2019 Wenatchee Rally for Life Remarks

[delivered on January 19, 2019]

Good afternoon. I am Pastor Timothy Winterstein from Faith Lutheran Church in East Wenatchee, a congregation of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Thanks, Gene, for inviting me. What a great privilege it is to be with you today, as we pray and trust God in Jesus Christ as our only hope in life and death.

I am six years younger than Roe v. Wade, which means that I and my younger siblings have always lived under its death-shadow. I was probably 10 or 12 when I saw a picture in the newspaper of the Washington March for Life in Olympia, where I grew up. I remember asking my mom, “What is abortion?” and from that moment on, there was no doubt in my mind that legal and unlimited abortion was a tragedy unlike nearly any that we have seen in this world.

The question for us gathered here and around the country this weekend, as we approach the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, is not whether that event is a nearly unfathomable disgrace and stain on the fabric of the United States of America—we have no doubt about that—but what to do about it.

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Bishop and Christian*, June 2017

164 years ago next month, the very first president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther, wrote this in the official publication of the Synod, Der Lutheraner:

Whenever the divine service once again follows the old Evangelical-Lutheran agendas (or church books), it seems that many raise a great cry that it is “Roman Catholic”: “Roman Catholic” when the pastor chants “The Lord be with you” and the congregation responds by chanting “and with thy spirit”; “Roman Catholic” when the pastor chants the collect and the blessing and the people respond with a chanted “Amen.”

Even the simplest Christian can respond to this outcry: “Prove to me that this chanting is contrary to the word of God, then I too will call it ‘Roman Catholic’ and have nothing more to do with it. However, you cannot prove this to me.”

If you insist upon calling Romish every element in the divine service that has been used by the Roman Catholic Church, it must follow that the reading of the Epistle and Gospel is also Romish. Indeed, it is mischief to sing or preach in church, for the Roman Church has done this also.

Those who cry out should remember that the Roman Catholic Church possesses every beautiful song of the old orthodox church. The chants and antiphons and responses were brought into the church long before the false teachings of Rome crept in. This Christian Church since the beginning, even in the Old Testament, has derived great joy from chanting…For more than 1700 years orthodox Christians have participated joyfully in the divine service. Should we, today, carry on by saying that such joyful participation is Roman Catholic? God forbid!

Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not unite us with the modern sects or with the Church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian church that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. (This is translated from Der Lutheraner, July 19, 1853, page 163.)

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

Scrutinies? What? Why?

Apparently, there have been some questions raised among the membership of Faith regarding something that’s happened the past three weeks prior to the Prayer of the Church.

At the Vigil of Easter on April 15, a young woman will be baptized here at Faith.  I’ve been meeting with her and and her mother for two or three months, answering questions, reading the Scriptures, and preparing her for baptism.  Since very early in the Church’s history, the time prior to the celebration of the Resurrection was used to instruct those who were to be baptized at Easter, since that was the primary (and in some places, only) time when baptisms took place.

While preparing people for baptism, there have been many different forms of instruction, and various rites and practices to lead people to the baptismal water.  As it is for the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8; Lydia and the Philippian jailer in Acts 16; and pretty much all the other adult converts from Acts 2 on, they are instructed, they believe, and they are baptized.  Part of that instruction as it developed in the Church–especially, after the destruction of Jerusalem, once the Church began to instruct people who did not know the Old Testament–included various events and rites to help bring people into the fullness of the Christian faith.  For example, Cyril of Jerusalem used to physically walk people from the place of Christ’s crucifixion to the place of His empty tomb within the walls of the church that had been built over the believed sites of those events.  There were also other physical movements associated with baptism meant to signify the transfer of a person from old to new life, from death to life, from blindness to sight, and from darkness to light.

Now, only God can make Christians, and so His work and promise in Holy Baptism, believed by the person baptized, is the decisive point.  Nevertheless, it does not take away from that decisive point of conversion if–prior to baptism, as well as afterward–the Church hands over the substance of the Christian faith in Creed, prayer, and the Word and blesses the person on his or her way to the water of baptism, and on to the resurrection.  We pray that God would preserve newborns who have not yet been baptized, and we pray the same for adults on their way to baptism.

Prayer and hearing the Word of God in Christ are the ways of preparation, just as they have always been.  Why do it publicly within the Divine Service?  So that the members of the congregation can bear witness, for the sake of the one to be baptized, to the promises of God present in His Word and in baptism, as well as remember the promises God made to each person in his or her baptism.  Such prayer and blessing is absolutely catholic–what the Church has done in all places and all times.  There’s nothing distinctly Roman Catholic about it.

Why is it called a “scrutiny”?  Because in the beginning of the Church, the sponsors (who were the same people who introduced a person to Christ’s Church) were asked to testify that the person really did want to become a Christian and was not doing it to spy out the Church (when Christianity was illegal) or for any material benefit (once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire).  So the candidate for baptism and the sponsors were “scrutinized” to that effect.

It seems that many people were not prepared for this public process, and for that I take full responsibility.  I hope this little explanation has cleared up some of the questions.  I would also remind everyone that I am available often for anyone to ask any questions that might arise.  People who don’t know the answers, on the other hand, are probably not good resources of whom to ask the questions one may have.

