“The Grace…The Love…The Fellowship”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Genesis 1:1-2:3
2 Corinthians 13:11-14
Matthew 28:16-20

“Do you close with a benediction?” I wonder how many times I have been asked that question at funeral homes and gravesides. I always answer in the affirmative, because I close all services with a benediction. I suppose I never really gave it a second thought that there might be another way to close. Of all the funerals I attend, I probably officiate at 90 percent. Most of the remaining ten percent are for other Lutherans. Some time ago, I attended a funeral mass and interment conducted by a Roman Catholic Priest. Neither service concluded with a benediction and the undertakers were not completely positive, in either case, that the last prayer had been spoken. I noticed that they hesitated in stepping forward until the priest nodded to them to proceed. For undertakers, the advantage of a benediction is that it clearly marks the end of the service.

There are other blessings (if you’ll pardon the pun) in benedictions. Most people do not like to say “Goodbye” — especially to those we love. The end result of this reluctance is the strange ritual that often occurs at the end of a phone call or visit from a loved one. In 1984, I read a paragraph reciting this ritual that made me wonder if the author had eavesdropped on one of my own conversations. Here it is:

“It’s been good to see you.” Yeah, nice talking to you. “Right, take care.” You, too. “Okay, maybe we can get together again real soon.” Yes, I’d like that. “Remember what I said about. . .” Sure, I won’t forget. “Tell your family ‘Hi’ for me.” Sure will — yours, too. “So long.” Have a good day. “Thanks, you, too.” I’ll try. . .

I realized today that, at some occasions, I am compelled to translate “Goodbye.” I don’t think I said it once today. Over and over, I said what I meant: “God be with you,” “God bless you.” A benediction reminds us that, even though we are parting from each other, God is going with each of us. We never have to bid farewell to God.

Sunday’s first lesson is the big “HELLO!” It is the first chapter of the Bible, the first story of creation.

The other two lessons contain words of farewell or “Goodbye.” Paul’s closing words in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, and Jesus’ closing words to the Gospel According to Matthew both contain commands or marching orders. Both also contain clear statements about God being with us.

Paul’s directions are, “Mend your ways; take my appeal to heart; agree with one another; live in peace.” He adds that as a result of doing these things, “the God of peace will be with you.” Then he urges the Corinthians to share the kiss of peace, and offers greetings from all God’s people. Finally, he closes: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The Trinitarian Benediction is the obvious reason for choosing this lesson for Trinity Sunday.

The Trinitarian Formula for Baptism is the obvious reason for choosing the Gospel Lesson. Jesus’ marching orders for His Church are known as The Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” His closing promise is: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Have you ever noticed that whenever we talk about the Trinity, we almost always use the order mentioned in that Baptismal Formula? Even when we speak of the roles each Person takes, we seem to maintain the same order: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Theologically, we state clearly that the order is not one of either authority or time sequence, since the Persons are “co-equal and co-eternal.” Yet, the sequence seems to have pretty well universal acceptance. Since that is true, look again at Paul’s Trinitarian Benediction.

He begins with “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” He starts the blessing with the Redeemer, the Son, not the Creator or Father. It is more than just interesting. Before he experienced the grace of Christ, Paul’s knowledge of God was limited, even warped. He knew Him only as a God of Law and laws. Only after he had experienced the undeserved favor and forgiveness of the Son, did Paul come to know the God of love, and the love of One he could call Father.

Paul had gained his original knowledge of God from the Old Scriptures, but under the tutelage of some legalistic Pharisees. His life had been motivated by fear, not love. His view of others was judgmental and condemning, not accepting or forgiving. His personal righteousness, defined as obedience to the laws, may have been exemplary and far above the norm, but it had led him to approve the murder of Stephen for the crime of proclaiming Christ.

Many people today lack even Paul’s discipline. Their god is the god of nature — who parcels out in a seemingly willy-nilly manner feast and famine, drought or flood, a breathtaking sunset or a life-taking tornado, etc. These people will likewise never know the Fatherhood or love of God until they discover Him through His grace and forgiveness in Christ. It was not just Paul’s preaching that began and ended at the cross — it was his entire concept of God. “Christ Crucified” was not a topic for one sermon, but the heart of Paul’s message, and the heart and soul of his life!

With the love of the Father made known through the grace of the Son, it should be no surprise that the work of God’s indwelling Spirit will result in a fellowship among God’s other children. After giving us faith, it is His goal to make us more and more Godlike. There should be no doubt that grace and love will be revealed not only to us, but also through us. Our fellowship with the Holy Spirit creates a fellowship with the Father whose love is known in the grace of His Son. It cannot likewise fail to create a fellowship with the rest of those who are graciously loved in the same way.

