Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Visitation

John the Baptist decided he couldn't wait to do his job of pointing the way to the Savior. He had to start even before he was born. It happened when Mary, the mother of God, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John [Luke 1:39-56]. Mary had just been visited by an angel with the news that she would be giving birth to the Savior of the world. When she greeted Elizabeth the baby in Elizabeth's womb knew who was visiting. Upon Jesus' arrival in the desert where John had been preaching and baptizing John pointed to Him with the words "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." For now, in the womb of his mom, he spoke no words, simply leaping for joy.

Jesus was born soon after and lived, died, and rose that our sins may indeed be taken away. He's no longer in the womb, but He visits us often so that our sins may be forgiven. In our Baptism, in the receiving of Absolution, and in His Holy Supper He visits us and we might feel a little like John the Baptist and leap for joy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Memorial Day

Even though we celebrate the holiday on Monday, today is the actual Memorial Day. So let me take this opportunity to thank all of you who serve our country by defending it in honor of those who lost their lives in this service. We are grateful for their sacrifice as well as for your faithful service. Freedom is never free. I don't know if it's something Teddy Roosevelt really said or not, but in the movie "Night at the Museum" Ben Stiller says, "We lost some good men out there." Roosevelt's reply is, "With great victory comes great sacrifice." How true that is. Some lose their lives in defense of the freedom we enjoy. May we honor that sacrifice by serving in our vocations for the betterment of our fellow citizens of our country and the world.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Trilingual Christians and the Triune God

We just celebrated the Confirmation of two of our youth. They have learned a lot over the past two years. One of the things they learned is that they have a lot yet to learn. In fact, their Confirmation is a great opportunity for the rest of us to remember that we have a lot to learn also.

That’s why the word “catechesis” is so important. Catechesis is not “Confirmation Class”. Catechesis is the life-long learning of God’s Word and growing in faith. Confirmation instruction is the foundation for continued catechesis.

Look at your own Christian life. How have you grown in God’s grace since you were confirmed into the Christian faith, whether a few years ago or many years ago? Being confirmed and being catechized your whole life through is like learning a language. The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it. That’s why little children will say things and you wonder how they were able to say something like that when they haven’t even been in school yet. It’s because they’re constantly surrounded by the language. They hear it often and soak it in.

The problem with us, however, is that we’re born with the inclination for three languages. These languages aren’t spoken languages, although words can certainly be used to communicate them. They are the languages of idolatry, and we’re very conversant with them.

The world is fluent in this language and is constantly attacking the truth of the Word of God, whether in outright disregard for it or in subtle ways to tempt us to live for ourselves rather than for God. We’re very comfortable with this language, using it at times rather than the lasting Words of the Holy Scriptures.

Another language we know well is the one the devil speaks. It’s tempting to dismiss this one as one we don’t speak, but don’t we often give in to the temptations of the devil? He will use any means to tempt us to doubt God, and when we do, we’re speaking the language of the devil—“Did God really say?”—rather than the one God has given us in His Word.

The third one we naturally speak is the one of our sinful flesh. This is the one that gives eloquent expression to the rationalization that it’s good to give in to our pleasures. Why would God deny us the good things He’s created?

By nature we are much more conversant as trilinguists than we are as catechumens (those who are learning the language of God in His Word, the language of faith). That’s why we need to be unilinguists. The language of the Triune God is the language of grace and mercy.

God the Father does indeed give us all good things for our benefit and enjoyment. God the Son has beaten down the devil to show us a way that doesn’t end in destruction but rather life. God the Holy Spirit raises us up to new life that is lived to Christ, not ourselves.

How does the Triune God teach us this language? Through catechesis. Through getting us into His Holy Word. Through us remembering daily our Baptism and the repenting of our sins and the rejoicing in His forgiveness. Through feeding us often the Body and Blood of Christ for our forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith. In this way we’re immersed in His Word.

He speaks. We listen. That is how we learn the language of the Triune God.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Right Place

The Day of Pentecost
Confirmation Sunday
Sunday, May 27, 2007
John 14:23-31

Katherine and Jamie, today is a great day for you. You know that it is an exciting day, and yet, you may not even realize how important of a day this really is for you. The very fact that the two of you are sitting up here in the front shows that this is an important day in your life and that in this congregation there is an emphasis today on the two of you and what is occurring today.

