Reformation: Having God on Your Side

Reformation: Having God on Your Side

October 2020

 “Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace.” (Collect for Reformation)

Dear Heirs of the Reformation:

               The month of October brings with it our congregation’s yearly commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther’s 1517 posting of his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church door.  As has become customary in the recent past, our parish will keep this commemoration on the Sunday prior to October 31. Reformation Day is the one church holiday we celebrate in the life of this congregation that is uniquely Lutheran.

               Besides the commemoration of the posting of Dr. Luther’s 95 Theses, Reformation Day also always includes the singing of Dr. Luther’s hymn “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”), which is his paraphrase of Psalm 46.

               But a much-forgotten hymn of Dr. Luther’s based on Psalm 124 carries the theme of the Reformation as well as “A Mighty Fortress” does. That theme is: the salvation of sinners who have no power or worthiness in them accomplished solely by Christ alone. That other hymn is “Wer Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeyt” (often translated as “If God Had Not Been on Our Side”). Itparaphrases Psalm 124, a psalm that speaks about divine deliverance given to the LORD’s people.

               Those who were on pilgrimage to Jerusalem’s Temple—especially for the Passover Festival—sang this psalm of King David. This “Song of Ascents” begins as a remembrance of what the LORD had done for Israel, especially their liberation from Egypt: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive, when their wrath was kindled against us; then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul; then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul” (Ps. 124:2-5).

               Those who remember the Exodus story see it recalled in the words of Psalm 124. As the LORD’s faithful people remembered their deliverance—whether from Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, or any of their ancient enemies—the significance of having Him on their side would never be forgotten. The same can be said of Dr. Luther and the Reformers. Their work and effort would have been for naught, had God not been on their side. As the wrath of the Church (as it was at the time) and the Empire rose against them, the German theologians and princes awaited the torrents of persecution. But even as they came, the Reformer’s confession of faith remained and the LORD’s people were delivered.

               This coincides with the second portion of Psalm 124: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth. Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped” (Ps. 124:6-7). These words reflect the exultant cries of the Israelites having arrived in safety on the opposite side of the Red Sea. The Reformers, even in spite of earthly losses, could have uttered the same words.

               However, Psalm 124 and even the necessary work of the Reformation are not ultimately concerned with any sort of earthly success. The true deliverance that the LORD gives is from enemies greater than any Egyptian Pharaoh or even the Holy Roman Empire that the Reformers faced. That with which the Reformers were concerned was salvation: deliverance from sin, death, and the power of Satan. “If it had not been the LORD who was on [their] side,” such deliverance is impossible. This deliverance is given to us in the baptismal word and water as the LORD brings His people out of their slavery to sin into salvation through that saving water. Satan’s hordes ride out to recapture us, to keep us from reaching the promise of everlasting life. But as the LORD is on our side—present among us with His free gift of forgiveness—we remain free, redeemed, and secure!

               That is the same truth to which we cling today as our enemies rise up against us. Each time we go in pilgrimage to the LORD’s sanctuary, we remember this deliverance that He has accomplished for us. And as we gather to commemorate Reformation Day this month, we also remember that Dr. Luther and the Reformers have a special place for the sole reason that they faithfully believed, taught, and confessed that truth about divine deliverance for helpless sinners. We reaffirm that they have handed down that saving truth to us.

               The focus of our Christian lives is on “the LORD who was [and is] on our side.” That is the truth we confess. It is the truth that King David made clear for all divinely-delivered people in the last verse of Psalm 124: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth”(Ps. 124:8). The burden of our salvation is not placed on us, but is carried by Him who sustains all creation and bore the sins of the world.

               Thanks be Jesus, who is still on our side! His Word remains forever!

Pastor Steven Anderson

Safe in the Ark of Christ’s Church

Safe in the Ark of Christ’s Church

September 2020

Dear Saints of God:

               As this strange summer continues into late summer and fall, many people have been waiting in eager anticipation for things to get back to “normal.” There was a time when people talked a lot about what the so-called “new normal” would look like. Now, people might not even be sure if there will ever again be a “normal” because our fears, anxieties, worries, and concerns are changing so quickly. It can be exhausting. Every time I turn on the news or have a conversation with someone, it seems like there is a new thing to try to fix or resolve. It is really difficult even to know what to think anymore, and feelings bounce quickly from fear to hope to worry to frustration to so many different things. Thoughts and feelings are moving around like a boat in the middle of a storm without an anchor, drifting wherever the thoughts and feelings of that particular day and that day’s new cycle blow.

