Conversation and Consolation of the Brethren

ConversationsBy Vanessa Rasanen

I have a confession. I’m not the most patient person.

Shocker, I know.

I get easily frustrated with others — including (and perhaps especially) with those closest to me, my husband and my children. Even my dogs. I let the day-to-day irritations of life get under my skin more than I should, and I yell, fume, and even — sadly — stomp my feet.

To make it all worse I will sometimes vent to friends, privately complaining about the mess the kids made, the struggle we’re having with the kids’ manners, or even the annoying habit of some stranger on the road or at the grocery store. My friends might commiserate, nodding their head in understanding. I appreciate that, as it’s nice to know I’m not alone in some of these situations, but I’m most thankful for the times when my friends — even those I’ve never met in person — have offered a listening ear and the words I actually need to hear.

“Repent. Be forgiven. Remember your baptism. You have Christ crucified.”

(Yes, we actually do talk to each other like this.)

I suppose I could stop them right there with a “Woah, woah, woah! Stop preaching at me! You’re not a pastor, and you’re certainly not MY pastor!”

But I don’t.

It doesn’t even occur to me to complain that they — after hearing my burdens, however silly and asinine those might be — have chosen to point me back to Christ crucified, our shared faith, and the Gospel which saves us both in the forgiveness our Lord bought for us with His own precious blood.

Instead, I’m thankful — thankful for such friends who offer the greatest words of comfort I could hear no matter how crappy my day has been. I’m thankful for this family of believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, who keep me rooted where I need to be and who help bear my burdens by reminding me of that good news I so easily forget while dwelling in my poor attitude.

This is what we do as friends and neighbors. We bear each others’ burdens and show love to one another. We offer forgiveness and point each other back to Christ, to His Gospel, to His Word, and to His Truth. And we don’t need to be pastors to do so.

We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18:20Where two or three are gathered together, etc.

SA III IV

“… the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren…”

What a gift that beyond those men who serve us in their divinely called pastoral office God has also given us a church family to come alongside us with the same gift of the gospel — not to preach, but to forgive us all the same, for forgiveness is not solely reserved for clergy but is a power granted to all believers.

But Christ here speaks neither of priests nor of monks, but says: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” Whoever has the Holy Spirit, power is given to him, that is, to every one that is a Christian. But who is a Christian? He that believes. Whoever believes has the Holy Spirit. Therefore every Christian has the power, which the pope, bishops, priests and monks have in this case, to forgive sins or to retain them…..

…. But this word, to forgive sins or to retain sins, concerns those who confess and receive more than those who are to impart the absolution. And thereby we serve our neighbor. For in all services the greatest is to release from sin, to deliver from the devil and hell. But how is this done? Through the Gospel, when I preach it to a person and tell him to appropriate the words of Christ and to believe firmly that Christ’s righteousness is his own and his sins are Christ’s. This I say, is the greatest service I can render to my neighbor.

Luther, from his sermon “Of True Godliness”

Having read Luther’s sermon, one might be quick to object that he pushes for this forgiveness to be offered to friends in private, and those who dare write of forgiveness publicly to readers via blogs or on social media are not heeding this, but instead crossing a line into preaching.

Man, the internet makes everything more complicated, doesn’t it?

Now, I’ve seen great debates on whether blogs and online forums constitute as “public preaching”, and I’ve had many a question on whether I should, as a female blogger, allow men to read my writing lest I cross that line of authority and teach those I should not. While I don’t want to venture too far down this particular rabbit hole, it must be pointed out that not all blogs and websites are the same, and one must be discerning and, ahem, strive to see everything in the best construction regarding them. Often we bloggers simply seek to encourage, support, and love our neighbors through our writing, and the internet — as sucky as it can be sometimes — allows us to reach and help more than those in our immediate community.

Thing is, if we could not — as women, as laity, or as neighbors — speak the Truth of Christ Crucified for our sins to one another we would have little left to offer beyond empty platitudes and hollow words. Speaking the Gospel to others is the greatest love we can show them, the best way we can bear their burdens, the best gift we could ever offer. It is what we all need to hear — and hear often.

While we may not all be pastors — nor should we be, by any means — the Gospel is ours to share, be it in a blog post, a Facebook status, a tweet, a private message, a phone call, or a chat over coffee.

So, let’s not shy away from serving our neighbor in the best way we can, pointing them back to Christ, reminding them of their baptism, and forgiving them when they need it. It’s the best conversation and consolation we can offer our brethren.

Photo credit. Some rights reserved.
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