Chris, a pastor, a servant of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Kiron and Deloit: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God whenever I think of you, always praying for you with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the day that I arrived until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you on the day of your baptism will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ, whether I stand in this pulpit or not. It is Christ’s Church, not mine, and He is the One who gives the growth. What else could I hope for you, because I hold you in my heart, and you are all partakers with me of grace? We have labored sided by side in this corner of Christ’s vineyard, and you have shown me overwhelming welcome, care, and encouragement. God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love for each other and for Christ may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that this decision was not made lightly. How could I serve among the saints of Christ in this place, rejoicing when you rejoice, suffering when you suffer, and mourning when you mourn, and simply leave without another thought? It has been my task, my honor and privilege, to be with you in some of the darkest hours of your life, to bring you the light of Christ when there was no other light. And it has been my great joy to feed you with Christ’s Word and His precious Sacrament week after week, sustaining you on your journey and encouraging you to stand firm. Despite all the challenges that we faced together, the last four years have been a joy, and I’ve been encouraged to see so many of you grow in your faith in Christ. My love for you is what made the last two months agonizing, as we struggled to decide whether to walk through the doors Christ had opened for us. But I do not leave you alone; pastors may take calls, but Christ never leaves—He simply changes masks; you will have another faithful man come here to continue the work. It is His Church. And we know as Christians that we are never truly absent from one another; we are united as one in the body of Christ, and we know that we will see each other again, either on this earth, in the outward fellowship of the Church, or in eternity, as we join with all the saints before the Lamb in His Kingdom.
Until that day, let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This world is becoming more and more hostile to the faith that you hold, and it may be granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict that you see happening to your brothers and sisters around the world.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Live in unity with one another, for you are children of the same God, you are redeemed by the same Savior. What have you to be prideful of, if everything you have is a gift? Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. As I’ve preached to you time and time again, place the needs of others ahead of your own. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always clung to Christ, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, serve your neighbor and keep the faith not with vainglory and boasting, but with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without the grumbling or quarreling that destroys joy, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. Stand out from those around you, as light stands out in the darkness, as the straight stands out next to the crooked. Hold fast to the Word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may know that I did not run in vain or labor in vain in your midst. Do not let these four years of labor be in vain! Cling to the faith that has been given to you; support one another in unity, that none of those in your fellowship, especially the youth, may fall away. Even if you are to be poured out as a sacrificial offering because of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all, because you are baptized in the Name of Jesus, who humbled Himself to deliver you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. This world cannot destroy your joy because it cannot destroy you; you belong to Christ, who conquered death.
Next week, Pastor Mahnken will be sent to St. John’s, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I know no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For so many seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Pastor Mahnken’s proven worth, how he has served with me in the Gospel, and has mentored a young pastor as he tried to find his way. At Faith Pastor Fritz, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, is sent to you. I was excited to hear that he will fill the vacancy, and with these men serving you, I am less anxious. Receive them in the Lord with all joy, receive them as you received me, and honor such men, for they are servants of God in your midst, here to distribute the very gifts of Christ, as I did these past years.
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who would lead you astray, that would steal your joy by fixing your eyes on the things of this world. We are not of this world, we are Christians, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. In fact, whatever we gain in this world, we count as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, we count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing else matters; in Christ we find joy. For His sake we have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that we may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of our own, but that which comes as a gift through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that we may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that through Him we will attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that we have already obtained this or are already perfect, but we press on to make it our own, because Christ Jesus has made us His own. Dear friends in Christ, we do not consider that we have made it our own. But one thing we do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, we fix our eyes on the things that are above, on the things of Christ. Brothers and sisters, join in imitating the saints; keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you are given in the Scriptures. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. They want to rob you of your faith. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But your citizenship is in heaven, and from it you await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform your lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to Himself. There is resurrection in your future. Therefore, my friends, whom I love and will miss dearly, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. You have a treasure this world cannot take away. The Lord is at hand, He is coming soon; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving call upon the God who promises to hear you. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, dear friends, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, fill your mind with them. What you have learned and received and heard in the Scriptures—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
I am humbled that I had the opportunity to serve as your pastor; I, a poor, miserable sinner, am not worthy of this office, yet you invited me into your lives, and I pray that I showed you Christ, not myself. Thank you for the care and compassion you showed to me and my family, for all that you have done to provide for our needs. And now, I know that the Lord will supply your every need according to his riches in Christ Jesus. He who has given up His own life for His bride will certainly care for her until that glorious Day when He brings her to Himself forever. Until that day, we say with Saint Paul, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” You can do all things, even say goodbye to a pastor, through Christ. It is His Church, and she endures, to the very end. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever, Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, Amen.