Bishop and Christian*, December 2016

Something you may or may not (want to) know: Advent is my favorite season of the church year. As a personal preference, I appreciate the more meditative season, the expectant hymns, the longing, and the hope in the midst of darkness. It seems much more true to life in this creation, while the full-throated joy of Christmas points to life in the new creation, which we have now only by faith.

Advent is a mixture of longing and hope; the futility of this creation combined with the fertility of Life itself taking flesh in the Virgin’s womb. It is declaring to us the One who has come in flesh to suffer, die, and rise again; the One who comes to us—still God and Man in one person—every time His Word and Sacraments are heard, believed, and celebrated; and the One who will be revealed at the moment when this old, dying creation is renewed eternally and restored through Jesus’ own resurrection.

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Bishop and Christian*, November 2016

This year, November 27 is the First Sunday in Advent. That means that we begin a new church year, and enter again into the life of Jesus, from prophecy through the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Here’s the challenge for you: to participate in the entire church year. Yes. I’m asking you to be in the Lord’s House every Lord’s Day and on festivals, too. And that should include corporate Bible study, particularly on Sunday morning. [If you’re reading this and you’re not a member of Faith, then take up the challenge in your own congregation.] To let the rhythm of the church year, and the weekly rhythm of Word and Sacrament, order your days and your months and your year. To refuse to let the world order your life. To refuse to be conformed to this world, with its priorities and schedules and what it considers important; and, instead, to be transformed in the renewing of your mind as the Holy Spirit brings you the Word of God each and every week.

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Bishop and Christian*, October 2016

What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It?

Starting on September 18, I began a series of sermons preaching from the liturgy, and how the pieces fit together to make a unified whole. (You can find all the parts on as they are completed.) The reason I’m doing this is partly out of my own experience, as I mentioned in week one’s sermon. That is, it took me a very long time to understand what I’ve come to understand about the Divine Service and how the pieces fit together. I certainly do not understand it all, and even as I’m writing each week’s sermon, new avenues of thought are being opened up, even since I first did this eight years ago.

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Bishop and Christian*, August 2016

Pick Your Pew

We’ve all heard the jokes about (or maybe known) people who were very particular about “their” pew in church. At the least, they were annoyed by people sitting where they normally sat; at worst, they brusquely told the person (perhaps a visitor), “You’re sitting in my pew!” I think that happens pretty seldom anymore, and rightly so.

However, there is something to be said for picking a seat and sticking to it week after week after week. Certainly not in order to make visitors feel unwelcome when they sit in “our” pew. But for another reason. Imagine a Christian congregation where people are very intentional about sitting in the same places every week. Imagine where you would sit. And then think of the faces around you. What if the person next to you were missing from the Lord’s house for a week or two, and you decided to give that person a call because you missed his or her presence where the Lord is present? Imagine a congregation (this one!) where the Lord’s Word and His Body and Blood are so integral to the Christian life, so formative of the communion of God’s holy ones, that a missing member of the Body of Christ is a missing part of us. These are the people whom God has placed here, and there is not a single one who is dispensable.

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Bishop and Christian*, July 2016

You Are What You Read (Part 2)

Last month, we considered the goal of the Scriptures in giving us Jesus and transforming us into His Image—not so much by how we read the Scriptures, but by how they read us into the salvation story of the Father and the Son and the Spirit. They read us by the Law, then they read us into the Creed through creation, the Son becoming man, and the Spirit creating faith to trust what Jesus has done for us. We are taught how to pray, and we learn how God has chosen to give us Jesus with His saving work from cross and empty tomb through Baptism, Absolution, and Supper. Then we are sent back out into the world, having received the Love of God in Christ, to serve our neighbors in love by what God has given each of us to do (vocation).

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Bishop and Christian*, June 2016

You Are What You Read (Part 1)

‘But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 2:8-3:3).

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’ And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter” (Revelation 10:8-10).

Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Lutheran Service Book, 308).

