Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Holy Trinity

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The Day of Pentecost

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

You’re probably not thinking about the harvest right now. And if you are, you probably wish that you weren’t. I mean, you just started! You just started the seeding and the spraying and the cultivating; you just started doing all the things you need to do to get the ground ready to receive the seed and produce as much fruit as possible. But there’s the point: you sort of have to be thinking about the harvest, don’t you? Otherwise, what’s all this work for? What’s all the dirt and sweat and worry for? It is all aimed at the harvest. In fact, in the big picture, almost everything revolves around the harvest. And it seems to me that in a farming community, everything is lived year after year from harvest to harvest.

The Lord has a harvest as well. I was just reminded this week that Pentecost is a harvest festival. Which may seem strange to us here in the middle of the spring. But if you look at Leviticus 23, you will see that the Feast of Weeks took place seven weeks after the Passover Sabbath, and they brought in the first-fruits of the first harvest in thanksgiving to the Lord who had given it. If the first harvest was good, then, surely, the later harvest would be even better. So, here we are fifty days (that’s what Pentecost means) after the Passover of our Lord from death to life, and we’re hearing words about a Pentecost harvest. There were those eleven Apostles plus Matthias, along with the rest of the 120 disciples, in Jerusalem, waiting as Jesus had told them to. They were there ten days after His ascension, and fifty days after His resurrection, during the harvest festival. Jesus had planted in them the seed of the Holy Spirit, and now He was going to bring a harvest. The rushing wind filled the place where they were, and the Holy Spirit came upon them in the form of tongues of fire, just as He had come upon Jesus in the form of a dove. They were filled with the Holy Spirit as He had been, and they spoke the Word boldly, and all the people from all the nations heard them telling them that Jesus and His forgiveness is for all nations, peoples, tribes, and languages. Peter got up to preach his first sermon, and when he was done, the number of those who received the Word of Jesus’ death and resurrection with gladness was 3000, and they were baptized into that same death and resurrection. The harvest was good. And if the first harvest was good, then the later harvest would be even better.

As you know, every harvest begins with the planting. And so it was with that Pentecost harvest. 33 years earlier (talk about a long germination and maturation period) the seed of the Word, the seed of the eternal Son of God, was planted by that same Holy Spirit in the womb of a Virgin. It grew and it entered this world—He entered this world; He lived, died, and was buried. Just as He said: “If a grain of wheat does not fall into the ground and die, it remains alone”–a single, unique seed; a single, unique Son–“but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” And so it did. Jesus rose from the dead, and His resurrection produced 12, and 120, and 3000, and more.

The harvest continues, and we live also from harvest to harvest. And, as you know, what happens in between the harvests often determines the outcome. So, in these last days, the Holy Spirit continues to be poured out on all flesh, male and female, young and old, and they prophesy: they tell forth the Word about Jesus’ death and resurrection. And those who hear are baptized and joined to Jesus, the Seed and Root from which we grow. The Lord has planted us here, with particular jobs and particular families in a particular community. He has (to switch metaphors), made us His laborers in particular corners of His harvest. We grow, and bloom, and bear fruit as the Holy Spirit continues to water us with the Word, and shine the light of the Son on our way, and feed us with the body and blood of the ascended, but very present, Jesus. There is not too much that is spectacular about the Spirit’s work among us—at least, no more spectacular than a seed that becomes a whole plant. There is not too much that is miraculous—at least, no more miraculous than the fact that one seed become many. We bloom where we are planted, but that sometimes means that we are plucked and picked. We bear fruit, and sometimes the fruit is squeezed and squandered and trampled. And the length of time we have to grow and the difficulties inherent in the work we have to do can sometimes tempt us to give up. To say, “I’ve had enough of being poured out for everyone else. I’m going to make a name for myself.” Which shows how far beyond Babel we have already come. We don’t say, “Let us build a tower to heave and make a name for ourselves!” We say, “Let me make a name for myself.” I’m going to get what’s mine, what’s coming to me, what I need or want or deserve. And trust me, I’m no martyr; I’ve never died for anyone but me. Selfishness starts simple enough: with a shiver of discontent. But it quickly grows until it affects root, stalk, and leaf. Selfishness kills, it sterilizes, and it produces nothing but stillborn fruit.

So Jesus says to His disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, the Comforter, He will teach you all things, and He will remind you of everything I said to you.” Because we so easily forget! We forget His love and His forgiveness, and we forget to hold tightly to the Word of Jesus, and it just splinters into just a bunch of words, from which we select and choose. But Jesus always gives Himself whole. He is the Word, and to keep His Word is to love Him. And He promises that His Word will never return void. Like the rain and snow that come down from heaven and water the earth, producing seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so His Word accomplishes what He sent it out to do. It is accomplishing what He sent it out to do, here and now, in you and me. We are being nourished right now by the Spirit, who is poured out on the earth, and the face of the ground is renewed. He continues to teach us all things, and to remind us of the Word of our Lord, which creates, sustains, and brings faith to completion. Just as none of us can bring the harvest of a field of wheat, because we are not the sun, or the rain, or the soil, so none of us can bring the harvest at the end of the age. Only the Lord does both, and He has promised that what He began, He will complete.

