November 17, 2013, St. John Lutheran Church, New Minden, Illinois (pastored ably and faithfully now for nearly 26 years by Rev. Timothy P. Mueller) was struck by a tornado for the third time in its history.
Several homes of members across the street were also destroyed. No congregation members were killed, but two people in the community, who had been visited by Pastor Mueller, lost their lives. Both Pastor and people are bringing God’s comfort and peace to family members and to many others.
Some years ago, for the 150th Anniversary of St. John’s in 1996, Pastor Timothy Mueller edited a history of the congregation, which of course included descriptions of the previous two tornados – May 27, 1896, the same day as “The Great St. Louis Cyclone,” which killed hundreds, and again on June 7, 1907. When St. John’s was hit for the third time in its history, we remembered a dedicatory prayer included in the history, a prayer written by the then pastor of St. John’s, Rev. Emmanuel Koestering, for the occasion of the dedication of the renovated church on November 10, 1907. See especially how the prayer strikes a note of humble dependence on the grace of God, submitting to God’s chastening, yet trusting His mercy in Christ and holding God to His promises:
O Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, unsearchable in the unity of Your essence and the trinity of Your persons, and at the same time incomprehensible in the judgments and ways in which You deal with Your children on earth! In deepest humility and veneration we appear for the first time in our renovated house of God before Your holy face. You have permitted us to experience Your judgments out of Your mighty hand. Twice You have spoken to us by means of storm and weather. Twice You have placed members of this congregation suddenly in the dust of death and have left behind deeply wounded and bleeding hearts. Twice You have allowed this Congregation to weep upon the ruins of their church. Deeply You have humbled us before our brethren in the faith and before the mocking world, as if we were great sinners more than others and not Your dear and precious children on whom You bestow Your hearty and good pleasure for the sake of Your dear Son, in whom we believe and who is the joy and comfort of our hearts at all times. But, dear heavenly Father, although we humbly confess to be great sinners before You who have deserved all Your temporal and eternal punishments, yet Your faithful Word stands before us as a brightly shining sun: “Whom I love, him I chasten” (Hebrews 12:6). And we believe firmly without any doubts, that You have visited us, not in Your wrath but in Your fatherly love and grace and through Your faithful sufferer Job You do call to us: “Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For He bruises, but He builds up; He wounds but His hands make whole. He shall deliver you in six troubles, yes, in seven no evil shall touch you” (Job 5:17-19). And You have permitted us to experience the truth of this word now. Yes, You have not only struck and wounded us, but Your faithful and merciful hand as Savior has again raised us up, healed us, and filled our hearts with peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. We have been able to kiss Your chastening hand because we recognize and believe, as You have convinced us, that Your eternal grace and mercy lead us through the sorrow of death to heavenly joy, and from deep outrage to the heavenly crown of glory. See, dear Father, for that reason we appear before You today with joyous praise and thanks to Your divine name in our newly given House of God and confess from the bottom of our heart: This is the Day the Lord has made for us. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good” (Psalm 136:1). You have done great things for us. We rejoice in it. O Lord, help! O Lord, let it turn out well for us! But we ask now, Lord God, Father, You, the Lord of our life, abide with us; it is almost nighttime, the day of this world is declining, its end is coming near. The Judge is at the door. O abide with us with Your grace, with Your Spirit, with Your comfort! Protect this precious house of God and retain in it Your pure Word for us. May Your Word ever be our heart’s rejoicing and comfort! May we, like the wise bridesmaids, watch and pray with patience and good works, seek after eternal life, and be clothed with the garments of the righteousness of Your dear Son Jesus Christ, that when our hour comes or You appear in the clouds of heaven for the final judgment, we be found worthy to stand at Your right in the shining forth of Your eternal glory and may hear the most blessed greeting: “Come unto Me, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for You. O pious and faithful servants and maids, come, enter upon the eternal joy of Your Lord!” (see Matthew 25:34). Amen, may it be true for us all. Hallelujah! Amen. Amen (from a 1921 History of St. John Lutheran Church, New Minden, Illinois, quoted in Our God, Our Help in Ages Past: 150 Years of Documents, Pictures and Other Tokens of God’s Blessings upon St. John’s Lutheran Congregation, New Minden, Illinois, edited by Pastor Timothy P. Mueller, published by St. John’s, New Minden, Illinois, 1996).
