Thursday, January 10, 2008

First Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons (January 13, 2008)

[Each week, I try to publish a few looks at the appointed lessons for the following Sunday. They're written, mostly, to help the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, where I serve as pastor, to prepare for worship. But since we follow the lectionary associated with the Church Year, like most Christians around the world, others may find it helpful too.]

The Bible Lessons:
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

General Comments:
1. January 6, Epiphany Day, kicks off the season of the Church Year called Epiphany. As pointed out before, the word epiphany literally means to shine upon. It has the idea of making something clear.

The theme of the Gospel lessons appointed for the Epiphany season is the many ways in which Jesus was revealed to be not only fully human, but also fully God. The other lessons, including those drawn from the Old Testament, also help us more fully see Christ as "the Word made flesh."

2. Light is often associated with the Epiphany season. This is related to more than the star which led the magi to the baby Jesus. It also relates to how Jesus reveals the nature, character, will, presence, and intent of God, among other things. In Jesus, we see God.

3. Another theme of the Epiphany season is the call to be witnesses who point to Jesus as God, Lord, and Savior. This is precisely what Peter, a devout Jew who comes to see that through Christ, God is reaching out the entire world, does in our second lesson. Followers of Jesus are called to reveal the truth about Jesus, so that the whole world can come to be His followers and so, live with God forever.

4. This Sunday's Gospel lesson, as is always the case on this Sunday of the Church Year, is about the Baptism of the Lord. Unlike the birth of Jesus or even the Last Supper, the baptism of Jesus is recounted in all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). This underscores its importance. We'll talk about that a bit more in the next pass at these lessons.

5. Isaiah 42:1-9: As we've pointed out before, Isaiah may have been written by three different authors in three different eras of Old Testament history. (This shouldn't be bothersome to us, as it was legitimate in ancient Israel and even in the first and second-century AD world for persons who considered themselves students of great teachers or adherents to those teachers schools of thought to write in the teacher's name.) Many scholars believe that chapters 1 to 39 were written by the original prophet sometime between 740 and 687 BC; that chapters 40 to 60, so-called Second or Deutero-Isaiah were written about 537 BC; and that chapters 61 to 66 were written by Third or Trito-Isaiah. The first set of chapters, it's thought, were written in an era when the Assyrian Empire was on the rise and God's people felt menaced. The second set of chapters, some scholars believe, were written while anticipating the return of Judah's exiles from captivity in Babylon. The last group of chapters, these scholars believe, were written after the return from exile, when hope in and devotion to God were waning.

6. Chris Haslam's comments on this passage are helpful and to the point:
In 41:1, God speaks to Israelites scattered around the Mediterranean (“coastlands”, also in 42:4) in courtroom language, calling them together “for judgement”. God has “roused a victor from the east” (41:2, Cyrus) to serve him by conquering nations. God has acted in the past (“first”, 41:4) and will prophesy a coming revelation of himself (“last”). Other nations, and the gods they choose, are powerless, for they seek “courage” in what humans make (41:5-7). God demands: “set forth your case” (41:21): prove that you can foretell the future based on the past (“former things”, 41:22)! They cannot, but God can.