As we live from harvest to harvest, we live and grow, work and wait, knowing all the while that it is the Lord who wills and works in us what is pleasing to Him. And it is the Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father, who will finally return and reap the earth, gathering the harvest into His Kingdom. All of us single grains of wheat, baked into one loaf; there is one bread, so we who are many are one body, because we all partake of the one loaf, who is Jesus Christ. And on that great and magnificent day of the Lord, the last Day of these last days, He will put an end to the confusion of Babel once and for all, as people of every tribe and language and nation, even you and me, praise our God with a single voice.

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 your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/22/10  

The Funeral of Ardith Engel

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The Funeral of Joanne Beiswenger

“I Will Never Leave You”

Hebrews 13:5-6

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

Beloved in Christ, family and friends of Joanne, last October, on the website for the Minnesota North District LWML, Joanne wrote, “God tells us in Hebrews 13:5 that, ‘He will never leave us or forsake us.’ This passage has special meaning for me as it was my confirmation verse. My father, who was my FAVORITE Pastor and who confirmed and married me, chose this passage for me knowing that it would be a comfort to me throughout my lifetime. It was also my wedding text and I chose it for my husband’s funeral. This past spring when one of my grandsons was going to be confirmed he happened to ask me if I had a favorite Bible verse. I explained how special it had been and still was in my life. I felt honored when he chose ‘my’ verse. [That verse] is such a wonderful affirmation for my life and continues to be a great comfort.”  Clearly, at all the major milestones of her life, as well as in the day to day, which for her was filled with music and service to her community, to the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, and to the Church—in all that, Joanne took comfort from that promise, that God will never leave us or forsake us.  I have no doubt that when she found out during Holy Week that she had cancer, she took comfort from it then, as well as during these last few weeks.

She is not the first to find strength and courage in that promise.  A man named Jacob had a dream one night where he saw a ladder extending from heaven to earth, and Yahweh Himself at the top.  There God said to Jacob, “The land on which you stand I will give to you and to your offspring…Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land.  For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13, 15, ESV).  About 500 years later, just before He kept His promise to Jacob, Yahweh spoke through Moses to Joshua and to Jacob’s descendents: “’Be strong and courageous.  Do not fear or be in dread of [the people in the land], for it is [Yahweh] your God who goes with you.  He will not leave you or forsake you.’  Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that [Yahweh] has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it.  It is [Yahweh] who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed’” (Deuteronomy 31:6-8, ESV).  Joanne stands with Jacob, Moses, and Joshua in a long line of faithful men and women trusting the promise of God alone for their hope and salvation.

What is so comforting about this promise?  It is not just that God is with us, say, in the way that we sit and have a conversation with a good friend.  A friend can comfort, but she can’t do anything about sickness or death.  If God were only with us in that way, it might be nice, but it wouldn’t be enough.  Hear again the promise of Yahweh through His servant Moses, “It is Yahweh who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  The entire comfort of that promise rests on those few words: “It is Yahweh who goes before you.”  See, God is not with us  in some abstract, hard-to-define, “spiritual” way.  Our God is a God of the concrete and physical, of the material and created stuff of life in this world.  He is present to our hands and our mouths and our bodies, in His Word, and His Sacraments, and the other members of the Body of Christ.  “Immanuel” is the Hebrew word for that kind of presence, the “God-with-us” presence of Jesus Christ.  He is God in flesh, in time, in sweat and tears and blood.  He is God in life and God in death, and He has gone before us into the Land of Promise for which we wait.  He has gone ahead of us, and yet He also travels with us in the ways He has promised: in the water of Holy Baptism into which Joanne entered; in the word of Holy Absolution which Joanne received and trusted; in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, which Joanne ate and drank with “angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven.”  And now her soul rests in the never-leaving, never-forsaking Presence of Jesus her Lord as she waits with us for the Resurrection of our bodies and the eternal earth and heavens of the New Creation.

Because Jesus has gone ahead of us in His glorified, risen, and ascended Body, we believe that we will follow after Him, when He transforms “our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21, ESV).  That was Joanne’s hope, as she trusted the promise of God in Jesus Christ.  And so we rejoice today.  We do not rejoice in her death, which is always a sign of the sin that infects every inch of this creation.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power  of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57, ESV).  We rejoice in that victory, which is ours because we belong to Him.  And that is a victory that no sickness, no death, no mourning, no tears—nothing in all creation—can take away, because it is the victory of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, who has promised that He is with us always, even to the completion of this age (Matthew 28:20).  To Him we entrust ourselves and sing confidently with Martin Luther, “The Word they still shall let remain, nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.  And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our vict’ry has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656, st. 4).  Indeed, “Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the Church of Jesus constant will remain.  Gates of hell can never ‘gainst the Church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail” (LSB 662, st. 3).

