Friday, September 22, 2017

Something from ... Luther re: Justification

          The following is not something Luther took pains to draft for a formal document, but was part of his Table Talk at which he simply spoke off the cuff about all kinds of matters.  Men at the table took notes as Luther spoke.

          These remarks are an analogy about justification.

          "Martin Luther gave a very clear and apt explanation of the article of justifciation by showing its resemblance to the relation of a father and a son in this way: 'A son is born an heir, is not made one, and inherits his father's good without any work or merit.  Meanwhile, however, the father commands and exhorts his son to be diligent in doing this or that.  He promsies him a reward or a gift in order that in return for it he may obey more readily and freely: "If you're good and listen, if you study diligently, I'll buy you a nice coat.  Come here to me and I'll give you a beautiful apple."  In this way, the father helps his son in his weakness, although the inheritance belongs to him on other grounds.  This is done for the sake of pedagogy.
          "'God also deals with us in this way.  He coaxes us with promises of spiritual and physical thing, although eternal life is given freely to those who believe in Christ as children of adoption, etc.  So it ought to be taught in the church that God will repay good works, save in the article of justification, which is the origin and source of all other promises.  One should say, "Believe and you will be saved; do what you will, it won't help you [to be saved]."  Accordingly we should remember that those promises and rewards are the pedagogy by which God, as a very gentle father, invites and entices us to do good, serve our neighbor,' etc."  (Luther's Works: American Edition, Vol. 54, p 240)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Polka

Our Lutherfest 500 celebration is coming up soon.  We will have a polka band coming to play for us (you can check out Die Dorfmusikanten here), and we will have a dance floor for people to polka the day away.

Then this thought came: Some people may not know how to polka!  HORRORS!!!

If this is you, we can fix this.  Doing the polka is not hard at all.  It is basically a two-step dance.

To make sure you are prepared for Lutherfest 500, you can watch this video.  Lederhosen is optional.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Lutherfest 500 is coming quickly!

LUTHERFEST 500

If you have not seen this website (http://www.lutherfest500.org) in the past week, check it out again.  It has been updated.  

Then write it down in your calendar and join us on Saturday, October 28 (Noon - 5:00 PM) at Huron Valley Lutheran High School in Westland, Michgan.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sermon -- 15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 17, 2017)

