Farewell Sermon from Pastor Jacobsen

Trinity 10, 2020

Psalm 92

5 O Lord, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep.

6 A senseless man does not know,
Nor does a fool understand this.

7 When the wicked spring up like grass,
And when all the workers of iniquity flourish,
It is that they may be destroyed forever.

8 But You, Lord, are on high forevermore.

9 For behold, Your enemies, O Lord,
For behold, Your enemies shall perish;
All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.

10 But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox;
I have been anointed with fresh oil.

11 My eye also has seen my desire on my enemies;
My ears hear my desire on the wicked
Who rise up against me.

12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.

14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,

15 To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Planted in the Lord’s House

God is teaching us something similar in all of our appointed lessons today. They take place in two different times: Jeremiah writing about 6 centuries before Christ, and Paul writing about a generation after.

In Jeremiah’s day, idol worship was rampant in Israel, mixed up with the name of God. But Jeremiah was addressing a more specific problem: the spiritual leaders who should have condemned the idolatry were unfaithful. The watchmen were not calling out the danger. They and everyone else assumed it was all okay. Why? They still had the word of God, the Torah. With that, they had nothing to worry about. It was all good in the ‘hood.

But it wasn’t. Jeremiah foretold judgment, but the priests, the other prophets, and the people didn’t take notice. Jeremiah writes, “No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his own course…” Their sins did not alarm them. God’s judgment did not terrify them.

In our Gospel, Jesus wept over Jerusalem for a similar reason. They were missing the time of their “visitation:” when He was with them for mercy. Those who miss this time will not fail to miss the time of God’s judgment. 

They saw His signs and heard Jesus teach, but in general didn’t pay attention. Many among the Pharisees were careful to live by God’s word, but neglected the most important, central part. They neglected to receive the Son of God in faith.

The Sadducees and priests formed another group who missed the time of God’s mercy. They were absorbed not in keeping the letter of God’s Word, but rather in keeping their power and influence. They, too, were blinded to the salvation God sent for their very own eyes and ears.

So Jesus wept in deep sadness for the consequence that was soon to come. Like in Jeremiah’s day, Jerusalem was about to fall. The Temple would be destroyed. Hearts were hardened to the Gospel. They resisted the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our Epistle shows the flip side. Though Israel failed, many Gentiles were converted, repented, and lived out their faith. Many gladly died for their faith. But why did the Jewish people fail to attain the law of righteousness? Paul writes, “Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.” That’s the rock on which God has built His Church: Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins.

Dear friends in Christ, I have been among you now for over 15 years: 186 ½ months, to be more exact. The Lord Himself called me here through you and His larger Church to preach and teach the Gospel. I pray that it was not in vain for your sake, like the preaching of Jeremiah and even our Lord Himself in connection with the city of Jerusalem.

The great spiritual weakness of our flesh and the overwhelming hostility of the world and the malice of the Enemy often make the preaching of God’s Word seem to be in vain. Even catechized Christians so easily forget our priorities and what truly serves for our good. We become convinced that the crisis before our fleshly eyes is more urgent than the spiritual crisis that confronts every sinner.  We tend to think that earthly hunger or physical discomfort must be addressed before our separation from God.

Jesus corrects our thinking. His lesson of the loaves and fish recently taught us again that if we have Him, we have enough. But do we listen? Do we remember? If we did listen, remember, and believe, then every member of Christ’s body should be here every week. Nothing short of death or imprisonment should prevent it. But so many of God’s people spend our time dealing instead with other things, like work or pleasure.

We must not minimize the suffering that others feel. Because of various afflictions, people all around us must endure great anguish: body, soul, and mind. When you suffer, you want the suffering to end. It’s a great comfort to know that Jesus understands. See His grief for Jerusalem! His tears are human tears. But His suffering is also part of what He endured to cleanse you from the guilt of your sin and make you God’s own child. 