+ Herbert C. Mueller
More Reflections on Christ the King
[Shared as a devotion with the LCMS Board of Directors, November 22, 1963.]
Where were you 50 years ago this past weekend? Do you remember? Anyone old enough will remember the assassination of President John Kennedy November 22, 1963. Personally, being in 5th grade at the time, I remember coming in from recess to see all the girls in my class crying and the boys in stunned silence.
It was one of the shared experiences of our generation. It marked for many the death of the care-free 50s and the beginning spasm of the 60s. It was when many my age first realized the world is broken. Two other people died that same day, November 22, 1963, as well: C.S. Lewis, beloved Christian writer and Aldus Huxley, author of Brave New World. These two could not have had more different explanations of the world’s brokenness: Lewis, whose writings explained the Christian faith for many, and Huxley, who rejected God because God got in the way of what he wanted to do.
If you were God, how would you go about redeeming a broken world? How would you respond to a world of sinners? Who want to go their own way even if it leads to death? How would you save people from a culture that often sees death as a solution, even celebrates it?
If God can do anything He wants, why doesn’t He just, with a wave of the hand, put an end to all the evil in the world? All the sin and death with a snap of the finger? But if we are honest with ourselves, we also have to admit that, if He did, that would also put an end to me, to you.
Yes, God can do anything. “He does all that He pleases” the Psalm says (115:3). But one thing God will not do is go against His nature, His own person. God is just and cannot abide sin. God is love, pure love, and hates nothing He has made. And the mystery of both, God’s justice and God’s love, come together and are revealed in Christ, on His cross.
For Christ is King, from the cross. Read Luke chapter 23 to see it in full, in what He says and what He does. They nail Him up, but He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Of course, in their not knowing, they mock Him. Pontius Pilate, in his not knowing, ridicules Him and mocks the whole Jewish nation he has been sent to rule, with his inscription, “This Is the King of the Jews!” (Luke 23:38). The people and the soldiers do the same: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:37).
But amazingly, one of the criminals was led to see through the mocking all the way to the truth, to catch a glimpse of the real nature of Jesus’ kingdom, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom,” your rule (Luke 23:42).
Here is the true King, the one in whom “all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Here is where Jesus rules, from the cross. Here is the mystery of God’s love revealed, and God’s justice satisfied, here in Christ the King, on the cross.
Here is God’s true response to the evil of sin, to the brokenness of suffering and death. He comes! He comes into our flesh. He comes to take it all into Himself, for us.
No, this is not some sort of divine child abuse, as some would have it, but this is the deepest love of all, as the beloved Lenten hymn, “O Dearest Jesus” will show it:
What punishment so strange is suffered yonder
The Shepherd dies for sheep who loved to wander,
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.
The sinless Son of God must die in sadness,
The sinful child of man may live in gladness,
Man forfeited his life, and is acquitted,
God is committed. (LSB 439, st. 4-5)
So here is our King. King Jesus from the cross, who has reconciled to Himself all things – even me, even you! – making peace by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). For when we, like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, recognize our desperate need for Him, we also say, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” your rule. And He promises, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Today, you are mine, and I forgive you, He says. I have suffered your suffering and died your death. I will heal your brokenness, for I am the “first born from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), for you. I have you now. You are with Me, He says, and I am your King.
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President
Reflections on Christ the King
The Sunday before Thanksgiving is the last Sunday of the Church Year, also called Christ the King Sunday. One of the Scriptures for this Sunday is from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:13-20 ESV).
This passage is like a wide angle view, in which the camera takes in the widest possible view, to see the whole picture, that Christ is King of ALL. All things.
