31 March 2008

"Issues, Et. Al."-An Insider's View

Check this out from Pr. Joel Brondos, a former member of the Board for Communications Services of the LCMS. It's helpful to have an insider's view! And I couldn't agree more with this statement:
BOTTOM LINE: This whole Issues, Etc. debacle is SYMPTOMATIC. That means, it in itself is not the root problem. Unless Issues, Etc. people realize the underlying theology and practice of synodical officials that led to this action and stand up against it, there will be no change.

Synodical Politics via WSJ

So, the LCMS President finds himself on defense and must respond to Friday's opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Mollie Ziegler-Hemingway. Ms. Hemingway must have struck a chord! Let's keep in mind that in politics - and that's what this is, at least this portion of using editorial pages to sway public opinion - it is most desirable to land the first "PR punch," and it is most unenviable to have to respond and explain oneself. So, chalk one up to Ms. Hemingway as Pres. Kieschnick is caught back on his heals, now trying to change public opinion regarding his executive's decision to cancel Issues, Etc.

I notice that Pres. Kieschnick's letter reiterates the details (questionable as they are, or discredited as they are, according to many) that first showed up in David Strand's letter of last week. Can you say lock-step collaborative effort and talking points? I for one would love to hear what the Synod's Treasurer has to say about this. Did I hear that he was out of the country at the time of cancellation and not even consulted on this "business/stewardship" decision?

I also notice that the President's response to Ms. Hemingway puts the onus for the undue demise of Issues, Etc. on the shoulders of loyal listeners. Since the listeners did not ante up and pay the bills directly, the new reasoning goes, they now get to suffer the silence of solid Lutheran theology, apologetics, and discussion on the airwaves? If Issues, Etc. was truly a "ministry of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod," then why blame listeners for not giving money directly to it? When will we receive more data on how much the listeners of other KFUO-AM programs *don't* financially support their favorite shows? When will other shows, such as "The Bible Study" or "Moments of Assurance," be canceled because *their* listeners are not directly footing the bill? Why was Issues, Etc. the only show on the KFUO-AM line up recruiting and garnering its own sponsors?

Finally, I notice Pres. Kieschnick's rationale for claiming synodical unity. Unity comes via a convention? The process of voting on and approving convention resolutions shows a supposed unity? (What about the "No" votes, whatever the percentage, on each of those resolutions?) What about the actual preaching from pulpits and teaching in Bible classes and school classrooms? Is that unified? What about the practice(s) of the Lord's Supper and who is welcomed to the Lord's Table? Do we see unity there? What about liturgical practices that are salutary to manifest concord and in harmony with our Confessions and the Church catholic through the centuries (vs. seeker-sensitive approaches to "worship" that seek to lure and entertain more than give glory to God and comfort to sinners)? If a convention is the best hallmark of "unity" that we can devise, then I suppose we'll have to be content with "unity" for a few days once every three years, but the rest of the time, we'll carry on according to Judges 21:25: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

So, chalk one up for Ms. Hemingway. Let's pray that a better explanation might still be forthcoming, and, by all means, let's pray that we in the Missouri Synod get to read/hear it before all of the WSJ readers.

Pres. Kieschnick responds to M.Z. Hemingway

March 31, 2008

Wall Street Journal

Letter to the Editor:

As President of The Lutheran Church—MissouriSynod, I express my extreme disappointment over the column “Radio Silence” published March 28 under “Houses of Worship.” Its author presents a distorted account of the reason for the discontinuation of the “Issues, Etc.” program on the Synod’s KFUO-AM Radio station. What is even more disturbing is the false and misleading picture she presents of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) as a deeply divided church regarding its mission and ministry.

First, let me say our church is happy to own and operate KFUO-AM, the oldest continuously operating religious radio station in the country, if not the world. We are proud of the ministry it has provided listeners for some 84 years, and we endeavor to continue this ministry. I must also note that all ministries of the church, of which KFUO-AM is but one, require financial support from their constituencies.

Here are the facts surrounding the termination of “Issues, Etc.” This program was cancelled by the Synod’s director of communications after years of attempts to keep the program financially solvent. In fiscal year 2007-08, KFUO-AM’s operating deficit was $620,000. Since 2001, the accumulated deficits ofthe station have been in excess of $3.5 million. While airing for only 18 percent of KFUO-AM’s programming week, “Issues, Etc.” in the last fiscal year accounted for more than 40 percent ($250,000) of the station’s total deficit. These figures are based on the audited financial statements of the LCMS. As of February 29, two thirds into the current fiscal year, KFUO-AM was on pace to suffer heavy loses again.

Listeners of “Issues, Etc.” have had nine years and countless invitations and opportunities to support the program financially, and some have, but not nearly enough to offset the show’s deep, ongoing losses.

More importantly, I wish to address the unfortunate comments in the column that The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is deeply divided and that it is pushing “church marketing” over the historic confessions of the evangelical Lutheran Church.

In truth, last summer the LCMS had its most positive and unified convention in years. Our church remains faithful to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions, an integral part of our identity as a church body. As stated in a resolution adopted last summer by the national Synod convention: “From the founding of our Synod 160 years ago, wehave been blessed by unity in our common confession and the articles of our shared faith, such as the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, original sin, baptismal regeneration, the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament, the inerrancy of Scripture and many others.”

In accordance with our unity in what we believe,teach, and confess, the Synod adopted the mission and vision of —a focused and concentrated effort to “share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who do notyet know him.” One goal of calls for the Synod to start 2,000 new congregations by the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in the year 2017. This outreach emphasis is not“marketing” as suggested by last Friday’s column; rather, it is one of many ministry endeavors developed to foster the mission of our Synod “... vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities, and the world.” (LCMS Mission Statement)

In summary, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is more committed than ever to proclaiming the one message of Jesus Christ and his love for all (1 John 4:9-11).

On behalf of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I invite readers to visit our website at for more information on God’s grace and salvation in Christ. www.lcms.org

The Rev. Dr. Gerald B.Kieschnick, President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Be Slow to Pray...but Pray Still

Here are some sage words from Eugene Peterson on prayer and the risk we run when we pray. No, he is not advocating any form of shying away from prayer, but rather a reassessment of what happens when we pray, and thus bidding us to take prayer much more seriously. Here's Eugene Peterson:
We want life on our conditions, not on God's conditions. Praying puts us at risk of getting involved in God's condition. Be slow to pray. Praying most often doesn't get us what we want but what God wants, something quite at variance with what we conceive to be in our best interests. And when we realize what is going on, it is often to late to go back. Be slow to pray. (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity, p. 44)
And here's another little snippet from later in the same discussion:
One of the indignities to which pastors are routinely subjected is to be approached, as a group of people are gathering for a meeting or a meal, with the request, "Reverend, get things started for us with a little prayer, will ya?" It would be wonderful if we would counter by bellowing William McNamara's fantasized response: "I will not! There are no little prayers! Prayer enters the lion's den, brings us before the holy where it is uncertain whether we will come back alive or sane, for 'it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.'" (Peterson, p. 46; citing William McNamara, O. C. D., The Human Adventure (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Image Books, 1976), p. 89).

Follow the Money...and the Line of Authority

It would seem that the so-called "programmatic and business" ... er, I mean "stewardship" (sounds more sanctified, I guess?) reasons for canceling Issues, Etc. are starting to be dug up and fleshed out.

Check out this link for possible clues about the "programmatic" reasons.

Check out this link to see where other monies for missions go.

And, check out this link to learn by what authority (not!) Issues was cancelled.

Insight from Outside the LCMS

One Albert McIlhenny posted the following in the comments section to a previous post. His words are powerful and insightful enough to warrant being posted here. Thanks, Albert!

