Easter Eggs

Are you familiar with the term “easter egg” as it’s used in relation to movies? Just in case you aren’t, essentially it’s a little extra “something” the movie makers planted in the background for movie goers to discover. The folks producing the Marvel films are notorious for doing such things. I remember the first time I noticed an easter egg in the very first “Iron Man” film. As the camera panned through Tony Stark’s lab, I caught a glimpse of Captain America’s vibranium shield being used to prop up a portion of his experiment. There it was, a little something special, and a nod to the Marvel nerds that we should be expecting a film about the first Avenger on the near horizon.

The reason this comes to mind is because this past Saturday while having lunch at Subway with Evelyn, we were talking about easter eggs in movies. At one point she asked, “Do you hide stuff in the things you write?”

It was an insightful thing to ask. And yes, I do. I hide things in my articles. I plant them all over the place in my books. I weave them into sermons. I drop them into so much of what I scribe. I think a lot of writers do. In my opinion, sometimes the hidden things are the best tools for teaching.

For example, it’s most often true that you shouldn’t just lob the entirety of an idea at someone who’s never confronted it before. It can be startling. Instead, planting the idea in various forms over the course of time is a great way to help someone become familiar with the idea long before they realize the familiarity is actually there. It’s psychological, of course. But if not abused, it’s a great way to make an out-of-the-box idea less frightening, and in the end, to move the ball down the field toward a goal.

I suppose a looser example would be the things I hide for myself. They’re there, but I’m the only one who knows about them. I shared with the Board of Elders once that if I find myself struggling with a sermon, sometimes I’ll muscle through the effort by actually making the task harder. I do this by establishing unusual rules for the manuscript. One way I do this is by requiring myself to make the first and last sentence of each paragraph have a certain meter or rhyme scheme. No one in the pews ever notices—at least no one has ever told me they’ve noticed—but I know the pattern is there. And it has a purpose. Its purpose is, more or less, to force me into a stricter mode of concentration while I’m crafting the sermon—to work harder at understanding what I’m really trying to say and to choose the best words. It might sound crazy, but in the end, it usually comes to a conclusion with me feeling a little more like each paragraph is more closely knitted to its surroundings.

I shared this secret with a fellow LCMS pastor in the area and he laughed out loud, saying it was a ridiculous practice. Well, whatever. Weird? Yes. But it seems to work for me.

I spent last Thursday reading through portions of my book Type One Confession: God, a Pastor, and a Girl with Type 1 Diabetes. I’ll read it on occasion as not to forget just how far God has carried me and my family in the past few years. If you know the pulse of the book, then you’ll know it’s a visceral mixture of conversations between me and God. The whole book is filled with easter eggs, but there’s one chapter in particular—Chapter Fourteen—in which I take time to translate the Christian ability to see how the various things of God along the weary of road of life fit together. They’re there. Maybe we notice them and maybe we don’t. Either way, they create a Christian universe that spins around a bright-beaming message at the center of its gravity. I call the ability to see the universe “Christian Recognition.” Not a fancy term. And instead of explaining it, I’ve included the chapter below. It’s a quick read. Take a minute with it and I think you’ll see what I mean.

After you’re done, I think you’ll also have figured out what’s hovering at the center of the universe. If you guessed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for your salvation of your soul, then you’re right.

Texting is Not My Thing

For those who have my cell phone number, they’ve probably noticed that I’m not one for texting. I do my best to do it, but in the end, it’s not a way of communication that I appreciate.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not annoyed by it. I just don’t appreciate it like so many others do.

One reason that I don’t like it is because it takes me far too long to craft a text message. I’m a rigid perfectionist when it comes to writing stuff. In fact, my own family finds good reason to tease me over the whole texting thing. They poke fun at me because when I do it, I use complete sentences, being sure to take the time to punctuate everything fully and correctly. That takes a lot of work when you’re only using your thumbs and switching between character screens.