Children of this world and children of God end up trying so many ways to ease or forget their suffering and pain. Noah tried to manage the sadness he felt with wine from his vineyard. He did forget his suffering for a little while, but he was also unable to take proper care of himself, to fulfill his vocation as a father and husband, or even to know what was happening around him. He had become comfortably numb. That’s a constant danger when we use earthly solutions for our suffering.

One of the reasons our churches are in decline is that earthly remedies for suffering are on the rise, remedies that numb the pain for a time, or give some temporary pleasure. These earthly remedies can help us, but they don’t solve the root problem, and must be renewed continually, like the sacrifices in the Tabernacle of the Israelites. But unlike those sacrifices, our earthly remedies for suffering lead us away from God’s permanent solution instead of toward it. Tabernacle sacrifices taught the Israelites to trust in Jesus, whose suffering has ended suffering, whose death has ended death, and whose resurrection has begun a new Creation filled with godly pleasures without end. Consider what Johann Gerhard wrote about this:

The world considers it the greatest misfortune when a man is taken in physical death or is subjected to poverty, sickness, and other crosses in this life. But this opinion is false and misguided, for the crosses of this life serve to the good of man, as all of Scripture attests. Physical death does a man no harm if he clings to Christ in true faith (John 8:51). Eternal death is the real and great tragedy. It is the poverty and sickness of the soul, the unrepentant, carnal security, and godlessness that hastens a man to eternal death. This is the greatest misfortune.

Johann Gerhard, Sermon for Trinity 10

Our actions betray our worldly priorities. And no wonder. If we follow the example of Noah’s wine, we too will become comfortably numb: numb to the pain to some extent, but also numb to the Word of God. Wasn’t that the very problem in Jeremiah’s day? Wasn’t that the reason Jesus had to weep over Jerusalem? They were settling for earthly solutions for their lives, maybe even using bits and pieces of God’s Word but leaving out the cross that ties it all together. Is it any wonder in that case, if churches become empty on most Sundays? You can get your fix or your kicks somewhere else. But that doesn’t lead toward eternal life. As Gerhard wrote, it leads to the greatest misfortune of all.

So I fear that the same condemnation that befell Israel in Jeremiah’s time and Jerusalem in Jesus’ day will fall upon this congregation. You may think, “But those people were worse: they had a prophet of God — even the Son of God among them!” They did. And our congregation has nothing less than a minister sent by Jesus Himself, a shepherd under Christ. For a while now, more than one.

So I entreat you to take this passage to heart from Hebrews 3: 

12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.

Hebrews 3:12-14

How should you exhort one another? What should you say? 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25)

For every child of God, the whole life of faith revolves around God’s presence. Not His omnipresence by which He exists in all places, but His coming to dwell graciously with you, joining you to Him in one communion that will outlast this world. That’s the whole point of the weekly Divine Service. That’s where it happens on earth. By giving our devout attention to these things, God’s people are stirred up to love and good works. We are healed of our spiritual disease and reconciled personally to God through His Spirit’s work: repentance and faith. This is where we receive all that we need to bear the crosses that God has given us.

As for those who have fallen away and so do not continue in our Lord’s presence, we pray for them, and our Father hears us. We pray, and He calls us to be part of the answer to our own prayer by steadfastly confessing the truth in all we do and say.

All of this is wrapped up in today’s Psalm 92:

12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
15 To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Listen to the voice of your Lord! Rich temporal and eternal blessings are given to those who are planted in the house of the Lord.

In the psalmist’s time, that house was the Tabernacle and Temple, the center of all true spiritual life for Israel. But we have it even better: the house of the Lord is wherever Jesus comes to us and gathers His Church.  This is no desolate place! Eyes of flesh may see only a few people and many empty pews, but we have come into the presence of the Holy Trinity, where the Church triumphant is joined in worship with the heavenly host in the fullness of God’s glory.

To benefit from this glorious reality, you have to be a part of it. That begins here every week, and it continues as you bear God’s love and good works wherever your vocation may take you. If you have not been as faithful as you should, welcome to the Church militant. You’re in good company here. We all must be alarmed by the Law and repent daily, returning spiritually to the baptismal water where our new lives in Christ began. We all must bear our crosses, and so must also bear with one another. Never stop praying for each other and acting on those prayers in a spirit of forgiveness and love.

