A myHT Fortress

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Happiest Place on Earth?

[This post previously appeared on myHT, articles that are now posted on the front page of Higher Things.]

The commercial begins with a racing, horse-drawn coach. The white horses gallop toward the home where the children are sleeping, while parents are online, discovering that there is an affordable vacation package for them. The excitement rushes through your veins as you begin to think, “Maybe there is a great bargain for me, too!” and you check out the Disney website.

In recent years, an advertising slogan has emphasized Walt Disney’s remarks from the opening day of Disneyland, collectively referring to the Disney parks as “The Happiest Place on Earth.” But are they? Are you truly happier there than any other place on the planet?

There is a certain rush as you go through the gate, and enter Main Street, USA. The excitement builds as you stop for your first “must have” photo with the castle in the background. Your week continues to place one treat on top of another, as you receive excellent service, happy pampering, and continuous smiles and courtesy in shows and on rides.

Yes, Disney provides an amazingly high level of service and leisure. In many ways, most people would agree that it is the happiest place on earth. But let’s take a moment to ponder that thought.

In this Easter season, we are reminded of our heavenly future, in our resurrected and glorified bodies with the Lord. "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:15-17 ESV).

Christians have this wonderful promise of a blessed eternity with the Lord. And yet it’s not only a future promise; Christ blesses you even now to enjoy a foretaste of this feast to come. Every time you gather around His altar and our Savior places His holy Body on your tongue and quenches your thirst with His most precious Blood, He truly comes to you! He brings a bit of heaven here and now, so that our holy God touches you. Heaven intersects earth! In every chancel where Jesus delivers Himself, an amazing and wondrous event happens. Oh! That your eyes could actually see the miracle taking place! Jesus Christ is bringing the throne of Most High God to your parish altar. The Lamb of God who is slain and risen feeds and gives drink to His great multitude that no one could number (Rev. 7:9 ESV).

So, as dear Dr. Luther would ask: “What does this mean?” It means that there is not one single place elevated among all others as the happiest place on earth. Actually, there are thousands upon thousands of “happiest places on earth” on any given day. Every altar on which our Lord Jesus becomes incarnate in bread and wine becomes the happiest place on earth. Wherever our Lord celebrates His Holy Eucharist, preaching His Gospel in your ears and placing His Body and Blood in your mouths becomes the happiest place on earth for you!

For a Disney fanatic like me, this really gives some food for thought. As beloved as my family’s favorite vacation spot is, we are given perspective by our loving Savior. Every Lord’s Day He reminds us: THIS is the happiest place on earth!

A Tribute: What Have We Learned from Issues, Etc.?

[Pastor Will Weedon of St. Paul, Hamel, IL just posted this tribute by Mark Dowell of Columbia IL. It is beautiful, and well worth spreading around!]

We were taught not be ashamed of the Gospel “for it is the power of God.”

We learned that good sermons teach the truths of God faithfully and clearly. Listening to Christ-Centered, Cross-focused sermons from Rev. Bill Cwirla, Rev. Will Weedon, and Dr. David Scaer were favored by all. When we applied the sermon diagnostic tool to the Christ-less sermons so prevalent today we were appalled.

We now know what we believe, teach, and confess as Lutherans because of Dr. Lawrence White, Dr. Karl Barth, Rev. Peter Bender and Dr. Ken Schurb who provided catechetical instruction grounded in God’s Word.

Instruction in the proper distinction between Law and Gospel was provided by Dr. Carl Fickenscher, Dr. Tom Baker, Dr. Cory Maas, and Dr. Richard Eyer. They brought to bear the teachings and C.F.W. Walther.

There was a battle for the Bible during the 1970’s. Thanks to Dr. Zimmerman and Dr. Barth we now know what was at stake. And as I speak we are seeing first hand history repeat.

Life issues such as stem cell research, abortion, and euthanasia were addressed by Wesley Smith, Scott Klusendorf, Greg Koukl and Dr. Jim Lamb. We were taught and equipped to “defend life from beginning to end.”

We are more informed about Islam and other world religions thanks to scholars such as Dr. Alvin Schmidt and Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. We now know the two faces of Islam – one when in the minority and another when in the majority.

We studied many Hymns including “What Child is This” and “Stricken Smitten and Afflicted” with Dr. Art Just and Pastor Henry Gerike. Lutherans gave the church hymns because hymns teach us doctrine. Through hymns we praise God by telling everyone what he has done.