Jesus said, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” One pastor has paraphrased these words of Jesus as, “The Holy Spirit will make me real to you. He will take this Gospel of mine out of history and off the pages of the New Testament, plant it deeply in your hearts and ratify it redeemingly in your souls.”

In the Old Testament, when God calls prophets into service, an almost ritualistic conversation takes place. These dialogues resemble a ritual because most of them follow a similar pattern. God says, “I want you.” The prophet responds that God must have the wrong man. God says, “No, I want you.” The prophet gives some reason or excuse that proves he’s not the right man for the job. God says, “I will be with you.” The debate may continue for a while through more dodges and attempts to duck away from the responsibility, but God’s promise to be with the man of God is a pretty unshakable argument.

The last words in the Gospel of Matthew are such a promise from Jesus: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We may forget that we are not alone, but He doesn’t forget, and He doesn’t abandon us. A rabbi once described a secular Jew as someone with a Guest in the attic that refuses to leave. The Guest is there patiently waiting for the day when He will be invited to move downstairs as part of the family. Would you describe yourself or someone you know as a “Secular Christian?” When will the Guest in the attic, who is with us always, be invited to become part of the family? He has made us part of God’s family, by unfathomable grace and with no cost spared. It is a fellowship that transforms everyday life and fills the saddest, most difficult moments with power, courage, hope and love.

The grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

A Lifestyle of Healthful Living

Since our bodies, too, are trusts from God, instruments for glorifying and serving Him, we must take care of our bodies.  We are good stewards of our bodies when we get the proper rest, eat the right foods, and exercise.  With proper care of our bodies, we increase our usefulness to the Lord.

In Romans 12:1 Paul wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”  In speaking to the Corinthian Christians Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Paul considered our bodies a trust to be used for Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for giving me my life today and the life to come with You.  Help me to be a good steward of my body and all things.  In name I pray.  Amen.

 

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for The Holy Trinity A

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Acts 2:14a, 22-36
Matthew 28:16-20

Click here to read these lessons and the propers for the day.

The Holy Triune God Recreates Us in the Image and Likeness of Christ Jesus

The holy Triune God “created the heavens and the earth,” and “behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:1, 31). However, after Adam and Eve fell into sin and plunged God’s good creation into decay and death, the Son of God would be “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” to be “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). As Jesus “received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:33), He also raises up all the baptized and pours out the Spirit upon them through the preaching of His Gospel. He sends out His apostles to “make disciples of all nations” by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and “teaching them to observe all that [He has] commanded” (Matt. 28:19–20). Through such baptizing and teaching — Gospel and Sacraments — the holy Triune God recreates us in the image and likeness of His incarnate Son, Jesus, the Christ, and behold, it is “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun (LSB 868)
Holy, Holy, Holy (LSB 507)
Thy Body, Given for Me, O Savior (LSB 619)
The Infant Priest Was Holy Born (LSB 624)
Rejoice, O Pilgrim Throng (LSB 813)

“The Power Is On”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Joel 2:28-29
Acts 2:1-21
John 16:5-11

In 1990, in an issue of Pulpit Resource, Glendon Harris introduced this theme with a marvelous illustration. Here it is:

“It’s hard to realize that there was a time not too long ago, and some of you can remember it, when parts of the United States did not yet have electrical power. It took a government program of rural electrification, called the REA, to get electricity to all of the rural areas. The REA started in 1935 and in a dozen years or so it succeeded in getting power into the most remote sections of the country.

“An uncle of mine was one of the REA leaders in North Dakota. He worked long and hard, made countless trips to Washington, to get electricity not only to his remote farm on the edge of the North Dakota badlands, but also for his whole state. He envisioned what electrical power would mean and encouraged workers to work speedily in putting up the poles, constructing the relay stations, and stringing the wire. He spread his enthusiasm across the state and encouraged people to get their homes wired for the day when the ‘juice’ would be turned on.

“One day a man who had wired his house in anticipation of that day, noticed that the light bulb he had installed some months before, began to glow. Suddenly, the light filled the room with a brilliance no kerosene lamp had ever made possible. He rushed outside, ran down the road and shouted the good news: ‘The power is on! The power is on!’ Something like that happened at Pentecost.”

The impact of electrical power on this nation can be seen from an event that occurred when Thomas Alva Edison died in 1931. A committee met and tried to plan a proper tribute to his creative genius and the unbelievable contributions he had made to the American scene. The most dramatic thing they could envision was to give everyone a tiny glimpse into what the country might have been like without him — they would ask President Hoover to order all the electric companies to turn off the power at the same time for just one minute. They quickly abandoned the idea, however, when they realized how deeply electricity was interwoven into every fabric of day-to-day life. Even one minute would have brought incalculable disruption, danger and economic loss. Mind you, that was four years before the REA even began its work!

