Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (March 18, 2018)

JOHN 12:20-33


In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus Christ said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)  With these words, Jesus highlights that being his is hard work.  It is not hard to be saved; Jesus does the work there.  But serving the Lord is hard because we all have a sinful nature which hates doing what the Lord says is good and right and God-pleasing.  Doing the right thing is usually the hard thing.
     It is easier to cheat than it is to put in the work, to study hard, and to earn an honest grade.  It is easier to cover your tracks by lying than it is to take responsibility for your actions and suffer the consequences for them.  Criminals try to make big money quick through theft.  It is much harder to get an honest job and to scrape and save to earn your living.  Doing the right thing is usually the hard thing.
     Even our Lord Jesus Christ recognized that the right thing was the hard thing.  The hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  But in the face of that hour, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled.  And what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27)  Jesus knew that the suffering and dying for our sins would be hard.  In fact, the devil tempted him greatly about this both in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before his arrest.  And the devil's temptation would not be hard to imagine.  “Jesus, why did you leave heavenly glory to come to earth for these people?  Why didn't you stay and let them have what they deserve?  They have not kept your commandments.  Many will never care that you would suffer the consequences in their place.  The high priest, Caiaphas, not only won't care, he will cheer your death.  Jesus, even the ones who will worship you and follow you won't keep your commandments.  They will still sin and rebel.  Why suffer the torment of crucifixion and damnation for them?”  Satan's temptation was compelling because it was true.  Satan did not make it easy for Jesus to go to the cross for sinners like us.  But Jesus chose to do the hard thing.  It is the purpose for which he was sent.  The hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified, and it was at this hour that Jesus revealed God's glory.  It is the way he saves us.
     Therefore, Jesus' prayer was not that his way be made easy.  Jesus' prayer was that he would be faithful at this hour and that everything would be fulfilled by him.  That prayer was summed up in these words: “Father, glorify your name.”  Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:28)  The Father had revealed his glory before in delivering the Israelites out of Egypt.  In doing that, the Lord revealed himself as the God who saves his people from their slavery, destroys their enemies in the waters, and brings them to the Land of the Promise.  But God would glorify his name again.  The Son of Man would be glorified in delivering you out of your slavery to sin.  He would destroy sin and death in the waters of baptism.  And he will finally bring you into the heavenly homeland he has promised to you.  The glory of God is not that he is holy and almighty.  It is true that he is those things, but no one is saved by them.  God's glory is revealed in this: He loves and saves sinners.  This is the whole reason Jesus came.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  And his glory is manifested in his sufferings and death for you.
     Jesus described how that glory would be proclaimed: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)  Though the world will be condemned, you are delivered from it.  Though Satan claims the world as his own because it is corrupt and its people are rebels, he has been driven out of you.  He has no right to you.  Jesus has claimed you.  Jesus indicated how he would do this: He would be lifted up.  That means he would not be stoned to death according to Jewish Law, or beheaded like John the Baptist.  Jesus would be hoisted up on a cross where he would be on public display to the world.  Jesus would be crucified on main road at the Passover where Jews from all around the world would be there to see it.  Jesus' death would be no secret so that the love and mercy of God would be no secret.  In Christ, the sins of the world are paid for.  In Christ, the holy blood is poured out to purify you of all unrighteousness.  In Jesus Christ, God declares his love for the world.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified in that he pays the price for your sins, covers your guilt, and bestows upon you his own innocence.
     Jesus Christ came to this hour for this purpose.  He came to suffer and die for the benefit of all.  Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)  Jesus' died for sinners, and you are the fruits of Jesus' labors.  You have been snatched out of death and have been given new life.  You are free from the condemnation of sin and free to do the good works God has given you to do.  You have been set free from the fear of death and are now free to live in the confidence of eternal life.  You are even free to serve the Lord in joy.  For, there is no terror of wondering how much work is enough or what work is good enough.
     Jesus promises, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26)  And this is where it gets hard again.  While you want to serve the Lord, there is always a part of you—your sinful nature—that will give you every excuse not to.  Your sinful nature will try to convince you that you can follow Jesus without actually keeping his word.  As long as you are comfortable and happy, that overrules anything God has to say.  Or your sinful nature will encourage you to sin all the more, because, “What good is forgiveness of sins if you don't take advantage of it?”  In doing so, you learn to love your sins and to despise God rather than fear and love him above all things.  Or your sinful nature convinces you that it is too hard to fight against sin, and that it is easier to do nothing instead of doing good.  Of course, that is true.  It is hard to fight against your sinful inclinations.  It is hard to do good when no one seems to appreciate it. 
     Repent.  And if your sinful nature gets the better of you, keep on repenting.  Fight, and keep on fighting.  Strive for good, and keep on striving.  The right thing is usually the hard thing to do.  If you struggle to avoid sin and to do good, that is okay.  The fact that you struggle shows your faith is living and eager to serve Christ.  It proves that God is at work in you to do good.  It also proves that you need to continue to run to Jesus as your refuge against the enemies who still want you back.  And Jesus will continue to strengthen you, sustain you, and preserve you; for his love and mercy for you remain constant.
     Among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Philip...and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:20-21)  The reply they got from Jesus was this: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23)  If you want to see Jesus, and if you want to know his glory, it is found in his weakness and suffering.  His glory is found in his shameful death.  By these, he saves you from all that would condemn you.  And while he calls you to follow him and to do the hard work of fighting against your sin and striving to do good, he is also the one who preserves you in the faith so that you will receive honor and glory from the Father.  For, the glory of the Lord is not that he tells sinners what to do; it is that he tells sinners what he has done for them.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  You are the evidence of his glory; for he has taken away your sins and grants you a place in everlasting glory.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lutheran Satire: St. Patrick