Your Confirmation today is the culmination of two years of learning the core of the Christian faith. And yet, as I have reminded you often over the last two years, this is in no way the end, but rather the foundation for you as a Christian for the rest of your life. You’ve learned a lot, but you have much yet to learn. Jesus makes it sound so easy, doesn’t He, in the Gospel reading, that we are to follow His Word?

You don’t have to do it right now, but if you were to look behind you you would see a bunch of people who have been Christians for a long time. And you know what else you would see? A bunch of people who have a lot yet to learn. Who commit a lot of sins. Who in no way have come to the culmination of their learning and growing in the Christian faith.

But the thing is, they’re all here today. You are part of a Christian congregation that is built on the foundation of Christ. We’re all here because we need to keep growing. It’s really not about us. You’re getting confirmed today, but it’s really not about you. We’re not so foolish to be like the people in the Old Testament reading who amazingly thought they could reach heaven by building a tower. The only reason I can see they came to such an idea is that they didn’t go through two years of Confirmation class. If they had, they would know that we cannot reach God by our efforts.

You’ve come a long way. You’ve learned a lot, and have grown in the Christian faith. And yet, there’s nothing you’ve done to get in God’s good graces. It’s only by His pure grace that you’re in His favor. He loves you because He loves you. He loves you not because of who you are or what you have accomplished. He loved you, in fact, before you were ever born; before the world was born, even.

It all sounds so simple. And I suppose in a way, it really is that simple. But you’re here nonetheless. Because you need to hear this time and time again. Like the people in the reading from the Book of Acts of the beginning of the Church, you’ll have many times in your life where you’ll wonder what it all means.

See, the problem is not with God. It’s with you. You know God loves you, and yet, while you probably won’t join in on a construction project to get yourself to heaven’s gate, you’ll have many times when you will not see God as who He is, your Lord and Savior. You’ll be number one in your own eyes.

This will happen consciously. And there will be times when you don’t even realize it’s happening. Your friends at school will be saying hurtful things about someone and you’ll be faced with the choice of speaking out against it, or joining in. Or you might not say anything, refusing to defend the person being hurt. There will be times when the warmth of your pillow will be more appealing than being here to hear the clear words of God’s love for you in Christ and to receive His Body and Blood for your forgiveness.

So when you do look around, you’ll be in good company. You have come to the right place. This is the place where sinners are welcome. This is the place where you actually are at the very gate of heaven. You are under the umbrella of God’s grace. You are in the eternal care of the almighty God and loving Father. You can’t reach heaven, but God actually comes down to you. What did Jesus say? “My peace I give to you.” When you die, you know that you will be welcomed into the glorious mansions of heaven.

This is what the Christian Church is all about. That’s why we celebrate the birthday of the Christian Church on Pentecost Day every year. It was the beginning of something that is everlasting. And something that will bring to you comfort and strength your whole life through—and you know there will be many times when you need it.

Right now you might be in kind of a daze. Right now you may still be wondering what it’s all about. Keep looking around you, you’re in good company. God has given all of these people to you to encourage you and remind you of God’s grace. When you see them in the Word of God, studying it, growing in it, you will be strengthened and encouraged to continue to be in the Word of God.

When you find yourself wondering what it all means; wondering if it’s really that big of a deal; wondering why there are still times of doubt and hurt and despair; know that you’re in the right place. This is the place where you will continually be reminded of your Baptism—your birthday into the Christian Church. Here you will continually hear of the reason why Christ has come and why He suffered and died as He did: to give you His peace. Not outside of the Christian Church, but in it, you will be invited often to receive the gift of life and strength at this very altar.

If your Confirmation today were the end, you really wouldn’t need to be confirmed at all. This is the beginning. You are here today and know that this is the right place to be throughout your life. In our country this weekend we are grateful for those who’ve given their lives in defense of our freedom. In a few moments you will make a promise to be faithful to Christ, even to death.