From the altar at Martin Luther College
in New Ulm, Minnesota
ROMANS 12:1-8

PRESENT YOURSELF 
AS A LIVING SACRIFICE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul uses a strange expression in our epistle lesson.  He writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice...” (Romans 12:1)  Present yourself as a living sacrifice.  That's not how sacrifices work.  In Old Testament worship, a man would bring an animal to the temple for a sin offering.  He would lay his hands on its head to mark it as the one who would die in his place.  Then he would slit the jugular, and the animal's blood would be spattered on the side of the altar.  The body would be arranged on the altar where it would be consumed by fire.  Death was transferred to the victim; the sinner was pardoned and set free.  But the animal could only be sacrificed once.
     But now St. Paul urges you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice...” (Romans 12:1)  Every day, you get to devote your whole self—all you are and all you have—to honor God and to love your fellow man.  Every day, you pour yourself out in service for the good of others.  This is how you demonstrate your love and devotion to the Lord: You love your neighbor.
     Present yourself as a living sacrifice.  To do this, you will need to heed St. Paul's words: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.... (Romans 12:2)  The world always tries to influence our minds and attitudes.  You know it by the attitude you have when it comes to serving others.  There are some people whom we do not want to serve because we consider it a big waste of time.  How much time and energy do you want to give to someone who will not pay you back or return the favor?  What if your efforts are not recognized, or rewarded, or praised?  If you give your time, your energy, and your money to help someone and they say nothing in return, you want to glare at them and shout a sarcastic, “You're welcome!”  Then there are days when you are worn out, thinking, “No one cares.  Why should I?”  We are influenced by worldly attitudes which tell us to devote our time, money, and energy to ourselves: “My comfort matters; your pain and problems are yours.”  God's wrath stands against the world for such selflish and loveless ways.
     “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.... (Romans 12:2)  The Lord Jesus Christ has acted to transform your hearts and renew your spirits.  He has acted to rescue you from making an idol of yourself and from the curse you deserve for it.  Jesus rescued you from every curse of sin by taking your sin from you.  Jesus made himself a sin offering for you.  He is the innocent victim who came to take your place under God's wrath.  He was set apart.  This one dies for you.  His blood was shed, and his body was consumed by God's wrath at the cross.  Death was transferred to the victim.  You are pardoned and set free.
     Jesus came to serve sinners and to save them.  Although Jesus is worthy of eternal praise for his sufferings and death, that is not why he came.  He did not come for the sake of accolades.  He did not come to suffer and die just so people like us would gather on Sundays to sing his praises.  On Sundays, it is Jesus who serves you, applying the forgiveness he won to you.  Jesus came for sinners, and he came because he loves us.  He came because we needed forgiveness of sins and ransom from hell.  And since all need it, Jesus came for all.  Jesus went to the cross for the Pharisees who plotted and orchestrated his crucifixion.  He went to die for the priests who scoffed at Jesus' claims that he is the Messiah.  He paid the price for King Herod and Pontius Pilate who didn't seem to care what happened to him.  Jesus suffered and died for sinners, whether they cared or not.
     Jesus reveals the mind of God who works to sek the good of all mankind.  God sent his Son knowing that many will not care about it.  Many will not listen to the Gospel or benefit from it.  But God's love is not based on who will love him back.  God is love, and that is what causes him to act at all times.  If any perish, it is not because God failed to love them or refused to serve or save them.
     Present yourself as a living sacrifice, having your mind transformed to be like the mind of Christ.  That means you love your fellow man and serve him, whether he praises you for it or not.  You give your money, time, and energy for the good of others whom you have been given to serve.  Parents care for their children even though the recognition of that service is lacking and the gratitude for that service is rare.  Parents don't go on strike just because their service is unnoticed or unappreciated.  They might wish they could, but they don't.  Parents serve their children because they love their children.  To love them means that you serve them for their good at all times.
     In view of God's mercy and transformed to the mind of Christ, present yourself as a living sacrifice.  Every day, God presents you with ways to fear, love, and trust in him above all things.  Every day, God gives you ways to love your neighbor as yourself.  You don't have to go out and invent works with which you honor God and love your neighbor.  God presents those opportunities to you every day in your various vocations.  You honor God and serve your neighbor as children, parents, single or spouse, as an employee, as a citizen, as a friend, or as you meet someone by chance.  These are the neighbors whom God has given you to love and serve.  You do not love them to get something out of them.  If that is the only reason you do anything, you will find everyone to be annoying.  Love always seeks the good of others.
     Present yourself as a living sacrifice.  If it is true that you do this in the world, it is all the more true that you do this for the Church.  As fellow members of the body of Christ, and of this congregation in particular, we devote ourselves to working with one another and for one another.  St. Paul urges, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members,  and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:3-5)  Just as the parts of the body do not compete with each other for attention or importance, so it is with the body of Christ.  All parts work together for each other's good.  We proclaim the gospel to each other for consolation and encouragement.  We pray for one another.  We serve for the good of each other according to our abilities and according to each other's needs.
      Present yourself as a living sacrifice.  God has given each of us gifts to use, and we are all blessed differently.  No one should flaunt their abilities or take pride in them.  The gifts you have are just that—gifts.  God blessed you with them.  He could have blessed you differently.  But God chose to give you the abilities he wanted you to have so that you might serve for the good of all.  You do not need to fret about what you wish you could do.  Instead, do what God has given you to do.  And as you serve, you can be confident in this: That God is pleased with your service to him.  You have been cleansed in the blood of Christ and are, therefore, holy in God's sight.  Therefore, your works are pleasing to him.  Even if they are not perfect, God blesses them and benefits others through them.
     Your comfort in your service is not going to be that people recognize you for what you do or that you get thanked for doing it.  Those things are nice.  And we should all encourage each other with thanks.  But your comfort is always how the Lord Jesus Christ serves you with his love and forgiveness.  This is what saves you.  This is what keeps you as Christ's people now and forever.

