Note: The following sermon was preached this morning, June 22, 2015, at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis by the Reverend Doctor Edward Grimenstein, associate executive director for the Office of International Missions, for the opening of Missionary Training for the current cohort of missionaries to be trained and sent into the worldwide mission fields of our Synod. By God’s grace, we are very close to the goal of doubling the number of missionaries sent into the field, a goal adopted by the 2013 Synod Convention. God be praised! + Herb Mueller
“God does not do things lightly”
God likes Words — He called creation into existence through Words. God loves water, because He destroys our flesh with it, while delivering us as newborn babes in Christ through it. He is very pleased with bread and wine because He cradles His flesh within His promise so we may taste and see how good the Lord truly is. But what God loves most, what He cares for most — is you.
God loves people. He loves you; made in His image, in His likeness, reborn in the likeness of Christ. Because through you, He still speaks His Word of salvation into this world. Through the mouths of preachers people believe, through the conversations of a wife over coffee with a neighbor tears of comfort can freely pour, through a simple child’s witness some of the greatest saints have believed.
And this brings us to some very special guests with us this morning. Welcome to our Summer Missionary class of 2015; our missionaries, spouses, and children. We are very pleased to have you join us here for the next two weeks during orientation.
It has been awhile now since you first started this process hasn’t it? But now the long deliberations are over. Your church has called you, God has called you, and you accepted that call. It is time to be like Abraham, and to follow where God has called you — not knowing everything, but knowing your God would never steer you wrongly. You go to minister and love a people you do not even know yet, all the while leaving people you already know and love — but don’t worry, God knows all and knows whom you are to love.
Big changes, lots of changes. But remember, your God is the One true God who does make big changes, who does do things greatly, and is the One who risks everything to go after that One lost sheep. That is your God. That is who He is. And so He has called you into a life that mirrors the very nature of God Himself — He does big things.
This morning God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to you. And He said to you, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel, I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Your God does not do things lightly. He doesn’t take the easy way out. He is a God who takes the long road, He is a God who stays the course no matter what, He is the God who is willing to go through for Himself a suffering and a death, so that there could be a resurrection.
God doesn’t take the easy way out. Whether He is cradling you and your life, or desiring to draw the whole world under His wing – God doesn’t do things lightly. God is not satisfied with staying in one corner of the world – that would be too light a thing. God refuses to close His mouth and speak to only one race of people – that would be too light a thing. Your God just doesn’t do things lightly. He never has and He never will. It is not in His nature. The whole world is His and all that is in it, and He desperately wants that world and her people to come back under His protective wing.
Each of you here have been called by name to also never live your lives lightly. Whether you are a missionary, or a spouse, a child, whether you are someone who is working here in this building in the International Center — you have all been called by name. God knows who you are. He knows how you are attacked. He knows who attacks you. And our God does not abandon you to be ravaged by your flesh — because that would be too light a thing — He gives us a new life in Christ.
Our God doesn’t abandon you to be a people who see no hope from day to day — that would be too light a thing — you have a lasting hope in Christ that no one and no thing can ever take away from you. When we sin, God does not turn His face away from us embarrassed — that would be too light a thing — He looks us square in the eyes and says, “I forgive you.”
And when we die, and after the memory of who we are has faded from our friends and families minds, after our tombstones themselves have turned to dust by rain and wind and time, even after our bones have reverted back to dust — your God will not forget you, He will not abandon you — your God will never, never forget you or the promise He made to you that whoever has been united to Christ in His death through baptism … will also be united to Christ in His resurrection from the dead.
Today is a day of celebration for all of us here whether serving as missionaries or working here in the International Center. Because today we see how our God acts — He doesn’t act lightly, He goes big, He goes for the whole world to bring His light to all the nations. And He goes really big by going really small; He knows your name, He knows your illness, He knows your sin, He knows what tempts you and who tempts you … and your God stakes His claim upon your life and your future just as much as He has staked a claim upon this whole world so that neither death nor suffering nor all the powers of Hell can ever pluck you out of His hand … because, let’s face it, we worship a God who does not do things lightly. Amen.
