Wednesday, June 28, 2006

More Confusion of the 2 Kingdoms

Per FoxNews (ironically):
Bob Edgar, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches, asked Baptists to walk together “in the footsteps of Jesus” and address the challenges of “fear, fundamentalism, and FOX News.”
Gee, I thought our struggle was against "Sin, Death, and the power of the Devil"

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hymn - "The Girl is Dead, The Mourners Weep"

The Girl Is Dead, The Mourners Weep
Tune: Komm, Gott Schoepfer
(“Creator Spirit, Heavenly Dove”
Hymn # 156 from Lutheran Worship)

The girl is dead, the mourners weep,
But Jesus says, “She only sleeps.”
Tenderly takes her by the hand,
“Talitha Koum!” our Lord commands,

A widow’s son, his funeral dirge,
With Jesus’ foll'wers come to merge,
The coffin touched, by Christ’s own hand,
“I say to you, arise, young man!”

When Lazarus, entombed for days,
The Lord said, “Take the stone away”
His pow’r o’er death, he leaves no doubt,
To Lazarus, Christ says, “Come out!”

As Sunday comes at break of dawn,
The mourners think he’s dead and gone,
But lo, he’s risen, he’s alive!
And now he lives, no more to die!

And at the font, Old Adam drowns,
Christ’s seal is placed upon our brows,
As Word and water cleanse all sins,
Our life eternal there begins.

Someday the trumpet blast will sound,
And all the vault of heav’n resound,
As Christ commands, once more to rise,
And takes us with him to the skies.

© Thomas E. Chryst, 2006.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Hymn - "The Lord Slept Peacefully at Sea"

"The Lord Slept Peacefully at Sea"
Tune: Tallis' Canon
(“All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night”
Hymn # 484 from Lutheran Worship)
Based on Mark 4:35-41

The Lord Slept Peacefully at Sea,
When his disciples made the plea,
“O, Teacher, can’t you see, we’ll drown?”
As wind and wave crashed o’er the bow.

Then Jesus rose and spoke his will,
To wind and wave, “Be Quiet! Still!”
His fearful foll’wers stood amazed,
As Jesus asked, “Have you no faith?”

O Lord, when swamped by sin and death,
We call on you with anxious breath,
And bid you waken to our prayer,
Calm us by your true presence there.

All praise to him who calms the storms,
Who loves, forgives, renews, reforms,
Who slumbered once in death’s cold sleep,
But rose to quicken us, indeed.

© Thomas E. Chryst, 2006.

Roman View of Luther

While doing some research on Luther as a favor to a friend, I came across the Roman Catholic site "New Advent" (of which many are already aware), and I found this interesting passage (below) in its entry on Martin Luther.

The part I bolded, I think, is actually a fair articulation of Lutheranism (though not complete, of course). Read the whole entry if you want a good headache.

Or, for a completely Christ-less treatment of their diagnosis of Luther (and a total migraine) read the entry on scrupulosity.

Of course this self-willed positiveness and hypochondriac asceticism, as usually happens in cases of morbidly scrupulous natures, found no relief in the sacraments. His general confessions at Erfurt and Rome did not touch the root of the evil. His whole being was wrought up to such an acute tension that he actually regretted his parents were not dead, that he might avail himself of the facilities Rome afforded to save them from purgatory. For religion's sake he was ready to become "the most brutal murderer", "to kill all who even by syllable refused submission to the pope" (Sämmtliche Werke, XXXX, Erlangen, 284). Such a tense and neurotic physical condition demanded a reaction, and, as frequently occurs in analogous cases, it went to the diametric extreme. The undue importance he had placed on his own strength in the spiritual process of justification, he now peremptorily and completely rejected. He convinced himself that man, as a consequence of original sin, was totally depraved, destitute of free will, that all works, even though directed towards the good, were nothing more than an outgrowth of his corrupted will, and in the judgments of God in reality mortal sins. Man can be saved by faith alone. Our faith in Christ makes His merits our possession, envelops us in the garb of righteousness, which our guilt and sinfulness hide, and supplies in abundance every defect of human righteousness. "Be a sinner and sin on bravely, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: sin must be committed. To you it ought to be sufficient that you acknowledge the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the sin cannot tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders" (Enders, "Briefwechsel", III, 208). The new doctrine of justification by faith, now in its inchoate stage, gradually developed, and was finally fixed by Luther as one of the central doctrines of Christianity. The epoch-making event connected with the publication of the papal Bull of Indulgences in Germany, which was that of Julius II renewed in adaptable form by Leo X, to raise funds for the construction of St. Peter's Church in Rome, brought his spiritual difficulties to a crisis.

