Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Forde on Mark 1:24

"There is an old proverb that says that the demons can't see you until you look at them, and when you do, they've got you. That is, the more you talk about them, the more likely you are to be fascinated by them and start seeing them all around -- most likely, of course, in other people. Every now and then we read tragic stories about people -- usually religious people -- who have become convinced that their children are demon-possessed and undertake to beat the demons out of them. But then, you see, the demons win after all. They can't see you until you look at them, and then they've got you! We can't win that battle; we can't fight them with our weapons. As another old proverb has it, if you try to cut a demon in two with your sword, you only produce two more of them.

"Or we might, on the other hand, try to convince ourselves that there is no such thing anymore. After all, enlightenment and science, and so on, have banished the demons and unclean spirits. But can we really rest assured on such teaching? Does it have authority? As we look about in the world, can we be so convinced that there is not something terribly wrong? As it has been put, the devil's cleverest trick it to get us to believe he doesn't exist. Indeed, that is precisely what he wants. For then he would have everything to himself. If no one suspects he is there, he has already won. In another place Jesus said that when the unclean spirit has gone out of a person it passes over waterless places seeking rest. When it finds none, it decides to return to the old home, and finding the house empty and swept clean, it goes and gets seven more demons more evil than itself, and settles in once again. And so the last state of such a person is worse than the first. Why is that? Because now the man doesn't even know they are there! We may try to convince ourselves there is no such thing about. We may try to empty the house and sweep it clean, but an empty house is a dangerous thing. There is no unoccupied territory in this cosmic battle. No, our talk, our teaching, cannot help us here. It has no authority. One way or another we can only lose...

"But if that is so, how shall such darkness be dispelled? In our text the question from the darkness can only be answered by the light, the commanding voice that gives no argument, no teaching as such -- the voice of authority and so of new life. 'Be silent,' Jesus said, 'and come out of him.'... The darkness knows it can't live with the light. The situation is desperate enough so that [the light] cannot be our friend without first being our enemy. The road to life can only lead through death. But in Jesus it does lead to life. 'Whoever would save his life shall lose it; whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.' We shall find it. To be baptized, Paul says, is to be baptized into the death of Christ so as to be raised with him. That is why baptism is exorcism. We shall be raised, and so: 'I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me.' Luther too said it: 'When God makes alive, he does so by killing, when he justifies, he does so by pronouncing guilty, when he carries up to heaven, he does so by bringing down to hell.' When Jesus enters into battle to defeat the demons he comes to put the old to death so as to raise up something absolutely new. The battle is over, the victory won."

--Gerhard O. Forde, The Preached God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) pp. 308, 309-10.

In Troubled Economic Times, the Lord is Our Help

Pastor’s Window for February 2009
In Troubled Economic Times, the Lord is our Help

Beloved in the Lord,

There is no more arguing the point, these are troubled economic times in our nation and particularly in the state of Michigan. Depending on whom you listen to in the media, this is either the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, or just another recession the likes of which we saw last in the late 1970s/early 80s. But all are finally agreed, we have a significant problem on our hands. And while the talking heads and politicians have only now come to a consensus about that fact, you have known all along friends and family members who are suffering, or perhaps you are suffering yourself.

In these times, many in our nation look to a new president to bring change and economic salvation. Others believe the free market, if left to itself, will recover on its own. Regardless of your political persuasion, I hope that as a Christian you see that both options are deficient. In troubled economic times like these, the Lord alone is our help!

We confess this biblical truth when we pray the words of Psalm 145:15-16 (many of us appropriately use these verses as a table prayer): “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (ESV). This is another way of saying what St. James writes: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (1:17). In other words, God provides. And His providence is determined by His infinite wisdom, in His way, according to His time.

The God who provides for your salvation in Christ Jesus, who sacrificed His own Son for the forgiveness of your sins, brings you to saving faith by His Holy Spirit working in Word and Sacrament, and grants you eternal life and salvation, this God will also provide for your physical needs. You are His own child in Holy Baptism. How can He forsake you? He forsook His Son Jesus on the cross so that He would never have to forsake you. So great is His love for you! Therefore you can count on God to provide for your bodily needs as well.

But God doesn’t provide for your bodily needs according to your wisdom, in your way, or according to your schedule. He alone knows what is best for you and for all people. And sometimes, as strange as it may seem, hard times are what is best. This is where faith has to confess along with St. Paul that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Those “all things” include economic hard times, unemployment, home foreclosures, dwindling retirements, and the like. These are for our good, says Paul. But how? We must admit that in some ways we will never know the answer to that question in this earthly life. Nor does God owe us an explanation. But we can say some things about it. God uses times of suffering to drive us to rely on Him alone and not on money or jobs or presidents or economic principles. He uses these times to drive us to repentance for our idolizing of these things, fearing, loving, and trusting them more than God. By depriving us of certain things, He may also be removing temptations that could cause us to forsake the faith. In other words, He uses these times of suffering to cause us to despair of ourselves and all things temporal, so that we find our salvation in Christ alone.

