Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Day!

Here I stand -- in front of the door of
the Castle Church, Wittenberg.

Today, Lutherans recognize and celebrate the Lutheran Reformation.  October 31, 1517 is the day on which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, inviting professors and theologians to debate the abuse of the sale of indulgences.

There are many who wonder if Luther's actions were truly beneficial.  After all, the Christian Church is much more fractured now than she was in 1517.  False teachings and alternative interpretations of Scripture abound.  Was it worth it?

For a brief answer, I borrow (okay, shamelessly copy) from Dr. Gene Veith and his blog, Cranach: The Blog of Veith. (Go visit there, frequently.  It is reguarly interesting.)

...the posting of the theses did not shatter the universal church.  Luther was reforming the church, and it needed reforming.  Financial corruption (the sale of church offices, the indulgence and relic trade, profiting from Christians terrified of purgatory), sexual immorality (popes with illegitimate children whom they named bishops, brothels for priests, the notion that fornication is better than marriage for clergy under vows of celibacy), and political power (popes with armies waging war against other countries, popes claiming temporal power over lawful earthly authorities).  Even worse, the gospel of Christ was obscured in favor of an elaborate system of salvation by works.  To be sure, the medieval church taught Christ’s atonement on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins, but in practice that was relegated to baptism only.  After baptism, Christians had to atone for their own sins in a complex penitential system, requiring the confession of each sin, works of penance, and even after absolution the punishment of those sins after death in purgatory (unless an indulgence was purchased or rewarded).

The issue of the Reformation was always the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the free and clear proclamation of that Gospel.  Luther had no patience for anything that distracted from or distorted the Gospel.  He blasted away at those who opposed its preaching.  We are, perhaps, much more timid today that Luther was.  This is to our shame.  Granted, we will not be considered tolerant, open-minded, or even nice if we take a bold stand on the Gospel and expose and condemn all teachings that distort it.  But, like Luther, our goal is not to promote ourselves or to gain popularity.  It is to be faithful to Jesus Christ and his word.  It is all that matters, because it is all that saves.

The work of the Reformation is not done.  False teachings still arise.  The Church is still attacked.  Christians still become tired from the battle, deceived by fine-sounding arguments, and apathetic to the Gospel.  The word of God is the only solution to any of this.  Some will despise it.  Others will cherish it.  But the Church will not perish.  God will not forsake us.  And even if our Christian faith costs us our reputations, our freedom, our families, or our very lives (that is, "Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife...."), we have truly lost nothing.  The Lord still reigns, and the kingdom is ours forever.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sermon -- Festival of St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles (October 28, 2012)

JUDE 1-4,17-23 / JOHN 14:21-27

In the name + of Jesus.

