Monthly Archives: October 2010

Bonhoeffer on the Church

[This is one of my favorite readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, from October 23:]

It is not we who build.  [Christ] builds the church.  No man builds the church but Christ alone.  Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.  We must confess–he builds.  We must proclaim–he builds.  We must pray to him–that he may build. 

We do not know his plan.  We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down.  It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction.  It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down. 

It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me.  Do not meddle in what is my province.  Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough.  But do it well.  Pay no heed to views and opinions.  Don’t ask for judgments.  Don’t always be calculating what will happen.  Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge!  Church, stay a church!  But church, confess, confess, confess!  Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are.  Christ builds.  [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, No Rusty Swords, (Treasury of Daily Prayer, 840-841)]

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The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

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The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

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The Funeral of Ellen Klein

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The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

 

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

“The name of the man was Elimelech” (Ruth 1:2).  Eli-melek.  “My God is king.”  But this man lived in the time of the judges, and the Book of Judges says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).  This man was from Bethlehem.  Beit-lechem.  “House of Bread.”  But he lived there while there was a famine in the land.  So “God-is-my-king” lives in “House of Bread,” but there is no king and there is no bread.  It gets worse.  He takes his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, and they go to Moab, a foreign country.  There Elimelech dies, leaving Naomi with her two sons, who marry Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth.  But, parents, be careful what you name your children, because Mahlon probably comes from a word meaning “weak” or “sick,” and Chilion probably comes from a word meaning “finished” or “spent” or “failing.”  So after ten years in Moab, ten childless years, ten years when the family line of Elimelech is not carried on, Mahlon and Chilion die as well.  Naomi has no husband, she has no sons, she has no land, and she is in a foreign land.  But.  But she hears that Yahweh has visited Bethlehem and given them bread again.  So she starts back, and Orpah and Ruth start with her.  But she says, “Go back to your own land, to your mothers’ houses.  And may Yahweh bless you for the kindness you’ve shown to me and to the dead.  May Yahweh give you rest in the house of your husband.”  They say, “No, we will go to your country.”  But Naomi says, “Why would you go with me?  I have nothing.  I couldn’t give you other husbands, even if I wanted to.  And the Hand of Yahweh has gone out against me.  Go back.”  Well, apparently Orpah sees the writing on the wall, because she kisses her mother-in-law and goes back.  And Naomi says to Ruth, “Go with your sister-in-law.  She’s going back to her people and her gods.”  But Ruth clings to her mother-in-law, like a man who leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife; she has left behind her people, she has left behind her old gods; there is nothing for her in Moab anymore.  She says, “Don’t try to get me to leave you.  Where you walk, I will walk; where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people are my people; your God my God.  Where you die, I will die, and I will be buried there.”  She calls down a curse from heaven: “May Yahweh do to me, and even more, if even death is a separation between you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).  So they go back, and the people all say, “Is this Naomi, after all these years?”  And she says, “Don’t call me Naomi,” which means “pleasantness,” “call me Mara,” which means “bitterness” (1:19-20).  “Yahweh has dealt bitterly with me.  I went away full, but Yahweh returned me empty” (1:21).

Well, Ruth does what any foreigner would do, what God had commanded Israel to let them do, which is gather up the leftover barley and wheat after the reapers have gone through.  And somehow, she finds her way to the field of Boaz.  Boaz says that he’s heard how kind she was to Naomi and her family, and he says, “May Yahweh reward your work, and give you a full reward, because you have sought refuge under the wings of Yahweh, the God of Israel” (2:12).  Then, on the advice of Naomi, one night Ruth goes and lies down at the feet of Boaz down on the threshing floor.  In the middle of the night, Boaz is surprised to find a strange woman in his bed, and asks her who she is.  She says, “Ruth.  Please spread your wings over your servant, because you are a redeemer” (3:9).  A redeemer.  Boaz is a relative of Elimelech, a “kinsman-redeemer.”  In the Law of Israel, no land could ever be sold permanently, because it ultimately belonged to Yahweh.  So if you sold some of the land God had given you, you always had the right to buy it back.  And if you couldn’t buy it, but your relative could, the person had to sell it back.  The land could always be redeemed for the ancestors of the original owner.  So in the morning, Boaz makes everything right again when he redeems the land of Elimelech.  And even though it is not part of the law, he does even more than is required, in marrying Ruth.  And through Boaz, Yahweh fulfills the blessing of Naomi and gives Ruth peace in the house of her husband, as well as a child, a future.  But it’s more than just the land, and more than just the marriage, and more than just the child.  Boaz redeems Ruth’s entire past.  Ruth is from Moab, and no Moabite could ever enter the worshiping assembly of God, because they refused to help Israel on their way from Egypt to the Land of Promise (Deuteronomy 23:3-6).  Moab was the son of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his oldest daughter, and so Moabites are doubly prohibited from entering Israel’s worship.  But Boaz redeems all that, and Ruth becomes an Israelite.

