Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Thursday, May 30, 2013

In Memoriam +Willard Theodore Steffens+

In Memoriam +Willard Theodore Steffens+
May 30, 2013
Text: John 10:14-16, 27-30

            The Lord knows those who are His.  Think about this amazing fact: Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them, visible and invisible, Lord of all, knows each one of us right down to the minutest detail.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Even the hairs of our head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30).  And since that is the case, we have this great comfort.  Our Lord God knows His servant Ted Steffens by name.  God put His own Name on Ted in Holy Baptism: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Father gave the Son, Jesus Christ, into the death of the cross to purchase Ted and you for Himself.  Ted belongs to God.  And so on that day in Lincoln, Nebraska, at Bryan Memorial West Hospital, May 23rd at 2 pm, after praying the Lord’s Prayer with his family, Ted heard the voice of the Lord Jesus: “Willard Theodore, come home.  Come and enter the joy of your Master.”  And then Ted opened his eyes to see the face of the Savior in heaven.
            Notice that all three of our readings, the Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Holy Gospel say virtually the same thing: “The LORD… knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7; ESV).  The Lord knows those who are his” (2 Tim. 2:19).  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).  And of course our Psalm (Ps. 23) makes this point throughout as the Lord our Shepherd cares for us, His sheep, so that we are safe and secure, well-fed and watered by His Word and Sacraments in His holy Church, and so that we have the sure and certain promise that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  To be known by the Lord in this way means not just that the Lord knows things about us, or is somehow acquainted with us.  To be known by the Lord in this way means that He has a relationship with us.  It means that He knows us intimately, that He loves us, that He cares for us, that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  Not even in death.  So the Lord knows Ted.  And I’m using the present tense on purpose.  The Lord knows Ted.  The Lord didn’t cease to know Ted when Ted breathed his last.  The Lord knows Ted, who, though he has died, continues to live, in heaven, with Jesus Christ, the Savior. 
            Now,  a great deal will be said today about what a great guy Ted was and what great things he did, and it will all be true, and those stories are important.  However, this may come as a shock to you, but God isn’t impressed with any of it.  Ted isn’t in heaven because he was a great guy who did great things.  The plain fact of the matter is that Ted was a sinner.  We confess that bluntly here in the Church.  Ted confessed it bluntly every Sunday.  And he knew, as St. Paul teaches us, that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  But he also knew, as Paul says, that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Ted knew that he wasn’t saved by anything he had done, not by good works, not by being a good person, but by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and by that alone.  Ted was baptized into that reality, baptized into Christ, so that our Lord’s death and resurrection became Ted’s own death and resurrection.  That’s what St. Paul writes, and what we confessed of Ted and of ourselves just a few moments ago: “We were buried therefore with [Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:4-5).  Actually, those who are baptized into Christ get their death over with right there at the font.  That’s what Paul is saying.  And they have eternal life now, even in this earthly life, albeit hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).  It’s an eternal life that begins in Baptism and is revealed in heaven, and revealed fully in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.
            Yes, baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, our Lord Jesus will call Ted by name once again on the Last Day: “Willard Theodore, come out of the grave!”  And he will.  This body will rise from the dead.  How could it be otherwise?  For the risen Lord Jesus knows His servant Ted.  Knows him by name.  Knows him and loves him.  And He is the Good Shepherd.  The sheep of the Good Shepherd know His voice.  They follow Him.  So where Jesus has gone, there the sheep go.  Jesus is in heaven.  Ted is in heaven.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Ted Steffens will rise from the dead.  Where the Shepherd is, there the sheep are gathered.  And what is true for Ted, is true for you.  He is your Good Shepherd.  He died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  He is risen that you might have eternal life.  He gives that life to you in His Word, and in Baptism, and in the Supper of His body and blood.  The Lord knows you.  Even in your grief.  He loves you.  He cares for you.  And when you meet Him face to face, He will do for you what He is doing now for Ted.  He will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Rev. 7:17).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (C)
May 26, 2013
Text: John 8:48-59