Another reason I’m not much of a texter is that it’s inconveniently convenient, giving people the false security of instant responses to questions that could probably wait for another time. I suppose I should add to this that sometimes I don’t even understand what people are so hurriedly communicating to me. I know it sounds ridiculous, but for as savvy as I may appear in social media circles, I literally just learned ten days ago what “smh” and “lmk” meant. Before that, I could’ve cared less to know what they meant. I would see these in a text or an online post and just move along as an admitted outsider in the SMS language community. I never cared to learn these lazy phrases. As a result, I suppose that many appropriate replies went unsent over the years because I didn’t realize someone was telling me to let him or her know. I’m pretty sure that when people typed that to me, I responded with something like, “Are you okay?” because as far as I knew, it meant “Landed on My Keys!” and of course we should all, especially the pastor, show concern for someone who suffers such an accident, right?

Well, whatever. I guess you could say that I’m a guy who believes that words matter, that the language structures they rest in matter, that the time spent in contemplative care of the words matters. There’s already enough communicative confusion in this world, and texting seems counterintuitive to that. It has me asking myself, “Would a little more time and precision in our efforts to communicate really be all that bad?”

Think on the use of the comma. A misplaced comma has huge ramifications. Take for example the following cover of “Tails” magazine.

Without the proper placement of commas, it sure seems like Rachel Ray discovers her innermost creativity while preparing to sauté both her family and her pets for consumption. The next thought would then be: “This is one incredibly creative woman, and so how many families and pets has she 86’d and eaten over the years?”

Again, care in these things matters. Texting exchanges care for efficiency, and I’m not so sure that’s the best trade off. I’d much rather have a phone conversation than a text or instant messenger conversation. I find that a phone conversation—or even better, a face to face conversation—has a much better chance of ending well, especially in the contentious situations in which we sometimes find ourselves in the virtual world.

What’s funny is that folks will send me a text message saying that they didn’t want to call because they know how busy I am, not realizing that sending me a text with the expectation of a reply is a lot harder on my regular pace than a phone call because it takes me so long to type something.

And by the way, I’m never too busy for a phone call from anyone. Never. Except maybe a phone call from a politician, or someone trying to sell me the latest video series from Joel Osteen. I suppose I can let those particular reach-outs land in voicemail.

I suppose I’m sharing all of this because it sparked some pastoral thoughts, and it’s something that any clergyman most likely notices during Lent. This is the time that preachers are crafting some of the heaviest sermons they’ll preach all year.

Pastors are handlers of language, and not just any language, but God’s language—God’s Word. The Word kills and makes alive. Pastors deal in the Word. We do this while we’re teaching. We do this while preaching. We do this to lead a gathering of Christians. We do this in order to hold the line against the enemies of the church assembling at her gates. Ultimately, we do all of this with care because the Word of God is the means by which God reveals His efforts for our salvation through Christ, and it is the sole source for faith, life, and practice. Knowing all of this, pastors are not to approach the Word of God as casual and careless visitors. They are to have great fear and love for God’s Word. They are to take time with it as they seek to serve Him in faithfulness and humility. God’s Word is more than just simple text messaging. It is the precise means of God’s divine revelation to man. If we mess it up—that is, if we mix up the lines of its communication—we jeopardize eternity for real human beings.

Without going further, I think you get the idea how slacking off in the handling and communication of God’s Word isn’t something we ever want to discover in our midst. But add to this that as individual Christians, we don’t want to be those who think it’s possible to interact with God’s Word in the barest of passings rather than taking the time to be immersed in it. We want to hear it, love it, study it, be in it, and share it, too. Of course, we shouldn’t ever expect to have such a relationship with it if we only want an association that’s efficient. I could understand such an expectation if God gave us His Word via three-letter text messaging terms. But He didn’t. He gave us a voluminously rich Bible full of wonderfully deep and eternal-life-giving sentences crafted and delivered from His own heart of love.

It’s Lent. Might I suggest for your Lenten fast (if you’re indeed fasting) that instead of giving up coffee, sweets, or whatever, that you try giving up skipping Bible study at your church with your pastor? You might be surprised at how enjoyable you’ll find it to be, not to mention, fulfilling.

No pressure to the folks who are members of my congregation.


I Meant Every Word

I was thinking about the sermon from yesterday. If you were in worship at Our Savior, then you know the hub of the effort was the fact that the Word of God is central to all that we are as Christians. We need it like the earth needs the sun. Without it, we die.

