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Archive for April, 2012

Sermon For Good Shepherd Sunday

Ezechiel 34

It is surpassing strange to me that the sign of life in the delivery room when a newborn baby is brought into the world is crying. That high-pitched baby wail is a sign for and a great relief to worried parents but it's also the nature of the race. It is not so much the full-blown cry that almost sounds like a scream but most of humanity goes through life with the quiet sobbing grief that we call weeping. We start early.  When our little brother takes our bike, or we don’t get that first car that we wanted and had to settle for one that we needed, to the wrong boy asking us to the prom we spend a lot of time weeping.  My mother had a signature saying, “If you want to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about”.  It is not so much we want to cry but there always seems to be something to cry about.

 So much are we born for weeping the words of encouragement from one of the prophets is “weeping may last for a night but joy comes in the morning”

The timeless words from Job “that man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward”, and the writer of the Psalms says that “man that is born of a woman is a few days and full trouble.  Isaiah says that all we like sheep have gone astray everyone of us is gone under own way”. Paul says that we are by nature the “children of wrath, without God in this world”.  And Jesus sums up what it's like to be without God in this world, to be without hope in this world, and to go your own way, that means you go to a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

From that first cry uttered when someone slapped us on our rear end when we came out of our mothers to the last gasp we make on this earth wherever death may find us, we are inclined to weeping and the reason for the weeping is the separation from God that comes from our old human nature inclined only to evil without true fear, love, or trust in God, spiritually blind dead and his enemies.  We do all kinds of things to separate ourselves from his mercy and grace. From the good things we don't do to the bad things we should leave undone we constantly go against God’s wishes and will and the eternal majesty of who he is.

From early on God wanted to remedy  that. He chose Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation for him. He said that he was going to be their Shepherd.  He said that he was going to care for them and send them and that their job would be to bring other people into his flock so that all people could be cared for under the merciful hands of God who made them. But so great is the inclination for evil, and so inclined are we for weeping that even the gifts that God gave them they cried about.  Everything from Manna in the desert to the leader and shepherd God sent, Moses, they found reason to weep. And on and on it went.  The gifts that God gave them they turned into means of keeping others out of the kingdom; out of the sheepfold; out of the arms of the good Shepherd. The very people and places that God had set up to care for the sick and the poor and the needy and the outcast were used to separate those people even further from God. The people and places that God had set up to turn weeping into joy and to give folks the oil of gladness instead of the ashes of morning, they turned into ways to separate them further from God.  They cried that they were being treated unfairly and that God was not dealing with them properly and so God said in effect, “if you want to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about.  Off they went into bondage and exile again.

God promises them through the Prophets that he will send a shepherd, a good shepherd and that God himself will be their shepherd.
It is here that I have to tell you the shepherd’s song. Apoem I found a long time ago but I can’t remember who wrote it.

‘Dear little mother we have come only to behold. We will not touch his lovely face are hands are rude and cold. We were only watching sheep huddled against the snow where David waited for the dawn 10000 grief’s ago. One was searching in the wild a lamb that strayed a part,  stumbling through wearisome ravines anxious and sick of heart. One was seeking shelter for a labor burdened ewe, a place where she might bear her young is all good shepherds do. And I was listening to the flocks like wilder children plead, in almost human voices their almost human need. And I was speaking comfort in the cold and bitter night, as shepherds must when suddenly the sky was burst with light.   And the old, old  hills of Judea and the cold of a 1000 years were labored with joy and singing and we forgot our fears. So we have come to Bethlehem to wish our Savior well but why the cheeriness Wintersong that ever men befell, should come to shepherds in the field, lady we cannot tell.’

And so the true good Shepherd was born and on that cold and bitter night and he started weeping like all of fallen humanity before him.  He wept over Jerusalem when it refused to accept him. He wept because they were like wilder children pleading for things that they wanted rather than for things that they need. And like a good shepherd he comforted them and told him that he would give them life and give it to them abundantly. He wept over the grave of Lazarus when the enemy death finally overtook him.  And I am sure that he wept on the cross when he saw the end approaching and realized that his Father had forsaken him because of our sins.  Seeing how far away we were from the heart of God who loved us so much, He wept.  He didn't weep over his own sins like we should but he wept for us. Like the good Shepherd he defended us from our enemies of sin and death and the devil and finally conquered them.