     In just a week and a half, we will have a chance to vote for a president, for various congressmen and officials, and on proposition this or that.  People may get excited about elections because they believe the right official will produce a glorious and prosperous kingdom.  But if you want some divine direction regarding political promises, programs, and elections, then listen very carefully, because here it is: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Psalm 146:3-4) 
     Today the Church focuses on two obscure apostles, St. Simon and St. Jude.  The one is known better as Simon the Zealot.  The Zealots were a political faction whose goal was to usher in the kingdom of God by ridding the Promised Land of the Romans and their armies.  In their zeal, they had even engaged in guerilla warfare and acts of terrorism to oust Israel’s enemies and to establish Israel’s kingdom, which they assumed was synonymous with the kingdom of God. 
     Our Lord Jesus Christ called Simon to be a preacher in the kingdom of God.  If Simon would be a zealot, it should not be for an earthly kingdom.  Earthly kingdoms come and go, but the throne of our God endures forever.  In his epistle, St. Jude urges us to demonstrate zeal for the kingdom of God.  This kingdom is not advanced by warfare, elections, or legislation.  St. Jude wrote, But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 20,21)  Be zealous for the kingdom, and that means being zealous for God’s word – zealous for the proclamation of it, zealous against the distortion of it, and zealous for receiving it and partaking of it.
     St. Simon wanted to see the kingdom of God established and advancing in a visible way.  He wanted to see the Lord living and reigning in Jerusalem.  He wanted to see the Lord’s enemies cowering at his feet.  He wanted to see God’s faithful people enjoying the benefits of peace, prosperity, and productivity under the glorious rule of their Messiah-King.  And perhaps that is what you want the kingdom of God to be too.  You may even live under the delusion that this is what the United States of America is supposed to be.  But it is not.  God’s kingdom is no worldly kingdom.
     St. Jude had hoped it would be, though.  He asked Jesus, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (John 14:22)  What a glorious thing it would be to see Jesus and his kingdom reigning in this world!  Oh, how we wish that we would radiate in divine glory and that the Lord’s favor upon us would be obvious to the world!  Instead, we suffer the frustrations and pains of a sinful world.  We are mocked for taking God’s word seriously.  We are despised for confessing that Jesus Christ is the sole source of righteousness, forgiveness, and salvation.  We do not appear to be citizens in the kingdom of God.  Instead of being dominant, we are weak.  We don’t look like children of the Most High God, either.  Rather than looking like saints, we prove that we are sinners.  We pray, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,” but then we wonder: Where is it?!
     Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (John 14:22)  Do not be deceived or disappointed about the kingdom of God.  It is not revealed in advancing armies or in lavish palaces.  The Lord reveals himself in the word which is preached and in sacraments which are administered.  This is where the Lord delivers to you his forgiveness.  This is where the Lord opens up the gates of heaven to you.  It does not matter if it is a time of peace or persecution.  It does not matter if we meet openly in an ornate cathedral or secretly in someone’s basement.  Where the word and sacrament are, there is the kingdom of God.  For there, Jesus is with his people imparting forgiveness, blessing, and salvation.  Be zealous for the kingdom.
     The kingdom of God has been established by the blood of Christ.  It is Jesus’ blood which was shed for the forgiveness of sins.  It is Jesus’ blood which has been poured over you in your baptism to purify you and to bring you into God’s kingdom.  It is Jesus’ blood which is given to you in the Lord’s Supper where you remain united to Jesus in his kingdom.  He has ransomed you from a world where glory fades, were promises are broken, where dreams are dashed, and where people die.  Even the greatest glory this world has to offer is fleeting, and it always ends in death.  But now Jesus has delivered you into a kingdom where God always keeps his promises, where the glory is everlasting, where death is destroyed, and where a perfect world is not something you dream about but something you wait for.  This is the kingdom God has given to you. 
     Be zealous for the kingdom.  The devil can never overthrow Jesus from his throne.  He can never destroy the kingdom of God.  But he will strive to get you to leave it.  He will even try to deceive you by twisting God’s word so that his lies have the appearance of divine truth.  For that reason, St. Jude wrote, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who … pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3,4) 
     So that you will not be deceived by lies or led astray by temptation, be zealous for the kingdom.  That means be zealous for the word of the Lord – zealous for the proclamation of it, zealous against the distortion of it, and zealous for receiving it and partaking of it.  Hear the word of the Lord.  Cling to his truth.  For this is your only refuge against Satan, your only forgiveness for your sins, and your only hope for eternal life.  But the Lord will not fail you.  He is zealous to save you, which is why he suffered and died for you.  He is zealous to keep you in his care, which is why he sends ministers to preach and administer the Lord’s Supper.
     On election day, by all means, vote as your conscience leads you and pray for your leaders.  You can get excited about promises and candidates all you want.  None of them will ever make the world a utopia.  You will never get heaven on earth.  Whether rulers are wise or foolish, truthful or liars, noble or crooked, chaste or immoral, or Christian or heathen, the divine direction is the same.  “Put not your trust in princes.” (Psalm 146:3) 
     But you have been brought into a glorious, eternal kingdom.  It is not limited by boundaries or languages or even time.  The kingdom of God dwells in the hearts of all who believe and are baptized.  You get to join in with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in your worship.  And in this kingdom, God blesses, forgives, comforts, and grants everlasting life.  No army, no enemy, and no death can ever take that from you.
     St. Simon and St. Jude did not preach about a glorious, earthly kingdom in which they would enjoy peace and prosperity.  They pointed to a better, eternal kingdom in heaven – purchased and won by the blood of Christ.  Tradition says that St. Simon and St. Jude honored Jesus by shedding their blood for him.  They were zealous to the end, contending for the faith, clinging to Jesus, and proclaiming his kingdom.  This faith has been delivered down to you.  Be zealous for the kingdom.  It is where you are safe.

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

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Communion of Saints

As I was visiting one of our shut-ins today, I was pondering a portion of the order that I often use with them.  Following our meditation on the up-coming Sunday's sermon, we continue with the liturgy for the Lord's Supper.  In the order I use, it begins:

"These elements have been carried from the altar of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, where his blessed words of institution were spoken over them, words which I now repeat in your hearing."

These words highlight to the shut-in (or hospital patient, as the case may be) that he or she is still a part of our congregation and is still communing with us.  It is not that he or she refuses to come to the altar with us; it is that physical weakness, ailments, or in some cases distance, prohibit it.

