Monthly Archives: August 2007

13th Sunday after Pentecost

“Where Are You From and Where Are You Going?”

Luke 13:22-30


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

When you hear Jesus say things like, “I have come to bring division” (Luke 12:51) and “unless you repent, you will all perish” (Luke 13:3, 5), you might be tempted to ask with the anonymous stranger, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23, ESV)

Oh, we are so curious to know the hidden things of God! Is it not enough that we know God’s will for sinners in Jesus Christ and that we be faithful to His Word? We want the things that have not been entrusted to us. We want answers to questions that have not been given us to ask. But Jesus will not answer our idle curiosities. He is not God’s gossip. And nothing has changed in six millennia. In Deuteronomy 29:29, the Israelites confessed this truth, after God renewed His covenant with them: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV). We can have no claim on the secret things of Yahweh, and Jesus answers the question in Luke 13 by refocusing attention away from “them,” whose hearts are known only to God, and back to “me” and “you.” “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24, ESV). You strive to enter. You repent. You come to the banquet. And all of this so that you do not find yourself among the “many” who “will seek to enter and will not be able” (13:24). Continue reading


12th Sunday after Pentecost

“Discerning the Dividing Line”

Luke 12:49-56


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

            As you may have realized by now, chapter 12 of Luke is not a chapter for the faint of heart.  So it’s a good thing we rely on “Thy Strong Word” and not on our own faint hearts!  Notice that this chapter is full of lines sharply drawn.  Starting in verses 4-7, we are told to fear the one who can cast the body into hell, and not the one who can kill the body only.  Verses 8-10 divide between those who acknowledge Christ before men and those who deny Him.  Verses 13-21 divide between those who are rich toward God and those who are rich toward themselves.  As we heard last week, verses 22-34 divide between those whose treasure is safe with God in Jesus Christ and those whose treasure is in temporary, earthly things.  We did not have verses 35-48 as a Gospel lesson, but there too Jesus divides between those who are ready for His return and those who are not; as well as between those servants who do their Master’s will and those who do not.  Finally, in our text for today, Jesus sums it all up.  He tells us the source of and the reason for all the division.  It is Jesus Himself. Continue reading

11th Sunday after Pentecost

“In Between ‘Worry’ and ‘Fear Not’”

Luke 12:22-34

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

            “Thus is the one who stores up for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).  Two kinds of rich; rich toward yourself or rich toward God; either/or; no third way.  That’s how our Gospel lesson ended last week.  Did it make you uncomfortable?  It made me uncomfortable.  We can deal well in black-and-white when it has to do with other people, but when it comes to ourselves, we’re perfectly happy to stay in the gray areas.  Too bad I can’t find any gray here. Continue reading

Ordination/Installation Pictures

Here are some pictures from my ordination/installation on July 22. [Thanks to Heather for the great job she did with them!  To see the best image, after you click on the thumbnail, click the magnifying glass. Any distortion is the fault of the electronic transmission, not Heather.]

Processional CrossThe Ordination (Rev. Dan Abrahams) trinity43.jpgtrinity11.jpgtrinity37.jpgtrinity49.jpg

Pastor Timothy Winterstein

10th Sunday after Pentecost

“Two Kinds of Rich”

Luke 12:13-21


“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:16-20, ESV)

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

Death is coming. Whether you’re rich, poor, middle-class, employer or employee, death comes for all of us in the end. You may be able to avoid the tax collector, but you will not avoid the life collector. Perhaps God will say to you tonight, “This night, whatever you are and whatever you have is required of you. It was never yours in the first place. I demand that you return to me what I loaned you.” What will you give up? Cars, houses, boats, computers, TVs, stereos, cds, books, savings accounts, 401ks? What will you give up?

If a fire were to destroy your house and everything in it today while you are listening to me, what would you do? Would you do as Jonah did when God took away his shade? “[Jonah] asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.’ And the LORD said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night’” (Jonah 4:8-10, ESV). Or will you be like Job’s wife who said, after God allowed all of Job’s family and possessions to be destroyed, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9, ESV)? Say, though, that nothing bad happens to you, and you continue to be as prosperous as before. Will you be like the man in the parable, who “thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” Continue reading

Why Private Confession and Absolution? (Pastoral Letter #1)

Confession has not been abolished in our churches. For it is not customary to administer the body of Christ except to those who have been previously examined and absolved. The people are also most diligently taught concerning faith in the word of absolution, about which there was a great silence before now….Nevertheless, confession is retained among us both because of the great benefits of absolution and because of other advantages for consciences. (Augsburg Confession XXV [Kolb/Wengert 73:1-2; 75:13])

As a consequence of the vows I took to uphold the Scriptures and the proper interpretation of the Scriptures in the Lutheran Confessions, I am (re-)introducing Private Confession and Absolution here in Fisher. Why would I want to do that? Isn’t that just something Roman Catholics do?