God’s children need to realize the danger involved when they are separated from the power of God’s Spirit. It always begins with “just one Sunday” that we separate ourselves from the Word and Sacraments. People who live in God’s grace know that God does not require us to attend worship every Sunday. But we must also realize that any Sunday missed takes its toll. With spiritual resources only slightly depleted, any temptation not to go to our Power Source the next week is that much more difficult to overcome. Reasons quickly degenerate into excuses. Before long, there is no conscience, no spiritual reserve left to remind us that Sunday is anything more than the day after Saturday. Every delinquent member of every church began by deciding not to attend just this one Sunday.

Someone once asked me, “Why don’t people look for reasons to attend, instead of reasons not to attend?” This Sunday, the Day of Pentecost, gives us many reasons to attend. It’s the Church’s Birthday — come to the party and let’s celebrate! In my church, we are all encouraged to wear red. The result is a pretty dazzling display of color. Most of all, it is the day we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit — the day the power was turned on. It is a great day to avail ourselves of His gifts and His “juice.”

According to the Book of Acts, the events on Pentecost began with “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind.” People from tornado-ravaged areas of Oklahoma and Kansas would probably not like to hear that sound this Sunday! Then again, if it had the Pentecost results, I would love to hear it! The disciples of Jesus had gone through a very difficult time in their lives. Jesus’ Ascension marked their seminary graduation. It was a time of tremendous bewilderment, disappointment and grief, capped off by the exhilaration and amazement of the Lord’s resurrection.

My first year at the seminary was simultaneously confusing and exhilarating. I finally began to do what I was training to do, and that helped. The head pastor at my fieldwork assignment took a call right after school started, and I got my feet a whole lot wetter in the work of the church than many of my classmates. That continued through the second year. Then I took a summer vicarage where I was essentially the head pastor. A new pastor had accepted the call and would arrive at the end of the summer. Those were three of the best months of my life.

Then came vicarage under a supervising pastor. The adjustment was almost more than I could make. My fourth year at the Sem was a joy. Everything was finally coming together. The course work seemed easier; I had learned how to study and how to decipher professors’ expectations. I also started working at the mission where I would eventually be called. There, I was once again treated like the pastor and not just a lowly vicar.

Between Jesus’ Resurrection and Pentecost, everything started coming together for the disciples. They began to see what God had been doing and was still doing in their midst. Then came the “sound of a mighty wind” and all heaven broke loose! These men are a microcosm of the church in many ways. They experienced the breaking through of the Kingdom of God on earth. They knew intimately the fear of failure and the depression of personal guilt as they deserted the Lord of life. Then came their equally personal experience of the forgiveness Christ won on the cross, and His unbelievable acceptance and love even in the face of their sin.

All they lacked was the enabling force of the Spirit, empowering them to lead by example rather than dominate, to share rather than hoard, to be children of God — Christ-like — and to flow with the present rather than scheme for the future. When the power is turned on, the whole world is enlightened by the results.

Sometimes the Spirit’s influence is so subtle that we fail to come to grips with the impossible nature of the message of the Gospel — its straight-faced opposition to everything that sinful human reason can imagine. If I told you that some people spit on President Clinton and nothing happened to them, what would you think? What if I said that those people then decided to slap him with their hands and when, again, nothing happened, they also hit him with sticks? When still no resistance or retaliation was forthcoming, they used him as a pincushion, pushing needles into his scalp. Then, since no one lifted a finger to stop them, they got a noose and hung him to the closest tree. Even then, neither the President, nor any of his aides, not one armed service person or member of the Secret Service retaliated in any way. As the saying goes, if you believe that one, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

The most powerful person in this country is an insignificant weakling in comparison to God. The message of the Gospel is that people treated God in exactly that manner and He did not retaliate — He forgave. Sinful human reason should have more trouble with Jesus’ unretaliated suffering and death than with His Resurrection, but skeptics react to the Resurrection. I don’t know if people treat the Gospel like some fairytale — a nice story they don’t mind hearing — or if they take it with a large grain of salt, saying to themselves, “Yea, but we still know what God is really like!” I do know that no one believes it apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, and I know that we who do believe have been called to proclaim it, to fulfill Christ’s mission and to perform His ministry.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Being a Channel through which God Works

To be Christian implies that we act as Christians.  Being a Christian is not a part-time position.  Scripture is clear that God expects and deserves our bestWe are “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).  God wants us to be productive people in His kingdom.  He seeks people through whom He can work.  God does not appreciate laziness, idleness, or fruitlessness.  When we commit our lives and resources to His service, we will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23).

