Wednesday, December 19, 2012

“To Be a Christian is to be Christ’s Twin”--John 11.1–16 & 14.1–7, Advent Midweek Week 4 ‘12

1.               Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  We’re almost there. We’re so close now to the annual celebration of the birth of Mary’s Son, God’s only-begotten Son. What joy it brings us! Even after all these years, what wonder and even surprise it still brings us.  But, what if the birth of Christ brought us one more surprise? What if, to our surprise, Jesus had a twin? Twins don’t come as a surprise much nowadays. Prenatal tests almost always detect a second baby growing inside a mother during pregnancy. Nowadays, parents usually have several months to get the extra things that they would need to take care of two babies at the same time instead of just one. But, not in the old days. In the old days, once a mother delivered that little bundle of joy, it would come as a complete surprise when the doctor said, “There’s one more.”  Prepare to be shocked.
2.               Most of us know St. Thomas only as doubting Thomas, the one who wouldn’t believe the other disciples when they told him that Jesus was raised from the dead. He said the only way he would believe was if he touched the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his hand to Jesus’ side, where the spear had pierced him. He just wasn’t going to be hurt even more after he’d seen his Lord dead by believing what he thought was some desperate tale about a resurrection.  And so we usually think of Thomas only as a skeptic and a doubter. But, the fact of the matter is that he could also show great loyalty and devotion. We heard an example of that in today’s first reading. A message had come to Jesus that one of his friends, Lazarus, was very ill in Bethany. In the course of events, Jesus told his disciples that they were going to Bethany to see Lazarus.
3.               But the disciples hesitated at this idea. Because Bethany was in Judea, and it had been only a short time earlier that the religious leaders in Judea had tried to stone Jesus and kill him. Jesus had made the claim to them not only that he existed before Abraham, but also that He was the Lord God, the great I am. The Jews took this to be blasphemy and desired to stone Him. But, Jesus hid Himself and eluded them. So, to go back to Judea would be to risk life and limb, both for Jesus and His disciples.
4.               But after their discussion, Thomas said these words, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11:16). Despite the risk, Thomas was willing to go with Jesus. Even in the face of death, Thomas didn’t want to depart from Jesus’ side. Though Thomas, like the rest of the disciples, wouldn’t be so bold later on, His courage and faithfulness here are to be praised.
5.               The name Thomas literally means “twin.” In fact, sometimes he was called Didymus, which is the Greek word for twin. This is a good name for him to have, for it’s a fitting description of all who would be disciples of Jesus. Remember that Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” This is what Jesus calls us to do, to be like Him and to have lives that look just like His, dying with Him in order that we may live with Him. Jesus said in Matt. 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To Be a Christian Is to Be Christ’s Twin, to be crucified with Him, which means to drown the old Adam with all sins and evil lusts, to repent. It is to lay down your life for others in your daily callings and to be willing to suffer.
6.               However, you are also given to be Christ’s twin, not only in His death, but also in His resurrection. For through your Baptism into His body and your faith in His name, you now share in His risen identity. You are little Christs before the throne of heaven, brothers and sisters of Christ, bearing His image before the Father. You are, by His grace, as pure and holy as Jesus Himself. Sharing His identity and image, you also share in His life. Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus is the firstborn twin who leads the way for you second-born twins out of the womb of death into new and everlasting life.
7.               This is the way Thomas asked about in the second reading. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Jesus has prepared a place for you in the Father’s house by His cross and empty tomb. And Jesus alone is the doorway into that house. Participating in His cross and empty tomb by faith, counting yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, you are given entry to your heavenly home.
8.               Thomas would certainly participate in Jesus’ cross. According to tradition, Thomas went on a missionary journey to preach the Gospel in India. There is to this day a Christian community in India that claims descent from Christians first converted by the preaching of Thomas.
9.               Tradition states that Thomas was speared to death for what he preached. What a blessed irony that is! For even as Thomas wouldn’t believe until he had touched the spear mark in Jesus’ side, so it was a spear that Thomas would take in his own body for the name of Jesus. Because of his faith in Christ, the very symbol now identified with Thomas is a spear. He truly was Christ’s twin. He shared in Christ’s death, and he will also share in Christ’s resurrection, even as he now dwells according to his soul with Christ His Savior in heaven.
10.           So is it also for you. Like Thomas, you’ve been marked as Christ’s twin. You’ve received the sign of the holy cross on both your forehead and your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. Wearing the sign of His death, you shall also wear the crown of life that He has won for you.
11.           Okay, so you weren’t born on that first Christmas night, moments after our Savior. You didn’t lie next to Him in the manger. Nothing that shocking. But in your Baptism, you were reborn to die His death. That may come as a surprise, and don’t be shocked if you should someday be asked to give the full measure as Thomas was. But live also the life of your Twin, a life of sacrifice, a life of suffering, but above all, a life that never ends, a life that will continue forever, never separated from our Twin.  Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

“Restore Us Again, O God Our Savior” Psalm 85, Advent 3 C, 2012

1.      Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen.  Here we are already in the 3rd Sunday of Advent, which has traditionally been called by the Latin word, Gaudete, meaning “Rejoice!”  Since this Sunday is a theme for rejoicing we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. For as you’re called to repentance of your sins, so also are you urged to rejoice in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. By His Cross, Jesus has accomplished salvation for you.  This 3rd Sunday in Advent continues to focus us on the coming of the Christ through the ministry of John the Baptist. In our Old Testament reading today, Zephaniah leads his people to rejoice in the Lord for the salvation he brings. In Philippians, St. Paul leads us to rejoice because the “Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:4–5). But for John the Baptist, locked in a dungeon, the message of joy escapes him, and he wonders whether Jesus is “the one who is to come” (Lk 7:19). Is Advent joy possible in such suffering? Yes, when Jesus is identified as the fulfillment of all God has promised. Then we can rejoice in his salvation, whatever our situation in life.  The message is taken from Psalm 85 and is entitled, “Restore Us Again, O God Our Savior.”  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.      Have you ever been discouraged because the life you’re living now doesn’t seem to be as real or as joyful as your life was after you first became a Christian?  Maybe in the middle of this Advent season you feel like John the Baptist in our Gospel reading for today, wondering if Jesus is really the Savior that God sent to save us from our sins. Well, John Wesley, the Methodist preacher, knew times like this too and wrote about them poetically, asking, “Where is the joy I knew, When first I saw the Lord?” It’s a good question. In such times we long for the spiritual vitality of earlier days. And if we’re not too discouraged to pray about it, our prayer is often that God might restore us to what we once knew. Psalm 85 is this kind of prayer.
3.      Psalm 85:1–3 begins by saying, 1Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.  3You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.” Some commentators have suggested that the past restoration referred to in this psalm is the return from the exile in Babylon and that the present distress refers to the troubles the people of Judah experienced during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. But, one way to translate the beginning of Psalm 85 is, “You restored the fortunes of Jacob,” this psalm could refer to almost any time of distress during Israel’s history.
4.      Whichever faithlessness and restoration this was, the point is this: God has been gracious to his people in the past. Psalm 85 could refer to any of God’s ancient rescues. God rescued Israel from Egypt. He rescued Judah from Babylon. He rescued the entire people of God, you and me, from sin, death and the devil by the perfect life and innocent death of His Son on the cross. We, the people of God today, can look back on all of these great occurrences of salvation in the past and be assured that we have hope for being restored again. 
5.      Psalm 85:4-7 continues saying, 4Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! 5Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? 6Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? 7Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.”   On the basis of the Lord’s past acts of salvation we as Christians continue to ask for God’s forgiveness of our sins and a continued, on–going restoration into a right relationship with God. The first of Martin Luther’s Ninety–five Theses says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  In our own age there’s a tendency to want to eliminate the confession of sins from worship services and to reduce the talk about sin in worship. This shows a weak understanding of the depth of human depravity and of God’s anger over sin.  But, why do we do it? We point out the depth of our depravity and God’s anger toward our sins in order to marvel all the more at the tremendous extent of His grace in our Savior Jesus. In the midst of all this talk about sin, the psalmist begins to accent the saving characteristics of our God: “Restore us again, O God our Savior.”
6.      Then in verse 6 he asks, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Do you hear the gospel in this question? Our God doesn’t encourage us to try harder to obey His law so that we can feel better about ourselves. Our God has accomplished something we couldn’t begin to accomplish. Through the substitutionary life and death of His Son on our behalf, He won salvation for us. In response to His amazing salvation, we rejoice in Him. We don’t just rejoice because of what has happened to us. Our worship is focused on Him and on His amazing acts of grace. Our worship isn’t focused on us and our inflated notions of our self-worth. That’s why in worship believers aren’t hesitant to speak of their sins. Worship that consists of continual repentance isn’t a “downer.” It isn’t a defeatist kind of worship in which worshipers say they’re bound to sin—they just can’t help it. True worship expresses an honest assessment of our human weakness and an unshakable confidence in God’s power and mercy.
7.      Psalm 85: 8-9 says, “8Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. 9Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.”  Although the law of God has convicted us of our sins, it’s the gospel that causes us to turn to the Lord for forgiveness and peace. It’s the promise of peace in our Lord Jesus Christ that we as Christians listen for. It is the thing that our soul longs for and is drawn to—not the law.  But, the law and gospel appear in their perfect relationship here. The author follows up this beautiful expression of the gospel with a reminder from the law: “but let them [God’s people] not return to folly.”  God’s salvation exists wherever His people fear him. We carry around His salvation in our hearts and reflect it in our lives.
8.      Psalm 85 concludes by saying, “10Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. 12Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.” The end of this Psalm expresses the peace that God establishes between Himself and His people through his salvation. Verse 11 brings to mind how, in the judgment of the flood in Noah’s day, God brought the waters up from the springs of the earth and down from the heavens. What a contrast it is to say here that God’s “faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and [his] righteousness looks down from heaven.” Just as judgment and condemnation are from the Lord, so righteousness and salvation are also from the Lord.  Salvation is completely from the Lord. He gives it, and the earth responds.
9.      John the Baptist in our Gospel reading for today may have been feeling the judgment of God having landed himself in jail for his faithfulness to God in pointing people to Jesus as the Messiah.  That’s why John asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Did John finally come to terms with his questions and doubts? We can assume so, because his faith was searching for reasons to believe, and Jesus gave him plenty of reasons for believing that He was the Christ, sent from God.  When our expectations about our Lord are contradicted by our experience, leaving us in a spiritual crisis with our questions and doubts, we, too, like John and the psalmist here in Psalm 85, bring our questions to Jesus: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?  And Jesus answers us: Go and tell what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Through Jesus our Savior we have been restored with His forgiveness, life and salvation.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