He died and was laid into a borrowed tomb.  When he rose again, like a good shepherd he went and saw his scattered sheep and comforted them like all good shepherds do.

He told them to go and feed his sheep and gather the ones that were scattered and he said  that he would be with them to the end of the age. He ascended into heaven and we believe he sits at the right hand of God's power where, he does what?  Luther says,

“ What is he doing now after he died and rose again?   You have heard that after his sufferings and death Christ our Lord arose from the dead and entered upon, and was enthroned in, an immortal existence. Not that he might sit up there in heaven idly and find pleasure in himself, but that he might take charge of the kingdom of which the prophets and all the Scriptures have so fully spoken, and might rule as a king. Therefore, we should think of him as being present and reigning among us continually, and never think of him as sitting up there doing nothing, but rather that he from above fills and rules all things, as Paul says to the Ephesians 4:10  and especially that he is taking care of his kingdom, which is the Christian faith, and that therefore his kingdom among us here on earth must prosper. This kingdom, as we have said, is so constituted that we all must daily increase and grow in holiness, and it is not governed by any other power save the oral proclamation of the Gospel.”

What does Ephesians say – “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up’

So the good shepherd leads us with a rod of his word and the staff of his mercy through the church and I'm afraid sometimes we are like the false shepherds that refused to take care of the weak and the sick and the outcast.  We don’t want to share the gifts he gives us by feeding us in green pastures and leading us beside the still waters. In this place we receive all the we need to be Christ to our neighbor to be shepherds ourselves even though we are part of the flock.  If we do not do so we should weep and gnash our teeth.

What are the gifts?
When Jesus was baptized Luther says, “he stuck himself in the water for us so that when we come out of the waters of baptism we can bring him out with us. In that merciful washing we are free to live a merciful life. To care for neighbors and people we've never met or seen so that they too receive the good gifts of God.

In absolution when our pastor speaks us free from our sins, we are free to speak peace to our neighbors.
When your pastor says, “I forgive you all of your sins and the name of the father and of the son of the Holy Spirit”, you are free to go into your world and care for others as Christ cares for you.

 In the Lord's Supper Christ gives himself to us whole and entire so that we can give ourselves whole and entire to our neighbors, and one of the ways we do this is by caring for them, body and soul.

We need to be very careful here.   The tendency in our churches is to look at this only as a proclamation of the Gospel and the administrations  of the Sacraments.  That is the only job to do, some say.  But it is more than that as important as that is.  It is caring for the whole person body and soul.  The good Shepherd didn't just worry about the spiritual welfare of the sheep but he binds the broken, cures the sick, rescues the needy, feeds the hungry,  protects the weak.   That's the job of a shepherd and that is our job in the kingdom of the good Shepherd.  Our good Shepherd told us a story about the good Samaritan.  He gives us the marching orders in Kingdom when he says, “you go and do likewise”.

Luther says, “Christ recognizes us as his sheep, and we recognize him as our shepherd. Now, we have heard what a good shepherd is, and also who the weak sheep are. He knows us to be such sheep as are weak, sick and broken. That is: It does not make any difference in his regard for them that they are weak and sickly, and he does not despise and reject them on that account; but he pities and heals them, even though they be so diseased that the whole world concludes they are not his sheep. Such is the world’s knowledge, but that is not the way that Christ distinguishes them. He does not look upon their condition, but looks to see whether they are sheep, whether they may be designated sheep. He looks at the sheep, not at the wool.
We started out this life weeping.  Chances are we will leave this life weeping too.  In between there is a lot of weeping to do.  But if you notice, often that weeping turns to joy even while the tears are wet on our face.  The joy comes from the Good Shepherds continual presence and care.  We can look through our tears and see that goodness and mercy follow us, Christ is before us and beside us and sometimes lifting us up and carrying us.  The tears come when we realize that “Perverse and foolish oft I strayed”  The joy comes with the gifts – proclaimed in the Gospel-
But yet in love he sought me And on his shoulder gently laid And home rejoicing brought me.”

