Saturday, November 27, 2021

Ad Te Levavi - The First Sunday in Advent


Matthew 21:1-9; Romans 13:8-14; Jeremiah 23:5-8


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

The Church’s Year of Grace ended with the coronation of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, prophesied by Daniel, fulfilled on Good Friday, revealed in the fullness of glory in the Revelation to St. John. But, today, the new Church Year begins with Jesus revealing the kind of King He came to be. For, it was not upon a war horse, or riding in a gilded chariot, that He entered the royal city, but He rode in lowly humility upon a donkey and a colt, her foal. Still, He was a King, the True King, the Man after God’s own heart, a King who would lay down His life in sacrificial service to His people.

Therefore, the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into the royal city of Jerusalem is a story of both grace and judgment. He came in blessing in answer to His peoples’ cries of hosanna, save us now. And He would save them, not from Herod, not from Pilate, or from Caesar, but He would save them from their true captors: sin, death, and hell. As their Shepherd King, He would slay their Goliath with the Word of God and with His love and obedience to His commandments. He would save Judah and acquire safe pasture for Israel and for all His people in all the lands where God has driven them because of their sinful rebellion. But He would do this Kingly service, not by mounting the stately throne in Herod’s palace, but by ascending the coarse wood of a cross on Golgotha. He would do this Priestly service, not by donning ornate vestments and taking the place of Caiaphas in the temple, but by being stripped naked, and by being pierced and torn by Roman hammers, nails, and spear. And, He would be their Great Prophet, the very Word of God made flesh, spoken by God the Father into the world and flesh that He had made, to serve as leaven, salt, and light, to return not to Him void, but to accomplish that purpose for which He was sent, to be a seed sown in all manner of soil, to be a grain of wheat that must fall to the earth and die, and bear a harvest a hundredfold. Truly, He was their King. But their King had come to die; and, only in dying could He be their King. Only by His dying could they live.

King Jesus’ entry is a story of grace; it is only a story of judgment when it is refused and rejected. And, though many received Him at first, even His closest friends and disciples fled in fear when King Jesus ascended His royal throne. For most, He simply wasn’t what they had expected or had hoped for. He wasn’t the new Moses they had hoped for, who would lead them out of slavery and captivity. He wasn’t the new David, the mighty warrior-king they desired, who would release them from the occupation of the Roman Empire and restore Israel to might and glory. And yet, He was both of those and more. He was all that Moses had pointed them toward. He was the True King of whom David was only a shadow and a type. He was the root and shoot of David’s stump to be raised up in new and everlasting life – the Life of Israel, into whom the nations would be grafted and live. Up to that day, the story of Israel was the story of Moses, remembered and replayed each year at the Passover. King Jesus fulfilled all that Moses was – Prophet, Priest, and King – and, through His cross, through His death and resurrection, He would lead His people in Exodus, out of bondage and slavery to sin, death, and the devil, into their own land in the Kingdom of Heaven forevermore.

And so, as the Church’s Year of Grace ended in hopeful anticipation of our Lord’s coming on the Last Day, so does the new Church Year begin in joyous remembrance of His coming as the Babe of Bethlehem, which we celebrate at Christmas. And, even still, we believe, confess, and teach that our Lord Jesus comes to us now, under the lowly and humble means of word, water, bread, and wine. He comes in grace and blessing to all who will not reject Him. He has come. He is coming. And He comes to save us. How do you receive Him?

Advent is a penitential season, if a bit milder in comparison to Lent, in which we focus upon our sin and death from which Jesus came to set us free. Yes, that is the reason for His coming; He came to fulfill the Law of God for you, and then to lay down His life in death as your substitute, in your place, that you might live. Why? What motivated Him to suffer for you and die in your place? Love – pure and simple. Love for God, His Father; love for you whom God loves. Therefore, receive Him in love, as God’s pure and holy gift of grace – no strings attached. You show Him love, you love Him, by fearing, loving, and trusting Him above all things; you show Him love, you love Him, but letting His love fill you and overflow out of you by loving others.

Hear the message of the Baptizer, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” and turn from your sin, your self-righteousness, and self-centered thoughts and expectations. Repent, be turned, and receive your King who is present in lowliness and humility. Prepare His way into your heart and life by removing the high places of your sinful pride, and by filling in the low places of your hopeless despair, for your King has come, your King is coming, and even now your King comes with forgiveness and healing and eternal life. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! The Lord of your life, the God of your salvation, is here. Your King, who was born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, was laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, died upon the coarse wooden throne of the cross that He might be present for you now as the Bread of Life, that you may eat and live, drink and be forgiven, as you receive your King, your Lord, your God in Holy Communion, now, until He comes at last in glory.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Eve of The National Day of Thanksgiving


Luke 12:13-21; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Deuteronomy 8:1-10


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

Today is a day to give thanks to God for His providence. But shouldn’t we give thanks to God every day, you ask? Yes, of course we should; but we don’t. Thus, we should be thankful that our nation has set aside this one day each year when we collectively rest from our labors – well, most of us – and give thanks for food, for clothing, for shelter, for family, and for all things, to a higher power, however he, she, they, or it might be defined. Truly, we need this day of thanksgiving to get us to cease for a moment in our striving to carve out our own piece of the American dream and to gain our independence and self-sufficiency, to look outside of ourselves to our God, who lovingly provides us all that we need to sustain our bodies and lives, by no merit or worthiness in us, but because of His own Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.