Sermon - Presentation of the Augsburg Confession - Romans 10:5-17

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
(June 25th, 2006)
Romans 10:5-17
“Heart, Mouth, Feet, Ears”

Heart, Mouth, Feet, Ears. Perhaps a strange title for a sermon. But in our reading from Romans 10, Paul touches on all these parts of our bodies, in their various functions. And it all has to do with the good news of Jesus Christ, in whom we believe.

Today we also commemorate the “Presentation of the Augsburg Confession”. On June 25th, 1530, the teachings of the Lutheran Church were first publicly confessed in this historic document. I suppose most of us have never read the Augsburg Confession. Maybe you haven’t even heard of it. But it is foundational to our identity as Lutheran Christians, as its teachings give a true and clear summary of what scripture teaches. For instance,

“[our churches] teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.”

The early Lutherans confessed this faith before Emperor Charles V, the most powerful man in the world. And they showed a good understanding, and a courageous applications of the principle: that there is a connection between the heart and the mouth. What you believe is also what you say. They must have known well these words of Paul from Romans 10, “that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Mouth and Heart
Confess with your mouth, believe with your heart. Heart and mouth. What’s inside of you, and what comes out of you. Yet both of these, we have a problem with. Both heart and mouth are sinful by nature. It’s why we pray, with the Psalmist, “create in me a clean heart, Oh God…”. It’s why we confess sins in thought and WORD and deed. Jesus said it’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out. Cold, dead, sin-hardened hearts are within us. Mouths which speak with forked tongue, like wild beasts that need to be tamed. When it comes to our sin, we can see the clear connection of mouth and heart.

But in Christ, both heart and mouth are made clean. Both are forgiven, and set free from sin. So that while sinners, we are also saints. So that our heart does become the throne of God. So that our mouths are filled with his praises. So that we confess Jesus is Lord, and the faith that is within us.

All this is from Christ alone, of course, not from us. It is external. What comes into our heart at Baptism is the Holy Spirit. What we receive in our mouth – his body and blood for our forgiveness – these things make clean hearts and righteous mouths.

And so the mouth of the faithful also turns to the Lord in prayer, and “calls on the name of the Lord”. Paul’s word is God’s promise, that everyone who does so in faith will be richly blessed, and saved.

Heart and Mouth both have a hand in our salvation – and yet Paul isn’t done discussing important parts of the body…

Beautiful Feet
In the next paragraph, Paul emphasizes the importance of the one sent to bear the message, and quotes from Isaiah, “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I remember clearly July 11th, 1999. It was the day of my installation as Associate Pastor here at Grace. President Ron Meyer was the preacher, and he used this very passage. He asked, rhetorically, if I had “beautiful feet”. And I remember being glad he didn’t ask to actually see them.

I don’t know about you, but I have always thought feet were ugly, as parts of the body go. Feet get a lot of abuse. They take the wear and tear of all our walking around. They get the dirt and filth of the ground on them. They are a “working” part of the body, and aren’t known to smell too good either. So to think of beautiful feet, well that’s not the usual picture.

But the point here is not about the feet. The point here is not about the one to whom the feet belong. No, those feet, and that messenger, they carry a message. And the news is so good that even the ugly feet that bring it are a sight for sore eyes. We who preach and pastor are not perfect, or beautiful or worthy of your attention in ourselves. But the message we bring is the best news you will ever hear. Those who share the Gospel of Jesus Christ bring something more beautiful and precious than all the world can offer. It’s a message of love, and hope, and forgiveness, and life. It’s beautiful.

