In Memoriam +Willard Theodore Steffens+
In Memoriam +Willard
May 30, 2013
Text: John 10:14-16, 27-30
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.
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.
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.
The Holy Trinity
May 26, 2013
Text: John 8:48-59
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Church, Grand Rapids, MI
Text: Eph. 5:1-2, 22-33
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Day of Pentecost
They Day of
The Confirmation of
Joscelin Comisky, Tyler Ihle, and Emma Scott
May 19, 2013
Text: Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31
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.
does it mean to keep Jesus’
Word? The Greek word translated here as
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.” 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.