Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Thoughts for Thanksgiving

We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of his hand. Why, then, do we give the appearance of being pastured on the weeds? Why are we such worn and draggle-tailed sheep? Why is there so little gamboling on the green? Why is our life so drab? Perhaps it is because we have not learned the music of thanksgiving and petition, of praise and prayer. And they must be learned in that order, from thanksgiving to petition, because only living men can pray to God, and the people of God live, really live, only when they are thanking Him. He created us that we might be the firstfruits of his new creation; that we might show forth the praises of Him that called us. And we live, really live, as God's new creation only if we live in doxology, only in thanksgiving. And so we can pray and converse with this God of all giving only if we kneel upon a carpet of thanksgiving.

Rev. Dr. Martin Franzmann

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thoughts for Thanksgiving

Neither the wit nor the strength of man called our country into existence, but the Lord. Neither the will nor the wisdom of man brought together people representing so many lands, ethnic groups, and languages, and united them into one great, free, and mighty nation, but the Lord. Neither reason nor the power of man preserved our country, bound its people together, and created its fortune, but the Lord. Our country was--and is--in His hand, as the vessel is in the potter's hand.

For this reason, away with all idolizing of man! Away with the thought that human wisdom, human courage, human power and human righteousness produced the many blessings this land enjoys! Let us praise the Lord, who says, "My glory I give to no other, nor My praise to carved idols" (Is. 42:8). Let us also exclaim, "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 118: 1). He has done great things for us, and for that, we are grateful.

Rev. Dr. C. F. W. Walther

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Truth About "2012"

If you watch any television at all, then you have probably seen the trailer for a movie called “2012,” featuring famous landmarks crashing down as the world apparently comes to an end. Hollywood has mined this territory for decades, but this film has a pretty savvy gimmick; it is piggybacking on already existing speculation about the year 2012 as an end-of-the-world date. Why 2012? It seems that the ancient Mayan civilization had a calendar that stops at the year 2012, which has led some to suggest that the Mayans knew something the rest of us don’t. But let me draw a parallel, if I might.
The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 had a chart on page 158 entitled “Table of the days on which Easter will fall from 1941—2000.” Pretty self-explanatory. Now, did anybody look at this chart and say, “April 23 of the year 2000 is the last Easter EVER!” No Easters are listed after the year 2000!” No, I don’t think so. But that’s what some people are doing with the Mayan calendar, so expect to hear a lot more 2012 talk in the years to come.
Human beings have always been fascinated with the idea of this world’s ultimate destruction. “2012” the movie is just one in a long line of “the earth is on the brink of destruction” films that have entertained audiences for years—but they also speak to a deeper concern we have. It is a concern expressed in many ways—from movies and T.V. shows to social movements attempting to “save the earth”—but it all circles back to this: we have a deep-seated suspicion that this world is going to end someday. There’s a good reason for that. The Bible says that’s precisely what is going to happen. It doesn’t give out dates like 2012 (although some Christians try to use the book of Revelation that way), but it does tell us, point-blank, this world will end. Jesus is coming back. And our Lord Jesus even gives us the signs to look for—you heard them in today’s reading from Mark’s gospel. Civil unrest. Natural disasters. The persecution of Christians. You might look at the list Jesus makes and conclude that all these things are happening now, today, in our generation, and you would be right. We can rightly say that we are living in the end times. We can’t throw out dates because Scripture doesn’t do that. But the Christian can properly come to a realization that, as far as the history of this world is concerned, we are rounding third base and are heading for home. And one of the most relevant questions you could ask about all this is: “So what?” Knowing that the Biblical signs are all there; Knowing that Christ Jesus could return at any time; Knowing that it is pointless and even counterproductive to try to pinpoint that time; so what? What are we, as Christians, supposed to do with this knowledge?