But there was more to the message than just this. I also spent a lot of the behind the scenes time posing the question which asks, “Do we really even believe this?”

I shared a story in the Adult Bible study yesterday that stemmed from the point. I told the folks that I had the opportunity a few years ago to be one of three listeners for a seminarian’s final sermon he was preparing to give for one of his homiletics classes. The student asked me to be an evaluator. I’m not sure why he asked me, but nevertheless, I agreed. To be honest, it was a hard thing for me to do. I say this because I wrestle with the premise that if the doctrine is sound and the sermon preaches both Law and Gospel, then no matter the preacher’s style, who am I to say that it was a bad sermon? And so it went with this particular sermon. By the time it was done, I’d heard everything I was supposed to hear.

But honestly, I thought the sermon was terrible.

I ended up telling the young preacher that the content was great, but that I didn’t think he actually believed a word of what he was saying. I told him that he preached what I call a “paycheck sermon.” A paycheck sermon is one that when I hear it, to me it sounds like it was written and delivered just to get the job done—just to make sure the preacher gets his pay. My point is that, yes, this seminarian preached a sermon—he completed the assignment—but he didn’t deliver the personal believability. He preached about Christ, but he didn’t preach Christ, and it was more than obvious by his delivery. He didn’t sound like he actually believed what he was saying, but rather was relaying some information.

In one sense, do you know what that means? It means if it appears that he doesn’t believe it, why should the listener care to believe it, either?

Not to worry. It’s been a few years since this story occurred. The student is a good friend and a great preacher. Learning how to do this stuff—and trying to get better at it—is all part of the daily grind in the ministry.

But again, this point on believability, for those of you present in worship yesterday, maybe you noticed that I steered right into it in the sermon. I said something like:

“What I am saying to you right now, I believe it. In fact, you need to know that I’ll stand before anyone, and by my own volition I’ll hand over my life before I’ll renounce the content and supremacy of God’s Word. I’m willing to stand by this to my own humiliation, which as I’m sure you can guess, has happened to me a few times in my life.”

I wonder if when it comes to Christian integrity, we fall into the same traps in our everyday lives. We tell others we are Christians, we say that our Lord’s Word is our all in all, but as we’re being observed, are we really all that believable?

The answer is that of course we all fall into these traps. When was the last time you chose the empty calories of a worldly activity, event, or whatever over what you’ve affirmed is your all in all, the Word? When was the last time you looked around your church and took into consideration the facility needs looming on the horizon—leaky roofs, heating/cooling units that are years past their twenty year lifespans, and the like—and by such observations, you prayerfully re-evaluated your level of giving knowing it was more than needed? When was the last time you kept silent on an issue in public that required a voice of faith?

First of all, you should know that I’m not saying we need to act like crazed zealots and shove the Christian faith down other people’s throats. That’s the worst way to communicate Christ to others, and Paul speaks against doing such things, anyway. He says that when it comes to active conversations, to simply season our speech. But then as that conversation unfolds, we’d better be ready to give an answer when the questions come (Colossians 4:6).

I’m also not saying that any of us aren’t concerned with the future of our churches. Our time is in the Lord’s hands. We know that. If He wants a particular church to go on, she’ll go on. If He doesn’t, she won’t. In the meantime, her desire is to be that of faithfulness.

But in the midst of this, knowing that He loves His Church and has established every faithful congregation to be a wellspring in a particular area for His Word to stream into the world around them is a very comforting thing. It certainly isn’t fortifying a posture of effortless indifference, but rather a stance of lively engagement. This Gospel emboldens us with a measure of certainty. And when needed, it may even stir us to ask ourselves, “When the world sees me, does it roll its eyes at my uselessness, or do its eyes widen with concern that the light of Christ is shining through me and it would prefer that it didn’t?”

Maybe what I’m saying is a stretch, and I don’t want to go so far in this that I burden any of you with unnecessary guilt. I guess I’m sort of working from the premise that just as the preacher of any sermon must show his listeners that he is in love with the Word of God and thereby illustrate the visible qualities of such a love, all Christians are bound to a similar duty.

