Jon’s Posts

From Russia, with Love

The following fascinating letter was recently received from the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, a partner church of the LCMS. It tells the inspiring story of how Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin was brought to faith in Christ during the challenging times of the Soviet Union in which he lived.


Peace to you dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Recently our Bishop Vsevolod celebrated 25 years of his holy baptism.

He didn’t make it public. But we remembered it anyway and decided to ask him to tell us how it was in that distant Soviet time.

Here goes the Bishop’s story: “I was baptized as an adult; it was my conscientious choice. As majority of people in the Soviet Union, I was not baptized as an infant, and nobody told me about God.

I was born in Akademgorodok (University district of Novosibirsk); my parents were scientists, both of them holding PhDs in Mathematics. As many scientists, they were in opposition to Communism. Of course, it was a “quiet” opposition, they did not participate in the public actions of protest and did not go out to a central square, but they were critically inclined toward the regime.

Very often I heard how they sit in a kitchen with the friends and disapprove Soviet regime. While falling asleep, I heard from another room my parents listening to the “Voice of America” and the “Radio Liberty” at the small transistor radio receiver. These radio stations were silenced in USSR, but one could hear certain programs from time to time.

My parents taught me critical thinking so that I would not be gullible towards official propaganda. If the authorities said “yes,” we understood it as “no” and vice versa.

In a way, it was my parents who were responsible for me coming to faith. Because when I heard that God did not exist, I thought, what if He did, what if He were out there? This is how my parents taught me to think.

At that time the Bible was the forbidden book. And one could learn about religion only from the atheistic books. Thus, the atheistic books have become the main books for me. I found out much about Christianity from them. Of course, these books spoke about Christianity only to criticize it, but we were the Soviet people, we knew that if they said “no,” it meant, “yes.” If they say there is no God, then, perhaps, there is.

I’ve read dozens of books; I carefully wrote down Biblical quotations from them, I tried to get them in order so as to understand what the Bible was talking about.

When I finished school, I practically thought of myself as a believer. And I knew a lot about different confessions from the books, and I realized that it was the Lutheranism that was the purest Biblical teaching. Of course, there was also a terrible mess in my head at that time, as nobody was teaching me.

(By the way, I am still sure that it is Lutheranism that confesses the purest evangelical doctrine.)

I knew that I had to be baptized, and finally I have decided to go to Leningrad (which is St Petersburg now) and from there to Riga (it was a capital of the Soviet Republic of Latvia at the time). I knew there were Lutherans there, and I hoped I would be able to find an open church there (all the Lutheran churches in Siberia have been destroyed) and ask to be baptized.

It was supposed to be a long journey of about 2,500 miles, but it was no problem for me: inhabitants of Siberia are used to such distances. I came to a train station in Leningrad and tried to buy a ticket for a train to Riga. But there were no tickets available. Instead there were tickets to Tallinn (capital of Soviet Republic of Estonia). So I went to Tallinn.

Later on I thought about it on a number of occasions: what if I had gone to Riga then? I would have become then a member of the Latvian Church instead of Estonian. It is interesting how life turns out sometimes.

I went out to look for an open church in Tallinn and found it not far from the train station. It was the Holy Spirit Church [see:]. There was a guard there who spoke some Russian. We talked about politics. I said that I sympathized to Estonians that their country was occupied by the Soviet Union. The guard said: “Oh, you are a good man. But you are Russian; you must be baptized in the Orthodox Church”. I answered: “No, no, please, I came here specially.”

He said: “Fine, come tomorrow then, there would be wife of a parish priest here, you can talk to her.” Next day I came and got acquainted with the wife of the priest Jaan Kiivit (the future Archbishop of the Estonian Church). She happened to be a very kind and intelligent woman.

And still one day later I met Jaan Kiivit himself. He gave the Luther’s Catechism to me and said that I should go home and memorize it, and then he would baptize me upon my return. I said that I came a long way to be baptized and that I could not go back home unbaptized. Then he gave me three days and said that I should know Catechism by heart.

I did not have a place in Tallinn where to live and I had almost no money, so I spent nights at the train station. It was warm there. Various homeless and drunk people gathered there in the evenings, and I slept in their company. I memorized Catechism in three days, and Jaan Kiivit baptized me. I returned to Novosibirsk already a Christian.

And then step-by-step people came around who were interested in Lutheranism, and we began to gather together and read the Bible. But this is another story.”

