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

To Let Go What Is Taken From Us

Dear Christian, consider what may be taken from you in your earthly life:

  • Your health
  • Privileges like driving
  • Possessing property of various kinds
  • Gathering with others
  • Your civil freedoms. Some of these are enumerated in the Bill of Rights and overlap with possessing property and gathering
  • Others?

Why are such things taken away from us from time to time? Consider this:

If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and count on having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies [Matthew 25:41; Revelations 12:9]. They will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us. For where God’s Word is preached, accepted, or believed and produces fruit, there the holy cross cannot be missing [Acts 14:22]. And let no one think that he shall have peace [Matthew 10:34]. He must risk whatever he has upon earth — possessions, honor, house and estate, wife and children, body and life. Now, this hurts our flesh and the old Adam [Ephesians 4:22]. The test is to be steadfast and to suffer with patience [James 5:7-8] in whatever way we are assaulted, and to let go whatever is taken from us [1 Peter 2:20-21]. (LC III 65-66)

Quoted in Has American Christianity Failed? by Bryan Wolfmueller. Concordia Publishing House 2016, p. 204.

Should Christians consider it to be special persecution when we are forbidden from receiving the divine gifts of our Lord? This question deserves some consideration and discussion. To wit, are the preached word or the sacraments things that we should simply “let go” when they are taken from us? Can we expect the authorities who are trying to save earthly lives during a pandemic to share or even understand the Biblical Christian perspective on the divine gifts of our Lord? Must persecution always appear to be malicious?

Would it be naive to think that there are no influential people in the world today who are eager to use exceptional circumstances to harm our Lord’s Church by preventing her from receiving the things that sustain her very existence? Would it be naive to think that such people cannot do so in a way that appears friendly and reasonable to the world around us?

The quote above was written by Dr. Martin Luther. The book where the quote was found is teaching in this section about prayer. At the very least, active and continuous prayer must be part of the Church’s response.

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.

Idols Can Be Microscopic

What’s worse: a giant threat like global thermonuclear war or a tiny threat like a virus?

To borrow words from a popular movie from 1980, “Size matters not.” Whether your body is destroyed in a huge explosion or slowly by an infection, you still wind up dead. Either is fearsome.

The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” This means, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

When we fear, love, or trust something or someone else in God’s place, we have made him/her/it into an idol. That’s idolatry. Idolatry literally means “the worship of an idol.” Notice that what a person does in the heart is considered to be worship.

For those who object to this, consider Matthew 5:20-21 and 27-28. Jesus makes it clear: what you do in the heart can be enough to condemn you. It’s no surprise, then, that we may break the first commandment using nothing but our hearts. Cars are made in factories. Idols are made in the human heart.

Can something as good as love can be the instrument of idolatry? Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Probably so in context, but Tennyson wasn’t considering what the object of love may be. If the love in question is a disordered love, demoting God to second place, it becomes idolatry. Then ’tis better not to have loved at all. By idolatrous love, a person will lose everything forever.

“We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” The holy proverb says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10, ESV) This “fear” is not terror such as the expectation of some great evil. Instead, it acknowledges that God has absolute power and authority over us, no matter what we may think or do about it. If we fear something or someone else to the point where God’s power and authority are diminished in our eyes, then we have created an idol. This is a serious problem. It’s the most serious problem, together with a disordered love or trust.

Consider trust. We are so reliant upon the traditional five senses that we can hardly imagine anything worse than losing them. We trust what we can see and hear, and we are in terror of threats we don’t see, whether they are real or not. It’s no wonder that in a time when we are threatened by a new infectious disease, the populace puts its trust in medical science. Medicine is supposed to be the apex of human achievement, based on solid observation and some brilliant intuition. Trust isn’t evil, just as love and fear are not evil. But when the heart trusts in something other than God to the degree that it casts in doubt what He has said, then it is a disordered trust. It is idolatry. That’s always the most serious kind of problem, even more serious than sickness, death, or pandemics of sickness and death.

En garde!