Well, it’s ugly too. Who wants to think about the torturous death of an innocent man? Who wants to think about blood and beating, nails piercing hands and feet? The cross, a symbol used in ornate decoration, a symbol of our faith, the cross is really ugly if you think about what happened there. Ugly as sin. Because that’s what Jesus became for us – and sin is always ugly. And God’s punishment, his wrath over sin, is no pretty picture.

But the beauty is that Jesus, at the cross, put that ugliness away. Easter gives us a glimpse of the radiant glory that awaits each of us beyond the grave – when the beauty of Christ’s own life and righteousness shine in us forever.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus looked like – Scripture hints that he was an average looking guy, “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” But yet, “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Faith Comes by Hearing
And that news comes to create and sustain faith. That faith comes by hearing the message. And the same God who gives the message gives us the ears to hear it. He gives the messenger that bears it. He puts it in our hearts, and moves us by his Spirit to confess it, so that others may also hear.

Hearing. It’s a simple thing really. Passive. You just sit there. And as the words are spoken, as the message is heard, faith comes. This much is clear. A simple reception of what the Lord gives. You don’t earn hearing. You can’t do it by yourself. Just like our salvation, which is beyond our own doing. What a joy and privilege to hear that word of faith again and again as we gather in God’s presence. What a blessing to hear the word and have our faith renewed.

Not all who hear believe. The Spirit moves when and where he desires. Some hear and reject. They close their ears for various reasons. But for those who have heard and do believe, we never stop hearing, and it never stops with the hearing. When ears have heard and heart believes, then feet move, and mouth confesses. Our whole being – every part of us – becomes captive to Christ and his purposes. And through people like us, God expands his kingdom.

And so we go where our feet take us – wherever that may be. Work, School, the mall, the cottage up north, wherever. And there we confess, as we are able, and as we have opportunity, the hope that is within us. We confess, Jesus Christ as Lord! We confess, that there is no salvation apart from him. We confess, that we are sinners, but that “a man is justified by grace alone through faith alone”. We confess that Jesus has done it all for me, and he wants you to believe it too. We confess in word and deed, and pray the Holy Spirit’s blessings on those who hear, and pray their ears and hearts are opened. We Christians confess, in Jerusalem, and Rome, and Augsburg, and even in Racine, Wisconsin.

Heart, Mouth, Feet, Ears. All are important gifts from God through which he works for our good and for others: hearing, believing, bearing and confessing, the message of Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray his continued blessings, in his name, Amen.

The Lord Jesus grants faith in our hearts, by the hearing of his word, that we might confess with our mouths the good news he brings!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Reality TV?

This one's just for fun...

What if the Bible were used for "reality TV" show ideas?

We might see....

REALITY programming?

The Bachelor: (in Australia, “The Bridegroom”) Roses are doled out left and right as our Bachelor explains – “They are all part of ‘the Bride’ – the men too!”

Fear Factor: Angel Gabriel as guest host, but loses his job after continually encouraging “Fear Not!” Next Week: Firey Furnace Challenge.

Average Joe: A Tax Collector, A Fisherman and a Zealot compete for top honors. Twist at the end. Last will be first.

The Biggest Loser: St. Paul makes his case: beaten, stoned, imprisoned, “thorn in the flesh”. Oh wait, this is about losing weight???

Joe Millionaire: Afterlife episode set in “Abraham’s Bosom”, special guest Lazarus. See how it ends!

Trading Spouses: Will the “She’s my sister” line work a 3rd time? Find out in this week’s episode.

Canaanite Idol: There are many “Idols”, but don’t be fooled! Go for the real thing.

The Apprentice: Elisha watches the boss’s dramatic retirement on our final episode. This one’s hot!

Extreme Makeover, Temple Edition: Don’t miss the action as this “Den of Thieves” gets the once-over.

Survivor: Screaming mob votes innocent man off the island. He declines to use his immunity. Instead, surviving after 3 days, offers immunity to those who sought his demise.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mother, Child and Womb

Uh oh. Another mainline protestant body with a really bad idea.

Per FoxNews:

"BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The divine Trinity — "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" — could also be known as "Mother, Child and Womb" or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action Monday by the church's national assembly."

What's interesting to me is that "naming someone" is a sign of your authority over them. God called the light "day", and the dark "night". Adam named the animals (and woman, by the way). Parents name their children. Jesus was named by - only by God himself (through the angel)!