Remember the tears of Jesus! It seemed to be in vain that He was about to suffer and die for Jerusalem. But in His great love, He went anyway. That is the love to which you are now called, for you are His children through faith, and He has forgiven your sins of unfaithfulness and worldliness. Put your trust entirely in Him, receiving strength from Jesus who comes to you intimately with His body and blood. Let His strong word strengthen you with the power of the Holy Spirit to bear your crosses in the knowledge that their time is quickly passing away. 

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:57-58)

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

I’m a Religious Extremist.

That means I believe things. I believe that these things should affect what I do. I believe that these things are true not because they are supported by reason, but because they are revealed by God. I believe that these things are more important and necessary than civil obedience. I do not believe that reason (including science) is always correct, so therefore the changing claims of medical and scientific experts are not able to dissuade me from these core beliefs.

A few years ago, the word for such a religious extremist as me was much less radical. The most widely-used word was “Christian.” But now that word has been adopted by people who believe other things. The label I’m left with now is “religious extremist.” It’s similar to the word “zealot.” How immoderate of me.

Let me tell you some of the immoderate things I believe. You might be able to tell their source.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Because you have disobeyed God, cursed is the ground…, in pain you shall eat of it…, till you return to the ground.

In Abraham all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

In David’s descendant, his throne is established forever.

He is born of a virgin and called “God with us.”

He came to suffer and give his life on our behalf to provide us healing.

In Him, the divine Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. He gave many proofs of this.

Jesus’ suffering and death was for the life of the world.

What was written about him was written so that we may believe and have eternal life.

Jesus is the only way for us to be reconciled to God, to avoid everlasting punishment, to have a truly fulfilled life on earth, and to enter eternal life.

He makes us His own through Baptism. We receive Him by listening to those He sends. He feeds us with His own body and blood, given for our redemption.

Believers often go astray as we seek to practice our faith, but God is merciful and He forgives all who repent and return to Him.

The Christian life is not optional. Christ has made us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our responsibility of praying for the world and conducting the service of our Lord together is essential for the Church and also necessary for the world’s good.

God actually brings us into His holy presence and joins Himself to us when we conduct the Divine Service. Through faith we perceive that this is a tiny slice of eternity entering our broken world so that we may be joined to Christ forever. Though perceived through faith alone, this is more real and substantial than measurable and observable parts of Creation.

These beliefs and the desire to live by them makes me a religious extremist, a radical fanatic in the eyes of the world. I may even be considered dangerous.

We seek to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” That is good and proper. I belong to God at all times, but I often have the freedom to render obedience to my earthly authorities. God would have it no other way.

But on Sunday mornings, feast days, during times set aside for devotion, etc. my time belongs entirely to God, who said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” He requires not only inward worship, but “doing” worship.

I also have a debt of love toward my neighbors. For example, I will wear a mask, or not, as needed to benefit my neighbor. I will prioritize my nearest neighbors first such as family and the household of faith. But all acts of love toward my neighbor become meaningless and empty if I neglect the more important service. The Divine Service of word and sacrament orients all that I do in faith. Without it, the rest is no more than a hypocritical shell.

Above all, I will be in the presence of my Lord and receive His gifts. I’m a religious extremist.

Are You a Christian with a Business?

Christians must each decide how their faith will affect their earthly vocations. There is intense pressure from some that the Christian faith should never affect them. Unlike the old saw, “Children should be seen and not heard,” these people think “Christians should neither be seen nor heard.” In other words, “You’d better hide your faith!”

Our Lord said, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:23-33, ESV). What’s more important to you: the probably-vain hope of earthly peace with your anti-Christian neighbors, or the rock-solid promise of peace with God? Tough one. Or maybe not.

So business owners, how about your business? Would you like to have Christian employees? Would you like your employees to be Christians? How about your customers and vendors? How about your own family and yourself?

