Homily for the Presentation of a Festschrift to The Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel. By The Rev. Dr. Scott Bruzek
Evening Prayer at the Chapel of Laclede Groves Senior Living, St. Louis, Mo.
A Festschrift for the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel in Honor of his 90th Birthday
8 November 2015
Down the hill from Westfield house, in the chapel of Trinity College, lies Alfred North Whitehead, the last great cosmologist of the 20th century. Whitehead once said that the only simplicity to be trusted is the simplicity on the far side of complexity, and that helps us makes sense of the Book of Daniel.
Frankly, this book is a mess. It is the complexity – and often the chaos – of hubris, exile, magic, dreams, visions, idolatry, insanity, assassinations, angelic warfare, and the ever-present threat of the End, the Real End, that makes this book so hard to apprehend. But then comes the simplicity of the text appointed for our prayers this evening, 3 verses from Daniel chapter 12. These 3 verses are the very simple story of a chosen people (12:1), an everlasting covenant (12:1) and the LORD who loves them so (12:1-3).
The best news this evening is that this very simple story is our story too. These are the elements of our life together, as we await our own Apocalypse: creation, pride, Promise, Christ, Golgotha, redemption, protection, and everlasting joy. This will someday be our Blessed End.
Norman, if you hadn’t been a pastor, Betsy says you would have made a brilliant kindergarten teacher. I think that’s true.
The best kindergarten teachers make most complex things – stars, frogs, prisms, honey, rain and maps, honesty, self-control, justice, mercy, faith, and love – clear and attainable. But if our LORD had given you that station and vocation, then our lives would have been poorer.
Think of all the simple things from you that we would have missed: the Way of the Law and the Way of the Gospel; the utter certainty of Absolution; the Word incarnate, in-Scriptured, and in-Spirited; the tattoo of Baptism; the tangible, forgiving touch of our Lord’s Supper; “…and where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation”; gift, blessing, and for you; the joy of Luther and Lutherans and Liturgy and languages and “brilliant!” and tea and sherry and chatter and cigars and Valpo and Cambridge and Aussies and China and “it’s not a good work till it’s a forgiven work” and “Amen!” and the Gospel is always more.
See? On the far side, divine things don’t need to be complex, but in each generation these simple things do need to be bestowed or we will all be lost.
Here is a simple thing: it turns out that there is really only one story in Scripture, and that is the story of death and resurrection.
The Church tells this story in so many different ways: as Adam and Eve; as Noah; as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; as Moses, David, Elijah, and Deborah; as 3 men in the fiery furnace – or was it 4?; as “Repent!”, “Follow me,” the woman at the well, the prodigal son, and “get thee behind me, Satan”; as “surely this Man was the Son of God”; as Mary Magdalene in the garden: “they have taken away my Lord”; as Emmaus, with its Liturgy of pilgrimage; as Acts 2; and here now as Daniel 12:1-3.
This makes life and death pretty simple. If we run against this One and Only Story, our lives become terrifying, even if that terror strikes us only at our very last minute. Hell, after all, is when we get our own way for eternity. But when this Story it is received as gift and blessing, even the horror of the Last Days is a relief. Finally, the grind of sin is done. Finally the flash-bang of evil burns itself out. Finally the chaos is put to order.
And then we are left with this simple but profound truth: sin, death, hell and self never have the last word with us. Instead, the last to speak is Love: creating Love, Love promised, Love delivered, Love incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mother, Love applied by the physical touch of Word and Sacrament, and Love embodied as the Church. Divine Love, for us, and never against us, always has the last word about us.
Life is really this simple: Jesus Christ would rather die than hold our sins against us. There is really just one story here.
Everybody knows that there is no story without a storyteller. It all started with our LORD telling us about Himself, but soon enough that became the ὁμολογέω of the Church, its same-saying, especially by those put into Christ’s Holy Office, as verse 3 says, those “wise leaders [who] shall shine like the bright vault of heaven.” That was the task our LORD put you to, Norman – storyteller – and though you would have been a brilliant kindergarten teacher, his choice has been a better use you.
This festschrift marks how his choice has worked itself out, how the story came from Christ to Church to you to us – your students, colleagues, friends and family – and then back to Christ again. Your life has been a gift, verse 2, for “your fellow-countrymen,” for “people [meant to be] delivered,” for “those who [now] sleep in the dust of the earth [but who were always meant to] wake…to everlasting life.”
It has now been 90 years of a that simple Law and Gospel story which has seen you and us through our sins and woes, our despair and bitterness, our self-inflicted wounds and innocent sufferings, to Christ’s altar, pulpit, lectern and font, through all those narrow straits into the wide places of forgiveness and healing and generosity and hope and joy and kindness and finally, someday, back home to Eden. This festschrift is a very real thank you for keeping the story simple, true and trustworthy, which is proof, you see, that it was not your story at all – after all, we are nothing but given to.