Actually, Private Confession and Absolution is far older than the widespread, current practice of Corporate Confession that we have before most services. The current practice is more the result of a degeneration of Private Confession than a practice with good theological reasoning behind it. When fewer and fewer people came to give their confession and receive absolution, a corporate confessional service was held on Saturday or at some other time. I believe there was still an individual absolution, as is done occasionally among us on Ash Wednesday or Maundy Thursday. Eventually, it became what most of our congregations use now, immediately prior to the service.

Let’s start with the Scriptures.

Matthew 16:15-19: He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

John 20:19-23: On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

In both of these passages (see also Matthew 18:18), Jesus gives His apostles the responsibility and the obligation to forgive and withhold forgiveness. In the passage from Matthew, where Jesus directly addresses Peter as the representative of the other apostles, He calls them the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” In the passage from John, Jesus comes to the disciples after His resurrection and gives them the Holy Spirit, and with that Gift, He gives the Keys. So we call the authority to forgive and retain sins the Office of the Keys.

In the Lutheran Confessions, there are multiple passages dealing with Confession and Absolution, but there are some passages that explain explicitly why the early evangelicals (Lutherans) held Private Confession and Absolution in high esteem and tried to restore it to a truly evangelical (focused on the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ) practice.

The Lutheran reformers did not see it as a purely “Roman” practice that should be abandoned, but as a practice obscured by the way that Rome practiced it. For example, in the Smalcald Articles, Luther wrote:

Confession worked like this: Each person had to enumerate all of his or her sins (which is impossible). This was a great torment. Whatever the person had forgotten was forgiven only on the condition that when it was remembered it still had to be confessed. Under these circumstances people could never know whether they had confessed perfectly enough or whether confession would ever end. At the same time, people were directed to their works and told that the more perfectly they confessed and the more ashamed they were and the more they degraded themselves before the priest, the sooner and better they would make satisfaction for their sin. For such humility would certainly earn the grace of God.

Here, too, there was neither faith nor Christ, and the power of the absolution was not explained to them. Rather, their comfort was based on the enumeration of sins and humiliation. It is not possible to recount here what torments, rascality, and idolatry such confession has produced. (Smalcald Articles III, 3 [Kolb/Wengert 315:19-20])

In response to this state of affairs, Luther wrote later in the Smalcald Articles, “Concerning Confession,”

Because absolution or the power of the keys is also a comfort and help against sin and a bad conscience and was instituted by Christ in the gospel, confession, or absolution, should by no means be allowed to fall into disuse in the church–especially for the sake of weak consciences and for the wild young people, so that they may be examined and instructed in Christian teaching….Because private absolution is derived from the office of the keys, we should not neglect it but value it highly, just as all the other offices of the Christian church. (Smalcald Articles III, 8 [Kolb/Wengert 321:1, 2])

Lutherans do not practice Private Confession and Absolution because forgiveness will not be granted without reciting all of one’s sins. Nor do we practice it because we want to make sure you do something to atone for your sin. Nor do we practice it primarily because of the confession. Absolution is the chief thing, and it is because God has given this great gift to the Church, that we want everyone to have access to it.

Private Confession and Absolution can be intimidating. It can be (and is) a fearful thing to confess private sins to someone else. It does not seem safe to be so exposed before your pastor. Yet it is nothing more than being exposed before God. The pastor usually sits sideways behind the railing of the chancel so that his ear is toward you. But do not think of the pastor’s ear as only the pastor’s. In reality, the pastor is bound by his vows to be the ear of God for you. He hears your confession and pronounces absolution as if (or, because) it is really Christ who absolves you through the pastor’s mouth. Further, when the pastor hears your confession, your sins are removed from you. God removes your sins as far as the east is from the west, and the pastor is obligated never to repeat what has been confessed to him.

