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What an eventful year it has been!
In some ways, we have entered into a sense of “normal.” I am no longer your “Vicar” or intern. The question of how long I will be with you is settled, the answer being, “For the foreseeable future.” You have called me to be Pastor with you. I am ordained. It is all official.
Christmas services were my third with you. It seems almost hard to believe.
At the same time, at least for me, much is still new and in transition. There’s a lot of what is normal that has been interrupted over the last two years on account of the pandemic. In some ways, I still feel somewhat disoriented as to what is ‘normal.’ My own family will continue to be in transition through the summer, as we made the choice to stay in St. Marys until our oldest graduates at the end of May. We plan to transition to the parsonage in Chatt and Parkway School after that.
How are you? What is “up in the air” for you?
Our lives are constantly shifting. Job changes. Moves are made. New loved ones come into our lives. Others are lost. We move through times of health and times if illness. Our lives are continually shifted and sometimes upended. Sometimes we are blessed with new and great opportunities and situation. Other times we are set upon by the attacks of the devil, this sinful world, or our own sinful selves and we are hurt and shaken, lost, or mourning.
But our Lord is unchanging. His Word for us remains always steady.
We are indeed in sin and stumbling. But our Lord has come. He has taken on the power of sin and death and defeated it in his own death for sin and his resurrection from the grave! He lives forever and now claims us as his own, baptized into his name, into his death, and into his resurrection.
This Jesus Christ is given to us: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
In this ever-changing live, Jesus given for you is constant. Cling to Jesus.
As I write December’s article, our lectionary has been looking toward the end of days, to the return of Christ. This last Sunday’s Hebrews lesson admonished us to encourage one another “all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Jesus talked about the signs of the times that included famines and pestilence and wars and rumors of wars. Between COVID and heightened tensions in the Middle East and with Russia and with China and civil unrest in our own country, it seems that we ought to be doubling down on our encouragement to one another…the Day continues to draw near.
These readings come around every year as we approach and enter Advent, the time of waiting. During Advent we wait for the coming of Christ. We wait for both the celebration of His first coming and for the Day of His return when He will gather us, His children, and the world will be judged and destroyed, redeemed and made new. We wait with confident expectation because the one who does these things is the one who has given His life for us and made us His own.
In recent news consumers have been warned they might need to manage their expectations for this coming Christmas season. COVID shutdowns, rising costs, supply chain issues and the shipping crisis have all contributed to the prediction that there may not be a ready supply of good available for Christmas.
What a commercial thought! Talk about adventures in missing the point! Didn’t these people at least see or read How the Grinch Stole Christmas!? “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags! Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.’”
It does indeed mean more! And not only a little bit!
We are not worried about stuff! The tradition of gift giving is only a pale reflection of God’s great gift to the world in the birth of Christ. The cost of living might be on the rise but there is no greater cost than God’s giving of His Son, which is, amazingly, a gift given freely to you and to me. At the same time, it is a gift that costs us our own lives, as the gift includes our own lives crucified with Christ, our own deaths to this world, and our sin as we receive the forgiveness and new life of Christ.
As always, we will await His coming We will celebrate the birth of the Christ child, the incarnation of “God-with-us,” the coming of the Savior who give His life for us. And, as at all times, we will look for His return and all the more as we see the day drawing near.
As we enter the holiday season and near Thanksgiving, we have many things to be thankful about.
We have these and many other things to be thankful for!
Theme: Our denominational convocations have been following a set of themes using the Creed as our guide for many years now. We spent two years on the theme of the person and then the work of God the Son. Then two years were spent on the theme of the person and then the work of the Holy Spirit. This year was focused on the person of God the Father. In two years, when we gather in Convocation in person again, we will be focused o the work of God the Father.
This theme on the person of God the Father is a timely one, and one to struggle with at this time. Current events, especially in the Mile East and Africa were yet in the future at the time of convocation. Nonetheless, God as Father is very much an important article of faith for us now.
Our Small Catechism teaches us that: “I believe that God has created me and all that exists, that he has given me and still preserves my body and soul, my eyes and ears, my reason and all my senses, together with food and clothing home and family, and all my property. Every day he provides abundantly for all the needs of my life. He protects me from all danger and guards and keeps me from every evil. He does this purely out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, though I do not deserve it. Therefore I ought to thank, praise, serve, and obey him. This is most certainly true.”
In this time, with the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ from radical Islam gaining intensity, partly due to the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and knowing that the daily needs of so many are going unmet and dangers and evil surround so many, this Catechism for children falls a bit sort. It must also be viewed through the teaching of Jesus assuring us of persecution, suffering, and even death on account of our faith. In the face of times like this we must look forward in faith to the Father’s final victory over suffering and evil and his final recreation of us and this world, where there will be no more tears and no pain and God will wipe every tear from our eyes.
Issues of business: Highlights of business include a minor issue of Constitutional change that includes the wording “Mission Districts,” making constitutional what we have already been doing for years due to growth and change.
Two other issues were brought to the Convocation for a vote of support, although the authority for the actions taken rest in the Bishop and the Executive Committee. One is the appointing of four Regional Assistants to the Bishop. Each will be a part-time position, filled by a part-time or retired pastor. The current expectation is that each one will be a 10 hour a week/quarter time position. This issue received a vote of support.
The Constitutional change will come to us, the congregations, for ratification. The votes of support will not.
Reports: Additionally, we heard a series of 10 progress reports on the 10 areas of the Bishop’s 2020 Vision Plan. Those 10 areas are: Disciple-Making Cultures, Congregational Multiplication, Pastoral Support, Continuing Education, Continental Restructuring, Seminary System Technology and Communication, Ecumenical Relationships, Financial Strength, and Strategic Planning.
One of our ecumenical partners, Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, has requested the prayers of the NALC due to conflict and violence in the northern area of Ethiopia that is greatly affecting the church there. I have added them to our Sunday prayers.
During our time set aside to meet as the NWOMD, we hear about the exciting possibility of a new NALC Church plant in the Lima Area and the connected necessity to strengthen the Financial Position of the Mission District as an entity in order to have some funds to support a new church plant on the local level. Our Dean, Burt Schultz, asks that each congregation of our Mission District consider a budgetary increase toward the NWOMD.
Finally, while not brought to the Convocation for approval or support, the NALC is engaging in a fund-raising drive to bolster the slowly dwindling reserves in the Seminary Fund, the Great Commission Fund (Church plants), Disaster Response Fund, and the General Fund (support of national staff, slowly being added to support the office of the Bishop as our denomination expands).
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 2:7-9 NKJV)
In June this reading was a portion of our second lesson. I gave the sermon that day based on that second reading from 2 Corinthians, with the main point being that God, in our Lord Jesus Christ, is with us in our suffering and weakness. When we have trouble, when we are sick, when we are suffering, this does not mean that God is angry or that God is punishing us. No. These things happen in this broken and sin-filled world. We get sick. We suffer in various ways. We even eventually die. And still, God is with us. The God who was incarnate in Jesus Christ, the God who himself suffered and died for us, He is with us and bringing us to depend on him even through our suffering and death and then on into eternal life.
That is what I gave the sermon on. And I meant it!
However, this reading also offers us something else that did not make the sermon. There is only so much time! I have shared the following with both church councils and now I share it through this newsletter as well.
While it is true that our Lord is with us in our pain and suffering and even in death, as Christian people we are not called to accept every instance of pain simply and humbly. Paul did not! He protested! He pleaded! Has asked the Lord three times that his condition, whatever it was, would depart. He asked, and he asked, and he asked again until he got an answer that he had to accept. And then he accepted it. In the same way, our Lord Jesus asked three times in the Garden, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt. 25: 38 and following)
As Christians, following the examples of both the Lord and Paul and the call of Scripture to pray and intercede for one another, we pray! We protest pain and suffering! We know that God created this world good and that pain and suffering is not part of His holy intention. We know that pain and suffering come to us because of sin and the world that is broken in sin from Adam and Eve until now. We know that our good and gracious God, who will indeed bring healing and wholeness in eternity, is regularly active among us in this world as well. Even in this world He brings healing and wholeness when and where He chooses. And so, we pray! We protest! We call out to God! We Plead!
We pray and protest and call and plead until we must accept the answer that we are given. Whether our Lord heals or if He is simply with us in our suffering and pain, we turn to Him and depend on the One who is bringing us to eternal life with Him.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (St. Matthew 16:19)
He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (St. John 20:22-23)
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (St. Matthew 18:18)
As I write this June newsletter it is still a bit early in May, the 19th, just a few days before being ordained. One of the things I am doing today is picking up a red stole that will be placed on me during the ordination service. The pastor’s stole, in our tradition is meant to be a symbol of their office, of the role they fill as an ordained person, set aside in the church for Word and Sacrament ministry. It is both a symbol of authority that has been granted by the church to perform this ministry and as something that is laid on me and carried, a symbol of being under the authority of Christ, under His Word and direction as the ministry is performed.
I have several to choose from. A retired pastor, when he heard I was nearing completion of my degree and had received the call to ministry in these congregations, gave me all his stoles. It was quite a gift, worth literally hundreds of dollars! St. John also has a beautiful set that matches all the altar cloths.
The color for Sunday’s ordination is red and I am looking at my choices to wear. As I am looking at them, I am noticing the symbols embroidered on them. Both have symbols for the Holy Spirit since red is the liturgical color for Pentecost. There is fire, tongues of flame, on one and a descending dove on the other. On the stole with the fire there is what looks like an elongated “P” coming up out of the fire. On the other is the same elongated “P” that is overlaid with a pair of keys. On some stoles the elongated “P” is turned into a shepherd’s crook. This elongated “P” with the x of keys is an iconic representation of the verses above, where Christ announces to Peter and the disciples their coming role in the Church as ministers under the Word of Christ with the authority of convict of sin and the authority to forgive it. When the “P” is made a shepherd’s crook it references the post-resurrection conversation of Peter and Jesus in which Jesus admonishes Peter to “feed my sheep.” (John 21) BUT, lest we think this elongated “P” stands for Peter, the traditional Christian symbol of the P overlaid with a cross is representative of the first two Greek letters in the name “Christ.” Apparently both pictures and symbols can speak a thousand words!
What it comes down to is that both stoles, with their symbols, represent that the minister is a person under the commission of Jesus himself to speak the Word of Christ–that word that both convicts of sin (retains the sins of any) and that word that forgives–and the minister speaks the Word of Christ in the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.
As I have done as your Vicar, preaching the Word in both Law and Gospel, convicting of sin and announcing the forgiveness of sin in the death and resurrection of Christ, I will continue to do as your Pastor, given the authority to do so by you, the church and your call to ministry, under the authority of our Lord and Savior, and depending on the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit. I am honored to be called by you to serve!
As we move into May and approach both the day of Pentecost and my Ordination to Word and Sacrament ministry among you, I remind us of the Small Catechism and Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
The Third Article: Sanctification
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifs, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Lat Day He will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
This is most certainly true.
I have had the great honor of witnessing the work of the Holy Spirit among and through his church over this last year plus. The Holy Spirit has called, gathered, and enlightened his church in both the normal ways like Sunday morning worship and in unusual ways, in the parking lot and via YouTube and e-mail. But the Holy Spirit has indeed continued to call us to faith and gather us together for the hearing of God’s Word and has continued to enlighten us to the love of God and to faith. We have followed his calling in being gathered for worship and for mission together, finding ways in the congregations for Sunday School, Operation Christmas Child, Kingdom Kids, Backpack programs and are yet looking forward to VBS and Henderson Settlement.
At the same time I have been honored to have God the Holy Spirit work and speak personally to me, Vicar Adam Poe, through you, these congregations, as through you the Holy Spirit has called me to be a minister of the Gospel through my seminary school, my supervisor, the internship committee, and my internship among you, and enlightened me with His gifts.
God the Holy Spirit has been at work among and in us! Calling. Gathering. Enlightening. Sanctifying. He will continue to do so, both for me and for you, calling us to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, opening our ears to hear and believe for the forgiveness of our sins until on that Last Day, that Day that is coming, even if we cannot know when, when he will raise us to new and eternal life and we all see our Lord face to face.
[Vicar] Adam (for the last time! Next month I get to sign with a P!)
What a difference a year makes! A year ago there was no April newsletter. We were only communicating by phone and email and text. No one was in the office. We were all staying away from each other.
A year ago I was trying to figure out how to effectively supply video sermons because I had never done it before.
A year ago we were stringing together an Easter Sunday in the parking lot, listening from our cars.
A year ago we were thinking, this “2 weeks to flatten the curve’ is going on a lot longer than 2 weeks!
This year we are back in church! Things are not completely normal, there is no doubt, but we have been restored to worship. The congregations gather again. Many of us are vaccinated and can return without so much worry over illness. We are able to turn our attention and focus and hear the announcement; and this year I’ll be able to hear you respond in the sanctuary instead of from your cars:
He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
I am reminded of our recent Sunday reading from Ephesians 2:1-10, where Paul describes the life of the Ephesians. First, he describes how things were before, before Christ and faith in his death and resurrection, and then after.
Ephesians 2: 1-6, And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…
We were dead, we once walked, we once lived. There is not the word “now” in this passage, but I think it is appropriate. But NOW, God being rich in mercy made us alive and seated us with him!
What a difference our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ makes! He takes from death and brings us to life. He takes from sin and gives us his righteousness and forgiveness. He takes us from selfish interest and turns us to love God and love our neighbors.
All because he was crucified and now he lives!
He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
Because of the Promise
Each year as we enter into Lent, we hear and do a number of somber and serious things. We hear the call to repent. We hear that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Our liturgy changes and our alleluias are no longer sung for the season. Many of us give things up, sacrifice something during the season, to help us remember to depend on God and pray. Many of us get to church on both Sundays and Wednesdays, “giving up” a night of the week for the season.
Why? What are we doing? Are we being somber and serious for the purpose of being somber and serious? Are we demonstrating just how committed we are? To what end are we somber and serious and sacrificial through this season?
Remember the end! Remember the purpose! Lent is the 40-day period that has Easter as its end as its purpose! We reorder our lives because of the wonderful news that we know is coming! We confess because of the forgiveness that comes when we do. We can face the ashes and the reminder of our death because of the promise of resurrection and eternal life in the risen Lord. Our alleluias are reserved now to make them even more joyous on Easter morning.
Throughout our lives as we face the call to repent, to change our ways, or to do something new and different that our Lord calls us to, we ought to remember our Lord’s call as he began his ministry in preaching. “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” We repent because “the kingdom is at hand.” God’s good news and promise comes to us first, and then we are changed. We do not repent to achieve a place in the kingdom of heaven or attain the forgiveness of our sins or merit eternal life. We repent because God has included us in his Kingdom when he gave us Jesus and connected us to his death and resurrection in our baptisms. We confess our sins and strive to live obediently because we are already forgiven in Jesus’ death for our sins. We live in love toward our neighbors, even if they are our enemies, because God has already given us his love, to us even when we were still enemies and sinners.
God’s call to us, his people, looks forward to his promise. Abraham, who is also a figure of our Lenten readings this year, was called to go from his home and people for the promise of his own land and people and that he would be a blessing to all the nations, even the one he was leaving.
Let us look forward in hope to God’s promises as we are faced with confession, with repentance, with illness or suffering, with loss, or with calls to change old ways or calls to do new things.
The Lord has promised.
Philippians 3:12-14, Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
As I enter my final semester of seminary with the Institute of Lutheran Theology beginning Feb. 1 and begin my final two classes, I am going to completely misuse this reading from Philippians…shhh! Don’t tell my Bible professor!
Nine part-time semesters completed, one to go. Altogether, it will have taken 5 years to complete the 90 credit hours that a Master of Divinity degree is composed of. I have been challenged. I have been up to my eyeballs busy. I have had a few disagreements and arguments with classmates and professors. But mostly I have learned a great many things. I have enjoyed the classes. I have made friends and colleagues. Seminary has been a very good experience.
And now I am ready to be done.
Finally I have a bit of “senioritis,” that terrible mental affliction of high school and college seniors who see the finish line and slow down, blow off class and effort and grades. I can see it! It is so close! All I have to do is pass!
But I want to do better than pass!
In Philippians chapter 3, Paul has just made the case for the centrality and supremacy of Christ in all things, especially in our confidence for salvation. He has done so by claiming his own reasons to be confident in himself for salvation, and then saying that all of those reasons have the value a naughty word that I get away with paraphrasing as “excrement.” Everything Paul is and has done himself that might be counted toward salvation is as worthless and repulsive as the contents of the septic tank.
In comparison, knowing Jesus Christ and his gift of righteousness through faith in him and his work for our salvation is counted as “surpassing worth.”
Then comes the passage quoted above. Paul acknowledges that he has not yet obtained, that he does not yet actually possess the great gift of salvation in Christ in any other way than as a promise. But Christ has promised and Christ has made Paul his own. Consequently, Paul says he presses on to take hold of what Christ has promised and done. In his life, as regards salvation, Christ’s work is done, finished, and promised, but our is never done.
We do not get to stop depending on Christ or stop coming to his Word or stop depending on Christ and his work for us. We press on. Until the end. Until the days of our living baptized into Christ’s death, we are finalized into our own final physical death and we wait for our resurrection.
For this final semester I have not already obtained my degree. I have not yet arrived at my goal! But I do press on to take hold of that toward which Christ has called me, in order that I might serve Him in His Church. While forgetting what lies behind would be a bad idea when it comes to education (I’m supposed to remember all those classes!), I do yet strain toward what is ahead! I press on toward the goal to earn the degree for which God has called me into seminary and ministry in His Church.
Revelation 21:5. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
We sure hope so! Here at the turn of the calendar year we all are hoping to kiss the last year goodbye! No. That would be too nice. No kissing it goodbye! We are hoping to move past the last year without hesitation, without a goodbye and be on to something new!
We want to be done with masks. We want to get together with our families. We want to see our loved ones. We want to not worry about getting sick or getting someone else sick. We want to move on from crazy politics. We want to be able to just go to church and not worry about where we cannot sit. We want to talk to our friends. We want to shake hands and hug.
We stand at the edge of the new year with some hope. Vaccines are coming out and being distributed. But of course, there are issues around even that. Some sources think we may be back to a semblance of normal by summer. On the other hand, some sources are thinking not until summer 2022.
As we stand looking into the fog of the near future, wishing for one future and afraid that the present is going to hang around for a while, let us remember our Lord’s promise as printed above.
This statement comes to us in both now and not yet fashion.
On the one hand, at chapter 21 of his Revelation, John has seen the New Jerusalem descend from heaven and he has seen the earth and the heavens remade. Our Lord will finally make all things new. New earth. New heavens. New Jerusalem. An entire new creation. Including you and Me! We will be raised, given our new bodies, and live forever with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But look at the words of the promise: “Behold, I am making all things new.” The promise spoken to John after this vision is not that Jesus will make all things new (future tense). The promise spoken to John after this vision is that Jesus is making all things new (present perfect tense-happening now and carrying into the future). The new creation is occurring even now! Even in the middle of this sin-filled and broken world, Jesus is making all things new!
How? Where?! Sometimes it is hard to see.
Jesus is making you new. Week by week, day by day, whenever you hear the Word of Jesus and believe it the Holy Spirit is making new faith in you and giving you life in Jesus. Each time you confess your sin and brokenness and being dead in your sins, Jesus gives you new life through his death and resurrection.
Each time you come to the bread and the wine and believe the promise that Jesus gives his body and blood for the forgiveness of you sin, you are also given the resurrection and eternal life of Christ himself.
Through you, Jesus is breaking into this sink-filled world with the new life of his Kingdom. Each mission contribution made, each local service done, each Christmas shoebox filled in the name of and in service to Christ brings Jesus and his new Kingdom breaking into this world!
Jesus is making all things new. He is making you new. He will finally make all things new!
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Happy New Year!
Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation. During Advent we enter into waiting and anticipation from two different perspectives at the same time. First, we step into the place and perspective of the Old Testament prophets and the Jewish people of the world just before the birth of Christ. Along with them, we look forward to the coming of the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, who is to bring justice, peace, and redemption to the people of God. Unlike them, we know just what, and who, we are looking forward to. We know we are looking forward to Christmas. We know we are looking forward to a baby born of a virgin girl in a stable in the quite and humble town of Bethlehem. We know we are looking forward to Jesus.
At the same time, we are waiting for and anticipating another event that is truly yet to com. This Jesus who came quietly as a baby in Bethlehem so long ago promises he will return, but not quietly. His second coming will be public, for all to see and hear with a trumpet blast and the sky rolled back as Christ comes on the clouds, a mighty divine warrior who will bring justice, peace, and redemption to the people of God, fully and finally.
During Advent, we wait for Jesus. We wait for and anticipate the celebration of his incarnation and birth. We wait for and anticipate his second coming, the end of this sinful age, and God’s redemption of this world.
This year’s Advent seems to be a particularly dark time of waiting. This whole pandemic is becoming particularly bothersome as the weather has cooled, outdoor meetings and gatherings have become impractical, and isolation has invaded a time when we are accustomed to gathering around food for fellowship. I know my family Thanksgiving plans have been upended and I worry about Christmas. Let us be careful and intentional to find ways to brighten one another’s lives during this time. Make an extra phone call. Send a card or letter. Visit if you can safely. This had been a hard year and the presence of the holidays our expectations being let down will not make it any easier.
The pandemic will end. The vaccines will be distributed.
And Jesus is coming. Both times. The Day we celebrate his birth will come and be remembered, no matter the size of the gatherings. The Day of His Second Coming will come and all will be gathered from every tribe and tongue and people.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
I thank God for the kindness I have had from these congregations. I am thankful for your recognition in thought, card, and gift over the course of October as so many of you have “promoted” me in this Pastor appreciation month. Additionally, I so much appreciate and am thankful for your kindness and understanding in missing worship for a week because of extra caution over a cold.
I thank God that the garden saw a great year, that the canning jars and freezer are stocked up AND that the garden is pulled up! I am ready for a break! I thank God for the harvest that goes on and for the hard work of all our farmers as they continue their labors and pray for their upcoming rest at the end of harvest.
I thank God for the annual remembrance of the Reformation and for the great gift of Martin Luther and the other reformers who sought to return to God’s plain Word to us in Jesus Christ over the accumulation of a long tradition that put the power of forgiveness into the hands of a church that had power and money as a constant influence on how it distributed that forgiveness. I am thankful for our own church body and congregations that have come out of that Reformation tradition and for the ability to both hear and make the proclamation of forgiveness of sins because of Christ and his death and resurrection alone.
I thank God for the upcoming All Saints Sunday and for the witness of the lives that have moved on to life eternal. With many of you I cling to the promise of the resurrection that one day we will all be reunited with Paul, Carolyn, Bonnie, Ruth, Katheryn, and Christine on the Last Day when our Lord returns and raises us all to be with him forever.
I thank God for the upcoming holiday season, and I hope, along with you, that when the season arrives we find ourselves able to celebrate as we would like, with our friends and family. But even if not, even if our gatherings are limited and more careful this year, I will yet give thanks for the many gifts of God in this life.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever. (Ps. 107:1)
Philippians 1:27-30. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
This last week (as I am writing this), after having preached on the lectionary selection from the Philippians 1, I admitted to a Zion member that it was a very difficult sermon to prepare. It was not difficult because it was hard to find something to say. It was difficult because there were so many things in that selection that were sermon worthy and I could have written at least three sermons on that one passage! It was difficult to narrow down and preach on that one subject of “circumstances” that I chose.
Instead of another sermon, the fullness of that Philippians passage gives me some good newsletter material!
Toward the end of the passage from Philippians 1 quoted above Paul says, “For it has bee granted to you for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” Granted? That sounds like it is saying that it has been gifted to us to suffer. In context, understanding that this sentence says that it has been both granted to us to believe in Jesus (definitely a gift!) and granted to us to suffer, it is hard to understand Paul in other way than saying that it is a gift to us to suffer for Christ’s sake. Maybe you like to suffer. I doubt it though. I know I don’t enjoy suffering very much! Why would Paul equate suffering with being a gift as though it is a good thing?
Martin Luther advocated an approach to the Scriptures, to understanding them and living them out that involved a three-step process. In Latin they are named Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio. In English they roughly translate as “hearing,” “meditating,” and “suffering.” The first step of hearing God’s word involves the reading and hearing of that Word. He insists that we ought to become familiar with it inside and out. The second step of meditating involves thinking through the meaning of what we have read and become familiar with. In the meditation step, we interpret the Word as it enters into our own life and we do that Word. We live it.
There’s just one problem. Either we have understood the Word correctly or incorrectly. Either we have understood the Word correctly or incorrectly. Either we have moved our life closer in to God’s will or further. How do we tell the difference? How do we find out if our meditation has been pleasing to God? Luther’s answer is that we suffer. Either way, we suffer! If we have misunderstood God’s Word and gone the wrong direction with it and are now living in a way that is further from God’s call and intention for our lives suffering comes through the further reading of Scripture that condemns us and illuminates our error and through the Church, through our fellow believers who see that we have gotten it wrong and they call us back to a right understanding. God gifts us with suffering to bring us back on the right track. However, if we get it right and are now living in a way that is closer to God’s call and intention for our lives, suffering comes to us from the broken and sinful world that cannot stand God’s Word and ways. We are persecuted by the sinful world around us if we get it right and we suffer. God gifts us with the confirmation of the persecution of the sinful world.
Suffering is seen as a gift.
One caution: this only works with God’s Word to us in the Scripture through Jesus! As we approach election time, it might be tempting to test our political opinions by seeing what kind of suffering we bring on ourselves by stating our political opinions. People on both sides suffer the persecution of the other side! No matter your position, you will be persecuted by someone in this world! Using Luther’s idea will only confirm your political opinion no matter what it is!
But to you and to me, for Christ and for his sake, it has indeed been gifted to us that we will suffer in this broken and sinful world when we read and hold tight to the Word and promise of Jesus for us. May we all suffer well!
Life is still…strange! In a typical year, I would have the entire fall of youth ministry planned and on the calendar. But right now, while some of our local school districts have plans and calendars, everyone knows that everything about the plan is subject to change. I am tentatively making plans for Confirmation class in the fall, but we are holding off youth group meetings. Sunday School for children would not normally start until Sept. 13, the Sunday after Labor Day, and, well, depending on how the start of our local schools go, we may or may not want to begin having Sunday School. Really, right now, we still wonder if it is safe to go to the grocery store. We know that there is still a risk involved in going to church!
We are in a sort of limbo. Somewhat on the edge of regular life, but not quite. Hesitant.
I wonder if this is at all like the disciples in between the Ascension and Pentecost. Jesus was risen. He had been with them, teaching and preparing them for 40 days after his resurrection. 40 days! Then he ascended and left them with the instructions to just stay put…to shelter in place?…until the Father sent the Holy Spirit.
So, settle into place is just what they did, staying in Jerusalem and keeping their heads down. Were they nervous? Afraid? Cooped up? Restless? Did the crowds of Jerusalem unnerve them?
The Gospels and Acts report that it was only 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost. We have experienced a few more than 10 days! Some of us doing ok. Waiting patiently. Some of us are just busting at the seams to get out and DO something and GO somewhere and shake people’s hands and give hugs again. Some of us already have.
As we continue in this odd, in-between and indefinite season, let us all look to God in Jesus Christ and depend on his guidance in his Word by the Holy Spirit. Find a way to worship! If you have returned to Sunday Worship, great! If not, take advantage of the online materials from church or the radio worship services on Sunday mornings.
This entire situation has become politicized in preposterous proportions! Let us be Christians first, and as much as possible, Christians only regarding our neighbors. Regarding our activity in the worldly realm of politics and voting, God’s moral law guides us. Regarding our own neighbors, we are called to live the gospel, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and bear one another’s burdens. In Lutheran theology we call this “The Two Kingdoms.” It describes God’s rule in the world, on the one hand by Law, through government and coercive means (the police) for an orderly society and rule. On the other hand, God rules through the Church and his gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. The force of the Law never frees us on a Sunday morning, but only the Gospel of Jesus Christ does. At the same time, the Gospel does little good in secular and faithless government that needs to rule and restrain the rampant sin in the world by Law and force. Mixing the two realms up causes nothing but trouble.
Hold fast to God and his Word for you.
Keep your eyes and ears open in this politically volatile climate, engage locally as you will and look forward to November.
Love your neighbor.
As we look to begin gathering for worship in person this Sunday, June 7, I want to go over a few things.
First, please know that it is not expected that everyone will or even should attend. I know it seems ridiculous to encourage people to NOT come to church, but anyone in any sort of a high-risk health category really needs to consider not coming to church just yet. And not only for yourself and your own health, but also for those gathering who would feel horribly guilty if they thought they had anything to do with getting you sick.
Additionally, anyone with any sort of question about how they are feeling should not come to worship. Anyone who gets up on a Sunday morning with a sore throat or swollen glands or any such thing, including the Vicar, should not come to worship, but instead take advantage of the online opportunities.
There is some concern that worship might be a more likely virus spreading occasion than many others because of the singing. Apparently singing provides a lot of opportunity for viral spread. I say this both as a discouragement for health compromised individuals for attendance and as a thought for those of us who do attend to perhaps “sing small,” at least for awhile.
Please remember that the online opportunities will continue! Sermons and bulletins will be e-mailed and posted on Facebook for the foreseeable future.
For those who do attend worship on Sunday the following precautions will be taken by us all in love and concern for one another:
Lastly, for now, at the conclusion of worship, you are encouraged to leave the confines of the building quickly. There will be no fellowship time in the building or Sunday School for at least the duration of the summer.
For any who will not be gathering on Sundays, from this point forward, if you would like a home communion visit, please contact me. I will attempt to take all necessary precautions and would be happy to visit you and bring you the Sacrament.
Thank you all for your consideration of one another and your service for one another in this time. We all pray that this time of restriction will end soon! May we be able to gather and fellowship in the love of God in Jesus Christ and in Christian freedom! In the meantime, may we all be servants to one another in Christian love.
A note on repentance
The season of Lent is one in which repentance and turning from sin is emphasized. We enter into Lent with Ash Wednesday and the sign of the ashes reminding us that “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” We are reminded of our mortality, of the fact that we will not live forever, of the fact that we are not God, but only human. As human creatures, we are called on to recognize our sin and turn to God in humble repentance, which means to turn around from our sinful ways and turn back to God.
I want to remind us all of our motivation for doing so.
In Joel 2:12,13, we are told: “”Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting , with weeping, and with mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments,” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding with steadfast love.”
Also consider Jesus’ very first message: “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Why do we repent? Out of fear? Out of demand? So that God will notice and like us?
God IS gracious and merciful, slow to anger and bounding in steadfast love. The kingdom of God IS at hand. The call to repentance and return to God comes to us from a God who comes to us in love and forgiveness in the midst of our sin and rebellion. We don’t make the first move with repentance. We repent because God has made the first move in love in forgiveness. We repent because God has come to you and to me in Jesus Christ, given to die for our sin, and raised to proclaim our new life.
Like all good gifts in the Christian life, even repentance is a good gift of God. It is his turning us from sin and rebellion to life and obedience in the Spirit.
This Lent let us hear God’s Word for us in Jesus Christ and joyfully turn to God our Savior who is gracious and merciful.
A message from our Vicar, Adam Poe:
THE NEW YEAR AND THE NEW GUY
As I move toward and into 2020, there is a lot of newness in my life aside from the turning of the calendar and the new year!
I have a new ministry and a new title to go along with it. I am officially the congregation’s “Pastoral Intern.” That position comes with the options of “Intern” or “Vicar.” I thought Vicar Adam sounded better than Intern Adam, so I have chosen Vicar as a title. I imagine it will take us all some getting used to. Vicar is not exactly a common usage term.
Part of the newness is getting to know a whole new group of faces and names. I ask your patience and forgiveness as I am sure to seem to learn and then forget and sometimes mix up your names. Please be free with your names as you see me for a while!
One more request: please keep me informed as opportunities for pastoral car arise. I do not have the connections or knowledge to determine who needs visited, when it comes to illness, hospital stays, or upcoming surgeries. This is one area that the congregation has already excelled in and I am thankful!
Throughout Advent we have been looking to the coming of Christ. Both of them: his first coming at Christmas ad his promised second coming.
In his first coming, Jesus has begun something new for us. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV) Unfortunately, this verse, out of context, makes it sound as though we are a done deal, that all has been made new. However, this verse is in reference to how we consider and regard one another as stated in v.16: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…” The reality of our earthly situation is described in the opening verses of Ch. 5, as Paul discusses the groaning, the aging, and the wearing out of our bodies, our ‘earthly tent.’ “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed, but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
There is more to come! Our Lord has promised his is coming again! And when he does, you and I and this world will be truly new. “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…’He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Rev. 21:1a, 4-5a)
In the meanwhile, we live in days of our baptism. We live a life connected to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, being constantly buried with him in his death to sin as we, in our earthly tents, live as yet captive to sin and in need of repentance and dying to sin. And we live a life connected to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ as we continually come to hear his Word of forgiveness and new life in the absolution of sin and his giving of himself for us in the Lord’s Supper.
May He who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
From Zion’s seminary student, Christian White:
As Thanksgiving approaches, I realize more and more that Zion Lutheran Church has MUCH to be thankful for! While the retirement of a dedicated and gifted Pastor is not cause for thanksgiving, the service Pastor Karen provided for the members of Zion (and St. John’s Hopewell) as well as the surrounding communities most definitely qualifies. Not only that, but all of the people who have stepped up to fill in roles of teaching, leading, and even preaching are truly a gift from God. I thanked someone this week for all they have been doing to help the church and congregation and I received a very simple reply: “I haven’t done much…Just pray.” Just pray… Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But contemplate all that goes with “just praying.” Scripture says, “Our Father knows what we need before we ask” (Matthew 6:8) and also “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:22) Add in one of my favorite verses, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
Praying involves Courage, Love, Strength, and Faith. Courage to go to Our Father and ask. Love to think of more than just our needs. Strength to accept what God will give us. Faith to believe that we will receive all that we need. So, for all of the people that “just pray,” I am truly thankful!
Looking to the not so far-off future, we will soon be receiving seminarian Adam Poe, who will begin a 1-year internship at Zion/St. John. He will start work in the office on December 9th and lead worship beginning December 15th. Since Adam has not completed his Master of Divinity degree, we should not address him as “Pastor.” I don’t know if the term “Vicar” is growing on him yet, but soon he will be hearing it a lot, as we all will be addressing him, “Vicar Poe,” or his preference, “Vicar Adam.” In the Joint Council meeting last Sunday with Pastor Maki, our District Dean, Maki made a very thoughtful comment that we should most sincerely reflect on the appointment of Adam as our Intern. This is usually a considerable process, over the course of months or even a year. However, all of this was accomplished in less than three months! Praise the Lord and his Holy Spirit who most sincerely lead all of us along the way! I truly believe that without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Adam might not have sought out this internship. Dean Maki might not have been guided in all his effort working with NALC leaders. And our church congregation councils might not have completed all of the different steps (and paperwork) needed to not only keep this process moving forward, but do so without delay. All of this is most truly something to be thankful for.
In Christ’s Love and Blessing,
The Sanctity of Nascent Life (part 3)
The Joint Commission on Theology and Doctrine
North American Lutheran Church
14 December 2012
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Legalization of abortion puts the state at odds with the historic witness of the church, and so we are called to listen again to the Word of God as proclaimed in the Holy Scriptures, the wisdom of the Church Fathers, and the insight of the Reformers as we seek to follow Christ faithfully in our day. The Didache clearly speaks the law as stated in the fifth commandment to the issues of abortion and infanticide in the ancient world, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion, nor again shall thou kill it when it is born.” 1. The Epistle of Barnabas speaks of those who seek to end the life of one in utero as “killers of the child, who abort the mold of God.” 2. The Nicene Creed professes that Jesus is fully human and fully divine from the moment of His conception and in doing so declares that human life begins at conception. 3. Again and again the Psalter sings that fearfully and wonderfully made, we are the work of God’s hands (Ps 139:14). John Calvin, in concert with the early Fathers, regards an unborn child as “already a human being.” 4. Martin Luther regards procreation as “the work of God” and speaks of those who kill the growing fetus as an example of the wickedness of human nature. 5. The witness of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is clear: There is no life that is beyond God’s care, beginning at the moment of conception. The child in utero is not simply the possession of the father or the mother, for each nascent life is the handiwork of God. “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in mother’s womb.” (Ps 139:15).
The North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran CORE strive to witness to the all-encompassing love of God in early 21st century North America, when nearly 50 million abortions have been legally performed since 1973 in the United States and 1988 in Canada. We urge the NALC and Lutheran CORE to commit not only to protecting the next generation of children during those first exquisite nine moths of life, but to helping those for whom abortion mars their procreative histories. As parents come to healing through the counsel and ministries of the church, their witness will be invaluable. In the renewal of their faith, the lies that were told against the littlest among us will come to an end. As their voices then sound within the assembly of all who believe the He who is the Savior of the world is fully human and fully divine from the moment of His conception, so we come yet again to understand the giftedness of the creation of our own bodies. May each of us seek to live out the dignity with which we were created, so that our lives as the enfleshment of God’s love will bear witness to His love for all the world.
The Sanctity of Nascent Life (Part 2)
The Joint Commission on Theology and Doctrine
North American Lutheran Church
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The Lord is with you.” This is what we are called to speak to every woman with a child in her womb. The Lord is with you, regardless of the circumstances of your pregnancy. We urge the NALC to commit itself as a church, as the Body of the Lord on earth, along with those joined with it in mission in Lutheran CORE, to be with you as well. We seek to attend to your needs, to help you, to guard you, and to guide you that you may bear your child in a community of love. Whether a husband and wife, or a mother alone raises that child or puts that child into the arms of another family, we will provide spiritual counsel so that parents and child will have the abundant life that Christ Jesus has promised them. We do not want a woman who is overwhelmed by the news of an unintended pregnancy to abort an innocent child, a child whose cries for life cannot yet be heard, a child who is of great value to God, regardless of the circumstances of the child’s birth. Whatever the circumstances of the pregnancy, the termination of the life of their child will not make a mother’s or father’s life better.
Apart from victims of sexual violence, the NALC and Lutheran CORE should call to repentance all men and women who have engaged in sexual behaviors outside of marriage. Men and women who are not married to each other and who have used their procreative abilities irresponsibly and then have chosen to abort a child, as well as husbands and wives who have aborted children whom they do not want, are called to confession, contrition and amendment of life. God wants us to know His joy, and until we acknowledge our sin and throw ourselves upon His mercy, we can never live rightly. The wanton destruction of a human life for matters of one’s own convenience is sin. The casual use of abortion as a final solution for a conception born of recreational sex is sin. The intimidation and emotional blackmail to undergo an abortion that women have received from the men who have impregnated them is sin.
The church also has great concern for those among us, who under the advice, counsel, or persuasion of family and/or medical personnel, have aborted a life in utero as a result of rape, incest, severe abnormalities of fetus, or endangerment to the life of the mother. In these cases, we as a church seek to be a vessel of compassion and consolation. Even in the most difficult situation the termination of the pregnancy will not necessarily bring an end to the intensity of the current pain. The end of any of new life, even when it comes to be the only apparent solution that one believes can be endured, will still carry layers of sorrow. Again, we urge the NALC to commit itself as a church body, along with its partners in Lutheran CORE, to provide pastoral care to all parties who are involved, for there are no decisions in such times that will be without familial grief. We seek not to condemn but to console. As anger, abandonment, regret, and the depths of despair each come in their turn, so the mercy of the ever-present God will need to be spoken. The Lord is with. The Lord is still with you.
The Sanctity of Nascent Life (part 1)
The Joint Commission of Theology and Doctrine
North American Lutheran Church
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The beginning of human existence, i.e., nascent life, carries in it the fullness of the genetic code, the complete chromosomal material of an individual. The strengths and characteristics given to us by God have not yet blossomed for all the world to see, yet they are fully present in the beauty of His love. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) Luther’s Small Catechism proclaims, “I believe that God has created me and all that exists,” so in faith we continue to proclaim that our life, and every life, comes from God and belongs to God. In our earthly dependency upon the womb of our mothers for protection, nourishment, and love from the first moments of our lives, we see in the creation of each life the shape of faith. We will always be fully dependent upon God for life, for shelter, and for mercy—the God who uses men and women to bring forth every generation of His creation.
How we in the North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran CORE speak about the dignity of nascent life is indicative of so much more. As the fullness of God’s mercy calls us into newness in each day, we come to know that no day in our lives is beyond His care. God himself has given us a pattern by which we know His love: the conception, gestation, and birth of our Lord Jesus. As we reflect upon when life begins and what life means, we look to what God has done in sending His Son to live among us from conception, to death, to resurrected life.
In the Annunciation of the Good News given to Mary, the Mother of our Lord, we come to know the gift of every life in a new way, and we come to know the holiness of her womb as a sanctuary of mercy for all humankind. She who is our Mother in the faith shelters the One who is the Savior of the world with her very body, a model of love beyond all fear, of obedience beyond all personal security, of faith in the One who is yet unseen.
In the self-emptying (kenotic) movement of God in the incarnation, He was never more vulnerable, more helpless than when He was in utero, swaddled in amniotic fluid. He was also never more intimately protected, swaddled in the myriad layers of a mother’s love. It is the vision of this love that is ever so needed in this day—a death defying love, an eternal love, a fierce love, a sacrificing love. It is this vision that we are called to bear for the sake of generations to come. For in the disordered loving of a fallen world that removes sexual intercourse from the fidelity, trust, and delight of the marriage bed, there will continue to be the littlest among us, made in the image and likeness of God, who without a holy love, will be unprotected from the lies that say they are neither human nor of any value. In a time in human history when the laws of many nations sanction the destruction of new lives simply because they are an inconvenience, the North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran CORE, and all who belong to the Body of Christ, are called to teach and preach the message that the Lord who created the heavens and the earth, the Lord, who in the power of the Holy Spirit grew in His mother’s womb, the Lord, who in obedience gave His life for all, The Lord is with you.
Sacred Time and Sacred Space…from a sermon on the 5th Sunday after Epiphany
Some of you who read my newsletter article last month or heard my sermon on February 10th about the decline of “Constantinian” Christendom, may have wondered what some of the signs are of the decline of “Constantinian” Christendom.
It would be easy to see some of these signs in what is going on in our nation in the public sphere. But today let’s center on signs of the decline of “Constantinian” Christendom that can be seen even inside church walls. I am going to characterize this in two ways: changes in sacred space and changes in sacred time.
When I was young and my parents herded us kids into the church building for worship, we knew that we were in sacred space. There were stained glass windows and wooden pews. The building shape and size was different from other buildings. The furnishings were different from other buildings. You knew you were in a church when you walked in.
Today you can walk into a building that is a church and not even recognize it as a church—at least not the kind of church in which you grew up. Everything looks like what you would see in a shopping mall, or in a hotel lobby, or in a school—with clear glass windows and folded or office-style chairs or even theater-style seats or bleachers to sit on. There would be no altar, but a concert-style platform on which to perform. A speaker or speakers would show up not dressed in clergy garments, but casually, and also a small group of musicians, who would play on electronic instruments and sing all the musical offerings, with very little to be done by the congregations.
You might also see that there is a coffee shoppe outside the main worship area, and people can “mosey” in and out of the service when the mood strikes them to “take a break” and have a snack with their friends just out of eyesight and earshot of the main group.
That would not have happened in my church when I was growing up in the 50s! That is why I think that a “Constantinian” style Christian Church, with its stained-glass windows and high vaulted ceilings in buildings that are kept to a quite whisper, with reminders all around to keep a reverent hush–that kind of sacred space may be on the way out.
But some folks might say that the shape, size and contents of a building have very little to do with people really connecting with God. And they do have a point.
But then there is sacred time. The idea of sacred space may not be respected as it once was, but so is the idea of sacred time. It used to be that no one would schedule sports or shopping during worship time. And worship time was known by everyone to be on Sunday morning. Now that is on the wane, because not everyone is worshiping on Sunday morning. In fact, fewer and fewer are.
Fewer and fewer of the population even care about other people’s need to keep “sacred time.”
And even some Christians do not think about keeping “sacred time” as much as they used to. When you walk in a church and go into the worship area of a church sanctuary, but do not keep a reverent awe with hushed tones and quietness so that other people may pray, sacred time is eroding. But what can we do about that?
All we can do is ask that people quickly get through their friendly greetings to others, then quietly find their seats when they come into the sanctuary, pray, and let other pray. The only noise that should be going on five minutes before church starts is the organist’s well-thought-through choice of a number of meditative pieces to play, that can get us in the right frame of mind—the mood of awe, reverence, and even fear of the holiness and “otherness” of God, as is described in the sixth chapter if Isaiah.
Perhaps there are many people who are like Isaiah, who routinely enter sacred space and sacred time, not expecting to meet God. Are there other times and places we can meet with God and give Him the time He deserves? Yes, we can all find time to pray alone and with others. We can meet and fellowship and serve God right where we live, work, go to school, and “play.” Any time can be “sacred time” with God.
But can we try to understand that sacred space and sacred time, for some people, is in the church sanctuary when they come to worship—seeking God, and sometimes desperately seeking God, hoping to catch hold of Him here, when they can’t seem to catch a glimpse or a word from Him anywhere else? Can we help others by getting out of their way and letting them have a place, this one place, for silence and reverence and quietness and prayer?
Let’s give them some sacred time and sacred space.
And let’s honor more sacred time for OURSELVES to experience in this sacred place.
From time to time I will remember nostalgically the way things used to be in church. When I was young, my home congregation would squeeze over a thousand worshipers into the building for a Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion service. When I was in that very same building, on a January Sunday while on vacation a few weeks ago, the attendance was fifty or sixty people at the main service of the three services they offer.
My home congregation sits on the corner of a very large campus of a state university in a very large town, so I was surprised at the lack of people, and young people especially. I don’t know why I should be surprised, though. Here is a statistic published in the World Christian Encyclopaeia in 1982: ”White Westerners cease to be practicing Christians at the rate of 7,600 per day.”
Church professionals have known about this trend for a long time. The way some experts explain it is that we are no longer in the era of “Constantinian” Christianity. What is “Constantinian” Christianity? I would say it is when people call themselves Christians because it is popular, not because of true devotion. This is explained in an article by Jasmine Almutt that you can read at the following website: https://calvarychapel.com/posts/the-era-of-constantine-when-church-met-state .
“For the first three hundred years of its existence, the Christian Church was generally viewed by the Roman Empire as either an enigma, a fringe group, or as a legitimate threat.” In 312 A.D., Emperor Constantine came over to the side of Christianity and “in 313 A.D. he issued the Edict of Milan, granting official freedom of worship to the Church. Constantine and his mother Helena were at the forefront in funding new church buildings projects and spreading Christianity around the Empire.
“Christians viewed Constantine’s conversion as both a blessing and a curse to the church. His conversion and connection with the Church made Christianity a popular, trendy religion in the Empire. This allowed the infiltration into the body of Christ by many who had no genuine understanding or interest in the Gospel but were flocking to the churches simply in order to obtain the favor of their newly Christian emperor. They were religiously disinterested and still half-rooted in paganism.”
“Constantine also gave many bishops judicial and legal authority in addition to their spiritual authority. Not surprisingly, by the end of the fourth century, many bishops and church leaders became corrupted by their political power. The results were profoundly detrimental to the spirituality of the Church. Church and State became so intertwined…it created enormous controversies and problems for the Church in future generations.”
Over sixteen centuries later, we can look at our own country and see that Christianity has enjoyed the status of being the majority religion for a long, long time. We have seen the American culture supporting Christianity, and Christianity supporting the American culture. But if that is disappearing (and many see the signs already), what is next for the Church?
We can say assuredly that no matter what, Christ will not abandon the Church! Christ will never abandon the Church! But American culture might! What is the answer? We will examine that more closely in the future.
In Christ’s peace,
Some of you may be wondering why we ask you to fill out little cards with your name every time we have Holy Communion. Obviously we like to have some idea who is attending ant taking Holy Communion for our records, but there is another reason, beyond “record keeping.”
Some very important activities happen when we have congregational meetings. We vote on new council members and at the annual meeting pass a budget for the coming year. It is important that everyone who is entitled to vote gets an opportunity to vote. But what does the constitution of the congregation say about the opportunity to vote?
The Zion (Chattanooga) Constitution says the “Voting members are confirmed members who have communed and made a contribution of record during the preceding twelve months.”
#1 The opportunity to vote requires the ability to make sound judgments on matters of importance. That is why a voter should be a confirmed member. Confirmation means you have had two or three years of catechism and that you know what the Bible says about important matters that may come up for the congregation to decide, or at least you know where to find answers to such questions in the Bible.
#2 We place some fairly important matters in the hands of the congregation. Beyond voting in a new church council or passing a budget, a congregational meeting is where the buying or selling of property may be decided or whether to be included in one denomination or another. The congregational meeting is actually a higher authority than the church council.
That is why voters at a congregational meeting should be receiving Holy Communion regularly. Regular reception of the sacrament means that they are taking an active part in the family of God. The little cards that are handed in when you are communing are a way for us all to be mindful of who is taking that responsibility seriously. It is good to be fed with the bread of heaven, to be spiritually in tune with God, and to grow in the means of grace. It is good to sharpen our minds with Christian education, to learn more, to become closer, an to care foe one another. All this happens at the time and place of worship.
#3 The opportunity to vote is also given to those who are contributing. Everybody who comes contributes in one way or another! But by “contributions,” the Constitution means the monetary contribution that members are making. Some people may feel that the offering envelopes they are given at the beginning of the year are not necessary. Some feel that their giving is a matter between them and God. They do not want others (meaning those who count the contributions) to know who is giving what.
This pastor is one person who never wants to know that—who is giving what. However, the Council must be aware of who is giving, because that is another qualifier for who may be allowed to vote on important matters at a congregational meeting. The constitution requires “voting members” to make “a contribution of record” during the preceding twelve months. If there is loose cash in the offering plate there is no way of making a record of who gave it. There are some persons who are giving regularly, but with cash in the plate. There is no way to count that toward being a voting member. There is no “record” of it on paper.
Our young people who have been confirmed but are not yet out of school and in jobs are of concern here. If they want to take their opportunity to vote at congregational meetings, they must have acquired a record as “confirmed, communing and contributing” at least once in the preceding twelve months. We heartily encourage our young folks who are eligible to use a check or to put their name on a blank offering envelope to hand it in, even if they have not been given offering envelopes yet. Just so Council knows to count their nae as a member on the “voting” list.
Yours in the work of the congregation,
Along with all the other holiday preparations we all will have to manage are the ways the church “changes things up” in December. One way our congregations prepare to receive the news of our Savior’s birth is to light the Advent wreath. There is some history of this practice that has been published that I have come across recently.
The Advent wreath was “invented” in 1839 in Hamburg, Germany, by Pastor Johann Wickern for the children at his school. As the story goes, the children were “getting on his nerves,” asking him every day for weeks “is it Christmas yet?” Looking for a way of “counting down” the days until Christmas, he took an old wooden wheel from a cart and set it up horizontally. He put candles on it everywhere he could. Originally it had 19 red candles for the weekdays and 4 white candles for the Sundays. Then he lit one each day until it was finally Christmas. This practice was adopted by German Catholics in the 1920s and spread to the United States in the 1930s.
Of course, for most of the children I know of, the main emphasis has always been Santa Claus. As Christians, we are aware of his origin in St. Nicholas, as a real person back in history. He became known as the source of mysterious gifts that kept appearing at households that needed help and money. The emphasis of his season for even non-Christians has grown out of the St. Nicholas story and the tradition that flows from his generosity of gift-giving. This is all part of the season.
In our church during Advent we read the lessons about the prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming of a savior, the Messiah, who finally came in the time of Caesar Augustus, a ruler of the Roman Empire. So, Jesus was a real person in a real time and a real place. We read about His life in the New Testament. He grew up. He became the savior of the world. We tend to get sentimental about his birth in Bethlehem, laid in a manger, with wise men and shepherds all around. But the hard cold fact we don’t want to always face is that He came to die for us.
So it is time to think about how to prepare a place for Him in our life here today—our real life, in a real time and real place. He was not just a part of a whimsical story of long ago. He came, and He still comes to us each day, to bring His message of salvation.
His Word speaks to each heart. His message is just as real for you or me as it was in yesteryear. Welcome Him as He comes to you each day, with a word of comfort, peace, or concern for the way you are living—whatever you need! Read the scriptures. Come for Communion. Listen for what He has to say when you open your heart to Him. What will He say to you? That is His Season’s Greeting! That is the real “Season’s Greetings.”
May you be blessed!
The astonishing news coming out of Parkway School’s local ministers and churches is that a start-up of Released Time Bible Education is set for the beginning of the 2019 term. Released Time Bible Education (RTBE) is a program where school-aged children can attend Bible classes on school time. These classes are set up to be offered off the campus of the school building, during an elective period (such as music or art), and with the prior permission of their parents.
The churches then offer a class on the Bible. Yes, this is legal. The constitutionality has been challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court and has held—as long as parents sign permission, it is held off school property, and the child or children are there during an elective class.
The idea that has been working in Van Wert in three county schools is that the children are walked over to a building across the parking lot where the class will be held. In Rockford, this apparently may take place at New Horizons Church Christian education rooms just across from the Parkway School parking lot. There are classroom facilities there and a teacher, who will be paid will teach four classes on one day and four classes on another day of the week. One day will be 5th-8th grade classes and the other day will be 9th-12th grade classes.
The curriculum will be from Group, the publishing company that supplies our Vacation Bible School material every year. It does not mention any particular church or denomination and is fun and full of Biblical content.
A brochure presented by Kingdom Harvest Ministries of Celina says, “Good for students, good for schools, builds trust within communities.” We hope this is all true. We in our congregation will be asked to support RTBE through prayer, involvement of leadership (encouragement and getting the word out), and sponsorship (through financial help). They will need volunteers in the classroom and on the walk from school over to class and back to school again. Material will need to be bought.
This should not inconvenience parents or the school, but it is hoped to be a benefit to our children in various ways.
I have my own questions about all this and will be attending meetings to find out more. Our Church Council will also be evaluating the invitation to join in.
I am hoping to hear your thoughts on this!
REPORT ON THE 2018 NALC CONVOCATION
When we landed at the airport, they told us we were in Denver (actually Aurora, Colorado), but you would be hard pressed to prove it by me. Mostly what I saw was hotels, restaurants, office and apartment buildings. Only as I was leaving on Saturday did I see in the distance some hazy outline of mountains. The reason we couldn’t see much of the mountains, I was told, was because of the California wildfires. (By the way, NALC Disaster Response is taking donations to help victims of those fires.)
NALC convocations don’t do a whole lot of actual business. But I think the benefit to me was more in the networking that is available. You meet lots of folks from all over the U.S. and Canada. You get to speak with and ask questions one-on-one of all sorts of people—pastors and their delegates. I also saw lots of folks from previous congregations I’ve served.
This coming year will be a year of transition for the NALC. Bishop Bradosky has announced he will be retiring at the end of his term in 2019. So next year we will be electing a new bishop at our meeting in Indianapolis. It will be very important to have a full complement of both pastors and lay delegates at this assembly. In addition, Dr. Amy Schifrin has announced that she will be stepping down as president of our seminary, so that she can concentrate on teaching before her contemplated retirement in 2022 or so. Our Board of Regents will be forming a search committee to find a new president who can focus on the primary duties of that office—administration and fundraising.
Speaking of funds, I attended the continuing education theology lectures during the first 24 hours, then the convocation proper. The theme was the Holy Spirit. That was the focus of both the lectures and the speakers at the convocation. We also heard frequent references to the Spirit throughout the week. Due to some major gifts, the seminary is in fine shape right now. The NALC as a whole, not quite as much. But in the past year benevolence increased by 7.8%, our largest year to year increase ever. An increase this year of even half that much will bring our budget of $2.1 million into balance. Still, it was disappointing to learn the 27% of our churches are sending in zero benevolence, and many are far below the requested level of 5% of offerings.
Pastor Mark Chavez, the general secretary, says our ratio of seminarians to the number of congregations is better than most denominations, including the ELCA and the Missouri Synod. There were eleven ordinations in the NALC last year, pretty good for a denomination of 425 congregations.
And of course, there were lots of other reports and speakers. If you want to know something, ask me! Traveling is a pain and tiring, but all in all, I think it’s worth the trip. Of course, with 2019 in Indianapolis and 2020 in Pittsburgh, we’ll be a lot closer.
Pastor Mike Tamorria
The worshipers of our congregation may be interested in knowing that we have two women evangelists with saints’ days on the calendar this summer. (Not much is said about women in the ministry these days. Maybe we take it for granted that women are acceptable in leadership roles in the church, but they weren’t in years past.) The two women evangelists I will be talking about here help refute the idea that only men are acceptable to speak on Christianity in the Pulpit and in the public forum. And they were actually from Bible times: St. Mary Magdalene and St. Thekla.
St. Mary Magdalene’s saint’s day is July 22nd. That is a day to honor her and her work for the Gospel. Mary Magdalene was among the women who followed Jesus. It is said of her that she had, at one time, seven demons cast out of her. Legends written about her many years after hear death tried to guess what those demons were. Some of these writers of fiction say she was a prostitute, but there is no actual evidence to support that. Mary of Magdala is named in St Luke’s Gospel as being among a few women who gave help to Jesus in the form of financial support out of their own means.
Mary Magdalene is important to the Church in several ways. She was an actual witness to the crucifixion, burial , and resurrection of Jesus, all three events, having been specifically named as having stayed at the cross, followed the body to its grave, and been at the open tomb. The Gospel of Matthew says that the women watched the crucifixion from a distance and sat opposite the new tomb where Jesus was buried when the stone was rolled across it. Then on the first day of the week, when they came back to the tomb, they saw that it was open and were told by an angel to go and tell the disciples that Christ was risen. The Gospel of John says Jesus appeared and spoke to Mary Magdalene.
Later, it was important to the Church that it could insist that there were eye witnesses who saw that it was truly Jesus himself who was crucified, buried, and risen again, because there were some who were tempted to argue otherwise. So Just think–what if the women had not witnessed all this? And then what if they had not told it? They were specifically commanded to go and tell the disciples. Telling the Gospel that “Jesus has risen” is preaching. They were commissioned as the first preachers. They were sent by Christ himself to “go and tell” this. That makes them the first evangelists. How then can women be refused as preachers in the Church. As some will interpret the Bible, if Jesus himself has picked them?
Another woman of the early days of the Church who is celebrated with a saint’s day is St. Thekla (or Thecla). Her saint’s day is in September. She was a convert of St. Paul, in the city of Iconium. The book of Acts tells of Paul’s travels to Iconium. It is said Thekla heard the Gospel from Paul and decided to follow Christ in a life of evangelism and was martyred. In the Eastern Church she is called “First Evangelist,” for she reached out to the people in the nations of the East.
Normally she is not mentioned in our church services since her name is not in the Bible and thus there is no lesson on her. But she is known by her valor and strong witness, facing death many times and choosing Christ over a life of comfort that she was offered, but refused; accepting self-denial and the charge to “go and tell,” and was then persecuted for it, even by her own family.
We could talk about the other early Church proofs for the office of ministry in which women partook, but not in this newsletter. It makes a fascinating study, however. Someday we might, for even though I have not heard such a question come up here, even in our own NALC, I have heard men say, “Why do you women have to have a pulpit? Why can’t you just serve God in other ways?”
There is nothing wrong with serving as a layperson. It is an honorable calling and highly valued! But before someone says a woman can NOT be a Mary Magdalene or a Thekla, they should look at Christ’s word and look at Christ’s example.
THE GREAT GREEN SEASON
We have now entered what I like to call the Great Green Season in the Church Year. These are the seemingly endless Sundays after Pentecost, which this year run through November.
During part of the year we focus on the great events of salvation history. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation, when the eternal Son of God became the human being Jesus in His birth at Bethlehem. We hear about the Wise Men coming at Epiphany and the early days of Jesus, ministry when He first gave hints of His power and mercy. In Lent we recall Jesus’ temptations and the core teachings of our faith. During Holy Week we remember the last week of Jesus’ life, culminating in the Last Supper and His crucifixion. Then at Easter we rejoice in His resurrection and the promise of sharing in His eternal life. At Pentecost we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit and we conclude with the mystery of God Himself, the Holy Trinity.
At the end of the calendar year wee start over again in Advent, which points us to the Second Coming of Christ and the end of all things. But in between Trinity Sunday and the First Sunday of Advent comes the Great Green Season. This year we will have twenty-three weeks with the color green on the altar, broken only when we reach Reformation Sunday in October and All Saints’ Sunday and Christ the King Sunday in November. There is also the possibility of a saint’s day falling on a Sunday this year to break the monotony. Otherwise, the green “generic” Sundays seem pale in comparison to the other half of the church year.
Still, they have an important place to fill. Our Christian life is not all mountaintop experiences and memorable occasions. There are a lot of slow, apparently unexciting times. Discipleship is a matter of steady discipline, sticking with things even when life becomes boring.
The color green is not randomly chosen. It is the color of growth. Once the planting season is over the seeds in the ground grow quietly and steadily until, after many months, the harvest comes. In the same way, after we come to faith in Christ there is a long time of learning to know God’s Word and learning to walk in God’s ways. But growth is happening and the harvest will come. During this time, then, let us not grow lax about studying God’s Word and worshiping Him. God is growing His new life in us.
–Pastor Mike Tamorria
(I find this newsletter article from Kathleen Lutz, our missionary, to be very interesting. Her “Easter message” is a good one for us to hear.—Pastor Karen)
It’s a few days after Jesus’ resurrection. Beyond the initial disbelief and amazement, how it must have been to have those next days with Him. We might ask Him questions like, “Were You with God the Father when the world was being created?”
As I teach the Bible with grades 7 and 8 at our school in the Kawangware slum, this was a question of the students: “Was Jesus with God in the beginning of creation?” Together we delve into the scriptures to learn more.
On Easter morning I was with 20 children rescued off the streets of the slums last year. I helped them act out the story of Jesus’ final days and His resurrection. The rejection. These children have experienced in some way rejection. So they understood some of the rejection Jesus faced in His final hours. The resurrection. These children have experienced in some way a new life after facing hopelessness of living on the streets. We drew closer to know Jesus.
Just as those who saw Jesus after His resurrection drew close to Him, many today draw close to Him through the Word. Some for the first time! It is very exciting for me to be able to bring others closer to Jesus!
His is risen! And He continues to draw people closer.
Thank you for your support and prayers in getting the Good News out.
Easter is a time to say “Alleluia” again, but Easter is also a time to tell jokes. Jokes? Yes, jokes on the Devil! “Jokes on the Devil?” you say, shuddering. “Why would we do something like that?”
It is Easter. Good Friday has just past. Satan thought he had won when Jesus was put in the ground. Satan thought he was done with THAT troublemaker!
Satan thought he had won a great victory! He was giving himself a whole bunch of pats on the back. He was giving himself a whole bunch of glory!
He thought he didn’t have to bow to God any more. It looked like Jesus (God’s agent here on earth, who kept kicking Satan’s butt by reversing all that Satan had done to us) had failed to complete his mission, the mission the Messiah was expected to do. He was gone. Now Satan could go back to his old usual habits of making humankind miserable! Next, the whole cosmos! Next, Heaven itself!
Satan was giving himself a lot of glory. But Jesus had not failed. Jesus did accomplish the true mission. He did it by not using his power. He did it by laying down his glory. He did it by obeying God, even to death. He did it by obeying God and giving all praise and worship to God. He reversed what Adam did in the Garden.
So instead of Satan, it is God who is now going to get all the glory. We will give Him praise for freeing us from sin death, hell, and the Devil. We will thank Him, because Jesus has restored our relationship to God, and opened the way to the kingdom of heaven for all who believe! Glory to God!
Why is it important that God gets the glory? It is not that God is a glory-monger. He does not need us to give him glory. He does not need us to give him worship or praise.
We humans tend to want glory, though. Even just a little bit. But when we are giving glory to ourselves we are not giving all glory to God. We are serving ourselves. Ultimately that means we will serve Satan. If we serve Satan, that means Satan gets the glory he wants. But if Satan gets all the glory that means all the wrong things. Whoever we give glory to is who we serve. Who we serve is who we belong to or eventually belong to.
The antidote for this is to give glory to God. That will spare us of the consequences of straying in Satan’s ways. Giving ALL glory to God is the preventative of accidentally giving glory to Satan. So, it is for our good. And giving glory to God is right. It is just the right thing to do.
I am not the first person to talk about jokes on the Devil. Look it up! A day for doing this has been observed any time after an Easter Sunday for years! This year especially, when April Fools’ Day is on Easter Sunday, we ought to do it. But, you say, “Jokes on the Devil? Who would do that? Who wouldn’t be afraid of that?”
We don’t need to be afraid of Satan anymore Jesus has been given ALL power. He has Satan under his feet—according to the scriptures. WE can be relieved of our fear of him. We can even tell a joke on him—although our chief focus should be on Christ this day.
One of the jokes my friends made on the devil when I was in seminary was to call him “Grimy guy.” He thought he was going to be “his majesty!” He has found out he is not. His face has been rubbed in the soot! He does not like that! But there is nothing he can do about it! He was strutting! He was boasting! But the joke’s on him!
All glory on God now! All glory be to Jesus Christ, who has won the victory! And “Alleluia” to HIM!
The Need for Lenten Repentance
Lent is upon us and Holy Week draws near. As we look at Good Friday, what can we learn? We can learn some things about ourselves we do not want to know. As we put ourselves in the place of the people who appear in the passion story, we find in others what we ought to repent of, too.
When we look inside ourselves we find things we like to mistrust as being unreal or untrue. We find sin, but do not like to be seen as sinners. We find darkness, but do not like to be known for a darkened mind or darkened heart. Why do we fight against how the scriptures describe us and what they demand we acknowledge?
Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times. He was afraid and he was trying to save himself from capture, yet a few hours earlier he proclaimed (and really believed it) that he would die for Jesus. When Jesus accused him, he denied what was his inner self, till the truth came out.
All the other disciples fled from Jesus when He was arrested. They had been His constant companions for His three years of ministry among them, seeing every day His miracle might and close relationship to God, but they still lost faith. They failed Him but they did not see that coming. They were thinking they were headed for greatness; high ranking ambition had caught their souls.
The crowds yelled for Jesus to be crucified; that same week they had hailed Him as king and laid their very cloaks down in front of Him to ride upon coming to Jerusalem. They thought He was God’s Messiah. Then they turned on Him. They were fickle. They thought they had the right to judge.
Numerous scriptures affirm: “the human heart is devious above all else, it is perverse—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Not even we ourselves can understand our own heart. We are so self-deceived. Just when we think we stand, we fall. But we don’t like to hear this.
Why do we turn a blind eye to our own offenses, weaknesses, and carelessness? Yet we think we are well-equipped to find offenses, weakness, and carelessness in others. Why is so much good and evil in humanity? The Bible and theology give us answers to such questions but the part we like to turn away from is that given enough circumstances, we could be guilty of equally bad sins or crimes. Give certain circumstances we too could fail and fall.
Lent is a time for reflection. We reflect on scripture; we reflect on our own inner self. We find that the scripture describes us accurately. Let’s stop being self-righteous against others who fail and fall. We all have failed and fallen. Let us pray for others who have moral failures, as Jesus told us.
And let’s look for moral failures in ourselves. A “fearless moral inventory” is what it is called in A.A. Let us look deeply within for the truth about our own moral failures. We may not find all of them, to a large degree. But we will find the same kind of moral failures, to some degree. Our need for a full experience of repentance is clear. And then….
What we need after this dose of truth is the Good News of the Gospel! Jesus came to die for all us sinners! Yes even us! All those who fail and fall! That is good! We have hope, then! We have hope, not in our human goodness, but in the goodness of Jesus Christ who came to die for us sinners, to grant us grace, to put us right with God, and keep us in a right relationship with Him. There may be darkness in us; darkness of knowledge and understanding about ourselves. There is sin in us, but Jesus Christ came to overcome sin.
Trusting in Him, we have all we need to have sin overcome in us. That’s what we need. To trust not in ourselves or our own strength, but in Him.
Watching for the coming Resurrection,
Since Valentines Day is on Ash Wednesday this year I thought I’d let you know in this February edition what Martin Luther said about the heart in his seal:
“There is first to be a cross, black, and placed in a heart, which should be of its natural color (red), to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucified saved us. For if one believes from the heart, he will be justified. [“For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.”–Romans 10:10]. Even though it is a black cross, which mortifies and which also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its natural color and does not ruin nature…that is, the cross does not kill, but keeps man alive. For the just shall live by faith, by faith in the Savior. [“This Good News tells us how God makes us right in His sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”–Romans 1:17].
Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In a word, it places the believer into a white joyful rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy as the world gives. [“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”–John 14:27]. Therefore, the rose is to be white, not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all angels. This rose, moreover, is fixed in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy. It is already a part of faith and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest.
And around this field is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven is endless, and more precious than all joys and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.
May Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit until the life to come. Amen.”
[Luther’s works–American Edition, Vol. 49, pp. 356-59]
Hindrance or Help?
When you think about the manger where the baby Jesus was laid and the house where he was found by the wise men, you realize that physical places to dwell in are a necessary part of life even for the Son of God. But what about worship places? Do we really need physical places to worship in? In John 4:21 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “The time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” He adds that, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”
This seems to imply that physical houses of worship are frowned upon by the Son of God. But is that always the case in the Bible? In Haggai 1:1-15, God is actually perturbed that the captives returning from Babylon are working on their own houses and not on the house of the Lord. The Lord’s temple lies in ruins while they are fixing up their own living places. Zechariah (1:16) echoes the idea that God wants His house rebuilt and he wants it rebuilt now. Why does God want a temple in on instance and prefers worship not tied to a building in another (as in John 4:21)?
Maybe God wants us to realize that houses to worship Him in can be a hindrance or a help. When Jesus takes a whip to the money-changers in the temple it is to honor God. It is so that worship of God can continue there. He even calls it “my Father’s House,” a term of honor for the temple (John 2:16) and also when he is found teaching at the temple as a boy (Luke 2:49).
However, in another place, when Jesus’ disciples call on Jesus to gaze up admiringly at the great temple’s walls, Jesus retorts, “Do you see all these thigs? I tell you, not one stone will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1-2). Jesus doesn’t seem to be of a mind to assign a lot of importance to the temple’s longevity. He doesn’t put a lot of faith in the temple.
There is the same minimizing of the physical building that was in use as a temple at that time when Jesus says, “destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). His listeners thought that he was talking about the physical temple but he was telling them about the resurrection and He meant that His body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, was going to be raised again after death.
We have all been taught that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within our body, therefore we should use our body in ways to honor the Holy Spirit, and not sin.
Was Jesus saying that in the future He would replace the temple? That He was the center of worship of God now; He was the actual place where God and man met and were joined; He was the location, no longer the temple, where God was found?
If that is what He was trying to tell us, then how much ought we to downplay our own places where we worship—their importance, their necessity, their centrality for us? Maybe we put too much emphasis (time and money) on taking care of them and not enough on spiritual worship—spiritual worship that costs little in terms of money but costs a lot more time, effort, and attention.
As one Christian lecturer has said, “Going into a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage make you a car.“ Maybe we are apt to think, once we have put in an hour in the building, we have done our “all” that is necessary to worship.
God wants all our worship. He doesn’t want a building to take the place of spiritual worship, such as prayer, service toward others, sacrificial giving for other, etc. If we forget all those just because we have walked inside and sat in a beautiful building for an hour, then indeed a building has become a hindrance, not a help.
Let us take seriously the first commandment and not make a building our total attention; that is the kind of idolatry that God would be against. Instead let us make our building a help for the spiritual worship that really matters. Our forebears have given of their best gifts to make these buildings rise up strong and beautiful to the skies. Let us take note and remember what buildings are there for, really!
“Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her” [From Heaven Above to Earth I Come]
The wonder of Christmas has no comparison. Part of that wonder is found in the music. Who could not be stirred by the loudness (sometimes) and the stillness (sometimes) of every voice of every creature, lifting in adoration to the new-born king?
Instruments raised, we add the words that tell the most famous story ever, of God coming down in a little baby boy, from heaven, child of Mary, born in a manger?
We capture that story as best we can, putting into rhyme the verses from Luke, Matthew, and John. Martin Luther was one who put some of these words into music and placed the meaning of these preserved in out hymn book, in the ELW (the cranberry book) #268: “From Heaven Above to Earth I come.”
In this year of honoring Martin Luther, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we have been remembering all the work done by this father of our denomination. He brought to our attention the grace of God found in the Bible—most particularly, in the death of Jesus for our justification. But also the grace of God found in the birth of Jesus, when a sin-sick world was given a free, undeserved gift—that of God imparting himself to us, for us to see who He is and enjoy in the child-like face of a humble child, the love of heaven for us here on earth.
And what a scene to be painted, for our soul’s delight, our mind’s imagination, and our heart’s filling. As the missing verse (below) and the rest of them say and pray:
“Thus hath it pleased thee to make plain, the truth to us poor fools and vain.
That this world’s honour, wealth and might, are nought and worthless in Thy sight.
Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child, make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be, a quiet chamber kept for thee.
My heart for very joy doth leap, my lips no more can silence keep;
I too must sing with joyful tongue, that sweetest ancient cradle-song:
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, who unto man His Son hath given!’
While angels sing with pious mirth, a glad New Year to all the earth.”
A Merry Christmas to all! A joy-filled, grace-filled, Season to all!
The Reformation in 2017
What does the life of an Augustinian monk in the 1500s have to do with us today? We call ourselves Lutherans, but is the Reformation still relevant? After all, there has been half a millennium, five centuries of history, since then.
In some ways, Luther’s actions are just history. The Roman Catholic Church still hands out indulgences, but doesn’t sell them. The venal corruption of the Vatican in Luther’s day was mostly cleaned up by the Council of Trent after Luther’s death. In the last few decades, Catholics have also come to accept many of the practical reforms the early Lutherans advocated, such as worship in the vernacular rather than Latin, and offering both bread and wine in communion.
Nevertheless, the Big Lutheran Idea, justification by faith, is still a message the world needs to hear. We still need to hear that it is only Jesus that saves, by grace, and not by anything we do or by anything we have earned or deserve. Non-Christian religions, such as Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, emphasize what we have to do to find salvation. Many forms of Christianity and so-called Christian preachers also talk about what we have to do to earn favor with God. These might be some sort of spiritual exercises to achieve inner peace. This is often buying into some political program, whether of the right or of the left. Jesus isn’t enough; you have to also be an environmentalist, for example. As in Luther’s day, this may mean making donations to support the religious institutions. The larger your check the greater chance of salvation.
Our secular society also sends us the message that we have to justify ourselves, by our achievements in school or work or society, to be thought a worthwhile and deserving individual. It’s not enough that God created us and gave His Son to us and for us. We have to earn our right to just be alive. In Denmark and Iceland (historically Lutheran countries) they have eradicated Down Syndrome—not by curing the condition, but by aborting every fetus that shows the genetic abnormality. In our own country as well as overseas, the path to assisted suicide is open and urged upon elderly and terminally ill patients. Stop being a drain on out societal resources; we’ll help you kill your no longer worthwhile self.
Luther preached that following Christ meant suffering and service to our neighbor. TV preachers say that following Christ means wealth and prosperity and happiness (at least wealth for the preacher). It’s about using God for our own egocentric and selfish ends.
The Reformation and the Big Lutheran Idea are as necessary in 2017 as they were in 1517. Our justification for existence is nothing we have done or earned or deserved, but simply the fact that God has created us. Jesus has died for us, and the Holy Spirit has called us. It’s never Jesus AND something else. It’s simply and always Jesus only. That’s what Luther taught, and that’s what we have to stand for today as his heirs.
Pastor Michael Tamorria
The Reformation of 1517
On Saturday, October 31, 1517, as later sources tell us, a monk and college professor named Martin Luther walked up to the town bulletin board in the smallish town of Wittenberg, Germany, where he taught. This bulletin board was actually the side door of the Castle Church on the west end of the town, which was used for putting up public notices. Luther was posting an invitation to a public disputation to discuss 95 theses, or points of argument, on the subject of indulgences. This notice was written in Latin but a German translation was readily available and many copies were printed up and distributed throughout Germany. It was this event from which the Reformation is customarily dated and of which we are celebration the 500th anniversary this year.
The controversy about indulgences would prove to be just the tip of an iceberg which would turn the Roman Catholic church and the Western Christian world upside down over the next few decades. From this period most of the varieties of Protestantism we know today trace their origins. The Catholic church itself would undergo a massive cleaning up of corruption and theology.
Luther’s criticisms all trace back to the Big Lutheran Idea—justification by faith. Luther had come to this understanding four years earlier while studying the Book of Psalms and St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans in preparation for his teaching. He realized that we do not earn our own salvation by anything we do, however noble and holy, but solely by trusting in what Jesus has already done for us in giving up His life on the cross. Not only can we not earn our salvation, any effort we make to do so is actually insulting to God and rooted in sinful pride.
The Catholic church Luther grew up in taught that a whole variety of good works could earn merit before God—prayer, fasting, pilgrimages, giving money to worthy causes, attending worship. The surest and safest thing was to become a monk or a priest, or, if you were female, a nun, so you could be a full time merit-earning Christian. Another shortcut was to obtain indulgences, which promised forgiveness and years off your sentence in purgatory, in return for monetary contributions. You could, the indulgence peddlers claimed, literally buy your way into heaven. (A lot of this was not official Catholic theology, but it was what was popularly believed, taught, and practiced.)
It was the peddling of indulgences in Luther’s neighborhood, supposedly to support the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome that caused the academic Luther to go public with his theses. He had said many of the same things a year earlier in a sermon, but this time his objections were translated into German, printed up, and widely distributed. Luther took advantage of the new technology of his day, the printing press. Over the next 30 years he would crank out an enormous amount of writings, both scholarly and popular, which take up 106 volumes in the German edition. (Even today, only a bit more than half has been translated into English.) By the time of his death in 1546, western Christianity had been irrevocably changed.
The last we left our history of the influential life of Martin Luther [see June 2017] he was at the Diet of Worms in 1521 declaring “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me! Amen.” An imperial ban was imposed on him and his followers by Emperor Charles. His life was in danger; he could be killed if he stayed in the empire. But Prince Frederick sent soldiers to “kidnap” him and take him to Wartburg Castle for safekeeping, where he hid for almost a year.
He soon got to work on his translation of the New Testament into German, which appeared in print in September, 1522. Returning to Wittenberg in March 1522, he wrote sermons and resumed his lectures for the next 20 years.
He abandoned the Augustinian religious habit in October 1524. He married Katharina von Bora, a former nun, on June 13, 1525 and they had their first child on June 7, 1526. It was a happy marriage. They had 6 children of their own and gave a home to 11 orphans.
In March of 1529 he wrote his Small Catechism and the Large Catechism came two months later. The Diet of Augsburg occurred June 20-November 19, 1530 [see July 2017].
In 1534 he finished translating the Old Testament and published his first complete edition of the Bible in German. All in all Luther published almost 400 works during his lifetime, including Biblical commentaries and tracts. Emperor Charles was too busy fighting other enemies and Luther was able to carry on, enjoying the support of the people which was widespread in Germany.
One task he undertook involved the people in a new way. Luther desired for everybody in a congregation to be able to participate in the worship service. In 1526 he produced a liturgy the people could speak and sing during worship, called the German Mass. He wrote many hymns. He re-introduced the practice of lay persons joining the clergy in receiving the wine as well as the bread in communion.
He also taught that all Christians were priests before God. Christ is the only intermediary between people and God; through our baptism we are all members of the “priesthood of all believers.”
Luther had a great impact on Christianity and the world. That is to be celebrated as we observe the 500th year of the Reformation this fall. Luther died in 1546 at the age of 63. More important than the man himself though, is his legacy in calling people back to the word of God.
Martin Luther’s teachings, as we saw in last month’s newsletter article, got him in a lot of trouble with the Church of his day. Luther’s followers had to stand before the Diet of Augsburg and defend them. Philipp Melanchthon, a close friend of Luther’s, wrote the Augsburg Confession, which fairly summarized Luther’s teachings. Below are some of the points that were of concern as stated in the Augsburg Confession.
#15 Ecclesiastical Usages—Lutherans believed that church holidays, calendars, and festivals were useful, but observing them is not necessary for salvation. Human traditions like fasting on these days do not earn grace.
#16 Civil Affairs—Part of living in this world means Christians can serve in government and the military and engage in business. These vocations, offered to God for His use, are part of His ordering of the world and equal to the priesthood.
#18 Free Will—Lutherans believe that we have free will in our choices in every regard except we do not have free choice in the matter of salvation. God calls, gathers, and enlightens us. Creating faith is the work of God, not of humans.
#20 (and also #6) Good Works—The Lutheran theology of justification by faith does not negate the importance of good works. (We can see, though, how some opponents of Luther might have thought that he downplayed the place of good works in his enthusiasm for portraying that salvation is by faith alone, as if God is unconcerned about our doing good works.) Luther believed our good works are important to God, but they do not earn us salvation. Luther stated that the Christian does good works “because it is a pleasure to please god; the Christian serves God purely and for nothing, content that his service pleases God. On the other hand, he who is not at one with God, or who is in a state of doubts, hunts and worries in how he may do enough, and with many works, to move God.” Luther said, “”faith must be present in all works…or they are nothing at all.” Our faith is what causes us to do good works, and these good works show that our faith is alive and our salvation is already in operation.
#21 The Worship of the Saints—Saints are examples and an inspiration to us. They are not intercessors before God to whom we pray.
More on Luther’s contribution to the Church as we have it today—next time!
The events of the beginning of the Reformation are famous by now. A monk named Martin Luther posted 95 points of discussion on a document on the castle church door in Wittenburg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. His protests against certain practices of the Catholic Church had been brought on by the promise that forgiveness of sins and salvation could be obtained by the purchase of a paper from the pope called an indulgence. Luther was certain that forgiveness of sins could only be obtained by faith in Christ through the grace of God alone.
There was an official reaction but Luther faced these challenges that came to him by going back again and again to scripture. He defended his actions to Cardinal Cajetan at the Imperial Diet in Augsburg in 1518. As discussions broke down Luther’s friends were alarmed that some physical “accident” might happen to Luther and they bundled him away. Later Luther found out that he had left just in time.
In 1519 Luther faced a church theologian, Dr. Johann Eck, at Leipzig. There Eck got Luther to admit that he denied the divine origin of papal supremacy, the teaching that the pope could not err and was infallible. Eck then went to Rome and helped prepare the papal bull (edict) “Exsurge Domine” in 1820, giving Luther the choice to recant or be excommunicated. Luther publicly set fire to this in December of 1520. He was excommunicated in January of 1521.
In 1520 Luther had also published a document, “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.” In it he urged the “abolishing or curtailing of pilgrimages, privately endowed masses, and the veneration of the saints.” He asserted “heretics are to be refuted with arguments, not with fire.” He said “priests should marry or not as they choose.” And in another document, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” Luther rejected the sacramental system as having no basis in scripture except for baptism and the eucharist.