So what does it say when man (or the PCA) decides to re-name God? I'm sorry, I thought GOD got to name himself.

Maybe they can make a little extra money for the parish by auctioning off the naming rights to God for a year. "I baptize you in the name of Citibank, E-Harmony, and Starbucks!" Amen.

How would you have answered?

I just had an unusual Instant Messenger (IM) conversation with someone who contacted me out of the blue. Read our brief exchange below, and tell me, how would you have answered? I'm not sure I gave the best or the worst, but I think it's worth discussing:

candlelightman4: dose your church except gay im lookin for a church
Preachrboy: what do you mean

candlelightman4: sorry im new to area
candlelightman4: im agay man
Preachrboy: we believe active homosexuality is against the teaching of the Bible

candlelightman4: ok thanks
Preachrboy: no problem
candlelightman4: i just wonded thanks god bless
candlelightman4: sorry to bother you
Preachrboy: no bother
candlelightman4: have agreat day
Preachrboy: you too
candlelightman4: thanks

Sermon - Pentecost 2 - Mark 2:23-28

Pentecost 2 – (June 18th, 2006)
Mark 2:23-28
“On the Sabbath…”

I. Introduction –
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you.” These words from our Old Testament reading, which we have come to know as the 3rd commandment, form the backdrop for our Gospel reading from Mark 2. There Jesus discusses with the Pharisees, the application of the command – and the reason the Sabbath day was given.
The word “Sabbath” literally means, “Seventh”. But it has come to mean also a “day of rest”. As we consider this in light of our own observance of the Sabbath, perhaps we can ask three fundamental questions about this holy day. The Sabbath, “When is it?”, “Why is it?” and “WHO is it?”

II. When is it?
-Creation and the first Sabbath
To understand the Sabbath day, we must go back to creation itself. In the first chapters of Genesis we read how God created the Heavens and the Earth, and everything in them, including man and woman, by his Word, in just 6 days. “On the seventh day, he rested from all his work” Furthermore, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating he had done”. And so perhaps the first thing this 7th day of the week should remind us, is that the Lord created us and everything we see. And then, he rested.

-OT Sabbath observation
At Mt. Siani with the giving of the Covenant, observance of the Sabbath became a cornerstone of Israelite life. A time to rest, a time to gather, a time to read and hear God’s word. A “Holy Day” in the truest sense, a day that was “set apart” to dwell on those things “set apart”. Jesus also frequented the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as did the faithful believers.

-NT Sabbath on the “Lord’s Day”
But then a change took place in the observance of Sabbath. And if you’ve been wondering why we Christians don’t worship on the 7th day of the week, the answer is in the New Testament. There it is clear that the early Christians began to gather on Sunday, “the Lord’s Day” as it is called, to honor the resurrection of Jesus. For on the first day of the week, Sunday, Jesus conquered death and won the victory for us.

-Freedom to find rest in Christ any time
In fact, because Christians are now freed from the Old Covenant, which was fulfilled in Christ, we are able to find our rest in the Lord on any day. Still, the church honors Sunday for many good reasons, and it remains the chief day of gathering for God’s people. But Paul’s guidance in Romans 14 is well taken, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.”

So much for the “When?”. Perhaps a better question is, “Why do we have a Sabbath day?”

III. Why is it?

-To fulfill a law?
Since before Jesus time, man has sought to add his own laws to God’s law. And so the Jewish legalists over-defined the guidance of Moses so that even common tasks were considered work.

To this day, Orthodox Judaism concerns itself which such questions. When the Senator Joseph Lieberman, a practicing Orthodox Jew, was running for Vice President, questions were raised about how his observance would affect his ability to perform in high office – when on the Sabbath, strictly speaking, even turning out a light switch is considered work, and forbidden, by these laws.