This is Christology of the highest order.
He is the image (the word is icon) of the invisible God. He makes the invisible visible. As Jesus once told Philip, “whoever has seen Me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
This is what it means when Martin Luther wrote in his hymn:
With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected,
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected,
Ask ye who is this,
Jesus Christ it is, of Sabbaoth Lord,
and there’s none other God.
He holds the field forever. (LSB 656 st. 2)
“There’s none other God!” You will find God in no other place, but here – in the crucified Christ, also raised from the dead. Jesus Christ makes God visible. And there is no other.
He is the first born of creation. He is the one who is first, before all creation. So, as John says, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).
In Him all things hold together – literally, all things stand with Him. Without Him nothing can continue to exist.
Scientists exploring the nature of the universe tell us now that they think 89% of the universe is so called “dark matter.” Without this “dark matter,” present theories don’t work, and everything flies apart at a fundamental level. However this theory works out (whether we have understood it or not), in Christ we have the real reason all things hold together. He takes care of it!
He is the Head of His body, the Church, giving life and direction to all who believe.
He is the first born from the dead. There is a whole crowd of people who are going to rise from the dead at the last day, and Christ is there, at the head of the pack. He’s the One who has already done it, and the One who will bring us all with Him.
All this so that in all things He might be pre-eminent. This is the motto of one of our Concordia Universities, Concordia, Ann Arbor (now a campus of Concordia Wisconsin): that in all things Christ might be pre-eminent, might have first place. Not that WE put Him in first place, but that we recognize He IS in first place.
No one can rival Him. No one else has gone across the great divide called death, and come back.
“For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Everything it takes to be God is right there, in Jesus, who is fully human and fully God. He reconciles to Himself all things, making peace by the blood of His cross.
But this whole wonderful picture, this high Christology, all means nothing – except that He does it ALL for me, for YOU.
That by all Jesus has done, the FATHER has rescued us from the dominion – the authority – of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom, brought us under the rule, of His beloved Son.
Christ is King of all, but the important thing is that He is MY King, YOUR King. That WE are under HIS rule. That HE forgives our sins. That in HIM we have peace, and we are reconciled to the Father.
Right here, right now – YES!
As the Catechism says: “All so that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” (LSB 322)
Under His rule, we go forward to serve Him!
+ Herb Mueller
[Note: This sermon was preached in Chapel at the International Center, on the Festival of the Reformation, October 31, 2013. Longer versions were also preached in St. Paul, Munster, IN, and St. Paul, Readlyn, IA, the weekend before. + Herbert Mueller, LCMS First Vice President.]
We observe Reformation Day, not because Lutherans are better, but we observe it for the sake of the Gospel.
Our Church is always reforming, always coming back to the Word of God, always being reformed to focus on Christ.
And a church that is always reforming is also always repenting, daily. The first of the 95 Theses Luther put up for debate October 31, 1517, reads:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. (LW 31:83).
- This is simply to admit our need for Christ.
- To know that Christ dwells only in sinners.
If you don’t believe me, just wait. The Law that exposes sin will come in full force when you are facing death – because the wages of sin IS death.
Yes, the Law is a curb against sin. Yes, the Law is a guide for Christians, but when we are talking about our standing before God, the Law always accuses.
Now we know that whatever the Law says it speak to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the Law no human being will be justified in His sight (Romans 3:19-20)
We are all, each one of us, held accountable to God. I know we are tempted to say – Yes, but…
Yes, but I tried my best. Isn’t that good enough?
Yes, but why is this happening to me?
Yes, but I don’t deserve to die? Not yet.
Yes, but God is not being fair.
God’s law says STOP. Hold your mouth. Stop the excuses. Like a parent with a child trying to excuse his behavior – stop, stop trying to justify yourself.
This is a “bad news/good news” situation.
The bad news is that you cannot do it. It doesn’t work. You have no excuses, even if you are a pastor or work at the International Center. You cannot justify yourself.
