Saturday, August 21, 2010

Enter through the Narrow Door

"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from" (Luke 13:22-30)

Today’s Gospel reading appears to be rather sobering, to say the very least.  Ominous may be a better word.  Hardly a ‘feel good’ message to be sure.  It does not make us feel warm and cozy.  But then again God is not just warm and cozy.  Our God is a God of truth as well as a God of love.  And in today’s reading, His son speaks ever so clearly about His Kingdom.

We must understand Jesus’ words in light of where He is going.  The last several weeks the Gospel writer, St. Luke, has written that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.  Today we read that Jesus was teaching and journeying toward the city that kills the prophets – Jesus is moving toward the cross.  To be mocked, spat upon, whipped, and scourged.  Violently lacerated, beaten, and nailed on a cross to die. 

Jesus walks steadily toward Jerusalem – the way prepared for him.  Someone in the crowd yells out to him “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”  To which Jesus replies, “Struggle to enter through the narrow door.  For many I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying “Lord, open to us,” then he will answer you, “I do not know where you come from…depart from me, all you workers of evil!  In the place there will be a weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Dear Christians, this is a hard saying from our Lord.  As tempting as it may seem, we cannot soften and dilute the words of our Lord.  We cannot tame him down, domesticate him, and soften him up.  He is God.  Our Lord is not speaking in metaphors here.  He is warning us of the final judgment to come.  The judgment against all sin and unbelief. 

God is not to be mocked.  He will not be tricked.  Those who refuse to repent of their unbelief and reject His salvation will be locked out.  The door will slam shut.  And there will be a weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Those who hate God and reject the love of His Son will be granted their wish.  They will receive that which they asked for.  If we they wish to die with their sin, they may keep their sins.  Eternal separation from God.  A place of total hopelessness, despair, and eternal torment.  And there are no second chances in hell.  The final judgment is just that – final.  And the final judgment is irreversible. 

Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel that there will be many who say, “Lord, open to us…We ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets.”  But warns that they are shut out of his kingdom.  That is to say, it is not enough to hear his teaching.  It is not enough to be familiar with Jesus – this does not bring us into His Kingdom.  Then what is enough?  What shall we do? 

Jesus says, “Strive, or struggle to enter in through the narrow door.”  That is to say, repent and be baptized.  The narrow path Jesus, the Son of God is walking is toward his place of crucifixion.  Jesus is the narrow way.  Jesus is the only way there ever has been.    

The narrow way, the striving and struggling through the narrow door is the life of repentance and faith.  In short, the narrow door is baptism.  For only in baptism may we truly understand repentance and faith.

Holy Scripture plainly says “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  This is a trustworthy saying.”

What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.      

St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” 

You see the narrow door that you are striving to enter is not your work.  And this is good news.  For ultimately we are not really apt to the task.  It is only the work of God that He ushers us into holy baptism and grants us the faith to believe.

Faith is not a personal decision.  It is more than a conviction or a personal discipline.  It is the work of God that you believe.  For Talia and Tatiana their Lord has given them the faith to believe. 

You see we can never really advance beyond our baptism.  We can never progress beyond it as if there were something much greater and more wonderful.  At the very best we can return to it.  For in baptism we have all the promises of God.  We have his forgiveness.  We are united in the death and resurrection of Christ.
What should we do then?  What about that slamming door?  What about the final judgment?  What is the answer for us all?

Your baptism in the name of Jesus is the answer you need.  Your baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  In the waters of holy baptism, you have a promise that will never expire.  

For Tatiana and Talia Jesus has joined himself to them.  He loves them as blessed daughters and he will never let them go.  Their whole life long He will be with them.  Richly feeding them His Gospel and strengthening their faith as they strive and journey through this life.  The baptism they now have can never be taken from them.  All the evil in this world cannot snatch away their salvation – for Christ loves them with a love so deep and powerful that all the powers of hell cannot prevail against them.