And now may the peace of our God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Another brutal and senseless killing spree by a crazed gunman, motivated by racial hatred, sends our thoughts swirling between despair and numbness. Why were these nine Christians martyred as they were taking in the life-giving Word of God in Christian Bible study? We know and are too often reminded that there is horrid evil in this world, and an “evil one” who bedevils the minds of such killers. Jesus said it would be so (John 17:15).
As the world devolves around us from insanity to insanity, I’m reminded of the statement of John Adams that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Nowhere is that more true than in the case of the Second Amendment. As both religion and morality are on steep decline among us, we can only expect more of this insanity by individuals unhinged from the safety of families and a society normed by natural law and influenced by the genuine teaching of the Bible. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
No truth of the New Testament is so loudly stated by Jesus than that the Triune God is the creator of all people (Matt. 19:4); that God loves all (John 3:16); that all are equally indebted to God and valuable to Him (2 Cor. 5:14–15; John 8:12). Racism is a fundamental denial of the Word of God (cf. Acts 2:5ff.; Matt. 15:21ff.) and natural law. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence). The denial of human rights, maltreatment of persons due to race, including the forbidding of the right for a man and a woman to marry without regard to race, is contrary to natural and divinely revealed law (Holy Scripture). It also contradicts the universality of the truth of the Gospel of Christ, who died for all (Romans 3:9–10, 19; 2 Cor. 5:19).
We mourn the loss of these dear Christians and pray for their loved ones. May they be consoled by “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and the picture of heaven painted by St. John in Revelation of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).
We reject racism and racially motivated hatred in all its forms. We repent where we have fallen short, and we pray for strength to stand for what is good and right and true. We pray for the perpetrator and his family, even as we demand the swift execution of justice.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Pastor Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
From May 22-24, I had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Alan Yung, President of the The Lutheran Church-Hong Kong Synod. The Hong Kong Synod has roots back to the Missouri Synod’s mission work in China which began in 1915. A brief history of work in Hong Kong from the Hong Kong Synod’s website:
In 1915, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod sent missionaries to China. They preached the gospel along Changjiang in Hubei and Sichuan. The Lutheran Church -Missouri Synod, HK & Macau Mission was established at that time. In 1949, the missionaries planned to return to the United States, but when they saw so many refugees in Hong Kong, they decided to stay. They started evangelical work in Hong Kong, and later established the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Hong Kong Mission.
In the beginning, the missionaries set up shelters for worship in Tiu Keng Leng. They also started a Bible School in order to train people for God’s service. Then they rented a place in Kowloon and established the first synodical congregation. At that time, services were conducted in Mandarin and Cantonese. Through evangelizing on the street, visiting patients in hospitals and organizing Bible classes, the church grew rapidly and more congregations were set up.
In 1953, the first synodical school was founded. The Synod started many secondary schools, primary schools and kindergartens from the 1960s onwards. The schools also became bases of evangelical activities. Many churches and mission stations held their meetings in schools.
The Synod has been serving the public ever since giving assistance to the refugees in the 1950’s. In 1977, Lutheran Social Service was set up. The church gradually changed from a mission station to an independent local church and registered as Lutheran Church–Hong Kong Synod. It then became a“partner church”of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod of the United States.
From then on, the Synod continued to develop in the areas of evangelism, education and social service. To date, there are congregations totalling over 8000; 34 churches, 8 mission stations; 40 schools with over 1000 staff and more than 22,000 students; 43 social service units.
President Alan Yung presents the Christian Divine Agenda for the Hong Kong Synod. Much of the liturgy is based upon Missouri Synod resources, however, some portions have been contextualized for Hong Kong. For instance, the Christian Divine Agenda has a rite for the removal of idols from a family’s home or from a place.
A special thanks to Dr. Steven Oliver, who translated and summarized the Idol Removal Ceremony as follows:
The Idol Removal Ceremony begins with instructions about making sure that approval for removing them is obtained from the legal owners, that nothing illegal be done, and that Christian symbols may be put in place of the idols as long as they are not regarded as idols or as divine objects with magical powers.