The married couples reading this know that what I’m saying is true. The husband who gets into the most trouble tells his wife that he loves her, but he does so with droningly disinterested displays that lack believability.

Let’s strive to be believable. Let’s help others in our midst be believable, too. If you see someone willingly absenting themselves from worship, reach out to them and encourage them. Remind them who they are in Jesus. Remind them they belong to Him. If you hear of or see a need around your church, step up and help in order to preserve and strengthen the effort. If you can’t help with your time or talents, then be prepared to help with your tithe. Even as your level of giving is most likely a well-kept secret, I’d still encourage you to prayerfully consider if what you are giving is a first-fruits demonstration of a believable faith that knows that all you have comes from God, or is it merely the leftovers from a life lived as though everything you have was achieved by your own determination.

God grant you the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and the musculature to act as those whom the world would never be in doubt when it comes to knowing you’re a believer who’d lay down his or her life for Christ. I stood in the pulpit yesterday and preached, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I intend to be such a person.

And because I’m pretty sure the devil and his jackals are almost always within listening distance of Christian preaching, I strongly encourage him to take stock of what was said. I meant every word of it, and he can rest assured that I’m not alone.

Preparing for that Last Breath

Throughout the year I hold worship services in various places offsite. One place I go to regularly is a retirement community in a nearby township. I’m there the third Tuesday of every month. I suppose, technically, I’m not necessarily obligated to go there, especially because it’s been five or so years since anyone in my congregation has been a resident there (although I should say that within the last year, family members of folks from my congregation have moved into the place).

Still, members or no members, I continue to go. I do this, first, because of the attachment. I’ve come to know the people there and it would be really hard to just sheer those lines, especially since most of them don’t see or hear from their own churches for what seems to be years at a time. However, I’ll admit to feeling a bit conflicted knowing that there are so many other things to attend to during the week here in my own congregation, and doing what I do there takes an irretrievable chunk out of one morning a month—a chunk I can rarely spare.

But still I go.

I suppose another reason I keep doing this is because of what I, as a Christian man, am so often privileged to behold there.

Take for example Helen. She’s 98. She’s completely blind. When she comes into the little room, she knows her way to the back left corner where she always sits. She can’t see the order of worship or the hymn page that I hand out before the service, but she asks for them anyway. And then all through the service, her head somewhat lifted up, an obvious happiness about her, she sings along with the liturgy, being sure to give the appropriate responses, singing the stanzas of hymns she knows, speaking the confession, praying the prayers. She knows it all. I love seeing just how deeply the Word of God by way of a memorized order of service can be embedded in a human heart and at the ready when the senses are failing.

Then there’s Margarete. She’s a 95-year-old German. Literally. Her accent is thick. She was born and raised in a village outside of Berlin. She came to the United States after World War II, so as you can probably guess, she lived through some of the worst of times in history. She’s a dear woman who will sometimes call me just to make sure I’m coming for worship as scheduled. She got my number in a roundabout way. I didn’t see her one month at worship, and because she never misses, I asked the facility director about her absence. I discovered that she’d broken her leg and was in a rehabilitation facility nearer to where her son lives. Later that week after visiting one of my own members in the hospital, I made a quick trip down to see her to say hello. She was so happy for the visit, and she expressed an incredible sadness for missing worship and not telling me. No big deal, of course. She’s 95 and her leg was broken. The fact that she was so concerned was heartwarming, and so with that, I gave her my number to ease her worry.

What a sweet lady.

Then there are the married couples who attend. We have a few. One couple in particular (relatively new in the last year) is Wally and Edna. Wally is 88. Edna is 95. They’ve been married for 63 years. This past week they sat side by side so humbly in the less-than-spectacular setting of the little room in which the service occurs. Always a kind thing to say, Wally makes small talk with the folks around him. Edna smiles. The service begins and their reverence follows along in stride. They are absolved together. They pray together. They listen to the preaching together. They receive the Lord’s Supper together. This past Tuesday I saw the Christian togetherness of this couple take another form—a beautifully human and yet still Godly form—as Wally reached over and took Edna’s hand, even if only for a moment before letting go. A simple touch, a reminder from a loving husband to a dear wife that God continues to bless them with the joy of being together in worship.