How will you remain faithful to this promise? Because you’re in the right place. You’re in the place where you hear over and over again that it’s not about you. It’s about Christ. It’s always about Him and the sacrifice He has made on your behalf. He gave His life so that you may live with Him forever. This is what you hear in this place. Here you receive Christ, and that is what you will be learning and growing in your whole life, even to eternity. Amen.


Friday, May 25, 2007

The Venerable Bede

Bede (673-735) was the last of the early church fathers and the first to compile the history of the English church. Born in Northumbria, Bede was given by his parents to a monastery in Northern England at the age of seven. The most learned man of his time, he was a prolific writer of history, whose careful use of sources provided a model for historians in the Middle Ages. Known best for his book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he was also a profound interpreter of Scripture; his commentaries are still fresh today. His most famous disciple, Cuthbert, reported that Bede was working on a translation of John's Gospel into English when death came, and that he died with the words of the Gloria Patri on his lips. He received the title "Venerable" within two generations of his death and is buried in Durham Cathedral as one of England's greatest saints.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Esther is the heroine of the biblical book that bears her name. Her Jewish name was Hadassah, which means "myrtle." Her beauty, charm, and courage served her well as queen to King Ahasuerus. In that role she was able to save her people from the mass extermination that Haman, the king's chief advisor, had planned (2:19--4:17). Esther's efforts to uncover the plot resulted in the hanging of Haman on the very same gallows that he had built for Mordecai, her uncle and guardian. Then the king named Mordecai minister of state in Haman's place. This story is an example of how God intervenes on behalf of his people to deliver them from evil, as here through Esther he preserved the Old Testament people through whom the Messiah would come.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Monday, May 21, 2007

Constantine, Emperor, and Helena, His Mother

Constantine I served as Roman Emperor from A.D. 306 to 337. During his reign the persecution of Christians was forbidden by the Edict of Milan in 312, and ultimately the faith gained full imperial support. Constantine took an active interest in the life and teachings of the church and called the Council of Nicaea in 325 at which orthodox Christianity was defined and defended. His mother, Helena (ca. 255-329), strongly influenced Constantine. Her great interest in locating the holy sites of the Christian faith led her to become one of the first Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Her research led to the identification of Biblical locations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and beyond, which are still maintained as places of worship today.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Don’t Get Carried Away

The Ascension of Our Lord [Observed]
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Luke 24:44-53

Do you think maybe Jesus got a little carried away? He was literally carried up into heaven after having been with His disciples for three years. After having come here to earth to establish His Church. And now He was leaving? Going back to heaven? Did He really have that much confidence in them that He could train them for three years and then leave them to get the Christian Church up and running? And what about us? Do we maybe get carried away in our thinking about Jesus and His role in the Church?

The Ascension of Christ is really somewhat of an odd event. God becomes a man. Jesus comes to earth to be among us. He takes on human flesh and even promises to be with us always—

But then He leaves. He ascends into heaven. He promises to return again on the Last Day, but He’s no longer with us as He was during three decades in which He walked and talked among us. Yes, He promised to send the Holy Spirit. And He did that.

But look around you. We cannot escape the fact that Jesus is nowhere to be seen. He is not alive on this earth as He was two thousand years ago. We can’t see Him. It doesn’t feel like He’s with us.

We can tend to get carried away. If Jesus were walking the earth we’d have something to see, wouldn’t we? We could offer to people to come see Jesus in the flesh. To talk with Him. Get a hug from Him. He could display His power to us. If we had any questions, if there was anything we were unsure about, we could go directly to the source.

But that’s not the way it is. When we tell people about Christianity and Christ Himself we can’t say, “See, here He is, see for yourself.” We have to give them something else, right?

This is the way it seems. And this is how we can get carried away. Since it doesn’t appear that Christ is present with us we look for ways to feel His presence. Look all around you in life and you see things you know are real. Now we all have different interests and things that are appealing to us. But in our society these things are readily available to us. The kind of music you like to listen to. All kinds of different TV shows. Many different activities, whether it’s sports, or going to the beach, or browsing museums, or different kinds of books, or different kinds of clubs or groups to belong to. All these things are part of our culture and they bring satisfaction and enjoyment to us.