Confession of Sins (esp. against the First Commandment in regard to idol worship)
Luke 19:1-10 (emphasizing “Salvation has come to this his home”)
Hymn: “God Builds Up The City Walls of Protection for His People”
Responsive Reading of Psalm 117 (about the differences between idols of the Gentile and Yahweh)
Scripture Reading (many from which to choose, all of which mention idols)
Sermonette (from Scripture reading and directed to the particular situation)
Prayer – any and all evil spirits or power connected with the idol(s) are rebuked and cast out along with Satan in this prayer, and invocation to the Triune God to dwell in, save and protect the home is made.
Response to this Prayer: “Almighty God, protect us and use us. Amen.”
Removal: at this point, the Christians confidently remove all idols and accompanying objects, knowing that these are all powerless against you.
Prayers & Hymns of praise, salvation and thanks are offered
The next rite after the Idol Removal Ceremony is for an exorcism.
Until recently, those of us living in the United States have not had the consider the possibility that people joining our churches might literally have idols in their home that they worship. Yet in many Asian countries and even in Africa, it is not uncommon for a family home to have a family altar with idols. When a person becomes a Christian and is baptized, what to do with the idols in the home? So in these contexts, the church has a rite to remove the idols from the home. As the population of the United States continues to change, situations formerly encountered only on the mission field may become more common for our pastors.
A photo of Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.
— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6–11).
Brothers in Christ:
Grace and peace to you in Jesus, the Living One, who died and lives forevermore, who holds the keys of death and hell (Rev. 1:18)! We are writing specifically to pastors today, but much of this applies to all of us, brothers and sisters alike.
Every three to six weeks, I sit down with my pastor. Generous with his time, he usually gives me 90 minutes or more. We talk about our families, about our joys and burdens, about our temptations. We then read and discuss Scripture, pray and, if necessary (when is it not necessary?), confess and speak Christ’s word of forgiveness. I do not believe it is possible to serve very long as a pastor without hearing for yourself the precious word of Christ on the lips of your pastor, “Your sin is forgiven you! Go and sin no more!”
Why? Simply put, as Peter writes, the devil is prowling about, seeking someone to devour. Does that include pastors too? Oh, yes, it does—in spades! And if you think it doesn’t, you are actually in even greater danger. Time and time again, we’ve seen how both the devil and the world target pastors and their families. If they can take a pastor down, they can often take others down with him. What is more, we pastors, like everyone else, have beating in our own chests a heart full of sin, “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Why so negative today? Jesus explains: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20–23).
So when Satan comes with his temptation, he has this natural ally in me, in my heart. In other words, my sin problem is not merely a surface anomaly like a skin blemish easily removed with a laser. Instead, it’s like a metastasized melanoma, not just on the surface, but infecting the whole body with its deadly effects.
What are some of the tactics Satan uses to play with our sinful flesh, often when we least expect it?
- He almost always takes our pride and twists it to his purposes. “It won’t happen to me.” “I’m immune to these temptations.” “I have progressed beyond that.” “I’m on to the devil’s schemes.” “I’ve got this licked.” “Let’s focus on the good things, not the negative.” “I’m okay. At least I’m not as bad as . . .” “You work for the Synod. You’re good!”
- Sex is like a powerful river. Within its proper banks, within a marriage of one man and one woman for life, it is a glorious gift of God. Outside these boundaries, it quickly becomes destructive, narcissistic. Used as God designed, for husband and wife to give themselves to serve each other in love, it is a source of great joy and blessing from God’s hand. But when our appetites lead us to use others for ourselves, it turns into an idol that often runs wild, becoming an all-consuming desire that is never satisfied. With the Internet, accessing debilitating pornography (debasing to women and men alike) has become so easy. We toss God’s gifts into the trash, causing great pain to ourselves and those we love.
- Sometimes those with great intellect are tempted to think that they can solve just about any problem if only people will listen to them. When people do listen, we become enamored with our own wisdom. When they refuse to hear us, we blame it on their “stupidity” or “hardness of heart,” claiming that they have thereby refused to hear Christ. We become proud of our accomplishments. Or when we suffer, we blame others.