He also presents us with an opportunity in these difficult economic times. He presents us with the opportunity to be the hands of Christ to our neighbor. He gives us the opportunity to share what we have received from God with our neighbor in need. And if we are that neighbor in need, He gives us the opportunity to swallow our pride and receive the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ. On whichever side of the giving and receiving we may find ourselves, we remember what our Lord said about this exchange: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Christ gives through the hands of His people who have something to contribute. And He receives His people’s good works through the hands of His people in need. The Lord is our help through the hands of one another.

We are building an alms box to be placed in the narthex. The idea is that if you have something to give over and above your regular offering, you can place it in that box. It will be used for our Good Samaritan Fund to help those in need, beginning with those in this congregation. And if you are in need, talk to me. We may not be able to provide for all your needs, but we can assist you. It is what we are called to do for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And we do so in the confidence that God is working all things for our good, and that He will provide what is best according to His wisdom, in His way, and in His time.

Pastor Krenz

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Conversion of St. Paul

The Conversion of St. Paul
The Baptism of Titus Ruben Baier
January 25, 2009
Text: Acts 9:1-22

This morning we commemorate the conversion of St. Paul, once known as Saul the Pharisee, a violent persecutor of the Church, now the great apostle who made it his life’s work to preach Christ crucified and risen. We learn a lot about God’s work of conversion in the account of Paul’s conversion in Acts. First, though, perhaps we should point out some things about Paul’s conversion that differ from the way God ordinarily works conversion today. For example, when God converts Paul, He operates in a less than subtle way. Suddenly a great light flashes around Paul and his companions, and the voice of Jesus booms, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5; ESV). I think we can agree that blinding lights and voices from heaven are not typical of our conversion experiences today. Nor, by the way, has God ever promised that any of us would have such spectacular conversion experiences. Even those in Paul’s day who were converted by God did not always have spectacular experiences. By and large, they were converted in the same way that we are, through the preaching of the Word and Baptism. But this was certainly a special circumstance, the conversion of St. Paul, a conversion recorded no less than three times in the book of Acts (cf. 22:1-21; 26:12-18). The account of Paul’s conversion is so important because it gives legitimacy to Paul’s apostleship. It shows that he was called directly by Jesus, as apostles always are, and that therefore Paul’s apostolic preaching and letters have all the authority of Jesus Christ. They are, in fact, the very Word of Christ, penned by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

But notice now the similarities between Paul’s conversion and the way God always works to convert, to turn hearts away from sin and the desires of the flesh to a living faith in Jesus Christ and His salvation. To begin with, note very carefully that at no point does Saul the Pharisee and persecutor of the Church of Jesus Christ choose to believe in Jesus and become His apostle. Until Jesus acts upon him, Saul is out to arrest and kill Christians. Until Jesus acts upon him, Saul hates Jesus Christ, His Word, and the baptized who bear His Name. This teaches us, dear brothers and sisters, that until God acts, until God does the converting, until God sends us His Holy Spirit, we have no freedom of the will to choose Jesus Christ. Our wills are bound. What I mean by that is that we can only choose against God, never for Him. We can only choose unbelief, never faith. We can only choose sin, never righteousness. We always think we have a free choice, but we are deluded. In reality, we are slaves of sin. Satan is our master. He possesses us wholly. And there is nothing we can do to free ourselves. Remember that each one of us is born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. We are blind, which means that we cannot see or discern the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to us (1 Cor. 2:14). We are dead. St. Paul writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Eph. 2:1-2). What can a dead man do to raise himself out of death? Clearly nothing! What kind of decision can a dead man make for himself? If I were to say to a dead man, “I’m going to Starbucks. Would you like a double-short latte, or a triple-tall?” what kind of response would I get from the dead man?[1] If we are born spiritually dead, you see how ridiculous it would be to attribute to ourselves any sort of “decision for Jesus.” And then there is the matter of our hatred for God. St. Paul writes, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Until God acts to convert us, we actually hate God. That is to say that while we may be amenable to the idea of God, we want to fashion Him in our own image, not be fashioned in His image. We want a god of our own making, who operates the way we think he ought to operate. That is why there are so many religions in the world. Human beings, by nature, hate the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. He’s not politically correct. He declares that He alone has a corner on the truth. He is adamant that He gets to decide what is right and what is wrong. He always insists on all the credit for our salvation. He gives us none of the glory. That’s not a God we can, in our fallen nature, accept.

And that is why Saul must persecute Jesus and His Church. He cannot do otherwise. His will is bound. That is, until Jesus acts. Jesus makes His decision for you. Conversion begins, is carried out, and has its completion in God. It is God’s initiative, not yours. But this is where we see, by the power of the Holy Spirit who heals our blindness, that our salvation really is by grace alone without works, not even the work of some sort of choice on our part to believe, or even some sort of willingness on our part to believe. God does it all. He gives us sight. He brings us to new life. He makes peace with us. It is all by grace, without any merit or worthiness in us. It is all because God loves us, because He gave His only Son for us to be crucified for our sins, to be raised for our justification, who now sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us, and rules His Church and the entire universe, in fact, for our benefit, for our salvation. The Holy Spirit does the converting. He calls us by the Gospel. He enlightens us with His gifts. He sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. Conversion, and perseverance in the faith for that matter, is His work. Saul did nothing in terms of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. And neither did you. God took you, just as unworthy and despicable as Saul, and gave you new life in Christ Jesus, gave you His Holy Spirit, gave you saving faith.