            This exhaustion is nothing new in Christ’s Church. St. Paul writes that God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors to the Church in order to lead—with God’s Word— toward the unity of faith and the knowledge of Christ Jesus “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).  (In this verse, “doctrine” doesn’t refer to teachings about Jesus, but human doctrine and thinking that is included in the thinking and understanding of the current time).

            In the middle of our exhausted floating around, tossed around by every wind of thinking, cunning, craftiness, and schemes, stability is not found in being current on the latest scientific or political trends, or in mastering popular opinion or agreeing with everyone else. No, our certainty is found in Jesus. 

            St. Paul continues, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).  It is in Jesus and in Him alone that true stability is found. Jesus is the Truth, and life with Him is stable, not being blown around or floating about in the exhausting waves that shift one direction and then another according to the calendar or the news cycle.

            When you are exhausted and do not know where to turn next, turn to Jesus, and the safety of the ark of His Holy Church, where His Word of truth is proclaimed. Trust and rely on Him and the Word proclaimed in His Church. Support that preaching, so as the winds of change howl and blow all around you, you will have a place to come in safety and peace to receive the only true and life-giving Word.

            How do your thoughts and your feelings line up with the news, the politicians, the celebrities, or your friends and neighbors? The good news is that lining up with them is not important. What is important is that you are growing up more and more into maturity in Christ Jesus. He sets you free from human understanding, cunning, craftiness, and schemes. Instead of those things, by His unchanging death and resurrection, by His ever-present promises, by His gracious love, He holds you fast.  When you are connected to Jesus by faith, safe in the ark of His Church, you are not blown around because Jesus holds you firm, anchored in Him. So rejoice and be glad!  No opinions, cunning, craftiness, or scheme can define you.  Jesus defines you, and He has named you as one for whom He died and rose. You are His!

            In Christ’s peace,

               Pastor Steven Anderson

“I Eagerly Expect the Resurrection of the Dead”

“I Eagerly Expect the Resurrection of the Dead”

August 2020

Dear Fellow Believers in the Resurrection:

We know that (as of this writing) 140,000 people in this country and 600,000 around the world have died from the novel coronavirus that holds us all in so much uncertainty. Different websites put that death toll in front of me every day or so. During this Stay-at-Home Order, we have had two funerals: one graveside for our brother in Christ Charles Nottke, Jr., and one here in church for our sister in Christ Verla Ziebarth at 95 years of age. Perhaps it is not too strange that with all of this present reality of sickness and death, I have been thinking about death perhaps a bit more these last weeks. It is both an occupational hazard for pastors, and an existential hazard for us all.           

When death is so near it is worth reminding ourselves what we as Christians believe about death. The Proper Preface used when the Holy Communion is celebrated in a Funeral Service (the Proper Preface is what the Pastor chants right before we join in singing the Sanctus with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven) reminds us that for the faithful in death, “life is transformed and not taken away, so that this earthly body is prepared for an eternal home in heaven.” All who die in the communion of Christ’s Holy Church will enjoy that eternal dwelling place at the resurrection of the dead. We confess as much when we confess in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
           

In the Nicene Creed we confess not only belief, but also anticipation: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” The original Latin text there is: “expecto resurrectionem mortuorum…” You will see in the Latin the word for  “expect.” In other words, we expect the resurrection of the dead. The emphasis is not on seeing it with our eyes, but eager expectation: we eagerly expect that there will be a resurrection of the dead according to all of Christ’s promises to us.
          

“In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help?” asks one of the burial anthems in the funeral committal liturgy. “From you alone, O Lord,” we respond. Our expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting is one that we invoke with sincerity, longing, and need. We need help, for death looks for all purposes like the end. We have help in the person of Jesus Christ who will raise up all people on the last day. The mortal bodies that lie in death all over the world will receive life again. Bodies will be resurrected and souls reunited with them. We expect it, we need it, for life in the bodies notwithstanding its hardships is very good and death is so destructive and gruesome and final.

And that is exactly why each week in the liturgy, we are staring down death. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why we come to the Divine Service: It is God’s proclamation of eternal life in the midst of temporal death!

And so each week, confessing the Creed, we are facing down death together as we confess eager expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. We name and confess that promise of God to us in Jesus Christ. Some days it is very difficult to believe. Other days we can say it confidently with the joy of the memories of those who have died in Christ and the hope of the new creation where dead, sorrow, and sin are no more.


During these present days, may we hold extra hard onto the joys of life in this age and the expectation of new and renewed joys in the next.

