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April 17, 2019, 4:00 PM

Centurion to Centurion: The Gospel According to Luke



Happy and blessed Holy Week! What a crazy and unusual one, what with a major cathedral in Europe burning and unlikely comebacks in the world of American sports (hockey playoffs and the Masters at Augusta, most prominently!). I don't think we'll forget this Holy Week for a long time to come. 

Speaking of remarkable, unlikely, and teachable moments in life--moments that teach us about life and faith and religion--there is the case of the two centurions in Luke's Gospel. A centurion was a Roman commander in charge of 100 ground troops. They had plenty of authority, as the first centurion notes in Luke 7:6-8. Jesus is told that this centurion "loves our nation [Israel] and has built our synagogue" (7:5). After the centurion sends friends to greet Jesus and ask him for the favor of healing an ailing servant of his, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, 

"I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 

The men go back to the centurion's house and find his servant well. Amazing, isn't it?! 

We know Jesus to be this way. We know that, even dying on the cross, his power and glory and signficance are shown by the rending of the temple curtain in two, the earthquake, the darkness, and the tumult of that Good Friday. 

We know how he wants us to serve: like the centurion! He says, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty!" (Luke 17:10). 

And so, in this Holy Week, we will hear of the second centurion in Luke's account of the Gospel. A centurion overseeing Jesus' crucifixion, upon hearing him exclaim: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" praises God and says, "Surely this was the Righteous One!" (my translation of Luke 23:47). Mark reports this as "Surely this man was the Son of God!" and those words were popularized by John Wayne's centurion character in the film Greatest Story Ever Told. Regardless of the exact wording, the second centurion's faith is as strong as the first one's. 

And we, feeling far-removed from Jesus perhaps, living in 21st century America as we do, need only gaze upon the wonder of this Holy Week and Jesus' saving actions with joy, peace, and faith. 

We praise and honor God's name by doing so. We are not accruing points or something to add to God's love for us by going to extra church services; we are, instead, viewing the fullness of God's mercy in Christ Jesus & praising Him! 

In the joy, grace, and peace of our Risen Savior, 

Pastor Dieterichs




January 17, 2019, 2:04 PM

Keep speaking, for someone is listening; Keep standing, for someone is watching


Writing this blog today is interesting. I was supposed to meet a church member here at the local coffee shop and bookstore, but he had to drive a friend from his apartment building to the hospital and thus had to cancel. I then turned to various administrative work which can be done in a coffee shop. 

Today I am within earshot of a photographer meeting with a personal injury lawyer discussing marketing. They are going through various scenarios they might video or photograph to compel citizens to use their service if they are injured in an auto accident, mishap at work, or what have you. There is an air of respect and courtesy, even if the photographer secretly thinks she is an ambulance chaser; he is being respectful to gain a client, perhaps, but he is engaging her and asking good questions in order to understand her business and do his best for her and her lawfirm. 

It all reminds me to stand up, stand out, and stand firm. "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." The words of St. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians (2:15). And, over 15 years of ministry in a traditional Lutheran church body (www.lcms.org), I've had a good number of people ask me about our traditions. They have also said that our standing in these traditions was a great inspiration to them, and that as we did so, they were encouraged to "keep the faith" in their own lives. 

It is a good reminder that--ESPECIALLY when things feel the worst, or most terrible, it is THEN that you must stand. Ask God for the strength to keep standing, and He will give it to you. The Father is remarkable this way; He will always help you glorify His name, even if standing means lying in a hospital bed and expressing your faith to those around you.   

Two or three times in ministry, the LORD has reminded me of this, and it's easy to forget. But it must be spoken and reviewed all of the time so that we don't forget. STAND. PRAY. PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD (Ephesians 6). In so doing, you will save yourself and your hearers. 

That last word was spoken to Timothy the young pastor by St. Paul, and applies to preachers; however, it also applies to laymen in the sense that laymen, too, proclaim Christ's death until He comes again (I Corinthians 11). Laymen are the Body of Christ through which preachers are called to minister and speak the Gospel among them. 