Praise to you, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for all of that and always more, always more. Now bless your servant, Norman, and his family, and his students, and his colleagues, and his friends, and bless your Church and your world through complexity and chaos to the simplicity of Christ’s saving sacramental touch, and someday, draw us all together into your eternal Rest, in Peace, and Life, and Love, and Beauty, and Light, where, one of our eternal joys will be seeing your servant, Norman, set among “…those who have guided the people in the true path,” “[as one of those who] shall be [shining] like the stars forever and ever” (12:3).
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:13–17).
+ JESU JUVA +
When a person comes face-to-face for the first time with the magnificence of this holy space, set aside for the worship and service of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — it is hard not to notice what is taking place just beyond its towering walls of glass and steel scaffolding. Here inside, just within our view and reach, steadfast and firm stand marble altar, pulpit, font, and organ pipe, and we joyfully meditate in resolute peace on a divine Word that abides forever… but out there, beyond the glass… a tidal wave of industrious activity leaps forward at frantic pace. Busy highways give plain evidence of commerce in full swing; salesmen are racing to make appointments, vegetable trucks travel their local delivery routes, civil authorities patrol ribbons of concrete to protect and serve, the titans of the business world are late to meetings with their armies of attorneys.
Mom has just dropped the kids off at school and is on her way to the airport, headed out-of-town on a business trip. She’s making a mental note to call the dentist to change that appointment which is now conflicting with another ad campaign meeting just scheduled and popped up on her smartphone for three weeks from tomorrow. She feels a moment of guilt for texting while driving, but duty calls… and she is bucking for a promotion. Across town, Dad is fumbling with the space bar on his laptop — in the back of his mind wondering who he’s going to call about the balky transmission on the family’s aging minivan — while He brings up PowerPoint slide number seven (out of eighty-three) in his annual review of the strategic plan for an edgy, grumpy board of directors. The CEO shifts in his seat, still grimacing as he recalls his missing the winning three-footer on the eighteenth green at the club championship the prior Saturday morning; better schedule another putting lesson with the pro. The pro is talking with the course superintendent about fixing the pesky drainage problem in the sixteenth fairway; the course superintendent is not listening very closely because he’s thinking more about an upcoming, long-planned golf trip to Scotland next spring with his buddies.
It’s all but a sliver of one huge, interlocking mosaic of human determination, hopes, concerns, and designs.
And it’s all about influencing, controlling the future.
This morning, James the brother of our Lord reminds you that it is all too easy to forget and disregard and simply ignore God in all of this frenzied activity and planning. Yes, here you have Jesus and His cross held right before your eyes and preached directly into your ears and heart. But with a bit of tongue-in-cheek — and I mean no disrespect whatsoever to our wonderful coworkers across the street —there is a rather substantial office building that stands at elevation and dominates the expansive view from this consecrated spot where we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). And then I hardly need point out that this very chapel is located inside of an office building — so that when you depart this space this morning and exit through those humongous doors, you’ll be returning to meetings and plans and a stacked Inbox and reports and hopeful expectations and anxious worries about future outcomes arising from our present common labors, our “getting down to the business” of the mission of God, the Church on the move, the Body of Christ in motion. The clock is running; let’s go!
I think this is fitting and proper and as it should be, at least for now, maybe right now in this chapel setting. Jesus, crucified and resurrected, comes in — in quiet, subversive, thief-like fashion — and He collides with the feverish, worldly enterprise of any man who is all too willing to “cut the cord” with his creator. At first, the Word appears to be little if not nothing. But all of the contemporary cues that surround us continue to confront you and me in a way that ought to give us pause before we arrogantly tear down our old barns… and begin building larger ones… and act as if the future were solely in our hands or that we were even given to know that any one of us is going to be physically standing, breathing here on the face of planet earth when the sun comes up tomorrow. Only “if the Lord wills.”
This is James’ call for you to repent, dear baptized: you are to be constantly watchful in regard to how you think and make plans for your life. It is all too easy to map out a path in which God has been relegated to a secondary, “ride along” position… but you are to remember that everything you do is utterly bound by the limits of His time and His will. To forget this is to fall back into the sin of boastful pride, which can only lead to your destruction. To forget this is to falter and give up the confident hope that is already yours — of eternal life in the bliss of paradise, life with God that surely has come to you as a gift, from outside of you, in the perfect righteousness of Christ for you. To forget this is to give way to fears and anxieties that will inevitably come when you love and trust and worship your own plans and efforts — for your heart is a veritable idol factory, and this morning I am bound to remind you that you are not at all immune to the idolatrous sins of “human enterprisology” and “strategic programism.”
It is as if James is saying, “Hold on.” Even if you are able to run around and get on with the “business” of life, you cannot attribute this ability to your own efforts, but rather you are to accept that you can do these things only by the blessing of God. For after all, “Of what sort is your life? A vapor, a mist — for to tell the truth, you are one appearing for a little while, and thereupon also vanishing away.”
