Three Reformation Stories


Interim pastor Tom Schoech told three reformation stories in his sermon today.

The first story is in 2 Kings 22-23.  In 621 B. C. Josiah king of Judah authorized payment for the repair of the temple.  During the work a scroll was found, probably of Deuteronomy.  When they read it became clear that more than a repair of the temple was needed.  A reform of worship and faith of the people was needed.  The vessels and statues dedicated to false gods which cluttered the temple were removed and burned.  They renewed the celebration of Passover which had been neglected for a long time.  Josiah was a king who did what was right in the sight of the Lord.

The second story took place in the early sixteenth century, when Martin Luther discovered that he was not justified before God through his own actions and efforts.  It was as Paul wrote in Romans 3:28, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”  Like Josiah, Luther was reformed through the word.  His re-formation of the church was based on that same word of and promise of God.

The third reformation story is about you and me.  Through the word we have been re-formed from sinners into saints through the forgiveness of sins.  We are new creations in Christ.  The old sinner has passed away replaced by a new person who has been given Christ’s rightness with God, thus through faith in God’s grace we are right with God.

Three stories, yet all of them feature the word of the Lord in the bible. As Jesus said in John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Choir Practice, Sports Teams and our Christian Life


Our choir is singing a stanza of “A Mighty Fortress” on Sunday.  We will be accompanied by brass and tympani.  But there is one place where the basses and tenors have to jump down several notes.  We don’t have the sopranos and altos to cover for us.  So far we, or at least I, just take a stab at it and hope to get back on track two or three notes later.

Choir practice is much like a sports team getting ready for a game. The director/coach gives the choir/team the plays/music with each part of the team/choir having different assignments/parts.  To get it right we run through the play/music repeatedly until each section gets it right and then, hopefully, it will all come together and work smoothly when we put it into action.

The same could be said for Christian living.  Life is a constant practice to get it right.  Every day we have opportunity to work on how we put into practice loving God and our neighbor as our self.  Of course, there are parts which we will never get quite right.  We will hit a wrong note in something we said, we go the wrong way when we meet a situation, we get confused about what we are supposed to do, things don’t go according to the plan set before us.

The redeeming grace in our Christian life is not that we must get it all right, but that Christ has not only shown us the music/playbook, but also accompanies us and gives us the Holy Spirit to continually teach and guide us.  Though we will never do the play book perfectly, Christ is continually there forgiving our mistakes, errors in judgment and refusal to do as we ought.  Thus each morning we have an opportunity to start over with a clean slate, knowing that at the end of the day, he will wipe the slate clean again.


I Put My Trust in You


Selected verses of Psalm 56 served as the Entrance Psalm on Sunday.

 When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.
In God, I praise his word.
In God, I put my trust.
I will not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

 You number my wanderings.
You put my tears into your bottle.
Aren’t they in your book?

I know this, that God is for me.
In God, I will praise his word.
In Yahweh, I will praise his word.
I have put my trust in God.
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
 Your vows are on me, God.
I will give thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
and prevented my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God in the light of the living.


(Excerpts from “Christ in the Psalms” by Patrick Henry Reardon)  The psalm is the prayer of a believer sorely tried but still trusting in God.  It is the prayer of Christ, and the prayer of the Church, and the prayer of any disciple of Christ within the Church…Our trust in God is open-ended.  It is not just a matter of trusting Him in our present trials, but of confiding to His care all that lies ahead, the future still unknown to us but for which God has already made provision.

We believers already know the final blessing of our destiny…”Finally there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, victim for our sins, you trusted in your Father’s protection.  Give us that same confidence, that we may gladly suffer with you and for you, offering the Father sacrifice of praise and walking before him in your light.


Sin and Grace


Yesterday I was listening to Kristal Tippet of On Being interviewing  E.J. Dione and David Brooks.  I picked up on term phrases: “Sin is disordered loves,” and “Grace is undeserved happiness.”

Disordered loves, which I believe is from Augustine, was exemplified by the Pharisee in Jesus parable from Luke 18.  He trusted in himself.  He treated others with contempt.  He thanked God that he was not like other men.  But apparently he was a self – made man and God’s only part in it all was to verify his self-rightness and fitness to stand before God.  He did go home happy in his self – worship.