42:1-4 is one of four Servant Songs, poems about God’s special agent who will fulfill his purpose for the faithful community; though innocent, he will suffer for his people. People of other nations choose their gods, but God will select his “servant”, his “chosen”; he has anointed this person (or Israel) with his “spirit”. When the agent comes, he will be unobtrusive and quiet (42:2, unlike Cyrus), gentle, respectful of others, and patient (v. 3). He will “bring forth justice”, i.e. take legal decisions ratifying and executing God’s will. He will not fail (“faint”, 42:4) nor be discouraged (“crushed”) until he has achieved God’s purposes; he will win over people to God’s ways (“teaching”). He will continue to do what God did in the past (42:5): he, the creator, is the source of life for his people (as he was in Adam); he will give his “spirit” to those who follow him. God called Israel as his people, led and “kept” (42:6, Revised English Bible: “formed”, as he formed Adam) them, and swore a pact with them. They are to bring enlightenment to others (“a light to the nations”, 42:6), to set them free. 42:8-9 returns to the courtroom: God’s name is Yahweh (“the L ORD”); he alone is God. Having seen his integrity in his acts in the past, his people can be sure that the “new things” he announces will indeed happen. He will bring his integrity to all (42:1).
7. Psalm 29: I enjoy Sarah Hinlicky Wilson's comments on this psalm:
The voice of the Lord is heard seven times in Psalm 29: it is over d the waters, powerful and full of majesty; it breaks the cedars; flashes forth flames of fire; shakes the wilder-ness; makes the hinds to calve (or shakes the oaks – the Hebrew is ambiguous) and strips the forests bare. The glory of God thunders. The Lord makes Lebanon to skip like a calf and Sirion (Mt. Hermon) like a young wild ox, or, as the King James Version more charmingly puts it, "like a young unicorn." Is this really the God you want to encounter on the Appalachian Trail?

The cedars stand as warning enough on their own. The famous cedars of Lebanon were Solomon’s choice for building the first temple, and were selected specially by King Hiram of Tyre. They can grow over 100 feet tall, their circumference exceeding 50 feet, with wood that is perfumed, resinous evergreen and both rot- and knot-free. Such was their grip on the Israelite imagination that these trees are mentioned everywhere, from levitical codes of purification to prophetic analogies in Isaiah and Ezekiel. The latter compare the once-mighty, soon-to-fall Assyria with a cedar so splendid that "all the trees of Eden envied it."

But like sinful humans, these fabulous cedars are not permitted to remain in their pride. They are paired with lowly hyssop, a small and straggling foil to the cedars’ magnitude. In the Torah, cedar and hyssop work together to cleanse from leprosy. Solomon speaks of cedar and hyssop in one breath. Midrashic commentator Rabbi Isaac bar Tanlai chastises a former great: "You were proud like the cedar … but the Holy One humbled you like the hyssop that is crushed by everyone." In the end, it is hyssop that quenches the thirst of the dying Messiah. Lowliness serves the lowly, but when might matches might, the voice of the Lord triumphs, breaking the cedars.

And all this is to say nothing of the Lord over the waters. This God has proved himself before in the aqueous arena. There God’s Spirit was hovering and brooding, preparing to speak the first word that would bring something out of nothing. When that something turned to evil, and the one remaining righteous man built a little boat out of gopher wood, the waters came again to speak the Lord’s word of judgment against his people. Much later, the waters split in half to pave an escape route for enslaved Israelites, and folded shut to swallow up the pursuing Egyptians. And once a storm was conjured just to grip the attention of runaway Jonah out at sea, terrifying untold numbers of sailors in its wake.

The God who commands the waters commands everything else. So this psalm isn’t just an utterance of awe at the power wielded in and over nature. It’s also a polemic directed against confused pagans (and probably not a few confused Israelites) who mistakenly gave credit to idols. It’s no accident that Psalm 29 sounds so much like its Canaanite predecessors, observes scholar Peter C. Craigie. If anything, it’s deliberate, co-opting "the general storm image of battle . . . into a tauntlike psalm; the praise of the Lord, by virtue of being expressed in language and imagery associated with the Canaanite weather-god, Baal, taunts the weak deity of the defeated foes, namely the Canaanites." Anything the heathen thought belonged to Baal really belongs to the Lord, and there’s no better way to show it than by stealing the adjectives of one "god" and applying them to the other.

But still: even if this God is the creator and righteous judge, not the pseudo-divinity and pretender Baal, would you really want to meet him without a sturdy raincoat, a pair of galoshes and a friend with an SUV who could pick you up and bail you out? It is an act of extraordinary faith on the psalmist’s part to conclude with the encouraging words, "May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!" For whatever the voice of the Lord is saying under the circumstances detailed in the psalm, no one can hear it and live. If this is the voice that produced the succession of devastating hurricanes in the Gulf last fall, the only sensible solution is not to worship, but to evacuate. You can’t ride this storm. You must, as Luther said, "flee from God to God," from the God who drives you out to the same God who welcomes you home.