Waiting with you in expectation,

Pastor Steven Anderson

MEMO: Reopening Gloria Dei Lutheran Church of Chicago

MEMO: Reopening Gloria Dei Lutheran Church of Chicago

June/July 2020

Greetings:

              On May 28, 2020, our governor lifted the restrictions on houses of worship in the state of Illinois. As such, we will resume our regular Sunday Divine Service schedule of Bible Class at 8:15 a.m. and Divine Service at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 14, 2020.

When Divine Service resumes on June 14: the church doors will be open before and after church to minimize the amount of contact with door handles, etc. Safe social distancing will be the order of the day, even in the pews. Feel free to sit together as a family, but be aware so that you are not sitting directly in front of or behind another person or group. As per Illinois guidelines, we ask for a space of 6-10 feet between individuals and/or family groups for the time being.

We have plenty of room to move around and safely space ourselves apart. You may not be able to sit in your usual seat. Offerings will be collected as you enter or leave in the offering plates placed by the doors to the church.

Hymnals and bulletins will be handed to you as you enter. This will help us in keeping to a minimum the amount of hymnals we will need to clean each week.

We will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Initially, we will commune via a continuous line to avoid touching the altar rail. The ushers will direct you to the aisle, where Pastor and an Elder will offer you Christ’s body and blood. Pastor and the Elder will wear masks during the distribution.

There will be fewer cups per tray to minimize cross-contamination. Take care that you do not touch other cups as you take yours.

We will continue to offer our Lord’s blood in the chalice. You are free to receive from the chalice or the individual cups. Pastor will continually clean the rim of the chalice—as he always does—but with the added protection of using alcohol on the purificator.

Please observe about a 6-foot distance between individuals or family groups as you line up to receive the sacrament. Follow the ushers’ directions to return to your seats.

After the service, please wait to greet one another until you are outside (weather permitting) to avoid groups gathering in the narthex. We are Christian community and will continue to greet each other with Christ’s peace, albeit, if a different manner for now.

Wearing face masks is encouraged.

Congregational singing will be slightly decreased by the elimination of the distribution hymns, for now. We will still have an opening, sermon, and closing hymn.

              If you are showing signs of illness or are vulnerable to illness: please be encouraged to stay home. No one will think less of anyone for making that decision at this time. We want to love all of our members in the best way possible.

              Once we have returned to worship, Pastor will resume visits to shut-ins and to those who request that he bring them Holy Communion.

To repeat: We will return to our normal schedule of the Divine Service on Sunday, June 14th, at our regular time of 9:30 a.m.

We will also resume our regular Sunday morning Bible Class at 8:15 a.m. in the Martin Luther Room (lower level of the sanctuary) on the same date, where we will also practice proper social distancing.

What does this mean for our Facebook live-streamed services? That remains to be seen. We will look into the possibility of continuing the Facebook live-stream services for those who desire it, either on Sunday or a different day of the week. That will depend on the resources available to us.

Thank you for your support and your prayers during this most difficult time. We continue to cling to the certain promise of God, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will never leave you or sake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6), as we move forward in ministry here at Gloria Dei. We believe that our gracious God still has work for us to do here, as we—together as His body in this place—continue to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and risen!

Pastor Anderson

“The Resurrection of the Body:  Christ is STILL Risen!”

“The Resurrection of the Body: Christ is STILL Risen!”

April/May 2020

Dear Resurrection Christians, Loved Ones of the Risen Christ:

“Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”

               This past Lent and now Eastertide find us facing some rather unsettling uncertainties and fears. What will the COVID-19 virus mean for the future of our world, our nation, our community, our congregation, and our own family? Nothing makes us more uncertain and frightened than those aspects of life that are not under our control. Let’s face it: we like to be in control, and this virus has shown us that control is an illusion.

               Uncertainties are real sources of fear. Even if we have not faced medical uncertainties stemming from this terrible pandemic, it is unheard of to live as a fallen creature in this fallen world without having encountered some sort of uncertainty. Job loss or a pay cut causes questions about how long one will be able to pay the bills before the collectors come. A serious conflict with a loved one or a sin committed by or against them causes uncertainty as to whether or not the relationship can be restored.