This past Thursday we had our final game night with the neighborhood children.  We have been studying the Lord’s Prayer.  And for our final night we learned about the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil.”  The children confessed the explanation in the words of the catechism, “Deliver us from evil…what does this mean…We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”

The narrow way is open to Tatiana and Talia.  For they have Jesus.  And for you, dear Christian, the narrow door is open for you.  For to have faith means that you believe Jesus is the Lord and most importantly that He is for you in every way.

Jesus struggled and won the victory for you.  He has done all things well.  He journeyed to Jerusalem to suffer for you.  And He comes here in miraculous ways for you.  Forgiving you, blessing you, and feeding you good things.  What joy he has in you.  For in Him you have died to sin, and He is your life.    

He sees you washed clean in Holy Baptism and dressed up in all his righteousness.  He sees you drenched in the waters of holy baptism and washed clean from all your sin.  He sees that you are forgiven.

And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation.  There you have the Kingdom of God and you have entered through the narrow door.  You have entered here in the name of Jesus.  And His name will sustain you through all the perils of this mortal life…that when your last hour comes, He will give you a blessed end, and will graciously take you from this valley of sorrows to Himself in heaven.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pr. Senkbeil and Pr. Wieting at DOXOLOGY The Encore in Sprifield, IL

Find out more about DOXOLOGY HERE.

Feast Day of St. Mary the Mother of our Lord

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior” (Luke 1:46-55).

This is the song that Mary sings as she rejoices in the fruit of her womb.  The first fruits of Jesus, whom was born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  The song that she sings is the greatest symphony – the grandest opera to be sung on this side of heaven.  That is why we call it the Magnificat – which simply means, “My soul magnifies.”        

Today we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Mary, the mother of our Lord.  It is fitting that we follow the traditions of the church and commemorate this special day.  This is the day of Mary’s falling asleep in the arms of her Son and her Lord.  Only the Christian church can truly celebrate death.  For only in death is our baptism completed.  Falling asleep in Jesus that we might live in time and in eternity.  For to die in Christ is to be raised with him in His glorious resurrection.  Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints (Ps. 116:15).

Week in and week out we confess the creed – and together – every time we say some words about Jesus, being born of a virgin woman named Mary.  We are not recalling a bedtime story or a fable when we do this. I believe in God the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

We are confessing a historical event.  That something definite – actually happened.  That God from heaven above came down to rest in the womb of a young virgin mother, whose name is Mary.  We confess that God who governs the winds, and the waves – the sun and the stars - feeds the birds of the air – also sucks at the breasts of a Nazareth servant girl named Mary. 

Eve had given her ear to the message of the serpent.  She listened to the council of the wicked and she succumbed by the assault of false doctrine and lies.  Through Adam sin entered into the world.  And therefore suffering, pain and ultimately death.  Now man worked through the sweat of his brow.  And Eve and all women were consigned to bring forth children in pain.

But even after the fall, God promised that he would send a seed to reverse the curse of Eden.  He sent manna in the desert.  He was the rock that gushed forth water in the wilderness.  He delivered His church by parting the Red Sea and drowning evil and hardhearted Pharaoh.  He came in the burning bush.  And promised to be in His Temple with the arc of the covenant – the Holy of Holies.   

But now our Mary receives the angelic message that God will no longer dwell in the temple, a burning bush, nor a cloud by day or pillar of fire by night - but will enter in as a child – to be among us – as one of us. Mary as the new Eve of Paradise, believed that Word of God and was impregnated by that Word of faith.  As Elizabeth says, blessed are you among women.  And who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

You may be thinking.  Well, who are we that the Lord should come to us?  So what about all this!  Mary, with her holiness, with her blessedness, I am sure she has a special spot in heaven.  Thats all fine and good but what about me?  I am not a virgin.  I am not as blessed as Mary.  I did not walk with Jesus when he was here on earth.  And I am certainly not within His inner circle – with Mary and the disciples.  I do not feel blessed and filled with good things. 

I am a nothing.  I have become bored and indifferent to the Christian faith.  I have not honored my marriage vows.  I have been mired by sin and by broken dreams.  I have let my children down.  I have given up on this being a Christian and stuff.  I keep failing.  I have been in dark and unspeakable places where no light can shine.    