Please, pray with us for our Bishop Vsevolod, and pray for many people in Siberia to be able to hear the Gospel, believe and be saved.

“Faith and Hope”


Sermon: The Final Word

The following sermon was preached this morning at the International Center Chapel by the Rev. Dr. Edward Grimenstein, Manager of LCMS Disaster Response.

July 20th, 2012
Mark 6
The Final Word

John the Baptist wore sackcloth and ate locusts.  John baptized in the Jordan and spoke out against adultery.  In the end he was killed and his head ended up on a platter.  When we think of John’s life and all he did, it sure does seem that his story ended with his head on a platter.  It seems like the final word – but maybe not.

John spoke a faithful message and he paid the price, the ultimate price – his life.  The world did not like John’s message, and spoke out against John’s message.

And if you speak faithfully you also will face this yourself.  Whether we speak faithfully about health mandates or abortion, gay marriage or polygamy, adultery or idolatry; it doesn’t matter.  This world and our own sinful flesh will fight against you and try to silence you.  But you are just like John, called to speak and live the truth of Christ’s gospel, and to face the world’s anger against you.  This doesn’t necessarily mean your life will end with your head on a platter, although many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being martyred in the world today.  But what you can be sure of is that this world, and our own sinful hearts, will ridicule Christ’s gospel, say that you are out of touch, or try and have you believe that all people should just be left alone to live as they want.

But as hard as it tries, this world did not have the final say about John the Baptist and this world will not have the final say about you.  When we think of the story of John the Baptist we usually think it concludes with John’s head on a splatter.

But listen to how the scriptures conclude the story of John the Baptist, “When his disciples heard of [John’s death], they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.”

After John’s death believers in Jesus came, took John’s headless body away from Herod’s palace and buried him.   And by lovingly burying John they proclaimed the greatest sermon ever preached, a Word this world could not speak against – they proclaimed hope in Christ’s future resurrection from the dead.  This world could cut off John the Baptist’s head a thousand times but it would never succeed in silencing the sermon proclaimed by those believers in Christ.  They knew without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, would also take away death.  This is a Word the world cannot conquer, cannot fight against and, no matter how hard it tries, cannot silence.

Remember that Word, because that promise given to John is also your promise.

No matter what you face, in this world or even within yourself, Christ will have the final Word.  No matter if we die in a hospital bed or like John, die at the hands of this unbelieving world – this world will not have the final Word on you.  Jesus will have the final Word and that final Word will be, “Welcome my child, welcome into my kingdom prepared for you before the world began.”  Amen.


Sermon in IC Chapel

The following sermon was preached this morning at the International Center Chapel by the Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor of Redeemer, Bronx. 

Psalm 85:8-13

In the Name + of Jesus.

The folly of a “Facebook world” has people listening to the voices of others before decisions get made.

If people want to stay at a hotel, they not only look up the hotel but then look at what others say about it.

If they want to get a car, they get the opinions of everyone else first.

Although helpful, it can be paradigmatic of how we have been exiled, hearkening to the many disparaging voices of an ever-confused world.

Their voices have no authority.

They keep us crying hopelessly around Babylon’s sad waters reminiscing only about good ol’ days that were not actually all that good.

In rebellion with God and in disobedience to His Word, we have listened to the voice of the slithering serpent like our parents in Paradise instead of taking our cues from the One who has made us to be in perfect communion with Him.

We heard it this past weekend.

We seek the opinions of jealous mothers after we dance and gladly ask for the heads of prophets on a platter.

We imprison those whose words we wish to silence, hoping to mute their prophetic cry so that we can keep improper relationships in tact.

We care more about the people we invite to our parties and what they think instead of fulfilling our family vocations as the Lord intended.

It is the folly of a “Facebook world,” the “save face” world, where our identity is wrapped up in the opinions of the popular press.

But our Lord has called us to a different life by the power of the Holy Spirit—He has reached out to us in Christ Jesus to save us from a pitiful existence that seeks counsel from the wicked and instead gives us the chance as His sheep to hear our Shepherd’s saving voice.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.  He is speaking peace to His people as the perfect righteous Son of God hung on the cross for our sin and rose from the dead to save us, forgiving us our sin and giving us new life as His strong Word bespeaks us righteous.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.  He is speaking peace to His people at the waters of the baptismal font where He connects us with the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, putting us to death so that we may rise with Him.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.  He is speaking peace to His people from the pulpit as His Holy Word is read and proclaimed, as Law and Gospel are properly distinguished, as sin is condemned and hope and comfort are offered in Jesus Christ.

