In Case You Missed it
BEHOLD THE MAN!
And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. "Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
So far in Epiphany and continuing this month, the divinity of Jesus has been manifested in many ways. First, there was the star in the sky pointing out to all the world that the Savior, the King of the Jews, had been born. Then Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, where the Father spoke about his beloved Son and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the bodily form of a dove. Jesus is then rejected in his hometown of Nazareth as the fulfillment of Scripture, and even though the people wanted to kill him, he walked through their midst and went away to perform miracles of turning water into wine, casting out demons, healing various diseases, and bringing in a large number of fish.
However, these are not the miracles that the Word made flesh came to do. These temporal, here-today-and-gone-tomorrow gifts are not the gifts and blessings that God became man to give. He gives us these things for today, yes, but that’s not all. No, not just for today, but Christ makes us blessed forever. The physical gifts God gives us in this life do not reflect our standing before him. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that reflects our standing before God. For richer, for poorer, in abundance or in hunger, in suffering or in rejoicing, Christ and his kingdom are yours.
No matter what you’re going through in this life, at this moment or the next, Jesus is with you. God is with you. The God who created the heavens and the earth has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He has written that promise to you, not with money, food, happiness, or fame, but in the blood of his Son.
The season of Epiphany shows us the power and divinity of Christ that he is true God, but all those miracles were only the little blessings pointing us to the Big BLESSINGS! Soon Epiphany will end with Jesus’ transfiguration and the beginning of his Lenten journey to the cross and empty tomb. In him, we have the certain promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In him, we have a promise that does not fade, change, or decay with time, but a promise that remains sure and firm forever. As long as the Son, the eternal Word, lives, you shall live. You have God with you now, and you shall have him and all of his gifts for eternity, for Christ makes us blessed forever. In this Epiphany season and in your life guard against fixing your eyes on the little miracles, the little blessings. The best is yet to come! When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
" Behold the man!" proclaimed the unwitting preacher Pontius Pilate in one of the shortest, yet most profound, sermons ever recorded. This will be our endeavor this Lententide and Easter Sunday. Behold the man, God in human flesh, Jesus. His incarnation will provide the basis for our meditation and proclamation on His Passion. And His real , bodily suffering and death will provide the basis for our full-throated proclamation on Easter morning of a bodily resurrection, not just of Jesus but also for His saints. Real bodies that have suffered, wept, bled, prayed, eaten, hoped, and more will be those raised incorruptible from their graves on the day of Jesus' return.
We will fix our eyes and our preaching on the man Jesus, contemplating the inescapable fact---indeed the most important fact in the course of human history---that God became man. The Second Person of the eternal, triune God, who we confess in the Nicene Creed as "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God... of one substance with Father, by whom all things were made," became a living, breathing, fles-and-blood human being, a man.
In some ways, you can understand that the first herey the Christian Church had to contend with was that of Gnosticism, the hyper-spiritual religion that held that because no man could be God, Christ could not be God. Gnosticism is alluring because it tidies everything up, gives Christianity a more attractive, spiritual veneer, and pulls its adherents out of the mire of the world and gives them something other-worldly to strive for.
Considered correctly, it becomes pretty hard to spiritualize Christianity---a religion that bases its existence on the enfleshment, the incarnation, of her God---into the mess of disembodied, matter-rejecting, hyper-spiritual Gnosticism. When God has flesh and blood, skin and teeth, cells and nuclei, DNA and RNA, it's difficult to contend for the disembodied spiritual against the material. If God has a body, bodies must matter.
Incase you aren't convinced of the pervasiveness of the second-century heresy of Gnosticism, even in twenty-first-century context, attend a funeral. If you hear talk only of heaven any nary a word of a bodily resurrection, you've witnessed firsthand modern-day Gnosticism. If the preacher doesn't deal with the body in the casket as the real person whose death has assembled the mass of grieving relatives and friends, if he talks only about the bodiless soul in heaven, he hasn't preached a genuinely Christian funeral. In other words, if he gives preference to spiritual over material, he succumbs to the Gnostic heresy the earliest generations of the Church sought to guard against by preaching the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus.
This Lent, we will consider what it means that God became man. In preparation for the celebration of a real, bodily, flesh-and blood, bone and sinew resurrection, the resurrection without which our faith and our preaching are all in vain, consider the body of Jesus that exists in order to be nailed to a cross. The spiritual, bodiless Son of God became the embodied, enfleshed, incarnate Son of Mary. In Jesus, God has human flesh, just like you. What could be more profound?