There is a lot of weeping in this world.  Hungry orphaned children, sick and dying humanity.  They have a Shepherd out there searching to bring him home to him.  Think of your privilege as a sheep in the Good Shepherds fold…..He wants you to help.

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Chili Anyone?

Do you love chili?!  Come to the 3rd Annual Chili Cook-Off & Silent Auction at Immanuel Grand Forks 1710 Cherry St.  It will be on April 29, starting at 5p.m.  Cost is $5 per person.  Sample all of the chili and vote to determine the best recipe and theme.  There will also be a silent auction.  All proceeds will help Immanuel’s Youth Group attend the National Youth Gathering in 2013.  Call 701-775-7125 for more information.


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Old Partners Never Fail -LWML, the Oil Patch and WWII

LWML Rally – Kettle River Zone at Trinity in Isle

I have been writing about the little publication I found called “The Church at Work in The World at War” .  The problems that it talks about beggar description and yet they are problems much like we experience today.  How do you mobilize people to do something if they are busy just trying to get by in the world in which they find themsleves?   I was reminded of what is going on in the “oil Patch” in sections of the publication.  It talks about how quickly different ‘towns’ grew up in certain areas of the country that had seen little of no growth before but because of the war they became huge sometimes literally over night.

A Pastor in the Western part of North Dakota writes this –

Numbers of overnighters continue to grow. We have 47 one night (in the bldg) plus others in the parking lot. City Council now wants to eliminate all RV/camper dwellers in town, which would mean throwing them to the wolves now bldg camper villages in the county, where lot rent (sewer/water, no electricity) will likely be $1000/mo. This will kill small businesses now allowing employees to park/live on work site). Those businesses cannot afford to house their people in man camps, and the cost of lot rent will mean many of their employees will leave.
Lots of journalist visits–yesterday, 2 Germans (1 newspaper syndicate, 1 from Der Welt magazine). Earlier this week we had film crews from the largest French TV syndicate news magazine & Japan public TV. Last week was journalists from Korea Broadcasting System (they stayed in the church & loved it). Think I told you about the Paris Match journalists & Nat’l Geographic TV.
Tonight I’m doing an adult instruction class w/ amy of the guys who want to come. I do devotions 2-3x/week. The problem is that when guys leave here, work schedules make further contact very difficult.

Now back to the partners.  The old partner name that pops up again and again whenever there is trouble is the LWML.  The ladies of the LWML were helping to build trailers and assisting with transient workers needs back in the 40’s.  I just spent time with the LWML  groups in the Kettle River Circuit and the Circuit that met in Bemidji and I listened to all the services that they provide and help that they offer and it is truly amazing.  Everything from wrapping bandages to pregnancy help centers, they do it.

LWML Lunch at Isle

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We Don’t Know What To Do With the People We Have.

I love the Logo.  But like all mainline churches in the US the Methodists seem to be in trouble. Loren Mead of the Alban Institute said that mainline churches were going to meltdown financially and he made the prediction back in the 90’s.  It seems his prophecy is coming true.  The Methodists see the writing on the wall and believe the church as it is presently constituted is incapable of continuing.

They are working on getting new members.

Some critics say the focus on growing membership at local churches goes too far. Thomas E. Frank, professor of religious leadership at Wake Forest University, said developing better Christians, not more churchgoers, should be the goal.

“I am concerned about a creeping theology that says what’s important is to get people into the church,” he said.

Dan Dick, Methodist blogger and former researcher for the Methodists’ Nashville-based General Board of Discipleship, agreed.

“If we don’t know what to do with the … people we already have, there’s no reason to believe that we’ll do any better with another million people,” he said.