We are one body of Christ, and while some are unable to be with us, they are still of one body with us.  Christ still comes to bless us with Holy Communion.  For the shut-in, that is not some renegade form of Communion, as if it is a different or unique communion from the rest of the congregation..  It is still linked with God's altar and God's people.  They are not forgotten.  They are still united.  They are still our fellow communicants.  They are still blessed.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sermon -- 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 21, 2012)

AMOS 5:6,7,10-15

In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Amos proclaimed to the people of Israel, Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.” (Amos 5:14)  This sounds so sensible, so simple, and so obvious that we wonder why it had to be said at all.  Everyone knows that we are to be good.  Everyone knows that we should avoid what is evil.  But the prophet Amos also highlighted the problem that was happening in Israel at the time: They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.  Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time.” (Amos 5:10,13)  The people of Israel had turned good and evil on its head.  Evil was being practiced, defended, and praised.  Those who found evil to be repulsive were afraid to call it evil for fear of their own repercussions. 
     There is nothing new under the sun.  It is the same old world, the same evil world, that we live in.  We still live in a world where evil is practiced, defended, and praised.  Anyone who still stands up to say, “That is evil!  Whoever does that is evil!” is shouted down, vilified, and despised.  We are told to believe that no one has any false beliefs unless he believes that there is only one source of truth.  Lies and spin are excused—even encouraged!—when they promote a certain cause.  People have parades to promote perversion and hold rallies to advance wickedness.  Whoever celebrates evil is praised.  Whoever tolerates evil is commended.  Whoever exposes evil is demonized.
     No matter what evils people give themselves to, they still believe that they are good.  The problem is not only with the reprobates, it is also with the decent people.  Take, for instance, the rich, young man who came to Jesus in our gospel.  A man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments….  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (Mark 10:17-20) 
     The rich, young man called Jesus good and assumed that he himself was good.  But what was the measure of good?  Both were decent, well-behaved people.  Surely that is good enough, right?  Jesus redirected him right away.  “You call me good.  You realize that the only one who is truly good is God.  Are you calling me God?  Is that your confession?  In any case, God is good because God is holy.  He has given you perfect commandments to obey.  If you have kept the commandments perfectly, willingly, and continually, then you will live.  For then, you are truly good.”  Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.
     And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (Mark 10:20)  Like so many people, the rich, young man lived under the delusion that if he was satisfied with his behavior, then God must be too.  Don’t you assess yourself similarly?  Don’t you compare yourself to others and commend yourself because you grade yourself better than them?  Haven’t you also considered the commandments and thought, “Yeah, I’ve kept those.  What’s next?”
     The problem is that we have a wrong assessment of what is good and what is evil.  In some things, it is obvious.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:19)  The rich, young man understood that, too.  But Jesus had to show the rich, young man that he could not even kept he First Commandment.  Jesus … said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)  This man loved and trusted in his wealth.  If he had believed that Jesus is good and that, therefore, Jesus is God, then Jesus should be able to take care of all his needs.  But he would not trust Jesus, and he would not give up his wealth for Jesus.  So the rich, young man was not good, as he claimed; he was an idolater.
     Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.  Do not invent or rely on your own definition of good and evil.  You are not the judge of such things.  Your definition of good and evil will always be distorted – whether by popular opinions or by your own personal longings.  There is only one who is good, and only he can tell you what is good and what is evil.  He urges you: Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.
     If you heed God’s definition of good and evil, you will have to confess that you are not good.  You will have to acknowledge that you are evil – for you have sinned against God’s commandments.  It is hard for us to call ourselves evil.  If we are not felons, then we aren’t bad, right?  If we aren’t caught, then we aren’t guilty, right?  We just don’t want to assess things the way God assesses them.  That is why Amos chastised the Israelites: They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. (Amos 5:10)  But if God would save you, he first must show you that you need to be saved.  Therefore, he shows you that you are idolaters who love yourselves more than God and who trust your own judgment more than God’s word.  The Lord exposes your wickedness and obliterates your excuses so that you finally cry out with the apostles, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26)  And Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
     Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.  Jesus reminds you, No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)  And so God has done what is impossible for you to do.  He obeyed the Commandments.  Jesus did not just talk about what is good; he lived it.  He gave up everything to do God’s will.  He preached God’s truth faithfully, calling evil what God says is evil.  For this, Jesus was hated.  Jesus’ enemies plotted his death, but Jesus’ was plotting to pay for the evils of mankind by that death.  Jesus did not tolerate evil and he did not make excuses for your sins.  Instead, Jesus suffered and died for every evil thought, word, and deed.  Jesus made the once and for all sacrifice for your sins.  He endured the fury of a God who must punish and condemn all who have sinned.  And since Jesus has taken the sins of all, he has suffered and died for all. 
     Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.  The good that you seek is Jesus Christ.  He is the Righteous One who lived, suffered, and died for the unrighteous.  Jesus’ life is where the Lord has supplied the good you need.  Jesus’ death is where God has dealt with all of your evil.  And the place that Jesus dispenses this righteousness and forgiveness to you is in word and sacraments.  Jesus declares your sins to be forgiven so that you may believe, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  Jesus purifies you in the waters of baptism, and he renews his covenant with you whenever you are absolved.  Jesus gives you his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper – that which was given to pay for sin is given to you to forgive your sins. 
     Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.  Jesus Christ, who has united himself to you, will also work in you so that you believe, and think, and act according to God’s holy word.  As hard as you work to serve the Lord, you know that your works will never be perfect.  As hard as you strive to avoid sin, you know that it will still creep up and get the better of you.  But you do not need to walk away sad like the rich, young man.  You do not need to cry out in fear like the apostles.  It is not impossible to enter the kingdom of God, for God is on your side.  Jesus Christ has done all good for you.  Jesus Christ has delivered you from all evil.  Salvation is not only possible, it is certain.