But here’s the really great good news.
You don’t have to! It has already been done.
Been done by God in Jesus Christ.
He did it all.
There is no distinction, Scripture says, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And that ALL includes you and me. In fact, it BETTER include you and me, or the promise doesn’t apply to us either.
Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).
God justifies! God speaks. God declares us righteous for the sake of Christ. And when GOD speaks, it is DONE. And God does this by grace as a gift – undeservedly.
In other words, God does not give US what we deserve, but He gives us instead what JESUS deserves. And God can give us what Jesus deserves, because on the cross God allowed JESUS to have what WE deserved for our sin. He took it all for us.
That’s what the word propitiation means. He took it all! Christ is the sacrifice in our place, the sacrifice that takes away our sin. He is the place of mercy, the one who soaks up all the wrath of God for sin – in our place.
And it’s all done – for us.
It is never our working, but always God’s doing, in Jesus.
We simply receive it through faith – it’s a gift.
Believe it and you have it!
In his Galatians commentary, Martin Luther explains:
“Here we work nothing, render nothing to God. We only receive and permit someone else to work in us, namely, God… We do not perform, but receive righteousness. We do not have, but accept, when God the Father grants it to us through Jesus Christ.” (LW 26:5f)
What does this mean? Practically speaking? Justified through faith means there is so much we do NOT have to worry about.
- We don’t have to worry about the guilt of our sin, because Christ took it all.
- We don’t have to worry about how you look before God, because in Jesus you are covered in HIS righteousness. GOOD!
- We don’t have to hide from God like Adam and Eve in the garden or make excuses…
- You don’t have to defend yourself before God, because Jesus did that already, far better than we’d ever be able.
- You don’t have to dwell on past sins and failures, because they’ve all been put on Jesus, they’re all atoned for, all forgiven.
- And the blood of Jesus really DOES set the guilty conscience FREE.
- You don’t even have to worry about your future, or worry about your death, because Jesus rose – you will rise.
- You don’t have to compare yourself with other Christians, to see how you measure.
- You don’t have to…
Because you are justified.
You are set free.
Christ has got you covered.
As a result, here’s now what we GET to do:
You get to
- revel in God’s grace – the gift given.
- live free – in the freedom of sins forgiven.
- walk right into the throne room of God in your prayers to pour out your needs before God – He won’t say – hey! who are you? But welcome, my child. Here’s all the good I have for you.
- You get to love the people He has given you because you know Jesus loves you and Jesus loves them.
Even if you feel bad, feel ashamed, or feel guilty… none of your FEELINGS can CHANGE God’s promises.
For HE is righteous, and HE justifies us.
In ourselves, we have nothing, but in Christ and the cross, we have everything. That’s what this means:
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:27-28).
And this Christian life of repentance Luther talks about in the 95 Theses is simply a life of looking away from my sin, of looking away from my death, from myself to see Christ only, FOR ME.
I am crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20).
You have to hear one more bit of Luther on this:
Now these words, “who loved me” are filled with faith. … He who was completely God gave everything He was, gave Himself FOR ME. For me, I say, a miserable and accursed sinner… Now I have Another, who has freed me from the terrors of the Law, from sin, from death, and who has transferred me into freedom, the righteousness of God, and eternal life. He gave Himself FOR ME.” (LW 26:177).
For each of you!
And that’s why we observe Reformation Day!
In the name of Jesus – Amen!
[Note: This sermon was preached in Chapel at the International Center Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, by Rev. Steven Schave, Associate Executive Director of the Office of International Mission – An excellent example of a sermon that spoke stinging law and comforting Gospel to me – Herbert Mueller, First VP.]
Text: Genesis 1:1-2:3
And God said it was good. And God said: it-was-good. Not sorta good, not kinda good, but when God saw His creation with its crown jewel of humanity… He said it was good, through and through. We had it all, paradise; well cared for, in want for nothing. Sickness, what is that? Pain, wow, sounds awful! I hope that never happens to me. Death, that would be a completely unnatural part of God’s creation. Loneliness, no way, God wouldn’t allow it, only perfect communion with Him and a soul mate to be united to for eternity. Perfect love, perfect joy, and perfect peace…just plain perfect, we didn’t know anything else.