            There is one God, who is three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There is one God and He alone is God.  There are not many gods.  There are not even three gods.  There is one God.  And any god that is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not God.  This is the mystery of our faith.  We don’t understand this, how one God can be three Persons and three Persons can be one God, and that’s okay.  We can’t comprehend our God.  He cannot be explained by mathematical formulas, scientific theories, or philosophical treatises.  We cannot know and understand our God in His hidden majesty.  If we think we do understand Him in His essence, we’ve slipped into heresy, false teaching that replaces the one true God with a false god of our own making.  All we can know of our Triune God is what He has revealed of Himself in Holy Scripture, and in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in human flesh.  And to know that is to know enough.  Our gracious God, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity, reveals Himself in Scripture and in the Savior as God for us, the God who loves us and saves us and makes us His own by the blood and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
            This Sunday, Holy Trinity, is all about who our God is and how He reveals Himself to us.  He isn’t just whatever we want Him to be.  He is who He is, whether we like it or not.  And so the critical question for you and me is whether we have the right God.  That is the question addressed in the Athanasian Creed, and it is the question Jesus addresses with Jews in our Holy Gospel (John 8:48-59).  Because it’s very easy for us to fashion a false god who looks just enough like the one true God to fool us.  For example, many people say that the “three great monotheistic religions of the world” (that means the religions that believe there is only one god), Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, all believe in the same god.  They just have slightly different understandings of him and call him by different names.  Well, that sounds good and tolerant and loving, especially in our pluralistic society and to our politically correct ears.  But Jesus obliterates that theory in our Gospel.  He specifically tells the Jews in our text that they don’t have the right God (vv. 54-55), they don’t worship the God of Abraham as they claim.  And the reason?  They don’t have Jesus.  They believe Jesus has a demon (v. 48).  They do not believe Jesus is the Son of the Father.  They do not believe that Jesus is God in human flesh or that He has come to save them.  They do not believe Jesus’ Word, and so they do not have eternal life.  So much for all religions leading to the same place.  Jesus says rather, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (v. 51; ESV [emphasis added]).  Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (v. 58).  Now, don’t miss what Jesus is saying here about Himself.  He’s pointing to Himself and saying, “I AM YHWH, I AM the God of Abraham, right here visiting you in the flesh for your salvation.  If you would only believe!”  And the response of unbelief is this, that they pick up stones to throw at Him.  And not just to throw at Him, but to kill Him, for the penalty for blasphemy is death by stoning.
            It’s never popular to tell someone they have the wrong god.  That alone can get you stoned to death.  But then, for Jesus to say that He IS God…  It was infuriating to the Jews, and it’s infuriating to unbelievers today.  The Jews were infuriated because they didn’t believe God could become a man.  Unbelievers today are infuriated because Jesus will not share the stage with other gods.  He makes exclusive claims such as “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  St. Peter preaches: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Jesus is the only way.  Contrary to what the Pope said this week about “good people” who don’t believe in Jesus being saved anyway.  That’s just not what the Bible says.  That’s just not what Jesus says.  And I know it’s offensive.  But you don’t get to change the Word of the Lord just because you don’t like it. 
            And of course you don’t like it.  Because you may not be Jewish or Muslim, but you have your idols, too.  You have false gods that you have fashioned.  If you’ve ever said, “I just can’t believe in a god who would…” (fill in the blank)… “send people to hell,” or “not want homosexuals to marry,” or “tell me I’m sinning,” well, you’ve fashioned a false god for yourself.  And you’ve done it, haven’t you?  I certainly have.  Repent.  This is not a message of hate, as Christians are so often accused.  There is no hate here.  Only love.  But love also seeks the truth.  Love tells the truth, even when the truth is hard to tell, even when the truth leads to rejection and persecution.  And the truth is this:  “You shall have no other gods.  What does this mean?  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther’s Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]), the God of Holy Scripture, the God revealed by Jesus Christ, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We should fear, love, and trust in Him above our reason, above our feelings about who He should be and what He should do and what He should say, above other people and things that so easily take the place of God.  Do you have the right God?  Because there simply are no substitutes. 
            And how do you know you have the right God?  He tells you in Holy Scripture.  You have the right God if you have Jesus Christ, Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, for your Lord.  You have the right God if you confess the Father who created you and sent the Son for your salvation; the Son who became man, lived, suffered, and died for your forgiveness, rose for your justification and eternal life, lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and is coming again to judge the living and the dead; the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son and who is active in His Church in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, to give you living and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.  You have the right God if you confess the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity, the God who saves you in Jesus of Nazareth.  And all of this graciously revealed to you in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. 
            This is the Christian faith.  And it’s a gift to you from God Himself.  No mere man came up with this.  The man-made religions all make some sort of sense.  They’re reasonable.  They’re comprehensible to the natural man.  But as St. Paul writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned… But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14, 16).  We didn’t earn that mind.  We didn’t come up with that mind ourselves.  We don’t deserve it.  It’s a gift, given by the Holy Spirit in His Word.  It’s a mind that believes even what it cannot comprehend.  So it’s okay that we don’t completely understand our God.  We aren’t called to understand Him.  We’re called to believe in Him, trust Him, and confess Him, and to have our very minds shaped by Him.
            For it is He who gives us life in Jesus Christ the Savior.  As Jesus says, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51), which is to say, though you die, yet shall you live.  You live now in Baptism, your life being hidden with Christ in God.  You will live in heaven with Jesus when you die.  And you will continue to live eternally when the Lord Jesus raises you from the dead.  And then you will see for yourself what you cannot comprehend, what you have believed and confessed.  You will see God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And with Abraham and Ted Steffens and all the saints, you will rejoice in His presence and sing the song of the blessed: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:3).  Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen” (Rev. 7:10, 12).  You will sing this because Christ is risen.  You will sing this because your sins are forgiven.  You will sing this because Jesus Christ is your life.  And in Him you will never see death.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