But if there isn’t a blinding light or a voice from heaven when we are converted, how exactly does God accomplish all of this in us? He does it in His Word and Sacraments, the means of grace. He does it through preaching and Scripture reading and Holy Absolution. He does it as His Word becomes a part of you when it is put on your lips in the liturgy. He does it particularly in Baptism, where He brings even little infants to faith. We’ll come back to that in just a moment. He continually creates and strengthens your faith in the Supper of His body and blood. Now this may not seem spectacular. But if you believe the Word of God has the power to do what it says, and if your eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit, you can see that there is nothing more spectacular in the whole world. The water in the font this morning is just ordinary water, but when it is combined with God’s Word it becomes a Baptism, that is, a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit (cf. Titus 3:5-8). Through this Baptism God saves us (1 Pet. 3:21). He washes away our sins, brings us to faith, gives us His Spirit, covers us with Christ’s righteousness, gives us all the benefits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and makes us God’s own children. Through Baptism we enter the community of believers that is the Holy Church, and are called to Jesus’ Table where He gives us His true body and blood under the forms of bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins. Again, if your eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit, you see that it must be so, that there must be more than just bread and wine in this meal, because the Word of God says so. Spectacular! Really, just as spectacular as the conversion of St. Paul. And even with St. Paul, though his conversion had many spectacular features like blinding light and the voice of Jesus from heaven… even St. Paul was ultimately converted by the Word and by Baptism. Paul knew the Scriptures of the Old Testament quite well as a Pharisee. They had been working in his mind and heart from infancy, preparing him for the day of his conversion. And the voice of Jesus was, of course, the Word of Jesus. So also, Ananias was instructed to baptize Paul. Using water, Ananias baptized Paul in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Which brings us to what we witnessed here this morning. Titus Ruben Baier was baptized with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God converted Titus before our very eyes. Titus was given faith in his Lord Jesus. Remember, faith is not intellectual knowledge or the ability to confess that faith, although these things are fruits of faith later on. Faith is simply trust in Jesus Christ. Just as Titus trusts his mother and father, so now he trusts Jesus. He’s been given the Holy Spirit. He’s been given faith as a gift. He’s been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. All his sins have been washed away, original sin and actual sins. He’s been cleansed. His eyes have been opened. He’s no longer blind. He’s been given new life. He’s no longer dead. He’s been made God’s own child. Now he loves God, because God first loved him. This conversion is all God’s work, His gift in Christ Jesus.

It is an old Christian tradition, rarely observed these days, of naming a child after the saint whose feast falls closest to the day of the child’s baptism. Tomorrow is the feast of St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor. I don’t know if Jeremy and Megan planned it that way, or not. St. Paul was St. Titus’ father in the faith (Titus 1:4). There is even a letter of Paul to Pastor Titus in the New Testament. How appropriate, therefore, that on this day of the Conversion of St. Paul, one day before the feast of St. Titus, we celebrate the Baptism and conversion of little Titus Ruben. May God grant to Titus Ruben, and to all of us here this morning, the same blessing He gave to St. Titus and St. Paul, that we persevere in the one true faith of Jesus Christ unto life everlasting. This is, after all, God’s doing. And I am convinced that He who began this good work in us, and in Titus Ruben, will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Many thanks to the Rev. Ernie Lassman, Messiah Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington, for this illustration.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Inexhaustible Word of God

"As good as the book by C.S. Lewis is, there really is no such thing as “mere” Christianity. Do not be infected by the “mere Jesus syndrome.” No, it is not good enough that “at least we believe in Jesus”-as if we can decide to stop there, as if we had had enough of Him and His gifts, as if we could choose how far we will go with the one we call Lord. Jesus is always bringing us closer in to Himself, closer to His Father; more grace, more forgiveness, more knowledge, more truth. There is always more; we can never get to the bottom of His inexhaustible Word."

The Rev. Timothy Winterstein, North Prairie Pastor, <http://northprairiepastor.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2/#more-302>.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Second Sunday after Epiphany

Second Sunday after Epiphany (B)
January 18, 2009
Text: John 1:43-51

The Lord calls you. Come and see. Come and see Him where He is, and where He promises to be, for you. For it is only in this way, seeing Jesus where He has promised to be for you, that you become a disciple of Jesus Christ. And it is only in this way that others will become disciples of Jesus Christ. Philip has it right in our text this morning as he tells Nathanael about Jesus. He does not argue the merits of Nazareth with Nathanael. He does not seek to convert Nathanael with cleverly concocted arguments. And note this very carefully, he does not ask Nathanael what it will take to get him to believe in Jesus. He does not ask about Nathanael’s felt needs or capitulate to Nathanael’s preconceived notions about who Jesus should be or what He should do. He simply issues an invitation: “Come and see” (John 1:46; ESV). “Come, Nathanael, and have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. For it is only in that way, Nathanael, that you will be convinced, as I am, that this Jesus ‘is he of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote’ (v. 45), the Messiah, the Savior of Israel and the world.” Come and see. Unbeknownst to Nathanael, and probably even to Philip, the invitation is really a call from Jesus Christ Himself through the mouth of one who already believes in Him.