We unpacked the myths about Luther and Worship with Rev. Will Weedon and Dr. Ken Schurb, and in so doing learned that worship is not about what we do for God, but about receiving his gifts and hearing God’s Word.

The doctrine of vocation was thoroughly explored by Dr. Gene Edward Veith and Dr. Steven Hein. The purpose of vocation is to serve and love one another - we are all masks of God. “God doesn’t need our good works. But our neighbor does.”

We were taught “Why Bad Things Happen” from Rev. Matt Harrison. We learned how suffering is the Lord’s alien work as Martin Luther would say. Suffering drives us to Jesus for he is the way.

Our seminaries were well represented by Dr. Jeff Gibbs, Dr. Larry Rast, Dr. Cameron MacKenzie, Dr. David Adams and many others. They spoke on such topics as Scripture and Tradition, The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Fundamentalism, and Civil Religion.

Where would we be without a clear understanding of how Doctrine and Practice affect one another? Rev. Klemet Preus’s book “The Fire and The Staff” and numerous discussions were invaluable it is true. Doctrine is what you believe about Jesus—His life and death and their meaning to you.

Articles of faith such as Repentance, Prayer and The Person and Work of the Holy Sprit were clearly expressed by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, Dr. Andrew Steinman, and Dr. Richard Schuta. We believe faith in Jesus Christ is a gift from God, given by the power of the Holy Sprit; thus all the glory belongs to God alone it is not something we merit.

Justification is the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls and Sanctification not rightly understood can turn into Law. Dr. Daniel Preus, Dr. Steve Hein and Dr. Carl Fickenscher clearly explained from scripture how God works to save.

We were introduced to a new generation of defenders of the faith including Rev. Brain Wolfmueller, Rev. Steven Parks, and Chris Rosebrough who addressed important topics like Baptism, God and Suffering, and Christ-less Christianity.

We studied books of the Bible with Dr. John Seleska and Tim Seleska including the Psalms. Each week we prepared for our Sunday school lesson with Deaconess Pam Nielson. What important insights and knowledge we were able to glean.

History was another topic often discussed with Dr. Paul Maier and Dr. Martin Noland. The topics included The Events Surrounding the Death & Resurrection of Jesus Christ, The Reformation, Roman Catholicism, and Early Christian Historian Eusebuis.

The errors of Pietism and the Church Growth Movement were exposed by Aaron Wolf, Dr. Larry Rast, Rev. Rod Zwonitzer, Craig Parton, and Chris Rosebrough. We learned what the true marks of a church involve - the means of grace and salvation, the proclamation of the Gospel and sacrament administration.

We may never have known of such great theologians as Dr. Norman Nagel, Dr. Louis Brighton, and Dr. Ron Feuerhahn who were eager to share their insightful instruction on Eternal Life, The Presence of God, The Lords Supper, and Papal Authority & Roman Doctrine.

Luther’s explanation in the Heidelberg Disputation of Theologians of the Cross was clearly conveyed by Dr. Paul Grime, Dr. Steven Hein, and Dr. R. Scott Clark. “That person deserves to be called a theologian who comprehends what is visible of God through suffering and the cross.”

Culturally relevant topics were discussed by Dr. Mike Horton and Dr. Laurence White. They involved American Evangelicalism, Christianity and Pop Culture, and the Secularization of the Church. We were taught that there is no such thing as Evangelical style and Lutheran substance. “It’s not style or substance; its style forms substance.” In the church, what we believe establishes what we do and who we are.

And let us not forget the thought provoking and educational articles published in the Issue etc. Journal including: “Locus and Focus,” Purpose Driven or Forgiveness Given,” and “Mere Monotheism.”

Such a wide range of topics were discussed on each and every show with guests including Ed Meese, John Shelby Spong, Dr. Alveda King, Bishop N.T. Wright, Dr. Albert Mohler, and Robert Schuller,. This speaks to Jeff Schawrz’s dedication and abilities as the Issues etc. producer to compile a guest list with the likes of these.

I would be remiss in not recognizing the invaluable contribution of Pastor Todd Wilken. Not only were his questions insightful and probing, but the fact that he too was able to address all of the topics mentioned from a scriptural and cultural perspective was nothing short of astounding.

