Blood Spattered

“In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” Ephesians 1:7-10

Hundreds of years ago God, being master of all life, caused a small acorn to sprout on the edge of what would someday be Ron Pinyan’s property just west of Crown. Over the centuries that small sprout grew from a sapling to a large and beautiful oak. In time this mighty oak’s reign was caused to come to an end and after a windstorm it laid uprooted. As the tree was resting, Ron Pinyan called Leon Bray to come and make it into firewood. Leon saw the tree and noted the quality of the wood, the beauty of the red oak, and as they were cutting, saved a 12-foot log, had it milled into beams, and stored it. Around the same time our Church decided that it needed to extend and replace its communion rail. They called upon a gifted carpenter of our congregation to work the task and

he used Leon’s oak beams to fashion our current communion rail. Now 25 years later we have the need to extend our rail and after all these years, what’s left of those same oak beams that grew just west of Crown will be used to fashion the extension. The same oak from the same beam from the same tree will all be used to bless our Worship.

So why am I telling you all this? Well it is quite simple. When it is all said and done, it is just a tree and some wood, but what the wood is used for is magnificent. You will lean up against this wood and rest upon it as we kneel before our King and Savior. We eat His body and drink His blood while kneeling at the railing. The body and blood of our Lord may even crumble, splash, and dribble upon this wood. Most importantly repentant sinners will be forgiven. I say all this because this month we are entering into the season of Lent. A season set aside for God’s people to contemplate the abundant and urgent need for forgiveness. For us to examine our sinfulness, and to hear tell the story of what our Lord has done to take away our sin.

It was with two simple pieces of wood, from a different tree, hastily placed together, not expertly planed and milled, rugged and jagged. It was upon that wooden cross that our sins have been forgiven. It was upon that wooden cross the cost of our failure to obey and love God and neighbor was paid in full. It was on that wooden cross that the body of our Lord was placed and His blood was spilled. As we enter into Lent we remember the hymn verse,

“When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss And pour contempt on all my pride.”

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Ascension and Pentecost: Ruled from Heaven, Fed from His Table

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

John 14:16-19

            “You’re my right hand man!” Have you ever heard anyone say this to you? A boss or some other leader? It is a big deal to be someone’s right hand. It means that all their power and authority has been entrusted to you. Can you imagine the president giving you “right hand” authority? How about a CEO of a major cooperation? Perhaps an admiral or general? Being able to exercise that kind of power would be a big deal! Now imagine if God gave you that sort of authority. Imagine the throne in heaven. Who is worthy to be seated upon it?

            God’s throne is not vacant. We have celebrated Holy Week and Easter. Christ has died and risen in our Church year. This is a great time for us as we remember and live in the great saving work of Jesus. However that great saving action is not over with. Jesus did not just do something 2,000 years ago just to leave us to our own devices. Jesus is still doing something. At the precipice of this great time in the church year is Ascension, where we look back to the fullness of glory Christ demonstrated by leaving Earth to be seated at the right hand of the Father.  He is ruling over creation. He is ruling over His Church. The Risen Jesus still lives and rules over all things!

            As he rules He is not far from His subjects. He does not distance Himself from the world of creatures He so desperately cares for. Ten days after the Ascension is the Sunday of Pentecost. This is the day that we remember that Jesus is not far from His Church, but He sends His Helper to us to care for us. It is when we recall that even though Christ is reigning in heaven, He still brings His gifts to us here as we live in a still fallen and sinful creation. His Spirit of truth feeds us with the gifts won for us from the cross and the empty tomb and those gifts keep in the one true faith.

            The ruler of all creation is constantly making Himself available to us. As we are powerless in this sinful world He has power and authority over everything. As we are lost, He knows ever nook and cranny and has sent His Spirit to find us and feed us. As we are nothing, He is everything. He gives everything to you. You are bound to Him and he reigns over all things. By the power of His Spirit, you eat Him and you drink Him. By doing this, you grow to be more like Him. Some day soon, we will all gather around His eternal throne and live with Him forever.

 “[He] ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.”