That is Jesus’ evangelism program. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are to confess His Name and His Gospel to others with whom they come into contact, those whom God has placed into their lives, and in this way, through their mouths, Jesus calls others to believe in Him. The message is simple: Jesus is your Savior. Come. You’ll see. Come where? Where Jesus has promised to be, of course. And where is that? You Lutherans know the answer. In His Word! In His Sacraments! In other words, in His Church! Nathanael, I have good news for you. God loves you. He sent His Son to die for your sins, to save you from sin, death, and hell. Come and see. I’d like to invite you to church with me on Sunday. That’s evangelism, beloved. It’s really that simple. The opportunities are there if you look for them. You simply confess Jesus to those in your life. Invite them to church. Invite them to come and see. The worst that can happen is they say, “No thanks!” And there’s really no pressure on you. You aren’t responsible for the results of the evangelism. The Holy Spirit is. You leave that up to Him. Just confess Christ and issue the invitation: Come and see!

“But Pastor, it has to be more complicated than that.” No, it’s really not. Think about how you came to faith. If you came to faith as a baby, it is because your parents brought you here to come and see. They brought you to where Jesus is. They brought you to Baptism, to hear the Word, to participate in the liturgy, to Sunday School and then Catechism class, and eventually, to the Lord’s Supper. You parents, this is why it is so very important, absolutely vital, that you have your children in church every Sunday, from their infancy, and that you teach them how to pay attention and how to participate. And for the rest of you, this is why it is so important, absolutely vital, that you put up with a little extra noise from the young ones now and then (even if it is just the pastor’s daughter again!). If you came to faith later, as an older child, a teenager, or as an adult, it is because someone else who already believed in Jesus brought you to see Him. Perhaps they brought you to see Jesus by bringing His Word to you in their own confession of Christ. But it is also likely that eventually, they brought you to church where you could see Jesus in action for yourself, forgiving your sins, bringing you to new life, right where He promises to be, in His Word and Sacraments. The fact is, you’re here in church now. And for whatever reason you might think you came, the reality is that you are here because even if no human acquaintance brought you here, the Holy Spirit did. He is doing His work on you here where Jesus promised to be with His Spirit and all of His gifts, in Word and Sacrament, reconciling you to the Father. That is what you’ll see when you come. Jesus forgiving your sins, enlivening you, imparting His Spirit to you, reconciling you with the Father. It is a personal encounter with God in the flesh.

That is the kind of encounter Nathanael has in the Gospel lesson. As Nathanael is coming to see, walking toward Jesus, Jesus declares, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (v. 47). Behold, an Israelite who knows the Scriptures and expects a Messiah who will save him. But this Israelite doesn’t want to be fooled. He’s come to see for himself. I will show him, says Jesus. “How do you know me?” asks Nathanael. “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you’” (v. 48). Now, pause just a minute to ponder the profundity of this statement. Jesus was not with Philip when Philip told Nathanael to come and see. There is no physical way Jesus could have seen Nathanel under the fig tree. And Philip did not have time or opportunity to tell Jesus beforehand where he had found Nathanael. Nor could Jesus, if He were just a man, have known that Philip went to call Nathanael. But Jesus is not just a man. He is a man who is also God. And as God, Jesus is the one who called Nathanel while he was sitting under the fig tree. He called Nathanael through the mouth of His servant Philip. Before Philip even arrived on the scene, Jesus, because He is God, saw Nathanael, and knew Nathanael. And this personal encounter with God in the flesh leads Nathanael to confess, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (v. 49). The miracle leads to the confession. It is an epiphany, a revelation of who Jesus is. Only God knows all things. Jesus knows all things. Therefore Jesus is God in the flesh, come to save His people.

That Jesus is God and that Jesus knows all things is a great comfort to you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus knows you. He knows your sins. He knows all the dark little secrets of your heart. And yet here He is, right where He’s promised to be, for you, to forgive those sins, to absolve you of those dark little secrets. He loves you in spite of them, for He has died for them, died for your forgiveness. So also, Jesus knows all the havoc that sin has wrought in your life. He knows your every pain and sorrow. And because He is God, and because He loves you, He not only knows the medicine that you need for that sin and pain and sorrow, He can and will give it you. He can and will heal you. He can and will save you. He knows you, dear brothers and sisters. He loves you. Just and He knew Nathanael, and in His love, called Nathanael to faith through the mouth of Philip while Nathanael was sitting under the fig tree, so Jesus knows and loves you and calls you to faith, to an encounter and a relationship with Him, wherever you are.

And here we learn something particularly pertinent to our observation of Life Sunday this morning. Our Lord knows us and loves us even when we are in the womb, even from conception as He lovingly knits us together, forming our tiny inward parts. Listen to King David’s description of this in Psalm 139: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (vv. 13-16). How beautifully King David here confesses God’s loving creation of each one of us, His intimate knowledge of us from the moment of conception until the moment of death, even into eternity, and His tender involvement and providence for every one of our days, written, every one of them, in His book before any of them came to be. In this way God knows and loves every unborn child. He knows and loves every human being with a terminal illness. He knows and loves every person at every age, in every stage of life. The Lord and Giver of life knows and loves you.