Thanks to Issues Etc. I don’t want to be Emergent, Purpose-Driven, or to Become a Better Me. I want Jesus, only Jesus, nothing but Jesus who lived a perfect life and died for me.

This list is by no means exhaustive, yet I hope it conveys the blessing received from Issues ETC. There is much appreciation especially from the laity who received an education worthy of a degree.

While this “voice in the wilderness” has been silenced for now, “God works all things together for good for those who are called according to His purpose” and I can’t wait to see how.

By Mark Dowell, Columbia IL

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Don't Believe It!

“I don’t believe it!” Kristi exclaims, as Ryan Seacrest reveals that Amanda Overmyer had the fewest votes, and Kristy Lee Cook got to remain on American Idol!

“I don’t believe it!” I thought, as my heart sank, learning that KFUO radio in Saint Louis cancelled their highest rated, most financially successful, best evangelistic program, Issues, Etc. and terminated the jobs of its faithful host and producer.

“I don’t believe it!” Saint Thomas says, convinced that the Lord remained dead in the garden tomb, as the other Ten tell him the Lord is risen!

The Second Sunday of Easter proclaims the Gospel of the Risen Lord, telling the joys of what many view as unbelievable. Saint Thomas was not with the others when the risen, glorified Jesus walked through the locked door and blessed the apostles with His presence and assurance. When Thomas returned, he failed to believe the resurrection. “It’s too good to be true!” he thought. “I don’t believe it!”

Sadly, many still think it is too good to be true. Even among us, our words and actions may confess, “I don’t believe it!” When we do not take advantage of every opportunity to receive our Lord’s preaching and sacraments, we are disbelieving their power and miraculous work. If we demote our Savior’s gifts to the status of “symbol” or “sign,” and think that His preaching is simply “about” Jesus, instead of a means of grace, we are telling our Risen Redeemer, “I don’t believe it!” When we deny an outpouring of care to our pastors, faculty, staff, members and visitors, we ignore Jesus and are faithless. In that denial we tell Him, “I don’t believe it!”

Yet what does Jesus say and do when Thomas disbelieves? Does He reject the apostle? Does He replace Thomas with one of the Emmaus disciples who then believed? No. Our Risen Savior lovingly and forgivingly shows His sacred wounds and gives the Gospel comfort to the unbeliever.

And He does the same with us. For all of our daily unbelief, Jesus constantly comes to us, speaking His Gospel in our ears; washing our bodies and cleansing our souls with Holy Baptism; and feeding us His very Body and Blood that He showed to Thomas, preparing us for life eternal, body and soul.

We frequently say, “I don’t believe it,” whether in words or deeds. Yet Jesus reaches out to us with those scarred holy hands, giving His grace and restoring belief. He refuses to leave us lost; our Good and Risen Shepherd creates, restores, and renews faith—that we too may rise!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Adoremus Te, Christe

Adoramus te, Christe,
et benedicimus tibi.
Quia per sanctam crucem
tuam redemisti mundum.

We adore You, O Christ,
and we bless You,
because by Your holy cross
You have redeemed the world.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dark Deeds on Holy Tuesday

You may or may not be aware that on Holy Tuesday, with no warning, the radio program Issues, Etc. was cancelled. It's host, Pastor Todd Wilken, and its producer, Jeff Schwarz, were terminated -- effective immediately.

Now, Issues has been a bastion of Lutheran doctrine and practice for a number of years. Not only has this
likely been the highest motivator in financial contributions to KFUO; it has been the best, highest rated, most listened-to show. And all that while being completely faithful to the Gospel!

Lutherans who have heard about this are outraged. It is a vicious attack on the Synod's best evangelism tool and most technological/media savvy effort in delivering Christ and His Word.

An online petition to the LCMS and KFUO is available. I highly recommend you join your signature to the hundreds that have signed since last evening.

In the mean time, do not let the workings of the devil tear you away from the focus of Holy Week! As Pastor Wilken himself is encouraging:

My thanks to everyone who has been so generous and supportive. Thank you for demonstrating such brotherly concern toward me, Jeff and our families. We are encouraged by everyone's Christian compassion and friendship.

Everyone, go to church. Eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus. Celebrate His death for us. Await His resurrection. It's Holy Week - the best week of the year.