- Great wealth or lack of possessions, take your pick. The devil can use either one to consume our hearts and minds. We don’t have enough. We are blessed, but we want more. We focus on what we don’t have, instead of receiving in thanksgiving all that God has given us. But the thing about idols and obsessions is that God has a tendency to grind them to bits. He tolerates no rivals!
- The devil tempts us with the fear of man. We know the right thing to do or to say, but we are afraid people will not like us if we say it, so we soft peddle. We compromise. We give in. Pray God would instead give you both the wisdom and discernment necessary, as well as the Spirit-worked courage, to speak the Word of God with loving boldness. Let the fear of God drive out the fear of man.
- Can pastors develop a haughty spirit? There are many opportunities the devil takes to play on our sinful flesh in this regard. “This church is growing because of me.” “If everyone followed my methods, this Synod would take off!” “My people are a bunch of dumb sheep who know nothing of the Word of God.” “They’re not worthy of a man of my talents.” Any one of these thoughts will indulge our sinful pride, but each of them is deadly.
- We could also write volumes about the tongue, what James calls “a fire, a world of unrighteousness . . . no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6, 8). Heed his warning: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue [or his fingers on the keyboard!] but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
What a list! And I’m only scratching the surface. Satan’s purpose in all of these temptations is to separate us from Christ, to drive others away from Christ or to destroy our ability to serve in the pastoral ministry. What is God calling us to do?
First, repent. Turn from the lies you tell yourself. Turn from following your own desires. Turn from the idols you have created. Turn in the pride. Give up to the Lord in confession all those sinful thoughts. Turn away, by the Spirit’s power, from those sinful actions. Give up the sinful, prideful words. Put away the fear of man (again, idolatry) to fear, love and trust in God alone.
Second, even more importantly, remember that the Church lives only by the forgiveness of sins. You and I need Christ’s forgiveness as much or more than our people. Hear for yourself the poignant words of John: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2). That’s how you can be sure this is also for you.
God in our flesh and blood, Jesus, became the sacrifice that takes away our sins. He soaked it all up. He is the propitiation, the sacrifice that made us whole. He absorbed all that sin and death could do. All the wrath, all the destruction—He took it all for us. He did it all for real sinners. He did it all for you and me.
All this works a wonderful exchange, an exchange actually finished from the cross. When we come, stained and dirty, dying with our sin, Jesus says, “Here, I will take what is yours, will take all your sin, I will become the sinner for you, in your place!” He gathers all our sins, carries them all and is nailed up to the cross for every last one of them. Now raised from the dead, Jesus says, “Here, now let me give you what is Mine, My life, My peace, My mercy, My grace, My heaven, all for you, for you are my beloved!” And the Father looks at us and sees only Jesus—for us!
All this is delivered to us in our Baptism, in absolution, in the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us. As a pastor, you deliver these gifts to your people in the Word of God. But you need the gifts too. No one, including you, can live without them. The greatest help in temptation is our Lord’s promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). You are loved in Christ, washed clean in His blood.
Forgiven by the Word of the living Lord Jesus, we are now called to be “humble . . . under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We are to be “sober-minded; watchful” against temptation (1 Peter 5:6–8). In essence, by the Word of God and prayer, as we are accountable to one another, we are to guard our hearts. We take seriously the warning, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). This is why God provides you with brothers in the ministry, with a board of elders, to help you stand. This is why God gives His Spirit, in His Word: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Look for it. Look for the way of escape He gives. Trust Him. Know that Satan is already defeated. He has no power unless we allow it. That’s why Peter tells us to “resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:9–10).
When you sense you are being drawn into temptation, get help. Don’t fight alone. Call a brother pastor. Talk to someone. The devil loves loners. They’re easier to “pick off.” Guard your heart. Watch what you take in. Be careful what you look at. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). Be accountable for your devotional life. Call your circuit visitor. Visit regularly with your pastor, your father confessor. Put safeguards on your computer if you haven’t done so. Start or become part of an accountability group. Ask a brother pastor to hold you accountable. Talk to a Christian counselor (many districts provide help in this). The Concordia Plan Services Employee Assistance Plan can help too (1-866-726-5267). No matter what, remember this promise: “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).
