Lenten Worship – “Remember”

Lenten Midweek Worship on Wednesdays

1:00pm – Midday Vespers (Pastor Miller) with coffee hour after

6:00pm – Soup Supper downstairs in fellowship hall

7:00pm – Evening Vespers (guest pastor)

March 6 – Ash Wednesday: Remember Dust

Pastor Michael Miller – Psalm 103:13-14

March 13 – Lent I: Remember Wondrous Works

Pastor Eric Bolhmann (Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran, Corvallis) – Psalm 111:4

March 17 – Lent II: Remember Jesus’ Words

Pastor Ted Schaefer (Zion Lutheran, Corvallis) – Luke 22:61-62

March 24 – Lent III: Remember the Covenant

Pastor Larry Oliver (Immanuel Lutheran, Albany)– Psalm 105:8

April 3 – Lent IV: Remember Sins No More

Pastor John Westhafer (Our Savior Lutheran, Waldport) – Jeremiah 31:34

April 10 – Lent V: Remember Steadfast Love

Pastor Jeremy Lucke (Peace Lutheran, Philomath) – Psalm 98:3

Ash Wednesday: Remember Dust (Psalm 103:13-14)

Pastor Michael A. Miller

The Man from Heaven Remembers the Man of Dust

Psalm 103:13-14

13         As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.

14         For He knows our frame;

He remembers that we are dust.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we heard earlier tonight.  But dust?  Any intelligent person knows that people are carbon-based lifeforms, comprised of complex amino acid chains, DNA, and that we are capable of tremendous intellectual power and creativity.  Dust seems far too insignificant a substance for such a noble creature as man.

But that goes to the question of origins.  Where does man come from? Where is He going, and what is significant about his existence?  “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7) Our origin is from God.  Our existence is from God.  We are self-aware, moral, intelligent, and creative because God made us in His likeness.  All of human life exists and depends on God. 

God remembers that people are dust, but do people often remember that?  They go about their daily routines, make plans for what they’re going to do, undertake projects, worry about how other people think of them, plan and fret about the future.  Most of the time, they live without a need for God (a 2018 study found 36% of religious “nones” agreed that religion was irrelevant to their life[1]). But how quickly all that comes unraveled!

On August 17, 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit, Turkey, 100 kilometers east of Istanbul.  In 37 seconds, 17,000 people were killed and 500,000 were rendered homeless as 20,000 buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged.

We forget how we are dust, but God has His way of reminding us.  Sometimes it’s evil that happens to us or our loved ones, other times a sudden illness, still other times a natural disaster like in Turkey.  The bottom drops out of our plans for the future and we’re left scrambling.  We’re found to have taken the whole thing for granted, and we wish we could go back and do it over.

The Lord, however, never forgot that we are dust, and in His fatherly compassion, He was moved to act.  His Son came down and entered our world through the womb of a young Virgin named Mary.  The Man of heaven became a Man of dust with us.  Jesus has compassion on us as He humbled Himself with us to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  He faced evil done to him as he fled into Egypt, as lies were told about him, as He was condemned on false charges.  He lost family and friends to death, and He wept over the curse we are under.  He bore anguish and pain in His own body as He was scourged, compelled here and there by soldiers, crucified, and the life ebbed out of Him.  He was made dust, and to the dust He returned, buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb.

But unlike our dust, which stays in the ground, His Spirit returned to Him and He rose to be a living creature once more.  Like no other, He rose so that He might restore life to our dying and dead dust.  “The first Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45)  Jesus rose from the dust, never to die again, so that He could break the power of sin and death, and so raise up the sons of Adam, the man of dust, of you and me.  St. Paul continues: 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:48-49) 

It takes a reminder from God to remember that we are dust.  As painful as this discipline is, God is doing it for our eternal good, because if we forget that we are dust, the danger is that we will return to the dust, never to rise again (Psalm 140:10).   Unless we remember that we are dust, the Man from Heaven does us no good.

Yet, “The Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.”  He comes to you when you are bowed down, trembling as your frame of dust threatens to crumble.  The Man of Heaven comes again and breathes His life into your dust.  When you were baptized, in the water and the Word, God took your lifeless dust and made you into clay (Isaiah 64:8).  Day by day, even with dust upon our heads and under the shadow of death, He is shaping us into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).  Every time you confess your sins and the Absolution is spoken, it says “He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld.’” (John 20:22-23)  The Absolution truly has the power to restore your life, even as you sit in dust and ashes.  If you live try to live apart from it or without it, how can your dust be revived?