The Tax Collector stood in the corner and stared at his feet.  He beat his chest, not in braggadocio but in unworthiness to even appear before God.  He had nothing to brag about in his life except, like the Pharisee, acting in self – interest without regard for others.  But his reaction was to plea for underserved grace.  He confessed he was a man who had missed the mark in regard God’s will for his life.  He could do nothing other than plea for mercy.

Jesus said, the Tax Collector went home justified by God as a man who was righteous and blameless.  He went home filled with undeserved happiness.

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, You are always more ready to hear than we to pray and always ready to give more than we either desire or deserve.  Pour down on us the abundance of Your mercy; forgive us those things of which our conscience is afraid; and give us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask except by the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.


St. James, Jesus’ Brother

St. James Lutheran, Glen Carbon, Oct. 23, 2016

Day of James, Brother of our Lord – Matthew 13:54-58

There are two names connected with the ministry of Jesus which often leave me confused.  I can’t keep all the Mary’s straight.  The other name is James.  Three James are mentioned in the gospels and today church commemorates one of them.  This congregation is named after one of them.  Two of them are disciples’ of Jesus and one is Jesus’ younger brother.

The first James with his brother John were among the first whom Jesus chose as his disciples.  On one occasion James and John offered to call down some fire from heaven upon a Samaritan village who turned Jesus away.  Jesus straightened them out in short order. He came not to destroy people but to save them.  They were nicknamed, “Sons of Thunder.” Later, their mother lobbied Jesus to appoint her sons his left and right hand men when the kingdom of God arrived.  Jesus told her that was none of her business.  This James did witness the resurrection and was killed by Herod Agrippa in about ten years later.   But He gets his day on July 25.

Nor is this the day of James, the Son of Alpheaus, also one of Jesus’ disciples of whom we know nothing else.  He shares May 1, with Philip, the Apostle.

This is the day of James, Jesus younger brother.   He wrote the letter near the end of the New Testament advising us to count it all joy, when we meet trials. He encourages us to remain steadfast, because we will receive the crown of life.  Part of living in our Lord Jesus Christ, is to treat everyone the same.  Activate our faith by being a doer of the word and not only a hearer.  Faith without works is dead, he wrote.  His letter is a practical guide to living our life in Christ.

James became a leader in the early church.  At the first church council meeting in Jerusalem the early Christians were trying decide how much of the Jewish practices, like dietary laws and circumcision, should be imposed on newly converted Gentiles.   He along with Peter didn’t think the Gentiles should be burdened with what the Jews themselves couldn’t uphold.  As a result, we have our Christian freedom from all the rules and regulations of the Jews.  It’s Christ alone; not Christ plus a bunch of other things.

However, James was not a disciple of Jesus during his ministry.  But he did witness Jesus’ resurrection.  At some point he did come to believe in Jesus.  However, now I want to take us back to Jesus’ last appearance in his home town of Nazareth, when James and his family still had doubts about their older brother.  Matthew 13:54-58;

54 Coming into his hometown, (Jesus) taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these mighty works? 55 Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary, and his brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56 Aren’t all of his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all of these things?” 57 They were offended by him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own house.” 58 He didn’t do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

It was the Sabbath and the villagers came to their synagogue. The baker, the barber, the soap makers, and sandal makers, the stonemason and brick maker.  The potter closed his shop.  The meals had all been prepared.  No one worked on the Sabbath.  The word in Nazareth was that their hometown boy, Jesus, would be returning to teach and preach that day.

Now Jesus too had come from a busy time.  He had been teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven which was coming near. He compared the Kingdom of Heaven to seeds sown in a field in which some took root and produced bumper crops, but other seeds didn’t survive.  The Kingdom was like a mustard seed which begins small and grows, or like yeast which quietly and invisibly expands and grows.  The Kingdom is like a hidden treasure that a person finds and sells everything he has in order to buy it, or an expensive pearl.  The kingdom is like a net cast out in the water which catches all sorts of fish.  AT the end of his parables, Jesus asked his disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” They said, “Yes.”

But some didn’t understand that the kingdom of heaven was Jesus himself come to earth in the flesh.  Nor did some believe his powerful works, raising a dead girl to life, healing a woman with a 12-year hemorrhage, restoring sight to the blind, and casting out demons.  They took umbrage when he declared that the person’s faith made them well or when Jesus forgave people their sins.  He was accused of casting out demons with the power of the prince of demons.  Jesus said that some will see, but not see and some would hear and not hear and not understand.

