Pastor’s June Message

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Ignatius Locates the Church

In the Church’s early years, around the year 110 AD, the Christian pastor Ignatius was being forcibly taken from Antioch to Rome. Antioch, in what is now known as Turkey, was a major city of the world, and the Church there was one of the great Churches. Ignatius, under arrest as his Roman guards took him to Rome, knew what awaited. He became one of the first martyrs killed by Rome’s hungry lions.

Who is this Ignatius? He is one of the two men known for having studied under the Apostle John. It was only about 70 years previous that Jesus had died on the cross, and then, after he was raised from the dead, ascended to Heaven. Now, as John, the Apostle closest to Jesus, grows old (quite old, in his 80’s and 90’s), he is a teacher of the Church, and the two names remaining in church history as his students are Polycarp and Ignatius.

So as he’s being taken to the hungry lions in Rome, walking through Turkey and Greece, Ignatius writes letters to all those congregations that he had helped establish and even to others that he had not visited.

What would we expect to be in those letters? Complaints of the unfairness of a Roman emperor working to destroy the Church? Warnings of the brutality of the Roman soldiers? As a pastor, Ignatius writes letters of comfort and encouragement. On his way to the hungry lions, being dragged across desert and mountain, from town to town, this saint writes to the Church, telling of who Jesus is and giving comfort to the Christians.

How many churches did Ignatius see on his way to Rome? Probably none, we might guess. His Roman guards were taking him not on a tour of churches, but to the coliseum. Yet, while being taken to Rome, Ignatius writes to churches about where to find the church: “Where Jesus is,” writes Ignatius, “there is the Church.”

This is an extraordinary thing to say. Ignatius is locked in the chains of Romans guards, he’s being taken to his death, he sees none of the beauty of any Church building or artwork, yet, he has the full sureness and comfort of the Church: “Where Jesus is, there is the Church.”
How did Ignatius know to locate the Church in this way?

Before ascending to Heaven, Jesus gathered his Apostles to himself and give them this mandate for the Church:
“All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus is With His Church

In Jesus’ promise, we are given to see the locatedness of the Church of which Ignatius spoke. Of the eleven Apostles Jesus gave this mandate to, one was, of course, John. Later, Ignatius was friend and student to John. So Ignatius got it right from the mouth of John.

Jesus gave the promise of Baptism and the gift of teaching his doctrine, and with that he said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus has located himself for us. In the gift of Baptism, Jesus is with us—he has bound himself to us; he is cleansing us of sin. In his doctrine, in all the things he has commanded unto his Church, he is with us. So that, where we have Jesus, where we see his gift of Baptism, where we hear his Gospel, where we are gathered to his Name to receive his Body and Blood, there, at that location, we find the Church.

How to locate the Church? Ask Ignatius. Where Jesus is, there is the Church. Where his Name is being proclaimed, where he is baptizing sinners, where he is giving his Body and Blood to be distributed, there the sinner is cleansed and made holy, and that’s the Church. And where Jesus is, there is the Father and the Holy Spirit for the sinner.

In the Name of Jesus,

Rev. Warren W. Graff

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