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Bishop and Christian*, May 2016

A Parable of Martyr-dom

One day, two men were talking as they walked down the hall of the hospital wing in which they both resided. As they talked, they discovered that they had the same terminal disease. In fact, the diagnoses of this particular disease were increasing exponentially, so that the Centers for Disease Control was considering whether to declare a world-wide epidemic.

“Is there a cure?” the one asked the other.

“Yes! Actually, they found the cure a long time ago.”

“Well, what is it? The symptoms of this disease are destroying my life.”

“It’s really a simple and easy thing, if you know where to look. You just have to see the right Doctor, and He has cases and cases of the stuff. More than enough for everyone with the disease.”

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Bishop and Christian*, April 2016

“This is the feast of victory for our King, alleluia!” Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

This makes—literally—all the difference in the world. Paul says that if Christ is not raised, then our faith is in vain, and we are to be pitied above all people. Because if you believe in getting a good job, or enjoying your family, or getting people to like you, or having fun while you can, then at least you receive a temporal reward. Believing in the resurrection—that it is also your resurrection—may not get you rewards here and now. Jesus says that His Christians will have trouble in the world. We may suffer, be persecuted, not liked. We may lose or not get jobs; our families may hate us. Much of that will not be fun at all. Certainly, the Lord grants us temporal blessings, which we enjoy. But there is no guarantee of that, and those things can disappear in a moment.

Believing in the resurrection means believing in something beyond whatever prosperity or tribulation we experience in our lives. And that means not taking the things of this world more seriously than they deserve to be taken (e.g., trusting in them so that we are driven to despair when they fail). But if Jesus is not raised from the dead, then we had better take the things of this world far more seriously than anything that we might hold in the “future.” A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say.

Believing in the resurrection and having it turn out false would be far worse than not believing in the resurrection and getting on with your life, getting and doing what you can, while you can get and do it.

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Bishop and Christian*, March 2016

Sometimes we experience “church” like we’re putting in our time for God. This is because most of the Christians around us view “going to church” as either something that we do for God (we come to church on Sunday to worship Him for what He’s done throughout the week) or as the place we come to learn about God or to learn how to live a better life. While there are elements of these things in what happens on the Lord’s Day, we miss the point if we make those the only, or even the primary, reasons for why we are in the church building with other Christians. If we view going to church in those terms, we will either satisfy our own self-righteousness when we are glad to be there, or we will feel guilty if we are not glad. And then, when there are “more services,” as in Lent and Easter, the burden will only grow.

However, the fact that we are not always “glad when they said, ‘Let us go up to the House of the Lord’” is only evidence that we need to be there. Because (as you’ve no doubt heard me say before) we do not “go to church” primarily to worship God (as that is commonly understood), nor do we go for any of the reasons that put me first as the subject of the verbs. This is why Lutherans prefer “Divine Service” for what is happening in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day. God (“divine”) serves us in Jesus Christ. He is the primary subject of all the verbs; He gives the Gifts; He does the work; He forgives sins and gives life. This is why gathering with the people of God is not optional—not because it is something you have to do to be saved, but because it’s where God delivers to you what He has done for you to be saved. The Divine Service is simply Jesus for you, and you need Him whether you think you do, or not. So do I.

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Bishop and Christian*, February 2016

What is a pastor for? I’ve been thinking about that a lot, lately. The answer is obviously of vital importance to me! I think much of the answer that a person might give depends upon expectations. One member of a congregation has certain expectations based on his experience with previous pastors. Another member might have expectations based on what she wants done in the future. One pastor has expectations based on good or bad experiences in the past; another has expectations based on what he’d like to see in the future. Insofar as they are found in the Scriptures, these expectations are not right or wrong in themselves.

But often the expectations of both pastors and congregations are based on abstractions or generic descriptions, rather than on particular contexts and specific people. Normally, when people are hired in the secular business world, it makes sense to identify a need and hire someone who can fill that space. That doesn’t always work well when it comes to pastors and congregations, because the Christian Church is based around a single need and a single solution: dying sinners in need of Christ, who is life.

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