Dear Christian.  Hear the Gospel.  Jesus did not come for the righteous, but for the unrighteous.  Jesus himself says “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  Sinners of low estate and of humble means.  Yes, even like Mary.  The mercy that Jesus brings is for the lowly, the weak, the despised, the hungry.  Mercy isn’t wanted by those who are proud, strong, famous and full.  Christ is not for those who think that have it all together.  He does not come for those who think that there is nothing more that they need.  They can’t imagine going begging before God – praying, Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy.

No, Christ is for those for whom things have fallen apart.  He is for those who know that they deserve nothing good.  St. Mary sings in her song “He has exalted the lowly and filled the hungry with good things.”  Jesus comes for the hungry and for those who need what He gives. 

From the virgin soil of Eden the first man came.  And from the virgin womb of Mary the last man came – the new Adam – our Jesus.  Mary is the new Eve who planted a new Eden – a new paradise from her bulging belly – impregnated by the Word of God made flesh.  The same Word that said ‘Let there be light’ planted Himself within the womb of a simple handmaiden.  A little beating heart under hers.  With flesh and blood, an infant priest, to be laid on the altar that Isaac escaped from.  Crucified at Calvary’s tree and punished for our offenses.     

This Christ, our savior Jesus, came to speak a Word to you.  For He is the eternal Word made flesh.  And He is for you.  More than all, he came to forgive you, and wipe clean your slate.  To forgive and remove all of your sins.  A job that you could never accomplish on your own.  For without the intervention and coming of the infant child, we are dead in our trespasses, and without hope.      

But with Christ you have hope.  Just like Mary you are also blessed.  You are doubly blest.  For you have been made a hearer of this Gospel.  With Mary we may sing her beautiful opera with her.  My soul magnifies the Lord.  And my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For he hath regarded our lowliness and our desperate need.  For the mighty One has done great things, and Holy is His name.  He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 

Dear Christian, You who have heard and have believed.  For every soul that hears, conceives and brings forth the Word of God, and confesses his works.  That Jesus descended into hell to declare a victory over sin, death, and the devil.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

Like Mary, God has found favor with you.  Not because anything in and of yourselves.  But like Mary you bear Christ and all his promises in your very body.  For you have been filled with good things.  Washed clean in holy baptism and therefore united with your loving Lord.  The first fruits of Jesus have been placed upon your lips and his body will be placed in the lowly manger of your mouth.

You, dear Christian are highly favored.  God has regarded you as a saint.  A holy one of God.  This is only the work of God not your own.  God has done it for you.  And in faith you are invited believe this.  It is more true that anything. And He loves you just as much as He loved his mother Mary.  For you are in His holy family.  He calls you son, daughter, brother, and sister.  He calls you my name.

When you pass from this earthly life, like Mary, all generations will call you blessed.  The Mighty One, Jesus, has stretched out his arm to redeem you.  And He has done all things well, especially for you.    

In the name of Jesus. Amen.     

Bo Giertz Quote on love

"I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1).  

Walking with Jesus is walking in love.  It's more than confessing to the commandment of love and realizing it's the most important thing.  John shows us the secret in the commandment of love.  In a way it's an old commandment, something we've heard from childhood.  At the same time it's something new.  It's not something we know and recognize because we've heard it and agreed to it.  It's new over and over again, and it applies to Jesus as well as us.  Jesus is constantly showing us what love means.  He shows us in real life situations.  He gives us new duties, allows us to meet new people, have new difficulties and new problems, all so we once again have to learn how to love as He loved.  Then the commandment becomes new to us.  We understand better and more clearly what love is.  We've started a process where "the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8).  Daylight doesn't come all at once.  Darkness lingers in our hearts also.  Christ takes us step by step toward acts of love.  We know it's the true light that shines when we stick by Him and let Him lead us.

True Christianity is not a principle that makes love the highest norm for our actions.  True Christianity is living with Christ every day and allowing Him to teach us what love is.