The currents in which we swim today are filled with disordered fear, love, and trust. How can a child of God guard against idolatry? The answer is divine wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 111:10, ESV) The point here isn’t to fear God in an abstract way. Notice that it says, “Those who practice it.” Godly fear in the heart extends into a practice involving not only the heart, but the mind and the body. We have seen this in action when a Christian bows the head or clasps the hands in prayer. We have seen it in outward ceremony like the sign of the cross, kneeling, bowing, etc. We have also seen it in acts of love between neighbors, the fulfillment of the earthly duties to which God has called us. A godly fear of the Lord must be put into practice. Without practice, our fear of God cannot remain genuine or correctly ordered. It becomes idolatry.

Unless God comes to us in a special, saving way, we are lost to Him. The only worship left to us would be idolatry. We could never rise above it, and we would perish as idol worshippers. It should go without saying that our idols cannot help us forever.

God comes to us by taking a disguise and invading the world of sinners. He could come in open power, but then He wouldn’t make a connection to those who are lost in idolatry. We would be destroyed. So instead, He hides himself under the appearance of other things, so that His Spirit works unseen. The prime example of hiding His power was the life of Jesus Christ from conception to death. Despite the miracles He performed, the prophecies He fulfilled, and the clear authority with which He taught, plenty of people took Him as a mere man. Another example is the word that God sent into the world through the mouth of His prophets and apostles. Plenty of people have taken it as no different than the claims of false religions.

But Jesus is more than a man, and God’s word is more than the thoughts of mortal man. So through the life and death of Jesus, God redeemed all who were fallen away from Him, and through His word He calls us to faith with the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s ultimately through that word and faith that we are protected from idolatry.

Particularity

Here is where we encounter another objection. It started when the individual sinner first heard that God in heaven loves him. “Why would He do that?” We are already overawed by things like the size of the universe in which we live. It seems presumptuous to believe that God cares specifically about me. I could almost believe that He cares about all people, but I am a particular person.

The objection goes on. We read that God told the children of Israel how to worship Him using a Tabernacle with particular furnishings, rites, and ceremonies. We wonder, “Why would God care so much about all those little details?” And then we encounter the practices of the Church after Christ with the rites and ceremonies of Baptism and the Holy Supper. The question arises again, and becomes even more subtle: “God already knows if I believe, so why does He care whether I partake of these things?” Maybe we could believe that God cares about what’s in our hearts, but not so much about what happens to our bodies. Our bodies are very personal, and our sensations particular to ourselves.

All of this means we didn’t really believe or fully understand God when He said, “I, the LORD your God am a jealous God.” He wants you for himself to such a degree that He gave his life for you. He does not do things by half. He did it all. It should be no wonder that He also wants all of you to be involved with your connection to Him.

We may feel unworthy. It’s because we are. But he doesn’t measure your worth the same way. You are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and He did not hesitate to turn that blood into food for both your body and your soul. In this way He makes you worthy of His great gifts by connecting you to the sacrifice that He paid to redeem you.

This also explains why God considered all those details in the Old Testament to be important. They all are about Jesus. They teach the same faith that He taught. The Tabernacle with its sacrifices and holy food taught about the sacrifice of Jesus and the food He provides for us today. God connected the children of Israel to himself through the outward ceremonies and ritual that they performed, choosing those things because they were the connection to Jesus. Now we have a connection to Jesus, which is established and maintained in particular ways.

There has always been a desire to spiritualize the faith, to assume the only things that matter are within my heart. This is wrong. We can easily suppose that this assumption was behind the presumptuous actions of Nadab and Abihu. (See Leviticus 10:1-2.) Their creativity in the outward ceremonies of worship ended when God killed them. He explained very briefly, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.” (Leviticus 10:3, ESV) Nadab and Abihu failed to sanctify God in their presumption. To sanctify Him is to sanctify His word and so to keep the first commandment. If God says, “This is how I want you to draw near to me,” then we have to conclude that it matters. It matters even when He has chosen particular outward ceremonies.