               But thanks be to God, we have the certainty of a blesséd eternity that overcomes all the uncertainties of life—yet we are given so much more than even that! For the merciful, forgiving, and restoring work of God in Christ also overcomes all the certainties of this fallen world! Sin and death and all the evils that come with them are unavoidable certainties in this life. But all have their end in Christ! “In the World you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (St. John 16:33b) 

               Revelation 21 paints a beautiful picture of the results of Christ’s overcoming the world: a new heaven and a new earth! The dwelling place of God coming down to be with us! All tears wiped away! No more mourning, crying, or pain! “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

               This is what we celebrate in Easter! This is what we confess when we proclaim in the Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. ”  We find this certainty given to us in God’s Word and Sacraments! 

               For many already impacted by this virus, there are certainties: dismal certainties. As of this writing, there have been over 206,000 deaths worldwide from this virus; almost 55,000 of those in the

US. These numbers frighten us. There are hundreds of thousands of families who are mournfully certain they will not be able to hug or hold their loved one any longer in this life. Further, and more generally, it is a sad certainty in this fallen world that many broken relationships will never be repaired, not everyone seeking a paid job will find one, and some will forever be wrestling with some trial or another.

               But we have a greater certainty, a certainty that comforts us in our grief, meets doubt with truth, and gives hope for us to endure! That certainty is found in the “living and active, sharper than any double edged sword” Word of God!

               Uncertainty and doubt are great contributors to the fallen frailty we experience in this life. They cloud our vision and darken our world so that we often cannot see the world unfolding ahead of us. But God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. The light of Christ is not overcome by any darkness (St. John 1:5), but shines ahead and over the shadow of this world to the hope of the life to come.

               Through Holy Baptism, through Holy Absolution, through Holy Communion, and through the ongoing proclamation of the Word of God, God continually delivers Christ, His Cross, and His Resurrection to you. Through these means, the Holy Spirit holds us firm in the faith. In this Word we find redemption and eternal life; life where the perishable has put on the imperishable, and the mortal has put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53)!

               We may never in this life be certain of our health and wellbeing, nor of our plans for “success.” But, we “believe in the resurrection of the Body” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12ff)! We know for certain that—for all of us who are in Christ—health and wellbeing will be restored, and every last cell of our frail flesh will be made new in glory on the Last Day. The brokenness between people may well remain in this life. But then all brokenness will be repaired, as the full realization of our oneness in Christ will be fully revealed at His return.

               We are called as Christians to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Explanation to the 1st Commandment). Fear—in this context—means to “take God seriously as our Creator and Judge.” Apart from this fear of God, we need have no other fear! St. John writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We know who the Victor is! We know our future is secure in Him! We need not fear.

               It is with the Cross and Resurrection of Christ in view that we rejoice and pray with hope and certainty these words of the Psalmist, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sin, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s . . .” (Psalm 103:1-5).

“Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”

                                                                                          Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Steven J. Anderson

“The Tempter Comes. The Tempter Flees!”

“The Tempter Comes. The Tempter Flees!”

March 2020

Dear Lenten Pilgrims:
                “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil… and when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.’” (St. Matthew 4: 1, 3)

               Imagine it, if you can. Satan comes to Jesus. He is not afraid to come even to the LORD God Himself to try to get Him to sin. He wants Jesus to forget God, to forget His Father, to forget even who He is and what His mission is. 

               Jesus, being fully Man as well as fully God, was hungry, and Satan knew it. So he thinks that he will show Jesus a way to get something to eat. Satan wants Jesus to think that His Father has forgotten Him, but that he—the tempter—will actually help Jesus to fulfill His needs. “Here are some stones,” he tells Jesus, “just make bread out of them.” “No,” Jesus answers him, “I will wait until My Father feeds Me. I do not need your help.” And the devil leaves Him. Jesus did not forget His Father or His Father’s Word. 

               But Satan does not stop. He comes again. He does not give up so easily. Now he comes to Jesus and speaks the very Word of God from Holy Scripture. The devil knows the Bible inside and out. He knows what it says. But he neither loves nor trusts God’s Word. To him, it is a dead letter. He is quite happy to use it for his own purposes, twisting it, making it unrecognizable, and causing people to sin. “The Bible says that God will take care of You,” he tells Jesus. “Therefore, if You hurl yourself down from the highest point of the great temple in Jerusalem, You will not get hurt. Go ahead; Your Father will protect You.” Again, Jesus remembered what God had actually said about trusting in Him, responding, “No, Satan, again you would have Me sin, for I have no right to test God like that.” And again, in the face of God’s true Word, Satan has to depart. 

               But Satan does not get tired. He comes again. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment, with all of the power, pomp, glory, and riches. Satan promises Jesus that all of this temporary, worldly wealth and power is his to give to give to Jesus, if only Jesus will fall down and worship him.  