This God, who is over many waters and sits enthroned over the flood, has himself been swept overboard, immersed and engulfed in the river Jordan. Baptism with water is not enough, for God also flashes forth flames of fire: he baptizes with fire and the Holy Spirit. Water and fire on their own are words of God that are encoded and indecipherable. To worship God in unmediated nature is to risk ruination. But to drown in the waters of baptism in which the Lord himself was drowned, to receive the pentecostal fire of the Spirit which the Lord himself sent -- in this way we creatures of nature can worship our God in nature, and live.
[More tomorrow, I hope.]

"Let us lie down again, Deep in anonymous humility and God, May find us worthy material for His hand"

A fantastic poem worthy of long contemplation from Patrick Kavanaugh, as cited by Patrick Oden.

Prayer That Changes Things...

...begins (and sometimes ends) by changing us.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Who Could You Pray with Today?

[This piece is an adaptation of a post presented here several weeks ago. The Logan Daily News, the paper that serves the community where I've come to be pastor of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church, features regular columns from area pastors. The columns are to be about 250-words in length. I'm next in the rotation.]

Not long ago, Vicki, the barber I went to for seventeen years in my former community asked me, “Why didn't you and I ever pray together?"

Feeling a bit flummoxed by her question, I suppose, I stammered around an answer. Vicki smiled at my discomfort and explained that after her mother suffered from a recent stroke, she got a call from a client. "How's your mother?" he asked. After she gave him a report, he suggested, "Let's pray for her." He then prayed while on the telephone.

"I thought that was so cool!" Vicki enthused.

Vicki’s reaction may be typical. Few people mind it when a caring person offers to pray with them. I know that I never have.

In 1996, my family and I bought a new car. When we prepared to drive it off the lot, the salesman asked, "Could we pray?" We were surprised, but agreed.

"Lord," he said, "please grant that as long as the Daniels family owns this vehicle, that it will give them quality service. Keep them safe as they drive in it. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen."

The car, now owned by our daughter, who lives in Florida, still runs like a top. Our daughter isn’t surprised. "After all, Dad," she tells me, "it's been prayed for!"

If done sensitively and respectfully, offering to pray with someone pats double dividends. First, we invite God to intervene in our friends’ lives. Second, we extend loving encouragement to our friends.

Who could you pray with today?

Clinton Wins in New Hampshire: Egg on My Face (for Now)

I thought that Barack Obama would beat Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire today...and handily. That wasn't to be. Why?

Apparently, female voters went for Clinton in a big way today. But the reason for that isn't manifestly obvious to me. Most of the Baby Boomer, college-educated women I know have said that, while they want to vote for a Democrat for president this year, they will never vote for Clinton. They don't trust her.200

Perhaps that mistrust of Clinton exists even among many of the women who voted for her in New Hampshire yesterday. But things happened over the weekend. One was the appearance that Obama and former Senator John Edwards ganged up on her during the debate on Saturday night. The other was her response to the question of a New Hampshire questioner who wondered how she was able to keep going on.

I have no doubt that response was genuine and perhaps, it caused many women to feel that they needed to stand with Clinton as she faced off against opponents they perceived to be bullying her. (If that's the case, then New Hampshire women rallied around Clinton the way that New York women rallied to her side in the face of apparent bullying by her Republican opponent in her 2000 Senate race.)

I still believe that Obama will be the Democratic nominee this year. But New Hampshire has given the Clinton campaign a reprieve for now.

Tears in New Hampshire: Edmund Muskie and Hillary Clinton

Going into the 1972 campaign to become the Democratic Party's nominee for president, the acknowledeged Dem frontrunner was Maine's senator, Edmund Muskie. Muskie had wowed the country four years before as Hubert Humphrey's vice presidential running mate with his soft-spoken eloquence.

But a Muskie nomination wasn't to be. First, came defeat for Muskie in the Iowa caucuses. Anti-Vietnam War senator George McGovern, piggybacking off of his chairmanship of the Democratic party committee that had reformed the presidential nominating process and building from his former chairmanship of the state Democratic apparatus in nearby South Dakota, beat Muskie, setting up a big battle in New Hampshire's primary, several weeks later.

The Nixon White House and many in the Republican Party regarded Muskie as the most formidable Democratic nominee. That's no doubt why a major New Hampshire newspaper, then read by a huge percentage of Granite State residents and ardently conservative both in its news coverage and editorial page content, went after Muskie full throttle.

First, it claimed that Muskie had made an insulting joke about French-Canadian Americans. This, at least in 1972, was a significant constituency in New Hampshire. Muskie was fending off these allegations when different ones appeared. These alleged that Muskie's wife told off-color jokes and was guilty of drunkenness.

The latter allegations were particularly hurtful to Muskie. He and his wife were extraordinarily close, their relationship cemented by their daily prayer, Scripture reading, and devotions.

An angry Muskie decided to challenge the newspaper publisher, William Loeb, with a rally in front of the paper's offices in Manchester. But emotion took hold of the Maine senator. He choked up and some claimed they saw tears fall as Muskie defended the woman he loved and faced the prospect that his once seemingly invincible campaign would fall apart.

When McGovern won the New Hampshire primary that year, many felt that his victory was at least in part attributable to Ed Muskie crying. Presidents, conventional wisdom said, can't cry.

Zoom forward to 2008. The once seemingly invincible campaign of the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, has hit a major wall in Iowa. His name is Barack Obama. Iowa caucus-goers told the Democratic elites, "Not so fast" and gave the junior senator from Illinois an impressive victory.

Going into New Hampshire, Clinton, who has given as good as she's gotten when it comes to political attacks, was the clear target of her opponents' rhetoric. Undoubtedly, both Barack Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards saw New Hampshire as the place where Clinton's candidacy could become permanently derailed.

Then, just days before the primary, a sympathetic voter asked Clinton how she was able to keep going in the face of opposition. Clinton did not cry. But she was obviously choked with emotion. Clinton claimed that she churned on, in effect, because the country needed her. That may be and Clinton may actually believe that it's true.

Be that as it may, the incident may have been nothing more than a campaign footnote had it not been for the reaction of Edwards. Harking back to the conventional wisdom of 1972, he claimed that Clinton's show of emotion demonstrated that she wasn't fit to be president, evidently too soft to handle adversity.

The voters of New Hampshire, particularly many female voters, registered their disagreement with Edwards and gave Clinton an impressive victory there yesterday.

Leaving questions of gender aside for the moment, the experiences of Muskie in 1972 and Clinton in 2008, show us how different the United States is today. Americans not only more readily accept expressions of emotion in their candidates than they once did, they almost crave them.

This, in my estimation, is both good and bad. On the one hand, it can lead to an acceptance of emotions in their candidates as authentic expressions of their humanity. People want authenticity in their political leaders.

On the other hand, our culture has come to accept a kind of attenuated Freudianism, the unhealthy notion that for everybody's mental health, we all should spill each and every emotion we feel. But that's not authenticity. For example, the anger I may briefly feel today is best not expressed when tomorrow, I may feel something entirely different. Authenticity then, demands that I seek to find equilibrium, a fealty to who I am and seek to be over the long haul of life, rather than seeing myself as a teapot that must blow any time life disconcerts me.

Neither Muskie or Clinton should have been penalized for their choked up frustration on the verge of the New Hampshire primary in 1972 and 2008, respectively. Nor should we have thought less of President Bush for choking up in that famous Oval Office encounter with reporters after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

(I myself have been known to choke up on occasion when I preach or, as has happened a few weeks ago, I accepted the recognition of valued colleagues with whom I served on the corporate board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Clermont County.)

For several generations of Democratic candidates steeped in the cool passion of their patron saint, John Kennedy, learning to be more open about their emotions will be unnatural. No doubt, John Kerry was hurt in 2004, because he so kept his emotions in Kennedyesque check. You see Kennedy's cool eloquence in Obama, who also uses the Gospel-train rhertoric of Martin Luther King, Jr. And, Senator Clinton, buffeted by the life-as-a-therapy session politics of her husband, has particularly taken refuge in the coolness of a Kennedy-like public persona.

Now though, candidates, who will do anything to connect with voters, may overlearn the lesson of Clinton's New Hampshire win. They may clamor for time with Dr. Phil and Barbara Walters to demonstrate their "authenticity." The temptation may be especially great for Clinton who led her victory speech last night with expressions of how full her heart was and told the crowd that in the crucible of the campaign there she had found her voice.

If candidates manufacture moments when they can leak a few tears or get choked up, the strategy is likely to backfire on them. The desire for authenticity is real this year. But the desire for self-control in those who lead them remains. A momentary, authentic tear or thickness of the throat is okay. But if candidates now try to give us a steady diet of it, they'd be well-advised to leave politics and get their own talk shows.

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Hampshire: Clarity for the Dems, Two Frontrunners for the GOP

New Hampshire's Republican primary was always a must-win for Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Now that it's clear that Romney is going to finish a distant second behind Arizona's senator, John McCain, Romney's campaign is all but over. But McCain's win in the Granite State will say the same thing that Mike Huckabee's win in Iowa four days ago said: Republican voters either want more choices (which they won't get) or they want more chances to choose (which are coming).

Iowa was always the ballgame for the Democratic nomination. Desperate to retake the White House, Democrats were bound to get in line behind the Iowa winner in order to focus on the general election. After Illinois' senator Barack Obama won in Iowa, his support in New Hampshire ballooned.

Following Iowa, Obama's win of the nomination was never in doubt. But a 10% margin of victory for the Illinois senator will make the continued campaigning of New York's senator Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina senator John Edwards untenable. Party leaders and contributors will send them the message to back off so that Dems can save their powder for the fight with the Republican nominee.

As of Wednesday morning, the big political story will be the Republican nomination fight. A New Hampshire win for McCain will give him a big boost in subsequent primaries. Party leaders, in the party that usually rewards its nomination to the next person in succession, may swallow their dislike of the Arizona hero in order to prevent Huckabee, this year's maverick Republican, from having a shot at the nomination.

The implosions of the Romney and Clinton candidacies are as analogous to each other as the successes of the Huckabee, McCain, and Obama campaigns have been to each other. Both the former Massachusetts governor and New York senator were favored by old hands in their parties who believed that with the amalgamation of enough money and consultant firepower, the deficiencies of their candidates--the negative reputation of Clinton and the cynical flip-flopping of Romney, among others--could be masked or overcome and the myth of inevitability be turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Clinton obviously had the backing of her husbands's political machine. Romney has enjoyed a lot of help from the Bush family and its allies, which has won the presidency in three of the past five national elections. Voters in the two parties, it turns out, have had something to say about the wisdom of the Clinton and Bush machines. Their message: "Nothing is inevitable. We'll be the ones to decide who gets to be president. (At least this year.)"

Meanwhile, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, no doubt reflecting the views of the country, in their votes for Obama, McCain, and Huckabee, have said they want civility, fresh thinking, and, dare I say it, change.

[See here.]

[This was cross-posted at The Moderate Voice.]

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Go, Buckeyes!
Regular readers of Better Living know that I thought that my beloved Buckeyes could easily have lost three or four games this season. Everybody in Buckeye Nation thought that the 2007 season was a rebuilding year, a period of marking time in preparation for the 2008 season, when it seemed likely that Ohio State might realistically vie for the Big Ten and national championships. But the Buckeyes have proven to be big-time overachievers. The national title game tomorrow night is icing on Scarlet and Grey cake. The LSU Tigers will be the toughest opponents the Buckeyes will take on this season.

Go, Buckeyes!
See here.

Saudi Imprisoned without Charges (for Blogging)

Fouad Ahmad Alfarhan is a Saudi Arabian business manager, educated in the United States, who has run afoul of the government of his country for producing a blog in which he has called for things like freedom of speech and due process in the Saudi justice system.

He's been jailed since December 10 and so far, no word from Saudi authorities regarding the charges, if any, against him.

To learn more about Fouad Ahmad Alfarhan, go here, here, and here. At the latter site, you're invited to sign a petition seeking his immediate release. You can edit the message being sent to Saudi authorities to suit yourself.

If you have freedom, please, use it by seeking the freedom of one jailed for being a voice for freedom in his own country.

[HT: Rambling Hal]

You've Got to See This

My brother posted this on his ShoutLife blog not long ago. It's cute...and wonderful!

Called to Be Stars

[This was shared with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, during worship earlier today.]

Matthew 2:1-12
Once, the pastor of Ann’s and my home church in Columbus told us the story of how he became a follower of Jesus Christ. You see, he came from a non-churchgoing family. He’d never been in a church building until, when he was a small boy, he heard that there was going to be a magic show in the fellowship hall of the local Lutheran congregation. Curious, he went. He came for the magic. But he stayed for the Savior.

I thought of our home pastor’s experience as I prepared for this morning. We call the visitors who brought gifts to the baby Jesus in our Gospel lesson wise men. We also sometimes call them kings. And while there’s nothing terrible about those designations, they’re really not accurate. The original Greek of the New Testament calls them magi. We get our word magic from the term.

The magi were, to put it bluntly, first century versions of palm readers or fortune tellers. They enjoyed a high status in places the New Testament called “the East”—they probably were from countries that set in what is modern day Iran or Iraq. They served as the powerful advisers to kings.

But God’s people, the Jews, took a dim view of people like the magi. God was clear in His Word that things like horoscopes and consulting with fortunetellers was wrong. God’s people were (and are) to rely on God and His Word alone.

The magi though, thought that events in the heavens bore a relationship to events on earth. In the year 7 BC, probably about one year before Jesus’ birth, the planets Jupiter and Saturn were in conjunction, emitting a large and noteworthy light. Jupiter was always thought to be the planet of royalty and many thought that Saturn was the planet of the Jews. The magi who observed the conjoining of the two planets might very well have thought that a new king of the Jews had been born. Although we can’t know it for certain, the conjunction of the two planets may be what led the magi to Jerusalem.

You know the story of what happened there. Probably unschooled in the prophecies of a Savior Who would be more than the king of the Jews, but also the Savior of the whole human race, they went to Herod. In 40BC, Herod the Great had been declared to be King of the Jews by the Roman Empire. The magi may have figured that a baby had been born into his household.

Instead, Herod’s household and servants were thrown into an uproar, something they tried to conceal from the visitors from the East. Scholars and theologians were consulted and magi were told that the Old Testament prophets had said that a king of the Jews, the Messiah, was to be born in a tiny village about five miles from Jerusalem, the hometown of Israel’s first king, David. The place was called Bethlehem.

That’s all the magi needed to know. They left the king and found the baby living in a house in Bethlehem. There, we’re told, they “paid… homage” to Jesus. The original verb as Matthew wrote it was proskuneo, meaning worship. The Magi worshiped Jesus as God and King.

You see, like Ann’s and my home pastor who had been attracted by a magic show and instead found the Lord of his life, the Magi had been attracted by what they thought was a portent of a birth in the Judean equivalent of Buckingham Palace. Instead, in a humble home in a tiny town, they found the God of all creation, come to save the world from sin and death!

You never can tell what might attract people who have never had anything to do with God before to come and worship Him! The unlikeliest people can be attracted to follow the Savior.

And magic shows and stars aren’t the only things that can attract people to Christ. Sometimes other people, even husbands and wives can do it.

Although raised in a Christian home, as he went through his high school and college years, he considered himself an atheist. He was, he thought, too smart for that God stuff. Even if there were a God, he could fend for himself. But as far as he was concerned, if you couldn’t see God, he wasn’t there.

He fell in love and he married. His wife was a person who went to worship each Sunday. She often found him after she’d returned from worship and the fellowship hour, still laying in bed, worshiping at Saint Mattress of the Springs. Just to get her off his back, he started going to church with her. The liturgy of the worship service mystified him at first. He couldn’t figure out what was going on as the people shuffled from one section of their hymnal to another, from one paper to another, and as they stood and sat and kneeled and stood again.

And yet, as he spent time with these people, as he saw the earnestness with which they worshiped, as he observed their good humor and experienced their warm welcomes, as he saw that they weren’t holier-than-thou religious prudes, but really followed a real Savior in Whom they really believed, he found his attitudes about God—and about Jesus—being changed.

Eventually, the pastor who had come to faith in Jesus because he’d wanted to see a magic show went to serve at the church that the atheist was attending with his wife. The pastor offered a class called, Life with God. The atheist, still skeptical, still wondering if there was anything to this Christian stuff, decided to attend the class. He resolved that he would do all the readings and participate in all the classes. He wanted to know for sure for himself whether there was a God he could worship.

Sometime in the ten weeks of that class, the atheist became a believer in Jesus. I am that atheist who became a believer. And it all began when I fell in love with Ann.

Now, here’s my point. This is Epiphany Day. The word epiphany is what’s called a transliteration of a Greek word, epiphaneo. It literally means shine upon. But it carries the meaning of making something clear, of manifesting something.

On the first Epiphany, a bright star, maybe the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, shone upon the magi. But having received clarification from the Word of God in Jerusalem, they understood that they were doing more than following a star. The Savior of the world, the One Who gives the gift of new and everlasting life to all who repent, or turn from their sin, and believe in Jesus Christ, was made clear to them.

Some three decades after the Magi visited the baby Jesus, after Jesus died and rose from the dead and spent forty days instructing His disciples, it was time for Him to ascend to heaven. But before He did, Jesus gave one last bit of instruction to His followers, including me and you. “As you go through your lives,” Jesus said, “make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This is often called the Great Commission.

You and I are called to be stars who shine the light of Christ’s Gospel into the lives of others.

You and I are called to make Gospel clear to others, so that they can see the goodness and the greatness of the Lord Who was born among us, died for us, and rose for us to give us life with God forever. In short, God has called us to be something that is a bad word to some people: witnesses.

We’re to invite our friends to worship with us. We’re to invite them to Sunday School with us. We’re to invite them to activities of the Church so that people see that those Christians aren’t a bunch lemon-sucking fun-haters, but people filled with the life and joy that comes from following Jesus.

I know how hard being a witness can be. So hard, in fact, that most of us Lutherans get laryngitis when it comes to sharing our faith with others.

But, as your pastor, I want to help you with that. On Monday, March 23, the Monday after Easter, I’m going to offer a five week class called Witnesses for Christ.

It’s designed to help us all get over our laryngitis and to become the epiphany light that helps others see that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

My goal is that for the first five-week offering of this class, we’ll have eighteen people involved, roughly five per cent of our total baptized membership.

And, if people are listening on the radio who are members of other congregations, I want you to know that you’re invited. I have the feeling that Lutherans aren’t the only ones hesitant to shine the light of Jesus in their daily lives, among their friends, co-workers, and fellow students.

Please prayerfully consider being part of Witnesses for Christ. Please arrange your schedule so that you can make all five sessions.

It’s my observation that the world doesn’t need more religion. It needs Jesus. Witnesses for Christ may give you the tools you need to share your faith without being preachy, obnoxious, or religious. You may be the very person that Jesus wants to use to bring people to faith in Him. Please be part of Witnesses for Christ starting on March 23 and find out how!