We get so wrapped up in the notion of earning a wage by our own works and labor so that we can buy food and shelter and all the necessities and pleasures of life that we seldom stop to think about the source of all these things. Most likely, whether we think about it or not, we consider ourselves to be the source. This begs the question, who, then, is our god? That is what the man in Jesus’ parable believed. He had stored up a great wealth of grain, more than he could possibly use. He said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” From his perspective, the labor was his and the harvest was his. He had done his work, and in his work he trusted. Why not then kick back and have a drink to himself, his labor, and self-merit? But the God who gave him the grain and his goods, the God who gave him his life and breath, required it of him that very night. And when the man was dead, what do you think became of his storehouses of grain? Did they not spoil and decay? Were they not eaten by insect and vermin? In the end, not only did they not benefit the rich man, but they benefitted no man.

The truth is that we are stewards, managers of God’s creation. When we give Him thanks, we acknowledge this truth; we fear, love, and trust in Him alone as God. He lovingly provides us with all that we need, and more, with which we can serve our brother and our neighbor in his need. Our heavenly Father wants us to sow bountifully, and so reap bountifully. There is no need to be stingy or selfish, for we sow, we give, only of what belongs to Him. And, you cannot be compelled or forced to give, but you must give freely from your heart, in cheerfulness, without resentment. For, by giving to others, you acknowledge the Lord to be God, and your neighbor, too, may turn in thankfulness to the God who provides for His children. And, since your heavenly Father knows what you need, and graciously provides you what you need, you do not need to be anxious or worrying, and you do not need to covet what belongs to your brother and your neighbor. For, with faith comes comfort, peace, and contentment. Through faith in Christ, you lack nothing; therefore, give thanks for what you have, and give thanks for what your brother and your neighbor have. Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. However, misplaced fear, love, and trust in possessions can cause them to possess you. Therefore, lay up your treasures in heaven, and not on earth, for the one who lays up treasure for himself cannot be rich toward God.

There is an interesting corollary between the beginning of the Lenten season and the observance of our National Day of Thanksgiving. Everyone knows how New Orleans celebrates the beginning of Lent by gorging in all manner of lasciviousness the day before known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday – Let’s relax, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we fast and die. However, do we not go a step further at Thanksgiving? Indeed, we gorge ourselves into a stupor on Turkey Day, and then we go insane for twenty-four hours (or more) and bow down and worship the god of commercialism, ironically, in the name of Jesus. Every year it seems that more and more stores open, not only at four in the morning on Black Friday, but as early as 2:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day! Truly, wherever a church is built for God, there the devil builds a chapel next door.

Covetousness, greed, selfishness, these are the fruits of self-righteousness, which itself is a fruit of unbelief and idolatry. We are at risk of bowing down to the false gods of commercialism and materialism every day, but perhaps never as much as the so-called holiday season. Indeed, our culture, our neighbors, our friends, and even our family and children place pressures upon us to buy, to consume, to acquire, and to amass stuff, and things – idols; even the secular media and the government tell you that it is patriotic and responsible citizenship to buy, buy, buy so that our nation’s economy will recover. Do not listen to that whispering voice. But give thanks to the Lord in all things, at all times, and in all places, for He knows your needs, and He graciously provides you all things needful. And, when your brother or your neighbor has a need that you can satisfy, give it to him, freely, with cheer – Your Lord will generously replace what you give. He will always give you more than you need, that you may freely give to others and glorify Him.

Even now He is present in this Holy Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, to give you forgiveness anew, eternal life, and salvation in Jesus Christ. Come, and give thanks to the Lord who is here for you; come and give thanks to the Lord by receiving Him into your body and soul. When the Lord is your treasure, then you are truly rich, and you will have all that is needful for eternal life. Trust in Him, for He provides you all you need for life in this world as well.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Last Sunday of the Church Year / Sunday of the Fulfillment (Trinity 27)


Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Isaiah 65:17-25


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

There are ten of them, for they represent the totality of humanity, all people that have ever lived and will ever live. And, they are virgins, for they have been made to be pure and holy, they have been redeemed and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. They are destined for the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church, because of the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness of the Father, in the sacrifice of His Son,alone, apart from any worth, work, or merit of their own. That’s how the Parable of the Ten Virgins begins. Each and every figure in the parable is already in the kingdom of heaven, but not all will remain there.

For, the Parable of the Ten Virgins is a parable of judgment, not unlike the parables of the Wedding Feast, the Sheep and the Goats, and of the Talents. And, while its promise is that salvation has already been won for all, regardless of your goodness or badness or your deeds, a time is coming when the Lord will return, like a thief in the night, and those who have trusted in the Lord and watched and waited for His coming will be found in the courts of His kingdom. And, then, the doors will be shut, and, tragically, those who had it all but lost their vigilance and trust in the Lord while He was delayed will find themselves outside of His gates for all eternity. And, the Lord will say to them, “I never knew you,” for they never took the time to know Him.

The key to the parable of the Ten Virgins is the oil in their lamps. Five of the virgins took extra oil with them as they made their way to meet the bridegroom, a seemingly foolish thing to do for a daytime wedding feast, but our Lord calls them wise. Five of the virgins took only enough oil for the day, not planning for or anticipating the unexpected – our Lord calls them foolish. But, then, the unexpected happens, the bridegroom is delayed. Notice, however, that all ten of the virgins become drowsy and fall asleep; again, it is not because five are good and five are evil or because of their works that the Lord calls them wise or foolish, it is because of the oil that they have, or do not have, for the oil is faith and vigilant trust in the Lord. All ten of the Lord’s pure and holy virgins became drowsy and fell asleep. But, then, at midnight, the watchmen’s cry, “The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take!” “With bridal care yourselves prepare to meet the Bridegroom, who is near.” The virgins awake and prepare themselves in haste, trimming the wicks of their lamps which had been burning through the night. And, that is when five of the Lord’s pure and holy virgins realize that their lamps are going out and that they have no more oil.