I like seeing those things. They are revealing moments.

For me personally, they stir a holy jealousy. I want what they have. If I live to be 98—like Helen—I want to do so knowing my place in the Lord’s house. I want to be able to lift my head and rise up into the Lord’s immersing grace in the liturgy, still retaining its eloquence, still holding onto all of it within the innermost chamber of my heart. I want to continue to love it so much that, like Margarete, if I’m ever unable to be present there, I want the uncomfortably nagging sensation of the absence. I never want to become comfortable with being away from worship. I want to thirst for Word and Sacrament. And like Wally and Edna, I want to be before the Lord, sitting beside the ones I love and leaning into the forthcoming decades with hands close enough to grasp if the moment requires it.

The Athenian poet Solon said so plainly, “I grow old ever learning many things.” As I get older, I’ve learned to want the things that the Christians hovering near the century mark down at Independence Village in Brighton have. If I stop going to see them, I fear I might be distracted by other, less consequential things.

And so I keep going, because these people are continual reminders to me of the prominent rank that the regular receiving of God’s grace in worship is to have. They emit the essentiality of being together as a Christian family to receive God’s gifts of forgiveness. They beam the stamina that these gifts have for meeting the twilight hours of one’s life.

It might sometimes seem like the worship here at Our Savior in Hartland is not all that important, let alone impressive, at least not in comparison to so many other things. But when I’m with these gem-like people who dwell in the midst of humanity with the rest of us, I get a brief glimpse into just how important and impressive for the soul all of it truly is. Every last bit of what we do here is preparing us for the moment of our last breath—the moment we will step into eternity to be with Christ forever.

What could be more impressive or important than that? Not much, that’s for sure.

Study the Word and You’ll See

I mentioned yesterday after worship that because I’d spent a good portion of last week trying to adjust to a new medication, I didn’t actually get to the meat of the sermon writing process until early Sunday morning. That rarely happens, but when it does, I don’t like it. I don’t like it because I don’t feel as prepared with the text, at least not as prepared as I think a preacher should be. Still, I used the time I had at my disposal, and I kept close to a more simpler pace of just observing the scene in the text and then being what I am as a Christian man—someone who is excited to know Christ, a witness who wants to tell you what I’ve seen and heard, a friend who wants very much to introduce you to Jesus. Working from this perspective, the task of preaching is really rather eventual. It has a way of coming alive. It has a way of becoming otherworldly and beautiful, and it has the potential for causing anyone to feel a little like Andrew running to tell his brother Peter, or Philip running to tell Nathaniel, “I have found the Messiah!”

But this reminds me of something else, too, and a guy by the name of O.C. Edwards poked at it when he wrote: “When you come right down to it, the idea that the most exciting message the world has ever heard can be presented in a way that makes it sound old hat and dull is mind boggling. There are probably only two circumstances under which that could happen. First, we are uninteresting, or second, we find the gospel uninteresting. In either case, something ought to be done about it.”

Truth be told, he’s talking about those who are called to preach. Nevertheless, I think his words still resonate for all Christians in a practical way, especially as the Church finds herself more and more immersed in a culture of religiosity where the Gospel is just one thing among many things, and often considered as not all that important in comparison. To say it another way, Christians are not immune to portraying to the world that we like the Gospel, but we don’t necessarily love it. When this is true, it affects the way we communicate Christ to others.

Maybe another, more practical way to think about this would be to consider something that Richard Hays, a New Testament professor at Duke Divinity School, once said about one of his former professors, Alvin Kernan:

“When I was an undergraduate at Yale University, students flocked to Alvin Kernan’s lecture courses on Shakespeare… Even though it was the late 1960s and we were living in an atmosphere charged with political suspicion and protest, none of this overtly impinged on Kernan’s lectures. Kernan was not a flashy lecturer. What, then, was the draw? He loved the texts.”