Each week, we'll consider a different aspect of the body of Jesus Christ. What does it mean that, in Jesus, God Has hands, feet, lungs, lips, eyes, and ears?
Behold the man! In sermon, in study, in devotion, behold the man!
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
“If”, can be a very sad, and discouraging, and frustrating word. “If”, often begins sentences of regret, of wishing things were somehow different. If only I had been more careful. If I would have thought before I spoke. If I hadn’t eaten so much! “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” If both recognizes that things could be different than they currently are, and it expresses our wish that things were different than they currently are.
Funerals are a place where “ifs” often flow freely. If he would have taken better care of himself. If the doctors had done more. If we would have caught this earlier. If she hadn’t been driving in that storm. Most of our “ifs”, however, are short sighted, because most often we are just focused on the present not on the big picture of our eternal destiny, or God’s purpose in our lives.
“Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She was right. Jesus could have easily healed Lazarus and prevented him from dying. But Jesus had a greater purpose for Lazarus, a bigger picture to paint. He had already done the healing thing with countless others, but for Mary and Martha and for grieving families some 2000 years later he needed to make the picture a little larger, that they might know that he didn’t just have power over sickness, but even power over death. Martha believed and confessed, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."
Today Jesus wants to comfort you with that same belief. “Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."” And he says the same to us today, “Your brother, father, mother, sister, child, friend will rise again.” And we will be with them in a paradise where there are no hospitals, nursing homes, cancer, sorrow, death, or tears. All this because Jesus is here. And as he says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” It would be nice if we could just cry in a loud voice, “come out!”, and our loved ones would come out of their graves. Did you hear that “if”? “It would be nice If we could just cry in a loud voice.” We would be happy and amazed and thrilled and overwhelmed and we would definitely make the evening news, but just like Lazarus our loved one would be leaving the paradise of heaven and stepping back into a world of cancer, and pain, and frustrations, and sorrow only to eventually die again.
Our “ifs” always paint the picture too small. Jesus didn’t come just to keep us from dying, or to bring us back to life in a world of sin and death time and time again. He had a bigger picture for our future -- a canvass that stretches to all eternity. By his death for you and for me Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and then did something even greater than he did for Lazarus. He rose victorious over sin and death once for all, never to die again never to be burdened by sin and all its effects. That is the true resurrection and life.
You know, not every “if” is about regret or wishing things to be different than they are. 2 Timothy 2:11 “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;” Listen again to what happened to you at your baptism and what happens to all who believe and are baptized. Romans 6:3-5 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
In baptism we are united to Christ in such a full and complete way that his death for sin is now our death for sin. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him;”. That’s a good “if”, a certain “if”, an Easter “if”, no regrets, no doubts, no wishing things were different. We will rise again and live with the Lord forever, and all who also believe and are baptized will too. “Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"” Easter brings an end to all uncertainty, to all our, “ifs”.
“Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:21-27
A FEW GOOD WORDS
Happy Mother’s Month!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him not anything made that was made... The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of Grace and truth.
Imagine for a moment that your parents were getting older, and having some health problems. They decide to sell off their home, cars, property, and possessions and give all their money to you. They tell you that the money is now all yours, and all they ask is that you see to it that they are taken care of until the Lord calls them home.
What would you do with the money they gave you? Would you buy a new house, car, boat, or vacation for yourself? No! I think most of us would be humbled and honored that our parents put such trust in us. Out of love, respect, and honor for all they had done for us we would gladly do what we could to give them the best care we could for the rest of their lives.
Dear Christians, that is exactly what the Lord has done for us. He has given us everything starting with our very lives, to our talents, family, jobs, homes, possessions, and money. All this he has given us for one purpose only. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you. Deuteronomy 16:17 Everything is for his Kingdom. Everything we have has been given us by the Lord for the spreading of his Love, his Gospel message, his Word, his Kingdom, that all might come to faith in Jesus Christ, and be saved.
Our first thoughts about how to use our life, talents, and money ought only be focused on the only lasting treasure there is – the salvation of all nations. Now we don’t do the Lord much good if we starve ourselves to death because we gave away all our money, worked ourselves into an early grave, or lost our family out of neglect due to spending all our time in service to the Kingdom. But so often when we think of the stewardship of our time, talents, and treasures we find ourselves asking how much can I spare for the Lord, how much can we afford to give, or how much does the church really need? How much of a slice of the pie should we give?
