Wearing Your Sunday Best

August 2017

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:11-14

There was a time when it was the norm for the American family to be in church every Sunday. And you wouldn’t go to church without putting on your “Sunday best,” that is, your nicest set of clothes. Church was not just something ordinary but it was something special that called for the jacket and tie, dress and hat.

One of our dear saints, Jeanette, used to tell me stories about her childhood. Every Sunday before the family left for church, her father would make sure all the children’s shoes were shined, clothes were clean, and hair was neat. You had to pass dad’s inspection before you could leave the house! My pastor back on Long Island is from that generation too. He preferred not to see dirty sneakers peeking out the bottom of his acolytes’ robes. I would normally wear slacks and a button down shirt to church but I remember coming to worship one hot summer evening dressed more casually. On the way out of church, Pastor Froehlich gave me a startled look and said (jokingly), “Shorts Johnny?!”

I think there’s something to be said for the old-school approach of dressing your best for church. On the other hand, we want to avoid snobbery. After all, it is more important for people to be in church than to be dressed up. People often remind me, “We don’t need to impress God.” It’s true. “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).

But does God care what we wear to his house? Jesus actually tells a parable about wearing proper attire to “a wedding feast,” which stands for the kingdom of God (Matt 22:2). One guest tried to get in without a wedding garment and the king had him tied up and tossed out! Evidently there is a dress code for the Kingdom! Where are we to find clothing fit for God’s banquet? In ancient Jewish culture, it was customary for the host of a wedding banquet to provide his guests with wedding garments. Christians, too, have been invited to Christ’s banquet and God has provided us with garments to wear. We actually “wear” Christ himself. Scripture tells us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Our baptismal liturgy also reminds us, “Receive this white garment to show that you have been clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sin” (LSB 271).

Coming to church is something special. It’s God’s house and I think it is perfectly appropriate to dress in a way that shows respect for God’s presence and the occasion. We also come here comfortably as members of God’s household. No matter how you dress for church though, you are already wearing that pure garment, washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). As long as we are baptized, we are always wearing “our Sunday best.”

See you in church,

Pastor Jon


Summer Vacation

June-July 2017

“Jesus on Vacation” by Ciriart, drawception.com

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

– Hebrews 10:24-25

The following is meant to be ridiculous. I kindly ask that nobody file heresy charges against me and I sincerely ask forgiveness if this borders on the blasphemous. Here it is: my recent conversation with the Lord:

 

Jesus: Wow Pastor Jon, wasn’t that was a great service? I certainly feel glorified. I hope you all enjoyed the meal. That was really my body and blood, you know! Well, see ya in September!

Pastor Jon: Wait! Where are you going, Jesus?

JC: Oh, didn’t you know? Summer is here. In the summertime I like to take a break from work.

PJ: Sure, everyone likes to take a little time off in the summer but aren’t you still going to come to church?

JC: Silly Pastor! Church is work for me! Sure, it’s refreshing for all of you. You come here for Divine Service. The “Divine” one is me. I’m the one who is doing all the serving around here. When you come to church, all you have to do is sit back and receive. I have to forgive sins. I have to help you preach. Let me tell you, that in itself is enough to keep me busy full time, Pastor Jon! I have to help the people stay attentive to my Words. I have to host a meal. I have to bestow my blessing. It can all get pretty exhausting. I am also fully human, after all. So, why would I show up to work on my vacation?

PJ: Hm. I guess I never thought about summer break from your perspective Jesus. I thought you never took a vacation from, uh…Savioring. What are we supposed to do while you’re gone?

JC: I think you can manage without me for a few weeks. Of course receiving forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation from me in church is a wonderful and comforting thing but I have been assured that you can do just fine without that for a while.

PJ: Lord, I don’t mean to question your credibility but where on earth did you hear that?

JC: I snuck out of church during the sermon last week…just for a few minutes! I saw one of your members at a Memorial Day barbecue. He told me he didn’t need to be in church over the summer. He said he had an “understanding” with my Father and that everything was fine between him and God.

PJ: But Jesus, didn’t you say, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.’ And didn’t you also tell us that nobody comes to the Father except through you? Wouldn’t we be spiritually dead without you?

JC: Absolutely! ‘Abide’ is one of my favorite words! It means ‘stick close to.’ The very best way to stick with me is to gather with my body the Church and be fed with my Words, my flesh, and my blood. But it sounds like some of your church members have made up their minds already. They’ve found their own way of ‘abiding’ without me. So, as long as I’m not needed at St. Paul, you can catch me at the lake. Have a great summer, Pastor!

 Thank God our Savior does not take vacations from being our Good Shepherd. May we never take a vacation from being his sheep. The Lord abides.

See you in church (we have services all summer long),

Pastor Jon

 


Kenyan Bishop Joseph Omolo to Return to St. Paul

 May 2017

Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

–Romans 11:2b-5

Every once in a while we need to be reminded like the prophet Elijah that we aren’t alone. We Christians, especially of the Confessional Lutheran type, can easily feel outnumbered in our increasingly secular society. Missouri Synod Lutherans may seem strange and quaint but we are not alone in the world. There is a remnant chosen by grace of faithful Christians who still hold that the Scriptures are God’s Word, completely trustworthy and true.

While the complete number of true believers is invisible, known only to God, we still have visible connections to partner churches around the world, which also hold to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Since the day of Pentecost, the Church of Christ has been “catholic,” that is, universal, able to take root in every land, culture, and language.

This month, we will have the privilege of hosting one of those global partners. Most Rev. Joseph Omolo is a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK), one of our church’s 38 partner churches. He and his wife Ruth also lead an organization called Hope for the Destitute, which provides housing for widows and orphans as well as Christian education.

St. Paul hosted the bishop and Ruth briefly in July of 2015. Since then, the Women of St. Paul have raised funds to build 4 homes for impoverished widows in Kenya. Bishop Joseph and Ruth are returning to the U.S. in May to maintain connections with supporting congregations. This time, they will be in Dubuque for a weekend! Bishop Omolo will be preaching for us May 27 and 28. He and Ruth will also give a presentation after church on the 28th. Don’t miss it!

 

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon


Unless a Grain of Wheat

April 2017

“Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” –Jesus Christ, John 12:24

 As we transition from winter into spring, nature pauses between death and renewal. We are seeing some warmer days but still waiting for winter’s browns and grays to give way to the vibrant colors of new growth. The Lent-Easter cycle reflects nature’s themes of death and renewal. These themes are especially evident to me this year.

Because of sin, the curse of death falls upon us all (Rom 6:23). The old is indeed passing away. We have recently seen the passing of several faithful members of our congregation who were each pivotal figures in their families, communities, and at St. Paul. In addition, we have come to the conclusion of a chapter of our history with our outgoing music director. For many of us, in various ways, this is a difficult period of transition between grief and joy; between brokenness and restoration. This is really a picture of the human condition. We are broken creatures who have been half-fixed: completely forgiven and restored by Jesus Christ but still waiting for him to make all things new (Rev. 21:5).

That renewal is the great hope we have. Christ’s death bears much fruit, as those who trust in him will also conquer death. As we mourn in these transitional times, we are also free to rejoice. As we lay Christians to rest, we are grateful that God has “kept them safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church” as was prayed at their baptisms. That ark has finally carried them to safe haven. So with our congregation, there may be vacancies on the organ bench, on the Board of Properties, and in the pews; there is plenty of brown and gray but spring is coming.

More than ever, we are poised for renewal as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection this year. Our Board of Mission & Ministry got off to a great and optimistic start with Mark Litka holding the first meeting in March. There is great enthusiasm as we explore possibilities for the future of music ministry at St. Paul. The Holy Spirit has been bringing a steady trickle of new faces through the doors and we are ready and waiting to see what kind of fruit Christ will grow in us this spring!

 

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon


Don’t Be a Lazy Belly this Lent!