In other words, Kernan was an expert on Shakespeare, but being an expert didn’t make him a productive communicator of Shakespeare. Hays sheds a little more light:

“His teaching method, as I remember it, was simply to engage in reflective close readings… delineating their rich texture of image and metaphor and opening up their complex themes – moral, philosophical, and religious. Often, Kernan would devote a significant part of his lecture time to reading the text aloud, not in a highly dramatic manner, but with sensitivity to the texts’ rhythms and semantic nuances. I would often sit in class thinking, “Oh, I hadn’t heard that in the text before.” And I would leave the class pondering the problems that Shakespeare addressed: love, betrayal, fidelity, sacrifice, death, and hope.”

Quite simply, Kernan was in love with and devoted to the texts of Shakespeare. When he wasn’t teaching Shakespeare, he was reading Shakespeare and enjoying it for himself, and this directly affected his telling of the story to others.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). I’m sure I’ve shared with you before that the word Jesus uses in the Greek for “keep” is one that relays a defense of something considered to be invaluable and most precious. Considering this, while at the same time knowing that by faith, a Christian is in the deepest of loves with the One who spoke the words, we learn something very important.

And here’s where I’m going to suggest that you follow Kernan’s example and immerse yourself in the study of something you love…

Consider joining the Sunday morning adult Bible study because regular study of the Word of God is crucial!

Now, don’t stop reading here. Keep going.

Through the study of God’s Word, not only is the Christian fed from the divine wellspring that gives true wisdom for salvation, but there’s another product of the effort that many might overlook, and it’s that it provides a depth for a multitude of discussions. And when one is truly prepared, one is much more confident and convincing. Again, what I mean is that there’s a genuine difference between someone who knows about the Ark of the Covenant and someone who has spent time in the Word admiring its golden dimensions. There’s a difference between someone who knows about the Israelites being pursued by Pharaoh and someone who, through deliberate study of God’s Word, has had the opportunity to be led in a way that sees the fear in the Israelites’ eyes and feels the quaking ground—the rocks trembling and the dust rising—as Pharaoh’s army charges toward them in pursuit. There’s a difference between knowing the story of the feeding of the five thousand and being so aware of the implications of the event that one can begin to hear the rumbling stomachs of the hungry crowd and be concerned. It’s one thing to say so nonchalantly, “Yeah, Jesus died on the cross,” but it’s something altogether different to study Saint Paul’s words regarding the depth of the event, and by this, to be led to envision the blackened clouds of darkness and to feel the stern breezes casing the scene at Golgotha. I could go on and on, telling you how Easter is just one thing that happens every year for so many Christians, and yet for those immersed in the study of God’s Word, it is an emotionally jostling celebration that sees the absolute unexpected become reality—Sin and Death have been done away with forever—and it’s a reality that applies to us right now!

Like I said, I could go on and on about this stuff, but I suppose I’ve already written way more than most people might be willing to read. With that, I pray that you’ll take these words to heart and that you’ll think about joining the adult study on Sunday. My words are given here in love as they are given from someone who, like Andrew and Philip, has met the Messiah and truly wants for you to meet Him, too.

Pardon the Typos

Something pretty amazing just happened to me. But before I tell you what it was, let me set the stage so that you understand just how significant it is.

As I write this (Monday, December 18), we have six days until Christmas Eve. Over the course of this week, there’s a lot less time available for anything one might consider according to a usual week. There are Christmas pageant practices that take up most of two mornings. I have a special worship service at Independence Village in Brighton on Tuesday after the pageant practice, and by the time I get back to the church, much of the work day will be spent. Among a very many other special things happening on Wednesday, we have a half day of school on Thursday and no school on Friday, which means I’ll need to be home with the kids during those times while Jen is working. And for those of you with children, I don’t have to explain to you how hard it is to get mindful work accomplished with little ones running around and hyped up for Christmas and the break that follows. It’s nearly impossible to do anything of value undisturbed. It feels a little like trying to put together a 10,000 piece puzzle in a room filled with mosquitoes.

My Thursday morning is pretty much already spoken for when it comes to appointments. I have, at a minimum, five home visitations I really need to work in sometime this week. There are folks in need of the Lord’s Word and Sacrament, and I’m the only guy around to bring it.

