What Are We Doing Here?
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What in the world am I doing here? What am I doing in Minnesota? In Fisher/Euclid? In this church building? Before this altar and in this pulpit? What in the world am I doing here? Perhaps you’re wondering the same thing. You did not know what or whom you would be getting. You sent your signed call documents to the seminary requesting a pastor, but the first line that said “Name” was blank. You didn’t know that “Timothy James Winterstein” would be filled into that spot on April 25th. You also didn’t know that Timothy James Winterstein would be a guy with a shaved head and earrings who had never been to Minnesota, let alone Northern Minnesota! You might be saying, “What in the world is he doing here?”
It may not appear that we have much in common. You’re in the rural Midwest, and I come from cities in the Northwest. Many of you are farmers and I know little to nothing about farming. I grew up in the shadow of at least three large mountains; I have yet to see anything even vaguely resembling mountains out here. I may not look like you or listen to the same music or read the same books or do the same things for fun. But in spite of all our differences, real or imagined, we have one thing in common that nothing can change. That font. No matter where or by whom we were baptized, it was in one and the same water because it was by the Word of one and the same God. And that God is the Father of Jesus Christ, at whose baptism He said, while the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, ESV). He said the same thing to you at your baptism, and He says it to you every day as you continue to struggle with your Old Adam, daily drowning your sinful self by repentance and forgiveness.
And I am no different. Like you I was buried with Christ and raised to new life in baptism. Like you, I must daily and continually beat down my sinful nature. Because the Old Adam is such a good swimmer, the battle and the drowning will not end for any of us until that great Resurrection Day. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:22-26, ESV).
And what’s so special about me, that I should be here speaking the Word of God to you and distributing His gifts? The answer, of course, is nothing—nothing except the promise attached to the Office into which He has put me. And that is this: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (John 21:22b-23, ESV). The promise of Christ is also found in the Word that St. Paul proclaimed: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, ESV).
So what in the world am I doing here? I am here to be God’s hands and feet and ears and voice for you. When you come to the Table of the Lord, Christ will use my hands to give you His own Body and Blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation. And when I baptize you or your children, it is the voice of God who speaks His holy Name over you, and the Holy Spirit Himself who gives you faith in His powerful Word. And when I come to your hospital bed or your death bed, it is Christ who comes as the Great Physician, the Resurrection, and the Life. And when I marry you, it is Christ who blesses your marriage. And when you confess your sin to me, I will never tell anyone what you have confessed; my ears are God’s ears and He removes your sin as far as the east is from the west. And you can be sure, because of Christ’s words, that it is He who absolves you through my mouth. That is what I am doing here, and that is what I promised on Sunday to do for as long as I am among you. As St. Augustine said seven centuries ago, “For you I am a bishop”—that is, one who speaks God’s Word to you and oversees the Faith and life of God’s people—“with you I am a Christian”—that is, one who is a sinner who has been forgiven by the same blood of Jesus our Savior. Under and by God’s grace, I will be both for you.
What I want to know now is what in the world are you doing here? In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray. And He also teaches them to expect good things from their Heavenly Father when they pray. “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and he will answer from within, “Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything”? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs’” (Luke 11:5-8, ESV). Now unlike the man in the house, God gives freely both to his friends and to his enemies. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45, ESV). And God is greater than our earthly fathers: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13, ESV)!
What does Jesus say? “…yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.” It was impudent, it was culturally inappropriate, it was shameless, to knock on a friend’s door in the middle of the night. You didn’t treat your friends that way, and I doubt it is much different today. As the Proverb says, “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing” (Proverbs 27:14, ESV). The man in the house might have said, “You just don’t know how we do things around here.” And in our independent, individualistic, democratic culture, it is no less inappropriate to come before your God on Sunday morning and ask of Him extravagant things such as forgiveness of sins. “Who is this, that he even forgives sins” (Luke 7:49, ESV). What kind of God is this who uses sinful men to bring forgiveness of sins through common, ordinary, plain things like water, words, wine and bread?
Are you here for some other reason than forgiveness of your sins? Are you here because you always feel good when you leave? Are you here because you expect me to preach always with golden tongue and smooth delivery? Are you here because the people always smile and say hello when you come in the door, and because, like Cheers, this is a place where everyone knows your name? Are you here because the coffee is always hot, the doughnuts always fresh, and the potlucks always abundant with hot dish? Are you here because you expect to hear nice, Christian-sounding language, but never be made to feel like you actually have to do anything when you go through the doors back into the world? Are you here for the sake of what family and friends will think? Are you here so that you’ll have a place to be married, or a place to be buried? Repent; you are here for the wrong reasons. Return to your baptism. Return to the Lord’s Holy Supper. “Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 1:3, ESV). You were shameful in your sin; be shameless like the man in the parable in your request for forgiveness. You were impudent in your lusting and greed; be presumptuous enough to ask the Lord God for a new heart and a new life. You did not care about God’s opinion when you broke His Law; do not care about the opinion of the world when you ask for mercy.
That is why you and I are here. That is why you and I need to be here, at the font, the altar, and the pulpit. There is only one place in the world where Christ has promised to come in mercy and forgiveness and that is here, where He is with His crucified and risen flesh and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins. I tell you the truth, though the Lord of the house will not give us mercy because of our claims to His friendship, yet because of our boldness in Jesus Christ, He will rise and give us whatever we need. And what we need is the bread of mercy. He gives us not three loaves of bread that will perish, but food that will endure to eternal life (John 6:27). Even more, He gives His Holy Spirit as the down-payment of the new creation into which He is making you and all things. You are here. You are asking. Fear not that He will neglect your prayer. He is your dear heavenly Father. As Luther said, “God would by these words [,Our Father who art in heaven,] tenderly invite us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may with all boldness and confidence ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father” (SC, Lord’s Prayer, Introduction). So, dear children of the Heavenly Father, ask. It is why you come here. It is why I come here. He is here and He is waiting to answer. He will give you everything you need.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/25/07