Now the kingdom of heaven had come home to visit Nazareth.  He taught in their synagogue.  He taught that the poor in spirit are blessed for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such people.  He taught that the meek would inherit the earth; that the pure in heart would see God; the peacemakers would be called sons of God.  He taught them to pray, “Our Father in heaven, holy be your name; Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   Jesus brought all of that wisdom to his hometown synagogue and powerful acts that showed that he was waging war on evil, and sickness and death.  His very name was God’s Savior.  Think of it, Nazareth had seen God’s Savior grow up in their midst.

At first the people were astonished, amazed that their hometown boy had such gifts of wisdom and had done such powerful miracles.  But then someone said, “Wait a minute.  Where did he get all this?  He didn’t go away to school.  We know his family.  There’s Mary his mother.  And his younger brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, Jude and all his sisters.  They aren’t anything special. Where did this guy get all these things? Who does he think he is?”  They got their noses out of joint.  He was too human to be the Messiah. Jesus, himself was an obstacle to believing that the Kingdom of heaven was present in their synagogue that Sabbath.

His hometown people knew him and yet they did not know that the depth and the wisdom and glory of God were in this oldest son of Mary and her carpenter husband.  They despised him.  Their attitude anticipated the question which would later be raised in Jerusalem, “By what authority are you doing these things.”  They were forerunners of the complete fulfillment of Isaiah 53, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him…He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

So we come here this Sunday, with all that has happened in the last week.  We come with our joys and our troubles.  We come because, well that’s what we do on Sunday morning.  But also because of Jesus carried our sorrows, crushed for our iniquities, and wounded for our transgressions. Because he bore our stripes and took our punishment, we have peace with God and are healed of all our sin.  We are, as we will remember next week, both sinner and saint.  Or as one person wrote, “A Christian congregation is the same mixed bag any Christian person-feet of clay and crown of glory, simultaneously.  Held together in a tension sustained solely by God’s grace.”  In a few minutes we will receive Jesus in the ordinary elements of bread and wine, which will accomplish great things in us; the forgiveness of sins, our life in Christ strengthened and we have salvation from eternal death.

Yes, Jesus has come to St. James today and we along with St. James of old are blessed members of his older brother’s family.






Luther on Preaching

The following thoughts by Martin Luther are his response to reading I Corinthians 1:17,  “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Martin Luther

“The spiritual tyrants despised and underestimated the office of preaching and made a great separation between it and the spiritual government, even though it is the highest office, on which all others depend and from which all others depend and from which they follow.  On the other hand, where there is no office of preaching, none of the other offices follow.  For John says, John 4:2) that Jesus did not baptize, he only to baptize but to preach.

Therefore, whoever has the office of preaching imposed on him has the highest office in Christendom imposed on him has the highest office in Christendom imposed on him. Afterward he may also baptize celebrate mass, and exercise pastoral care; or, if he does not wish to do so, he may confine himself to preaching and leave baptizing and other lower offices to others – as Christ and all the apostles did.”

My reflection:  My own basic thought on preaching  is that Sunday morning is the most important day of the week for a Christian congregation.  Sunday morning is the one time during the week when the members of the congregation get cleaned up and gather in one location.  They come from a week of getting worn down by trying to live as Christ’s people. in a world that does not live by grace.

This is the opportunity for the pastor to once again show how Christ is the center of not only their lives but of the whole universe.  Sunday morning is not the time for the pastor to show off or put himself at the center, but to use his skills to show Christ crucified and risen.  Sunday morning is not the time for the pastor to be an entertainer, but to entertain  how to the people the gospel and how it fits into the lives and can get them through another week.




When I was growing up in the Upper Midwest the big names in professional “rassling” that I remember were Vern Gagne, Farmer Marlin and Man Mountain Dean.  But none of them could hold a candle to Jacob in Genesis 32, when it came to keeping-on-keeping-on or persistence.  While spending the night by the Jabbok Creek, he was accosted in the dark by a man with whom he wrestled throughout the night to a draw.  Turned out the man was God.  But Jacob would not let go until this man – God would bless him.

Another example of persistence is the widow in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:1-8) whom he uses as an example to keep on praying and not losing heart.  She badgered a judge who cared neither for God nor her until she worn him down and he finally gave up, gave in and granted her request.