Called To Be Faithful

“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

 

            Last night I watched many of my friends receive their first Calls to serve as pastors in the Office of Holy Ministry. It seems just like is was yesterday that I was sitting in that pew at the seminary waiting for my name to be called. To be honest it is a very stressful day. It is the day that you figure out where you are going to be spending those precious and most wonderful early years of ministry. It is the day that you hear the name of the congregation that you are called to love and shepherd. You are fill with questions like “will I be a good pastor?” and “will I get along with my new congregation?” You enter into all knowing that you are entering a wonderful and joyful task.

            Looking back on that night and living vicariously through my dear brother at the seminary I can see the joy of Call Day. Dr. Dale Meyer always has the last words with the candidates and last night he shared a wonderful quote from a seminary textbook that we all had to read. It was from C.F.W. Walther’s book, Law and Gospel, and it was all about bringing the joy of the Gospel into people’s life. I can honestly say, now a year out from my Call Day that this joy is something we all desperately need. We need the gifts that Jesus richly pours out on us. The effects of Sin in this world certainly can take their toll and we need the gifts of faith. That is why I love being a pastor! I get to bring those gifts to you. I get to bring the joy of the Gospel into your life! I am so excited for my brothers who received their calls today because they are embarking on a vocation that freely, liberally, and lovingly offers the Joy of Jesus!

            Along with this joy there is a heavy responsibility. On the day of my ordination, a fellow pastor told me that the stole that you receive at ordination is a heavy weight. What he said was true. Pastors are called to teach people faithfulness. They do this by modeling faith, offering the gifts, and sometimes this is a hard job. The word needs to hear and sometimes carrying is hard. Carrying the word into the world is not just a pastor’s job, but it is the Church’s job. That’s why pastors teach. That is why we call you to faithfulness.

            This month we are having confirmation. We will have three of our young members confess their faith publically before the whole congregation. As their pastor I hope this is not the only time they confess their faith, but the first of many. I pray that they (and we) are faithful in our witness of Jesus Our Lord.

Sackcloth and Ashes

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

 

Sackcloth and Ashes

            Repentance.  This is a concept that people seem to have lost touch with.  Calling people to repentance is a hard thing to do.  Throughout March we begin our journey through the Lenten Season. Lent is a time for penitence and contrition in recognizing our sins and our need for a savior. During this 40-day season, we do not say Alleluia, out of respect for the sufferings that our Lord went through. It’s easy to think that because we are sinful, that we can submit to our sins and repent later. This is wrong. To think that we can sin now and have a planned repentance is to the same as thinking you can shoot a pigeon and then use it as a message carrier. Without a true understanding of the consequences of the sins we commit, it is impossible to receive the forgiveness that comes through Christ. This is not to imply that we need to do certain things or else we are not forgiven, but if we are seeking forgiveness from Christ our actions will be reflected in our repentance. In many ways, we live in one of the toughest societies to be a Christian. It’s tough because we live in a culture where immorality and sinful activities are depicted as innocent and fun. To be a Christian means sometimes having to be a “stick in the mud” according to the sinful world’s standards. Today however, as in ages past, it is useful that a faithful soul be tested and confirmed by temptations.  Our Savior himself chose to contend with the devil when in the desert (Matthew 4) in order that, for us, and for our salvation, he could defeat him and be the faithful champion of our struggle as he overcomes what we cannot. Temptation tests, purges, and illuminates the strengths and weakness of our faith. In our failures over temptation we see first hand not only the need for Christ’s forgiveness, but for the Holy Spirit’s help to strengthen us and renew our faith.

            So in this Lent season we struggle with our sinful nature.  We strengthen our guard against temptation and we repent.  We admit our sinfulness before God and sincerely seek His forgiveness.  It is not a coincidence that this season of repentance beings on Ash Wednesday.  Traditionally on Ash Wednesday the Church has covered themselves in ashes as a sign of repentance.  It reminds of the overall result of our sin as God said to Adam after the Fall, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  As Jonah cried out to Nineveh the destructive result of their sin, they turned to God seeking his forgiveness.  The wages of our sin is death.  So in this season we turn from our sin and look away from ourselves.  We look to the one who is the answer to our penitential cry for forgiveness.  We look to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who has taken our sins away.   What is amazing about repentance is that the moment we turn to God for forgiveness, he amply and abundantly provides it for us.  So God bless you during this Lenten Season.