               But Jesus remembers the First Commandment—He should because it is His Commandment, after all: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Jesus loved His Father with His whole heart and rebuked the tempter, “Get thee hence, Satan!” In other words, “Be gone! Go away! You have no place or power here!” Worship is for God alone, and so—for the third time­—Satan must depart, having failed to entice Jesus to sin.

               We are now entering into the holy Lenten season. Lent begins with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. He goes into the wilderness to face the devil and all of his temptations, slings, and arrows in our place. Jesus faces Satan and hell itself for us, conquering them by God’s Word. From there, He sets His face toward Jerusalem to go to the cross for the sin of the world. There the tempter will think—for a moment—that the victory is actually his. But again he is wrong. The victory belongs to Jesus, and therefore to us! The season of Lent causes us to reflect upon the darkness of our sin and the greatness of our Savior. We focus upon Christ’s Passion and move through Lent toward the Holy Week observance of His betrayal, suffering, and death. As a people sick with sin, Lent points us to the One by whose wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

               Like Jesus in the wilderness, we remember God’s Word and trust in it because this is the Word that conveys forgiveness, life, and salvation to us from the cross of Christ. And this is the Word that drives away Satan, the tempter, and all of his lies.

               So let us remember God’s Word again this Holy Lententide. Let us hear it and receive it with great humility and thanksgiving. Let us receive Jesus in His body and blood as well. It is important that we discipline ourselves and our families into this “good, right, and salutary” discipline of setting aside time to hear more of the Good News of Jesus Christ!

               Your servant in Christ,

               Pastor Steven J. Anderson

The Book of Concord: Part 7: Dr. Luther’s Large Catechism

The Book of Concord: Part 7: Dr. Luther’s Large Catechism

February 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

This month we return to our series on the documents that make up our Lutheran Confessions, as they are contained in the Book of Concord. Many Lutherans have come to believe that Dr. Luther’s Large Catechism was written only for pastors; but this is not true. Dr. Luther begins his short preface to The Large Catechism by writing, “This sermon is designed and undertaken to be an instruction for children and the simple folk.” The Large Catechism is a result of Luther condensing his sermons (on the Ten Commandments, Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Sacraments) that he had preached over the course of a few years and collecting them together into one concise work. His goal in the Catechisms was the same as his goal with those sermons: to instruct and encourage clergy and laity, young and old alike, in the basics of the Christian faith. But the printing and distribution of both Catechisms allowed these important teachings to spread to a far wider audience.

Dr. Luther wrote both the Small and the Large Catechisms with the assumption that they would be “house books” and used regularly in the household for the benefit of all in their growth and knowledge of the fundamental teachings of Holy Scripture.

While the Evangelical Lutheran Church (meaning those churches whose confession of faith is The Book of Concord, which can include the LCMS and other Lutheran denominations) has never required a grasp of The Large Catechism for admission to communicant membership (but only the much easier to learn and memorize Small Catechism, as Luther himself advises), The Large Catechism is still an important resource which every Christian would do well to study and take to heart. It covers the very same aspects of the Christian faith as The Small Catechism, but it does so in far greater depth. While households can successfully memorize The Small Catechism they can also make use of The Large Catechism for more in depth teaching as they grow together in the faith.

Dr. Martin Luther wrote both Catechisms in reaction to the dreadful state of Biblical knowledge in which he and other reformers found the people of God in Germany; both clergy and laity. To appreciate the gravity of the situation he discovered:

Imagine if your pastor couldn’t even recite the Ten Commandments!

Imagine if your church service did not include any sermon, except perhaps on special occasions!

Imagine if, even when a sermon was to be given, your pastor did not know or understand how or what to preach!

Imagine the truths of Scripture being taught neither in the Church, nor at home (since even fathers and mothers were not instructed in the faith)!

This was the state of things in the 1520’s in Germany. With the dawn of the Reformation and the churches in Saxony and other German nations turning evangelical (back to the Gospel), one would have expected an immediate surge in growth in the knowledge of Scripture, but the problem was twofold. One problem was that Bibles printed in the local language were still not widely distributed; but another problem, was that clergy and laity alike were failing to see the study of the teachings of Scripture, and the reception of Christ’s mercy in the Liturgy and Sacraments, as important and beneficial gifts of God.

When the Reformation freed the people from the abuses of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, very often, the uneducated people simply thought themselves likewise free from all the rites, ceremonies, and teachings of the Holy Christian Church as well. Cut loose from both the papacy and the ceremonies of the Church, there was nothing to anchor the people to anything. While they had been set free from the abuses of Rome’s false teachings, there remained a critical need to be anchored to the true teachings of Christ, His Church, and His Word.