So, yes, you make your plans and you labor to your utmost with all of those First Article gifts — your reason and your senses, your intellect, your physical body — but you do so with a constant, overriding awareness that it is all under the grace of God, who alone knows and directs all of the details concerning where… when… how long… what will happen. Absolutely forgiven for every sin of arrogant pride and over-reliance on self, you beseech your Father: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” You take to heart the wisdom conveyed through His servant Solomon: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27:1).
And above all, you continually trust in the eternal will of Him who planned and undertook the greatest enterprise in all of human history, the Lord whose will and business it is that all are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), the One who broke into this world confessing to His Father, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God’ ” (Hebrews 10:5–7).
Thankfully, so thankfully, dear baptized, at that loneliest, bloody place upon the earth, upon that cross dark-stained with the very blood of this Lamb of God, all of the plans and schemes and enterprise of sinful man — these meet their eternal end in the irrevocable will, the concluding judgment of God Himself. “It is finished.” And it is through His cross that you now gaze upon the world around you and have come to understand that — thankfully — you dwell and labor here for only a limited time.
This is God’s will and work and enterprise: that by the instruments of His grace, you have been brought to believe in this Son whom He has sent (John 6:29). And so together, we work, we labor, we strive, and it is all under His watchful eye, His mercy, His forgiveness and:
We impart a …hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. …[A]s it is written,
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him [Isaiah 64:4] —
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6–9).
In the name + of Jesus. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +
Rev. Kevin Robson
Chief Mission Officer
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Good Shepherd Institute
Concordia Theological Seminary—Fort Wayne, Indiana
All Saints’ Day, A.D. 2015
In the name . . .
The 23rd Psalm is virtually universal. When you go to a funeral home, it is nine times out of ten the “go-to” Bible passage printed on the back of those little memorial cards that you take home. Tonight, we were nourished by one of at least three cantatas composed for Good Shepherd Sunday for the saints in 18th-century Leipzig, and for generations to follow of those who have ears to hear. And then, there’s that picture in our mind’s eye of the Good Shepherd. It’s one our earliest childhood memories—from the time we got that first children’s Bible illustrated with what the Shepherd of Psalm 23 must have looked like (coincidentally, a lot like the picture of Jesus later on in the New Testament!). And then that image was forever personalized as we sang in Sunday school, “I am Jesus’ little lamb . . .”
The psalm, of course, begins with the Lord: “Yahweh is my shepherd . . .”, it says. But it also says “my shepherd.” Though the Lord is running the verbs, the psalm is clearly written from the perspective of the sheep. With the Lord as my Shepherd, I will not be in want because he feeds me in green pastures (the good stuff!) and gives me drink from still waters. This evening’s cantata interpolated: “das wohlschmeckend Gras seines heilsamen Wortes”—the tasty grass of His holy Word. That’s the good stuff that the Good Shepherd feeds His sheep—God’s Word, written, preached, spoken, and sung into your ears and so into your heart, into your soul, restoring your soul. You see, the Good Shepherd is all about feeding and caring for you—the whole you, the you that is alive in Him and that will live with Him forever.
But sheep are sheep, and sheep are prone to stray, even though their Shepherd leads them in paths of righteousness. Let’s face it: we sheep are incredibly fearful. It doesn’t take much to shake us, does it? A nasty rumor in the congregation, a painful setback at work, a doctor’s report that wasn’t what we expected, a family conflict that just seems to fester. And sheep wander. We have wandering eyes. We have wandering imaginations. We have wandering fears.
But you have a Good Shepherd. Even though you may wander through that deep, deep shadow of death, the Good Shepherd doesn’t wander. He sticks right with you, because he himself has already “been through that valley, done that death.” You see, the Good Shepherd became a lamb, like you; but unlike you, a lamb of sacrifice on Calvary’s altar—once, for all people, for all sins, for all time. As we heard in this evening’s reading: “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10). Or as we sang just moments ago:
From God’s joy can nothing sever,
For I am
His dear lamb,
He, my Shepherd ever;
I am His because He gave me
His own blood
For my good,
By His death to save me. (LSB 756, stanza 4)
The Good Shepherd who laid down his life for you, now also prepares a lavish table for you. There, you see, the Shepherd becomes the Host . . . and the Meal. At the Good Shepherd’s banquet, he feeds you with his own body and blood, sacrificed for you on Calvary as the Lamb, now given you to eat and drink, for strength in the presence of your enemies. And he anoints your head with oil. Or, as this evening’s cantata interpolates: with the Holy Spirit, the oil of joy. St. Paul proclaims the Spirit’s anointing when he writes: “[God] 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 . . .” (Titus 3:5) From table and font, your cup truly runneth over.
And so, “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Once again, the cantata adds: “On earth, in the Christian community.” How remarkable, but not surprising! Luther said, “Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (SA XII 2)—your Shepherd, the Shepherd who showers you with his goodness and loving-kindness, through his Word and his Sacraments, in your congregation this morning, here tonight, throughout your life . . . and forever. Yes, “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The cantata adds: “with Christ, my Lord.” Christ says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish . . .” (John 10:27).