“St. Lucia”—Revelation 7.14–17 Advent Midweek Sermon 2012, Week 3

1.       Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word today comes from Revelation 7:14-17.  Today we look at how the Lord worked through one of His saints to be faithful to the point of death for the sake of our dear Savior Jesus and His cross. The message is entitled, “St. Lucia,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.      St. Lucia was born in Sicily in the year AD 283 to rich parents, members of the nobility. But, her father died when she was still very young, and so she and her mother, Eutychia, were left alone. Eutychia raised her in the Christian faith, and Lucia was a devout and pious young woman. In fact, even though they still had much wealth, she desired to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor. But, her mother wouldn’t permit Lucia to do this.
3.      Then something happened that changed her mother’s mind. Eutychia had been suffering for several years from a hemorrhage, a chronic flow of blood. Lucia prayed for her mother’s healing and her prayer was answered. Her mother was restored to health. In response to this wonderful gift of healing from God, Eutychia allowed Lucia to have her wish and distribute the majority of her share of the family wealth to the poor.  But, there was one problem. Lucia had been unwillingly betrothed to a deceitful young man who wasn’t a Christian. He loved Lucia’s riches more than he loved her. When she gave away her wealth, he was furious. His greediness moved him to revenge. He went to the governor of Sicily and exposed to him the fact that Lucia was a Christian. This was during the year AD 303, when Christianity was still illegal and Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the Church was taking place. All that someone had to do was denounce a person publicly to the authorities, and that person would be arrested. If the person didn’t deny or recant the faith by cursing Christ and offering incense to Caesar, he or she would be killed.
4.      Lucia didn’t recant or deny her faith in Jesus, even under this death threat. As a result, she was tortured, her eyes were plucked out, she was unsuccessfully burned at the stake, and finally stabbed to death with a dagger. Her martyr’s death made her famous in Sicily, and the story of her life and death, with some embellishments, lives on to this day.  In Sweden, Lucia is remembered on December 13 by having one of the daughters of the house dress in a white robe with a crown of lighted candles and go singing from room to room early in the morning, while it’s still dark, to awaken the other family members and offer them cakes of bread. There are several reasons for this tradition. First of all, Lucia is said to have once brought bread to needy people who were living in a cave. This gift also reminds us of Lucia’s faith that Jesus is the bread of life.  Other aspects of this tradition are important. The white robe is a reminder of the holiness of the saints who have died in Christ, and of all those buried with Christ in Baptism. It’s written of Christians in the Book of Revelation 7:14, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” Jesus Christ.” St. Lucia’s holiness arose not from her own goodness, but from the cleansing forgiveness of Christ.
5.      The crown of candles is important for a couple of reasons. First of all, it shows that even when Lucia no longer had eyes, she still had the light of Christ by which to walk. She could still “see” by faith, far better than any of her persecutors could see. Though physically blind, she had better vision than any unbeliever, because she was enlightened with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Second, the fact that these candles are worn as a crown is a reminder of the crown of glory that all believers shall inherit through Christ in heaven. Though her life in this world ended in darkness and death, her eternal existence is one of light and life, even as it is for all the faithful. Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
6.      Jesus entered our world of darkness by literally becoming one of us. He was born in a cold stable that He might warm us with the light of His presence. December 25 was chosen as the date to celebrate Jesus’ birth, not so much because that is the likely date of His actual birth, but because that is the time of year, near the winter solstice, when the days are shortest and the world is darkest. In pagan religion, this day would be observed as the day of the “unconquerable sun,” s-u-n, because from that point forward, the days would get longer and the light would win over the darkness. Christians took that pagan festival and made it Christian, applying it to the Unconquerable Son, S-o-n. For even as the days from December 25 get longer and lighter, so with the coming of Jesus, the light wins out over the powers of darkness. Though Jesus suffered on the cross under a dark shroud as the sacrifice for our sin, on the third day he came forth from the gloom of death in resurrection light. He is the Unconquerable Son, and through faith in Him, Romans 8 says, we, too, are conquerors, victors over death and the devil.
7.      St. Lucia bore witness to that fact in her life and death. In fact, the word martyr literally means “witness.” In giving away much of her wealth to help the poor, she bore witness to the love of Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich. She bore witness to a belief in God as the Creator who can and will provide for all of our daily needs. And in death Lucia bore witness to God as the Re-Creator, who is more powerful than death. She testified that she loved the Lord and His salvation even more than life itself in this world. Like Abraham, she was looking for a better country, a heavenly one. She knew that the only way to have life in the world to come is to lay down your life in the world that is.
8.      So it is also for you, especially in this Advent season as you set your hearts on the coming of the Lord. You may not be called to be a martyr, but you are given to bear witness to Christ in word and deed and to take up your cross and follow him. Jesus said in John 12:25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Baptized into Christ, you are given to live the pattern of His life—humility before glory, death before resurrection, crucifying your old Adam, so that Christ may be preeminent and that His life may show forth in and through you.
9.      This life of repentance and faith is not easy. It is truly a narrow road on which you are called to run. But along this road, Hebrews says, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—Abraham and Joseph and Moses, Gideon and David and Samuel, prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs. And above all, you are upheld by Him who laid this path and ran it for you, Jesus.  As Was St. Lucia, You Are Upheld by the One Who Was Martyred for You.
10.  Consider him, Hebrews says, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1–2). Your road will end up where Christ’s ended up, for you are in Him. What is now only a candle in the darkness will soon be the dawning of the eternal day of resurrection at Jesus’ return. Let that joy set before you give you endurance in the faith.  Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

