On February 9th, the good people of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church gathered to celebrate all that God has done among us through and under the leadership of Pastor Justin Kollmeyer. Through worship and a reception many stories were told, laughter echoed among our souls, and our cheeks were washed in tears of joy. It was a wonderful day. It struck a tone of joy and celebration–and that ring will continue to resonate for days and weeks to come.
2nd Kings 2 tells the story of Elijah being taken up to heaven on chariots of fire. It is a powerful story of the miraculous culmination of the faithful servant of the Lord. Only one set of human eyes witnessed the grand departure of Elijah–his successor Elisha. 2 Kings tells the story–and the journey of their transition. And, while Pastor K’s 44 years of ordained ministry have been remarkable, faithful, and fruitful–any comparison to Elijah is purely incidental. Furthermore, any comparison you may infer of me to Elisha is down right delusional 🙂 Even still, I turn to this story to help us all reflect upon this pastoral transition, to celebrate the culmination of a fruitful ministry, and to pass the baton to the next ministry partner to lead Prince of Peace.
In the story from 2nd Kings 2, there are 4 specific location that are mentioned. I want to look at these locations as the backdrop to help reflect on transitions. Elijah and Elisha passed through 4 different locations during this final farewell tour: Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan River. By looking at each location we will dive deeper into what transition can mean for us all.
Gilgal is a less familiar location in our collective consciousness. Yet it plays an important role in the life of the Hebrews. Gilgal was the first place the Israelites camped after they crossed the Jordan river from the wilderness into the Promised Land. This was their home–their celebration, the place they first rested in the joy of knowing they arrived in the place God had called them to all the way back in Genesis 12.
Gilgal, in Hebrew, means circle. It is the specific location where Joshua set up the 12 stones in a circle to remember God’s work. It is my hope that this transition from Pastor K’s leadership to mine has a cyclical nature. There is no question that Pastor K’s ministry among us has been a blessing. I pray this faithfulness continues–that it continues to come around again and again. Equally, it is no surprise that I am not Pastor K. As such, things, by this very nature, will be different. And yet, the faithfulness of God and His provisions for us will continue to surround us. We are still enveloped by His love. His grace circles us everywhere we go.
Finally, it was while the Israelites were camped at Gilgal that the Lord caused the gifts of Mana to stop. You’ll recall that Mana was the gift that fed the Israelites throughout their time in the wilderness. It stopped at Gilgal. This was because the people of God were finally able to produce food to eat from the land where they were living. The Lord continued to provide their food–but now it was grown in the field. Now, I don’t know a ton about farming–but I know that the crops don’t get planted, grow, and are not harvested by themselves. The farmer puts a whole lot of sweat-equity into those crops. And so too it is with us. Gilgal reminds us that we have our part to play in the divine narrative of our Lord. We are not passive audience members who sit back and watch God work. No, we are called into the story. We are gifted with skills and talents to put to use. We are participants. So, let’s get to work.
Next, Elijah and Elisha travel through Bethel. This word in Hebrew simply means House of God. What a beautiful reminder that, in this journey of life, we radiate outward from the very House of God. That our coming and our going–our whole life long–is marked by God’s home. All of our striving in this world is to God’s glory alone–Soli Deo Gloria. This reality has been a hallmark of Pastor K’s ministry and life. Certainly his work found its epicenter at the place of Prince of Peace. But it is clear and evident–and a good example to us all–that the house of God is found on the soccer field; at the grocery store; around town; with neighbors and strangers alike. We are knit together as the household of God and it is in order to do His work. It is my hope and prayer that we continue forward into God’s future united as the house of God.
The phrase “House of God” can make us think about the building. This is wrong. We, too often, get caught up thinking that the House of God for Prince of Peace is about the building at 257 on Highway 314. In truth, the House of God is more akin to the house system in Harry Potter. Harry Potter was a Gryffindor and it was an identity that traveled with hime everywhere he went. You are a part of the House of God–and that identity goes with you everywhere you do. And, everywhere you go, you take the House of God with you.
Bethel is first mentioned in scripture in Genesis as Abram (soon to be Abraham) sets off on his mission to bless others. One of Abram’s first thoughts is to set aside a place and a time to give God glory and praise. As wonderful and world changing as Abraham is–it all began with a recognition of his proper place. It wasn’t about him–it was about the one who calls us into mission and purpose. Abraham pointed to the Lord and set aside this place, Bethel, to be a center for worship and gathering.
As Prince of Peace steps into this next chapter of our life together, may this same spirit that has been among us since before day one continue to guide and lead us forward. That our hearts and minds would be drawn together to offer worship and praise to the one who orders and numbers our days. That we would be a people who gather at the House of God to worship the Almighty One. That we would be a people of God as we go into our community and into this world aware that the identity given to us in baptism stays with us. That, because of this identity, we are gathered and sent into the world. We are commissioned as missionaries–to take the Good News of all that the Lord has done for us into a world that desperately wants and needs to hear about Him. Come, be connected to our Bethel. And then go and radiate out the light that shines upon us and scatters darkness.