Because it is St. Patrick's Day, we remember St. Patrick. At least, this is how I remember him:

This never gets old.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 11, 2018)

NUMBERS 21:4-9


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord had been good to Israel.  When they were held in slavery in Egypt, the Lord acted on Israel's behalf.  He led Israel out of Egypt and Israel celebrated a victory over their enemy in which they never even used a weapon.  The Lord daily provided them with food that they did not grow.  Even though Israel never dug a well, the Lord provided them with enough water for a whole nation and their flocks and herds.  The Lord had been good to Israel.
     Israel, however, was not good to the Lord.  Although they were getting closer to the Promised Land, they had had it.  And the people became impatient on the way.  And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”  Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. (Numbers 21:4-6)
     Now, to be fair, the Israelites had a much harder life than you and I have.  They were homeless, wandering around in a wasteland for years.  They had been promised a fertile land, but it had been decades since they left Egypt to get there.  Granted, their banishment to the wilderness was their own fault, but it was still hard.  They were wholly dependent upon God, and that was illustrated every day by the Lord's gracious provision of manna and water.
     By contrast, our main concerns are often how we are going to pay for the luxuries and extras we have.  We have concerns over health and wellness.  Each of us also has personal struggles and private demons that haunt us.  But merely surviving is not a concern.  Nevertheless, we launch out complaints toward the Lord because we are convinced that life should be better, easier, happier.
     Because of Israel's complaining, the Lord sent venomous serpents among them.  The snakes injected their venom into the Israelite people.  Suddenly, Israel's concern was not for better food or more comfortable lodging; they were concerned about impending death.  The concern was real, as people were watching fathers and mothers, sons and daughters dying.  The Lord used this plague to refocus Israel's attention.  Israel's complaints turned into cries for mercy.  They yearned for the Lord to be their Savior.
     When our lives are afflicted by tragedies, we sometimes blame God.  Sometimes we blame the devil.  I don't know if it is helpful for us to figure out who to blame.  I suppose we do it so that we know where to direct our anger.  But this is what the Lord says: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)  Even if the devil is behind the tragedy that strikes you, the Lord makes this promise to you: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28)  God uses even the evils in your life for your good.  One of the lessons he teaches by sending tragedy your way is the same lesson he taught the Israelites who were being bitten by vipers: He teaches you to cry out to the Lord for mercy.  When you pray, “Deliver us from evil,” you recognize that the Lord is the only source for deliverance and salvation.  And if the Lord uses tragedy to teach you to pray for his mercy and deliverance more fervently, then he uses evil for your highest good.
     Still, merely begging for mercy does not supply it.  Therefore, the Lord did not let the Israelites suffer without any hope.  The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you.  Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.”  So Moses prayed for the people.  And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” (Numbers 21:7-8)  
     The Israelites cried for mercy.  The Lord extended his mercy to them.  He gave them something specific to look upon, and then he attached a promise to it: If you want to live, look to the one which is lifted up.  Israel's prayer was that the Lord take the snakes away.  If you look closely, nowhere does it say that the Lord took them away.  As far as we know, the plague of serpents persisted for a while.  If so, the Lord used them to drive home the point that they were dependent upon the Lord for mercy and for life.  But even if the serpents continued to bite, the Lord's promise remained: If you want to live, look to the one who is lifted up.  As long as the bronze serpent was lifted up, the promise of life was attached to it.  It was not the removal of the serpents which saved them; it was the promise.  And the Lord was true to his promise.  If a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:9)
     And so it is for you.  Your problems may have to call out to God for mercy and deliverance.  Like the Israelites, your prayer is that the Lord would take your problems away.  That is understandable.  But God may not take your problem or your struggle away.  If that problem or struggle focuses you to yearn for God's mercy all the more, then God uses it for a good purpose.  But your problems and struggles can never remove God's mercy and promises from you.  God does not save you by taking your problems away; he saves you through a promise.  As it was in the wilderness, so it is for you in the suburbs: God attaches his promise to something specific.
     Jesus tells you what that is: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  (John 3:14-15)  If you want to live, look to the one who has been lifted up.  Jesus takes away from you all that would cause you to perish.  The only problem you have which would send you to hell is your sin.  Cancer or a car accident may send you to your grave, but they cannot damn you.  The sin which would condemn you, the venom from the ancient serpent, Jesus has taken away from you.  He removes the curse from you by taking it into himself.  Then he was lifted up off of the earth, hoisted up on a cross, where his sufferings and death were visibly proclaimed to the world.  There, God displayed his mercy and salvation.  There, God's promises were visibly made known.  And those promises stand no matter what your problems and struggles are.  God may not take those away from you; but he never removes his promises from you.
     If you want to live, look to the one who has been lifted up.  Then flee to where God promises he will bestow his salvation to you.  Jesus does not bestow forgiveness, new life, and salvation by us merely looking as crosses and crucifixes.  To be sure, art work, images, and icons may keep us mindful of what Jesus has done for us.  But just as crying out for mercy does not give it, so also just looking at or thinking of images of Jesus does not give salvation.  Jesus summons us to preaching and to sacraments for that.  This is what the Lord says: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)  That word is attached to water for the washing away of sin.  That word is attached to bread and wine where you can participate in the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.  If you want to live, you look to the one who has been lifted up.  Then flee to the place where he promises his mercy and salvation are granted—in the word which is preached and in the sacraments which are administered.
     While word and sacrament may not rid you of your struggles and problems, they do deliver you from sin, death, and the devil.  The word and the sacraments deliver Christ to you, and only he will keep you from perishing.  So, if you want to live, look to Christ who was lifted up for you.  And then flee to the altar where the body and blood of Christ are lifted up in blessing and then given to you for blessing.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Last of Basketball

The senior year of high school guarantees that we will come across a whole series of lasts.  This Friday (March 9) proved to have several lasts, although it turns out that we missed a few other lasts on Wednesday too.

We had hoped to see Caleb's last regular season game at Nouvel on Friday, March 3.  But a heavy snow made that impossible.  MLS lost a closely contested game, 69-64.

But then playoffs started this past week.  The Michigan Lutheran Seminary Cardinals faced the Vulcans of Vassar and won 50-41.  Laura got to see that one, but Catechism Class kept me at home.  That victory set up a Wednesday game.  Mid-week Lenten Vespers had me going in the opposite direction, to St. Paul's in Belleville.  Laura was at church in Good Shepherd, so we both missed the Wednesday contest against Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy.  MLS won handily, 78-35.

Philip told us that Caleb played quite a bit against SASA, scoring in double digits.  Philip suggested 14 points.  That victory set up a rematch against Nouvel Catholic Central of Saginaw on Friday, March 9.  Finally, we could get to a game!

But then we found out that Caleb sprained his ankle at the practice on Thursday night.  He attended the game on crutches.  MLS lost to Nouvel in the District Championship game, 54-48.  MLS was what they were all season--a decent defensive team who turned the ball over way too often on offense and missed too many free throws.  Had they cleaned up those errors, they would have likely won.

As it turns out, Caleb's last game was on crutches.  The last game in which he participated was the victory over SASA in which he scored quite a few points.  I have always tried to mark the last shot, but little did we know Caleb's last shot would be Wednesday.  I did not get the photo, but I would like to think he made it.

Meanwhile, his last trip off the floor for his high school career was sadly on cruchtes.  He has finished his hgh school basketball career, and we were there to give him hugs after it was over.

The lasts are hard, especially when you did not realize the last time happened and you were not aware of it.  We had fun watching Caleb and his teammates for years.  Thankfully, the memories will last.

The last game:
Pre-game prayer.

Caleb was still able to offer encouragement to his team during introductions.

The last walk off.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Basketball, at last

I have been negligent in posting anything about the basketball season this year.  I don't feel like we have gotten to many games this year for various reasons.  (Maybe not including a JV schedule makes a difference there.)  Still, it has been a season where we have enjoyed watching the MLS Cardinals play, though at times it has also been frustrating.  Perhaps that perfectly explains the near-.500 record.

On the upside, MLS has entered the post-season and has already won the first game of Districts against Vassar, 50-41.  On Wednesday, they will face Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy (aka, SASA).  Unfortunately, I was not able to be there on Monday and will not be there on Wednesday due to my schedule.  I hope they win so that Friday's game for the District Championship will happen.  That one I can see.  Go Cardinals!

Anyway, you can check out the scores throughout the season yourself at M-Live (though some are missing).  Here are a few photos of Caleb and teammates throughout the season.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 4, 2018)

JOHN 2:13-22


In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus is commonly depicted as a smiling, friendly man who would never upset anyone.  I suppose we like that image of Jesus because he is our merciful Savior who dies on behalf of sinners rather than seeking to put sinners to death.  But Jesus has more personality than just being friendly.  Jesus speaks and acts boldly; for the battle of the kingdom of God against the kingdom of the devil is not a polite debate.  It is a battle for you and for your eternal well-being. 
     So, when Jesus preaches, “Repent!” it is not a polite request that you do better.  It is a command that you forsake your sins and to devote yourself to what is God-pleasing.  When Jesus drove out demons, he did not humbly ask that they depart.  He gave an authoritative word, and the demons came out with loud shrieks—because the devil is playing for keeps and does not want to lose anyone from his kingdom.  And when Jesus encountered Israel's leaders teaching people that God's favor is gained only by keeping a list of rules, he did not offer a correction, but blasted a condemnation at them.  He called them “Hypocrites!” and “Brood of vipers!”  Jesus was not worried about their feelings.  He was acting only to save souls, because Jesus is zealous for his church.
     When Jesus entered the temple around Passover time, he was outraged by what he saw.  Now to be fair, animals were always seen at the temple.  They had to be if they were to be slaughtered for sacrifice.  And money was also seen in the temple.  It had to be if the temple tax were being collected at the Passover.  However, the temple had lost its atmosphere as a place of sacrifices, worship, and prayer.  It had become an emporium.  And that spectacle was a great distraction from the worship which was supposed to be the focus of the temple.
     Jesus was zealous for his church.  Therefore, he put together a whip from the ropes he found among the animals and drove out the distractions.  The temple was never designed for business or trade.  It was not a place for money changers and exchange rates.  So Jesus, neither smiling nor friendly, scattered everything and cried out, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” (John 2:16)  Jesus was zealous for his church.
     You can understand why the Jewish leaders confronted Jesus about this.  They had a legitimate concern for the care of the temple.  They said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18)  Perhaps they missed the impact of Jesus' bold statement when he called the temple, “my Father's house.” (John 2:16)  That should have been all the authority Jesus needed to claim.  Nevertheless, the Jewish leaders demanded a sign from Jesus to prove himself. 
     They are not alone.  Sinners commonly ask the Lord for signs and demand that God prove himself.  Those demands usually sound like this: “If God really loves me, then he will take away my (fill in the blank) problem.”  This is not only demanding God prove himself.  It is worse.  It is an ultimatum in which we assign to God what specific task he had better perform.  Or, perhaps the challenge is not as personal.  Sometimes God is told to prove himself with demands like this: “If God were loving, why would he let there be so much pain in the world?”  The premise is that God is not loving—or certainly not as loving as I would be if I were in control.  And if God fails to perform up to my satisfaction, I get to stand in judgment of him and declare him unloving, incompetent, incapable, or ignorant.  This is a horrible turning of the tables.  It suggests that God is our creation and he must answer to our demands.  Imagine a child saying to his parents, “Your job is to feed me.  So if you really love me, you will take me out for steak.”  That attitude would result in the child dining on a bar of soap instead of a cut of meat.  To demand parents to prove their love like that is reprehensible.  To demand it of God is blasphemy.  Repent.
     The Jewish leaders in the temple demanded a sign from Jesus to prove himself.  Jesus gave them one.  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:19-21)  The temple in Jerusalem had been going through a renovation project for quite some time.  When the Jewish leaders heard Jesus' claim, they seem to have feared that Jesus was going to go from cleansing the temple to destroying it. 
     The temple is that place where the Lord had put his name.  It is where God dwelt with his people.  It is where God's sacrifices were made.  It is where God bestowed blessing and salvation.  Now, when we say that Jesus is zealous for his church, he is not zealous for a building.  Jesus is zealous to save people.  The temple that Jesus said would be destroyed is his own body.  Jesus is the true temple.  He is God who came in the flesh to dwell with his people.  He is God's sacrifice for atonement.  He is where God bestows blessing and salvation upon sinners.  If you want to see God prove his zeal for his church and his love for the world, you will find everything you are looking for in Jesus.
     God proves his love to all mankind in that he has made them and given them life.  He sustains each life by daily providing what we need to live—clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home.  Sometimes he even provides spouse, children, and animals.  God does this for all people, whether they serve him or despise him.  But for you, he has done even more.  The Lord is zealous for his church.  He is not willing to see us perish, even though we deserve it. 
     How zealous is the Lord for your salvation?  He took on human flesh so that he could submit himself to destruction at the hands of sinful men.  He bore the flogging, the spitting, the bruising, the bleeding, the nails, and the spear in his body.  More than that, he bore our sins in his body which was then consumed in God's wrath.  Your sins were transferred to Jesus, and he gave himself as the ransom price to set you free from them.  Though God had come to dwell with his people, the people sought his destruction and orchestrated his death.
     But Jesus' sign was not merely that he would die.  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  ...But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  (John 2:19,21)  Jesus rose from the grave on the third day.  His body lives as proof of God's love.  First, his resurrection proves that Jesus is who he says he is.  You can't fake a resurrection from the dead.  Jesus' death was overseen by Roman soldiers who were good at crucifying people.  The spear into Jesus' side was added for good measure.  But Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples to prove his victory over death.  That resurrection is also proof that God has forgiven your sins.  The death of Jesus was payment enough.  You are free from sin.  In Christ, you are victorious over death.  Jesus is the source of blessing and salvation.  He is the proof that God loves you.  Jesus is where the Lord makes his face shine upon you.
     The Lord is zealous for his church.  Jesus' death and resurrection do not guarantee that life will suddenly be easy or pain free.  But God does not prove that he loves you by making life easy or giving you more stuff.  Stuff gets lost, stolen, or worn out.  Life on earth gets harder as you get older.  Finally, it ends.  The Lord proves his love for you by taking away your guilt and making you children of the resurrection.  The Lord proves his love by granting you a place in heavenly glory which never perishes, spoils, or fades.  Health and wealth, possessions and popularity may come and go, but the mercy of the Lord endures forever.  This is what sustains us through this life and will bring us into the life to come.  The Lord has proven this by the sign he has given—the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The zeal of the Lord has accomplished this; for the Lord his zealous for his church, for you, and for your salvation.

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