Those foolish virgins are still virgins, that is, they are still forgiven sinners – that is the Lord’s doing alone, and that hasn’t changed. But, their faith in the Lord was not enough to last through the night of uncertainty before the Bridegroom’s arrival. They were prepared to receive the Lord in faith so long as He came to them according to their expectations and on their terms, but they did not trust in the Lord sufficiently to wait on Him in patience as He was delayed. So, when the Bridegroom comes, the foolish virgins are not there, but they are out in the world desperately searching for oil and finding none. When they finally return to the hall of the marriage feast, presumably still without oil, but pleading for mercy, they find the doors closed and the feast commencing without them. They knock and they knock and they cry out “Lord, lord, open to us,” but the Lord answers, “I do not know you.” And, this is the most horrible of unnecessary tragedies, for these foolish virgins were children of the kingdom, they had been made pure and holy in the blood of the Lamb – they had it all. But, they rejected the Lord by not trusting in Him completely. They were forgiven sinners, just like the wise virgins, heirs of the kingdom, but the tragic truth is that both heaven and hell are populated only with forgiven sinners.

This is a completely unnecessary tragedy, for, as St. Paul writes, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” You, children of God, are likewise redeemed in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ – and, that is a done deal – “It is finished.” That fact is not changed whether you are good or bad and it does not depend upon your works. But, you do need oil, you do need faith to receive this gift, faith which itself is a gift, faith in Christ – no matter what. How much faith is not really the issue, for faith is faith, and faith always receives the fullness of what God has done in Christ Jesus. But, faith comes from and is sustained by God alone. The foolish virgins could not produce oil on their own, they had to go and seek a merchant to buy it from, and, sadly, there were none to be found. For, faith cannot be created of your own will or choice, it cannot be borrowed or taken from another, and, it is only given by the Holy Spirit working through God’s holy Word and Sacraments. And, what does faith look like? What does faith do? Faith watches and waits in hopeful expectation for the coming of the Lord. Faith watches and waits throughout years and decades. Faith watches and waits through sickness, trial, suffering, and sorrow. Faith always watches and waits in hopeful expectation for the coming of the Lord trusting that He will come just as He has promised.

Further, as St. Paul exhorts you, faith works to “encourage one another and build one another up.” The faithful know that we are never alone, but that we are all in the same boat together, that is the ark of the Church, the body of Christ. We are all forgiven sinners, but that does not mean that we are always good and never do bad things – nevertheless, we remain God’s forgiven sinners, purchased in the perfect and holy blood of His Son. And, as forgiven sinners, we must always forgive those who have sinned against us. If others have hurt you or offended you in any way, you must forgive them as you have been forgiven by God without condition. To not forgive is to not have oil, to not have faith, and the Lord, the Bridegroom is coming, and those without the oil of faith will find themselves locked out of the wedding feast. Besides, what benefit is it to you to hold a grudge against one of Christ’s redeemed children? How does it benefit you to harbor anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, lovelessness, and cynicism? These are tools of Satan to divide, separate, and isolate you one from another and to weaken and snuff out your faith. Don’t let your pride be your downfall, for that was the downfall of your Enemy.

But, how do you keep your stock of oil full, your faith strong, vigilant, watching, and waiting? You do this, not by doing anything, but, by receiving. You do this by receiving the Lord’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation by being in His Word and by receiving His Holy Absolution and the Holy Body and Blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. And, you maintain this faith by daily repentance and forgiveness and by a life of humility, grace, mercy, charity, peace, and forgiveness towards others – all others – your brothers and sisters in Christ and your neighbors everywhere else. For, the Lord will return at a day and hour you do not know; like a thief in the night, the cry will ring out that the Bridegroom has come. This need not be a threat, for you have already been judged righteous in Jesus Christ, you are virginally pure and holy in the sight of God through faith in Christ. So, again, Christ’s return need not be a threat – but it is a promise that you can trust, have faith in, and bet your life on.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Christian Funeral for Charles Wilfred Struck Sr.


John 14:1-4; Matthew 11:28-30; 2 Timothy 4:6-8


“I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” That’s how St. Paul described his situation, waiting in his Roman prison cell for his inevitable and swiftly coming martyrdom. I think that those words are fitting to describe how Chuck has felt these past eight months since his dear Betty died in the Lord. Though Chuck still came to church on Sunday mornings and Friday morning Bible study, though he would still go out for a bite to eat and to play Schafskopf with the fellas, he just wasn’t himself. He was even more quiet than usual. When he did speak, you could hear that he was sad. He was a bit like a ghost – present, but mostly silent; around, but not entirely “here.” Chuck was so very sad since Betty died, depressed even. And why wouldn’t he be? Chuck and Betty were happily married for sixty-four years! They had you four children: Stephen, Carolee, Jeffrey, and Charles, all nearby and involved in their lives and blessing them with seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. God has been good to Chuck and Betty, and God has been good to you through them. God has blessed them and He has made them to be a rich blessing to you and to countless others.

That was the Chuck of the last eight months, but that was not the Chuck of the eighty-four years prior. While that Chuck may have been quiet, even stoic at times, he was also strong and bold. That Chuck loved to bike, golf, and watch basketball and football. That Chuck rode his bicycle in Ragbrai. When his wheel hit a crack in the pavement and he took a tumble, that Chuck got up, brushed himself off, checked his bike, and off he went. That Chuck drove his new car as fast as it would go, just to see how fast it could go, scaring the bejeebers out of his sister Sandy. That Chuck drove Army Generals to meetings in Hawaii, before Hawaii was a state, during the Korean War. That Chuck gave everyone a hard time, because he loved them, and that Chuck was the man to beat in Rummy or a game of cards. That Chuck was the best there was at finding things, and, ironically, at getting himself lost. But now Chuck has been found.

Though he wasn’t the same man that he used to be in terms of strength, vigor, and vitality, which, metaphorically, had seemingly been poured out of him, Chuck fought the good fight of faith for eighty-five years, he finished the race that is our lives this side of heaven and he kept the faith throughout. And now Chuck rests in His Savior Jesus with his beloved Betty and with all the saints who have died in the Lord. Chuck has moved once again, not from the house he loved and cared for with Betty for so many years, not even from his apartment at The Ledges, which simply wasn’t home, but Chuck has followed His Good Shepherd Jesus and he has moved into that place that His Lord prepared for him in His Father’s house, a house in which He has prepared a place also for you to live one day as well.

Ironically, for a man who had little to say most of the time, Chuck got a kick out of talking when most everyone else would prefer him to have been silent – like, in elevators. Yes, Chuck would strike up a conversation with complete strangers in elevators. He would also answer complete strangers’ questions in restaurants that weren’t even addressed to him. In that respect, Chuck was uncommonly social. He liked people, and people liked him. He was a milk delivery man for thirty-five years. Chuck knew people everywhere he went, from St. Louis to St. Paul. Chuck’s granddaughter Michael shared with me that his relative silence, outside of those uncomfortable elevator and restaurant situations, was actually a great blessing to her. She remembered “those mornings in silence sitting on the four-season porch watching the birds and drinking coffee before Chuck and Betty read their morning devotions.” “The world was at peace,” she said, and “They helped me to cherish the little things and to live in the moment, because those mornings were sacred.” Michael said that she would give anything to have one of those mornings on that four-season porch again.” That’s a great memory, and a great life lesson.

Cherish the little things. That’s good advice. Little things like silence and coffee in the morning, little things like birdsongs and sunshine, little things like devotions with your beloved, little things like a bike ride or a game of Schafskopf, little things like sneaking a piece of chocolate when no one is looking, little things like chocolate pudding and pea salad. The thing is, these “little things” are not little things at all. These are the things that make a life sacred, and blessed, and good. Rather, these things are the marks of a sacred, blessed, and good life. Chuck and Betty were fixtures in this sanctuary. They loved their Lord and His Word and His Gifts, and they loved receiving them together and with their family of faith. They believed in this promise from our Lord Jesus: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Chuck and Betty believed in that promise, and they are experiencing it even now. Let not your hearts be troubled, the promise is for you and all who will receive forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ as a free and perfect gift.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Charles Struck Sr. is no longer lilting his way through life like a ghost, but he is in the presence of Life Incarnate, Jesus Christ, his Savior. He has found rest for his soul. And yet, this is not the end, for all the saints in heaven are waiting for and anticipating the day of our Lord’s return and the resurrection of our bodies. Then you will see them again and there will be joy and peace that will never end. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly, come.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

At Least We Have Pockets

A behind the scenes reflection on Waverly - Shell Rock High School's production of the musical "Annie" November 12-14, 2021

My family moved to Waverly a little over four years ago after I accepted the call to serve as pastor of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church. Before accepting the call, we visited Waverly, and immediately we were taken by the “community feel” of the town. As it is one week from Thanksgiving, I was planning to write this article about the blessings of thankfulness and gratitude.

However, Eric Van Sickle, a reporter from the Waverly Newspaper, invited me to write about something different, about Waverly-Shell Rock High School’s recent production of the musical Annie, in which my senior daughter Cora performed the lead role as Annie and my freshman daughter Meredith also appeared in multiple roles. I graciously accepted the invitation and, as it turns out, this will still be an article about the blessings of thankfulness and gratitude, but less from a pastor than from the perspective of a proud and thankful father.

I didn’t know much about the story of Annie. I mean, I knew that she was an orphan and that she had a dog named Sandy, but that’s about it. I’d never seen a musical or a movie production of Annie before. I do remember the comic strip from the newspapers from when I was a boy, but it didn’t do much for me – Annie was just a girl that said, “Oh boy!” a lot.

As Cora and Meredith began learning their parts and their songs, I began to glean a little more about the story. Annie is set in Depression-era New York City. Lots of folks were unemployed and, supposedly, that was why Annie was left at an orphanage – her parents were victims of the depression, and they couldn’t afford to care for their daughter while they sought work elsewhere.

Thus, it is supposed, Annie isn’t an orphan at all; her parents were alive somewhere, and they left her a note promising that they would come back for her, and they also left her half of a heart-shaped locket as a sign of hope. At the time of the story, Annie had been waiting in hopeful expectation of her parents’ return for eleven years. Almost everyone had given up hope, and they all considered Annie’s hope to be only a fool’s hope.