I am not a Lutheran but the program was extremely edifying and sorely missed by the whole church. I felt obligated to send my opinion to the LCMS:

I see that you have, after nine days, revised your original statement about the cancellation of Issues, Etc. I am sure by now you realize that this belated attempt at an explanation is not convincing anyone - and, in fact, has made people more suspicious of your true motives. I would consider myself among that numher. Originally, I considered it a case of bureaucratic incompetence that would be corrected in due time. Now I see something far more disturbing that has manifested itself in what can only be described as a deceptive manipulation of the facts.

I originally discovered Issues, Etc. on a Christian radio station through its Sunday night sydicated version back when Don Matzat was the host. I thought the program became even better under Rev. Wilken's leadership and was perhaps the best Christian radio broadcast on the airwaves. I later discovered the radio archives and was able to listen to the program on a daily basis and share this resource with friends. As the quick reaction to the cancellation has demonstrated, I was not alone in this and yet you conveniently failed to mention this aspect of the ministry in your new response. Why?

Issues, Etc. provided was one of the most spiritually and intellectually edifying programs ever broadcast on Christian radio. Cancelling it only serves to confirm the suspicions that the LCMS has cast its lot with the "seeker sensitive" movement (which has been thoroughly critiqued on Issues, Etc.) just at the time when that movement is being exposed as the Emporer with his new clothes.

Furthermore, the handling of the entire fiasco underscores the hostility towards the program by those handling the cancellation. Giving no prior notice and no chance for the hosts to say farewell to their listeners and doing it during Holy Week marks the sign of the vengeance of the petty. Even worse, the bland and, frankly, cowardly statement by the LCMS president that he knew of the affair but neither approved nor disapproved sounds like something that would have come from the mouth of Pontius Pilate - not the head of a Christian church.

I would have more respect for the leadership of the LCMS and KFUO if they simply told the truth fromt the outset - namely, that they were no longer interested in the historical faith and practice of confessional Lutheranism and Issues, Etc. was a thorn in their side. At least then you would not have to keep sending out revised explanations on a weekly basis.

30 March 2008

A Call to Organize

Please check out Augsburg1530 for a "Call to Organize" in addressing the Issues, Etc. cancellation and what to do now. Some very good points and good comments as well.

29 March 2008

A Catalog of Testimonies

Here's a little something compiled by Pr. David Oberdieck and gleaned from the Issues, Etc. petition. If you haven't signed it, please do so. Also, please keep in touch with Augsburg1530 for upcoming events and things you can do to get answers to the question of "Why?" Issues, Etc. came to an untimely and unwarranted end.

Right now, enjoy these comments from listeners of Issues, Etc. around the globe and across several denominational lines. Once again, I must say, "Not bad for a show that supposedly had so few listeners!" Also, it would appear that Issues, Etc. did in actuality what "Ablaze" can only dream of doing.

A Catalog of Testimonies
For Issues Etc.

By David Oberdieck, pastor

“I'm visiting my family in the US, and going back home to Japan tomorrow morning. I only began listening to the program [Issues Etc.]via internet less than a year ago, and have been devouring it. Now, I will have no Issues, Etc. programs to feed me as a confessional Lutheran isolated in the rice fields. God will use this for good, most definitely, but I am still in mourning. Last week [Holy Week]felt long, and this one will, too…”

This is just one poignant reaction when Issues Etc was abruptly canceled during Holy Week and Rev. Todd Wilken (host) and Jeff Schwarz (producer) were fired on the spot and without reason. You may sign a petition and read other comments at: http://www.petitiononline.com/Issues/petition.html.

The Synod is pushing districts and congregations to sponsor evangelistic “critical events.” This is part of the Ablaze program to share Christ with the world. Cancelling Issues Etc. was a critical event of a most negative kind. It ended an important Gospel ministry. It took away an important source of confessional Lutheranism by which so many people were edified. If Ablaze is about sharing the Gospel, cancelling the show was anti-Ablaze.

Please take time to look over this catalogue of testimonies gleaned from the thousands of people who have requested that Issues Etc be left on the air. It is so uplifting to hear the positive impact that Issues Etc. has made on so many people. Also note the very last testimony that expresses the resentment that so many people feel because of the unfortunate decision of the synodical headquarters to end the show.

Catholic Soldier in Kansas - I am in the Army and a friend gave me the web site of Issues, Etc when I was getting ready to go to be deployed to Iraq. I was fearful I would be killed in the war. I told a friend who always talked to me at the gym and he gave me the web site and told me to look up a program by Dr. Brighton and this would be a big help to me. When I listen to Dr. Brighton he told us about heaven and what Jesus did for us to get there. It was like a spring day in my life. If I ever get to St. Louis I am going to look him up. When I was growing my parents never went to church but once or twice a year. I had a lot of fear of Christ and that he was going to punished me. I looked in several Lutheran web sites to see if I could find out what happened to Issues and found one that said a church president took it off. I did not have time to read all the information that was in there. I would like to ask him if he has ever been in the Army and have a best friend die in your arms like happened to me in Iraq. Thanks Dr. Brighton. [Pr. Oberdieck’s note - While the President of Synod was aware of the situation, we do not know who was ultimately responsible for taking Issues Etc off the air. Any conjecture from the general public is only conjecture at this time.]

Convert in New Hampshire - I am a recently confirmed Lutheran. I came to the church, specifically the LCMS, because of the ministry of Pastor Todd Wilken, Jeff Schwarz and Issues, Etc.

Lutheran in Austria - My family and I are among the Confessional Lutheran diaspora living in post-Christian Europe. With no home congregation, Issues, Etc. has been our family's spiritual resource and truly a gift of the Holy Spirit, sustaining us in the one true faith. Cerebral Christians desire helpful resources too!

Supporting the Navy in Washington - Our congregation has many Navy members. Issues etc. is one way to keep our members informed and fed, especially while deployed. On Palm Sunday I confirmed two adults who expressed the great blessings received through Issues, etc. It is a valuable tool for our evangelism efforts to the IPod generations and to people in darkness throughout the world.

Lutheran in Illinois - I credit Issues, Etc., for bringing me to the Lutheran Church, I regularly listen to talk radio and this was by far the best and most interesting to listen to.

Lutheran in Florida - I am a convert to the Lutheran church from Pentecostalism - and Issues ETC was instrumental in that move.

A Christian in Alabama - What can you say of those who you think are in error? You have taken away a very important and significant means of outreach, and the spreading of the Gospel. Also, never in my life have I ever heard of such a strong emphasis of the importance of a cross centered gospel--and I have been a believer all of my life! This program has helped to introduced me to the rich and historic faith that is Christianity--and as Black American, we don't often get such occasions. You have robbed the body of one of its tools!

Almost a Lutheran in Pennsylvania - Though I'm not a Lutheran yet, I have gained so much in the past 3-4 years from Issues Etc that I can no longer return to the bondage of American Evangelicalism. Also as anon-Lutheran I cheerfully supported Issues Etc financially. I'm a forty yr old grown man who cried tears when I discovered the show was gone and could no longer download the podcasts. I most certainly want and need the show back for myself and family, but what about the rest of America who needs to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed so clearly? I'm grateful for the many years the show ran - there does not seem to be any other shows that are as Christ-Centered and Cross-Focused as Issues Etc. Issues Etc. also pointed me to the Concordia Publishing House to which me and my extended family have purchased dozens of books. Who will point me to those books and publications now? Please re-consider and bring back Issues Etc, Pastor Wilken and Jeff Scwharz.

Presbyterian and Military Family in Japan -This show has been a valuable resource for our family while stationed overseas. We are members of the Presbyterian Church of America currently, but have come to realize the truth of the Lutheran teachings, in large part due to this program. This is deeply concerning that the Synod doesn't seem to care about the mission outreach of this program.