A series of visitations to parishes all over Germany was the first step in the effort to restore proper Christian teaching, as well as proper Christian rites and ceremonies, which had been either twisted or lost, so that people could both receive and appreciate the Gifts of Christ. Not just Dr. Luther, but many clergy, princes, city officials, and theologians participated in these visitations.

It was as a direct result of these visits that Dr. Luther ultimately wrote the Large (and then the Small) Catechism. As churches were made aware of their spiritual emptiness and the divine nourishment available to them in the Scriptures, and the ceremonies of the Church drawn from them, a great hunger developed among the people. So hungry for these truths were both the clergy and the laity that The Large Catechism went into its third edition less than a year after the first edition was printed and distributed.

Both the Large and Small Catechisms quickly became standards of Lutheran orthodoxy. Already in the 1530s, church orders (rules handed down by the local leaders) required that instruction be according to Dr. Luther’s Catechisms. In some parishes it was not unusual for portions of The Large Catechism to be read as the sermon for the day.

While the concept of a catechism wasn’t unique, Martin Luther’s approach to writing his was a pioneering achievement. He arranged the Chief Parts differently than any had done in the past. He began with the Ten Commandments, followed by the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, the Sacraments, and Confession. Thus, one can see what God requires (the Commandments) and just how high and out of reach His requirements are. Next, we find how God meets our needs through a meditation upon His Triune nature (the Creed). Then, we learn in the Lord’s Prayer how we can approach God now that He has brought us near to Him. Finally we learn how God comes to us as we struggle in our saint-sinner lives—the means of grace proclaimed in the Gospel and given in the sacraments.

In both of Martin Luther’s Catechisms, we have powerful tools. They were written in war-time (a fight for the Gospel against the legalistic and human-centered papacy). And today we are still “at war,” as we are the Church Militant (a spiritual fight against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh). The Catechisms arm us for this battle as they give us both the Law and the Gospel, proclaiming Christ’s promises to and for us. Conveying the Word of God as they do, they are relevant to strengthen our faith in weakness as they point us to the mighty work our Savior has done and is doing now through His Holy Spirit, in overcoming all that stands against us.

We are at war, but Christ is the one fighting the good fight for us, and He is already victorious. Come soon, Lord Jesus, and deliver us all into the fullness of Your victory! In the meantime, thank God for His teaching and truth that comforts, guides, and strengthens us to endure with certain hope.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Steven J. Anderson

All Things New: 2020 and Beyond

All Things New: 2020 and Beyond

January 2020

               “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” – Revelation 21:5

Dear Friends in Christ:

Another Christmas Day has come and gone, along with all the Services, carols, and family gatherings. Even though the Christmas Season lasts 12 days (The Twelve Days of Christmas), the public decorations quickly disappear and the world’s attention turns to the changing year. 2019 is a big one because it is a so-called “rollover year” – in other years, nineteen rolls over into twenty. There was “2020” merchandise everything: hats, streamers, noisemakers, balloons – even those plastic “2020” sunglasses have a marvelous symmetry! And the newness doesn’t stop with the calendar – as the world will tell you: 2020 is going to be the time for you to renew yourself!

You have heard it before: “New Year; New You!” Make a resolution, the world tells us: Perhaps you should refresh your image in the fashion department. Maybe lose some weight. You might resolve to learn a new language or to travel. That is what the world will suggest. The world will also tell you that the only thing keeping you from becoming that better you is your own fear, or your lack of confidence: New Year; New You!

So how do you think that will work out for you? Will every promise the world makes come true? No. And it should not surprise anyone. “Change and decay in all around I see…” wrote the hymn-writer, and it happens to each of us. Even when we do learn something new, or experience something that changes us for the better, and even when we lose (or gain) some weight, it does not ultimately change the big picture. It does not undo the work of the devil, sin, and death. Sin’s wages always come due, and we all pay that price.

The last year was a challenging year for our congregation. We saw our Parish School close after 59 years, and mourned that loss, as we see things changing around us in our culture, in our communities, even in our families, as fewer people are committed to Christ and hearing the Good News of Salvation that is found in Him. Indeed, when we look at our own sin and the sinfulness of this fallen world it can seem dark and depressing, but there is hope for everyone.

