am the proud owner of signed copies of "Christ Have Mercy" and "At Home in the House of My Fathers."  Pictured below is Sharyn, one of our members, getting her copies signed, as the event was winding down:


I've been saying it for a while now, but I say it now more fervently than ever before:



amelithpastor said...

Thanks so much for coming, Tom, and for brining a number of your parishioners. It was a wonderful day all around. We had the privilege of having Pastor Harrison preach in our morning services and he assisted me at Holy Communion as well. I thank our many lay people who made the event run so smoothly. God certainly blessed the day from start to finish.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

It was a real pleasure, Steve. Enjoyed it immensely! Thanks so much for hosting and giving us the opportunity to meet, and listen to, Pr. Harrison. And, thank your people on our behalf, too - everyone was extremely hospitable and the event could not have run any smoother.

IggyAntiochus said...

St. John-Amelith is the mother church of my home congregation. A pastor from there would ride horseback out to the settlers monthly until they were able to call a pastor of their own.