Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 17)


Luke 14:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-6; Proverbs 25:6-14


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

Upon first hearing, you might think that today’s Gospel is primarily about showing humility in social situations. However, while humility and selflessness are expected traits for a Christian, they are truly the fruit of a more fundamental trait: freedom under the Gospel. Indeed, when you realize, acknowledge, and confess the freedom that you enjoy in Christ, then all fleshly striving, fear, and rivalry will become unnecessary foolishness, for you will see that you already have all things needful and that you want for nothing, and that the praise, honor, and glory of men is a fleeting and needless thing, and that the true riches are often unseen and unquantifiable to all but the Lord Himself.

Today’s Gospel begins on a Sabbath, with our Lord Jesus dining “at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.” As St. Luke informs you, “they were watching Him carefully.” Why were they watching Him? Well, because, conveniently, there was a man there in their midst who was suffering from dropsy, a swelling of the limbs due to the retention of fluids. You see, the Pharisees were conflicted; they knew that it is always lawful to show love and mercy to a neighbor, but, you see, they held to a very strict interpretation of the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” They interpreted the letter of the Law to mean that they were not to lift a finger to do anything on the LORD’s day of rest, not even to help a neighbor or a brother in need. Again, they knew that the spirit of the Law required them to help, but they were enslaved to the letter of the Law, as they interpreted it, and they were more afraid of being called out by the other Pharisees present than they were the LORD who gave them the commandment in the first place. Therefore, they were watching Jesus to see what He would do. Would Jesus obey the spirit of the Law and help the man with dropsy? Or, would He cower under the letter of the Law, as they interpreted it, and ignore the man just as they were doing? How would Jesus respond to peer pressure?

Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees with a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. You see, though the Pharisees were free under the same Gospel that has freed you and I, they chose to live as slaves under the letter of the Law, striving to do the Law in order to justify themselves before God, when God, in Jesus, proclaimed to them the Good News that the Law was being fulfilled in Jesus so that they did not have to live in slavery to fear at keeping the letter of the Law, but were free to live the Law of love towards others, without fear of condemnation, to the glory of the LORD. They knew what they were supposed to say: “Yes, it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, for love is the fulfilling of the Law.” But, they were afraid to say what was right, for fear of judgment by the other lawyers and Pharisees, and so, they said nothing. Then, Jesus answered for them, not with words, but with deeds: “He took [the man suffering from dropsy] and healed him and sent him away.”

“Which of you,” Jesus then asked them, “having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And, again, they remained silent. For, the truth is, each of them would indeed help their own son or ox in need on the Sabbath, but their self-imposed slavery under the letter of the Law would not permit them to say so for fear of judgment, or loss of prestige, before their peers. Again, they knew what was right, but they were afraid to do it – not afraid of God, mind you, but they were afraid of other men, their judgment, and damage to their reputation. This is why they were slaves to the Law. The Gospel always proclaims your freedom the result of the Law fulfilled in Jesus, but the Law always shows your sins and unworthiness, judges you, and damns you to hell. The Law paralyzes you with fear so that you do not do what you know that you should, but, instead, you do that which you know to be wrong. Talk about peer pressure, right?

Then Jesus taught them in a parable about not taking the best seats at a wedding banquet. It is here that you may be tempted to think that this parable is primarily about Christian humility and, as a result, miss the more fundamental point about the joy of living in the freedom of the Gospel. Jesus had observed that the guests who were invited to the banquet at the ruler of the Pharisee’s house strove to choose the places of honor at the table. He knew that they were obeying the rules of a man-made social law that valued such things as place, honor, prestige, and glory, and that they interpreted the Law of God similarly. If they could not secure a place of honor, then they would be miserable and feel short-changed and embarrassed before their peers. Therefore, Jesus taught them that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that it certainly is not that way in the kingdom of His Father. He said to them: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus’ exhortation is to take the lowest place. But, why? Because worldly place, honor, prestige, and glory before men mean nothing to God or in terms of eternal life. Moreover, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has set you free from all of that nonsense! Forget about place, honor, prestige, and glory; you are free! You are free to enjoy the feast for itself, not because of your place in regard to others! Consider the Good News: You are invited! You get to attend the wedding banquet wholly apart from your own goodness or badness, your place, honor, or anything other than the goodness and grace of the host, your heavenly Father. Amazingly, and sadly, too often you miss out on the joy of the feast, the joy of life, because you bow down in slavery to the fallen, broken expectations of this world, the flesh, and other men. Jesus would have you live free from all of that, in His love, compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness given to you by grace alone, through faith alone, absolutely FREE!