Job Qualifications

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“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

-Acts 1:21-26

 The Church Year is filled with hidden gems.  There are festivals and remembrances throughout the year that celebrate great people and wonderful events that have taken place in Biblical history.  It just so happens that one of these remembrances happens in the Month of February.  On the 24th we will celebrate the life and mission of St. Matthias.  But we really don’t know much about Matthias.  The only mention of him in the whole Bible is in Acts 1 when he is chosen to join the Apostles in their leadership of the Church.  He obviously was not notable enough for the writers of the New Testament to mention anything more about him. 

 So what makes this guy worth remembering?  What qualifies him for the job of being an apostle?  The only things that really qualified him for the Job of Apostle is that he showed up.  He was there during Jesus’ ministry and a roll of some dice.  That’s it!  So why do we remember this guy?

The ancient Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, said this about what made the apostles qualified for their job, “ they were capable of becoming apostles on being chosen by Him who foresees even ultimate issues. Matthias, accordingly, who was not chosen along with them, on showing himself worthy of becoming an apostle.” What made Matthias worth of becoming an Apostle was that he was chosen.  It was not that we held special knowledge or skill, but that he was appointed by Christ to bring his saving Gospel to the world.  God chose Matthias for a special ministry.  This ministry is the same ministry that has brought the Christian faith all the far reaches of the globe. 

So as we remember Matthias and all the Apostles we remember what made great was not their wisdom, knowledge, or strength of character.  What made Apostles like Matthias great is the God who has sent them into the world to extend his grace and mercy to all nations.  This is also what makes His Church great.  The Church is great not because of it’s building, worship styles, social programs, or magnetic leaders, but the Church is great because we carry Christ to the world.   That is why we may not know much about Matthias, but we sure do know a lot about the message that he carried.  That Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen!May God bless you as you carry Christ into the world.

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Rise and Shine!

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising”

Isaiah 60:1-3

Rise and Shine! These are the words people will often say as you are waking up in the morning.  They are meant to evoke feelings of the brightness of the new day.  However, in these cold winter months Rising and Shining in the morning is rather difficult.  It takes the Sun a little while to start peaking through the window and that warm bed seems like the perfect place to nestle in to avoid that cold winter morning.

In the same way we live in world that doesn’t seem to “Shine.” As C.S. Lewis put it, “It is always winter, but never Christmas.”  There really seems to be no end to the darkness that sin has brought into this world.  We look around and see it.  There is something broken here.  We read the paper and instead of hearing the the great news of a new day, we are  weighted down by wars, politics, disappointment, and suffering.  The world simply does not shine.  It is like the cold winter Sun that never seems to Rise.

However, in the Church we are celebrating the season of Epiphany.  The word Epiphany literally means “to shine outward.”  Shining! There is a light that shines in this dark world.  It illuminates the darkness and undoes the evils of sin.  That light is remember this time of year as the sun never seems to rise.  That light that Shines it the Son of God who has taken on human flesh for us.  Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th.  This begins the Epiphany season as we remember that the light of Jesus was revealed to the Gentiles as Magi from the East came to worship our Lord.  You see they knew.  The knew that Jesus is the Savior of the this dark world.  He brings light into our darkness.

He has brought light into the world coming to save us.  He took on our human flesh, he lived a perfect and sinless life, he died for you the sins of the world, and he has risen and reigns over all creation as he restores it through the gifts of his Spirit.  As we live in darkness, we know we have been called into marvelous light.  We take comfort in knowing that he has called us.  We are given assurance of that calling in our Baptisms.  When it seems like we are surrounded by darkness, Christ gives us light through His Word, the Lord’s Supper, the assurance we have in the washing of rebirth, and all the gifts he blessed us with in His Church.  And as we live as those who have this light, we call to share it. We are not ambassadors of light in this world.  You are called to Shine! Isaiah says, “then you shall see and be radiant!”  You shall see and you shall be!  He says “Arise!” Shine!” do it! You! Shine! For your light has come. Jesus said “I am the light,” but he also says “you are the light!”  It is now through you that he carries out his epiphany in this dark world.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”

1 Peter 2:9

We behold that light as we recognized that God has come to be among us and brings light into the world.  We have beheld the Glory of Jesus as John writes, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

So Arise and Shine! And Sing every once in a while.  Continue reading

For Unto a Child is Born…now what?