But we get carried away when we import this stuff into the Church. Not that this stuff is bad. It’s good. God gave us all that stuff for our enjoyment. But they’re not what Jesus leaves us with to meet our spiritual needs. Since they’re readily available, we can easily use them in the Church to reach people. Since they bring enjoyment to people we may tend to use them to appeal to people.

Why would we do things that people don’t understand? Why are we singing hymns that are so different from the music people normally listen to? Why is our worship so formal and ritualistic when people are much more open to free expression? We want to bring the things of God down to where people are at. But we can get carried away with it. God doesn’t want to leave us where we are. He wants to carry us away from it all. He wants to transport us from our ordinary lives filled with sin and guilt, hardship and questions.

And this is what we want. We want to be transported to another place. Be removed from the common world, of the problems of our everyday life. Well when we insert the things of our ordinary life into the Church we are letting the culture change the Church. The Church is here to transform the culture. God has given us the Church to transform our lives. To transform us. God actually carries us away from our ordinary lives through the majesty of His gifts.

Jesus wasn’t getting carried away at all. The very act He was doing for His disciples while He ascended into heaven was to bless them. This is what our Lord does, He blesses us. And He does it by coming to us. It seems odd, since He parted from them and won’t return in that way until the Last Day. But our Lord does indeed continue to come to us—in His Holy Word, in our Baptism, in His Holy Supper.

He told the disciples to wait for that day they would be clothed with power from on high. That day came at Pentecost and our Lord never ceases to clothe us with power from on high as He sends His Holy Spirit to work forgiveness of our sin and new life in us through the Holy Word, our Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

Because of this, there’s actually something we should get carried away with; in a good way. Jesus came to this earth. As He said, as it had been written, to suffer and rise from the grave. What we get carried away with is the repentance and forgiveness of sins proclaimed in His name to all nations. This is what the Church is here for. It’s here for the world, not the other way around. The world needs the Church. The Church is not in need of what the world offers. We shouldn’t get carried away bringing our own feelings into the Church. We should get carried away with the many blessings God gives to us in His Church and the task of bringing the Gospel to all nations.

Jesus knows how we can get carried away. That’s why He opened the disciples minds to understand the Scriptures. It’s only in the Scriptures that we are given the mind to understand the Scriptures. Left to our own devices we get carried away and are left in our sins. But Christ has ascended into heaven and has left us with Himself.

We are Baptized. In Baptism we are united with Christ. We hear His Holy Gospel and by that we are saved and continually forgiven. We eat and drink the very Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. You might say Jesus does get carried away in His lavish love for us. We certainly don’t deserve it. But it’s what He loves to do, and that’s all we need to know. Amen.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Armed Forces Day

To all those who serve our country in the Armed Services, thank you. Especially during this time of war, we are grateful for your sacrifice and courage. We enjoy our freedom and oftentimes take it for granted. I guess that goes along with the territory. When you have freedom you enjoy it and don’t think much about what a true blessing it is. But as history has shown, freedom is never free. And when it comes to the freedom we enjoy in our country we salute you in the military who ensure our freedom comes at great cost. It’s not much to say thank you, but know also that many of us in this country not only enjoy the freedom we have but also the opportunity to serve people in many ways that are not on the battle field or in defense of our borders and land. Without you we wouldn’t have those opportunities, so thank you and know that your service is not in vain.

God is not only the greatest servant in providing us with salvation in His Son Jesus Christ, but He also serves us by giving us blessings in this life. He does that often through people who serve one another. On this day we especially give thanks to Him for His providing for us freedom in this great land through the brave men and women who serve our country with pride as well as humility. Thank you.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Ascension of Our Lord

Luke begins his account of the beginning of the Christian Church (the Book of Acts) with the removal of the Christ of the Church Himself [Acts 1:1-11]. Okay, not exactly the removal of Him, but the removal of Him as a man who walks this earth as we do. But just because He left from being on the earth as He had for thirty years doesn’t mean He left for good.