Giertz, Bo. To Live with Christ. Concordia Publishing House, 2008. 535-536. Print.
You May purchase this book HERE.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wedding Pictures

Pastor and Jane Senkbeil

Allison, Ella, Rob, and Sofi

Pastor and Barbara Wieting

Martin Luther quote on how to make use of the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ

Whoever is in despair, distressed by a sin-stricken conscience or terrified by death of carrying some other burden upon his heart, if he would be rid of them all, let him go joyfully to the sacrament of the altar and lay down his woe in the midst of the community of saints and seek help from the entire company of the spiritual body - just as a citizen whose property has suffered damage of misfortune at the hands of his enemies makes complaint to his town council and fellow citizens and asks them for help.  The immeasurable grace and mercy of God are given us in this sacrament to the end that we might put from us all misery and tribulation (anfechtung) and lay it upon the community (of saints), and especially on Christ.  Then we may with joy find strength and comfort, and say, 'Though I am a sinner and have fallen, though this or that misfortune has befallen me, nevertheless I will go to the sacrament to receive a sign from God that I have on my side Christ's righteousness, life, and sufferings, with all holy angels and the blessed in heaven and all pious men on earth. (I know that) all my misfortune is shared with Christ and all the saints, because I have a sure sign of their love toward me."  See, this is the benefit to be derived from this sacrament; this is the use we should make of it.  Then the heart cannot but rejoice and be strengthened.

The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods (Trans. Jeremiah J. Schindel).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Trip to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Salisbury, MO

(Myself, along with the elite boys choir at Immanuel Lutheran Church
Salisbury, Missouri).

In the winter of 2008 I received an e-mail from Pastor Gutz at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Salisbury, Missouri.  He informed me that it was the wish of the Sunday school at Immanuel to help support a seminarian in his studies.  I received this email at time when I felt buried and overwhelmed by the financial undertaking of my seminary education.  I shortly thereafter received a check from the young students at Immanuel. Prior to this gift, I had readied myself to leave seminary for a couple of years to retrieve some funds (by working) and then return when I had to funds to help offset the cost of the Master of Divinity program.

I was incredibly moved by the generosity of the young students.  They had randomly selected me as their sole mission.  They could have chosen any other cause to give their money to.  They could have tithed anywhere, but it was their desire to support a seminarian of all things!  [Seminarian] A man being prepared for ordination into Christ's Office of the Holy Ministry, that he may faithfully preach, teach, baptize, administer the sacraments, and thereby care for God's people.  They will not receive a stylish t-shirt for their giving.  Their names will not be inscribed in hymnals or in a block of stone.  Their giving to a seminarian will not award them praise from buddies at school or in the eyes of the world.  But after hearing their singing at worship this past Sunday and confessing the faith with them, I know they are not motivated by those things anyway.      

I am so thankful for these young people - their faith and their piety.  It was through their example and gift that I resolved to press on with my education and trust that God would equip me to meet the needs ahead.  

This past Sunday I had the honor and privilege to preach and worship with the congregation in Salisbury.  After the service the congregation hosted Kristina and I to a special potluck just to celebrate our coming.  We will look forward to visiting Immanuel Lutheran Church again!  What a blessed congregation!       

(Kristina and I along with the sons of Pastor and Traci Gutz: from left to right - Emmit, Emerson, Ethan, and Emery)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Luke 12:22-34

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Luke 12:22-34).

Ever since the crunch of the apple in paradise, men have walked about in fear.  Troubled and anxious about many things.  Where we were once free from fear, worshiping God in a spirit of truth and purity, that seemingly harmless bite threw the whole cosmos into chaos, despair and ultimately death.  When our first parents ate and drank from that tree hoping to be made wise, they were made spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind.  And everything was turned upside down.  Man was now cursed to toil and spin and press on by the sweat of his brow. 

Martin Luther writes in his commentary on Genesis that after the fall, man became terrified even at the whisper of a rustling leaf.  And as our first parents hid from God among the trees, scared, anxious, and rebellious – a gracious God yet pursued them.  Even as we were consigned to disobedience God loved us still walking beside us in bodily form. 

