Sunday, May 31, 2009


Today is a double celebration type of day at our congregation. In this morning's Divine Service we will witness the Confirmation of faith of four youth and three adults; and in the evening, a Graduation ceremony for the four eighth grade girls at the congregation's school.

It's important that these two events are celebrated separately, because they certainly are different. Confirmation is never a "graduation" from anything, but an affirmation of the faith received at Holy Baptism, and the public renewal of vows to remain steadfast in God's Word until death. When our personal history is written, it may include landmarks of growth in our faith life, but it will never include a "finish line" until we have joined our Savior in Heaven.

Graduation ceremonies, on the other had, celebrate the end of an era. A goal has been reached and those who have attained the goal are to be commended for their perseverance and perhaps for any unique or outstanding achievements along the way. On these occasions graduates are often reminded that they should not rest on their laurels, but must go forward with some sort of grit and determination into the next era of their lives.

Our personal history tells us that life does need grit and determination from time to time. But it also tells us, as does Scripture, that it is the Holy Spirit working through the Word and Sacraments which shores up, sustains, challenges, feeds, and grows our faith. We have no power in and of ourselves to do such a work. Thanks be to God that He gives us these means of grace!

Sunday, May 24, 2009


When I was a young girl it was taboo to ask anyone who had been in "the war" about their experience. War was just a bad memory that happened on another shore, in another age in past tense, to be forgotten once back to homeland and family.

My brother and I knew that dad served in the navy and that he saw a "mushroom" cloud from the deck of his "boat" in the Pacific. We did once see a photograph of dad with palm trees and a large group of "island children" that he and his buddies had provided with food, but the island had no name and the ethnic origin of the children was a mystery. When we were older, and particularly when my brother began to serve in U.S. forces, a few stories from dad's military service began to leak out. My brother was more interested than me, however, and I can't say that I could even repeat any of them now.

If everyone who ever fought for freedom is a war hero, then of course I know that my dad is a hero. But there is something in addition about my dad that cannot be left out of defining him as a war hero. For as long as I can remember, my "daddy" has been a Soldier of the Cross. And though I am proud of him for serving the USA in the cause of freedom, I am also proud of him for his untiring service to Jesus Christ and his drive to spread the Gospel to all nations and all generations.

Soldiers of the Cross, like my dad, have been in difficult wars without bullets. They have skirmished with those who would have the church succumb to the whims of the world; the whims of Biblical Criticism or Darwinism; the seductive preaching of "other Gospels." And though wounded, and perhaps scarred, they still live to support the Church and her work.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we salute the men and women of this country who have served to ensure freedom for its citizens. Let us also thank God for the Soldiers of the Cross - all of the men and women who have fought ugly battles for the freedom to have access to the Word and Sacraments, taught and administered in their truth and purity!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


One of the delights about being a history sleuth is that in the process of looking for information on a particular subject, a large amount of "peripheral" material comes to light. Most of the time such material serves to substantiate or flesh out points of interest, and from time to time one of these finds can be classified as a "gem." For me, one of these gems emerged when I discovered that my husband's great-grandfather not only served at Bethesda in Watertown, Wisconsin (which we had always known), but that while there, and also in Beaver Dam, he taught and mentored deaconess students.

Along with finding the supportive material and real gems also comes the surprise of unwanted discoveries. These might be, for example, the knowledge of sins that would provide no benefit to the Church by being exposed to the public. In cases of this type of accidental discovery, a good historian needs to stick to the facts - that is, simply state what happened in a particular historical context - without revealing the secret sins of a forgiven child of Christ.

