Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

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The Wedding of Patrick Winterstein and Gina Johnson

Weddings are sort of like funerals.

People gather in a church, they see relatives they haven’t seen since the last one, there are both tears and laughter, and family members can feel like they’re losing someone. But perhaps the most important thing that weddings and funerals have in common is that they’re only successful if people are dead. For example, the funeral procession that left the town of Nain on that particular day ended prematurely when Jesus raised the dead son. No more dead son, no more funeral. And while it may not seem like that has anything to do with weddings, the difference is one of degree, rather than kind. Because if a husband and wife are not—from the day of their wedding on—prepared to die, to themselves and to their own selfish interests (which, by the way, will be revealed to you more fully by marriage and having children than by anything else)–if you, Patrick, are not prepared to die to your own interests, and you, Gina, to your own interests, the next fifty or sixty years are not going to go well. As Paul writes to the Philippians: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3-8, ESV).

The problem is that the old Adam, hiding inside each of us with his selfish interests, with his doubts about the promises of God, with his finely crafted excuse before the face of the Lord, “This woman that You gave me, she made me eat the fruit,” is a good swimmer, and he’s hard to drown. Not only that, but you will be tempted by the devil in ways you’ve never been, and with a ferocious intensity you’ve never seen. The devil often attacks hardest when he’s trying to create division and disunity. As the Teacher Solomon reminds us, it is easier for two to stand against their common enemies like a strong, three-fold cord, and so the devil is going to bite and gnaw that cord until it’s frayed and holding by a single thread. Besides that, the world is not friendly to marriage in general, and even less so to Christian marriage. Nearly everything you see or hear or read in this culture will pierce you with the tiny needles of convenience, selfishness, discontent, and infidelity.

Those are just some of the forms that the wages of sin take in our lives. Is it starting to sound like you’re stepping into a minefield? It should, because you are. In marriage, as in life, there is no room for sappy sentimentality or foolish fairy tales. The reality is that in your life together you will die moment by moment—the only question is whether that death will be one of separation or salvation.

There is a death that leads to separation, and that is the one we were all born dying. But there is another death that leads to salvation and it is one we cannot accomplish in ourselves, no matter how many marriage self-help books we read or how much counseling we have or how many good role models we try to emulate. The death that leads to salvation is the one that Jesus died in your place. Jesus, “who for a little while was made lower than the angels…[who has been] crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9, ESV). That is the death that He has brought about for you as individuals, and for you as husband and wife. In this world, everything is against you staying married until death parts you. In fact, the only place we have Jesus talking about marriage in itself is in response to a question about divorce. That’s how thoroughly sin has infiltrated every good thing created by God in the beginning. And the only way out of that is a new marriage. A marriage that cannot be put asunder by men and women because it is the work of God Himself. And He has given you both His engagement ring, bought with His blood, wrapped around you in baptism, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. He will never divorce you, never be unfaithful, never lie, never desert you. And He has a wedding for you and all His people that costs more than any human wedding: it is the wedding of the Lamb, and on that day, the Lord will finish the death of the old Adam and all things will be made new.

Until then, there is marrying and giving in marriage, and you are doing that today under the sign of the cross and with the blessing of the Lord. Today you cease to be private individuals; today, you become a sign of Christ’s love for the Church and the Church’s devotion to Christ. Patrick, St. Paul holds you to an impossible standard when he instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, even to the point of giving up your life for Gina (Ephesians 5:25-33); but it is for the good of this world that you work and pray to die each day to your own interests for the good of Gina’s. Gina, St. Paul’s words to you are no less impossible when he says that wives shall submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). But that, too, is necessary so that the people around you may see how the Church responds to the love of Christ. Pray and work to die each day to your own interests for the good of Patrick’s. And when you fail, you will also display the unconditional love of Christ, when you forgive each other as Christ has forgiven you. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “If Americans can be divorced for ‘incompatibility of temper’ I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible” (G.K. Chesterton, “The Free Family,” What’s Wrong With the World). If you didn’t know that before today, you will start to figure it out tomorrow. But that’s what sin does: makes us incompatible. But the life you live together in your sinful incompatibility is covered, day by day, moment by moment, with the blood of the One who died to reconcile each of us to His Father, and each of us to the other. And by His Word and Body and Blood He continues to reconcile and restore week by week. And if you know that, then you know that every day is a gift, every breath is grace, and death is only the beginning.

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, 7/9/10


The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

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Bishop and Christian, July 2010

From the Pastor

Independence Day is a great reminder of everything with which the Lord has blessed us in this country. We have the freedom to gather as congregations of Christians in this country, to share freely the Faith that has been handed down to us for the salvation of all people, and the material blessings to easily do that. While that material blessing has caused us multiple problems (e.g., materialism, greed, laziness, a feeling of rights and entitlement), it has also been used widely to provide for the work of the Gospel here and around the world. These are some of the many blessings for which we give thanks to God.

And yet, the very notion of independence has caused us problems as well. Though we celebrate our independence from monarchs who would determine the form and content of our worship, a vacuum of independence will be filled by dependence of one sort or another. In other words, as that important theologian, Bob Dylan, put it, “You gotta serve somebody.” If it’s not a king, then it might be a president. If it’s not a president, then it might be capitalistic or socialistic greed. But whatever it is, it usually ends up as service to the Almighty “I”. I have rights (very often severed from responsibilities); I have choices (very often severed from consequences); I’ll have things my way, and you can’t tell me otherwise. And when political and individual independence begins to merge with religious independence, and blur the lines between the two, very bad things can happen.

For example, when Christians desire independence from the authority of God’s Law, it usually results in independence from God’s Gospel as well, and then our Faith begins to look little different from the dominant American spirituality of “live and let live” with its complete redefinition of Christian love. Or, Christians declare independence from the Scriptures, directly and indirectly. Even among us, who claim a very high place for the Scriptures, sometimes people will hear what the Scriptures say, believe that the Scriptures say something relevant, and show by their actions that they simply don’t care. Even when Scriptural arguments are presented, some say, “That all makes sense; I just don’t agree.”

Independence in the Church is not a good thing, understood, as it generally is, to be independence from anything higher than my own self-willed choices and decisions. This results in a lack of respect for others, perhaps especially before the altar at the Lord’s Supper, where we confess and show most clearly that we are one Body, dependent upon Christ our Head and each other, the other members of Christ.

So in this month when we celebrate Independence Day for the United States, let us also celebrate the fact that we are completely dependent upon God and His mercy in Jesus Christ for everything we are and everything we have.

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.”

Quote for the Month

“God has given an independent will neither to you nor to anybody else, for self-will comes from the devil and Adam. These two turned their will, received from God, into a will of their own; for a free will is one which has no desires of its own but constantly looks to the will of God. In this way it then also succeeds in remaining free, clinging and cleaving to nothing. Now you notice that in this petition [The Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer] God bids us pray against ourselves, thereby teaching us that we have no greater enemy than ourselves. Our will is the greatest power within us. But we must pray against it: O Father, let me not so fall as to do things according to my own will. Break my will. Restrain my will. Let come what may, only let my lot be determined not by my will but only by Thy will; for so it is in heaven, where there is no self-will. Let it be so also on earth. Putting this prayer into practice is very painful to human nature.” (Martin Luther, What Luther Says [St. Louis: Concordia, 1959], 4655)