He has still one more way that He remembers you in your dust.  Recall His Word through St. Paul: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”  The Son of God’s lifeless clay rose to new, eternal life, and that is what He gives you in His Supper.  Each time you receive His Body and Blood, united to Him with faith, He is strengthening you with the power of His resurrected flesh.  It’s the unfortunate state of the Church in our generation that we minimize the Supper’s importance and think we can make it by without this.  Someone has told you (and now it’s become entrenched as tradition) that Communion only needs to be offered every other Lord’s Day. 

But this teaching does not come from your Lord who says, “Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me”[2] and who says in John 6: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)  It is only hubris that says we can have life apart from our incarnate, crucified, and risen Savior—His Body and His Blood and His Holy Spirit breathed on us in the Absolution.

See all the ways that the Lord shows compassion to you, O man of dust!  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  And on the Last Day, He will raise you from the ash heap to be with Him forever.  Persevere in this hope, beloved.  Amen.


[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/08/why-americas-nones-dont-identify-with-a-religion (accessed 2/25/19)

[2] Some argue that “often” does not necessarily mean weekly, but if we stay in the way of the Law and look only to satisfy the minimum requirement, we can also go without having midweek Lenten services because the Old Covenant only required corporate worship once per week.  Christians are privileged to receive it “as often” as we gather.

Thrown into the drink or delivered, God is faithful to accomplish His good purpose! (Jonah 1:1-17, Matthew 8:23-27)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany + February 3, 2019

Text: Jonah 1:1-17, Matthew 8:23-27

One of the great myths about our life is that we’re safer at some times than at others.  The disciples were under the impression that they were safer on land than when they were on the stormy sea.  It’s only when the waves are crashing into the boat that they realize how fragile their existence is.

Jonah thought that he was free and clear if he just fled to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from where God would have him be.  But on the way, God intervened and caused a great storm. And Jonah, even though he was resting secure in disobedience to God, was awakened and called to account.

On the other hand, the disciples in Matthew 8 were doing the Lord’s will, and they still suffered near disaster.  What gives, God?

This is the great question of Christians: I did everything right, so why am I suffering?  I know that Jonah fled from the will of the Lord, and he was driven back by the will of God to preach to the Ninivites. But what had the disciples done that this terrible storm came upon them?

The answer is, we don’t know.  If we look for God in the chances and changes of this life, all we will find is uncertainty and doubt, “Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jon. 1:6)

But let’s explore this in what we might say to either Jonah or the disciples.  Jonah, though a professed Hebrew “who fears the Lord who made the sea and dry land” (Jon. 1:9) did a very foolish thing by disobeying the Lord’s call.  If you read on through chapter 4, you find out that Jonah did it because God doesn’t give people what they deserve. He relents over disaster for those who fear Him. (4:2)  He demonstrated this not only for the mariners but also for the people of Nineveh.  So, Jonah, if you believe God should give people what they deserve, what would happen if that judgment were applied to you?  Do you believe that suicide at the hands of the sailors is the last word God has for you?  What is your faith, Jonah?

Jonah, the God you fear and serve is indeed “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jon. 4:2)  You did a foolish thing fleeing the presence of the Lord because you disagreed with His ways.  But repent of your evil and believe that He is a God gracious and merciful to you also, and His intent has always been to save you from disaster. “He will not always chide, nor will he keep His anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high and the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:9-12)

What would we say to the disciples?  Remember, they are following the will of the Lord; they got on the boat in the right direction.  Yet, disaster still visited them.  The fishing boat is being swamped by the waves, and even worse, Jesus is the one sleeping this time.  They wake him with a prayer: “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”

Peter, James, John, and the rest, who do you have in the boat with you?  Jesus awakens with a question, “Why are you afraid; O you of little faith?”  You rightly fear the God who made the sea and dry land. You are right to call on Him to save you.  But why are you afraid?  Won’t He will care for and protect you as much on the sea as on the dry land?  Why do you fear this circumstance more than the God who made heaven and earth?