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sermon -- 14th Sunday after Pentecost (September 10, 2017)

From the pulpit of Trinity Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Saline, Michigan
ROMANS 11:33-36

GOD GRACIOUSLY GIVES YOU ALL YOU NEED
AND ALL THAT IS GOOD FOR YOU.

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul spent the first eleven chapters of Romans writing about God's grace and our salvation.  He noted that all people are the same.  All are sinners.  There is no difference.  He also noted that all are saved the same—through the innocent sufferings and death of Jesus.  There is no other Savior, and there is no other source of forgiveness and eternal life.  And though Jesus suffered and died for all mankind, there are many who do not believe in Jesus.  In their unbelief, they do not benefit from Jesus' redeeming work.  They perish in their sins.  Rather than trying to probe into the mind of God as to why some perish and some are saved, St. Paul breaks off his instruction with this doxology: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”  “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
     In his doxology, St. Paul asks a rhetorical question: “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:35)  The answer, of course, is: No one.  To put it another way: God owes you nothing.  God did not owe you your birthday.  God does not owe you a specific amount of time in this world.  He does not owe you a spouse or children, eyesight or unblemished skin, food or housing, or world without terrorism or hurricanes or mosquitoes.
     This is a hard truth for Americans to hear.  Probably no one in the history of the world has been better at demanding their rights than Americans.  We know our Constitutional rights, and we insist upon them.  We tell others how they are supposed to respect us.  We even tell God how he is supposed to treat us and serve us.  But here is the hard truth: God owes you nothing.  God does not have to respect your rights.  Before God, you have no rights.  God owes you nothing.  And yet, God graciously gives you all that you need and all that is good for you.
     St. Paul asks, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34)  The answer, of course, is, “No one.”  No one knows God's mind.  No one advises him; though we all want to.  We want to challenge or correct what God does when we don't get it or we don't like it.  We believe we would be better at running the world if we had the power and authority, that we would be better at being God than God.  This is arrogance and blasphemy.  If you do not know why God does what he does, how can you possibly know that it is not what you need or what is good for you?  The wisdom and knowledge of God are deep.  We will never reach the bottom.  As St. Paul writes, “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)  
     Still, we want to know why God does what he does.  Consider the current headlines.  Houston is still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Harvey.  The flooding is disastrous.  Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma has struck the Carribean and is closing in on south Florida.  Hurricane Jose is right on its tail.  Mexico was hit with its strongest earthquake in a long time.  People on the Gulf Coast might ask, “Why is this happening?  What did we ever do to God?”  Or your “Why?” might be a more personal question.  “Why am I suffering like this?  Why does my loved have to go through this?  Why is life so hard?”
     God's Word has revealed some answers to these questions.  The world has been effected by sin.  It is corrupt and dying.  Bad things happen in it, and we suffer from those bad things.  That much we know.  But why specific things happen to us at specific times, that God has chosen not to reveal to us.  You can take a guess why God is putting you through suffering, hardship, or loss, but your best guesses are just that—guesses.  Many times, we don't know why.  We can only remember St. Paul's words: “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)  We cannot reach the depths of God's wisdom and knowledge.  God does not owe you answers for why you must endure what God has you endure.  God owes you nothing.  And yet, God graciously gives you all that you need and all that is good for you.
     Although God does not answer all your “whys,” God does reveal what we need to know.  Life will always be filled with uncertainties, hardship, and loss.  What God reveals is certain and it cannot be taken away from you.  He promises: For those who love God all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)  The Lord is your good and merciful Father in heaven, even when it does not look like it.  The love of God remains certain, even in the midst of all the “whys” and uncertainties of life.  God does not owe you that, but he graciously gives you all that you need and all that is good for you.
     Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11:33)  God has revealed the depth of his love and compassion in a man named Jesus.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God—God in the flesh who came to dwell among us and to have mercy upon us.  He graciously gives us all that we need.  Jesus' perfect life supplies the holy obedience we did not give.  He gave us credit for his holiness, and then took credit for our sin.  Jesus did not resist going to the cross and the sufferings that came with it.  He did not demand his rights.  Instead, he went under God's curse and took the punishment we were owed.  Jesus stood as a sinner on behalf of all sinners.  He was convicted and condemned.  You have been pardoned and are free.  Jesus did not owe you this.  Instead, Jesus received what you were owed.  He, in turn, graciously gives you the righteousness you need and the forgiveness of your sins for your good.
     Life will have its uncertainties.  You do not know the future.  God, in his wisdom, has hidden most of the future from you.  You will continue to have your “whys”.  The pain, the loss, and the heartache in this world will keep you asking why.  But the Lord Jesus makes a guarantee to sustain you through every uncertainty and pain.  He promises you the resurrection from the dead and life everlasting.  He rescues you from hardship and loss.  He will deliver you to the perfect glory of heaven.  If you long to be free from all of this world's problems, then cling to the Savior God has sent for you.  And even when God has you endure problems in this world, he is still your good and merciful Father who is doing all things for your good.  “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)  Although his judgments are unsearchable and his ways inscrutable, they are the Lord's judgments and the Lord's ways.  By these, he graciously gives you all that you need and all that is good for your eternal welfare.  That is God's chief goal for you, that you have everlasting life with him.  And he works all things toward that goal.
     God has given you his word so that you will have something certain to encourage you, console you, and sustain you at all times.  There is nothing in this world that negates Jesus' life, death, and resurrection for you.  Therefore, nothing can negate God's love for you.  Your forgiveness is certain.  Your resurrection to eternal life is certain.  Your glory in the mansions of heaven are certain.  God does not owe these things to you, but he delights in giving them to you.  God graciously gives you all you need and all that is good for you.