Yes, I admit the tired and worn-out excuse does apply: “You don’t have to attend church to believe in Jesus.” But in the same breath you must also admit, “No one who believes in Jesus will avoid attending church.” Consider the quote above from Matthew 10. We could extend that. “No one who believes in Jesus and wants this for employees will purposely prevent them from attending church.”

Ouch. The rubber has met the road, and we’ve found that it’s filled with brass tacks. If your conscience smarts, that’s good. It’s why the Son of God had to shed His holy blood. But He did, and now He cleanses you of guilt and shame with His Word of forgiveness. He provides food for your body and soul, saying plainly, “This is My body, given for you,” and “This is My blood, shed for you.” He calls you to repentance, where He drowns your sinful flesh in the waters of your baptism and He restores your identity as His adopted child.

Now, about your business. Consider this. God doesn’t promise exactly the same in your case, but nobody has ever gone wrong by following the biblical faith in their earthly vocations. Disaster may strike! But you would meet even that with a good conscience and God’s blessings — whatever they may be. That’s good Christian business practice.

Halloween Is About You

Halloween. That is a weird word! Where did it come from? What does it mean? No doubt you know what it refers to, but do you know how it came into use?

Halloween is a conjunction, that is two or more words joined together. It shortened “All Hallows Eve”, which is the evening before All Hallows Day or All Saints Day. See, Halloween isn’t about ghosts, goblins, and witches. Halloween is about Saints. Are you one?

Most people would respond, “I’m no Saint!”. They reach that conclusion because they look at the way that they have lived, the decisions that they have made and the things that they have done, and rightly see that they are far from perfect. If that was the standard for being a saint, no one would be one. However, that is not the way that the Bible speaks of saints.

This is how Paul addressed the Christians in Corinth: “To the church of God in Corinth—those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, who are called as saints”. (1 Co. 1:2) Christians are saints because they are sanctified in Christ Jesus. That means that you can be a saint too. Everyone who believes in Jesus has been washed clean of all of their sins. Everyone who believes in Jesus has been credited with Jesus’ perfect life. In Jesus, you can be a saint too.

This year you will know what Halloween is really about. It is not about ghost goblins. It is about saints. It is about you. You have been clothed in Jesus perfect life by faith. You are a saint.

From the latest ELS Outreach Newsletter

The Story of a Toe

There was a person who was blessed to be born with all of the usual parts. Dad counted the fingers and toes, and was relieved to find that the number was exactly right. No birth defects, and everything was in working order.

Later in life, one of the toes began to say to itself, “How important could I be? There are four other toes on this foot, and they can surely get the job done without me. It would please me more to take my rest, and let them handle all that the foot needs. Besides that, it seems to me that toes on the whole don’t have much to contribute.” So this toe began to enjoy life more, and didn’t concern itself with the usual toe activities like sensing the balance of the foot and the contour of the ground beneath, or giving a little extra push when the foot was walking, running, or paddling through water.

After some time, the toe also began to say to itself, “Since I’m doing my own thing now (and enjoying it), I don’t really need all of this oxygen and nutrition that the foot is sending my way. It would be better to let the other toes have more of those things: they’re working so hard. (What a great thing they’ve chosen to do!) But I will shrink the vessels that bring these things from the foot. No need to be selfish.”

This thought may seem alarming, but the toe didn’t mind. It was enjoying the sensation of freedom that comes with relaxation. “Sometimes a toe just needs to dangle,” it would say to itself.

More time passed, and the toe (which now had plenty of free time to notice and ponder other things) began to notice that there were other bodies in the world. Some were furry, and had toes with claws. Some were scaly, and to the the toe’s amazement, had no toes at all! Some bodies were much like the body of the toe, except those ones were doing much different things, and going to much different places. The toe began to wonder what it would be like to be attached to one of those bodies. Would it be better? Maybe the other members of those bodies would think more like the toe, and less like the four other toes on this foot. Maybe they would all enjoy life more. Maybe they would all enjoy the kind of freedom together that the toe had discovered: freedom from such strict discipline that the toe’s own body wanted to follow. Of course, there was no way for a toe to switch bodies, but it did not stop the toe from wondering and dreaming about it.