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Merry Christmas!  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.  After weeks of Advent preparation (both physical and spiritual) Christmas is finally here. Christmas Eve has come and many of us will gather together around the Word of God to hear the events of Christ birth.  We will certainly hear readings from the prophets, “For unto us a child is born.”  We will read about the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem, “And it came to pass in those day”.   We will listen in awe and wonder as we hear the glorious announcement from heaven to lowly shepherds “For unto you is born this day a Savior”.  We will listen, we will hear, we will all wonder about these events that we celebrate at Christmas.

As we listen the biggest question that should be in our mind is, “so what?” why should I care about a baby born two thousand some odd years ago?  Why should it matter that Jesus was born?  So what if this is God’s Son?  What’s it to me?

Martin Luther had something to say about this.  He preached on Christmas Day in 1531,

“You heard yesterday how this child belongs to us and how we are to receive him in order properly to understand this article [of the faith]: “Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of [the Virgin] Mary.” We are always to add, “For us.” For whom was he conceived and born? For whom did he suffer and die? For us, for us, for us! Always add us!” (For the whole sermon look here http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/16-4_Corinthians/16-4_Luther_Sermon.pdf)

For you!  That is why you should care.  Christ didn’t just come to walk around, teach us a few things, then slip away like other teacher of the past.  He came for you.  He came to rescue you.  God took on frail flesh so that you might know him.  God comes to you.  God is present for you!  God is born for you! Christmas is about Christ coming to us and for us.

God does something big here.  God does a new and fantastic thing.  The Creator becomes a creature, dwells with His people, and dies for them (you).  The only real response to God doing such an amazing thing is to receive Him as He comes. We do this by having faith.  Trust in the one who has come to you.  Receive his gifts.  Celebrate Holy Communion.  Hear his Word.  Trust in his promises of life and salvation.  Receive forgiveness of Sins that He abundantly gives to us.  Let the God who comes for be the God who reigns over you.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it,

“Who will celebrate Christmas correctly?
Whoever finally lays down
all power, all honor,
all reputation, all vanity,
all arrogance, all individualism
beside the manger.”

The third week of Advent- Joy to the World

“Joy to the World!” These are the iconic words of the Christmas season.  We sing the hymn “Joy to the Word” at our Christmas pageants and during Christmas worship.  It even makes it into the most iconic Christmas movies as Clark W. Griswold plugs in his obnoxious Christmas light display singing none other than “Joy to the World.”

It is very appropriate to speak of Joy in these months.  Christmas is coming, there is much cause to rejoice.  However there is another call to rejoice before Christmas.  The third week in Advent is often called Gaudete.  Gaudete literally means Rejoice.  It is taken from the Introit from the third Sunday in Advent which is found in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” In recognition of this Sunday, we light the Rose colored candle on the advent wreath.

Well what is all this rejoicing about?  Why do we rejoice?  What is the big deal?  It is just another week. We light a pink candle.  Why rejoice over that? Not to mention Christmas, like all holidays, just means a lot work and stress.  Christmastime is just a big headache!  Why bother rejoicing?

We rejoice because we are so close.  We rejoice because Christmas is almost here.  The time has come for God to join his creation and do a new and marvelous thing.  God is coming to be among us! Amazing!

So this week we reflect on the Joy of Jesus.  We look to his first coming and see that Joy that he brings as he takes away the sins of the world.  We experience that joy as he comes in the midst of our sorrows and feeds us the bread of life and life giving water.  We we await the joy of his immanent and impending return…where there will be nothing for us but Joy!