On the contrary, this is the very Lord who promised “I am with you always” [Matthew 28:20]. So while we might like for Him to be with us the way He was with the disciples, He nevertheless is always with us. In fact, He continues to be with us physically in His Holy Supper. He gives us His Body and His Blood in that Supper and that is even as He reigns forever as Lord, having ascended into the heavens and seated at the right hand of the Father [Ephesians 1:19-23]. The Lord who is the Lord of the universe is the one who became a man. He is the one who suffered and died. He is the one who rose from the grave. He is the one who ascended into heaven. He is the one who will come again. And when He comes it’s always to give us His eternal blessings.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Christ Contra Mundum

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 13, 2007
John 16:23-33

I want to tell you about some warriors. People so powerful they take on the world. Not all who occupy this role see it as that, though. Many of them don't see the true significance of who they are and what they do in this role. Often those who do don’t even realize that they are the powerful warriors they are. This is because they don't act like warriors. And no one would normally see them as such because they’re not acting in a way we normally think of as powerful.

So who these powerful warriors? They are mothers. How in the world are they powerful warriors? It’s because they truly are going against the world. That’s what warriors do—they battle; they go against the enemy. This is one thing mothers do as mothers.

But they don’t do it in a way that warriors normally wage war. They do it by simply doing what mothers do—they love their children. But here we really need to be specific and say that Christian mothers are the true warriors. They go against the world by raising children in the world but to not be of the world. Not to take away anything from all mothers. There’s nothing like a mother’s love. But there’s something that a Christian mother gives her children that goes even beyond her own love for children—and that is Christ’s love.

This is how she truly goes against the world. And it’s not easy. It’s not easy pour your love and energy into your children’s life instead of getting caught up in the values of the world, which often don’t prize the nurturing and care of a loving Christian mother. This year the annual value of a full-time mom is estimated at $138,000. I’m sure it would be nice to actually receive that. But a Christian mother goes against the world and doesn’t do what she does because it’s her job—she does it because that’s what God has called her to do and because she wants to love her children with the love of Christ.

Christian mothers don’t appear to be the powerful warriors they are. But who is more influential in a child’s life than their mother? Imagine if all of us Christians begin to see our lives in this way. As being in the world but actually going against it when it comes to why we live and how we live and what is truly important in our lives.

The towering church father Athanasius was a staunch defender of the Christian faith. He was so adamant that it appeared that even if he were the only one who held to the truth he would stand firm. The saying came about “Athanasius contra mundum”—Athanasius against the world.

The importance of this is not that he hated the world. Or that he wanted to see others destroyed. But it was that he would not go the way of the world. He would hold fast to what God had called him to. He would remain steadfast to the truth, not what the world says or thinks is important. This is how Christian mothers are also. And how every one of us Christians should be. In the world, not of it. Against it, in fact.

That’s how Christ is. Christ contra mundum. Christ is against the world, as He says in the Gospel reading: “In Me you have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This doesn’t mean He hates the world. It doesn’t mean He wants to destroy everyone. John says what we all know so well: For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for it. Christ loves the world. He loves everyone. That’s why He died for everyone.

But there’s something else we need to know about the world. It’s a fallen world. It’s going to bring us down if we get caught up in its pleasures and what it thinks is important. The world can never understand how truly powerful the love is a Christian mother gives her child. Just as the world can never understand how in human flesh God suffers for the sake of the world. There is more power here than the world can ever see because the world doesn’t look beyond this life. It cannot see that Christ came to bring blessings that go beyond this world.

Christ is against the world by loving the world. By coming into it and being a part of it in order to redeem it. Christ contra mundum is actually Christ for the world. It is Christ loving the world so much that He has given His life for the world. He overcomes the world by redeeming it from itself.

You see, it strikes us as odd or even not right that Jesus says that in Him we have peace but in the world we have tribulation. We, along with the world, can’t make sense of peace in the midst of tribulation. But that’s because we try to find our peace in the world. Through worldly pleasures. In getting our due. In the absence of difficulty.

Christ delivers us from all that by going against it. By taking things that are firmly in the world and using them to deliver to us His eternal gifts. With water He takes His Word of life and brings us into heavenly citizenship. With bread and wine He takes His Word of reconciliation and gives us Himself; His body and His blood for us to eat and drink for our salvation and strength.