Just this last Wednesday, seventeen years ago, my mother was suddenly killed in an automobile accident. That was the day that my family and I were packed up and ready to move from Michigan to St. Louis. Our phones had been turned off, so Pastor Heckert from a nearby congregation drove over to deliver the news of a “homecoming,” as he put it. Instead of driving to a new home in St. Louis, we drove to rural Iowa to celebrate that “homecoming” at my mother’s funeral.
As I mentioned, all of this happened the week prior to All Saints’ Day, and so on All Saints’ Sunday, my family and I were gathered in the house of the Lord—there in rural Iowa, there at the table of the Good Shepherd. And we heard those words of the communion liturgy, words we had heard so many times before: “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven . . .” “. . . with all the company of heaven . . .” That All Saints’ Sunday, I heard those words in a way that I had never heard them before—that the loved one I had suddenly lost was now with Jesus; and that Jesus was now with me, feeding me his very body and blood, for comfort in my time of sorrow. You see, together with Jesus, we are together with each other . . . and “with angels, and archangels, and with all the company of heaven . . .”
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Whether in this house, or in the halls of heaven, or at the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come—the Good Shepherd cares for his sheep, feeds his sheep, abides with his sheep . . . “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
A Sermon for Good Friday 2015
But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
We’ve all been there, and if you haven’t yet, you will be. I’m speaking, of course, of the deathbed of a loved one.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting a dear friend in the hospital with some brother pastors. We were there to sing hymns for our beloved professor, and it was great visit. But as we were leaving his room, a woman about my age came up and quietly asked whether we might be able to come to her mother’s room and sing there as well. So we did. Her mother was ninety-two. She was frail and unconscious, clearly nearing the end. And there at her deathbed, she was surrounded by her many children and grandchildren. The family was all there. And so was Jesus. You see, Jesus takes care of his family.
St. John is the only writer to record this intimate account of Jesus caring for his mother. The only other place where Mary is mentioned in John’s Gospel is at the very beginning, at the wedding at Cana, where she is alerted to the impending shortage of wine and tells Jesus, who replies: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” And yet Mary tells the wine stewards in faith: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:4). You see, Mary knew that Jesus takes care of his family.
Mary knew that from the very beginning, when the angel spoke into her ears the incredible news of a child to be conceived in her womb by the power of the Most High, a child who would be called “holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). And Mary’s faith received those words from the Lord, and the Son of God was thereby conceived in her womb. As we confess of Jesus,
“. . . conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died and was buried . . .” (Apostles’ Creed)
You see, Mary also knew of the pain that would come to her infant son. For at Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple at forty days old, Old Man Simeon had prophesied: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel . . . and a sword will pierce through your own soul also . . .” (Luke 2:34–35).
Here, at Calvary, when Jesus’ hour had finally come, that “dagger to the heart” came to Mary also, as she beheld the son she once cradled in her arms—now beaten, mocked, and crucified as a common criminal, bleeding, and dying in agony. Yet, in the midst of all of that, Jesus took care of his family.
And Jesus takes care of you, too. For Mary and the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” are a picture of you and me, a picture of Christ’s holy church, his family. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promised his disciples (John 14:18). And he has not left you abandoned and alone in your sin. He has not left you alone to face death. He will not leave you alone at the deathbed of your loved one. And he will not leave you alone at own deathbed. For Jesus has already passed through death, for you. By his death and resurrection, Jesus has swallowed up death forever in victory (Is. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54). And through your Baptism, you have been buried with him into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, you too might walk in newness of life. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:4–5).
Jesus takes care of his family. As he took care of Mary and John at the foot of the cross, so also takes care of you and me, His Church. For “that same heart which began to beat in Mary’s womb and had been silenced on the cross, once again began to beat in that cold dark tomb, and it still beats to this very day. It still beats for you and me” (O.P. Kretzmann).
The following report was presented by President James Baneck at the LCMS North Dakota District Convention, January 18–21, 2015, in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (I Peter 1:3-4).
You might consider it rather trivial as to choosing a convention theme, but I take it rather seriously. Representatives from our district come together but once every three years, and if we’re going to take the time and expense to be together as Lutherans, then it should be for good reason under a good theme and focus for worship, for study, and for mission and ministry for the next three years in our great North Dakota District.
I believe our current Synod convention theme is quite genius – Baptized for this Moment. But as I look back at the last three years of our district triennium, there have been a number of ongoing discussions that led me to refine “Baptized for this Moment” to “Lutheran for this Moment.”
One ongoing discussion involved the five Holy Communion Conversations I led throughout the District. These conversations proved to me that our people are hungry for the Word – as every event had 50-70 people in attendance. And yet, there were some who became rather indignant against Scripture concerning our Lord’s teaching on His holy supper.
Another ongoing discussion involves conflict situations in the congregation where the circuit visitor and I strive to move the congregation toward reconciliation. While in various discussions, it troubles me of the lack of a basic catechetical understanding of basic Christian truths, especially from those who have neglected to be in the study of God’s Word.
And one final ongoing discussion gave me reason to stop and reflect greatly on what it means to be Lutheran for this Moment. The phrase “Lutheran DNA” came to the surface – and many stared at that phrase like deer in headlights, wondering what it meant. Perhaps we should not mix words of science with words of theology, but the phrase does force us to ask a couple very important questions, like “What is Lutheranism” and “what does it mean to be Lutheran?” I would imagine most of us would feel fairly comfortable with the phrase “Lutheran DNA,” as long as we’re the ones who get to define what it means. Have we come to a point where each of us gets to define, or re-define, what it means to be Lutheran? Have we come to a point where “everyone does what is right in his own eyes?” (Judges 21:25)
I would maintain that there is a Lutheran DNA. There is that something that encodes who we are as we develop and function as God’s people. To be a Lutheran Christian is unique and distinct from any other brand of Christianity or religion. I am a Lutheran because I believe it is the most correct confession of faith in this sinful and fallen world. I have instructed children and adults, that when they are making their confirmation vows, they too are giving public witness that the Lutheran confession of faith is the most correct on this earth, and that if they did not believe that, then they should go to the church that is more correct – because this is about their soul and their eternal life.
First and foremost, the Lutheran Church is a Christological Church. Certainly, we believe and confess the Holy Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe there is one God in three persons. However, with the fall into sin and damnation, apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ, you and I would have no salvation, and hell would be our eternal home. As Lutherans, we fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, who comes to dwell among us. This is the Divine Logos. He became our sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we would be made righteous and holy and pure in the sight of the eternal God.
Our Lutheran DNA is loaded up front with Christ, and everything He is and does. Lutherans believe in the holy incarnation and holy nativity of Christ for a reason. Lutherans believe in the baptism, fasting, and temptation of Christ for a reason. Lutherans believe in the agony and bloody sweat of Christ, His cross and passion, and His precious death and burial for a reason. Lutherans believe in the glorious resurrection and ascension of Christ for a reason. Because in Him we are justified, made right with God, forgiven of all our sins, and promised and secured the gift of eternal life.
Searching the Scriptures concerning Christ’s three-fold office as prophet, priest, and king… concerning Christ’s power to share attributes from his divine nature to his human nature… concerning Christ’s fulfillment of every prophesy spoken of Him to the most minute detail concerning Christ’s ability to put Himself into the water of Baptism in the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion… concerning the mystery of Christ taking your damnation and giving you His righteousness… concerning His person and work to turn us blind, dead, and enemies of God into His holy people – THIS IS OUR LIVING HOPE!
What I have described to you is a part of our distinctively Lutheran DNA. Rome teaches that a person must do good works to earn salvation, to which the Confessions conclude, then there is no need for Christ. The Reformed Church teaches that Christ has done some of the saving work, but you have to do the rest. Some church bodies teach that Jesus is one way to heaven, but not the only way.
Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life, Manna from Heaven, and that those who eat of His flesh and drink of His blood shall have eternal life. Then St. John tells us that when many of his disciples heard this, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” And After this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” And after Jesus’ ascension, Peter and John stand before the Council, he said, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) No one else teaches, believes, or confesses Christ the way we do.
Martin Luther says it this way in the Smalcald Articles, “The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification. This is necessary to believe. Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends. Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine.” Dear friends – CHRISTOLOGY IS PRIME IN OUR LUTHERAN DNA.
The Lutheran Church is also a Scriptural Church. In his letter to Pope Leo X, titled “The Freedom of the Christian,” Luther writes, “One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God. The soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul.” Those are pretty sobering words for the Lutheran who does not go to church or for the Lutheran who refuses to learn the Holy Scriptures, that which makes one wise unto salvation.
No football team, no food for the stomach, no automobile, no piece of technology, no ego, no worldly power – can feed your faith and life at all. Only God’s Word can do that. And why should we trust mere words? More than being the inerrant, infallible Word of God – the Holy Scriptures is the very living breath of the Triune God that strikes dead the sinner and raises to new life the repentant.
And yet, while we claim the authority of the Word, we wonder who has the authority to interpret the Word. The Pope says he alone has the authority to interpret God’s Word. Time and again, I have heard people confidently acknowledge that they have every right to interpret God’s Word in a way that suits them best. Whole church denominations gather around the Bible, read a passage, and each says, “This is what this verse means to me” – allowing for a whole assortment of wrongs that damages the soul.
Lutherans interpret the Scriptures as Jesus describes in John 5, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is they that bear witness about me.” Lutherans interpret the Scriptures through the lens of Jesus Christ, as we call this our hermeneutical key. So – when we study the Scriptures concerning salvation, we come out at a different place than Rome and their works-righteousness. We believe… through Christ – we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
When we study the Scriptures concerning the end times, we come out at a different place than the Evangelicals and their millennialism. We believe… through Christ – we live in the end times now and He will come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.