You have an important role today, right now: STAND. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you do this, and you will notice that many appreciate it. They need it. They need you to be strong; therefore, 

1 Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
ye soldiers of the cross!
Lift high his royal banner,
it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory
his army he shall lead,
till every foe is vanquished,
and Christ is Lord indeed.

2 Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
the solemn watchword hear;
if while ye sleep he suffers,
away with shame and fear.
Where'er ye meet with evil,
within you or without,
charge for the God of battles,
and put the foe to rout.
 

3 Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
stand in his strength alone;
the arm of flesh will fail you,
ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the gospel armour,
each piece put on with prayer;
when duty calls or danger
be never wanting there.

 




November 6, 2018, 5:00 PM

Election, Schmelection


If you have been living on the planet Mars, and/or been completely out of it, I'll let you know here on the pastor's blog that it's Election Day in America.

As many news channels and publications are noting, there is a great wave of participation in this election that is refreshing to see. No longer is the common refrain among Americans something akin to "election, schmelection" as though it doesn't matter. Less people where I live in Colorado--a normally pretty detached and independent swath of voters--less of them are saying their voice "won't be heard anyway," so "Why vote?" There were long lines at the County Center I went to today to renew my driver's license. 

The temptation, of course, is to make the Election too important. But then, it's not *unimportant* either. In the end, some pretty incredible people step up to be our public servants. Even if a number of them fall from grace, so to speak, or mess things up, or fail to show courage--isn't that what We the People are, too? A mass of people who fall from grace, mess things up, and fail to show courage? And sometimes when it matters most? But mostly we ARE courageous. We are generous. We are Americans. 

After this Election Day, we will have elected Americans to positions in the American governement. They may have policies with which we disagree. They may have shortcomings about which we are upset they are bringing with them into office. But they are ready to serve. They signed up when others--including most of us reading this--didn't. 

What we ought to do is pray for them, that they do not become swayed by special interests. That they keep before them the ideals of our great Republic and, forsaking all others, support them no matter what. 

A Frenchman who once toured America (Alexis de Tocqueville) said: 

1. “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”

2. He also said: “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

Things to ponder on Election Day. He wrote of these things in the year 1840. Safe to say we're still learning. We're still praying. We're still America. We're not perfect, just forgiven. Not Christian, but We are the best of secular experiments in self-government. Will it endure upon the earth? May God grant it. Amen? 

PASTOR JOEL 




October 14, 2018, 5:43 PM

Dear America: Remember Amos 5:24 and the Remarkable Words: with this Faith!


The Word of the Lord from Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

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

It is a classic example of prophetic utterance from the Old Testament reading today. Amos the prophet is pleading with the people to finally, finally repent. "Three times and a fourth time" we the prophets have begged you: remember the poor and disenfranchized, remember and do not forget the Lord your God. But if they listened at all, it was too late. They had forgotten already and brought the wrath of God upon themselves. Exile was near. The Empire of Assyria was about to march its armies and chariots into the northern kingdom and smash it apart and take them captive. Thankfully we are not facing down such a thing (!) but the utterance--as part of the Word of God--the utterance is ever applicable and relevant to us today. God LAMENTS over his people; everyone is called to mourning; God does not tolerate sin or wink at it as if it were no big deal. People of God: leave your religious ceremonies behind and repent! If you are going to neglect the weakest among you and the neediest, but still pretend to worship God, just put it all DOWN. Stop! Turn your hearts to God and seek Him first.

Of what sins do WE need to repent in our day and age, and where we are in our lives? We can always ask this question and be doing right by God and His kingdom. 

Really, though, as I mentioned before the hymn just sung--the sermon hymn today--it really does say it all; I almost would not need to preach this sermon today, you could just look at those words. That's it. It's what I mean to say today with this message: God laments over sin, but gives us a tremendous opportunity to repent and change course: "For Jerusalem you're weeping, in compassion, dearest Lord."

An outline avails itself on Page 16, if you'd like to follow there.  