Christ came into the world to deliver us from the world. In fact, to save us from eternal death. We have peace because of Christ contra mundum—Christ against the world. Because Christ contra mundum is Christ for us! Amen.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Cyril and Methodius, Missionaries to the Slavs

Cyril (826-69) and Methodius (c. 815-85) were brothers who came from a Greek family in Thessalonica. The younger brother took the name "Cyril" when he became a monk in 868. After ordination, Cyril became librarian at the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople. In 862 the brothers were sent by the emperor as missionaries to what is now the Czech republic, where they taught in the native Slavic tongue. Cyril invented the alphabet today know today as "Cyrillic," which provided a written language for the liturgy and Scriptures for the Slavic peoples. This use of the vernacular established an important principle for evangelical missions.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Job, Patriarch

What did Job do to deserve the extreme suffering he endured? It doesn't seem fair. We've had our share of occasions when we've wondered why we go through suffering. Job took it all like a man, though. But God had one more thing to bring his way. If Job had any notion, as he constantly tried to convince those who tried to make sense of his suffering, that he was righteous and in fact did not deserve his suffering, then God put that to rest once and for all. There's a lesson here for us all that physical and temporal suffering--however excruciating it may be--is just that, physical and temporal.

It's never as bad as it can get.

Was Job a good man? You bet he was. God even said so. But Job was also a sinner, just as you and I are and everyone else who has been born. There is one who is the exception and it ain't Job. And it ain't us. It's God Himself. In the flesh. Jesus Christ alone is without fault. Without sin. He alone is righteous. He alone deserves no punishment, no suffering.

Yet, that is what He chose. He chose to endure suffering on our behalf. But not like Job experienced. Not like what we endure at times. He endured the punishment for our sins. He was forsaken by His Heavenly Father.

Job went through a lot. Jesus suffered so that we may not suffer eternally. Job's confession of faith in Jesus Christ is true because Christ suffered as He did and rose from the grave: "And after my flesh has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God." [Job 19:26] It is our confession as well.

Monday, May 7, 2007

C.F.W. Walther, Doctor and Confessor

Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811-87), the father of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, served as its first president from 1847 to 1850 and then again from 1864 to 1878. In 1839 he emigrated from Saxony, Germany, with other Lutherans, who settled in Missouri. He served as pastor of several congregations in St. Louis, founded Concordia Seminary, and in 1847 was instrumental in the formation of the LCMS (then called the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States). Walther worked tirelessly to promote confessional Lutheran teaching and doctrinal agreement among all Lutherans in the United States. He was a prolific writer and speaker. Among his most influential works are Church and Ministry and The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Walther actually wasn't the one who brought the Saxon Germans over here to the U.S. It was Martin Stephan, who was a great influence on Walther. But when (here) Stephan got into trouble and was excommunicated Walther stepped up and became the leader of these Lutherans who began to wonder if they were still the Church or not. Walther boldly proclaimed to them the Word of God, reminding them that it doesn't matter where you are in the world, that God's saints are those who gather around the Word and Sacraments. In Germany Walther had been a student of the Scriptures, the early Church Fathers, and of Luther. He remained a faithful student of the Scriptures and pastor of God's people throughout his life.

One other tidbit about Walther. He preferred to go by "Ferdinand". With a first name of Carl, why would you want to go by Ferdinand? Regardless, by any name, he remains one of the great blessings God has given to His Church.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

What Has Been Given

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 6, 2007
John 16:12-22

In 1820 in western New York, a young man was praying in a grove, seeking guidance. All the churches seemed to be teaching different things, which one was right? So Joseph Smith prayed to God to show him the way and he saw a vision. God appeared to him and said that all the churches are wrong. The Old and New Testament was not enough. The prophet Moroni in this vision showed Joseph Smith where he had hid the Book of Mormon which is a further revelation of God. In it Joseph Smith found that Jesus is not true God but rather an exalted man and a great prophet.

About 1500 years earlier a prominent church leader sought to preserve the transcendence and immortality of God. Arius saw danger in teaching that Jesus is truly God, for how could God be above us and eternal if He has flesh and blood and if He suffers and dies?