In truth, this is exactly where you stand! This is your place! You are in, and no one can make you to be out! Jesus has set you free, only you can sell yourself into slavery again. But, if you insist on winning the favor of men by elevating yourself over your brother and your neighbor, coveting the accolades, praise, honor, and glory of men above all else, then, instead of being exalted in the Father’s kingdom, you will find yourself humbled before all, embarrassed, and demoted to the lowest place. For, Jesus warns, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

You see, humility is an important teaching in this Gospel, but it comes as the result of the freedom you enjoy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus has fulfilled both the spirit and the letter of the Law for you, in your place. Therefore, He has set you free from its judgment and condemnation and from the necessity to perform it in any way to justify yourself before His Father. Jesus has done it; it is finished; you are justified! Therefore, you are free to do the Law without fear or coercion. Therefore, do not submit yourself once again to laws that keep you from doing what you know is good and right to do! Primary amongst these things is how you relate to your brother and your neighbor. In this regard St. Paul exhorts you to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Paul explains further that, though you are many, you are truly of “one body and one Spirit” having “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Therefore, the opinions and values of men, the world, and the flesh are meaningless and count for nothing, for there is no distinction in terms of justification, forgiveness, and righteousness, for there is no distinction in terms of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out upon you in and through your Lord Jesus Christ.

To submit yourself once again to the judgments of men, the flesh, and the world is like a freed prisoner returning to his jail cell. But, Jesus has set you free, free even to do that. Further, He knows that you are weak and that part of you desires to be imprisoned. Therefore, to keep you focused on freedom and strong to resist temptations, to protect and keep you from the assails of the evil one, He calls you to return to Him for sweet absolution, He binds up your wounds and pours on the salve of His Holy Spirit, He strengthens you with His Word which is life, and He feeds and nourishes you with His body and blood that you may live in and with Him. You are His; He has bought you with a dear price. But slavery to Christ is the sweetest freedom. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 16)


Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; 1 Kings 17:17-24


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

Our Old Testament lesson picks up right where we left off last week, with the Widow of Zarephath and her son. Last week we heard how God afflicted the entire land of Israel with a severe famine, promising King Ahab that he would not send rain until the Prophet Elijah prayed for it. Because of the famine, a widow was about to prepare her last handful of flour and use her last measure of oil to bake some bread for her son and herself, after which she despaired that they would surely die as there was no more food to be had anywhere in Israel. Nevertheless, Elijah commanded the widow to first prepare a cake of bread for himself, reminding her of the LORD’s promise, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” Indeed, the Prophet, the widow, and her son ate and were satisfied for as many days as the famine remained in the land, and the jar of flour was not spent, and the jug of oil was not emptied.

It is this same widow and her son that we hear about in today’s Old Testament lesson, only, now the widow’s son has died. This is to add insult to injury, a double-offense. For, the woman was already in dire straits because her husband had died, and now her only son has died, and this after the LORD had spared them both from the famine, demonstrating His faithfulness, mercy, and grace. Why would the LORD put her to the test once again and in this manner? What could be the LORD’s purpose in permitting this trial to come upon her? Indeed, it is the same as it was for Job and for all of us, that the LORD’s righteousness might be revealed. As He withheld rain from falling upon Israel, so God would show that He was the LORD of life as well as creation by the power of His Word. Elijah, the Prophet, a title meaning “spokesman for God”, called upon the LORD to relent from the disaster He had permitted to come upon this widow and her son, “and the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” When Elijah presented the boy to his mother alive, the poor woman had to confess, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and the Word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” And, the LORD was glorified.

The widow of Zarephath was beyond hope. She had lost her husband to death which, in turn, had caused her to lose her source of income, inheritance rights, and even social standing. To be a widow in the ancient world, and even in first century Israel, was to be cast amongst the most poor, orphans, and landless immigrants. But, to make matters worse, her only son, who was her last hope of redemption and life, had become ill and died. The woman was devastated, hopeless, and despairing, and she, like Job, believed and knew that the LORD had permitted this to happen to her.