This is the text message that is worth reading, hearing and sharing.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.  He is speaking peace to His people as His called and ordained servant speaks to repentant sinners the word of freedom, release and forgiveness that cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

“I am forgiven in Christ Jesus.”

Now that’s a “tweet” that’s worth “tweeting!”

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.  He is speaking peace to His people as His Spirit leads us to the Altar where the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthens us and keeps us in His grace.

At the altar where steadfast love and faithfulness meet and where righteousness and peace kiss each other, where faithfulness springs up from the ground and righteousness looks down from the sky, Christ Himself speaks and gives us what is good so that our land yields its true increase.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.  He is speaking peace to His people as the saints encourage each other, in mutual consolation, comforting one another with the comfort that we ourselves have received from God.

With hundreds of channels and voices clamoring in the invisible airwaves, our Lord invites us to tune into the station of our salvation—to hear what the Lord God has to speak.

Let us not return to our folly—it leads not to life but to death.

The opinions of losers never got anyone anywhere anyway.

The “dearest friend to me” Christ Jesus has befriended us.

Let us listen to Him this day.

Let us hear what God the Lord will speak as His righteousness goes before us and leads us to the Day of His return when the world will hear Him speak, fall on their faces and cry out what we are privileged to cry out today: “Alleluia!  Salvation and Glory and Honor belong to our God and to the Lamb.”

For on that day, God the Lord will speak peace to His holy ones forever.

Let the Church cry out with the Psalmist in these last days and proclaim with faith: Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, His saints.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria


Sermon on Acts 13

The following sermon was preached in the International Center Chapel this morning by the Rev. Dr. Rudolph Blank, retired missionary to Latin America. 

ACTS 13:38-49 – Sermon

Be prepared! That’s what we hear on the News during these days of extreme heat in Saint Louis. Drink a lot of water, wear light clothes, do not over exert yourself and stay out of the direct sun. When I first came to Missouri as a student in the summer of 1954 the temperature hit 115 in St. Louis and 117 in Clayton. I wasn’t prepared for that. It’s not a good idea to be unprepared. Our text from the book of Acts also calls us all and especially our new missionaries to be prepared. To be prepared for what?

Be prepared to find doors of opportunity for the proclamation of Christ and his cross. Such a door of opportunity opened for Paul when he arrived at Antioch in Pisidia and was invited to address a synagogue full of diaspora Jews and god-fearing gentiles. Antioch in Pisidia was the home town of Sergius Paulus, the roman proconsul whom Paul had befriended in Cyprus. It is quite possible that the apostle’s friendship with Sergius Paulus helped open some of those doors of opportunity among the governor’s friends and relatives in Antioch. Be prepared for the Spirit to open for you similar doors of opportunity to proclaim Christ wherever you find yourself.

If you read through Paul’s inaugural sermon in Antioch you will observe that it is peppered with one Old Testament quotation or allusion after another. These were Scriptures the Jews of Antioch had studied many times – Sabbath after Sabbath, year after year without fully understanding them. They searched these Scriptures, as Jesus said, because in them you think you have eternal life. In his Antioch sermon Paul shows his listeners how all of these Scriptures point forward to Jesus. They point to his death, his resurrection and his ascension to the right hand of the Father. Right there in the prophesies of the Old Testament Paul pointed his listeners to Christ crucified. Some time later the apostle writes: O Galatians, It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified”. Be prepared, like Paul, to use your windows of opportunity to point to Jesus.

The Spirit presented Paul with an opportunity to proclaim Christ not only to Jews but also to Gentiles. Among the hearers of Paul’s inaugural sermon we find present not only Jews but also many Gentiles: probably Greeks, Italians, Phrygians, Pisidians and other indigenous peoples. One of the most interesting and intriguing archaeological finds in Phrygia and Pisidia is the large number of “confessional inscriptions” or “Propitiation Tablets” that have been discovered in this part of Asia Minor. These tablets and inscriptions show us how the indigenous inhabitants of Asia Minor lived in dread of the curses that their gods would place upon the unjust. They feared God’s curse upon the unjust would bring sickness, loss of crops and animals and even death. To avoid the evil eye of God, the Phrygian landscape was littered with steles and tablets inscribed with confessions of sin. Accompanying each confession there is always a description of what the transgressor had done to appease the offended deity: “I have built public baths for the city of Antioch. I paid for a new town library. I have sold my grain at a loss to help feed the hungry”.