About 300 years before that there was a follower of Jesus who is very familiar to all of us. He was having trouble with Jesus’ prediction that He would suffer and die and rise again. Peter rebuked Jesus for such blasphemous words. Jesus was the Messiah! The Savior of the world! How could He suffer and die?

Thankfully we’re beyond all that now. There’s no doubt in our minds that Jesus is true God and in no way less than God the Father. That He is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and that by His suffering, death, and resurrection. It’s very easy to see how so many get it wrong, whether they be out and out false prophets of paganism like Joseph Smith; or false teachers within Christianity like Arius; or Teachers of the Church who can get it wrong at times like Peter.

As Jesus even said in the Gospel reading that He had so much to say to them but they couldn’t bear it just yet. But it has all been revealed to us. We know. We’re beyond all that. Our understanding isn’t limited as it was when Peter was sticking his foot in his mouth. As it was when Arius was dealing with a primitive Christian Church centuries ago. As it was even when not more than 200 years ago Joseph Smith clearly was not in an enlightened age but subject to visions and flights of fancy.

We know who Jesus is. He is Lord and Savior. We know why He suffered. We know what His death means. We know that He lives and is fully God.

So the real question is, why don’t we live like it? Why do we who know and believe who Jesus is, live as if He’s nothing more than a good luck charm? As if He’s something we give homage to here on Sundays but don’t have much use for during the week? As if He’s really not God since we’re still struggling with so many problems?

How often do we hear the Word of God and try to find the loophole? How many times in our lives do we put church and worship in a box that fits into Sunday morning while the rest of our life is just that, the rest of our life? Why do we treat our pet sins as simply “bad habits” rather than the strikes against our faith that they really are?

It doesn’t seem like we’re denying Jesus as those heavy-duty false prophets were. We’re Christians, after all. Even Peter came around. And we can always be content that we are in fact Christians and therefore not really denying Jesus as Lord and Savior, even though we admit that, yes, we do sin against Him and doubt Him at times. He doesn’t expect perfection of us, does He?

But the thing we’re missing in all of this is that it’s not really about us. It’s about Him. The problem is that we too often approach Christ in the same way Joseph Smith did. Or Arius. Or even Peter. As Jesus said to him, “You have your mind set on earthly things, not on the things of God.”

Because it’s really about Him. It’s about who He is and what He gives us. And what has been given to us is the Word. We know it well. The Bible. The Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus did exactly what He said He would do. He sent His Holy Spirit. He has brought to us everything our Lord wants us to know, everything we need to know for our life and salvation.

We know plenty about ourselves. We know our wants, our desires, our needs, our goals, our dreams. God knows all of that too. But what we don’t know naturally is who God is. That sounds strange to us because we Christians certainly do know who He is. But there is also great danger in thinking we know who He is outside of His Word. Joseph Smith and Arius are two big examples that we may think are too big—that could never happen to us. And so we think we’re not all that far gone.

Jesus is in the business of giving. While we’re busy thinking of ourselves, amazingly, so is He. He thinks of us. He loves us and pours out His grace upon us. That’s why He sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals to us in the Word that God is most clearly made known in the Word made flesh.

What has been given to us is Jesus. Ever notice that Jesus can’t help but constantly bring things back to Himself and why He came? He keeps going back to His suffering, and His dying on the cross, and His rising from the grave. And when He’s doing it here in the Gospel reading it’s even before He did all of that. After He does it we see in the rest of the New Testament that that’s what it’s all about.

Because that’s what our Christian life is all about. It’s not about us. It’s about Him. It’s about what has been given to us by Him through His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit still gives our Lord to us. He does it through His Holy Word. He does it through our Baptism, when we first were given our Lord and His life-giving salvation. Our Lord continues to be delivered to us in His Holy Supper.

If we’re tempted to treat this holy act as just a ritual that we Christians do, then we need to remember what’s going on. It’s our Lord coming to us. It’s the gracious Holy Spirit giving to us what He loves to give to us—Jesus and Him crucified. The very body and blood of our Lord that suffered and died for the sins of the world is given to us in this holy Meal for the forgiveness of our very sins.