The Holy Marriage of Lars Hoffbeck and Libby Timmis

The Holy Marriage of Lars Hoffbeck and Elizabeth Timmis
May 25, 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, MI

Text: Eph. 5:1-2, 22-33

          Jesus Christ is our Alpha and our Omega, our beginning and our fulfillment, and our everything in between.  And what is true of our life in Christ, which, by the power of His resurrection, is eternal, is true also, Lars and Libby, for your holy marriage.  Jesus Christ is your beginning and your fulfillment and your whole life together.  You make your beginning here in the holy Church in the Name of Jesus, and in that Name you will live your life together until death parts you.  And when death parts you, your fulfillment is in Jesus, who will take you to Himself in heaven and raise you from the dead on the Last Day. 
          Jesus Christ is the beginning and fulfillment of our text, our Epistle lesson from Ephesians Chapter 5, written by the blessed Apostle, St. Paul.  The foundation of our Christian life, including your life together as husband and wife, is nothing other than the self-sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.  As St. Paul writes, He “loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2; ESV).  And so what you are promising to do now as long as you both shall live is to give yourselves up for one another as living sacrifices to God.  In this way, St. Paul says, in your marriage, you become an icon, a living picture, of the Lord Jesus Christ and His holy Bride, the Church. 
          Libby, you become a living picture of the Church, cleansed by the blood of Christ in Holy Baptism so that she no longer has any spot or wrinkle, but is holy and without blemish, which is to say, her sins are forgiven.  You become the picture of this Church, holy and redeemed, by your submission to your husband.  Not a very politically correct idea.  But you do this, not because anyone is forcing you to do so, not because you are in any way inferior to Lars, but because, as a Christian wife, you desire to be this picture of the Church submitting to Christ.  And what does Christ do for His Bride, the Church?  He is not tyrannical.  He does not demean her.  He provides for her.  He leads her.  He gives Himself up for her, a sacrifice to God for her salvation.
          And Lars, you are the living picture of the Lord Jesus doing this very thing, giving Himself up for the Church, which is to say, giving Himself into death for her, into suffering and crucifixion for her.  You are to die to yourself for her sake.  You are to die for your wife, literally if necessary, for that is what it means to be her head.  You are not her boss.  You are not her master.  To be the head is to be the one who provides, the one who leads, the one who protects, and the one who dies.  And of course, if God so blesses you with children, you are to do this for them, as well.  This office which you take upon yourself here today extends over them, as well.  You are to die for them also, just as the Lord Jesus gave Himself up for the children of His Church, which is to say, each individual Christian.
          You can do this because of what Christ has done for both of you.  He died for the forgiveness of your sins.  He is risen for your justification and eternal life.  He has made you His own in Baptism and feeds you with His Word and Supper so that you can live your life together always in Him.  So St. Paul tells us in our text how you are to live as a Christian husband and wife.  And this is a great mystery, he says, but in speaking of you this way, He is really speaking about Christ and the Church.  Because Christ is our Alpha and our Omega, our beginning and our fulfillment, and our everything in between.  Your marriage is a living confession of Christ.  For it is sanctified by His death, enlivened by His resurrection, sustained by His reign at the right hand of the Father.  God Himself joins you together this day by His Word.  And He who has thus begun this good work in you, will surely bring it to completion through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Day of Pentecost