I must confess, hearing my own daughter, as Annie, talk about how she wants to have her parents back more than anything else in the world, only to learn that they are deceased, was a bit surreal and emotional. Raising teenagers isn’t always easy, especially teenage daughters, and I wonder if in learning her lines for Annie she contemplated her relationship with her mother and father? I know that I did.


It is Annie’s hopefulness and optimism, however, that the story is truly all about, set against the darkness, despair, and hopelessness of the Great Depression. When the out-of-work residents of Hooverville complain that all they’ve got is empty pockets, Annie reminds them to be thankful that they have pockets at all. When they complain that their hands are cold, Annie reminds them to be grateful that they have pockets to put their hands in.

Annie’s optimism and hopefulness are epitomized in the musical’s main theme, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” It was Annie’s attempt to comfort a despairing President Roosevelt with those words that, in the story, inspired him to proclaim a “New Deal” for America to relieve it of its depression.


Our girls surprise my wife and I again and again because they are very quiet and secretive about all the things they are involved in. Of course, we knew that they were both in the musical, but we never really heard them sing their parts or rehearse their lines at home. Thus, when the Waverly Newspaper posted a video featuring segments of the preview performance of Annie performed at the W-SR High School on Tuesday before the premiere, we didn’t know what to expect.

What we saw blew us away and moved us to tears! Cora owned her role as Annie. She sang with full emotion and with crispness and clarity, and her performance was a balanced combination of her own personality, which we know so well, and her interpretation of the character Annie. Meredith also, this being her first musical, performed her role well and fit comfortably into the ensemble.


But then Cora was interviewed by reporter Van Sickle, and once again I was surprised and moved to tears of both pride and joy.

Eric asked Cora if she saw any parallels between the Depression-era setting and what is going on in the world today. Cora replied, “I’m hoping that the song ‘The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow’ will really get through to some people. With the pandemic and everything, it’s been kind of crazy. Hopefully, everyone can just take away from it that the sun will come out tomorrow, everything will be better, everything will get better for everyone.”

“I think there are a lot of similarities with people not having jobs,” Cora continued, “with just everything. I think [directors Allison Rasmussen, Greg Wessel, Jim Vowels, and John Atkinson] did a really good job picking [Annie]. I think they kind of do every year, pick something that really seems to fit into that specific year and speak to people that they can see a parallel in.”


I was amazed! My daughter's participation in a high school musical was much more than just singing and dancing, it was a true learning experience. The musical was chosen for some very pragmatic reasons concerning the students who were available to perform the necessary parts, but also taken into consideration was the theme and the historical setting of the musical in relation to those students and their experiences throughout the times in which they live.

Truly, the pandemic has had a depression-like effect on many of us and it’s all too easy to become despairing and hopeless. It seems that Annie was just the prescription we needed. Indeed, we still have each other, we have family, and we have community. There’s so much to be thankful and grateful for.


Both Cora and Meredith remarked that the cast and crew for Annie had become a sort of family. Indeed, following the final performance Sunday evening, Cora had tears in her eyes. The seniors in the cast and crew had just embraced knowing that this was their last musical together.

We were blessed to host a cast party at our home following Saturday’s performance. It was a delight to have around 50 high school students laughing and having fun in our family room. We are so very thankful and grateful for our schools, our community, our congregation, and for everything the Lord has blessed us with.

We are so very proud of our daughters, and we are grateful for their mentors who, through a musical about a hopeful orphan in the Great Depression ninety years ago, reminds us that, amid an almost two-year-long pandemic, we have so very much to be thankful and grateful for, especially family, friends, and community.

Never lose hope. At least we have pockets. And remember, the sun will come out tomorrow.


Pastor Jon M. Ellingworth

St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church – Waverly, IA

This article ran in the November 18, 2021 Waverly Democrat Newspaper

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)


Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Peter 3:3-14; Daniel 7:9-14


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

The temptation for us is to become myopic and shortsighted. What I mean is that, we humans are prone to getting caught up in the tyranny of the urgent and the cares, the worries, and the anxieties of our day to day lives. Whatever pressing travail afflicts us, we permit it to become all encompassing, overwhelming, and mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually crippling. While our natural, God-given response should be to either fight or to flee, too often we merely roll over and play dead and do nothing at all. Either way, our Enemy wins because he gets us to shirk our vocations and our God-given responsibilities when we fear losing all the transient and temporal things that we try to acquire and to hold on to so desperately, trying to convince ourselves that they really will last and not fade away.

Money, possessions, reputation, career, spouse, children – these we clamor to amass, to keep, to protect, and to hold on to at all costs. We permit our lives, our value, and the measure of our success or failure to be judged by these fleeting things. Of course this is idolatry and a violation of the First Commandment, as we continually place our fear, our love, and our trust in created things in place of the Creator of all things. And, when we are reminded of this, we may nod our heads and say, “Yeah, I know,” and wish that things could be different, never really believing that they will be and thus never really trying, ho-hum. However, such idolatry is not a victimless sin. We’re not only hurting God – if such a thing were possible – but we are hurting other people: our brothers and our sisters in Christ, our family and our friends, our neighbors. We are hurting them, a violation of the Fifth Commandment, by not helping and befriending them in their bodily needs. You see, when we are so worried and anxious for ourselves, we are literally incurvatus in se, that is, curved in on ourselves. This means that we cannot be looking outward towards others and their needs because we are too consumed with looking inward to our own real or perceived needs, wants, and desires exacerbated by anxiety, worry, and stress from clamoring to amass, to keep, to protect, and to hold on to whatever at all costs. Such idolatry is ultimately selfishness and a worship of the self. In Jesus’ parable today, it is precisely self-centered idolatry that makes for the difference between the sheep and the goats.

You see, the sheep were already sheep before the sorting, and the goats were already goats. It’s not like the Shepherd made them or judged them to be sheep or goats at the moment of the sorting, but he knows them by sheepish and goatish fruits they bear. Sheep do sheepy things, and goats do not, just the way a healthy tree bears good fruit and a diseased tree does not. And, the fruits the Shepherd is looking for are works of kindness, charity, mercy, and love towards others: feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty to drink, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the imprisoned. You can only serve your neighbor in these ways if you are looking outward instead of continually inward to your self.

Consequently, the sheep, that is, faithful believers, were not even aware that they were serving their Lord, for they were simply doing the things they were given to do. As I said earlier, sheep do sheepy things. And so, it’s not that they were always conscious and aware, and certainly not keeping tallies and records, of their good works, but they produced these works much like fruit, the way an apple tree produces apples, or the way a grapevine produces grapes. The sheep do the things that they do, the things for which the Lord commends them and blesses them, precisely because they are sheep and not goats. Therefore, we must direct our attention and our meditation, not to the works themselves, but rather to what it means to be a sheep, and how one becomes a sheep in the first place.

The truth is, we were all once goats. And the truth is, we often still exhibit goatish behavior and do goatish things. And, if we focus only, or primarily, upon our behavior, our works, then we will likely despair believing that, deep down, we truly are goats and not sheep. The goatish things that we do not want to do, that is what we continually find ourselves doing, while the sheepy things we want to do, those things we do not do. Yet, even more likely, we will not despair our being goats, but we will pump ourselves with pride and convince ourselves that we are sheep, or at least that we are more sheepy than all the obvious goats we see all around us. No, we must not focus only, or even primarily, upon our behavior and our works – that is the way of the Law. Instead, we must focus upon our Lord’s behavior and His works, His humility and selflessness, His obedience and faith and His trust, His love and forgiveness, His death and resurrection for all us goats. In His suffering, death, and resurrection, our Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, has raised us from goatish death to new and eternal sheepish life. Behold, He makes all things new. He even makes the lame walk and the deaf hear. He makes goats to be sheep. Thanks be to God!

Your Lord Jesus teaches you that becoming a sheep is like being born. It is not something you do or decide, but it is something that happens to you, wholly apart from your will, your work, or your reason. Jesus also teaches that becoming a sheep is like having the wind blow upon you. You cannot make the wind to blow upon anymore than you can stop it from blowing upon you. That, Jesus teaches, is precisely the way the Holy Spirit of God works, creating faith and making sheep out of goats when and where He pleases.

However, while becoming a sheep is not a decision or a choice that you make, being a sheep is a considerably different thing than being a goat. Sheep do sheepy, not goatish, things. And, the sheepy things that Jesus’ sheep do are the fruit of His own love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. And, that is what Jesus’ judgment parable about the sheep and the goats is really all about: love. The works of grace, mercy, love, and compassion the faithful sheep in the parable exhibit (works they are mostly unaware that they are doing!) are the fruit of the grace, mercy, love, and compassion they themselves have received from their Lord and their Shepherd. What they give and do for others does not even remotely strike them as a work or a burden, let alone a loss or grievance of any kind. And, when it is pointed out to them, they are likely to say, “That’s just what Christians do.” Christians do the good works that they do because of what Christ has done for them and for all: They give with Christ’s gifts. They show mercy with Christ’s mercy. They love with Christ’s love. They are compassionate with Christ’s compassion. They forgive with Christ’s forgiveness.

Not so the goats. Effectively, St. Peter describes the goats in today’s Epistle Lesson saying, “Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” That last part, “following their own sinful desires,” is key. You see, the scoffing is really just an attempt to justify their goatish behavior. You’ve heard it before; you’ve probably asked before: “If there were a God, why doesn’t He do something about evil and suffering in the world?” “If God is real and cares about us, why doesn’t He show Himself and destroy all doubt?” “From what I can tell, there is no God; everything evolved from molecules to man, and the origin of all things is some cosmic explosion fourteen billion years ago.” “There is no God. There is no morality. There is no truth. Whatever is true for you is true enough, so long as you don’t infringe upon anyone else’s truth.” “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” This is why goats act the way they do. They do not believe. They refuse to receive. Thus, they live for themselves and they serve themselves and they worship themselves. They do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but they are god to themselves and place themselves above all things. They neither acknowledge God nor their need for Him. They do not receive from Him, thus they have nothing to give. They are what they are by nature; they are goats.

But, they tempt the Lord’s sheep to return to their goatish ways. That is why St. Peter exhorts the faithful to “be diligent to be found by [the Lord] without spot or blemish, and at peace.” Now, to be found without spot or blemish is to be found in faith, trusting in the Lord and His Word and not in your works and merit. To be found at peace is to be found content and humble in the Lord’s providence and not seeking gain or profit, particularly at the expense of others. And so, being a sheep is much less about what sheep do as it is about what sheep do not do – sheep do not do what goats do, and thus, they remain the sheep that the Lord has made them to be. And, when they do do goatish things, they return in humility, repentance, and faith to the Lord that He might forgive them and wash them anew, making them white and righteous in His blood once again.

