Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon -- 6th Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2017)

JOHN 14:15-21


M:   Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:   He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     For the last number of Sundays, we have heard portions of Jesus' discourse to his disciples in the upper room where he had instituted the Lord's Supper.  Jesus was preparing his disciples for life in the kingdom of God after he would ascend into heaven.  Although Jesus would not be visible to them, that does not mean that he would abandon them.  And even though he is not visible to you, Jesus has not forsaken you either.  He has promised his Church: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  He keeps that promise by sending his Holy Spirit to you.
     Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth....” (John 14:16)  Perhaps “Helper” is not the best translation for that word; but then again, I don't know if English has a good one.  Some translations chose not to translate the word at all.  They transliterate the Greek to English, giving us the word “Paraclete”—not that this is any more helpful.  The word “Helper” means that Holy Spirit is literally “the one who is called to your side.”  He is at your side to encourage, to comfort, to guide and direct, to enlighten, to intercede, and to be your advocate in all circumstances of life.  While no English word can convey all of that, Jesus assures you of this: The Holy Spirit always serves for your good.
     Jesus promises “another Helper,” (John 14:16, emphasis added) because the Holy Spirit reveals what Jesus says and does for you and confirms Jesus' words and work in you.  The Holy Spirit reveals the Word made flesh only through the word of God whenever it is proclaimed in words and administered in the sacraments.  It is through this word that Jesus is manifested to you as the one whom the Father sent to set you free from your sins and to deliver you from death.  It is through this word that Jesus comes to you to bless you and to save you, to guard and keep you.  It is through the word—proclaimed by voice or administered with water or bread and wine—that the Holy Spirit gives new life in God's kingdom, strengthens your faith in his promises, and sustains your love for the Lord and his word of truth.
     Since you love Jesus, guard what he has given to you.  This is the very reason you come to church.  You do not come to church to learn new things.  Now, that may well happen, and I hope you continue to learn new things when you read and study your Bible.  But that is not the reason we come to church.  How many of you, when you came to church on Easter Sunday, came because you want to see how the story turned out?  You already knew!  Jesus is risen!  In fact, most of what you hear on Sundays you already know.  You know Jesus lived a holy life and died an innocent death on a cross.  You know Jesus is risen from the dead, and that he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  You may learn new things.  You may be fascinated to learn that Jacob and Esau were twins, that the judge Ehud was a lefty, or that Bethlehem means “house of bread.”  Such facts may be new and interesting to you, but those don't save you.
     So, why do you come to church?  Because here, Jesus manifests himself to you.  You do not come to merely learn facts about Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection; you come to receive the gifts Jesus won for you by his sufferings, death, and resurrection.  You do not come here to do something special for God.  You come because here, God serves you.  God supplies you with mercy, blessing, and salvation.  Here, God comforts you by forgiving all your sins.  Here, God assures you that death cannot really harm you.  Here, your heavenly Father puts his name on you and calls you his beloved child and an heir of eternal glory.  Here, God works in you so that you continue to pursue godly living, to love to your spouse, to serve your children, and to have compassion on your fellow man—whether friend or foe.
     Since you love Jesus, guard what he has given you.  Jesus declared, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  To hear it said this way, it sounds as if the Christian faith is all about obedience.  If that were the case, we would all have to ask: How well do I keep the Commandments?  Certainly not as well as God commands me to.  For that matter, not even as well as I want to!  So, if keeping the commandments is proof of my love for the Lord, I have to admit that my love for the Lord is pretty poor.  Some might even wonder if they are really Christians because they do not live as good as they should.
     While it is God's will that we obey his Commandments, Jesus' words are a bit broader than that.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) This is not “keep” in the sense of obey, although that is included in it; it is “keep” in the sense of guard, protect, or observe.  It is, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep, or guard, it.” (Luke 11:28)  Since you love Jesus, you will guard and preserve his word, because that word alone can save and comfort you.  People who don't come to hear God's word preached or receive his sacraments don't love this word because they don't think they need it.  They say they are too busy, which sounds like a noble excuse.  But let's rephrase that excuse to call it what it is: “I have better things to do.”  You know better; therefore guard what has been given to you.  You know you are a sinner who is going to die.  And you know that Jesus alone takes away all your sins, covers your guilt, and delivers you from death.  And you know that, through the Gospel—and only through the Gospel—Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to strengthen and keep you in the true faith so that your sins will never condemn you, so that death will not hold you, and so that you will not perish because you were too busy to receive the Lord's gifts.  Since you love Jesus, guard what he has given you by flocking to it again and again.
     Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  Love for Jesus means that we will take his words to heart and will fight to preserve it.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus met many people who challenged his word.  They tried to make Jesus backtrack or change his teachings because they exposed their sins or hurt their feelings.  Jesus, of course, never backed down or changed anything.  The Word stood firm.  You and I are not Jesus.  We still get challenged, and we get stumped.  Sometimes, we back off in fear.  Other times, we are stupefied, not knowing what to say.  And we are tempted to think that, since we don't know how to answer, we must be wrong.  In these cases, recognize that you have not mastered God's word.  Flee back to it where you are guarded and kept safe.  Although you may not have the strength or wisdom to fend off every attack, Jesus does.  He forgives you when you demonstrate your weakness.  And he guides you in word of truth.  You may, indeed, learn new things when you flee back to his word.  You will grow in your understanding of God's truth.  Most importantly, you will be kept safe by the Holy Spirit who dwells in you and keeps you in God's kingdom.  This is how you guard what has been given to you by the Lord.
     This is what life in the kingdom of God has been like since Jesus ascended into heaven.  If you want Jesus to manifest himself to you, then come to where he reveals and delivers his salvation to you.  Here, the Holy Spirit is given and sustained in you to help, to guide, to comfort, to admonish, and to encourage you throughout your life.  You have not been left as orphans; for you are God's children.  He gives you all you need, and he gives it abundantly.  Since you are the Lord's beloved redeemed, you love him.  And since you love Jesus, guard what has been given to you—for this saves you.

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sermon -- For the Wedding of Jerry Fix & Ruth Gonzalez (May 20, 2017)

GENESIS 2:18-25


In the name + of Jesus.

     Throughout the days of creation, the Lord surveyed all that he was making.  We read about Lord's assessment over and over again: “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21,25)  However, after he had created the man, the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)  God's design is not for a man and a woman to go it alone.  Some can and do, but most men and women crave the companionship of marital union.  God was pleased to unite both of you in marriage before, and it was good.  But the course of life found each of you alone again.  And now God has been pleased to bring you together, each for the second time, as husband and wife.  And this, too, is good.
     So that we would know what God intends for a husband and wife, the Lord points to the perfect union of Jesus Christ who is the Groom and his Bride, the Church.  Holy Scripture tells us: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives....” (Ephesians 5:25-28)  
     Everything Jesus did was for the good of his Bride, the Church, even though we are not good.  We all have flaws and blemishes.  We are marred by sin and scarred by guilt.  Our lives are not pretty.  We live with the shame of people who have forsaken our Lord and chased after what God forbids to find our thrills.  We may be able to hide our shame from each other, but Jesus sees us for what we are.
     We do not deserve the love and affection that Jesus shows us.  But then again, Jesus does not love us or care for us because we are worthy.  Jesus loves us because he is love.  Jesus cares for us because he is compassion.  He chose you not because he needs you, but because he loves you.  Therefore, Jesus did everything to remove every stain of sin from our record.  Jesus did not spare anything for her.  He suffered for the sins we had committed and died bearing the curse we deserve.  Though holy baptism, Jesus clothed you in his own righteousness so that you stand before him without spot, wrinkle, or blemish.  In Christ, you are beautiful and blameless.  And God sees that it is good.
     Jerry, this is how you get to love your bride.  You do all things to exalt and honor her.  Like Jesus does for his Church, you do not focus on faults of your bride, but you get to serve her with love and compassion.  You give yourself to her for her good.  And you share the joy that Adam had when he was first joined to his bride: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh....” (Genesis 2:23)
     Just as Scripture speaks to husbands, so it also speak to wives.  “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)  Now, Americans bristle at the word submit.  If God had told husbands, “Do whatever you want to your wife,” you might have good reason to bristle—although I don't think you would agree to marry a man you don't trust or respect.  But what God tells the man is to lay down his life for his wife, as Christ loved the Church.  To the wife, the Lord says, “Submit to that.”  If you submit to your husband, then you are willingly submitting to a man who will love you as Christ loves the Church.
     The Church submits to Christ in order to receive all good things from him.  Jesus has taken up all that is yours—your sin and the cursed death that accompanies it.  In turn, Jesus has given the Church all that is his.  His righteousness is yours.  His resurrection is yours.  His kingdom is yours.  His mercy, grace, and salvation are yours.  By submitting to Jesus, you receive all these things from him.  Likewise, Ruth, by submitting to your husband, all that is Jerry's is yours.  You get to receive all good things from him.  And God sees that it is good.
     When God first created a bride for Adam, he did not simply summon her into being as he did with all other parts of creation.  God had crafted Adam from the dust of the ground, but the woman he took from Adam's rib.  She was not to be someone for him to walk over, but someone who would be near and dear to his heart.  The bride received her life from the man's side.  In the same way, our Lord Jesus went to the cross to win his bride.  The dowry was his life.  When Jesus died, a Roman soldier ran his sword into Jesus' side, bringing forth a sudden flow of blood and water.  Jesus' Bride receives her life from what comes from his side.  The water of baptism has cleansed you and covered you with garments of salvation.  His blood is given in the Lord's Supper to keep you holy, to nurture you in godly living, and to keep you faithful to your heavenly Groom forever.  By these, he also works in you to sustain your love and faithfulness to each other.  And God sees that it is good.
     The love which the Lord has shown you, you now will strive to show one another.  Though you are not perfect and you will sin against one another, you also know what it is to be forgiven.  The love which Jesus bestows on you will work in you so that you will forgive each other, serve each other, find contentment in each other, and be faithful to each other.  This is the joy which the Lord intends for husbands and wives, which dimly reflects the joy between Christ, the Groom, and his Bride, the Church.
     The Lord, in his wisdom, saw that it was not good that you two remained alone.  The Savior who loves you has been pleased to bind you together today.  God sees it, and bless it; and it is very good.

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon -- 5th Sunday of Easter (May 14, 2017)

JOHN 14:1-12


M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     Although today is Mothers' Day, the Gospel lesson focuses on God the Father.  There is a slight connection to be made.  Fathers and mothers are a dim reflection of the way God the Father loves and cares for us.  God gave you your life through your father and mother.  When you were born, you were God's gift to them.  Likewise, your parents were God's gifts to you.  Fathers and mothers are the means by which God provides and protects, cares for and corrects children.  To honor your father and mother is to honor God the Father who has given them to you.  And to love and obey your father and mother is to be thankful for them.
     Still, no father or mother is perfect.  Parents may be proud of their children, but they also may shed tears over times they wish they had done things better.  Parents sin against their children, losing patience or becoming embittered as the children go off to play while parents fill out tax forms or fold laundry.  Children sin against their parents by not rolling their eyes when they are told to do chores or by thinking the mark of becoming an independent adult is to be sarcastic to one's parents.  God intends family relationships to be a joy.  Sin turns them into a battle of wills; and there are often casualties.  But what sin rips apart, God is able to restore.  Jesus first forgives mothers and fathers, sons and daughters for their sins.  Then he teaches each to forgive one another and so that families are reconciled, so that rifts can be restored, and so that wounds can be healed.
     The vocation of father and mother is but a dim reflection of the way our Father in heaven serves us.  Jesus shows us the Father.  Unlike the love of earthly parents, the Father's love for you is perfect.  His love is constant and immeasurable.  And he does not play favorites.  Day after day, our Father in heaven provides daily bread to all mankind whether they love him or despise him, whether they honor him or ignore him.
     Even though the Father loves what he has created, people are often afraid of God.  God the Father has given us life, and he has given us commandments for how he wants us to live our life.  But we do not obey his commandments.  We are often annoyed by them.  And we dismiss God's threats, almost daring God to call us to account.  We have acted the same way toward our own parents.  They set the rules of the house, but in our younger years, we thought they were stupid.  So, we defied the rules, almost daring our parents to punish us.  But when we defied those rules, we did not want to see our parents.  We knew how angry they were going to be, and we knew we deserved the punishment we had coming.  Just as our parents are a dim reflection of God's care for us, so also their justified anger is a dim reflection of God's wrath.  We are right to be afraid of God when we rebel against his word.  No matter how much we pretend not to care about God's commandments or his threats, we have our quiet moments when we are terrified of God.  That's because we know we deserve punishment for our disobedience.
     Jesus shows us the Father so that we do not remain afraid of him.  Jesus said..., “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. … The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” (John 14:9-11)  Jesus shows us the Father.  Jesus does not do or say anything that differs from the thoughts and desires of God the Father.  The Father loves what he has created.  But that means so much more than providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, etc....  The Father's love is demonstrated by this: God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)  
     God the Father has been pleased to redeem sinners so that they would not be forever cut off from him.  While the Father's wrath does indeed stand against those who have sinned against him, the Father sent his Son to stand in the place of sinners.  Jesus suffered  God's wrath, take our punishment, and died a cursed death for us so that we could be forgiven of our sins and received back into God's family.  This is the way that God loved the world.  This is the way that the Father loves you.  If you have seen Jesus at work, if you have heard Jesus' words of mercy, and if you have known and believed in Jesus' work of salvation, then you have seen the Father.  Jesus shows us the Father.  He loves and redeems what he has created.
     Our Lord Jesus Christ on the night he was betrayed spoke to his disciples about returning to his Father in heaven.  Jesus assured them that he was not abandoning them.  Rather, he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father's house so that they could dwell together forever.  Then Jesus assured them, “You know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:4-6)  Jesus is the way to the Father, and there is no other.
     Jesus shows us the Father.  He shows us that the Father is most merciful and loving.  He is the one who rejoices when the prodigal son comes home.  He does not hold a grudge against us, but gives us an honored position as a child in his family.  He does not withhold blessings from us, but restores us to full heirs of his kingdom.  He accepts Jesus' innocent sufferings and death as a guilt offering.  That sacrifice satisfies God's anger and is the full payment for all our sins.  There is no more payment that needs to be made.  Nothing else delivers from death and hell, and nothing more delivers you, either.
     Jesus shows us the Father.  Jesus shows us that we are his children.  As his children, you will strive to honor your Father with the godly lives he desires,  But you do not need to live in constant suspense, wondering if your life is good enough to make God happy with you.  You are his beloved and redeemed child.  He wants you to dwell with him for all eternity.  Of course he is pleased with you!  Jesus, who cleanses you of all sin and presents you holy and blameless to his Father, shows you that your Father loves you.
     Therefore, Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)  The Father who created you wants you to dwell with him forever.   The Father sent his Son to deliver you from sin and death, and the Son will come again to deliver you to the glories of heaven.  The Father wants you to dwell in his house so that he will always give you his gifts, comfort you with his mercy, bestow his peace, and restore all things to you forever.
     Jesus shows us the Father.  That love is dimly reflected in the love that mothers and fathers show their children.  And while it is true that no parent is perfect, it is also true that God blesses children through the care and concern of their parents.  By father and mother, we are shown love, disciplined, fed, encouraged, and comforted.  You receive this and more from your Father in heaven.  From the Father, you receive these things perfectly and permanently.  Jesus shows us how great the Father's love for us is.  He has made us his children, and he has marked us for heaven.

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Aaron So Far -- The God of the Bible

Below is a neat and brief Bible study about who the God of the Bible is.

A friend of mine, Aaron Frey, has begun a new endeavor called "Aaron So Far."  Check out the video.  If you find it worth while, you may also wish to support Aaron so that he can produce more videos in the future.  You will find a link to a gofundme page at the end of the video.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Good Shepherd in the Spring

In case you had missed it, the tulips and the crab apple tree were all in bloom at once.  The blooms are pretty much gone now, but for a few days, we got to enjoy this:

You can decide for yourself if the dandelions enhance this or detract from it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (May 7, 2017)

JOHN 10:1-10


M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     In Jesus’ day, shepherds were a familiar occupation.  Although being a shepherd was not an honored profession, it was a necessary one.  It was common for families to have sheep.  Sheep provided your winter clothing and, if necessary, food.  Few families owned many sheep, but most families owned a few.  A shepherd was given charge over the sheep from a combination of households.  Multiple flocks would be kept in a large sheep pen.  Every morning, the shepherd would go to the sheep pen to call out the flock under his care.  The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice, and only the sheep from that shepherd’s flock would come out of the pen to follow their shepherd.  He would then lead them to the place where the flock would find grass and water.  There were always predators to be concerned about, but as long as the sheep stayed near their shepherd, they were safe.  And in order to keep the flock near him, the shepherd continually spoke to the sheep.
     Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  He has spoken to you words which not only comfort you, but also save you.  By his word, Jesus reveals God’s everlasting mercy.   By his word, Jesus give eternal life to all who believe his word.  Jesus is the door through which you enter into the kingdom of God.  And he is the shepherd who keeps you close to him and gives you peace in a world where many enemies long to seize you and destroy you.
     The shepherd speaks to the sheep, and the sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  Of course, that also means that the sheep will keep on listening to the shepherd’s voice.  There are many other voices which sound attractive to us.  Perhaps you have heard that voice which says, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, just so long as you believe.”  And similar to that is this: “All religions are basically the same.”  When you are talking with other people, it sounds very tolerant, open-minded, and loving to say these things.  It promotes a sense of acceptance and gives a feeling of unity.  All people, no matter what they believe, like such words.  But let me ask you: Are these the words of Jesus?  Does Jesus ever say, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, just so long as you believe”?  Or would Jesus really say, “All religions are basically the same”?  That is not Jesus’ voice.  It is a common sentiment, and it is what people want to hear, but it is not the voice of your Shepherd.  Jesus assures you that doctrine matters and that false doctrine kills.  If it didn't matter, Jesus would never have warned of thieves and robbers.
     The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  Every time your shepherd speaks to you, he is speaking for your eternal well-being.  For that reason, not everything Jesus says sounds nice.  When a sheep sees something that looks good, he will wander off to get it.  The shepherd knows that leaving his side means danger for the sheep.  So, the shepherd will pull out his staff and give the sheep a knock on its side to pull it back.  When the Lord gives us a knock on the side, we will not like it.  We don’t want to hear a rebuke or a call to repent.  Our pride gets hurt.  Our feelings get hurt.  We would rather pursue that craving that gives us a thrill or makes our life happier.  We even have friends who tell us to go for it.  Our friends don’t care if we give ourselves into sin.  They just want us to be happy now, even if that means ignoring Jesus.  But the Good Shepherd does not leave you to wander away.  He continues to speak to you.  And if he has to knock you on the side and call you to repent, he is not doing it because he is mean, or even because he is angry.  He is doing it because he loves you.
     The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  And the shepherd delights to comfort, care for, and protect the sheep.  In the shepherd Psalm, King David wrote what we still confess: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23:5)  You will notice that he does not say that the shepherd makes the enemies go away.  Sin, death, and the devil will always surround us, and they will not leave us alone.  Since we are sheep, we have no defense against them.  No matter how strong or how smart you are, you cannot overcome your enemies.  You still commit sins.  The devil still taunts you with temptations and accuses you of your guilt.  And death will finally claim us.
     Sheep cannot escape their predators.  They do not outsmart them, they will not overpower them, and they cannot defend themselves.  If the sheep are to live, they need their shepherd.  And you have the Good Shepherd.  Jesus stood between you and your enemies.  He gave his body to be mauled by the evil predators so that they could not have you.  The Good Shepherd laid down his life to save the sheep.  As you know, a dead shepherd is not an effective shepherd.  But your Good Shepherd is not dead.  He is risen.  He lives to speak to you, and tells you that your sins are forgiven.  He lives to assure you that even though you walk through the shadow of death, you will rise to live just as he has.  He silences every accusation of the devil.  He has broken the fangs of the roaring lion, and he keeps you safe from all your enemies.  By his resurrection, Jesus has overcome all your enemies.  He lives to keep you safe from them all.
     The sheep hear their shepherd’s voice.  The enemies still surround you, but as long as you are with your shepherd, you are safe.  He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies.  Here, he feeds you his own body and blood which have paid for sin and conquered death.  By eating and drinking from his table, you receive his forgiveness and share in his salvation.  Here, you have peace and even rejoice in the midst of dangers.  The enemies can only watch as we feast with our Good Shepherd.
     The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:3-5)  The strange voices will always try to draw us away from Jesus.  That is why it is imperative that we keep on listening to Jesus.  The more we listen to Jesus, the better we will recognize his true word versus the word that tries to mimic his.  Those strange voices are very popular.  And we will not be popular for turning away from them.  But the seductive voices do not really care for you.  They may promise a moment’s pleasure and the world's praise.  They might even tell you that their way will provide you a good life.  But they cannot promise you an eternal life.  Any word apart from Jesus’ leads to death and slaughter.
     If you fear being seduced by a stranger’s voice, good!  That means you know that you need to be with Jesus.  We are all sheep who are dead meat if we do not stay near our shepherd.  While the world considers it an insult to be called a sheep, you and I rightly know our place.  We are defenseless, and we need our Good Shepherd if we are going to be saved from our enemies.  Jesus not only supplies us with a life of peace and comfort here in the presence of our enemies, he also promises, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  The day will come when Jesus will finally deliver us completely from all our enemies.  Jesus will take us from this world to the green pastures and quiet waters of heaven.  There, we will never have to fear temptation, endure frustrations, or face pain, sorrow, or death.  We will rest and feast with Jesus.  He will shepherd us and dwell with us.  And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Luther Lecture Series (Session 5)

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Lutheran Reformation.  Like him or hate him, Martin Luther has left an imprint on the Christian Church.  What moved Luther to do what he did?  Why do his life life and confession still matter today?  Good Shepherd will be hosting a series of discussions about Luther throughout 2017.

Our next session will be THIS SUNDAY (May 7) at 6:00 PM.  This is intended to be an interactive discussion as well as informational.

        The topic for May is entitled, “God's Word Comes out of Hiding.”  Desserts will be served, and door prizes will be given.  All are welcome.

        For what it is worth, the rest of our schedule is as follows:

                    Sunday, June 11 -- Luther addresses errant teachings, part 1

                    Sunday, July 9  -- Luther addresses errant teachings, part 2

                    Sunday, August 13 -- Luther addresses errant teachings, part 3

                    Sunday, September 10 -- Luther and Christian Worship

                    Sunday, October 8 -- Luther and the Scriptures

        All sessions begin at 6:00 PM.  Our series will culminate with Lutherfest 500 which will be held at Huron Valley Lutheran High School on Saturday, October 28 and on Sunday, October 29.  For more information on Lutherfest 500, check out .

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 30, 2017)

LUKE 24:13-35


M:   Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:   He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     For the most part, false teachings and false hope have their origins from God's truth.  That should not surprise you.  When Satan speaks, he tries to sound like Jesus.  But Satan distorts God's word just a little bit.  The result is that it sounds right, but that God's people are led astray.
     For example, there are many churches which teach that the Bible contains God's word.  It sounds right.  When we hear, “The Bible contains God's word,” we would not respond, “No, it doesn't!”  But if we accept that the Bible contains God's word, the follow up question is: “What else does it contain?”  If there are parts of the Bible which are not God's word, we are left to wrestle with what is God's word and what is not.  The result is that we decide what is divine truth and what can be dismissed.  We end up telling God what his own word is.  So, a statement which sounds pretty good ultimately ends up being blasphemous.  We believe, teach, and confess that the Bible is God's word.  All Scripture is God breathed. (2 Timothy 3:16)  The whole Bible is God's word.  The whole Bible is true.  Therefore, we can trust all that the Bible has to say to us.  The true word gives true hope.
     The disciples who were on their way to Emmaus were grief stricken, and it is because they had put their faith in popular opinion instead of God's actual promises.  When Jesus asked them what had been going on which made them so sad, they summed up the weekend pretty well.  “Jesus of Nazareth [was] a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people....  [Our] chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24:19-21)  And they went on to describe the empty tomb and the message of the angels there.
     Their assessment of Jesus was accurate, but their hope in him was misplaced.  Cleopas and his friend were victims of their day.  The confessed, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)  They had hoped that Jesus would take up the throne of David, would restore David's kingdom, and bring back to Israel the power and glory which David had enjoyed.  They thought Jesus would be the source of a new and magnificent glory, but they were crushed when all their hopes for glory were crushed.
     Now, once again, much of what they said was true, but their hope was misplaced.  Jesus had, indeed, come to redeem Israel.  The Son of David has taken up his throne.  He does, indeed, bring a new and magnificent glory.  But Jesus had also declared, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)  The glory that Jesus brings is an everlasting kingdom, but we will not see that glory in this world.  It will come just as we confess: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” (Nicene Creed)  The true word gives true hope.
     The Emmaus disciples were not alone in their misguided hopes.  We, too, hold to promises that God did not make.  We, too, look for glory which the Lord has not promised.  While God has made many amazing promises to us, those promises often cause us to assume others.  Does being Christians mean that life is easier and that you will not be bothered with problems?  If you have believed that, you have also been sorely disappointed.  We are sinners who live among sinners in a sinful world.  We will have problems with people who sin against us.  Our own sinfulness causes us to view people with suspicion, jealousy, or disgust.  Our own sins produce guilt and shame in us.  Our bodies suffer the effects of age, disease, sorrow, pain, and finally death.  Nowhere does God say you are immune from these things.  To think that being a Christian equals God pouring out material blessings on you means that your faith rests in promises God did not make—just as the Emmaus disciples did.  That will always lead to disappointment.  It may well cause you to believe that God is a liar because he has not produced.  Do not be deceived.  Not every pious sounding comment is based on God's word.  Satan mimics God, but still twists God's word.
     The true word gives true hope.  Does God promise blessings upon his people?  Yes.  Does God promise a collection of goods, friends, or smiles?  No.  If you have these, you can thank God for them, but he did not guarantee them to you, and he does not guarantee you will keep them.  If you want to be sure that your faith is resting on promises God has actually made, you had best read, learn, and study the Bible to know what those promises actually are.  Then Satan will not deceive you.  Only the true word gives true hope.
     That is why, when Jesus walked with the Emmaus disciples, he kept himself from being recognized by them.  They did not need to see the risen Savior; they needed to be reminded of the promises God had actually made.  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)  Only the true word will give true hope.  We do not have time to consider all that God had promised.  We have Bible classes for that.  But we will consider one promise.
     The patriarch Job had confessed: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)  If we have a Redeemer, then it must cost him something to redeem us from our captors.  It is sin, death, and the devil which has laid a claim on all mankind.  The devil claims.  Sin controls us.  And death marks us all.  But we have a Redeemer!  And every blood sacrifice offered from the time of Abel to the time of Jesus testifies that it is the bloody death of a substitute which is the payment for the sins of man.  Therefore, our Redeemer poured out his blood and willingly laid down his life to be the ransom price which has purchased and won us from our captors.  We have a Redeemer, and the cost for him to redeem us was the life of our immortal God.  Thanks to Jesus' innocent sufferings and death, thanks to the bloody death of your substitute, you are free from your sins.  You have been released from Satan's claim.  And the grave cannot have you.  You have been marked for eternal life, not eternal death.
     But Job's confession was not, “I know that my Redeemer will die.”  Job confessed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)  If the Redeemer lives, and if he is to stand upon the earth on the Last Day even after he has paid the full price for our ransom, then he must overcome death.  Then he must be risen!  And just as God has promised it, so Jesus Christ has fulfilled it.  Your Redeemer lives, and he lives to assure you of your forgiveness, to keep you free from Satan's grasp, and to deliver you from the grave to life everlasting.  The true word gives you true hope.
     Only after Jesus reminded the Emmaus disciples of his promises did he finally make himself known to them.  And their joy increased all the more.  The Redeemer lives, and we are his redeemed!  The true word gives you true hope.
     Satan will always mimic the true word and try to lead you astray.  Your defense against him is the true word of God which will never lie to you or lead you astray.  That word, on the contrary, will strengthen you, comfort you, and encourage you.  It will fill you with godly desires and produce in you good deeds.  This word is why God's church gathers every Sunday.  This is why your church offers Bible classes, Catechism instruction, and Sunday School.  Satan would prefer you fill your week with other activities.  He will even tell you that the other activities will produce a full and happy life.  There is a degree of truth in that.  There usually is when Satan speaks.  You might enjoy an early round of golf, a leisurely breakfast, or an extra hour of sleep.  These are not evil.  But your Lord summons you to hear his word which delivers to you a good, God-pleasing, and everlasting life.  If you know and stand on his promises, you will be neither deceived nor disappointed; you will be secure.  And you will be saved.  For only his true word can give you true hope.

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pastors' Conference -- St. Jacob, Grass Lake, Michigan

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, the pastors of the WELS congregations met in the countryside north of Grass Lake, MI at St. Jacob Evangelical Lutheran Church.  St. Jacob is one of the oldest Lutheran congregations in Michigan, dating back to 1841.  Here are a few photos of the church which, as far as I can tell from the church history page, dates back to 1853.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 23, 2017)

JOHN 20:19-31


M:         Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Gospel lesson for today may be rather disappointing for you.  Jesus appeared to his apostles in the upper room where he had feasted with them just a few days earlier.  He proclaimed peace to his fearful disciples, and he showed them the wounds he had sustained in order to redeem them from sin, death, and the devil.  Thomas was not there that first Sunday.  He heard the news from his fellow apostles.  Perhaps he had also heard the report of the women who had gone to the tomb.  He could have heard it from everyone; I don't think it would have mattered.  Thomas was not content with reports or witnesses.  Some things you just have to see for yourself.
     So Thomas claimed: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)  Thomas made a demand he had no right to make.  It is like us demanding, “I will not believe God's promises unless my grandmother recovers from her stroke,” or, “I will not believe God really loves me unless I land this job.”  It is foolish—actually, dangerous—to make such demands of God and to dictate to God how he must prove himself to you.  Thomas did make such a demand.  He demanded to see Jesus himself, to touch his body, and to inspect his wounds.  Only then would Thomas believe that Jesus had risen, bodily, from the grave.  In doing so, he was playing with hell-fire.  Jesus did not owe Thomas a special appearance.  Nevertheless, Jesus mercifully granted it, allowing Thomas to inspect the wounds he insisted upon seeing.
     Now the reason this Gospel might be a little disappointing to you is because, while Jesus did grant Thomas this appearance, he has not done this for you.  No matter how persistent or adamant you might get in appealing for such an appearance, you will not get one.  But it does not mean that you have lost out on anything.  On the contrary, Jesus bestows a blessing upon you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
     More than that, the prayer of the day reminds us that our Lord does, indeed, come to us.  Hear the prayer again: O risen Lord, you came to your disciples and took away their fears with your word of peace.  Come to us also by word and sacrament, and banish our fears with the comforting assurance of your abiding presence; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Jesus has not short-changed you because he has not come to you in person.  Jesus does come to you, but you must look for Jesus only where he tells you he will be.  Jesus comes to you with all of his blessings, his mercy, and his salvation in the word and the sacraments.
     The payment for your sins was made at the cross on Mt. Calvary.  Your forgiveness and salvation were guaranteed with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Peace is proclaimed by the risen Savior because he redeemed you from sin, death, and the devil by giving up his life for you.  Peace is assured to you by the Savior because he is risen from the dead.  But if you travel to Israel and take photos of Mt. Calvary, you will not find forgiveness there.  If you visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and even see the newly restored slab on which Jesus' body was laid and from which he was raised to life, you will not find salvation there.  Forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation are given not by seeing Jesus or the historical places connected to his work of redemption; they are given in the word of God and the sacraments.  The blessing of salvation is not bestowed merely by what you see and feel, but by the faith God gives in his word.  Therefore, Jesus declares, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
     The Lord Jesus did not appear to the disciples who were locked in the upper room just to enhance the message of the angels at the tomb, “He is risen!”  Their word could have and should have stood on its own.  Jesus appeared to his disciples for a greater reason.  First was Jesus' message: “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  While the disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews, they probably were afraid to see Jesus too.  It was not just Thomas who was skeptical.  None of the disciples were expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.  The last time most of them had seen Jesus, they were running away from him as he was being arrested.  They had not been as faithful as they had boasted.  No doubt, they were plagued with guilt.
     But Jesus came to them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  And while they marveled and inspected the wounds which were inflicted on Jesus to pay for their sins, Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:21)  He did not come to bawl them out.  He was not angry.  And he did not regret going to the cross to pay for their sins.  Instead, he proclaimed peace to people who were not as faithful as they should have been.
     He still does.  Jesus Christ has set us apart to serve him, to follow God's word, and to love our neighbor.  We have not done as well as we ought.  Our commitment to God's word gets shaky when the world notices that living according to God's word sets us apart.  We have believed that life is too hard to adhere to every part of God's word, and that we are too important to have to stop to help our neighbor with his problems.  Our words and actions have cause others to mock God's name because we have not acted as even unbelievers know we are supposed to act.  When we recognize how much we have failed our God, we expect God's word to be harsh.  We are certain that our Lord will rub our noses in our shame.  We are inclined to stay away from him as Adam and Eve did in the Garden, or like frightened disciples locked in an upper room.  We are not surprised that God would be disappointed in us.  We are disappointed in ourselves, too.
     But Jesus has not come to put you to greater shame.  He does not regret the wounds he incurred for you, and he is not angry with you.  His peace goes out to you.  And he has even commissioned sinners to go and proclaim it.  To those disciples whose guilt was covered, Jesus said, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23)  
     While you know that Jesus suffered and died and rose again for your salvation, the blessings of Jesus' work are delivered to you through the words of absolution.  The Lord knows that you need to hear these words again and again.  Since Satan will never quit reminding you of your guilt and accusing you of your sin, you will always need to hear Jesus speaking through his ministers, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  These words are spoken in the stead of Christ—“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  These words are spoken with the authority of Christ—“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:23)  These words do not merely impart information; they actually bestow on you the forgiveness Jesus won for you.
     You do not need to envy Thomas who got to touch Jesus' wounds and see the side from which flowed blood and water.  The water which has been poured on you has cleansed you from all sin.  The blood which was shed is given to you for the forgiveness of yours.  The word of the Lord absolves you of all guilt.  You have the word of Jesus whose blessing rests upon you: “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)  Thomas has not received any forgiveness which is greater or salvation which is better than you have been given.  Blessed are you—not for what you have seen, but for the faith you have been given which saves you.

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sermon -- HVL Chapel (April 19, 2017)

This was preached at Huron Valley Lutheran High School in Westland, Michigan.

ACTS 13:16a,26-33

Righteousness Fulfilled

In the name + of Jesus.

     The apostle Paul and Barnabas traveled to modern day Turkey, to several cities in Galatia to proclaim the good news of salvation which was accomplished by Jesus.  At each town, their first stop was the local synagogue.  They went to see their fellow Jews who had gathered on the Sabbath to read the Scriptures and sing the Psalms.  They were not introducing new and unusual ideas to these Jews.  On the contrary, they declared:  “We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus….” (Acts 13:32-33)  In other words, Paul and Barnabas were proclaiming to them, “What you have been reading about in Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms all these years, Sabbath after Sabbath—these are no longer promises.  They have been fulfilled.  Everything has been fulfilled as God promised through Jesus of Nazareth.  God’s amazing grace has been demonstrated.  Jesus, who was crucified for sinners, is risen.  Righteousness has been fulfilled.
     It should not be a surprise that the first place Paul and Barnabas went to proclaim the gospel was to church.  But notice how they proclaim God’s salvation to the people.  It was not just an idea.  Paul and Barnabas spoke of God’s promises from the earliest days of the world’s history up to the present day.  God had followed through on everything he said he would do.  He did not forsake the world which had sinned against him.  God loves what he has created, and he acted to redeem it so that we would not all perish.  God’s promises were made by grace, and God graciously fulfilled them.
     Also notice that God’s salvation was not done in theory.  It was done in history.  The sufferings and death of Jesus were historical facts.  It took place in Jerusalem.  Real men who were among the leaders of the Jews demanded Jesus’ death.  They delivered him over to Pontius Pilate, who was serving as the Roman governor over the province of Judea.  And Pilate had Jesus crucified.  Crucifixions were not done in secret, either.  These gruesome executions were made highly visible in well-traveled areas so that people would see those who had defied Roman rule and would be dissuaded from rebelling themselves.  The message Paul and Barnabas proclaimed could be verified.  And just as all of these actions were verifiable history, so also then God’s grace was verifiable.
     Now, this is not merely a history lesson for you.  It is comfort for sinners.  Your sins are real, and your guilt is real.  Some days you are bothered by your sin and guilt more than others, but you always know that these things are real.  And if you aren’t sure, ask the people you’ve sinned against.  They will assure you that your sins were mean, painful, and not easy to get over.  You bear grudges, too, right?  That’s because someone sinned against you.  That sin was real.  It was wrong.  And even when you try to do better, you still find that you do the things you promised yourself you would never do again.  You will continue to fight against your own sinful nature for the rest of your life.  When you fall into sin, that doesn’t mean you should quit trying to fight against temptation because it is hopeless.  It means that your sins are real.  Your death, whenever it should come, is real.  And if you want to find relief from these frustrations and fears, then you need a Savior who is not imaginary and whose love is real.
     Paul and Barnabas proclaim that Savior to you.  The grace is amazing not because it is a neat idea, but because it is real.  The sufferings and death of Jesus has paid for all of your sins.  Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that God has accepted that payment for you.  It is also proof that death and the grave are temporary things for you.  Since Jesus has risen from the dead, so will you.  And once again, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was not merely an idea.  It is a historical event.  St. Paul declared: God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. (Acts 13:30-31)  It is a verifiable moment in history, witnessed by hundreds of people.  Many of those people suffered persecution, torture, and violent deaths because they declared what they witnessed.  They did not retract their testimony.  They stood firm on what they witnessed.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead—who was seen, heard, and touched by those who witnessed his resurrection.
     God’s amazing grace is now for you, too.  We have the eyewitness accounts to assure us that God’s grace is real.  God’s forgiveness of your sin and guilt is real.  Your salvation is real, your eternal life is real, and your resurrection from the dead is real.  Your resurrection has yet to be fulfilled, but as surely as Jesus lives, so shall you.  And the Lord has delivered his salvation to you not by imagination, but by real things.  You were splashed in the waters of baptism to have Jesus’ salvation poured upon you to cleanse you of all sin and mark you as Jesus’ redeemed.  You go to God’s altar to consume bread and wine, under which you take Jesus’ body and blood and ingest God’s salvation.  God works through real things because his blessings and grace and salvation are real.
     We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus. (Acts 13:32-33)  It has all been fulfilled for real.  The good news is real.  Your salvation is real.  God’s grace is real, and it is amazing.

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Lutheran Satire -- Greatest Conspiracy Ever

Something from Lutheran Satire on the resurrection of Jesus.

Many critics regard the resurrection and the apostles' preaching the resurrection to be a conspiracy theory invented by the Church to oppress people.  Lutheran Satire ponders the idea of the conspiracy.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sermon -- Easter Sunday (April 16, 2017)

MATTHEW 28:1-10


In the name + of Jesus.

M:         Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     There has never been a happy walk to a cemetery.  Even if you are someone who visits historic cemeteries, you go because you find it interesting, not because it makes you happy to know that these people had died.  Death is evil because life is good.  Even when life is hard, life is still good and a gift from God.  When people resort to suicide, they are not looking to escape life, just its hardships.  No matter how death comes—whether peacefully or violently, whether it is expected or comes suddenly—it always produces fear, sorrow, grief, and regret.  Death is a cruel enemy to all mankind.  We grieve over loved ones who are among its victims, and we all will suffer its mortal blow.
     The women who had been friends with Jesus made their unhappy walk to Jesus' tomb early Sunday morning.  Their sense of duty compelled them to complete the care of Jesus' body which had been buried in a hurry in the final moments of Friday.  When they approached the tomb, they expected to find the corpse of their beloved teacher and friend.   The women were shocked to find the stone rolled away from the tomb's entrance.  They were shocked to see an angel sitting there.  And they were all the more shocked by the angel's announcement: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead...” (Matthew 28:5-7)
     “He has risen.” (Matthew 28:6)  Those are the key words.  The message of the angel was not merely, “He is not here.”  That was the news which the Jewish leaders feared would be broadcast by Jesus' disciples.  They had even taken steps to prevent it.  The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.'  Therefore, order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:62-64)  The guard was posted, not that the apostles proved to be any threat.  They were hiding in fear.  It did not matter.  The apostles did not try to steal Jesus' body.  The guards could not contain Jesus' body.  The women did not find Jesus' body.  The angel rolled the stone away to show that Jesus' tomb was empty.  The message was then proclaimed: “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)
     Jesus Christ has risen.  The body which was dead and buried is risen.  Jesus lives.  His body is revived.  His whole person is restored.  The man is risen from the dead.  The grave could not keep him.  Death had to give Jesus back, and it cannot have him again.  Jesus of Nazareth lives and reigns, forever holding victory over the grave, just as he said.
     Now, if the Easter message stopped here, we probably would not celebrate it.  Our Easter greeting would be, “Christ is risen!”  “Well, good for him.”  To know that Jesus of Nazareth has overcome death might fill us with some faint hope that we could overcome it too.  But we know that we will not.  For, this word of the Lord is true: It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)  You may skate through life without ever having to face any real consequences for your sinful behavior, but that does not mean that you are unaccountable.  Even if you've not suffered much for your sins, others have suffered from them.  Sins hurt.  They leave emotional scars.  Your friends may overlook your sins.  They may even congratulate you and laugh with you about them, but the Lord does not.  The Lord, who gave you your life, will assess it when you die.  And just as you cannot escape death, neither can you escape the Lord's judgment.
     Sin has brought death into the world.  It has corrupted body and soul, mind and heart.  From our sinful hearts come selfish actions, lying words, and thoughts which we are too ashamed to admit we have—although some are bold (or is it foolish?) enough to post these things on Facebook and Twitter.  The sin that resides in us also takes its toll on our bodies.  Sin brings pain and disease, aging and aching.  The body breaks down and finally dies.  It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)  The grave demands you because you are guilty.  Your soul returns to God who judges you according to his holy standards.  You cannot escape the grave or the judgment.
     In his love for you, God sent a Savior.  Jesus Christ is your refuge from sin, through death, and in the judgment.  Your sin was paid for by Jesus' sufferings and death on Mt. Calvary.  Your judgment was taken by Jesus for you.  The Lord became man in order to suffer and die for all the sins that men have committed.  The curse for every sin was delivered on Jesus at the cross.  And since Jesus bore all guilt, he died and was buried.  The grave received its due.
     But the unhappy walk to Jesus' grave on Easter was changed by the angel's words: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6)  Jesus, who has borne your sin and died your death, is risen!  He lives, and that means that the payment for sins is sufficient.  He is your refuge from sin.  Jesus Christ is risen, and that means that he holds the keys to death and the grave.  Jesus Christ is risen, and that means that the grave must give back those who belong to Jesus.  He is your refuge through death.
     Jesus Christ is risen!  He did not just redeem your soul.  God never designed you to be a bodiless soul which floats around on clouds in heaven.  When you die, your soul will separated from your body.  It will return to God who will judge you.  But your judgment is in: You are forgiven.  Jesus Christ declares you righteous, for he has taken all guilt from you.  He is your refuge in the judgment.  Therefore, the departed souls of our fellow Christians enjoy the peace and the glories of heaven.  But they do not remain spirits.  That is not what God created us to be.
     Jesus Christ became a body and soul man to redeem you completely.  The bodies, therefore, which we bury will be raised up again.  The grave must give back what it has claimed, for Jesus is Lord of life and death.  Though our path to the cemetery will never be happy, it is not without hope either.  We bury our fellow Christians knowing that the grave will not keep them forever.  We bury their bodies knowing that they will be raised up completely renewed and restored.  The body of our Lord departed from his grave, and so he will summon us up from ours.  Body and soul will be reunited forever.  The soul will be perfected, eagerly desiring to do God's will and perfectly capable of actually doing it.  And the body will be perfected, delivered forever from aching and aging, from pain and disease, and from skin rashes, frost bite, and mosquito bites.
     Jesus Christ is risen.  And he is risen for us.  Because he lives, we too shall live.  Because his body has conquered death, we too will share in his victory.  Because he lives and reigns forever, he will bring us to live and reign with him.  And just as Jesus has not abandoned his body or shed his humanity, so will we, body and soul, receive all the joys and glories and peace of heaven.
     Jesus Christ is risen!  He has taken the sting out of death.  Though death will come, Jesus will come for the dead, and the grave must give us back.  On the Last Day he will raise up all the dead and give eternal life to all believers in Christ.  Then you will be reunited with the saints who have died.  Then the Church will forever be united at the heavenly feast.  Then we will live in the glory which our Father has always desired us to know and to have.  And then, our praise and our confession will continue, even as we confess it now:
M:         Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sermon -- Easter Dawn (April 16, 2017)

EXODUS 14:10 – 15:1


In the name + of Jesus.

     Exodus chapter 15 consists mainly of a song of praise by the Israelites.  We heard the first line in the song earlier: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:1)  Israel rejoiced and put their praise to music.  They sang of the Lord's deliverance, and the conquering of their enemies.
     I suppose some might consider it morbid to sing so jubilantly about the mass death of people and animals.  To appreciate why Israel sang with such jubilation, understand who was delivered and why.  Israel was the Lord's chosen people—chosen to be the people through whom the Savior would come into the world.  To brutally oppress and to put to death this nation was to attack God's promise, God's Christ, and salvation.  Therefore, the Lord commanded the powers of Egypt to let his chosen people go.
     But Pharaoh was stubborn.  He did not heed the word of the Lord.  He would not give up his conquered prize.  After a series of plagues capped by the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to leave Egypt.  However, stubborn Pharaoh changed his mind.  He was not willing to let his conquered prize go free.  He mounted his armies and chased them down.  He penned them in—Egypt's army behind and the Red Sea in front.
     The Lord commanded Moses to hold up his staff so that the Red Sea would be divided.  Israel, then, escaped their enemy by walking on dry ground through walls of water.  Stubborn Pharaoh ordered his armies to pursue Israel, only to see them buried in the waters that returned to their place.  In this way, Israel won a battle which they did not even fight.  Their enemy was destroyed.  Israel was forever free from them.  The promise, the work, and the victory were the Lord's.  The benefits he gave to his chosen people, Israel.  Victory came through water.
     Thus, God's promise remained firm.  The Lord's Christ would come.  The enemies of God's people were destroyed.  They could not thwart God's salvation and mercy.  This was worthy of singing and jubilant praise.  “The horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:1)  Victory comes through water.
     This victory at the Red Sea foreshadows all that Jesus has done for you.  Your enemies—sin, death, and the devil—are stubborn.  They do not want to let you go, and you cannot set yourself free from them.  You were Satan's conquered prize.  Therefore, Jesus acts for you.  He has paid for your sins.  He has given himself into death.  He has even let Satan strike his heal.  But today, we celebrate that Jesus is risen.  Sin and death have been left for dead.  Satan is crushed underfoot.  You have been liberated by a battle which you did not fight.
     The benefits of Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection have been given to you in your baptism.  Victory comes through water which drowns the sinner and raises you anew as a saint.  The devil's grip on you is released.  The grave cannot keep you, for you are God's chosen people—set apart from a dying world, set apart for eternal life, set apart for godly living, and set apart as evidence of God's mercy.
     The death of your enemies means your eternal life.  Therefore, it is right to sing and rejoice and to celebrate a victory that you did nothing to win, but which Jesus gives you gladly and freely.  “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.” (Exodus 15:1)  The enemies of God have been drowned.  Victory comes through water.  God's people are forever free.

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sermon -- Good Friday (April 14, 2017)

JOHN 19:28-30

He And He Alone Finished Your Salvation.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The final words of Jesus which John records for us should give us no end of comfort.  These words can be in our hearts every time we confess our sins.  They should definitely be in our minds when we are dying.  “It is finished.” (John 19:30)  Jesus' life which was lived in holy obedience to all of God's commandments on our behalf was complete.  Jesus' sufferings under God's curse for our disobedience to God's Commandments was complete.  Jesus' death, the death of the Son of God on behalf of all of the people in the world, was the complete payment for sin.  Forgiveness has been purchased in full.  Death gets its fill.  There is no more.
     It is finished.  There are no strings attached.  There are no conditions still to be met.  There is no asterisk next to the Greek word, tetelestai.  It is finished.  Or even better, “It has been finished.”  The perfect tense of the verb means that the action has been accomplished, but the effects of the action are still going on.  It is like saying, “Sergio Garcia has won the Masters.”  The victory took place last Sunday, but Sergio Garcia is still the victor.  The verb tetelestai is saying, “The perfect life under God's Law has been lived.  Its benefits are yours.  The cursed death under God's wrath has been died.  Its benefits are yours.  Your sins are forgiven.  The payment was done at the cross, and the payment still covers you today.”
     That payment was made by Jesus' sufferings and death at Calvary almost 2,000 years ago.  The benefits of Jesus' sufferings and death are applied through the word preached and the absolution proclaimed.  The benefits are administered in the waters of baptism where sins are washed away.  The benefits are given in the Lord's Supper where the sheep are fed and nourished and strengthened by their Shepherd.  And when Jesus' gifts are given, “It is finished.”  There are no acts of penance that must still be completed.  There are no good deeds which improve your standing or your chances.  There is nothing that God leaves in your hands.  If there were still something undone, something which God left for you to complete, that would cast the matter right back into doubt, at best—or despair, at worst.  But there is no unfinished business.  There are no installments that still need to be paid.  It is finished.  It has been finished.  Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone finished your salvation.
     Sinners find no end of comfort in Jesus' statement—which is good because we never stop being sinners.  Being baptized does not give you an excuse to neglect God's law.  Being baptized has set you apart as God's child to do God's will.  And still, we prove ourselves to be sinners.  No matter how much we resolve to do better, we still fail to do the good we promise we will do.  No matter how much we promise to have patience with our neighbor, we still mock him.  No matter how often we insist we will not be jealous at the success of others, we are still resentful that the good news of others was not our good news.  We do not pray for some people because we have deemed them unworthy.  When other people get in our way or take our time, we get annoyed.  We do not consider that they are barely getting by with the burdens they are carrying.  We limit our pity to ourselves.  Sin clings to us, and we cannot shake it off with our resolve or with promises no matter how sincere they are.  We do not fail because we don't try hard enough; we fail because we are sinners.
     Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone finished your salvation.  The prophet Isaiah had foretold what the death of Jesus was for: The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)  And it was the will of the Lord to crush him; …his soul makes an offering for guilt. (Isaiah 53:10)  God does not overlook sin.  Instead, he gives his Son to pay for it.  And the payment is complete.  Jesus said so when he died.  “It is finished.  It has been finished.” (John 19:30)  The payment has been made.  The word tetelestai was often used in the market place when someone owed on a debt.  But when the final payment was made, the merchant would state tetelestai.  The debt has been paid in full.  That is what Jesus said from the cross.  The full payment has been made.  The results still stand.  When you repent, you see that Jesus remains ever merciful, and that his death remains the offering which removes your iniquity and covers over your guilt.  Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone has finished your salvation.
     Jesus' words will continue to comfort you, especially when you face your own death.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and so we are all going to die.  But Jesus is the one who has taken the horror out of death for us.  Jesus did that by suffering the horrors of death for us.  The Lord (had) laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6), and so the condemnation for our sins was laid upon him as well.  Jesus did not avoid the cross.  He willingly went to die there for us and to be damned for us.  The agony of crucifixion, as horrible as it is, is nothing compared to the torments of hell which Jesus had to suffer for us.  This is what sins deserve.  And Jesus took that punishment for us.  He suffered all punishment for all mankind—all of it.
     And so, death will come for you, but damnation will not.  God's wrath has been taken from you.  When his angels come for you at your last breath, you will open your eyes to see a loving and merciful Father.  Your judgment has already been proclaimed to you.  You are forgiven.  The wrath of God is done.  It is finished.  Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone finished your salvation.
     After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30)  That last phrase is meaningful.  Jesus gave up his spirit.  He is not like us.  We fight for life and hang on with all that we have left.  That is understandable.  Life is a gift from God and it is good.  That is why we make doctors visits, take medicine, get exercise, and eat right.  We don't want to die.  We want to live as last as long as possible.
     But regarding the death of Jesus, St. John writes, “He gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)  The verb is active.  Jesus actively handed his life over into death, completely in control.  It is as if Jesus were saying, “Death, you demand payment for sin.  Here it is.  I give myself for it.  Grave, you claim the guilty?  Here I am, bearing the guilt for all mankind.  And now you have had your fill.  For the Son of God will go here on behalf of all mankind.”  And so death has received its ransom.  The debt of sin has been paid.  There is nothing more that needs to be done.  It is finished.  It has been finished.  And it remains complete.
     Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone has finished your salvation.  He and he alone takes away all sin and guilt.  He and he alone has absorbed all of God's wrath.  He and he alone grants you a blessed death.  He and he alone is the way to eternal life.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (April 13, 2017)

1 CORINTHIANS 11:23-28

...And Receive A Special 
Assurance Of Your Forgiveness

In the name + of Jesus.

          For centuries, Israelite families celebrated the Passover festival.  It was an annual reminder of the Lord's deliverance from their bondage in Egypt.  Though the Lord commanded Pharaoh to let the Israelite nation depart from his land, Pharaoh did not fear or honor the Lord.
          Therefore, the Lord sent numerous plagues to demonstrate to Pharaoh just how powerless he was.  Still, Pharaoh stubbornly refused to hear the word of the Lord.  Finally, the last plague was the plague on the firstborn.  Every firstborn in Egypt would be put to death, whether man or animal.  The Lord, however, provided deliverance for Israel.  Each household was to take a lamb and slaughter it.  The blood of the lamb would be smeared on their door posts.  And when the angel of death saw the blood, he would pass over those Israelite homes.
     At midnight, the angel went throughout Egypt, putting to death each firstborn.  While the Egyptian homes were filled with death and grief, the Israelite homes were filled with feasting and joy.  The Israelite families feasted on the lamb which was slain for their deliverance.  The blood of the lamb marked their homes and saved them.  The Lord delivered Israel from death and from bondage.
     That ceremony was to be repeated annually to remind Israel of the Lord's deliverance.  It was, however, just a reminder.  The angel did not annually come to put anyone to death.  Lazy or negligent Israelites were not in danger of an untimely grave if they did not celebrate the Passover.  Still, to forsake the Passover was to despise God's salvation.  Those who did not participate did not care that the Lord had delivered them.  And those who despised God's deliverance in the past would also not look forward to the Lamb of God whose bloody sacrifice would once and for all deliver man from death and slavery.
     Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, celebrated the Passover with his disciples.  On that night, Jesus did not merely celebrate the Lord's deliverance of the past.  Jesus re-purposed this feast to be a celebration of the Lord's everlasting deliverance from sin and death.  Unlike the Old Testament Passover celebrations which recalled God's deliverance, this New Testament in Jesus' blood would actually bestow God's deliverance to all who partake in the feast.
     Therefore, this new testament in Jesus' blood has always been a central feature in Christian worship.  When St. Paul established a new congregation in Corinth, he wasted no time in telling these new Christians how the Lord bestows forgiveness upon the penitent.  Paul wrote, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)  The Lord's Supper is not merely to remember Jesus' meal with his disciples.  It is a proclamation of his sacrificial death.  And it is more.  This feast gives the benefits of Jesus' sufferings and death.  The body and blood which were given into death for sinners is given to sinners for the forgiveness of their sins.
     At the first Passover, the Israelites were feasting while death was going on all around them.  It was the blood of the slain lamb which had delivered them from death.  Death also surrounds us.  People go about their lives—eating and drinking, working and playing, talking about weather, politics, and sports.  Some are morally decent; some are crooked and crude.  But if the blood of the Lamb does not mark them, death will seize them and it will not let them go.  If one is not marked by the blood of the Lamb, he is marked by sin and, therefore, marked for damnation.  If a man does not crave this salvation, it is because his sins don't grieve him.  If he does not hunger for this feast, it is because he is satisfied to feed on worldly goods.  And if he does not yearn for Jesus' gifts, he will perish without them.
     That is why St. Paul urges us not to take this sacrament lightly.  He writes, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28)  You do not need to worry if people in the world don't crave this sacrament.  You can only answer for yourself.  Therefore we are right to examine ourselves; for, we have not attained perfection either.  We are still drawn to selfish pleasures.  We dedicate our efforts to gaining more money and we dedicate that money to ourselves.  In order to be accepted by worldly people, we learn to accept worldly attitudes and opinions.  We still crave the wrong things.  There is no salvation in these.  Examine yourselves, and recognize that sin still dwells in you.  When you recognize your guilt, repent.  Forsake your sins; for you cannot feast both on God's holy things and on wickedness.  And when you grieve over your sin, repent and turn to Jesus for a special assurance of your forgiveness.  Flee to this altar where those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied.  That is how you worthily receive it.
     Repent and turn to Jesus for a special assurance of your forgiveness.  The Lord Jesus does not present his forgiveness to you by your imagination.  Just as Jesus submitted his flesh and blood into a real death for your sins, so Jesus gives you his true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  He does not summon you to this altar for the sake of reenactment.  This is not a Passion Play.  The words of institution proclaim what Jesus gives you: “This is my body, which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)  Here is the body and blood of Jesus.  It was given into death to pay for your sins.  It is given to you for the forgiveness of sins.  The body which bore your guilt now alleviates you of all guilt.  The blood which was shed for your iniquity now marks you so that death and judgment pass over you.  These blessings are not merely remembered; they are given.  Just as your sins are real, so Jesus here gives you real forgiveness.  Just as death is real, so Jesus here gives you real deliverance from a cursed death to life everlasting.  Repent and turn to Jesus for a special assurance of your forgiveness.
     The Israelites joined together with a feast to remember that the Lord had delivered his people from death and bondage.  The Church meets regularly to feast in order to continue to receive the Lord's mercy and salvation.  While the world around us is dying, God's people gather together for the food that gives eternal life.  We do this in remembrance of Jesus.  We remember that our Lord was crucified and risen and that he gives us his crucified and risen body and blood for our forgiveness.  And we rejoice that our Lord remembers us.  He gives us real forgiveness through real elements so that we can be assured that God's mercy, love, and grace are really ours.

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