Confession and absolution are really only an extension of your baptism. In the Large Catechism, Luther writes,

[W]hen we become Christians, the old creature daily decreases until finally destroyed. This is what it means truly to plunge into baptism and daily to come forth again….Here you see that baptism, both by its power and by its signification, comprehends also the third sacrament, formerly called penance, which is really nothing else than baptism. What is repentance but an earnest attack on the old creature and an entering into a new life? If you live in repentance, therefore, you are walking in baptism, which not only announces this new life but also produces, begins and exercises it. (Large Catechism IV [Kolb/Wengert 465-466:71-75])

“Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after.” (Kolb/Wengert 465:65)

Of confession, Luther writes,

So if there is a heart that feels its sin and desires comfort, it has here a sure refuge where it finds and hears God’s Word because through a human being God looses and absolves from sin….We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wants to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude. …

Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the pope’s command at any point, but you will force yourself to go and ask me that you may share in it. However, if you despise it and proudly stay away from confession, then we must come to the conclusion that you are not a Christian and that you also ought not receive the sacrament [of the Altar]. For you despise what no Christian ought to despise, and you show thereby that you can have no forgiveness of sin. …

If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but rather coming and compelling us to offer it. For here the compulsion must be reversed; we are the ones who must come under the command and you must come in freedom. We compel no one, but allow ourselves to be compelled, just as we are compelled to preach and administer the sacrament.

Therefore, when I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian….For those who really want to be upright Christians and free from their sins, and who want to have a joyful conscience, truly hunger and thirst already. (Large Catechism, “A Brief Exhortation to Confession” [Kolb/Wengert 478-479:14, 22, 28, 30, 32])

So if you are burdened by a specific sin, compel me to give you the forgiveness of Christ. It is my burden and my joy to give you Christ’s absolution, just as it is to give you His Body and Blood and His Word in the sermon.

You may find the the rite for “Individual Confession and Absolution” in the new Lutheran Service Book on p. 292-293. If you have any further questions, you may comment here or talk to me in person.

Pastor Timothy Winterstein

Bishop and Christian, August 2007

Bishop and Christian*

From the Pastor

August, 2007

What will be the center of our life together? What will keep the wolves of sin and doubt at bay? What will prevent the sheep from turning into wolves and devouring each other? What will keep the shepherd from betraying the sheep to the wilderness and wild beasts?

These are all live questions when you’re dealing with sinners—even forgiven ones. Look at Judas. He was chosen by Jesus Himself to be a disciple and an apostle. Yet that did not keep him from putting his hand in the money bag and, finally, betraying his Lord to His death. Though there be those that hate her/false sons within her pale/ against both foe and traitor/she ever shall prevail.” There are those who hate the Church and sometimes they come from within her. And while there are no “false sons” within the Church as Christ sees her, with our limited vision we are not able to see her as she really is. The false sons are the infamous ones.

Where can we look for reassurance when we see the Church as the world sees her?: “Though with a scornful wonder/Men see her sore oppressed/By schisms rent asunder/By heresies distressed….” At times the Church can look very little like the Bride of Christ. Often she looks much more like the Whore of Babylon.

Where can we look for hope? Not at the Church, but at her Lord, in whom the Church’s glory is safe, though hidden. Not at the building, which appears to have many cracks and weak places, but at her Foundation. “The Church’s one foundation/Is Jesus Christ, her Lord/She is His new creation/By water and the Word./From heaven He came and sought her/To be His holy bride/With His own blood He bought her/And for her life He died.”

You, the Church of God in this place, are a new creation, though your glory be hidden with Christ. He has baptized you “by water and the Word” and for your life He shed His blood and died. You are His holy Bride.

Do not be afraid if, God forbid, the sheep turn on each other. Do not be afraid though, God forbid, the shepherds turn out to be hired hands. May God in His grace preserve us from both. Place your hope not in sheep, nor shepherds, nor the Church herself. No, your hope is safe in God’s promises to you in Jesus. In your Baptism, where He said to you, baptized into Christ, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17). In Holy Absolution, where He promises His followers, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven” (John 20:23). In the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus feeds you: “Take, eat; this is my body…Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26, 28).

These are God’s eternal promises to you in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. They are the gifts of Christ, who is the Church’s one foundation. And they can never lie.

“Elect from every nation/Yet one o’er all the earth/Her charter of salvation/ One Lord, one faith, one birth./ One holy name she blesses/Partakes one holy food/ And to one hope she presses/With every grace endued.

“Mid toil and tribulation/And tumult of her war/She waits the consummation/Of peace forevermore/Til with the vision glorious/Her longing eyes are blest/And the great Church victorious/Shall be the Church at rest.” Amen.

(Hymn stanzas from “The Church’s One Foundation,” by Samuel J. Stone)

*I took the title from St. Augustine, who said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”


Quote for the Month:

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, English Standard Version).

“Forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or no bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. They keep on replying, ‘But I tell you the man broke a most solemn promise.’ Exactly: that is precisely what you have to forgive….The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough….One must therefore begin by attending carefully to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if 99 percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the 1 per cent of guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” …To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.

–C.S. Lewis, in Readings for Meditation and Reflection, pp. 63-64