Why are we belaboring this? Satan has two more dastardly tricks. He will often lead you to think it’s no big deal, you’ll get away with it, no one will know, no one will recognize you. He will tempt you to become what you most despise. And then he will turn around and accuse you: “You think God can love you after you did all that? You’ve got to be kidding!”
But hear and take to heart God’s Word: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:32–34). And that also includes you, whoever you are! Trust Him. Lean on Him. He will never fail you.
One more thing: You can stake your life on these words. They are trustworthy and true. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).
May that peace of God be with you all—in Jesus!
The Rev. Dr. Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Pictured Left to Right: Aline Koller, Vice President of Communications for the IELB; Rev. Tiago Albrecht, Director of IELB Radio; Mrs. Tania Kopereck; Rev. Egon Kopereck, President of the IELB. The group is standing in the “original” Concordia Seminary and site of the Altenburg Debates in Perry County, MO.
A delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil visited the Saint Louis region from May 11-18, 2015. The delegation, which previously in the week visited Concordia Seminary, the LCMS International Center, Lutheran Hour Ministries, and Concordia Publishing House, concluded its trip in Perry County, MO, located about 100 miles south of Saint Louis. President Kopereck said, “We need to see the birthplace of the Missouri Synod.”
Perry County, MO, is the location where the Saxons including C.F.W. Walther, originally settled after leaving Germany in the Fall of 1838. They arrived in New Orleans on January 21, 1839. Approximately, 700 settlers left Germany for Missouri under the leadership of Bishop Stephen.
After Bishop Stephen’s immoral lifestyle became known among the Saxons who settled in Missouri, he was expelled from the colony. Considering that the colony left Germany believing their were led by God to come to the United States, a number of them were thrown in to doubt. This led to the Altenburg debates, where C.F.W. Walther and Marbach debated. Walther argued that the group was still the church because they are believers who have been “called and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the Word.”
The Altenburg Debate happened inside the “original” Concordia Seminary pictured above. The seminary was not originally located in its current location but was moved some years later.
This photo shows the seminary being moved using rollers and horses in the late 19th century.
Dr. Fred Baue, whose family is from Altenburg / Frohna et al, helped arrange the tour. A special thanks to Pastor Steven Dressler who welcomed us and his wife who prepared lunch for us, and all the folks at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum.
Pictured Left to Right: President Kopereck, Rev. Tiago Albrecht, and Pastor Steven Dressler
President Kopereck brings greetings in English, German, and Portuguese to Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg.
After leaving Altenberg, we shopped at the Saxon Lutheran Memorial, operated by the Concordia Historical Institute (CHI).
The Missouri Synod purchased the first 11 acres (today the site is 30 acres) of the Saxon Lutheran Memorial in 1961. The site is the homestead of Wilhelm & Christian Bergt, original settlers of the 1839 expedition to Perry County.
Rolling hills and meadows at the Saxon Lutheran Memorial.
To some in the United States, it may seem odd that people would travel all the way from Brazil to see a few small towns in rural Missouri. Yet the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil is a daughter church of the Missouri Synod. Some of the first missionaries to Brazil in the mid-1890s came from this region of Missouri. During the Brazilian delegation’s visit to the International Center, they were able to see some of these connections first hand.
Mr. Mark Hofman, LCMS Executive Director of Mission Advancement, shows the Brazilian delegation family photographs from his grandfather’s time as a missionary in Brazil.
Martin Hofman, grandfather to Mark Hofman pictured above, received a call to Brazil in 1935. He visited congregation members and preaching stations on his mule named “Duke.” Pastor Martin Hofman lived in a rural area, between Domingosz Martins (west/southwest of Vitoria) and Santa Maria de Jetibá.
The Brazilian Delegation meeting with President Matthew Harrison
After seeing how the Missouri Synod remembers her history, President Kopereck said that he needs to bring this back to Brazil to help his church recall its history. He said that it is important for church members to remember where they came from and that they have a connect to God’s people from the past who handed down the faith.