They Day of Pentecost (C)
The Confirmation of Joscelin Comisky, Tyler Ihle, and Emma Scott

May 19, 2013
Text: Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31

            Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23; ESV).  That is what the rite of Confirmation is all about.  It gives our confirmands, who have undertaken two years of intense instruction at the feet of the Lord Jesus as He opens His Word to them, a chance to confess that they believe what they have been taught in the Holy Scriptures and in the Small Catechism.  And then to promise before God and this congregation that they will keep that Word of their Lord, believe it, confess it, hold it sacred, even unto death.  Because they love Jesus.  And they love Jesus because He first loved them and gave Himself up for them unto the death of the cross, for the forgiveness of their sins.
            What does it mean to keep Jesus’ Word?  The Greek word translated here as “keep” (τηρέω) can also mean to “keep watch over,” “guard,” “hold,” “preserve,” keep “unharmed and undisturbed,” and especially in this context to “observe,” “fulfill,” and “pay attention to.”[1]  All of these shades of meaning are included in what our Lord here says.  We Christians should keep watch over the Word, guard it against harm and perversion, hold it sacred in our hearts and minds, preserve it against pernicious false doctrine.  And of course, we should observe it very carefully.  We should believe it, do what it says, and pay careful attention to every detail as we study it and meditate upon it.  After all, this Word is from the Lord Jesus Himself personally to us, each one.  This Word is precious.  It is true.  It is powerful unto salvation.  Of course, we sinners don’t keep the Word of the Lord as we should.  We don’t like everything the Bible says.  So instead of keeping it, we change it in our hearts.  We pretend it says something other than what it says.  Some parts we simply don’t listen to or pay attention.  We close our ears and our hearts.  Yet there is the Lord Jesus, compassionately calling to each one of us, “If you love me, you will keep my Word.”  Beloved, repent.  This is why it is so important what Jesus says a few verses later in our text: “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (v. 26).  The Holy Spirit is active in His Word to turn your heart from hostility to the Word to a living faith in the Word so that you love the Lord Jesus and keep what He says.
            And that is what the Holy Spirit has been doing for our confirmands since their Baptism into Christ and for the last two years of catechetical instruction in His Word.  He has been working in them so that they believe in Jesus Christ, their Savior, love Him, and keep His Word.  Listen to some of the things they will promise and confess today.  They will remember and confess their Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  They will renounce the devil and all of his works and ways.  They will confess the Creed, the faith of the Holy Christian Church.  They will confess the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God.  They will confess the doctrine they’ve learned from Scripture and Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism to be faithful and true.  They will promise to hear the Word of God and receive His gifts in the Sacrament and live according to the Word of God until the day they die.  And (and this is the biggy!) they will promise to remain steadfast in this confession they have just made come hell or high water, to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.  Amazing.  They can only do this… say these things, promise these things, confess these things… and mean it!... because the Holy Spirit called them to do so.  By grace.  He called them in their Baptism.  He continues to call them by His Word.  Today He calls them to the Supper of Jesus’ Body and Blood for their forgiveness.  He calls them, calls you and me, by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, and sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ so that we can make this good confession.  It’s all His work, all His gift to us.