But it wasn’t enough: surely God is holding out on us. Give us an orchard, and if there is one tree that God says stay clear of, it will seem the sweetest. And after all, let’s not kid ourselves, we weren’t so concerned with being like God in some holy sense, we want to be God and have our every desire. No, when the crafty serpent comes on to the scene, it doesn’t take a whole lot of convincing before the juices of forbidden fruit are dripping from our sin stained lips. And so covered only in our guilt and shame, with our tails between our legs, we find ourselves evicted from a paradise lost. All of creation now corrupted by our rebellion and disobedience and death will begin its reign. The tree of life in the garden – forever in the rear view mirror.
But that was so long ago. Now we say, “life stinks and then you die.” We don’t even bother with “did God really say?” anymore, because our tingling ears tuned out the voice of God long ago. It’s about creating our own paradise now. We build our towers to reach the heavens, we fashion together our golden calves to worship, we feverishly reduce, reuse, recycle and plant our gardens to try to recreate a paradise lost. We mask the pain, we turn our face from truly looking at death, we try to clothe ourselves in our own righteousness and justify our disobedience. But it is all a fleeting breath; because in the end we must still weep at the grave of a murdered son, the soil is still infested with thorns, the labor of bearing a child remains, and the flaming swords of God’s justice still bar the door to the tree of life in an Eden that is but a ghost town.
And so it is that poor miserable sinners fall to their knees on this very day and must confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…we sinners have no business in a holy place in the presence of God, ashes to ashes and dust to dust of a fallen world. And yet God, God who is faithful and just, still loves His creation. Never doubt that in all of creation, of heavens and earth, you are the crown jewel, you are the apple of His eye. For the creator becomes a creature to redeem his creation and to make it good. And so when Christ puts himself into the Jordan and the Spirit is hovering over the water, God says it is good. When Christ fulfills the Law on your behalf and conquers your every temptation from the serpent, God says it is good. When Christ bears your sins in His own flesh, the seed of the offspring crushing the head of the serpent by being obedient to the Father, even unto death: God the Father says, “IT-IS-GOOD!”
And so when you doubt your worth, when you doubt God’s love for you, when you are convinced that your passport will never be stamped for Eden…you will look to the perfect sacrifice made on your behalf, hanging from this wretched tree planted in the barren soil of Golgotha, and you will hear those words from the very voice of God who says, yes my child, it is good – it is your tree of life! Come and eat from the fruit of this tree and drink it’s wine: filled with forgiveness, life and salvation. Put the bread on your tongue and the chalice to your lips made holy, for it is good. Come and be cleansed in this river of life that flows from a riven side and be made a new creation, for God looks upon you remade in the image of His Son, clothed in His righteousness, and says, “IT-IS-GOOD!”
So make no mistake you sons of Adam and you daughters of Eve, the new Adam has come to conquer death; and to bring you forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. The tomb has burst forth, the trumpets declare that that victory is won, and God says, “IT-IS-GOOD!” The seed of the woman is but the first fruit of those raised from the dead. For from your rest in the tomb, you too, dear child of God, will be awakened. From out of your slumber, the angel will come to show you the waters of the river of life; bright as a crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And beside the river you will see the tree of life, with fruit that gives life and leaves that bring healing to the nations. No curse here, only the throne of God and the Lamb to be worshiped. And all those who have His name upon their foreheads will see His face, and live in His light, where He reigns forever. And so the day is coming soon, when we will dwell in this new paradise, this new creation, this Eden restored. And until then the bride will wait in great anticipation for her bridegroom who says He is coming soon. And we will call out day and night, Amen, Come Lord Jesus! Come Lord Jesus, for “IT-IS-GOOD!”
In Jesus name, Amen.