But it’s not just the Jews who tend toward legalism. All of us born under the law and stricken with sin – we fancy legalistic lines, and man-made markers. If we can clearly define what is forbidden, you see, it leaves our consciences with a false sense of security. “Oh, all I have to do to keep this commandment is…. Not go to work on Sunday? Go to church once a week, or once in a while? As long as I don’t mow my lawn, I’m in the clear, right?” Why did God create the Sabbath day? Surely it was not to indulge our legalistic tendencies…

-Perhaps the Sabbath was created as a special day for us to do something nice for God, or give back to God?
Here again, we must say, “No!”. This goes against the grain of all we know from scripture about our sin and how it is dealt with. We won’t and we can’t possibly earn our way into God’s favor – not by a long list of good works, not by a keeping of commands, and certainly not by exacting performance of religious ceremonies.

Simply coming to church does not make you a good Christian anymore than going to a restaurant makes you a chef, or going to a football game makes you a Quarterback. It earns you no special brownie points with God, who doesn’t gain anything because you have graced him with your presence. “Oh, thank you SO much for coming! I was so lonely here without you, now let me give you blessings in return….” No, God is not impressed that you took an hour out of your busy schedule for him.

This day is not a benefit for him. It’s not really even a day to praise and honor and glorify God. It’s not a day to tell him how good he is, and how much we love him, and adore him, and honor him…. What does Jesus say? “The Sabbath was made for man” It is a day for OUR benefit!

What do we get out of coming to church, observing the Sabbath day?
- We get to see our friends? Christian fellowship is all well and good, but no, not the point.
- We “feel” better? It can be a good feeling to worship, but Sabbath observance is never based on mere human emotions
- We receive God’s gifts! Yes! This is it! This is what the Sabbath is about, why it was created for Man, why it is holy and blessed – to be a blessing to us! And the blessings of the Sabbath day lead us to our next question –
“Who is the Sabbath all about?”

IV. Who is it?
The Sabbath isn’t about us.
You might think so from Jesus saying, “the Sabbath was made for man” But not so! It is about Jesus Christ. For he is Lord of the Sabbath and he’s also the giver of rest for our souls. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The Sabbath is all about Christ.

Jesus gives rest for the soul – rest from sin. His death on the cross paid the price, did the work to pay off the debt of our sin. And we are free and clear! His resurrection turns death into life, not just for him but also for us, and only in Christ can we truly “rest in peace”.

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is our Sabbath-rest. No the Sabbath day was never about the law, but always about the Gospel. Less a requirement than a blessing, less “you must…” than “we get to…”. The Sabbath was made as a day of rest for man to find his rest in Christ, who brings eternal, complete, and final peace… calm… rest.

It’s interesting to note that on the Sabbath, Jesus’ disciples we busy eating. They were hungry, and so they ate. So too, on our Sabbath we find food for our hungry souls. We find just what we need, in Christ.

And so, we Christians, come to gather in Christ’s name and presence. We come to hear rest from our sins – confessed and forgiven. We come to hear that rest in His word, read and proclaimed. We come to taste that rest in bread and wine that is true body and blood for our forgiveness. Fed and nourished, well rested, we depart in peace.

So remember the Sabbath day, keeping it holy. Remember we are free to find rest anytime – and all the time. Remember the Sabbath day, that it was made for man, not the other way around. And remember who the Sabbath day is about – not us, but Christ – who is our Sabbath rest.

V. Conclusion
“The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath!” Thank God for this day of rest, and for Jesus Christ who gives us eternal rest. In His Name. Amen.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

June 15th, 1996

10 years ago Brenda and I were joined in Holy Marriage at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Greenwich, CT. Life has taken us many places since then, but God has blessed us both greatly along the way. And she is still the love of my life!

"A wife of noble character is her husband's crown" Pr. 12:4a

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wikipedia on LCMS

Was busy adding the Lutheran Blog Directory to the Wikipedia page on Lutheranism, when I found this interesting passage regarding the LCMS:

"There are internal struggles within the LCMS, but this, in turn, is prompting what is considered by some a new reformation within that body."

Reformation? Really?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Convention Part 2

Not much to report today. I left the convention early because I am suffering from a major head-cold or something. I also have little voice yet, and was not a voting delegate anyway. So I may or may not go tomorrow, but I will post here what I learn when I learn it.

The only resolution worth mentioning was the overwhelming passage of the "Ablaze! goals" for the district. 1.5 million is our "share" now, I suppose.

