Have you noticed that we are living in a time in our country when marriages are really under attack? We live in a country where family values are being eroded by movies and TV. Where the court system has confused the definition of marriage so that a wedding between a man and a woman is considered old-fashioned and naïve. Where many are confused about what it means to be a man or a woman anymore. Where sex is mistaken for love; living together is preferred over marriage; and unborn children are looked upon as a burden.
Barb started worshiping with us at Epiphany about two years ago. When Barb came for Wednesday night worship, she brought her son, Keith, her daughter-in-law, Chrissy, and their three children, Michael, Matthew, and Katelynn. I baptized the three children in June of 2014. That’s when Chrissy took our adult instruction classes to join Epiphany. Her husband, Keith, had no interest in church, though.
Then, God, in His grace and providence, got Grandma involved.
Two weeks ago, my mom suffered a stroke. All three of us children left our job and family responsibilities and gathered at the Aurora Hospital in Grafton. My sister, Brenda, left her Alpaca farm and family in Stevens Point to spend days in the hospital with mom. My other sister, Dawn, flew from Vermillion, South Dakota, to be at the hospital. I was able to move things around to stay a few days, too.
After a week in Aurora, as mom got healthier, she was moved to the Sacred Heart Hospital in Milwaukee for physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Since Dawn is a Division 1 Women’s Basketball coach, she spent the most time with mom. She knows how to communicate well with people, take notes, get things done, and deal with stubborn parents. She did a fantastic job.
I want a show of hands. How many of you watched all of the Packers/Bears game on Sunday night? You’re good fans. You witnessed a thrilling 24-23 come-from-behind victory as the Packers scored on three straight fourth quarter possessions.
I want another show of hands. How many of you turned off the game at halftime? Only me? I’m OK admitting that I’m a fair-weather fan. The franchise quarterback looked like he was out for the season and the backup quarterback allowed a fumble sack and a pick six. It was ugly. I had better things to do than watch what I thought would be a 54-0 debacle.
When I woke up Monday morning, I checked the score on my phone. I couldn’t believe it! I had to turn on SportsCenter to watch the highlights of the fourth quarter.
Jesus is nearby! Dan, Joe, and Ben excitedly find their friend, Kophi. The last time Jesus was in the area, He healed two crazy men of their demon possession (Matthew 8:28-34).
Dan signs the name “Jesus” to Kophi. Kophi has been deaf from birth. His parents named him after his physical disability – “Kophi” – which is similar to “kophos,” the Greek word for “deaf.” Kophi’s deafness also created a speech impediment.
Kophi doesn’t quite understand what the big deal is about going to see this Jesus. Obviously, he hasn’t heard about any of Jesus’ healing miracles. But, he has nothing else to do. So, he joins his friends. On the way through the Decapolis, Dan, Joe, and Ben take turns signing to Kophi about all the healing that Jesus has been doing in their region and how Jesus is the promised Son of God.
A few years ago, Joe Bieger, a Texas football coach mysteriously vanished one morning. Joe went outside to walk his dogs and promptly forgot who he was.
Joe had a small stroke which caused a psychogenic fugue, an extremely rare form of amnesia, which left him unable to remember his name, recall his family, or recollect what he did for a living. Joe had lost the ability to recall where he lived. It was this last part, being unable to find his residence, which caused him the greatest difficulty.
Family, friends, neighbors, all were searching for him. His high school football team was so distraught that it canceled its season.
The 1960s were a period when long-held values and morality seemed to break down, particularly among the adolescents and young adults. Many college-age men and women pushed back against the perceived “Establishment” of previous generations. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and antiwar protests were badges of belonging.
Radicals and hippies urged people to kick down “Victorian” and “Puritanical” restraints on their freedoms and behaviors. The results were free sex, living together, birth control pills, unwed mothers, feminism, increased divorce and abortion.
The countercultural revolution has changed people’s behaviors over the following decades.
The statistics don’t look good. Pastor Jon Hein, who works in our Synod office compiled a comprehensive demographic study of the WELS and other Christian denominations.
The study reveals that if the downward trends continue in the WELS, in the next two decades, we will lose approximately 106,000 members. That’s a 29% decline in membership across the Synod.
The Missouri Synod (LC-MS) loses a higher percentage of its membership annually than the WELS.
This denominational decline is not unique to Lutheranism. The largest Presbyterian church body in America has lost almost half of its members since the 60s. The same is true for the Episcopal Church. The Methodist Church is down 33%. The Reformed Church in America is down over 60%.
When we were on vacation in Cincinnati last summer, my family stopped for a snack at Tom and Chee’s restaurant, which is across from the Newport Aquarium. We ordered their world-famous Grilled Cheese Donut. It is exactly what the name implies – a perfectly made melted cheese sandwich on a wonderfully grilled donut. It was heavenly! (Although, I’m probably going to heaven sooner after having eaten it.)
There was a certain rich man who was decked out in the finest clothing. Every day was a feast. His closest friends gathered round about him, delighting in his company, and he in theirs. This rich man led the best of lives, had the best things in this world. He was a blessed man.
And this rich man’s name was Lazarus.