When we study the Scriptures concerning Baptism, we end up at a different place than the Baptists and their age of accountability. We believe… through Christ – we are washed of our sins at infancy.
When we study the Scriptures concerning the office of the holy ministry, we end up at a different place than the ELCA and women’s ordination. We believe… through Christ – the pastor represents the God-man Christ to His people on earth.
When we study the Scriptures on creation, we end up in a different place than Rome, the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and Methodism – with their teaching on evolution. Through Christ – the world was created in six 24-hour days.
And when we study the Scriptures concerning the Scriptures, we end up at a different place than liberalism and historical criticism. We believe… through Christ – the Word made Flesh who comes to dwell among us pours His inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of life and salvation into our ears and soul.
As a Scriptural Church, the Lutheran Church has fought and defended this strand of our DNA in the early 1970’s walk-out in St. Louis – coming out in the end of confessing the inerrancy of Scripture. During the sermons and Bible studies in this convention, every Sunday-morning sermon, the various Bible studies offered to God’s people – this is not extra-curricular or optional for the Christian – this is how Jesus gets into our ears and souls – through His holy, powerful, life-saving Word. There is no doubt – being a Scriptural Church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
The Lutheran Church is a Sacramental Church. Being a sacramental church is more than just having sacraments in the church. But let’s start there. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “This is how one should regard us [as apostles or pastors], as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (I Corinthians 4:1). … Stewards of the μυστηριϖν of Christ. This word “μυστηριϖν” is the Greek word for “Sacraments.”
The question and answer part of Luther’s Small Catechism tells us that “At first, this word μυστηριϖν described all the saving truths of the faith, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the redemption, and the church. Later it was narrowed down to this: A Sacrament is a saving act instituted by God in which God Himself has joined His Word of promise to a visible element, and by which He offers, gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ.
The Lutheran Church thrives and lives off of predominately two Sacraments – Holy Baptism and The Lord’s Supper, however the Confessions would readily include Confession and Absolution as well. These Sacraments are our life-blood, rather, Christ’s lifeblood coming to and in us. Baptism is the initiation into the eternal family of God. Here our sins are washed away and we are robed with Christ’s righteousness. This Sacrament is no way a dedication of a person toward God, but rather in every way this Sacrament is God pouring Himself over, in, and through the damned child of God, making Him righteous and holy in God’s sight. Holy Communion is the ongoing gift of Christ’s body and blood given to the repentant sinner for the absolute forgiveness of sins and eternal life, even as His blood now marks our door and death passes over.
Lutherans confess that these Sacraments is who they now are in Christ Jesus every single day of our lives – as daily we die with Christ in our Old Man and we rise with Him in our New Man. The power of Baptism is so strong that it even goes even to the grave with us – the deposit of Christ that keeps our remains to the day of the resurrection of the flesh when Christ calls us alive again.
Being a sacramental church is more than just having sacraments in the church. Being a sacramental church confesses and testifies to the truth that Christ is Immanuel, that He is “God with us” in His Very Presence – just for you! When water and the Word is poured over you – all of the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God washes over you and daily bathes you to be pure and holy as He is. When the bread and wine connected with the very Word of God goes into your mouth – the full infant, crucified, and risen God surges into your body, soul, and life. This kind of presence kills and damns the impenitent, but heals, forgives, and recreates the repentant in Christ Jesus.
Being a Sacramental Church is uniquely Lutheran. Rome teaches a sacrament that is ex opera operato – meaning man is doing the work, man’s work and sacrifice toward God. The Reformed and Calvinists Churches do not hold to the Sacraments at all, but rather believe that God is Sovereign, out there somewhere, but not Immanuel (God with us) for me! In you!
Lutherans do not hide the Sacraments to bring in seekers from the world; they teach and reveal the Sacraments so that the seekers desire the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. Lutherans do not bring out the sacrament for special occasions or limit it for the sake of time, but they eat this ordinary eternal ongoing meal at every chance and as often as it is served. Lutherans do not push aside the font, but keep it front and center or back and center so that we can run into our baptism as often as possible. Being a Sacramental Church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
The Lutheran Church is a Confessional Church. You may very well be familiar with Luther’s famous words to the Emperor of Europe, Charles V. At the Diet of Worms, Luther was ordered to recant his writings and teachings, and up against the entire Roman Church, the Emperor, and the Devil himself, Luther confesses, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
This is the confession of every pastor, and for that matter, every Lutheran. At every ordination, at every installation, and even those sworn into office at the end of this convention will make confession of their Lutheran faith by publically accepting the statement and exposition of the Word of God as stated in the three ecumenical creeds and the Book of Concord.
We confess that we hold to the entire Lutheran Confessions because they are faithful to the Scriptures, not insofar as they are faithful to the Scriptures. As a confessional church, there are some things we believe, teach, and confess. And, there are some things we reject and condemn. To say you are Lutheran means you hold to all the articles of faith in the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, The Smacald Articles, The Power and the Primacy of the Pope, The Small and Large Catechisms, and the Epitome and Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord. We don’t pick and choose, rather, as Lutherans we say, “Here I stand.”