And so He gives you the same promise He gave to Nathanael. You will see greater things than the miracle that Jesus is all knowing and all seeing, present everywhere. “[Y]ou will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). You will see Jacob’s ladder (cf. Gen. 28:10-22). You see it now. For you have come to see Jesus, and that is exactly who you do see here in His Church, in His Word and in His sacraments, for your salvation. Jesus is the Ladder. He bridges heaven and earth. His angels descend to serve you, His blood-bought people. They ascend again on the Ladder that is Jesus to bring your prayers and petitions before the Father, and on that day when you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, they take you up that Ladder into heaven to be with God. Now you see Jesus, not with your physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith. Then you will see Him face to face. And Jesus has promised that because He is risen, He will raise you from the dead, so that the physical eyes that cannot now behold Him, will see Him on that Day in the splendor of His glory. What a marvelous truth the Lord has revealed to you here today. You came. You saw. By God’s grace, you believed. Now go and invite others to come and see. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Great Quote from St. Augustine

From On Christian Doctrine (I.xxviii), cited in Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984) p. 66:

All men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you. For, suppose that you had a great deal of some commodity, and felt bound to give it away to somebody who had none, and that it could not be given to more than one person; if two persons presented themselves, neither of whom had either from need or relationship a greater claim upon you than the other, you could do nothing fairer than choose by lot to which you would give what could not be given to both. Just so among men, since you cannot consult for the good of them all, you must take the matter as decided for you by a sort of lot, according as each man happens for the time being to be more closely connected with you.

John Kleinig makes the same argument in terms of vocation in his recent Bible study on Prayer in The Lutheran Spirituality Series (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006): "Your area of responsibility as a person of prayer, your department, is defined by your station in life, in your family, your workplace, your circle of friends, and your congregation" (p. 8). In other words, Christians are called to love all people, to pray for all people, to serve all people, to act for the good of all. But practically speaking, this is impossible. So God places us in our vocation, what Augustine calls the accidents of time, place, and circumstance, and it is precisely in said vocation that we are to serve those whom God places in our lives. This gives some helpful perspective for our Christian life, and as Neuhaus would say, our life lived as one not of the world, but in the world.

Friday, January 09, 2009

In Honor of Richard John Neuhaus

A quote from an older book that is just as applicable today, when we think that this time and this generation is different than any that has gone before, and especially when certain leaders encourage, or at least do not discourage, the messianic accolades of their supporters...

"To explore the new in the knowledge of the sameness of things is to be wise; to let the sameness of things obscure the new is to be jaded. Nothing is as new as it is cracked up to be; nothing is quite the same as anything else. 'Behold, I am doing a new thing.' Ours is not the definative time in which that new thing is happening (that time was the resurrection of Jesus, which is in mysterious truth our past, present, and promised future); but neither is our time any other time."

-Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984) p. 5.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

English District History

Epiphany Lutheran Church in Dorr, Michigan, is a congregation of the English District LCMS. This Sunday, we have the distinct privilege of a visit by our Bishop/President, the Rev. Dr. David Stechholz. In honor of the occasion, we will be printing the following article from the District website, <http://www.englishdistrict.org/>, a very nice article about the history of the English District. What is striking is the commitment of the former English Synod to the "old Gospel" and confessional Lutheranism, which is why the English Synod desired to become a district of the Missouri Synod. The full article is from <http://www.englishdistrict.org/about/history_mission_vision/history>.