“The Ultimate Gift”--Galatians 2.20--Advent Midweek Sermon, Week 2, 2012

1.      Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.  One of the complaints that Christians often bring up at this time of year is that Christmas has become too commercialized. Far too many people observe the holy day of the birth of Christ without any acknowledgment of Jesus at all. Everything’s about parties, presents, and TV specials without any  meditation on the main focus of Christmas, namely, the incarnation of our Lord, his taking on of our flesh to save us. Santa Claus gets more attention than Jesus.
2.      But, maybe this problem can begin to be corrected by understanding where the legend of Santa Claus comes from and the actual historical basis of who he is. Most of us have heard of Santa Claus referred to as St. Nick or St. Nicholas. And, that’s where the name comes from—Santa is a word for Saint, and Claus is a shortened form in Dutch of the word Nicholas. Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.  Now Santa Claus has become the stuff of fairy tales and myth. But St. Nicholas was a real person who lived in the early AD 300s, some 1700 years ago. Since tomorrow, December 6 is the day on which Nicholas is recognized in the Church, we will focus a bit on his life this evening and meditate on what it has to teach us about Christ and Christmas.
3.      Nicholas was born into a wealthy family in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey. Having become a Christian, Nicholas chose not to pursue a life of riches, but instead he devoted himself to the Church. He eventually became bishop of a city called Myra. Myra was a decadent and corrupt city, and Nicholas became well-known for transforming it by his devout hard work and preaching of of Jesus.  St. Nicholas was also known for his love for those in need, such as poor widows and orphaned children. As bishop, he saw to it that the Church worked to care for the needy. Maybe it was his giving of gifts, especially to poor children, is part of what formed the Santa Claus tradition.
4.      And there’s one famous story about Nicholas that stands out above the rest. There was a man in the city of Myra who had 3 daughters. But he didn’t have enough money to provide his daughters with suitable dowries necessary for marriage, and without being able to marry, it was likely they would end up as prostitutes. Nicholas was troubled about this, and he decided to help, but he chose to do so in a way that wouldn’t draw attention to himself. Evidently taking from his own resources, Nicholas prepared 3 bags of gold. On 3 successive nights, St. Nicholas went to this man’s house and threw a bag of gold into an open window—one bag of gold each night for the 3 daughters, enough to provide their dowries. Later, when this story was told in colder regions, Nicholas was portrayed dropping the bags of gold down the chimney. Still to this day, 3 golden bags or spheres are the sign of a pawnbroker, in remembrance of how Nicholas bought these 3 daughters out of wager, you might say, redeeming them from the fate that awaited them.
5.      There are many more accounts of Nicholas helping others. For instance, once there were 3 men who were falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to death. Nicholas stepped in and spoke in their defense and was able to secure their release and give them their lives back.  It’s interesting that in all the stories of St. Nicholas, the number three keeps popping up—3 daughters without dowries, 3 falsely accused men, and in another story, 3 sailors whom he rescued from drowning. And this is fitting. For Nicholas was one who was a defender of the trinitarian faith, someone who proclaimed belief in the one and only true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
6.      In fact, it’s possible that St. Nicholas was one of the bishops present at the Council of Nicaea, which defended and confirmed an essential truth about the Trinity—the teaching that Jesus is both true God and true man. It’s from this council in AD 325 that we get the Nicene Creed, which we confess before we partake of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. A certain false preacher named Arius was teaching that Jesus wasn’t of the same substance as the Father, that the Son of God was a created being, godlike but not true God.  This is what the modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. The Council of Nicaea rejected that heresy and reaffirmed the scriptural position that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human in one undivided person, true God from all eternity.
7.      Whether or not Nicholas was present at that council, he was a defender of that faith, faith in Christ the Son of God as the only Savior from sin, death, and the devil. Nicholas preached Jesus, baptized people into Jesus’ body, absolved people of their sins in Jesus’ name, and fed them with the life-giving body and blood of Jesus. This is the real St. Nicholas. He wasn’t a Santa Claus taking attention away from Jesus. He was a preacher drawing everyone’s attention to Jesus. He wasn’t one making a list and checking it twice to see who was naughty and who was nice. For he knew that his people were both sinners and saints at the same time and that all desperately needed Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.  By God’s grace, the love of Christ shone forth in St. Nicholas’s preaching and in his life.
8.      We give attention to the generosity of Nicholas because that ultimately draws our attention to the generous love that he himself first received from God. It was that love of God that was working through Nicholas in his life.  After all, just consider his deeds. Nicholas sacrifices and gives of his own resources to save the 3 daughters. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? He sacrificed and gave Himself for us to rescue us from being eternally violated by death and the devil. He redeemed us not with bags of gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. So it is that we’re now worthy and prepared to be His holy bride.
9.      In the same way, Nicholas stood in to defend those facing death, risking his own name and reputation. Is that not what Jesus did and still does for us? He stood between us and eternal death on the cross and kept us from having to suffer the worst of all punishments. Furthermore, the Scriptures say that even now Jesus is standing before the Father as our advocate, speaking in our defense, responding to every charge laid against us with the merits of his own blood and righteousness. Through him, we’re set free to be people of God.
10.  The same love of Christ that was at work in St. Nicholas is at work also in you. For in your Baptism you were crucified with Christ, and you no longer live, but Christ lives in you and through you. The Lord is working in you so that His boundless love, which has been shown to you, might spill over to others in the giving of yourself and in the giving of gifts—not so that you can feel good about yourself or draw attention to yourself, but giving that’s anonymous and for the good of others, like a bag of gold through an open window at night. That’s why Christians too, when giving a gift, might refer to gifts being given by Santa Claus, St. Nicholas. For such a gift is given in a spirit that reflects the love of Christ as Nicholas did, and ultimately it seeks to give glory not to ourselves but to God, who is the true giver of every good and perfect gift.
11.  In fact, every present that we give is a sign of that greatest gift of all, the Christ Child in the manger—given to us almost anonymously, noticed only by shepherds on that night, recognized and received only by few throughout His life. But hidden within the wrapping of His lowly humanity dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, full of grace and mercy. Jesus is love in the flesh for you. There’s no greater present than that.  Jesus, Love in the Flesh for You, Is the Ultimate Gift St. Nicholas Sought to Give.
12.  So is there such a person as Santa Claus? Of course, there is. If you don’t believe in the existence of St. Nicholas, you might as well not believe in the existence of Mary or Joseph or the shepherds or the Wise Men. Sure, you’re not going to find him sliding down your chimney. But, like all saints, like all believers who have gone before us, He is celebrating with us whenever we gather for the Divine Service. For in Christ’s presence dwell angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, all partaking of the same feast of which we now enjoy a foretaste. Thank God that St. Nicholas lives. He lives forever because, just like you, he was baptized and he believed in Jesus as his Savior, who was born, who died, and rose for us all.  Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