Sadly, we fail to see that all our life belongs to the Lord and glorifies him and serves his Kingdom when we simply live our lives in faith. What we eat we eat to the Lord. What we do we do to the Lord. There is nothing wrong or less holy about spending time or money caring for the needs of our family. There is nothing more or less holy about an honest job. God has given us these things for our care and enjoyment that we might live peaceful and quiet lives. He has given each of us talents, desires, and dreams that we might serve one another and support the whole body of Christ. If we were all pastors and teachers, we would starve to death, our cars wouldn’t run, no buildings would be built, no trash collected, electricity generated, or computers made to write this newsletter article. No, God knew what he was doing when he gave us the talents, desires, opportunities, people, and places that make up our lives. But instead of asking, “What can we afford to give the Lord?” Perhaps, a more faithful question might be, “What can we do with all we have been given to best serve the Kingdom?” “How can we best use all the Lord has given us in service to his Kingdom?” We don’t give leftovers. We give first fruits. We give in proportion to the way the Lord has blessed us. “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.”Stewardship of what the Lord has given you, is stewardship of everything! We glorify God and serve his Kingdom with our entire life and everything we have every day. Another familiar way to speak of the stewardship of our lives is to say, “We are blessed to be a blessing!”
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
blessings vs BLESSINGS!
Pastor Emeritus M.J Meyer
June 2019 Blessed be the Holy Trinity
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
This month we will be celebrating Holy Trinity Sunday. It is the Sunday of the Church year on which we rejoice in the teaching of the Holy Trinity, namely, that we worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God. In Deuteronomy 4:39 the Lord makes it clear what we are to believe. “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” Clearly scripture teaches that there is only one God in heaven and on earth, and no other. In Matthew 28:18-19, however, Jesus speaks of God’s authority when he says “All authority in heaven and on earth”, but he attributes that authority to three persons. He says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Because of these and many other scriptural proofs that, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have “All authority”, and are truly God, we believe teach and confess that we worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God.
Well, so what? Why is this doctrine that we can’t humanly understand, so important that we have a special Sunday to celebrate it? Why is this teaching, that is beyond our human reason, so glorious that churches are named after it? For all of us who have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit it brings great comfort and joy. For by the doctrine of the Trinity, we stand unshakable in the knowledge that the Father who gave his only Son, and who promises eternal life, the Son who cried from the Cross, “Father forgive them.,” the Holy Spirit who calls, and keeps us in the one true faith, these three persons of the Trinity have “All authority” to do what they promise. There is no higher authority to countermand their promises. No restrictions can be laid on the promises given us in our baptism. The promises of forgiveness, of the Spirit, and of eternal life, bestowed on us in the name of the Trinity, can be taken from us by no one. Indeed, “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.”
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
May 12th is Mother’s Day. Believe it or not Mother’s Day is not a church, but a secular holiday. We, however, in the church certainly celebrate and give thanks to God for our mothers. Christian mothers are indeed a treasured blessing to every Christian home. The church calendar as I have taught before is centered on the life of Christ, and so our church holidays are all based on the life of Christ. There is, therefore, not a specific day on which we celebrate Mother’s Day, rather we celebrate all month long!
Although St. Mary Mother of Our Lord day is August 15th, the month of May is recognized as a month dedicated to honor her. May Devotions as they are called originated in the eighteenth century at Rome. Father Latonia of the Society of Jesus, noticed a group of children who, in the month of May, brought flowers to deck a wayside shrine of Mary before which they devoutly knelt in prayer.
Edified and inspired by the example of the children, Father Latonia established May devotions in the Jesuit Roman College in order to foster the virtues of purity and piety in the students, and through them, counteract the destructive forces of immorality and infidelity in the world. The devotion spread rapidly to other colleges and schools, was approved and indulgenced by the Holy Father, and soon became one of the most popular devotions of the year.