What about people these days who presume to draw near to God without paying attention to what He says they should do? We don’t hear about people being killed like Nadab and Abihu. But that was a special case because the Tabernacle was the one place on the face of the Earth where God revealed His glory. It has been fulfilled in Jesus, who came into the world in human flesh and hid His glory so that sinners might repent and be saved rather than be destroyed in His presence. These days, we do well to remember that outside of the worship God has prescribed, there can be no certainty that He receives us, hears our prayers, or works among us. Our certainty is only in Christ and His particular outward gifts of grace.

What of those who spiritualize the faith to such a degree that they are content to disregard all outward forms of worship? Here belong those who think of themselves as Christians, but hardly ever darken the threshhold of a Christian congregation. There is no certainty that they are Christians. In fact, the evidence points the other way, and Christians should not expect them to understand or appreciate the importance of what God says. Their own concerns and sensibilities have already been judged to be more important in their lives. They have received their reward. May God be merciful and bring them to repentance.

God’s ways are particular, objective, outward, and certain. All other ways lead to destruction.

Pandemic Considerations

The heathen world is concerned about death and suffering. From a perspective that lacks Jesus, there is nothing more important. That’s why the world considers draconian, even tyrannical measures to be justified if the threat is urgent enough. “People will die!” is considered a strong argument against any opposition.

But a Christian realizes that people are already dying and nothing will stop that. Moreover, there’s something worse than death: the eternal judgment of God against sin. This is a hazard for us all, especially for those without Jesus. Yet Christians need to remember that their connection to Jesus depends on Him coming to us. That happens in the ways that He has provided and in no other way.

His Word is written in millions of printed Bibles and in other publications. It’s recorded across the world in both audio and video. It has efficacy wherever it is found. But it is God’s will that we receive it in particular ways. Should we presume to spiritualize what God has provided and say that the Church will be just fine if she voluntarily relinquishes the gifts that God has provided for her sustenance?

Ask a grade school teacher about the differences between learning in the classroom versus remote learning at home. Experts are now trying to figure out what the damage will be to the overall education of students who have difficulty connecting online. But schooling and worship are different activities: different aims, different results, and different mandates. Remote schooling is possible to a degree. But remote worship is questionable. And while students will still remain students even when there are impediments to learning, the Church can cease being the Church when deprived of her Lord and his gifts.

For most of society, social distancing is a nuisance. It’s harmful to the economy. But if it becomes something that prevents Christians from receiving the blessings of Jesus’ real (not virtual) presence, social distancing is an existential threat to Christians per se and to Christian congregations. That would make the cure far worse than the disease.

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?

Concrete Lessons

by Bob Gove

High in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, the Skagit River starts its journey to the sea. Down through a couple dams, past the little towns of Marblemount and Rockport – – – then by the unique town of Concrete .

A fascinating phenomenon existed in that little town sixty years ago – maybe it is still the same today; I haven’t had opportunity to re-visit.

A cement manufacturing plant was the main reason for the town’s existence (hence the town’s name – “Concrete”). Its presence was obvious as one entered the town, for everything was encased in cement. Over the years dust emitted from the cement plant had settled on the roofs and fences and everything else that wasn’t moved frequently. When rain fell, it combined with this cement dust, encasing everything in a rock-like coat. It hung heavily from the power and telephone wires all over town. Some wires had become as thick as a baseball bat, with long rows of cement “ice cycles” hanging from them.

In the years since being there, I have often wondered if the inhabitants suffered ill effects from breathing air so full of cement dust.

And some spiritual lessons came into focus too. For instance — consider how the influence of the world effects you. Unless you thoroughly bathe your mind frequently with the cleansing Word of God, the “dust” of the world’s attitudes will cling and harden around your heart, closing off any compassion you might otherwise express to a hurting soul. “ –but you were washed , you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Another reason for such frequent cleansing is to rid ourselves of the self-defense mechanism many of us resort to; that of erecting a hard shell of isolation against the cruel words and actions of those we must contact every day.

God put us here to be “salt and light” in this sick and sin darkened place. Let’s forget the defensive tactics; “The best defense is a good offense”. Our acquaintances and co-workers are not the enemy — recognize the real enemy; see the havoc Satan has caused in their lives, and wash it away with the all powerful Word. They need Jesus just like we do.

“For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4: 12

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.

Announcing a Major Change in Our Parish Work: Two Pastors!