“Lord, Give Us an Advent Heart”—Phil. 1.2-11, Series C Advent 2 Dec. ‘12

1.      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   In today’s message we’re going to be looking at the importance of thanking God for those He’s put in our midst.  The message is taken from Philippians 1:2-11 and is entitled, “Lord, Give us an Advent Heart!”  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.      “I’ll be home for Christmas; you can count on me,” so says the popular Christmas carol. But, who’ll be coming to your home in a couple weeks, hauling in suitcases, hugging you and embracing your heart? These were the words that President Dale Meyer of Concordia Seminary St. Louis said in his Meyer Minute radio broadcast.  Dr. Meyer went on to say that, “Guilt promises to come. “Remember how you hurt that family member? Don’t imagine that you can ever repair the damage you’ve done!” “Your husband, your wife, your child, died this year, not home for the holidays. Don’t you feel guilty for the times you weren’t loving?” “So dedicated to your career… you’ve shut others out, Mr. Scrooge!”
3.      Yes, it’s true!  There’ve been times when we haven’t been thankful or content with those that God has put into our midst.  We haven’t always had an Advent heart for those around us.  I’m sure that there are many days where we feel guilty for the things we’ve said or done to hurt our spouse, our children, or those relatives that have died and gone before us. As Dr. Meyer says, maybe you feel guilty for some of the things you said or did and now you feel helpless because you can’t take back what you said, since that beloved family member has died.  Maybe there’s that family member that hasn’t died yet.  An Uncle, Aunt, Mother, Father or sibling that you can’t stand.  Can we really thank God for them or really feel sorry for things that we’ve done to them in the past?  I know we’re supposed to be Christians, but really come on, sometimes it’s just to hard to say I’m sorry or to really show that love and affection that God calls us to give.
4.      Well, the Apostle Paul didn’t see it that way.  He believed that Christ died for all, and because of this we as Christians are called to love all those that Jesus has placed into our midst.  Yes, even that sibling, parent, relative or child we don’t appreciate very much.  Listen to what the apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:3-11, I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
5.      St. Paul was anxious to be able to see the Philippian Church and all the Christians that were living out their faith in that great city.  He held them in his heart.  I’m sure that some of you can’t wait to spend time with your family and friends during this festive time of the year.  Well, the Apostle Paul felt that way too.  He had a good relationship with the Philippian Church.  Whenever Paul thought about the Philippians, he must have remembered the special way in which the Lord called him to bring the gospel to that area of the world in Acts 16:9 which says, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”  He must have remembered the first Christian worship service on that European continent.  Or, his meeting with a little group of Jewish women who met along the riverbank on the Sabbath Day.  Maybe he remembered Lydia, who believed the Gospel and immediately opened her home for the missionaries and as a headquarters for the Philippian Church.  There was also Paul’s imprisonment in Philippi and the midnight deliverance the Lord had given to him and Silas.  That was a great night, since the jailer and his family were converted.  I’m sure that Paul remembered the great support he received from the Philippians after he’d left their city and about all the good things that they were doing while he was out on his missionary work.
6.      As the Apostle Paul has shown, believers who have been brought together into a Gospel partnership joyfully show that partnership in their day to day lives.  They do this in many ways.  They worship, pray, and study God’s Word together.  As we do here at St. Johns.  They joyfully acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  They show to one another helpfulness and love.  They encourage one another in Christian living and they work together to promote the cause of the gospel to the world.  For all this there’s so much to be thankful for!  So we too can be thankful for a Church body that proclaims the Gospel from week to week, for our families where we can share our faith with one another and for so much more!
7.      And yet, during this season of Advent and on into Christmas some of us may not feel this partnership in the Gospel or the communion we have as Christians.  In our day to day living here in America we don’t always feel content with the people that are in our midst or with the possessions we have.  Maybe there’s a gift that you’re expecting this Christmas that you may not get.  Or, you’re expecting to see a family member or friend and they just don’t show.  Well in his book, “The Progress Paradox:  How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse,” Gregg Easterbook tells us how good we have it as Americans and as Westerners.  He says that we live better than 99.4 percent of all the human beings who’ve ever lived.  Whoa, we must have it pretty good!  For instance, life expectancy has nearly doubled in the past century and continues to increase.  Household income has doubled since 1960.  But that’s not all.  The price of food and many goods keeps falling. So we can buy more and more for ourselves.  Our standard of living has risen to levels our great-grandparents could never have imagined.  Following World War II  the average American home was 1,100 square feet.  Today it’s a whopping 2,300.  For most of our history, the average home had one room for every two people.  Today there are two rooms for every one person! 
8.      Wow!  We don’t have much to complain about as Americans.  God really has blessed us with a lot.  But, the average American and European suffers from more depression than our great-grandparents ever did.  For some people being depressed can be traced back to family history, but for others being depressed in the midst of so much prosperity can be traced to spiritual, cultural and moral factors.  What are we to do as Christians with all of this?  God has given us so much, and we remember a lot of this during the Christmas and Advent seasons.  Just like the Apostle Paul we have a lot to be thankful for:  a family, this Church, a house and so much more.  The very fact that we have houses to keep us warm during the winter proves just that.  Well a good place to start is to have gratitude and thankfulness for all that God has given to us.  The Roman orator Cicero called gratitude not only the “greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”  And the philosopher Immanuel Kant called ingratitude the, “essence of vileness.”
9.      As Christians, knowing that we’re better off than nearly every human that has ever lived can inspire us to a daily prayer of thanksgiving.  Like the Apostle Paul, we have so much to be thankful for.  So we can say like him, that we thank God for each other and for so many blessings that He’s given to us.  Especially the greatest blessing of all—the gift of eternal life that God has given to us through His Son Jesus Christ.  After all, that’s what we’re celebrating during this Advent season, “The coming of our Lord—baby Jesus.”   That little child in Bethlehem that became the God/man to take on our sins upon that Cross of Calvary, 33 years after His birth.  Because of Him, we can be thankful everyday and we can forgive one another for the mistakes we’ve made.  It’s through Jesus that we can be content and thankful for our family and friends and all of our possessions.  Through Him we’re led to say, “I hold you in my heart,” I have an Advent heart, because of Jesus Christ my Savior. 
10.  During this season of Advent and on into Christmas we pray like the Apostle Paul that we might grow in faith and love through Jesus Christ our Lord so that those around us may see Him living in our hearts and lives.  Here in Philippians chapter 1, Paul’s prayer was that the Church might grow all the more in faith and in words and deeds of love.  So too, as we grow in a mature Christian love and knowledge of Christ as our Savior we’ll be able to show that thankfulness and contentment in our lives.  In Christ there’s no reason to live without hope, for He’s given us so much: clothing, shoes, a home, family and friends.  May God move us through the power of His Holy Spirit to live out our Christian faith that we profess here in Church from Sunday to Sunday.  May we continue to grow together as a body of believers so that everyone will know the great Savior Jesus that we truly have, not only during this season of Advent and Christmas, but throughout the whole year.  Lord grant to us an Advent heart!  Amen.

Monday, December 3, 2012

“He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease” John 1:35–42, Advent Midweek Series #1, 2012

“He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease” John 1:35–42
St. Andrew, Apostle, Advent Midweek Series # 1, 2012