Soon the dreaming turned into longing, together with something the toe had not experienced before. It began to look down upon the other toes on its own foot, and even the foot and the body itself. It began to despise the body for its demands and discipline, and to loathe the way the body wanted all of its parts to work. It never occurred to the toe that it had begun loathing itself, for it was attached to the body.

The toe sometimes dreamed of a day when it might fall off the foot and be separated from its body. During this time, it continued shrinking the vessels that brought oxygen and nutrition from the foot.

At this time, the toe thought it knew the purpose of the body, and it considered the body to be failing in its purpose. It didn’t wish any harm to the body, but wanted it to do better by relaxing the discipline and the demands that the body made on all of its members. What’s the use of working together so well, when the result is something as uncomfortable as exercise, or as bland as an oatmeal breakfast? The toe doesn’t even get to taste the breakfast, anyway! All of the other members should become as free and relaxed as the toe. They should loosen up, and consider how life could be better.

Are you like the toe? What do you think is the purpose of the Church, which is the body of Christ? Are you helping to fulfill its real purpose, or are you mistakenly working against it, to your own harm? If you have ever had an injured toe, you know that even if your body is still capable of doing many things, the whole body is also affected by the injury. If you have been shrinking the connection between you and the body of Christ — especially the Word and Sacraments, which are provided in the Sunday Divine Service, how do you think that has affected your faith, your perspective, and your spiritual health?

The good news is that the body in question went to see a doctor, who noticed that the toe was weakened and malnourished. With treatment, the toe’s connection to the body was restored. All was forgiven, and the toe once again saw how its own contribution to the body provided the greatest possible satisfaction. Even better, the toe was able to encourage all of the other members to remain steadfast, so that the body worked together to accomplish greater things and receive greater blessings.

May you also enjoy the certainty of God’s forgiveness, which Jesus has won for you by dying once for all on His cross. Now, let us thank Him by bearing our crosses with the same joy that he had in the love of the Father. You are a member of the body of Christ. What could be better than that?

Dear (fill in the blank),

Dear N.,

We haven’t written letters to one another before, and it seems that letters are becoming more rare everywhere, but they still have their uses. You might say I could have just texted you this message, or sent a message on Facebook. But it’s hard to express things of a deep and personal nature that way, especially because a short message runs a great risk of misunderstanding. You might say I could have called or visited so we could make this a conversation, but the things I have to say all hang together, and they will take a while for me to say them well. It takes a lot of patience and goodwill to have a back-and-forth conversation about deep, personal things like this. We all tend to interrupt instead.

So I’m writing you this letter. I may never send it. Maybe I’ll just gather my thoughts here and God will give me an opportunity to express them to you some other way. You see, they must be expressed. There are some things too important to be kept silent or ignored. One of them is the matter of your life.

You have been blessed with a pretty good life. You can count many blessings, if you stop to consider them. Yes, there are many challenges too, and I can see how they could get you down. But overall, your life is a blessing, just like mine. I’m glad to be alive, and I’m glad to know you, too. Because I care about you, I want you to think about not only your life on earth, but your future life that will come afterward. I’d like to share that blessing with you, too.

We used to see each other not only at the supermarket or at special occasions. I enjoyed visiting with you at church. That’s not the main reason I was there, but it was one very good part of it. Why haven’t you been coming to church lately? In fact, I think it’s been months since you were attending every week. I suppose one obligation or another got in the way, and maybe you were sick. But church used to be a priority for you. So what happened?

Have you forgotten the reason for going to church? It’s not just some old tradition. You didn’t go because of some threatening commandment from God. Oh, I know there is one: the Third Commandment: “You shall keep the day of rest holy,” as it’s written in catechisms these days. But you know it’s not just about a certain day. It’s about our connection to God, the link He has made from us to Jesus. It’s the only way for us to reach heaven! Besides heaven, it’s the only way for us to have a truly fulfilling and content life on earth. God didn’t give us that commandment just to make you hurt with feelings of guilt and shame. He gave us that commandment out of love, so that we might not neglect His most precious gifts and lose out on what they bring.