7th Day Adventist in England - I was surprised and dismayed at the sudden disappearance of the Issues, Etc website and am delighted that a petition has been organized to plead for its return. As a Seventh Day Adventist, I consider Issues, Etc one of the jewels of Christian broadcasting. I’m from the UK and long for the day when we can have this type of Christian programming. We’re starved here of a courageous, lucid, intelligent defense of God’s Word, and I am thankful that Issues, Etc embodied these qualities. I’ve been encouraged by Todd Wilken, his guests and the topics dealt with; the program [has] helped me to clarify my thinking on a number of issues and I felt better equipped to respond to the intellectual challenges to and assaults on truth. Our secular culture would like nothing better than to silence a faithful Christian voice; more alarming is that this impulse should come from within the church(?)

Non-denominational in Michigan - No Christian talk show has challenged a number of my pre-conceptions about the Christian life as ISSUES, ETC has. We need thought-filled Christian radio to make us the thinkers Christ calls us to be. Please bring back Issues, Etc
Baptist Pastor in Illinois - I am a Baptist General Conference pastor who has benefited greatly from the Issues, Etc program. I am very dismayed and disappointed that you have discontinued this fine program. Does the LCMS not care about truth, the gospel, and its own confessions? I have told my wife that if I keep listening to this show I might end up becoming a Lutheran! Your decision to remove a program that so clearly promotes the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was a careless one. Even as a non-Lutheran I was greatly impacted by this program and its confessional approach. In my opinion, you have cut one of the best things you had going. What a shame.

ELCA Pastor in Minnesota - I am a pastor in the ELCA and had looked to Issues Etc as an important means to staying grounded in the Lutheran confessions. Very disappointed.
ELCA Pastor in North Dakota - I am an ELCA pastor. We have nothing that even comes close to the confessional integrity that I found on Issues Etc. Please consider returning it.
Lutheran in California - As a young man who is making the transition from my Evangelical upbringing into Lutheranism, Issues Etc. has taught me the significance of Christ centered and cross focused preaching. Please bring Issues back.

Lutheran in Illinois - I am elderly and house bound. Issues Etc. is the best program the church had going and the only one I listened to with interest regularly. It is the best program LCMS had going to reach the unchurched with the true Messiah for us…

A U.S. Navy Chaplain - The cancellation of Issues Etc. constitutes the removal of a wonderful resource for the proclamation of the Gospel to myriad persons; specifically, the men and women of the Sea Services and the US Military in general…
Lutheran in Michigan - This program was used extensively by myself during our recent vacancy to talk with the younger (12-25 year olds) members of our congregation. I am very displeased that Issues Etc was removed from your itinerary and the removal of the program means that I will no longer financially support your radio station.
Baptist in Oklahoma - Issues Etc. defined intellectual conservative cutting edge Christian talk radio. There simply is no comparable program in America. Issues consistently presented the dialogue necessary to keep Christians aptly informed and abreast of today’s developing concerns that so vitally affect their lives and their world.

Lutheran home schoolers in Washington - My family has spent many thoughtful evenings listening to this show. We home school and were pleased to be able to have our children listen to it and learn from such fine people what it is to be Lutheran. We do not have many Lutheran churches where we live, it made us feel more more connected to the greater Lutheran church and strengthened our confession. Why would you do this in Holy week?

Lutheran in Nebraska - Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. As so many others on this petition, I too credit my pastor and Issues, Etc. for my being a member of the LCMS. I have been so proud to be a MS Lutheran. Now I am almost ashamed because of who represents us. I love the Lord, I love the Church, and I love Issues, Etc. I can't begin to imagine how many people have been affected by this decision. I will pray that the Lord would move on the hearts of our LCMS leaders and David Strand to see the errors they are making and to bless us again with reissuing Issues, Etc.

Lutheran Pastor in Canada - As a Lutheran Church Canada pastor I considered Issues Etc. to be the best outreach and resource LCMS had to offered: I am personally saddened by this unfortunate turn of events and ask that the program be brought back so that the lost can once again be reached, the erring can once again be admonished lovingly with Scripture (as is right so to do), and so the eyes of all who listen can once more be fixed on Jesus, for His sake and in His name I pray that this will be done.

Nazarene in Ohio- I was a podcast subscriber to Issues, etc. It was an invaluable resource and as a blogger, I often linked to programs where Todd Wilken had covered a topic of great importance to the faith. I didn't always agree with Todd but I always listened and it always made me think, something all too rare in modern (and post-modern) Christian programming. By the way, my disagreements with Mr. Wilken and his guests were quite rare…

Former ELCA pastor - As a former ELCA member, and just ready to join an LCMS church, I am deeply disappointed that this program and its archives are not available to me and for me to share with others to spread the true Gospel message that I have become so grateful to receive in just the last few months. Please don't eliminate this wonderful resource--truly a voice in the wilderness of American Evangelicalism!
Member of Saddle Back Church - As a Christian apologist who has spent many years defending the faith, I would ask that you please restore the Issues, Etc. program. I am not a Lutheran, nor have I always seen eye-to-eye with Todd. And yet I can only view this dismissal as a true loss for the entire Body of Christ, regardless of denomination affiliations. Todd Wilken has consistently dealt with crucial issues affecting the church in general, paying careful attention to exposing error wherever error might be found in the cults, the occult, and world religions. He has been a faithful servant and a dedicated voice of truth in the ever-growing din of false teachings throughout our culture. Please reconsider your actions.
Lutheran Pastor Washington - We have often used the discussion points and contents of Issues, Etc. as a jumping off point for our Topical Men's Bible Study. We have found this program to be of great value. Please return this program to the public.

An LC-MS Lutheran - It becomes very hard to support all of the other requests for assistance from Synod and the schools etc. when abrupt changes are made without explanation. My reaction is to withhold support until I understand what it is that I am still being asked daily to support from several of needy and worthwhile outreach and educational endeavors. Trust builds faithful stewardship when that is broken the bridge to trust and worthwhile programs have been destroyed!

28 March 2008

Go, Mollie!

Here's a well-written piece from Ms. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway in the Wall Street Journal Online. The LCMS' "Radio Silence" after canceling Issues, Etc. is now being heard all over the place! Not bad for a show that supposedly had so few listeners and caused such financial trouble. ;-)

27 March 2008


I've noticed that when teenagers see, hear, or experience something unbelievable, they simply say, "Wow," and with a subtle yet clear tone of dry cynicism. That's my response to today's installment of the Issues, Etc. saga. (And please pardon me for being late to the party, but being on the road all day will do that to you. ;-) So, at first I say, "Wow!" in the sense of astonishment at all that I missed today. But my more heartfelt reaction after catching up on the saga is "Wow!" in the sense of a teenager's dryly cynical incredulity.

Mr. David Strand has now issued a letter that supposedly explains more about the decision to cancel Issues, Etc. and fire Pr. Todd Wilken and Mr. Jeff Schwarz. You can read his letter here. I wonder: why did it take so long - nine days - to reveal this detailed information? Even more important and pressing: Why was none of this shared with Wilken and Schwarz when, on March 18 (Holy Tuesday), they explicitly asked for real reasons for the sudden, life-altering decision that sent them to the unemployment line?


Mr. Strand's letter has some incredible-looking details in it - massive budget deficits, low listener numbers, etc. But is this the complete picture? Perhaps we need to consult Dr. Erich Heidenreich's questions (given on Pr. Weedon's blog and at Augsburg1530, among other places) and receive answers to them. It sure appears that answering those questions would fill in some gaping holes given in Mr. Strand's letter!