Oh, and some more of those resolutions made it back out of Omnibus, particularly the ones relating to the objectionable CCM opinions (the ones never dealt with by the last Synod convention). The floor committee returned them with some substantial changes from the overture's original intent. We will see what happens....

Sunday, June 11, 2006

South Wisconsin District Convention: Part 1

Today was the opening of our convention here in the South Wisconsin District.

The following were elected:

Rev. John Wille, District President

1st VP
Rev. Randy Raasch

2nd VP
Rev. Fred Bischoff

3rd VP
Rev. Jeff Meyer (son of retiring DP Ron Meyer)

4th VP
Rev. Larry Myers (defeated sitting 1st VP Jack Struve by a narrow margin- about 2 votes?)

Motions to remove overtures from omnibus resolution have begun. So far, only the overture on homosexuality was sucessfully removed, and sent back to the floor committee. More attempts will certainly follow.

Other than the schedule running about an hour over, and some minor difficulties with the electronic voting (vis-a-vis the number of delegates registered), not much has happened yet.

I will report again tomorrow.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Lutheran Carnival XXV

Lutheran Carnival XXV is up at Journalistic Jargon.

Sermon - Pentecost B - Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Day of Pentecost – (June 4th 2006)
Ezekiel 37:1-14
“Can These Bones Live?”

Ezekiel the prophet spoke to a people of Israel who must have felt without hope. They had lost the battle for Jerusalem. They were removed from their homeland, and living in exile. The temple had been destroyed. It must have seemed hopeless. As a nation, they were as good as dead. As God’s chosen people – it seemed pretty hopeless that God would still keep his promises – for them to prosper, and live in that land, and especially that the seed of Abraham would bless all nations.

Ezekiel must have had a hard time preaching and teaching those hopeless people. But as God shows Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones, and Ezekiel retells the story – we see that even the most hopeless situation is not beyond the power of our God in Jesus Christ, who speaks his powerful word, and whose spirit brings life to the dead.

Perhaps you know someone who has had a “near death experience”. The heart stops, the line goes flat, and the person says they feel like they float out of their body, or they go down a tunnel toward the light. But just as suddenly, the doctors work their modern miracle, and the patient is revived – resuscitated. Who but God alone knows what such experiences truly represent – and whether they are what they appear or are some unexplained physiological process.

But one thing’s for sure. Doctors can’t, and doctors won’t revive a pile of bones. Sure, a recently stopped heart can be started again. But it is hopeless – unthinkable to bring a dry skeleton back to life again.

Scripture paints a similar picture, when it comes to us and our sin. We are told we are “dead in our sins” and that we are unable to save ourselves. Our spiritual condition is just as hopeless as a pile of dry bones. Bones can’t decide to come to life. Bones can’t grow new flesh and organs. Bones don’t start breathing just because they want to – bones don’t even want to. They are dead. Hopeless and helpless. So are we, according to our sin.

God asks Ezekiel “Can these bones live?” and the obvious answer, the answer of science and common sense, the answer of human wisdom and experience is “NO!”. But Ezekiel knows God is up to something, and answers, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” God is powerful – all powerful – sovereign. And he knows everything. And he has the answers. Ezekiel’s response is one of faith, saying, “If it be your will, O Lord, you can do it.” And God does..

We’re still not too far from Good Friday. We recall the cross, and Jesus’ dead body – not yet reduced to bones, but certainly beyond hope of spontaneous revival. Speared in the side, just to verify his death. Laid in a tomb for three days, sealed with a large stone and watched over by an armed detachment. “Can those bones live?” Can he do what he said he would? Can Jesus rise from the dead? We know he did. And he is alive forever and for us, his people. And in Him, we are not without hope.

Back to the valley… The Lord then exerts his miraculous power to answer the question, “Can these bones live?” And he shows his power through the spoken word. God has been exerting power through speech ever since he said, “let there be light”.
But he will also speak through a mere man. He doesn’t NEED Ezekiel to do this, but he makes the prophet his spokesman, his mouthpiece. And Ezekiel prophesies. And the Word has an effect.