Feel free to clarify any of this at any time.  For now, I ask you to rejoice with me and with the angels in heaven that God is claiming another person for His Kingdom through His Son, Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  God grant you a blessed celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, as you remember your own resurrection to eternal life in Holy Baptism.

Pr. Winterstein

Bishop and Christian*, May, 2015

Music is an important part of the gathering of the Body of Christ around the words and gifts of Christ. We instinctively know this, as it would be hard for us to imagine a Divine Service without singing or music. Further, throughout the Scriptures, there is always music and singing when the people of God are in His presence.

Music can serve a variety of ends and purposes. In our every-day lives, we realize that music can accompany any number of emotions. This is why we listen to particular kinds of music that we associate with particular moods, or we listen to music to change our moods. So it is almost subconsciously that we associate certain music with certain places and times. When we hear certain songs, it is striking how we are transported to a particular place when we heard that song, or an emotion with which we associate it.

Not only do we realize that certain kinds of music fit with particular places and times and emotions, we also realize that certain kinds of music do not fit with particular places and times and emotions. So (most of the time!) we would find it strange to walk into a funeral home for a funeral and hear loud rock music. And (most of the time) we would find it strange to go to a stadium to hear a rock band [does anyone do that anymore?] and, instead, we hear quiet, instrumental music that hardly can be heard in the back rows.

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Life Together

Besides our own body, our spouse, and our temporal property, we have one more treasure that is indispensable to us, namely our honor and good reputation. …

Next, [the Eighth Commandment] extends much further when it is applied to spiritual jurisdiction or administration.  Here, too, all people bear false witness against their neighbors.  Wherever there are upright preachers and Christians, they must endure having the world call them heretics, apostates, even seditious and desperate scoundrels.  Moreover, the Word of God must undergo the most shameful and spiteful persecution and blasphemy; it is contradicted, perverted, misused, and misinterpreted.  But let this pass; it is the blind world’s nature to condemn and persecute the truth and the children of God and yet consider this no sin.

The third aspect of this commandment, which applies to all of us, forbids all sins of the tongue by which we may injure or offend our neighbor.  “Bearing false witness” is nothing but a work of the tongue.  God wants to hold in check whatever is done with the tongue against a neighbor.  This applies to false preachers with their blasphemous teaching, to false judges and witnesses with their rulings in court and their lying and malicious talk outside of court.  It applies especially to the detestable, shameless vice of backbiting or slander by which the devil rides us.  Of this much could be said.  It is a common, pernicious plague that everyone would rather hear evil than good about their neighbors.  Even though we ourselves are evil, we cannot tolerate it when anyone speaks evil of us; instead we want to hear the whole world say golden things of us.  Yet we cannot bear it when someone says the best things about others.  …

Therefore God forbids you to speak evil about another, even though, to your certain knowledge, that person is guilty.  Even less may you do so if you are not really sure and have it only from hearsay.  But you say: “Why shouldn’t I say it if it is the truth?”  Answer: “Why don’t you bring it before the proper judge?”  “Oh, I can’t prove it publicly; I might be called a liar and sent away in disgrace.”  Ah, my dear, now do you smell the roast?  If you do not trust yourself to stand before the persons appointed for such tasks and make your charges, then hold your tongue.  If you know something, keep it to yourself and do not tell others.  For when you repeat a story that you cannot prove, even though it is true, you appear as a liar.  Besides, you act like a knave, for no one should be deprived of his honor and good name unless these have first been taken away from the person publicly. … For honor and good name are easily taken away but not easily restored. …

Let this be the your rule, then, that you should not be quick to spread slander and gossip about your neighbors but admonish them privately so that they may improve.  Likewise, do the same when others tell you what this or that person has done.  Instruct them, if they saw the wrongdoing, to go and reprove the individual personally or otherwise to hold their tongue.

You can also learn this lesson from the day-to-day running of a household.  This is what the master of the house does: when he sees a servant not doing what he is supposed to do, he speaks to him personally.  If he were so foolish as to let the servant sit at home while he went out into the streets to complain to his neighbors, he would no doubt be told: “You fool, it’s none of our business!  Why don’t you tell him yourself?”  See, that would be the proper, brotherly thing to do, for the evil would be corrected and your neighbor’s honor preserved. …

Thus in our relations with one another all of us should veil whatever is dishonorable and weak in our neighbors, and do whatever we can to serve, assist, and promote their good name.  On the other hand, we should prevent everything that may contribute to their disgrace.  It is a particularly fine, noble virtue to put the best construction on all we may hear about our neighbors (as long as it is not an evil that is publicly known), and to defend them against the poisonous tongues of those who are busily trying to pry out and pounce on something to criticize in their neighbor, misconstruing and twisting things in the worst way.  At present this is happening especially to the precious Word of God and to its preachers. … There is nothing around us or in us that can do greater good or greater harm in temporal or spiritual matters than the tongue, although it is the smallest and weakest member. [Large Catechism, Eighth Commandment, Kolb/Wengert ed., 420ff.; also, here]

Pr. Winterstein


The Waiting and the Wonder

I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed when Christmas Eve arrives. I know that sounds strange, but let me explain. The fact is, I love Advent. I’ve always been more at home in the anticipation than in the realization. I love the hymns of Advent, the expectation of Advent, the fact that it goes so contrary to the spirit of the world, which wants us to start celebrating Christmas on the day after Halloween, mostly for the sake of getting us to buy, buy, buy. And what’s the result? Anxiety, worry, rushing around from one place to another, one party to another, one store to the next. What’s the result? Complete exhaustion by the time Christmas actually arrives; by December 25th, you never want to hear another Christmas carol again.

But Advent! Advent preserves that warm, reflective place; a haven from cards and cookies and carols. Advent, it seems to me, is much more like real life: we spend far more time waiting than we do celebrating. And I wonder if that’s part of the issue: we don’t really know how to celebrate because we don’t really know how to wait. We don’t know how to fast, so we don’t know how to feast. We find it hard not to overindulge, overspend, overdo. Advent says, hold on a minute, light one candle a week, wait a while in the wilderness with the strange and the holy, like John the Baptizer. Hear again, as if for the first time, that this whole mess has been made right in Jesus, who is coming again to judge the quick and the dead. Advent is the skinny, crooked finger of the Baptizer, pointing in stark relief to the Mighty One who was to follow him—but pointing to a Mighty One who did not come in divine might, with fire and sword. Pointing to a glorious One whose glory was shown most clearly on a cross. Pointing to a Judge who would take on Himself the entire judgment due sinners in payment for their sin.

But that’s not the message of John only. It’s the message of the prophets, of the little town of Bethlehem, of the shepherds, and of the angels, as we have just heard. Every prophecy, every Word of God—indeed, the entire creation—is summed up in the body of that Baby, who would give His Body and Blood on a cross for you. That He is for you, you can be sure, because God raised His Son from the dead, and now He lives and reigns, the same God-Man, at the Right Hand of God’s power. And yet, we still do not see it all. His power is still hidden, just as it was in that Virgin, that manger, that cave, that Man. Advent, in its waiting, makes the wonder of Christmas all the more wonder-full. But, of course, without the fulfillment of everything we wait and hope for, the waiting would be worthless. And so, in this world that is too impatient to prepare and too gluttonous to celebrate, the Church of Christ takes her time with the wonder. To wonder at prophets speaking the Word of God centuries before the fulfillment; to wonder at God in diapers; to wonder, what Child is this in Bethlehem, silently pleading for sinners? To wonder at filthy, sheep-scented shepherds blessed with the song of angels; to wonder at God walking around in Nazareth and Galilee and Jerusalem; to wonder, as we come to adore the new-born King, what sort of King is this, who goes to a cross for His enemies, even you and me? So, whether you need help with the waiting, or with the wonder, the prophets, shepherds, and angels are here tonight to speak Jesus into our ears and hearts. Not just this December, or this Christmas, but throughout lives lived in both waiting and wonder, as the God-Man continues to come to us in water, words, wine and bread, for forgiveness, life, and salvation. There’s nothing more worthy of wonder than Him, as we wait for Him to begin the eternal celebration with a Word.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/24/13 

A Beautiful Mess

[message for the MOPS Christmas event at Faith Lutheran Church]

This is a great theme for Advent and Christmas. Not only are there a number of mothers in the stories we hear around Christmastime, there are a lot of messy things going on. There are the miracles of the conceptions of both John and Jesus, one in the womb of a woman who has long been barren, and one in the womb of a woman who has never known a man in the Biblical sense. Now, we know that those are miracles, but miracles are open to interpretation, and we can bet that not everyone who found out about either of these pregnancies believed that Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph had been visited by messengers from God. In this world, the actions of God get a little messy. And that is never more clear than in the genealogy of Jesus. Normally, other people’s genealogies are never as interesting to us as our own. But if you want to see a mess, look at Jesus’ genealogy. There are a lot of twisted branches on that family tree. In Matthew 1:16, we have Mary, whose pregnancy would have been much more scandalous in her time than it would be in ours. There is a reason why Joseph was going to put her away quietly. Because if he does it publicly and noisily, she will probably be stoned to death. But that doesn’t necessarily make him completely honorable: he was still going to put her away.

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Settling in the valley

We’re here.  I’m installed.  Sunday is coming.

“Those who turn proud when their praise is sounded, who seek their own glory, not Christ’s, or those who are moved by slanders and by infamy, had better leave the ministry of the Word.” –Luther, 1531

“Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon You Word. Use me as Your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.”  (Luther’s Sacristy Prayer)

“O Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am indeed unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation.

But since Thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teachings and the instructions, O be Thou my helper and let Thy holy angels attend me.

Then if Thou art pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Thy glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Thy pure grace and mercy a right understanding of Thy Word and that I may also diligently perform it.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Thou Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, send Thy Holy Spirit that He may work with me, yea, that He may work in me to will and to do through Thy divine strength according to Thy good pleasure. Amen.”  (Luther’s other Sacristy Prayer)

Pr. Timothy Winterstein