The congregations of Bethany and Concordia decided on February 28 to extend two pastoral calls. One of the calls is to replace the call of Pastor Jacobsen, who has been serving as the sole pastor of the two churches since 2006. The replacement call was extended to Pastor Jacobsen to serve as senior pastor, but to focus his work on being the principal of Columbia Lutheran School and teaching the upper grades. A second call is also extended by the two churches for a new pastor to serve their pastoral needs full-time. The decision was to request a pastoral candidate from Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota. That’s the seminary of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod, from which Pastor Jacobsen graduated in 1998.

Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum

After prayerfully considering it for two weeks, Pastor Jacobsen decided to accept the new call extended to him. He is now preparing to teach full-time in the upper-grades classroom, and managing the school’s transition to serving students from kindergarten through 8th grade.

Columbia Lutheran School was started in 2014 with Mr. Doug Radliff (a Concordia member with his wife, Lilly) as the kindergarten-4th grade teacher. He came to Columbia with many prior years of teaching, most recently the first and second grades at Covenant Christian Academy. Bethany has always had the long-range intention of operating a school with the usual “elementary” grades for a Lutheran parochial school, which extend to the 8th grade. After researching the start of Columbia Lutheran School, there is also an intention to open an early learning center for pre-kindergarten students.

Lutheran parochial education has a long tradition in the United States and elsewhere. Unlike a public school education, it includes biblical teaching as the foundation of every subject. The greatest benefit of literacy, for example, is to read and write the timeless truths of God’s Word. This helps us to grow in our faith, to glorify God, and to further the spread of the Gospel. Likewise, the study of mathematics and science is the study of God’s creation and its design.

Columbia is also distinguished in being a classical school. This is a return to the principles of learning used for many centuries, rooted in the foundations of western civilization: the Greek and Roman worlds of antiquity. A classical school teaches the history, languages, and literature from the classical period of time together with later times, but it also applies the teaching philosophy and methods developed from that time until now. Its purpose is to help our students grow into their full God-given potential as human beings redeemed by Christ, with dual citizenship in heaven and on Earth. Columbia’s mission is “To provide a quality classical Christian education for the families of the Mid-Columbia area, preparing students for their current and future God-given roles and supporting parents in their vocation to educate and nurture their children.”

Pastor Jacobsen will be fully engaged in the work of the school, especially in his first year of full-time classroom teaching. The school is an outreach ministry of Bethany, and benefits from the generosity of many people at Bethany, others in our fellowship, and even nationwide. The prayers of many ELS members are with us in this endeavor. Until the new pastor is installed, Pastor Jacobsen will be able to serve our churches as a vacancy pastor. That means he will conduct services and help to meet basic ministerial needs, but most of his attention will be on the needs of the school. After the new pastor arrives, Pastor Jacobsen will continue to be involved in our services, but on a much more limited basis.

We will hear in the first half of May whether a seminary graduate is assigned to our parish. If there is one assigned, we can look forward to celebrating that with an ordination and installation service for both pastors over the summer months. If not, then the congregations will join together for another call meeting and extend the call for a second pastor to another qualified man.

Your prayers and generosity with your time, talents, and treasure are both appreciated and needed by your congregation, and by Columbia. Please continue to pray for God’s blessings upon the work of Pastor Jacobsen, because they will also run over into blessings upon your congregation and its other work in the Gorge. Just as importantly, please remember to speak well of the work that God is doing among us, so that your neighbors, friends, and coworkers are aware of it in a positive light. This opens a door for you to help in the spread of the Gospel, and the strengthening of our Lord’s Church.

Thanks be to God!

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.

Another Approach to Sunday School at Bethany

The Bethany Sunday School Manifesto

With thanks to God and our long-time Sunday School teachers for great blessings over the years to this point, we are planning to try something new at Bethany starting in fall of 2015.

Our Objective

Our objective is that our congregation’s members and friends grow in their knowledge of Christ, and in the ability to teach it to the next generation.

Sunday School has functioned as a corrective for the major shortcoming of public education, namely, that any knowledge of a Christian nature, or from the Bible is actively excluded from public education. This dramatically handicaps public education in every practical way. It produces students ignorant of biblical truth and often hostile to the gospel.