1.      In the name of Jesus Amen.  You may have grown up in a family where you weren’t the one who always got the attention. A brother or a sister did better than you at sports, in school or in music and got most of the recognition. Maybe you were sometimes introduced as “so-and-so’s brother or sister.” You always were a little bit more in the background.  It must have been that way for Andrew, for he was the brother of Simon Peter. Andrew lived in his brother’s shadow. Out of the dozen or so times his name occurs in Scripture, only once does it appear without Peter’s name mentioned too. In fact, Andrew is often referred to as “Simon’s Peter’s brother,” as he is in today’s Gospel (v 40). Andrew was the first one to follow Jesus, but it was his brother who would become first of the apostles and be in Jesus’ inner circle—Peter, James, and John. In fact, that name, Peter or Cephas, was a special name given by Jesus, meaning “a rock.” Andrew would simply be one of the Twelve.
2.      But that doesn’t mean that we should feel bad for Andrew. Because he had his own special, God-given role as an apostle. Not everyone is called to be the prominent one. In fact, it’s a uniquely Christian virtue not to seek glory and honor and the first place, but to be humble, considering others better than yourself (Phil 2:3). Jesus himself would say, “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:12).
3.      This was the way of Andrew, even as it was the way of Andrew’s first teacher and rabbi, John the Baptist. John’s task was to prepare the way of the Lord, to point to Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). John’s purpose wasn’t to gain disciples for himself, but to lose his disciples to Jesus. Later, John would say of Jesus, “He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease” (Jn 3:30).  It was time for John to fade from the scene and for Jesus to become the focus, so that all may know that He’s the One to follow, the fulfillment of prophecy, the promised Messiah.
4.      “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That’s true not only for John or Andrew but for all of us, especially during this penitential season of Advent. You are to decrease, to die to yourself and your own desires, so that Jesus might come forth and be magnified in you with His abounding mercy and life. It’s written in Galatians 2, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (v 20). Having been baptized into Jesus’ death, your old Adam is to fade from the scene and be drowned through repentance, so that the new man, Christ, may arise in you to live by faith toward the Father and by love toward your neighbor.
5.      “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This saying showed itself in Andrew’s life in the way he directed others not to himself, but to Christ. He brought people to Jesus. For instance, in John 6, when the disciples were trying to figure out how to feed the 5000 who had gathered to see Jesus, Andrew brought a young boy to Jesus and said, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (v 9). Andrew didn’t know if what he did would help, but he brought the boy and his food to Jesus anyway, so that the Lord might do His work. And Jesus did miraculous things with that boy’s food. Also, in John 12 some Greeks wanted to see Jesus. Andrew, along with Philip, brought this request to Jesus, so that the Greeks might have an audience with Him and hear His Word (vv 20–26). For the Gospel of Christ is the power of God for the salvation of both Jew and Greek. In today’s Gospel, it’s written that Andrew brought Peter to Jesus. Andrew believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and that faith led Him to seek out His brother and tell Him. It was the first thing that he did. Andrew may not have been the most prominent of the apostles, but he was the one who saw to it that Peter came to know Jesus.

6.      You also get to be like Andrew. You may not be the most prominent one in the congregation. But you can do things to help lead people to Jesus. When you see to it that a child is brought to church to be baptized, you’re being like Andrew, for Jesus is present at the font to do His miraculous saving work for that little one. When you invite or give someone a ride to the Divine Service or a Bible study, you are being like Andrew. For Jesus is living and active in the proclamation of His Word to save those who hear and believe. Just as Andrew led Peter to the place where Jesus was staying, so also you get to welcome others to come and see where Jesus abides for us with His life-giving gifts. We decrease and Christ increases as we direct people away from ourselves to Him, the only Savior.

7.      Jesus became your Savior by taking the least and the lowest place for Himself. He humbled himself to be born of a virgin, subjecting himself to the curse of our sin. He decreased to the point of death on a cross for you, so that you might increase with the riches of His forgiveness and grace. Jesus is the Lamb of God, whose shed blood causes death to pass over you. The blessed Virgin Mary had a little Lamb who makes your sins as white as snow. You are covered with the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. He who was humbled is now risen and exalted to the highest place and given the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.

8.      Andrew was called and sent to preach that name of Jesus, so that many more might confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Tradition has it that Andrew, a former fisherman, became a fisher of men in Greece. Even as he had previously told Jesus of the Greeks’ request to see Him, so now he would preach the Gospel to the Greeks that they might truly see Jesus and be saved. Andrew made converts of many in a town called Patras. This angered the pagan proconsul of the town. Andrew ended up in jail. The Christians became enraged at this, and a riot would have broken out had not Andrew urged the people to imitate the patience and humility of Jesus. Eventually, Andrew’s death was decreed. He would be crucified on a cross in the shape of an X. It’s said that Andrew greeted his cross with these words: “Hail, precious cross, that has been consecrated by the body of my Lord, and adorned with his limbs as with rich jewels. I come to you exulting and glad: receive me with joy into your arms. O good cross, that has received beauty from our Lord’s limbs; I have ardently loved you; long have I desired and sought you: now you are found by me, and are made ready for my longing soul; receive me into your arms, taking me from among men, and present me to my master; that he who redeemed me on you, may receive me by you.” Andrew preached Christ for two days on that cross, continuing to point people to him, before his suffering finally ended and he died.
9.      In this way, Andrew’s life as a disciple came full circle. For when Andrew first met Jesus, our Lord said to him, “Come and you will see [the place where I am staying]” (v 39). Now at the last, Andrew again went to where our Lord was. For Jesus said, “I am going . . . to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn 14:2–3 NIV). Andrew is with Christ. We join with Andrew, along with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, in lauding and magnifying the glorious name of our Redeemer. For we believe that Jesus will also come back for us who have been marked with the holy cross. He will take us to be with Himself—in soul at our death and in body at the resurrection on the Last Day.
10.  Since we have this certain hope in Christ, let us learn from the example of Andrew’s humility. Let us “humble [ourselves], therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift [us] up in due time” (1 Pet 5:6 NIV).  Amen.

Dec. 2012 St. John Lutheran Church Baldwin, IL Newsletter

St. John Ev. Lutheran Church, LCMS Newsletter                       P.O. Box 162, Baldwin, Illinois 62217-0162 (618) 785-2344              
        Pastor John M. Taggatz,          Jenna Otten, Secretary
December, 2012                                  Lela Rehmer, Custodian          Kevin Kahle, Groundskeeper      
                                                                                                        Church E-mail:;
                                                                                                        Church Web Site:

Text Box:


Serving on the Altar Guild for December are
Text Box:

Ushers for the Month of December are:  

(618) 785-2344    (or)
(618) 785-2602

-When a member of your family is admitted to the hospital, so a visit can be made by Pastor Taggatz.
- When your group plans to hold a meeting, so it can be cleared and placed on the church calendar.
-When your home or business phone number or address is changed, so church records can be corrected.
- When you are planning to move either out of town or locally.
- When you know you are pregnant so that we will be able to assist you in any way we can with prayers, encouragement and support.
- When a new baby arrives in your family or in the family of another church member.
- When you are planning a wedding or baptism.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"
One of America's best known poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), contributed to the wealth of carols sung each Christmas season, when he composed the words to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" on December 25th 1864. The carol was originally a poem, "Christmas Bells," containing seven stanzas. Two stanzas were omitted, which contained references to the American Civil War, thus giving us the carol in its present form. The poem gave birth to the carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” When Longfellow penned the words to his poem, America was still months away from General Lee's surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th 1865; and, his poem reflected the prior years of the American Civil War's despair, while ending with a confident hope of triumphant peace.
As with any composition that touches the heart of the hearer, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" flowed from the experience of Longfellow-- involving the tragic death of his wife Fanny and the crippling injury of his son Charles from war wounds. Longfellow had married Frances “Fanny” Appleton on July 13th 1843, and they settled down in the historic Craigie House overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were blessed with the birth of their first child, Charles, on June 9th 1844, and eventually, the Longfellow household numbered five children-- Charles, Ernest, Alice, Edith, and Allegra. 
Tragedy struck both the nation and the Longfellow family in 1861. Confederate Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard fired the opening salvos of the American Civil War on April 12th, and Fanny Longfellow was fatally burned in an accident in the library of Craigie House on July 10th.  After trimming some of seven year old Edith's beautiful curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress. The sea breeze gusted through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny's dress-- wrapping her in flames. In her attempt to protect Edith and Allegra, she ran to Henry's study in the next room, where Henry Longfellow attempted to extinguish the flames with a nearby rug. Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Fanny-- burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did couldn’t attend her funeral.

The first Christmas after Fanny's death, Longfellow wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." A year after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace." Longfellow's journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: "'A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me." Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow's journal.  Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, "Christmas Bells." The reelection of US President Abraham Lincoln or the possible end of the Civil War may have been the occasion for the poem.  Lt. Charles Longfellow did not die that Christmas, but lived.