Boaz knows something about redeeming the past.  His mother was Rahab, the prostitute in Jericho, who hid the spies from Israel.  Her house alone was spared of all Jericho.  And Rahab and Ruth are not the only ones.  In Boaz, Yahweh continues His redemption of the past.  There are five women named in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, and they are all questionable.  There’s Tamar, who pretended to be a prostitute in order to get Judah to do his duty toward her; there’s Rahab, who actually is a prostitute; there’s Ruth, a foreigner from Moab; there’s Bathsheba, with whom David committed adultery; and then there’s Mary, a girl who is pregnant outside of regular marriage.  But God is in the business of redeeming the whole sordid story, the entire past, in order to give His creation an eternal future.  “I know the plans that I am planning for you, declares Yahweh, plans of wholeness and peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).  And it is in that eternal plan, that He chooses Boaz, born of Rahab the prostitute, to marry Ruth from Moab, and become the great-great-grandparents of King David.  And through that line, we will finally have come full circle, to fulfill the promise of Elimelech’s name: finally, One will reign from the throne of David who judges and seeks justice and is swift in righteousness (Isaiah 16:5).  Finally, My God is King.

And He is your Kinsman-Redeemer.  He entered our flesh and became our relative, so that He could buy back, not some land, or the inheritance of a single family, but everything.  Whatever your past contains, and no doubt it is, like mine, full of sin, and death, and grief; full of following our own gods or the gods of our culture; whether you have public or private sin; Jesus Christ has redeemed it all in His own blood.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  He is the one against whom Yahweh’s hand went out in full wrath against sin, and there was only grief and death on that cross.  But in the morning of the third day, everything was made right, and the Sun of Righteousness rose with healing in His wings, to spread them over His whole creation (Malachi 4:2).  He has redeemed your past in order to give you a future and a hope in Him; apart from Whom, there is no future and there is no hope.  But He has given you faith to follow Him, a strange and crucified God, even though it looks like everything has been taken from you.  In that hope and that future, you can leave this place and you can rejoice even in your sufferings.  Because, in Christ, suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).  So it is for you.  Christ has redeemed you and married you, and you have eternal rest in the House of your Husband.  Though you go out with tears to sow, you will return with sheaves of joy.  “The Lord my life arranges, who can His work destroy?  In His good time He changes all sorrow into joy” (LSB 713:3).

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, 10/8/10

 


The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

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Bishop and Christian*, October 2010

From the Pastor

With the election of a new president (Rev. Matthew Harrison), the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) has also introduced a new theme and emphasis (although it is very old). The new emphasis is “Witness-Mercy-Life Together,” or, in the old Greek terms, “Martyria-Diakonia-Koinonia.”

This is the graphic of the new emphasis, which you will likely begin seeing in a lot of places around the Synod. The Synod website (http://bit.ly/bGx2G1) says this: “These phrases illustrate how the church lives and works together to proclaim the Gospel and to provide for our brothers and sisters in Christ in our congregations, communities and throughout the world. And in all we do, Christ is at the center, leading us, sustaining us, keeping us focused on our mission. This will never change.” “Martyria” (bearing witness) is what God does by His Gospel in our lives. As you can see by the word which has come down to us through it—martyr—such witness can lead to death, as it has for many of our brothers and sisters around the world and throughout history. The verse attached to this is 1 John 5:7-8: “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”

“Diakonia” (service) is the form that faith takes in love for our “neighbor,” who is anyone God serves through us. As Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

“Koinonia” (communion/life together) is the word that is used, especially by St. Paul, to denote what Jesus creates and strengthens, especially when God’s people gather to receive Christ’s body and blood in that great Meal of unity. It is also one of the four things that characterized the early Church, as Acts 2:42 makes clear: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship [koinonia], to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And 1 Corinthians 1:9 says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship [koinonia] of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

These are the three inseparable and interlocking aspects of our Synod’s life together. I pray that they would also mark and characterize our life together here in Northwest Minnesota. As you have time, you may want to spend some time searching out these terms in the Scriptures, because they are really at the heart of what the Church is.

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

“More important than anything else is that in these small parishes, Christ Himself, through His blessed Word and Sacrament, dwells to give sinners life and salvation. That is a point C.F.W. Walther loved to drive home when he sensed any devaluation of smaller parishes by anyone in the Synod. Very important to me as executive director for LCMS World Relief and Human Care is that so many small parishes so well approximate the ideal Luther held up for the church, as we all are members of the same body, caring for one another. He spoke about the Lord’s Supper:

‘Christ said, I am the head, I will first give Myself for you, will make your suffering and misfortune Mine own and bear it for you, that you in your turn may do the same for Me and for one another, have all things in common in Me and with me, and let this sacrament be unto you a sure token of that all, that you may not forget me.’

Christ cares for us, gives Himself for us. We in turn give ourselves for the neighbor. This happens nowhere as well, as naturally, and as constantly as in the small parish. Where mistakes are made, we flee to the forgiving waters of baptism, confess our sins, and resolve in faith to begin anew in love, both ‘laying down our burdens in the midst of the congregation’ (Luther) and also finding the burdens of others there to take up. God knows that as we often know well the sins of our neighbors (and they know ours!) in smaller congregations, the need for forgiveness and grace as we work together is all the greater!” (Rev. Pres. Matthew Harrison, “Let’s Hear It For the Small Congregation!” [http://bit.ly/cwZuGi])