What is your faith and where is your faith?  They’re both important questions to ask, especially, if like Jonah, we’re called to be witnesses of this God and Savior.  We learn what our faith is when we are exposed as sinners and have to learn anew who God reveals Himself to be.  True knowledge of the Gospel is not learned by memorizing doctrines and Bible passages in confirmation class—no matter how demanding your pastor was; it’s “taught by the Holy Spirit and the school of experience”[1] as one pastor put it.  That means you need to be made a real sinner before you can know a God, gracious and merciful.

The other question is, once we poor sinners know a gracious and merciful God, what does that look like in the dangers and disasters we face in life?  What did we confess in the Creed? “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”  It does no good to compartmentalize where God works—whether sea or dry land, on Sunday morning or five minutes before closing when your supervisor tells you you’re being laid off.  The God who made both visible and invisible is also our strong defense against all spiritual dangers.  “The waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below”[2] as much as the demons obeyed when He commanded them.  This is the God who holds your life at every moment!  Repent of your little faith and the fruit of fear it bears!

What damage can be done to our calling as disciples by little faith.  Through fear of temporal things—the church running out of money, the lies of the devil and the narrative of the world gaining ground, the future of the nation in which we live.  All of these things are temporal, and we believe in theory that they’re all going to pass away.  But God help us to believe His holy Word, that He cares for us and gives us and the whole world our daily bread.

In the boat, it was not time for Jesus or His disciples to die.  But the time came when this same Jesus, fully man and fully God, was offered up on account of your sins and those of the whole world, that whoever believes in Him should not cry, “We are perishing,” but have forgiveness and eternal life.

Take a moment to let these words soak into your heart again: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:28-31)

God revealed His will to Jonah—go and preach to these pagans so that they might be saved.  And they were.  So was Jonah, perhaps the biggest unbeliever of the book until the end.  He revealed His power to the disciples in calming the stormy sea.  But the lesson for both is that God’s saving purpose will be done, even if for the moment it looks like He’s changed His mind.  Every person who believes in Him, He chose from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6), and as God does not lie, we can be sure that “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Rom. 8:39)  This is not a license to put our faith to the test, but a reason to fear the God who made the sea and dry land, who is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from disaster; through Jesus Christ. Amen.


[1] C.F.W. Walther, “Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel” Thesis III. http://lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/walther/LG

[2] “Be Still, My Soul” (LSB 752, st. 2)

Religious Freedom Day

By David Closson

An American flag flies outside a church in Queens, N.Y. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A radical idea from the Founding Fathers that still works today

Since 1993, the president has formally recognized January 16th as Religious Freedom Day. The day marks the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which cut formal ties between the Church of England and the state of Virginia.

In an age of hyper-partisanship, Religious Freedom Day offers all Americans — religious and nonreligious — an opportunity to celebrate and renew our commitment to safeguarding principles we have historically agreed on: religious liberty and conscience protection.

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and passed into law in 1786, the Virginia Statute disestablished the state church, abolished parish taxes, and protected the civil rights of citizens to express their religious beliefs without fear of censure or reprisal. A precursor to the First Amendment, the Virginia law recognized the pursuit of religious truth as a basic human good and acknowledged that citizens should be free to live out their faith without imposition from the government. The law also anticipated Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that there “shall be no religious test” for anyone seeking to serve in public office.

Because religious freedom is largely taken for granted today, it is easy to forget the radical nature of Jefferson’s proposal when he first made it 233 years ago. At a time when cuius regio, eius religio (Latin for “whose realm, his religion”) was still the dominant way of conceiving the relationship between church and state, Jefferson argued that religion is inherently an interior matter between an individual and God and that consequently, faith cannot be coerced. The state has no business interfering with man’s quest for religious truth because God, not the state, is Lord of the conscience.

Moreover, true faith requires sincere adherence to specific doctrines. The state cannot force anyone to believe. While people may feign belief to avoid punishment, the state can never effect genuine belief at the level of conscience. Therefore, civil authorities should allow the free flow of religious opinions and use persuasion, not coercion, to encourage belief in God.