The writer of the book of Hebrews has some ideas, and I would like to share them with you today. He very clearly lists some things that Christians are to “be about” as we see the Day—the Day of Jesus’ return—drawing near.
These ideas for living in the end times all begin with Jesus. In Hebrews 10 verse 19 and following it says: “Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us…and since we have a great high priest over the house of God…” We start by acknowledging that we have been granted access to God Almighty through the blood shed by Jesus—that he is, in a very real sense, a new “high priest,” who, unlike the high priests of old, offered His own blood as a sacrifice for all sins, including yours and mine. Without Jesus’ mediation, we would have no business being in God’s presence—but with the price for sin paid in full, we are allowed and invited to enter into close contact with our Father. Since that is the case, we are invited to live in a certain way in these uncertain days.
First, the writer of Hebrews says, since Jesus has opened the way to his Father, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Because of Jesus, we are invited and enabled to draw near to God in full assurance of faith. We can approach God with a clean conscience because we have been washed. We have been cleansed in the saving blood of Jesus, and purified in the sacred washing of baptism. This has happened to us, and we believe that because God has acted in mercy, we can approach him without fear. Faith in Jesus drives out worry and fear, especially regarding our eternal well-being. Faith in Jesus means I believe He has done everything necessary for me to be saved—so that I can answer confidently, “I will go to heaven, not because I’m a good person (I’m not) but because Jesus did the work on my behalf.” The world is a scary place, and getting scarier by the day. In the face of war, murder, disaster, or the end of the world itself, you can have the full assurance of faith—absolute confidence that death, for the Christian, is merely a transition from life in this world to life in heaven with Christ.
Next, the writer of Hebrews says, since Jesus has opened the way to the Father, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” For Christians living in the end times, this is a sizable—but not impossible—task. To “hold fast the confession of our hope” means to remain faithful to Jesus in what we do and what we say. It means that we “stick to our guns” and we do not depart from the faith that has been created in our hearts by the Word of God and His Spirit. In the modern era there has been an unholy exodus away from the truth of Holy Scripture. Churches that once confessed the Bible as the inspired, mistake-free Word of God have allowed worldly wisdom to erode their confession. In American culture it has become socially awkward and nearly unacceptable to mention the name Jesus as anything other than a curse word. Far too many good Christians—and we might even look in the mirror on this one—have gone with the flow, not wanting to rock the boat. We need to repent, wake up and speak out! What are we worried about? Who are we afraid of? It says right here and we know it’s true: “He who promised is faithful.” He’s got us. He’s got our back. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus—so let’s talk about him while there is still time!
Finally, the writer of Hebrews says, since Jesus has opened the way to the Father, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” God’s Word says something so important right here. It says that when you take a look around and see the signs that the end is coming—keep doing what you’re doing. Keep doing what Christians do. Don’t change your approach. Keep thinking about and praying about ways we can “stir up one another to love and good works.” We’ve been trying to do that with our Faith Forums—looking at all the ways we can to stir up our love for Christ and one another and our love for those who are without Jesus—and what good works we can do to reach them and touch their lives with His grace. God’s Word says here that when you take a look around and see the signs that the end is coming—don’t neglect to meet together. God’s people need to come together around His Word and Sacrament and simply be together. The idea that we can just be a bunch of roving free agent Christians simply isn’t Biblical. We need the strength that we get from one another—sharing our burdens and our joys as a new kind of family—truly, brothers and sisters in Christ. We need this encouragement. We need to know we are not alone. There are others who share in our confession of faith. There are others who are willing to share the love of Jesus with us. As we get closer and closer to that day, it’s not going to get any easier to be a sincere Christian. So let’s walk together as a family of faith.