English District History
The English District is one of thirty-five districts of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. At one time the English District was an independent Lutheran Synod in North America, organized in 1888 as the "English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri." Its history goes back to colonial times.
In the early days of Lutheranism in the United States, the Henkels, a prominent Lutheran family, provided pastoral leadership for the church in Virginia. The family was concerned about Lutheran confessional teaching. In 1851, the Henkel family published the first English edition of the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions. Members of the family were responsible for establishing several synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. One of those synods, the Tennessee Synod, was organized in 1820 by Pastor Paul Henkel. The Tennessee Synod believed firmly in the authority of God's Word. It insisted on strong catechetical training within the congregations.
Immediately after the American Civil War, Pastor Polycarp Henkel, grandson of founding patriarch Paul Henkel, served as pastor of Zion Church, Gravelton, Missouri. The leaders of the Tennessee Synod learned of the existence of the Missouri Synod, a strong confessional synod headed by Dr. Carl F. W. Walther, with headquarters in St. Louis. Tennessee Synod pastors and laymen in Missouri invited Dr. Walther to meet with them. In August of 1872, representatives of the “German Missouri Synod” met with the pastors and congregations of the Tennessee Synod at Zion in Gravelton. Dr. Walther presented sixteen theses that expressed the confession of the Missouri Synod. While the theses were in English, the discussions were conducted both in German and English since the Tennessee Synod members did not speak German. As a result of the meeting "The English Evangelical Lutheran Conference of Missouri" was organized. In 1888 the English Conference of the Tennessee Synod in Missouri was organized as a separate synod, the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri. However, the new English Synod continued attempts to become one organically with "The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States."
Finally in 1911, the English Synod was accepted into the “German Missouri Synod” as a non-geographic synodical district. The “English Synod of Missouri” did not want amalgamation, but it did want to be part of the Missouri Synod because of its confessional and scriptural Lutheran stance.
When the union of the two synods was effected, the sainted Dr. Harry Eckhardt, then President of the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, said, "We come here to join ranks with you and march with you, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, bearing farther and farther, into the world of lost sinners the one saving Gospel, whether it be by means of the German language or the English or any tongue, just so it be the old Gospel. We have been in one faith. Now we are one in organization. May we ever be one and inseparable."
Prior to Dr. Eckhardt, Pastors F. Kuegele, William Dallmann, and Adolph Meyer were Presidents of the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri. When the English District was established, Dr. Harry Eckhardt was elected its first President. This District has continued to the present day.
There are English District congregations in two Canadian provinces and in seventeen US states, from Naples, Florida to Minneapolis, from New York to San Diego, from Pembroke Ontario, Canada to Lincoln, Nebraska, to Arizona, urban and suburbs. English District congregations minister in 19 different languages including: French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Tigrian, Urdu, Amharic, Nuer, and Sign. The English District serves campuses, human care and other types of ministries.
In 1911, there were fifty-three congregations. However, during the life of the English District over five hundred congregations have been members of the Conference/Synod/District. Today, the District numbers 161 congregations, mission starts, and social ministries.
Most of them have been transferred to the geographic districts of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Thirty-three of the oldest and largest congregations were released to form the Southeastern District in 1939. In 1946 another group of congregations was released to form the Montana District. So it has gone through the years.
When the English Synod joined the Missouri Synod, it presented to the Synod two colleges for ministerial education: Concordia College at Conover, North Carolina, and St. John's College at Winfield, Kansas. It also turned over to the Missouri Synod several publications: "The Lutheran Witness", its official magazine; and "The Lutheran Guide", a magazine for youth. The Missouri Synod was given the publishing rights for "The Sunday School Hymnal". The English Synod also turned over to the Missouri Synod the full manuscript for the first English hymnal of the Synod. In 1912 that manuscript became "The Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal" which served the Missouri Synod until 1941. The idea for the Church Extension Fund was also generated by the English Synod. The District's program from the beginning has been to provide for pastoral education, to assist congregations in parish education with materials and programs, and to do mission work within the borders of the United States and Canada.
The English District sees itself in the role of the servant. It is a servant to the congregations, servant to other districts, and servant to the entire Synod. The English District seeks to help in situations and circumstances where other districts cannot carry out their goals and need help. For the Synod, we promote our mutual faith, one in purpose and in organization. Where others will not, or can not, we are ready to serve.
What Dr. Eckhardt said in 1911 still holds, "We have been one in faith. May we ever be one and inseparable with Missouri. We are all contending for the same sound Lutheranism for which he (Walther) so unflinchingly stood. We add to all this the old motto of Missouri: Soli Deo Gloria! (To God alone be all glory)."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Epiphany of Our Lord

The Epiphany of Our Lord (B)
(Transferred) January 7, 2009
Text: Is. 60:1-6

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (Is. 60:1; ESV). Arise, dear Church of God, dear children of the heavenly Father. Shake off your sloth. Wipe the sleep out of your eyes. The God who raises the dead has come in the flesh to raise you to new life in Him. Your Light has come, the Light that lightens every man, a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel, Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. He comes into our darkness. He comes into the gloomy darkness of sin, death, the devil, and hell to rescue us and to shine His light upon us. For behold, darkness covers the earth. Thick darkness covers the people. No man has light within himself. The darkness of unbelief and a will bound by sin is the mark of this fallen flesh. Natural man does not understand the things of God, for they are folly to him. But when the Light that is Jesus Christ comes and the glory of the Lord rises upon you, you are changed. The Holy Spirit enlightens you with His gifts. That is to say that He brings you to faith in Jesus Christ through the Word and the Sacraments. He calls you by the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus. He sanctifies you and keeps you. That is to say that when the Light that is Jesus Christ comes upon you by the Holy Spirit working in the Word, to bring you to faith, you become a light in the world, a little christ to your neighbor. God, who has pronounced you righteous by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, now makes you holy. God enlightens you, gives you His light, that you might shine along with Christ and by the power of the Light that is Christ in this world of darkness. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5: 14-16).

The Lord accomplishes this in you. It is His gift, His work. The Lord rises upon you. The Lord’s glory is seen upon you (Is. 60:2). And notice the promise in our text. Nations will come to your light. Kings will come to the brightness of your rising (v. 3). This is the magnificent grace of God that He does His work through you, you who once were darkness but now are light in the Lord. Therefore shake off that spiritual sloth. Repent of your spiritual sleepiness. Your Light has come! The glory of the Lord has risen upon you! You have been forgiven, set free from bondage to sin and death and the devil. Those things have no more claim over you. You have a new Master, Jesus Christ, and He gives you one gift after another, the fruits of His cross. Now lift up your eyes and see what the Lord has done (v. 4). He has called you together to this place called Epiphany Lutheran Church. He has called you to be the Church of God in this community. And He has called you to be a light, a light reflecting the Light of Christ Jesus to a world of darkness. The Lord has delivered the nations to your front door. They all gather together. They come to you. They come because they know you have light. And they know they need light. God brings them here to become sons and daughters, sons and daughters of God to be sure, but notice what the text says… God calls them your sons and daughters. You, the Church, are the mother. You give them birth by Baptism. You nourish them with the Word and with the Holy Supper. And in this way sons come from afar and daughters are carried on the hip of holy Mother Church.