Historically, America’s commitment to religious freedom has enjoyed broad support. In fact, in 1993, when the issue was again brought to the nation’s attention by the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), Congress responded by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) with a bipartisan consensus. Then-Congressman Charles Schumer drafted the House bill. In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.). The law passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and by a vote of 97-3 in the U.S. Senate and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Article accessed from http://www.nationalreview.com/2019/01/religious-freedom-day-vital-founding-principle/ on January 16, 2019. Our congregation does not have any affiliation with or endorsement of this news source.

Hymn Notes (3rd to Last Sunday of the Church Year)

LSB 655 Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word is a children’s hymn that Martin Luther composed in 1541-42. At that time, the Evangelical (later called Lutheran) church was under ongoing threat by those loyal to the pope. In addition, the advancement of the Turks into the region of Budapest brought war to the eastern border of the Empire. In the original text of stanza 1, we beseech God to “curb the Turks’ and papists’ sword” (later a more general and mild “by deceit or sword”) so that the Gospel of Christ may be preached and believed in spite of its devilish enemies.

LSB 496 Holy Spirit, Light Divine was written in 1817 by Dr. Andrew Reed in London. During his ministry in the Congregational church, Dr. Reed had a heart for orphans and the mentally ill. This hymn was penned as a prayer to the Holy Spirit, who alone can enlighten the darkness of our guilty hearts and sanctify us to fully know and trust in Jesus Christ.

TLH 650 Joseph Grigg was a Presbyterian pastor in London and composed this hymn in 1765.  Behold, a Stranger at the Door, based on Revelation 3:20 expands on the Lord Jesus’ call for spiritual renewal and perseverance within His Church.  Aware of how easy it is for us sinners to become spiritual indifferent and not pay attention to our Shepherd’s voice, this hymn rather bluntly admonishes us to realize this and repent of it, and then to be forgiven and renewed in devoted serve to our Lord and Savior.

LSB 718 Jesus, Lead Thou On, composed in 1721, has long been a favorite among Lutheran Christians.  Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, its composer, was born of royalty and had strong roots in the Pietist revival movement in Halle, Germany. He zealously left everything to become a missionary and travelled around Europe, the British Isles, and America. Although during his lifetime, von Zinzendorf caused trouble by inserting himself into established congregations, he left a beneficial legacy of several hymns and spiritual songs.

Hymn Notes (All Saints Day)

Jerusalem the Golden, written by Benedictine monk, Bernard of Cluny (France), echoesthe hope of all the faithful. Based on visions from Revelation 21 and 7, “we know not what joys await us there,” but it will be our eternal Sabbath rest andhome with our God.

In Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, we sing of the angel hosts of heaven (Eph. 1:19-21, 6:12; Col. 1:16), whom we are privileged to join in adoration and praise of God. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the Feast in Revelation 19, therefore the preface says, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven…”

For All the Saints, though a relatively recent hymn (19th century), depicts the great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Heb. 12:1-2).  On earth, the church “feebly struggles; they in glory shine,” but though hidden from our eyes for now, the same hope awaits all who have hoped in Christ in every generation.

Onward Christian Soldiers, an American favorite, emboldens us for the journey and spiritual warfare that still await us in this present world. Our victory over sin, death, and the devil belong to our Lord, and He calls us to follow Him as His cross goes before us. (Exod. 14:13)

Baptized, but Not at Church

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

 

I mentioned in the sermon on Sunday that it’s dangerous for a person to be baptized without being part of a congregation because it paints a big target on their back for the devil to attack them.  I wanted to elaborate on that more.

 

In Baptism, there is necessarily an exorcism, a casting out of all evil spirit as the Holy Spirit enters in.  Martin Luther’s 1526 baptismal rite actually begins very boldly, “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.” In the more familiar rite, this is what’s happening with the threefold renunciation of the devil (“Do you renounce the devil…all his works…all his ways?).

 

Well, once a person has had an evil spirit driven out, it’s necessary for the Holy Spirit to take residence in the heart and create and sustain faith.  But what happens to the person who is baptized, but does not stay in the Christian community around the Word of God?

 

This issue is personal for me, because I was brought to the saving waters of Baptism, but my parents rejected subsequent invitations to worship.  Whatever faith the Holy Spirit had created in my heart[1] eventually died because my discipleship was stunted (remember Jesus commands not only Baptism but also teaching in Matthew 28:19-20).  The result was I became a rank unbeliever and was even adverse toward the Christian faith.  For 23 years, my last state was worse than the first because I had lost the treasure delivered to me in Baptism and Satan sifted me like wheat.

