John 13:36-38

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Bishop Michael, Guardian of Souls and of Christ’s Church

We never met in person. My only personal contact came when I sent a letter with a copy of my mobility papers to Michael, the Bishop of the North Carolina Synod. It was the mid-1980s. I was serving a small, but growing, LCA mission congregation in Lancaster on the south side of Dallas TX. My only visit to North Carolina had been during seminary, when a professor and a small group of us seminarians spent a week in Charlotte observing and interacting with a large congregation. I remembered having driven from St. Louis down through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and past Asheville to Charlotte. I had heard of Bishop Michael’s reputation as a Luther scholar and college professor prior to his election. He was, like the Church’s greatest bishops, a solidly orthodox contender for the Christian faith.

He wrote the most thoughtful rejection letter I have ever received. The good bishop wrote: “You look good on paper, and your bishop says nice things about you, but anyone can look good on paper. I would have to look into your eyes and have a lengthy conversation with you about what you believe, teach, and confess, and to inquire seriously into how you carry out the office of the holy ministry, before I would place your name for consideration by a congregation of the North Carolina Synod. You would have to travel at your own expense for an interview with me.” He wished me well and prayed for my vineyard labors.

I remember reading the letter with some disappointment but exclaiming out loud: “Wow! That’s a man who understands the role of bishop.” I have known some bishops who were fine administrators, some who were good pastors, many who were very personable, a few with excellent political skills, one who could deal with alligators with a much bigger bite than those, and one poor inept soul who was very bright but never grew into the office, but Bishop Michael is the only Lutheran bishop I have ever known who took so seriously the role of bishop as guardian of souls and of Christ’s Church.

Bishop Michael was one of the founders of the Society of the Holy Trinity. He recognized already in the early 1990s that the Lutheran churches were being corrupted by liberation theology and by what the early Church fathers and mothers would clearly have recognized as heresy, literally “to choose” (wrongly). At the core of the problem was a failure to preach Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, crucified for sinners.

One of the last things Bishop Michael wrote was a piece on the authority of Scripture. As with the early Church, anyone calling him- or herself a Christian will quote Scripture as justification for why they do as they do and say as they say. The rub is whether Scripture is indeed the inspired Word of God, divided properly into Law and Gospel, and proclaimed in such a way that the death of God’s Son is never wasted.

On Sunday, we will celebrate the bodily resurrection of Christ Jesus, true God and true Man. On this day, we celebrate His victory over sin, death, and Satan. If Christ Jesus is not truly both God and Man, His death cannot save anyone. It matters that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit through asexual reproduction. The Word of God has power to become flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb, and the Word of God has power to die in human flesh for the sins of the whole world. It matters that we are baptized into His saving death, where He takes our sin and death and gives us His eternal life and righteousness as a free gift. It matters that we take into our mouths His true Body and precious Blood.
Bishop Michael of blessed memory strongly believed, taught, and confessed that orthodox Christian faith.

Thank you, Father, for Bishop Michael. and all the faithful guardians of Christ’s Church. Strengthen those who believe, teach, and confess rightly. And, please God, send us more. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put forty-five pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box today to help to buy farm animals to help the global poor to make a sustainable living.

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina

The Daily Readings are from English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers