Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sermon - New Year's Eve - Isaiah 51 and Matthew 1

New Year’s Eve
December 31st, 2005
Isaiah 51:1-6 (Matthew 1:18-21)
“A Chip Off the Old Block”

I. Introduction –
As another year draws to a close, we naturally think of the events of the past 12 months, and reflect, and evaluate the year now closing. Has 2005 been a good year? In the news, there have been, as always are, major stories. Hurricanes, Supreme Court Nominations, and a new Pope. History books years from now may well recall the many events of 2005.

But what are the top stories in your life? A new job? A new relationship? A graduation or some other major turning point? Maybe this year was, well, just another year. Historical, or forgettable?

In any case it’s a good time to look back, and also to look forward. And so here, as we gather around God’s word, we do the same. Tonight I want to touch on both our reading from Isaiah and also part of Matthew’s Christmas account – both of which you just heard.

II. “Look to the rock from which you were cut”
We Americans, many have said, have little to no sense of history. Richard Lederer, a history teacher, must know this well. Over the years, he has recorded various mistakes his students have made in their lessons. He then pieced together some of these mistakes into a quite interesting history of the Bible:

In the first book of the Bible, Guinesses, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked "Am I my brother's son?" God asked Abraham to sacrifice Issac on Mount Montezuma. Jacob, son of Issac, stole his brother's birthmark. Jacob was a partiarch who brought up his twelve sons to be partiarchs, but they did not take to it. One of Jacob's sons, Joseph, gave refuse to the Israelites.

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make bread without straw. Moses led them to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments. David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar. Solomon, one of David's sons, had 500 wives and 500 porcupines.

But especially for Christians, it’s important to know our history. Just as it was for the ancient Israelites. Here in Isaiah, we read a prophecy about the Messiah. But first, he calls the people of Israel to remember their history, that is, where they came from. “Look to the rock from which you were cut… the quarry from which you were hewn”.

They followed in the line of Abraham’s descendants. Abraham was a man of great faith, but the Israelites weren’t always a “chip off the old block”. Their faith flagged and wavered. The did not always stand fast. Still the encouragement here is to remember Abraham and your fathers, and to be LIKE them. To trust God and his promises.

The application to us is clear. We, the spiritual children of Abraham, also need the reminder of the “rock from which [we] were cut”. Well, there’s Adam, from whom we inherit our sinful nature – like father, like son and daughter. Born of the dust, the clay, the rock of our sinful parents, we follow in their footsteps of sin. Genesis makes it clear: God made Adam in his image. But Adam brought forth sons in his own (now tainted) image.

Then there’s Abraham and all the other people of faith, from whom we inherit the promises of God. We are children of Abraham, by faith, Hebrews tells us. And the good news is that we are born of the Rock that it Christ, reborn in the waters of baptism, we are a new creation.

We are now, in Christ, “A Chip off the old block”. For he has made us his own. He became one of us to make us like him - holy and righteous. Hm… righteous. Like Joseph…

III. “Because Joseph was a righteous Man”
Joseph was a righteous man, Matthew says. Here he doesn’t mean Joseph was sinless, or righteous on his own account. But he was a faithful believer who trusted God as we do. Still, had Jesus been born with Joseph as his true earthly father, He would have inherited Joseph’s nature, as we do from our parents. And Joseph’s sinful nature was certainly NOT righteous. That’s why the miraculous, virgin birth of the Christ is so important. We have a savior who is both human (via his mother Mary) and Divine (via God his Father). He was born, “not by human effort, or of a husband’s will”, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

No, Joseph couldn’t have been our Savior. Nor could any son of Joseph’s. Only the God-man, Jesus Christ could offer his own righteousness to make us righteous. Only he, the spotless Lamb of God could be offered on the altar of the cross for the sins of the world. In this sense, Jesus is certainly no “Chip off the old block”, when it comes to Joseph. But he is one with his true Father, the Heavenly Father. Just as God’s mighty arm saved the Israelites of the Old Testament, so does God’s mighty Son save the New Israel, his church.
IV. “Call him Jesus”
On this New Year’s Eve, it is the church’s tradition to focus on the Naming of Jesus. That his name, “Jesus”, means “God saves” or simply, “Savior”. He might have been known as “Jesus of Nazareth” or “Jesus, Son of Joseph”. But he is always the Savior, and ONLY he is the Savior.
Of course this Jesus is known by so many other names – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – he is called the Lamb of God and the Prophet of the Most High, He is David’s Son and David’s Lord. He is the Word made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. And in all these names, we learn something more about him. Something more about his gracious character, and his mercy toward sinners. We see him revealed more and more as Savior. Our savior.

As we look back, already to Christmas not even a week away… and yet already so much has changed. As we look back over the last year, maybe it seemed long, or maybe it went by in a blur. As we look back into the ages, and see the faithfulness of God to his people – to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Isaiah – And we look back to Bethlehem and to Calvary and to the empty tomb in the garden – we look back to see 11 men looking up into the sky and wondering where their Lord has gone and why. And the angels reminded them to also look forward… he will come again!

So here at the cusp of a new year, let us look forward to another year with Jesus as our Savior. Another year full of hearing his word, receiving his body and blood, and enjoying the countless gifts and blessings he brings to our lives. May we always “Look to the Rock from which [we] were cut”, remembering God’s gracious work done for us, and Look to the future with faith in the one named “Jesus”. “God Saves”. For he has saved, and will save us! In that precious, mighty, and holy name. Amen.

V. Conclusion Jesus, “a chip off the old block”. The Son of Man and Son of God who is born to be our Savior. Thank him for the blessings of the past, and promises of the future.

Friday, December 30, 2005

"Cheap Mondays "

A maker of designer Jeans in Sweeden is raking it in by using anti-Christian symbols in his designs.
The Lutheran Church of Sweeden's spokesman offers a tepid reaction:

"I don't think it's much to be horrified about," said Bo Larsson, director of the Church of Sweden's department of Education, Research and Culture.

Read the full story from FoxNews here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Silly Putty? Just Silly. The Church Doctor.

Who doesn't want their church to grow? Not only spiritually, but numerically? Most Christians, most pastors, would love to have more bodies in the pew.

So when some of us pitch a fit about the dangers of "Church Growth" I think the uninformed scratch their heads a little. "Don't you want the church to grow?"

Of course we do. But the right way. God's way. "Church Growth" has become a moniker for a certain approach - which is not God's way.

I surfed into the Lutheran Evangelism Association (LCMS?) web page, and found on their links this listing: The Church Doctor.

So I surfed on over there, and read the following:

Silly Putty

Who shapes your life?

When you were a kid, did you ever play with Silly Putty? You could mold and shape it to do just about anything you wanted. What’s the power that shapes your life? The Bible says you’re to be like clay. And God wants to shape you.

The world has a different set of values. Shaped by the things of this world, you become kind of like Silly Putty. Want to be shaped and molded by God? Here’s my prescription: Do what He wants. Read the Bible. Follow its truth. Pray each day. Choose to be joyful. “God shape me! Show me Your will. Lead the way.” And put aside your comforts and desires. Let the Lord shape you up!

Gee... sounds like a lot of works righteousness to me. "Do what he wants" but not "believe and trust Christ". As if God molds you through your works, not by re-creating you in baptism.

Well... anyway, I read about their various programs and gimmicks, including:

The $375 "Apathy Quotient Inventory" (as Dave Barry would say, "I am not making this up..." and, "who cares about apathy, anyway?", but I digress). There you can learn just how little your congregation cares? Oh.. the process "activates people for ministry". Color me skeptical.

This whole website, in fact the whole "Church Growth" movement in general, seems to me more silly than silly putty. You don't crassly market God like a vacuum cleaner. Slick advertising and fancy inventories only distract from more substantial things - like faithful preaching, teaching, the sacraments. These are God's "Church Growth" strategies. The "Church Doctor". Christ is the Great Physician. And what this doctor prescribes is not "be good", but "believe" and "receive".

Gandalf and Luther

Did you know that Ian McKellen


(and Magneto)

once played Martin Luther?

Check it out here!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tagged by Beefstew

Well, it's another game of tag. So here's my five:

1. I just won a 12 player fantasy football league, finished 3rd in the one that I run, and 2nd in the fledgling Higher Things league. Not bad, eh?

2. As a 10 year old (or so) I "officiated" at a "Tom Thumb Wedding". The bride/groom and wedding party were kindgergartners, and I was the "preacher" in this mock ceremony. I'm not sure what the point of it was, but it was a strange foreshadowing of my future anyway. Here's some pics:

3. I use a Tracfone (disposable cell phone). But not that much.

4. I drive a Geo Prizm. When I first got the car, I once mis-typed it, "Getto".
Since then I have called it my "Ghetto Prison". It looks like this (sort of):

5. Though I don't get to it often, I enjoy photographing cemetery monuments.
Here is one of my favorites:

Guess I tag: St. James the Hoosier

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Book Recommendation

For some fun reading, try this little paperback I received as a Christmas gift: The Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse by Jason Boyett. Funny, and yet, informative in a strange sort of way. Includes a chapter of candidates for Antichrist. Also a timeline of wrong predictions for the end times. Boyett does a good job of poking fun without going TOO far. One reviewer on Amazon called it a "Dave Barry's Travel guide to the End Times". Sounds good to me!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Sermon - Christmas Day - Luke 2:1-20

The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Day 2005
Luke 2:1-20
“Christmas’ed Out”

I. Introduction –

A blessed Christmas day to you. As we celebrate the second highest holiday of the Christian calendar, I pray that your day, that this season, is filled with all the joy, and love, and happiness, and warmth and hope and peace… well, maybe that’s not so realistic.

For many people, and perhaps for you too, by this time we are “Christmas’ed out”. Like a vacation that looks great in the brochure, but once you get there you can’t wait to come home. For many of us this time of year, the stress, the hassle, the shopping, cooking, hurrying, the visiting, and all the other stuff we HAVE to do… might not seem worth it. For most, there’s at least a part of us that is glad Christmas is here, so we can get on with other things.

II. Bah Humbug
Perhaps Mary and Joseph had the first case of “Bah Humbug” Christmas stress. You can imagine the difficulty of the journey – and Mary “great with child”. Some very pregnant women have difficulty even walking, much less traveling over 70 miles of rocky countryside and dusty roads.We can imagine what the people were saying about her and her mysterious pregnancy. Under such a cloud of suspicion, maybe she was more than happy to “get away” for a while.
Perhaps Joseph felt the burden that rested on his shoulders, and wasn’t in the “Christmas spirit”, knowing that he would have to care for a child – and not on his time-table. What an inconvenient time for this census, too, by the way!

Perhaps you too have a little “bath humbug” going on. We build Christmas up to be such a spectacular event, it’s easy to get disappointed, to become jaded. Whatever your struggles with life this Christmas, you will not find ultimate answers in the wrapping paper and the lights, the egg nog and the figgy pudding. Visiting with family is nice, seeing the wonderment of a child brings some warm fuzzies. But there is only one true answer to the bah-humbug. There is only one who can keep us from being “Christmas’ed out”. He is the Christ the Lord.

III. Mary’s Treasures
It’s often noticed how scripture doesn’t often tell you what someone was feeling. It doesn’t usually tell you what someone thinks. But here we have a little bit of a window into Mary’s heart and mind. “She treasured up these things and pondered them in her heart”. Even this doesn’t tell us that Mary was full of pleasant emotions, or sappy sentimentalism. But it does tell us that her heart and mind – presumably for decades – dwelled on the treasures of this Christmas story.

We have a children’s book about a family of bears who go on a vacation. It’s supposed to be this wonderful getaway at a cabin in the woods. It turns out they encounter a skunk, the cabin is dirty, the food is bad, and it rains the whole time. But all the while they take pictures. And at the end of the book, it tell s how they take out the pictures every so often and enjoy their memories of “worst vacation they ever had”.

The treasures of the Christmas story are much like that. The stress of an unusual pregnancy. A long, tough journey. A no vacancy sign at the inn. A humble crib – a feeding trough. Strangers - smelly shepherds barging in to see the baby. In many ways, it couldn’t have been a worse vacation. And yet for Mary, and for us, these are treasures to ponder.

And the greatest treasure of them all, of course, is the child himself. He who makes everything else matter so little. He turns the bad into good. He brings light to darkness, life to death, and God’s favor to sinners. He, the very Son of God, stooped down to take on human flesh, to live, to die, to rise, and to save. Mary treasured this greatest treasure. So do we.

She would “ponder all these things” as Jesus carried out his work for our salvation. As the baby Jesus was blessed by Simeon at the temple. As the boy Jesus stayed behind in the temple. As the man Jesus changed water into wine. As he preached and taught, cast out demons, healed the sick, commanded nature, and raised the dead to life.

And Mary would ponder the treasures also at the foot of a Roman cross, as her Son – once a precious baby – would now suffer the wrath of God for the sins of the world. Then Mary saw the true measure of the treasure she and all the world received on that “silent night” years ago. A God who takes flesh to die for his people.

When all the so-called treasures that obscure the true treasure are stripped away, and we are left with a manger that leads only to the cross, then we, like Mary, can ponder in our hearts the true treasure that is Christ. And Christmas becomes, once again, about Christ. And how can we “bah humbug” such a treasure?

IV. Glorifying God
There were at least some who were not “Christmas’ed out” on that first Christmas. Take the angels. They appeared in multitude to sing a song the shepherds would hear, but a song that was directed to God, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth.” We sing that song to this day in the church.

And the shepherds, they saw the Treasure, and spend little time pondering, but like the angels, went to tell! They too “glorified God”. Not telling so much about the angels, but “everything they had been told concerning this child”. Singing and telling, glorifying God, both angels and shepherds treasured this Babe of Bethlehem.

For them, it wasn’t about being “Christmas’ed out”, but getting the message of Christmas out! That this day, a Savior has been born, that he is Christ the Lord. He brings God’s peace and favor to Earth. The shepherds, especially, took a fresh look in the manger. “Let’s go and see” they said. And so have we, come this day, in a sense, to Bethlehem. To see this thing that has happened, this thing we call Christmas. For the shepherds, there was no rampant commercialism or competing cultural custom to obscure the view of the Treasure. They saw him clearly – the long awaited savior - and they glorified God. Let it be so for us as well. As we hear the Savior’s words, we ponder the Treasure. As we receive his Body and Blood, he brings peace on Earth – heavenly peace – to each forgiven sinner.

Whether you are “Christmas’ed out”, and feeling a little “scroogey”, or whether this truly is your favorite day of the year, and even if it’s a little bit of both – join the shepherds, and Mary, and the angels – in the pondering and the singing and the glorifying – and take a look at the Treasure in the manger, who is Christ the Lord - and have a blessed Christmas. Amen.

V. Conclusion
Perhaps by now, you are “Christmas’ed out”. But take a fresh look in the manger, and see what a Treasure is the babe of Bethlehem. Glory to God in the highest!

Friday, December 23, 2005


I married a third-generation Slovak, and have learned a number of Slovak words and traditions over the years. It's pretty interesting for someone like me, who has no strong ethnic heritage (being an American "mutt").

My wife sent me on a mission yesterday to acquire a traditional Slovak Christmas food, "Oplatky". I called over to our local SELC church (also Missouri Synod Lutheran, but with a Slovak heritage). They make a certain amount of the stuff each year, and sure enough they had just one order left!

Check it out - I think it's a nice tradition. In my wife's family, they eat the oplatky drizzled with honey. I understand Pentecost also uses the oplatky as communion wafer throughout the year.

More ELCA Symptoms

In the apparently terminal illness of the ELCA, another symptom has appeared. Living up to her name, Bishop Payne, of the New England Synod of the ELCA, gives her blessing to same-sex blessings. (Let it be noted that this is the same Bp. Payne who chaired the "sexuality studies task force" - read, "homosexuality task force") In an post from the ALPB site:

At the New England Synod Bishop's Convocation held in Nashua, N.H. on November 7-9, 2005, Bishop Margaret Payne in her bishop's address announced to those in attendance that she interprets Resolution 2 of the three resolutions regarding sexuality adopted in Orlando at the ELCA 2005 Church-wide Assembly to allow for the blessings of unions of same gender couples in committed relationships. These may take place in the churches [that is, the church buildings] provided that pastors, couples, congregations, etc. understand that there is not an official rite of the Church for such blessings. The bishop requested, however, that pastors who intend to perform such blessings should first:

1. inform Bishop Payne
2. discuss the matter with congregation councils
3. not allow same-gender union blessings to become media events.

Bishop Payne said that at present she did not feel called to "ecclesiastical disobedience," but she believes that Resolution 3 deprives the New England Synod and the ELCA of good and faithful pastors who are otherwise qualified to serve the Church. She also stated that she sees no convincing theological arguments for excluding gay and lesbian persons in life-long committed relationships from serving as pastors.

Furthermore, Bishop Payne said that she would respect those pastors, who for reasons of conscience, could not accept or perform same-gender union blessings. Although Bishop Payne felt she needed to resign from the ELCA Sexuality Task Force, she believes her role on the Task Force was a call from God. She stated that she intends to spend more time among the people and congregations of the New England Synod, and that she will stand for re-election as bishop, "but that's up to the Holy Spirit," she said.

--The Rev. Jack R. Whritenour, Trinity Lutheran Church, Shelton, CT

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Suing FOR Christmas

For the last two days, our local paper has run front page stories on Mr. Robert Wortock.

He is about to sue the city.

He is threatening legal action if the city of Racine doesn't put up a nativity scene and signs that say, "Merry Christmas".

You can read the articles here and here.

Here is his opinion piece which appeared on the editorial page (the first one, "Afraid to speak up")

And here is a weblog entry on the topic, by one of our local reporters (Dustin Block - a Buddhist, by the way). There are many comments...

In the "War on Christmas", is the best defense a strong offense?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"7th Heaven" meets "Desperate Housewives"

That's what the upcoming NBC show "The Book of Daniel" sounds like.

I received a comminque' from one "American Family Association", which keeps up on things like this. AFA seems very concerned that the main writer for the show is homosexual. While that doesn't make a show worth watching or not, the show's premise is a little disturbing:

(from AFA):

The main character is Daniel Webster, a drug-addicted Episcopal priest whose wife depends heavily on her mid-day martinis.
Webster regularly sees and talks with a very unconventional white-robed, bearded Jesus.
The Webster family is rounded out by a 23-year-old homosexual Republican son, a 16-year-old daughter who is a drug dealer, and a 16-year-old adopted son who is having sex with the bishop's daughter.
At the office, his lesbian secretary is sleeping with his sister-in-law.

I have to confess, when I saw the previews on TV, with Jesus telling the priest to "read his book", it sounded maybe even a little funny. But I should have known that anytime network TV does "Christianity", bad things happen.

And, do we really need more homosexual characters on TV? Can they do at least ONE show without any?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Lutheran Carnival 13

Lutheran Carnival 13 is up at Aardvark Alley

While there, I also stole a couple of those nifty little blog badges. Thanks, Aardie!

Sermon - Advent 4 - 2 Samuel 7:[1-7] 8-11,16

4th Sunday of Advent – December 18th 2005
2 Samuel 7:[1-7] 8-11,16
“David’s House”

I. Introduction – So with Christmas one week away, are you done with all your shopping? I have found in the past that some people are easier to shop for, and I get those done early. But then there are the more difficult cases. And the question that plagues many a Christmas gift-giver. “What do you get for the person who has everything?”

In today’s Old Testament reading, King David tries to answer that question. Not for a Christmas gift, but he wanted to give something to God, or do something nice for God. What do you get for the person who has REALLY has everything?

God had made David a king, had given him victory over all his enemies, and made him prosperous. David had enjoyed that prosperity, and after making Jerusalem his capital city had a fine palace built for himself. But he got to thinking – the ark of God, the dwelling place of the Lord – was still in a tabernacle, a tent. A temporary dwelling (sort of the ancient version of a mobile home). But David in a fine palace. This wasn’t right God deserved better. So David got his idea. I will make God a nice, big, permanent temple! God deserves it! And I can make it happen.

II. What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Like David, many of us think first of ourselves, and give to God as an afterthought. It’s a milder form of selfishness. Still, we might give credit to David for at least THINKING of the Lord. What he wanted to do was an honorable thing. It was nice. Surely David at least meant well.

But God had other plans. In fact, God (through the prophet Nathan) squelched the idea, shot it down. “David, when did I ever – in the last 200 years – asked ANY of my people to do something like this?”

We are not unlike David. We humans try to come up with our own ways to please God. And in doing so, we fail to please God. We think we know better than God does what he wants. We fail to listen closely enough to what he actually says, what he really asks for and demands.

How many people, even some Christians, think the message of the Bible is “be good – pretty good anyway – and get to heaven!” I heard a radio spot by a Roman Catholic priest just this week, which claimed Christianity teaches self-sacrifice is the way we get to heaven. This is simply wrong.

Christians know that we can do nothing for God that is good enough to please him. Nothing on our own, that is. “No merit or worthiness in me” our catechisms says. No bright idea. No exertion of effort. No persistence of prayer or worship or involvement in charity, no amount of financial sacrifice can put a smile on his face.

As the prophet Micah asks the rhetorical question, “with what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, shall I come before him with yearling calf, will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams? With ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give him my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” And rhetorical answer, of course, is no.

We know, like David, that we owe God something. We know that our sin is great, and something must be done. But we also know that God is the one to do something about it, in the person of his son, Jesus Christ!

III. God Builds a House for David
As usual, God has a better idea. His plan, as he tells Nathan and Nathan relates to David, is that “The Lord himself will establish a house for you!”
And in a twist on the word “house”, God makes a promise to David that comes true in Christ. Here’s how it goes.

“Your house” (that is your dynasty) “will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever”. David’s royal line is what God means. That a son of David’s (from David’s house) would rule on David’s throne forever.

You don’t have to be a professor of history to know that David’s throne, or his royal lineage, didn’t last forever. Like every other empire that rises and falls, so too did ancient Israel fall to the Babylonians. And never again, and certainly not to this day, did a king with David’s blood in his veins rule the promised land. But God is not a liar, and so we must understand this promise differently.

And I suspect you know the Son of David to which it truly applies. The one descendant of David in whom this promise is fully fulfilled. It is none other than the Son of God, and the Son of Mary (who was of David’s lineage). David’s house IS established forever in Jesus Christ. David’s throne is occupied forever in Jesus Christ. Jesus, whose royal birth was foretold by the angel to the virgin, that “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

The same Jesus reminded Pilate, and he reminds us, that his “kingdom is not of this world”. He is not like earthly kings with all their wealth and pomp and majesty. He does not enter with a fanfare, but in the still of a Judean night. He is not dressed in royal finery, but wrapped in swaddling clothes. He grows not to lead armies in battle and make his name great, expanding the territory of his people and exacting vengeance on their enemies. He grows to preach, and heal, and serve, and especially to die. Not in glorious battle, but in humble shame, for the sins of his people. And so the cursed cross becomes his throne, the charge of criminal his title, and a borrowed tomb his royal burial chamber. Not much of a king by the world’s standards.

But what earthly king ever rose from the dead? What earthly king ascended to heaven’s throne, and God’s right hand? What earthly king gave his subjects the highest authority in the universe – the power to forgive sins in his name? No earthly king. But our king did, and does.

The Son of David, Jesus Christ, is our king, too. We are the new Israel over whom he rules. Our hearts and lives and spirits are subject to him alone, for he alone has saved us. We belong to him. By his royal blood, we are brought under the protection of God’s house. In his resurrection, we have the royal inheritance of life eternal. We couldn’t do anything for him. But he has done so much, and does so much for us. This is God’s plan. This is the promise to David, now fulfilled.

IV. What, Then, to Do?
So far we have seen that the best laid plans of men to please God are just not good enough. Much better to listen to God’s plans, and to trust him to bring them about. But having received so much, do we then sit idly? Should we then, do nothing at all?

No. For God’s plan is also that his people, forgiven and blessed by Christ the Son of David, would enact the love of Christ in their lives. That you and I, by the power of his Spirit working in us, would grow not only in faith but also in good works. Oh the works don’t build the house, they don’t even add anything to it. But they are expressions of the royal bloodline that we too are now a part of. For in Christ, we are a “holy nation, a royal priesthood”.

THIS is God’s plan. Not that we do things for him. But that he does for us first, in Christ, and then our works of faith follow… As Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

David didn’t build the house for God, God built it for David, in Christ. So too in Christ, we are God’s workmanship – re-created in the waters of baptism and by His word and Spirit calling us to faith. Re-created to be holy and blameless in Christ, and to do the good works He intends.

May we, who now share now in that royal bloodline, respond to God’s plan as did the virgin Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said”. And may our faith in the God who alone builds the house, be followed by works of service and love, for the sake of Jesus Christ – our great king. In His Name, Amen.

V. Conclusion
David wanted to “do something for God”, but instead God does something for him (and us!). God fulfills his promises in Jesus, our eternal king. If we do anything for God, it’s because he has already done for us.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

" 'Holiday' didn't die for you "

Fun original quote from one of my members as we discsussed the war on Christmas in this Sunday's Bible Class. Thanks, Gloria!

Sheltering Children

Dr. Veith on the Cranach blog has some good observations about sheltering children from "negative emotions" one might find in a movie like the recent Narnia film.

In my comments to his post, I said:

This reminds me of the shift I have seen in the bedtime prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep..."

Instead of "If I shall die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take" we now hear, "May angels watch me through the night until I wake in morning light". I refuse to use the newer version with my daughter, and teach her the one I learned as a child.

I also have a little statuette my father-in-law gave me, in which a boy is kneeling to pray, and it reads, " 'Now I lay me down to sleep,' a little boy once said, 'If I should die before I wake, how will I know I'm dead?"

Children need to know about death. They also need to know about the one who rescues us from death. How do you teach children about the cross without teaching them about death?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Stumbling on Stiegemeyer


As I mentioned, my wife is the more "anti-santa" in our home, and when she went to the local Christian book store came home with a book about the "real Saint Nicholas". She had been looking for something on the real story of Santa.

As I sat down to read it with my four year old, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but the author's unmistakable last name of "Stiegemeyer". Small LCMS World, eh?

Anyway, nice book, Julie! And to everyone else, I recommend it:

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend

If you buy it online, you can do so through Rev. Stiegemeyer's blog, Burr in the Burgh, and I think they get an extra 20 cents or something.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Bloggers are Coming!

Just announced, the 1st annual

"Confessional Lutheran Bloggers Conference"

When: January 16, 2006 7:30 to 9PM (The day before Symposia)
Where: Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft Wayne, IN
Who: Lutheran Bloggers and Friends.

Speakers will include Rev. Snyder of Ask the Pastor, and possibly Dr. Veith of Cranach. The topic will be the effect that Lutheran Bloggers are having on the church body.

To receive more info and updates, go to the Lutheran Blog Directory and sign up in the google group box near the top.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sermon - Isaiah 61:1-3,10-11 - Advent 3

3rd Sunday in Advent – December 11th, 2005
Isaiah 61:1-3,10-11
“Good News”

I. Introduction –
How many different ways can you say the same thing? How many ways to say “I love you”? How many ways to say “yes” or “no” or “thanks”?
How many different ways can we express the content of our faith? Jesus loves me this I know. Jesus died for us on the cross. He forgives my sins. He saves me, reconciles me to God, renews my life, makes me his child, promises an inheritance, makes us holy, righteous, blameless. He redeems us, he defeats the devil, he rescues us, restores us…. Well, I could go on.

While sometimes it’s a challenge for the preacher to express the truth of the Gospel in a fresh way, in reality, there are so many ways it can be said. Just ask Isaiah. Today’s reading, a messianic prophecy, bubbles over with a multitude of expressions – all telling the same good news that Christ brings.

II. …Good News to the Poor…
A young child was working feverishly to draw a picture. Breaking his hard concentration, his mother asked him,. “what are you drawing?”

“I’m drawing a picture of God,” he said.

To which his mother inquired, “But nobody knows what God looks like…”

This didn’t stop the boy, who simply said, “They will when I am done!”

Isaiah, in a sense, is painting a picture for us today of what it will look like when the Messiah comes. He was looking forward to that day. And we look both back on the Christ who came and forward to the Christ who is to come. Either way, when Christ comes, things look different.

Jesus turns everything upside down in this listing of opposites – “not this, but that”

In our sin, we are all these things and more: poor, brokenhearted, captives, prisoners, mourners, filthy with ashes, filled with despair.

But in our savior we are: rich, healed, free, comforted, clean, beautiful, and full of praise to our great God.

The good news he brings is ALWAYS the answer to the problem we are having. Are you poor? Christ makes you rich. Are you soiled? He makes you clean. Are you mourning? He brings you comfort. Are you captive? He makes you free.

Perhaps you’ve seen the series of commercials, in which someone has a problem, and another says, “but I have good news!” “well what is it?” “I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance…”

Jesus has good news, and it has nothing to do with insurance. It is a good news which actually applies to us and our problems. It is a good news that is real and meaningful and powerful. He comes to turn our sinful world upside down.

John the Baptist had a part in painting the picture too. John’s news was that someone was coming with greater news. But (in Luke 7) even John had his moments of doubt. Thrown in prison for speaking up against Herod, John sent some disciples to ask if Jesus really was the one after all. And better than giving a simple yes or no, Jesus says,

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

Jesus reverses all these conditions: Blindness, Deafeness, Lameness, Leprosy and even Death. But the real kicker, the most important part is the last – that the good news is preached to the poor. It’s as if Jesus is pointing John (and us) back to Isaiah 61 – to show that, yes, he fulfills the promise, he delivers the goods, he brings the good news.

But there’s two more pictures of what life is like when Christ comes, two more ways of describing this good news:

III. Dressed for the Occasion
With Christmas approaching, perhaps you have a special outfit in mind.
We often dress up for special occasions. And perhaps no life event is more formal than a wedding.

Isaiah picks up on that image – that when the Lord comes, it will be like a wedding. A day which is long awaited. A day which is a great celebration. A day which is a highpoint of the year – even, of your life. So dress appropriately!

But what if you have nothing to wear? That’s how we all are. We look in the closet of our heart and find that the moths of sin have destroyed the garments. We have nothing of our own to wear, except, as Isaiah puts it, “a spirit of despair”.

We are like Adam and Eve, shamefully hiding our sins from the Lord. The best they could do was sew together some fig leaves – makeshift coverings at best. When God comes to the garden, He is well aware of their sin. But rather than shame them further, he provides for them. In his mercy, he makes them clothing from the skin of animals.

As Adam and Eve are dressed by the Lord, we too must be dressed by him. But for us, there isn’t a dead animal and a fur coat. Instead God sacrifices his son, and we are clothed with Christ. As Revelation 7 says it, those in heaven have “washed their robes in the blood of the lamb”. Or, as Isaiah here says, “he has clothed me with garments of salvation, and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness”. That’s what things look like when the Messiah comes. That’s how God dresses us in Christ. That’s the good news!

And one final image:

IV. The Garden of Righteousness
Now to the agricultural. Twice Isaiah refers to this planting. And here too there is a great change afoot, and good news to hear.

From the tiny acorn to the might oak tree – one of nature’s great contrasts.
Like the faith the size of a mustard seed, which grows to a large bush.
When God begins, he seems to start out small. But before you know it, big things happen.

Our faith is like that too. It begins with a few words, and a little water. And this small thing we call baptism has the power to save a soul for eternity! God starts small, and ends big!

Not too unlike the humble babe in a manger, who as a man dies in shame on a Roman cross, and by doing so pays for the sins of the world. God takes the small, the humble, the lowly, and he works wonders.

And of course, as always, God does the doing. Just as he sends the messenger with the good news, just as he takes the spirit of despair and clothes us with a garment of praise, so too the righteousness he brings to us and for us, he plants it, he waters it, he makes it grow. We simply receive the blessings.

Today, we hear the good news. Whether it’s about new clothes or an impressive garden, or a little baby in a manger - it’s the same good news we always hear, told in slightly different ways. Christ always brings good news to the poor.

V. Conclusion
Isaiah’s poetic prophecy makes it clear - the good news of Jesus brings rejoicing where there was despair. Let us ever delight in the Lord!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Oh, Tuesday Night"

I don't usually stay up late enough on Saturday to watch "Saturday Night Live", but for some reason this week I caught the opening skit, and it was a fun piece of satire. I share Doug Howe's post about it from

"Saturday Night Live" at its finest is satire, not just comedy. At its satirical and relevant best, it offered some neutered and politically unoffensive versions of "holiday" carols on this week's show. In so doing, one of the most traditionally irreligious shows on television succeeded in displaying the limited value of a neutered holiday. Among the lyrics:

"Silent Night, Regular Night..."

"Away in barn box..."

"The stars in the sky shine down cuz its night, the lamb and a donkey just got in a fight..."

"Oh Tuesday Night, the starts are brightly shining / It is the night to watch tv and play cards... Fall on your knees, and do a jigsaw puzzle /Just stay inside, tonight
(big finish here!) Just stay-ay-ay-ay, Insi -ih-ih-ih-ide, Inside tonight. "

The Christmas reading, the Story of the Holiday's Birth, was then delivered by Pastor Donald Trump: "The shepherds were watching their flocks by night when a community civic leader came to inform them that a woman of unknown ethnicity was having a baby in the barn box."

The event then culminated with the Handel's revised "How Ya Doin’" chorus: "Howyadoin’ howyadoin; howarya-doin’."

I was laughing but wasn't doing fine, and made a decision to read the Christmas story as often as possible with my kids this season. I suggest you do the same if Christmas is important in your spiritual journey. Otherwise, "Hark the Sale, Commercials Sing" may be as holiday-ish as it gets for them... and their kids.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What to Do with Santa?

Conservative Jewish moral philosopher (and radio talk show host) Dennis Prager has an interesting article, "In Defense of Santa Claus"

In our house, my wife is the big anti-santa. Her objection seems two-fold. One is the honesty factor. Two is the emphasis (Santa vs. Christ). I'm with Prager more on the honesty factor (we let her watch Barney without the caveat that it's a guy in a purple dinosaur suit). I'm with my wife on the emphasis factor.

Cute story though: Our four year old heard "Here Comes Santa Claus" on the radio, and spontaneously started singing "Here Comes Jesus" instead.

Cute story two: She said to her mom, "I wish Santa was real. I'm going to talk to God and ask him to make Santa real". Kids. Gotta love 'em!

You can read more Lutheran reflections on Santa Claus at these blogs:

Burr in the Burgh


Incarnatus Est

Monday, December 05, 2005

Bachelor's in Fatherhood?

Today, my older daughter turns 4 years old.

As most parents, I am amazed at how quickly the years have gone by.

I also wonder whether I learned more in my four years of college, four years of seminary, or four years of parenthood. It could be a close call.

Anway, reflections and insights from these 4 years:

- Children can push you to the limits of human emotion, both good and bad, and cause you to react in ways you never thought such a small creature could.

- The stupidest words I ever said (out loud), "Having kids won't change our lives THAT much".

- Having "up close and personal" experience with a child brings new levels of meaning to scriptural ideas and teachings - that God is "our Father", that Jesus commends the faith of Children, even the idea of laying down one's life for another.

- There was some Luther quote I read about Fathers changing diapers because it was a Christ-like thing. I wish I had a quarter for every dirty diaper I changed. But if I had a nickel for every sin of mine God forgave... (then I REALLY wouldn't need Google Adsense)

- Two words: ORIGINAL SIN. Kids give you a lesson it it you will never forget.

- How anyone does this on their own amazes me (single parents). How mothers do what they do amazes me. Single dads get the gold star in my book.

- I am SO not built to be a mom. My wife and I certainly offer different kinds of love to our children. Motherly, and Fatherly, respectively. But I could never do what she does.

And much, much more, of course.

Thank God for the gift of children, and for the many ways He blesses our lives through them.

Three Camps in the LCMS

Just read a fascinating paper by Dr. Adams of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

In it, he outlines a theory that the LCMS today is divided in 3 distinct factions:

Traditional Missouri

Moderate Missouri

Neo-Evangelical Missouri

It's a great read - and to me, it rings true!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sermon - 2nd Sunday of Advent - Mark 1:1-8

2nd Sunday of Advent – December 4th, 2005
Mark 1:1-8
“The Voice of John”

I. Introduction –
Last week I mentioned how the Church celebrates this time before Christmas differently than our secular culture. The culture “jumps the gun” on Christmas in a way, while the church, in the season of Advent, continues wait, anticipate, look forward to the coming Christ.

Likewise, very different visitors appear at this time in the church, and the world. In the “world”, you have the ever-present character of Santa Claus. A jolly old man, obviously well-fed, who wears a tell-tale kind of clothing and knows whether you’ve been naughty or nice.

In the church, a different man appears in Advent, John the Baptist. Would we call him jolly? Probably not. Well fed? If you like eating locusts and wild honey. He does wear a tell-tale kind of clothing – camel hair and a leather belt. And John’s call for repentance shows that he knows – you’ve been naughty, not nice.

So today, the sermon isn’t about Santa Claus, but John the Baptist. But the sermon is also not about John the Baptist. It’s about the One John prepared for. It’s about the One greater than John. Like John’s preaching itself, today’s sermon isn’t about John, it’s about Jesus. Listen to John’s voice, and hear about Jesus.

II. John’s Voice - Breaking the Silence
The voice of prophecy had been silent in Israel for some 400 years. Not since the prophet Malachi, and the last book in the Old Testament, had a prophet spoken. So when John bursts on the scene, and speaks his prophetic sermon, he breaks a long silence.

John also hearkens back to that final prophetic word, by himself fulfilling a prophecy from Malachi’s last chapter, that the prophet Elijah would be sent to prepare the way for the Lord. Remember, God keeps his promises.

John was not Elijah reincarnated, or something silly like that. But he was “in the spirit” of Elijah, and of all the prophets – predicting the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited messianic promise. John wore the clothing of a prophet – dressed very similar to Elijah himself. His garb and his lifestyle were humble – also a witness against decadence and materialism. He resided in the desert – and evoked that prophecy of Isaiah 40 “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord.”

John’s prophetic voice and rather odd actions may stick out in our minds as weird. But there was purpose behind it all. All these things pointed to something deeper about John the Baptist, something which is still worthy of our attention…

III. John’s Message – Repent, He is Near!
Most of us think about John as a Baptizer. Perhaps you even picture him waist-high in the Jordan River. In fact some scholars estimate that John baptized 200,000 to 500,000 people.

But what really caused such a stir was not that John baptized. Baptisms were quite common back then. Ritual washings of all sorts had been around since the dawn of human history in all manner of religious systems. Even in the Judaism of John’s day, Gentile converts were baptized to bring them under the covenant. So why all the fuss about John then?

It wasn’t his baptism, per se. What then caused the sensation that was John the Baptist? Even Jesus (humorously) asks the same question in Luke 7: “What did you go out in to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge themselves in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”

John was a prophet. And a prophet is a messenger. And it was the message of John that drew all the attention. It was his sermon, his preaching, that made the bigger splash than the baptism alone.

John’s message, perhaps summed up best in one word: “Repent!”. It means there is sin that needs to be dealt with. But it also suggests there is a way of dealing with it. Repentance is more than just being sorry, you see: It means contrition (sorrow) for sin, faith in the one who forgives it, and a turning or changing of heart and mind – so that good works always follow. John’s preaching of repentance was not just a harsh slap in the face, it was also an anticipation – a preparation – for the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise.

In fact, his baptism went right alone with his message: “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. And it was a baptism which pointed forward to one who would bring a greater baptism. One who would win the forgiveness that John was offering. In a very real sense, John was preaching about Jesus, his savior – and ours.

IV. John’s Savior – “One Greater Than I”
John’s sermon culminated with an Advent theme: “Someone is coming, who is greater (more powerful) than I” We know he meant Jesus.

But Jesus said in Luke 7, “among those born of women, there is no one greater than John, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Is Jesus contradicting John? Who is it that is really greater? Jesus, or John?We might say that Jesus is greater, and we would be right. John rightly honors his Lord and Savior, saying that he is not worthy to untie his sandal. Only a slave, and a non-Jewish slave, was expected to take off the master’s shoes and wash his dirty feet. John is saying he’s not even worthy to be Jesus’ slave. And he is right. None of us are, in our sin, worthy to come anywhere NEAR the Holy One of God. Jesus is surely greater – he is without sin – he is God of Gods, Light of Light. Jesus is surely greater.

But what Jesus says is true too. The one who is least in the kingdom is greater than even the great prophet John. The one who is least in the kingdom is the one who is the servant, the slave, of all. And who is least in the kingdom? It has to be Jesus. He who makes himself the servant, the slave of all. He who knelt to undo the thong of his disciples’ sandals, and wash their feet. He who knelt in prayer in the garden in submission to His Father’s will. He who submitted to arrest, and torture, and death on a cross – to serve all mankind with his great love. He became the least in the kingdom – despised, rejected, stricken, smitten, afflicted, shamed, ridiculed, and forsaken. He became sin to make us holy. He became the sacrificial lamb of God to make us the children of God. He became least, to make us great.

Today the prophetic voice of John can still be heard, when the Christian preacher points people to Jesus. When repentance is called for, and forgiveness is offered. It’s always based on one greater than ourselves, one who we are not worthy to serve but who served us so greatly. We preach forgiveness and baptize in his name, according to his command. We also proclaim his presence in the sacramental meal, that mysterious presence of Christ among his people. And we too remind the faithful that just as Christ once came, and though he has gone, yet his two-fold promise still stands. “I will be with you always” and “I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come back to take you to be with me”.

American culture sees Santa as the sign that Christmas is coming. But the Church sees John as the sign that Jesus is coming. I think John still gives many Christians pause. We think about his odd appearance and habits, we mull the meaning of his baptism, and we wonder just how it all fits together. But let us also, in this Advent season, ponder the message, the sermon of John. “Repent! For someone great is coming” And let us put our faith and trust and hope in that one, Jesus Christ, our servant and our Lord. Repent, and be forgiven, for he is near.

V. Conclusion
Today we hear from our annual Advent personality, John the Baptist. And in John’s preaching, we too are prepared for Christ’s coming – and the salvation he brings.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The latest edition of "The Lark" is up. Check it out.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Check Out the New Format!

Advent - New Year - Out with the old, in with the new.

Over the weekend I hope to have the site rebuilt. Burr in the Burgh turned me on to the 3-column thing. As always, the best ideas are the ones I steal from others!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Veith on Lutheran Invisibility

"Right on" again, Dr. Veith poses some interesting questions about Lutheran Invisibility over at his Cranach blog. Here's the money quote:

Don't they know there is a church that has the best of Catholicism (sacramental spirituality, liturgy, a rigorously worked-out theology), of Calvinism (grace alone), of Arminianism (Christ died for all), of the Baptists (the inerrancy of Scripture), of Charismatics (tangible supernatural manifestations, which we call Sacraments), all with a non-legalistic, non-pietist church culture that emphasizes Christian freedom.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sermon - Advent 1 - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1st Sunday in Advent, November 27th, 2005
“Eagerly Waiting ”
1 Corinthians 1:3-9


I can’t believe December is almost here. Thanksgiving is done, and we are finishing up the left-overs. The shopping season has begun, and the malls are packed. Christmas decorations are up or going up soon, and Holiday parties are filling up the calendar. It’s that time of year again. Yes, it’s Advent. While the world celebrates Christmas beginning as early as September (I even saw some displays going up in August), in the Church, it is the season of Advent.

Advent means, “coming”. And you might think that it means “Christmas is coming”. And it does. But it also reminds us that Christ is coming, or returning, as he has promised.

While the world is awash in red and green, the church wears blue – which reminds us of the sky, and the promise that Christ would return the same way he left – he will come “with clouds descending”.

The halls of the world are decked with strings of lights and depictions of Santa. But the church lights a wreath of candles and thinks of the coming babe of Bethlehem.

Yes, Christmas is commercialized. Yes, the secular forces are trying to take the Christ out of Christmas and make it instead a generic “winter festival”. Yes, many forget the true reason for the season.

But the church is not without its problems. And we too get caught up in the de-christianization of it all. And we, the people of Grace Lutheran Church, also need to come to the foot of the cross in repentance. For we are sinners, and we need Christ. We’re not too unlike the Corinthians…

I. Problems in the Church
Paul wrote at least 2 letters to the church he founded in Corinth. Now, the Church of Corinth was what we might call dysfunctional. It was a mess. They had issues. Real problems. There was sexual immorality, yes even in the church. People thought, “It’s my body, I can do what I want with it”. There were divisions in the church, factions. One group against another against another. Unruly individuals were disrupting the worship services, people were getting drunk from too much communion wine, and some even denied basic teachings of the faith, like that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

Now, I think we have a great congregation here at Grace. But we’re fooling ourselves if we think we are perfect. As a church, even we have our own issues. We struggle with budgets and how to spend our resources. We frustrate each other in our various roles and relationships. We have our little cliques and factions too. After all, we are sinful people. And sinners… sin.

But that’s not all we are. And that’s not all the Corinthians were. Paul speaks lovingly of them, and commends them for their faith. And urges that even in spite of all their problems, that they should eagerly look forward to Christ’s coming.

II. Re-Focusing on Christ
Once a young boy was practicing his batting at the baseball diamond. With a bat in one hand and a ball in the other, he was tossing the ball in the air and taking his swings. He said to himself, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world” tossed the ball up, swung his bat, and missed. Again, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” Another ball in the air, another missed swing. Strike two. Once more he repeated, “I am the greatest hitter in the world!” and sure enough, strike three. “Wow.” Said the boy, “I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”

Just as the young boy was able to find the good in the midst of the bad, so too Paul points to the God’s grace in Christ in the midst of our sin. We Christians are not the greatest do-gooders in the world. In fact the Greek word for sin means “missing the mark”. But Jesus Christ is the greatest, and the only, savior of the world.

Paul re-focuses them, and us, on Christ. Look at how many times Jesus Christ is named in this short passage…. 6 times in 6 verses. And what a reminder – that in all things we would focus on Christ.

Christ is always the solution. He is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, the author and perfector of our faith. He is the

For Jesus Christ brings us God’s grace. By his death on the cross and rising from the tomb he applies the love of God to sinners like you and me.

Jesus enriches us in every way. He confirms the message of his Gospel, so that we speak it and know it well. And Christ sends, through his spirit, gifts to his people.

And Christ promises he will return. Christ is for us, right now. But there is always the forward-looking, anticipatory nature of our faith. Just as the Corinthians looked forward to that day, so do we. When Jesus Christ is revealed. For that, we eagerly wait.

III. Blameless to the End
And the promise here is a beautiful one. That in Christ, we WILL BE kept strong and blameless until the end. What a word of comfort as we look ahead.

Looking ahead isn’t always the easiest thing to do. The future holds many unknowns. We often ponder how life will unfold, what will happen
in our family, our career, with our health and maybe even our faith. Will we be strong enough in our faith, especially if troubles come? Will we be able to continue trusting in him who came and him who is to come?
Sometimes we dread the future, but we need not do so in Christ. For he will keep us strong and blameless to the end!

Eagerly waiting. It’s a good thing to do in the season of Advent. As we eagerly await the celebration of Christmas, we also eagerly await the revelation of Jesus Christ on that great day to come. We look forward in confidence, knowing the promises of God for his people. For though we have problems, and though we sin much, Christ Brings us God’s grace and keeps us blameless to the end. In His Name, Amen.

Paul encourages believers to eagerly wait for Christ’s coming, with a beautiful promise that He will keep us strong and blameless to the end.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sermon - Luke 17:11-19 - Thanksgiving

Grace Ev. Lutheran Church, Racine, Wisconsin
Thanksgiving (Eve) Day- 2005
Luke 17:11-19
“Thanks – Why and to Whom?”

I. Introduction

A blessed Thanksgiving holiday to you all. Thanksgiving is that national holiday in which we do just that – give thanks.
As I observe the way our culture celebrates this holiday, somehow the thanking seems to get lost in the mix. Behind all the food and family and cooking and cleaning and traveling and planning and shopping and football and whatever else we do… sometimes the thanks-giving is limited, it seems, to a prayer before the big meal. We should be giving thanks more and better.

But “why?” and “to whom?” These are the questions I want to wrestle with today. Why give thanks? And give thanks to whom?

In our country, most holidays, or “holy days”, have their origins in the Christian church. Christmas, Easter, even St. Patrick’s and St. Valentine’s day are church festivals which have been secularized, at least to some extent.

Halloween was a superstitious response to the Christian celebration of All Saints’ day. The thinking being, that the night before we celebrate the “holy people” (the saints), we must also acknowledge somehow what is “unholy”. And so you get All Hallows’ Eve, or, Halloween. But even this corruption of a church festival has become somewhat secularized.

Now, Thanksgiving is a secular holiday. Declared by president Lincoln, it is a “day of national thanksgiving”, peculiar to the U.S.A. So isn’t it ironic that we find ourselves here in church on a secular holiday? Not really.

For only Christians have a true understanding of Thanksgiving. Only Christians can answer the questions, “why” and “to whom?” And while giving-thanks, and being thank-ful are ongoing in the Christian life, it’s not a bad idea to set aside some time to count our blessings.

Let’s consider the appointed Thanksgiving Day Gospel reading, the account of Jesus healing the 10 lepers.

II. A Striking Story

There are many unusual features to this short narrative.
1. Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem for the last time, and along the way he is still teaching, and healing and working miracles. Not so unusual.
2. Slightly unusual – Jesus traveled along the border of Samaria and Galilee. As Luther says, he does this to show that he is the Savior of all people – to make himself available to all, Jew and Gentile alike.
3. Some Lepers called out to him – slightly unusual, as lepers were outcast from the community and forbidden to speak. Having to stand far off, their sickly voices might not have been easily heard over the noise of those following Jesus more closely. But their faith in Jesus was strong, and they called to him out of a deep desire to be healed.
4. Jesus speaks to them – not so unusual, if you know Jesus. He continually showed his love for the outcast and disenfranchised, the poor and the sick.
5. Jesus heals them – Miraculous! But…. also pretty standard, if you know Jesus. By this time in his ministry, his reputation had already preceded him. As then ten responded to his command, “go and show yourselves to the priests”, they were healed.
6. Later, one of them comes back, to THANK him – and now JESUS is amazed – “where are the other 9? Didn’t I heal 10 of you guys?” He of course knows the answer. And then he comments that this one that bothered to give thanks was a foreigner, a Samaritan. Your average Jew wouldn’t have expected that. And finally, Jesus encourages the man – commending his faith. That’s the real miracle here.

But back to our questions about giving thanks – “Why?” and “To Whom?”

III. The Samaritan knew why he was giving thanks.

He had been healed of a terrible disease, which robbed him not only of health but also his place in society. He was also considered ritually unclean. He had lost, basically everything. And now it was restored. He had been to the rock bottom of life, and had been raised from the pit. He knew why he was giving thanks. He had received a great blessing, and he recognized it.

Why did only the one give thanks? Perhaps the others forgot why they should. Perhaps they took their healing for granted. Hard to imagine that something so precious and valuable as a life restored could be treated as such a little thing. But don’t many act this way? Don’t we, at times, wander away from the one who has restored our life? Who has raised us from the pit? Who has snatched us from the very clutches of Hell to bring us to eternal, perfect, life? There’s some of the 9 lepers in all of us, and never enough of the 1.

And yet, we give thanks also because Christ heals us our spiritual leprosy. That disease which infects our very nature. That disease which makes us ungrateful, and unthankful in the first place. That makes us selfish and shallow. All is forgiven when Christ speaks his word to us. And we are made clean.

So much for the “why?”. Now to the “whom?”

IV. Clinging to the Giver

It’s not just enough to count your blessings. We must also count the giver of the blessings. It’s not enough to appreciate what you have. We must also show appreciation to the giver. So often in our world thanksgiving is a direction-less sort of thanks. As sort of inventory of the good things in life, without proper acknowledgment of who makes it all possible. And THAT’s why I say that only the Christian truly understands thanks-giving. We know the gifts, but we also know the giver.

Maybe those 9 lepers were thankful, in a sense. I imagine they were happy to have their health restored. If you asked them, they would probably say they WERE quite thankful. But there’s a difference between liking the gift and thanking the giver.

Luther said of the one leper, that his return, “embraces these two thoughts: not to cling to God's gifts, but only to himself, who gives them.” The leper gave thanks not just in general, but to a person, to his God, who had healed him. He fell at the feet of Jesus Christ.

For the Christian, Thanksgiving has a why and a whom. The whom is our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our thanks are always given because of his gifts. Our thanks are always given in His direction.

We thank the Father, especially for the physical blessings of creation. Our life, possessions, relationships, and more. We spoke of those earlier in this service.

We thank the Spirit for bringing us to faith and strengthening us and guiding us and renewing us, and more…

But most especially, we thank the Son for his great work of salvation. For his perfect life lived for us. For his death on the cross. Yes thanksgiving, for the Christian is, like everything else, always about the Cross of Jesus Christ.

No, the leper didn’t heal himself, and he knew it. Nor do we save ourselves, as well we know it. Christ has done it all for us. He is worthy of our praise and thanks. We could never thank him enough, but let us never cease to thank him. He is the “why” and the “whom” of Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving, count your blessings. I hope it takes you a while. Or, you may not think you have much to be thankful for. Maybe you’ve had a bad year. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one, been diagnosed with a disease, lost a job, gone through a divorce, failed at some great endeavor or had some other big disappointment. But you still have Christ. And he has you. And no matter what this life brings, we can be, and we Christians are – truly – thankful – for this greatest gift and blessing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Does your church use one of these to decorate for Thanksgiving? We did. Even had one up in the chancel. Not anymore though.

The below from Wikipedia:

The cornucopia, (Latin Cornu Copiae), also known in English as the Horn of Plenty, is a symbol of prosperity and affluence, dating back to the 5th century BC.

In Greek mythology, Amalthea raised Zeus on the milk of a goat. In return Zeus gave her the goat's horn. It had the power to give to the person in possession of it whatever he or she wished for. This gave rise to the legend of the cornucopia. The original depictions were of the goat's horn filled with fruits and flowers: deities, especially Fortuna, would be depicted with the horn of plenty. More modern images, such as those used in Thanksgiving murals, depict a horn-shaped wicker basket filled with fruits and vegetables.

In modern depiction, the cornucopia is basically a hollow, curved cone with no bottom. The cone is typically filed with various kinds of festive plastic fruit.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More 2 Kingdom and Clergy Stuff

Back in July, I posted on, "Lutheran Clergy, Politics, and Blogging".

Since then I have been thinking about my little rule of thumb:

When it comes to moral issues on which the Bible clearly directs a right and wrong (i.e. abortion, capital punishment), the church and the pastor may (must) take a stand.

But where scripture is silent, so too should the pastor remain. Should our taxes be lower, or higher? Should we pass NAFTA or not? Issues like these.

But here's the rub. What about an issue which one sees as clear, but another does not see a scriptural application. Perhaps the whole gun-control debate is one of these. Opponents of gun control might argue that scripture makes no prohibition about the use of guns. Supporters of gun control might uses certain passages to build a case (Jesus commanded Peter, 'Put your sword away!').

Remember, even with the issue of abortion, the Bible never says, "Thou Shalt Not Abort". Rather, we draw conclusions based on how the scriptures speak of life, its beginnings and its Giver. Could the same sort of argument apply to other issues which some might consider "political"?

What's a pastor to do in cases such as this? Are there any further guidelines or rules of thumb you would suggest? I have other thoughts on this but let's get the discussion going...

Gun Control and Two Kingdoms

The State of Wisconsin has been debating a provision to allow citizens to carry concealed guns. The arguments have raged in the local paper here, and my eyes perked up quickly when I saw Lutherans joining the fight.

What follows are two opinion pieces printed recently. The first, but Rev. Sue Moline Larson, a full-time lobbyist for the ELCA. She is for gun control. The second, from Keith Deschler a local Libertarian and an ELCA member, who is against gun control.

Whether you are for or against this particular measure, hopefully you agree with me that Mr. Deschler nails Larson with a wonderful understanding of Lutheran two-kingdom theology, and the proper role of Christian clergy. Particularly good are Mr. Deschler's last three paragraphs.


Can legislators be educated about gun violence in U.S.?

By the Rev. Sue Moline Larson

A generation ago, religious educator Morton Kelsey authored a book, "Can Christians Be Educated?" Thirty years later, Wisconsin residents are asking a similar question about state legislators. Can elected leaders hear sound information and be educated on issues of public safety? We hope a decisive majority of legislators can listen and will not press to overturn 135 years of sound government in order to promote the carrying of concealed weapons.

The argument that legalizing concealed weapons will increase personal protection has not been convincing in Wisconsin. In April 2003, the Public Policy Forum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization in Milwaukee, found that only 27 percent of Wisconsinites supported allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons. Likewise, the Badger Poll asked if the state should allow "people who can legally own handguns to carry concealed weapons in most public places." Nearly 60 percent of men and a resounding 80 percent of women, who would supposedly benefit from putting a pistol in their purse, said "No!" A Gallup poll last year found that even a majority of gun owners oppose concealed weapons, and this year CNN/Gallup found that just a third of Americans feel safer in a public place where concealed weapons are legal.

Any change in our gun laws that increases ownership endangers us all while providing a false sense of security to many gun owners. The Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence released chilling information that three-fourths of people who used a firearm to kill their current or former partner would have passed the test proposed to get a concealed weapons permit. So shouldn't women have guns in their possession to protect themselves?

To the contrary, the Annals of Emergency Medicine journal found that "purchasing a handgun provides no protection against homicide among women and is associated with an increase in their risk for intimate partner homicide." In fact, most battered women in Wisconsin who shoot their partner in self-defense are convicted of homicide or related crimes.So why do concealed carry proponents keep going against the will and common sense of the general public?

The answer is not surprising - there is profit to be made! Despite contracts of $19 million for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, $4 million to supply pistols to our Coast Guard, and $24 million for the Dept. of Homeland Security, gun manufacturers want to boost their business even further. By cleverly creating an ideology of myths and propaganda, they have succeeded in passing pseudo "personal protection" bills throughout the nation to sell more guns.

Their rosy market returns disguise the tragic consequences: more than 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S. Where among 17,000 suicides, and nearly 12,000 homicides are stories of the heroes confronting criminals? Only 300 were legal interventions, many by off-duty police officers carrying their guns.Police officers file reports on the dreadful details of gun violence, but clergy carry the burden of loss with the survivors. Long after tragic experiences become anonymous statistics in a state registry, we minister to the guilt, pain, and anger that linger and haunt.

Among the most tragic deaths are youth. Recently my husband sat with middle school students from his summer Bible Camp discussion group at the funeral of their 14-year-old friend who, in a moment of despondency, used a handgun to kill himself. This fall, a grandmother shared with him the anguish a neighbor, a dairy farmer, who was not able to wrest the handgun from his honor student daughter's hands before she shot and killed herself. Earlier in the year, he conducted the funeral of a father of three teenagers who used a handgun to take his life.

Even though thirty years have passed since my brother committed suicide, the stories are still compelling. I am drawn to read obituary columns and pray for the survivors of family members whose cause of death (`died unexpectedly at home') infers another suicide.

Guided by Lutheran doctrine and its Biblical foundations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has affirmed that "Government is responsible under God for the protection of its citizens and the maintenance of justice and public order." Too many legislators are committed to cutting the resources of government, including police, courts, and prevention programs, and replacing them with licensed self-appointed vigilantes who supposedly would maintain the peace. The ELCA National Church Council's 1994 "Message on Community Violence" directs that "As citizens in a democracy, we have the responsibility to join with others to hold government accountable for protecting society and ensuring justice for all."

We must all send a stronger signal to legislators pushing for legalizing concealed weapons that this ludicrous proposal is bad public policy.

The Rev. Sue Moline Larson is director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin, ELCA., Madison.


Radical church activism

As a Libertarian and as an ELCA Lutheran, I am quite dismayed that my church benevolence, along with that of 750 ELCA churches statewide, pays or the blatantly partisan, left-liberal political activism of Rev. Sue Moline Larson and her agency, the Lutheran Office of Public Policy in Wisconsin (LOPPW).They not only support federal licensing of all firearms, and oppose concealed carry.

They also favor full federal/state funding of social services (instead of more private charity); an "efficient, singly administered state health plan (socialized medicine, with its bureaucracy, rationed care, and higher prices); tax reform with "targeted revenue increases" ( tax hikes on small businesses and average-income citizens); increasing the minimum wage (raise business costs, and reduce jobs for entry-level workers); and the defeat of a Colorado-style Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR, a modest limit on the growth of state government).

This radical socialist agenda is impractical, and has been proven a failure over the years. I deeply resent the fact that my religious denomination wishes to act as a partisan political entity.

If Rev. Larson and the LOPPW want to be involved in such activities, fine. However, they should be independent of any formal affiliation with a Christian church denomination, since the purpose of Christ's church is to nurture the spiritual life of its members, without regard to their political views and affiliations.

As for Rev. Larson, she should remember why she was ordained into the holy ministry in the first place - to preach the Gospel of Christ, to teach God's Word, to administer the sacraments, and to nurture spiritual growth in the lives of Christian believers.

If she doesn't see that as her primary purpose, then she should resign her ordination, and instead work full-time as a lobbyist for the Howard Dean/Ted Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party.Christians of whatever denomination should trust that the money placed in the collection plate is used to further God's Kingdom, and not Caesar's.

Keith R. Deschler,
3224½ Meachem Road, Racine

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"The Ugly Fundamentalist"

Just ran across an interesting blog by a retired ELCA pastor.

I enjoyed his latest post, "The Ugly Fundamentalist". Hope you do too.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Thaddeus and "Irresistable Grace in Baptism"?

Wow. Good question, Thaddeus. Might I ask what faith tradition you are coming FROM? Just curious...

I think you have a pretty good handle on what Lutherans actually teach. Probably better than most Lutherans. Your question is also very articluate and multi-faceted.

I will do my best to answer, but I am perhaps not the most authoritative source for an answer. I would also suggest posting your question to a forum such as, or asking the LCMS information center (go to and look for FAQs).

ANyway... here goes (my responses in italics)

TJ G wrote:

Hi Rev. Chryst,

Thank you for writing back. I wanted to start our
conversation by asking about the relation of faith and
baptism. I don't fully understand the Lutheran
teaching in this area. Do Lutherans hold that all
Trinitarian baptisms (due to God's promise attached to
the water) automatically bring about regeneration, and
saving faith in the person baptized?

We speak of baptism as a "means of grace", which is a way in which God has promised his gifts may be received. I don't know that I have ever heard a Lutheran phrase it as "automatically", but in general, yes, we teach that baptism gives the gift of faith, the holy spirit, forgives sins, regenerates, and brings one into the church, the New Israel.

Luther's Small Catechsim puts it this way: (From, which is a site you may wish to research further - the historical confessions of the Lutheran Church)

"What does Baptism give or profit?--Answer:
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare."


"Where is this written?--Answer:
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death,
that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so
we also should walk in newness of life."

(Of course, I
understand that for some it only strenghtens their
faith, which was already formed on the basis of
hearing the gospel).

This would be true of those who had come to faith first, via the word of God (another means of grace). In this case, while baptism does not create faith, it is still considered necessary because of the command of Christ in Matthew 28. Sometimes we say, "baptism is necessary, but not necessary for salvation". See also Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch as an example of this.

Wouldn't that be simillar to ex opere operato, as the
Roman Catholics have it?

I understand ex opere operato to be, "out of the doing of the doing". Lutherans would have a problem saying that it is the act or ritual or performance of the thing itself that holds efficacy, but instead we focus on the saving work of the word, which really is the "thing" in baptism (or, either sacrament). But I can understand how someone might accuse us of ex opere operato. Frankly, I don't know that I understand the Roman teaching well enough to completely deliniate the difference.

Is there hypothetically such
a thing as a non-regenerative Trinitarian baptism?

I know what scripture says, and that is that "Baptism now saves you" (I Peter 3:21). I don't know that it speaks directly to "non-regenerative" baptism.

the infant actually resist the grace of God "in the
water" of baptism?

Good question. I suppose one could, but how would we know? Jesus does commend the faith of children, and I have to say that in my experience children simply believe what they receive. However, on the other hand, every Lutheran I know is quick to point out that God alone judges the heart.

It confuses me, becouse Lutherans
tend to reject the Reformed teaching on "irresistable
grace". Yet here it almost sounds like grace is
irresistable in baptism.

From what I heard from other Lutherans, it appears as
if you teach that faith is necessary to receive the
benefits of baptism. However, it is likewise true that
every baptized infant receives saving faith anyways.
So that there is actually no such a case in which
someone does not have the necessary faith to receive
the benefits of baptism. Now, he or she may loose the
"baptismal svaing faith," if it is not nourished. But
everyone receives saving faith (and eternal life)
initially in baptism. There are no exceptions to that
rule. Is that what you actually teach?

I may be treading on thin ice here, but I suppose by analogy we could say, take the faith that comes by hearing. Does one receive the blessings of the word only when he puts his faith in the word? Yes. But does that word itself also create the faith which receives the blessings? Yes. Can it be rejected? Yes, either before or after the faith seems to be there. I think part of the problem here is also trying to nail down in a neat and tidy box when faith begins.

Now with baptism, you have that moment, it would seem. But then again, Baptism is also powered by - the word! So really, we could leave baptism completely out of the picture and simply talk about the saving nature of the word of God, and how it brings faith. And before you say that infants can't respond to the word, because they don't understand, remember John the Baptist (in utero) who leapt for joy at the sound of Mary's greeting (the word?). Maybe that just muddies the waters, I don't know.

Oh, another question that may help clarify. Was the OT act of circumcision "ex opere operato"? Paul says baptism is the circumcision of the heart. I think we can learn a lot about NT baptism via study of OT circumcision.

Could you clarify all this for me? I'd appreciate it.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer my
Later, Thaddeus writes:

Thanks so much for your helpful response. Yes, you may
post it on your blog. :) You also asked about the
tradition that I am coming FROM -- It's conservative

I will continue to visit your blog. I'll try to keep
in contact with you. I am certainly very much open to
becoming a Lutheran. There are still various obstacles
on the way for me. It's possible that they will
disapear with time, as I immerse myself in Lutheran
theology in an in-depth way.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Solas - time to update?

Christ alone, Scripture alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, through the Means alone!

This has been rolling around in my brain since a recent frustrating conversation I had with a Baptist. What do you think?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Reformation Quiz

Thanks to Amor et Labor for this interesting quiz. What follows are my answers...

Put an E next to those issues (whatever your position) for which you would Die.
Put a BE next to those items for which you would Divide.
Put an A next to those items that are okay to disagree about.
Add other issues to the list as necessary. Post on your blog and let me know.

Trinity E
Divinity of Jesus E
Literal Resurrection E
Full Humanity of Jesus E
Nature of the Lords Supper E
Common Cup A
Justification E
Sanctification E
Intinction A
Disposable Cups at Communion A
Nature of Baptism E
Age of Baptism E
Mode of Baptism (sprinkling or dunking) A
Necessity of Holy Spirit Baptism E
Ordination of Women E
Ordination of Homosexual people E
Sacramental Marriage E (DEFINE)
Virgin birth E
Perpetual virginity of Mary A
Authority of Scripture E
Authority of Tradition E
Inerrancy of Scripture E
Use of Images in worship BE (HOW?)
Contemporary music in worship A (DEFINE)
Specific translation of Scripture A (DEPENDS)
Baptismal Regeneration E
Decisional Regeneration E
Supralapsarianism/Infralapsariansim (order of decrees) ???
Human nature after the Fall E
Nature of the Atonement E
One Person, two Natures E
The Filioque BE
Church Membership for Practicing Homosexual people E
Rapture E
Millennium E
Primacy of the Word E
Beer BE
Dancing BE
Playing Cards BE
Swearing BE (DEFINE)
Premarital Sex E
Postmarital Sex E (?)
Healing continues E
Tongues continue E
Literal Hell E
Literal Devil E
Apocrypha (inclusion in Canon) BE
James (inclusion in Canon) BE
Revelation (inclusion in Canon) BE
Private Confession E (DEPENDS)
Burial versus Cremation A
Divorce E
Entire Sanctification E (WE CAN'T)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

LCMS E-NEWS: Good News, Bad News

The LCMS E-NEWS communique' I received today states the following:

'Headcount' at Synod colleges hits new record...

Total enrollment at the Synod's 10 Concordia University System (CUS) schools continues to climb, and this fall's 18,569 for both undergraduate and graduate programs sets a new record high, with nearly 1,000 more students than last fall.

Sounds great, right? Now for the bad news (much later in the email):

* The number of students studying for church careers is down by 137, or 5 percent, since fall 2004, continuing a four-year trend. This year's 2,613 church-work students include 1,439 teachers, 426 pre-seminary, 404 directors of Christian education, 182 lay ministers, 57 directors of family life ministry, 38 directors of parish music, 34 directors of Christian outreach, and 33 deaconesses.

Meyer cites the shrinking pool of high-school students in general, combined with a reluctance on the part of today's young people to choose what are typically low-paying careers in a "church body that is divided by conflict."

"Students are perceptive," he said. "When there's conflict in the church, they're not about to gamble with something as vital in their life as their future."

What is particularly interesting here are the reasons given for the church-work student decline.
1) Demographics
2) We don't pay enough
3) Conflict in the "church" (did you mean Synod?)

I might concede the first reason (excuse). Maybe even the second (though, hasn't it always been that way - in fact, hasn't it been much worse?)

But the final reason does not sound realistic to me. Really, in one sense has there not always been conflict in the LCMS (as in every church body)? What's really so different now?

Oh, are we talking about the post-911-Yankee Stadium era? I can agree that the conflict has been greater lately, but is there REALLY a direct correspondance between the last 4 years of tusseling and the longer trend of church-work-student decline? It seems to me the Concordias have been going this way since long before 2001.

Maybe the angst over current politics is coloring our thinking here a little.