As I carried out research on various individuals for
In the Footsteps of Phoebe, it was easy to immerse myself in their lives, sometimes to the point that I considered my subjects to be friends or comrades, even though they may have died before I was born. Reading what their peers wrote about them, and then reading some of their own notes, diaries, or letters helped me to appreciate their lives and service to the church. At the same time, it was apparent that these people had the same life struggles that we encounter today; the same temptations, the same sins, and the same forgiveness from God that is available to all in Christ Jesus. This realization caused me to remember my "new friends" in a different way - not just as heroes and heroines, and not just a sinful heroes and heroines, but as forgiven heroes and heroines. That realization made it easy to FORGET their accidentally discovered sins, and look only at what God has accomplished through them.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Today is Mother's Day, and the birthday of our youngest child, Dorothy. I've been privileged to celebrate quite a few mother's days (or Mothering Sundays in the UK) as a mother - 30 of them to be exact! In some ways they are a special anniversary event in themselves... evoking a cumulative set of memories that all crowd into one warm and fuzzy thought. However, the true "Mother's Day anniversaries" for me have been those days on which our six children were born, followed in more recent years by the days on which our grandchildren were born. So the coinciding of a child's birthday and the generic Mother's Day is a pretty special event.

History is full of many other anniversaries that have meaning for us. The Passover, for example, was an annual Jewish religious festival attended by Jesus' parents in Jerusalem. We know that Jesus accompanied his family to Jerusalem for this celebration when He was twelve (and He may well have been present at the festival, too, in other years after the time of his weaning). It was the Passover that Jesus and His disciples celebrated in the upper room on that fateful night when He would be betrayed. But before the betrayal, still within the context of the Passover Meal, Jesus instituted the Holy Supper of His body and blood. This is the other anniversary that we celebrated today, on the Lord's Day. We partook of His body and blood; remembered His death (and resurrection); and received assurance of the forgiveness of sins. This type of anniversary gives comfort, peace, and strength... and can never come too often!

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Although there may actually be more than three, it seems that almost all of the variant views of the concept of History fit into one of three different perspectives.

The first perspective is mentioned by C.S. Lewis in some of his writings about basic Christianity. It views the creator-god (if indeed there is a god) as a being who made the universe, gave it some impetus to run, and then left it alone to fend for itself. This god has had nothing to do with his creation, other than observing it, since putting it in place. The creation has been left to deteriorate and will eventually disappear. Life and human history have no meaning beyond the moment in which a life is being lived.

The second perspective views history as a series of cyclical events that are continuously repeated. It could take dozens, hundreds, or thousands of days or years, but history will always repeat itself. This view also renders human history as meaningless. There is no uniqueness to people, places, or events. What has happened has already happened and will happen again. The circle of history is inevitable and people who live within the circles are simply part of a pattern (or cyclical fate) that will be repeated no matter what their individual capabilities or contributions to society. This perspective was promoted by Greek philosophy already during Jesus' lifetime.

I remember being introduced to the third perspective in Old Testament class in my sophomore year of college. The professor (Carl Gutekunst) explained that all of human history is in fact Heilsgeschichte, or "holy history," better phrased as "salvation history." Kenneth Bailey describes it (in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes) like this: This perspective views history to be like an arrow that moves toward a target called "the day of the Lord" (Amos 5:18) or "the kingdom of God" (Matthew 1:15). In this view, history has direction and meaning. Caught up in the struggles of the present age, the faithful may not always be able to "see the big picture," but there is one. Furthermore, it is inappropriate for the individual to try too hard to discover that purpose in any particular event. No foot soldier can understand the wider scope of a great battle in which he or she is involved. ... people can live out their lives with the quiet confidence that the One who holds the rudder of history has not fallen asleep. Building on this view of history, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come"...

By the way, this third perspective is explained very well by an audio presentation called "Bible in an Hour" by Wade Butler. [] The presentation literally tells the whole story of the Bible, from Adam and Eve to Revelation, in one compact presentation, showing without a doubt that all human history is tied to salvation history. I've used this presentation as supplemental material in confirmation instruction, in my 7th/8th grade Biblical Studies classroom, and with women's Bible studies. "Listeners" enjoy it, coming away with a better understanding of the Bible as a whole, and an increased appreciation for the way that God has always worked within the framework of human history to bring us the gift of salvation.