Now, as a preacher I am really interested in the great oratories of the past, like Amos's sermon, and like those of our past here in America--and how they often intersect. Amos 5:24, for example, is quoted in a certain iconic speech given on August 28, 1963. You remember that it was in the sweltering heat in Washington and yet 250,000 were gathered there, peacefully, before The Lincoln Memorial. And they were captivated, inspired, and moved to act. At the center of the speech, these words rang out: "Let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream!" Those words and the words of the whole speech were the right words, at the right time, in the right place. That is why the people listened. That is why the people acted, and the nation was changed in most cases for the better.

And so I am going to throw a Greek word out at you today: KAIROS. The dictionary definition of this word in English is "a time when conditions are right for accomplishment of a crucial action." For fun, you see, I used to repeat some of the great speeches of the past such as the I Have a Dream speech to people I was helping, to people with disabilities. I would recite things like this: "I have a dream... that one day my four little chlidren will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." And as great as those words are--and holy and for a right cause--my hearers just kind of raised an eyebrow and continued eating their lunches. They were not the right words at the right time for the right people.

Yet the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were the right words, at the right time, in the most perfect moment. He also quoted Isaiah--a contemporary of Amos, by the way, speaking at the same time in Israel's history: "the crooked paths shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. And in their flesh all people shall see God" (40:3-5). The fulfillment of which is our Jesus, and John the Baptist before him, crying in the wilderness. And with which Dr. King followed: "this is our hope, this is our faith." For you see: they had to go back. He seemed to be bracing himself, also, to go back to where they normally live--for they couldn't always be there, together, marching on Washington. They would have to go back to the places they came from, and that would be tough. And then he says what I think is the highlight of the speech: "with THIS faith we will go back to..." Alabama / Georgia / Mississippi. And I wonder if the same thing could be accomplished at all today in our culture, and in our time. Could a leader today stand up and quote Scripture like this?

It's not that the speaker of the words, or the people gathered there that day were perfect. It is that the ideals were from God. They held to the deep, faithful ideals of the Founders of our nation, in fact. Ideals most often and most deeply forged by the Christian faith, and by the God we know and preach. 

We also know such oratories as that of Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt, speaking on March 4, 1933. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Only that "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror" that makes us curl up and freeze and do nothing. These--again--were the right words at the right time spoken to the right people. 

Dr. King's words had hearkened back to the Emanicpation Proclamation of 1863--exactly 100 years before they marched on Washington that day. And the document had read: "we will maintain and recognize the freedom of such persons [the slaves in the Southern States]." This kind of godly impetus, penned by Abraham Lincoln, gave the slaves military and political protection as a group of people. It led almost directly to victory in the Civil War. (Yes, believe it or not, the Presidency is supposed to be a dignified and at times prophetic office. It is not supposed to be the kind of mockery that it's being turned into today; it's not for indecency and then laughing at it; it's not for bragging and promotion of a brand name!) 

And so all of this brings us to the question for today: What is our Kairos? 

Well, several things. For starters, a return to civility is needed, yes. A return to the humane treatment of people, especially the unborn. And that we do not treat them like junk or something inconvenient, or in the way. Yes, we need a return to that. A return to respect for authority. Oh, there's one! People going around today and not respecting policemen. These servants uphold the First Use of God's Law! (And there are Three Uses of God's Law--which you confirmands should know, and I hope the rest of us remember--1. curb. God will use force if necessary to stop wickedness in its tracks, this is the role of the police. And look at how they aren't respected. The second use: 2. a mirror. To show you your sin, as a sermon such as this one is supposed to. And 3. a Guide. These are the Three Uses of God's Law.) And we are seeing more people shoot at them, mock them, curse them, and disobey them--the police and FBI and other authorities. So yes, we need a return to respect for them as well. People often walk in here to church and remark, "Wow, I can't believe how disrespectful people are nowadays, and what I just saw," for they will have seen someone young (or even older than young!) be entirely disrespectful and rude to the authorities. So yes, we need a return to that as well... and all of these are godly points and improvements of our society to ponder. 