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Local Tourist -- Photos of Autumn

One of the blogs I frequent (Rev. Larry Beane, a.k.a., Father Hollywood) made mention some time ago about being a tourist in your own home town.  The idea is that you are so accustomed to your surroundings that you don't take any time to notice the beauty and places of interest that are in your own back yard.  So, be a tourist and take a look around!

That prompted me to think of ways of being a local tourist.  From time to time, I hope to visit and take photos of places and activities in the area that are normally just a part of the scenery.  But you know what?  They are scenery.  They are there to be seen and enjoyed.

Here's the first batch of such photos -- Autumn in Novi and Northville.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Good Shepherd Hay Ride

Here are some photos from the hay ride at the Heidt's.  Thanks so much again!  We all had a blast, and the Tigers' win helped.  Hay ride photos were all taken before we got pelted with rain.

Three guys with smores.  Mmmmmmmmmm......

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sermon -- 20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 14, 2012)

GENESIS 2:18-24

In the name + of Jesus.

     Throughout the week of creation, the Lord assessed his work.  Repeatedly, as the universe was being formed and filled, the Lord reviewed his creation and made his assessment, “And it was good.”  Yet, on the sixth day, after all of the land animals had been created and after Adam and been formed and given life, 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), or corresponding to him.
     To illustrate this to Adam, the Lord brought all of the animals to Adam.  While the Lord used the opportunity to have Adam name all of the animals, he also highlighted to Adam that nothing from the animal kingdom corresponded to him.  While they were flesh and bone, they were neither flesh of his flesh nor bone of his bone.  The animals came before Adam as male and female, but Adam had no female to correspond to him. Adam was shown that it would be good for him to have a wife.
     The Lord, therefore, created a woman for the man.  The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:21-24)  The Lord established a blessed union, and it is the divinely established pattern for every marriage since then.
     Marriage, however, has been taking quite a beating in our society.  Jesus declared in our gospel that Moses permitted divorce because hearts were hard.  Moses’ instructions were for divorce to be done in an orderly way, not that the Lord or Moses sanctioned divorce.  The letter to the Hebrews declares, “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure.” (Hebrews 13:4)  But couples usurp the blessings of the marriage bed before they get married, or even without any intentions of getting married.  Then there are people who insist that those of the same sex should enjoy marriage, turning the very definition of marriage upon its head.  With that gaining traction, you can bet that people will soon be promoting polygamy.  While you may not be guilty of fornication in practice, you are likely guilty of it in your thoughts.  All of this flies defiantly in the face of God who declared marriage to be a blessed union and very good.
     But sadly, it comes as no surprise.  Man has always perverted that which God calls “very good.”  We pervert the use of food and drink, the use of money, television, and internet, and the gifts of marriage and sex.  God gives us people to love and things to use, but we end up loving things and using people.  We will defend anything as long as it pleases us and serves us.  You may be satisfied with your excuses, but God is not buying them.  God will never accept the perverted use of his gifts, nor will he ever call them very good.  Repent.
     From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:6-9)
     The Lord desires that marriage be recognized and honored as a blessed union for more than the practical reasons that it is the most stable place to raise children, that it allows for men and women to fulfill their sexual desires, and that a man and a woman be committed to one another for mutual companionship, support, and strength.  All of these are good reasons to honor marriage.  But ultimately, marriage is to be honored because the blessed union of husband and wife is a reflection of Jesus Christ and his Church.
     Just as it was with Adam and Eve, so it is with Jesus and his Bride, the Church.  When the Lord split open Adam’s side, he brought forth Adam’s bride from it.  When Jesus’ side was split open at the cross, it brought forth a sudden flow of blood and water.  From Jesus’ side, he gives his Bride life.  You have been born again through water and the word, which means that you are now delivered from sin, from guilt, and from death.  From Jesus’ side, he sustains his Bride’s life.  Jesus strengthens and keeps you in the one true faith by his body and blood.  Jesus has granted you life through the word and sacraments, and Jesus keeps you alive through the word and sacraments.
     Jesus has done all things for the good of his Bride, the Church.  He has suffered all pain, all shame, all guilt, and all punishment for the benefit of the Church.  He removes every sin from you.  Though innocent, he suffered and died for every way in which we perverted or warped or abused his good gifts, for every self-gratifying act, for every self-deceiving excuse, and for every act of defiance against God’s word.  As a loving Groom, he assumed our debt and paid the price.  He gave up all he had so that we would all be his.  Though baptism, he has united us to himself for all eternity.  The Lord has established a blessed union for our eternal good.
     When a man and woman are married, it is common that the man gives his name to his bride.  In doing so, he also pledges to give all that is his to her.  He vows to do all things for her benefit, for her protection, and for her well-being.  The wife submits to her husband so that she would receive all good things from him.  In a world of sinners, this does not always work out as the Lord has designed it.  But when we consider how Jesus Christ has blessed his Bride, the Church, we see what a blessed union is to be.  Jesus has put his name on you and has bestowed on you all the benefits of being the Lord’s.  Isaiah declares, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness … as a bride adorns herself with jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)  In baptism, Jesus clothed you in the righteousness you need for eternal life.  He marks you for a place in the heavenly wedding banquet.  He grants you divine peace and an eternal, glorious inheritance.  Jesus establishes a blessed union.
     Since you are the Church, the Bride of Christ, you strive to be faithful to him in all things.  Therefore, put off the perverting of his gifts.  Flee from the seductions of the world and from the deceptions of the devil.  Fear and love God so that you lead a chaste and decent life in words and actions.  Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure (Hebrews 13:4, emphasis added), for these are God’s good gifts to you.  When they are enjoyed as God has designed, they are good, pure, and beneficial.  Families are stronger.  Marriages are stronger.  And society is better.  Marriage should be honored by all, for it is the blessed union which has been established by God.  And your Savior, Jesus Christ, should be cherished by you, for he is God’s greatest gift to you.  He keeps you and sustains you in the saving faith.  He forgives you of all sins and sets apart for all good.  He gives you all that is his, for he has united you to himself in a blessed union for all eternity.  God has seen it, and it is very good. 