Thankfully, I don’t have an evening meetings this week—at least none that I know of right now. But it’s only Monday, and the way we roll in the place, there’s always something happening that can easily snatch those open moments away.

Also, I needed to get this eNewsletter out. It’s an important piece of communication in our parish and it’s not something I want to set to wayside.

And finally, the last piece to this—and perhaps the most worrisome part of it: I have four sermons to write. And a sermon is, in an elementary sense, a five to six page paper, each one needing time for study, prayer, writing, and editing. One sermon usually works itself out over the course of a whole week. According to the schedule I just shared, there is no time for one sermon let alone four. (By the way, why four? Well, there’s the sermon for this Sunday, The Fourth Sunday in Advent, and then the sermon for later that night, Christmas Eve. Then there’s Christmas Day on Monday morning. And then finally, if I don’t want to have to write a sermon over the Christmas break, I’ll need to get the sermon for New Year’s Eve accomplished this week, too. Thankfully, Pastor Pies is on the schedule for New Year’s Day.)

Now, don’t take any of this the wrong way. I’m really not complaining. Plenty of weeks throughout the year are equally and impossibly stretched. The biggest difference is that I don’t typically have this much sermon writing to do, and so I’m simply sharing with you that I came into this week a little worried as to how I was going to accomplish it all.

And that brings me back to where I began. Something pretty amazing just happened to me.

Thankfully, I can write a lot in a very short period of time, but usually that only benefits me when I’m writing in extra-curricular ways about things that interest me. Don’t get me wrong. Writing sermons interests me. But sermons take me a lot longer. Like I said, they usually take most of the week to end up in their final form. Sometimes they’re finished getting ripped out of me right before I step into the pulpit. Personally, I don’t like when that happens. Too last minute. Still, the formation and contemplation for any sermon lasts pretty much all week.

But not today.

I sat down at my computer, prayed for the Lord’s help in being a faithful servant of His Word—and most especially that He would bless me with the right words in the right order in the right amount of time. My hope was that I’d at least get a little bit of the Christmas Eve sermon in place and ready. That was around 10:30 a.m. When I got up from my computer at 12:45 to go and get a quick bite to eat, I’d finished both sermons Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Bam and bam.

When I got back from lunch at a little after 1 o’clock, I sat back down and was finished with the sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent by 2:15.


It all just happened. I still have one more to go, but still, with the three I finished, God certainly was gracious with His revealing of the threads I needed to follow, and then even more so did He pour out some useable ideas while at the same time fitting them all together.

I still need to do some editing, but I can tell you that I’m pretty okay with what’s on the computer screen so far, and I rarely feel that way after the first go-round with any sermon. What ends up in the pulpit is usually quite different, and I’m often doing some tweaks the morning it is to be preached.

Anyway, the point to all of this… My worrying was in vain. But my prayer to the One who could help me was not. The sermons you’ll hear this weekend are a testimony to this fact. He loves me, and He wants the preaching task to be a joy and not a burden—at least He did this time around.

But since I’m thinking on this and sharing it, this little bit of pastoral commotion also hints to something else of equal importance, and that is that the pulpit here at Our Savior is in place so that at each service that occurs, the Gospel would be preached. In other words, when Walmart is closed, the pulpit at Savior will be open for business. When the Post Office shutters are locked, the Word of the Gospel through the preaching will be unlocked and fashioned especially for you and your family. God has seen to make it happen for going on 64 years, and for this fretting pastor in the midst of a swirl of activity, He just sealed the deal again.

With that, let me encourage you to take advantage of the effort. Come and hear the preaching of the Gospel. Be fed by His glorious Gospel promises of the forgiveness of sins won for you by the life, death, and resurrection of the baby born in Bethlehem. By virtue of your baptism, it is your birthright. And I can tell you for a fact that what you are hearing is from Christ, Himself, and He most definitely wants you to hear it!

Now, as fast as I can, it’s on to the news… Pardon me if the notes are abruptly shorter than usual… or if they have a lot of typos.

Preach the Text

Early this past Sunday morning I posted something on Facebook that stirred a few distant friends to respond by way of Facebook Messenger. The conversations were rather interesting. But before I share the basics of the interactions, let me share with you what I posted. Here it is:

The Last Sunday in the Church Year. That final day of the Church’s calendar when we lean forward in anticipation of the One who comes again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.

