Monthly Archives: October 2007

Festival of the Reformation (Observed)

“The Truth of the Reformation”

John 8:31-36


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

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32, ESV). If there ever was one, that is a battle cry for the Church of the Augsburg Confession, especially as we observe the Festival of the Reformation! The truth. We want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Or do we? It’s hard not to hear Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men growling, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” We laugh, like Tom Cruise’s character, but the shadow of doubt clings to us like, well, a shadow. The new Jewish believers in John 8:31 thought they could handle the truth. They had heard the message of Jesus of Nazareth, and they had believed. It didn’t all make sense to them, but they believed. The thing about truth, though, is that it doesn’t do what we want it to. We can’t change it, smooth out its rough edges, make it conform to our standards, or melt it down and reshape it in our own desired images. Continue reading


21st Sunday after Pentecost

“The Paradox of Prayer”

Luke 18:1-8


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

A paradox is made up of two seemingly contradictory statements that are both, nevertheless, true.  Two seemingly contradictory statements that are both, nevertheless, true.  Our text for today from Luke 18 does not state a paradox, but we can still feel it.  It is there, just beneath the surface, and it is this: First, that prayer comes freely from the heart and mouth of the Christian, and nothing can keep the Christian from praying; Second, and this is the part we only feel, prayer never comes easily in this world and so prayer requires practice and discipline.  Here is our paradox to consider: Prayer comes freely and unstoppably for Christians by the Holy Spirit; and prayer comes haltingly and only with constant work for Christians in this world.  Seemingly contradictory and yet both true. Continue reading

20th Sunday after Pentecost

“Rise and Go Your Way”

Luke 17:11-19


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

Why do you come here?  Why do you stand far off and call on the Name of the Lord?  Have you come here for healing?  Have you come here for salvation?  Have you come here to be made whole?  Why do you come here?  You have your reasons, even if unspoken.  You know that there is death in the pot (2 Kings 4:40), death in the skin and death in the bone, death in the parent and death in the child; there is death in the cloth-death woven into the very fabric of life.  You have come.  Will you leave here unchanged?

O lepers, cry out!  Your flesh is white as snow; the evidence of your disease is everywhere.  Ask your wife; ask your husband.  Ask your children.  Ask your parents.  Obey the Law and cry out, “Unclean, unclean!”  Wear torn clothes and let your hair flow wildly about your head (Leviticus 13:45).  You should live alone.  Your dwelling should be outside the camp.  You are unfit to be in contact with those who love you.  Come to the Master, and cry out. Continue reading

19th Sunday after Pentecost

“We are Beggars”

Luke 17:1-10


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

In the middle of a bitterly cold February, a sixty-three year old man lay dying on his bed, suffering from various ailments.  Not too long before, he had told his wife that he did not believe he would live to see Easter that year.  His world seemed to be falling down around him; his church suffered from the strife that so often characterizes God’s people; civil unrest in his country threatened to break into open war.  His life had been filled with both triumph and heartache, but he feared that everything for which he had worked so hard would be for nothing.  He doubted whether anything he had done had been worthwhile.

After he died, one of his close friends found a piece of paper on his bedside table, and the last six words were these: “Wir sind Bettler, hoc est verum.”  That is German and Latin for “We are beggars, this is true.”  The man was Martin Luther, and his last written words summed up his judgment on himself and on all his works.  “We are beggars, this is true.”

These words might sound strange to us who are trained in the North American schools of “enhancing self-esteem” and “you have to love yourself before others will love you.”  We’re supposed to build ourselves up, pad our resumés, demonstrate our financial upside.  Jesus’ words are stranger still.  How hard to swallow and how bitter they are to us who have drunk deeply at the wells of human pride!  “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  [He] does [not] thank the servant because he did what was commanded, [does he]?  So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:7-10, ESV). Continue reading

Service of Prayer at the Death of Robert Allen Dubuque

John 10:27-29


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

“On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand” (“My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” LSB 575, Refrain).  All other ground is sinking sand.  There is no ground within Bob on which to stand, on which to place our hope of his salvation.  I can say that without even knowing him, because I know it about myself.  No, we must speak with the psalmist: “There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation [O Yahweh]; there is no health in my bones because of my sin” (Psalm 38:3, ESV).  When life is good and death is hidden or far off, we are apt to forget this truth about ourselves.  But, O death!  It brings everything else into sharp focus.  How frail is my flesh!  How fleeting is your life!  There is nothing good about death.  Yes, God can bring good out of death; He makes it the last portal between us and Him.  But death itself?  There is nothing good in death.  You are right to mourn.  You are right to shed tears.  Death is not your friend.  It was not Bob’s friend.  Mourn also because of your sin, which will one day lay you low.  Death is the enemy.  It is your enemy, just as much as it was Bob’s. Continue reading

Bishop and Christian, October 2007

In the last two newsletters, we have discussed the Church’s one Foundation, and how we become part of that Church.  Even if the Church’s Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, and even if we don’t make ourselves members of His Body, perhaps we must work to sustain the unity of the Church?  How are divisions prevented and unity preserved?

No, just as we cannot make ourselves members of the one Body of Christ, neither can we preserve its unity.  All human attempts at unity must fail, because they are based on visible, human ideas of what unity looks like.  Some church bodies believe that unity must be preserved (by humans) at any price, even if that means allowing heresy to go unchallenged.  Heresy is intentionally choosing to go against the teaching of Christ’s Church, that is, the teaching of the Scriptures, and refusing to repent of it.  When heresy is allowed to remain within a visible church body, unity has already been broken and no human attempt at preserving it can succeed.