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sermon Chapel at Michigan Lutheran Seminary (September 6, 2017)


This sermon was delivered 
for the chapel service at
in Saginaw, Michigan.



NUMBERS 6:22-27

THE LORD HAS PUT HIS NAME UPON YOU.

In the name + of Jesus.

     King David taught us to pray, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)  Jesus taught a similar petition: “Hallowed by thy name.” (Matthew 6:9)  And Martin Luther taught us what this means: “God's name is certainly holy by itself, but we pray in this petition that we too may keep it holy.” (Luther's Small Catechism; 2nd Petition of the Lord's Prayer)
     Now, what does it mean that God's name is holy?  You probably remember a basic definition of being “holy” means being without sin.  But that is not entirely right.  We use phrases such as the Holy Bible, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion.  That is not the Bible without sin, Baptism without sin, or Communion without sin.  The term “holy” means something which is set apart by God for his special purpose.  The Bible is not just any book.  It is the book which is set apart as the very word of God which proclaims God's will and God's salvation.  Holy Baptism is not just plain water.  It is water set apart to wash away sin and to bestow new life.  Holy Communion is not merely a special meal.  It is bread and wine set apart to be the body and blood of Christ for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  That's what makes these things holy.  They are set apart by God for his sacred purpose.
     God's name is holy.  That is because God himself is holy.  It is true that God is without sin, but it is also true that the name of the Lord is set apart from all other names.  It is by that name that we are created.  It is in that name that we are redeemed.  It is through that name that you have been set apart from a world which is cursed and dying.  In the Holy Baptism, the Lord has put his name upon you and marked you as his own.  It is like the way you mark your notebook as your own.  You scrawl your name on it to mark it as yours.  It is set apart for your use.
     The Lord has put his holy name upon you.  You were baptized into his name.  You have been cleansed of all your sin.  You have been set apart as children of the Most High God.  You bear his name; for you are Christians.  You are his saints, his holy ones.  As his saints, you have been set apart for doing God's work and living according to his will.  If you bear the family name, then you also are to demonstrate the character of your heavenly Father.  You have been set apart to live up to being the children of God which you are.
     How is that working out?  Not so good, right?  Chances are, you have had friends or co-workers rub it your face that you do not act like a Christian.  Even though some of those people have no interest in obeying God's Law, they know that you are supposed to.  By our sins, we sully God's name.  Other people know that Christians are supposed to be honest and respectful.  We are not supposed to be jealous at the good fortune of others.  We are not supposed to slander people who are different or mock people because of their quirks.  We are not supposed to give in to greed or lust, or brag about getting drunk or thievery.  You were not set apart to be children of God and still act like worldly people.  And yet, we do.  Repent.
     When the Israelites gathered for worship at the tabernacle, they witnessed the sacrifices which were slaughtered on behalf of them.  Innocent blood was shed for them to proclaim that they were beloved by God, redeemed by him, and set apart for him.  It was not because they had distinguished themselves as saints.  It is because God had mercy upon them for their sins.  The Lord did not revoke his name from them.  Rather, the Lord's blessing declared that they were still set apart for blessing, still his saints.  The LORD commanded the blessing and promised: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27)
     And so it is with you.  Innocent blood has been shed for you.  And the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies you from all sin. (1 John 1:9)  You are not children of God because you behave better than others.  God has not set you apart because you have distinguished yourself so well.  God has brought you into his family because Jesus Christ has taken your sins from you.  He shed his innocent blood to atone for all your sins.  He sprinkled that blood on you in your baptism to purify you from all unrighteousness.  He pours that holy blood into you for the forgiveness of your sins.  In this way, the Lord sets you apart and works in you so that, more and more, your life conforms to his will.  The Lord has put his name on you so that you remember you are his.
     At the end of every service, you hear the Lord's blessing: The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)  It is no accident that these are the last words in the service.  If you did not hear God's grace proclaimed in the sermon because you were daydreaming, or if you are still bothered that your life never measures up to the word 'saint,' God still has the last word.  With that last word, the Lord puts his name on you again to remind you of who you are.  You are his redeemed.  You are his holy one.  You are God's beloved child.  You are set apart for his glory, for his mercy, and for everlasting life.
     That is why we cherish the holy name of Jesus.  It is set apart above every other name.  It is the only name by which we are saved.  And that is why we sing with King David: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sermon -- 13th Sunday after Pentecost (September 3, 2017)