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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October Break

St. Peter Lutheran School had its October break for the Teachers' conference, so we got out of town.  "Getting out of town" has come to mean more and more going to Saginaw.  So, off we went.

We saw Faith play volleyball vs. Ithaca.  No photos.  We just sat and watch the game.  The MLS girls played VERY well, beating Ithaca 25-19, 25-8, 25-19.  Faith personally did quite well.  It was a lot of fun to watch.

Then we went to Andrew's JV game at Breckenridge.  Again, no photos, but with the cold weather and spitting rain, it was just as well that the camera did not go outside.  Peter slept in the car and Laura stayed with him.  Caleb and Philip found a patch of grass to play their own football.  Andrew played quarterback.  He ran for quite a few yards, including on TD run.  He also threw for another.  MLS won handily, 42-0.

At our hotel, the boys swam in the pool and got caught up on the adventures of Spongebob Squarepants.  As you can see, they also made good use of their time at Bronners in Frankenmuth.

Friday night was Parents' Night at MLS.  MLS hosted Breckenridge and won 49-21.  Nathanael did not play much in the second half, as the senior wide receivers got precedence over others.  He was this close to scoring a TD.

These games are getting colder and colder.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sermon -- 19th Sunday after Pentecost (October 7, 2012)

MARK 9:38-50

In the name + of Jesus.