The details of how many people listened to Issues, Etc. during its live broadcasts, according to Mr. Strand's letter, do look alarmingly low. I wonder, though. On what are these figures based? How are they ascertained? (After all, some listeners, like me, may tune in and out as we get in and out of our cars as we carry out our God-given daily vocations. Did I really get counted those many times I had the show on for 10-15 minutes between shut-in calls?) And how can the "average Joe" get access to such data? I also wonder: how do these figures compare to other programs in their respective, regular time slots on KFUO-AM?

What is glaringly absent, though, is the download activity. Sure, streaming audio during the live broadcast is indicated (can it really be that low?), but what about downloads for MP3 files? Many of us, myself included, simply cannot listen during live broadcasts, at least not the entire time, but we can download the files and listen when it's more convenient and when better attention can be given to the content of the show. You can look at some data on MP3 downloads here. And, as I've just read, this data does not include downloads on iTunes, which is the preferred method for many more listeners (myself included).

Once again, Wow!

And, finally, before swallowing the Strand letter's reasons and statistics hook, line, and sinker, I highly recommend looking at some more thoughts and questions here. "Obfuscation" does *not* seem like too strong a word! I must be honest as well as a bit blunt: something is not passing the smell test here. To which I can only say:


We're actually supposed to believe and accept these late-coming and seemingly incomplete "business reasons"? (Which, by the way, leads me to ask, with Augsburg1530: and when shall we hear about the "programmatic reasons"?)

So, we're still left asking WHY? And the fact that satisfactory answers are still wanting leads me to say, yet again, "Wow!"

The Wilken Statement

The following statement was read by Pr. Michael Kumm (Pr. Todd Wilken’s pastor) at the Congress on the Lutheran Confessions (March 25-27, 2008, in Bloomington, MN).

You have to appreciate how Pr. Wilken puts things in perspective with his comments about blood and martyrs, but especially with Christ Jesus being our true, eternal Friend, and the true Martyr who shed His blood for us!

Wilken Statement

When I was on the air, I often joked about retreating each night to the “Wilken Compound” and closing the gate. Radio can be an isolating profession. I would even say in jest, “I have no friends.” I was wrong.

In fact, the first thing Jeff said to me as the International Center’s doors closed behind us on Holy Tuesday morning was, “Now we’ll find out who our friends really are.” We have.

“Thank you” seems to fall short. “Thanks be to God” is better. In the days to come, we will need all the friends we can get.

We’ll always have one. His enemies called Him “the Friend of sinners.” To that I can testify. “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”

The first person I called on that holy Tuesday morning was not my wife. The first person I called on that morning was my Pastor.

I love my wife (I called her next). My wife is my best friend in the world. But that morning I didn’t need a friend; I needed a pastor.

Our Church needs a faithful pastor too.

If you want to carry on the legacy of Issues, Etc., you already know what to do: Pastors, go to the pulpit and the altar, be faithful to God’s Word and the Lutheran Confession in everything you preach, teach and practice. Preach Christ crucified for sinners.

People of God, require your pastors to do nothing less and nothing more than that. Hear the Word, trust Jesus, live for your neighbor.

Everyone, when decisions are required (be they congregational, district or synodical), remember: You need a faithful pastor, and so does your Church.

I keep hearing in my head those words from Hebrews: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” This is so true.

This story has no martyrs; no one has died. This story has no sacrificial lambs; no blood has been shed.

The only story I’m interested in telling is the story of the one Martyr, the story of the Lamb of God. That story has all the death and blood I will ever need.

The writer to the Hebrews also asks a question:

The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?

What can man do to me? What can man do to you?

The answer to that question is seen just inside the threshold of the hollow tomb; it is heard in the frightened voices of the women who saw Him alive again; it is written in the blood of the true martyrs mingled with the blood of their Savior.

What can man do to me? Nothing; Christ is risen.

Wir sind alle Bettler,

Todd Wilken

26 March 2008

Breaking News: Another Tool for "Mission: Why?"

Since the untimely, unjust, and largely unexplained cancellation of Issues, Etc. on March 18, 2008, many plans and strategies have been coming to the fore. Here's another tool in our mission of receiving a detailed and satisfactory answer as to "WHY?" Issues, Etc. has been canceled. Check out the website at

Please read the "Open Letter" at this new site. Please take part in the action plans listed. Please spread the word. And please check back regularly for developing plans and details.

Shopkeepers with shopkeepers' concerns

On Holy Saturday I was trying to find a section in one of the books by Eugene Peterson on keeping the Sabbath Day, that is, the day of Christ's rest in the tomb, as a day of rest. I couldn't remember which book had it, nor did I find it in the end. But that little search sparked in me a desire to reread these Peterson books - it's been about 14 years since I first read them. They're a great summons for pastors to return to the centuries old vocation of pastoral work as spiritual care, soul care.

So, with this in mind, I couldn't resist tracking down Peterson's opening discussion to Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. In his opening paragraphs, Peterson goes straight to the heart of what is so mistaken and disheartening in much of American Christianity, indeed, in much of American pastoral work. Here's Peterson's opening salvo that deals with "shopkeepers" with "shopkeepers' concerns":
American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationery and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, the calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries.

A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted. Most of my colleagues who defined ministry for me, examined, ordained, and then installed me as a pastor in a congregation, a short while later walked off and left me, having, they said, more urgent things to do. The people I thought I would be working with disappeared when the work started. Being a pastor is difficult work; we want the companionship and counsel of allies. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists. “A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,” says Martin Thornton, “but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.” [Martin Thornton, Spiritual Direction (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1984), p. 27]

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, p. 1-2)

Over at Cyberstones

Here's a most thought-provoking piece by Pr. David Petersen over at Cyberstones. While I would love to chalk the Issues, Etc. travesty up to ineptitude and short-sightedness by the synodical bureaucracy, there's simply too much history, too much intentional going astray in the LCMS to let that suffice. (Actually, I can't imagine Pr. Petersen really chalking this whole mess up to such ineptitude; his point seems to be in the satire of the notion. :-) Remember Chris Rosebrough's analysis!

25 March 2008

Thank you, David Berger!

Here's an Open Letter from Rev. David Berger, who also sits on the Synod's Board for Communications Services.

Easter 2008

An open letter to the Praesidium of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

Dear Brothers in Christ,

There are times when one must step back and be willing to admit a mistake. This, I am convinced, is one of those times. It offers, however, also a window of opportunity. On Tuesday, March 18, a widely syndicated, web-cast radio program on KFUO-AM dedicated to Lutheran apologetics and getting out the Gospel message was effectively cancelled by terminating the employment of its host and producer, ostensibly for "programmatic" and "business" reasons. The lack of specific information, because employment issues are involved, has led to much speculation concerning other possible reasons for the action of a staff member of the Board for Communication Services.

According to information supplied by a district president, the president of Synod has given his permission to acknowledge that "The KFUO decision transpired with my awareness but neither by my order nor at my direction." And, we are compelled to add, neither was the action prevented. Thus, it is difficult to attach sole responsibility to any one person. It might well have been expected that the abrupt termination of two prominent staff personnel at KFUO during Holy Week, as well as subsequent actions, such as the initial removal of all traces of the Issues, etc. program from the web (with archives later restored) and the lack of explanation on the air regarding its absence, would cause great division within Synod and offense to many in our church body and beyond. That has clearly been the case. It has not been Synod's finest hour,

Although we cannot change what is past and done, we can focus our attention on what remains to be done. Even from the dismal perspective of this week, we see a window of opportunity. As you know, a petition circulating on the world wide web has garnered to this writing nearly 4000 signatures – pastors in the parish, Lutheran lay people, other Christians, and those who credit Issues, etc. with steering them or their acquaintances to the saving Gospel. I encourage you to go to the site and see for yourselves. The number has grown hourly.
On the site, you will find a wealth of testimonials to the benefits of Issues, etc., from witnessing to the Gospel to defense of the faith. The program has clearly been spiritual and substantive theological sustenance for Lutherans and a powerful witness to the Gospel to Christians and non-Christians alike. Below is a random selection of signers and comments. None of the names is familiar to me. I trust that no privacy is violated, as all names and comments are publicly posted.