Nor will human attempts succeed to create unity where none exists.  When the Word of God speaks, it is not good enough to “agree to disagree.”  When the Word of God speaks, and church bodies hold two contradictory interpretations, unity is impossible.  The way through the disunity is not to ignore the differences, but to talk together until the disagreement is resolved.  But, until reconciliation is made, no one should pretend that unity is possible.

What is true of church bodies is also true of individual congregations.  Unity must be preserved by the Head of the Body, who is Christ.  His means of preserving unity in His Body are His means of grace.  Grace for humans can never mean grace by and from humans.  Grace comes from outside us.   So Christ preserves the unity of the Body by means outside the Body.

Since disunity is very often the result of sin, only forgiveness can remove the obstacles in the way of unity.  The only way that obstacles between two people can be removed is if mutual forgiveness is granted.  And forgiveness comes from the Lord, who has first forgiven us.  Absolution is the only solution to a sin problem.  Thus, the Lord gives us His gifts: Baptism, by which unity is established, because it means union with Christ; Absolution, the means by which unity is restored, both between humans and God and between one human and another; and Holy Communion, by which unity is preserved and strengthened.  Only union with the Head can create and preserve union in the Body.

The fact that Christ is the only one who can create and strengthen unity in the Church means that His invitation to Absolution and His Supper is an invitation to stronger unity among us who confess the same faith.  But it also means that we may not attempt to create unity where He has not given it.  The current state of affairs in the Church is a sad reminder that we are sinners and that divisions have already occurred in the one Body of Christ.  Even so, we should not presume to take upon ourselves what only Christ can do.  If there is not unity, we continue to pray and talk to each other.  What we must not do is attempt to anticipate the Last Day and force unity where it does not exist.  Our role is not to bring unity, but to rejoice in the unity that Christ brings.  So we rejoice in the unity Christ has already granted in the Holy Spirit, and we pray for the day when divisions will cease.  “O Comforter of priceless worth, Send peace and unity on earth” (“Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word,” LSB 655, st.3).

Passages of Scripture on the Church’s unity: Psalm 133; John 17; Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 2:11-22; Galatians 3:25-28; Ephesians 4; Colossians 3:1-17; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 1:7

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

October is a month of change.  The fields are being harvested, the school year is in full swing, the days are getting shorter, and the weather is getting colder.  What does not change is Christ for you.  He brings His gifts of Word and Sacrament to you every Sunday.  But His gift of forgiveness is available to you at other times as well.  The restoration of these gifts in their purity is the lasting legacy of the Lutheran Reformation, which began on October 31, 1517.

I am available by appointment at any time for private confession and absolution, and specifically on Saturdays from 2-3 pm.  This gift of Jesus to His Church is particularly for those times when you feel especially burdened by sin.  But you need not have committed serious sin in order to confess before the altar of God.  Christ desires to speak His word of holy absolution into your ears through my mouth.  Sometimes during the corporate, general confession and absolution in the Sunday service, you may not feel like the confession or absolution is directly yours.  Private absolution is an opportunity to hear the words of Christ’s forgiveness spoken directly to you so that you have no doubt that His forgiveness is for you.  So come and try it sometime.  Don’t worry about how to do it; there will be cards available with brief instructions on them.  You can also read Luther’s instructions in the column to the right.

“Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side.  For the custom has been retained among us of not administering the sacrament to those who have not previously been examined and absolved.  At the same time, the people are diligently instructed how comforting the word of absolution is and how highly and dearly absolution is to be esteemed.  For it is not the voice or word of the person speaking it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin.  For it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command. … Nevertheless, the preachers on our side diligently teach that confession is to be retained because of absolution (which is confession’s principal and foremost part) for the comfort of terrified consciences and because of other reasons” (Augsburg Confession XXV, K/W 73-74)

Quote for the Month

“What does such baptizing with water signify?  It signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

“Where is this written?  St. Paul writes, Romans, chapter sixth: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”  (Small Catechism, Baptism, part IV)

“What is Confession?  Confession embraces two parts.  One is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe, that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

“What sins should we confess?  Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess those sins only which we know and feel in our hearts.

“Which are these?  Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any person by word or deed; whether you have stolen, neglected, or wasted [anything], or done other injury.”  (Small Catechism, Confession)

Pastor Timothy Winterstein

18th Sunday after Pentecost

“Even If Someone Rises From the Dead”

Luke 16:19:31

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

Let us be clear about one thing: neither the rich man nor Lazarus ended up in the place that he did based on his riches or the lack thereof.  The rich man was in hell because of his sin.  Lazarus was in heaven because of the mercy of Christ, in spite of his sin.  But let us be clear about another thing as well: this parable is about neither the rich man nor Lazarus.  Lazarus never even speaks.  Sure, the rich man should have fed and clothed Lazarus; God has given wealth to people in this world so that they would act as His masks and His instruments to help those who are in need.  Nevertheless, even if the rich man had given everything he had to Lazarus, he would not have been able to cross the great chasm between hell and heaven.  Only One can cross that chasm.  Only One Man is able to go from heaven to tear the gates of hell from their foundations and free death’s captives.  Only One is able to return to heaven victorious, bringing the captives home in triumph.  No mere man can cross the chasm, either to help the one in hell or to harm the one in heaven.  No prayers can avail for those who are already in hell; no curses can affect those who are already in heaven.  This parable is not about the rich man.  And it is not about Lazarus.  It is aimed at those who remain in the houses of their fathers.  It is aimed at the brothers and the sisters, the friends and the neighbors. Continue reading