There is hope for every person because God, our Father, has sent His Son in human flesh to rescue us from all the evils of this world, from the devil, and even from our own sinfulness! That Good News if for you and for all! And that Good News is the news that this congregation is here to proclaim. He has sent Jesus Christ in human flesh to defeat death, to take the penalty for our sin upon Himself. Christ did that, dying on the cross, and three days later He rose from the dead! And the Father and Son together send the Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify us in the one true Faith along with all other believers in Christ, His Holy Christian Church.

 And this hope is not for this life only; it is a promise of even better things to come.  On the Last Day, Christ will raise each and every one of you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. Behold, He will make you and me – and all things – new! It will be unlike anything we have ever known and better than anything we could ever imagine! The world exhorts you to make yourself into a ‘new you’ every New Year, but the Lord’s promise to you – delivered by His gifts of Word and water, Body and Blood, promise a forever you. Forgiven of all your sins by Jesus, you have life and salvation, and that means you have the hope of everlasting life. No matter the disappointments of this broken world, no matter the things others have done that have hurt you, no matter even the things you have done to yourself, you are forgiven in Christ, and in Him you have hope.

 And that Good News continues to be proclaimed. It is being proclaimed all over the world, and people are still coming to Faith in Jesus, as they always will until the end of time. And that Good News is being proclaimed here at the corner of 53rd and Major, and that will continue, as well. The One who makes all things new continues His saving work!

So is it all about “New Year; New You”? No, thanks. Rather, in Christ, you have New Life through His Word and Holy Sacraments as His belovéd children, now and forever.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Steven J. Anderson

Savior of the Nations, Come!

Savior of the Nations, Come!

December 2019

Dear Waiting People of God:

            Some of the best hymns in the Lutheran Service Book are in the Advent Season of the Church Year. The reason for this is simple and can be summarized in the word of the season: Come. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “to come” or “coming.” St. Bernard said of Christ’s Coming: “In the first coming, Christ comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, He comes in Spirit and power; in the third, He comes in glory and majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.”

            The season of Advent, and thus the hymns of Advent, revolves around three inter-woven themes found in the Scriptures. In Advent we celebrate Jesus first coming by His incarnation in human flesh to be the Savior from sin and death. In Advent we also prepare and anticipate for Jesus’ second coming in glory as we confess in the Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” For you, the baptized Christian, Jesus’ second coming in glory is good news. We joyfully, and eagerly await His return. And lastly, in Advent we also rejoice, as we are in between Jesus’ first and second advent, that Jesus comes to us here and now with His crucified, risen, and ascended body to be present with us wherever His Word is proclaimed and His Sacraments received.

            St. Ambrose, who was bishop of Milan from A.D. 374-397, originally wrote this hymn in Latin. Ambrose, one of the most well known of the early Church Fathers, is renowned for his theological writings, his bold confession of the orthodox confession of faith against the Arians (who falsely taught that there was a time when Jesus was not God), and his influence in the worship life of the Church. This latter point is especially evident in his hymn Savior of the Nations Come.

            In 1523, Dr. Luther translated Ambrose’s hymn from Latin into German. In 1524, Luther included it in his hymnal known as the Erfurt Enchiridion. It was later translated into English by William M. Reynolds (1812-1876). Johann Walter, the Cantor in Wittenberg, first wrote the tune used today in 1524. Since the Reformation, Savior of the Nations, Come has become a standard hymn during the Advent and Christmas seasons. And it is easy to see why when reading the text:

1) Savior of the Nations, come,

Virgin’s Son, make here Your home!

Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,

That the Lord chose such a birth.

2) Not by human flesh and blood,

By the Spirit of our God,

Was the Word of God made flesh –

Woman’s offspring pure and fresh.

3) God the Father was His source,

Back to God He ran His course.

Into hell His road went down,

Back then to His throne and crown.

4) For You are the Father’s Son

Who in flesh the vict’ry won.

By Your might power make whole

All our ills of flesh and soul.

5) Here a maid was found with child,

Yet remained a virgin mild.

In her womb this truth was shown:

God was there upon His throne.

6) Then stepped forth the Lord of all

From His pure and kingly hall;

God of God, yet fully man,

His heroic course began.

7) From the manger newborn light

Shines in glory through the night.

Darkness here no more resides;

In this light faith now abides.

8) Glory to the Father sing,

Glory to the Son, our king,

Glory to the Spirit be

Now and through eternity.

