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.

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!

Christmas Is Coming… Time to Start Preparing for a Great Service

We’re planning to hold Bethany’s Christmas children’s program this year again on the Sunday before Christmas. Technically, this means we’ll be stealing a Sunday from the Advent season, but it seemed to be well-received last year. On the first Sundays in Advent (November 29th through December 13), the participating children and adults will use their Sunday School time to prepare for the program.

Without a Christmas program on Christmas Eve, we will again have an opportunity to adorn the service with plenty of instrumental music. If you play any kind of band instrument suitable for harmonizing Christmas hymns, please consider getting it out and joining our practices over the next two months. We will meet on Fridays from 3:30 to 4:30: October 30, November 6 and 20, and December 4, 11, and 18. The music will be easy enough for most players. Most of our playing will be to accompany hymn singing, but some pieces may be played by the ensemble alone, and there may be some descants for soloists.

The joint Christmas Day service this year will be at Concordia in Hood River, which is an excellent acoustic space for music. Between December 20, 24, and 25, there will be three opportunities for our ensemble to play this Christmas season. Players will be encouraged, not required, to attend all performances.

A Visit to an Exploratory Mission

On June 28, the Jacobsen family was on our way back from Arizona to Oregon, having stayed the night at St. George, Utah. We had discovered to our delight that a WELS church existed in that town. It turns out to be an exploratory mission, Redemption Lutheran Church. They are meeting on the second floor of a nicely-decorated commercial retail building. Pastor Quandt, his wife, and three other couples were there for the 10 a.m. service. The Jacobsen family about doubled the attendance that day, but they drew together chairs for us in a second row (the back of the church), and we were given the extra service handouts for the day. It was a less formal service than at most of our churches, as the outreach prospects in St. George are unfamiliar with the rich and meaningful liturgical heritage of the Lutheran church. The main focus was law and gospel following the current ILCW lectionary, with a basic outline of the liturgy to be filled in over time as the members become more strongly catechized.

Please pray for Pastor Quandt and the gathering flock in St. George, as well as the white fields of prospects surrounding that mission, that God would draw them together to receive certainty of His grace, and rich forgiveness through Christ such as they have never experienced before.

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.

Prayer for Friday Evening (ELH, p. 171)

To whom shall I turn but to You, O Light of my life, now that the darkness and the perils of the night surround me. Open to me, O God, Your mild and loving heart in Jesus Christ and let me rest in Him, my safe refuge and strong fortress, in whom alone I may peacefully lie down to sleep and my sleep may be to me a true refreshment and blessing. My Savior, prevent every hostile power from harming me or touching me, and break asunder all darts which this night may be directed against me. Keep my body pure in chastity and holiness and let my soul, though the body rest, have its joy and comfort in You, my life and my salvation. Bless and defend all my family and my friends this night and always, and may they rest in peace. If I have an enemy, bless him also, and may his heart know Your love. Protect the government and all who are in authority. May Your mercy be great to all and mighty to save for time and eternity.

You can buy your own copy of the ELH through the Bethany Lutheran College bookstore.

Holy Week Services

cranach-altar-victory It’s a custom in our churches to have special mid-week services through the season of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter. These services are a reflective time, an opportunity to contemplate the work of Jesus Christ that has brought about our rescue from sin and death, and provided eternal life. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we have a single mid-week service with a focus on our repentance, in preparation for remembering the great events of our Lord’s passion (suffering and death) and resurrection. In the final week before Easter, we have two or more special services, each with a special theme and focus.

This year, our mid-week services that follow Ash Wednesday have been about the cross of every Christian, as an echo or shadow of the cross of Jesus, by which we have been redeemed. This so-called “theology of the cross” defines the Christian’s life on Earth, yet is frequently missing or subdued in the teaching of many churches. No wonder, it’s not exactly upbeat! In the same way that some would like to portray Jesus as victorious while forgetting what He had to do to obtain the victory, so also some would like to suppose that a Christian’s life on earth is filled with giggles and rose gardens, while forgetting that these roses have long, sharp thorns. Our midweek Lent meditations are meant to refocus our faith upon the reality of every Christian’s life.

Holy Week is the climax of the season of Lent, beginning with Palm Sunday. Jesus entered His royal city on Earth to the shouts of “Hosanna!” from a vast crowd of jubilant people, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah. Thus, we recognize that He is indeed the One chosen by God to take away the sins of the world, just as the Passover lamb was chosen by each Israelite family on the 10th of the month, in preparation for the Passover to be celebrated only four days later, when that lamb would die and become the meal of their salvation (Exodus 12:3-6).

Four days after Palm Sunday, we celebrate Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday. “Maundy” is a form of the Latin word “mandatum,” which refers to Jesus’ command given to His disciples on that night (John 13:34). Our focus is upon the feast of love instituted by Jesus during the Passover meal with His disciples, which we call the Lord’s Supper, or the Sacrament of the Altar. Following the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples went across the Brook Kidron and ascended the Mount of Olives, where His intense prayers helped to prepare Him for His imminent suffering. See ELH 295 for a meaningful meditation on that time in our Lord’s life.

Good Friday is the day when evil seemed to triumph. But when Jesus was crucified, it was really the end of death for the whole world. The nature of death has changed as a result of the death of Jesus. It cannot hold you any more. Even the ungodly will rise to life again on the Last Day, though unbelievers will also get their wish: not to be saved from eternal punishment by the suffering and death of Jesus. The torment of hell is on display when Jesus hangs upon His cross, forsaken by His Father as He bears the guilt of the whole world. In this way, He took what would have been an ordinary Friday in the fallen world, and turned it into a day for our deliverance from God’s wrath. It became Good Friday. We will hear about the passion and death of Christ, as we contemplate its meaning through hymns and meaningful responses.

Holy Saturday follows, when we remember that Jesus rested in His tomb through the Sabbath. Then, when evening comes and the ancient Israelites would recognize the beginning of the next day, we may begin our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection with a brief service for Easter Vigil. This year, for the first time, we have planned such a service to be held at 8:00 PM, at Bethany. We will again begin to sing Easter hymns and the Hallelujah, as special readings added to the Office of Compline (ELH p. 128) lead us into the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Then on Easter morning, we plan to gather in Hood River in Idlewild Cemetery, where we will greet the sunrise on the Lord’s Day with our joyous hymns and readings. After that, we will have the festival services at the usual times: 9:00 at Concordia, and 11:00 at Bethany.

There is nothing more important in the existence of any human being than these events and deeds of our Lord, so we invite everyone to join us in our meditation and celebration of these greatest works of God.