It brings tendons and sinews, flesh and skin to those dry bones. It creates what was not there. The word does what it says it will do.
So too the word of God that is spoken, even today. Still spoken by mere humans, yet still as powerful as it was “in the beginning”. The word of God is still doing what it says. Bringing new life to souls dead in sin. Freeing captives from the power of the evil one. Destroying and creating, accusing and forgiving, condemning and loving. An active and powerful and living word.

Who can hear about the word creating flesh without thinking of John 1, where we read about the eternal Word of God, “and the Word became flesh and dwelled among us”. Jesus Christ is that living, powerful, active and miraculous word of God which brings his power to bear. Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh, so that he could give that flesh up to death. So that he could do what he said, and not only rise himself, but also raise us from the dead.

Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones was a vision representing the hope of restoration for the Israelites. But in Jesus Christ, a true Resurrection has taken place, and a universal resurrection is to come. We will see something very much like Ezekiel saw – we will see it on a much larger scale, on the day of Christ’s return. As all the dead are raised to be judged, and as we join him for life eternal.

The same word that commanded skeletons to become bodies, now commands the breath of life to enter and give life. Ezekiel prophesies to the wind – and remember the Hebrew word for “wind” is the same as “breath” and the same as “spirit”. So from the wind comes the Spirit who breathes life into these bodies, and they stand on their feet, a vast army. There is hope for the people of God – they will be brought to life by God’s Spirit!

And so it is for us. The day we took our first breath – our first spiritual breath – was when we came through the waters of Baptism. There in Baptism the Holy Spirit came to dwell in us, making each of us his temple, washing away our sins, and giving us a new and eternal life!

The Spirit takes what Christ has won by his death and resurrection, and applies it to each of us individually. He “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us”. He forgives our sins, in Christ. He renews our lives, in Christ. And he draws us again and again to Christ – through the Word and in the Sacrament.

The miracle of baptism, though not such a spectacle as Ezekiel saw in the valley, is an even greater miracle. For at the font, the Living Word, Jesus Christ, sends his Life-Giving Spirit, and we are made new, and clean, and alive forever.

And no, your baptism isn’t just something that happened to you years ago as a baby. It’s something that holds meaning for you every day of your walk with God. Something to be remembered and cherished. Something we can rely on. For it is the very promise and power of God for our salvation. It’s a tangible way we know that we belong to him.

One of my favorite songs by a group called the “Counting Crows” has this line,

“I got bones beneath my skin, and mister...
there's a skeleton in every man's house
Beneath the dust and love and sweat that hang on everybody
there's a dead man trying to get out”

Yes, even for us who are made alive in Baptism, we still struggle with the Old “dead man” within us – “a skeleton trying to get out”. We still wrestle with sin, and death is always breathing down our neck. Hopelessness is a real temptation, living in this world with its valleys full of bones.

But God doesn’t leave us alone in the valley. Christ sends his spirit to guide and comfort us. He brings us again and again to his house, to his table – and here faith is strengthened and hope is renewed. Here we encourage one another. Here we also respond to God’s mercy in Christ.

On this day of Pentecost, we recall the outpouring of God’s Spirit. But we also acknowledge the outpouring of that same Spirit on us – and through Word and Spirit, on account of Christ, by Word and water, our dry bones are given flesh and breath – and we stand – and live, just as he lives and will never die! Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In Ezekiel’s vision, the Valley of Dry Bones looks like a place with no hope. But God speaks through the prophet, and sends his Spirit. May His prophetic Word and Spirit also bring us life, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Confirmation Day 1985

Pentecost Sunday, (Whitsunday), in the Year of our Lord 1985. The short one on the left with the bad haircut is yours truly. The fine pastor who confirmed this youngster is the Rev. Walter Schoenfuhs, of St. James Lutheran Church in Overlea, Maryland.

As we confirm 8 young people at Grace Lutheran in Racine, Wisconsin tomorrow, I pray the Lord will keep them in their baptismal faith. And perhaps, someday, post an embarassing picture like this one in fond reminiscence.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


My good friend and internet "pen-pal" St. James the Hoosier, has completed a project in the twilight of his vicarage. Here's a photo of the mural he painted in his "spare time" there. You can go to his blog and comment, where he also has it posted. For such artistic talent to be wasted on a vicar... ah what a shame.....