            The hymn is an Advent and Christmas sermon all on its own. For in these words we hear the confession of the Christian Faith that we rejoice in during Advent, Christmas, and the whole year: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).” Jesus is born as a man for you. And yet Jesus is true God for you. He needed a human nature like yours in order to save you. He needed to be our substitute, to be a perfect man. And He is. Yet, He also needed to be perfect God. As we confess in the Nicene Creed, Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made. Ambrose, no doubt, penned these important words, words that are vital to the Christian faith, in response to the Arian heresy that taught that there was a time when Jesus was not true God.

            In Advent and during the Christmas season, Savior of the Nations, Come not only gives us a beautiful confession of Christ’s person and work, but that who Jesus is as Savior and what He came to do is for us. Jesus is the Savior of the Nations. He was born for all. He lived a perfect life for all. He died for all. He rose for all. And He will come again for all. And when Jesus does return, He will forever cure all our ills of flesh and soul. As God’s baptized children we live here, in the Light of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, certainly in Advent, but all year round as well.

            In many ways, this hymn is the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds summarized and set to music. It makes a fine devotion because it so succinctly gives you the content of the Christian faith, and superbly delivers the Gospel to you.

            Enjoy the hymns of Advent and Christmas. Rejoice in the truth contained there. May the words of Christ in the hymns of this Advent season dwell richly in you as they have for countless Christians who have prayed and sung Savior of the Nations, Come!

            In Christ,

Pastor Steven J. Anderson

All the Saints & a Blesséd Christian Funeral

All the Saints & a Blesséd Christian Funeral

November 2019

“Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – St. Matthew 5:4

            Dear Saints in Christ:

            The first Sunday of every November is a Sunday that we look forward to with both joy and sadness. We observe the Feast of All the Saints (November 1 is the actual day, but just as we observe Reformation on the last Sunday in October, we do the same with All Saints).  Jesus preaches to us from the Beatitudes, the opening words of His Sermon on the Mount, and we hear again, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

            We mourn because we die, and we long for comfort because we grieve. We grieve for many reasons, but it all comes down to death. We know that we die because of our sin, but – thanks be to God – we have the hope of everlasting life through Jesus’ victory over the grave! Our Lord Jesus came from heaven to earth to live our life, die our death, and rise from the grave to sit at the right hand of the Father in glory, interceding for us and sending the Comforter, His Holy Spirit, to continue to work among us and in us through the Means of Grace – the Word and the Sacraments. Baptized and forgiven, we are God’s beloved children by faith.  It is our joy – in all things – to confess this faith.

            One of the most important confessions of our Faith is the one we make when we die and are buried. God’s children die in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body to life everlasting, and the worship that surrounds the death of a Christian must confess this. To that end, your pastor strives to work with individuals and families before and at the time of death to faithfully prepare and conduct the Funeral Liturgy with this Christian confession in mind. The readings, the sermon, the hymns, the prayers, and the visitation – all of them serve to provide Christian comfort to all of us as we grieve and hope together in God’s Resurrection Promises in Christ.

            Now – perhaps more than ever – the world around us is becoming more and more confused about death and dying, and our funerals (yes, often even Christian Funerals) are being driven more and more by our “me-centered” culture, and turned into occasions to express our individuality and provide some kind of emotional catharsis instead of pointing at the consolation Christ gives in the midst of death, which is the purpose of Christ-confessing Christian Funeral Service.

            The answer to this “me-driven” culture that is all around us is to follow God and His Holy Word. The Lord who promised that those blesséd ones who mourn would be comforted is the One who not only accomplishes that comfort through His own death and resurrection, but also consoles us with His gifts in Holy Baptism, His Word, and the Lord’s Supper. The world tells you that you must leave your mark, your legacy behind you; but for the Christian, the only mark that matters is the one placed upon you at your baptism to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified – the one who will raise you from the dead!

            I encourage all Gloria Dei members – as you are able – to consider planning ahead by thinking about the readings and hymns you would like to be read and sung at your Christian Funeral Service. Your pastor would be glad to assist you if you would like help.  I hope to include a Service Planning sheet in an upcoming Gloria Dei Messenger for this purpose. You will be invited fill it out, and return it to the Gloria Dei Church Office.

            And so, this All Saints’ Day and always, we rejoice with all the saints on earth and with all the saints who have gone before us marked with the sign of Faith: the Cross of Christ. We celebrate All Saints’ Sunday in both joy and sadness to be sure, but mainly with great joy: joy in the crucified and risen Jesus, who has born all sins in His flesh and risen for us triumphantly over death and the grave. Let us confess Him with our lips and with our lives in life, and let us confess Him with the confession of our Christian Funeral Service in death, as we sing with all the saints in glory.

            Alleluia, Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!