But most of all we need a return to God's Word! It alone changes us. We must allow it to speak and we must listen. We must finally realize that behind all acts of love and self-giving sacrifice in the world is our God, and His Word. They are not from Buddha, or any other god of man's own creation. They are from God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As a case in point, I present the Gospel lesson for today. In Mark 10, we heard Jesus tell the rich young man that he lacks one thing, going and selling all he has and giving the proceeds to the poor. Now, we might say as a result that we must all sell what we own and give the money to the poor. But I know also Luke 16:9, and the goal is that you know it, too. And maybe you wouldn't remember chapter 16, verse 9 (chapter and verse, that is) but you would remember Jesus saying, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it's gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." And so you see the matter is to be held in balance; we may use worldly wealth to welcome others. From time to time, for one example, folks will question why we use silver Communion ware. "Why don't you use wooden vessels, as those are more humble and what Jesus would have used?" Yet why not use silver, as we are showing that something special and holy and blessed is happening here? We are welcomed to God's meal here and for the strengthening of our souls in such a way that only God can give it. And so we use the best things we can afford to carry it. The point is, we must hold each part of God's Word in balance. We must know the context, and be ready to review it so that we can speak it accurately to a world so lost and in need.

Luke's Gospel invites us into a world were we are invited to many feasts, and this one that we share today again--at this railing. It is the best sermon of all and it has no words. Think of the direction of our salvation: from God to us. Think of Jesus' life and you see that it's all one, big picture of "God to us." A man is God but also born of a virgin. He grows up in lowly Nazareth as the apprentice of a builder, a tekton in Greek--a mason and carpenter. He humbles himself to learn the Torah when He already knows the Torah and the whole Word of God, and IS the Word of God. He then brings forth the single greatest picture of self-giving love there's ever been: the cross. And it is why we display it to this day in our churches; it is the culmination of God's speech and action to the world. 

We will have to go back there, you see. We can't always be here at church, going to the Lord's Supper, and encouraging one another with God's Word. We will have to go back to people who have no use for the Word of God. If you haven't noticed, America is getting forgetful. She is not remembering her foundation in godly wisdom and accountability. And I do not mean to equate ancient Israel with modern-day America as if they are the same nation. But I mean that if once our Founders and those after them knew God's Word was the foundation of this experiment in freedom and government, we are swiftly forgetting even that! And so, WITH THIS FAITH we must go back to them, even those who don't believe in our own families. And WITH THIS FAITH we must go forth and shine in a world full of thoughtless, gutless, evil men.

"This is my Father's world / O let me ne'er forget / that though the wrong seems oft so strong, / God is the ruler yet. This is my Father's world / why should my heart be sad? / The Lord is King! Let the heavens ring! / God reigns, let the earth be glad!" 

And so we will take our actions. We can even stand against evil from time to time. But in such activities--even well informed by the Scriptures--we must be able to put them in their proper context. God's action is always the Greater. HIS is always at the perfect time, and what we needed most... and so we simply pray (in the hymn aforementioned): "O dear Lord of my salvation, / grant my soul your blood-bought peace / by your tears of lamentation / bid my faith and love increase." (LW 390, v. 3).

And so we'll take our stand as the people of God in Christ. We'll do what we can. We'll make our speeches. But we'll look back and see that this whole time it has all been about God's action toward our fallen world in Christ Jesus our Lord. It has all been for righteousness and for salvation spoken through us, for believing on His Name, repenting, and receiving eternal life on earth, as it is in heaven.

In His Name. 

Amen.

October 14, 2018 + Pentecost 21 

Referenced above: "I Have a Dream" Speech, Aug. 28, 1963: https://youtu.be/HRIF4_WzU1w 

      

 

 

 

 

 




October 8, 2018, 3:08 PM

A huge castle. With beautiful trees around it: the Word of God.



And... I'm now in my 15th year of preaching God's Word to God's people. I have been through the 3-year lectionary (list of Bible readings) five times, counting my student pastorate. There have been special sermon series along the way, but I usually kept pretty true to the lectionary. Along the way there have been extremely disappointing and challenging times; there have been moments of betrayal by people in my congregation and in the church at large; there have been more times I've wanted to quit than I'd care to write about here. 