At least that is an honest assessment.  Scary, but honest.  “We don’t know what to do with the people we have”…… There’s a theological paper in there somewhere.

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A World In Chaos

I google chaos and this came up – I thought it was pretty neat.

Thought it was cute, but this is serious.  This is the closing quote from “The Church at Work in The World at War”.

Down through  the centuries there have been wars undertaken in the firm conviction that they would “end war”, “abolish nepotism and imperialism,” “make the world safe for democracy,” “overcome injustice,” “eliminate misery,” and “bring about a more adequate distribution of the things  which belong to all mankind.” But we as Christians know that all these efforts have been futile and will continue to be futile until we can put the Spirit of Christ into the hearts of men. Only this will make this world a better place to live  in. To do this we must ask God for a large measure of his holy spirit for our own lives. We must begin to think not only as individuals but as a church in terms of larger horizons. We must recapture the Saviors vision of world conquest “go into all the world.” Today we see the world as it was in the beginning, a chaotic, shifting, seething mass over which there hovers a great darkness. It is through us that God wants to move over the face of the world with his Holy Spirit to bring order out of spiritual chaos and to re-create men and women in this world into a faint semblance of what they were before sin entered. The hour is at hand.

That is powerful stuff and it is as true today as it was then.

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2nd Chance Job Fair

Fargo congregations were one of the sponsors for yesterday’s 2nd Chance Job Fair. Clothes were collected and made available to attendees. Employers were present to take applications. It was an opportunity for several area pastor to meet members of the community. Nate Douglas (one of the employers) who is mentioned in the Fargo Forum article is a member of Crosspointe Lutheran.

Lutheran Hour MInistry’s Project Connect brochures were used as giveaways. Even though ND boasts the lowest unemployement rate in the country. Several hundred people attended the Job Fair.

The link above will take you to a TV news report on the event.  Thanks to everyone who contributed.



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To The Ends Of The Earth

Missouri Synod Pres. Rev. Matthew Harrison has said on numerous occasions that this is the time for the Missouri Synod. Our time has come because so many people around the world truly want to be Lutheran. In studying the pamphlet on “The Church at Work in The World at War” over the last two days I’ve come across statements much like that.  This advisory council was rooted in the fact that the time immediately after the end of hostilities, would be monumental and special time that the Missouri Synod was called to work in the Kingdom. They were not only concerned about the people here in the United States, but the church in Germany, the church in China, India, and Latin America. Then we find this interesting statement.

“Before the war 90% of all Protestants in Europe or classified as Lutherans….. surely our church blessed as it is spiritually and physically, probably more than any church body since the days of the apostles, will not confine his postwar relief to the Freikirche. Our labor of love to the fellow members of the body of Christ in stricken Europe we’ll have to extend as far as our means permit. Before the war there were 7 million Lutherans in Russia. In Slovakia there was an Evangelical Lutheran Church of more than 400,000 members, a Silesian church of 178,000 members, Denmark is almost wholly Lutheran.  The same applies to Norway and Finland. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have large Lutheran populations. Germany numbered over 35 million nominal Lutherans before the war.….We do believe that the  Missouri Synod is vitally concerned with the preservation of Lutheranism in all of Europe.”

It is here that the authors introduce something called the Lutheran World Convention. I have never heard of that and hope that some of you who have might enlighten me. It seems that there was a reorganization of the Lutheran World Convention especially its American section. The document goes on to state “to effect physical relief and rehabilitation of Lutheranism in Europe is a bigger job than anyone Lutheran Church body in America can carry out. To do it as efficiently and economically as possible, it is necessary that in some fields we coordinate our work of physical relief and rehabilitation with other Lutheran churches in America.”

Sounds like Witness, Mercy, and Life Together, and also cooperation in externals to me.

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Coming Home

Norman Rockwell's G I Coming Home

I remember being fascinatied with this painting the first time I saw it.  The reality of what it pictures is amazing.

