"... to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." (John 11:52)
It is John's comment on some of the events after the raising of Lazarus. But the one word "scattered" is in the middle of our experience right now.
The people of God have been scattered. We try to hold our connection with each other and with our Church. But it happens and has happened all through history. The people of God are scattered.
This is Maundy Thursday. We connect by internet and video links. But we have not gathered as a congregation around the Lord's Supper. We are scattered. There are hardships with being scattered. It is harder to see, but there are good things that God does through times of scattering.
Did you know: What was the first great evangelism program after the Day of Pentecost? Read about it in Acts 8:1-4. It says, a great persecution arose and "they were all scattered .... Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word."
Can you imagine a Mission Committee planning this out and presenting it to the Voters' Assembly? It would sound completely insane. They would be removed from their office. And it is a horrible idea if it comes from our planning. Besides, it is exactly the opposite of how any of us would think.
But God knows when to scatter and when to gather. So we are hearing stories from all over the country where the Gospel is getting into places we would have never expected. God sends out; and He gathers in. He send us out to live our faith in a world of troubles, and He arranges it so we are living by faith right in front of our neighbors. That is a powerful witness and it is a call from God. I do wonder. How many millions have come to faith from seeing Christians living by faith through so many of the troubles that every human being is touched by? And so God gathers. Do we call it "sneaky," wonder at the audacity of it, or say God is "making it real."
This is the reality of human life. There is trouble, but there is Jesus who says, "Take heart. I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) There is suffering, but Paul says "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) There is right now a scattering, but Jesus was sent to be the "one man" who would "die for the people". (John 11:50) That was Caiaphas plotting the death of Jesus, not knowing that he was prophesying about salvation and forgiveness of sins "and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." (John 11:52)
Jesus knows every one of His own. (John 10:14, 27) Even the ones who do not know Him yet. And His mission is to gather every one of them -- each one called and led by the Good Shepherd, until He brings us all together and we are that Great Multitude that no one could count. (Revelation 7:9)
This is the plan. It is the Commission given to Jesus by His Father. (Isaiah 49:6 "I will make You as a light to the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.") Jesus is fully, completely up to the job. So have confidence. He is bringing you through many things, but bringing you into the glory of the kingdom of God. Have confidence and smile at the "scenery" along the way. It will make a great story later.
Lord Jesus, let me hear Your promises along the paths of my life. No matter how twisting the path help me know that You are able to lead me and bring me fully into life, glory, and joy. Help me, then, to walk the paths of life with faith and prayer, trusting quietly or calling out in my need, but always turning to You. Amen.
Rev. Mark Willig
Pastor Willig is pastor emeritus of Friends in Christ Lutheran Church.