Now, this is an important and necessary truth for Christians to confess. God is the LORD of life and all creation. This is why you are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all else, for there is no other god before and above the LORD. This is Jesus’ meaning when He teaches you, “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.” That one “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” is not Satan, as many are want to think, but He is the LORD God. The One who gives life may also take it away. Further, because He is the LORD of life and all creation, Jesus teaches you, as you heard last Sunday, to not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, what you will eat and wear, for the LORD knows what you need and He provides you all that you need for your body and life. Therefore, when tragedy, want, and need befall you, do not despair, and do not worship anxiety, fear, men, the gaining or loss of material wealth, nor any other idols, but call upon and pray to the LORD, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of your life and all things; He will hear and answer in accordance with His good and gracious will and wisdom, and He will work all things, even horrible, wicked, and unimaginable things, for the good of those who love Him in Jesus Christ.

Likewise, in today’s Gospel lesson, another widow has lost her only son to death. Jesus and His disciples, a veritable procession of life, were entering the town of Nain when they met head-on a veritable procession of death, a crowd of mourners carrying the dead young man on a funeral bier. This story always reminds me of the stanza of Luther’s Easter hymn Christ Lag in Todesbanden, Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands in which we sing, “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended. The victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended.” Jesus said to the mourning widow, “Do not weep,” for victory over death was as good as done, even if the boy had not been raised, because Jesus was going to die for him, in his place, in your place, in my place, for all the world, and take away the sting and curse of death forever. Therefore, Jesus touched the bier, shocking and scandalizing all around, for He takes your uncleanness, sin, and death upon Himself and He bears it upon the cross of Calvary. But, He raised him up by the power of the LORD’s Word, “‘Young man, I say to you, arise,’ and the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” All the crowds cried out, just as the widow of Zarephath had confessed of Elijah, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!” And, they were right.

In the darkest hour of our night of sin and death, when all hope is vanquished and despair has set in, when we grimly go about the task of preparing our last meal before we die, that is when the LORD acts – that is when the LORD has acted: Jesus resurrects our last hope…, Himself. Yes, Jesus is our last and our final hope, for Jesus is, was, and ever will be our only hope. Indeed, this is the Christian faith: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This faith is true freedom, freedom to live your life without fear and anxiety of want, need, or even death, but freedom to live your life in love for God and for your neighbor. Indeed, this is what St. Paul was talking about in the Epistle lesson today, that you may live each and every day of your life, persevering through every trial and tribulation, in faith grounded in love. In this faith and love, it is Christ who gives you “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” For, He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Through feast or famine, want or plenty, the LORD will ensure that “the jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty.”

Your life is the breath of God who is before and after you, and who sustains you each and every day of your life. Therefore, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.” Likewise, Jesus teaches you, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” The LORD would have you have this eternal perspective on your life. Your life is not what happens between birth and death, but you are a living soul having a beginning but no end. You were made for life – God’s life in Christ. He is your oil. He is your meal. And, He is inexhaustible. Call upon Him in your time of need and He will fill you to overflowing. You will persevere. Receive His gifts of selfless love: mercy, forgiveness, faith, strength of soul, peace of mind and spirit. Come, eat and be satisfied. Come, drink and be quenched. “A great prophet has arisen among us!” “God has visited His people!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 15)


Matthew 6:24-34; Galatians 5:25 – 6:10; 1 Kings 17:8-16

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

Do you notice how our Lord links together the sins of idolatry and anxiety? Listen to Him once again: No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

I ask you then, is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about what you will wear, about what you will eat or drink, about your health and your life? Is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about whether or not your children will be successful in school, will they make good friends, will they be safe? Is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about making your next mortgage payment, being laid off, having enough savings for retirement? Is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about getting COVID, cancer, or some other disease, about terrorist attacks, or falling out of love? For, if anything or anyone other than God is your master, then you are an idolater and you sin. For, an idol is anything that gets between you and your God; an idol is anything you put your fear, love, and trust in above, beyond, and before your God who commands “You shall have no other gods before me.”

But, the Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. Jesus came to set you free from your tyrannical masters. Jesus came to set you free from your anxiety, worry, fear, and death, that you may live in Him and in His kingdom to the glory of His Father. Therefore, He calls anxiety, worry, and fear what they are, idolatry, which is nothing other than slavery to a false god. And He shows you the truth that these false gods keep you from seeing, that you are truly free of these things, for God knows what you need, and He graciously provides you with everything that you need to support and sustain your body and life.