The enforcement on the ban on his teachings fell to secular authorities. It was decided that Luther should stand for another hearing. At the Imperial Diet in Worms before the Emperor in 1521, which lasted from January 28-May 21, Luther made his famous defense, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me! Amen.” This declaration led him to be outlawed as a heretic; he was to be arrested, there was a a penalty imposed on others for reading and publishing his writings, anyone giving him food or shelter would be a criminal, and anyone killing him would face no legal consequences.
More exciting story to come…!
As I write this article it is May 2017, 500 less four years since that. We owe quite a debt to Luther. I’ll discuss that in another newsletter!
Sincerely yours for the Gospel.
A question about the Reformation was posed to me last week by a home-bound member who has been watching TV preachers lately. She was confused because last week’s Easter Sunday message by the preacher on TV was against infant baptism. She wanted to know what our church says and if Martin Luther ever wrote against infant baptism.
Luther protested about many teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of his time, but the practice of infant baptism was not one of them. Our newsletter articles of late have already covered many of Luther’s chief teachings about salvation (rally, St. Paul’s), like faith alone, grace alone, and scripture alone, and how he stood opposed to ideas like salvation by good works and the authority of Church traditions versus the scriptures.
Luther was happy with the grace of God as he saw it present in infant baptism, noting that it was altogether proof of God’s love and full acceptance of us for Christ’s sake that God would embrace children into His kingdom, not for their sake or for anything they had done. Luther did not insist that one had to have the faith and understanding of adults to be in the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus himself said, “allow the little children to come to me, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.”
We should be joyous that God has offered a way for all persons to be part of His kingdom, not just mature-thinking adults. Otherwise, what hope would there be for others not so blessed?
Peter preached in his sermon on Pentecost that the gifts of faith and holy baptism were for all—for “you and for your children” (Acts 2:39), not doubting that baptism was effective for children for their salvation, for he wrote elsewhere, “this baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).
Our home-bound member told me more that the preacher on TV said, including that adults who had been baptized as infants had to be baptized again. But the Bible never tells anybody to be re-baptized, even though there were whole families (we’ll assume there were young ones) in the book of Acts that were baptized. Regarding the family of Cornelius (11:14), the family of Lydia (16:15), and the family of the Philippian jailor (16:31)—the whole household was baptized on the same evening that the head of their family was baptized and they were promised salvation. Nothing was ever said about them having to be baptized again at a later time.
A precedent for early child baptism is found in the Old Testament. God chose the people of Israel as his covenant people and members were initiated into that faith community by means of circumcision. This happened at the age of eight days. If God accepted people into his faith community at such a young age back then, why would God not accept a little child from a Christian family into the faith of the New Testament? After all, “this promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39).
Luther’s view was that practicing baptism in such a way had produced a full harvest of great Christians throughout the years of the Christian Church (The Large Catechism). Therefore, there is no need to practice re-baptism, especially since the Bible states there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
Practicing the faith—
What is vocation? This was the subject of our recent NALC retreat and continuing education event for pastors. What is vocation and why should it humble us as well as help us realize our value and the importance God places on our life?
In our time people refer to the work that they do for employment as their vocation. In the pre-sixteenth century, the time before Martin Luther, people speaking of someone’s vocation often meant religious orders or a calling to religious life. A calling to the priesthood, for instance, was referred to as a vocation. Luther, however, saw vocation as what everybody does for God in all areas—for family, for work, and for public life where you were involved in the church, in politics and in the community.
When Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic he could no longer be a priest. Many people, men and women, left the religious life. Luther had to think about what his calling was and what vocation really was.
Did you ever think that God called you in the same way God called me to be a pastor? Called you to be a parent? A farmer? A member of the church with gifts you could share? A tax-paying, voting citizen? A member of the community with responsibilities you were able to do? That elevates the thought that whatever we—all of us—have been given by God to do, is holy, special, and used by God for His own purposes. For instance, when the farmer brings in the harvest he is helping God answer the prayers of His people for “daily bread.”
The petition ‘Give us this day our daily bread” is answered by God by calling some people to be farmers, some people truck drivers, some people store owners, some people security guards, and some people lawyers and judges to keep the peace so that food can safely end up in the hands of hungry people who are asking for “daily bread.” Soldiers keep peace for the whole country so that commerce and trade for needed items can continue uninterrupted.
Yes, God needs some who, when the necessities of life are interfered with, will prevent this from happening and protect us from wrong-doers who would threaten us. God also calls people who govern us. That’s why we should especially pray for them. God cares about every aspect of life. He cares about our health and calls those who can help us in medical areas so that His spiritual purposes for us also may not be thwarted. In other words, God in His fatherly goodness cares about “everything that pertains to daily life,” which is what “daily bread” means, according to Luther’s Large Catechism, the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
So you have a vocation! God does not just call a few to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, though He does call some to do that. God calls YOU. In your life God is hoping to work through you as a student learning a livelihood. In your life God is hoping to work through you in your relationships, where you live, as you cook and clean and tend the home. God does not just call pastors. He calls everybody to live the Christian life in every arena they find themselves and to be willing to serve Him in every area, to call upon his great help in every trouble, and to know He will answer, and to follow Him even when fishing for just plain fish.
God enjoys being present in everything we put our hand to and will do so whenever we offer “to do what we do” for His glory. God Himself may well be enjoying playing a game with a child through you, or as Luther said, “milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid,“ answering the prayer to “give us this day our daily bread” through YOU.
With prayers for you as you pursue your vocation, especially those who graduate.
The Lutheran Reformation that is celebrated this year highlights the doctrines on which our church takes a stand. A doctrine is a major teaching that our Bible presents and Lutherans uphold the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the two natures of Christ (his humanity and divinity) and the doctrine of justification by faith. You should find that all true Christian denominations agree on the first two; not all agree that “justification by faith” deserves to be up there with the other two.
However, “justification by faith” is the idea first presented in scripture (read key passages in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians) that we are “justified,” that is “made right with God” on the basis of faith, not by our earning our “rightness with God” with things we do.
Tied in with faith is grace; we are justified with God on the basis of faith alone, by grace alone. That is, it is God’s good “gracious“ gift to us. Grace means God does this for us, for Christ’s sake, not because we have earned or deserved it.
Now we see a pattern and Lutherans are often fond of saying, “saved by faith alone, by grace alone, because of Christ alone.” And lest anyone forget the great cost He paid for this I sometimes add “by the cross alone.”
What is essential to understanding the above is the Bible; so Lutherans sometimes add “as found or presented in the scriptures alone.”
We often hear this group of “alone” assertions called the “solas,” The word “sola” means “ alone,” So “faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, scripture alone” is a good way of understanding the model the Lutheran Church holds forth.
The Reformation stood for these ideas; stood often against fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church, although you can find these same teachings in many Catholic writings through the centuries by their great theologians, like Augustine. However the Catholic Church at the time of Martin Luther would not agree with Luther on these (on many other points as well) and thus there was a parting of the ways.
Recently much publicity has appeared around the idea that we Lutherans are getting together with Roman Catholics and some other denominations, saying that we now all agree about “justification by faith.” However, this pastor looks carefully at what the other churches are saying behind the scenes and is not yet ready to say that Lutherans are not still sitting center stage on the right understanding of this doctrine.
More on other issues of the Reformation to come…
Pleasantly feeling proud to be a Lutheran,
In a recent article, our NALC Bishop said:
“The nature of revelation is to expose what was hidden, to shed light on something that was concealed, to make known or provide insight. When something is revealed we see it! Jesus uses the contrast between light and darkness in a variety of ways. He is the light of the world. The Word of God in its entirety bears witness to that light. Holy Scripture exposes us to that light.
This light is critical for visionary leadership in ministry and is a light that brings true insight.
In fact I believe Jesus wants us to see or envision the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven He came to proclaim. It is not something accomplished with our physical eyes but through the ‘eyes of faith.’ “
Last month I continued his thought by showing how our physical eyes are an example of our “spiritual” eyes. The eye can have problems physically, and the spiritual eye can have similar problems. For instance, the physical eye can be nearsighted, seeing only the near things clearly, or farsighted, seeing only the far things clearly. Similarly, our spiritual eye might be nearsighted, or farsighted, seeing what is near but not far, etc.
Today’s example of eye problems is macular degeneration. With macular degeneration the eyesight is around the sides but a core in the center is missing. People cannot drive because they cannot see what is straight-on, or see faces that are straight ahead. This would be the spiritual equivalent to failing to see the central core mission that Jesus had for all churches—that they would get the Gospel out to all nations.
Now I have been considering what could be my Christmas message in this newsletter and have churned out what could be another application for macular degeneration of our spiritual eyes. And that would be to not see the central blessing of our Lord and Savior’s Gospel/good news for us. For instance, some people “see” that Christmas is for families, for fun, for shopping, for pleasure. But those are the blessings of Christmas-time that are on the outside of the central core. The central core of Christmas is a message that is proclaimed in churches, not in the outer (secular) world.
That message is that God came as a baby, as Jesus, to our world, just to show His love, chiefly through dying for us so that we can live for Him, now and eternally.
If we lose the central core vision of what the Christmas message is, and only have the outer family, fun, shopping, and pleasure part that is on the outer perimeter of what we see at Christmas-time, that would be a form of “spiritual” macular degeneration.
With such macular degeneration vision, we shall surely crash in life and we will never see correctly our own life or the people in our life.
Now is the time to let others know what is the central core of your life. It is not all about family, fun, shopping, and pleasure, for these ultimately will not last. It is a message that changes your life completely, and for the better. It is the message that God is for us and with us, so much that He came to us as a little babe in Bethlehem to reveal Himself and to save us, so that through us He could express His Gospel to the whole world.
Yes, He is with us—He is Emmanuel. God is with us, with forgiveness in His eyes, to love us, to understand our needs, to care for us, to be with us always, and to bless us eternally.
He is the center of our lives…clearly!
A recent article written by our bishop, the Rev. Dr. John Bradosky, brought up an interesting idea to me and showed me the need to understand congregational thinking and the way it varies from person to person. His article likened the way people see things physically to the way people see things spiritually.
He began his article saying that people in a congregation need to see things the same way in order to get together on the same plan. And every church needs a plan. Some people think the plan is for everything to go smoothly and for all challenges to be solved as simply and as easily as possible. Sometimes it is said—“the older I get, the more I want ‘simple’ and ‘easy.’ “ That is fine and I might agree, except not all challenges are going to go away simply and easily. To be solved well it may take an effort within ourselves to get us to address things in the best possible way…which may be a hard way.
The Bishop reminds us that if all the people in the church do not see reality in the same way they will have trouble with a plan from the start. For example, what direction should our congregation be taking in the next year…five years…twenty years? Many people feel we have a problem with not having enough young people to carry on into the next forty years. But what is our plan for that? Do nothing? That would be the simple, easy plan. But that is not the most effective plan, and therefore not the best plan.
Now take the eye for example. Some eyes are nearsighted. They can see things near but not far away. Our Bishop says, “Spiritually we become so caught up in the immediacy of the present—the things right around us—that we can’t see anything else.” The only direction we seem to have is to keep on the same course we have taken before; “maintaining” things as they have always been, because even just maintaining things is taking a lot of our time.
Some eyes are farsighted. They can see things far away but not close up. The Bishop says, “Spiritually we become so caught up in imagining the future that we fail to see the current reality” that is right in front of us. This kind of vision doesn’t provide a plan or practical step-by-step direction, as farsighted ones are dreamers but “fail to discern a strategy to get to a goal that makes sense.”
With nearsightedness, we maintain our building. And we maintain our slow and steady administration of the practical side of church existence. This is good and necessary. But no vision excites us; the future and what to do about it seems to be an empty stare into a gray fog.
With farsightedness we have enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God and the message of the Gospel but after we speak of it and hear it we go home thinking we have done everything that has to be done. Farsightedness gets us off to a good start and it makes us feel good, but it hardly accomplished much.
I know I am (spiritually speaking) a farsighted kind of person. What kind do you think you are? Do you think you are farsighted or nearsighted? What can we all do to come together as nearsighted and farsighted people? Can we start with agreeing that we need to see the same thing and be able to come up with what that is?
My hope is that the council will be working with these questions. I invite you to join in the conversation!