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, energize me so I can be an effective instrument to help others come to know You as their Lord and Savior.  Open my eyes to see the opportunities to be in service to others.  In Your precious name I pray.  Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for the Day of Pentecost A

(A note to our members: our liturgy will shift to Divine Service, Setting One with this Sunday’s service)

These are the Scripture lessons you will hear this coming Sunday:

Numbers 11:24-30
Acts 2:1-21
John 7:37-39

To read these lessons and the propers for the day, please click here.

The Risen Lord Jesus Pours Out the Holy Spirit

The Lord took “some of the Spirit” that was on Moses “and put it on the seventy elders” of Israel (Num. 11:25), and they “prophesied in the camp” (Num. 11:26). In the same way, our risen Lord Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost — the 50th day and the “Eighth Sunday” of Easter. When “a sound like a mighty rushing wind” and “tongues as of fire appeared” and rested on each of the 12 apostles, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” and proclaimed “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:2–4, 11). The Lord Jesus grants this same Spirit to His Church on earth to proclaim Him glorified on the cross and risen victorious from the grave for us sinners. From His open heart, our crucified and risen Lord pours out His Holy Spirit in “rivers of living water” (John 7:38) and invites everyone who thirsts to come to Him and drink freely (John 7:37). Through this life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, we hear our pastors “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11), and “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

These are the hymn we will sing:

O Holy Spirit, Enter In (LSB 913)
Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord (LSB 497)
Creator Spirit, By Whose Aid (LSB 500)
Come, Holy Spirit, Creator Blest (LSB 498)
O Day Full of Grace (LSB 503)

An Airline Captain’s Memorial Day Story

The following is from Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, former president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

My lead flight attendant came to me and said, “We have an H.R. on this flight.” (H.R. stands for human remains.) “Are they military?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. I asked, “Is there an escort?” She replied, “Yes, I’ve already assigned him a seat.” I said, “Please tell him to come to the Flight Deck. You can board him early.”

A short while later a young army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldier.

The escorts of these fallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us. “My soldier is on his way back to Virginia,” he said. He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no additional words.

I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no. I told him that he had the toughest job in the military, and that I appreciated the work he does for the families of our fallen soldiers. The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand. He left the Flight Deck to find his seat.

We completed our preflight checks, pushed back, and performed an uneventful departure. About 30 minutes into our flight I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin.

“I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying is also on board,” she said. She then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife, and two-year-old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was upset because they were unable to see the container that the soldier was in before we left.

We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia. The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane.

I could hear the desperation in the flight attendant’s voice when she asked me if there was anything I could do. “I’m on it,” I said, and told her that I would get back to her.

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of electronic messages. I decided to bypass this system and contact my flight dispatcher directly on a secondary radio. There is a radio operator in the operations control center who connects you to the dispatcher’s telephone. I was in direct contact with the dispatcher and explained the situation I had on board with the family and what the family wanted. He said he understood and that he would get back to me.

Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family, so I sent a text message asking for an update. I saved the return message from the dispatcher. Here is the text:

“Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is policy on this now, and I had to check on a few things. Upon your arrival a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft. The team will escort the family to the ramp and plane side. A van will be used to load the remains with a
secondary van for the family.”

“The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal, where the remains can be seen on the ramp. It is a private area for the family only. When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home. Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks.”

I sent a message back, telling flight control thanks for a good job. I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to pass on to the father. The lead flight attendant was very thankful and told me, “You have no idea how much this will mean to them.”

Things started getting busy for the descent, approach, and landing. After landing we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The ramp is huge with 15 gates on either side of the alleyway. It is always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us.

“There is a team in place to meet the aircraft,” we were told. It looked like it was all coming together but then I realized that once we turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate, I asked the copilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers. He did that and the ramp controller said, “Take your time.”

I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake. I pushed the public address button and said: “Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking. I have stopped short of our gate to make a special announcement. We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect. His name is Private XXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private XXXXXX is under your feet in the cargo hold. Escorting him today is Army Sergeant XXXXXX. Also on board are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you.”

We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our shutdown procedures. A couple minutes later I opened the cockpit door and found the two forward flight attendants crying, something you just do not see. I was told that after we came to a stop, every passenger on the aircraft stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit the aircraft.

When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later, more passengers joined in and soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words like “God bless you.” “I’m so sorry.” “Thank you.” “Be proud.” and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.

Many of the passengers thanked me for the announcement I had made. “They were just words,” I told them. “I could say them over and over again, but nothing I say will bring back that brave soldier.”

On this Memorial Day weekend I respectfully ask that all of you reflect on this event and the sacrifices many of our nation’s men and women have made to ensure our freedom and safety in these United States of America.

At such a time as this, the words of Jesus are amazingly powerful: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13