Being a Confessional Lutheran is to be Lutheran. It’s not an adjective to be ridiculed. It’s not a stereotype to be mocked. It’s not a title of which we need to be ashamed. Reading and studying the Confessions is good, right, and salutary for clergy and laity alike. It is the standard of Biblical confession we teach our children and pray into the dying. It is the standard of Biblical confession we preach from the pulpit and live in our lives. It is the standard of Biblical confession in times of disaster, war, and persecution. Being a confessional church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
The Lutheran Church is also a Homiletical Church, which mean that we are a preaching Church. Preaching Christ, interpreting the Scriptures, speaking God’s Word in the ears and souls of the hearer, shaping Lutherans for generations to come – is all a part of being a homiletical church. Preaching is vital and it is important. Preaching is not child’s play – neither for the preacher nor for the hearer. Preaching takes a lot of work. Whether from the pulpit or the table around the Bible Study – the pastor is shaping and forming the Christian for faith and life. It involves clear, sharp, and penetrating law. It involves pure, precise, and applicable Gospel. The sermon kills the sinner and raises the penitent. It strips away all self-righteousness and clothes the hearer with the righteousness of Christ.
One of the fundamental components of preaching is pastoral care. The sermon certainly begins with Christ and the Scriptures. It is difficult, however, for the shepherd to intersect with the faith and life of the hearer if he does not know his sheep. As the pastor visits his sheep throughout the week, he learns of their worries, he is made aware of their temptations. He interacts with the troubled marriages and the new mother and her infant child. He sits at the kitchen table with his shut-in, which he sees is becoming more and more feeble with every visits. He sees the fear in the eyes of the usually grumpy member who is now receiving his fifth chemo treatment. He interacts with the youth and sees how they think. He visits the quilters and observes their joy of serving. The list goes on. And when he’s preaching about the Good Samaritan, the Widow at Nain, Abraham who is to sacrifice his son, or Jesus who rises from the dead – the pastor speaks God’s Word into the ears of His people for their faith and life.
And under the pastor are all the auxiliary offices of the church – the Lutheran School Teacher, the DCE, the Deaconess, the Sunday School Teacher, and more. From the pastor’s Christological, Biblical, Sacramental, Confessional preaching, teaching, and pastoral care, these auxiliary offices work with the pastor in Lutheran education, mercy care, working with our youth and families, caring for the aged. Being a homiletical (or preaching) church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
The Lutheran Church is also a Liturgical Church. Who can deny that being a liturgical church is our history? It’s in our roots and it’s been a part of who we are for decades and centuries. While the liturgy is not our hermeneutic, our hermeneutic does guide and form our liturgy. Martin Luther definitely held to the liturgy of the Church – there is a whole volume of Luther’s Works devoted to this one topic, Volume 53. I contend that what Luther espoused concerning the liturgy in the Lutheran Church would make our liturgical guys look reformed.
The liturgy is meant to do a number of things. First of all, it places us in the right relationship with God, primarily God coming to His people with His gifts of Word and Sacrament, thus Divine Service. God needs nothing that we would offer Him, but we are beggars in need of everything that God offers and gives us, that is, forgiveness of sins, His holy Word, the preached Word, His blessed meal, just to name a few.
The liturgy also teaches the faith – the Advent of Christ in the Kyrie, the nativity of Christ in the Gloria, the Epiphany of Christ in the Creed, the Passion of Christ in the Agnus Dei, and the resurrection of Christ in the Sanctus. The colors, the vestments, the candles, the stain glass windows, the songs, the lectionary, the cross – is all meant to teach the faith. Whenever a custom and high liturgy is demanded – that is legalism. Whenever a diet of theologically reformed songs are sung – this is heterodox. While adiaphora is a topic of our confessions, yet the unity of life and practice is also.
Being a liturgical church does not force a certain hymnal or specified orders of service, and yet the Church works and lives together in “striving for uniformity in church practice, yet also to develop an appreciation of a variety of responsible practices and customs which are in harmony with our common profession of faith.” The church service is not about the pastor and his likes and his whims, but rather about Christ and His gifts and grace to His people.
One of the words used often in the Confessions related to the Mass is the word “reverence.” Another is the word “dignity.” The Divine Service is not the adoration of a sports hero in a public arena, rather it is Moses taking off his shoes at the very presence of God in the burning bush. Lutheran liturgy reflects the posture of creature standing in the presence of the creator; the sinner standing in the presence of the Redeemer; the unholy standing in the presence of the Sanctifier. Melanchthon writes in the Augsburg Confession, “Therefore, since the Mass (the liturgy) among us follows the example of the Church, taken from the Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved. This is especially so because we keep the public ceremonies, which are for the most part similar to those previously in use” (Art. XXIV). While the church on earth may continue to debate what it means to be liturgical, being a liturgical church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
We have come together at the convention as a unique group of Lutherans called “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.” As a district in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, we say that we are “synod in this place.” Within this context, we, who have come together in this place, are a Synodical Church. “Synod” means, “walking together.”
