A Summer to Remember
Greetings to all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
As so many of you have already heard me say, “It is great to be back with you again!
”I’m very thankful I haven’t heard “Oh, were you away? We hadn’t noticed!”
Most of you are aware that from May 19 to August 24, 2019, I had the great privilege of being away from the church on sabbatical, in addition to three weeks of vacation. The sabbatical- literally, “seventh”, is designed as a rest- a break from the normal demands of work, for the purpose of refreshment and learning. It’s based on the biblical prescription for allowing fields to lie fallow every seventh year (Leviticus 25:1-7). After seven years of service at St. Peter’s, the opportunity is given to each pastor to learn or experience something new, to rest, to “change the pace”. The fact that this church grants her pastors a sabbatical is truly an expression of your generosity, kindness and grace as a church family!
So, first things first…Bev and I want to express our deepest, most heartfelt THANK YOU for this great gift. We got to spend six weeks together, traveling various regions in the countries of Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Italy. We saw and did many wonderful things- for
example, one of the original factories in Holland where the famous Delft porcelainware is handmade. In Amsterdam, we saw the incredible artworks of Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Vermeer and others, visited Anne Frank’s home, and attended a fantastic symphony concert at the Royal Concertgebouw. On my own (July) I got to visit England, Finland and even Poland for a day.
In the area of Kassel (central Germany), we attended the closing worship service for the national synod of our new sister church body, the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany. Then it was onto the region of Salzburg, Austria (birthplace of Mozart), where we did some fun things like the “Sound of Music” tour.
Italy was a great leg of our trip, featuring the incredible Dolomite mountain range, and a three-day stay in Venice and a wonderful “insiders’ local food tour” of the city.
From there, our next stop was Vienna, where we had the blessing of going to St. Stephen’s Cathedral on Pentecost Sunday. You always hear reports about how the churches are empty in Europe, and this is certainly true in many times and places. Knowing this, we were so blessed to be in a huge cathedral, standing room only, where people were truly singing out and reciting the liturgy by heart with gusto! It was a moving service.
The Luther-lands leg of our trip was informative, absorbing and inspirational. We stayed in Erfurt (where Luther was trained and ordained for the priesthood), visited Wartburg Castle (where he translated the New Testament into German) and spent four days and nights in Wittenberg (Luther’s home, where the Reformation started.) We stayed literally right behind Luther’s church! One big highlight was an English service in the Castle Church, where the 95 Theses were nailed to the door. Our visit to Luther’s house and church gave us a true appreciation of how Martin and Katherina had lasting impact upon millions of believers. The greatest impact of all was Luther’s recovery of the true Gospel, that we are saved by grace apart from works (Roman 3:28), and that this gift of justification comes through faith alone (Romans 1:17).
After stops in the scenic and beautiful cities of Rothenburg and Dresden, we made our way back to Amsterdam and Bev flew home on June 27. “Part Two” of my sabbatical was just beginning. I visited and stayed with a missionary couple in Finland, who our 2018 mission team to Myanmar had met. Pekka and Sirkka-Liisa are Bible-believing, Confessional Lutherans in the increasingly liberal Church of Finland. I got to see firsthand how true believers in this amazing country are responding to the pervasive culture pressure to conform to anti-biblical sexual ideology and completely compromise Christian teaching on a variety of topics. It was particularly refreshing to meet quite a number of young believers (ages 20-30). Finally, it was back to
Germany- to Berlin, where I spent the latter part of my trip. During this leg, I had opportunity for a great stay with the Bishop of our sister church body, as well as the Seminary, with its Provost and students. I’ll have to tell you about all this next time. But first, let me communicate two things:
- Many of you have asked me when you can hear more about my sabbatical. This will happen at the conclusion of the present Adult Sunday School series covering the Sermon on the Mount. Soooo- look for notices of a special Adult SS Class session devoted fully to my sabbatical, complete with slides and hopefully video! Sunday mornings of course, 9:45.
- The Christian faith is alive in Europe, even though the numbers are sometimes discouraging. God has not abandoned these countries! When you travel, do not underestimate the simple power and witness of choosing to go to worship, choosing to “not hide your light under a bushel” and go incognito, but simply being open with your Christian faith. Bev and I always prayed at our meals; once in awhile, those near us joined in. We attended church; this certainly encouraged local believers. We conversed; on one train ride, a fellow passenger was moved to tears through our concern for her. Many foreigners think of Americans as Christians. This gives us opportunities to shine the light of Jesus. Some may be challenged; some will definitely be encouraged. Remember, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Once again, thank you for this opportunity. Next article, I’ll share with you about my experience with a rapidly-growing Lutheran church of mostly Middle-eastern refugees and asylum seekers. But for now, may God’s peace be with you! See you in Church!
Love and Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Eric Ishimaru