If it’s not 2012, the world and the devil will throw other fears your way, trying to terrorize you into dropping your faith and hope in Jesus. When that happens, may the Holy Spirit help us to calmly remember that because Jesus suffered and died on the cross for us and rose again from the grave, opening a new and living way to the Father, we can:

· live in the full assurance of faith, because Jesus did it all
· hold fast to our confession of Jesus as Savior without wavering
· encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to live their faith
…and in doing so, may our Lord Jesus Christ find us faithful whenever he returns. Come, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hymn Stanza of the Week: Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me
Augustus Toplady; stanza three

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly--
Wash me Savior, or I die!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Art of Gift-Giving

Mark 12: 38--44

There comes a time in many people’s lives when you start liking to give gifts just as much, if not more than, receiving gifts. There’s just something about the process of giving a gift that’s just right that’s really enjoyable. Sometimes that means weeks or even months of hunting through stores or combing the eBay listings online. Sometimes that may mean hours upon hours of making something original for that special someone. Whatever it is, you think so much of that person that you think and plan and sometimes wait an awfully long time to finally present your gift, and then wait for their reaction. I think maybe you can tell I enjoy giving gifts, and in my vocation that’s probably a good thing.
If I’m not mistaken, everyone understands the difference between a gift given out of true love and affection, and a gift given out of obligation. Here’s just one example: Let’s say your child is invited to his friend’s birthday party, and you know part of the deal is that you have to secure a present for the birthday boy or girl. At some point, everyone gathers around and watches as the paper is ripped off the boxes, and when the child says “thank you,” the response comes back, “Yeah, well, my mom bought it.” Ah, the honesty of children. “Yeah, my mom bought it, I didn’t; whatever.” That is a gift given out of obligation, and it may be a cool toy, but it doesn’t mean very much, does it?
Have you ever stopped to consider why you give gifts to God? When was the last time you really thought about why you were putting money in your offering envelope? What motivates you to give of your time here at the church? Is it because you feel it’s your duty—that you must, or else? Or do you give gifts to God because you want to show him you love him?
Today in Mark chapter twelve, we see the story of a gift given in love. A widow has one mite to give—one thin dime to her name—and she puts that in the offering plate, and Jesus points her out as someone who gets it. This is a gift that shows a love for God that is stronger than love of self. This is a gift that displays a deep trust in God. The widow could not give this gift to God if she did not trust that the Lord would continue to take care of her. It is a gift that defies “common sense.” That’s why Jesus likes it so much.
In contrast to the widow’s gift, Jesus talks about what the rich and well-to-do people are giving. Those who are blessed with much epitomize “common sense” in the way they give. They give from what’s left over. After expenses are taken care of, they move on to savings, and after that they go to luxuries and just cool stuff, and then, oh, well, what do you know, there’s some left over. Good. We can give some to the church. And if that person was rich enough that left-over amount might be a pretty big number. But by drawing attention to the widow and her mite, Jesus is clearly saying that the number doesn’t matter. Jesus is asking, what is your gift saying? Lord, I love and trust you? Or, Lord, you’re an afterthought to me?
I mean, I know people who will not eat leftovers. They won’t touch them. And by now, most of you know what “re-gifting” is; taking an obligation gift and rewrapping it and passing it along to someone else. If you’ve ever received a re-gift, you know how special that feels. And if we gave gifts to our family the way we sometimes give gifts to God, can you imagine the trouble we would be in? I mean, the equivalent of how we treat God with our gifts could be like this: guys; it’s your wife or girlfriend’s birthday, and two minutes before the nice birthday dinner, you start digging through your junk drawer at home, looking for something, let’s see there’s something in here she might like, now how can I wrap this up? Now if you think that’s ridiculous, have you ever been at a church service, maybe it’s a special service, not the usual Sunday routine, and all of a sudden the offering plates start getting passed. You weren’t really planning for this, so you reach in your pocket or your purse and you pull out your wallet, and you start to leaf through the bills, and you go through the singles, and you’re not going to put a single in there, for crying out loud and you look and see what’s the next biggest bill and oh no it’s a ten! So you go back and count: how many singles do I have again? That’s giving from our leftovers, that’s giving God our scraps and what Jesus says today through His Word is that He doesn’t need our scraps and he doesn’t want our scraps. He doesn’t want the smallest bill in your wallet; He wants your heart. He doesn’t want you to write a check to the church for an amount that you won’t miss; He wants you. He wants your love. He wants your trust. He wants you to treasure the gift He has given you.
What is that gift? The Lord had promised to send someone to decisively crush Satan and counteract death itself; and when the time had fully come, Jesus was sent to our world to do just that. Like that widow giving her only coin, Jesus gave everything on the cross. The penalty for your sins and mine—eternal suffering and torment—could not be paid halfway. A few scraps here and there would never do. Jesus could only give everything to forgive the debt of our sin. And so he allowed himself to be falsely accused. He allowed himself to be betrayed and forsaken by his friends. He allowed himself to be made fun of and spit on and slapped and punched and scourged with the Roman whip and nailed to a cross and raised up where he would fight against the nails for every last breath…so that…so that…these words would have real power: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” “Take eat, this is my body given for you; take, drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Now let me ask you again: Why do you give gifts to God? What do you get someone who has given his all for you?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Theology Must Sing

This quote from Martin Franzmann's great Reformation sermon takes me back to Hymnody class at the Seminary.

Theology is doxology. Theology must sing. The church with psalms must shout, no door can keep them out. So at the Reformation, when the Word of Christ dwelt richly in men's hearts once more, when the peace of God was allowed to rule in men once more, there followed a burst of song almost without parallel in the history of the church. Here, too, the Reformation was not a revolution. It gave up nothing of the ancient song of the church that was good and profitable, and the Church of the Reformation ever since, when it has been true to its origin, has always welcomed each good new song.

But the history of the church's hymnody shows that the church has not always been true to its origin. The history of the church 's song is not an uninterrupted progress of triumph. So each generation of the church must try and test itself anew to see whether its song is true, to see whether its doxology is theology.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Photos from Family Chrismon Event

Special thanks to Kirk and Marti Jacobson for their planning and hard work. This was a great event!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day: Spoiler Alert