            And in this way, the same miracle happens to each one of us that happened at the first Pentecost.  Okay, maybe without the mighty rushing wind and the tongues of fire and the speaking of languages we’ve never learned before.  But the real miracle of Pentecost that happened to the disciples has also happened to each one of us.  That is the clarity of the Gospel, of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our salvation, the faith to believe it and trust it, and the ability to confess it.  St. Peter was just a bumbling, impetuous, ignorant fisherman before Pentecost.  Then the Holy Spirit blows through and Peter immediately gets up and preaches the sermon we heard in our second reading this morning (Acts 2:1-21).  Our confirmands were just helpless infants when their parents brought them to the font.  Then the Holy Spirit came and hovered over the water with His Word and in three splashes they were Christians.  You, beloved, were dead in your trespasses and sins, but God, by His Spirit, has made you alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:1-4).  The miracle of Pentecost reverberates through time and in every place as the Holy Spirit comes in His Word to make Christians out of sinners.  And sinners who have been shown such great mercy in Christ Jesus, love Him and keep His Word.
            But let’s be honest, it isn’t easy to keep the Word of the Lord, and I think we need to be especially honest with you three who are about to make your good confession in the rite of Confirmation.  The devil hates what you’re about to do.  He hates it with all the fury of hell.  And so you should just be aware that he’s going to throw his whole arsenal at you, his fiery arrows, his seductive temptations, his bitter accusations.  When he does, you call him a liar and tell him where he can go.  And then cling to the precious promises of Christ.  Your sins are forgiven.  Christ is your Lord.  You belong to Him.  Then there’s the world.  The world hates what you’re about to do, too.  They think you are, at best, a fool, at worst, a hater, an intolerant extremist.  They will mock you, and perhaps they will even persecute you (that’s where the “faithful unto death” part of promise you’re about to make comes in).  But in spite of this, and even because of it, you are to have nothing but compassion for them.  You are to love them.  You are to pray for them.  You are to turn the other cheek to them, suffer it, and let them have their day, praying that somehow, some way, the Holy Spirit would break through in His Word to turn their hearts to Himself.  And then there is your sinful flesh, that which was drowned in Holy Baptism, but which needs to be crucified again and again through daily repentance.  We talked about how easy it is for your flesh to give up the keeping of Jesus’ Word, especially in the wake of all the devil and the world will throw at you.  But remember this: You who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death.  That’s what St. Paul writes, words that you’ve learned by heart: “We were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).  The answer to your sinful flesh is the death and resurrection of Jesus which is yours in Baptism.  Remember, you belong to Him now.  You’re His.  So when you recognize the rebellion of your flesh, repent.  Die to it.  And believe the Good News: All your sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ your Savior.
            The truth of the matter is, with your three main enemies, the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh, constantly assaulting you, no matter how much you love Jesus, it’s utterly impossible for you to keep His Word, unless His Word keeps you.  And that’s precisely what it does.  We don’t sing in the hymn, “Lord, I am keeping Your Word steadfastly.”  We sing, “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word” (LSB 655:1).  Because we know that apart from the Lord’s keeping of us we cannot begin to keep His Word.  But in His keeping, by His Spirit, we hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, believe it, guard it, observe it, and put it into practice.  It is all His work in us.  By grace.  And it’s what we’re seeing and hearing in action in our confirmands this morning. 
            Joscelin, Tyler, and Emma, will make these promises this morning, not believing or trusting in their own power to keep them, but trusting in the Word, trusting in the Lord Jesus whom they’ve come to know ever since their Baptism, the Lord who shed His blood for them and for all people, trusting in their dear Father and in the Holy Spirit whom He has sent through Jesus to teach them all things (John 14:26).  What is true for them is true for you, beloved.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

[1] Walter Bauer et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) pp. 814-15.