Now, maybe you think God should give you heaven and all the best blessings some other way. “If He loves me so much, why doesn’t He give me my Sundays off to enjoy instead of making me uncomfortable? Can’t He do that and give me eternal life at the same time?”

Dear N., He can do anything, but He gets to choose how He does it! Remember who He is, here: God. And remember that you are not God. The way He gives you eternal life is through that connection: His Word and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Those things are non-negotiable, because they are the God-given connection to the one-and-only Savior for human beings. That’s Jesus, of course.

If Jesus was crucified and stayed dead, then don’t come to church. In that case, I shouldn’t go either. But did you know that the best historical evidence all supports the fact that Jesus rose to life again? If you believe in Julius Caesar, then you have every reason to believe even more strongly that Jesus Christ rose to life on the third day. And if you believe that, then you also should believe what He said it means. Do you remember John 3:16? It’s Jesus’ promise to you: forgiveness and eternal life.

You may have some hangups about all of this, and I’d like you to tell me about them. Don’t worry, I won’t blow you off or make fun of you. I’ll listen, because this is serious. I want you to share eternal life with me.

Practical Christianity

What is the cost of being a Christian? It’s God’s demands. He’s a jealous God, not satisfied with only a part of your heart. He wants it all. He loves you so extremely that He even uses a cross to save you. First, the cross of Jesus, by which you were redeemed. Second, the personal cross that chafes and bruises your sinful flesh as you are forced to carry it through the winding course of your life. In this way, He brings you finally to heaven.

Besides demanding, sometimes Christianity also seems impractical. How can you fit such a religion into your life? Your boss and coworkers probably don’t appreciate how demanding your faith can be. Maybe even your family doesn’t quite get it. When you go to church, it’s likely you will see people there who have trouble carrying their cross more than a few feet at a time.

So how can we make Christianity practical?

Can your church membership get along with all of the other interests and obligations you may have? Sounds great. It’s like having a beautifully decorated wedding cake to enjoy in a glass case in your dining room forever, like a fine sculpture, while also enjoying a piece for dessert with a little ice cream from time to time.

It can’t be done. The difficulty is that the world around us entices the sinful flesh within to join in everything except whatever God wants. Sin excludes God, because God excludes sin.

The world entices you with recreation. You are supposed to work enough that you can afford to spend as much time as possible enjoying yourself. When Thanksgiving arrives, the world says, “Be thankful above all for the conveniences and pleasures you have in your life — for all that makes you happy.” To the fallen world, that’s what life is all about.

But Jesus had plenty of practical things to say about that. For example, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). And again from Mark 8, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” In the ultimate “been there, done that” book of the Bible, Solomon speaks to those who value pleasure, accomplishments and experiences: “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9) And in the next chapter, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.'”

To be practical is to put something into practice. If you want to be a practical Christian, then you must put your Christian faith into practice. The psalmist writes (119:27), “The law [Word] of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver.”

The world is horrified that we might turn away from thousands of coins of gold and silver. But God’s Word is worth more. It’s the only link He’s given to Himself. Only in His Word do we know our Savior. If that’s not more important to you than an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning, then what can I say? You’re like a pig staring at a priceless pearl, wondering how it tastes.

Practical Christianity means seeking God’s forgiveness by studying His Word. It’s available to you more richly than ever before: in print, in audio, on screen, or in braille. You can have it delivered to your inbox in measured portions. You can study it with friends at church. If distance is a problem, you can study it online, even face-to-face. God is finding new ways to bring it to you, but in the end, only you can put your faith into practice.

Jesus sent out His disciples saying, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). When you have received, it’s time for your faith to be active as well, showing God’s love to your neighbors. This is a life of faith, practical faith. Practice receiving God’s forgiveness. Practice reflecting it for others. This is practical Christianity.