Wir sind alle Bettler,


Monday, March 17, 2008


In the early 1980's, my best friend, Jeff Grebe, introduced me to a series of books when I needed a book report idea. The series featured three detectives, younger than the Hardy Boys, perfect for boys our age to relate to.

It was The Three Investigators. The stories implied that Alfred Hitchcock had met these youth, and they reported back the adventures and mysteries that they solved.

Jupiter Jones was the First Investigator. He was the leader. A resourceful kid, and nephew to Uncle Titus, who owned the Jones Salvage Yard -- where the Three Investigators' headquarters was hidden in a trailer underneath piles of junk. (I think in my mind, this was the role played by Jeff.)

Pete Crenshaw was the Second Investigator. He was the most athletic and muscular of the three. He also seemed most easily frightened.

Bob Andrews was in charge of Records & Research. He was the most learned of the
three, working in a library. (For some reason, I related to Bob, while admiring and wanting to be just like Jupe too.)

The series is not easily found these days in the USA.
Although it's very popular in Germany. I highly recommend tracking them down, especially for the "middle school" age of readers. The ones labeled "Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators" follow the original plot lines with Hitchcock. Revisions since Hitchcock's death in 1980 have edited him out.

Save Us Now: A Homily for Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” This morning we hear the chants of praise echoing from the streets of Jerusalem, welcoming Jesus. Voices raised singing psalms to the Savior King as He humbly entered the Holy City, riding on a donkey.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” These words from Psalm 118 were chanted to Jesus then, and they are sung to Him even now. Throughout the centuries the Church has continued to praise the Lord with this beautiful confession of faith.

This morning we hear a confession of faith from nine young people in our midst. They have been baptized. They have been catechized in the faith, as taught by the Church of the Augsburg Confession. Today, they acknowledge that gift and make a serious promise. This morning, they vow that they will endure life’s hardships and society’s persecutions; they will even die, if they must, rather than fall from the faith as taught by the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

But what about this confession of faith in the Entrance Gospel for this day? What do these words confess? “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna!” “Hosanna” is a Hebrew word that means, “Save us now, we pray.” It is what David sang in Psalm 118:25 – “Ana’ YHWH hosiah-na’ – Save us, we pray, O LORD!” The crowds gathering around Jesus, trying to get a glimpse of Him, singing for joy, did not take this word lightly. This single word was confessing faith in Christ! The One they shouted to was the One whom they believed could save them!

Granted, even five days before His death, the people still did not understand how Jesus was going to save them. Was He going to incite riots against the Roman garrison in Jerusalem? Was He going to work some miracle that caused the Roman occupation to get up and leave? No one knew. They just knew they were expecting great power and majesty, like one would expect from royalty!

Pastor Tannahill from Gloria Dei in Elizabethtown, Kentucky told a story this week. He was born and raised in Canada. Once as a child, Queen Elizabeth II came to his hometown and Pastor’s mother wanted to be sure he got to see her. They went to the event, and since the queen is not very tall, Mrs. Tannahill lifted her little boy so he could see above the crowd. “Can you see the Queen?” she asked. “No,” he sadly replied.

That evening, they watched the news. “There!” said Mrs. Tannahill, “Didn’t you see the Queen?” she said, pointing to a lady on the television who had a simple spring dress, a pill box hat, and handbag. “Well yeah, I saw her!” he said,… “That’s the queen?”

The portraits in his school, and other pictures he had seen diplayed the Queen in her regal robes, with crown and scepter, opening parliament, or posing for formal occasions. But this woman simply looked like someone’s mother! A regular person. Seeing her in person was not what he expected. She did not look powerful or regal or queenly.

Likewise, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, He did not look powerful, or regal, or kingly. The type of King that He is, is far different from what the common people expected. They wanted the miracle worker who fed thousands, who healed many. They wanted a man who could show great power and get their land back to the glories of David and Solomon.

We follow that pattern too. We want a powerful Jesus. We want the Jesus who can snap His fingers and produce all that we want or desire. We want a Jesus who will make life easy and trouble-free. We want a Jesus who will simply take away any illnesses or accidents or hardships from us and our loved ones. We want a Jesus who will bless our parish, school, and day care with lots of money, business saavy, and the envy of all the other churches around. We want a Jesus who will answer our self-centered prayers with a big house, expensive cars, HD TV’s, and all the latest things that our friends have. We want a Jesus who will place us in an easy job that we love, and surround us with others who appreciate the work we are doing. We want a Jesus who – plain and simple – is not Jesus!