What did the Synod founders of the Articles of Incorporation on July 3, 1894 have in mind? The founders of Synod had in mind “to unite in a corporate body of Evangelical Lutheran congregations that acknowledge and remain true to the Book of Concord, to establish Lutheran congregations and preaching stations, to provide for ecclesiastical supervision of congregations and pastors, to support the establishment of theological institutions and institutions of higher learning, to spread the Gospel, and to provide resources for congregations. This is walking together to build one of the most influential and dynamic church bodies in the world with her theology, education, mercy, and more.
Being a part of Synod, or a member of Synod is voluntary. And yet, upon this voluntary membership, a pastor or congregation does indeed agree to walk together as we have charted our map with our Constitution and Bylaws. It is interesting, that even in this convention, we have no resolutions concerning Christ, or Scripture, or the Sacraments, or the Confessions, homiletics, or even the liturgy. Our resolutions come at this Synod level of the church with electing officers, talking about a business manager, and defining our outcomes of Witness, Mercy, and Life Together as a unified direction for our district.
There’s no doubt, we’ve had our speedbumps, bruises, and all-out battles in this Church body. Some of our Synod presidents have had nervous breakdowns, we’ve battled over the doctrine of election, the authority of Scripture, and worship. We’ve slung mud with labels such as bureaucrat, collared-guys, and liberals. And yet, we are the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Some have called us the sleeping giant. Others have called upon us for giant help in time of disaster. Church bodies all around the world are contacting us, saying, “what you have theologically, we want ” – Churches like Madagascar and Ethiopia with millions of Lutherans. We have some of the best pastors, educators, missionaries, teachers, and laymen with a host of vocations in the world – by the grace and equipping of the Triune God. Being a Synodical Church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
And finally, we are a Missional Church. Missional is determined, directed, and influenced by all those preceding it. Missional does not define Christ; Christ defines missional. Missional does not define our Confessions; our Confessions define missional, and so on.
Being a Missional Church places us in the second table of the law. This is our love toward our neighbor. This is our mercy care at home, in our community, and all around the world. This is our auxiliaries in their superb work of “aiding the Synod, specifically in programs that extend the ministry and mission of the Synod.” This is every Christian in his/her vocation as a child of God in whom Christ dwells.
Missional doesn’t start here, but it finds its fruition from the beginning – that is Christ. Missional is shaped by the Holy Scriptures. Missional is the urgency to have the unbaptized baptized and the faithful communing at the Table of the Lord. Missional is defined by our Confessions. Missional is preaching the Word of Christ into the ears of God’s people. Missional is the passion to have all people stand in the liturgy of heaven, singing, “Worthy is Lamb who was slain.” And Missional is the ongoing activity of our Synod, described in the very objectives of our Church body’s constitution. Being a Missional Church is a part of our Lutheran DNA.
Being Lutheran for this moment is important stuff. And we have some pretty important Lutheran stuff to hear, discuss, and decide here in this convention. We will hear from campus ministry and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. We will hear of the work of the Lutheran Laymen’s League and the Lutheran Extension Fund. We will hear from Shepherd’s Hill Camp and mercy care at Grafton State School. We will hear from our Lutheran Elementary Schools and development work in our District. We will decide on matters of Kenya, and Chile, and term limits. We will decide matters of church starts and Sudanese ministry. None of these things are autonomous or independent in and of themseles. They all come through the strands of our DNA. Each entity, every decision, our thought process and our words, our work together and our individual congregations – they all come through the DNA strands of our Christology, Holy Scripture, the Very Presence of Christ in His Sacraments, our Lutheran Confessions, our homiletics (or our preaching and teaching), the Liturgy of the Church, our life together as Synod, and our missional faith and life.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are indeed Baptized for this moment. And I am convinced that we are Lutheran for this moment. And while I understand the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saint, yet we are not Roman Catholic for this Moment. We are not Calvinsts for this Moment. We are not Pietists or legalists for this Moment. We are not The Emerging Church or the Evangelicals for this Moment. We are not Methodists or ELCA for this Moment.
We are Lutheran for this moment, and I believe being Lutheran is a very, very good and vital thing. I pray that we leave this convention with great Lutheran integrity – that we BE who we say we are! I pray that we return to our congregations with great Lutheran faithfulness – that we DO what we say we are! I pray that our Witness, Mercy, and Life Together in this new triennium will be lived out in Lutheran excellence – that we EXCEL at what we say we are.
Fellow Lutherans, Fellow Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod brothers and sisters in Christ, Fellow North Dakota District Baptized Children in Jesus Christ – YOU AND I ARE BAPTIZED LUTHERANS FOR THIS MOMENT! We are Christological, Scriptural, Sacramental, Confessional, Holimetical, Liturgical, Synodical, and Missional Lutherans for this Moment! Amen.