How thrilling! It makes one rather radiant to think about it. It leads one to exult and praise God for the miracle of faith that the Holy Spirit performs in our midst through His Word (v. 5). And that is what Epiphany is all about. The word “Epiphany” means revelation or manifestation. Epiphany is about the revelation of Jesus Christ as God in the flesh, as Savior and King not only of Israel, but of all the nations, even the Gentiles. That is why this day we celebrate the coming of the wise men to the young Child, Jesus, in Bethlehem. The wise men were Gentiles. They come from the East to worship their Savior and yours. They fulfill the prophecy from Isaiah, bringing gold and frankincense… Gold because it is the gift of kings, testifying that Jesus is the King of all, God, forever blessed. Frankincense because it is that which is offered to God by the people of Israel in the Old Testament in their incense offerings, testifying that Jesus is the God of Israel in the flesh. And they add yet one more gift, not prophesied in our text: myrrh, an embalming ointment, preparing this young Child, Jesus, for His death. For it is primarily in His death on the cross that He is revealed as Savior of the world. It is primarily in the darkness of His death on the cross that His light shines upon you and the glory of God is revealed. It is in His death that your sins are forgiven. It is in His death that you are redeemed, bought back, for God. It is because of His death that He is risen and so guarantees your own resurrection from the dead and eternal salvation.

All of this He gives you in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. He gives you all of this tonight in the absolution, the reading and preaching of His Word, and the Supper of His body and blood. He gives you His light. But He doesn’t give you His light to hide under a basket. He gives you His light to shine. That means evangelism and missions. That means speaking of Christ to your friends and neighbors and to all whom God has placed in your life. That means that you, yourself, make regular use of God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament and invite others to come here to the Church of Christ in this place to bask in the light of Christ. How could you not share what you’ve been given? That is why you are called “Epiphany” congregation, for you reveal Christ to the world. But you let God worry about who comes to faith and who doesn’t. You let God worry about whether the Church grows. Of course it’s always growing, whether we see it or not. All those who are in heaven with Jesus are part of the Church, and every new disciple on earth is an addition to the Church. But whether this congregation has more or less people on its rolls is up to God. You certainly pray for growth, not because of the bottom line on the treasurer’s report, but because you want more people, as many as possible, to know Jesus Christ and His salvation. But you don’t convert. God does. You just shine. And you can shine, because your light has come. You shine with His light. For Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, has come for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Second Sunday after Christmas

Second Sunday after Christmas (B)
January 4, 2009
Text: Luke 2:40-52

Beloved in the Lord, when you need Jesus, where do you look for Him? Where should you look for Him? Where should you expect to find Him? One thing is for sure, Mary gets the answer to this question precisely wrong in our text this morning. So much for any idea that St. Mary has any sort of claim to perfection. She’s just as lost as the rest of us. When she needs Jesus, she goes looking in all the wrong places. Twelve-year-old Jesus and His family had gone up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, as was their custom. And as was common at the time, a large party of friends and relatives from Nazareth made the trek together. So it was that when they left the Holy City, they suspected Jesus to be somewhere among the crowd. Thus we should not be puzzled that they traveled for a day without worrying that they hadn’t seen Him. Besides, Jesus, being without sin, had NEVER misbehaved. His parents NEVER had to worry about Him. They were NEVER disappointed in Him. He ALWAYS pleased them. But after that day, Mary and Joseph begin to worry. After looking for Him to no avial, they begin to imagine the worst. Maybe He’s lost. Maybe they had left Him behind. Maybe He’s been kidnapped. They begin to search for Jesus among their relatives and acquaintances. Their anxiety increases with every passing moment. You parents who have experienced that moment of panic when your child perhaps wanders out of sight at the grocery store know what I’m talking about. Where is Jesus? Mary and Joseph begin to make their way back to Jerusalem. Remember, they had already traveled a day’s journey away from the city. When they arrive, they search the city and the Temple precincts for three days. They leave no stone unturned. One can only imagine the grief and worry in their hearts. But as it happens, they should not have been worried. They should have known that Jesus’ heavenly Father would not allow Him to be lost before the appointed time when He would save His people from their sins. And they should have known that in the meantime, Jesus would be in His Father’s house, about His Father’s business. They should have known right where Jesus would be. He would be in the Temple, the dwelling place of God with men, immersed in the Word of God, immersed in the Holy Scriptures.

Imagine the relief Mary and Joseph felt when they found Jesus sitting at the feet of the Rabbis, listening to them expound the Holy Scriptures, and asking them questions. Yet Mary thought that for the first time Jesus had sinned against her and Joseph. “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luke 2:48; ESV). Now, one can understand, perhaps, Mary’s scolding. One cannot help but be sympathetic to the ordeal Mary has just been through. But Mary should have known better. Her desperation exhibits a certain weakness of faith, a sinful doubt. Jesus corrects her… “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49). “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (NKJV). Jesus had not sinned against His earthly parents. He was right where He should be. He was immersed in the Word of His Father.