Repent, dear friends. The people of Jerusalem may not have known any better. But you do. Lusting after the power, and glory of God in the image that we want Him to be, and trying to make that power and glory our own, has been a favorite sin ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. And imitating the ways of the world, as if its wisdom and ways were desired more than God’s, only leads to pain and judgment for the church.

Yet the Lord does not manipulate and remove trials from you. He does not wave a royal scepter like a wand and make you a force to be reckoned with, in the ways of the world. Instead, He surrounds you with His love and grace and forgiveness, as He bears your burdens and carries you through every trial and valley.

The wrong idea of Jesus? Even so, in this single word, “Hosanna,” we know that they looked to Jesus as Savior. We join them in this desire to adore our God and King. The people of Jerusalem needed a Savior. Adam and Eve needed a Savior. Those of us gathered here this morning, both now, and every day of our lives, need our Savior!

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” With these words, the people of Jerusalem also confessed that Jesus is the Son of David. Not only is He Savior, but He is King! This Descendant of King David was recognized for who He was, again, even if not completely understood. He is a Savior. And as a descendant of David, He is One who could claim the throne. He is Messiah – the Anointed One – the Christ who is the Promised King. This Royal Heir had Divine right to rule over them, and they welcomed the Anointed One!

Yes, Jesus is King. He does rule over all. But His kingdom is not of this world. He is, as many Hebrew prayers state, “King of the Universe.” Yet He has no geographic realm. His rule is spiritual, godly, and eternal – far surpassing any worldly ideas or ideals of what a king is to be or do. He goes beyond any limits of our imaginations for our ultimate King.

Why? Because the Son of David is also the Son of God! He IS the LORD, God Almighty in the flesh. Jesus Christ, our Savior and King is our God!

Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” With the Name of God invoked, He brings His presence to His people. When two or three are gathered in His Name – “The Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – God blesses and bestows His presence.

Jesus, being God, brought the presence of the Lord wherever He was. Riding into Jerusalem, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh! They were blessed to behold their King and to see and hear God – Jesus – coming in the Name of the Lord! But they were not alone!

Every Lord’s Day, we are blessed to behold and hear Him too. We hear Jesus Christ as He speaks through the lips of our pastors, reading and proclaiming His Word. We recall His promise to the apostles and pastors “He who hears you, hears Me.” We behold and hear Him as He uses the pastors’ hands to pour water on people “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” transforming them into new creatures and rescuing them from death and the devil. We behold and hear Him as we approach His altar, tasting Christ and the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He gives. Miraculously, our Savior-King enters our bodies with His own Body and Blood, feeding our bodies and souls to give us life!

These nine youth have a lot on their minds this morning. My fervent prayer is that they are ever-mindful of one thing: Jesus bringing His presence in the Divine Service. We hear Him and receive Him week after week in His Word and in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus DOES come to us. And every Sunday – every Lord’s Day – is a celebration of that presence.

That is why the Divine Service is the most important thing in any Christian’s life, whether they realize it or not. It is central to our faith. It is where God comes and gives Himself as a Gift! It is where the Lord feeds us so we have the strength and nourishment to continue in life. When people truly understand this, they desire to come to the Divine Service.

Dear youth, this morning you are swearing to the Lord God Almighty that you will be faithful and regular in coming to His House, receiving His preaching, confessing your sin, and partaking of His Holy Eucharist. This is a solemn vow that there is nothing more important to you than coming to the Divine Service in Christ’s Church!

The devil and the world will tempt you. They will try to convince you how boring it is to come to the Divine Service. Your friends and even family may try to persuade you that it is better to sleep in, play sports, watch a movie, or to go somewhere else that is supposedly more fun. It is a tough battle, and Satan will try hard to harass you. Even when you do come, the devil will try to convince you to let your heart and mind drift from the Holy Gifts that our Savior gives.

But our dear and blessed Savior is there. The same Jesus who hears our “Hosannas” and “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” is still there. He continues to forgive us, even as we drift during the Divine Service. When we confess to our pastor and hear Holy Absolution, He forgives us. When we hear His Gospel preached, He forgives us. When we receive His Holy Body and Blood, He forgives us.