As a Christian apologist who has spent many years defending the faith, I would ask that you please restore the Issues, Etc. program. I am not a Lutheran, nor have I always seen eye-to-eye with Todd. And yet I can only view this dismissal as a true loss for the entire Body of Christ, regardless of denomination affiliations. Todd Willken has consistently dealt with crucial issues affecting the church in general, paying careful attention to exposing error wherever error might be found in the cults, the occult, and world religions. He has been a faithful servant and a dedicated voice of truth in the ever-growing din of false teachings throughout our culture. Please reconsider your actions. In Christ, RICHARD ABANES

I am very saddened about the abrupt removal of this program from KFUO. It has been a wonderful learning tool for my personal spiritual growth. Whether you are of the liberal or conservative persuasion we are all to be focused on Jesus Christ our Savior and not on 'politics' of the church. In this case the devil has won. Micki Horstmann, Concordia Lutheran Church Kirkwood, MO

I am a Baptist General Conference pastor who has benefited greatly from the Issues, Etc program. I am very dismayed and disappointed that you have discontinued this fine program. Does the LCMS not care about truth, the gospel, and its own confessions? I have told my wife that if I keep listening to this show I might end up becoming a Lutheran! Your decision to remove a program that so clearly promotes the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was a careless one. Even as a non-Lutheran I was greatly impacted by this program and its confessional approach. In my opinion, you have cut one of the best things you had going. What a shame. Rev. Scott Eaton, Calvary Community Church, Schaumburg, IL

We have often used the discussion points and contents of Issues, Etc. as a jumping off point for our Topical Men's Bible Study. We have found this program to be of great value. Please return this program to the public. Rev. Michael Wenzel, Trinity Lutheran Church, Olympia, WA

I found Issues Etc. to be very insightful and unwavering in its analysis, especially of current events. It helped me by being a shining example of thoughtful and respectful analysis of issues from the Lutheran Christian perspective, while always preaching Christ and Him crucified. Olivier Calle, Messiah Lutheran Church, Marysville, WA

[The following comment is included in view of the reason given for Tuesday's action. To protect the privacy of the signer, the name has been deleted, although it is on the petition.]
The $750,000 LCMS beneficiary of my policy is in [jeopardy] here. Council Bluffs, IA

I converted to the Lutheran Church largely because of Issues, Etc. Adam J. Roe, Trinity Lutheran Church Worden, IL

One observer has also noted the demographics of the petition signers. I have not personally verified them. Ages range from 7 to 84. All but one state has been represented. Ten vocations have been listed, including pastors, missionaries, chaplains, military personnel, professors, and students. Twenty denominations have been listed other than Lutheran, including Presbyterian, Baptist, and Roman Catholic. Most significant is that signers represent 21 countries. Issues, etc.,
is truly an international program. In addition to the above are the hundreds (possibly thousands) of e-mail messages that representatives of Synod have received, individually and corporately.

No survey conducted at great expense to Synod could have provided any more valuable information on the importance of KFUO radio and its related web ministry – truly a providential byproduct of Tuesday's action. It is most unfortunate that it took such action to reveal the esteem in which the program, Issues, etc., is held and how effective LCMS radio ministry has been and can be. What a unique opportunity we have, with God's help, to convert a sow's ear into a silk purse!

Are we ready to retrace our steps, brothers? Is it possible, in a spirit of Christian humility and regret, to admit the error and to take steps to redress it? Let me be the first to confess any sin of commission or omission that may have led to the action. As an elected member of the Board for Communication Services, I have pledged to conduct church business in an open and honest manner. In two weeks, I will be meeting as a member of a joint BOD/BCS committee. We are to deal with two charges or "scenarios." Below is the relevant excerpt from the February 2008 Board of Directors meeting minutes:
Resolved, That the LCMS Board of Directors establish a committee of three members of the Board of Directors (appointed by the chairman of the Board of Directors) and three members of the Board for Communication Services (appointed by the chairman of the Board for Communication Services), plus the Synod's Vice-President–Finance–Treasurer as a non-voting resource person, to present two scenarios for consideration at the May (or August) 2008 Board of Directors' meeting:
Scenario 1: A comprehensive operations, programmatic, and financial plan for engagement of KFUO AM and FM in support of the mission of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod "vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities, and the world."
Scenario 2: A comprehensive communications, programmatic, and financial plan for allocation of net assets realized from the sale, realignment, joint venturing, or other type of divestiture or reallocation of KFUO AM and FM assets in support of the Synod's mission.
My first thought following the announcement of Tuesday's action was that the timing could not have been worse. But our God is a God of paradox, even a God of surprises. Within days of our first meeting, He has provided an unexpected gift: living, breathing evidence of the value of radio and web ministry for The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He has demonstrated that we need more, not fewer, programs like Issues, etc. to support the mission of the LCMS. And so, in working on Scenario 1, we do well to examine carefully the responses found in the petition to help us understand the value of Lutheran radio and web ministry as a source of spiritual nourishment for our members and an effective means of outreach to the world at large. We have been given an unexpected gift. Let us accept it, learn from it, and build on it. In recent years, access on the world wide web, both to live call-in radio programs and to program archives, has
increased exponentially the ability of the LCMS to "get the Word out." That availability needs to be maintained and expanded.

Now that we have concrete evidence of the protean values of such programming, as well as evidence of its international reach, we also have opportunity to re-direct resources to this ministry. We can, for example, consider such sources as Fan into Flame funding. Is there any more appropriate use for these funds than Gospel-centered, Spirit-powered Lutheran outreach on radio and on the world wide web?

Our work initially, however, must be to repair the breach of trust in those who have seen that trust broken. Readiness publicly to admit the error is the first step. It will go a long way in re-establishing that trust. Since personnel issues are involved, I can make no concrete proposal for initial action, but I have no doubt that means to initiate it are within the purview of your respective offices. It may be that no overture will be able to bridge the deep divide caused by the termination, but every effort must be made to re-instate the program, Issues, etc. Changes in personnel or format will be viewed with great suspicion. If the injury to the two men was too great to expect a return to business as usual, then we will have to learn from our mistake. I pray, however, that with God's help and the sincere good will of all involved, the error can be re-dressed. Let the world see how the church can really work.

Brothers, it is time to move forward with all urgency in positive directions in LCMS radio and world wide web ministry.

May our Risen Lord forgive us our errors, help us to labor together in love, and continue to support us in our efforts to carry His Word by all means to the ends of the earth.

In Him,
David O. Berger

A postscript of concern: It would be a sad irony indeed if the cancellation of one of the most widely listened-to programs on KFUO-AM – a program supported locally in other metropolitan areas and broadcast nationally, and a program with a long record of donor funding – were to lead to a financial crisis at the station, forcing the committee to consider Scenario 2 immediately. We pray fervently that that will not happen, but rather that generous donors will look past the unhappy circumstances of the past few days and see the value in radio and related world wide web ministry and continue to support it. Once a license is given up, it will not be regained.

[This open letter is a personal communication from the keyboard of the above-signed. While I have noted my membership on the BCS, I speak neither for the Board for Communication Services nor as a faculty member at Concordia Seminary.]