     In 2003, a man named Aron Ralston went on a hike.  He went by himself to a remote location in Canyonlands National Park to climb up and down the rock formations there.  At one point he fell, and a boulder came down behind him.  The boulder pinned Ralston’s right arm to the canyon.  He was stuck.  Shouts and screams were heard by no one.  Hours went by – 127 Hours, if you want to rent the movie.  Eventually, Ralston recognized that if he were going to come out of that canyon alive, it would have to be without his right arm.  So, in order to survive, Ralston took a knife and cut off his own right arm.  He put on a tourniquet and hiked several miles until a family found him.  He was finally rescued from the canyon by a helicopter.  Aron Ralston is alive today for one reason – he cut off an arm that, if he had kept it, would have meant his death in the canyon.
     Now, no one wants to lose a limb like that.  Aron Ralston would prefer to have two functioning arms as well.  But when one’s survival is on the line, you make the sacrifice.  It is not a hard choice, even if it is a painful act.
     Jesus wants you to consider the same thing in our Gospel.  He says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:43-48)  
     Jesus’ words seem too vicious, too cruel.  We do not tell people to maim themselves in order to be Christians.  We do not keep a stash of eye patches, expecting that you would have gouged out your eye by now.  After all, it is not my hand that causes me to sin; it is my self-serving heart.  It is not my eye that covets other people’s possessions or abilities; it is my discontented heart.  My corrupt heart produces all kinds of wicked thoughts, words, and actions.  But I can hardly cut my heart out.  Jesus’ point is this: If it causes sin, it must be cut off; because if it is not cut off, the result is death.
     Aron Ralston did not want to cut off his arm.  Who would?  But it was a matter of life and death, so he did.  You may not always want to cut off that which causes you to sin.  There are just too many reasons why such drastic repentance seems too much to ask.  Do you really want to sever a source of income?  Do you really want to miss out when the group gets together?  Do you really want a friend who will make you accountable for your abuse of alcohol or your visits to seedy web sites?  You can find all of the excuses in the world why your sins are not that bad.  You may even convince yourself that you are really in control.  But when you willingly walk into temptation, should you be surprised that you are drawn into sin?   If such things cause you to sin, then cut them off.  There is not one sinful pleasure that is worth even a moment in hell.  Whether it happens in Vegas or in the privacy of your own home, if it causes sin, it must be cut off.
     The Lord had warned Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7)  As you know, Cain’s jealousy mastered him, resulting in the murder of his brother.  He would not admit his sin.  His jealousy did not scare him.  He embraced it.  He acted on it.  And he was forever cut off from God because he would not repent of it.  Beware, lest in your pride you dismiss how deadly your sin is.  Many will end up in hell who knew that they were devoted to evil, but they just did not want to give it up.  Sin desires to master you, too.  But if it causes sin, it must be cut off.
     Jesus also warned, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)  Rarely will you see people who are teaching their children to purposely go out and perform wicked deeds, although – shockingly – it happens.  It is far more common simply to teach children that God does not really need to be listened to.  That is done when parents do not bring their children to church or teach them to pray.  Children are the only thing that God gives you in this world that you might see in heaven.  By failing to bring them to Jesus, you cause them to sin by teaching them to despise and dismiss him.  In the end, they are cut off from grace, mercy, and salvation.  It would be far better to be cast into the depths of the sea than to have to answer to God and your children: When you had your chance to teach your children to rely on their Savior, why didn’t it matter?
     There are countless sins we commit for which we would like to hide in the depths of the sea or crawl under a rock.  But that doesn’t fix your sinful condition any more than cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye fixes your sin.  Rather than drown you in the depths of the sea, our Lord has drowned you in the waters of baptism.  Rather than cut you off, through baptism the Lord brings you into his family.  Baptism is where Jesus cleanses your heart and produces in you good and godly desires.  This is where the Holy Spirit delivers to you all of the blessings of Jesus’ perfect obedience on your behalf.  Jesus has shunned every sin for you, overcome every temptation for you, and satisfied all of God’s demands for you.  He puts his righteousness on you.  In your baptism, Jesus kills of your sinful heart and raises up a new one which loves and craves righteousness not just in status but also in practice. 
     If it causes sin, it must be cut off.  It would be nice if one cut would do the job.  Aron Ralston has lost his arm, and it will not grow back again.  But the sin that desires to master is different.  It is more like the box elder tree in our back yard.  The box elder bugs which accompanied the tree had become unbearable, so the tree was cut down.  But soon, branches began to grow back from the stump.  They were trimmed down once.  Now they have grown back again.  And so it is with your sinful nature.  While the Lord has redeemed you from your sin and given you a new nature, sin still clings to you.  It desires to have you back.  That is why you find yourself drawn back to the same sins, the same greed, the same jealousy, the same coveting, or whatever temptations vex you. 
     Jesus’ words still stand: If it causes sin, it must be cut off.  Your whole life remains one of repentance.  You will be fighting against sin, against Satan, and against your very self your whole life long.  Your solution remains Jesus.  He continues to pour out his mercy.  He continues to deliver you from your sin and from yourself.  He takes you back to your baptism where you again drown your sin and where Jesus raises you up a new creation – forgiven of sin, free from guilt, free from death, and free to live without fear.  Back at your baptism, Jesus reminds you that your sins are washed away in his blood and that they are drown in the depths of the sea.  The waters of your baptism have quenched the fires of hell; they will not harm you.  At your baptism, Jesus assures you that his obedient life has completed the task.  At your baptism, Jesus promises you that you are the Lord’s, that the Father loves you, that the Spirit dwells within you, and that eternal life awaits you.
     Aron Ralston may have lost an arm; but today he still retains his life.  If you are still embracing any sin, cut it off.  While it may seem like an inconvenience to lose something you have become accustomed to, it is better to be inconvenienced than to be damned.  Besides, your Lord who forgives your sin does not abandon you after he forgives you.  He will be faithful to the promises he gave you in your baptism.  After all, he was cut off from his Father so that you would be brought into God’s family.  He will keep you in his care.  He will sustain you through weaknesses.  He will bring you into life everlasting.

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

Sermon -- Octoberfest Vespers (October 6, 2012)

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  (JAMES 4:6)

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. James speaks very strong words.  God opposes the proud.
     Now, chances are, you are not too fond of the proud.  We are generally annoyed by those who are full of themselves.  Very few people find arrogance to be an attractive quality.  But it is not that God is annoyed.  It is not that God is turned off.  God opposes the proud.  He stands against them.  He fights against them.  His wrath burns against them.
     And as long as the proud are referred to as “them,” you smile about it.  You have a streak of vengeance which giggles at the thought of God smiting those too-big-for-their-own-britches kind of people.  And, of course, you assume that those kinds of people are not you and your kind of people. 
     So tell me, isn’t this pride?  Lord, I thank you that I am not like them.  You will not see me be as arrogant, as boastful, as full of myself, as ego-centric as them.  I am better than them. 
     No, you are not.  Repent, for God opposes the proud. 
     Therefore, God is pleased with his Son, Jesus Christ.  He humbled himself to leave his heavenly throne and all its glory.  He humbled himself so that God made himself man, so that the immortal one would let himself be put to death, so that the blessed one would take on a curse, so that righteous one would make himself sin.
     God is pleased with Son, Jesus Christ, who, being in very nature God, being all glorious and all powerful, made himself nothing.  And he did it for you, who are reluctant to admit that you have sinned.  He did it to pay for all of your sin.  He covers over your shame.
     You know that you cannot do the works that Jesus did.  But these are the only works that have ever pleased God.  But now, he gives this all to you.  He gives you the benefits of his death.  He gives you the righteousness of his life.  He gives you these things because you have no other way to obtain them.
     God gives grace to the humble – to you who recognize that you have sinned, to you who know that you cannot meet God even part way, to you who know that the curse, the death, and the sufferings should be yours – after all, you’ve earned them.  God gives grace to the adulterous David, to the blasphemous Paul, to the rebellious Adam, to the belligerent James and John, and even to you.
     But God does not give you what you have earned.  God gives you what you have not earned.  More than quenching the fires of hell, God opens the glories of heaven. 

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


Faith was voted as Homecoming Queen last weekend!

She and Hailey were the two senior representatives.  Either one would have made a fine queen.  Pardon my bias, but I am glad it was Faith.  Congratulations, Faith!  You were (are!) beautiful!  The Homecoming King was Austin Schneider from Saginaw.

The games for the weekend went well, too.  We missed Andrew's JV game, but they apparenlty played very well and beat (I think I had heard a previously undefeated) St. Charles 21-20.  Andrew also said that he scored a TD.

The varsity game was not nearly as close.  MLS won 60-14.  Nathanael caught a TD pass early in the game with a nice run after the catch, juking his way into the end zone.  He also caught a long bomb late in the first half, but I missed it.  I was climbing into a Corvette painted pretty much the same color as our house.  Photos are below.

Faith enjoys her royal influence over her brothers.




Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Parking Lot work -- Done!

The parking lot received some seal-coating and restriping last week.  Here is the final result.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sermon -- 18th Sunday after Pentecost (September 30, 2012)

MARK 9:30–37

In the name + of Jesus.

     The twelve apostles walked along the road and debated which of them was the greatest.  It may have begun innocently enough – perhaps with one of the apostles telling a story about the time when Jesus had sent them to the area villages to preach and to heal and to drive out demons.  But it is the nature of people to want to tell a better story, to one-up the last person’s story.  However it began, it continued for a while on the road.  The apostles took turns, each one making his claim.  Who is the best preacher?  Who healed the blind more often?  Who drove out the most violent demon?  Who understands Jesus’ parables the best?  Who had the most listeners when he traveled in the villages?  They told their stories.  They flaunted their resumes.  Each one made his claim for why he was the greatest of Jesus’ disciples.
     It is not hard to understand why this conversation happened.  We love our lists.  Sports junkies live for debating these things.  Who was the greatest running back?  You’ll get a different answer in Cleveland and in Chicago than you’ll get in Detroit.  Historians debate who was the greatest president.  Was it Washington or Lincoln?  Why?  Tell someone that Sleeping Bear Dunes is the most beautiful place in America and get ready for a number of people offering their rebuttal.  There is always a debate ready to be had once we start talking about who or what is the greatest.
     Now, debates can be fun.  But do not have them in front of Jesus.  The apostles were debating who was the greatest among Jesus’ disciples.  How could they determine that?  By who did the most works.  By who was the most devout.  By who had the best story.  By who could make the most convincing claim.  It all came to a sudden and painful end when Jesus asked them a simple question: “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33)  This question killed all conversation.  Every mouth was silent because they had nothing to say before Jesus. 
     Perhaps you also consider your faith or your deeds or your place in God’s kingdom.  And perhaps, like the apostles, you also consider how great you are and where you rank compared to other Christians.  While you may not engage in debate with fellow Christians about these things, you play the game in your mind.  How much am I doing compared to others?  Do they notice how devoted I am?  Do they see that I have kept myself more chaste than others?  I have served on more committees.  I have been here on more Sundays.  I don’t cheat at work or lie on my taxes.  I may not be the greatest Christian, but surely I am better than others.
     Or perhaps you feel like you don’t count as a real Christian.  You hear others talk about their accomplishments and their service.  Someone served on a mission trip.  Someone volunteers in a soup kitchen.  Someone donates to charities.  Others serve for years as Sunday School teachers or sing in the choir.  You begin to think, “I don’t do anything.  What a lousy Christian I must be.”
     Our Lord does not grade on a curve.  The apostles may have boasted to one another, but when Jesus asked, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33), they had nothing to say.  Likewise, you can play the game in your mind about how you rank versus others in the kingdom of God.  But before the Lord, you have nothing to say.  For this is what the Lord says: We know whatever the Law says it speaks … so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (Romans 3:19)  Like the apostles, you can only fall silent before the Lord.  What great things shall you boast about before him?  That you did what you were supposed to do?  You can’t even say that, can you?  Sure, you may be able to claim that you behave better than others.  It isn’t hard to find the worst in others and commend yourself for being better than that.  But that is not the standard.  The standard is this: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) 
     (Jesus) sat down and called the twelve.  And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)  Jesus’ reply makes us chafe.  In our world, greatness means that other people serve ME.  In the kingdom of God, serving others is far greater.  We not only fail to do that, we don’t want to.  We fear being taken advantage of.  We avoid people who cannot pay us back.  And yet, we believe that we are great.  If we believe that we are great, we believe we have earned that status.  Then we also believe that we have earned something from God for our service.  Do not believe the lie. You and I are sinners who think we are great, but we are only great at being sinners.  Repent. 
     Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of God?  If you must have an answer to that question, it is Jesus Christ.  Although he is God Almighty, he came into this world and made himself nothing.  He made himself the least of all, assuming the guilt and the curse for our sinful pride and boasting.  He was the least of all – cursed by God on high for the sins of the entire world.  He was despised and rejected by men.  He was banished and damned by God the Father.  He was the least of all, for he died with the greatest guilt – the guilt of all mankind clinging to him.
     He who is the greatest served as least of all.  Jesus Christ was the servant of all.  He did not suffer and die for his own glory – although he is glorified through this.  There is no greater way that God has demonstrated his love for sinners than in taking on flesh and suffering and dying for them, the Righteous One for all the unrighteous ones.  Jesus came as the servant of all.  Jesus did not serve people because they are worthy.  He served as the Savior of scoundrels, villains, criminals, derelicts, and addicts.  Jesus served people who would betray him, deny him, mock him, and fight against him.  Jesus served people who would vow to serve him but then be unfaithful to him … again and again.  Jesus’ service has never hinged on how people would treat him.  Jesus was the servant of all because all people needed his service.  Jesus lived for all, suffered for all, died for all, and rose for all.  And he did this so that all could find forgiveness, salvation, comfort, and peace through him.  He who is the greatest served as the least.
     Dear Christian, he still serves you.  He who took his disciples aside so that he could teach them still speaks to his disciples.  And he tells you the same things: He dies and rises for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  He calls you to be the servants of all, reflecting God’s love and doing great things in your service to others.  He calls you to put aside all petty jealousy, envy, and games in which you compare and elevate yourself above others.  How could you?  Jesus Christ has made you children of the Most High God.  What could you possibly do to make yourself greater than that?
     He who is greatest serves as the least.  Jesus Christ always lives and reigns to serve you.  He comforts, encourages, and consoles.  Before him, you fall silent; for you have nothing to say, nothing to boast about.  But in your silence, you get to hear him speak.  He assures you that through his sufferings and death, your debts have been paid.  Your status has been changed.  You are children of the Most High God.  And there is nothing greater.

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