(Read Your Catechism)

March 2017 

Therefore, I beg such lazy bellies and presumptuous saints, for God’s sake, to let themselves be convinced and believe that they are not really and truly such learned and exalted doctors as they think…Even if their knowledge of the catechism were perfect (although that is impossible in this life), yet it is highly profitable and fruitful to read it daily and to make it the subject of meditation and conversation. In such reading, conversation, and meditation the Holy Spirit is present and bestows ever new and greater light and devotion, so that it tastes better and better and is digested, as Christ also promises in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”       

Martin Luther, Preface to the Large Catechism

To be Lutheran is not to be part of a cult of Martin Luther, as some might think. Lutherans are orthodox (rightly-teaching), evangelical (Gospel-centered), and catholic (part of the historic and universal Christian church). Luther and the other reformers did not set out to create a new religion. Being Lutheran is simply being a Christian. When you read Luther’s Small Catechism, Large Catechism, and the other writings in the Book of Concord, you will find that they do not invent anything new. They bring us back to what God has always taught in His Word. We hold to these Lutheran Confessions because they correctly interpret the Bible for us. This Lent, I invite you to dig a little deeper into the rich heritage that belongs to you as an orthodox evangelical catholic Christian.

  • You can start with Luther’s Small Catechism. It isn’t just for kids. Luther intended it to be a lifelong tool for living the Christian life. It was specifically designed for use in the home.
  • If you want something a little more advanced, I would suggest reading through the Large Catechism. Luther wrote this longer set of instructions for pastors but it is a very practical guide for laity and clergy alike. I would highly recommend it, especially if you’ve never read it before. It is surprisingly easy to read and still very much relevant after almost 500 years!
  • If you want more bang for your buck, I’d suggest purchasing a copy of “Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions.” It is a reader’s edition of the Book of Concord, which contains all of the officially accepted doctrinal writings of the Lutheran Church, including the Small and Large Catechisms. No Lutheran home would be complete without at least a Bible, a Hymnal, and a Small Catechism but if you really want to appreciate Lutheranism, the Book of Concord is also a “must.”
  • You can get the Book of Concord in print at CPH.org or online at bookofconcord.org. Happy Reading!

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon


Combat Tactics

February 2017 

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God…” -Ephesians 6:12-13

 

According to the Bible, there are only two classes of spiritual beings apart from God himself. There is first a great army of angels of unknown number. These angels are also called the host of heaven. This is what it means when we refer to God as Lord of hosts. He is commander of the armies of heaven. At some point after the creation of the world, one third of these angels followed Satan into rebellion (Rev. 12:4) and have come to be known as fallen angels or demons.

 

There are no ghosts (Hebrews 9:27), vampires, or zombies. If you hear a story about someone’s dead relative appearing to them, beware! If they weren’t hallucinating, they may have seen an angel or demon. Satan and his demons can disguise themselves as “angels of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

 

The war against the devil and his servants has already been decisively won. Jesus’ passion was the time when Satan, the “ruler of this world,” was cast out (John 12:31). The devil and his angels still seek to undermine our faith as they await their final judgment. So, in the mean time, here are some tips on how to banish the devil from your presence:

  • Avoid inviting the devil into your life –engaging in non-Christian “spiritual activities” or regularly avoiding worship may provide the devil a way into your life.
  • Laugh – the devil can’t stand Christians expressing their “Easter joy”!
  • Make the sign of the cross – the devil hates the cross because it will forever remind him of his defeat and God’s love for you.
  • Seek the company of other Christians – being alone can give the devil ripe opportunity for temptation.
  • Confess your sins (and receive forgiveness) – the devil thrives on a guilty conscience. He is rendered powerless where sins are forgiven and guilt removed.
  • Break wind – The devil does not like to be mocked. Martin Luther once said, “I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away.”

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon

 


Lutherans for Life

January 2017

This month, we will join with many other congregations in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in an observance of “Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday on January 15. We will be focusing on life issues for the month of January. Our Sunday Morning Bible Study will come from Lutherans for Life, the youth group will be assisting Dubuque County Right to Life, and I would encourage as many as are able to participate in Dubuque’s Walk for Life on Jan. 21.

 

Being pro-life has indeed become politicized but it is not simply a political issue. It is first a moral issue. There are many issues on which Christians may hold differing opinions in good conscience but God has spoken clearly concerning the time of life’s beginning and ending. Like Luther, our consciences should be “captive to the Word of God.”

 

Christians should speak about this the way we would about anything else – not only with the force of God’s Law but the sweet comfort of the Gospel. Many mothers suffer under the crushing weight of guilt after having an abortion. While abortion is condemned in God’s Word, Christians should be the first to speak words of healing and forgiveness to those of broken heart. In Christ, there is mercy and forgiveness for every sin, great or small.

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon