Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pastor-Teacher Conference at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Plymouth, MI

On Monday, February 19, the pastors and teachers in the southeast conference of the Michigan District assembled at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Plymouth, Michigan for growing in God's word and mutual encouragement.  The pastors also met on Tuesday, February 20.  Here are some photos from St. Peter's.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (February 18, 2018)

MARK 12:12-15


In the name + of Jesus.

     Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  What does this mean?  Martin Luther explained it this way: “God surely tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or lead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins; and though we are tempted by them, we pray that we may overcome and win the victory.” (6th Petition of the Lord's Prayer; Luther's Small Catechism)  
     Temptations are going to come, and you can't stop them.  Adam and Eve dwelt in a paradise garden in Eden, and temptations came.  If Satan would not leave Adam and Eve alone in their holy state, he will certainly not leave you alone.  And the world we live in now is far from holy.  It is perverse, greedy, self-centered, and self-important.  Our culture decides what matters and what is acceptable.  If you speak or act against it, the world will goad you into obeying its ways by asking, “Why are you so full of hate?” 
     Temptations are going to come, and you can't escape them.  Satan knows his time is short, and so he works relentlessly to deceive you.  Satan presents sinful attitudes and actions as beneficial.  He tries to convince you that doing things which lead to hell is really living it up.  He tells you that slavery to sin is true freedom.  And your own sinful flesh is excited to hear it.  We all have greed and lust and selfishness in our guts.  We can't escape that.  Nor can we escape Satan.  And as far as escaping the world?  That is not an option.  If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we have to live with our neighbor to love and serve him.
     So, temptations are going to come.  You can't stop them.  You can't escape them.  You can, however, pray against them.  The Lord who taught you to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” is eager to hear and answer your prayer.  He taught you that prayer so that he could guard you, strengthen you, and deliver you from temptations.  If we learn to heed our Lord's invitation to pray more than Satan's invitation to sin, we will spare ourselves many griefs.  For, Jesus Christ overcomes the Tempter.
     If you struggle against temptations, there is nothing wrong with you.  It is not a sin to be tempted.  It just means that you are Satan's mark.  Temptations are going to come.  The Lord is not unsympathetic to your struggle.  The devil did not leave him alone either.  After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit…drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. (Mark 1:12)  Immediately after Jesus was anointed as the Christ, Satan challenged Jesus' identity as the Son of God.  He urged Jesus to use his miraculous powers for his own benefit.  And Satan did not play nice.  Jesus was cast into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.  This was not a lush garden paradise where all his needs would be met.  This was a desolate, uncivilized place.  This was a temptation which Jesus had to face by himself without the encouragement or support of faithful friends. 
     Satan still plays dirty.  He attacks you when you are weak.  He attacks where you are weak.  He likes to find you when you are alone and when you are down.  He makes your frustrations more painful and your worries more common.  He wants you to be withdrawn from your fellow believers so that you do not have anyone to admonish you against your sins or to encourage you to remain faithful to God's word.  Satan wants you to stew in your shame all by yourself, too.  He convinces you that you are the only one who has done what you have done.  He tells you that your pain and your shame are unique, and that the worst thing that can happen to you is that someone discovers your sin.  So, just as Adam and Eve lied to hide their sins from the Lord, so Satan convinces you to live in silent shame rather than confess to be absolved of your sins and relieved from your guilt. 
     Your Lord Jesus Christ provides you with a victory over sin and guilt, over death and the devil.  You and I have to keep on praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” because we are weak and we fail.  However, our prayer is to the Valiant One whom God himself elected and who holds the field over Satan forever.  Jesus Christ overcomes the Tempter. 
     Adam and Eve fell into sin in the midst of a lush garden, but Jesus overcame the Tempter in the barren and hostile wilderness.  Adam and Eve had been given to each other for support and encouragement; yet they still fell into sin.  Jesus was forced to endure the Tempter alone, and he overcame.  Even later when Jesus was suffering great temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples left him to pray and suffer alone while they slept.  Still, Jesus Christ overcame the Tempter.  He continued in holy obedience, firmly trusting in his heavenly Father even when there was a cost to do it—even when the cost was crucifixion and consuming the cup of God's wrath for sinners.  But Jesus did it; and he did it for you.
     Jesus Christ overcomes the Tempter.  Jesus' battle against Satan was not just an academic exercise.  This was a battle for the souls of men.  Jesus fought to win sinners by his holy and obedient life.  Jesus gave his life as a ransom for you—the innocent man given in exchange for guilty.  The Son of God labored to gain the children of men.  Jesus Christ has overcome the Tempter, and you are the spoils of war.  Jesus has snatched you from the clutches of the devil.  He rescued you from the icy grave and from the flames of hell.  He even has set you free from the times when you gave into temptation—whether you were deceived by Satan's lies or you were compelled by your sinful cravings.  Jesus' innocent life has been given in exchange for all of these so that you are now forgiven of your sins and so that you are now ransomed from the devil.  You do not belong to sin, death, or the devil.  You are Christ's; for he has conquered your foes and rescued you. 
     Jesus Christ overcomes the Tempter.  He is risen and lives and continues to intercede for you to keep you as his own.  That is why he urges you to call on him in prayer when temptations come.  That is why he continues to serve you with his word and sacrament to strengthen and preserve you unto life everlasting.  And that is why he has gathered you together in the Church so that you can watch over and care for one another.
     When Adam and Eve had sinned against God, the Lord drove them out of the Garden of Eden.  He posted angel sentries to guard the way so that they could not go back and eat from the Tree of Life.  Since that day, mankind has been terrified at the sight of God's angels.  Corrupt men cower in the presence of holy angels.  However, Jesus has changed even this.  (Jesus) was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.  And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:12-13)  The angels were there to serve the Holy One and to strengthen him against the Tempter.  And this is what Jesus sends the angels to do for you now.  You are now God's holy ones.  You are his saints.  And therefore, Jesus answers our morning prayer: “Let your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me.” (Luther's Morning Prayer)  He sends his holy angels to serve his holy ones and to support us so that the Tempter cannot take us back.
     And finally, when our last hour comes, the Lord Jesus will send his holy angels to bring us out of this world of temptation and sin, and they will carry us to our Father in heaven where we will never again be tempted or taunted or enticed to wickedness again.  With Jesus, we will forever be safe.  For now, we continue to flee to Jesus who is our refuge, our mighty fortress, so that we will continue to be kept safe.  He holds the victory, for Jesus Christ has overcome the Tempter.  In him, we are safe.  By him, we are saved.

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

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Something from ... Augustine on the source of good works

Something from Augustine on the source of good works.  Augustine highlights first that we are saved by faith alone.  However, faith is never alone.  From faith (that is, the new life which the Holy Spirit works in us) comes the fruits of faith, which are good works.  If, however, the good works flow from faith, and if faith is a gift of God, then even our works are God's doing within us.

“Not that he denied good works, or emptied them of their value, when he says that God renders to every man according to his works; Romans 2:6 but because works proceed from faith, and not faith from works.  Therefore it is from Him that we have works of righteousness, from whom comes also faith itself, concerning which it is written, The just shall live by faith. Habakkuk 2:4” (Augustine, Selections from “On Grace and Free Will,” chapter 17)

Good works are not evil; they are good.  But the merits of salvation come from Christ alone.  He is our Savior.  He saves us completely.  Once saved, good works flow forth.  For, those who are alive in faith must live.  That life is made evident by our good works.  And those works are rendered good only through faith in Christ.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Something from ... Augustine on where one places his faith

Something from Augustine on Good Works and where one places his faith:

“It is to be feared … lest poor wretched man, when he leads a good life and performs good works (or rather thinks that he leads a good life and performs good works), should dare to glorify in himself and not in the Lord, and to put his hope of righteousness living in himself alone...”  (Augustine, Selections from “On Grace and Free Will,” chapter 6)

Seems to me that Augustine could have been a Lutheran, teaching that we are saved by faith alone and not by our works.  This is also why Lutherans believe that we are still the church catholic.  We teach what the Church has always taught.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sermon -- Ash Wednesday (February 14, 2018)

LUKE 18:9-14


In the name + of Jesus.

     (Jesus) told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. (Luke 18:9)  The parable is a warning for people who go to church.  While the men in the parable had very different reputations before the people, both were sons of the covenant.  Both went to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee was a teacher of the law.  He was an example of pious living.  We might even think of him as a pastor.  On the other hand, there was a tax collector.  He was a Jewish man who hired himself out to the Romans to collect taxes from his fellow country men.  These tax collectors were known thieves.  They inflated the amount you owed for your taxes and kept the extra for themselves.  Everyone knew it, but there was nothing you could do about it.  You had to pay what you were told to pay. 
     “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” (Luke 18:10)  One was an example of virtue, respected by everyone.  One was an example of villainy, despised by all.  Nevertheless, each man knew where he needed to go—to the temple where God had chosen to dwell with his people and to bless them. 
     The Pharisee was the first to pray.  He stood up in the courtyard, stretched out his hands to heaven (as was the typical posture for prayer), and prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18:11-12)  Now, the Pharisee was probably telling the truth about himself.  Morally, he was better than most.  He was not a cheat.  He did not sleep around with other women.  He fasted, and he tithed—not just his income, but everything that came into his possession. 
     The tax collector, on the other hand, did not assume the usual posture for prayer.  He did not look up to heaven, as if he should expect to receive something from there.  Instead, he beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)  Everything the tax collector said about himself was true, too.  He was a sinner.  He did not sugar coat it.  He did not make excuses, such as, “Well, if I didn't collect taxes, someone else would do it.  He might cheat even worse than me.”  He simply acknowledged what he was—a sinner.
     Now, once again, remember why Jesus told this parable.  (Jesus) told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. (Luke 18:9)  This parable is for you.  It is likely that you are an example of virtue rather than villainy.  And it is likely that you could make a list of things you do which illustrate your Christian life—church attendance, giving offerings, and decent behavior.  Like the Pharisee, you would probably be telling the truth.  However, the problem with the Pharisee is this: Even though he went to the right place for worship and prayer, he did not believe the word of the God who dwelt there. 
     We heard the word of the Lord in our Old Testament lesson: Our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities.... (Isaiah 59:12)  This confession is meant for the lips of all people, for all are sinners.  It is not for us to compare ourselves with others, trying to determine who is better or who is worse.  When we do, we pick the best of ourselves and compare it to the worst of others.  The Pharisee looked down on the tax collector with contempt.  It was not hard to do.  The tax collector was despised by everyone as a cheat and a traitor.  The tax collector probably assumed he could never be good enough, not as good and the Pharisee, anyway.  It does not matter.  We are to compare ourselves to God's Law, not to others.  God's holy Law multiplies our sins.  God shows us our envy, our pride, our sinister thoughts, our selfish motives, and our efforts to preserve our good reputation even if we have to lie, deceive, or slander to do it.  There is no reason that we should expect any good to come to us from heaven.  We have earned wrath.  The best we can do is to take our place with the tax collector and plead for mercy.
     No matter how bad the tax collector had been, he believed God's word.  Therefore, he went to God's house and prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)  More accurately, his prayer was, “God, be propitiated to me, a sinner.”  In other words, the tax collector was praying that God would be appeased by an atoning sacrifice made on his behalf.  Repentance seeks only this atoning sacrifice, which is the blood of Christ.
     Repentant hearts do not try to convince God that our sins aren't that bad.  Repentant hearts do not make excuses.  The Lord multiplies our transgressions before us; and so, we are alarmed by our sins and the wrath they deserve.  What comfort is there is knowing that others are worse?  We answer only for our own sins.  Therefore, we seek an atoning sacrifice which would appease the wrath of God.  Repentance seeks only the blood of Christ.
     Are you a sinner?  Good.  Because Jesus Christ comes only for sinners.  He is the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.  That means his blood is spilled out before God the Father to be the ransom price which buys you back from sin, death, and the devil.  That means he burns in the fires of God's wrath and is consumed in the torments of hell.  His holy, innocent sufferings and death appeases the wrath of God which stands against all who are guilty.  He bears your guilt.  He bears your punishment.  He delivers you from death and wrath and hell.  This is what the tax collector prayed for.  This is what repentant hearts seek.  And this is what Jesus delivers to you.  Repentant hearts seek only the blood of Christ; for this alone puts an end to God's wrath.  This alone covers your sin.  This alone saves.
     Two men went up to the temple to pray.  They looked very different.  If someone had asked you which man was better, based on what you see, you would have said the Pharisee.  If asked which man deserved to have God's blessing, you would have said the Pharisee.  But based on God's word, you would have different answers.  Which was better?  Neither.  Both were sinners.  The Pharisee did not think so, but the tax collector believed God's word and confessed he was.  Which deserved God's blessing?  Neither.  Both deserved wrath.  The Pharisee did not think so, but the tax collector held God to his promises and pleaded for mercy.  Therefore, the tax collector sought propitiation.  Repentance seeks only the blood of Christ.
     Jesus rendered the surprise verdict: “I tell you, this man (that is, the tax collector) went down to his house justified, rather than the (Pharisee).” (Luke 18:14)  The tax collector did not justify himself.  That is impossible.  Rather, he was justified.  This is God's work, God's judgment, and God's verdict.  God declared the tax collector not guilty of sin based on the propitiation of Christ, that is, based on the blood which Christ shed as the atoning sacrifice for sinners.  This is how you are justified, too.  Jesus Christ is the propitiation, that is, the atoning sacrifice, for your sins.  He covered your sin in his righteousness when you were sprinkled in baptism.  He bestows God's peace as he gives you his blood in the Lord's Supper.  He has done all the work to remove your guilt from you.  He has cleansed you of every spot and stain of sin.  And he keeps you in the faith with his saving word of grace. 
     Repentance seeks only the blood of Christ.  For this alone saves.  And by faith in Jesus' blood and sacrifice, the Lord sends you home justified.

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Lenten season

Preparation for the Lenten Season

A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, our guilt and evil bearing
     And, laden with the sins of earth, none else the burden sharing.
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint 
     To slaughter led without complaint,
          That spotless life to offer,
Bears shame and stripes and wounds and death,
     Anguish and mockery and says,
          “Willing all this I suffer.” (Christian Worship 100:1)

The Lenten season is a 40 day period (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter.  It is a penitential season.  That is why it begins with Ash Wednesday – a powerful reminder that “dust you are, and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19)  Since we are dust and marked for death, we approach our Lord in penitence and humility, seeking his mercy.

One of the ways we may express our penitence is by fasting.  Fasting need not be a total deprivation of food.  Traditionally, Christians would reduce the number of meals they ate from three to two.  Of those two meals, one (usually the later meal) was rather light.  Or you may partake in two rather small meals with a regular sized meal.  Sundays, however, remain feast days.  Fasting, prayer, and the giving of alms go together. (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18)  The time that we give up on feeding our bodies is devoted to prayer and meditation, and the money we would have spent on ourselves would be given to the poor or to a charity.  Though such practices are not mandatory, Luther’s Small Catechism reminds us, “Fasting and other outward preparation may serve a good purpose….” 

The Lenten fast is also experienced in our Divine Services.  During the Lenten season, we will not sing Alleluia or the Gloria in Excelsis (“Glory be to God on high…”).  Flowers are also removed from the altar.  As we continue further into the Lenten season, the fast intensifies and we will notice some omissions from our Services:

These omissions are a fast for our eyes and ears.  Perhaps it will seem awkward to be missing these things, but that is the point.  Lent is a penitential season.  Our celebration is muted.  But this also will highlight the air of celebration on Easter Sunday when all of these sights and sounds return to our worship as we will rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord.

Grant that I your passion view with repentant grieving.
   Let me not bring shame to you by unholy living.
How could I refuse to shun every sinful pleasure
   Since for me God’s only Son suffered without measure? 
(Christian Worship 98:5)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sermon -- Transfiguration (February 11, 2018)

MARK 9:2-9


In the name + of Jesus.

     You've probably had it happen to you before.  You walk into a room and step into the middle of someone's story.  The first thing you hear is your friend saying, “And then what happened....”  You want to know, “What happened first?!”  If you have children, you've seen it from the other side.  I recall when my wife and I were talking, a child came into the room only to hear the words, “...going to Disney World...”  Then the child ran out of the room excitedly to tell the other kids, “Mom and Dad said we're going to Disney World.”  They might have wished we had said that, but we didn't.  They did not hear the first part of the story.  Today's Gospel begins in a similar way.  St. Mark writes, “And after six days...” (Mark 9:2)  It begs the question, “What happened six days prior?!” 
     A week before this Gospel, Jesus was speaking to his apostles.  He asked them who the crowds thought he was.  After that, he asked the apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)  Peter answered on behalf of the apostles, “You are the Christ.”  And (Jesus) strictly charged them to tell no one about him. (Mark 8:29-30)  It's not that Peter's answer was wrong.  He was exactly right.  But most Jews had visions of what it meant that the Christ had come.  They expected to see Israel become a rich and powerful nation.  They expected the Christ to usher in a kingdom where they would bask in the glory and benefit from it.
     But Jesus informed the disciples that this expectation was wrong.  Jesus explained what it meant that he was the Christ.  If they wanted to see that glory, they would need to listen to him.  Jesus said that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, to suffer and be rejected by the religious leaders, be crucified, and then rise on the third day.  He went on to tell the disciples that some of them would not taste death before they saw the Christ establish his kingdom. 
     And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark 9:2-3)  The divinity of Jesus shone through the humanity of Jesus.  For once, the Son of God looked like the Son of God!  Peter thought, “Now this is what we were waiting for!  This is the glory we were expecting from the Christ.”  So Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.  It is useful for us to be here.  Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5)  Peter saw this glory, and he wanted to bask in it and benefit from it.
     Peter had a worldly desire for glory.  We do too.  What do people consider glorious?  Power.  We envy those who are in control and get to decide the rules.  Or money.  Money gets things done and allows people to go wherever they want and to do whatever they want.  How about popularlity?  You get to have all kinds of people fawn all over you and are afraid of hurting your feeelings.  On a smaller scale, we consider it glorious to be able to manipulate or to use other people.  You may consider it deporable.  But tell your friends how you manipulated a salesman for a better deal or lied to get out of a ticket or jury duty.  Your friends will not rebuke you; they will congratulate you.  It is your moment of glory.  The Lord, however, offers no such praise.  He condemns us and the world for such a self-centered view of glory.  Repent.
     The glory of God is revealed only when you listen.  When the apostles were enveloped by a cloud and God the Father spoke to them, he did not tell the disciples to soak in the scene and gaze at Jesus' glory.  Instead, the voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7)  These disciples were to remember the words of Jesus who told them that he was going to suffer and die.  If they had listened to the conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah, they would have heard the same thing.  St. Luke tells us that they were speaking of Jesus' departure from this world—in other words, his sufferings and death.  That is where God would reveal his glory in Jesus.  That is where God proclaims his love.  Because there, Jesus serves sinners by suffering and dying for them.
    Glory is revealed when you listen.  The glory that the Lord desires you to have is not a momentary thing.  The world might give people their moment in the sun.  Even if it lasts for a number of years, eventually, death brings it all to an end.  But the glory the Lord desires you to have is eternal.  Jesus secures that glory for you by walking away from the mountain of transfiguration to climb the hill of shame.  Jesus left his glory to go to Mt. Calvary where he would suffer for the sins of people who lust after glory, riches, power, and fame.  There, Jesus was crucified in shame and in weakness, rejected and reviled, beaten and bloodied, cursed and condemned.  All this Jesus endured for your benefit.  This is the payment for your sins.  This is where God's wrath was redirected so that his mercy rests upon you.  This is what secures your place in God's kingdom and opens to you the gates to God's glorious, heavenly dwelling.  Because of Jesus, you do not merely have a moment in the sun; you have everlasting glory in the presence of your gracious God.
     Glory is revealed when you listen.  As they were coming down the mountain, (Jesus) charged (Peter, James, and John) to tell no one what they had seen.... (Mark 9:9)  Jesus wanted people to listen to God's promises rather than to press him for images of glory.  This is what Jesus wants for you, too.  Do not gauge God's love on how popular or powerful or successful or healthy you are.  If your world falls apart, you may wonder if God really loves you.  If you are despised, you may wonder why God is not paying attention to you.  If your life is full of frustration or you are enduring low moments, you may convince yourself that God has let you down.  Do not trust what you see with your eyes or what you feel.  God's love is not gauged by what we see and feel.  If you want God's glory revealed, listen to him.  His word never lies to you.  His mercy never fails you.  His care is not revoked from you.  These are is only revealed and received by his promises.  Listen to him.
     (Jesus) charged (Peter, James, and John) to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:9)  Jesus' glory would remain hidden until after he rose from the dead.  And so it is with you.  The glory that we will receive when everything is finally right and good comes after the resurrection of the dead.  Then we will see God face to face and rejoice in his presence forever.
     Until that day, we continue to live and to serve in this world.  Until then, our glory is hidden in our service to our neighbor.  When you think of your mother in all her glory, you might imagine her in a beautiful dress and all dolled up.  That might be your mother at her prettiest, but your fondest memory is likely when she was weary and grubby and taking care of you when you were sick.  It may not have been her prettiest moment, but it is what benefited you the most.  Likewise, Jesus shows us what glory looks like.  It was certainly not pretty when Jesus hung from a cross; but it is what benefits you the most.  It is what secures your salvation and eternal glory. 
     This glory is not obvious, but to those who believe and are saved, it is the most precious image of Jesus we know.  That is because of the promise God has attached to Jesus' sufferings and death.  If you want to receive the everlasting glory that comes through Jesus, listen to him.  He alone has the words of eternal life.

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