But this morning death has no standing among us.  There is no need to hide or worry of whats to come.  We have been made hearers of His Gospel.  For Christ has entered in.  Him who knew no sin, became sin for us.  To bear the full brunt of God’s fury against our rebellion – to cancel out the debt of judgment that we ourselves deserved.  God himself paid the price.  He died that we might truly live.  For we know that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.  And by His death – this upside down world has been made right again.  For He has destroyed death.  And by His resurrection has lavished upon us forgiveness and has ushered us into the heavenly places.  By the mercy of God he has brought us here – together – has gathered us around the risen Lord to eat and drink from the tree of truth.  That is to eat and drink from Christ himself who comes here – among us.  That we too may be made sons and daughters of light.  

But what about today.  What about the troubles of this mortal life.  Concerning sin, not much has changed over these thousands of years.  On this side of heaven.  The devil still works tirelessly to have us worry, toil, and spin about many things.  That is his business.  To orient us away from God’s Holy Word and Fatherly care and to the chaos of our own human hearts and imaginations.  He loves to whip us into all kinds of worry.  To make us anxious, worried, and insecure.   

He loves to throw us into sadness and despair.  And we fall for it all; hook, line, and sinker.  We believe the evil one.  We believe that we are in constant danger and live as though we had no Father in Heaven at all.  We worry tirelessly.  About our children, our aging parents, our congregation.  We worry about our country and live as chicken little as though the sky were falling and there was no hope for the future. It is a violent lie-that money will bring happiness. So we plot and plan and pursue every incremental dollar as though our lives depended on it.

When we take a sober look at ourselves, we realize that we are not starving for lack of food.  We are not naked and without clothing.  Quite the opposite, we often have more food and more clothing that we know what we can do with.  By the grace and mercy of God we do have a place to lay our heads at night that we may sleep in peace.  
But Dear Christian.  Dear toiling and spinning Christian.  Hear the Gospel of our Lord.  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Solomon as King of an empire, in all his glory – with his mansions and power and riches and colorful robes and fine foods was not arrayed as lovely as a simple lily of the field.  And if God so richly adorns a simple flower in the field, good heavens, how much more will he delight in you and care for you!  You, who are created in His very image.  You baptized into the baptism of His very Son.  You, whom he tenderly looks at and says, “You are my dearest Son, You are my dearest daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”       

You are more precious to your Father than lilies. You are more than a flower.  And though he tenderly cares for even lilies, and graciously feeds the birds of the air, you are much – much more to him. He loves you.  You are His own.  He has clothed you with the wedding garment of everlasting righteousness.  What rose possesses the reddened beauty of Christ's blood, which washes you clean from all your sins?  For you have been made whiter than snow.  And what lily shines as brightly as the glorified and heavenly flesh of Christ Jesus.  No, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as lovely as you.  For you have been planted firmly in the Kingdom of God’s Son and you have been sprinkled with the life giving water that flows from his pierced side.

The life you live is the life of one forgiven – bathed in the waters of Holy Baptism and richly fed through the Supper that grants you true healing.  The only way is to live is to live as one forgiven.  And when we live in the forgiveness of sins.  It changes absolutely everything.

In our Gospel reading this morning.  Our Lord teaches us provide for ourselves moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.  Your money bag and your extravagant riches are the riches of Christ.  Faith receives that which God loves to give you.  For to be truly rich and generous toward God is simply to be a recipient of Christ and His gifts.

And when you seek His Kingdom you seek the blessing pierced and blessing hands of Christ.  And you have been absolved out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy.  Seek Him and all those other things will be added to you. 

As you continue to suffer and toil through this earthly life, know that there is no suffering that your God does not know.  He sympathizes with you in all your troubles.  Your hardships are not insignificant.  They actually mean something, for you are being perfected and beautified in the image of God – the image of the suffering servant.  But be comforted. God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Today as you are filled with good things and refreshed for the journey, do not be anxious about tomorrow.  For tomorrow will come.  The lilies will shine in the warmth of the sun.  And all of creation will join in the chorus that praises her maker.  The birds of the air will sing and your heavenly Father will feed them.  And it will all be ‘very good’ to the Lord.   

But nothing in creation is more pleasing to him than you.  Fear not, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  That is to say, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you Jesus.  And with him you are infinitely rich.  As you await his coming, know that on that day you will ask nothing of him.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.