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An Annual Report

(Editor’s note: Some of our pastors write a special annual report for the congregations they serve. The following report was written by Pastor James Albrecht for the members of his flock–St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Okabena, Minnesota.)

In many ways the year 2001 was a watershed year. Following the terrorist attack in September, certain aspects of American life will never be the same. Not only did the attack affect airline travel, it reshaped our thinking about national security. That our country, with all of its military prowess and sophisticated technology, should be so vulnerable to attack was a surprise to many. It has even led to the formation of a new office in our government dedicated to homeland security.

Many are the lessons that a Christian can glean from the events of last September. Primarily, we are reminded that this life is very fragile and its length is entirely unpredictable. Thousands of people stepped into the elevators of the World Trade Center that Tuesday morning, thinking only of the business at hand. What began as any other day of their lives was in fact their final day of grace, their last chance to prepare for the eternity that stretched out before them.

Values changed abruptly that morning. Business meetings that seemed so important at the time were soon to be of no importance at all. Paperwork that seemed so critical at the start of the day would become worthless fuel for the massive inferno that followed. Closing a sale, charting a major financial move, monitoring a stock purchase or sell-off, planning for the weeks and months ahead–items so large on the priority list earlier–now meant nothing. Priorities changed. No amount of money, no prestigious position or lifestyle, no measure of earthly success is worth dying for.

Flooding the streets were men and women in a race for their lives. In relentless pursuit were thick, mushrooming clouds of soot and debris. As they ran for safety, one could practically feel the terror that was etched upon their faces. The site was surreal, and it was frightening. There was nowhere to go and no place to hide.

One is reminded of two other occasions when disaster struck so suddenly that there was no place to turn. In fact, Jesus used those two occasions to underscore our need to be prepared for the greatest calamity that will ever befall this sinful world: the great and dreadful Day of the Lord. In the one case, Jesus pointed to the Flood: “As it was in the days of Noah . . . ” (Lk. 17:26), He warned, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. What was life like on the day before the Flood began? Perhaps it was very similar to what life was like on September the 10th. “They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day that Noah entered the ark” (Lk. 17:27).

On the day before the Flood, everything else seemed more important than heeding the warning of God through Noah. The message Noah had proclaimed for so many decades seemed to be foolishness to those around him. But then values changed abruptly. Suddenly the most valuable real estate in the entire world was aboard the ark that Noah had built.

And so the Bible nudges each of us with the twin questions, “What is a man profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26)

“Likewise,” Jesus said, “as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Lk. 17:28f).

We are not to think that the fiery collapse of the Twin Towers was a specific judgment in the sense of the Flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But we are to learn that tragedies happen suddenly, and this earthly life can be lost in an instant. Therefore, we need to keep our priorities straight. What is important, really important, can never be measured by earthly standards. The temptation of amassing earthly goods is especially powerful in the society in which we live. For that reason Jesus urges us, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come upon you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Lk. 21:34-35).

These are not the only lessons afforded by September the 11th. As children of God we should be especially grateful that in the midst of tragedy God never forsakes but always delivers His own. Whether God delivers them from tragedy (as in the case of Noah and Lot) or delivers them through tragedy (taking them to heaven), His protective eye never wanders from His elect. Even the evil happenings of this world are brought into the service of God and are used to bless His own.

We should also be grateful that God has created and preserved in us the one thing that truly does matter in this life: faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. It is no accident that you know the truth about Christ and His redemptive work. God in grace had chosen us from the foundation of the world. “Whom He foreknew, these He also called, whom He called, these He also justified, and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).

We should further thank the Lord for the confessional heritage we have received from those who walked before us. In a country where the majority consider themselves to be Christians, the aftermath of September the 11th revealed that the amount of doctrinal truth in America is alarmingly sparse. What a blessing that we are a part of a confessional church that values every word of Scripture and is determined to reject any ideas or teachings that contradict it.

Finally, we are reminded that the greatest and most important events in this life are all connected with the saving gospel. When the seventy disciples were amazed at the power of Jesus’ Word in driving out demons, He reminded them that a much greater miracle took place than the physical exorcism of devils. The greater work was visible only to Him, as He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

The greatest work is the work God has given us to do: to proclaim His Word and administer His Sacraments. Through these God the Holy Spirit drives the devil from human hearts and saves souls eternally. What a privilege to share in the work of His kingdom.