Longfellow's Christmas bells loudly proclaimed, "God is not dead."   Even more, the bells announced, "Nor doth He sleep."  God's Truth, Power, and Justice are affirmed,
when Longfellow wrote: "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail." The message that the Living God is a God of Peace is proclaimed in the close of the carol: "Of peace on Earth, good will to men." "For it pleased the Father that in [Jesus] should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the Blood of His Cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself"(Colossians 1:19-20).

"Christmas Bells" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(The original poem, complete with all seven stanzas)

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Merry Christmas! And, may Jesus the Prince of Peace grant you His peace!  See You in Church!


Pastor Taggatz                                                    

Jars of Clay”

At this time of year, our minds are drawn to thoughts of our Savior, as they should be.  The ages-old story is always fresh and exciting to us as Christians as we rejoice in our Father’s great love for us shown in His sending His own Son for us.  That Son came in the form of a Baby Who was nurtured inside His mother’s body, a “treasure in [a jar] of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

The angels announced His birth; the shepherds left their sheep and came to worship Him; the Wise Men traveled many miles to adore Him and bring Him their gifts.  “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  She still had “this treasure in [a jar] of clay.”

We, too, have this “treasure…the surpassing power [that] belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7b).  We have the Word dwelling in us!  His great power enables and equips us to be stewards who can fulfill any task our Savior lays before us.  “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  He gives us courage to witness of His birth and life and death and resurrection.  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  He gives us gifts to serve His people and to reach out to those still outside His kingdom.  “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).  He gives us financial resources to support the mission and ministry of our churches.  “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11).

We certainly are imperfect stewards of God’s gifts.  Even the Apostle Paul had his failings.  He wrote that God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  God does it all – in us and through us!  Therefore, we “boast all the more gladly in [our] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [us]” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

During this time of Advent and Christmas, let us “[treasure] up all these things, pondering them in [our hearts].”  And let us ask God to use us according to His plan to spread the news of that treasure.

We remember in our prayers—“Pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
In your prayers this week, pray for the Church; For missionaries who bring God’s Word to the nations, Rev. Tim & Lisa Beckendorf of Lutheran Bible Translators to Botwsana, Africa & Nicole Decker who is a missionary to South Africa. For those who are ill, awaiting, or recovering from surgery: We pray especially for Sally Fadler, Gene Loucks, a brother-in-law to the Spier family, Karen Willis, Linda Nagel, Elizabeth Montroy, Lee Hogandobler, Evan Saldana, Hayden Smith, a friend of Christa Poynor, & Margaret Dixon, the grandmother of Nicki Buch, all who are battling serious illnesses.  We pray for Chuck Nagel, as he recovers from surgery that he recently had.  For Krista Hammel, Daryl Junge, Joyce Schmoll, & Jennifer Sievers, the daughter of Geri Stolte, that they would be healed in the midst of their illness.  For all of those who are unemployed or underemployed, that they would be able to find suitable work to support themselves and their families.  For those who are in nursing homes or homebound.

We mourn with the families of Gary Harms & Rosalie Becker, a relative to Steve & Pat Bunte & Wes Stellhorn, who were recently called home to heavenly rest.  May God give to Gary and Rosalie’s family comfort and hope of the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ who says in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” 

Congratulations to Brian Schoenbeck, upon his  marriage to his beloved bride, Jamie, last month in November.  Heavenly Father, Your Son Jesus used the joy of the marriage feast as a sign of the joy of Your kingdom.  We thank you that You have joined together Brian Schoenbeck with his beloved wife, Jamie, in the bonds of holy matrimony.  Assist them always by Your grace that with true faithfulness and steadfast love they may ever honor and keep their promises to one another, grow in love toward You and for each other and come at last to the eternal joys that You have promised through Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior.  Amen.

 Those wishing to purchase Poinsettias to be placed in the chancel of the church during the Christmas Season may contact Lela Rehmer at 785-2593 by Dec. 9th. The cost is $6.00 per plant. Those who purchase their own plant should bring them to the church by 9:00 a.m. on December 15th and be sure to mark them with the donor’s name.


Sunday Mornings (8:45 a.m.)  “Martin Luther’s Catechisms”
                Location:  In the Church Sanctuary

Wednesday Mornings (10 a.m.)   The Intersection of Church & State”  (Please Note: that due to the season of Advent there won’t be Wednesday morning Bible Studies during the month of December, we will be continuing our Wednesday morning Bible Studies at the beginning of January).
                Location:  In the St. John School    

LYF UPDATE LYF thanks all who supported their Chili Dinner.
- LYF will have a meeting after church on December 3rd.
- LYF will be making up candy bags and handing them out after the Sunday School Christmas Evening Program

Remember:  Every 3rd Sunday of the month we are praying for people who are in the military.  If you have a relative or friend who is an armed serviceman and woman in our Nation’s military please let the Church know so that we may be able to pray for them on the third Sunday of the month.
BW School Title.JPGbw shield.JPG


Dinner Auction Committee: If you would like to help with planning the 2013 COS Dinner Auction, please contact the school office. We will have our first planning meeting sometime in December.

Early Registration: It is not too early to start making plans for next school year. The early registration deadline for the 2013-2014 will be February 1, 2013. The registration fee is $150 for those who register before the 2/1/2013 deadline. Contact the school office for more information.

Coming Events:
Dec. 13     Christmas Concert   6:30 pm
Jan. 25      COS Trivia Night at COS gym

Zuehla Rowold                        Laverna Luthy
Red Bud Nursing Home        Three Springs N. Home  
350 W. South 1st                             161 Three Springs Rd.    Red Bud, IL 62278                Chester, IL 62233               

Opal & Leland Luthy            
Red Bud Nursing Home         
350 W. South 1st                             
Red Bud, IL 62278                

Dorothy Junge                      Russell Mahan
7555 State Rte. 15              Red Bud Nursing Home
Baldwin, IL 62217              350 W. South 1st                             
Red Bud, IL 62278

Church Council Meeting

Tue. Nov. 13th
7:30 p.m.

Regular Council Meeting --November 13, 2012

Present:  Pastor Taggatz, Gene Luthy, Gerald Poenitski, Marla Huebner, Susan Piel, Dennis Wegener, Marvin Liefer, Tony Junge, Bob Wirth, Corey Roscow, Linda Schoenbeck, and Fleta Junge.

The meeting was called to order by President Gene Luthy.

Opening devotions were given by Pastor Taggatz.

Minutes from the previous meeting: Were read and approved.

Financial Secretary’s Report:  Total receipts for Oct 2012, $12,946.60.

Treasurer’s report:  Ending balance for the general fund for Oct 2012, $6,895.99. Motion was made and second to approve. Motion carried.

Spiritual Ministries/Elder: Baptism for Ryker Michelle Sturma on Saturday, December 1st at 5 pm service. Ryker is the daughter of Aislyn Grau, who is looking to transfer into our congregation from St. Peter Lutheran in Evansville. Motion was made and second to approve the baptism. Motion carried.
Church Properties:  School doors varnished, toilet repaired, gutters cleaned, new pole installed, gym lights replace and other numerous repairs have been completed in and around the church and school.
- Cemetery exemption certificate has been received.
- Furnace inspection has been done
- Shrum Roofing has agreed to pay for the repairs to the vent pipes at the school.  Total cost for the repairs was $26.27.
- Gym furnace is showing signs of corrosion and a bid of $969.00 was received to fix the sump pump and raise the furnace. It was decided to contact Joe Liefer to see if he would be able to help fix the problems.
- Gail Harms has purchased 8 cemetery lots
- Drew’s Landscaping has given a bid for mowing of cemetery, church, and school properties.
 - Insurance policies for the church, school, and parsonage are under review.  Medical coverage seems to be low. The current insurance company is Brotherhood Mutual. Guide One Insurance from Wood River, IL is interested in serving our needs. It was also noted that Pastor Taggatz has his own renters insurance for contents of the parsonage.