Jericho is the next place that Elijah and Elisha pass through on their journey. The battle of Jericho is such a vital story for our faith. Sometimes God asks us to do absurd things–like march around a town once a day for a week to defeat your enemy. Hardships, barriers, speed bumps, and brick walls appear in all of our lives. Just like in our past, there are certain to be Jericho’s in our future. Both personally and collectively we will encounter situations, challenges, and walls before our path. Hardships that seek to prevent us from getting to where God is calling us to be. Sometimes this is a location. Often time these are things that prevent us from leveling up in our maturity of faith and snares that hold us back from growing. Sadly–at least ostensibly–God does not knock down every Jericho that impedes our journey.
Jericho was a fortified city. It was a stronghold. And the word came to Joshua–the military commander–the soldiers are going to sit this one out. Jericho was defeated by the musicians. The priests marched around the city blowing their trumpets. On the seventh day the walls came tumbling down. Worship and the presence of God are mighty weapons. The song of the faithful is not easily dismissed. Throughout the life of Prince of Peace, worship and song has been central to our work. Whether the traditional hymns led by the organ or the band leading us in praise–what can stand against us as our voices join together as one?
One of my favorite stories of Pastor K from this past year was the 5th day of VBS. It is no secret that Pastor K loves Vacation Bible School. I do too. But, by the 5th day I’m a little less in love with VBS. Not so with Pastor K! Friday was wrapping up. As always, Pastor K was teaching music all week long. I made my rounds throughout the day and I came back into the narthex where Pastor K was leading music. For almost 3 hours each day that week he had been singing and doing the motions. But, here he was–after 15 hours of kids music songs–singing his heart out with joy, delight, and energy. He still had energy?! Yes! He had energy because, at the core of his heart and ministry, Pastor K has known that the praise and worship of our Lord defeats the Jericho’s in our lives.
As this transition continues, keep singing. May the music of praise that radiates from Prince of Peace keep radiating from our hearts. My musical abilities are different than Pastor K’s. That means that things may look a little different–and if you are seated close to me, they may sound different too. But, I celebrate the legacy of music unto the Lord that is deep in the foundation of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. And, I join you in singing our faith to the Glory of God.
The Jordan River
The final stop along the way for Elijah and Elisha is the Jordan river. Once there, Elijah strikes the water with his cloak and the two walk across on dry ground. The Jordan River is a pivotal place in the story of our salvation. It was at the Jordan river that the Israelites crossed from the wilderness into the Promised Land. It was at the Jordan River that Jesus was announced as the Lamb of God, washed in the waters of baptism, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. It seems that the Jordan River is a key location for important transitional moments in the life of God’s people.
Perhaps it is helpful to think of Prince of Peace–our community of faith–as a place along the Jordan River. It is this place to which Pastor Kollmeyer was called 34 years ago. And, while Prince of Peace is not the Promise Land–it is our promised land. It is not heaven–but it gives us a foretaste of Heaven. Prince of Peace has been and will continue to be the locus of God’s activity among us. We are a community of faithfulness, of growth, of peace and health, and a place where God’s promises are manifested. This congregation is the place to which we come to experience, taste, and see the presence of God in a real sense. Just like in the early days of Jesus, people curious to know more about God came to the Jordan river to hear from John the Baptist. We, too, come to Prince of Peace to catch a glimmer of His radiance today.
Prince of Peace is a spot along the Jordan for me and my family. You called me to come and live and serve among you. It is a place of promise and has been the place where the Ness family has set up camp in joy and celebration following a period of wilderness. In scripture, the crossing of the Jordan River marks a threshold between the profane and the sacred; the wilderness and the Promised Land. Although to the Triune God such divisions are immaterial–its all God’s space–there is something beautiful about finally stepping into the place to which you have been called. This was true for the Israelites as told in Joshua 3 and it is true for the Ness family.
Here God has gathered us. Here His promises are realized. My hope is that Prince of Peace has been a spot along the Jordan for you too. A place where the promises of God have been real and tangible. A place where the peace of God is real and wraps you in His arms of love. And a place where you know you belong.
My greatest hope and fervent prayer is that, as we continue this transition, that these 4 places resonate within you. That there is something along the journey for Elijah and Elisha that connects with your journey here at Prince of Peace. I remain grateful to the Lord for calling all of us here. I’m indebted to Pastor Kollmeyer and I am delighted with the way that we were able to celebrate his ministry unto the Lord this past Sunday. May we continue forward on the firm foundation that the Lord built through the work of Pastor K.