Jesus was sitting at the feet of the Rabbis, learning about the Passover. It may seem strange to us that the Son of God had to learn about the Passover, had to increase in wisdom, but remember, according to His human nature and in His state of humiliation, Jesus did not always or fully use His divine powers. He became one with us in the fullest sense, and that means He limited Himself in His human nature so that He had to learn like the rest of us. And even so, He was filled with wisdom, a star pupil, so that the Rabbis and Jesus’ fellow students were amazed at His understanding and His answers. But here in the Temple, Jesus is learning about His role as the fulfillment of the Passover, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Remember the story of the Passover. The people of God, Israel, had been enslaved in Egypt. For over four hundred years they had cried to God for deliverance. Then God sent Moses to lead His people on an exodus out of Egypt. But Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let them go. Despite nine previous plagues God had sent upon the people of Egypt, plagues including all the water in Egypt being turned to blood, infestations of frogs, gnats, and flies, the death of all the Egyptian livestock, boils, hail that fell with fire and killed every living thing it struck, locusts, and thick darkness, despite all of this, Pharaoh refused to free the children of Israel from their bondage. And so a tenth plague was proclaimed: “every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Ex. 11:5-7; ESV). That night the angel of death passed over Egypt and killed every firstborn of man and cattle. But the Israelites were given protection. Each household, or several smaller households together, were to gather and kill a lamb. They were to paint the lamb’s blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses and eat the lamb together, along with unleavened bread, wine, and bitter herbs. They were to be dressed and ready to travel. And the angel of death would not touch them. They were protected by the blood. So in the aftermath, Pharaoh commanded that Israel leave. The Egyptians were so eager to have them gone that they gave them silver and gold and clothing, anything, just get out of here. So the people of Israel left their slavery in Egypt behind and set their faces toward the Promised Land.

The Feast of the Passover was a celebration of this event Israel’s history and in the history of our salvation. But it finds its fulfillment, its ultimate meaning, in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the firstborn who dies to free His new Israel, the Church. His blood is painted on the doorposts and lintels of our hearts so that we don’t have to die. We eat the true Passover Lamb in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper as He comes to us with His true body and blood. In fact, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night of the Passover celebration. Even as we experience the bitter herbs of the cross and suffering in this life, Jesus leads us in exodus from our slavery to sin, death, and the devil. He leads us to the Promised Land, to fellowship with God, to the forgiveness of sins, salvation, heaven, and the resurrection. As twelve-year-old Jesus sits at the feet of the Rabbis in the Temple, He is learning what it means to be the Savior of the world. He is learning what it means for Him to be the Passover Lamb of God. He is in His Father’s house, learning about His Father’s business, the Father’s business of salvation from sin. Jesus is immersed in the Holy Scriptures which testify about Himself! Where else would He be? Mary had heard the testimony of the Angel Gabriel, the shepherds, the wise men, old Simeon and Anna in the Temple. She knew the Law and the Prophets which were all about her Son. She knew her Son had come to save His people from their sins. So when she couldn’t find Him among her friends and relatives on the way back to Nazareth, she should have known right where to find Him: In His Father’s house, about His Father’s business.

So back to the original question, when you need Jesus, where do you look for Him? In your heart? In your feelings? In nature? In the love of your friends and family members? If so, like St. Mary, you’re looking in all the wrong places. You will only find Jesus in these things if you first find Him in His Word, revealed for you as your Savior. Jesus is immersed in the Word. He’s right where St. Mary found Him, about His Father’s business, immersed in Scripture, where He is revealed as the Passover Lamb who takes away your sin, redeems you, leads you out of captivity to sin, death, and the devil, and brings you into the Promised Land. Where should you look for Jesus when you need Him? Where should you always expect to find Him? In His Word! In the Scriptures! In preaching, in absolution, in the Word connected to visible elements, to water in Baptism, to bread and wine which are His true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. You should expect to find Him in liturgy and hymn where the Word of God is put directly into your mouth. In the Word you possess Jesus and He possesses you so that you have all the benefits of His life, His death, His resurrection. He deals with you in no other way. But this is a good thing, for you always know exactly where to find Him, exactly where He has promised to be, always, for you, with His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Jesus’ mother and His step-father, Joseph, did not immediately understand what Jesus meant when He said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49). But we are told that Mary in particular, and probably Joseph, too, did what faith should always do when instructed by the Word of the Lord. She treasured up all these things in her heart (v. 51). Note this very carefully. That’s what we ought to do with the Word of God, even when we don’t understand it. Recognizing that Jesus is immersed in the Word of God, that He is the Word of God made flesh, and that He comes to us with all His gifts in His Word, we ought always and at all times to treasure His Word and ponder it in our hearts. So, too, note carefully what Jesus does at the end of our text. He goes back to Nazareth with His parents and is submissive to them. He fulfills the Fourth Commandment. Of course, this is an example for us to follow, especially you children. Honor your father and your mother. Fear and love God so that you do not despise or anger your parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. But Jesus’ obedience is so much more than just an example for us. Here He is fulfilling the Law of God in our place. That’s what He came to do. He came to fulfill the Fourth Commandment for us who cannot fulfill it. He came to fulfill all the Commandments for us sinners. He came to do what we could not do. And He came to die for our sins, to pay the penalty for our disobedience, on the cross. He is our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed. And so, too, He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. And all of this He generously gives us, all His righteousness He credits to our account. How? You know the answer. In His Word. In His Promise. It is why He was sent. It is His Father’s business. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.