Social Ministries: Contact has been made by a friend of Gary & Gail Harms if there would be any volunteers to help with the cleaning an fixing up a few things at the Harms house since the death of Gary Harms, who had an infection just before his death. No action was taken on this matter at this time.

Christian Education:
Sunday School:  

Lutheran Youth Fellowship:  LYF thanks all who supported their Chili Dinner.
- LYF will be decorating the church for Christmas on November 25th.
- LYF will have a meeting on December 3rd.
- LYF will be making up candy bags and handing them out after the Sunday School Christmas Evening Program

Pastor’s Report:
Pastoral Acts from Oct.9th ‘12 through Nov. 13th, 2012—
-Regular Saturday & Sunday worship responsibilities
-9 Bible Study class sessions (Sunday mornings & Wed. mornings)
                -1 Prospective member visit
                        - 13 Homebound Visits
                -3 member visits
                -5 Hospital Visits
                - 4 Spiritual Care Meetings
                -1 Funeral for Gary Harms on Sat. Nov. 3rd
                -R. County Nursing Home Chapel, Oct. 24th 
-Attended the LWML Spring Rally @ St. John Sparta on Oct. 25th
-3 COSLHS Meetings—Oct. 11th, Nov. 2nd & Nov. 8th
-1 COSLHS Benefit Dinner @ World Shooting Complex, Oct. 19th, said prayers for it and promoted the High School 
-Attended Pastor’s Circuit Meeting at Zion Lutheran in Pinckneyville on Nov. 6th
                -1 St. Mark’s Steeleville Chapel Oct. 24th
-1 Unity Lutheran East St. Louis Chapel Oct. 31st 
                -1 Trinity Lutheran Chapel, Nov. 7th 
-1 Family Night @ St. John Baldwin on Friday Sept. 21st--(We had 6 adults and 5 kids in attendance)…
-3 Campus Bible Studies attended at SWIC Belleville Campus on Oct. 26th, Nov. 2nd, Nov. 9th
-1 Wedding for Brian Schoenbeck to his beloved bride Jamie on Sat. Nov. 10th, said a prayer and a blessing at the reception.
- Pastor Taggatz and Harry Wetzel will be attending the DOXOLGY session on November 16th – 18th.  Guest Preacher on Sunday, November 18th will be Pastor Mark Willig.  There will be no Saturday night church service on Saturday, November 17th.
- Bids for Lawn Mowing and Custodian need to be in no later than November 23rd.  Please give your bids to one of the trustees: Kevin Luthy, Corey Roscow Bob Wirth or Stan Gegel
- Flower Committee Chairman, Lela Rehmer is stepping down from this position. A new chairman will be need as of January 1, 2013.
- St John Lutheran Annual Meeting will be on Sunday, November 25th at 7:00 pm at the church.
- Slate of candidates for 2013, Vice President – Gerald Poenitske, Elder – Richard Buch, Trustees – Gary Huebner and David Piel, Treasurer – Dennis Wegener, Financial Secretary – Debbie Hammel. If you have any other people you would like to nominate, please contact Gene Luthy.
- Special Family Night will be held on November 30th from 6:00 to 8:30 pm.
- Advent Midweek Services will begin on Wednesday, November 28 at 7:00 pm and continue on Wednesday, December 5th and Wednesday, December 12th and Wednesday, December 19th.
- Handing out bags on Thanksgiving for donations of non-perishable food items for the Baldwin Food Pantry.  Please return your food items to our church by December 2nd.
Old Business:  Susan Piel has received more information on banners at a reasonable price and has offered to purchase possibly three new banners. Motion was made and second to accept Susan’s offer. Motion carried.

New Business: 
- Gene Luthy has received Lutheran Church Extension Fund information if anyone is interested, they should contract Gene.

Adjournment:  Motion was made and second to adjourn. Motion carried.

The meeting was closed prayer and with the Lord’s Prayer.

President, Gene Luthy
Secretary, Marla Huebner

Special Council Meeting—November 18, 2012

Present:  Gene Luthy, Gerald Poenitski, Marla Huebner, Marvin Liefer, Susan Piel and Linda Schoenbeck.

The meeting was called to order by Pres. Gene Luthy.

Motion was made to give half of Thanksgiving offering to Operations Blessing in Sparta and the other half to Baldwin Food Pantry.  Motion second.  Motion Carried

Adjournment:  Motion was made and second to adjourn. Motion carried.

President, Gene Luthy
Secretary, Marla Huebner

Luther_Seal_smWe Believe, Teach and Confess.

Formula of Concord:  Epitome
Article 4-- Good Works
Introductory Note:  It is wrong to say that good works are necessary for salvation. It is also wrong to say that they are harmful for salvation. Just as wrong, however, is to avoid the discussion of good works altogether. Perhaps the best analogy for good works—and a biblical one at that—is to think of them as fruit on a tree (Matthew 7:17). A living tree bears fruit. A dead tree bears no fruit. A person who is alive through faith in Christ will do good works. On the other hand, a person who is spiritually dead, that is, without faith in Christ, may perform certain outward actions, but they are not good works. While good works play no role in our salvation, they are very much part of our lives as God’s children. Good works in the Christian life do not result from our fearing God’s punishment. Rather, they result from God loving us. God’s perfect love in Christ drives out all fear and replaces it with a heart, soul, and mind that love Him and serve our neighbor. (See also AC VI; AC XX; Ap V; Ap XX; SA III XIII; FC SD IV.)
The Chief Question in the Controversy about Good Works
1 Concerning the doctrine of good works two divisions have arisen in some churches:
2 1. First, some theologians have become divided because of the following expressions. One side wrote, “Good works are necessary for salvation. It is impossible to be saved without good works.” They also wrote, “No one has ever been saved without good works.” But the other side, on the contrary, wrote, “Good works are harmful to salvation.”
3 2. Afterward, a schism arose between some theologians because of the two words necessary and free. The one side argued that the word necessary should not be used about the new obedience, which, they say, does not flow from necessity and coercion, but from a voluntary spirit. The other side insisted on the word necessary. They say obedience is not our option, but regenerate people are obliged to render this obedience.
4 From this dispute about the terms, a controversy arose afterward about the subject itself. For the one side contended that among Christians the Law should not be presented at all, but people should be encouraged to do good works from the Holy Gospel alone. The other side contradicted this.
The Pure Teaching of the Christian Churches about This Controversy
5 For the thorough statement and decision of this controversy, our doctrine, faith, and confession is as follows:
6 1. Good works certainly and without doubt follow true faith—if it is not a dead, but a living faith—just as fruit grows on a good tree [Matthew 7:17].
7 2. We believe, teach, and confess that good works should be entirely excluded from the question about salvation, just as they are excluded from the article of justification before God. The apostle testifies with clear words when he writes as follows, “Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: … ‘Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin’ ” (Romans 4:6–8). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
8 3. We also believe, teach, and confess that all people, but especially those who are born again and renewed by the Holy Spirit, are obligated to do good works [Ephesians 2:10].
9 4. In this sense the words necessary, shall, and must are used correctly and in a Christian way to describe the regenerate, and are in no way contrary to the form of sound words and speech.
10 5. Nevertheless, if the words mentioned (i.e., necessity and necessary) are used when talking about regenerate people, then only due obedience—not coercion—is to be understood. For the truly believing, so far as they are regenerate, do not offer obedience from coercion or the driving of the Law, but from a voluntary spirit. For they are no more under the Law, but under grace (Romans 6:14; 7:6; 8:14).
11 6. We also believe, teach, and confess that when it is said, “The regenerate do good works from a free spirit,” this is not to be understood as though it were an option for the regenerate person to do or not to do good when he wants, as though a person can still retain faith if he intentionally perseveres in sins [1 John 2:5–9].
12 7. This is not to be understood in any other way than as the Lord Christ and His apostles themselves declare. In other words, the free spirit does not obey from fear of punishment, like a servant, but from love of righteousness, like children (Romans 8:15).
13 8. However, this willingness ‹liberty of spirit› in God’s elect children is not perfect. It is burdened with great weakness, as St. Paul complains about himself in Romans 7:14–25 and Galatians 5:17.
14 9. Nevertheless, for the sake of the Lord Christ, the Lord does not charge this weakness to His elect, as it is written, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
15 10. We believe, teach, and confess also that works do not maintain faith and salvation in us, but God’s Spirit alone does this, through faith. Good works are evidences of His presence and indwelling [Romans 8:5, 14].

Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (482-483). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House..

The deadline for getting articles and reports in to be included in the Newsletter is the 18th of every month.

Do You Have a Question?  There are tracts in the narthex that may be able to help…  Take a moment as you come into church to check out the Lutheran Hour Ministries tract rack.  These pamphlets are free for you to take home.  You may see one that would be interesting, maybe not for yourself, but for a friend or relative who is experiencing or questioning a particular topic.

If you as an individual or your organization would like to help someone less fortunate this Christmas, please consider joining Lutheran Child and Family Services as we strive to make the season a joyous one for the people we serve. We will provide names, ages, sizes and special interests/needs of client. Please call Wanda Rollins, Janet Keiser or Precious Fowler at 618-234-8904.

The Sunday School Children will be practicing for their Christmas Eve Pageant starting at 8:30am on Sunday mornings during December in the Church.

Advent Midweek Series Coming to St. John—“The Saints of Advent”
1. Wed. Nov. 28th @ 7pm— “St. Andrew, Apostle” (John 1:35–42)
2. Wed. Dec. 5th @ 7pm— “St. Nicholas” (Galatians 2:20) 
3. Wed. Dec. 12th @ 7pm— “St. Lucia” (Revelation 7:14–17)
4.  Wed. Dec. 19th  @ 7pm— “St. Thomas, Apostle (John 11:1–16; 14:1–7)

On Wednesday nights @ 7pm during the months of November & December we will once again be having our Advent Midweek services.  We will be following the Order of Vespers from TLH and the services will be on: Nov. 28th, Dec.  This year we will be looking at the “The Saints of Advent.”

Please Note:  Due to the Advent Midweek Series Confirmation & Pre-confirmation will be meeting at different times on Wednesdays.  Pre-Confirmation will be meeting at 4:30pm and Confirmation will be meeting at 5:30 pm…

Pastor Taggatz, Roxanne, Eddie, & Marty would like to extend our warmest Christmas regards to everyone of you!  Because when you get right down to it, the true reason for the season is, Jesus

John 17:3—And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Giving through THRIVENT CHOICE to St. John for Oct. –Nov. ‘12 I am pleased to announce that our giving through the Thrivent Choice program for November has amounted to:  $890.00  -Total amount our church has received from the Thrivent Choice program since Jan. 2012:  $3,561.00.

***Special notice regarding the Thrivent Choice Program:  You might have already received notice of a change in the Thrivent Choice program by mail, but just in case you haven’t there is some important information for you to know about.  This year of 2012 all Thrivent members wishing to continue their automatic withdrawal to the charity of their choice will have to let Thrivent know either by mail or phone.  It only needs to be done once for this year.  To continue to direct your Choice Dollars to the charity of your choice call: 800-THRIVENT (800-847-4836) and state "Thrivent Choice."

IN NEED OF USHERSThe St. John Baldwin Usher Team is looking for more ushers to serve in our Saturday night & Sunday morning servicesIf you are interested in helping to usher please contact Harry Wetzel at: 785-2931 or Jeff Rowold at: 785-2275.   

SPECIAL FAMILY NIGHT Nov. 30th @ 6pm!  The next special family night at our church will be on Friday Nov. 30th from 6-8:30pm.  These family nights will be informal with opportunities for the children to play and for families to fellowship with one another while doing a variety of activities and having a few treats as well.  There will also be a special devotion from God’s Word for everyone.  Come join us for a fun and exciting time!!!

As of January 2013, we will be needing a flower Committee Chairman. This consists of putting flowers on the altar every 2nd & 5th Sunday, picking up, arranging, displaying, and watering the Christmas Poinsettias, and Easter Lilies. For more information please contact the church office.

The Ladies Aid Christmas Party will be Wed., Dec. 5 at the school at 11:30am. There will be a potluck lunch for all aid members, spouses, friends and anyone else in the congregation. There will be games in the afternoon and singing of carols. Please come and join us.

The 2013 Offering Envelopes may be picked up at the school building.

Non-Perishable Food Drive for the Baldwin Food Pantry—On Thanksgiving Day members of our church received a paper bag to fill with non-perishable food items to give to our Baldwin Food Pantry.  There’s still time for you if you haven’t already received a bag to collect non-perishable food items for our local Food Pantry.  Please consider making a charitable donation to help those less fortunate and to share the love of Jesus with them.  Thanks for your generosity and God bless you this Thanksgiving! Please bring back the bag on the first Sunday of Advent Dec. 2nd.

Our offerings that were collected Thanksgiving Day will go to The Baldwin Food Pantry and Operation Blessing! Thank You for your generosity.

Campus Ministry @ SWIC Belleville CampusWe are still looking for pastors and laymen who are interested in being a part of campus ministry. We welcome all who are enthusiastic about reaching out and spreading God's Word. Come to our Campus Ministry Mentor Committee meeting once a month and get involved with this community college. Our next meeting will be at SWIC Belleville on November 27th at 11:30am for lunch. The purpose of this organization is to nurture and guide the students by providing opportunities for Christian growth and fellowship, teaching and modeling Christian living, encouraging and assisting the student club, and mentoring the students in servant leadership. Are you interested yet? To learn more or if you have any questions, please contact Deaconess Intern Dorothy Glenn at 618.539.5664 or email her

IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU, IT’S ABOUT JESUS FOR YOU…Issues, Etc. is a radio talk show hosted by LCMS Pastor Todd Wilken and produced by Lutheran Public Radio.  This week’s topics include: The Prosperity Gospel, The Advent Season, Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Noah and more.  You can tune in LIVE weekdays from 3-5 p.m. on KFUO, 850 AM in St. Louis.  You can also listen on-demand at

SPECIAL ALTAR GUILD MEETING—There will be an altar guild meeting after church on Sunday Dec. 16th to discuss next year’s schedule and to go through the use of the new banners that we now have for our church for use during the different seasons of the church year.

Are you or a family member…coping with grief and loss… stressed out by financial issues… dealing with family or marital problems? Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois’ professional licensed counselors can help. They provide individual, couple, marital and family counseling to help address these types of situations. Insurance is accepted. Call800-363-LCFS (5237) to schedule a FREE confidential initial consultation.  LUTHERAN CHILD & FAMILY SERVICES IN SPARTA HAS MOVED With the closing of the Nice Twice Thrift Shop, Lutheran Child and Family Services moved its office to 1107 N. Market in Sparta

Our Ladies Aid will be sending out Christmas Cards to those whom we pray for every month who are actively serving in our United States military.  Right now we are currently in need of their addresses so that we can send them a card.  If you know the address of one of your loved ones whom we pray for in our military every month please contact the church office, Thanks for your help!!!  Here are the military personnel for whom we pray every month:  Matt Mehring, Jamie  Stover, Derek Junge, Jacoby Sommer, Aaron Miller, Christopher Stahre and Todd Stolte , Michael Falkenheim, & Kaleb Schwartzkopf.

Non-Profit Org.
Permit No. 1
Baldwin, IL 62217
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church
P. O. Box 162
Baldwin, IL 62217-0162