by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
Luther taught that the eternal God became flesh in Jesus for us, and that we in turn “take on the flesh” of our neighbor by helping in times of need. Luther’s writings are shot through with references to caring for the widow, the orphan and the needy. So Luther preached: “A ‘bishop’ [i.e., the chief pastor of a city, in this case Luther’s Wittenberg] is an official of God who should have ministers. He should distribute the divine goodsnamely, the Gospel. The deacons, however, that is the ministers, shall have the registry of the poor so they can be cared for” (Weimar Edition, vol. 12, p. 694).
Dr. Walther was adamant: “Although a preacher above all has concern for the spiritual needs of the members of his congregation, concern for their physical well-beingparticularly the needs of the poor, the sick, the widows, the orphans, the infirm, the destitute, the aged and so onis within the scope of the duties of his office. Galatians 2:910; Acts 6:1ff.; 11:30; 12:25; 24:17; Romans 12:8, 13; James 1:27; 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:1112” (At Home in the House of My Fathers, CPH, 2011, p. 164). Walther is saying here that the pastor has a responsibility to make sure the congregation has an organized way to see to it that people in need receive attention.
Read the passages quoted by Dr. Walther above, and you’ll note that several refer to Paul’s “great collection” for the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 89). Paul spent a decade raising funds from his mission congregations for the needs of Christians hundreds of miles away, people they did not know personally. Why would the apostle do this? The answer is very simple: Jesus. Jesus had compassion on the needy. In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus never turns them down. Jesus cares for body and soul.
There are a million excuses not to do this, but quite simply, the greatest eras of the Church’s missionary growth have also been great eras of the Church caring for the immigrant, the needy, the orphan and widow, as they were invited into and lived in her midst. Most of the “issues” preventing care evaporate when we realize that love for the neighbor happens especially in a community of believers.
Why malaria? Why Africa? The LCMS is involved in the Lutheran Malaria Initiative along with Lutheran World Relief (not to be confused with our own LCMS World Relief and Human Care) and the United Nations Foundation for the following reasons.
- Nearly a million people a year are still dying of malaria, mostly in Africa.
- Malaria is preventable and treatable.
- Malaria kills mostly young children and women.
- The UN Foundation (not the U.N.!) sought out an agency with the capacity to make a huge impact on malaria in Africa. After sifting through 200 organizations, they settled on Lutheran World Relief.
- Together, the LCMS and LWR have a U.S. constituency with the capacity to deliver, most significantly, to the Lutheran brothers and sisters “at the last mile” in remote places in Africa where malaria kills.
- When Lutherans help and are helped, they share Christ.
- We are fully engaged right now, fighting malaria with education, prevention and treatment.
There are thousands of African Lutherans (who know the same Small Catechism that you do) suffering and also assisting at the last mile. There are 18 million African Lutherans. We have growing relationships with perhaps half of them! This is the right moment. This is the right thing to do.
All of our talk of orthodoxy finally rings hollow if we have no love for our neighbor. Love for neighbor without solid doctrine quickly floats away from the Church and Christ. But solid teaching and rigorous lovenow that’s a winning combo (1 John 2:3).
God help us!
Pastor Matthew Harrison
“Let’s go!” Mark 1:38
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