Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sermon -- 8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 15, 2018)



In the name + of Jesus.

     The doctrine of election, or predestination, is either one of the most comforting or one of the most petrifying teachings in the Bible.  You may have never pondered the doctrine as its own topic, but you have probably asked the question which is linked to it: “Why are some saved and not others?”  Or, to make it more personal, “Why am I one of God's people?  What made me so special?”  Such questions are understandable, and they are not necessarily bad.  What may be bad is how you approach your answer to these questions.  The difference is as great as heaven and hell.  As a result, the doctrine of election can lead us either to the confidence and comfort that we are saved or to the terror that we can never know if we are saved.
     The teaching itself is actually pretty simple.  God's election is summed up by St. Paul this way: [God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)  But we wonder: “How can I know if I am one of God's elect, one of God's chosen?  St. Paul wrote '[God] chose us in [Christ],' (Ephesians 1:4), but how do I know if that 'us' includes me?”  
     We are always tempted to begin theology with ourselves.  “Why am I one of God's elect?  What is there about me that would make God choose me?”  If you begin with yourself, then you are on a mission to prove you are a worthy choice—that God chose you because there is something in you.  You are special.  You are more endearing to God.  You are better than others.  To believe that, you have to cite the evidence: “I attend church and give offerings.  I volunteer my time.  I help your friends with their problems.  I give generous tips to the waitress.  I stay out of seedy men's clubs.  I pay my bills, stay out of jail, and even avoid traffic tickets.”  While society is grateful that you have been a credit rather than criminal, these do not save you.  And if you trust in your deeds, no matter now good they appear, you will be damned.  Repent.
     If you look at yourself as you consider why you are saved, you will never find comfort or peace.  How good do you need to be to be good enough for God?  You could never know if you are good enough.  The Lord, however, does tell you the standard for heaven.  It is not that you are better than most; it is this: “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)  This is abject terror, because no one is perfect, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much evidence we cite.  God can't choose us because we are good enough or because we are special.  We are not even endearing because we are sinners.  God does not praise what is corrupt.
     It also does no good to reason that you have been chosen by God because other people were a worse choice than you.  It is not only untrue, it is also a horrible way to think of other people.  It is as if we would say to our neighbor, “Well, I can understand why God did not choose you.  It's no surprise that you would go to hell.”  There is no one who is worthy of heaven, for all have sinned.  All deserve punishment.
     When we begin theology with ourselves, the best we can do is be uncertain about our place in heaven.  To face death with that uncertainty is terrifying.  Therefore, St. Paul has you consider the doctrine of election from the right direction.  God's election does not say as much about who you are as it does who God is.  Consider again what St. Paul says about your election to be saved.  He wrote: [God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)  Notice when God chose you: before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4)  You were not even around for God to assess your behavior.  Before you could do anything, good or bad, God chose you from eternity to be his own.  Now, notice what motivated God to choose you.  In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace... (Ephesians 1:5-6)  You were predestined to be a part of God's family.  This is to the praise of his glorious grace.  In other words, you were not chosen because you have done something special; you were chosen because God is gracious.
     You are God's elect, by grace.  From eternity, God elected you.  But your place in God's family was purchased in time.  St. Paul repeatedly emphasizes where you can find it so that you will not miss it: In Christ.  Ten times (!) in these verses, St. Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” (vv 3,10,12) or “in him” (vv 4,7,9,10,11,13 twice) to show you that God's grace is revealed through Jesus.  In Jesus, you have the one who takes up your sin and wickedness.  In Jesus, you have the one who has suffered the cursed death on behalf of sinners.  Therefore, in Jesus and in Jesus alone, do you find the full pardon for all your sins.  What's more, in Jesus, you find the only man who has ever obeyed God's commandments perfectly.  In Jesus, you find the only source of holiness there is.  And by being baptized into Jesus, you are cleansed of all your filth and covered in a robe of righteousness.  Therefore are found to be holy and blameless before [the Lord] (Ephesians 1:4), just as he demands you to be, and just as he chose you to be.  In Jesus, and in Jesus alone, you have the assurance that you are saved.
     You are God's elect, by grace.  The Father chose you from eternity.  Before the world was even created, God loved you and knew you.  He acted to make you his own.  So, in the fullness of time, the Father sent his Son into the world to save you.  The Son paid for your sins, conquered death, and opened heaven for you.  God's promises were fulfilled at Mt. Calvary about 2,000 years ago in history.  And to complete God's act of election, God also acted in your lifetime to bring you into his family.  St. Paul wrote, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)  
     You are God's elect, by grace—chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and marked by the Holy Spirit.  This seal by the Holy Spirit is like a first installment of a purchase.  The purchaser makes it to secure a legal claim on the article in question, and it obligates the purchaser to complete it.  You have been brought into God's kingdom now, but the glory has not yet come.  But God has obligated himself to bring you into his glorious kingdom; for he has adopted you into his family and, therefore, made you heirs of his glory.
     You are God's elect, by grace.  And the Lord continues to remove from you the fear and doubt about your place in God's kingdom.  He does not tell you to consider how well you serve, how much you do, how good you are, or how strongly you believe.  To put the focus back onto sinful people is to cast everything back into doubt.  Therefore, our Lord gives us promises that depend on his faithfulness, not ours.  You are God's elect, by grace.   All of your hope is found in Christ.  Are you baptized into Christ?  Then you are cleansed of sin and sealed by the Spirit.  Do you believe his word?  Then you benefit from promises that have been guaranteed by Jesus' death and resurrection.  Do you crave more assurance?  Then flee to the altar where the body and blood of Christ are given for you for the forgiveness of sins and for the strengthening of faith.  In Christ, you have promises.  In him, you find comfort.  In him, you are confident.  It is those who forsake Christ, neglect his sacraments, or no longer hear him who lose all that he has given.
     You are God's elect, by grace.  All that you need for salvation, the Lord has provided.  This is the great comfort and confidence that he gives you so that you can know you are saved.  He has done all the work to save you so that you do not have to wonder, fear, or doubt if it has been done or if it has been done right.  All of this is for the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:12,14), that God loves and saves sinners.  Therefore, glorify him by receiving his good things and declaring his goodness; for you are God's elect, by grace.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Things that make me go ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!! -- Pop up ads

