Monday, August 18, 2014

Heaven in Nebraska: Reflections on the LCMS Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music

“How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”

Genesis 28:17

This July, several of Redeemer’s music staff and I attended the 2014 LCMS Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music. Now, spending five days in Seward, Nebraska in late July may not sound like heaven on earth, especially for someone so acclimated to California weather, but it was. Why, you might ask?
Well, it wasn’t because the weather was incredibly perfect – no humidity, clean country air, and a refreshing breeze – though that was a welcomed surprise.

It wasn’t due to the fresh corn (Nebraska is called the Cornhusker state for good reason!) and home-style hospitality, though we were all satisfied.
It wasn’t on account of the excellent trip planning by Wayne Pereboom, though his organization was greatly appreciated.

It wasn’t even because of the beautiful sights and sounds of Lincoln, NE – home of the state capitol, though the magnificent structure is topped by a 19 ½ foot statue of Jesus the Sower (and it’s the third largest building in all of Nebraska).
How then did we find heaven in Nebraska?
Because Christ’s people were gathered to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word through liturgy, preaching, and church music.

Because the choirs, voices, and instruments resounded with the song of heaven here on earth.

Because we sang with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Because we were fed day in and day out the wholesome word of Christ by the Gospel’s handmaiden, music.

Because comfort was given to our consciences in the preaching and liturgy of the church; God was busy enacting consolation directly to our hearts and mind.
Because Jesus was there in his holy presence, to bring us the comfort we so desperately need. Comfort in sins forgiven. Comfort in a good conscience, absolved and prepared for the Lord’s Supper. Comfort in our Holy Baptism. Comfort in Jesus’ body and blood. Comfort in every bar, note, and word of the Divine Service. Comfort because Jesus was present for us.

And wherever Jesus is, there’s heaven. Heaven in Nebraska? Absolutely. Wherever Jesus is he brings all of heaven with him. Think about that the next time you come to Divine Service. You don’t have to go looking for Jesus in the far off fields of Nebraska. You simply have to go where Jesus promises to be present for you. Jesus brings heaven comes on earth in specific locations. So heaven comes to earth in your Baptism as the water is poured, the Word is spoken, and the Spirit descends. Heaven comes to earth, indeed is wide opened to you in Holy Absolution. Heaven comes to earth as Jesus feeds us with His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins at His table, whether that’s located in Seward, NE or Huntington Beach, CA, or wherever His Word is preached and His Sacraments administered.
If you’re looking for consolation for a troubled conscience; if you’re looking for a safe haven in a wicked world; if you’re looking for rest and peace that knows no end; if you’re looking for heaven on earth – then come to the one place you can guarantee that Christ is present to give you comfort, forgiveness, shelter, and reconciliation in body and soul. Come to Redeemer, where heaven comes to earth and where Christ freely gives you comfort in his death and resurrection.

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2
And now for something completely different...

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