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Watershed in Missouri

There is a geological feature called a “watershed.” A watershed is an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas. Watersheds exist all over the world.

One watershed in my state of Montana, for example, shows how great a difference there can be. Imagine yourself standing exactly on the line of the watershed. Walk 25 feet one way. From there, water flows indirectly into the Clark Fork of the Columbia River and ends in the Pacific Ocean. Walk 25 feet the other way, and water flows into the three rivers (Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers) which form the Missouri River, into the Mississippi River, and ends in the Gulf of Mexico. In 50 feet, there is a difference between the Pacific or the Gulf. When you are standing in those 50 feet, can your eyes see the difference?

My father would say, “The world is full of people who get it right … later.” We could reformulate that idea to say, “There is time to get things right, and that is while they are going on.” This corresponds to the aphorism, “Make hay while the sun is shining.” Jesus said, “I must work … while it is day. The night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4)

Look down at our feet. See the ground where we are standing. Look at the 50 feet. Cast a glance to the Pacific and to the Gulf. Rub your eyes. Clear your vision. What can you see? Are we on a watershed in Missouri?

In the next weeks – just 50 feet – where will Concordia University Texas end? Where will all the Concordias end? Where will other entities of the Synod end? Where will the Synod end?

There is more at stake than natural eyes can see. The Psalm says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet.” How far does a lamp shine? Not to the Pacific or to the Gulf. It only shines to illuminate your next step or maybe a few steps. It is not easy, is it? I do not know where the Synod will end. Of course, we all do know where the Church will end, as the Bride of Christ securely with him. But that does not relieve us of responsibility for how we live now. We are not Gnostics. We affirm the value of this bodily life (creation is good, the Incarnation of Christ is good) and say that it matters what we do. It matters even when we are not prophets and cannot tell the end of something like a synod.

Though we cannot see the end, can we not at least see whether this spot of ground where we are now standing is a watershed?

Maybe the best I can muster is a sort of scaled down Pascal’s Wager.[1] Even if we are not on a watershed, what would it cost me to act as if we were? How would it harm outcomes? How might it help outcomes? If we are on a watershed, what are the consequences of not acting accordingly?

We also are counseled in Scripture to profit from the folly of fools around us, or from the wisdom of the wise around us. This month I turn 70 years old. As a teenager, I lived through the destruction of my beloved synod, the American Lutheran Church. Been there, done that, don’t want the tee shirt. Saw that movie already, and do not want to see it again. Missouri thinks it knows about the ALC and the ELCA, but not as well as Missouri imagines. Look down at your feet. Do you know where you are standing. Do you know where water flows? Are you sure that what happened to the ALC cannot happen to your children?

When Malachi prophesied the coming of John the Baptist, he said in chapter 4:

5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
 6 And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

The angel said to John’s father Zacharias, “He [John]will also go before Him [Christ] in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.’” (Luke 1:17)

Think of your children. Think of your grandchildren. What synod have you received from your fathers? What synod will your children and grandchildren receive from you?

Will you do anything?

When? While it still matters, or only regret later?

[1] Blaise Pascal lived in a time and place when many people around him were not very responsible and spent much of their time playing games of chance. They said it is not possible to prove that God exists, so they gambled their time away. Pascal evangelized them says, yes, literally gambling your life away. He said, conceding only for the sake of discussion, that yes, it is not possible to prove that God exists, but it also is not possible to prove that He does not exist. Since a player cannot prove which is true, it is better to bet that God exists than to bet that He does not. Look at the consequences to you if you wager that God not exist and live in unbelief. The consequences, if you are wrong, are hell – eternal, conscious, miserable torment, deserved. Look at the consequences to you if you wager that God does exist, you put trust in Christ, and live by his commandments, even if it turns out He does not exist and there is no heaven or hell. Still, your life here and now will be better. I am not saying, and Pascal was not saying, that this wager is the Gospel. It was just a gaming question posed because Pascal was speaking to gaming people. But, because of the darkness of minds, sometimes this is how we might address ourselves about a decision that is before us.

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  1. Carol Hack Broome


    And I also notice what you didn’t say. You didn’t say to forsake all normal vocations to make sure that the right thing happens at the next convention. And I would not say that, either. Rather, make sure that the right thing happens at the convention while continuing to do the right thing in your everyday life.

    If we are going to have Concordia Universities, we need to make sure that they are neither secular nor cultish, and that they are truly, distinctively Lutheran. It is wrong that parents fear to send their children to our own universities lest they fail to be supported in their faith.

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