Our Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, desires for all to join His fold. He continues to call both sheep and goats, and His Spirit is blowing where and when it pleases Him, able to turn goats into sheep. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” We must not fret and worry about, and become overwhelmed with, cares and desires, fears and anxieties. Then we become incurvatus in se, turned in on ourselves. True freedom, the freedom that Jesus Christ died to give, is realized in grace, mercy, love, and compassion towards others. Therefore, your Lord Jesus invites you to find rest in Him: rest from your striving, rest from your anxiety, rest from your fear. Jesus is the Sabbath rest of the LORD. Jesus is peace with God. In Him you lack nothing. In Him you have everything, and more, to give freely as you have freely received.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Christian Funeral for Jerome Norris Hoins


Matthew 6:25-33; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 1 John 3:1-2 

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

I was born. I was baptized. I was confirmed. I was married. That’s pretty much how Jerry began a letter about six years ago summarizing his life up to that point, a letter that would eventually become the basis of his obituary. I don’t know if Jerry was aware of it or not, but that is precisely the order in which the rites appear in the Lutheran Service Book hymnal: Holy Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, and lastly the Funeral Service which we are observing today. This order is not coincidental. These are the rites that mark the stages of a Christian’s life. These are the rites that marked the stages of Jerry’s life. And these rites mark the stages of your life and my life too. These events were of the utmost importance to Jerry, and so he began his letter summarizing his life stating plainly and clearly that he died in the waters of Holy Baptism and was born again, cleansed of his sins in Jesus’ blood, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit and faith, and that he made public confirmation of his faith before both God and man, and that he was joined in Holy Matrimony to a Christian woman whom God had brought to him. And today we observe and mark the next, though not final, stage of Jerry’s life, His death in Christ. Today marks the end of Jerry’s earthly life, but it also points us to Christ’s promise that those who believe in Him, though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in Him shall never die. Truly, Jerry would like for nothing more than for the people he loved to know this and to believe this and so receive with Him life that cannot die, life in Jesus Christ that will never perish or fade away.

Now, of course, these rites are not the only important things in a Christian’s life. Jerry also noted his time in two different country schools in rural Nebraska, his education at St. Peter’s Parochial School, and High School graduation in Ruskin, Nebraska. Those were formative years for Jerry, years that shaped him into the Christian man you all knew and loved. I had very few conversations with Jerry in which he did not mention that he grew up in Nebraska and went to church in Ruskin. In fact, there’s a red hat with Jerry right now that reads “St. Mark Lutheran Church – Ruskin, Nebraska.” Jerry wore that hat all the time. After high school – six days after graduation – Jerry enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and spent time in Texas, Mississippi, Idaho, and Japan. Jerry has another hat with him honoring him as a veteran, and he will be honored as such at the cemetery later today. Thank you for your service, Jerry. Then Jerry moved to Waverly with his parents and worked several jobs, learned the appliance repair trade in which he was self-employed for thirty-three years, owned and operated a tropical fish store, and did custodial work at Wartburg College. Jerry was married to Lyne Mohling and became father to Diane, Chris, and Corey. Twenty-three years later Jerry married Vera Sherburne and became father (stepfather) to Susan, Darwin, Teresa, Jeff, and Rodney. And the story continues with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with an additional great-grandchild due any day now.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Jerry became God’s child on May 30, 1937, and he lived his life as God’s child in all his many vocations: Son, husband, father, grandfather, friend, soldier, custodian, laborer, fish monger, appliance repairman, church trustee, head usher, congregation vice-president, and numerous others. What Jerry received from the Lord you also received from him: love, kindness, charity, mercy, forgiveness, patience, help in time of need, support and encouragement in all things. Jerry fought the good fight of faith. He finished the race. Now he rests from his labors, and there is laid up for him the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to him, and to all who love His appearing, when He comes.

Jerry loved his family – his great big, blended family. Blood or marriage, it didn’t matter, it doesn’t matter still. Whether it was the lake house in Minnesota or omelets in Shell Rock for Christmas, it was about having the family together, the more the merrier. Jerry’s confirmation verse was Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Jerry did, and they were. Just as Jerry marked his life by baptism, confirmation, and marriage, so did Jerry live his life as Christ’s child. God was always first for Jerry. That didn’t mean that others were second, but it was because of Jerry’s love for God that you experienced such love from Jerry. As the Apostle John has written, “We love because He first loved us.” Jerry’s love was the love of God in Christ Jesus. It was selfless and sacrificial love. It was patient and enduring love. It was love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Jerry didn’t always have much. And life was most certainly not always easy. In the few years I’ve known Jerry and Vera it seems that they have always had family members on the prayer list and there have been numerous serious illnesses and quite a few deaths along the way as well. However, the very same love of God that Jerry received made him a rock through those turbulent times, and Vera too. Jerry was not anxious about his life, what he would eat or drink, nor about his body and what he would put on. He knew that his life was more than food and his body more than clothing. More than that, He knew, believed, and trusted in God’s love for him and for all in Christ Jesus and, seeking Christ first, Jerry knew that everything that was needful would be provided him in God’s way and in God’s time. Again, Jerry would like nothing more than that those whom he loved should know and experience and share this same peace and comfort and love in Christ Jesus.

Jerry didn’t want the homily at his funeral to be all about him. Although I’ve said much about Jerry and his life and I’ve mentioned his name many times, still I insist that this homily has not been all about Jerry, but it has been all about Jesus who loved Jerry, and gave His life for Jerry, and lived in and through Jerry’s life, in whose presence Jerry is now at peace and rest until the day of his reappearing. Jerry was God’s child in his earthly life, but just because his earthly life has ended does not mean that Jerry’s life is over. Jerry, and all those who have died in the Lord, along with all the faithful here on earth, are looking forward to that “yet more glorious day” of Christ’s return, when “the saints triumphant rise in bright array” and “the King of glory passes on His way. Alleluia! Alleluia!” “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. […] Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Feast of All Saints (observed)


Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:2-17


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

It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps, when it comes to well known and beloved Bible passages, it can be said that familiarity breeds a sort of “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” kind of contempt, a contempt that causes us to neglect revisiting the text and wrestling with it, so as to “suck the marrow” out of it, assuming that we know it well enough and understand it well enough so that there is no need to study it again.

It seems that the opening words of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter five, the Beatitudes, are like that. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…. Blessed are those who mourn…. Blessed are the meek…, etc., etc.” You know those words well. Perhaps you believe that you understand them well enough? Well, maybe you do, and, maybe you don’t.

The common and popular understanding of Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes goes something like this: If you want to be blessed, then be meek, mild, poor, and merciful, etc., and you will be. In other words, the Beatitudes are a guide to living the Christian life or a sort of moral checklist by which you can chart your progress towards achieving blessedness. Though it may be common and popular, however, this understanding of Jesus’ teaching is dead wrong. This understanding makes the Beatitudes to be all Law and, it makes Jesus out to be a new Law-giver. But, worse yet, it makes your blessedness a work that you do. And, so we come full circle, and, we can understand why this understanding is so common and so popular. For, you like to think you can contribute to your sanctification. You like to think that you are making progress in becoming more and more blessed. Well, you’re not alone. In fact, you are in good company, for, the Pharisees thought this way too, especially, when they compared themselves to others whom they judged to be less sanctified and less blessed than themselves. It’s only human; sinful and damned, to be sure, but, human.

But, blessedness is not something that you progress toward or that you achieve by your works, rather blessedness is a state of being in which you find yourself wholly apart from your works, merit, or worthiness. Blessedness is not something that you achieve, it is something that you receive and thus you are, blessed. And, the first step in receiving such blessedness is to recognize that you are not it, and that you do not have it, in and of yourself, and that you cannot gain it by your merits, and that you do not deserve it, because you are a sinner. So, if you are to be blessed, then you must receive blessedness as a gift; you must be made to be, declared to be blessed by the one and the only one who isblessed, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior. Thus, it is, that the people whom Jesus addresses as blessed are not the “haves” of this world, but they are the “have-nots,” they are the crowds, the hoi polloi, both Jews and gentiles. “Blessed are the poor in spirit .... Blessed are those who mourn…. Blessed are the meek … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst … Blessed are the merciful … Blessed are the pure in heart … Blessed are the persecuted… etc.” The great crowds came from all over, from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan, even from the land of Syria, and they brought to Jesus their sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and He healed them.

Jesus’ blessing brings comfort and fulfillment at once now and not yet. In the now of this life, those who are emptied of self-righteousness and are impoverished of spirit are filled with the righteousness and the Spirit of Christ. Their hunger and their thirst are sated and quenched by His life-giving Word, body, and blood. In their mourning they are comforted in the Peace that is Christ Jesus and His victory over sin, death, and the devil. In persecution and reviling they do not strike back in anger or revenge, but, they remain steadfast in faith in the Christ who has suffered for them, the Christ who suffers with them now, and the Christ who is their unconquerable strength in weakness. That is now, in this life, this side of heaven.

What we see in the Revelation, however, is the other side of the coin, the not yet for us, but, the reality now in heaven for the Saints in Christ. Once again Jesus, the Lamb of God, stands in the midst of a great crowd of people, a multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands“Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” asks the Elder. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It is said that this great crowd, this multitude that no one can count, no longer hunger, no longer thirst, and no longer mourn. They are in the kingdom of heaven and they see God with their own eyes. “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” They are the remnant of Israel and countless gentiles from the east and the west, the north and the south. They are the blessed of the Lord, made clean in the blood of the Lamb, gathered together around the throne of God and the Lamb in ceaseless worship now, for them, and not yet for us.

All who have died in the Lord, they are part of that blessed throng, they have come out of the great tribulation that is this life and have entered into Life Himself. They are your husbands and your wives, your mothers and your fathers, your sisters and your brothers, your sons and your daughters, all who have died in the Lord. But, they are not dead; Indeed, in a way they are more alive than you! For, they enjoy in full, now, what you only know in part, but that doesn’t make it any less real and true for you who live in the not yet. Indeed, you blessed of the Lord in the now also live in the not yet; it as though you have one foot in the grave and the other in heaven. But you are destined for heaven, when, with both feet, you will stand with that blessed throng, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, before the throne of God and the Lamb in ceaseless worship. That is a guarantee, backed by the blood of Jesus, sealed in baptismal waters. And, until that day when you come out of this great tribulation into heaven, heaven comes down to you as you kneel before this altar, the throne of the Lamb of God, who is truly present, and you behold with your own eyes, hear with your own ears, handle with your own hands, and taste with your own tongues, and you receive, as foretaste of the feast to come, blessedness Himself in holy communion with your flesh and blood.

For, you are His saints, made holy in His blood, and you are His blessed, now and not yet, destined for life with Him, in Him, and through Him for all eternity. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. […] Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Your Lord Jesus guarantees, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure,” and that is blessedness. And all the Saints of the Church of Christ in heaven and earth cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, come.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.