Over the past few months, Verizon seems to think that I am interested in pop up ads that show up on my phone.  For the most part, they have been annoying, but I can usually remove them with a tap and get back to my business.  Although it is frustrating having my business interrupted by pop up ads.

This morning introduced a greater frustration.  A telemarketer called to pester me about something.  I tried to politely dismiss myself from the call, wanting to hang up immediately after saying, "Thank you, but I am not interested."  The attempt to hang up was thwarted by a pop up ad.  But it was not merely a screen shot ad.  It was a 15 second commercial.  So, I was trying to get out of the phone call, get rid of the commercial, as the telemarketer continued to try to tell me that this phone call was actually more meaningful to me than I thought.

So much for the quick end to an unwanted phone call, which was extended by an unwanted pop up commercial.  And yes, I said, "ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!"

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sermon -- 7th Sunday after Pentecost (July 8, 2018)

MARK 6:1-6


In the name + of Jesus.

     Twice, St. Mark mentions that people were amazed.  First, the hometown people of Nazareth were amazed by Jesus.  Many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things?  What is the wisdom given to him?  How are such mighty works done by his hands?” (Mark 6:2)  They were not astonished in a way that said, “Wow!  Look at his works of mercy.  And he is telling us what we need to hear!”  Rather, they were astonished in a way that said, “Who does this guy think he is?!”  They heard the word of the Lord preached by the Lord, but they did not believe in him.  They saw Jesus doing works which only the Lord can do, but they did not accept Jesus' claims to be the Lord.  And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3) 
     The other person who was amazed in this lesson was Jesus.  He marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:6)  These were not strangers in a strange land.  Jesus was preaching to God's covenant people in their synagogue.  He was teaching family, friends, and neighbors to whom the Scriptures had been read and preached regularly.  Even though they marveled at Jesus' wisdom and wonders, they would not confess him as Lord.  They would not even listen to him anymore.  Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word, but they were not interested.  Jesus was too familiar to them to take him seriously.  And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:6)
     The citizens of Nazareth are not unique.  They serve as a warning for us who have been Christians for a long time.  The saying is true: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  We have heard the Sunday School lessons already, and we are bored with them.  We have filed away our Catechisms because we have been confirmed.  We are satisfied with a cursory knowledge of the Bible and see no value in taking time to meditate and truly ponder God's word.  Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word, but we are too familiar with it to crave it.
     We know that Jesus and his word are important, but we are not always that excited to hear it.  Pastors and parishioners both get lured into thinking that we must do something amazing to make the word of God more attractive.  The desire may be noble—to have as many people gathered around the word as possible.  Usually, we invoke the young people to promote ways to make worship exciting, accepting the false notion that they always have to be entertained.  But it is an admission that we think we have to bring life to God's word and that, by itself, God's word is just not enough to keep our attention.  The goal becomes making worship exciting and entertaining.  And once worship becomes a show, you have to find new ways to keep people interested.  We would rather be excited than enlightened.  We would rather hear peals of laughter than calls to repent.  We want worship to be continually new and fresh, because familiarity breeds contempt.  We think that whatever is unchanging is uninteresting.  Repent; because our God is constant and his faithfulness is steadfast.
     Jesus' ministry in Nazareth was over quickly.  He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6)  It is not that Jesus was powerless; it is that his desire to heal and the bless was rejected; therefore, he withheld it.  If they held him in contempt, they would even hold his mercy in contempt.  This is a warning for us.  Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word, but when we become too familiar with his words, we crave something more flashy.
     Now that it is vacation time, people are heading off to different parts of God's creation.  We all have our favorite places—beaches, lakes, mountains, rivers, and so on.  We marvel at the world God has made.  We find it inspiring and post photos of it.  Some even claim they get in touch with God by looking at scenery.  But when Jesus came as a prophet, he did not show people pictures of the Grand Canyon or the Alps.  He preached.  He is a prophet.  He proclaimed a life-giving word.  God's power may be seen in the creation, but his forgiveness and salvation are not.  These come through words.
     The bulk of our lives is conversation.  Our relationships are built on them.  Whether it is husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, men at the golf course, or women slurping coffee at Tim Hortons, our conversations keep our relationships alive.  If you read a transcript of those conversations, I am willing to bet that most of them would not be gripping dialogues.  “How about this weather?”  “Did you see the Tigers' game?”  "Pick up a gallon of milk on your way home”  Not exactly sonnets; and yet, the conversation is necessary.   Even the small talk matters.  It is cherished no matter what your relationship with someone is.  The deeper the relationship, the more intimate the conversation.  When people are speaking, they share themselves with each other and show their love.  When communication goes silent, then you know there is a problem.
     Jesus is a prophet.  That means he speaks to you.  The Lord communicates with you because he loves you.  He does not flatter or manipulate you.  He speaks true, life-giving words.  He speaks words of insight, correction, admonition, and encouragement.  The Lord consoles you, soothes you, and declares his faithful love to you.  He speaks words that show he knows you intimately.  He knows your sin—that you have treated his words with contempt while using your words to lie, to gossip, and to boast.  He knows our words have been motivated by anger, jealousy, and obscenity.  He calls you to repent of such wicked words.  They have consequences both among people and before God.  If Jesus' words seem hard to you, it is because he cares too much for you to silently watch you continue in sins which lead to hell.  But if his call to repent cuts deep, then his promise of mercy not only soothes, it gives life.  Jesus delivers you from the consequences of careless words.  He speaks an absolution which he has backed up with his sufferings and death on our behalf.  Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, did not treat us with contempt, but suffered the consequences of our words and actions in silence.  He died under Gods' divine curse for every one of our misspoken words.  But he lives to speak words of forgiveness and salvation. 
     Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word.  And he gives us better words to speak.  He teaches us to confess his word which saves us.  He guides us to speak words of truth which serve to build up other people.  And we continue our conversation with our Lord by speaking words of praise to him in response to his words of peace for us.  It is a conversation that begins in this life and will continue into all eternity with the Church that worships in heaven.
     Jesus was astonished that his life-giving words were rejected in Nazareth.  Although Jesus came to give life to the dying, he does not drag anyone into his kingdom by force.  If a man persists in his stubborn unbelief, if he believes he is good enough without Jesus, or if he simply loves his sins too much, the Lord will not abduct him.  He will not lay waste to his home if he will not believe.  Therefore, Jesus did not threaten the people of Nazareth with leprosy or rain fire on their city. 
     Jesus is a prophet who calls as a loving God to a sinful people.  He uses words of promise, of mercy, of grace and peace, and by these alone does he bring people out of their rebellion and into his kingdom.  This word is preached to you every week and can be read by you every day.  This is where your Lord speaks to you.  He expresses his love and concern.  He bestows mercy and peace.  He assures you that he does not hold your foolish words against you, but forgives you and guides you to speak with more honesty, with more care, and with more interest in the well-being of other people.
     Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word.  Familiarity with Jesus does not need to lead to contempt.  Rather, it leads to comfort for sinners and confidence for salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Local Tourist -- Royal Oak

I finally was able to get to the photos I had taken in Royal Oak last month.  We walked up and down the downtown area and visited a few shops.  It would have been nice to eat in a whole bunch of restaurants, but time, money, and stomach all have their limitations.

Below are a few of the shops which we entered.  To our surprise, most did not open until 11:00 AM.  Fortunately, we got there about 10:30, so we did not have to wait too long.  Included in the photos below are shops we entered -- Toyology and Rail and Anchor (where they offered us tea).


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Something from ... Augustine on God's grace to aid against temptation

St. Augustine (November 13, 354 - August 28, 430), bishop of Hippo in northern Africa, wrote extensively about God's grace and man's lack of free will.  Free will suggests that man has the capacity to do whatever he wants.  However, the Lord's Prayer itself proves otherwise.  If we truly had free will and had the ability to be holy, then we would be holy.  We could achieve it, and we would not be haunted much by temptations at all.

Nevertheless, we still pray that God would forgive us our trespasses because we continue to be guilty of them.  Then we pray that our Father in heaven would lead us not into temptation.  If we had the capacity, that is, the freedom, to overcome temptations, there would be little need to pray to God for the strength to overcome them.

In spiritual matters, we are not free.  We are slaves to sin.  Freedom comes only from Jesus whom the Father sent to deliver us.  And since we never shed our sinful nature as long as we live on this earth, our prayers to God will remain necessary.  And God--praise him for this--remains merciful and faithful to us. 

St. Augustine writes, “Now if all this were true, surely after offering the petition of the Lord's Prayer, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we could hardly go on and say, And lead us not into temptation. Matthew 6:12-13  The former petition we present that our sins may be forgiven; the latter that they may be avoided or subdued—a favour which we should by no means beg of our Father who is in heaven if we were able to accomplish it by the virtue of our human will.” (Augustine, Selections from “On Grace and Free Will,” chapter 26)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 1, 2018)

NOTE: A good number of the thoughts in this sermon were gleaned from a lecture on the Gospel of Mark by Prof. Daniel Deutschlander.  Some of Prof. Deutschlander's seminars can be found here:

MARK 5:21-43


In the name + of Jesus.

     Two people had an encounter with Jesus.  One thing they had in common was that they were both desperate.  A man came to Jesus in a panic because his daughter of twelve short years was dying.  This probably had come on her quite suddenly.  Any care by a physician had produced no results.  Instead, she was at death's door.  This man pleaded with Jesus to come and put his healing touch upon her.  The other person was a woman who was also at her wits' end.  Her problem had gone on for twelve long years.  After blowing all of her money on every solution she could think of, she was desperate for healing.  Like Jairus, she had heard of Jesus, and she longed for Jesus to heal her.
     There were also stark differences between these two people.  We know the name of the man was Jairus, but his name is mentioned only once.  He is usually referred to as “the ruler of the synagogue.” (Mark 5:22,36,38)  In other words, Jairus was important.  He was a man of prestige and influence in Capernaum.  If Jairus had asked you to do something, you probably stopped what you were doing and did what he asked.  On the other hand, we don't even know the woman's name.  Perhaps, at one time, she was well-to-do, but her medical expenses wiped out her of money.  Her bleeding disorder was more than a medical issue, too.  Her continual bleeding caused her to be ceremonially unclean.  That meant she had to be secluded from much of society.  She lived in the shadows—impoverished, unnoticed, and unimportant.
     The devil is pleased to use these two ends of the spectrum so that we withdraw from Jesus.  The devil may stroke your ego and convince you that the world is here for your benefit.  He causes you to believe that your job is important, your hobbies are important, and your commute on the road is important.  As a result, you despise other people who share the road with you.  You despise your family because the responsibilities you have with them take up time you would rather give to other matters.  You even despise God, convinced that your schedule is too important to take time to pray or to read God's word.  The devil may even convince you that God's word can be dismissed when your choices and behavior defy his word: I am too important to be bothered by God's opinion.  No matter how important Jairus may have thought he was, God brought him down to nothing when his daughter was dying.  Then, all that mattered was God's mercy.  What the world regarded as a horrible thing for Jairus' daughter, God used for good, because showing mercy is important to Jesus.
     When the pendulum swings the other way, the devil uses that too.  The woman who came to Jesus was regarded by society as unimportant.  She eventually believed it, too.  She did not come to Jesus with a face-to-face request like Jairus.  She had hoped to slink up behind Jesus among the crowds, to touch his garment, and disappear as invisibly as she showed up.  The devil is pleased to convince us that we are also unimportant, unnecessary, worthless, and useless.  How often do you conclude, “What I do does not make much of an impact”?  How often do you wonder, “If I just disappeared, would anyone really care?”  The devil drives us to despair.  Although God has been pleased to put us in this world and calls us to serve him in our various vocations, the devil would have us believe that it is all meaningless and a mistake. 
     In the one case, we exalt ourselves over God and our neighbor, thinking that we are all-important.  In the other case, we convince ourselves that we are unimportant and worthless.  In the first case, we end up believing that God is unnecessary.  In the second case, we end up believing that God is uninterested.  These are all lies.  Do not believe them.  Showing mercy is important to Jesus, no matter who it is shown to.
     Notice how Jesus dealt with each person.  When the woman had been healed by touching Jesus' garments, Jesus immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30)  The disciples thought this was absurd.  The crowds were jostling Jesus about.  Everyone was touching him!  Still, Jesus persisted.  He looked around to see who had done it.  The woman, still thinking she was unimportant, fell trembling at Jesus' feet and fessed up.  And, as St. Mark records it, she told him the whole truth. (Mark 5:33)  
     Now, to appreciate this, understand that men and women are different in how they communicate.  A man would sum this up in three sentences: “I had this problem.  But then I touched your garment.  I'm healed now.”  Women are much more detailed.  (This is not a criticism, but an observation.)  You can imagine this woman saying, “Well it all started twelve years ago.  I talked to my sister about it, and she told me to see this doctor.  That was a waste of time.  So I went to the next doctor and spent money there.  That didn't help either...”  And on and on it went.  Never once did Jesus cut her off.  He let her say all she needed to say, because to him, she was important.  Showing mercy to her was important to Jesus.  And so, he was pleased to tell her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34)
     Meanwhile, you can also imagine Jairus getting more and more anxious as this was going on.  He knew his daughter was at death's door, and he knew that time was precious.  His body language would have screamed, “Tick-tock, Jesus.  Let's go!”  Then he got the kick-in-the-gut message: “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?”  But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5:35-36) 
     When Jesus heeded Jairus' plea to come and heal his daughter, a promise to heal her was implied.  Jesus urged Jairus to cling to that promise no matter what the circumstances suggested.  Jesus entered Jairus' home and said, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping?  The child is not dead but sleeping.”  And they laughed at him. (Mark 5:39-40)  The mourners laughed because they knew what death was.  Nevertheless, Jesus went to the daughter, grabbed her by the hand, and commanded, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (Mark 5:41)  Death had to give her back, and then Jesus gave her back to her parents.  Showing mercy is important to Jesus.
     Now, you have not been given such specific promises that your every disease will be healed or that you will receive your loved ones back from death—at least, not in this life.  Still, God uses such evils to show us that we are helpless so that we will continue to call upon him for mercy.  He does this because it is showing mercy is important to Jesus. 
     Jesus demonstrates his mercy most vividly at the cross.  He has carried to the cross all of our sins—from our fantasies of self-importance to wallowing in self-pity.  He went to the cross for all people—great and small, young and old, healthy and disabled, famous, infamous, and anonymous.  There, he bore the curse and the punishment for the sins of the world.  There, he won forgiveness for all people.  And he included you.  Even though Jesus was given a place in the grave, he conquered death.  He now holds the key to death and Hades, and he lives to set you free from these.  On the Last Day, he will summon you from your grave.  Just as the little girl bounced up from her death bed to live again, so will you.  You will be given a resurrected body which will never succumb to disease, disappointment, despair, or death.  All your diseases will, indeed, be healed.  And death will, indeed, have to give back your loved ones who have died in the Christian faith.
     Throughout your life, there will be times you feel important and there will be times you feel worthless.  People may tell you that you are one or the other.  Do not be bothered by them.  They are neither your Creator nor your Judge.  And they are certainly not your Savior.  To Jesus Christ, you are important.  Showing mercy to you is important to Jesus.  He assures you that, through him, you have become children of the Most High God.  There is no greater title than this, and you are honored by it both now and forever.  For you are important to the Lord.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Local Tourist -- Royal Oak: Vinsetta Garage

The Local Tourist spent a morning in Royal Oak, Michigan, walking up and down the main streets and popping in on a few shops, including Toyology, a toy store which was not only a blast of nostalgia, but also a really neat store to walk through.  If you need a toy or a game in Royal Oak, stop in here.  We also had success in Paper Trail Books, a used book store.  Peter found several Garfield books and was reading them all the way home.  Photos from Royal Oak will have to come later, as I am having issues with my laptop and the photos which were uploaded onto it. 

There were too many restaurants to consider.  They all looked good.  We settled on Vinsetta Garage for some burgers.  (The family thought I was joking when I said we were going to eat lunch at a garage.)  It is on Woodward Avenue, and the only problem with it is not enough parking.  I am sure they are aware of the problem, but they are on a lot where space is quite limited.  We parked 2 blocks up on a side street, and the walk was totally worth the food and the atmosphere.

In the meantime, here are some photos from Vinsetta Garage.

The best dinner companion ever!