Forgiven and strengthened, Jesus our Savior-King makes you bold to confront His enemies, and unapologetic for your need of and dedication to His Divine Service. He brings you to cherish the very Gifts that have delivered His forgiveness; and gives you the wisdom to know the wonder and amazement of receiving more and more of Jesus!

And with joy, we respond to that forgiveness, singing as His redeemed saints, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Country Mouse; City Mouse

This fun "Photo-op" is right outside the Christmas store in Downtown Disney. It's always been fun to see the snowman characters, the snow-covered tree, and the very green shrubs & trees around them.

The funny thing is, during our nine years here, that has often been the case with snow. We don't get much, and what we do is gone in a day or two.

This weekend we have had around a foot of snow! Here in southern Indiana,
2 inches can bring everything to a screeching halt. Let alone 12! Schools close. The YMCA closes. Churches close. Even basketball tournaments have been postponed!

Just after New Year's Day in 1999, we had around 24 inches in Chicago. The main roads were clear as could be. The side roads at least had a decent lane. My head elder came and drove me to church a mile from our house. But here we can get a couple inches, and everyone worries and closes down. I never canceled Divine Services in Chicago. Here we have even called off Christmas Eve due to some snow and ice on the roads and parking lot! Of course, in Chicago, streets are straight and level, so getting 8-12 inches of snow is nothing! Here we have shaded hills and curves that are dangerous in wet, snowy or icy weather.

Today was actually nice. We have enough snow to cover everything and be beautiful. However, we will not have our 8:00 Divine Service or Sunday School. We simply will have the 10:30 Divine Service, giving the parking lot's black ice time to dry out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sacramentally, You're in Denial

St. Matthew 26:30-75

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Boy! Did Peter ever blow it! Denying that he even knew Jesus! Not just once. THREE times! What a coward. And he even had fair warning to try to avoid it! How sad that he denied Jesus in front of others!

We too deny Him. We deny Him when we choose to go other places and be with other people rather than worship. We deny Him when we show up for Vespers or the Divine Service, but let our minds wander, thinking about a game we’d rather be watching, or who’s going to sing the best on American Idol tonight, or concentrate on the new dress, or hair style, or even baby in the next pew. We deny Jesus when we keep quiet about our faith, so that we don’t “offend” anyone or “cause any trouble.”

Then again, not only do we deny Jesus to others, trying to hide our relationship with Him, but perhaps our greater problem is that we also deny that He truly comes among us. We deny that He is more than an historical figure. Old Adam likes the idea of the Ascended Christ stuck up in heaven, not able to interact with us. But my dear friends in Christ, that is not how He works! Jesus comes to us, in His glorified body, and acts and speaks to us!

When we manipulate what God’s Word says, we can deny Jesus in Holy Baptism. Yes! We deny Jesus in Holy Baptism! Every time we think of baptism simply as following a command of Christ, or a washing that represents or signifies our repentance, our believing, our deciding to be Christian, we join the thugs in the Garden slapping Jesus in the face, and Peter hiding in the shadows.

Calling this Gift our action says, “Jesus, I don’t recognize You! I don’t need You here. I’ve got it all under control. We’ll call You when we need You!”

But it is the Holy Spirit at work in that font, stirring the waters of Bethesda to heal us; washing of the mud of blindness in the Sent pool of Siloam; cleansing us from the leprosy of sin in the Jordan. He forgives, rescues, and saves as He delivers our dear Lord Christ through His drenchingly wet Word.

Often we deny the work and authority of Jesus in Holy Absolution. Yes! We deny Jesus in Holy Absolution! That is why so few people avail themselves of this sacrament! We don’t really believe that Jesus is working and speaking through His ministers to hear our confessions and remove those sins forever.

Our Lord and Merciful Judge has authorized His Twelve Apostles, and the generations of pastors that follow them until His glorious return, to hear our confessions, and bestow absolution, that is forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

Dear friends in Christ, this could be the single most ignored doctrine in the 21st century Lutheran Church. Officially we still believe, teach, and confess that the private confession of sins to our pastor is the norm. And yet, a watered-down rite that removes the individual contact and assurance from our Lord, intended to supplement that private confession, has (in practice) become the sad substitute.

The reality is that our general confession as a congregation is NOT what Luther speaks of in the Catechism. It is NOT what Jesus is talking about in John, chapters 20 and 21. It is intended to be a reminder of why it is necessary to make individual confession to our pastor in Christ.