 

Despite the sinful will and the devil’s evil plans for me, my Good Shepherd brought me back to the faith of my Baptism.  But it was rough going and I now bear the scars of a Christian who spent years under the devil’s sway.  The message for parents of baptized children who don’t go to church is get them into the holy ark of the Christian Church at all costs.  I mean, if you will drive them to dance, soccer, and Boy Scouts for their social and physical development, why not on Sunday morning drive them (or have a relative get them) to church for their eternal welfare.  Don’t put the Lord to the test.  Who knows?  You might even be saved along with them.

 

The point which the Lord makes, and which I was trying to convey in the sermon, is how profound Baptism is, and what an enemy the devil is.  It’s not safe out there in the world, and the baptized believer needs a community in which they are regularly renewed and prayed for.  Keep praying for your baptized, yet unchurched relatives.  I had people praying for me and I didn’t even know it.  Remember that Jesus is the Stronger Man who is able to cast out Satan and make room once again for His Holy Spirit.  Thy Kingdom come, Lord. Amen.

[1] Acts 2:38, Ephesians 2:8

February 2018 Newsletter Article – Lead Us Not into Temptation

From the Pastor: Lead Us Not Into Temptation

 

We are familiar with this prayer, because the Lord taught it to us.  But what are we really asking for?  Is there a chance that God actually would carry us into temptation?

 

Luther explained it well in the Small Catechism: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

 

Jesus teaches us to pray this, because He knows that there will be no shortage of temptation for Christians.  “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!”  “See that you are not led astray!” “Watch and pray!”[1]

 

But these temptations are not always easy to identify.  It’s not like a devil appears with a pitchfork and a pointy tail and sits on your shoulder like in the cartoons.  Satan comes into your day to day life to tempt you.  Most often, he tempts you, not with obvious blasphemy and sin, but with doubts and reasonable-sounding arguments.

 

Each of us has times when Satan will offer a substitute for God’s clear command.  The Word of the Lord says that we should love our enemies and do good to those who abuse us (Luke 6:27-28), but there are so many reasons why some people don’t deserve the time of day from us.  God tells us that we should give back to Him a portion of what He gives us (Malachi 3:8-10; 2 Corinthians 9:6-10), but boy if our budgets look tight and it sure is hard to give with so many demands on our limited income.

 

Christian congregations as a whole are also under attack.  Satan would have us exchange the truth of God for what seems to “get results.”  He puts the lie in our heads that church is about the externals: the building, the music, and how many pews are filled.  When Satan is at work, the things which God actually commands—being salt and light to our neighbors (Matt. 5:13-16), giving to missions (2 Cor. 8:1-7), and providing a living for the pastor (Galatians 6:6-8)—are sacrificed in the name of what’s more appealing.  Thus Satan subtly turns our eyes (and our prayers) from God, and worries a congregation about “keeping the doors open.” The devil would have us believe the life of a congregation runs under human power.

 

Pastors, too, are tempted in a variety of ways.  Remember that the devil’s goal is to get them out of the pulpit or make their word ineffectual.  So, Satan attacks pastors’ families and is quick to point out the pastor’s inadequacies.  He points out all the places that their sowing seems to only sprout weeds or die.  He plays the gripes and grumbles of people on repeat in the pastor’s head and is sure to connect every departed member with something the pastor did wrong.

 

Beloved in the Lord, this is honestly what we’re up against.  Satan is an enemy too powerful for any of us, yet One fights for us who holds the victory.  Jesus is our great Deliverer who crushes the Ancient Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15, Rev. 20:2-3).  Therefore, pray that He would defend you, your congregation, and your pastor against such spiritual assaults.  And the Almighty Lord will come quickly to your aid!

 

“Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.” Amen, Lord!  Yes, yes, it shall be so!

[1] Matthew 18:7; Luke 21:8; Matthew 26:41

Christmas Services

Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing!

 

Sunday, December 24th

10:30 AM – Sunday Worship (4th Sunday in Advent)

7:00 PM – Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

Monday, December 25th

10:00 AM – Christmas Day Divine Service

 

Special 3-Part Sermon on the words of the Nicene Creed: “Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.”