Thus, learn from the birds of the air, for, they do not sow, and yet they eat, they do not reap or gather into barns, and yet they have food for tomorrow, should it come. And does not God, your Father, love you more than these? Yes, indeed, He does, but, perhaps, not in the way that you think. For, He loves you in such a way that He will not let you remain in bondage to anxiety and worry, idolatry, sin, and death. So, He will allow you to pass through times of lean and times of plenty, times of weakness and times of strength that you may call upon Him at all times and in all places in faith, confessing that He is God, ever faithful, almighty, and unchanging.

Thus, learn from the lilies of the field which cannot even move as can the birds of the air. They are root-bound in the earth, totally dependent upon rain and sun, and in the right amounts, to live. They are alive today and thrown into the oven tomorrow. They grow in fields of their own kind, indistinguishable one from another. And yet, how they are arrayed so that any one of them is more glorious than a king dressed in his finest robes! And, if God so clothes these whose life is but a breath, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

And, besides all that, asks your Lord, can you add a single hour to your life by being anxious? Can you add a single minute to your life by worrying about tomorrow? No, of course you cannot. And, like all tyrannical masters, anxiety, worry, and fear actually rob you of life: minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades. Your heavenly Father knows the things that you need and He graciously provides you all that you need to support and to sustain your body and life now, and into eternity.

The problem arises when the gifts of God’s grace are seen as the fruits of our labors, when we perceive ourselves to be the lord instead of the steward. Then we are tempted to hoard our possessions, to be envious of the possessions of others, to begrudge what we don’t have, and to be discontent with what we do have. Do you see, then, how we become enslaved to our possessions, how we make mammon, money and possessions and the pursuit thereof, to be our god? And god mammon is a tyrannical master, controlling you by making you fearful of losing what you have and anxious of getting more tomorrow, making you miserable all the while. And, the end is worse than the beginning, for nothing lasts forever and you can’t take it with you, for, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever."

But don’t worry. You don’t have to live like that. You don’t have to search for worth and meaning in deaf and mute idols. You have worth and meaning because your heavenly Father created you and loves you and has given His Son Jesus to free you from bondage to sin, death, and the tyranny of mammon. You have died to that tyranny in Holy Baptism, and you have been raised to new and free life in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Still, the old evil foe, the devil, would have you believe that it’s all about you – what you do, what you earn, what you need, what you own. Through lies and deception he would mock God. But do not be deceived, God is not mocked. Indeed, God has mocked the devil and has shown him to be a pitiable fool.

God fooled the devil, sending His own Son in the form of weakness and poverty, unlike the birds, for which He provides, having no place to lay His head. God fooled the devil, sending His own Son into the oven of His wrath against sin to quench that fire so that is finished and there is no more. And, God fooled the devil, raising His own Son from death, snatching Him out of the lion’s jaws, and making Him King over heaven and earth that all who believe in Him might live and have eternal life.

All this is yours through baptism and faith, for you have died with Christ and you have been raised with Him, thus, there is nothing to fear. Jesus has clothed you with His own righteousness, there is no need to worry. And Jesus feeds you with His precious body and holy blood, there is no need to be anxious. And, He has given you a family, His body, the Church, so that you are not alone. Each of you is called to serve one another. Through each of you God provides for all. Let us do good, then, to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Do not be anxious about today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all that belongs to Him in Jesus will be added unto you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 14)


Luke 17:11-19; Galatians 5:16-24; Proverbs 4:10-23


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

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. This Proverb is one of the best known passages in all of Holy Scripture. But, what does it really mean? What is the fear of the LORD? And, why does it bring wisdom? First and foremost, the fear of the LORD is reverence and awe. Reverence and awe are our natural response when we recognize and acknowledge the LORD to be God and the Creator of all things. When we recognize that our existence is not happenstance, but that each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made, apart from any will or intention of our own, even that of our parents, then we are caused to look outside of ourselves to the LORD, and to begin to seek Him and to know Him. What we know about Him by observing ourselves and the world we live in is that He is powerful and creative – and that compels our reverence and awe. However, when His Spirit calls us in faith, then we begin to see that, not only He is powerful and creative, but He is also loving, merciful, and gracious. Then we truly begin to fear the LORD in the fullness of its meaning, and that is the beginning of wisdom.

And so, wisdom is a relationship and an order, and the fear of the LORD is the beginning of that relationship and order – when we come to realize and to recognize the God who has always been there, who is the very Creator and Source of our lives and of all things that exist. Then we begin to discover a Divine Law that has always been there as well, a Law that we had misappropriated to other things, other men, and other gods, but now we appropriate to the true and only God. For, we all have our laws, and we all have our gods. For many, god is an incomplete version of the true God. For many others, god is an impersonal force or energy that we can learn to utilize to our benefit or for the benefit of others. For so-called atheists and secular humanists, god is more personal (and subjective) than that – you are your own god, and man’s reason, intellect, wisdom, and experience are the only truth.

Last week, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we heard about two men who were so concerned about the letter of the Law as they understood it that they could not, and would not, obey the spirit of the Law to help a brother in need. But then, along came a Samaritan, a man who, in many ways, could be said to not be under the Law – for he was not a Jew, at least, not fully, and his people were not of the covenant or bound by God’s Law as the priest and the Levite were – and, in his freedom, he was able and willing to step down into the ditch with his half-brother and help him.

Fast forward to this week – you just heard St. Luke’s account of the ten lepers. All ten appealed to Jesus for mercy. All ten were commanded to go show themselves to the priests. All ten were healed on the way. But one, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus to offer Him thanks and to praise God. Now, if all you take away from this story is that it is good to give thanks to God, then you’re missing about ninety-five percent of the story. There’s much more going on than that. How must the Samaritan have felt when Jesus commanded him to go to the priests? He couldn’t do that; he was a Samaritan. By law, he wasn’t permitted in the temple. Thus, when the Samaritan leper saw that he was healed, he returned to the man who had healed him, Jesus, and he worshipped God there, at Jesus’ feet. The Samaritan leper was free from the law to worship God without fear, recognizing His merciful and gracious presence in Jesus.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. The Samaritan leper awoke from his spiritual death to see that the LORD God was standing right there before Him, not to destroy him, not to judge him, not to condemn him, but to forgive him and heal him and restore him. And all this was the LORD’s gift to him, free, no strings attached, by grace flowing from the boundless love, mercy, and compassion of God. The forgiven Samaritan leper was wizened to see that the Law could not condemn him when the LORD God forgave him and treated him as His own son. Arguably, the other nine, faithful Jews, still sought to win God’s favor by obedience to the Law. They saw Jesus as a Rabbi, a teacher of the Law, and they dutifully obeyed his command to go and show themselves to the priests. Only the healed and forgiven Samaritan leper could see with eyes of faith that Jesus is the LORD’s Great High Priest. Therefore, the thankful leper went to see the only Priest who could ever forgive sins and restore sonship with God; he went to see Jesus, and falling down at his feet, he thanked Him and He worshipped God who, in Jesus, has graciously visited His people.

St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson today, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Please understand what this means, and what it does not mean: What this means is literally that “you are not under the Law”. That is to say that the Law no longer condemns you, because Jesus has fulfilled the Law for you. However, what this does not mean is that you are free to disregard the Law, that you may willfully disobey it without penalty. No, you are not under the Law’s condemnation, but you have been freed from the Law that you may do it without fear of condemnation when you fail.

Likewise, Solomon gives you instruction in wisdom in today’s reading from Proverbs: Keep hold of this instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. […] The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.

The wicked walk in darkness, and they stumble upon they know not what, because they are driven and compelled by fearful obedience to, or willful rebellion against, the Law of God and / or the self-created laws of men. To walk in the way of the wicked is to walk without recognition of the LORD, the source of light, the knowledge of whom is wisdom. This is why we have prayed with the Church this morning, “O Lord, keep Your Church with Your perpetual mercy; and because of our frailty we cannot but fall, keep us ever by Your help from all things hurtful and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation.” Therein we confess that, on our own, we will stumble and fall. Therefore, we pray for the Lord’s mercy, believing and trusting that we receive it through Jesus Christ, and we return to the Lord, not only to give thanks, but we return to our Lord Jesus, recognizing and confessing in Him, God’s gracious visitation.

We recognize and acknowledge our LORD and God as the very source of our life and the giver of all things good and needful. We are thankful for His mercy, compassion, and love; we are thankful for His forgiveness and grace; and we are thankful for His gracious visitation of us in Jesus Christ. Therefore we commit ourselves anew to fear the LORD and to grow in wisdom. We love the Law of God in the freedom of the Gospel. God’s Word instills in us the fruits of His Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no Law.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

A Cure for Cynicism

This article appeared in the Waverly Democrat newspaper, Waverly, IA, on September 2, 2021.

I admit it. I’m a bit of a cynic. As a member of Generation X, cynicism is the air I breathe. Gen X is the so-called forgotten generation. We were the first latch-key children as our parents both worked out of the home and we were typically alone after school. In addition, no-fault divorce resulted in increasing numbers of broken marriages and families. Gen X grew up under the specter of the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction if either the United States or Russia, or maybe Iran or China, decided they’d had enough and finally pushed the button. Gen X was the first generation that was expected to do worse than our parents, and we were consistently told that Social Security would be bankrupt by the time we needed it. These and numerous other formative factors served to shape Generation X into a generation of cynics and survivors. Cynics because, when it comes to institutions, they consistently fail to deliver on their promises, and survivors who, since we tend to expect the worst, are prepared to persevere through anything.

Don’t hear me wrong. I’m not proud to be a cynic. I even suspect that it’s a bit sinful. It’s something I struggle with. I still believe in institutions and their inherent value, I do not want to see them destroyed or circumvented, but neither do I trust them completely. Somewhat ironically, the generation that preceded Gen X, the Boomers, also mistrusted institutions in their youth, but in their middle and later adulthood they came to embrace institutions, even if it was because they cynically found a way to manipulate them to their advantage. That’s a sin of a similar, but different kind. However, all of this generation talk is really to get at what I truly want to write about – what a joy and blessing it is to minister to a generation that is so very unlike either the Boomers or my own Generation X – Generation Z, who are now approaching, are in, or have recently graduated from college.

School is back in session. While parents and teachers fret and argue over masks and mandates and vaccines and more, Gen Z youth, at least as I perceive them, are fairly easy-going, eager to get to their studies, their sports, their music, their friends, and their lives. They are not cynics, like many of my generation, nor are they manipulators (another form of cynicism) like some of the Boomers. In my experience, most of the Gen Z youth I meet today are extremely positive, and outgoing. They’re not out to change the world, at least not yet. Perhaps they haven’t experienced enough of the world yet to want to change it, but that’s probably the cynic in me talking. Indeed, I’m fairly certain of this – if they could change anything, they would likely dismiss all cynicism and cynical manipulation.

I am blessed to minister to several high school students and a good number of college students, specifically Wartburg College students. I’ve been a pastor in Waverly for four years now, and throughout those four years St. John Lutheran Church has ministered to Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod students and other students at Wartburg College through worship, Bible studies, and fellowship events. What began as a small, humble gathering has grown into a bonafide campus ministry recognized officially by the LC-MS. This past year I was particularly blessed to see two students who were freshmen when I began my ministry at St. John graduate and get married (I was even blessed to marry them!), and the groom is planning to enter seminary to become a pastor! My experience with these students and their lives has been extremely encouraging and positive. I can feel them driving back my cynical tendencies, and it’s a blessing and a great relief.

While we can think of countless reasons to be pessimistic and cynical, I encourage you to spend some time with Gen Z, particularly our college students who are out of their parent’s homes for the first time and are beginning to discover who they are and what they believe. There is good reason to be hopeful. Further, they need you as much as you need them. I’ve received several letters from students present and former, as well as from their parents, expressing how important and beneficial the St. John Campus Ministry and congregation was/is for them, some even describing it as a lifeline or net. 

It is the God-given duty of every generation to pass on to the next the right worship of the Lord God in faith, confession, and deed. While the truth of God’s Word never changes, other things most certainly do. While this can cause some unease for the former generations, I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to embrace this task with joy and thanksgiving. Instead of being fearful at what the next stewards of the faith might do, get to know them, encourage them, and find yourself encouraged and delighted at how God works, often in unexpected and always marvelous ways. God bless and keep our students and youth and make of them a rich and gracious blessing.

+ Rev. Jon M. Ellingworth

St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church – Waverly, IA