Don’t worry I haven’t gone Catholic, but perhaps we aren’t getting the full celebration of Mother’s Day that we should have. Theotokos is the Greek word for what Mary the mother of Jesus was called. It meant “Mother of God”. There are few if any gifts more precious in this world than our mothers. Yet Christian mothers would be the first to point out one gift more important than all others – God’s gift of his One and only Son. His was a gift delivered to us only by way of a mother. Mary the mother of our Lord faced trial upon trial as the mother of God. His tumultuous birth and circumstances surrounding it, to Mary looking on as her holy child now loaded with the sins of the world is forsaken by God the Father and dies alone on a cross in torment for her sins and for ours, to Mary being chief of the holy women who were with the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.
Perhaps this Mother’s Day could become a Mother’s Month as we not only thank God for the enormous blessing our mothers are to each of us, but also thank him for his mother. To contemplate the plight of the world without the Virgin Mary gives a whole other facet of appreciation for all mothers. Just as Mary the mother of our Lord was vital for God’s plan of salvation, so it is with our mothers whose witness, teaching, guiding, and love first introduced us to the Savior of the world. Thank and love your mothers this month, and if your mother is already resting in the paradise of heaven, then thank and love another who has been like a mother to you. Happy Mother’s Month!
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The Empty Pew
It was an eerie feeling Sunday morning, June 16, with no small children present in the church. I wonder what they missed. They didn’t hear how Jesus loves them. They didn’t receive a blessing at the communion rail. They didn’t see the example of adults in worship. What else?
There were other empty pews – seems there always are. I see an empty pew and I wonder about the blessings that are missed by the person who could have been setting in that pew.
From the very beginning of the service when those present greet one another with God’s blessing and the empty pew reminds me that someone missed that exchange who might have had their spirits raised by the friendly words someone spoke to them. Or perhaps they could have been a blessing to hear a friendly word.
And what comfort God gives as we hear those precious words spoken by Pastor following our confession of sins, “I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Those words just bounce off the empty pew.
As Pastor prepares his sermon he prays that God would give him the words that we need to hear. Perhaps God had a message for the person who could have been sitting in that empty pew. How sad to miss a message from God.
When Jesus was born the shepherds rejoiced at the news they heard from the angels and they went to Bethlehem to see him! Jesus comes to us – in the flesh – in the sacrament of Holy Communion. That wonderous gift is offered every Sunday – but the empty pew reminds me that someone is missing out on that blessing.
Finally, before the last hymn is sung, Pastor speaks the benediction, words of blessing found in Scripture. Those words mean nothing to an empty pew but are so sweet to a believer.
May each one of us remember that when our pew is empty we are missing out on so much that God has to offer. May we also encourage others to fill an ‘empty pew’.
From Pastor's Desk
FIGHT! One simple word was all it took. As a child on the playground someone yelling, “FIGHT!”, could command our attention and assemble us together quicker than the lunch bell. As a pastor I often wish it were that simple to get people’s attention or get them to assemble on Sunday morning.
Pastor Meyer wrote a beautiful article for this month’s newsletter extolling and holding before our eyes the priceless and eternal gifts the Lord delivers to us each Sunday in the Divine Service. He also points out his sorrow at seeing empty pews and thinking of those who missed out on the Lord’s gifts that day.
I don’t know exactly what it was as a child that excited us so much about a schoolyard fight. As an adult I find myself praying more and more for peace in our world and an end to all the violence in our schools, country, and world. I don’t think that just comes from age, but from knowing Jesus. For nearly 20 years now I have spent almost every Lord’s Day telling others about his love and forgiveness and sharing a peace with God, and from God, that surpasses all understanding.
I think being in church every Sunday and receiving Jesus and his gifts through his Word and Sacraments has changed me and the people I have served. I still have times when I get frustrated, angry, even vengeful, but I am more often loving, kind, patient, joyful, thankful, helpful, and no matter what happens I have a peace that does surpass my understanding. I know God loves me, cares deeply for me, and wants only good things for me even when my life might not look like it.
I think I am changed by the Lord’s free gifts that he lavishes on me through his Word, Baptism, Lord’s Supper, liturgy, hymns, and through each of you encouraging me through words, handshakes, hugs, smiles, and simply from your presence. I hope you see the same changes in yourselves and the abundant eternal blessings the Lord gives you each time you come to his House.
You know, there actually is a fight that occurs in church each Sunday. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12 ESV) Whether you are on vacation or here in town and are tempted to stay in your hotel room or at home on Sunday morning I have only two things to say, “The Lord has wonderful gifts to give you today.”, and secondly, “FIGHT!”
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.
John 1:1-3, 14