Revelation 7: 9—17

If you like to read movie reviews, then you probably know what a Spoiler Alert is about. A spoiler alert is when a reviewer reveals a film’s crucial plot point, probably a twist ending, in their review, and if you read it before you see the movie, it would spoil the element of surprise for you. Thus, the reviewer notifies the reader with a Spoiler Alert, giving the reader the chance to stop reading before they spoil it for themselves. Or, you can keep reading if you can’t wait to find out how the story ends.
As we consider God’s Word to us on this Festival of All Saints, then, I need to issue this Spoiler Alert. Today, Holy Scripture is going to reveal how your story ends. It will tell how the story ends for everyone who has been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve read every Spoiler Alert I’ve ever seen, and I would recommend we definitely go ahead and read this one, too. It is not there for us to ignore. It is there to encourage us. It is there to inspire confidence in us. So let’s take a look at the final scene of our story—our story made real through Jesus, our Lord.
The great vision of John we know as Revelation is filled with bizarre imagery, Hebraic number symbolism and repeated references to the Old Testament. It certainly must be the most controversial book in the Bible. For such reasons, many Christians want to leave the book of Revelation alone. They’d rather not read the Spoiler Alert, because it all sounds too weird and scary. But we dare not shut the door on this book. Believe it or not, there are scenes of astounding beauty to be found in Revelation. Our First Reading for this All Saints’ Day is one of them. It is a vision of the saints in triumph—a picture of heaven itself. Like the hymn we began with, it asks us to behold a host arrayed in white—a crowd of people so big that it is uncountable. The people in this vision are wearing white robes and are holding palm branches in their hands. They are Christian people who have been Oxycleaned in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. They are wearing the robe of holiness that was draped over them at their baptism. And they are holding palm branches in hand—that gesture of praise happened on earth, too, remember? Back then it was welcoming the Savior to his holy city—the city where his mission would be completed; here in Revelation the saints are welcoming Jesus home. And this is their shout of praise: We are saved by our God who sits on the throne and by the Lamb!” Here’s the Spoiler Alert! Because Jesus became fully human, lived His Law perfectly and then gave His life as a perfect offering, you will be one of those white-robed worshippers. The book of Revelation sends the clear message: be faithful unto death, and this is what you have to look forward to: you will see Jesus in person, the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. You will worship Him with the entire number of believers from all time and place. You will serve the Lord in perfect happiness. You will want for nothing and will lack nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true. You will lack sorrow. You will lack grief. You will lack pain and suffering. You will lack sadness, disappointment, worry and fear. Those things you will lack. Those things will be lost forever as you look at the face of your Savior Jesus, the Shepherd and the Lamb, the Alpha and Omega, Your King and your brother. It will finally be Him. Jesus. He’s bringing you there. He put the white clothes—or is the right clothes on you. He put the song of faith in your heart. He will bring you over the canyon of death on the bridge of his cross into a scene just like this great celebration in Revelation.
That’s the Spoiler Alert. This is how your story ends, but as you can see, it’s really not an ending at all. Knowing that this is God’s promise to you ought to totally change the way your life gets lived. But does it?
All too often, I’m afraid that we are so distracted by life in this world that we don’t give much thought to life with Christ that never ends. The cares and concerns that trouble us get right up in our faces, so that we can’t see past them. The idea of heaven is pleasant, but distant. It isn’t until we come face to face with death that these promises start to really break through to us.
It might also be that, for as much time as we’ve spent in church, we’re still not all that clear about how you end up in heaven. We sit here observing an All Saint’s Day, but we wear the “saint” title awkwardly, if we claim it at all. It is time to change that. You need to realize that yes, indeed, you are one of God’s saints. Why? Because that’s what God says you are.
That’s what he calls those whom he has chosen and adopted in Baptism and washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. The apostle Paul also does it on numerous occasions. He calls the members of the congregations he wrote to “saints”-- which was kind of strange, considering he was usually writing to them to tell them to get their act together. But that’s the tension in which we live. We know we don’t deserve to be called saints. We don’t deserve to be called children of God. We know that when it comes to being holy, well, that’s a joke, right? We know that if a judge and jury were ever to sift through the evidence of our lives, they would be able to come up with incident after incident that would disqualify us from saintly status.
Despite our ideas and doubts about sainthood, God looks at Jesus’ cross and empty tomb, then looks at us and because of what Jesus did, he names us saints. So that’s what we must be. Just as he calls ordinary bread and wine his own body and blood; just as he calls a bit of water with his name “a washing of rebirth and renewal,” if God calls us saints, we’re saints, through Jesus Christ our Lord. If God can name the day day and night, night, then He can call us saints through the shed blood and risen life of Jesus. Are you going to tell God he’s wrong? That he’s made a mistake? “Not me, Lord, no, I’m not a saint.” God hears that and says, “Hey, listen, being a saint is not up to you! Because of what my Son did, I can and will say to you that in my eyes, you are a saint. You are someone for whom my Son was rejected and beaten and killed. Being called a saint isn’t an achievement; it’s a gift. Receive it and wear your white robe well.
Take this good news to heart: God considers you a saint, because the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus has been applied to you. Despite everything the devil and the world will throw at you in this life, you have heard and believed the Spoiler Alert that promises final and absolute victory in Jesus Christ! We are saved by our God who sits on the throne and by the Lamb. May God, in His grace, work through you and me to add more and more souls to that heavenly crowd of saints; in Jesus’ name. Amen.