All Saints

November 1st is All Saints day. That works out well when the first falls on a Sunday but it is an important enough holiday in the Church that we observe it on the Sunday following November 1st when that day is not a Sunday. Often the takeaway for Christians like you and me is that there are people in the past who lived good (though still sinful) lives and that we have something to learn from the good they did. Also, a particularly Lutheran perspective would be that all Christians are saints because they have been redeemed by Christ. This thinking follows the line that a saint is someone who is perfect and you and I are prefect because Jesus has redeemed us by His blood, therefore we are saints.

Another facet of this jewel that I would like to talk about with you briefly is the fact that all saints are different people and yet are one in Christ. This is a reality that is captured by the phrase in the Apostle’s Creed; ‘communion of saints’. This does not mean that we somehow benefit when the saints up in heaven take communion or something. It refers to the unity of the saints, the unity of all believers. Of course, there are more saints who are dead than are alive. We are clearly not united with past believers in life but we are still united with them in faith. This is something that happens any time we have faith which, I trust, is pretty much all the time for you. But this communion of saints is even more poignant during the sacrament of the altar.

The ‘Preface’, which is that paragraph I read right after the start of the Service of the Sacrament, ends with this sentence; “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying…”. That “all the company of heaven” part really encompasses a lot of people, including angels even. Though angels are not saints. When we take communion, it is not just a sign of unity with those who are taking communion with us it is sign of unity with those who have ever taken communion. It is a sign of unity with Christ Himself, and by extension all believers in Christ.

So, in a Law sense, we should make sure that we are right with not just the people communing at the rail with us but with all people, now and in the past, who have ever communed at any altar. (And by ‘right’ I mean you have forgiven them and do not hold a grudge against them or something.) From more of a gospel perspective, we get to be united with our believing friends and family who have passed away when we take communion. This happens every time we take communion, not just on All Saints day.

It is hard for me to imagine so large a group of people who are so united in any other way outside of the Church. There are large groups of people out there for sure. There are large countries and large movements encompassing large ideologies out there but they often fall apart because people are so different and are able to find an infinite number of things about which to disagree. That is one of the more surprising and wonderful parts of the ‘communion of saints’. All saints are saints because of what Christ has done for us. Though we are very different people who have lived in very different times and places, though we have different views and preferences, we are all saints. We are all united because Christ unites us. He makes us all saints.

~ Pastor Mehl

Change & Church

The month of October brings some particular images with it. On calendars you see leaves in various shades of brown, orange, red and yellow. Of course, Halloween is at the end of the month and that brings its own set of images to the mix. As far as the Lutheran Church is concerned, Reformation Day is also the last day of the month. Although, the 501st anniversary of the reformation is not quite as exciting as the 500th, the reformation is still the reformation. I’m sure you heard plenty about Luther last year, but to remind you, October 31st is the day that he nailed the ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. He did a lot of other things too, but if you’re going to have an anniversary you need a date and an event that happened on that date and this is the one people have chosen. The argument goes, that once Luther does this, posts those theses for everyone to read, then there is no turning back for him. Sure, he could have recanted, but because the posting was public it would have been hard to quash what he had started. It was the one event that brought with it the most amount of change.

Certainly, change is what the reformation is remembered for in the wider scope of history. It changed the church in big ways and also effected other facets of life in Europe and even around the world. Still today the landscape of American Christianity is defined largely by the categories that emerged from the reformation. And, still today, the church is changing. In our own congregation there have been some changes over the years. The wall of pictures reminds us that we have worshiped in different buildings over
the years. As the recent surveys have also reminded us, we have worshiped at different times over the years as well. It remains to be seen what the future will hold, both for the church (all Christians in the world) and for our church, here in this place. Will we worship at different times in the near future? It seems likely. Will our church still be our church? Yes. The people will be the same. The location will be the same. What is taught will be the same. God will be the same. His word will be the same.

The Church of God will always be defined by people gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). It doesn’t have to be the same people or the same place even, just people gathered in His name. We will have the added advantage of familiar people and a familiar place (something not all Christians have enjoyed over the years). We are quite fortunate to have the blessings that we do of a good place, good people and most importantly a good message that tells us of our loving God. That message is what Luther fought for 501 years ago. It is what Christians have given their lives for throughout the history of the Church. It is a message that tells us what God has done for us 2000 years ago and what He will do in the future. There will be change in the future. Jesus will return and then there will be no more Church. Everyone will gather together and worship God, for all time. (Philippians 2:10-11, Revelation 5:13) That will be a big change, but certainly, a welcome one.

