On February 21, Pat Ferry spoke to more than 1,500 LCMS pastors and laypeople in a keynote address at the annual Best Practices for Ministry conference in Phoenix. What they heard was refreshing within the LCMS: a pastor speaking candidly about one of his life’s most challenging and troubling experiences. But while Ferry described the scarring sin brings, he focused more on the grace he received from God and others in the LCMS.
Watch the 40-minute keynote address “You Are Not Alone” here or read the transcript on www.PatFerry.com. In addition, key segments of the speech are quoted below. It was an inspiring, encouraging keynote that both spoke the truth in love and speaks about truth and love in Jesus.
WHEN THE CHURCH IS AT ITS BEST
Ferry’s message can be easily summarized in this maxim:
The Church is at its best when we act as God’s welcoming arms – helping the hurting, loving the lost, and forgiving the failed.
That summary stands in stark contrast to much of the LCMS’s record of the past decade. Have we been led to live out our firm Lutheran doctrine and teaching, or have we been led to separate ourselves from people who are the actual objects of God’s love from the cross? Are we living out the Gospel or engaging in culture wars?
Alternately, Ferry’s leadership priorities can be found on the front page of the website supporting his candidacy for Synod President:
- Restore a Spirit of Collaboration
- Build a Community of Mutual Trust
- Energize and Equip Congregations
Of these two choices, which do you believe will best serve the LCMS’s mission “vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities, and the world“?
And, while recognizing COVID’s unique challenges, has the last dozen years of LCMS leadership brought us any closer to fulfilling our mission? Has centralization, closing three Concordias, selling foreign mission property to pay off debt, and living in fear of “woke culture” served us well “making the love of Christ known by word and deed?”
Perhaps watching or reading Ferry’s keynote speech will help your two congregational voters for Synod President see the wisdom of voting for Pat Ferry. Read on to catch some highlights of his keynote address.
IT STARTS WITH EMPTY
As Pat Ferry described his personal tragedy, he identified with many people in our congregations and communities who see themselves running on empty. At St. John College in Winfield, Kansas, Pat first came to know Jesus and was baptized. Now, this spiritual home felt empty, too.
“Empty — without a thing (no more than a few dollars in my pocket), without much hope for my marriage, and without a clue about my future. Empty — right there, in that same little town where I first learned about Jesus, I poured my heart out to Him. For me, Winfield has become sort of a sacred place — holy ground. But that night the ground was just hard and unforgiving, and my heart felt hard and unforgiving as I wrestled with a God who seemed to me to be kind of hard and unforgiving, too. As I wrestled with Him, I knew that I was unevenly matched. There may have been stars in the sky that night, I don’t remember. La noche oscura del alma. This was the long, dark night of my soul, and the darkness had never been so dark. ‘I wait for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.’ I waited for the Lord, and I waited for a new day.”
THEN GUILT TIGHTENS ITS GRIP
People in our congregations and communities live with the open wound of guilt only the Gospel and God’s grace can heal. As with so many among our families, friends, and communities, Ferry shared his growing isolation as guilt’s grip tightened on him.
“Where did I go wrong? How did I manage to mess things up? What was wrong with me? Guilt — imagined or real — never easily relinquishes its grip. Guilt isolates you, corners you, and when it manages to get you all by yourself and alone does its worst. Guilt always threatens to expose your scars — especially a stigma that never really goes away. I did not have a good answer to his question. What could I have done? What could I do?”
Such guilt marks a man with more than isolation. As with St. Paul and so many others, facing guilt and experiencing grace molds men and women for even greater service in God’s Kingdom. You can read about Paul’s crisis in Acts Chapters 8 and 9. You can read it below in Pat Ferry’s words.
GUILT GIVES WAY TO GRACE
When the Church could have condemned and turned a blind eye to a beaten, broken, and bruised man, it didn’t. Sadly, most people believe the Church is better known for “shooting its wounded” than for healing with grace. But, happily, grace happened here.
“The Church cannot have a blind eye toward sin. The Church cannot simply turn its head and pretend that sin doesn’t matter. Divorce is sin, and as much as I felt justified in deflecting the blame, I could not change the fact that I was divorced, and there surely must have been something that I had done wrong or might have done differently along the way. In that moment, alone in my Dorm D room, I felt the weight of sin, the pain of sin, the guilt of sin intensely. At its discretion, the Church, and those who represented it, could simply have turned me out and left me alone.
That is not what happened. Instead, the Church did what it does best, did what it was meant to do, called to do and what it has always done for beaten, broken, bruised people.
The same Church that welcomed a homesick and evidently not-so-good freshman basketball player, and who welcomed him again years later when he had no place to go did what Esau did the day after his brother Jacob spent all night wrestling with God. He welcomed and embraced his brother. My brothers did not turn me away. To the contrary, I was welcomed back. It was the same thing Joseph did when his brothers wrestled with their sin and guilt. ‘You meant it for evil,” Joseph said to them, “but God used it for good.’ He is the God who works all things — all things — together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. God can take even bad things and use them to accomplish incredible good. The cross of Christ comes immediately to my mind. ‘He who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not together with Him freely give u all things.’
WE NEED TO BE ALL ABOUT HEALING THE BROKEN
It is the Jesus we proclaim Who brings healing to people scarred by sin, guilt, and shame. It is by telling the stories of God’s grace in our lives we help connect people with Jesus.
“Time does not, but Jesus heals our wounds … by His wounds (stigmata) we are healed. There have been moments where I felt what seemed to be the weight of the world. It was merely the weight of my own sin and guilt, but it was more than I could bear. Which is true, it was more than I can bear. I was most definitely right about that. Jesus, however, did bear the weight of the world’s sin — alone — at Calvary. ‘He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’ Forsaken by His Father so that we might be forgiven, Jesus was left alone to die so that we might live with Him in His resurrected and ascended presence forever….
…No doubt many of you have also had your own dark night of the soul. Or maybe this current season of ministry has left you feeling beaten, bruised, or beleaguered. Friends, engage the fight. Wrestle with God. Embrace whatever limp you might receive.
For it is in our weaknesses that God’s strength is made perfect. It is in our wounds that we experience Christ’s healing. It is in our suffering that we join Jesus at the cross where He heals us once and for all, declaring victory over every darkness we suffer. His grace is sufficient. His grace is enough.
And I also encourage you to look around — to your right and your left. To the people you came here with and to the friends you’ve encountered here — both new and old. What is so beautiful about the body of Christ is that it pulls us from the 1-on-1 wrestling match with God. It places us into community, family, that like Esau, despite differences, can embrace us as brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead of silently wrestling in a way that maybe no one even knows about — alone — perhaps now is the time to invite others in to help cover this hard ground with you…
…We don’t leave each other alone. We don’t leave anybody alone. We give each other Jesus. By His wounds we are healed. Give me Jesus. You can have all this world. Give me Jesus!”
IS THIS A BETTER DIRECTION?
Don’t you believe it will be helpful to have a Synod led by those who can embrace the experience of the lost and the grip of guilt on the soul – if we want to fulfill our LCMS mission statement?
Would we improve our LCMS witness to the world if those who have a passion for proclaiming the Gospel formed by the experience of guilt and grace led our Synod?
Would we change the outcomes of our LCMS priorities for the better with a leader more focused on reaching our hurting world with the healing love of Jesus rather than recapturing an orthodoxy we already have and raising fears among us?
Our Congregations — and our Synod — will be better led in Jesus’ Kingdom work among us and in our communities by a humble man scarred by life and captured by grace.