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 your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

 — Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/19/10 

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

Unity and Concord”

John 17:20-26

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

You know, it’s really too bad that these last words of Jesus before He is betrayed, arrested, suffers and dies, this final prayer that He prays in the Gospel of John is not answered. Did you hear what He prayed? Four times in chapter 17, Jesus prays for His eleven Apostles and for those who would believe through the Word He gave them, that “they may be one” (17:11). “That they may all be one” (17:20), “that they may be one” (17:22), “that they may become perfectly one” (17:23). Judge for yourself. How many Christian denominations can you name? Did you know that there are over 30,000 denominations that claim the name “Christian”? 30,000. From everything we can see, it appears that Jesus’ prayer has not been answered. Now there are two possible responses to this prayer of Jesus.

The first is based on what can be seen. Many Christians, many churches, hear this prayer and say, “Jesus says we should be one, so let’s be one! Let’s get together, pray and worship, share pastors, and eat the Lord’s Supper together.” We rightly mourn and grieve the divisions in the Church. You know it as well as I do, because you, like me, have people in your families who belong to separated churches. You can feel that division in your body, the pain of separation. And when Christians join together in the true unity of Jesus around His Word and His Sacraments, we should be the first to rejoice. But if it is a false unity, we cannot and will not rejoice over that. And many of these unions are false, because they are not based on agreement in God’s Word and Sacraments, but about ignoring any disagreement. They say that the doctrine, the teaching, of the Church no longer divides. Well, it’s not a big step from believing doctrine no longer divides to believing doctrine no longer matters. If doctrine does not divide, then it does not matter. And these unions quickly collapse into irrelevance. They become just one more lobby. Just one more voice in American politics. Just one more point of view scrambling for a seat at the table, trying to make itself heard. In fact, the more it tries to be relevant, the more irrelevant it becomes. But the problem is not just that it is a false union, but that people think that Jesus is praying to them. If it is up to us to create the unity for which Jesus prays, then He must be praying to us. It’s not a command, it’s a prayer. And He’s praying to His Father. So, is the unity created by God or by us? That’s one possible response: the response of false union collapsing into irrelevance.

But there is another possible response. Maybe Jesus is praying for a unity that cannot be seen. Maybe we misunderstand Jesus’ prayer when we base our response on what we can see and measure. Maybe we’ve confused two different types of unity. Because there are two different types of unity in the Scriptures. We can call the first simply “unity,” because it is Christian unity at its most basic. The second we can call “concord,” which is the opposite of discord. Unity is not something we can see. That’s why we say “I believe one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.” If we said, “I see…” we would be lying. No, unity is hidden, and it is created and given only by God as He joins us to His Son in Holy Baptism. You can’t see it. The person looks exactly the same, but it is the most basic and fundamental unity. It is reality, though it can’t be seen. This unity can only be given, sustained, and preserved by God through His Word and through His Supper. We see only bread and wine, but it is the very flesh and blood of Jesus Himself. He is in us and we are in Him. This is the unity of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6, ESV). There is only one Jesus, so there can be only one Church. There is only one Head, so there can be only one Body. There is only one sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and there is only one Gospel that gives out that forgiveness to sinners. This is a unity among and between all believers in the one Christ. Only God can see and know this unity, because only God can see and know those who are His. That is the true unity for which Jesus prays.

But there is another unity we can call concord. It is concord in Psalm 133 when the psalmist says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (v. 1). Concord can be seen. We work for it and pray for it. It is based on love, and bearing with one another. Bearing one another’s burdens. Forgiving each other because Christ has forgiven us. Overlooking each other’s faults and failures and shortcomings. Paul is speaking of concord when he tells the Christians in Ephesus to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). There is the unity of the one Body, but there are many members of the one Body, all with different and unique gifts and responsibilities, and all for the building up of the one Body until we all attain the unity of the Faith (Ephesians 4:12-13). We see both kinds of unity in Acts 2, when the disciples devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers (Ephesians 2:42). Those are the things by which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains unity. But out of that unity of the Word and the Supper flows the concord of love as they gave to all as any had need. There was no need among those early Christians, because there was both unity and concord.

And what happened? “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47, ESV). And that is exactly what Jesus prays. He prays that they may be one, the Apostles and all the believers, for the sake of the world. So that the world may know and believe that Jesus is the one who was sent by the Father to reconcile the world to Himself. And that is why it is the most important thing that we strive and struggle to have the pure teaching of Jesus and the pure Sacraments of Jesus: because they are not just words and symbols; they are life and salvation for the world. So St. John writes, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3, ESV). It is exactly so that the world can hear that pure Gospel, be joined to the one Lord by the one Baptism, and be joined to us in the one Supper of His Body and Blood. So we pray, “In these last days of great distress, grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness, that we keep pure Your holy Word and Sacrament” (LSB 585, st. 2). It is exactly in this pure Word, this pure Gospel, and these pure Sacraments that Jesus’ prayer has been answered and is being answered, even here. And it is Jesus, the one Lord of the one Church, who will finally lead us into the full and perfect unity with Himself and all the saints, when divisions will be, at last, no more. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Jesus Christ, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6, ESV).

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 your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/15/10

The Ascension of Our Lord

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The Sixth Sunday of Easter

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