A third example of keeping-on-keeping-on is in Paul’s letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:14-4:5).  Paul encourages him to keep-on-keeping-on in what “you have learned and have firmly believed. And keep on preaching and teaching “in season and out of season.”

Ultimately all this persistence finds its reason in Jesus Christ. We prayed in the Collect prayer, that the Holy Spirit would “direct and govern our hearts in all things that we may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of Your name.”  So we prayed to the “almighty and everlasting God…through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.”

St. Luke, Evangelist



October 18th is the day the church remembers St. Luke, the Evangelist.  Some churches hold a Service of Health and Healing remembering that Luke was a Gentile physician.  He was a follower of Jesus but not one of the 12 disciples.  He was a companion of Paul, participating on some of his mission travels.  The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are attributed to him.  More than one-third of the New Testament comes from the hand of the evangelist Luke.  Tradition says that he was one of the seventy commissioned by Jesus.  Some think that he may have been the other disciple with Cleopas whom Jesus met on the road to Emmaus that first Easter evening.  Tradition also says he was a painter, that he preached in Bithynia (in what is now northern Turkey bordering the Black Sea), and that he died at the age of 84 in Boetia (northeastern ancient Greece).

Luke’s symbol is a winged ox.

Though we don’t know much about Luke we do know, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  We also know, “What man of you having a hundred sheep, if he loses one…” or “A certain man had two sons…” or “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves.”  Our faith would be less sweetened had Luke not recorded Jesus’ life for Theophilus.

 Almighty God, you inspired your servant Luke the physician to reveal in his gospel the love and healing power of your Son.  Give your church the same love and power to heal, to the glory of your Name; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sin and Death Go Limping along



In Bible Class Sunday we were discussing God’s wrestling match with Jacob in Genesis 32.  The man, or is it God, frees himself from Jacob’s wrestling hold, by putting his hip out of joint.  When the sun rose, Jacob left the ford of the Jabbok Creek.  For the rest of his life Jacob would walk with a limp due to his damaged hip socket.

Perhaps we are able to find some Gospel in Jacob’s limp.  His limp would remind him that he had seen God face to face and lived.  His limp would be a daily reminder of his need to keep the face of God before him as he lived out his life.

God, in Christ, has done the same to sin and death. Sin and death limps along trying their best, or worst, to drag us down to their level, to cripple our faith. However, they have been weakened in Christ’s victory.  We still are harassed daily by sin, which puts a cramp in our efforts to live in the light of God’s Son.  But sin has lost its power to kill us.  At best, or worst, it causes us to remember our need for God as we go through life.

St. Paul writes, “Where sin increased,” when we look at our lives in comparison to God’s law, there are that very point, “grace abounded all the more.”

As Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, sin is so weak that it and its partner death, can be drowned in our baptism every day and every day a new person emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Thus sin, hampered by its limp is not able to keep up with our baptism in which we are raised to new life with Christ.


God Started It


When we read the account of the wrestling match (Genesis 32:22-30) between Jacob and the man, who later reveals himself to be God, we usually think of it in terms of Jacob wrestling with God.  And that’s true.  But who started it?  God did.  How could God be wrestled to a draw and have to revert to using a secret hold to put Jacob’s hip out of joint?  Hardly sporting?  But that is the weakness in which God came to Jacob.  He came hidden in a man.  He came in weakness.  And as Jacob marvels, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  However, if God had come to Jacob in his Divinity, Luther says, “Divinity may terrify man.  Inexpressible majesty will crush him”

This amazing story of God starting a wrestling match in the dirt and mud of the Jabbok creek, looks forward to something else that God started.  That is, our salvation when he came hidden in a man to wrestle us in the dirt and mud of our sins.  Luther writes, “That is why Christ took on our humanity, save for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.”  When God came hidden in Jesus he came in even greater weakness that he when he wrestled Jacob, that night long ago at the crossing of Jabbok creek.  As St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, “and being found him human form, he humbled himself be becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on across.”

We too in our hearts and in our faith have seen God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

One day, St John writes, “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  All of this is in Christ alone.  That was the theme of the Youth Gathering this summer.  And now the youth of Zion will tell us more of what it means that God started it in Christ Alone and will complete it in Christ Alone.