Thought about Small Church Activities

We all like to have a full schedule of activities available for us at church. That’s not to say that we’d actually attend all those activities. We’re probably most concerned about the activities that interest us, rather than those geared toward others (children, young families, seniors, etc.).

Some churches have lots of varied activities on their calendars. One of the challenges this creates is faith-damaging burnout, as the same group of people usually manage everything at the church. This tends to happen regardless of the size of the church. Bigger churches experience it with more activities, smaller churches with fewer.

Another challenge created by lots of activities comes with specialization of the activities. With some geared toward children, some toward young families, some toward seniors, etc., they tend to splinter the members of the congregation into artificial groups or classes, based on the presumed interests of each group. I call these groups artificial because they don’t occur naturally. Families are composed of all ages and interest groups in one household. Lots of specialized activities pulls the family members in different directions, often doing more harm than good to family life.

I’d like to offer a solution, but I don’t have one. Instead, we should probably recognize that the primary activity of a church is to gather around the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacrament of the Altar and holy Baptism. That doesn’t need to be limited to Sundays, but Sundays are the starting point. Other activities are all extra.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind. A church’s beating heart is in the assembly where she receives the spiritual gifts of her Lord. But the faith created and strengthened with those gifts is active every day of the week, in the individual lives of the church members. Our worship of God does not end when the Divine Service is dismissed. It continues in schools, in work-places, in homes, and on every street and highway. We live as children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, glorifying Him by word and deed in keeping with His will. The main part of this takes place in the God-pleasing duties we fulfill each day, serving God through our neighbors. The work of the church is accomplished in and through the sanctified lives of her members. They don’t have to come together regularly on weekdays for God’s will to be done, though the members of a household might do so for mutual growth, encouragement, and prayer.

I’ll close with one more observation. Whenever there is an activity at church, it’s not something that just happens on its own. Think of any church activity you know about, and I guarantee that it happened because one or more people did one or more things. If it was a big event, it was planned, organized, managed, and maybe even marketed. In addition, other people showed up and participated. If it was a small event, maybe one person did all of those things. In any case, a church event can be boiled down to two things: people and actions. Without people there is no event. If they do something different, then the event is not the same. All of this sounds obvious, but we easily forget it when we begin to think of our church as a faceless institution where things just happen. But events don’t just happen, people do things, and that becomes the event.

So those of us who would like to have more events like W (whatever that is) should consider whether we would like to be a person who comes and does what is needed for a W event. If no person is willing to do the critical parts, then it won’t happen. It’s as simple as that. And maybe that’s okay, because God-willing, we will all gather again on Sunday around God’s Word and Sacraments, and maybe we can do W next week, or next month, or next year instead.

Dumbing Down Questions about Christ.

C.S. Lewis describes the great Aslan tearing the costume off the child in front of him in one of his books from the Chronicles of Narnia. The child writhes in pain from the razor sharp claws that feel as though they pierce his very being. With mounting intensity, Aslan rips away layer after layer, until the child is absolutely certain he will die from the agony. When it is over with every layer removed, the child delights in the freedom, never before realizing the extra weight of the costume that he carried.

The peace that transcends understanding is not a matter of dumbing down our questions about Christ. My questions often return with a question from God who lets Scripture speak and give me the right questions to ask. Scripture directs me to the questions God wants me to ask because he does promise answers to those questions. The layers of despair and doubt do begin to fall away with transcendent propositional truth given for all people in all generations. Scripture does not return empty. The Word works out our faith by keeping me trusting Christ and his words of promise.

Society continually promotes ‘dumbing down’ with the postmodern thought that there is no transcendent truth. ‘Don’t ask because their are no absolute answers.’ The church is where we can ask and receive absolute objective answers.

Discernment for living in a fallen world takes knowing what Christ is promising and knowing takes asking and knowing what to ask takes the Word where God has chosen to speak to men. Be encouraged to invite friends to hear from God. His words promise to divinely give us the right questions to ask.