But I knew there would hard times; perhaps most troubling is the occasional sense that what's been said about a given text has already been said, and I might as well drum up someone else's sermon and just read it. Or, perhaps, a sense of ennui that accompanies the preaching task: as in, what can I say to God's people this week that will impact them and be relevant for them? I've never given in to that urge, to read someone else's sermon; for better or worse, I have done the work myself each and every time.

Thankfully, as it strikes me now, the bulk of God's Word does not NEED to be relevant. It can just be the awesome Word of God, being awesome. It can let the eternal mystery of heaven and God and Jesus shine just as well as it can house very practical, day-to-day needs and activities. It is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is somewhat like a working castle from the old days of Europe. 

1. DIVINE SERVICE. A castle in the old days had soaring, stone or rock walls and turrets serving as look outs and defensive positions for archers. It is these turrets that are the "romantic" parts of a castle--at least to me--stretching upward toward heaven but having a very earthly purpose. That, as watchmen wait for the morning, so my soul waits for the LORD and all of his redeption, goodness, and love (Psalm 130). That the promises of God remain above all others; that is what a thickly-walled turret says to me. That inside all are protected--thankfully, in the penultimate ways--from sin, death, and the devil. That God Himself is our mighty fortress, as a famous Lutheran once wrote, basing his hymn on Psalm 46. That is His service to us, even as we use the wonderful gifts of his kingdom in Word and Sacrament.   

2. DOORS TO SAFETY, DOORS TO THE WORLDThe drawbridge of a castle leads to a massive door that is intended for physical defense from invaders AND intimidation of evil marauders. God's Word has the big doors, too. "Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise" (Psalm 100:4)--and I don't mean this in an isolationist way. God's Word doesn't mean it in an isolationist way. But think of Jerusalem and her gates; this is literally what is meant in the Psalms. "Let us go up to Jerusalem" is a literal utterance; they were ascending Mount Zion to enter into Jerusalem, the temple, the temple courts, and so on. ALL ROADS lead to Jerusalem in Israel's golden age and in the known world of the time. It is no accident that it stood at the center of the world, if you ask Christians like us--Christians who are "evangelical" and proclaim the Son of God and Son of David for all peoples, nations, tribes, and families. "All nations" means all nations--they will come to see that He is the true God, and there is no other (Isaiah 43:9-13).

3. RITE VOCATUS. The "right calling" (Latin: rite vocatus) of God's people often happens in the underbelly of the castle, but is no less important. It is the sacred vocation of all Christians to practice their craft(s) taken together as one. The Holy Church expresses herself both in the faithful administration of bloody, sweaty, and difficult work and in the painstaking work of making great art and godly expression(s) of culture. Martin Luther once said, "The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That he would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor. ... The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living." (source: http://www.lutheranlayman.com/2015/01/little-crosses-on-shoes-or-what-luther.html)

And then, at times, we tire of the castle and our work and need rest. Thankfully, the spiritual castle is surrounded by vast trees in a canopy of grace--the history, liturgy, and confession of the saints (all who believe His Word and live according to it). 

The beginning of Divine Service is heard again: "In the Name..." 

And the people and the pastor look up, waiting to be fed. 

And then they are.

And next week we will meet here again.

"I Love Your Kingdom, Lord" 

By: Timothy Dwight

I love your kingdom, Lord, The place of your abode;

The Church our blest Redeemer saved With his own precious blood.

I love your Church, O God! Its walls before you stand,

Dear as the apple of your eye And graven on your hand.

Beyond my highest joy I prize its heavenly ways,

Its sweet communion, solemn vows, Its hymns of love and praise.

Sure as your truth shall last, To Zion shall be given

The brightest glories earth can yield And brighter bliss of heaven.

Hymn # 296 from Lutheran Worship Author: Aaron Williams Tune: St. Thomas 1st Published in: 1800

--PASTOR JOEL

Hebrews 10:23-25


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