~ Pastor Mehl

Catechisms Large and Small

School has started. As is always the case, it seems like it has come too soon. Yet, here it is. For me that means that Confirmation classes are beginning (or have begun depending on when this gets to you). In confirmation class the age-old Lutheran text book has been the Small Catechism of Martin Luther. The book that I’m sure most all of you are familiar with is the Small Catechism With Explanation. That ‘explanation’ part, which includes all of those 306 or so questions, is 90% of the book. If you are an ardent consumer of synod materials you may have heard that Concordia Publishing House has come out with a new Small Catechism With Explanation. Of course, the ‘Small Catechism’ part has not changed but the ‘explanation’ part has been completely revamped. I have not yet read through it entirely but from what I have seen it does a good job of framing the faith in contemporary terms. Older editions of the catechism preserved a lot of arguments that were helpful for Lutherans 200-500 years ago but are not as significant today. On the flip side, aspects of the faith that speak to issues such as human sexuality, for instance, have become much more important of late.

Last year I taught out of the ‘old’ Small Catechism. This year, rather than transition right to the new one I thought that I would take this opportunity to do something a little different. I plan on using Luther’s Large Catechism in confirmation class this year. Ironically, the “Large” Catechism is actually smaller than the ‘Small’ Catechism With Explanation (because the ‘explanation’ part is just so big). The content of both is topically the same. In the Small Catechism Luther simply includes the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, Apostles Creed all with a paragraph or two of explanation after each part. Additionally, there are some questions about Baptism, Confession, the Lord’s Supper and then some Scripture passages on how a Christian should live. If you have a hymnal handy you can find the whole Small Catechism on pages LSB 321-330 (AGPS 35-47).

The Large Catechism covers the same territory but is a little longer. Instead of Luther providing a paragraph or two of explanation he gives you a page or two (or more). Effectively, the Large Catechism is basically the Small Catechism with Luther’s explanation. (The ‘explanation’ that comes with the Small Catechism was developed by various LCMS theologians over the years, not Luther himself.) Yes, the Large Catechism is dated. Luther often rails against the Papacy in ways that are not quite as relevant today (Francis is not going to burn anybody at the stake in St. Peter’s Square tomorrow for instance). But much of what Luther teaches about living the Christian life is still pertinent for us today. Moreover, you get to hear this teaching with Luther’s hyperbole which is entertaining in itself.

Of pastors, Luther says in his preface to the Large Catechism, “shall we easily despise [God word], we especially, who claim to be pastors and teachers? If so, not only should we have nothing given us to eat, but we should also be driven out, baited with dogs, and pelted with dung.” Lovely. Perhaps I should not have shared that one with you. In the next paragraph Luther says, “we should feel bound well enough by God’s command alone. He solemnly commands in Deuteronomy 6:6-8 that we should always meditate on His precepts.” Then a little later says, “What else are such proud and arrogant saints doing who are not willing to read and study the catechism daily? They think they are much more learned than God himself.”

It is clear that Luther believes one should regularly read and study God’s word. In fact, the catechism was designed to be a simple summary of what God’s word teaches. Reading and knowing the catechism is a much easier and digestible task than reading the whole Bible (though a Christian should endeavor to do that too). Of course, I agree with Luther on this point and in doing so agree with God’s word as well. You should regularly familiarize yourself with what God’s word teaches. The catechism is a simple tool that can help you do this. I will help you in this endeavor by preaching on God’s word every week. Also, if you would like a Small Catechism (without explanation) we actually have a bunch (and can easily get more of these little pamphlets) let me know and I can get you one. The Christian life, this side of heaven, is one of continual trial and temptation. It requires continual study of God’s word, not only to know what we are doing wrong but also to learn well what God has done for us through His Son Jesus. You can never hear that enough.

One Service Starting in June

Once again, during the summer months, we will be going to one worship service. The service will start at 9:00 am, with Sunday School beginning at 10:30 am. Holy Communion will be celebrated each Sunday. This new schedule will begin on Sunday, June 3, and is planned to end on Sunday, September 9.