I dare say it’s very possible that if ever there was a day your pastor might be bold enough to preach things that bother the tepid and less-interested, it is today. “Go to church!” he might say. “Be fed by Word and Sacrament!” he may call earnestly. “It is by these Gospel means that you will be made ready.” And then he’ll add, “A day is coming when neither reasonable excuse nor deliberate rejection will be tolerated any longer.” Tapping his finger upon the edge of the pulpit and jeopardizing the comfort of your friendship, he may be so daring to say, “The culture’s mythology of a Lord who never judges will have run its futile course.” And then with a posture that reflects the strangest mixture of both human joy and sadness, the truth will be given. “Those who are ready will be welcomed into the marriage feast of heaven. Behind them, the door will shut—never to be opened again.”

Go to church, folks. Listen to the preaching of both Law and Gospel. Divine love is being distributed there; one bit of love so kindly revealing a most desperate need, and the other a supernatural potency for knowing, believing, and confessing Christ—the Ruler of earth and heaven—the One who will return at an hour unknown and say, “Come, blessed of the Father, and receive the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” or “Away from me, for I never knew you.”

Go to church. By the power of the Holy Spirit, refill your vessel with oil. Trim your lamp. Be ready for the bridegroom. The day is surely drawing near.

Late yesterday afternoon, I got a few notes from folks about the message. There was one in particular that stood out the most. It was from a fellow pastor who, even as he resonated with the message’s contents, was concerned that I’d overweighed the Law at the expense of the Gospel.

Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. For one thing, I’m not all that interested in preaching sermons that follow a particular formula. That is, as I’ve shared with the folks in my Sunday morning adult Bible class, I don’t necessarily make plans to tell of you off for five minutes and then tell you how it’ll be okay for another five. Some guys come to the preaching task thinking of Law and Gospel in that way. I don’t. I’d rather preach the text and let the Law and Gospel chips already inherent to the Scriptures fall where they may. It’s already there. If I preach the text, it will show up in just the right amounts—just as God would have it preached. And I told my friend as much. But what was most interesting about the conversation was that he said, “I wouldn’t have said it the way you did, but I’m more than happy to let you be the one to do it.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of that comment, but my sense is that he thinks that what I wrote was needed, but he just didn’t want to be the one to say it. I think that’s true for a lot of folks. Most often we’d prefer to let others say what needs to be said than actually say it ourselves.

There’s no way to get around it, folks. The core of the Gospel reading for the Last Sunday in the Church is a warning to be ready. And if those who are called to stand in the stead and by the command of Christ won’t preach it, who will?

And why does this matter, anyway? Well, I suppose it’s the same as asking why we would need warnings in general. I can’t help but think that for the most part, warnings are good, not bad. They communicate to us that something is lurking to our detriment, and in kindness, there is the desire that we be given the information we need to avoid it. With that, I don’t necessarily see a warning as unloving—and not necessarily even overly weighting of the Law. Certainly the seriousness of their nature can be hard to iterate and uncomfortable to share. Depending upon the type of warning required, a lot may be risked when you warn someone. Still, when it comes to eternal life, the warning of God’s holy Law is a loving revelation that works in tandem with the Gospel. It doesn’t give the Gospel its power for conversion of the heart, but it certainly sets the stage in a way that allows the Gospel to shine. In other words, if the seriousness of the bad news is excluded, what care is there for the glory of the good news? If I don’t know I’m in danger, what care do I have for the One who came to rescue me?

In the end, I hope that the words I choose to use are effective. Rest assured that I pray before I write anything that is intended to communicate the Word of God in a public way. I ask the Lord to use my fingers as I type, to guide my speech, to put all of the words not just in the right order, but in the best and most powerful order. With that, I often find that the fear that sometimes comes with saying what needs to be said will often dissipate into the atmosphere like raindrops in the summer sun.

God calls for faithfulness. But He only does so when and where He promises to provide all that is necessary to make faithfulness possible. And that makes the job of telling both the harder news and the easier news a little less terrifying.