ROMANS 11:13-15,28-32

GOD WANTS TO HAVE
MERCY UPON US ALL.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Christian Church in Rome was a blended group, made up of both Jews and Gentiles.  At the inception of the Christian Church, the majority of believers were Jews.  Those who had listened to God's Old Testament prophets were awaiting the fulfillment of them.  When Jesus of Nazareth proved himself to be the Christ by his death and resurrection, many of the Jews believed and rejoiced.  St. Paul went to synagogues throughout the Roman Empire proclaiming the fulfillment of God's promises.  He declared that Jesus sacrificed himself to win forgiveness for the sins of the whole world.
     For various reasons, that Good News of Jesus was not always received well in those synagogues.  Some Jews slandered Paul.  Some drove him out of town.  Some even tried to kill him.  St. Paul did not quit preaching.  He turned to the Gentiles and proclaimed salvation to them.  That is what St. Paul is talking about when he says, “Their rejection means the reconciliation of the world.” (Romans 11:15)  Because the Jews rejected Jesus, St. Paul preached to the Gentiles.  Jesus had come for them, too.  The Lord was merciful to them, too.  God's love and salvation were for all.  Many Gentiles believed and rejoiced.  Eventually, the number of Gentiles grew larger than the number of Jews in the Church, as it remains today.
     You may wonder: Why does a person reject God's word?  Why am I saved and not someone else?  As we ponder these questions, we often make some fatal assumptions.  One is the idea that all people are basically good and will go to heaven, and that if anyone goes to hell it is because God is being unfair.  For evidence, people will cite the response to Hurricane Harvey.  Many people have donated their time, effort, and money to help the people of Houston.  They witnessed the devastation and were compelled to help; and many people will be helped by these efforts.  Those helpers deserve the thanks they get from the people of Texas.
     Such compassion, it is believed, is evidence of a good heart and a good person.  Many will also expect God to take notice and reward them.  But people who want credit for helping out strangers must also take credit for the sins against people they personally deal with from day to day.  It is easy to love strangers because you don't have to deal with them for very long.  It is hard to love people that you see every day because you have to live with their quirks and you observe their sins.  And they have to deal with yours, too.
     So if you want credit for a Red Cross contribution, you also get credit for despising your co-worker for his whining or for his arrogant boasting.  You get credit for your sarcastic comments to your wife.  You get credit for lashing out at your child because he interrupted your Facebook time.  These are all evidence of sinful, selfish hearts, and God is not being unfair for saying so.  He is being just and honest.  God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)  We are all sinners and God says so.  And yet, many refuse to stand before God as sinners.  They do not want forgiveness for sins; they want credit for being good.  As a result, they reject Jesus, because Jesus comes only for sinners.
     The other fatal mistake we make when we consider why we are among those who are saved is that we think we must have done something to get God's attention or find his favor.  When St. Paul was rejected in the synagogues by the Jews, he went into the marketplace among the Gentiles.  Why?  Some would argue, “Because God knew they would listen.”  In other words, God saw something in them that should be rewarded.  Once again, it is a warped way of trying to insist that we are not sinners, or at least that we are better than others.  But St. Paul assures you: That is not the case.  God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)