I have been writing about the pamphlet, “The Church at Work in The World at War”. It is an amazing document and confronts issues that beggar our imagination. At the time of the writing 75,000 men and women a month were being released from service either in the United States or overseas. This influx of men, many of whom had seen the horrors of battle, posed a problem that our church was looking at with the eyes of faith. Here once again is a quote from the pamphlet.

“It has been said that after the last world war the church left the returning soldiers down. The church has been accused of falling down on the job of lifting up spiritually those who needed it most bring the years of depression. Pray God that he will lend us wisdom and understanding and action in meeting the spiritual and physical and social needs of our men and women as they come back to us”.

Sounds like “Witness, Mercy and Life Together” to me.

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We Have to Rehabilitate.

I wrote yesterday about the pamphlet that I found called “The Church at Work in The World at War”. I complained about the fact that there was no date in the document to give a hint as to when it was written. I have to retract my statement.  I found a date and I believe, as near as I can tell that it was written in April 1944.

When I have time to read other things I’m fascinated with a history of World War II. One of the latest books I read is pictured above. It doesn’t just tell the tale of battles fought and one, but it talks about the unbelievable physical and emotional damage that was done during those years when the world was a war. Our little pamphlet talks about this as well. The National Advisory Emergency Planning Council to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other states was interested in trying to find ways to help all over the world, especially where we already had missions. Here’s a fascinating quote.

 “Our primary concern begins of course with our brethren of the Freikirche (what we would call the ‘free church’ and which I believe is today the SELK).  We have heard that the Zehlendorf seminary in Berlin has been bombed out.  Three of Pastor Willkom’s sons were killed in action.  Two of these were pastors in the Freikirke. Even before the United States entered the war the printing of literature by the  Freikirche was restricted. We shall have to rebuild the seminary and make it financially possible for as many qualified students as possible to enter the seminary. To build up a native German ministry must be the first objective. We shall have to supply German Christian literature to help counteract the great waves of communism which now already sweep over Germany and other European countries. We shall have to undergird  the charitable institutions of our church in Germany – orphanages, old folks homes. We shall have to be ready to lend physical aid. We shall have to be ready to rehabilitate church buildings and schools.”

Sounds like witness and mercy to me.

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When the World is at Its Worse…………..

“When the world is at its worst, the church must be at its best. The world background today is dark and depressing.  Men are slaughtered in numbers that stagger comprehension. Human life is cheaper than it has been for centuries. The standard of living is being pushed down again. Moral standards have been replaced by humanistic and pagan ideologies. The road back to God which many prophesied would be teeming with penitent humanity because of sufferings brought about by our situation has only occasional travelers. There’s been no great influx into the churches. Nor has there been any great revival in the churches themselves. Selfishness, greed, and godlessness are on the increase and have brought about a hopelessness and despair such as has seldom confronted mankind”.

That is a quote I found recently while searching for something else. One would think it was written about today. However I took one word out of that quote and the word was War. I found this quote in a little pamphlet called “The Church at Work in the World at War”.  It was written by the National Advisory Emergency Planning Council to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Missouri, Ohio, and other States. That is the Missouri Synod.  If I have one issue with this little pamphlet it is the fact that nowhere in all of its pages can you find a date. I’m not sure if was written immediately after WWII or as the war was about to end. But I’m stunned at what I found in its pages. It speaks volumes to the issues we’ve been talking about in this blog. Questions of proclamation versus mercy, and the inclination or disinclination of many of our members to enter into one or the other. One fascinating quote that I found is on page 13.

 “It has sometimes been said that the pastors of the Missouri Synod are not as aggressive and alert to mission opportunities as they might be”.

And this interesting quote,

 ” Our counsel believes it to be part of its functions to challenge the membership of our churches and our pastors and teachers to undertake to win more people for Christ – beginning now”.

The article then goes on to talk about not only proclamation of the Gospel but the building up and undergirding of the charitable foundations and institutions of churches all around the world. Admonition is a funny thing. Sometimes it is taken for what it is, the mutual admonition and consolation of the saints, and other times as interference. It is up to you to decide which is which.

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