Refusing to do so is denying Christ. Rejecting His Holy Gift of Individual Confession and Holy Absolution is telling Jesus that we don’t really believe that He is hearing our confession and speaking that liberating, joy-filled forgiveness.

After Jesus’ resurrection, He confronts Saint Peter on the beach. Three times He asks Peter if he loves Jesus. There is no mistake here. Jesus asks precisely the number of times that Peter denied Him. But He quickly and firmly gives Peter the command to feed and tend the Lord’s sheep. Peter is absolved, and assured that he is still in Christ’s Church, and part of His plan.

You too, are part of His Church, and part of His plan. Dear friends, do not deny or refuse Jesus the opportunity to forgive and renew you! Do not ignore Him or act ashamed of Him! Return to the Lord. Blessed Martin Luther once said we should value this means of grace so highly that we would walk a hundred miles to confess and receive absolution from a pastor! He also said that the people should be demanding their pastors to hear their confessions.

I don’t see too many shoes that worn tonight. Not many of us have urged and demanded our pastors for this gift. We stand convicted, my friends. We have denied Jesus.

And our fits of unbelief continue. We deny Jesus in the Holy Supper. Modern Lutherans stray from what we have believed, taught, and confessed for nearly 500 years. Jesus says that the bread and wine ARE His Body and Blood. But did He really mean that? Surely, He doesn’t actually mean that they become His flesh and blood! …So says Satan.

Christ our Lord speaks His Word, and the bread and wine as elements of His creation have no choice! They MUST be His Body and Blood! No longer common things, they can never again be mingled and mixed with other wafers of bread, or bottles or decanters of common wine. He never says that these items cease to be His Body and Blood, and so we treat them with the dignity and respect that these items are divine!

When we treat the Blessed Sacrament non-chalantly, or walk about His sanctuary and enter His Holy Place with disrespect or disregard, we are denying Him. When we think that this is some ordinary food and drink, or approach His altar with gum or a mint in our mouth, we are denying that this Holy Food IS GOD!

Historically, Lutherans continued the fast from midnight the night before receiving the Holy Eucharist, that their cleansed and empty stomachs would receive the Lord more properly. Only the children, the elderly, and those with health problems ate breakfast before the Divine Service.

Are you denying Jesus by not fasting? No. Not necessarily. But the thoughts and actions and attitudes with which one approaches the Holy Altar declare volumes about us. And often, those thoughts and actions and attitudes are denying Him.

Tonight we hear even Peter, Prince of the Apostles, first among twelve equals, one of Jesus’ three closest friends, deny that he even knew Jesus! And we realize that daily we sin much and frequently deny our Lord as well.

Yet even as our Savior strolled on the beach with Simon Peter, individually hearing him and speaking to him, and thereby absolving him, so also Jesus speaks to you. He holds no grudge. Christ does not keep you from entering His kingdom due to your denials. He reaches out to you in love, speaking to you through the voice and the forgiving touch of your pastors. He gathers the scattered and joins us in the unity of His Holy Church, cleansed by His blood at Baptism, renewed by His absolving Word, and refreshed by His saving Body and Blood in His Eucharist.

Yes, dear repentant friends in Christ, you may rest assured that our loving Savior has removed your guilt and will never deny you. Tonight, you go down to your houses justified. Amen.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Siloam! (Sent!): Homily for the 4th Sunday in Lent

Saint John 9:1-41

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

Jesus saw the man. Blind from birth, our Lord had compassion on him. His heart went out to the blind man. How does He help? It sounds gross, but Jesus spits. He spits and makes mud from some dirt, and smears it on the man’s eyes. Water from the mouth of God works with the very earth from which man was made, and anoints the man’s eyes. And as the words and promises of God, which tell him to wash in a pool named Siloam – Sent – as those words and promises of God declared, he is healed!

Think about it! He hadn’t seen Jesus to know who He was. Once healed, the formerly blind man didn’t even know who to thank! But he knew one thing – this was no ordinary man who healed him. He was some prophet from God. In fact, he was soon to discover that this was THE Prophet of whom Moses spoke. The Sent One. The Messiah. The Son of Man. God-in-the-flesh.

God had sent Moses to deliver the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. He sent King David to lead the people into being a great kingdom on earth. He sent Solomon to build His temple. He sent Elijah, Isaiah, and others to be His preachers to His Old Testament Church. He sent Saint John the Baptizer to prepare the way of the Lord.