Another blog

For those of you who may not have come across it yet, there's a new blog dealing specifically with bringing back Issues, Etc. You can find it at http://bringbackissues.blogspot.com/ . Looks like it's been up and running since last Wednesday, though I just learned of it this AM. Looks like a good resource for a lot of information about this story. Be sure to check out the post from today on "Re-imagining Issues, Etc." (Here's the specific link, but, fyi, I had problems accessing it earlier this AM.)

Timely Prayer

The LSB Collect for Easter Tuesday not only keeps us mindful that we still celebrate the octave of Easter, but it's also quite timely for our questions and discussions regarding the Issues, Etc. travesty. Here it is:

Almighty God, through the resurrection of Your Son You have secured peace for our troubled consciences. Grant us this peace evermore that trusting in the merit of Your Son we may come at last to the perfect peace of heaven; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Mission: Why?

For one week now, we've been mourning the cancellation of Issues, Etc., a radio program that effectively - more effectively than many other projects, programs, and "movements"! - carried out what the Church is all about: proclaiming the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen for us sinners to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation with God the Holy Trinity.

Many of us have written letters, emailed, and/or called the "powers that be" in response. We have registered our disappointment that Issues, Etc. has been unduly and unjustly canceled. We have asked for better reasons than "programmatic and business reasons." We have expressed our desire to hear Issues, Etc. brought back to the radio and Internet sound waves. Many of us have signed the online petition, which stands at 4232 signatures at last check. We have even heard and participated in talk of organizing a protest/demonstration/prayer vigil (with various reactions to both the idea and the nomenclature).

How shall we now proceed? Let me suggest a one word answer, a single syllable "mission statement," if you will. (After all, mission statements are all the rage these days, right?) This one word answer might just serve to focus our correspondence, our petition comments, and any possible protest/prayer vigil to come. Let's focus on and proceed with the one-word question of "Why?"

First, let's ask that question of ourselves: Why are we upset at the cancellation of a radio program? Why do we want to send letters, emails, etc.? Let's focus our answer on two reasons: 1) the unexplained cancellation of the show and the unwarranted firing of Pr. Todd Wilken and Mr. Jeff Schwarz are just plain unjust, even sinful in how it was carried out, and 2) more importantly, this unjust action silences a powerful and effective voice of the Gospel in our midst and around the globe.

When we focus on reasons such as "my favorite radio program" or "how much it helped me/him/her," these are certainly good and fine reasons. Thank God for such reasons and for the people who have benefited from the service of Issues, Etc.! However, someone else can cite equally subjective reasons to defend and support the cancellation.

Let's also remember that in the "big scheme" of Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, Issues, Etc. is but a blip on the radar screen - a good blip, brightly shining on the radar screen, to be sure, but still just a small part of the eternal picture. The Church has survived for centuries long before Issues, Etc. first hit the airwaves, and Christ's holy flock will continue long after Issues, Etc. and we rest in the grave. (This is not at all to diminish all the good that Issues, Etc. has done - for that we thank God! - it's simply to keep some historical and truly forward-looking perspective.) The Gospel will continue to be proclaimed from pulpits of Christ's Church, the life of God will continue to be dispensed from His altars around the globe, and Christians who are changed by the life-giving, life-changing, life-sustaining Good News of Jesus Christ will continue to bear witness in their everyday lives.

And while we're at it, asking ourselves "Why?", we may want to ask: Why seek to bring Todd and Jeff back to the dysfunctional bureaucracy from which they've now been liberated? Why not look for some better, more supportive ways and means for them to continue proclaiming and teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? After all, as we still celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord, we do firmly believe that our God and Savior has a way of bringing life out of death and victory out of the jaws of defeat!

I firmly believe that our correspondence and protest will be strengthened by focusing on the "Why?" of the injustice and of the silencing/diminishing of the Gospel's voice.

Second, and most germaine to the ongoing discussion and future actions, let's ask the question "Why?" - our single-syllable mission statement - of the LCMS powers that be. Answering that question may be the one thing they fear the most.
  • Why, Mr. Strand, did you cancel this most "successful" program that actually carried out the mission of the Church, both across the nation and around the world?
  • Why, Pres. Kieschnick, when you evidently knew of this coming action, did you not try to stop it, for the good of the church body which you've been elected to oversee and for sake of its mission in and to the world?
  • Why were two faithful, Christian men fired from their service to their church body - and really the Church at large - with nary a reason given to them?
  • What possible reason can be given for silencing such an effective voice of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Was it actually preaching and teaching false doctrine, and we didn't realize it? If so, then we really need to know the what and the why, because our souls could be at stake.
  • Why were the archives of the program inexplicably removed from the Internet, as if to suggest that the program never existed, and then quickly restored in a different place, as if to admit that a mistake had been made, but with no clear elucidation?
I suggest that the mission statement of "Why?" be the heart and core, the purpose and focus, and even the extent, of any protest/prayer vigil to come. If I were in the shoes of either Pr. Wilken or Mr. Schwarz, I'm sure that I wouldn't want to return to a place of employment that made it so abundantly clear that I was less wanted than window dressing. But I would want to know "Why?"

24 March 2008

Issues, Etc. Updates and Thoughts

Pastor Weedon, as promised, has broken his Holy Triduum fast on discussing the Issues, Etc. cancellation. You can read his thoughts for a "plan of action" here. I applaud him for suggesting that the language of "protest" and "demonstration" be replaced with that of "prayer vigil." After all, we are Church, correct? We are Christians who are celebrating the life that our Lord has won and given us in His glorious Resurrection, right? Let's let that life energize us at this time. Let's rise above the merely political mindset that says, "Let's get even with 'em, and even trounce 'em!"

And with all of Pr. Weedon's fine thoughts in mind, let's also remember that this matter of cancelling Issues, Etc. is part of a bigger picture. We would also be wise to consider some thoughts by Mr. Chris Rosebrough, a guest on Issues, Etc. and a former parishioner of Pr. Cwirla at Holy Trinity in Hacienda Heights, CA (click here to see what Pr. Cwirla says on Mr. Rosebrough and his qualifications to offer this analysis). Mr. Rosebrough gives some very good thoughts on what exactly is transpiring in this cancellation of Issues, Etc. You can read his thoughts here, as well as follow other links that will paint a broader picture.

As I've said before, both privately and here on my blog, this cancellation as truly been a long time in coming. In fact, we also need to remember that Mr. Rosebrough's words, as insightful as they are, still only give part of the picture. The LCMS has been heading down this road of seeking to be "seeker-senstitive" for a long time. I even remember such nonsense during the years of Pres. Bohlman's tenure. We may have had a bit of a hiatus from such things during Pres. Barry's time, but now it's been coming back, as we see in this Issues, Etc. debacle.

So, with all of this in mind, let me throw out another thought - perhaps not that popular, I know, but at least worth considering. Would we truly serve the cause, the host, and the producer of Issues, Etc. well by trying to reinstate them in the same synodical bureacratic climate and structure that has now canceled them? Wouldn't we necessarily have to wonder if it could happen again, down the road?

Might the cause, format, host and producer, and especially the message of Issues, Etc. be better served by becoming more the phoenix that arises from the ashes of last week's ignominious cancellation? What I mean is this: I wonder if Pr. Wilken, Mr. Schwarz and company, along with loyal listeners, might be able to arise to do even more good by becoming independent of the LCMS. Perhaps a new show, with a new name, but maintaining the same Christ-centered message and similar format would better serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for much longer time to come. Just a thought. Please comment!

This Joyful Eastertide!

Ah, the joys of Easter continue! Every year I thank the Lord for the wisdom of our Christian forbears who have passed down to us a whole "week of Sundays" (seven weeks) of celebrating our Lord's victory over death. This hymn sings of the great reason for our ongoing rejoicing.

This joyful Eastertide
Away with sin and sorrow!
My love, the Crucified,
Has sprung to life this morrow:
Had Christ, who once was slain,
Not burst His three-day prison,
Our faith had been in vain:
But now has Christ arisen, arisen, arisen;
But now has Christ arisen!

Death's flood has lost its chill
Since Jesus crossed the river;
Lover of souls, from ill
My passing soul deliver:
Had Christ, who once was slain,
Not burst His three-day prison,
Our faith had been in vain:
But now has Christ arisen, arisen, arisen;
But now has Christ arisen!

My flesh in hope shall rest
And for a season slumber
Till trump from east to west
Shall wake the dead in number:
Had Christ, who once was slain,
Not burst His three-day prison,
Our faith had been in vain:
But now has Christ arisen, arisen, arisen;
But now has Christ arisen! (Lutheran Service Book, 482)

23 March 2008

Homily - The Resurrection of Our Lord

“And Peter”
The Resurrection of Our Lord

Mark 16:1-8

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

On this glorious day of our Lord’s Resurrection, it’s customary to focus on the women who first heard the great news that Christ is risen. But we won’t today. It’s also customary to focus on the angel and the Good News that he proclaimed, saying, “He has risen; he is not here.” But the angel won’t be our main focus either. As we celebrate our Lord’s great and awesome victory over sin, death, devil, and hell, let’s focus on two small words in our Gospel reading. In fact, they’re so small that we often read right over them without pausing to ponder what they might mean, especially for us. What are these two words that bring us Easter joy today? “And Peter.”

Right after the angel proclaims that Christ is risen, he instructs the three women to “go, tell [Jesus’] disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.” Why does Peter get singled out? Why does he receive an honorable mention?

Well, you remember Peter. He was one of the very first disciples Jesus had called. Actually, his brother Andrew introduced him to the Savior. Peter the fisherman was awestruck at Jesus’ miraculous catch of fish. He realized that he was in the presence of the Almighty Son of God in the flesh. So Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Lk. 5:8). As He loves to do, Jesus absolved Peter.

Peter also showed a bullish faith that could come off as a bull in a china shop. When he saw his Lord walking on the water, Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Mt. 14:28). Jesus said, “Come.” Peter began to walk on the water; but then the sight of turbulent waves caused him to fear … and to sink. His bullish faith was not so confident after all.

Sometime later, Peter made the good confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). It was a glorious confession of faith given only by the heavenly Father. But even then Peter, the “Rock Man,” was not so solid in faith. When Jesus started talking about going to Jerusalem to be betrayed, to suffer, to die, and to rise again, Peter “began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You’” (Mt. 16:22). Then Jesus had to correct poor Peter.

Do you get the distinct impression that Peter was a man with many a conflict? He saw the Son of God, and realized he had to confess his sins. He wanted to follow Jesus into places like stormy seas, but what he saw and sensed got the better of him. And even when he made the good confession of Jesus as the Christ, he had to be corrected.

Then, of course, Peter, the head of Jesus’ band of disciples, the one whom Jesus dubbed “Rock Man,” the man who vowed he would never fall away from Jesus (Mt. 26:33), cracked under the weight of Jesus’ betrayal and suffering. You know the story. Three times Peter was asked if he weren’t one of Jesus’ disciples, and three times he denied his Lord and Savior. St. Luke even adds this poignant detail: “the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord…. And he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:61-62).

Here’s why we focus on those two little words: “and Peter.” Here’s why Peter gets honorable mention. He needs and receives the special comfort of Jesus’ Resurrection. He needs and receives the confidence that comes from Jesus’ victory over death and the grave. He needs to be restored by the risen Christ. And he is!

The risen Lord appeared to Peter, not once or twice, but at least three times on the first day of each week. With His third appearance, our risen Lord blessed Peter’s fishing trip, but even more, He restored Peter with a threefold commission to feed His sheep. The risen Lord restores His people.

So when you hear or read those two words—“and Peter”—feel free to put your own name there in place of Peter’s. You see, Peter is a picture of each of us. The angel might as well have told the women at the tomb, “He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and ______”—and here insert your name.

Yes, you and I are just like Peter. We have encountered the Lord of life, the Son of God. When we enter His presence, we realize that we are not worthy, and He must absolve us. Even as we exercise our bullish faith, we aren’t always that confident in our Lord’s goodness and mercy for us. We see the turbulent waves of life all around us, and we sink in our own despair, denials, and self-pity. We see how our mortal bodies give in to aging, to sickness, to decay and death. Anyone with glasses or a hearing aid, or with a debilitating disease or just a minor sports injury can tell you that. We can even make the great confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior – confessing Him in the Church’s liturgy, in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds – but when the pressure is on and we must speak of Jesus to someone else, we crack under the pressure. We might even thoroughly enjoy coming to church on Easter Sunday, but what about Good Friday, when we get to hear just how great a love our Savior showed by dying for us? Like Peter, we want Jesus when He sounds strong and successful, but, like Peter, we’re not always so sure about walking with Him through the valley of the shadow of death.

But, dear friends, the angel’s sermon of Jesus’ Resurrection is for you just as much as it was for Peter. Our Lord’s Resurrection victory conquers your doubts, your denials, and your despairs. It overcomes your sin-sickness and your death, just as it did for Peter. So, go ahead, put yourself in the Easter story. “He has risen”—for you. He is not in the tomb—for your comfort and confidence. And you don’t even have to go to Galilee to see your risen Lord. You get to see Him, touch Him, and taste Him right here, at this very Altar. “There you will see Him, just as He told you” when He said, “Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you; take, drink, this is My Blood, shed for you.”

And as you come to see and taste your Risen Lord at His Altar, come with the great words of St. John Chrysostom ringing in your ears:

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Christ is Arisen!

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
The Lamb the sheep has ransomed:
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciling sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended
In that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died,
Reigns immortal.

Christ is arisen
From the grave's dark prison.
So let our joy rise full and free;
Christ our comfort true will be.

"Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw when wayfaring."
"The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus' resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
My Lord, my hope, is arisen;
To Galilee He goes before you."

Were Christ not arisen,
Then death were still our prison.
Now, with Him to life restored,
We praise the Father of our Lord.

Christ indeed from death is risen,
Our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Now let our joy rise full and free;
Christ our comfort true will be.
Alleluia! (LSB 459-460)

22 March 2008

How wonderful!

"It is wonderful that He created me, and still more wonderful that He redeemed me. Never did our Lord give a clearer proof of His great love for us than in His bitter passion and bleeding wounds on Calvary in our behalf. Truly we are loved, since for us and our salvation the only begotten Son is sent from the bosom of the Father. And if Thou didst not desire to save me, O Lord Jesus, why didst Thou descend from heaven? But Thou didst descend to the earth and didst become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. ii. 8). To redeem a servant, God spared not His own Son (Rom. viii. 32). Truly hath God loved the world with an unspeakable love, since for its redemption He delivered up His own Son to be smitten, to be crucified, to be put to death" (Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations, Meditation VIII, p. 46).

Day of Rest and Restoration

Holy Thursday brought a small burst of joy. As we finished Lent and entered the Holy Three Days, we heard the readings of the Passover, the Lord's Supper, and Jesus washing the grimy feet of His disciples.

Good Friday drew our focus to the blessed Cross on which our Savior, the Son of God and perfect Man, suffered and died for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. As someone told me after last night's Good Friday Chief Service, "It struck the right balance between sadness and triumph." That's especially true because we heard St. John's account of the Passion (and this year we added choir portions during the reading), venerated the Cross, heard the Reproaches, and ended the service by singing the somber yet victorious sounding hymn, "Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle" (LSB 454).

But what shall we do with today, "Holy Saturday," the seventh day of Holy Week?

First, let's recall how Day Six led into Day Seven at the first creation. On Day Six "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). Then, after reaching this crowning achievement of His creation, God rested on Day Seven.

Holy Week follows the same pattern. On Day Six of Holy Week - a.k.a. Good Friday - God the Son recreated humankind, male and female, and restored all people to His image. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15). Through His innocent suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ has restored us and will restore us to His perfect image. "[We] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator" (Colossians 3:10). Yes, because of our Lord's work of re-creation and restoration, we are attaining "to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).

Second, let's recall the first Seventh Day. "And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation" (Genesis 2:2-3). The first Seventh Day was hallowed and set aside for rest because God was done with His works of creation. "Holy Saturday," then, is a day of rest - the day when our crucified Lord was done - "It is finished" (John 19:30) - with His work of saving us and rested in the tomb and thus hallowed the graves of His saints.

Today is a day of rest and restoration. Not quite the same kind of day most people have in mind with "To Do" lists chuck full of coloring Easter eggs, scrambling to prepare that Easter dinner, and rushing to the store to find that perfect Easter outfit for tomorrow! The words of Hebrews 4:9-10 provide a nice remedy for our "Holy Saturday" busy-ness: "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his."

It's quite salutary and beneficial to sit back and rest, and let God do the work of His restoration! After all, when this day of rest is ended, and as we hold vigil this evening, we will rejoice and revel in God's new creation, His Easter creation, His restoration to life in His Son Jesus Christ. As Luther teaches us to sing: "You shall observe the worship day / That peace may fill your home, and pray, / And put aside the work you do, / So that God may work in you" (LSB 581:4).

And what work does God work in you on this Holy Saturday? Here's an ancient homily entitled "The Lord's Descent into Hell" to answer that question:
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son. The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: "My Lord be with you all." And Christ in reply says to Adam: "And with your spirit." And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light." "I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise." "I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person." (quoted in For All the Saints, vol. III, p. 1037)
God bless you and keep you - rested and restored - on this Holy Saturday!

21 March 2008

The Crucifixion and Love

What great love we have been privileged to celebrate on this Good Friday! Here's a meditation from Pr. Berthold von Schenk that goes to the very heart of our Good Friday hearing, praying, and singing, as we ponder our Lord's great love for us sinners. And if you can find a salutary application of these words to the Issues, Etc. travesty, all well and good. That's my secondary purpose for offering this quote. :-)

When we appreciate how the Cross accomplishes our destiny of union with God, we also realize how essential the Crucifixion was and is. What is the Cross? It is man against God. It is Self against Love. Calvary was selfishness closing in on Love to crush it…. If we want to get at the meaning of the Cross, we must find the interpreter’s stone. During one of Napoleon’s campaigns, a stone was found which made it possible to read the ancient inscriptions. Thus the ancient world was revealed to man for the first time. We, too, must find the Rosetta stone. We must find a word. We must find four letters and put them together so that they spell LOVE. To discover this word is not easy. We must spend years in Bethlehem, in Gethsemane, on Calvary. Not merely as historical events, but we must enter into fellowship with Bethlehem and Calvary. Love cannot be anything else but love. We try to define it but it is as futile as painting a rose. What does love do? Love always gives itself. When love meets self, what happens? Love just keeps on being love. That’s all. Love cannot be cruel, or hate, nor attack. All that love, divine love, can do when it meets its foe is to bare its arms and go straight to the Cross. Suffering is loves only weapon. What happened 1900 years ago? What always happens when men love? From the world’s point of view they fail; they go down; they are defeated.

Just that happened to our Lord. Draw aside the veil. What a failure! His friend betrays Him. His enemies hang Him on the Cross. He dies and is put into a grave. “That’s the end of love,” they conclude. Even His friends thought that He was a failure, for they complain, “We thought He would redeem Israel.” We imagine a crowd standing around the Cross, saying, “There He goes. There goes love.”…

But wait. The grave was not the end. From man’s side it was a failure, but not from God’s. Love cannot die. Like the traditional phoenix, the Christ rose from the ashes of His apparent failure. On the third day He rose again and thereby showed that divine love triumphs over self. From that time on it was possible also for men who love to triumph. The sins of men were expiated on Calvary. But Calvary which unites men with God also draws them up to divine love, so that it now becomes their love. This love, the divine love, the Calvary love, is the only love worthwhile.

From all this we draw a mighty conclusion. Why is it that we so often fail our fellowmen? Why is it that we fail in our church work? Why is it that we fail in our witnessing, in our mission work? It is because we lack the one thing which will save the world—divine love—Calvary love. It does not radiate through us.

It is not our human love that the world needs. This is what the world has been trying to tell us church people for a long time. But we will not agree. We place the blame for our failure everywhere but the right place, and then we keep on trying to foist our human love, tainted with self-interest, on the world, to which it says, “We don’t want it; we don’t trust it. We can be just as good, if not better, outside the church.”

Why was it the early Christians showed such power? It was because Calvary love, the divine love, radiated in their message and in their lives. That love was irresistible. The fascinating story of the martyrs fertilized the acres of the Church. That love alone will build the kingdom of God on earth. That love is the only missionary policy for us to follow. The pure Calvary love will draw men up. It is the only love which achieves a final victory. It is the only love which has an Easter. Any other love leaves just ashes (Berthold von Schenk, The Presence, pp. 70-72).

Homily - Good Friday

What Great Love!
Good Friday

John 18-19 – The Passion of Our Lord

What great love we have just heard! The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is a sermon in itself. But let’s drive the point home even more. What does it mean? Listen to St. Paul:

“God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).

Ah, what great love! It’s the life-giving message that the Church has been privileged to proclaim for 2000 years. And why? So that we sinners can rejoice in the great love of our Savior for all eternity. That great eternal love is focused in and flows from the Son of God made flesh, nailed to a tree, and risen again. Here’s how Melito of Sardis, a second century pastor, proclaimed it (On Pascha, 100-105, pp. 65-67):

The Lord clothed himself with humanity,
and with suffering on behalf of the suffering one,
and bound on behalf of the one constrained,
and judged on behalf of the one convicted,
and buried on behalf of the one entombed,
rose from the dead and cried out aloud:

“Who takes issue with me? Let him stand before me.
I set free the condemned.
I give life to the dead.
I raise up the entombed.
Who will contradict me?”

“It is I,” says the Christ,
“I am he who destroys death,
and triumphs over the enemy,
and crushes Hades,
and binds the strong man,
and bears humanity off to the heavenly heights.”
“It is I,” says the Christ.

“So come all families of people,
adulterated with sin,
and receive forgiveness of sins.
For I am your freedom.
I am the Passover of salvation,
I am the lamb slaughtered for you,
I am your ransom,
I am your life,
I am your light,
I am your salvation,
I am your resurrection,
I am your King.
I shall raise you up by my right hand,
I will lead you to the heights of heaven,
there shall I show you the everlasting [Father].”

He [Christ] it is who made the heaven and the earth,
and formed humanity in the beginning,
who was proclaimed through the law and the prophets,
who took flesh from a virgin,
who was hung on a tree,
who was buried in earth,
who was raised from the dead,
and ascended to the heights of heaven,
who sits at the right hand of the [Father],
who has the power to save all things,
through whom the [Father] acted from the beginning and for ever.

This is the alpha and omega,
this is the beginning and the end,
the ineffable beginning and the incomprehensible end.
This is the Christ,
this is the King,
this is Jesus,
this is the commander,
this is the Lord,
this is he who rose from the dead,
this is he who sits at the right hand of the [Father],
he bears the [Father] and is borne by him.
To him be the glory and the might fore ever.