     There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between men and women, between young and old.  All are sinners.  God's Law shows us what is good, but that Law also shows us we are not good.  We have not obeyed it.  When God makes this evident, it is not because he is being mean or unloving.  God shows you what you are so that you will not pretend to be anything different.  All are sinners.  All fall short of God's commands.  An act of charity to Houston does not negate how calloused we have been to others.  It does not erase the sin that dwells in our hearts or that has shot our of our mouths.  Repent.  You are not holy, and you despise others when you think you are better than them.  For, you and I do not deserve anything different from anyone else.  All are guilty, and all should be judged accordingly.
     If you must ponder the questions: Why am I saved and not someone else?, then understand this: It is a marvel that anyone is saved.  No one deserves it.  You are saved not because of who you are; you are saved because of who God is.  God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)  God is a merciful Savior.  He has mercy upon the guilty.  He acts to save sinners.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)  God shows us that we are all sinners so that we crave his mercy; for, God wants to have mercy upon us all.
     The Lord issues his call to repentance because we are real sinners and we do bear real guilt.  Since you are a sinner and are guilty of disobeying God's commands, you deserve the appropriate judgment—damnation from God whose justice is holy.  God is just; the guilty must suffer.  But God wants to have mercy upon us all.  Mercy means that you are not given what you deserve.  Therefore, he does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)  
     God sent his Son to save sinners and to have mercy upon us all.  Jesus came to be treated as our sins deserve.  Jesus made our sins his own.  He took up our guilt.  He was put under God's curse and was damned at the cross.  Jesus suffered real divine torment on behalf of sinners.  For, Jesus does not save fake sinners, only real ones.  His sufferings were real.  His death was real.  Jesus had made himself the guilty one for us.  He was put to death on behalf of us all.  God's holy  justice was upheld: the guilty one suffered for our sins.  He did not do this because we deserved it.  He did not act because he saw something about us that was praiseworthy and merited his response.  It wasn't even fair.  Jesus is innocent; we deserve punishment.  But God wants to have mercy upon us all, and so God acted in mercy.
     Mercy means that we do not get what we deserve.  And in Christ, God is merciful to sinners.  You will not be sent to hell.  You are not under God's curse.  And he is not even angry with you.  Through Jesus' sufferings and death, you have received this mercy.  Your sins are pardoned, and you are free.
     It does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, black or white, man or woman, young or old: God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)  You are not saved because of who you are.  You are saved because of who God is.  You do not get to boast that you are special or better, but you do get to rejoice that the Lord has been merciful to you, a poor, sinful being.  You get to proclaim God's mercy to your friends and family because they need the mercy that you have been shown.  You get to invite friends and family to church to receive God's mercy and grace so that they will not die in their sins.  And you get to pray that the Gospel will be proclaimed into all the world so that more and more recognize they are sinners, crave for mercy, and rejoice that God wants to have mercy upon us all.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)  God has been merciful through Jesus Christ.  And that is why you are saved.

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