And now the Father had sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved. Through the season of Advent, we remembered that the Sent One would come, and at Christmas, the festival celebrates that our Sent Savior IS come. Now, throughout the holy season of Lent, we reflect on the suffering and death for our salvation, and His rising from the dead, that were the entire purpose of His being sent!

This is the same death and resurrection into which you were baptized! A blessing with great benefits!

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe, will be condemned.”

Jesus, THE Sent One, sends this Blind Man to wash and be healed. Like the baptismal font He sent you to, those waters were attached to His promise, and brought you healing. Sure, your body may have problems. You are not free from all sickness or injury. Yet a healing of your soul from sin, and a healing of your body that you cannot yet see, one that prepares you to live in both body and soul with Him forever, has taken place.

And the sending continues. Our dear Lord Jesus keeps on sending you. He sends you to His house week after week. Sometimes we go, other times perhaps we do not listen. But He sends us to His holy liturgy to hear His Word preached and taught, and to respond with thanks and praise. He sends us to His altar, to receive His blessing, and to taste His forgiveness, life, and salvation! He sends us to our pastors to hear His absolution freely given to all who repent.

And from His services, the Lord sends us out into the world. We are living witnesses to all around us, as our words and actions declare what He has done for us. Our Savior sends us to live in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. That love from God is shown in how we live our lives. If we are parents, by being good parents; if we are children, by being obedient children; if teachers, than teaching to the best of our abilities; if students, then by cooperating and doing our very best at our lessons.

Just two days ago, we had another example of being sent. The Lord preserved the life of Emma Oberdieck in a car collision. He sends her now to be a living witness to His divine protection.

Others have been through such wrecks and were taken to their Lord in paradise. In those cases, their loved ones are sent as living witnesses of the loving consolation and comfort of Christ – the only One who can lead them through such grief.

The blind man’s parents were sent too. But they did not do such a good job. They were scared. They were frightened by the leaders of their synagog – their church – knowing that they would be kicked out if they said Jesus is the Messiah. So they kept quiet. They did not get kicked out, but they acted like they were ashamed of Jesus, and were not only hurting themselves, but anyone that they could have told about Jesus Christ.

How often are we that cowardly? How frequently do we take the easy way out, and avoid being made fun of, or avoid hurting someone’s feelings, instead of speaking the truth about our Savior?! For most of us, we do that far too often!

In your Baptism, you are sent to be a picture of Christ to those around you. You are sent to “hear His Word, receive His gifts, and proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” [Order of Holy Baptism, LSB 271.]

How well do we do at proclaiming those praises? Even if we go to church every week, can we honestly say that our actions proclaim the praises of Jesus 24/7? Not a chance!

But don’t go home sad, or angry, or depressed! I have Good News! Our dear Lord Jesus has paid the price for your sin! Because He was sent to save us, you are forgiven for every single instance of failing in the tasks He sends you to do. Your guilt is gone for every word of Christ that you failed to speak. You are cleansed from the shame of every thought of Jesus that you failed to think.

God is not keeping some grade book that is marking bad grades for not being perfect Christians. Instead, He is blessing us all with the extra credit that our Savior won on the cross, and giving it to us all, so that each of us now have a glorious 100% in the Book of Life!

There is another one sent this morning, that we all should remember. Mrs. Tanya Johnson has been sent by God to teach in Lutheran schools. Currently she has been sent to Wisconsin. This past week, we have called her and have asked her to consider with prayer whether this should be the school to which she is sent. We ask the Lord to bless her with wisdom to know where He may use her knowledge, talents, and abilities best.

As we pause this morning, and celebrate National Lutheran Schools Week, we praise God for the gift of Lutheran Schools, and in particular, the blessing of this school for this congregation and community, for 147 years. We thank God for the first pastors that He sent to Saint John’s, who taught school in the log cabin parsonage when they could. We thank God for Julius Prelle, whom God sent to Saint John’s as our first full-time teacher over 100 years ago. We thank the Lord for the many blessings of teachers, and buildings, and families, and gifts that He has sent to make this a great place to grow, where children are nurtured in Christ.

Praise the Lord, dear friends and students! Jesus Christ is sent for you, that you may be sent to heaven, forever, with Him. Rejoice, dear sent ones! Rejoice in our Lord, who is sent for you! Amen!