The big picture

Pastor Tom Jeske

It’s August, it’s hot, and it’s dry. Here in a prairie state, a traveler struggles for a sense of the big picture.

The Great Platte River Road has been used hard for hundreds of years by men and women, boys and girls who had places to go. Most traveled toward the frontier. Others moved away from it and the losses they’d experienced there. Ox carts, we’re told, traveled two miles per hour on average. There were gullies and bluffs and riverbanks to negotiate. Even on the level, there were seas of grass six feet and higher running away from you to the horizon. Add in weather. The summer and winter seasons are often downright brutal.

Interstate 80 is now the traveler’s reference point, its west-east blue line helping the map reader in the passenger seat to get a sense of the big picture. It can be a long way between exits, sometimes rest areas are nowhere to be found, and to the untrained eye there seems a dismaying sameness to it all.

Christians are familiar with another journey with difficult-to-read reference points, one which requires daily checking of the big picture to fight off the urge to go back the other way.

This is the human experience—to live and move through life’s different seasons: birth, growth, fear, loss, love, work, play, and death.

Add the unfriendly “geography” of the American cultural landscape, and a group like our church body seems so frail, scattered, and inconsequential. A young traveler, writing her experiences in a diary, might choose descriptors such as

  • threatening circumstances,
  • demanding bursts of very hard work, followed by
  • dismaying sameness.

Have you come to dislike the threatening circumstances, the relentless competition between church bodies? Disagreements about what direction is best? Is your congregation dismayed after a long stretch with an apparent lack of progress? Another report about the tough financial shape the synod is in?

Christian, if this August finds you down in the dumps . . . if the synod convention wasn’t all seashells and balloons . . . if the people around you don’t seem particularly attractive, clever, or inspiring travel companions . . . if it’s mighty hard today to see the big picture, read on:

“I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, Christ, called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, one mind and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms.

I am also a part and member of the same, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Spirit by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it.

For formerly, before we had attained to this, we were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ.

Thus, until the Last Day, the Holy Spirit abides with the holy congregation, Christendom, by means of which he leads us to Christ and which he employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby he works and promotes sanctification, causing it daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which he produces.” (Apostles’ Creed, Third Article, Large Catechism, Dr. Martin Luther)

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Living Hope Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE