Thursday, September 20, 2018

Things that make me go HMMMMMMM,

The tracking mechanism which reports who comes to look at my blog--more specifically how many hits it gets and where they are from--lists the countries of the people who are checking in.  It is the top ten which get listed.  Recently, the top ten countries has included  "Unknown Region."

My theory is that the aliens have found me.  Or the FBI.

Either way -- GREETINGS!  I hope you find my entries worth while, wherever you are.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

For Your Amusement -- Cheeseburger

Apparently, today is National Cheeseburger Day.  Since there will sadly be no parade with the Cheeseburger princesses tossing cheeseburgers to an enthusiastic crowd, I will submit this song from Veggie Tales for your to celebrate the day.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sermon -- 17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 16, 2018)

o wn is the Greek for, "He who is."
o xristos is the Greek for "The Christ."
MARK 8:27-35


In the name + of Jesus.

     It has become quite popular among Christians in America to say that one church is the same as the next, which is to say that one confession is as good as another.  Now, this sounds open-minded and big-hearted, but it is based on a lie.  The lie is that confessions don't matter, or that doctrine doesn't matter. 
     If you ask people what they believe, you may get confessions such as, “I believe the Bible.”  It sounds right.  After all, the Bible is the word of God and the source of our faith and teaching.  Nevertheless, Christians do not all agree on what the Bible teaches.  That Christians can be so conflicted in doctrine gets quite confusing and frustrating for many people.  Rather than devote yourself to doing the work of studying the Bible and seeking what is truth and what distorts truth, it is easier just to brush it all off and say, “Eh, they're all the same.”  Which is to say, doctrine does not matter.
     Briefly consider this.  We Lutherans believe, teach, and confess that “baptism works the forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.” (Luther's Small Catechism.  Holy Baptism, Part 2)  Most Protestant churches teach that baptism only symbolizes these things, but does not actually give them.  Can you really say that this is all the same?  The difference is being confident that you have God's promise of salvation given to you in baptism versus having to look somewhere else to find God's salvation applied to you.  If forgiveness of sins, the resurrection, and confidence of salvation matter to you, then this doctrine matters.  The only good confession speaks the things of God.
     Even a confession which sounds true may miss the mark.  Case in point: Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:27-28)  The confession of the people was complimentary; but it was not close enough.  It was wrong.  Then Jesus directed his question to his disciples.  He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)  Peter's answer was correct.  He had rightly identified and confessed that Jesus is the Lord's anointed.
     Once the disciples had made this confession, Jesus began to teach them what that meant.  Too many people expected that the Christ would be a king who would restore power, prominence, and prosperity to the nation of Israel.  If the people believed that Jesus was the Christ, they may well have started up a revolution against the Romans, expecting that Jesus would lead the charge and win the victory.  Even the disciples were influenced by this belief.  Therefore, Jesus had to teach them what it really meant that he is the Christ.  So, he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:31-33)
     In one breath, Peter made a good confession: “You are the Christ.”  In the next breath, Peter showed that his confession was horribly wrong.  Peter rebuked Jesus because Jesus' teaching did not match Peter's expectations.  Peter's ideas of who the Christ is and what he does were a far cry from what God had said in his word.  If Jesus were to be rejected, suffer, and be killed, what would his kingdom be?  And if they did this to Jesus, his disciples would be next, wouldn't they?  Peter saw no glory to be gained and no benefit to be had in Jesus' suffering and death.  Even though Peter had used the right words, “You are the Christ,” his confession was wrong.  Peter sought the things of men—worldly popularity and glory.  The only good confession, however, speaks the things of God.
     Jesus, of course, had his mind firmly set on the things of God.  That meant he would suffer and die.  Jesus did not present the cross as optional.  He stated plainly, “It is necessary (Greek: dei) that the Son of Man endure these things.”  If Jesus wanted to win the approval of mankind and establish earthly glory, he could have done it.  He was already being praised for miraculous healing.  But the things of men are temporary at best.  Worldly glory and popularity do not last.  It has to be earned constantly.  If Jesus had in mind the things of men, we would not have a Savior and would die in our sins.    The things of God, however, bring eternal blessing.
     Therefore, Jesus demonstrated God's faithful love by redeeming sinners.  To bestow on you God's mercy, Jesus did not hide his face from disgrace and spitting.  To win you God's blessing, Jesus set his face like flint to go to the cross to bear your curse.  To give you deliverance from death, Jesus went to his grave.  To open heaven to you, Jesus rose from the dead.  He lives to tell you that your sins are forgiven.  Your eternal benefits come from Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection.  Jesus was anointed for this very purpose.  This is what it means that he is the Christ.  This alone is what takes away sins, delivers from death, and opens heaven to you.  Salvation comes only through the cross.  Life comes only through the blood of Christ.  These are the things of God, and the only good confession speaks the things of God. 
     Jesus not only had to teach the disciples what it means that he is the Christ, he also teaches what it means that we belong to Christ.  And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)  Peter had visions of glory for himself going through his head.  Jesus told him that he needed to deny himself what seemed to him to be so good.  It is the same for us.
     We are always convinced that we know what is best for us.  But our desires are always influenced by our sinful nature.  Peter's idea of what the Christ would be was the popular opinion, but it was wrong.  Peter sought worldly popularity and glory.  It seemed so obvious to him that these are good things.  It seems that way to us, too.  How do you know it is best for you?  Simple, because you like it.  That same kind of thinking leads us to sin.  Why do people get intoxicated?  Why do people gossip about others?  Because we like it.  We actually believe it is good to do these things because we believe we benefit from doing them.  And why do people twist God's word so that the world finds it more agreeable, more satisfying, and more open-minded?  Because we want the world to like us.  We change our confession to accommodate the world.  But when we change our confession, we speak with the devil's accent.  The Lord does not ask us to negotiate with the world; he calls us to confess his word and to deny our lust for worldly popularity and acceptance.
     The only good confession speaks the things of God.  To do this, we must deny ourselves.  We do not get to choose what we think is right.  We do not get to suggest that every confession is close enough or sweep them away by saying, “It's all the same thing.”  And we have no permission to dabble in sinful practices.  We are to deny ourselves these things because we know that they invoke God's wrath and bring deadly consequences. 
     We don't like to do these things because it is hard.  It is hard to deny our desires and our pleasures.  It is hard not to give our sinful flesh what it wants, because it makes us feel happy—at least for the moment.  This is the cross we have to bear—that we put our sinful desires to death, that we subject our will to God's will, and that we do the hard work of learning from the Scriptures what God says so that we will not be deceived by what sounds close enough or what sounds good to us.  For not every confession is the same, and only one confession leads to heaven—and that is through the cross.
     By keeping his mind focused on the things of God, Jesus has gained glory for you.  We confess these things to be true not because we want them to be, but because God has declared them to be so.  The only good confession speaks the things of God.  Therefore, we follow Jesus and commit all things to him.  It is his word that guides us in godly living.  It is his word that drives away doubts.  It is his word which is true.  And it is his word which guarantees that our sins are pardoned and Paradise is secure.  These are the things of God.  By faith in Jesus, they are now also yours.

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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sermon -- 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 9, 2018)

MARK 7:31-37


In the name + of Jesus.

     People are often perplexed by Jesus' instructions.  Following this miraculous healing, Jesus charged them to tell no one.  But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. (Mark 7:36)  It seems counter-intuitive.  You would think that Jesus would want everyone talking about him.  The more stories, the more people who want to see Jesus.  The more people who want to see Jesus, the more Jesus gets to preach the Gospel to them.  But Jesus didn't want this publicity.  Jesus charged them to tell no one.  But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. (Mark 7:36)  Some think that Jesus was using reverse psychology here, but I can't think of a single place in all the Gospels where Jesus used reverse psychology on anyone.  Jesus spoke very plainly and directly so that we do not fail to grasp his meaning. 
     The reason Jesus had charged the people not to talk about his miraculous healing is revealed in the confession the people made about Jesus.  St. Mark wrote: They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:36-37)  I'm sure it was meant as high praise.  But it fails to confess who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do.  While miracles brought healing, they did not bring salvation.
     700 years before Jesus entered the world, the prophet Isaiah had foretold this: “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:4-6)  Isaiah's prophecy tells us what we are to learn from Jesus' miraculous healing.  The miraculous signs that Jesus did were just that: signs.  The miracles were not only acts of mercy, they were signs to announce who he was.  The one who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak is God in the flesh.  Here were signs that bring salvation.  They declared that Isaiah's prophecy had been fulfilled.  God had come to save.
     We aren't any different than the people Jesus spoke to.  When we hear Isaiah's prophecy about what the Lord would come to do, we get excited about the miraculous signs, too.  Like the crowds, we are amazed that Jesus would open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, and give strength to the legs of the lame and the tongues of the mute.  Who wouldn't be impressed by that?  And who wouldn't want that?  We recognize that disabilities are just that—a lack of ability to see, hear, speak, walk, or whatever.  While we ought not shame anyone who has such a disability, we also know that it is not normal.  We make efforts so that a disability does not become an inability.  We want to love them, aid them, and include them so that anyone with a disability can be assured that they are precious.
     Therefore, the citizens of the Decapolis brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and mute.  This man wanted to hear and to speak, and his friends desired that for him too.  In mercy and in fulfillment of Isaiah's words, Jesus healed him.  And the people praised Jesus for his healing.  “He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:37) 
     Then how disappointing that such miraculous healings will not be done today.  It is not that God is incapable of healing whomever he wants however he wants.  It is that Jesus' reason for coming is not just to make our bodies whole.  Can you imagine what it would be like if we offered a pill or an elixir that cured every body of its ailment?  We would have lines out the door every single day of people who want to be cured of every disability, disease, ache, or pain they have.  Would you blame them?  The world would praise us for making the deaf hear, the mute speak, the disabled whole, and everyone pain free, just as they praised Jesus in the Decapolis.  But just like the people in the Decapolis, that is where their praises and desires would end.  We all desire pain-free, care-free, stress-free lives.  We look for all kinds of medicines and life hacks to make that happen.  And once our bodies are tended to, we go on our way to find our happiness in this world again—as if the best this world has to offer is the best we can get.
     When Jesus traveled from place to place, the people brought their sick and disabled people to Jesus.  In mercy, Jesus healed them.  But Jesus did not set up a clinic to cure all ills.  In fact, Jesus discouraged the continual talk about his healings.  That is not the reason he came.  Once again, the miraculous signs of Jesus were just that—signs.  They proclaim who Jesus is and what he has come to do.  He is God in the flesh who comes to deliver our flesh from sin and every evil.  Here is a sign that brings salvation.
     Every disability, every disaster, every ache and ailment, every violent and vile act—all of these are signs, too.  They signal that the world has been corrupted by sin, and that we ourselves have been corrupted by sin.  Evil not only dwells around us.  It affects our bodies, and it has corrupted our hearts.  The deaf and mute man who was brought to Jesus was affected by the evils in this world.  His disabilities did not make him a sinner, but they were signs that he was part of a sinful world.  On the other hand, the fact that he was going to die one day was a sign that he was a sinner.  Only sinners die.  And since all are going to die, all are sinners.  Having a disability is not what keeps anyone out of the kingdom of God.  Sin is what condemns us.  Sin makes us cursed and corrupted.
     Here is a sign that brings salvation.  Jesus is God in the flesh who has come to save.  Jesus demonstrated mercy to the deaf and mute man in a very personal way.  Taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. (Mark 7:33-35)  He has taken a personal interest in you, too.  Just as he took the infirmities of this man into himself to deliver him from his disabilities, so Jesus has also taken every evil of yours into himself to deliver you from the curse of sin.  God came in the flesh to deliver you out of sin and death, and to restore your flesh to what God had originally created mankind to be.  Jesus gave his flesh into death at the cross, and he rose from the grave in his body to show you that your body will also rise from the grave.  On the Last Day, Jesus will declare his “Ephphatha!” to the grave, and every grave will open up for the resurrection of the body.  Jesus will conform your lowly body so that it will be like his glorious, risen body—forever free from sin and death, disease and disability, aches, pains, frailty, and whatever sin has marred us with.
     The healing of the deaf and mute man is a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom in which our Lord will restore all things to perfection.  Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come....  He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:4-6)  Here is a sign that brings salvation.  What Jesus did for people for his brief time on earth, he will do for his redeemed for eternity.  Your God has come to save you from the curse of sin—both is condemnation and its consequences. 
     Behold, here is a sign that brings salvation.  If you desire Jesus' salvation, he delivers it to you now.  In Holy Absolution, Jesus sticks his words in your ears to declare you free from your guilt.  In Holy Communion, the body and blood of Jesus which have overcome the grave are given to you now.  Jesus puts them in your mouth to deliver you from sin and death.  At the resurrection of all flesh, Jesus will finally bestow you with a body that will forever be free from every evil.  For, Jesus is the God who saves you.  Jesus has already delivered you from sin's condemnation.  When the Lord comes again, he will deliver you from sin's consequences.  He will make the deaf hear, the mute speak, and the disabled whole—all because he makes the sinner pure.  This is what Jesus desires us to tell others; for, this is what brings salvation.

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

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Pastoral Concern -- The Cost of a Wedding

I have had many thoughts ruminating about weddings, but have not taken the time to jot them down.  Then I saw someone post a link to this article on Facebook 19 Wedding Traditions To Seriously Ditch (And Replace With These Trendy Alternatives), and I thought I would respond to it.

I agree with some of the advice, and I whole-heartedly disagree with others--e.g., to ditch the traditional wedding vows.  The Church has those vows for theological reasons.  Husbands and wives are vowing to serve each other in marriage as God has designed marriage to be.  They should not be put aside for your own personal "what marriage means to me" vows.  God designed marriage to be a blessing for husband and wife.  He knows what he's doing with his design.

There are lots of concerns that I could express regarding the Christian wedding, but I will try to limit myself to just this point: The wedding industry is making weddings so cost prohibitive that men and women are in no hurry to get married.  (I know, there are other reasons they prefer to cohabitate, but the cost of the wedding is a common excuse.)

Ask anyone how much a wedding costs and you will get answers in the thousands of dollars.  Sometimes, that is just the cost of the dress!  Then there is the reception (hall, caterer, drinks, DJ, etc...).  Plus the party favors and gifts for the bridal party.  The photographer, the wedding album, and whatever other photo package you want.  Don't forget the appointments at the hair salon.  Why not a bus for the bridal party?  What about a photo booth?  Gifts for all the guests?  Maybe a destination wedding?  Also factor in the cost of the church, a pastor, the organist and/or other musicians.  Good grief!  No wonder people take forever to get married!  The cost is extravagant.

Or is it?

Do you know how much it costs to get married in Michigan?  $20.  (I looked it up.)  If any couple insists that it is too costly to get married, they are wrong.  A marriage license costs $20.  There is really no reason for a man and a woman who claim they want to get married to put it off.  In fact, it used to be pretty common for a marriage ceremony to be conducted in conjunction with the Divine Service on Sunday morning.  The bride and groom present themselves before the congregation to vow themselves to each other, to receive God's blessings, and the prayers of the Church.  Do you know what that would cost?  $20.

I can actually hear sighs of incredulity and eye rolls from here.  People are expressing displeasure (if not outrage) that a wedding would be done with so little fanfare and revelry.  But here is the point: It is not that people can't afford to get married; it is that people can't afford the giant party and the limitless extras that come along with it.  If you can afford that and want to do that, good for you!  I'm sure your guests will love it.  But it is not necessary.  The problem is that we all think it is.  And thus, you end up with a bill that is equivalent to a year of college tuition, room, and board.

Here is a thought, and you may want to give it some serious thought: Keep the wedding simple.  Do you really need to invest hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in dresses and tuxes that you will never wear again?  Do you really need a $30/plate dinner to follow?  Or the $1,000 DJ who blares the music which kills any conversation among family members who rarely get to see each other?  Will your wedding party really despise you if they don't get lavish gifts?

Rather than invest thousands of dollars into your special day, perhaps you can scale back significantly and use that money toward a down-payment on a house or pay off college loans.  That way, you will not enter married life so deeply in debt.  Once again, if you can afford to do all this stuff, go for it.  No one is stopping you.  The reality is, most people can't afford it.  But we believe we have to do it.  

The point of the wedding day is for the bride and groom to make their marriage vows to each other, to declare to the world that they are husband and wife, and to receive God's blessing and the prayers of the people.  Everything beyond that is extra.  And while you are free to do all the extras you want, it should be obvious that they are not free.  They can end up being very expensive.  They could even result in massive debt.  I contend that the fanfare and the party dominate the day far more than the wedding vows and God's blessing. These costs have consequences.  Brides and groom should give serious consideration if they are worth the expense.  

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Private Confession and Absolution offered, September 8 (9:00-11:00 AM)

A Pastoral Concern – 
Private Confession and Absolution

When Lutherans hear someone speak of Private Confession and Absolution, the response is usually a knee-jerk, "That's Roman Catholic!"  Though that may be a common perception, the perception is because either it was taught wrongly or understood wrongly.  Consider what the Lutheran Confessions teach about Private Confession and Absolution.

Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession.  For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible.  "Who can discern his errors?" (Psalm 19:12) -- Augsburg Confession, Article XI

What is Confession?
     Answer: Confession has two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other is that we receive Absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven by this.
What sins should we confess?
     Answer: Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those that we do not know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer.  But before the confessor we should confess only those sins that we know and feel in our hearts. -- Luther's Small Catechism, Part V

These are basic confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  They are catholic, insofar as they are Christian.  But they are not Roman, insofar as the penitent is not obligated to orally confess every sin in order to be forgiven of it and insofar as one's forgiveness is not dependent upon some action on the part of the penitent.  The forgiveness is based on Jesus' sufferings and death for the penitent who has been baptized into his name.

Since the practice of Private Confession and Absolution is a Lutheran practice, it would be good for Lutherans to practice it.  It is good for the penitent who is grieved by a particular sin to confess it so that he can hear Christ say through the mouth of his minister: "I forgive you."  It would be good for the one who is burdened to be relieved of his burden by Holy Absolution.  It would be good for this practice, though foreign to many in my corner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to be restored.  And so it will be.

Private Confession and Absolution has always been available to all members by appointment.  (I am guessing that has been a pretty good secret.)  In order for this practice to be restored and perhaps put to better use, there will be dates on the calendar set aside for anyone who would like to drop in and make use of this means of grace.  These will be set up about 4 times per year.  Private Confession and Absolution will still be available by appointment in addition to these scheduled times.

It is anticipated that Private Confession and Absolution will roughly follow this regular schedule.
     The Saturday before or on Epiphany (Epiphany is always January 6)
     The Saturday before Palm Sunday
     The Saturday after Labor Day weekend
     The Saturday after Thanksgiving weekend (should coincide with the 1st Saturday in Advent)

The next scheduled date and time for Private Confession and Absolution will be THIS SATURDAY (September 8), 9:00-11:00 AM.  Appointments are not necessary.  You need only drop in.  All participation is voluntary, as Absolution cannot be forced upon anyone.

Of course, this will be new to pretty much any member who decides to make use of it.  If you happen to come in, the pastor will walk through the rite with you and explain the various parts of it, especially including the "private" part, namely, that this confession is to Christ and, therefore, remains his business alone.  The pastor will not report any confession or even the names of those who come for confession.  Finally, the point of this is not for a pastor to learn everyone's dirty, little secrets.  (His life is easier if he remains ignorant.  But God's people do not call a pastor to be ignorant; they call him to absolve in the name of Jesus.)  The point is for the guilty and the grieved to find relief and receive forgiveness, or absolution.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Bible Information Class to begin - Monday, September 10

to begin on Monday, September 10

Bible Information Class is a class for the benefit of all from those who are curious about the Christian faith to those who want to be further grounded in Biblical teachings.  The class is designed to cover...
... the basics of Christianity for those who desire to
                    learn more.
... what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess about the
                    word of God.
... what God considers “good enough” for us to get to
... how we can know who God really is.
... what God desires for all mankind.

Whether you are a Bible scholar or barely know what a Bible is, this class is for you.  There is no cost.  All materials are provided.  Come with questions.  Come with friends.  Come and learn what God wants you to know.

Our Bible Information Class will be on Mondays, 7:00-8:30 PM.  The schedule for this class is as follows.

    Sept 10 God's Plan of Salvation

    Sept 17 God Created a Beautiful Universe
                       Why Is the World So Crazy?

    Sept 24 OFF

    Oct 1           How Did Jesus Save the World?

    Oct 8           The End Is Coming!

    Oct 15         Why Do We Need the Bible?

    Oct 22         God Works Through Holy Baptism

    Oct 29         God Works Through Holy Communion

    Nov 5          God Gathers His Church

    Nov 12         A Conversation With God

    Nov 19 Our Spiritual Heartbeat

    Nov 26         Love the Lord Your God

    Dec 3          Love Your Neighbor—Part 1

    Dec 10         Love Your Neighbor—Part 2

    Dec 17         Take Good Care