Our Challenges

  1. The dual-parish schedule that requires the church members to handle Sunday School without the pastor’s presence during the program.

  2. The gradual overall loss of interest in Sunday School relative to other demands in the lives of our members. This has occurred among children as well as adults.

Our Perspective

Without an accurate knowledge of Jesus Christ as God’s Son, revealed only in holy Scripture, it’s impossible to have faith in Jesus. Without faith in Jesus, it’s impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), and a person faces God’s judgment. Most of the world does not accept what the Bible says about Jesus, including and especially the secular institutions of education in our community. They sometimes even teach against it.

Every member of our congregation is regarded as a member of the body of Christ, each with an important role or responsibility in connection with the Christian education of children. Parents bear that responsibility directly, and the rest of the Church has the duty to help them.

The best and most complete Christian education is found at a Christian school, where the Word of God forms and influences everything that is taught, and where Law and Gospel are properly divided. This may be a corporate school like Columbia Lutheran School, or a school in a home.

While any child may participate in Sunday School, it’s especially oriented around those children who don’t enjoy full-time Christian education. While only some of the adults have a direct responsibility for educating children, every Christian helps to bear the responsibility of the whole Church, that all children should be taught God’s Word and the biblical worldview.

Our Plan

  1. All congregation members available will meet weekly before the Divine Service, when the pastor is still unavailable, at 9:30 a.m.

  2. Promptly at 9:30, one of the men will begin reading the order of Matins without the parts having underlined labels. He may ask all in attendance to read everything together, or he may read only the parts of the liturgist. If possible, one of the youth or adults will accompany the group in the singing of a catechism hymn from the Hymnary, which will replace the Canticle.

    Hymn Number Catechism Part
    490/488 Ten Commandments
    38/37 Creed
    383 Lord’s Prayer
    248/247 Baptism
    417 Keys and Confession
    329/316-317 Sacrament of the Altar
  3. For up to 5 minutes: Small Catechism. The group practices reciting the Small Catechism snippet in the bulletin for the day.

  4. For up to 5 minutes, Large Catechism. Matins leader reads the excerpt of the day from the Large Catechism and asks a question about it. Anyone may discuss the question.

  5. Optional up to 5 minutes, Hymns: Sing more requested hymns.

  6. Split into two groups:

    1. Adults remain in the sanctuary with older youth to discuss things from the day’s lessons, and how they may be presented to children. Adults who served as teachers (see below) the prior week should have an opportunity to share their observations. Consider things like:

      1. What do children need to know first in order to understand this lesson?
      2. What existing knowledge or opinions might the children have, which needs to be corrected by this lesson?
      3. How can this lesson bring children to a fuller understanding of Christ, and a deeper faith?
      4. How does this lesson present or apply the law or the gospel?
      5. How does this lesson overlap or reinforce the teaching of the Small Catechism?
      6. How might this be illustrated or reinforced with examples, demonstrations, or hands-on activities?
    2. Children and younger youth accompany a designated pair of adults/older youth into the fellowship hall. Other adults may come to help, but the designated pair is in charge. They will be scheduled for this rotating responsibility at least a week in advance. Husband-wife teams are encouraged.

    If possible, the adults in charge should try to use what has been learned and discussed in the adult Sunday School discussion. Any appropriate learning activity is fine. When in doubt, you are encouraged to ask the Pastor ahead of time. Any questions that the teacher is unable to answer may be reserved for discussion in the adult Sunday School session, or may be addressed to the Pastor after the Divine Service.

Steps for Organizing

  1. Decide who will be expected to lead Matins. It should be men, ideally a group who can take turns. They will decide among themselves who will be up each Sunday. It would be wise for them to post that schedule on the bulletin board.

  2. Partway through every month, the adults/older youth will fill the next month’s schedule, deciding what pair of adults/youth will be teaching all the children each Sunday. Others may help, but the designated volunteers will be in charge. The schedule should be posted on the bulletin board. The church secretary can help with that.

  3. On the first Sunday of the school year, the schedule should be filled for the first month.