To the Gentiles who had come to Antioch’s synagogue seeking to escape the wrath of God, Paul points the Galatian god-fearers not to their monuments and inscriptions but to Christ and his atonement. It was upon Christ that the curse of the Law fell. It was upon the Lamb of God that the Law’s evil eye was turned. Some time later he writes to the Galatians: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”. Since we gentiles are still prone to erect our modern versions of the ancient Phrygian expiation tablets, be prepared to use every opportunity the Spirit gives you to point to Jesus as the one who delivered us from the curse and the evil eye by taking them upon himself.

Our text from Acts 13 alerts us to something else new missionaries should be prepared for. Be prepared to suffer. Paul on his first missionary journey learned that bringing a new church into being is like giving birth, labor pains and all. Some time later Paul writes to his spiritual offspring in Antioch. “My little children, for you I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (4:19). My dear missionary candidates, be prepared to be taught through suffering and even persecution about what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus. Paul suffered not only to bring his converts out of paganism and to inoculate them against heresy, false teachers and the works of the flesh; Paul also had to deal with his thorn in the flesh. He writes in Galatians 4:13: “You know it was because of a bodily ailment (a weakness in the flesh) that I preached to you at first.” New Testament scholars have put together all kinds of theories to explain the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh: malaria, epilepsy or severe eye ailment. Luther believed that Paul’s thorn in the flesh consisted of the many persecutions, floggings and stoning he had to endure. At the end of Acts chapter 13, Luke tells us how Paul and Barnabas were run out of Antioch. So, my dear missionary candidates, be prepared for satanic opposition to the proclamation of the cross.

According to Luke, the primary opposition to Paul came from the leaders of the synagogue, the leading men of the city and devout women of high standing, what we would call the upper crust of the town. It has been suggested that the synagogue elders who instigated the persecution acted out of fear of what might happen if they lost control of the synagogue through the influx of a large group of outsiders, of people considered by society’s standards to be   uncultured, theologically immature and just not our kind of people. It is no secret that there are those in our own circles today who feel threatened by the influx in our churches of people who are different: Hispanics, Asians, Somalis, Bosnians and you name it. It is part of our sinful human nature to fear those who are different, and to impose upon them or to circumcise them with our own version of cultural acceptability. So be prepared, to be all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel even if it brings you suffering and rejection.

There is one more thing our text calls us to be prepared for. Be prepared for joy. Despite all the satanic opposition to the proclamation of Christ, a new congregation is born in Antioch. The birth of a new Christian community is always a miraculous birth, like that of Isaac whose very name means mirth. Be prepared for joy because Christ’s power in us is made perfect in weakness, suffering and persecution. Be prepared, because through suffering the Spirit is conforming us to the image of Christ. Be prepared for joy because God’s prophetic word is being fulfilled. The poor are being filled with good things while the rich synagogue patrons are sent empty away. Even though the elder brothers might grumble, the Father’s prodigals are staring to come home. And there is more joy in heaven for one sinner that repents than for all those who feel they have no need for repentance. So be prepared to rejoice with angels.  Be prepared to rejoice with all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Be prepared to rejoice and praise the Father, the Lamb and the Spirit together with the multitudes without number from every nation, tribe, people and language, gathered around the throne of our God, to whom be glory, now and forever. Amen.

LCMS Lutherans Commend Roman Catholics

News Story: June 28, 2012

Religious Freedom and Defense of the Unborn

On behalf of the South Wisconsin District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Pastor Bender and District President Rev. Dr. John Wille, commended the Roman Catholic Church and Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki for their courageous stand on religious freedoms and defense of the unborn. The resolution from the district and a letter to the Archbishop from synodical President the Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison was presented to the Archbishop at the 19th Annual Symposium of the Concordia Catechetical Academy on June 21, 2012. Watch the presentation and CBS 58 News story on the event.

Fortnight for Freedom: Lutherans Commend Catholic Commitment
“Love One Another” A Letter from Archbishop Jerome Listecki

Presentation Video

CBS 58 News Story