What has been given to us is eternal love by our Heavenly Father in His Son Jesus Christ. Because the Holy Spirit has given us faith we know who Jesus is—He is our Lord and Savior. Because He has saved you you know heaven is waiting for you and no one will take your joy from you. Amen


Friday, May 4, 2007

Monica, Mother of Augustine

Monica (332–387) is commemorated today, the day she entered into eternal glory in heaven. She was a godly woman who prayed fervently for her pagan son, Augustine. Augustine eventually was converted and became a giant among the church fathers. The Church is grateful for the blessings God has given through his faithful confession and spiritual care and we can also give thanks that his mom never gave up but continued to lift up her son to the mercy of God.

Friedrich Wyneken, Pastor and Missionary

Friedrich Wyneken is one of the founding fathers of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, along with C.F.W. Walther and Wilhelm Sihler. Born in 1810 in Germany, he came to Baltimore in 1838 and shortly thereafter accepted a call to be the pastor of congregations in Friedheim and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Supported by Wilhelm Loehe's mission society, Wyneken served as an itinerant missionary in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, particularly among Native Americans. Together with Loehe and Sihler, he founded Concordia Theological Seminary in 1846 in Fort Wayne, Ind. He later served as the second president of the LCMS during a period of significant growth (1850-64). His leadership strongly influenced the confessional character of the LCMS and its commitment to an authentic Lutheran witness.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

And those crazy German Lutherans. Wyneken had this habit in his long travels in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan of wearing yellow pants. Don't you love church history? :-)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Athanasius of Alexandria, Pastor and Confessor

Athanasius was born in Alexandria in Egypt in A.D. 295. He served as a church leader in a time of great controversy and ecclesiastical disagreements. At the Council of Nicaea in 325, he defended Christian orthodoxy against the proponents of the Arian heresy, which denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ. During his 45-year tenure as bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius wrote numerous works that defended the orthodox teaching. His enemies had him exiled five times; on two occasions he was almost murdered. Yet Athanasius remained steadfast and ended his days restored fully to his church responsibilities. The Athanasian Creed, though not composed by Athanasius, is named in his honor because it confesses the doctrinal orthodoxy he championed throughout his life.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Philip and James, Apostles

About half of the twelve apostles are little-known. We always think of the twelve apostles as The Twelve Apostles, but really just a few stand out as well-known figures. Peter of course. Then there’s John, and to a lesser extent, his brother James. There’s Matthew and the infamous Judas Iscariot. There’s also the brother of Peter, Andrew, and the perhaps infamous Thomas. The rest we just don’t know much about, such as Philip, Bartholomew, James, Thadaeus, and Simon.

As Andrew was with Peter, James is always in the shadow of his brother John. But even he gets more notice than the other James, whom we know only as “the son of Alphaeus” [Matthew 10:3].

John, however, gives us a few snippets of Philip. Like the other apostles, he at times got it right and at times probably made Jesus wonder if he had been listening to Him at all. Philip was called by Jesus in Galilee [John 1:43] and he promptly told Nathanael. “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” When Nathanael balked, Philip’s response was simple: “Come and see for yourself.” And he did. [John 1:43-46] Just as he did on another occasion when certain people wanted to see Jesus, Philip went to Jesus with the message [John 12:21-23].

But we all have our other moments too, don’t we? Same with those silly apostles. On one occasion, Jesus meant to feed a crowd so large it would probably have been a logistical nightmare for a catering company. Plus, they didn’t even have the money to get the food if they had called a catering company. Philip was the one who voiced the concern when Jesus asked him about feeding them, but He was only testing Philip, knowing He would be the one feeding them. [John 6:5-7]

And how was it that the one who had said to Nathanael, “Come and see” and to the ones seeking Jesus, he went directly to Him, that now Jesus was saying to Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?” [John 14:8-11] Because we all have our moments, don’t we? James is known to us only as the son of Alphaeus and an apostle of the Lord. Philip is known to us as an apostle of Jesus and one who had his ups and downs. With how the Scriptures present them to us we see that they weren’t all that different from us. To which we, like they, ascribe all the glory to God for His mercy upon us that He would save us and then use us to invite others to come and see Jesus.